Your mind is thick with sleep. There is no reason to wake, but you do. Perhaps it was the residue of a sound that reached into the abyss. The crisp slice of scissors through hair. Maybe it was that. Each severed strand signalling its despair to the root, into the skin, through the forest of nerves and synapses of the cerebral cortex and down to the deepest, ancient core of being. The house that does not sleep. The reptile you. Perhaps it was that.
Your eyes feel full of glue, and they are difficult to pry open. Shaun is an insomniac, and he is sitting at his desk, with his back to you.
"Aren't you exhausted?"
"Shhhhhh ... go back to sleep"
And you do. Your eyes get sticky. The lids shut after a slow blink, and down you go. Back into the void.
"I can smell candles ... like when I was twelve ... mber ... dense waxy vanilla, the scent of my first communion. I love that smell. It’s so ... waterfall"
You smile at your silly mistake and drown in the bed.
In the morning you get up late. Shaun has gone already, but on the table is a shallow gift-wrapped box. Bound with string and fastened with a generous bead of red sealing wax.
Next to the gift is a folded page, and inside it reads, "Hey Rae, don't make plans tonight, okay? S'il Vous plaît. It's a surprise."
The day drags until the night falls, and you spend the better part of two hours getting gothed up in lace and lingerie. And finally, you strap yourself into a leather corset. Shaun has immaculate taste. It’s decorated with delicate black embroidery. It looks like a regal artefact from some distant past. It must have cost an arm and a leg. He’s never admitted it, but you think he must be a trust-fund child. Students can’t afford this kind of thing. Anyway, it was sweet, thank you, Shaun.
A wire fence boarded by corrugated metal sheets, and chipboard runs down to a gate with a tin sign. The sign is stencilled with "PRIVATE PROPERTY, TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED". It is blistered with rust. Crudely scratched into the corner is a single word. "WRONG".
"Oh. My. God. This is literally it? It's real? Like really real?"
"I know the bartender."
The metal gates are chained and padlocked, but Shaun pulls at a particular corrugated sheet, which peels open to reveal a gash in the chain-link fence. Shaun holds it open, and you bow down and climb through. A loose wire snags your arm and rips through the lace sleeve, biting into your arm.
"Ouch! Oh fuck, look at that! I'm so sorry Shaun, I'll get it fixed."
"It's just a thing, the world is full of things. Don't worry about it"
A thin thread of blood spreads across your bicep. Shaun crosses the threshold unscathed and together you walk past an old abandoned caravan. At some point in time, it would have been a makeshift office. The serving window is smashed. A sign beside the door reads, "Parking: $3.50 per hour, $15.00 per day, $45.00 per month, Motorcycles FREE". Beneath the price list, barely visible, the same crude scratched word: "WRONG".
The dilapidated dwelling starts to heave and rock. Someone is inside, and they're fucking. The carnal sound of slapping skin is offensive.
"Keep walking," warns Shaun. "They're junkies"
The entrance opens out into a landscape of disembowelled cars, shipping containers, rotting mattresses and decaying furniture. The ground is cursed with pungent welts of diesel and dirty oil. A graveyard of decomposed machines. Off to the right, an oil barrel is burning, hot orange light illuminating the beings that surround it. Street zombies. The parish of a perverted church. One of the junkies notices as the two of you approach. The air is bitter with crystal meth. He mutters to another, and two of them come towards you in silhouette.
"Shaun, I dunno about this ..."
"Don't worry, it's fine."
When the junkies are close enough for you to distinguish their toothless stained mouths they suddenly stop. They look and mumble between themselves but don't venture further forward.
"Spare change? I just need a dollar, to buy food for my kid."
Shaun steps forward and stares at them. They both step back. Something tells you that they might be afraid. They hover anxiously for a moment then retreat to the furnace.
"Shaun, I literally don’t like this place, okay. Let’s go?"
Shaun points to a container near the far wall of the yard.
"There, we'll be fine, really."
The container is painted matte black. It has two large swinging doors. One is bolted and the other is ajar. Shaun steps ahead and goes beyond. But you hesitate.
