Aphelion Issue 263, Volume 25
July 2021
 
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A Mobius Red

By Neil Burlington


-(the garden)-

Ed Timinson dropped one smooth stone, then another into the still pool of cold water at his feet. His cool green eyes watched the spreading ripples on the waters’ surface, where they crossed one another, where they were brought to an end at the muddy boundary.

A slow and twisted smile formed on his blistered lips. His filthy torn shirt hung ragged and loose on his shoulders. His bald pate slick with sweat shone in the bright sunlight. His thick brow bent as astonishment filled his expression at the thought of what he’d survived, and his miraculous good fortune. Finding the far off hole down the range. The last hole in the great nothingness that had brought him here to this paradise.

A shadow passed, a cloud crossing the sun. As Ed began to speak aloud to explain once more to himself that he was here alone and had been for as long as he could remember, and after all the blood and misunderstandings he was finally happy, finally really free, a raspy voice from nightmare cut through the dewy sweet air.

Ed’s fingers curled in the dirt; his eyelids spread and his jaw tightened as an animal nausea of disorientation and sudden fear touched him.

Stricken, his mind quailed and denied he’d heard it. Sue was dead. Sue was swallowed up and gone. He’d seen her step through the hole. He’d seen her step through a different hole.

How could she be here? The garden was his home. The garden was for good things. It was where he could feel, the right things. And Sue did not feel right. Not at all.

With effort he slowly uncurled his fingers where they clawed the dirt. He brushed his hands against his rags and sprang into the stooped run, running hand to foot, that seemed to come so naturally.

“We must speak of change,” Sue’s voice sounded again. Flinty and hateful and somehow liquid enticing.

“Didn’t hear her,” Ed whispered bitterly as he headed toward the small rise from behind which the voice seemed to arise. “It’s in your head, Ed. Ed. It’s in your head. Sue’s gone. Maybe dead. I hope, she’s dead.”

Ed crawled the rise and peered over.

“No. She can’t be...” The words left his lips, the last hope and desperation of a lost soul.

His hands found the heavy stones in his pants pockets. Stones he’d planted there just in case, in case the need might grow. Sue stood within the zephyr and profusion bloom of primary colored lacy flowers that were here everywhere found.

A dark haired maiden, pink, fresh and lovely in intoxicating nakedness rested in her shadow, listening to Sue’s learned council. This maiden’s wide dark eyes, those of a child. Her repose one of complete contentment.

Ed raised his stone. One hand knotted around a black rude rock and squeezed until his hand was red. His arm shook and his breath came to him in shuddering fits he struggled to quiet.

“I’m not afraid. You’re not that afraid of her Ed. You can fix this. Yes I am that afraid of her. It all started with her. It’ll be okay if you fix it. You know you can Ed. Ed.”

Sue brought her hand to the girl’s shoulder, then slid it down her shoulder and helped her to stand. Together they turned and walked from the spot in shady darkness toward the largest and most verdant part of the garden. The center.

Ed remained still and watched as they left him there. Still holding his stone. Unable to move his arm.

-(Isolate)-

“I’ll tell you what’s the worst,” Ed Timinson was grunting and groaning and making little noises of complaint that didn’t fit either of those terms. He clambered up over the broken concrete remains of the massive shielding and confinement wall of Isolate, following Sue Silvers and beside Kevin Gorestall. Nobody was listening to him. His wide forehead dripped stinking sweat. His wide-set staring pale green eyes were fixed to the top of the fifty-foot pile, what remained of the above-ground Shock Wall, shattered by a wave of something unknown and devastating. This was the crumbled wall that had protected the entry and exit point to the underground Isolate facility that they were now leaving behind. They were climbing, still climbing up the crumble. There was nothing left in the visible area, the black ground, but smoulder, ash and cinder, and spirals of chary smoke spanning miles of grey sky. “You know what’s the worst?” He continued as if believing they were listening. “We don’t even have a compass. We can’t even tell which way North is, or South for that matter.”

Sue turned her head. Her cold blue eyes seeming to gleam even in the dim light. “Hey Timinson?” Her voice was rough, harsh from the impure air. But even in the filtered air, in the facility, it wasn’t a pretty voice.

“Ya?” He moved his gaze from the zenith to meet her eyes. “What?”

A sliver smile crossed her bare lips. Her brow lowered, then arched. “You know which way down is?”

“Yes.”

She raised her left roughed up steel-toed work-boot, stolen from one of the Isolate staff corpses. “Then shut the fuck up or you’ll go that way. And I’ll be only too glad to start your journey.”

Kevin Gorestall, the big-man, the silent scientist amongst them. He was the only one with a hope to navigate their sorry lost assess out of the disaster now visiting them. He smiled. “She’ll get you on your way.” His smile broadened.

“I’m not sweet on you, Kevin. Recall what you’re dealing with here. Who. I butchered a family in their sleep. Working out issues, Kev. From childhood, Kev. I burnt down the houses of five more. And what he did. Holy shit. Forget about it. I don’t think they ever found all the body parts. Did they Ed? You fuckin’ psycho-retard. So don’t give him an excuse, to bleed you out.” She ran a finger preciously slow across her neck, and turned back to climbing. Keeping her pace. “And don’t, “ she laughed darkly, “ give me a reason to either. Everyone has to sleep. Even you, sometime.” She pressed a rock-dusted hand to the side of her head, as if remembering something. “Oh. But that’s right. You know all that, smart ass. It’s in those files you keep in your clean little monitoring room where you watch us; watched us,” her tone darkened further, “in our cages. Our cells.”

