So, we reach the end of the road for Vivienne and Ignatius. After the traumatic events of last chapter, Vivienne tries moving on, but has one last encounter with the mysterious cabal in the shadows of London.
The next day was broiling, roasting, as if the sun sought vengeance for some wrong it had suffered. The weatherman said it was to be the hottest day of the year, but Viv stayed curled up in bed with the covers wrapped around her, unable to face it. She’d texted in sick, but only afterwards realized it was Saturday. Great. That’d look weird.
It wasn’t until sundown that she ventured from her pit, sweating, shaking and sleep-deprived. Sleep hadn’t visited her at all during night or day; the fear of Georgiana’s doughy hands clambering through her windows to strangle her, or Ignatius appearing beside her wreathed in blood, kept her awake. She feared losing her sanity, but when the images of everything she’d seen flooded back, she wondered if she already had. Overhead a plane soared into invisibility, leaving white contrails in its wake, bound for somewhere new. She wished she were on it, wherever it was headed. That feeling passed, like everything else she’d experienced that day, leaving only empty exhaustion and confusion. At the very least she had an incredible story. But would they put it under science, or lifestyle? She smiled weakly at her own feeble wit. It was a pertinent question; could she write up this strange account? Embarrassment tore at her each time she considered how she’d been had by Ignatius’s whole sorry charade. Even now, doubts lingered. What of the fag-wound in her hand? The Petrowski-thing? “All tricks, all subterfuge,” she whispered at the sky. Saying it aloud made it somehow more palatable, and made her feel slightly stronger. The thought of food entered her mind, and her stomach gnawed in agreement.
She was out of bread, which made her curse. She could venture to the shop before it was totally dark. Shivering, she pulled on thick tights before jeans, a pullover and gilet before heading out. It was still a stinking hot evening, but she pulled her clothes close, like armour.
Her head was buried into her chest, ignoring the world, so the car hit her without giving her a moment’s notice. She was launched onto her back, blinking confusedly at a fading violet sky, breathing jaggedly, trying to speak but only managing whimpers. Something felt broken. Her body was still, and she didn’t dare move it.
The driver of the car, a lad no older than twenty, rushed out and got to her side, flapping and panicking. Amid the panic she made out the words ambulance and help. He dialed the emergency services while she waited there. Dogtired, she had to fight with her every fibre to remain awake. She managed a smile at the stressed young man, who couldn’t even bring himself to hold her hand. Poor, dumb lad. “Hey, don’t worry,” she whispered. “It’s not your fault. Just don’t… don’t let me die, ok?”
“I’m so sorry,” he kept uttering, over and over. She didn’t mind. It helped keep her awake. The thought of death, of taking everything with her to the grave terrified her more than any fire. She hoped to God she wasn’t dying.
It was two minutes before the ambulance came, but two minutes of mounting pain that felt like hours. That was good, she decided. Beneath all her clothes she felt wet, but relaxed. The world was fading as a large, uniformed paramedic walked into view against a flashing blue backdrop.
“Hello? Hello?” The paramedic’s voice was cool and calm, like summer rain. It brought an unbidden smile from her. She heard other words: losing blood… move… time… Against all her fight, her eyes softly closed and images swarmed in the darkness: wounded and burned arms and hands, smouldering bodies melting into rain, and then billowing into dust clouds. Just before she slipped into unconsciousness she called out a word.
When she awoke there was still pain. Only pain. Waves of it, right down to her bones. Sharp, knobbly things poked at her naked back, stabbing her, making her writhe, which brought the pain anew. She cried out, a twisted yelp. It was hot, yet gooseprickles erected themselves across her battered, naked body. She knew immediately where she was.
“Sorry, my dear,” came a waspish voice, just out of view. “You will have to endure the pain a little while longer. But you will endure it, for death is a miserable alternative, isn’t it? You certainly thought so, when you called for me. Wasn’t it lucky that one of the paramedics knew exactly where to deliver you?”