The container doors are covered with words. Violently scratched into the surface, then painted over with matte black paint. Hundreds maybe even thousands of words. They're all the same. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG ... No one will believe that you actually went to WRONG. You take out your phone and open Instagram. You frame the shot on the door handle. You take a photo, the flash fires but the image is just black. You try again. And again nothing. This is fucking typical. You close Instagram and open the normal camera.
"Rachael? Are you coming?"
You fumble and enter the container, Shaun startles you. He is standing right on top of you, you giggle nervously.
"Shit Shaun! God! You gave me a fright! This is so fucking awesome!"
Your words struggle to exist. You know they were said, but it's like you are in the sound booth at college. The sound doesn't bounce, it’s dead, absorbed by the unholy darkness. You look away from the door, and down into the far reaches of the container, it doesn't seem to have an end. Shaun walks forward into the fathomless dark.
"Shaun, wait! I ... feel funny."
You pronounce the sentence, but nothing comes out. You can feel the vibrations of your inner ear, but there is no manifest evidence of your voice. A dark breeze is tugging you forward.
The border that defines where you end and the world begins has gone. The only defining edge is the sting of the scratch on your arm. It's like a vital pinch when you want to wake up from a dream, a reminder that no matter how strange it gets, you can always eject; the pain is a lifeline to your existence.
You have been robbed of your vital senses. Your mind is panicking. It insists that you run. But you don't. You continue. Ahead of you is a faint glowing smudge.
This thing, that is resisting being seen, draws to focus. It's a full-size mirror. It shines darkness. In the same way that a black laptop screen reflects and shines simultaneously. You look so pale. The scratch has ruined the delicate lace sleeve. But the corset is truly stunning on you. You fix your hair and then you notice. Shaun has gone. You can see yourself, and the glowing entrance of the container door in the distance behind you. Did he really abandon you?
"I am right here."
Jesus fuck! His voice is right there, next to you. You turn and look and he is physically there! But ... and at that moment you understand everything. All that is. All that was. And all that will never be.
Shaun is not French. He is not Pisces. He is not leeching off his parents. He is not studying ... anything, and he's definitely not vegan.
He’s an anaemic, photophobic fucking liar and he has no reflection.
Shaun is unborn.
Your adrenaline spikes, you spin around screaming in panic, and sprint for the exit. Your mouth is sour with fear, you run at full tilt for at least ten seconds before you notice you have not moved an inch. You are still staring into the mirror at the colossal void where Shaun should be and thrashing around in your mind, hysterically trying to move muscles. The massive mirror suddenly jolts and swings open.
Rivers flow and then ebb. Tides rise and then fall. Both oblivious that they are under the hex of the moon. They just obey the celestial instruction. Without argument. They are spellbound.
Shaun makes no attempt to force you, but you follow him, petrified with fear, and you do this because I am in your mind now.
Both of you breach the threshold to WRONG.
I tell you to relax. I assure you that you are safe. And you obey. Your panic evaporates. Your fear fades. Calm tides preside over you, bound by magical obedience. And it feels wonderful. The nag of responsibility has gone. The internal voice of judgement is silent. Absconded from moral restraints, like a child, you are lawless.
What a curious place this is. It’s cosy, dimly lit and calm in a subliminal way. Old yet tasteful mismatched furniture inhabits the lounge area, resembling an eccentric museum. Beyond that is an open space where figures twist and weave, hypnotised by chords and rhyme. In another area, people frolic in sexual rapture, feeding each other with naked lust, while others recline and draw deeply from long black pipes over a flickering flame lamp. There is a subtle taste of vinegar on the air. The smell of cooking opium.
You are fascinated by the orgy, you've always wanted to try it, to lose yourself in a playground of hard men and voluptuous women.
Shaun leaves you and approaches the bar.
"Lore is Law," he says to the barman, who replies, without turning, "And the Law is Lore"
Your breasts feel full, almost aching and your skin is warm. You want them to have you. You want to quench the longing. Like a cobra swaying to a piper's tune, you walk toward the tumble of bodies. Eat me. Fuck me. And then a strange whisper beckons with an unreal sound, soft, comforting and deeply familiar.