Kevin lowered his gaze, pissed. He reflected darkly on the idiocy leading to the destruction of the Isolate research station. The underground research facility where they tested the psychopathic mentality, and its limits. The place where they tested the emotional and physical tolerances of such individuals to learn more about how to make better soldiers. To make craftier and deadlier killers. The far off range shared the same vast expanse of useless wasteland where they tested novel weapons of mass destruction. That facility dubbed Facility 8. There was nowhere to go, should one of the psychos somehow escape. There was only that military facility that would apprehend the fugitives, appearing as the only living objects for hundreds of desolate miles on the range. It was all worked out. And the subjects in Isolate were completely expendable should anything go wrong. The research crew was spare. They knew the risks, and were compensated for them.

Kevin suppressed the rage it created in him. The thought of the monumental fuck-up and the incompetence leading to this moment. He continued climbing up out of the rubble of the Shock Wall. Climbing, with the only other two survivors. Both of which he knew would kill him at the first sign of weakness. The only odds in his favor beside the fact that he was there only to organize collected data and analyze it, that he hadn’t directly tormented them in the trials of their tolerances. That they would just as easily turn on each other. And the fact they were fatigued and malnourished.

Kevin turned his gaze to the distant spot just visible beyond the largest column of spreading smoke where some fantastic asshole had underestimated the kill-zone of their latest destructive device. A device of some esoteric and horrible kind.

Ed continued talking. He couldn’t seem to stop putting the stream of his thoughts into words. Kevin remembered him as seen on the monitor, alone in his cell. Ed would talk endlessly to the walls. Telling those walls everything, about everything.

“You’d think with the facility underground there would be no way that one of those, big- ka-krackalacka-baboomba’s could get us. They keep us out here, cause there’s nowhere to run. Nothing to ruin. No one but the staff to kill.” He eyed Kevin coldly, and Kevin ignored him. “It’s shit-land. Nothing-land. Nowhere-land. But this thing, it seeped in. Right? It seeped in, like radioactivity. But that’s not what it was or we’d be dead too. Only I’m not even sick. In my body, I’m not sick.”

Sue quickened her pace. This gibbering fool was a terrible draw, and a drain. She wasn’t sure how much more of this she could stand to listen to.

Ed elaborated. “We’re here in the nothing, in the nowhere. And no one knows we’re survivors. Do they? Do they Kevin?”

Despite his better instincts to just keep on ignoring him, Kevin shrugged. “No. I wouldn’t think so. They’ll think we’re escapees. All of us. And they’ll shoot us at the first sighting. Like you said, the facility is underground. They probably think we’re just fine; until someone notices the shape of the wall. If they give a shit. Which they don’t. And I don’t know why we’re still alive. Maybe something in the blood. Maybe whatever reached out didn’t quite reach us where we happened to be standing.”

“Right,” Ed rolled the word around in his mouth, as if it tasted gourmet. “That’s right. We’re, we’re something. Not free. But something. We’re out. And that’s a start.”

Kevin felt a chill run down his spine. He climbed on in silence.

----

It took them three hours and sixteen minutes to cross the wasteland to Facility 8. All that only to find that everyone working on the weapons project, was dead. The facility was littered with the dead bodies of military personnel.

Beyond the drifting smoke what might be interpreted as a miraculous sight, appeared to them

They all looked to the sight, in wonder.

And many vortexes glowing with energy, hung in the air.

Each of the vortexes was the size of small car turned upright. The vortexes glowed with soft edges in an almost blinding blue-white, and through them the survivors could see visions.

“What are we seeing? What are these?” Sue took a step closer, and Kevin held up a hand in warning.

“They could still be dangerous. Don’t get too close.”

“Any idea,” Timinson peered into the light and the strange sights centered in and seen through each vortex, “what these are for?”

Kevin slowly shook his head. His answer came almost as a whisper, dread. “No. Maybe possibility. Take a closer look. Maybe something from a shared consciousness. A dreamworld, or nightmare? Maybe what we’ve summoned here. Maybe madness and evil from many places. Could it even be places where we are supposed to be, or have been before?”

Through the first vortex they could see an 18th century village in deep woods, a ghastly alien centipede creature hidden behind clouds and casting down barely visible strands that landed with poisoning and killing effect on helpless villagers. In the next a painter, moving his brush deftly across a canvas, illuminating an unseen world of transiting phenomenal color and grace. A fearsome place of great and terrible creatures. And on the artists’ side of the canvas a dark and angular figure conspiring to tear his art away from him, forever. This continued in the next vortex; a daughter studying her haggard mother, sharing their experiences and making a futile attempt to treat her mothers’ mental anguishes. In the fourth a sharp conical tooth was held up to the appraisal of a discerning eye. Following this in the same vision a giant ice-white mouth filled with many such teeth opened in a pool of blue, devouring little children. And on to the next. An over-weight cop, hemmed in by zombies in an art gallery. Pale astonishment on his puffy face. In the next; a beautiful young girl, her forearms lined with coiled snake tattoos, smiled with obsessive affection as she sharpened a long and twisted blade and entered a pentagram drawn in red on the floor of a basement. Something writhing and muffled and screaming in a human-sized sack rest in the nearby shadows. In the next vortex a view of a historical London study, was seen a detective in his repose. Dark mists seeping in, chemical poisonings of the mind that invaded his precise intellect and turned his analysis of the criminal mind into murmured fitful contemplations of what is needed to do murder. And on to the next. A dentist consoling a disheveled homeless man. This man says his name is Eno. Eno is insistent that the end of the world is at hand. The dentist engages Eno in a casual conversation, tying to placate him and telling him that what he believes is simply not the case. And on, through all the rest...

