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Propped on the rocks, without yesterday or tomorrow,
You will say farewell to the riddle that is yours

-Marina of the rocks, Odysseus Elytis

 


 

INTERLUDE

 

She had this dream once.

White room with stained tiles.

Bath filled with  ice.

Figures hanging on  the walls.

Α familiar smell of blood.

Like  a calling, like a ritual of bones.

A variety of don’ts, struggling to reform.

Ringers waltzing off the tub

fingers scrapping off the rust.

Like a dream within a dream,

like a longing to escape

from another Tomas’s cage.

And two steps before the fall,

comes a number to unfold

here it goes

two seven four

here it goes

II   VII    V

 


 

Петрикор

 

Her sheets were soaked in sweat.

 

Summer still refused to let go. Like her nightmares.

 

‘You greedy fool’  she whispered to herself.  

 

She had everything.

 

Her boys’ breath to lull her to sleep . Four walls to make a home. The kitchen’s lights burning bright from the other side of the yard.

 

Funny.

 

Sometimes she watched them from afar.

 

The Hendrixes.

 

Their silhouettes laughing and running, a puppetry of restlessness.

 

Most nights  she would be part of their lives, welcomed to  their fiestas. They would offer wooden toys for her babies and a warm plate of food. It was more than enough.

 

They loved her.

 

She knew. She could smell it. Damp soil. Petrichor.

 

Alison, Donnie, Gemma and Oscar.

 

Four joyous stick figures. A vague relief.

 

Almost enough to ignore the crippling sensation. The nights drenched in fear, the word ‘Sarah’ slipping off her lips over and over again like a prayer.

 

Fear. Of what?

 

Tomas was dead. DYAD was over. There was no one. Only ghosts.

 

She looked at her feet. They were pale as chalk.

 

She slipped out of bed in lethargy. Her eyes locked on the spot, counting the steps.

 

Five. Four. Three.

 

 She squatted beside the mini hammocks , then touched the floor. The concrete was cold. Like the bodies inside.

 

Heh.

 

This place was a cemetery of junk. A garage with no cars. A coffin made of cement, a box of headless scientists and soldiers. Rapists and abusers.

 

This roof that knew so well how to harvest lives, seeded them in return.

 

“A shelter of the dead became a shelter of the living”, she mumbled.

 

‘Touche’ Sarah would say  (if she was here) ,totally smitten by her articulation (if she was any).Then ‘Good job meathead’ and a flash of  teeth. Maybe a pat on the head if she was lucky.

 

Her heart sank.

 

The longing got worse in the nights.

 

She couldn’t look herself in the mirror.

 

Alison’s presence pained her.

 

Days and nights living in her absence. Her calls usually unanswered. Their talk  in the convent playing on a loop.

 

 “I avoided you. My twin, my other self. You scared me. Because of what you felt.”

 

You scared me.

 

You scared me.

 

She wanted to rip these words apart, douse herself in gasoline and burn their connection, whatever vessel made her feared and unwanted.

 

The truth is she knew too well.

 

Her twin couldn’t run anymore. Kira’s need for stability kept her still as  glue.

 

Immobilized.Trapped.

 

Sarah was gradually evaporating , dissociating from the world, from every little thing that reminded her- (of what? of what?? tell me, speak to me, let me help you please let me help you)

 

When everything was too much, her sestra would come and cry her guilt away , lick her wounds like a helpless dog, then go home and relapse.

 

She looked at her hands. Her nails were black from scribbling on the dirt. She looked outside the window.

 

Two hours before dawn. The time she went  hunting.

 

She missed the woods. The smell of pine. The warmth of furs. The uncertainty of the night. Her pulse throbbing, her blood boiling.

 

More alive than ever.

 

Maybe when her cubs grew older she could-

 

No.

 

“We’ve talked about this, Pupok”,  she hissed, her eyes unfocused.

 

“Remember when you overheard sestra Alison. Remember what she said.”

 

‘We need to restrain her animalistic behavior. Hold back her uncivilized habits. You know that Donnie. Sooner or later her children will try to mimic her, copy every move and demeanor.’