"Rachael," it says.
That's your name. Is that your name? Perhaps your mother bestowed it in haste, and all this time you had the wrong name. Yet, this one, Rachael, is so familiar. You have worn it forever, but perhaps it has worn out? Perhaps the barman knows your real name. Perhaps he knows the name you ought to have, instead.
Perhaps he can rename you? Then that whisper comes again.
"Rachael, not yet, darling, not yet. Come ..."
You feel childishly sad to abandon this opportunity, but you do, and reluctantly seek the bar where Shaun the liar is sitting. The barman is busy fixing an order. He pours a liquorish green liquid into a glass, balances a teaspoon with a sugar cube across it and carries that to a man in a tailored suit with a congressional pin on his lapel.
"Enjoy," he says with a smile, then turns to face Shaun.
"I know what you're having." Then he faces you. "And what about you?"
The bar is not exactly traditional, it has typical bottles of spirits as you would expect, yet amongst them are milky glass vials, brown bottles and bulbous flasks. It reminds you of an old art-deco apothecary in the French quarter of New Orleans.
The barman is albino. A real albino, not a follywood replica. Ivory-white hair, pink eyes, very pale skin. He is not attractive in a handsome alpha male way, but he has an aura. You like him, for no obvious reason, but you don't really want anything to drink. Everything is just fine as it is. What's more, is you can’t really remember the name of any cool-sounding cocktails. If Samantha were here, she would know exactly what to say, and it wouldn’t be ...
"Um. Chamomile tea ... maybe?"
Shaun looks at you, scratches his chin with disdain.
"Chamomile it is, then,” the barman smiles and lifts his head, his nostrils flare as he inhales, and as a matter of fact, he says, "AB negative. You're menstruating aren't you?"
Shaun the bastard nods arrogantly, and smirks, "Bloody Mary."
And in humiliation, you seethe with rage. The impulse to slap him is transmitted in thought alone, and the barman steps forward and fulfils your impulse, with considerable force. He slaps Shaun off his chair.
And you are pleased.
Your mind's voice proclaims, in gratitude, "Thank you", and the whisperer replies, "You're welcome." It’s him in my mind. The barman. Words are unnecessary. It scares you and turns you on in equal measure.
Shaun leaps up, furious.
He pulls a drawstring purse from his pocket, unties it and empties coarse, black ash on the counter, and throws the empty purse at the barman in contempt. The ash is more like gravel. You recognise it. It's ash from a cremation. At some point, it was a living being, and he has discarded so crassly. The barman is displeased.
“I don’t have all fucking night to settle this, okay? So let’s do this already! Here it is. The deed. That’s what you wanted, right? And there is the settlement to my debt. A gift. Look at her. Amazing resemblance right?”
He points at you.
Then Shaun hands the barman a locket of hair. It's your fucking hair! And it is bound with a wax seal. It wasn't a dream. Everything he does makes you hate him a little bit more. What’s the wax seal about, and whose ash is that?
The barman smells the hair and glances at you.
“She’s yours. What happened was an accident. Okay? It should not have happened. But it did. So, I apologise. Never again.”
The barman puts a finger to his lips and closes his eyes, then he puts a pin-cushion on the counter and pushes it to Shaun, gesturing with a nod.
“What the fuck is this? You know who I am. There’s no fucking way you are getting a drop of my blood!”
The barman just looks at him.
“You know who I am.”
A crow perching in a wrought iron cage squawks twice. How could you have missed that? The cage is huge and just inside the entrance. The barman looks up at the creature and shakes his head. Cats are starting to congregate, skulking along the rafters, and weaving along the shelves. Three jump up on the far end of the bar and loiter to clean themselves. All the while watching us carefully.
“You don’t scare me, Balthazar,” spits Shaun.
The barman remains quiet. Then he nods and plucks a small shot glass from a shelf, with a cup, saucer and teapot. He smiles and walks away.
“Balthazar! Are we done? Jesus!”
“Who the hell are you, Shaun? Is that even your name?”
Shaun bursts into laughter and his teeth come out in fangs.
