Title: Books of Blood, Volume 5 (aka In the Flesh).
Author: Clive Barker.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror.
Publication Date: 1985.
Summary: This book collects the fifth (of 6) volumes of Books of Blood and 4 short stories. In In the Flesh, a convict gets a cell-mate who is the grandson of a murderer hanged in the prison back in the 30s, and soon realizes the weak young man has dark magic and necromancy in sights. In The Forbidden, a young woman comes across an urban myth that may be very real when she delves into the mysteries of a city slum. In The Madonna, two shady businessmen thinking of developing an old pool complex find something seductive and horrifying hides in the abandoned, spiral-shaped building. In Babel's Children, after breaking down in the middle of nowhere on a Greek Island of Kithnos, a young woman is taken temporary prisoner in a mysterious prison-like compound, and the more she delves into its secrets, the more she realizes it may hold the fate of the whole world in its hands.
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ You're still a young man, the last judge had told him; you still have time to change your spots. He hadn't disagreed out loud, but Cleve knew in his heart he was a leopard born and bred.
♥ "My grandfather—that is, my mother's father—was hanged here," he said, his voice raw. "In 1937. Edgar Tait. Edgar Saint Clair Tait."
"I thought you said your mother's father?"
"I took his name. I didn't want my father's name. I never belonged to him."
"Nobody belongs to anybody," Cleve replied. "You're your own man."
"But that's not true," Billy said with a tiny shrug, still staring at the light on the wall. His certainty was immovable; the gentility with which he spoke did not undercut the authority of the statement. "I belong to my grandfather. I always have."
"You weren't even born when he—"
"That doesn't matter. Coming and going; that's nothing."
♥ "The graves are alongside the wall, to the left of the hut. There's a long lawn; you must have seen it."
"Absolutely not. The plots have always been left unmarked. Only the governor knows who's buried where, and he's probably lost the plans." The Bishop ferreted for his tobacco tin in the breast pocket of his prison-issue shirt and began to rill another cigarette with such familiarity he scarcely glanced down at what he was doing. "Nobody's allowed to come and mourn, you see. Out of sight, out of mind: that's the idea. Of course, that's no the way it works, is it? People forget prime minsters, but they remember murderers. You walk in that lawn, and just six feet under at some of the most notorious men who ever graced this green and pleasant land. And not even a cross to make the spot. Criminal, isn't it?"
♥ "..So he was hanged before the war."
"Nineteen thirty-seven. He'll be well gone, eh?"
The Bishop raised a cautionary forefinger. "Not so," he said. "You see, the land this prison is built upon has special properties. Bodies buried here don't rot the way they do elsewhere." Cleve shot The Bishop an incredulous glance. "It's true," the fat man protested mildly. "I have it on unimpeachable authority. Take it from me, whenever they've had to exhume a body from the plot it's always been found in almost perfect condition." He paused to light his cigarette and drew upon it, exhaling the smoke through his mouth with his next words. "When the end of the world is upon us, the food men of Marylebone and Camden Town will rise up as rot and bone. But the wicked? They'll dance to Judgment as fresh as the day they dropped. Imagine that." This perverse notion clearly delighted him. His pudgy face puckered and dimpled with pleasure at it. "Ah," he mused, "and who'll be calling who corrupt on that fine morning?"
♥ "I've got business here. Important business."
"With a dead man?"
"With a dead man."
♥ He responded neither to the questions nor the insults bandied about; his facade of empty-eyed indifference was flawless. Cleve was impressed. The boy had a future as an actor, if he decided to forsake processional lunacy.
♥ It was not the first time he had witnessed such a premeditated withdrawal. His sister-in-law, Rosanna, had died of stomach cancer three years earlier: a protracted and, until the last weeks, steady decline. Cleve had not been close to her, but perhaps that very distance had lent him a perspective on the woman's behavior that the rest of his family had lacked. He had been startled at the systematic way she had prepared herself for death, drawing in her affections until they touched only the most vital figures in her life—her children and her priest—and exiling all others, including her husband of fourteen years.
Now he saw the same dispassion and frugality in Billy. Like a man in training to cross a waterless wasteland and too possessive of his energies to squander them in a single fruitless gesture, the boy was sinking into himself.
♥ Billy beamed. With that smile, in a sense, the bad times really began.
♥ The cell seemed darker than it had the night he had seen Billy with his face up to the window. As to the boy, he was not visible. Cleve opened his eyes a little wider and scanned the cell as best he could from between his fingers. There was something amiss, but he couldn't quite work out what it was. He lay there for several minutes, waiting for his eyes to become accustomed to the murk. They didn't. The scene in front of him remained unclear, like a painting so encrusted with dirt and varnish its depths refuse the investigating eye. Yet he knew—knew—that the shadows in the corners if the cell, and on the opposite wall, were not empty. He wanted to end the anticipation that was making his heart thump, wanted to raise his head from the pebble-filled pillow can call Billy out of hiding. But good sense counseled otherwise. Instead he lay still, and sweated, and watched.
And now he began to realize what was wrong with the scene before him. The concealing shadows fell where no shadows belonged; they spread across the floor where the feeble light from the window should have been falling. Somehow, between window and wall, that light had been choked and devoured. Cleve closed his eyes to give his befuddled mind a chance to rationalize and reject this conclusion. When he opened them again his heart lurched. The shadow, far from losing potency, had grown a little.
He had never been afraid like this before, never felt a coldness in his innards akin to the chill that found him now. It was all he could do to keep his breath even and his hands where they lay.
..His attention was on the curtain of shadow, and the figure—stitched from darkness—that moved in its folds. It was not an illusion. There was a man there: or rather a crude copy of one, its substance tenuous, its outline deteriorating all the time and being hauled back into some semblance of humanity again only with the greatest effort. Of the visitor's features Cleve could see little, but enough to sense deformities paraded like virtues: a face resembling a plate of rotted fruit, pulpy and peeling, swelling here with a nest of flies, and there suddenly fallen away to a pestilent core. How could the boy bring himself to converse so easily with such a thing? And yet, putrescence notwithstanding, there was a bitter dignity in the bearing of the creature, in the anguish of its eyes, and the toothless O of its maw.
♥ Billy had reached his master. The creature towered above him, tattered and spindly, but aching with power. Cleve didn't know how or why the boy had gone to it, and he feared for Billy's safety now that he had, but fear for his own safety shackled him to the bunk. He realized in that moment that he had never loved anyone, man or woman, sufficiently to pursue them into the shadow of that shadow. The thought brought a terrible isolation, knowing that same instant that none, seeing him walk to his damnation, would take a single step to claim him from the brink. Lost souls both, he and the boy.
