DAWN SONG

by Michael Marano

Published in hardcover ($24.95 US/ $34.95 CAN), June 1998
by Tor Books -- ISBN 0-312-86432-9

Published in paperback ($6.99 US/$8.99 CAN), September 1999
by Tor books -- ISBN 0-812-54547-8

Copyright 1998 by Michael Marano. All rights reserved.



Chapter Four

I

Monday, 1:25 P.M.

      The kid was on the corner of Beacon and Mass Ave., wearing an Uncle Sam hat and waving an American flag affixed to a broken lacrosse stick.

      Lawrence was barely aware of the kid shouting atop a concrete planter as he walked to work. He drifted in the human eddy that converged at this corner, where Cambridge and Boston bled into each other near the Harvard Bridge, and the sound of traffic from Storrow Drive was as constant as the breaking of waves upon a beach.

      After reading Tom's note, Lawrence had rushed into his apartment and torn the note to pieces, then flushed the pieces down the toilet. He washed his hands, then thought then he should have first burned the note, then flushed the ashes. No sooner had he thought that, than he thought he should have saved the note to give to the police.

      As if the cops would have responded to a call reporting such a petty crime. As if Lawrence wanted to tell the upstanding and exceedingly tolerant Boston cops that his precious VCR had been taken by a guy who'd fucked him last night. Instead, Lawrence had left his apartment, clenching his keys tight in his hand, as if Tom were lurking nearby to snatch them away. As Lawrence walked to work, he still clutched his keys, deep in the pocket of his coat.

      Lawrence realized he hadn't eaten since dinner last night, when the kid lowered his flag in Lawrence's way.

      "And YOU!!!" bellowed the kid. "Why aren't YOU supporting our troops?!!"

      The lacrosse stick blocked Lawrence like the drop bar of a toll booth, the flag drooping toward the sidewalk. Lawrence looked up as he felt the crowd bustle around him. The kid was huge--a jocky, frat-boy type. Clean cut. Suburban as a tract house. And exuding the unique arrogance of a rich kid who knows he can, and will, get away with anything. Exuding the obliviously focused determination that would compel him to stand where freezing winds came off the Charles so he could bark his bullshit at strangers. Lawrence thought of the idiots at the football games his father had loved to watch, who'd strip to their underwear in freezing weather and display their team's colors painted on their flabby torsos.

      The kid looked at Lawrence, eyes blazing, jaw set. His face was red with cold, or anger, or both. His ski jacket made him look even bulkier than he was. He wanted to beat Lawrence up, wanted Lawrence to give him any excuse to lay into him. Lawrence tried to fathom the banality of facing bodily harm from a boy in a Bicentennial party hat. He wanted, sincerely wanted, to tell the kid to fuck off. But Lawrence was too weak after what had happened in the past twelve hours to shrug off this ridiculous challenge.

      The kid smelled Lawrence's weakness, like a shark smelling blood. He went for another strike, a happy spark in his WASP eyes.

      "What?" said the kid. "You got a problem with patriotism? You got a problem with loving your country?"

      The gloveless hand holding the lacrosse stick was scarlet from the cold, knuckles white. Something in Lawrence's gut made him sick, queasiness shadowing his hunger and his fear of getting the shit kicked out of him. It was like the feeling he had when Angie used to sit at the kitchen table and tell Lawrence to lead a virtuous life while she put handfuls of cold pasta into the mouth of her squalling bastard.

      "Why aren't you in the Middle East right now?" thought Lawrence. "Why are you giving people in the street shit instead of being a good little Rambo and giving shit to Saddam Fucking Hussein?" He couldn't speak. And he knew if he tried, his voice would crack, and thus give this fucker another excuse to give him grief.

      Something radiated off the kid that made Lawrence's nerves tingle, made him feel as if the crowd of people on Beacon (who paid this incident no mind) were pressed around him, moving in unison to crush him under the weight of their bodies. Lawrence's vision filled with flickering greyness. His heart fluttered; he thought he heard the buzzing of a swarm of insects.

      "Fuckin' thought so," the kid said, and jerked his flag upward--Lawrence's toll of shit-taking apparently had been paid.

      Lawrence walked away, eyes still on the kid as he ranted about, "Our sovereign right to protect the democratic rights of the Kuwaiti people!" The two block walk to the bookstore was a blur of urban anonymity--figures bundled in heavy coats, winter burdened, shoulders high. He felt hollow. Light-headed from hunger and the lingering feel of the crowd pressing upon him.

      His heart sank as he entered the bookstore; the store stereo was playing too damned loud.

      Lawrence rounded a bank of bookshelves to find Vicki dancing to Diana Ross' "Love Child" behind the counter, with Groucho, the store cat, draped over one shoulder like a stole. Vicki sang along as she danced, mangling the lyrics to suit her dancing partner.

"Love cat!
Sweet as Cherry Pie!!!
Love Cat!
Look into my eye!
Love Cat!!
Gentle as can be!
Love Cat!
Will you marry me?"

      The cat clung to her shoulder, eyeing the ground longingly. No customers were in sight. That was bad; Jack would blame this on the music.

      Vicki spun and flashed a bright smile. "Hey, Lawrence!" she said as Groucho's tail began flicking.

      "Hey." He wanted to ask her to please turn down the fucking stereo before Jack lumbered down the stairs to dump a world of shit on them both. But he didn't have the strength.

      Vicki must have guessed what he was thinking. "Jack left!" she said, with the glee that an eight-year-old would say, "No school today!" She never stopped her bouncing dance.

      "Oh." Lawrence set his coat, gloves, and scarf on a chair behind the counter. The news didn't make him as happy as it should. Vicki stopped dancing and gave him one of her mother hen looks, still holding the cat close.

      "What's up with you?"

      "Nothing." Lawrence didn't want to talk. It was too easy for him to whine while he felt vulnerable and play the Drama Queen. He'd realized, while breaking up with Jacob, what a trap this habit was for him. It was easy and comfortable to bemoan every cheap tragedy that befell you. He wasn't about to show Vicki that part of himself.

      "Bullshit, 'Nothing.'" She frowned and set Groucho on the counter, then turned the stereo down a notch. "You look like your best friend died. What's up?"

      Lawrence rolled up the sleeves of his sweater, taking no comfort from the narcotic scent of old books. "I don't want to talk about it."

      She gave him another mother hen look. She was big. Full-figured like a farm girl. And she knew how to play the "no-nonsense-country-girl" to the hilt, even though she'd grown up a few subway stops from this store. Her brother still came by on his way to work, now and then, to drop off sandwiches that their mother made for Vicki's lunch.

      "Okay," she said. "But if you want to vent, feel free to pull me away from the Military History section. Jack wants me to arrange it chronologically by each war. And since he's such an ignorant fuck, he probably can't figure out when the War of 1812 was fought."

      Vicki thought her crack would get him to smile; he just didn't have it in him.

      "Okay. Where'd he go?"

