Table of Contents
Jump to the Prelude
Sunshine flooded the dark cocktail lounge. A window appeared on a wall. Angeline landed on the impeccably clean, shaking floor. She rolled, bumped into one of the round tables, and dispersed like a firework.
Gussie and Nora yelped excitedly.
“Hurry,” Nora said. “Miss Conners, over here!”
The sunshine was so bright that the ceiling lamps seemed even dimmer than usual. And just as always, the sunshine blurred the features of everyone and everything that it illuminated. The tables, the liquor bottles behind Mina, and Mina herself were all enveloped in the mysterious light. Angeline had brought the trance-space with her. Or the trance-space had brought Angeline. Either way, she and the timeless cornfield outside the window were all here, coexisting with the original cocktail lounge.
And there were Flip and Flop, the little black worms. They flew toward the opening with the veil, adding another thin layer to the reaper shield.
Like a sweeping snowstorm that was determined to stay in one spot, Angeline circled the room. She multiplied in size by becoming thinner in density. Soon, she filled the entire lounge. In this new environment, in the turbulent coexistence of darkness and light, she was having a hard time collecting herself. All she could do was to hang on to the invisible, nearly intangible strings crisscrossing around the lounge so that she could form some sort of structure. But even that hanging-on didn’t last very long at a time. It was always a few seconds here and there; her metaphorical hand crumbled apart every time she clasped something.
Lucky that the wrongdoers hadn’t joined them here. Seamus and the many Carningsby murderers, whom Angeline had punished in her head, had been left behind.
In the lobby, lawyers and reapers yelled and cursed, squeezing through the veil, despite Lisa’s loud protests that she was a guest at this hotel and that she deserved to be treated with respect. The noise, the vibrations, the shaking, none of that helped Angeline pull herself together. And seeing her like that didn’t help Zach either. He wanted to clasp her hand. She, too, seemed to want to grab him.
And they did, as best as they could. He went to where she was. She went to where he was. The particles that made up Angeline mingled with those that made up Zach, and vice versa.
Two beforeworlders who wanted to absorb and be absorbed by the other could never dream of this kind of union. But Zach and Angeline weren’t beforeworlders. They mixed like two gases, seamlessly, almost as if they had been one gas from the beginning.
Their heartbeats, which their awareness had grown accustomed to from its beforeworld time, continued to drive them. That regular throbbing harmonized with the throbbing in the air. Everything in the lounge jittered, on top of everything shaking.
A cacophony of toneless music. Pure chaos. Pure possibility.
Tables rose in the air. Ceiling lamps flickered. Bottles of liquor clattered. Everything lost its place and circled around the lounge along with Zach and Angeline. Gussie and Nora pressed themselves flat on the smooth surface of the piano. Between them was Shevlin.
Zach was alarmed when he saw that Shevlin’s eyes were wide open. He was screaming. He’d been screaming for quite some time. Zach only hadn’t noticed because in his tiny form, Shevlin’s screams were tiny in volume as well. Other objects were making a much louder noise.
“There!” someone shouted from outside, beyond the veil.
Zach’s reaper allies were being pushed aside. The veil was thinning rapidly.
“These have to be reapers,” another person said angrily. “Who are the reapers who are missing?”
“Everyone, look around, who is missing?”
“Who is taking sides?”
The accusations and denials of the reapers and lawyers echoed and clashed.
“Move them aside!”
“You’ll be punished!”
Zach had to hurry. Angeline was here and there was no reason for further delays. They weren’t communicating verbally, but he knew, she wasn’t hurt and she hadn’t changed her mind about using Shevlin to create their everlasting shelter.
They needed Shevlin’s blood. Lady Song had wanted them to apply it to the piano, because she wanted Zach to continue to play it. But prioritizing music was ridiculous at this point. Zach was willing to take any alternative if that guaranteed that he and Angeline could stay together. It could be a small thing, like a salt shaker. Why the hell not? They could make themselves as thin or dense as they pleased.
“We have to pick an object,” Zach said.
“This very room,” Angeline said.
“It’s too large. Shevlin is too tiny.”
