Paternoster Tales: Chapter 22

Disembodiment … part 2

Okay, so I got it wrong. Chapter 22 is not the soft, warm and furry one. That will be Chapter 23. I think. So skip again if you don’t like risk and jeopardy and squelchy things.

Fleeing from something that gives you the heebie-jeebies is never accomplished in a dignified manner. Silas was giving me the heebie-jeebies with daggers attached. And I couldn’t run fast enough. I can never run fast enough. Running for a waif is the same as I remember running in a dream is for you. You know you want to get away, you know how but it feels like your legs are wading through treacle and you struggle to coordinate your feet going down, one in front of the other, as fast as you need them to. For a waif, the actual running bit – the physical stuff – is all in our head. We sort of see where we want to go and …well, I guess the best way of describing it is to say we flow in that direction. It’s really important for a waif not to get too tied up in the memory of feet and shoes and knees – that’s how to get flattened or squeezed or caught by the likes of Silas. Most of the chase is done in our heads. It’s a lot easier for the chaser. All he has to do is look where his quarry has gone and follow.

Just after the carriage doors hissed shut and Silas in equally hissy dissonance told me to run, I noticed an elderly lady gingerly fingering one of the vertical grab poles in the centre of the carriage. At least three young people, temporarily lost in a land of making lines out of colours while exercising their thumb muscles, could have stood, had they noticed the old lady, to give her their seat. But their alternative universes were all-engrossing and the old woman stood and wobbled and looked straight at me. Then at Silas.

I knew instantly, from the gold glow in her eyes, what was coming next and I looked myself into the space above and behind her head. She was an arynx. And Silas got the full brunt of her roar. It hit him in the centre of his chest. But stopped him only momentarily. His chest glowed white as he convulsed briefly. Then he turned to me with hot fury burning in his eyes. She hit him again and again but with each new strike she grew weaker and Silas appeared to gather each hit into himself, consuming it and incredibly getting stronger with each convulsion. After six strikes, her knees buckled and she collapsed. A voice in my head told me to leave; quickly. So I did.

I turned and stumbled into a plumber. I know he was a plumber because I squelched him. He was an unhappy man – his invoices hadn’t been paid and he had to make good on a bathroom that had gone wrong and his mother was ill and he’d missed his son’s first football match because of the bathroom. I learnt all this in the fleeting seconds I squelched through his over-ripe body. Oh … is it not over-ripe as in dishevelled, and past its best? No … okay. What matters is I squelched him and this slowed my escape.

My heart was racing and a cold veneer of panic was clinging to my face. Get away! Get AWAY! I had to get away. I feared looking at Silas in case my addled, flighty, scared brain took me there. So I  turned slowly and steeled myself to look, squinting through fingers covering my eyes.

Silas was trying to punish the arynx, blowing into her face and waiting for her to flinch. But her eyes remained shut. She was an arynx – she would never open them again. Silas should have known.

It was a window. A tiny momentary window of escape. I took it. Wind was passing bony fingers through my hair and I could smell the metallic gloom of the tube tunnel through the open slit in the carriage door. Tube carriages have the sliding doors that open onto the platform and small end doors that would allow free passage from one carriage into another, if they weren’t kept shut. A shut door with an open window is however no barrier to a waif. The only barrier is the mental one; the tunnels  beyond are black, cold, lit with with arcs of sparking electricity and filled to bursting point with a wind that howls and sucks and blows and pushes and fights to escape like a furious trapped beast. And there are rats.

I hate rats. They hate waifs. Its a mutual hate-hate relationship. The only waif I’ve ever known a rat to like is Silas.

The tunnel sucked me into it, out of the rushing train, plunging me instantly into blackness.

I had a minute, perhaps two before the next train. I had to go back the way we had come. But it was so disorientating. My ears had to guide me. Until either my eyes adjusted or I saw some light.

We mythologise about seeing the light – it’s a powerful metaphor for those sudden bursts of inspiration that collide with our brains and drive us on to greater things. But actually seeing the light, even when you have been cloaked in absolute darkness for only a few minutes – and especially when you have no idea where Silas is – is pretty amazing; a ten-and-a-half out of ten on my amazing things scale. The faint glow from the distant station was properly the light at the end of the tunnel. It made me want to sing.

And scream. At the crowded, everywhere-moving, biting, scurrying, scrapping and snarling carpet of rats. And the approaching train.

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