      "To the doctor's. At least that's what he said, anyway. Maybe he's getting his kidneys checked. We can only hope."

      Jack usually had an odor of piss about him. Vicki's theory was that his kidneys were shot, and that uric acid seeped out of his pores.

      "Yeah. We can hope."

      "If you don't want to talk to me, then at least get some quality time with Groucho. She can cheer anybody up."

      Vicki rubbed the cat's head, then leaned forward to brush her nose against Groucho's whiskers. The cat licked her. "Mmmmm. Liver and beef cat food breath." Vicki gave Groucho's ears a rubbing, then turned toward the Military History section.

      Lawrence took his seat behind the register. Soon, over the sound of the stereo, he heard Vicki pulling books off the shelves and stacking them. Diana Ross faded to "House of the Rising Sun;" Vicki had tuned in the oldies station.

      Lawrence hoped he hadn't offended her; he couldn't figure out why she was so overbearing, or whether or not he liked it.

      When Lawrence had been working here a few days, Vicki had insisted on sharing one of her Mom's sandwiches with him, and while he ate it, she went down the block to buy him a coffee light. "I dunno. There's just something about you that makes me want to take care of you," she said in a voice that, if he were straight, he would have found very sexy. Vicki's smile while she said the words had been completely disarming.

      Groucho eyed his lap from the counter, and bunched herself up for a leap.

      "C'mon, sweetie," he said.

      Groucho leapt.

      Then she started purring, and curled herself into a ball on his skinny lap. Lawrence stroked her ears as she placed one paw over her black greasepaint muzzle.

      Five songs played out on the oldies station. No customers came. At the back of the store, books thudded to the ground as Vicki pulled them off the shelves.

      He thought a long while--as a set of Stones songs played--of his friends in Providence, those stuck in a dying industrial town, filling their existences with the very empty whining noises Lawrence had been tempted to make with Vicki. Could he really say this bold Boston life of his was any better?

      Sitting, alone and hungry in a bookstore with no customers, listening to a song recorded years before he was born, Lawrence wondered if he had merely exchanged one trap for another.

II

Monday, 3:30 PM

      "My mother called."

      Elizabeth came through the door, red from the cold. She smelled of snow, as she had on the days of the winter she and Miriam had fallen in love, and would walk arm in arm through the safe neighborhoods of Somerville and Jamaica Plain. Troy was bundled, red-faced in her arms. He was fussy, his tiny hands in tiny mittens brushing his beautiful face.

      Miriam spoke again as Elizabeth handed her Troy and took off her coat.

      "My mother called."

      "I need space."

      Elizabeth propped the stroller in the corner. Miriam cradled Troy and undid his snow suit. Elizabeth walked to the kitchen; Miriam heard her filling the tea kettle. She followed her, bouncing Troy, knowing she'd have to set him down to get the snow suit off. Elizabeth had the kettle on the stove, and was taking down her favorite mug--one that she'd made at summer camp when she was fifteen.

      "I know," she said. "Your mother called. I need space."

      She took her coat off and draped it over a chair by the table. She turned on the radio atop the refrigerator. The reception was bad. She didn't adjust the antenna before rummaging through the drawer where the teas were kept.

      Miriam stood by the doorway, the need to talk heavy as a stone by her heart. An NPR report on Coalition forces in Saudi Arabia recorded over international phone lines was made to sound even more brittle by static. Elizabeth, still searching through the teas, did not look at Miriam.

      "I know you want to talk," she said. "But I can't listen, now. I can't. Some stupid little white boy accosted me at the Trident Cafe." She lifted her hand and held it up the way a teacher would to quiet a noisy class. "I can't listen to you now." She slowly turned to face Miriam. "I gave you space. Now you give me mine." Her tone was even and steady. But to Miriam, the words felt as if she had yelled them.

      Miriam left the kitchen, holding Troy, hearing the kettle rattle, hearing the scratchy voices of the radio speak of ugly things. She carried Troy to the bedroom, set him on the changing table, and took the snowsuit off him. He was getting more fussy, looking as if he were about to cry.

      "Shhh ...shhh. It's okay, sweetheart. Shhhh."

      She carried him to the rocker and wrapped him in his quilt. The quilt was as much a comfort to her as it was to her son. Her cousin, Erica, had made it. On the quilt was the design of a tree with a fish perched among the branches. Erica had said, "Someday, Troy'll be old enough to figure out that fish don't belong in trees. Then he'll know it's okay for rules to be broken, 'cause it'll still be his favorite blanket."

      She missed Erica, who lived still in the same neighborhood that held so many of Miriam's ugly memories of childhood.

      Miriam rocked with Troy in her arms and sang to him, kissing him now and then and breathing in the caramel smell of his fine hair. Soon, his hair would lose its fineness. She'd have to cut a lock of it before it did and save it.

      Troy's eyes become drowsy. Through the closed door, she heard the kettle whistle, then stop.

      The winter light became more grey as Miriam, in tones that were soothing, whispered her troubles to her child, who could not understand them. She hoped he would never understand such troubles.

      She loved him more than life itself.

      When Troy was asleep, she put him in his crib, and pulled a book of Women's Mythology and Spirituality from the shelves near the bed. She turned on the overhead light and read of the blessings of the Goddess as she rocked to soothe herself, while voices from the kitchen--made ugly with static--spoke of impending death and misery and doom.

      Winter pressed its hands upon the glass of the window.

III

Monday, 3:35 PM

      "Jesus, Lawrence. That sucks."

      Lawrence could only nod slightly and shrug as he swallowed a bite of sandwich, the first food he'd had since last night. The stereo was turned down to a faint ambiance.

      Vicki leaned on the counter to pour Lawrence more coffee. Sitting on the chair by the register, Lawrence thought she looked like a saloon marm in a Western, pouring whiskey.

      Vicki's brother, Dave, a hulking guy with a perpetual grin, had come by with sandwiches for Vicki, made by their mom, and a construction-worker-sized thermos of coffee. The thermos was green and banged up, with rust showing through where the dents had lost their paint. It made Lawrence think of Jacob's old Ford, riddled with car cancer.

      Vicki had left the Military History section to get her lunch and to give her brother some shit about needing to shave his mangy-dog beard. Dave just grinned wider and said he needed it to keep warm, then lumbered out of the store. "When I lived at home," she said, "I used to threaten to sneak in his room at night and smear Nair on his face."

      Vicki unpacked her lunch bag at the counter while Lawrence leaned against the register. The bag held two extra sandwiches (wrapped in decorative paper towels), three apples, and a note, which Vicki read and then showed to Lawrence, a wise-assed look in her eye.

      The note, from Vicki's mom, suggested that Vicki might want to share some food "...with her little friend, Lawrence."

      "What the hell is this?" he said. His only interaction with Vicki's mother had been to answer the phone a few times when she'd called.

      "Mom's playing matchmaker. With food." She reached over and pinched his cheek. "She thinks you're a nice boy she can marry her daughter off to."

      "She doesn't really think that way, does she?"

      "Oh, yes she does."