The three looked to each vortex, and each to one another. Were these things real? Could they be? What was the nature of what they encountered? What would they decide in the face of it?

In the last vortex lay a garden. By all appearances a place of tranquility and restful beauty illuminated by a bright and a clear young sun. Beyond the intrigue of the other gateways; this was the loveliest place of all. The darkness, the lunacy and the terror of the others drew them. But the garden needed to make no call to drama and was compelling of its own virtue and promise, finally, of peace.

Sue turned. The considering look, gone from her harsh and beautiful face. Her sliver-smile replacing it. And she understood.

Kevin looked to her, expecting; comment, questions- perhaps violence.

She offered none.

Ed stared at the last, the garden, in dim wonder.

Sue turned from them, taking three quick and graceful strides forward. And in a smooth motion leapt into the air, beyond the boundary of the vortex and through it, toward the garden. She seemed to hang before the garden, suspended in air. And turned, floating, to face them.

Even as she did, still smiling, the garden vortex began to shrink. It began to shrivel and to grow small until her face with sprite calm eyes and her sliver smile widening, was all they could see.

And then, that too was gone.

Kevin felt a moment of panic. His blood rushed, and his eyes darted.

It was too late.

Ed watched, dumbly.

All the other vortexes in sight rapidly shrank and shriveled, and quickly disappeared.

A moment of silence, of staring out into the endless miles of deathly nothing, followed.

Kevin turned to Ed and saw that the brain-damaged man had begun carrying on a one-sided conversation that went nowhere, speaking with no one. Ed started walking off in a new direction and Kevin decided he would let him go.

-(the garden)-

She stood before the vision-

Of the Garden.

On the other side, the vortex had closed.

The illusion, that she was already there-

Gone.

She wasn’t there, yet

She had another part- the other side of the vortex

To step through.

She closed her eyes,

And stepped through it-

It burned.

Sue’s skin heated

It kept, heating.

Sweat beaded, and covered her, soaking her.

The light- blinding.

No sound.

Total silence.

Traveling through a deformation of torus space.

A loop of searing light, blistering her skin

The sweat, running dry

She moves, inches

So slowly

Through it, to the other side-

And then,

Ejected-

Hurled out,

Inside, her mind is screaming-

Too much,

Pain,

Too painful-

And,

She is tumbling out, hands and arms and legs slipping,

On the wet green grass.

Feet sliding, work-boots tearing at the grass

She collapses,

In the wet and the cool

Breathing deep

Of sheer exhaustion.

Of transit.

---

Sue awoke, hours later. The vortex was gone. The sound of bird song, A Bird of Paradise- hung upside down on a Sycamore branch, trilling close. Kudzu, ash white birch, and ancient wide dark oak, surrounded. Something rustled in the fallen clumps of bright leaves.

Little creatures furry, soft and scampering, beautiful little beasts without hesitations darted in the wide and gently illuminated garden. The garden itself: vivid greens, pale yellows, dark ochre, umber and red, sharp and piercing blue all overhead, with cotton-white clouds drifting in that sky. The sounds of vital flowing streams running over rocks, the calls of one animal to another as assured and restive as any sound she had ever before encountered.

Sue curled her fingers in the grass, easing her injured skin with the cool and the wet of it. And smiled. She was home. This place, if she could call any place this, was home.

She brought herself to standing, legs trembling. She looked about her. There was no sign of any habitation, no shelters, no smoke. There were no other human voices.

She turned about in a circle.

The garden continued as far as she could see, bounded only on one side by high gray mountains topped in pure white snow. She felt a strange sensation grip her. Tightness formed in her stomach, sharp and rolling, and spreading out. She knew, she would vomit. She bent over and bent at the knees, and braced for the roll of her shoulders and the clenching of her neck. The thick stuff inside, rose. Her hands gripped her knees, and she heaved and spewed the contents of her small knotted stomach onto the grass in a runny trickling pile. Strands of saliva and mucous dribbled over her lips, still connected to the squishy mass of the floating bits of macaroni, ground beef and milk on the grass. What they had last served in the cells in Isolate.

When it was done, she brought a trembling hand to her lips and wiped. The goo and runniness came away slickly and there were only a few bits of semi-solid food stuck to her chin and her bottom lip.

When she was done wiping she took a few deep and steadying breaths of the rich new air of the new place she now stood within. She began to feel clean for the first time in decades. And free, in a way she had never felt.

A little tremor, moved within her.

A tiny sensation-

Of release.

A minute and a perfect wave

Returning,

Of absurd and even painful, levity

And a calming beyond it.

Of a different order,

Complete and full.

A forgetfulness

To agony.

Just for this moment,

Possibly.

And she raised her head

Looking to, the kingdom

Rousseau, would so have loved it.

And allowed, as tears she could never

Show in the hell of the Isolate

Formed slow,

And her little disturbance,

Of levity

Reached her lips,

To form, in actual sincerity

True laughter, not with irony

Not bitter, not cynically

Of joy,

Of the slightest and real promise,

Of a new beginning.

---

She ventured forth. This new land, to discover. The past, the terrible confrontation with the self she could no longer face, now in the past. Now, gone forever.

Time; as it existed here, moved for her with the passing sense, of a dream. The grass was soft underfoot and the soil was without sharp stones or bits of anything sharp, where it lay at the bank of a gurgling slow-flowing stream. She neared it.