♥ Sunlight was a showman. It threw its brightness down with such flamboyance, eager as any tinsel-merchant to dazzle and distract. But beneath the gleaming surface it illuminated was another state; one that sunlight—ever the crowd pleaser—conspired to conceal. It was vile and desperate, that condition. Most, blinded by sight, never even glimpsed it. But Cleve knew the state of sunlessness now; had even walked it, in dreams; and though he mourned the loss of his innocence, he knew he could never retrace his steps back into light's hall of mirrors.
♥ Cleve only half heard the question. Lying there on the bunk reminded him all too acutely of how the night had been. Reminded him too that darkness was even now crawling up the side of the world again. At that thought his stomach seemed to aspire to his throat.
♥ There was no safety in such tactics.
Nor in prayer either. He had told Billy the truth, about his giving up God when his prayers for his father's life had gone unanswered. Of such divine neglect was atheism made; belief could not be rekindled now, however profound the terror.
♥ Cleve's supply of fear was not inexhaustible. In the past several days he had used it up in dreams and waking dreams; he'd sweated, he'd frozen, he'd lived on the edge of sane experience and survived. Now, though his body still insisted on gooseflesh, his mind was not moved to panic. He felt cooler than he ever had, whipped by recent events into a new impartiality. He would not cower. He would not cover his eyes and pray for morning, because if he did one day he would wake to find himself dead and he'd never know the nature of this mystery.
♥ "Billy," Cleve said.
The shadow moved. It pooled around his feet; it rolled up into his face, smelling of rain on stone, cold and comfortless.
He was standing no more than a yard from the bunk, and still he could make nothing out; the shadow defied him. Not to be denied sight, he reached toward the bed. At his solicitation the veil divided like smoke, and the shape that thrashed on the mattress made itself apparent.
It was Billy, of course; and yet not. A lost Billy, perhaps, or one to come. If so, Cleve wanted no part of a future that could breed such trauma. There, on the lower bunk, lay a dark, wretched shape, still solidifying as Cleve watched, knitting itself together from the shadows. There was something of a rabid fox in its incandescent eyes, in its arsenal of needle-teeth; something of an upturned insect in the way it was half curled upon itself, its back more shell than flesh and more nightmare than either. No pat of it was fixed. Whatever figuration it had (perhaps it had many) Cleve was watching the status dissolve. The teeth were growing yet longer and, in so doing, more insubstantial, their matter extruded to the point of frailty, then dispersed like mist; its hooked limbs, pedaling the air, were also growing paltry. Beneath the chaos he saw the ghost of Billy Tait, mouth open and babbling agonies, striving to make itself known. He wanted to reach into the maelstrom and snatch the boy out, but he sensed that the process he was watching had its own momentum and it might be fatal to intervene. All he could do was stand and watch as Billy's thin white limbs and heaving abdomen writhed to slough off the dire anatomy. The luminous eyes were almost the last to go, spilling out from their sockets in myriad threads and flying off into the black vapor.
At last he saw Billy's face, truant clues to its former condition still flickering across it. And then, even these were dispersed, the shadows gone, and only Billy was lying on the bunk, naked and heaving with the exertion of his anguish.
♥ He too had a story to tell: but who would believe it? He barely believed it himself. In fact on and off through the day, when the images came back to him afresh, he asked himself if he was entirely sane. But then sanity was a movable feast, wasn't it? One man's madness might be anther's politics.
♥ He clung to that certainty with a tenaciousness born of near despair. If he ceased to believe the evidence of his own eyes, he had no defense left to hold the darkness at bay.
♥ "You dream the city, don't you?"
"What is that place, Billy?"
"I read somewhere: The dead have highways. You ever hear that? Well... they have cities too."
♥ "..Before he could find her and kill her too, he was arrested."
"And hanged. And buried."
"Hanged and buried, but not lost. Nobody's lost, Cleve. Not ever."
♥ "To be not myself; to be smoke and shadow. To be something terrible." He seemed genuinely puzzled by Cleve's unwillingness. "Wouldn't you do the same?"
Cleve shook his head. "What you became last night was repellent."
Billy nodded. "That's what my grandfather thought. At his trial he called himself an abomination. Not that they knew what he was talking about, of course, but that's what he said. He stood up and said: 'I am Satan's excrement"—Billy smiled at the thought—"for God's sake hang me and burn me.' He's changed his mind since then. The century's getting old and stale; it needs new tribes."
♥ Was it wise to believe always what the dead told you? Were they purged of all deceit by the act of dying, and delivered into their new state like saints? Cleve could not believe such. More likely they took their talents with them good and bad, and used them as best they could. There woulds be shoemakers in paradise, wouldn't there? Foolish to think they'd forgotten how to sew leather.
♥ Beside such atrocities the city was a haven. There was a serenity in its empty thoroughfares and plazas; a sense Cleve had there that all action was over, all rage and distress finished with; that these interiors (with the bath running and the cup brimming) had seen the worst, and were now content to sit out the millennium. When that night brought sleep, and the city opened up in front of him, he went into it not as a frightened man astray in a hostile territory but as a visitor content to relax a while in a place he knew too well to become lost in, but not well enough to be weary of.
♥ Cleve listened to the sounds of the cell: the rattling progress of water in the pipes, the shallow breathing from the bunk below. Sometimes it seemed that he had lived a second lifetime on this stale pillow, marooned in darkness.
♥ The two prisoners were left to their thoughts; Cleve to wonder if there would ever come a time when he could be free of the shadow behind him, Billy to think whatever thoughts came to bound monsters. And still the dead-of-night minutes went, minutes that crept across the mind like dutiful schoolchildren, one upon the heels of the next, and after sixty had passed that sum was called an hour. And dawn was closer by that span, wasn't it? But then so was death, and so, presumably, the end of the world: that glorious Last Trump of which The Bishop had spoken so fondly, when the dead men under the lawn outside would rise as fresh as yesterday's bread and go out to meet their Maker. And sitting there against the wall, listening to Billy's inhalations and exhalations, and watching the light in the glass and through the glass, Cleve knew without doubt that even if he escaped this trap, it was only a temporary respite; that this long night, its minutes, its hours, were a foretaste of a longer vigil. He almost despaired then; felt his souls sink into a hole from which there seemed to be no hope of retrieval. Here was thew real world; he wept. Not joy, not light, not looking forward; only this waiting in ignorance, without hope, even of fear, for fear came only to those with dreams to lose.