      "She must drive you out of your gourd."

      "She's my mom. Of course she drives me out of my gourd." Vicki unscrewed the metal cup on the thermos and poured some coffee. "She probably had Dave bring a whole big thermos over so you and I could have a few special Maxwell House moments together."

      "That's sick."

      Vicki shrugged.

      "That's Mom. At least it's not flavored coffee. Then we'd have to reminisce about some waiter in Paris and giggle."

      The smell of the sandwiches made his hunger painful. He reached for one.

      "HEY!"

      Vicki slapped away his hand and snatched the sandwich out of reach. She pointed to the ring finger of her left hand.

      "Not until you make a commitment, big boy. You're not getting a sandwich until we set a date."

      Lawrence put his hand on his hip in an invocation of queen bitchiness.

      "Dream on, honey."

      "Go out with my brother?"

      "Until he shaves his beard, no."

      Vicki raised an eyebrow.

      "Only I can give him shit about his beard."

      "Can I have a sandwich, now?"

      Vicki furrowed her brow in pantomime of deep thought.

      "Mmmmmmm.... Okay."

      She slid the food to him, then pulled a plain white mug, with the word "JACK'S" ominously scrawled across it in thick, black marker from under the counter.

      "While the cat's way," she said, and poured Lawrence some coffee.

      Lawrence opened his sandwich. Tuna on wheat. Made with bread from a bakery, not a supermarket. Maybe home-baked. Leaves of spinach jutted from under the bread.

      Lawrence had eaten half the sandwich before he'd realized it.

      Vicki looked at him, jaw agape.

      "Have you eaten today?"

      He shook his head.

      "Sit down. And eat slowly. You'll get sick, otherwise."

      She didn't wait for him to sit of his own volition. She pulled the chair forward and eased him into it.

      "Now, chew, damn it. You remember how to chew? It's like talking with your mouth full, only quieter."

      She handed him the coffee.

      Lawrence sipped it, to wash down the sandwich. It was thick and strong. Richer than he'd expected, because it had cream, not milk, in it. It tasted almost like chocolate.

      She handed him the sandwich.

      "Jesus, Lawrence. Someone's gotta take care of you."

      Lawrence took another sip.

      "Set me up with Richard Gere?"

      "You're better looking than Julia Roberts. Don't sell yourself short." She put her hand on his shoulder, then gave it a slight squeeze.

      They ate a while in silence.

      "So, what's up with you, Lawrence?"

      He told her.

      And now she could only shake her head and repeat herself.

      "That sucks. That really sucks."

      She took a sip of coffee.

      "I can loan you some cash to Friday."

      "No. I'll be all right."

      "Don't lie to me."

      "Really. I'll be all right." Without the theater of the jabs they took at each other--almost like the jabs the characters on Cheers threw at each other that Lawrence loved so much--he faced the genuine concern that Vicki showed for him, unalloyed. He'd known this girl a few weeks. How could he like her so much? How could she show him such easy and casual kindness?

      A customer came into the store. They both shot up to flash bookstore-clerk smiles and "hello's." The customer, a sorority girl-type in an expensive down jacket, paid them no mind and walked into the maze of bookshelves.

      Vicki turned to Lawrence.

      "If you change your mind, I've got lots of cash," she said. "I was going to blow it in Christmas gifts, this week. But I can shop later, if you need it."

      Vicki looked him steadily in the eye as she spoke. Lawrence felt a twinge like the feeling he got when he woke from an upsetting dream ...yet nice, somehow. Comforting. He felt too vulnerable to confront this feeling. He broke eye contact.

      "How about if we get married? Then I can sponge off you, and then you and your mom will both be happy."

      Vicki took her cue, reverted to the jabs.

      "I've had enough men sponge off me, thank you very much. And if you..."

      Another two customers came in. A stampede, by today's standards. Vicki and Lawrence both flashed smiles. One, a college kid, trudged to the boxes of Cliff Notes near the Anthology section--exam season. The other waved as he stamped his shoes on the doormat and took off his cap.

      "Hey, gorgeous," he said.

      Lawrence's heart skipped; a lump formed in his stomach.

      It was the man in the leather jacket.

      "Hey, Ed," said Vicki. "Where've you been?"

      "Exams. Taking and correcting."

      The man unzipped his jacket, then walked toward the counter.

      "Getting it both ways, huh?" said Vicki.

      "Yeah."

      Even in the dim light away from the skylight, the man's eyes shone grey. They were the kind of eyes that would change shades with the man's moods. His thick hair was tousled in a way that made Lawrence think of how the man would look early in the morning, just rising from bed. He moved with a graceful strength that Lawrence had not noticed before. He was centered in his movements, like a jock, but with no hint of arrogant swagger.

      Vicki said, "We got a bunch of Mike Hammers in yesterday."

      "Not in the mood for Hammer," he said, reaching the counter. He looked at Lawrence, then gave him a quick smile with an upward nod that made Lawrence realize he'd been staring.

      "Hey. What's up?" the man said.

      "Not much," said Lawrence. He could smell clove cigarettes, and an intoxicating musk, different from what he had smelled a few days before. It could have been cologne or the natural musk of his body. Lawrence wanted to chime in, try to flirt with the man with Vicki acting as a buffer this time. But he was afraid he'd say something stupid. Besides, that Vicki knew the guy put their meeting on Friday in a new light. Nervous arousal crept as an ache in his crotch. He was glad to be sitting, for if he stood, he knew his knees would tremble.

      Vicki leaned on the counter and poured herself more coffee.

      "So what're you looking for today?"

      "Unmitigated shit." He made a sweeping gesture on the syllable shit, like a conductor punctuating a flourish. "Something where someone gets blown away every three pages."

      "That rough a semester?"

      "Worse."

      "But no Mike Hammers?"

      The man frowned. "I think I've read them all."

      Lawrence made a note to find out more about Mike Hammer. All he knew was from the TV show with Stacy Keach.

      Suddenly, Vicki spoke in a broad parody of a Brooklyn accent: "Yeah. But dat Mickey Spillane. He sure is a swell writah."

      The man smiled. (God! A beautiful smile.) And then spoke in a Brooklyn accent, too.

      "Yeah. He sure is a swell writah. So ...whaddayah wanna do tonight?"

      Vicki kept up the Bowery Boys accent.

      "I dunno. Whadda you wanna do?"

      "I dunno," said the man. "Whadda you wanna do?"

      Vicki and Ed both wore shit-eating grins, and Lawrence wished to God he knew what the hell they were talking about.

      Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Ed helped himself to a sip from Vicki's mug.

      Vicki didn't bat an eyelash.

      "We got a couple of boxes of some really trashy reads in a couple of days ago," she said.

      "What kind of stuff?" The man set down the mug.

      "Stuff with lots of explosions on the covers."

      "Perfect. Where are they?"

      "In milk crates near the Adventure section. We haven't found shelf space for them, yet."

      "They're really crappy-looking?"

      "Pure shit."

