His leaving was unremarked by everyone, save for the girl, who felt hollow with his going.
In the other bedroom, Claire whispered “Come back,” but no one could hear her in their own dreams.
Less than an hour later, however, the girl would be the first awake to hear her cry out in pain and fear.
“No! No they could’t! Please!”
“Theycan’t!THEYcan’T!” Claire screamed, reaching to fight with the girl, not recognizing her. It was almost disorienting to touch the woman, the way her expression was shock and horror — there was something else, though. Something slick and swimming, something hidden behind her eyes where she could see, something monstrous.
Too much. It’s too much!
Her cries grew wordless quickly, and the girl ran to get a washcloth, some cold, fresh water to drink, more pillows — anything she could think of, to comfort Claire. She watched, worried more than she could stand, wondering if the past two weeks were only very good days, and now it was over.
Screaming, Claire thrashed in the girl’s arms, rocking, nothing like fragile for those moments, tears running down her reddened cheeks, saliva frothing at her lips as she struggled.
Hurt you. I’ll hurt you. Too much.
Gnashing her teeth and trying to free herself from the girl’s tight, careful embrace, Claire slipped away, a layer of confusion boiling up around her.
They can’t. They can’t. Don’t let them. No.
The girl reached for a small kit, and set it on the bedside table, measuring out and readying a dose of heavy tranquilizers. She didn’t press, didn’t make Claire take it, but it was there, and she would help if that’s what was required.
The screaming got louder and louder, hoarse, until Claire’s cries were choked, an almost barking sound tearing through her lungs.
She finally just wheezed, her eyes wide and staring, her body shuddering, jaw dropped, hands in fists.
All the little lambs. They go sweetly along, precious, precious, all the little lambs. Little lambs, little lambs, white and baaing, little lambs.
Claire went limp in the girl’s arms, no longer screaming. No longer fighting. Her blue eyes were wide and horrified, and she was far away, children’s nonsense songs between her and the world.
The girl looked to her, kneeling on the bed, wanting Claire’s attention, wanting to talk to her, the insides of her screaming out to understand, to find out.
What’s happened? What’s going on? What is this?
Claire didn’t come back, not through the silly, eerie songs, not through the haze of confusion. She laid in the girl’s arms, limp and wide-eyed, looking like a wax-work off its stand, a doll with a wrong expression from the factory.
Johnny has a rifle-gun, rifle-gun, rifle-gun. Johnny has a rifle-gun; he’s go-ing off to war.
Along the fringes of what was Claire, there was screaming and bloodshed, fear and revulsion, confusion and terror.
Too much. There’s too much.
Broken bits and pieces, jagged, ragged, glass and shining and bloody and mangled and ripped and shredded and shattered and dented and bruwased and ripped and torn. Wasteland. Confusion, loss.
Claire shivered once, a tremor working its way through her body, and she mewled once, quietly.
Rusted metal, pitted, gouged, corroded, acidic, falling, failing, twisted, ruined, spilling, breaking, snarled and scattered. Screaming sadness, misery, fury, hate.
Blue eyes remained wide and unblinking, staring, lost.
The girl would wait, as the clock measured minutes, hours, while she struggled to stay with Claire, and Claire seemed all but gone. Her navy eyes rested on the girl in the bed, and every time she thought to get up and sedate Claire, she gave her just a little longer. Just a little longer, and maybe she would be all right.
No. The world was miserable and wretched. Claire wouldn’t mind sharing her pain, wouldn’t mind it, perhaps, if she could give only a little, but she was petrified she would lose herself, and flood the girl, reducing her to what happened with the earlier people who wanted to ‘play’.
It was there, at the edge of things, and then it wasn’t. It wasn’t a wash, wasn’t a storm, it was a hurricane, a shrieking, howling, torrent, a deluge of horror and freakish abandon. Seething rage and confusion. A hundred thousand murders in cold blood, a hundred thousand more done in fury and misunderstanding. Every broken incarnation of all her angels — fallen ones with bloodied stumps for wings.
Mechanized babies bleeding oil, mothers clawing out their own eyes, animals ravaging, people raking at other people with knives and broken bottles. Savage hatred. Vomitous, bilious, foul and full of thick, liquid blackness.
Claire’s form, in her mind, the one that isn’t frail, isn’t broken, looked afraid as the stuff seethed within her, and then it simply tore her open, spilling from her eyes and nose and mouth and ears, gushing from between her legs. It bulged from her breasts and belly, and her skin distended and ripped, acidic hatred, horror and rage melting her, dissolving her, washing her away as she let it loose, as it simply burst from the innards of her, splattering that nowhere place with viscera.
She tried to thrash and flail in the girl’s arms, biting her tongue and drooling blood and bile.
In her terror, Claire reached for the girl, to hold to her mind, to grab her and cling close.
And so the wash of horrifying nastiness went for the girl, instead.
It was like drowning, and instead of being able to float, instead of being able to rise above it, Claire’s leaden fear dragged them down into the chaotic mess that was the dark side of every possibility, spreading, sprawling, fractalling out and attempting to consume everything in its path.
It came for Cat, wearing the blood and bones of Claire.