She sat at the stream on the rounded rocks and considered the movement and the rhythm, and the texture of the dark blue and green of the flow of water. She sat at the base of a wide river willow. She felt a separation. She felt a nothingness separating herself from her own conscious observance of self. She felt the isolation of enrichment, replacing that isolation of complete deprivation she had long endured.

She filled, with the moments of it. She took in the realness of it. This ideal land, more real to her than anything hard and undeniable, before.

The sun remained constant for many hours. As the day was meant to end it faded gently too, into night. All the motions and the changes that, flawless, contained everything needed without need of excise. Nothing impure, extant.

This felt like sleep.

To drift in this was rest beyond the illusion of rest and restoration she had known before this.

Moles scurried and little bats, flitting. Sparrows swooped and dove and turned. All of this and the babbling stream whispering her to sleep felt implicitly, of safety.

Sue’s eyes closed. Her head turned and relied upon the ancient willow. Her body rested against the dark and heavy, bowed and ancient tree.

Night passed warmly, dreamless.

In morning her eyes opened afresh, to see the risen-sun and the illumination of its rays across the garden.

She rolled, stretched up and out, refreshed and restored to healthy strength. She looked to her arms, and saw that the blisters, were healed. Saw her skin, pinky peach and healthful, seeming more youthful than she remembered.

She stood and did not ache from her twisted position at the tree-side. She did not feel the creeping arthritic touches in her joints that had plagued her from the time before transit.

She walked to the stream. She knelt and splashed its waters, cool, on her face, rubbing at her eyes. Clearing sleep. She slid her still wet hands to the back of her neck and rolled up and across to the cleansing, like a cat.

“This is morning.”

Her voice was calm and balanced. The characteristic razor edge in it, all but gone.

“This,” she said looking down into the stream, its sinuous surface not completely obscuring that the garden had somehow touched her there with youthfulness too, “is the first, morning.”

She rose and looked about her.

She turned back to the tree, glancing back, to the stream. At a whim she slipped her hands to the sides of her shirt and gripped it, sliding it up and off. She wore no bra and her breasts were still proud with some vitality, improved she was sure, by the influence of the garden. She ran a hand down her back to the small of it and leaned back, craning her neck to one side.

“Ah. That’s better.”

She gripped the sides of her faded and torn pants and slid them down. She wore no panties. She bent and undid her work boots. She kicked them off, a little awkwardly. Sitting on a rock she used her toes to push down her white bobby socks and pull them off at the toe, one by one.

“Much better.”

She smiled and gave a little laugh, one more girlish and less guarded than any she’d enjoyed in years.

She looked about her again. No one there. Not that she was particularly self-conscious about nudity. In Isolate the inability to control when you would be naked and where and in front of who, or of what would happen to you when you were, was a fact of life. She was proud of her body. She had kept it in good condition. And here it was better than she recalled it being in many years.

She stepped toward the water, contemplating another kind of pain, the very thought of a full cleansing in this wild stream. She was near to this. She could feel it. An instinct. A real cleansing of the soul. She felt this as she carefully stepped toward the stream. She felt close to a complete disentanglement, disengagement, from a terrible life. Much of it her own making. She could admit it. A frozen dark part of her that she’d never been able to fully master, was proud of it. A life of violence, and fear and fury. She was so close to really leaving it behind. Here and now making small steps toward this stream.

She wondered in the silence. ‘Would this divinity in a manifestation of nature wash away all the bad and the blood and yes the madness of what had made her this Sue Silvers? Could she in bathing in it restore completely? Could she leave from it as another creation? To start again. Inhabiting a new and a better kind of reality? And be a nobler creature?’

A tear threatened as she moved into the waters. She brought herself down in one smooth movement, for fear that the tear would belie a doubt.

And was in the stream.

And resting in it.

It flowed over her,

And as the babbling, the whispering sounded and surrounded.

She was-

With no other sound and no sight, and no person, and no pain to confront her, to vex her, provoke her,

At last,

At peace.

Night came,

And day

She awoke,

Anew,

The following morn.

-----

Softly whistling wind carried in the distance.

A tinkling sound accompanied it.

A sound like kind laughter,

Another sound, of safety.

Sue raised herself within the stream.

She swam to the side of it.

Looked out.

To the sound.

And she saw

Them.

They were two.

Flush and healthful and graceful moving

Like her.

They were

Others.

The thought came unbidden

‘No.’

And then,

‘Yes.’

She was not alone.

And then-

She wasn’t

Alone.

The girl was dark haired, midnight eyed. She called out a uluation, the sound of wild beloved children, bold with exploration and impulsiveness, in a voice of strung gold. She was robust. Slightly muscular and wide in her shoulders and hips. Her hair as thick and as dark as a black mare’s mane. Hair spanned across her shoulders and back that narrowed at its ends in fine black licks on her rosy pink skin. She was in her movements the joy of life. Unconscious of self. Ease in her turning with white, yellow, red rose petals in her hair. Her hands searching through the bush through the grass to a delightful aim.

To him.

She gripped him and softly held him. A man, large, quite muscular and fair with blue eyes. She held him with her small hands, one upon his shoulder and one on his strongly veined forearm. She slid atop of him still with her tinkling laughter sounding, expressing their shared understanding of perfect happiness.

He turned in the grass. He rolled for her.

She held him down. She slid up and onto him, leaned forward.

She moved in subtle motions, initiating an act that would lead to an ecstacy, of a kind Sue could only but faintly recall.

Maybe having moved this way, in another life.

Long ago.

Through the perfect veil, of her peace

Her newness, restored her from the waters

Sue felt another thing

The first sharp sting.