      "I'm sold. Thanks, Vicks."

      Ed turned and gave them both a small wave, almost a reflex action, then walked toward the Adventure section. The maze of bookshelves swallowed him.

      Lawrence shot forward.

      "He's a regular?"

      Vicki frowned as she picked up an apple and twisted off the stem. "Ed? Yeah. He's in here all the time. When he doesn't have school, he basically lives here. Jack hates him. Reason enough to like him, right there."

      Lawrence told her about when Ed had been in the store on Friday, how he'd had to direct him to the Mystery section. Then he said, "So, if he's in here all the time, he'd know where the Mysteries were. So he was really just finding an excuse to talk to me, right?"

      Vicki rubbed the apple against her sweater and shook her head.

      "Ed's a space case. The classic absent-minded professor. He's constantly forgetting the layout of the store. The man's lost in his own little world. Sorry, Lawrence. He wasn't hitting on you. His brains are fried. That's all. Exams and papers."

      There was affection in her voice, whether for Ed or for Lawrence, Lawrence couldn't tell.

      "Besides, Lawrence. We moved the Mystery section about a month ago. Lots of regulars aren't finding it."

      Lawrence leaned back in his chair, then put his feet on the counter. Lots of customers had been asking for the Mystery section, regulars among them. He'd just assumed people were looking for light reads, with Christmas approaching and exams ending.

      "Fuck."

      Vicki bit into her apple, chewed a bit and said, "Ed's a good guy. But I don't think he's gotten laid in about six years. He's a grad student. Obsessed with his work. And when he's not working, he's reading cheesy books."

      "Ever sold him any Gordon Merrick?"

      She smiled.

      "No." She bit into her apple again.

      "Shit," said Lawrence.

      "I thought you were saving yourself for Richard Gere."

      "I am. But I'm not giving up on second stringers."

      "That's practical."

      Groucho jumped on to the counter, and began furiously sniffing Lawrence's sandwich. Lawrence pulled a bit of tuna from under the bread and gave it to her. Her rough tongue slid along his fingertips. Then the cat sat on the counter, staring at him, wide-eyed.

      Vicki said, "Don't take it so hard. I've seen a lot of people hit on that guy, and he doesn't even notice it."

      "Small comfort."

      "Yeah, but you're in good..."

      Vicki didn't finish. Ed walked to the counter and set down a big, faded hardcover with no dust jacket.

      Vicki asked, "No macho mayhem, today?"

      "Nah. I saw this mother, and I need it for my work."

      Vicki made no move to ring up the purchase. Lawrence stood and picked up the book. He flashed her quick "you bitch!" look, and she responded with a not very discreet wink and took a bite of apple.

      Lawrence opened the book to its title page, which he couldn't read, because it was in Latin, and rang up the resale price.

      "Have you guys met?"

      Lawrence at once wanted to kick Vicki for prodding him into a hopeless situation, and to thank her for breaking the ice. Instead, he looked at the man (God, what eyes) and handed him the book.

      "No," said the man, taking the book.

      "Lawrence, this is Ed. Ed, Lawrence."

      The two men shook hands. Ed's hand was large and strong and warm and dry--not a trace of nervous sweatiness. Lawrence felt the tell-tale calluses on Ed's palm, just beneath where the fingers joined the hand--the man lifted weights. Regularly. Lawrence thought of what Ed must look like unclothed. Or shirtless, sweating as he worked out.

      While the pleasantries of introduction were exchanged, he could only think of the feel of Ed's hand, and what it would be like to have both his hands on his body.

      Ed walked away from the counter, and Lawrence felt Vicki's eyes upon him. He didn't meet her gaze, but watched Ed as he stopped by the door, the hardcover opened in his hands, as he read a few passages, his lips moving slightly.

      What kind of guy can't wait to read a book in Latin?he thought.

      Lawrence looked at Ed, lost in his own little world, and wanted to find a way to share a small part of that world with him.

IV

Monday, 3:40 PM

      Shadows dream.

      Vessels of the residue of sleep, shadows release dead dreams by day, silent amid active thoughts and thoughtless activity. Abandoned dreams condense out of shadows as stigmata before rising to the ether that is both creation and creator of human unconsciousness.

      The dreams of those who have died in their sleep call to the living by day, who are no more aware of them than they are of the flaring deaths of distant suns. Some of the living are aware of these dreams remotely, in the way the blind are aware of color. Yet the awareness passes before it can be named in thought, only to be given shape later as dreams which are in turn forgotten come morning.

      Shadows whisper the aches of regret that the living, in wakefulness, will not hear.

      Fever took the Succubus as she walked, weakened and dazed, in a fog of shadow-dreams. She felt them in each breath she took, upon her eyes, upon her mouth. She tasted the distillate of the spirits that had concocted them, the dust of the minds that had given them form.

      The shadow-dreams made a cacophony of her senses. The dreams made the air tremble, made the light of day in the city dappled, like the light of a thick wood.

      Entering the church had done this to her.

      Now her body was oversensitive to the spiritual detritus that hung in the ether. The dreams clung to her in the way the destitute cling to the robes of a priest, pleading for absolution--in the way lice cling to beggars, burrowing through filthy rags toward blood.

      She walked doubled over, all of Winter had gathered into her being, entwined with the burning fever. All before her seemed like stones at the bottom of a clear running stream, an expanse of partly knowable shapes distorted as by the water's movement. She saw passersby as auras of violet and grey and dusty blue. Buildings became featureless walls. Her non-physical senses were livid and raw as new scars emerging from burned skin.

      She wished only to go home.

      The anger of a young couple arguing in a passing car struck her as hard a slap. The terror of a dying woman in the depths of a hospital blocks away gripped her like a great fist that clenched and unclenched in time with the woman's breath. The ridiculous love an old man felt for the cat upon his lap as he sat within a building she passed made her heart race. All this, while dying dreams invaded her awareness, incessant as the drone of bees in a hive.

      Her fever neared delirium. Beneath her clothes, she felt her body shifting from her natural state to the mask she knew as "Jeannette." She pulled the collar of her coat high.

      She wished only to go home.

      She called from within herself Andrew's strength, his gentleness, and the love he had felt for her. She made this strength her own, made it join the stream of her blood.

      Her fever quieted.

      It awoke as she came to the recessed wall of the alley beneath her home. She could not rise to where she slept. And if she could, she would not dare to in daylight.

      She fumbled with her coat.

      She drowned within herself, her body like an ocean. Soon, she was unclothed: a lovely woman, flushed with fever in a freezing alley. Her musculature shifting. The length of her limbs and hair, shifting. Skin turning blood-red, then black, then cream. She hid her clothes in a dry nook behind bricks she had loosened.

      She longed for the comfort of Andrew's arms. The sound of his voice. She fell to her knees and wept.

      Blind to what the living knew as sight, she held her hand before her face.

      She willed her hand to nothingness.

      Her arm to nothingness.

      The sea of her body fell quiet.

      Her shoulder and heart, she willed to nothingness.