♥ Cleve backed off toward the door, his eyes scanning Billy's mutated form. He remembered his mother's horror at earwigs and saw something of that insect in this anatomy: the way it bent its shiny back upon itself, exposing the paddling intricacies that lined its abdomen. Elsewhere, no analogy offered a hold on the sight. Its head was rife with tongues, that licked its eyes clean in place of lids, and ran back and forth across its teeth, wetting and rewetting them constantly; from seeping holes along its flanks came a sewer stench. Yet even now there was a residue of something human trapped in this foulness, its rumor only serving to heighten the filth of the whole. Seeing its hooks and its spines, Cleve remembered Lowell's rising scream and felt his own throat pulse, ready to loose a sound its equal should the beats turn on him.
♥ Somewhere, far away, Devlin began to laugh like a hyena. He's lost his mind, Cleve decided; and the image his darkening thoughts evoked was one of the contents of Devlin's brain escaping through his mouth like a flock of flying dogs.
♥ Curious, he pursued the sound, whose echoes were almost traced on the air. As he hurried down the empty streets he heard further raised voices, and now men and women were appearing at the doors and windows of their cells. So many faces, and nothing in common between one and the next to confirm the hopes of a physiognomist. Murder had as many faces as it had occurrences. The only common quality was one of wretchedness, of minds despairing after an age at the site of their crime.
♥ "Billy," Cleve persevered. "Do you hear me? It's me; it's Cleve."
The boy seemed to pause in his gyrations for an instant, as if hearing the appeal. Cleve said Billy's name again, and again.
It was one of the first skills the human child learned: to call itself something. If anything could reach the boy it was surely his own name.
♥ Edgar's corrupted limb was still wound around Billy's neck, and the wall of the coffin were dark with congealed blood. But Billy's face was not besmirched. He looks like a doll, one of the doctors observed. Cleve wanted to reply that no doll had such tear stains on its cheeks, nor such despair in its eyes, but the thought refused to become words.
♥ Sometimes the dreams would almost recede completely, only to return again with terrible potency. It took Cleve several months before he began to grasp the pattern of this vacillation. People brought the dream to him. If he spent time with somebody who had murderous intentions, the city came back. Nor were such people so rare. As he grew more sensitive to the lethal streak in those around him he found himself scarcely able to walk the street. They were everywhere, these embryonic killers, people wearing smart clothes and sunny expressions were striding the pavement and imagining, as they strode, the deaths of their employers and their spouses, of soap-opera stars and incompetent tailors. The world had murder on its mind, and he could no longer bear its thoughts.
♥ The room he'd killed in was waiting for him, and he lived there, hiding his head from any who appeared in the street outside, for several months. (He assumed time passed here, by the beard he'd grown; though sleep calm seldom, and day never.) After a while, however, he braved the cool wind and the butterflies and took himself off to the city perimeters, where the houses petered out and the desert took over. He went not to see the dunes, but to listen to the voices that came always, rising and falling, like the howls of jackals or children.
He stayed there a long while, and the wind conspired with the dessert to bury him. But he was not disappointed with the fruit of his vigil. For one day (or year), he saw a man come to the place and drop a gun in the sand, then wander out into the desert, where, after a while, the makers of the voices came to meet him, loping and wild, dancing on their crutches. They surrounded him, laughing. He went with them, laughing. And though distance and the wind smudged the sight, Cleve was certain he saw the man picked up by one of the celebrants, and taken on to its shoulders as a boy, thence snatched into another's arms as a baby, until, at the limit of his senses, he heard the man bawl as he was delivered back into life. He went away content, knowing at last how sin (and he) had come into the world.
~~In the Flesh.
♥ Like a flawless tragedy, the elegance of which structure is lost upon those suffering in it, the perfect geometry of the Spector Street Estate was visible only from the air.
♥ Outside, the sun found its way between the clouds, and two or thee shafts of sunlight slipped between the boards nailed across the bedroom window and pierced the room like annunciations, scoring the opposite wall with bright lines. Here, the graffitists had been busy once more: the usual clamor of love letters and threats. She scanned the wall quickly, and as she did so her eye was led by the beams of light across the room to the wall that contained the door she had stepped through.
Here, the artists has also been at work, but had produced an image the like of which she had not seen anywhere else. Using the door, which was centrally placed in the wall like a mouth, the artists had sprayed a single, vast head onto the stripped plaster. The painting was more adroit than most she had seen, rife with detail that lent the image an unsettling veracity. The cheekbones jutting through skin the color of buttermilk; the teeth, sharpened to irregular points, all converging on the door. The sitter's eyes were, owing to the room's low ceiling, set mere inches above the upper lip, but this physical adjustment only lent force to the image, giving the impression that he had thrown his head back. Knotted strands of his hair snaked from his scalp across the ceiling.
Was it a portrait? There was noting naggingly specific in the details of the brows and the lines around the wide mouth; in the careful picturing of those vicious teeth. A nightmare certainly: a facsimile, perhaps, of something from a heroin figure. Whatever its origins, it was potent. Even the illusion of door-as-mouth worked. The short passageway between living room and bedroom offered a passable throat, with a tattered lamp in lieu of tonsils. Beyond the gullet, the day burned white in the nightmare's belly. The whole effect brought to mind a ghost train painting. The same heroic deformity, the same unashamed intention to scare. And it worked; she stood in the bedroom almost stupefied by the picture, its red-rimmed eyes fixing her mercilessly. Tomorrow, she determined, she would come here again, this time with high-speed film and a flash to illuminate the masterwork.
As she prepared to leave the sun went in, and the bands of light faded. She glanced over her shoulder at the boarded windows, and saw for the first time that one four-word slogan had been sprayed on the wall beneath them.
"Sweets to the sweet," it read.
♥ It was a reasonable question, if irritatingly put. Why did it matter? Was it that she wanted to have her worst feelings about Spector Street proved false? That such an estate be filthy, be hopeless, be a dump where the undesirable and the disadvantaged were tucked out of public view—all that was a liberal commonplace, and she accepted it as an unpalatable social reality. But the story of the old man's murder and mutilation was something other. An image of violent death that, once with her, refused to part from her company.
♥ She had half expected the impact of the head in the bedroom to be dulled by reacquaintance. It was not. Though she struggled to capture its scale and detail as best she could, she knew the photographs would be at best a dim echo of its perpetual howl.