 

Donnie hesitantly agreed.

 

She understood. Really. School was important. Manners were important. She understood.

 

(But she needed Sarah so much it hurt.)

 

“Sand keeps bursting into the room, Pupok”

 

“What should I do?”, her voice broke.

 

Something bad was about to happen.

 


 

вечеря

 

Candle wax, the scent of bourbon and  fresh pipe tobacco.

 

Her most favored sense worked overnight.

 

A beast after all.

 

The sound of creaking metal made her jump and her eyes fluttered open.

 

A crooked chandelier. Grease oozed from the hook on the ceiling .

 

tluck tlock

 

Below it, an enormously long dining table. The chairs were empty.

 

The  black glassy surface reflected the fire from the candles. Like an endless starry night.

 

She  sat at the head.

 

Food was not served yet. Where were the guests? Was it a privet buffet?

 

An indistinct movement was coming from the outside.

 

tluck tlock

 

There were neither plates nor glasses on the table; only forks and plastic knives.No soup then.

 

The doors opened with a bang.

 

Ten black clothed women made an entrance. They held a porcelain plate and a crystal wineglass on each hand; there was no content inside.

 

Another ten came. Then another. An army of black. A clockwork sect.

 

They had numbers and rules. Number One picked her seat first. Then the rest followed.

 

Space was relative as well. Everything seemed distorted, the table a long rubber band desperately stretching to fit them all.

 

Number Two hundred and  seventy-four closed the doors.

 

tluck tlock

 

Nobody spoke.

 

A grandfather clock ticked from somewhere inside.

 

Suddenly everyone raised their hands and reached for the cutlery.

 

Metal and plastic scratching on porcelain, cutting thin air.

 

Insanity.

 

She couldn’t see their faces ; they were all blurred.

 

tluck tlock

 

In one swift move she took number One’s wineglass and placed it under the leaking.

 

The crystal was gradually filling with drops. Like a painfully slow hourglass.

 

The scent of bourbon reached her nostrils again, more powerful than ever. She looked at the glass. The liquid had a rich amber tone; it was never grease after all.

 

A soundless gasp and her pulse was racing.

 

The door creaked.

 

A man.

 

Thick sideburns, empty eyes and  a silver dish with a cap in his hands.

 

His smile turned her insides.

 

 Helena.”

 

No response.

 

The silence was deafening. Her black companions had stopped consuming nothingness. They sat motionless like plastic dolls waiting for winding.

 

“My dear dear beloved child.”

 

She looked at her hands; there were knobs from digging.  

 

це пастка . Do not fall for this.

 

He sighed, then placed the dish in front of her. A silver blade with a fish handle flashed in his belt.

 

“Do not shut me down child. Let me help you.”

 

She closed her eyes.

 

His voice brushed her ear;  smooth as feather.

 

“Let me take away the suffering.”

 

Then a rustle, and the sound of wrinkled paper.

 

“There is a surprise waiting for you”, he pointed at the dish.

 

“You only have to answer me one thing and your supper is awaiting.”

 

She held her breath.

 

Tomas pulled a gold cross out  of his shirt and kissed it.

 

“Because of a confrontation, a quarter of humanity was destroyed.”

 

Helena studied him.

 

“I am not playing your games.”

 

Tomas huffed.

 

“You don’t have a choice, my angel. You must solve the riddle. ”

 

 She spat on his feet.

 

He half laughed and kneeled in front of her, then took out  a rope from  his pocket and began to tie her arms with the chair.

 

There was no struggle . She could bite his neck, leave him dead in a fountain of blood. Or strangle him with her thighs. Break his legs. Make him beg. Apologize.

 

She was tempted. Instead her mind was shifting back in the riddle.

 

Because of a confrontation, a quarter of humanity was destroyed.

 

She liked games. He knew it.

 

The gold cross was shining in his chest.

 

This was personal; a dive into the past. Another teaching , another catechism of his.

 

It must be a biblical reference.

 

Tomas was looking at her expectantly; his eyes were silently praying for her to find it.

 

He needed this as much as she did.

 

Her eyes wandered back in the glass. A couple more drops and the liquid was going to overflow.