And a dark emotion

Darker than-

The girl’s dark hair, her midnight eyes

An absence,

Incompleteness within herself, and shock, that this was so,

A crucial, a missing something,

An essential, lost, need

In the garden,

Of fulfillment.

And hurting, not to feel this

Sue accepted what she could not deny

Jealousy.

Predatory, eyes once again sharp.

And yes-

Like a whisper of shame,

Hatred.

For the other,

Who possessed what she knew by instinct she herself could not.

How long-

How many years,

In a prison,

The only males,

To torment her.

To molest her in secret.

Fat bellies, foul breath.

Aches from their blows,

To silence her,

In the night.

And only foul Adroma

Mannish-brute.

Her only, and forcing,

Female companion.

No one,

No one tender

Kind.

Beautiful

Loving.

And to witness this,

Invasion,

Within her garden,

Paradise?

Was again, anew-

An agony,

Of the deficit self,

Of that,

Which she could not,

Accept.

Insult,

Grievous. Deep.

Despite her betterment.

And all the good of the garden.

She promised the bad-self,

That lived somehow and, ever? within-

That she would avenge,

Her pain at the sight.

----

A day of fume followed.

Of questions

A dull day, a dark day-

Where charms of the sublime, could not reach her

And all the gardens bounty,

Appeared to her as mockery

In absence of the one-

Needed thing

Ecstasy, but more than that-

Of love,

She did not possess-

Could not?

Though she daren’t speak it

In a silent way,

She cursed it all.

Considering

Devising,

Making out a plot.

If she could, to make it real.

A stealing wish

For an exiled soul.

In a dream of new life,

Transmuted into nightmare.

Something, its eerily familiar way, rustled the grass.

Serpentine eyes, jaundice yellow, rimmed in gold appeared within the blades

Sue had seen,

This approaching

She had stood still

To await it.

Knowing, as the others never should

Exactly what HE, was.

Not expectant, until sighting them-

Until understanding,

In what dire predicament-

She was now by HIM, found in.

And by her failings,

In choice that had not been remade.

‘You know me.’

She nodded.

‘You are here for a reason.’

She nodded, taking a precious step forward,

“Not reason.” She bit at her lip, her hands twisted inward.

‘No.’ answered the snake, great and curling and gleaming in scale.

‘Passion.’

Sue nodded slowly, and it was so.

----

The Snake and Sue conferred in a shaded glade surrounded by tall grass, on one side a dense growth of trees. She curled on the grass below him in the cool and dark, and attended him.

“Symbols. Yes,” the snake continued, His head resting on a large gray stone. “Interpretations.”

“As in pictures,” Sue elaborated. Trying to follow.

“As in the behavior, the image, representations of self. Mingled with surroundings. Reflection. How one is seen by oneself within, what is observed. This is shown, in the enticement.”

“Symbols,” Sue repeated softly. “What they most value in themselves, shown reflected in their picture of themselves, within their surroundings.”

“Standing-up,” the snake whispered. “To look large. To be more. But not more.”

“I don’t understand,” Sue curled closer, pulling herself against the rock. As slithering as the snake itself. “Please, explain.”

“To magnify one’s presence. To need to. To believe this is needed. To choose this from fear of a loss. Of diminishment. To be threatened, by not choosing it.”

“A symbol, of this?” Sue whispered, her voice rustling, nearly as dry as the snake’s.

“Of virtue. To add virtue, for the virtuous.”

“What can be added? They have all.”

The snake’s tongue flickered. Thin hissing filling the darkness they shared.

“Not all.” This sound, so close to pale laughter, yet devoid of any sense of safety, slipped from His mouth. “Not emulation. Not the symbol of this attempt.”

“They don’t want, this.” Sue felt her frustration grow, but looking into those ancient eyes, patience returned.

“Can you confirm it? Is there no question, left in their hearts? No, desire. To be as their creator if only to better love HIM?” My daughter. The snake tail slid across her legs, about her waist embracing her. “Consider. A complete creation entertains no novelty. Do you believe they will not entertain this? If they are provoked. Are they so complete, as they seem? Will you see with my eyes? And if they are provoked to the novelty of gain by the novelty of the possibility of loss do you believe they will not, risk? ”

In a moment, Sue understood. Moved by her own desire, this conferring.

The symbol was something that the Snake agreed to show. It’s representation, shown them, to remind them of a forbidden thing. An object presenting in consumption, knowledge, absolute freedom, shame, terror, and death. The snake was a very good salesman. Sue knew he would provoke an unwholesome appetite with the promise of betterment.

“Not him.” Sue felt and heard the words escape her, so impulsive, now released. “Not him. The woman. Suffer her. Alter, her.”

“You want him?” The snake was turning, slowly and always somewhere, turning.

“Yes.” She felt a strong freedom in the word. It was true. She did want him. So very much. She would do anything to have him. She would burn beauty. She would murder an innocent. Or damn one.

“An object to reflect her. To recall in her the nature of what she is. What she could be. That she is ripe for change. And must change to be, enough. That she must change, to continued to be loved. That she can only sustain the love so freely given her by daring to take that symbol I will describe as one of growth, to become more than she is. Prevent the loss threatened by the novelty of the notion that in time, she may lose favor. That there is room, for rejection. I will suggest that to prevent this stagnation, she must attempt to become more like her creator, whom he loves without question and eternally. They are only words, but they suggest most powerfully and will evoke fear. The symbol will seem to answer. It is a more complete answer than his blissful, thoughtless children can anticipate.”