Of course. That ambulance had arrived a bit sharpish. Bloody bastards. Viv tried stretching out but every move brought yet more agony. Above her were converging images: water, air, earth, sloping away to a distant, bright point. A bit like the end of a tunnel. She managed a hoarse whisper. “I’m not dying?”
Ignatius clicked his fingers, creating a ball of flame. “I’m afraid you are. Mortal death. Broken bones, broken back. Unfixable. Torturous pain. Or, will you right what you wronged? You owe me the time you took from one of our own.” He held out his arm in front of her, the fire wreathing it, just as it had done in the penthouse that evening. She wept. She didn’t want to die after all. Oil, hot and slick, wet her face and body, seeping into her pores and crevices like a lover.
“I don’t want to die.”
“You won’t. You’ll be reborn.”
She wanted to spit at him, spit at them all, no doubt staring blankly at her naked body from beneath their heavy robes in the shadows. But she couldn’t. All she could do was scold herself. She didn’t believe it. It had all been bullshit. But what good did it do to scorn them now? She nodded. “Bloody do it, then.”
His eyes, fiery red, were the last parts of him she saw before the flame caught and greedily lapped up the oil. For a few seconds there was no pain as the oil burned away, and thin, grey smoke danced prettily towards the ceiling. Then it came, burrowing, peeling, scorching, and she screamed. She screamed so loudly she almost drowned out the steaming hiss when the fire hit her flesh. Then the flames took the screams from her throat, and the last thing she heard was her own crackle and spit.
Feng waited patiently by the gate for the flight to begin boarding. He yawned and stretched, which made him feel lighter. One more flight to London to look after and then he’d have some precious time off. There was a cute boy he’d met a couple of weeks ago at a comedy night in Hackney. After he recovered from the jetlag he’d give him a call.
Night flights always were his favourite; breezing through the air, with the licence to drift off to sleep. Some of the other flight attendants bitched about how cramped the CRCs were, but he didn’t mind. Besides, he was only a waif of a thing himself. He smiled with eyes closed. According to the manifest it would be a nice, empty flight, too. Perfect.
The departure lounge, despite being empty, felt fusty and suffocating. He winced, fingering his collar to let some air in, but it did no good. Perhaps the air con was broken? He pressed fingers into the corners of his screwed up eyes and started when he opened them, before emitting a little laugh of surprise. A woman had taken the seat next to him. Early. Passenger. Smart, dressed in an electric blue skirt suit. She smiled at him. “Sorry,” he said. “You were very quiet.”
“Don’t apologise,” smiled the woman. She had fabulous turquoise eyes, like pools, gushing with life. “You work on the airline, Feng?”
He screwed his face up. How did she know his… her gaze dropped to the name badge pinned to his chest, and he smiled in embarrassment. “Sorry. I forget I’m wearing it half the time. Yes, it was my dream job,” he cooed. “Always wanted to do it. Not just for any old airline though. None of that cheap flight silliness!” He leant in and smiled. “I wanted the prestige.”
“Don’t we all.” The woman pressed a hand upon Feng’s; it was warm, and felt wet, which made him uncomfortable. “Is something the matter?”
Feng laughed. “Oh sorry, no. Not at all. It’s just very hot in here. It makes me uncomfortable. I like the cabins in the plane – the AC always keeps it nice and cool. Usually it’s pretty cool here too, but something’s different. The AC’s probably screwed.”
“I never used to like the heat either. But I learned.” There was an awkward pause, during which the woman fished a large bottle of water from her travel bag, from which she enjoyed a long draught. “I envy you, Feng. You have it all in front of you. Well, you do if you choose.”
Feng spoke slowly, discomfited. “Choose what?”
“What you do defines you, Feng. And what you’ve chosen to do is no coincidence. When we get back to London, let me show you something that’ll keep you from being bored ever again.”
Feng opened his mouth but said nothing. On arriving in London he’d be jetlagged, exhausted, in need of bed. “Sure, why not,” he said. He’d always been fickle like that. Just like the wind.