 

Her time was up.

 

“Spill it child. Spill it.”

 

His hand was right above the glass. There was something in his palm but she couldn’t see what it was.

 

“Do you trust me?”

 

She didn’t.

 

“Open it ”, she replied instead.

 

It rolled fast and licked the surface; bourbon was spilling over, the puddle in the base of the glass getting bigger and bigger. 

 

It was a Barbie head attached to a waterfall of thick black hair. The doll’s eyes were scribbled with pen just below the eyelids. Tomas’s fat fingers were holding the head from the hair, like a yo-yo. A majestic pendulum that slowly sucked her soul.

 

bloop

 

It fell abruptly, sinking into a yellow turbidity.

 

Her heart stopped.

 

Sarah.

 

Sarah. Sarah. Sarah. Sarah. Sarah.

 

No no nonono-

 

“Book of Genesis. Cain and Abel. I am going to rip your flesh apart.”

 

 She was floundering in the chair, swearing in Ukrainian , her eyes throwing  daggers.

 

Yes yes yesss ” Tomas cheered; he was ecstatic, completely enamored with her.

 

Helena: his own personal subject, a slayer and destroyer; a massive weapon of chaos.

 

He opened the cap of the dish in front of her. Four dolls.

 

Then, he spoke:

 

“Tale as old as time. Cain and Abel. The sons of Adam and Eve.They were the four rulers of the world. Then jealousy and envy kicked in.A confrontation. Cain murdered his brother Abel.A quarter of humanity was destroyed.”

 

Tomas was looking at the Barbie dolls.

 

Four bodies and three heads. Alison, Cosima, Helena and the body of Sarah. Her head was aimlessly swirling inside the wineglass.

 

Everything made sense.

 

She looked at the shapeless black figures. On the other side of the table there was a slight movement. The blurriness was melting away. Her sister’s face was shaping up.

 

Sarah was here.

 

Tomas held the glass filled with bourbon and walked towards the opposite side of the table.

 

“Do.Not.Touch.Her.” Helena growled. She was bathed in sweat.

 

Helena?” 

 

The softest and most broken voice. Sarah.

 

“Shush child, it’s okay. Drink this. It will soothe you.”

 

“No sestra please do not drink! I beg you please don’t please don’t!”

 

She grabbed a plastic knife with her mouth (from Number Two on her right) and tried to reach the rope but her tears were in  the way; she couldn’t see a thing or even brush them away-oh she was furious.

 

“What is going on?”, uttered an irritated voice.

 

Alison. Then Cosima. Their faces popping from the  figures in between the various numbers still covered in a smoke of mystery.

 

Tomas was trying to lure Sarah into drinking when, in a bold move, she took his fish-blade from the belt and-

 

“Helena CATCH!”

 

A woman with an eye-patch gripped Sarah’s wrist in mid-air and twisted it.

 

The knife fell down with a thud  at the same time Sarah’s painful scream echoed in the dimply lit room.

 

“Are you out of your bloody mind??”, Sarah exploded.

 

“Do you not see how completely out of control she is? Ask him where the list is before she frees herself and eats him alive” Rachel hissed ,her  poisonous glare shifting between Sarah and Helena.

 

Helena’s eyes lacked of anything human right now. They were feral, pitch black, two bottomless holes, whirlpools of rage.

 

“Where is the list? Where is it Tomas?” Sarah demanded, on the brink of losing it.

 

Tomas didn’t bother gathering his knife. He was watching, strangely amused.

 

“What list?” he asked, almost winking.

 

“The names. All of them.” Cosima spoke for the first time, her voice harsh.

 

“Didn’t you have it?”, Alison stuttered.

 

“Not anymore”, Cosima replied, guiltily looking away.

 

The double leaf doors opened again.

 

A woman in white.

 

Helena stopped growling.

 

She cocked her head to the side like a confused wolf.

 

The scent of incense and fireside.

 

Hunched shoulders and gentle hands. Wrinkles  of comfort.

 

“Sestra Irina?”

 

The kind woman smiled and walked graciously towards Tomas. She took a wrinkled paper out of his hands and unrolled it to Helena.