The bartender returns, with a tea cage and an antique crystal decanter. The tea goes in the pot, with steaming water and from a drawer below the counter, he places a sticky brown lump on the saucer.
“This is for you, Rachael," he says. "And that is myrrh resin. It’s not a trick, or a drug or anything like that, but I find it compliments chamomile very nicely … it's there if you wish, and this is blood.”
He raises the crystal decanter.
Shaun leans forward, rubbing his hands eagerly, and in the blink of an eye, Balthazar snatches his hand, pins it to the counter, underneath his own, and from nowhere plunges an ice pick through his hand, through Shaun’s and an inch into the wooden countertop.
Shaun shrieks in agony. The barman yanks their hands up and squeezes Shaun’s impaled palm until his blood dribbles down the spike of the ice pick and into the shot glass. Then he whips the pick out and punches Shaun across the room, at exactly the same time the crow shrieks and the cats leap. Shaun skids to a stop and is immediately encircled by dozens of feral cats. Some hiss and snarl and pace around in a wide circle. Each one pauses to urinate until Shaun is trapped inside a broad circle of warm acidic cat piss.
A single hysterical giggle comes from a woman nearby, just before she comes in a rapture of orgasmic pleasure.
Balthazar lifts Shaun's blood and studies it like a rare Pinot Noir.
“Lore is Law mutha fucker, you can’t drink that! I do not invite you in!”
The barman looks at Shaun and nods. He wraps his wound with a tea towel, and pour some of Shaun’s blood into a mortar.
"I know the rules Luscious, and so do you. The lore is the law."
Luscious?! He lies about everything, even his own name.
He opens another drawer and gets out a short black lamp, the kind you’d normally use to test counterfeit cash; a small yet potent ultraviolet lamp. It’s the most damaging spectrum of light, and the largest component of sunlight. He shields his eyes and blasts the blood for almost a full second.
The blood hisses then bursts into a shallow flame like burning rum. The crow swoops down and struts up to the flame and caws while Balthazar gargles ancient verses of Latin. The flame elongates into a blue triangle, which hovers over the mortar, the crow hops forward and pecks the empty mortar and the floating blade collapses into a heap of dusty iron filings.
The barman bows his head respectfully over the ash remains, which Shaun dumped on the bar earlier, then gently spoons them into his palm and lays them to rest in the mortar. And grinds the ash and iron with a pestle. The barman pours blood from the decanter into a crystal cup and mixes that with the ground ash and iron, slowly and carefully whispering softly to them both ...
“In the witness of sinners, before the daughter of Isaac, with this blood living, with this blood burnt, with this blood ironed, I bind you Luscious. Before the lore.”
The crow caws thrice, and all the cats hiss violently.
Balthazar toasts to Shaun and to me then sips from the crystal cup. He immediately coughs violently, his eyes widening. He drops his head and with great effort, he grips the bar, his body twitches and twists and cramps uncontrollably, his head flicks back and forward, his eyes screw shut, he laments in agony and violent shame, fangs bare, bloodstained, gnashing. The epileptic seizure slowly calms down, returning him to his former composure.
The hall is silent.
The music continues to play, but it is broken and wrong.
A great sadness descends.
Gradually all the patrons start to weep and mourn with profound sorrow. Even the crow cries.
“It was a mistake, Balthazar, you have to believe me.”
Without moving, the barman whispers once more into your mind.
“Rachael, tonight you were given to me carelessly, to balance an unpayable debt. The Lore is Law. Please, retrieve yourself, and guard yourself well. This seal is eternal, it can't be undone. You have been compromised forever. Whoever owns this owns you."
The barman pushes the lock of sealed hair to the edge of the bar.
Then, in a completely neutral tone, he asks aloud, “Shall I freshen your tea, has it gone cold?”
He looks into you for an answer.
You go to the counter and take the locket of hair and in that instance, your mind is released. You become I again. And with the return of I, I reach for the crystal cup. I want to know what he knows.
The barman holds the cup firmly and shakes his head.
“It is forbidden, Rachael. You are quartered.”