But when Angeline saw that Zach was focused on a salt shaker, she said, “This is not the time to be unambitiously realistic—”
Nora screamed. Shevlin had pushed her off the edge of the piano. He was running along the top of the curved side, toward the black and white keys.
Quickly, Angeline swept toward Nora and caught her. Nora was tossed in the air, high, high up. Gussie reached up to catch her.
Before Nora landed in Gussie’s arms, Angeline attacked Shevlin. Like the goddess of wind, furious at a human who disobeyed her, Angeline threw gusts at him. Yelping, he slammed on the piano keys on the right end. Each key was as long as his height. The shriek of the high C, combined with C#, made everyone cringe. His descent didn’t end there. He rolled, hitting D and D#, too, and smashed on the ground.
“Are they fugitives?” a lawyer said, pushing his face through the veil.
“No, something else,” another lawyer said, also pushing her face.
“No time,” Zach told Angeline, who circled around Shevlin.
“What we do now will be what we will live with for the rest of our existence. I will not live inside a salt shaker. We have this room. We have everything here.”
“But how are we going to secure it with that tiny guy?”
She swayed left and right. She was looking around.
“He wasn’t always as tiny as this, was he?” she asked.
“He was normal-sized, like my friend over there.” Zach nodded toward Mina behind the bar. “But even then, he wasn’t going to be large enough to cover this lounge with his blood.”
“Well, how thick does the coat of blood-paint have to be?”
Zach didn’t know. Angeline knew that he didn’t know, without needing to hear it. Helplessly, they whirled around each other.
“Too much has been neglected so far,” Angeline said. “Love, dreams, honesty. They are necessary. All of them. If you give up on your dreams and choose to go with love, how long is that going to last? Soon, we’re going to lie to each other that we’re happy.”
“I don’t have dreams that are more important than us.”
“Then you’re still the lovely fool from many years ago. You were the happiest when you were making music.”
“Yeah, until someone decided to kill me on stage.”
“But that someone is the one we’ll eliminate.”
Shevlin, who’d been hitherto curled up on the floor while covering his head, scrambled up. Wailing like a maniac, he ran for the veil at the opening.
Promptly, Angeline pushed him to the ground with one determined blow. Shevlin made choking sounds.
“I want us to have everything that we’ve been missing, or vanish while trying,” Angeline said. “Compromise isn’t practical. It might seem practical, but it isn’t. Even if it was wise back then, it isn’t so here. This is supposed to be the place where more things are possible.”
“I want to have everything,” Zach said. He thought about the times when he hadn’t been more aggressive with his career. And the times when he hadn’t proposed to Angeline. And the times when he hadn’t asked the right questions for fear of finding out the truth about Angeline and himself. “But how?”
At that moment, Angeline burst in a sudden mini-explosion.
“Us,” she said. “So formless, so abstract that we can go anywhere. Us, the particles. Us, we have to shield us. We must turn him like us, formless and abstract.”
It dawned on Zach what Angeline meant. There was only one way to rob a person of his physical body: by tearing him apart, quite literally.
“You lead the way,” Angeline said. “You, the man he murdered.”
Zach nodded. Angeline let go of her pressure on Shevlin. The little murderer got right back up. He stumbled toward the veil. The grass and mud from his fight with Lisa still smudged his black coat and pale hair. Some of that fell off and dirtied the clean floor.
Zach stormed toward him. Zach surrounded him. Angeline joined in. In a tornado, they lifted Shevlin up in the air.
Shevlin shrieked. That gave Zach a sick pleasure. This man, who’d wondered “Why is this god damn prick not dying?” when Zach wasn’t dying at the expected pace, was now in pain. Did that make Zach the same evil person?
No. Order had to matter. When someone peacefully strolls down the street and another person throws a stone at him, that stone-thrower is to blame. And when it comes to murder, order matters even more, because one murders with the intent to rob the murdered of all future possibilities of counterattack.
But guess what, Gus Shevlin? Here I am, counterattacking.
Shevlin seemed to notice the change in the air around him. The air—hotter and acidic—meant to deal the death blow.
The loathsome, old babyface distorted to let out the loudest cry for help. That made things easier for Zach.
He entered through the mouth.
© 2022 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.