“Yes.”Sue breathed the word, original treason.

“Yes,” answered the snake, in her fulfilment.

------

Days of the Garden passed. Days unlike process, absent of trial.

The a day of change, the last day, arrived.

Eve stood before the tree.

The Tree of Knowledge.

She knew it.

The snake had told her-

Everything.

That he would

Turn from her

Adam

And her love.

If she did not,

Risk

Grow,

If she would,

Fade, in his eyes

In the days yet to come

Become plain, as nothing,

The snake, was wise.

She, was innocent

And bold

Sue watched, in shadows

Her body, and her still darkening soul

Shadow under Shadow

Eve, plucked

And tasted

And-

Knew

She turned, to flee

And there was nowhere,

To run to.

The piercing blue sky,

The cotton white drifting clouds-

Parted,

Slow

The blinding light,

Of-

Terror

Descended

And Adam,

Innocent,

As innocent as Eve.

Unknowing-

Beheld it-

Sue watched in silence-

The snake, HIM, who’d conspired in,

This conception.

Coiled on her leg,

Around hips, waist.

To her shoulder blades,

Resting there-

Watching.

The vortex,

Appeared behind them,

The snake hissed softly in her ear,

A sound of quiet laughter

Devoid,

Of safety.

“You have failed,

Sue Silvers,

You have failed,

To win him,

In your gambit,

See-

As the blinding light, essential white and frozen blue-

Tore out the scene,

Of both wilderness children,

For innocence,

Undone.

She turned to HIM,

“Treachery,” she hissed.

Lucifer hissed in turn,

His illumination,

To her,

And to others-

Made plain.

“They are one,

As they began,

All things-

Containing,

All others,

These-

So very close,

To the point of their,

Original illusion-

Of separateness.

And you see,

And it cannot be otherwise,

That their suffering, is your own.”

Sue felt a first hot tear-

From the light,

Blinding,

From shame-

Humbling,

Sting her cheek.

As the snake uncoiled, slipped from her-

She shed it-

Like a wasted skin,

And turned to the vortex,

Her only passage-

Beyond the thundering,

And the terrible,

Ending,

Of the Garden.

-(facility 8)-

Sue burned as she transited the vortex and emerged, again tumbling out the other side. Her skin was blistered worse and deeper than the first time. It welled and grew redder. She knuckled a hand to the surface below her that was made of something hard, artificial. A floor. She braced her other hand against that floor with splayed fingers, and pushed up. Her eyes were painfully dry and her skin twitched all over with stinging sharp burning sensations.

She rolled back onto a knee and curled, just for a moment over-struck and stunned by the combinations of her loss. By what she had bargained in. And helped to be.

She shook her head back and forth above the blue and gray tiling. Illusion, hallucination, dream. Fascinations of torment and terrible strain. She was lost in something, a gayness of light agony. Some vision that she had tripped time and space to arrive here warped her thoughts and clawed at her insides. Returning her out of fugue to her awareness of containment. Confinement. Within her prison, of choice. That was it. The answering riddle. The puzzling-solve to this conundrum. Not that it was, and is, and always would be like this. Not that she had been given but one chance, one decision to yield to and to have real happiness and fulfillment and had destroyed that chance. Not that she had been given an opportunity to choose the reality of peace beyond any dreaming, fantasy or delusion. And she had still made, irreversibly, the wrong choice.

And had been brought back here.

Back to the beginning,

Of all her pain,

And deprivation.

Sue slowly brought herself to standing.

She cast her gaze about her, sweeping and gaining detail- scratching at the burning itch all over her arms and her exposed flesh. And she realized something, critical.

She realized, she was not back in Isolate. She realized she had dreamed nothing. She had suffered no hallucination. And Sue realized she was now standing in a weapons-testing facility

This was a control room.

Screens displayed, all of the information relevant to the operation of a device called- The Dimension Gate, the name lit in sharp blue against the green background of the large monitor at the station before her.

She was alone.

There was something at the periphery of the monitoring sweep- for a wave of particles that seemed to radiate from the device. A device that was housed meters away within the facility. The display showing a rote and imaginary practicing, for real execution.

“Isolate.”

She said it, and understood.

She watched the camera feed on smaller screens- uniformed personnel moving through the corridors of the facility-

Sue looked to the time on the digital clock above the display, and was certain.

“It hasn’t happened yet. The wave that killed them. It hasn’t happened here yet.”

She understood further.

“I’m still inside. Though I am here, I am also still inside Isolate, as well. I am still,” she hardly dared to breathe the word, “a prisoner.”

And she realized something even more critical.

“I have to cause it.”

“I have caused it.”

She moved to the chair. She sat in the comfy softness. The pain of the dull burn, subsiding. The itching with every scratch, lessening. She raised her hands above the keyboard and a bitter and even sorrowful smile formed on her lips.

“I have to cause it.”

“I have to provide the vortex for myself. I have to provide every vortex to destroy this facility. To overload the main-power and kill those in Isolate. I will control the exact magnitude of the field, to save my cell and my hallway, from the killing particles cast off in the creation of the vortexes. I will also provide the vortex to the Garden. I may try again, to make another choice,” her heart leapt at this thought. It wasn’t too late, was it? Could it be reaction, to action? Was this negotiation, or was there indeed one fixed decision? Was there?”

And one more thing...

“I will give myself an exit to leave by should the result of my decision within the Garden be unchanged.”

And one more thing, as well.