Quartered? What does he mean? Who did that? Then it dawns on you. Oh. Right, yes of course. I see now. In Old England, the punishment for high treason was referred to as being hung, drawn and quartered. The offender was hung and then divided into four parts. In a similar way, it's like the gift my mum gave me last year. I reach behind my neck and un-clip a silver chain and pendant crucifix. This is what he means. I am divided into four. I remove the hanging quarters.
“Balthazar, I want to see.” He releases the cup.
I drink half of what remains, and nothing remarkable happens, actually. It tastes like pungent semen, basically, not a great taste.
The chamomile should fix this.
I reach for it but it's not there because I'm floating on the ceiling.
Something is happening below, and looking down I find I am looking upon myself. I know it’s not me, but I am also not in the bar. I don't know where this is, or when this is, but that woman down there is just like me. She is an older-looking me, except she’s fanged and stark naked.
It's confusing, like a dream. It feels real and logical and not.
And I am naked and spreadeagled. I am crying in pain because I have been nailed onto a wooden cross and bound with rope on my thighs and upper arms. Even my neck is tied down, so tightly that I'm almost choking.
It can’t be me. It's not me, yet this other me calls out, begging for help. It feels like she can see this me, up here, and our voice is trembling with fear.
The room is dark. It’s boarded up, but it’s day outside. I can see the glow around a shuttered window. There is someone else with us.
No, not someone, it’s Shaun, or Lucius, whatever he calls himself. He puts a mask on, a welding mask, then he pries open a single plank releasing a beam of light to stripe across the floor.
In ambient light cast by the sun, I can see more of the room, and on the floor beside the wooden cross are ripped clothes, in particular, a beautifully embroidered corset. The one I wear now.
The other me is pleading in despair, begging him to stop, but no, Shaun the cunt ignores it. He comes back around the cross and with some effort pushes it forward until my lower legs are exposed to the sun. And I scream and scream and scream because my feet are burning. He leaves me there until they ignite.
Shaun watches until my legs, below the knee, have completely burnt off.
Then he pulls the cross back, away from the light and waits for a moment, stroking my face. He removes the mask, turns the cross sideways and begins to cremate my left arm all the way up to the shoulder. I am vomiting in pain, blisters crawling up my neck. They smoulder and flare and suddenly this me, the one looking down from above, drops off the ceiling and collapses onto the floor in the place named WRONG.
I am exhausted, weak and pouring with sweat. And I am so hot, so hot, a stinging, burning, sunstroke hot. The barman is kneeling beside me and holds my head up to a glass of water, it's cold and soothing.
“Kill him! Balthazar, kill him.”
I gasp for air. The breath is so deep that I burst into tears. The barman shakes his head.
“He's a fucking monster!”
He carries me to the bar and pours more water.
“Why?” I beg. "Why? This is wrong!"
“Judgement belongs in the domain of the living. It is not our way. Deeds are deeds. We will punish him, banish him into a beast. Unlike your kind, we may not kill each other."
"What? But that's exactly what HE did?"
"He did. But I will not. My Lore is my Law."
"Now please put that ...” He points to my silver crucifix lying on the bar. “... In there.” He points to the glass of water.
“Heal your mind. You must not keep this in you.”
I place the necklace into the water and drink. The ordeal, so hot in my mind, gets colder. Another sip and it becomes slightly blurred. Another sip and it is being pushed farther from reach. No! I will not do this. I will not forget!
I pour the water over my face and over my brow. My necklace slides down the empty glass and drops into my mouth. It is freezing cold. And it speaks to me, it tells me what to do. I spit it into the crystal cup of bound blood. Instantly a column of fire erupts from the glass, white-hot, reaching up like a metal ribbon. Simultaneously, Shaun ignites and screams and screams, trapped within the magical circle of urine. I don’t turn around, but I can see a thrashing dance of flames reflected in the mirror behind the bar. The fiery ribbon burns through red and orange, and as his screaming stops, it turns blue and collapses upon itself with a violet glow.
Tonight I was renamed.
Tonight I renamed myself.
I chose the name I want to have.
I am Rachael.
And the Law is my Lore.