Much of its power lay in its context, of course. That such an image might be stumbled upon in surroundings so drab, so conspicuously lacking in mystery, was akin to finding an icon on a rubbish heap: a gleaming symbol of transcendence from a world of toil and decay into some darker but more tremendous realm. She was painfully aware that the intensity of her response probably defied her articulation. Her vocabulary was analytic, replete with buzz-words and academic terminology, but woefully impoverished when it came to evocation. The photographs, pale as they would be, would, she hoped, at least hint at the potency of this picture, even if they couldn't conjure up the way it froze the bowels.
♥ One sight did catch her attention however. Scrawled on the paving stones she was walking over—and all but erased by rain and the passage of feet—the same phrase she's seen in the bedroom of number 14: "Sweets to the sweet." The words were so benign; why did she seem to sense menace in them? Was it in their excess, perhaps, in the sheer overabundance of sugar upon sugar, honey upon honey?
♥ What would he look like, she wondered, a man capable of such a depravity? She tried to make an image of him, but no detail she could conjure up carried sufficient force. But then monsters were seldom very terrible once hauled into the plain light of day. As long as this man was known only by his deeds he held untold power over the imagination; but the human truth beneath the terrors would, she knew, be bitterly disappointing. No monster he, just a whey-faced apology for a man more needful of pity that awe.
♥ "We're punch-drunk with violence. We don't see it any longer, even when it's in front of our noses."
"On the screen every night," Archie put in. "Death and disaster in full color."
"There's nothing very modern about that," Trevor said. "An Elizabethan would have seen death all the time. Public executions were a very popular form of entertainment."
♥ The detective scratched his long nose. "We get it too," he said. "People come in here, they confess to all kinds of crap. Talk all night, some of them, about things they've done, or think they've done. Give you it all in the minutest detail. And when you make a few calls, it's all invented. Out of their minds."
"Maybe if they didn't tell you the stories... they'd actually go out and do it."
The detective nodded. "Yes," he said. "God help us. You might be right at that."
And the stories she'd been told, were they confessions of uncommitted crimes, accounts of the worst imaginable, imagined to keep fiction from becoming fact? The thought chased its own tail: these terrible stories still needed a first cause, a well-spring from which they leaped. As she walked home through the busy streets she wondered how many of her follow citizens knew such stories. Were these inventions common currency, as Purcell had claimed? Was there a place, however small, reserved in every heart for the monstrous?
♥ Her indifference only enraged him further. He stormed out in high dudgeon, to visit whichever of his women was in favor this month. She was glad to see the back of him. When he failed to return that night she didn't even think of weeping about it. He was foolish and vacuous. She despaired of ever seeing a haunted look in his dull eyes; and what worth was a man who could not be haunted?
♥ Frustrated to the verge of tears, she stood among the overturned rubbish bags and felt a sure of contempt for her foolishness. She didn't belong here, did she? How many times had she criticized others for their presumption in claiming to understand societies they had merely viewed from afar? And here was she, committing the same crime, coming here with her camera and her questions, using the lives (and deaths) of these people as fodder for party conversation. She didn't blame Anne-Marie for turning her back; had she deserved better?
.."Forget the dog," Trevor said. "And the child. There's nothing you can do about it. You were just passing through."
His words only echoed her own thoughts of earlier in the day, but somehow, for reasons that she cold find no words to convey, that conviction had decayed in the last hours. She was not just passing through. Nobody ever just passed through; experience always left its mark. Sometimes it merely scratched; on occasion it took off limbs. She did not know the extent of her present wounding, but she knew it was more profound than she yet understood, and it made her afraid.
♥ They had played with her—sensing her desire to be fed some horrors—and she, the perfect fool, had fallen for every ridiculous word. It was time to pack up her credibility and go home.
♥ "The child—" she said.
"Somebody got into the house around the back. Slit his throat."
Helen felt the sweat come again. In her mind's eye the newspapers rose and fell in Anne-Marie's yard.
"No," she said.
"Just like that."
She looked at the tragedienne who was trying to sell her this obscenity, and "No" again. It defied belief; yet her denials could not silence the horrid comprehension she felt.
She turned her back on the woman she jostled her way out of the crowd. There would be nothing to see, she knew, and even if there had been she had no desire to look. These people—still emerging from their homes as the story spread—were exhibiting an appetite she was disgusted by. She was not one of them; would never be one of them. She wanted to slap every eager face into sense; wanted to say: "It's pain and grief you're going to spy on. Why? Why?" But she had no courage left. Revulsion had drained her of all but the energy to wander away, leaving the crowd to its sport.
♥ She turned, and the light in the bedroom diminished as a figure stepped into the gullet between her and the outside world. Silhouetted against the light, she could scarcely see the man in the doorway, but she smelled him. He smelled like cotton candy, and the buzzing was with him or in him.
"I just came to look," she said, "...at the picture."
The buzzing went on—the sound of a sleepy afternoon, far from here. The man in the doorway did not move.
"Well," she said, "I've seen what I wanted to see." She hoped against hope that her words would prompt him to stand aside and let her past, but he didn't move, and she couldn't find the courage to challenge him by stepping toward the door.
"I have to go," she said, knowing that despite her best efforts fear seeped between every syllable. "I'm expected..."
That was not entirely untrue. Tonight they were all invited to Apollinaire's for dinner. But that wasn't until eight, which was four hours away. She would not be missed for a long while yet.
"If you'll excuse me," she said.
The buzzing had quieted a little, and in the hush the man in the doorway spoke. His unaccented voice was almost as sweet as his scent.
"No need to leave yet," he breathed.
"I'm due... due..."
Through she couldn't see his eyes, she felt them on her, and they made her feel drowsy, like that summer that sang in her head.
"I came for you," he said.
She repeated the four words in her head. I came for you. If they were meant as a threat, they certainly weren't spoken as one.
"I don't... know you," she said.
"No," the man murmured. "But you doubted me."
"You weren't content with the stories, with what they wrote on the walls. So I was obliged to come."
The drowsiness slowed her mind to a crawl, but she grasped the essentials of what the man was saying. That he was legend, and she, in disbelieving him, had obliged him to show his hand. She looked now, down at those hands. One of them was missing. In its place, a hook.
"There will be some blame," he told her. "They will say your doubts shed innocent blood. But I say what's blood for, if not for shedding? And in time the scrutiny will pass. The police will leave, the cameras will be pointed at some fresh horror, and they will be left alone, to tell stories of the Candyman again."
"Candyman?" she said. Her tongue could barely shape that blameless word.