“I will leave the past to the changing past, or to the fixedness of the past if it is so. I will choose a new path for this, the present manifestation of myself into a new home. My second yearning, the City. My home city. My chosen home in this world. And leave that other resolution to myself at another earlier time. I leave it to a cleaner more pure and able manifestation of myself.”

She typed at the keys and placed her present vortex, last.

And watched the counter.

When the first vortex-

That vortex leading into the City appeared to her within the control room-

She did not hesitate.

And stepped through it.

Events, were set into motion

A decision had been made.

And what remained,

Remained to fate.

Sue, leaving behind her-

A reflection on the past,

A final sentiment.

(Written on the control room wall)

-Finale

I didn’t know,

When first I saw-

Who were you then,

Before your fall?

Coarse, Adroma

If you forgave me,

Those things

I did,

Do I forgive them,

Live, to let me live?

Foul, Adroma

There are

Identities,

I can’t confirm

Pasts,

I know no parts of

My name; and not my own

Revelations

That reorient the world,

To a new way of

Thinking, and believing

Understanding.

Circular, and

Holes; in the fabric of all

Who am I?

After I’m redeemed,

Now I’m altered,

In your schemes

Your dream

Of us

Rot you in hell; base Adroma

Defiling one

Dead girl

Is this,

Our operatic?

Our panoply?

I grip the edges,

Of these realities,

And pull you,

From your scene

Farewell; Isolate, and the Dimension Gate, too.

Sue Silvers- ‘My last words’

-(the real world)-

Sue stepped through the vortex.

This one was not so blinding and did not tumble her out.

Her arms were warm. Not burning.

Her skin was dry. Not itching.

She looked up,

And saw a silver reflection, of herself- distorted

Upon walls.

For a moment, her heart beat in panic.

And she turned,

And saw, buttons.

Lit up.

She was inside-

An elevator.

She was on the fifteenth floor.

Going down.

There was no one else inside.

She was alone.

The elevator descended past four more floors.

And stopped.

The doors opened.

An elderly little lady, her hair in snowy thin curls and her comfortable beige sweater billowed out around her tiny bent body, entered. Her glasses were perched below the wrinkled T of her charmingly smile-lined forehead. Full smiles had made those lines over many years. Genuine smiles of happiness that had been fat and rounded and sweet. Her face, was thinner now. She shuffled into the elevator and reached a nearly skeletal finger out to press for the ground floor. She saw mid-reach that the button was already lit.

Sue hadn’t pressed this button, either.

She nodded.

Sue nodded and smiled with deeply suppressed tension.

Was it here?

Freedom?

From demons?

From herself?

Was she free here?

Had she found it?

The little old lady, watched the button lights moving, down- and she remained rooted there, as if she might never decide to leave that spot. Showing the conservation of energy of an octogenarian who had learned to curb excess movement for this purpose.

“Hello.”

Sue nodded again.

They traveled on, and soon reached the ground floor.

The doors opened. As they parted Sue felt a surprisingly strong and nearly skeletal hand covered in sagging translucent skin, grip her arm.

“My,” the little old lady, said looking up, speaking in a voice like crinkling paper. A voice like sand running over glass. “You are warm. I was warm once, too. But things will change, my dear. You can be sure of it. Nothing remains the same. And we have no say in it. Any of it at all. Save the choices we make, from time to time. That they bend the course of things, possibly.”

Sue looked down to the hand. To the woman.

She answered, as honestly as she was able.

“I’m not so certain. Even about that.” Sue smiled and nodded at the hand. The little lady took it back and watched as Sue left the elevator. She watched as Sue walked through the darkened lobby, and out to the light and the life of the street.

-----

-(Isolate)-

before the incident

Sue Silvers curled in her cell.

Eyes wide,

Scared.

Security lights, lit the green darkness

The green cell walls,

The silvery reflecting metal-

Of the door.

Isolate was in emergency state.

They ran drills for this-

Sue knew-

This was no drill.

No one had come for her.

Adroma watched her through the monitor. Adroma’s muscular body, still naked in the monitoring room chair. Kevin had left her behind. She’d awoken to see him leaving on the monitor, walking cautiously through the halls of Isolate. Halls filled with the dead.

Adroma, thought it through, fast. As she had always been able to do. Rapidly seeing the details and then the larger picture composed by them,as unity. She scanned the facility.

Sue was all that was left.

The little scruffy haired blonde bitch.

Adroma’s bitch, when she wasn’t with Kevin.

And Adroma, understood.

She hit the lock-release for the door to Sue’s cell.

Sue looked at it from the inside,

In disbelief.

She stood, and tried it-

The door opened.

She looked out into the hall.

The hall with no dead bodies in it.

She stepped out-

And ran-

Ran through the emergency-lit facility

Toward freedom.

Kevin was at the only exit-

Talking to Ed Timinson

Negotiating.

‘We should work together,’

he was saying-

‘To get away’

-he continued.

Something disastrous had happened.

They could be personnel and prisoner,

Later.

Right now, they had to flee.

Sue plucked-up her courage,

And slipped out from the shadows,

And appeared to them.

Kevin waved her on.

They were, all of them, getting out of here.

Adroma watched them go, and smiled.

She had her canaries.

Sacrificial birds, to test the land.

To watch, if it would kill them.

The more the better, and Sue the only woman.

You could never tell with these crazy-ass weapons they tested

Who would fall, and who wouldn’t,

In the after-effects.

How it would hurt one kind of person and not another.

She and Sue, were not so different really.

Though Adroma, had a higher kill-number:

Thirty-seven,

Before they’d brought her down.

Down to Isolate

She might let Kevin live-

When she followed him,

If he was sorry-

If she could see in his eyes that he meant it.