      The cacophony of dead dreams quieted, her fever cooled.

      Soon she was mist, flowing in a stream along a drainpipe to her rooftop home.

      December wind passed through her. Now the Winter in her being was cleansing, liberating. She flowed over the lip of the rooftop's coping, then over the diamonds of snow she felt radiant beneath her. She curled among the ducts and aerials as morning mist curls around the trees of a grove.

      Here, without a body, she knew rest.

      Slowly, she reformed herself from mist finer than the mist she breathed into the cold while in the guise of the living. The clinging gossamer of shadow-dreams was gone as she became solid enough to feel snow beneath her buckle under her weight.

      Yet the fever returned with her body. Lessened, but still painful. Weakened, sick, she thought again of her lover; her memories of him, called from her mind and entwined with the fabric of her body, were the only remains of his soul. She smelled Andrew on her body, his spirit beading upon her like fine sweat. She felt again the poetry that rang in his heart.

      The weight of Andrew's dissipated soul within her body was too heavy for her to carry in this stricken state. She longed for the physical sensation of his comfort, but could not endure her body.

      She again made herself fog and drifted through the building, finding solace in the feelings of "home" she found among the apartments, and in the joining of her being with warm, heated air.

V

Monday, 3:45 PM

      Bodies, pressed close. Minds, closed inward upon themselves, keeping other minds at bay--stealing what privacy they can by hiding within a maze of aimless thoughts.

      A column of humanity moves upon the earth within a metal green dragon that roars along a path of broken stones. Within the metal dragon, a landscape of blank faces. The breaths of animals in a warren (hoping they are safe), and the lingering smell of stale coffee and cigarettes upon those breaths. The smell of colognes and perfumes and of stress-sweetened sweat. Of dry-cleaning fluid on laundered suits and overcoats. Of water-proofing and mink oil on leather jackets, coats and shoes.

      Animals in a warren.

      Hunted by something they cannot name or define. Will is paralyzed. Minds pace in cramped circles. Vision--straining to see the invisible bars of the prisons people have constructed for themselves--has grown so weary that all the world seems prison.

      This is the time of an inner autumn, when those returning from work think October thoughts as they reacquaint their pacing minds with their shocked and weary bodies. When they can slow themselves enough to feel how jangled their nerves are. No matter the season, this hour begins twilight as people begin their wanderings home, on foot, by car or bus or by trolley. No one truly speaks now; talk is merely a tool to quiet the mind, to leech the day's turmoil as empty, pointless words.

      This is the hour of the soul's assassination.

      Hearts beat within breasts muffled in cotton and wool. Were the green metal dragon--and the city it snakes through--to fall silent, and were the flesh holding those hearts to transmit sound as does air, the beating of those hearts would be deafening. Hundreds of tiny fists striking hollow drums. A wall of arrhythmic sound born of a wall of sagging humanity.

      Paul stood within that wall, listening to his own heart, willing his true self, to eclipse the other person--the dopplegänger--he became while he was at work. His mind

      ("...survival of the fittest..")

      slowly reclaiming itself

      ("...look, these are good kids, not city kids...")

      from the cacophony that had claimed it for most of the day.

      ("...your fault for making it due on a Monday...")

      Paul's stomach was sour: too much coffee today. No solid or nourishing meal. He'd been grinding his teeth. Earlier, in the teacher's lounge, he'd rubbed his jaw a while, coaxing it to loosen. He opened his mouth just a bit and his jaw cracked loudly, sending a flash of pain up one side of his face.

      ("...are you proud to know about this shit?")

      Paul closed his eyes, trying to convince himself he stood alone. The press of bodies was too great; the feel of other people's auras too invasive.

      He opened his eyes.

      The trolley creaked to a stop. The passengers, those standing and sitting, lurched toward the front of the trolley as it slowed, then back as it stopped, like stalks of willow-grass under ebbing floodwater. Paul edged his way to the doors and stepped onto the trolley-stop, now coated with black ice that had melted to slush and then re-frozen around the footprints of those who had walked here days ago. The train doors snapped shut, and the trolley rattled down Commonwealth Avenue toward Kenmore Square, where it would flow into the maze of subway tunnels under the city. Radiant heat from the trains had melted the snow on the tracks, exposing the winding bed of gravel the rails rested upon; the stones had been blackened by soot and exhaust.

      Paul stood a moment, then walked toward Melvin Street, filthy ice breaking like crystal underfoot.

      When he reached his building, he felt the person he had been at work slip away, just partly. Once in his apartment, he stripped off the remaining mask by removing his suit and tie, changing into jeans and a flannel shirt.

      He still felt the suit on him, aware of it like a phantom limb. He felt an absence within himself, as if something had been drawn out the way something unknowable and unnameable is drawn out of the vibrant green of grass before the coming of a summer storm.

      As he hung the suit, he thought how one day he would come home too tired to change out of it. Not just physically tired, but psychically. His spirit drained by the struggle to keep himself alive inside the character he played while he taught, beaten by the dopplegänger who took his place in the mirror each morning as he tied his tie.

      He would either die metaphorically from the suit and tie, or he would die in fact, as his father had died when he was so young. Thirty-eight years old when something inside him burst while he rode the bus to work. His father had died on a rainy day, lying on the muddy floor while the driver careened the bus into the hospital parking lot. The driver had come to the funeral. He had a jowly, sad face. Paul had thought then the driver had been crying.

      Paul sat in the ugly, comfortable chair that Jo had salvaged from her parents' basement. It still smelled of cobwebs and dust, no matter how many times he and Jo had washed the vinyl and vacuumed the creases. He felt his heart still beating the quick and furious beat it had while he was at work, while he spoke to the unhearing students he thought he could reach. He willed the voices in his head to quiet, snuffing them out.

      Paul was not much younger now than his father had been when he'd died, old enough to appreciate the state of mind his father had been in when he'd come home from work.

      Paul remembered waking from a nap when he was a little boy, then running to his parents' bedroom to greet Father and ask him if they could work on the model of the Starship Enterprise his father had bought for him a few weeks before.

      The bedroom door was open, and though he wanted to run in to see Father, he did not. For he had learned that barging into a room was rude--something you were not supposed to do. His father was sitting on the edge of the bed in his suit, staring at his feet with an empty gaze, one shoe in his hand, too tired, it seemed, to remove his other shoe. He looked sad, like a king in a story-book Paul had read, whose heart had broken when he had heard his warrior son had died in a faraway battle. Only magic could cure that king, and Paul had no magic that could help his father.

      For the lifetime young boys knew moments to be, Paul stared at his father. The whole world felt impossibly quiet, like when Paul was alone reading comic books, and would suddenly look up from the bright pages to feel a stillness as solid as the walls of the house itself.

      Paul was about to steal away when Father looked up and smiled at him.

      It was as if Father had woken from a bad dream.

      "Hi, Paul," he said, and let the shoe he held fall. Father took a few steps toward Paul, walking as if he had a limp, because he wore only one shoe. Paul walked to him without knowing it. Father kneeled and held Paul, tousling his hair.