 

Nobody spoke.

 

The note said:

 

Give me your tongue and I will give you the list.’

.

.

tluck tlock

.

.

 

“Don’t. Don’t you dare -don’t you even think about it ”, the answer was instant from Sarah.

 

Then all of them:

 

“It’s not worth it.”

 

“It’s a trap.”

 

“This is not even real, you can’t read in dreams.”

 

Helena closed her eyes and stuck her tongue out. She was waiting for the fish-blade to do the rest.

 

Her sestras’ voices were muffled ; suddenly they were just the two of them - Irina and Helena-  in a testament of faith.

 

She felt no pain. Nothing  other than a hole in her mouth and the metallic taste of blood. Still dizzy and numb, she opened her eyes and found herself flooding in blinding light.

 

Sestra Irina was looking at her with such tenderness and love, her heart swelled.

 

Then,  after a moment or two, the lady in white started to recount the letter with Helena’s voice and tongue:

 

Sarah.

Your name ends where mine begins.

Your soundless ‘h’ athirst for attention.

Does it hurt when it rolls your tongue?

Does it bite when you try to recall?

 


 

 

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tluck tlock

 

Wake up.

 

tluck tlock

 

Wake.

 

Up.

.

.

.

.

 

“Time’s up.”

 

Helena gasped and nearly fell off the chair. She had dozed off on the kitchen counter near the sink.

 

tluck tlock

 

God.

 

The cacophony of her dreams was becoming unbearable.

 

She tightened the spigot of the faucet with trembling hands. The leaking stopped.

 

Two nightmares in four hours. Insomnia would be heaven compared to this.

 

Dawn was a breath away. She wanted badly for the sun to come up, for her boys to wake up and shut her mind off.

 

‘Does it bite when you try to recall?’

 

The letter. She had burned it.

 

Still  worthless; the quatrain was stamped on her memory.

 

She needed air.

 

The door opened with a squeak and a balmy breeze welcomed her.

 

It was nice. Soothing.

 

The lights on the fence were still on, half of them burned and broken.

 

Poor Donnie. (Alison will be mad)

 

She wandered around. The flowers needed pruning, the grass cutting.

 

(something bad was about to happen)

 

Maybe it was time for transplanting.

 

She went looking for a pruner and a hoe.

 

(anything to keep her hands busy; to not think)

 

The hose was left near the pit , almost hidden inside the bushes, along with the shovel.

 

She stopped right in front of it; the grave.

 

Her magical, science babies. Seeds of grief and coercion. The outcome of a one-sided marriage.

 

She looked at the dirt and all she could think of was red. Ginger hair and  cinnamon freckles. Dry blood on the wooden floor.Gracie’s dead, glassy eyes.

 

How many visits from the past ‘til morning?

 

She sniffed the earth deeply.

 

Damp soil and not a single rainy day. Odd.

 

(something was utterly utterly wrong)

 

She kneeled before her dead seeds, her palms buried in dirt. This was not her pit. Not her memorial.

 

This was the work of another.

 

In a matter of seconds her hands became shovels. She was digging maniacally, each moment apart from the truth, a torture .

 

She touched fabric instead of metal.

 

Something rigid.

 

Then a clump of hair.

 

No.

 

Please God.

 

She couldn’t stop herself, words kept coming out, moans of despair.

 

Lights were turning on, people running down the stairs, but she couldn’t stop.

 

No no no no no

 

“Helena?”

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“Mom?”

 

“Oscar, Gemma please go to bed- Donnie go get them!”

 

“Kids please listen to y-“

 

“Helena?”

 

voices and raw meat and the sickening feeling of Death.

 

The shadow of Tomas watching her from behind finally winking -oh she couldn’t feel her tongue

 

 “Helena please unlock the back door! What’s going on??”

 

She was stuttering half truths but they wouldn’t understand.

 

 “Speak in English darling, please calm down we’re here!”

 

“Do not go out”, she growled, her voice unrecognizable.

 

stay inside. stay safe. stay inside.

 

“Should we call Sarah?”

.

.

.

“Helena?”