She watched them cross the wasteland, as far as Isolate’s surviving and shielded ground cameras could see. Not too far. And she saw something glowing in the distance, and near the ground.

She decided to leave.

She left the dread and the death filled Isolate, behind her.

She stepped out into the open air.

She began an ascent, of the broken wall.

She clambered up the wall faster than they had, and by a better route.

She didn’t see-

Any bodies, lying on the featureless wasteland scour.

She continued on.

The glow was now gone.

----

She reached the facility

Facility 8

In a shorter time,

Than it had taken the others.

The facility, was in ruins.

There was no sign of any of them.

She entered the facility, looking for a control room.

A monitoring room.

Emergency lights, were still on.

Emergency power, still running.

She found the control room.

She was shocked-

To see Kevin, a paper plate with the remains of his meal

-Crumbs.

At the foot of the little bed, he slept in- in his underwear

The large monitor with the green background.

And all the other monitors were still working,

Running on Emergency power.

She approached the bed.

She slipped the covers,

She considered, and decided.

She reached down a hand,

Rubbed softly, gently.

She rubbed him, into arousal,

Stiffness.

She slid, onto the shaft,

And moved,

Grunting, just a little.

His eyes opened,

He saw her,

He shouted,

Screamed,

He was, affected,

By something-

Changed,

Terrified,

Of her.

Seeing things,

From poisoned food.

From the wave, poisoned.

He reached up with powerful hands,

Clutching at her neck,

Strangling,

Not her-

But some vision,

Out of nightmare,

A poisoned hallucination.

She struggled,

He moved, with animal force-

And his desperate strength.

Adroma, panicked.

She never panicked-

And reached for something, shining,

And sharp,

On the shelf,

Beside him.

His blade, Kevin’s knife.

Crying out,

She brought it down.

And deep,

Into his throat

He struggled still,

Writhing, clutching,

Strangling.

And bled and bled,

And bled and soaked the sheets red in the,

dim light-

And shuddered, finally and relaxed,

And fell back, limp

Spent-

Of life.

She rolled,

Up, and off of him,

And lurched to the chair,

In front of the monitor.

Curled, Coiled,

Naked,

Shaking,

Cold inside.

Bathed all over-

In her lover’s hot blood.

She shuddered,

In the empty,

The silence.

The surroundings-

All, of death.

Exhaustion soon took her,

Into sleep.

And she did not dream,

In a formless black.

She awoke,

Hours later,

In dried blood.

Alone.

Strangely afraid,

To be alone.

The body in a twisted,

Horrible, rigor-

turned up, around and,

shambled, desecrated.

In the dark-blooded sheets-

Kevin.

She wept,

The knife,

Still in his throat.

It appeared to her then-

Glowing,

Blinding-

Unfolding from a center-point. Subtly- growing.

On Emergency Power,

The vortex.

Periodicity.

Sue had not accounted for.

Or overlooked,

In her tangled thoughts,

The return, as in a loop-

Computerized, and timed.

Of the hole in space,

She had made,

To escape.

The main power blown out,

To the Gate.

By the demand of too many vortexes-

On the range.

Only this one,

The last one-

Still possible,

On emergency power.

The Gate itself-

Still operating,

Extant.

And Adroma stepped up,

To the vortex,

Seeing through-

To a city,

To a home-

And considered.

----

Adroma cleaned,

She prepared,

She dressed in Kevin’s shirt,

Clean and folded at the desk.

And cinched his belt tight-

To hold up his jeans on her hips,

And Adroma, entered.

The vortex,

And it burned.

----

Sue, walked in the crowd. She was free. Free of Isolate. Free of The Garden and the Serpent. Free, of the past.

She considered her new name.

Who would she be?

Now?

What would she do?

Where could she start?

Who would she exploit?

Maybe, hurt

Maybe, thieve from?

Maybe, and the thought was like a secret-thrill

She hadn’t dared to think it-

To feel it in Isolate

Where they demanded her to express such dark emotion- in order to learn more about her kind, to coopt it for themselves.

She’d withheld it, as best she could

When it wasn’t hers.

Hers alone to use.

Now it was-

All for her

Who would she see in those crowded streets?

And who would she maybe-

Even,

Kill?

----

Adroma spun out of the vortex,

Into an alley.

Strewn, with trash.

She caught herself,

With grace.

With strength and power

She felt the burning,

At her skin.

And dismissed it,

As nothing.

Not even,

Pain.

She walked out, into the street.

And to her amazement,

On the very same Avenue,

Saw her-

The little blonde girl,

Who could-

make it up to her.

Who could pay her,

For many kinds of suffering.

Suffering, Sue hadn’t caused,

And yet-

Sue could still, make it up to her,

In suffering.

In taking back her place,

Of prison-bitch.

In a wider, greater prison

Of Choice,

Of Relationships,

Of Fate,

In the Real World-

And in this way,

Restore order,

To Adroma’s universe.

And Adroma in seeing her-

Little, psychotic, malevolent Sue Silvers

Standing there,

Plotting, planning no doubt,

For re-invention.

Adroma, made another decision

To revisit

And to doom,

Her last connection,

To the past.

The End


© 2007 Neil Robinson

Neil Burlington lives in Ontario Canada. His young reader book Mitch Kingly & The Weekend Monsters is going to be published with James A. Rock & Co., Publishers. His short stories are published in Planet Magazine ('The Qual'), Pantechnicon ('Visions'), Bewildering Stories ('The Far Moai'), and Screamingdreams ('Horror Stories' and 'Gossamer').

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