"I came for you," he murmured so softly that seduction might have been in the air. And so saying, he moved through the passageway and into the light.
She knew him, without doubt. She had known him all along, in that place kept for terrors. It was the man on the wall. His portrait painter had not been a fantasist: the picture that howled over her was matched in each extraordinary particular by the man she now set eyes upon. He was bright to the point of gaudiness: his flesh a waxy yellow, his thin lips pale blue, his wild eyes glittering as if their irises were set with rubies. His jacket was a patchwork, his trousers the same. He looked, she thought, almost ridiculous, with his blood-stained motley, and the hint of rouge on his jaundiced cheeks. But people were facile. They needed these shows and shams to keep their interest. Miracles; murders; demons driven out and stones rolled from tombs. The cheap glamour did not taint the sense beneath. It was only, in the natural history of the mind, the bright feathers that drew the species to mate with its secret self.
And she was almost enchanted. By his voice, by his colors, by the buzz from his body. She fought to resist the rapture, though. There was a monster here, beneath this fetching display; its nest of razors was at her feet, still drenched in blood. Would it hesitate to slit her own throat if it once laid hands on her?
As the Candyman reached for her she dropped down and snatched the blanket up, flinging it at him. A rain of razors and candy fell around his shoulders. The blanket followed, blinding him. But before she could snatch the moment to slip past him, the pillow that had lain on the blanket rolled in front of her.
It was not a pillow at all. Whatever the forlorn white casket she had seen in the hearse had contained, it was not the body of Baby Kerry. That was here, at her feet, its blood-drained face turned up to her. He was naked. His body showed everywhere signs of the fiend's attentions.
In the two heartbeats she took to register this last horror, the Candyman threw off the blanket. In his struggle to escape from its folds, his jacket had come unbuttoned, and she saw—though her senses protested—that the contents of his torso had rotted away, and the hollow was now occupied with a nest of bees. They swarmed in the vault of his chest, and encrusted in a seething mass the remnants of flesh that hung there. He smiled at her plain repugnance.
"Sweets to the sweet," he murmured, and stretched his hooked hand toward her face. She could no longer see light from the outside world or hear the children playing in Butts's Court. There was no escape into a saner world than this. The Candyman filled her sight; her drained limbs had no strength to hold him at bay.
"Don't kill me," she breathed.
"Do you believe in me?" he said.
She nodded minutely. "How can I not?" she said.
"Then why do you want to live?"
She didn't understand, and was afraid her ignorance would prove fatal, so she said nothing.
"If you would learn," the fiend said, "just a little> from me... you would not beg to live." His voice had dropped to a whisper. "I am rumor," he sang in her ear. "It's a blessed condition, believe me. To live in people's dreams; to be whispered at street corners, but not have to be. Do you understand?"
Her weary body understood. Her nerves, tired of jangling, understood. The sweetness he offered was life without living: was to be dead, but remembered everywhere; immortal in gossip and graffiti.
"Be my victim," he said.
"No..." she murmured.
"I won't force it upon you," he replied, the perfect gentleman. "I won't oblige you to die. But think; think. If I kill you here—if I unhook you"—he traced the path of the promised wound with his hook; it ran from groin to neck—"think how they would mark this place with their talk... point it out as they passed by and say 'She died there, the woman with the green eyes.' Your death would be a parable to frighten children with. Lovers would use it as an excuse to cling closer together."
She had been right: this was a seduction.
"Was fame ever so easy?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I'd prefer to be forgotten," she replied, "than be remembered like that."
He made a tiny shrug. "What do the good know?" he said. "Except what the bad teach them by their excesses?" He raised his hooked hand. "I said I would not oblige you to die and I'm true to my word. Allow me, though, a kiss at least..."
..The sound of the bees rose; some, in their excitement, had crawled up his throat and were flying from his mouth. They climbed about his lips; in his hair.
She begged him over and over to leave her alone, but he would not be placated. At last she had nowhere left to retreat to; the wall was at her back. Steeling herself against the stings, she put her hands on his crawling chest and pushed. As she did so his hand shot out and around the back of her neck, the hook nicking the flushed skin of her throat. She felt blood come; felt certain he would open her jugular in one terrible slash. But he had given his word, and he was true to it.
Aroused by this sudden activity, the bees were everywhere. She felt them moving on her, searching for morsels of wax in her ears, and sugar at her lips. She made no attempt to swat them away. The hook was at her neck. If she so much as moved it would wound her. She was trapped, as in her childhood nightmares, with every chance of escape stymied. When sleep had brought her to such hopelessness—the demons on every side, waiting to tear her limb from limb—one trick remained. To let go; to give up all ambition to life, and leave her body to the dark. Now, as the Candyman's face pressed to hers, and the sound of bees blotted out even her own breath, she played that hidden hand. And, as surely as in her dreams, the room and the fiend were painted out and gone.
♥ "We have to go," he said in her ear, as flickering light spilled between the stacked timbers. "Be on our way, you and I."
She fought to be free of him, to cry out for them not to light the bonfire, but he held her lovingly close. The light grew: warmth came with it; and through the kindling and the first flames she could see figures approaching the pyre out of the darkness of Butts's Court. They had been there all along: waiting, the lights turned out in the homes, and broken all along the corridors. Their final conspiracy.
..Soon the heat crept down Helen's throat and scorched her pleas away. She sank back, exhausted, into the Candyman's arms, resigned to his triumph. In moments they would be on their way, as he had promised, and there was no help for it.
Perhaps they would remember her, as he had said they might, finding her cracked skull in tomorrow's ashes. Perhaps she might become, in time, a story with which to frighten children. She had lied, saying she preferred death to such questionable fame. She did not. As to her seducer, he laughed as the conflagration sniffed them out. There was no permanence for him in this night's death. His deeds were on a hundred walls and ten thousand lips, and should he be doubted again his congregation could summon him with sweetness. He had reason to laugh. So, as the flames crept upon them, did she, as through the fire she caught sight of a familiar face moving between the onlookers. It was Trevor. He had forsaken his meal at Apollinaire's and come looking for her.
She watched him questioning this fire watcher and that, but they shook their heads, all the while staring at the pyre with smiles buried in their eyes. Poor dupe, she thought, following his antics. She willed him to look past the flames in the hope that he might see her burning. Not so that he could save her from death—she was long past hope of that—but because she pitied him in his bewilderment and wanted to give him, though he would not have thanked her for it, something to be haunted by. That, and a story to tell.