      "How're you doing, son?" he said in his deep and gentle voice.

      And Paul, with his arms around his father, knew in that moment his dad was taking comfort from him. That, just as Dad had held him to comfort him, to make him feel better, like when Paul was really little and had woken up screaming with an earache, Paul could hold his dad to make him feel good.

      "Hi, Dad," he said.

      His father tousled Paul's hair again and said, "Let me change, then we'll help your mom with dinner."

      Paul went downstairs, to help his mother. When Father came to join them, he seemed happier and healthier and stronger than the king in the story-book had been after he had been healed.

      And after dinner and washing up, Paul and his father had worked on the Enterprise model, carefully priming the plastic before painting it. Father patiently explained what parts of the vessel were engines, where the bridge was, and explained how--within the fictional reality of the TV show--the ship traveled unimaginably far. A few years before, Father had explained how unimaginably far the Apollo astronauts had traveled to get to the Moon.

      To this day, Paul remembered the smell of those paints and epoxies, and to this day, when he thought of those smells, he felt his father close to him, felt as safe and happy as he had when they had made models together.

      When they were done priming the model, Paul's father slumped in his chair, just slightly. And Paul knew that all the things that had made his dad sad and tired, all that he had suffered during the day, had not gone away. They'd just been quieted a while.

      The model was now packed in a box in the apartment's hallway closet, along with other models Paul and his father had made of ships from 2001, of Lunar modules and of NASA rockets. Paul's father had made no distinction between the space ships of fiction and the space ships of reality. He taught Paul to dream, showed him the infinite possibilities life held.

      What dream, then, did Paul own now: a young man who no longer remembered his father's eyes? His father and mother had wanted him to inherit a legacy of aspiration, of the realization of dreams.

      Was this the life they had wanted him to lead?

      Paul leaned back in the chair and tilted his head upward.

      He realized, for the first time, that the last thing father had seen before he died was the ceiling of a commuter bus, and the frightened faces of strangers who would never know his name.

VI

Monday, 5:44 PM

      Teeth punctured her and she came.

      As one sensation, she felt the hot breath and the excitement of her killer, and the pain of her body being rended. She felt the great mouth enveloping her, and the pulse of her blood upon the face of the thing killing her. She tasted her blood as it flowed into the creature's mouth, felt herself squirming against its lips as saliva flowed into her wounds.

      Every nerve in her purloined body sang with agony--so small a heart beating so fast, it felt as if it would burst. The creature raised its claws to her body as it held her in its mouth.

      Her flesh tore. Bone ripped. Cold air touched her innards, replaced by the scalding heat of the creature's breath.

      The entity whose body she had stolen was a dim spark. She pitied it. But she would not let it die. The brandy of its death was too sweet. What she learned, felt, was too precious for her to grant the mercy of death.

      Finally, her spine tore. Her stolen eyes went dark. The vessel that held her was shattered; that which owned the body died as she joined the rest of her being, which floated in a fine cloud above the body she had quit.

      There, as mist and anima, she watched the cat feed on the mouse she had invaded, still feeling, remotely, the pleasure the cat felt in taking prey.

      She had not intended, at first, to do this.

      Earlier, as night came, black and calming, the dreaming shadows fell silent. She would have no fever were she to again make herself flesh. Yet her senses were so heightened, she did not dare reform her body. To have nerves, to have skin, to feel the crushing weight of her skeleton would have been too much to bear.

      She flowed into the crevices of the building--places that had not seen light since the building had been constructed a century before. Ages of dust had settled into these hidden places, where the echoes of the souls who had lived in the building swirled upon each other like the brush strokes of a master artisan.

      She passed through the joint of an eroded pipe into the rapids of steam flowing through the heating system. She fought the steam and coursed into the great furnace, feeling herself join with the bright orange flames, feeling the heat of the sun joined with her essence. The roar of the flames shook the air so violently, it was as if she had been joined with the waters of a cataract.

      She left the furnace and rose through the floors, through spider webs woven through almost every cranny of the building. At one point, she extended a minute part of herself through the intricate lace of a spider's egg sac, then through the jointed passageways and vaulted rooms of the husk of the spider that had woven the sac.

      Between walls, she flowed over faint traces of blood that had been spilled when a workman had cut himself upon a nail that still jutted from the wood like a crooked finger. She drifted into cabinets, into a closet invested with the violet sweetness of a child's fear who had spent hours each night staring at the closet, waiting for a great and terrible beast to lash out at him.

      She drank of the fear. And of the shadows given life by that fear.

      She did not enter any occupied apartment. She did not wish to be near any living human. But she did feel life between the walls that intrigued her, that called her.

      She found the mouse curled within a nest of shredded paper and cloth. It woke when she came near. She paralyzed it with a thought, working a small portion of her essence through its warm fur, insinuating herself into its body, wanting to simply sense what the nature of the animal's life was, and to know the context of its body. She was at once sensation and that which sensed, feeling the delicious panic of the mouse as it felt her penetrate its being.

      The mouse longed to run to the shelter of its nest, not realizing it was already in its nest. It could not fathom the futility of its desire, any more than the people who lived in this aching city could understand the futility of their desires.

      She needed to know such futility, to understand that which drove the living toward the stifling of their souls. She needed to know how the living could be shackled by stupidly misdirected desires.

      She needed to know what it was to be prey, so that she may better stalk her own prey.

      She forced the mouse out of its nest, guiding it as if it were a puppet toward the smell that it dreaded, the smell that made the entirety of the mouse's awareness a landscape of blind terror.

      Toward the smell of a predator.

      She forced the mouse through a crack into the kitchen of an apartment. She pulled it to the center of the floor, holding it still while every fiber of its being pleaded for the dark safety of its nest.

      The cat who lived in the apartment stalked into the kitchen, filling the mouse's vision like a great moving mountain. She saw her own, stolen body suspended in the amber of the cat's eyes, and thought of how Andrew had found a small part of himself in her gaze.

      The cat stood, looking at its prey. But the cat did not pounce nor lunge. Instead it crouched, raised its hackles and hissed, then backed away.

      It felt the Succubus in the flesh of its prey.

      Quietly, deftly, she extended part of herself into the cat. She felt the heat of the cat's blood, smelled the fear of the mouse. Smelled the flesh and the fur of the mouse, felt the need to rend and tear and felt...

      ...herself.

      She felt the fear of the cat that something watched it. That something stalked it. She felt its paralysis, its panic meshed painfully with the desire to take its prey.

      The Succubus made the mist of her being finer, dissipating herself so minutely that the senses of the cat could not detect her. She sped up the cat's heart, clenched its muscles until they ached. Filled its belly and spirit with hunger that eclipsed its fear.

      Then she freed the mouse, setting it loose yet keeping her awareness within it, feeling its panic as it ran to the floorboards.

      The movement stirred the cat, woke its every hunting instinct.

