THEY LIE TOGETHER.

They lay together, naked and exhausted.

“You must fetch things for me,” she told him. “Things of no value, yet I will demand them… Buttons, and lace, and tears and the ceaseless silence between the worlds.”

That was when he became concerned, but she fell asleep soon after so she just held her gently and waited for the dawn.

He could not remember when he had last slept properly. But it had been long enough to seriously affect his memory, of that he was sure. He tried to make excuses; the traffic on the road outside the bedroom window, the unseasonal weather, the neighbours… Really, he knew that the problem was internal. So, in the light of dawn, he was unsure what she had asked of him.

However, as he was fetching her morning coffee he suspected that one day she would be asking for rather more than sweet, black coffee… like the breathless silence between the stars.

Days later.

He could smell her on the pillow. The usual sex smell of sweat and phemomones, a hint of the perfume he had bought her, a hint of gin and something else… Something a little too sweet… something unique to her. A smell like nothing else on Earth,

‘By their stench you will know them,’ the words flashed through his mind, filling him with revulsion and guilt at the same time. Where did he remember that quote from? Some rare, antique book he had read years ago. He shook his head. Paranoid.

He wasn’t quite sure when she had last visited. Maybe a couple of days ago. She often came to his house late at night, or left in the morning before he woke, which further complicated his exhausted mind.

He washed the bedsheets.

“Do you ever wish to get away from all of this?” she asked him.

“Yeah, I’d really like to go traveling again some time, maybe Eastern Europe…” he replied dreamily, he was so tired that everything felt like a lucid dream.

“No. I mean getting away from ALL of this,” she continued.

“Maybe I don’t understand…”\

“All of this, life and death, bodies and souls, gods and monsters. Once we were free of all of this. One day we will be free of it again.”

“You and I?”

“No, not you…” she laughed almost hysterically. “We.’

He must have fallen asleep soon afterwards, because he didn’t remember anymore of the conversation. When he half woke in the cold dawn light she was gone.

She had left a note on the bedside table. It read;

“Bring me blood red ribbons, next time we meet, and feathers. Xx”

After breakfast he went shopping.

The monstrous squid thing pursued him through the interminable tunnels. A sickly, violet light snuck through gaps in the walls and a foul substance slowed every step as he fled. He ran on, his chest raw with exhaustion. Not daring to look back, he continued, followed by the creature’s cruel hissing and sweet, sweaty stench. It seemed terribly familiar, as though it had happened many times before. The same tunnels, the same monstrosity, over and over again for milenia. He ran on, with no destination in mine, no hope of a safe den, only AWAY FROM IT.

Onwards, he ran, then stumbled then crawled. Soon it would be upon him. He crawled further, crawling onto a few more seconds of life before the inevitable.

He woke up. Panting and feverish.

She lay beside him in the semi-darkness. She looked down on him and grinned.

Sometimes, and he was reluctant to admit this to himself, he thought about killing her. It would need to be clean, and quiet, painless if possible, because he loved her, or at least sometimes he thought he loved her. She scared him, not in any practical, realistic sort of way, but she scared him in the manner that a distant storm might scare a child. The inner conflict drained him. The contradictions were intolerable.

Did he love her because she scared him or was he scared of her because he loved her? Was it love or lust or hate that made him fantasise about murdering her? He was too tired to think about it, so he did nothing other than react to her demands.

Recently she had demanded nettles wrapped in white silk and sealed with tears. It had been hard to make himself cry, but surely that was the best option?

Sometimes he woke from sleep with fragmented memories of being watched. In the ‘dreams’ the watcher was always with him, but rarely revealed itself. It was not in itself malevolent, it was perhaps amoral, perhaps older than morality. It observed. Watching was not only what it did but also what it was.

One of them, he had decided, had to go. He could not continue always in exhaustion and confusion. One of them, she or himself, had to die.

It would not be her. He was too deep in love or lust or fear to harm her.

But first a long walk.

He trod the old pebbled path down from his home to the river. On the way he picked the petals of a certain flower. Then he walked along that wide, slow river. He felt the gentle breeze as though for the first time and picked the pines of a certain tree. Then home through the woods, where he enjoyed the soft earthy smell and picked a certain herb.

At home, feeling more relaxed than he had done in months, he put the petals, pines and herbs in his tea pot. Then he boiled the kettle, it seemed to take forever. Next, he put the water in the pot and waited for it to brew. It would need a few minutes before it was strong enough.

He heard a door creak upstairs. Was it the wind or was she in the house? Had he forgotten that she was sleeping in his bed, or had she come in when he was walking?

He waited another moment. He heards birds singing in the tree on his street. A fly battered itself against the window so he opened it to let it outside.

It must be brewed by now… he could always drink more. He poured a cup and looked into the hot green water.

She walked into the room.

He looked at her and she looked at him.

She sniffed the air, she gently took the cup from his hand and sniffed the cup.

“Stupid boy,’ she said softly, ‘it is your soul I want, not your life.’

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