♥ Garvey liked the Pools with its adjuncts, the uniformity of the design, the banality of the decorations. Unlike many, he found institutions reassuring: hospitals, schools, even prisons. They smacked of social order; they soothed that part of him fearful of chaos. Better a world too organized than one not organized enough.
♥ He watched her from over the rim of his whiskey tumbler; saw the parting down the middle of her head, and the fine blond hair that divided from there. They made so little sense to each other, he thought. The processes that brought them to their present impasse were perfectly obvious; yet time and again they failed to find the common ground necessary for a fruitful exchange of views. Not simply on this matter, on half a hundred others. Whatever thoughts buzzed beneath her tender scalp, they were a mystery to him. And his to her, presumably.
..Carole decided she would not stay the night. It was not, she tried to explain at the door, that things between them were over; only that she valued their intimacy too much to misuse it as bandaging. He half grasped the point; she too pictured them as wounded animals. At least they had some metaphorical life in common.
♥ Garvey was a man used to looking over his shoulder. All his professional life, whether in or out of prison, he had needed to watch for the assassin at his back. Such ceaseless vigilance had made him sensitive to the least sign of human presence. Sounds another man might have ignored played a warning tattoo upon his eardrum. But here? Nothing. Silence in the corridors; silence in the sweating anterooms and the Turkish baths; silence in every tiled enclave from one end of the building to the other. And yet he knew he was not alone. When five senses failed him a sixth—belonging, perhaps, more to the beast in him than the sophisticate his expensive suit spoke of—sensed presences. This faculty had saved his hide more than once. Now, he hoped, it would guide him into the arms of beauty.
♥ Across the room from him, the soft pad of naked feet on the tiles. Was it his imagination, or did he even glimpse the girl, her body carved from the gloom, paler than the surrounding darkness, and smoother? Yes; it was she. He almost called out after her, and then thought better of it. Instead he went in silent pursuit, content to play her game for as long as it pleased her. Crossing the room, he stepped through another door which let on to a further tunnel. The air here was much warmer than anywhere else in the building, clammy and ingratiating as it pressed itself upon him. A moment's anxiety caught his throat: that he was neglecting every article of an autocrat's faith, putting his head so willingly into this warm noose. It could so easily be a setup: the girl, the chase. Around the next corner the breasts and the beauty might be gone, and there would be a knife at his heart. And yet he knew this wasn't so; knew that the footfall ahead was a woman's, light and lithe; and the welter that brought new tides of sweat from him could nurture only softness and passivity here. No knife could prosper in such heat: its edge would soften, its ambition go neglected. He was safe.
♥ As he came within half a dozen feet of her, she turned. It was not the girl he had just pursued through the corridor, not indeed the one he had seen two days before. This creature was another altogether. His gaze rested on her unfamiliar face a few seconds only, however, before sliding giddily down to meet the child she held in her arms. It was suckling like any newborn babe, pulling at her young breast with no little hunger. But in his four and a half decades of life Garvey's eyes had never seen a creature its like. Nausea rose in him. To see the girl giving suck was surprise enough, but to such a thing, such an outcast of any tribe, human or animal, was almost more than his stomach could stand. Hell itself had offspring more embraceable.
"What in Christ's name—?"
The girl stared at Garvey's alarm, and a wave of laughter broke over her face. He shook his head. The child in her arms uncurled a puckered limb and clamped it to its comforter's bosom so as to get better purchase. The gesture lashed Garvey's disgust into rage. Ignoring the girl's protests he snatched the abomination from her arms, holding it long enough to feel the glistening sac of its body squirm in his grasp, then flung it as hard as he could against the far wall of the chamber. As it struck the tiles it cried out, its complaint ending almost as soon as it began, only to be taken up instantly by the mother. She ran across the room to where the child lay, its apparently boneless body split open by the impact. One of its limbs, of which it possessed at least half a dozen, attempted to reach up to touch her sobbing face. She gathered the thing up into her arms; threads of shiny fluid ran across her belly and into her groin.
Out beyond the chamber something gave voice. Garvey had no doubt of its cue; it was answering the death-cry of the child, and the rising wail of its mother—but this sound was more distressing than either. Garvey's imagination was an impoverished faculty. Beyond his dreams of wealth and women lay a wasteland. Yet now, at the sound of that voice, the wasteland bloomed, and gave forth horrors he'd believed himself incapable of conceiving. Not portraits of monsters, which, at best, could be no more than assemblies of experienced phenomena. What his mind crated was more feeling than sight; belonged to his marrow, not to his mind. All certainty trembled—masculinity, power; the twin imperatives of dread and reason—all turned their collars up and denied knowledge of him. He shook, afraid as only dreams made him afraid, while the cry went on and on. Then he turned his back on the chamber, and ran, the light throwing his shadow in front of him down the dim corridor.
♥ "What will you do?" Carole asked him when the police had picked up their shrugs and left.
♥ "Who are you?" he murmured as the girl approached him. Her laughter faltered when she looked down at his pain-contorted features.
He attempted to sit upright, but his arms were numb, and he slid back to the tiles again. The woman had not answered his inquiry, nor did she make any attempt to help him. She simply stared down at him as a pedestrian might at a drunk in the gutter, her face unreadable. Looking up at her, Kerry felt his tenuous grip on consciousness slipping. The heat, his pain, and now this sudden eruption of beauty was too much for him. The distant women were dispersing into darkness, the entire chamber folding up like a magician's box until the sublime creature in front of him claimed his attention utterly. And now, at her silent insistence, his mind's eye seemed to be plucked from his head, and suddenly he was speeding over her skin, her flesh a landscape, each pore a pit, each hair a pylon. He was hers, utterly. She drowned him in her eyes, and flayed him with her lashes; she rolled him across her abdomen, and down the soft channel of her spine. She took him between her buttocks, and then up into her heat, and out again just as he thought he must burn alive. The velocity exhilarated him. He was aware of his body, somewhere below, was hyperventilating in its terror; but his imagination—careless of breath—went willingly where she sent him, looping like a bird, until he was thrown, ragged and dizzy, back into the cup of his skull. Before he could apply the fragile tool of reason to the phenomena he had just experienced, his eyes fluttered closed and he passed out.
♥ The body does not need the mind. It has procedures aplenty—lungs to be filled and emptied, blood to be pumped and food profited from—none of which require the authority of thought. Only when one or more of these procedures falters does the mind become aware of the intricacy of the mechanism it inhabits. Coloqhoun's faint lasted only a few minutes, but when he came to he was as aware of his body as he had seldom been before: as a trap. It fragility was a trap; its shapoe, its size, its very gender was a trap. And there was no flying out if it; he was shackled to, or in, this wretchedness.