      She felt the joy of the cat's lunge, then freed it, mostly, so she could better know the sensations of the prey.

      And as the cat jumped upon the mouse's back, as its claws pinned the mouse to the floor, she knew, for just an instant, what her lover had felt as she took his sweet life.

      Then the cat released the mouse, batting it away to pounce again.

      She lost herself as the cat toyed with the mouse, being at once predator, prey, and observer. Her senses flooded with fear and delight, with hunger and terror.

      And slowly, building within her non-physical being each time the mouse was caught and released, she felt arousal.

      Joy and desperation. Hunger and fear. Building within the Succubus until they reached a crescendo when the cat's fangs pierced her, and she felt in her bodiless form the pleasure she had known before only within flesh.

      Now the Succubus watched, with sight not limited by the need for eyes, the cat gut the mouse.

      She withdrew the last speck of herself from the cat, feeling the afterglow of its kill, feeling its urge to place the carcass upon the pillow of the woman who cared for it.

      The Succubus flowed to her rooftop home through a vent, moving as mist through the unbroken snow, through the crystalline perfection of each exquisite flake that seemed an infinity of ice cathedrals, delicately stacked upon each other.

      She made herself solid beneath the snow, reclaiming her body, healthy and whole and free of fever. Her physical senses were now muted by the intensity and the release of what she'd experienced. Her frozen blanket did not break as she reformed, but molded itself to her, as if she had been gently buried as it fell, flake by flake, from the changing sky.

      Exhausted, still bathing in the pleasure she'd felt as the mouse died, she thought how she could apply the lessons she had learned from the cat to the pursuit of her own prey.

      She drifted in something the living could know as neither sleep, nor death.

VII

Monday, 7:50 PM

      The Man With The Knife waited for Arthur as he pulled into the driveway.

      As he had waited for Arthur on many nights.

      "Check the house."

      "I know," he said, more harshly than he'd intended.

      Inid slumped in the passenger's seat, embarrassed that she should make this request of her husband.

      "I'm sorry."

      "It's okay."

      Again, Arthur had spoken more harshly than he'd intended. His wife hung her head. He knew she wanted to apologize again, for irritating him by apologizing the first time. With that knowledge came a stab of pain near his heart.

      The headlights cut the darkness, made jagged shadows on the snowbanks piled along the walkways of the complex. His gaze went to the rearview mirror, where it met the eyes of the fourteen-year-old girl in the backseat. The child rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly. How close was his daughter's exasperation for her mother to that which he'd felt for his parents when he had been her age? Arthur deeply wished he could make her understand what made her mother the way she was.

      He rounded the car into the parking space that cost as much per month as his first apartment had. Inid looked at him, and apologized again not with her voice, but her eyes. He opened the car door, leather seats creaking under him.

      The cold was a slap to his face. It reached under his Burberry and suit to his flesh. He jangled his key ring as he walked to the front door.

      She never thinks of what would happen if a guy really is in the house. Never thinks that she should have the car keys so she could drive away for help or just get away if I stumble out of the house with a knife in my back.

      He unlocked the front door of their unit, gloves still on, for they were supple enough that he did not need to take them off. Arthur walked through the unit, each shadow looming like an immense madman--The Man With The Knife his wife dreaded so.

      Flick..

      The hallway was safe. Burnished maple paneling glowed with the torch-like light of amber bulbs in the hall fixtures.

      Flick..

      The living room was safe. The black enamel of the stereo and big-screen TV shone from the track-lighting above and the torchier in the far corner.

      Flick..

      The kitchen was safe, fluorescent light gleaming off the copper pots Inid had insisted upon getting because aluminum pots were known to cause Alzheimer's. They rarely used the pots, or the dishwasher they had bought last year, for the three of them usually ate out or ordered out. The dreaded Man With The Knife could have been hiding behind the dishwasher, having, of course, broken both his legs and his arm to contort himself into so a small space. Inid had once feared this, when they had first bought the dishwasher.

      Arthur suppressed a flash of anger. It's not her fault.

      Upstairs, now.

      Flick..

      A safe hallway.

      Flick..

      A safe bedroom.

      Flick..

      A safe room that had been dubbed "the computer room."

      Flick..

      Another safe bedroom.

      A safe house.

      Arthur was uncomfortably warm. The heat had been left on while they were out, yet the lights had not, for Inid still wished to conserve what energy they could--a remnant of the environmentalist past Arthur and she had shared in college. They had, for a while, used timers to ensure that the lights were on when they got home. But Inid was never convinced of the safety of the house until she saw the second-floor lights go on; only the ritual of turning on lights could banish the intruder.

      Arthur trotted down stairs, Burberry slung over his arm, to find Inid and Meli in the hall, taking off their coats. They were both very beautiful, and as much as Inid and her fears might drive him crazy, he still felt a love for her that had kept them together through all her crises, those real and imagined. And Meli ...Meli was so lovely, she seemed to make the polished wood of the hall dim with her presence, as if the glow of maple had been drunken up by her skin.

      Arthur and his wife stole away upstairs, leaving Meli to her homework. They talked about what Inid had suffered at work that day. Inid cried, a little, and then the two of them made love, quietly, so that Meli could not hear.

      His wife still seemed tense and frightened, even as she dozed in his arms. He thought he should wake her so they could see to Meli--if their daughter finished her homework by ten, they all would watch a video together that she had picked. But he didn't, thinking of the pet rabbit he'd had as a child, who, even as it slept on his lap, still trembled slightly, untrusting.

      And as Arthur fought the urge to doze off, his daughter, terrified of the changes her body had been suffering, terrified of the maturation that was slowly making her a living shadow of the mother whom she hated in a small way she could not articulate, terrified that she would soon no longer be her father's little girl, stuck her finger down her throat and vomited a fifty-dollar entree into the toilet off the kitchen, careful not to gag too loudly.

      She could not face the shame she would feel if her parents heard.

VIII

Monday, 8:49 PM

      Lawrence turned on the hall light and froze.

      Someone was in the apartment.

      Holy Christ. Please. Please don't let it be Tom. Please don't let him have picked the lock and be waiting for me.

      He stood, unmoving, a full minute.

      Knowing the thump of his heart.

      His lips trembled as he silently spoke The Lord's Prayer.

      Something breathed in the emptiness. He felt it behind him. Around him. Felt it in the peripheries of his senses. The shadows were too sharp, like those at dawn or dusk. The darkness was heavy. Lawrence waited in the unnatural quiet for the creak of Tom's jacket as he stepped from the darkness to kill him. The step of his shoes as he crept to smash him in the head and leave him to die alone and unnoticed. His death unavenged, his life made meaningless. Just another stupid faggot killed when he brought home Mr. Wrong. He'd go back to Providence in a bag.

      The density of the silence made the air itself as heavy and cold as deep water.

      The sense of a man standing nearby grew more tangible.

      Lawrence felt the man move, at once behind him and before him, drifting through the apartment walls like the light of a lantern shone across the trees of a forest.

