By Shades of Autumn
Started: Tuesday 19th September 2006
Chapter One: Prelude
Elise hovered a few feet above the antique rocking-chair and screamed.
Her feet swung back and forth, back and forth again in time to the rhythm of the swaying pendulum on the other side of the wall. And her heart thumped as she wondered why she didn't feel anxious, why she didn't feel, why she didn't feel at all.
She abandoned her game and sunk back to the floor, her mind drifting hazily from the scene to scene as lazily as the clock that ticked the seconds to the scenes. Claudius. His lips gaping. Gasping. Turning blue. Eyes glittering, glazing giving up. The puncture wounds gaping, his lungs filling. Struggling. For every painful breath, a price: his lips working soundlessly.
And then she stopped.
Would they? Would they work for her. Would they? Even after all that had happened, that had had to happen, they wouldn't work for her. Would they?
And she tapped a foot in delicious suspense. Deciduous, like the trees in winter. Scrumptious like white apple seeds. Bumptious, like the life that spawned her.
And she gave up and went to the window. And the holes in the spread carpet threatened to trip her up. And when she flung out a hand to steady herself the back of the chair she grasped was slimy and sodden. Elise bit her lip to keep it from trembling, and, shaking, wiped it on her skirt.
Retreating from the victory, she turned and attempted to open the window. The sash squealed like a soul unhinged.
Cool night air hit her like a tennis racket straight in the face. She breathed deep, quelling the nausea with exhaust fumes and pollution and good, clean fresh air. Below, far below, tiny lights twinkled like stars. The droning pulsing that came with the rushing and she knew that if she jumped she would be dead.
But Elise didn't jump and Elise didn't fall. A chill blast tugged at her as she turned away, once-muslin curtains billowing. Lace fingers reached out, pale and soft and faintly fragrant.
Elise turned to face the pendulum again.
My mother's dress is cold, she thought and was frightened.
Everything was cold around her. Her bed. Her clothes. Their bed. His clothes. The very air she breathed froze in her throat.
But I can't. She thought. I can't scream. Not now.
She hugged herself with trembling arms, biting her tongue, picking her lip. What worked for others less than herself was merely a fabrication. Where was he. Where was he. Where. Was. Where. Was. Where.
Claudius stumbled through the pools of his mind, frenzied and numb. Above him, the sky streaked with stars like debris from a explosion. Oh, what visual frenzy.
What sweet destruction.
He stumbled and stuttered and worked and weighed his chances in the cigarette case he kept tight in his hand. One flame, he was gone. Two and he was dead.
Never mind. Could he stay here forever?
His hands gushed blood, splinters still sticking in.
And his hands gushed blood as he leaned across the damp bricks in the moist alleyway and the blood pooled in the sky, the sky like his dreams, like his head, like the pools.
A half-strangled yelp. And then he was shaking , wiping his mouth with a wrist, eyes vacant and wide, in horror of doing anything so unmanly.
The irony was lethal.
He rested and he panted. And his growls echoed that bounced that vibrated back, and back, and back.
Back to his back against the alley wall.
His fingers were chilled.
Claudius snorted, half-amused, half-sickened. What a thought. Standing on the sidewalk, begging at a side stall, a jar of severed fingers.
His nerve failed him and his severed fingers brushed soft leather as they dug down into the innermost pocket, the secret place, the guilt, the depression, the woe.
And he couldn't.
Sweat sprang up in beads on his forehead. Elise would harvest them, garnish them, make a necklace of sparkly little sweat-beads.
He couldn't and he knew it. Everything he fought so hard for. From the moment he opened his eyes, to the moment he lay down at night. From the womb to the undertaker's spade. The grave and the jackdaws, the puppets and the poppets.
The air around him whisked, suddenly thick and stiff. Heavy, dragging down, sagging, baggy old bat with two teeth and not much hair, evil breath and what a foul stare.
Two feet, bare and white swinging in mid-air.
The soles were cold and small and not at all inelegant underneath the gorgeous taffeta mass that whiskered and puckered like her lips, her lips as red as the blood that tripped from the toes, underneath her hips, her hips her sweet lips –
The image wavered and flickered and crashed into the alleyway; it appeared all around him, erupting like a boil, gushing poisonous waste all over the bricks and boxes and dark, soggy malignance. Claudius shuddered and slumped back down against the clammy coldness of the stone, feeling his eyesight blur and somehow skip away from him.
Come back, little girl, come back!
The blond pigtails bounced above the pink flesh of the sparkly bicycle.
"Girl. Your bike is bleeding."
She looked around and giggled, pigtails bouncing fetchingly. Then she turned and cycled on into the blackness.
And he was left alone again.
What a thought, what a world on a night like tonight on a planet like tonight like this like tonight was this was a thought was a world was a star burning burning high burning die die die die die
He couldn't take it. Still clasping his hands – like a prayer, like a wish, like a fish on the end of a hook – he felt himself sink down, slide down, down, down into the soft mud and fetid slime of the alleyway floor. There he sat, watching his blood collect in puddles.
And he sat, shaking.
And waited for light.