♥ All he could do was crawl a little way across the room on his hands and knees, and peer—one beast at another—through the veil.
He sensed that he was sensed; that the dark, recumbent creature had turned its eyes in his direction. Beneath its gaze, he felt his skin creep with gooseflesh, but he couldn't take his eyes off it. And then, as he squinted to scrutinize it better, a spark of phosphorescence began in its substance, and spread—fluttering waves of jaundiced light—up and across its tremendous form, revealing itself to Coloqhoun.
Not it; she. He knew indisputably that this creature was female, though it resembled no species or genus he knew of. As the ripples of luminescence moved through the creature's physique, it revealed with every fresh pulsation some new and phenomenal configuration. Watching her, Jerry thought of something slow and molten—glass, perhaps; or stone—its flesh extruded into elaborate forms and recalled again into the furnace to be remade. She had neither head nor limbs recognizable as such, but her contours were ripe with clusters of bright bubbles that might have been eyes, and she threw out here and there iridescent ribbons—slow, pastel flames—that seemed momentarily to ignore to the very air.
.."What is she?" he asked.
The woman stood close to him. Her skin, bathed by the simmering light off the creature, was golden. Despite the circumstances—or perhaps because of them—he felt a tremor of desire.
"She is the Madonna. The Virgin Mother."
Mother? Jerry mouthed, swiveling his head back to look at the creature again. The waves pf phosphorescence had ceased to break across her body. Now the light pulsed in one part of her anatomy only, and at this region, in rhythm with the pulse, the Madonna's substance was swelling and splitting. Behind him he heard further footsteps; and now whispers echoed about the chamber, and chiming laughter and applause.
The Madonna was giving birth. The swollen flesh was opening; liquid light gushing; the smell of smoke and blood filled the shower room. A girl gave a cry, as if in sympathy with the Madonna. The applause mounted, and suddenly the slit spasmed and delivered the child—something between a squid and a shorn lamb—onto the tiles. The water from the pipes slapped it into consciousness immediately, and it threw back its head to look about it; its single eye vast and perfectly lucid. It squirmed on the tiles for a few moments before the girl at Jerry's side stepped forward into the veil of water and picked it up. Its toothless mouth sought out her breast immediately. The girl delivered it to her tit.
"Not human...," Jerry murmured. He had not prepared himself for a child so strange, and yet so unequivocally intelligent. "Are all... all the children like that?"
The surrogate mother gazed down at the sac of life in her arms. "No one is like another," she replied. "We feed them. Some die. Others live, and go their ways."
"Where, for God's sake?"
"To the water. To the sea. Into dreams."
She cooed to it. A fluted limb, in which light ran as it had in its parent, paddled the air with pleasure.
"And the father?"
"She needs no husband," the reply came. "She could make children from a shower of rain if she so desired."
♥ He had seldom been ill in his forty-odd years: success had kept ailments at bay.
♥ Garvey was not a man for prevarication. Deeds, he knew, were not best served by debate.
♥ The wind was cold, but his blood was hot. It came gushingly as he slashed at his body. The Thames received the libation with enthusiasm. It lapped at his feet; it whipped itself into eddies. He had not finished the job, however, when the loss of blood overcame him. No matter, he thought, as his knees buckled and he toppled into the water, no one will know me now but fishes. The prayer he offered up as the river closed over him was that death not be a woman.
♥ The tide was not kind of Ezra Garvey. It picked up his body and played it back and forth awhile, picking at it like a replete diner toying with food he had no appetite for. It carried the corpse a mile downstream, and then tired of its burden. The current relegated it to the slower water near the banks, and there—abreast of Battersea—it became snagged in a mooring rope. The tide went out; Garvey did not. As the water level dropped he remained depending from the rope, his bloodless bulk revealed inch by inch as the tide left him, and the dawn came looking. By eight o'clock he had gained more than morning as an audience.
♥ This was not his body; his was of the other sex.
He tried to shake himself awake, but there was nowhere to wake to. He was there. This transformed anatomy was his—its slit, its smoothness, its strange weight—all his. In the hours since midnight he had been unknitted and remade in another image.
From the next door the sound of the shower brought the Madonna back into his head. Brought the woman too, who had coaxed him into her and whispered, as he frowned and thrust, "Never... never...," telling him, though he couldn't know it, that this coupling was his last as a man. They had conspired—woman and Madonna—to work this wonder upon him, and wasn't it the finest failure of his life that he would not even hold on to his own sex; that maleness itself, like wealth and influence, was promised, then snatched away again?
..Perhaps there were more enchantments where this had come from. If so, he would go back to the Pools and and find them for himself; follow the spiral into its hot heart, and debate mysteries with the Madonna. There were miracles in the world! Forces that could turn flesh inside out without drawing blood; that could topple the tyranny of the real and make play its rubble.
♥ Where the waters were draining to he had no way of knowing. To the sewers maybe, and then to the river, and finally out to sea. To death by drowning; to the extinction of magic. Or by some secret channel down into the earth, to some sanctuary safe from inquiry where rapture was not forbidden.
♥ Even as he did so the current dragged him to the brink, and was over. The stream took him in its custody and flung him back and forth in its fury.
There was light ahead. How far it lay, he couldn't calculate, but what did it matter? If he drowned before he reached that place, and ended his journey dead, so what? Death was no more certain than the dream of masculinity he'd lived these years. Terms of description fit only to be turned up and over and inside out. The earth was bright, wasn't it, and probably full of stars. He opened his mouth and shouted into the whirlpool, as the light grew and grew, an anthem in praise of paradox.
♥ The trick of good farce, she had once been informed by her brother-in-law, a sometime actor, was that it be played with deadly seriousness. There should be no sly winks to the gallery, signaling the farceur's comic intention; no business that was so outrageous it would undermine the reality of the piece.