      Lawrence heard, faintly, the sound of someone walking in the hallway outside the apartment. The jangle of keys.

      He should move, now. If Tom were in the apartment, Lawrence could cry out and be heard by the person in the hall.

      He stumbled to the living room and turned on the light.

      No one was there.

      But he still felt someone there.

      The presence was different now. There was no threat to it. Just empty sadness. A vague sense of that sadness having form like a man, at once standing and drifting, ghost-like at the edges of his senses the way the blue-green residue of snow-blindness stands and drifts in the corners of sight.

      Lawrence heard from the hallway outside the tumble of keys and the turn of a lock. The presence faded, and was gone. The shadows became less hard-edged. The silence became mere quiet.

      Slowly, for the sound of fabric rustling would jangle his nerves, he took off his coat and sat in the one chair he owned. He thought a moment. He'd known the phantom that had accosted him. The same heavy sadness had followed his friend, John, in the days after his first lover had died of AIDS. It was the same heavy sadness, meshed with fear, that had cloaked itself upon John as he wondered how many years were left to him. At times, the sadness and fear had seemed more real than John himself. John had become a creature of absence. Hollow-eyed, vacant. Too empty to hold even grief. Lawrence had known this phantom. And knew why he had felt it near him, tonight.

      It was the shape he'd given all his fears not only about Tom coming to take his life. But also of the fear, despite the condom, that Lawrence had been exposed to the virus last night. Tom was the kind of guy who could rip you off just as easily as he could fuck you, knowing he was HIV positive, and then get a good night's sleep.

      Tom was the incarnate of a body of fears. When Lawrence had been young, he'd had recurring panics, like what he'd just experienced. Panics that a hulking thing of shadow stalked him through his parents' house, and waited outside his bedroom door to bludgeon him to death with its fists.

      When he was older, Lawrence realized this thing was the shape he'd given his fears about his father, who did not (often) beat him with his fists, but did often beat him with words, with belittlements, and tones of voice that barely hid contempt.

      Lawrence locked his door, then fished a paperback out of his coat pocket. He made tea, then went into the bedroom and changed his sheets; he couldn't bear to have any trace of Tom near. He settled into bed with his tea and read the paperback, a Perry Mason mystery--The Case of the Howling Dog.

      As he read, he became aware of a scent--over that of the clean sheets--that he did not recognize. It was the scent of a man. At first, he thought it was Tom's scent, mingled among the blankets. But the scent was not Tom's. There was a heavy musk to it.

      He could not place it. The scent was very sexy, yet comforting.

      Lawrence dozed off, and dreamt of lovely poetry that stirred his heart and touched his very soul. The poetry resonated through his mind and senses, lifting his spirit in a way he could not imagine.

      He was aware, only dimly, that the poetry was in a language he did not know.

IX

Monday, 11:45 PM

      "Tisiphone."

      The Succubus sat upright, her meditation and prayer broken. Caked snow fell from scarlet limbs. Naked, half buried in the snow she had transubstantiated beneath, she heard the sounds of the city and the reverberation of the million odd souls within reach of her senses.

      Had she heard the word with the hearing of her physical being? Or of her ethereal being?

      She heard her hair billowing in the wind, the dancing of minute crystals of ice across the expanse of snow spread over her rooftop, the whisper of a night-prayer and the echoes of troubled sleep too heavily burdened with dreams.

      Then again. "Tisiphone."

      It was her Patron's voice, singing in her mind like dream-chimes. Her heart leapt, her breath quickened. Was he here? She could feel him--his kindness, his warmth, his gentle, sensuous strength. The force of his mind, his Will, as great as the weight of a thousand suns. The force thrilled her, so very alive compared to that aspect of her Father she'd drawn out of herself as she'd walked to the dead church.

      A third time. "Tisiphone."

      And then he was gone, his passing a vacuum in her mind and heart, his being muted as if drawn behind a curtain. His absence was an ache in her heart. She felt an incompleteness, as if she had been torn from her body.

      Why had he come only to leave so suddenly?

      She understood, then.

      Tisiphone was Queen of the Gorgons, the Abbess of the Furies. She was Madonna of the Infernal Rivers, Matron of the City of Dis. The Goddess of Lamentation, Shadows, and Regret. Destroyer of Bloodlines, and the Sower of Poisons. Tisiphone had walked in the shadow of the Succubus' Father, growing and flourishing in that shadow as a flower grows and flourishes in sunlight.

      And the Succubus was to take her Name.

      Her father had broken a great Covenant to tell her this, extending his Will to the Living World and speaking the Name by the sacred number, three. Out of love for her, he had risked so much.

      Her throat swelled, her eyes teared. She drew herself tight in her body, to better feel the physical manifestations of her love for him. There was grace and love in all that he did. Such splendid poetry for him to come near the Earth at Yule, and to speak a name of power--to give her solace and comfort while she was on her pilgrimage for the sake of her Father's greater glory.

      What then, was the poetry of her promised name? What was the magic of it? The Succubus stood and looked over the rooftops to ponder this.

      She saw the high towers of Boston, the frozen Charles inlaid like quartz through the darkened city, the ant-like movement of columns of traffic. Was she to be Mistress of this place, this city and its river? Would she be the Lesser Tisiphone of this region, an infernal preaefecta holding dominion here as Tisiphone the Great held dominion over Dis and its Abhorrent river?

      Was this the gift to be given to her by her Lord?

      Yes. It would be so. That was surely how her Patron would wish it to be.

      For then, sweet children would come to her, clinging to her bloodied garments and crying for benediction as she led them to be drowned in the filthy, dead waters of the Charles, their faces going specter-white by the light of her torch fueled by human fat.

      Yes, it should be so.

      For she would bring madness to this city, setting free the pain of its roiling ether, so that the human carrion, the homeless and the destitute, would shout her name from the street corners in the midst of the darkest, despairing, nights.

      She would become avenger and gate-keeper, the weaver of souls into exquisite tapestries.

      All this to be done by the power of her Name, all this to be done for the sake of her sweet Patron.

      Tomorrow she would walk the city, come near the river. And she would know them as part of herself. She would find a way to invoke the poetry of her promised name so that she could be granted the name, confirmed in the greatest onyx cathedral in Hell.

      Confirmed in Dis....

      She was full of joy that her pilgrimage should end in the Blessed City, the place of joyful and willful Exile of those who had taken part in the great Insurrection. The City of dolance and despair. Of eternal suffering. Of the eternal wandering of the bodiless across landscapes of suffering. The city that was a vista of damnation and atrocity.

      She capered and danced upon the roof, making herself transparent and light so that her steps did not break the powder of snow as she pirouetted with the grace of smoke through the harsh aerials and chimneys and ducts that made up her home.

      And then, as a child in secret will try on her mother's wedding gown, she changed her form to a delicate miniature of Tisiphone's, still dancing and still transparent, so that the faint light of the stars showed through her golden wings and the terrible bronze claws she raised to the heavens.

(End, Part One, Chapter Four)


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