Marcus paused in the courtyard to listen. The sounds from within had changed. The small hairs on his body stood up… his entire body alert to the waves of energy building and crashing through the wall. A powerful, guttural roar tore into the silent night and he felt the hunger rise and possess him in an unprecedented fashion, even though he had feed before he had left to hunt down Sylvie.
The danger was all around and he thought he’d prepared himself… but he realised now, nothing on earth could have readied him for this.
Marcus held tight to Sylvie’s suitcase in one hand and the decapitated head inthe other, desperate to stay in the present. He felt the earth shift, then the images came.
…screams amid flourishes of bright tie-dye material. A flash of facial piercing and tattoos. Groups sitting calmly, like monks in Vietnam, in submission rather than protest. No cameras to record bloodied mouths and frenzied looks as man, woman and child devourd each other. A seething maelstrom of rage and cannibalism. A split second choice to be bitten and the earth shifted – the course of what this history should have become, altered forever.
…a filthy room. Holes in the wall. A naked light bulb. Beautiful bare legs beneath cut offs. Her face growing out of the shadows. A realisation he could not abstain. He could not give her what she deserved, regardless of what she argued. She had a life. He merely existed. He was not the man for her. He was no man. The flash of his scars in the broken mirror. The clatter of her diamond belly ring falling to the floor. A single tear.
… Sylvie’s flesh on his. The earth shift again. The spark of feeling. Of recognition. The name on her driver’s license. A wound reopened. Memories resurfacing…
“What are you doing here?”
He gasped in the cold air as though he had been dead and a stab of adrenalin in the heart had brought him back. The world spun for a moment, a tornado of memories stilling and setting his feet back in the present.
You’re not in Kansas now Dorothy.
The crone stepped out of the shadows.
How long had she been there? What had she seen? Heard?
“It is not time.” She turned her back on him. “You will be called when it is.”
He took a few steps closer to the Birth House, his anger at the Crone protecting him temporarily from the temptation within and he threw the head at her, hitting her squarely between the shoulder blades.
“Responsible owners keep their pets on a leash.”
She snarled as she turned, picking up the inert head, the pupil-less eyes reflecting the glow of the full moon before it was once again covered by heavy clouds.
“They could have killed Sylvie.”
“The world is in flux boy, and I have no intention of letting just anyone walk in here tonight.” She held the head up. “Did you think you could scare me?”
Marcus took two crunching steps closer, his words white in the freezing air.
“I have something for Sylvie.”
“You’re on a first name basis with the midwife.” She threw the head out into the snow. “How sweet. But given our arrangement – completely inappropriate I would have thought. I’ll take the case.”
She moved out of the shelter of the crude eaves and into the snow to take the suitcase from him.
“Uh-ah… patience, old woman.” He put up one condescending pointer finger just to piss her off. “Things just got a whole lot more complicated.”
“We had a deal.”
“The deal is not negotiable.”
“You lied to me.”
“I did nothing of the sort.”
“You did not tell me who the midwife was.”
“She is nothing important in the bigger scheme of things. A baby will be born, a midwife was needed.”
“There you go again, old woman, telling lies.” Marcus put the suitcase down behind him and planted his feet at hip width, crossing his arms across his muscular chest. “Omission of the truth is the same as lying.”
“So… she’s the daughter of Dr. Johaanson.”
“The sins of the father do not need to be visited upon the daughter. Don’t you think she’s suffered enough?”
“Suffered enough…” The words flew out through the gap in her teeth with a hiss and her withered featured contorted into a look of sheer hatred. “You either take her and feed from her when all of this is over or I throw her to, as you have called them, my pets. Either way she will not be leaving here. His flesh and blood will pay for what he did here.”
“She wasn’t even born when this started. She’s been punished for his other sins. His whole family has.”
“What do I care about what Johaanson got up to after he tried to kill us all here? What do I care for his family.” The crone moved in on him, shuffling through the snow in a stop motion version of a circle. “Why do you care so much for her? What would one like you want with Sylvie?”
Marcus squared his shoulders.
I wont let her get to me.
“You are nothing more than beast. Nothing more than the first plague. Like him.” She pointed to the head lying with one cheek to the snow. “Living in the shadows on the perimeter of society. You can’t be normal, any more than they can.”
“You are wrong!” He spun around and grasped the suitcase, pulling it away from her outstretched hand. ‘Take me to see Sylvie.”
“You think that girl is going to redeem you?” She laughed, a sound like a flock of annoyed crows alighting from power lines. “Oh, Marcus. How does one so evil, still find shreds of innocence and naivety.”
She shuffled away from him, back under the cover of the eaves, muttering and shaking her head. Brushing the snow from the thick shawl around her shoulders she regarded him, one hand bloodied and the other holding onto the suitcase as though it were a life raft.
Another roar exploded into the night… shifting the lines between them, as the it went deeper. Raw. The primordial sound of the ecstacy and pain of life. The crone noticed how Marcus’s skin flushed and despite the sub zero temperatures, a thin layer of sweat broke across his brow.
She smiled, then sucked in her bottom lip for a moment as she thought, her cheeks sinking even further into her skull, letting the birthing sounds hang between them a little longer.
“You want to broker a new deal. By the grace of the Goddess we’ll broker another deal.”
The blood raced through Marcus’s body, the snow melting in a halo around him. The labouring woman’s roars and pants thundered in his ears, as his defences dissolved like the snow, the sounds pounding in time with his heart beat.
“You give me the suitcase and I’ll give you the other baby. And I give you my word that nothing befalls the midwife.”
He could feel the heat in the room, the smell of garlic, the lines of power that Sylvie had stepped out to protect the space. Ineffectual against him, since she had touched him earlier. The touch of Sylvie’s hand on the woman’s searing skin.
“I want both of them,” he gasped. “The midwife and the baby.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and focused for a minute on the smell of the snow and the rancid, polluted blood of the plague still thick on his hands, pulling himself out of the birthing room. He shook his head as though to free the connection with simple kinesthetics.
“Shake on it?” He extended his hand and he saw The Crone falter and hesitate. “If the deal you make is true then you have nothing to fear in shaking my hand.”
She closed her eyes and took a minute to think on it.
Just say yes you old bitch. Do it. I can’t hold on much longer…
Marcus tried to keep his focus on her, but the strong, steady heart beats of the twins, about to break free from the womb called to him drew him in. One promised to him.
How long could I live with the life energy of a new born babe? One of them was meant to die anyway… it was the prophecy? But Sylvie…
…I don’t care what she thinks… the chance…
“Indeed Marcus, we have a deal.” He fought to stay present – to be patient. The hunger was clawing him, like a rabid beast fighting its way out of his flesh. A frantic dance to the dual rhythm of the heart beats.
The crone is going to seal the deal.
She’d shake his hand and they’d all have insurance against any deceit.
“I have nothing to fear in shaking your hand.”
“Ok, old woman,” the words barely came out of his mouth. The trembling had begun, the primal parts of him swamping the civilised parts. He took an unsteady step towards her, the suitcase heavy in his hand, the other outstretched to grasp hers.
The crone nodded her head, urging him towards her as a woman jumped from the wall behind Marcus, landing lightly with a crowbar across her thighs. With a single swing Marcus lay face down in the snow, the suitcase wedge underneath his prone body.
This installment incorporates Mum and Robbi’s challenge (a lie) and Anna Barros and Em’s (walking the boundaries, garlic)