♥ "There was a day of sanity, back in 1962, in which it occurred to the potentates that they were on the verge of destroying the world. Even to potentates the idea of an earth only fit for cockroaches was not particularly beguiling. If annihilation was to be prevented, they decided, our better instincts had to prevail. The mighty gathered behind locked doors at a symposium in Geneva. There had never been such a meeting of minds. The leaders of Politburos and Parliaments, Congresses, Senates—the lords of the earth—in one colossal debate. And it was decided that in the future world affairs should be overseen by a special committee, made up of great and influential minds like my own—men and women who were not subject to the whims of political favor, who could offer some guiding principles to keep the species from mass suicide. This committee was to be made up of people in many areas of human endeavor—the best of the best—an intellectual and moral elite, whose collective wisdom would bring a new golden age. That was the theory anyway. ..And for a while, it worked. It really worked. There were only thirteen of us—to keep some consensus. A Russian, a few of us Europeans, dear Yoniyoko, of course, a New Zealander, a couple of Americans... We were a high-powered bunch. Two Nobel Prize winners, myself included—"
Now she remembered Gomm, or at least where she'd once seen that face. They had both been much younger. She a schoolgirl, taught his theories by rote.
"—Our brief was to encourage mutual understanding between the powers-that-be, help shape compassionate economic structures and develop the cultural identity of emergent nations. All platitudes, of course, but they sounded fine at the time. As it was, almost from the beginning our concerns were territorial. ..Helping to divide the world up," he said. "Regulating little wars so they didn't become big wars, keeping dictatorships from getting too full of themselves. We became the world's domestics, cleaning up wherever the dirt got too thick. It was a great responsibility, but we shouldered it quite happily. It rather pleased us, at the beginning, to think that we thirteen were shaping the world, and that nobody but the highest echelons of government knew that we even existed."
.."It seems unfair," she said, "that you're locked away in here."
"Well, that's for our own security, of course," Gomm replied. "Imagine the chaos of some anarchist group found out where we operated from, and did away with us. We run the world. It wasn't meant to be that way, but as I said, systems decay. As time went by the potentates—knowing they had us to make critical decisions for them—concerned themselves more and more with the pleasures of high office and less and less with thinking. Within five tears we were no longer advisers but surrogate overlords, juggling nations."
"What fun," Vanessa said.
"For a while, perhaps," Gomm replied. "But the glamour faded very quickly. And after a decade or so, the pressure began to tell. Half of the committee are already dead. Golovatenko threw himself out of a window. Buchanan—the New Zealderr—had syphilis and didn't know it. Old age caught up with dear Yoniyoko, and Bernheimer and Sourbutts. It'll catch up with all of us sooner or later, and Klein keeps promising to provide people to take over when we've gone, but they don't care. They don't give a damn! We're functionaries, that's all." He was getting quite agitated. "As long as we provide them with judgments, they're happy. Well"—his voice dropped to a whisper—"we're giving it up. ..I'd like to see my home once more before I die. I've give up so much, Vanessa, for the committee, and it almost drove me mad. ..Does it sound selfish if I say that my life seems too great a sacrifice to make for global peace?"
♥ All, like the path that had brought her here, unmarked as to their final destination. She had suffered the consequence of her perversity in following that track of course; here she was, weary and battered, locked up with little hope of escape. But that perversity was her nature—perhaps, as Ronald had once said, the one indisputable fact about her. If she disregarded that instinct now, despite all it had brought her to, she was lost. She lay awake, turning the available alternatives over in her head. By morning she had made up her mind.
♥ "And if you try to do anything clever, I'll shoot you in the back," she said. "I know it's not very manly, but then I'm not a man. I'm just an unpredictable woman. So treat me very carefully."
♥ There was little happening at present; most of the offices off the corridors were in darkness. In one room a computer calculated its chances of independent thought, unattended; in another a telex machine wrote love letters to itself.
♥ A little way ahead it sounded as if a major argument was going on; dozens of raised voices, imprecations and pleadings.
"They're waiting for the Apocalypse," he replied, and led the way into the room where Vanessa had last seen the mud wrestlers. Now all the video screens were buzzing and each displayed a different interior. There were war rooms and presidential suites, cabinet offices and halls of congress. In every one of them, somebody was shouting.
"You've been unconscious two full days," Klein told her, as if this went some way to explaining the cacophony. Her head ached. She looked from screen to screen: from Washington to Hamburg to Sydney to Rio de Janeiro. Everywhere around the globe the mighty were waiting for news. But the oracles were dead.
"They're just performers," Klein said, gesturing at the shouting screens. "They couldn't run a three-legged race, never mind the world. They're getting hysterical, and their button fingers are starting to itch."
"What am I supposed to do about it?" Vanessa returned. This tower of Babel depressed her. "I'm no strategist."
"Neither were Gomm and the others. They might have been, once upon a time, but things soon fell apart."
"Systems decay," she said.
"Isn't that the truth. By the time I came here half the committee were already dead. And the rest had lost all interest in their duties—"
"But they still provided judgments, as H.G. said?"
"They ruled the world?"
"After a fashion," Klein replied.
"What do you mean: after a fashion?"
Klein looked at the screens. His eyes seemed to be on the verge of spilling tears.
"Didn't it explain? They played games, Mrs. Jape. When they became bored with sweet reason and the sound of their own voices, they gave up debate and took to flipping coins."
"And racing frogs of course. That was always a favorite."
"But the governments—" she protested, "—surely they didn't just accept..."
"You think they care?" Klein said. "As long as they're in the public eye what does it matter to them what verbiage they're spouting, or how it was arrived at?
Her head spun. "All chance?" she said.
"Why not? It has a very respectable tradition. Nations have fallen on decisions divined from the entrails of sheep."
"I agree. But I ask you, in all honesty, is it any more terrifying than leaving the power in their hands?" He pointed to the rows of irate faces. Democrats sweating that the morrow would find them without causes to espouse or applause to win; despots in terror that without instruction their cultures would lose favor and be overturned. One premier seemed to have suffered a bronchial attack and was being supported by two of his aides; another clutched a revolver and was pointing it at the screen, demanding satisfaction. A third was chewing his toupee. Were these the finest fruit of the political tree, babbling, bullying, cajoling idiots, driven to apoplexy because nobody would tell them which way to jump? There wasn't a man or woman among them Vanessa would have trusted to guide her across the road.
"Better the frogs," she murmured, bitter thought that it was.
♥ "I told them it would end badly," he said softly, and Vanessa knew that beneath this show of fatalism he felt the loss of his companions acutely. "I said from the beginning, we were here to stay. No use to escape." He shrugged, and returned to the cards. "What's to escape to? The world's changed. I know. We changed it."
♥ Goldberg had begun to make a sound in his throat—"kek-kek-kek"—imitating the voice of a frog. In response, there came a croaking from every corner of the courtyard. Hearing thew song, Vanessa stifled a smile. Farce, she had told herself once before, had to be played with a straight face, as though you believed every outrageous word. Only tragedy demanded laughter; and that, with the aid of the frogs, they might yet prevent.