(Rainfall.)

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DAVID:

My mother used to warn me, “Remember the boy who saw cracks in the world.”

 

And when I’d been particularly bad, she’d tell me the story.

 

It was only after multiple renditions that I began to question the value of what I was hearing, beginning to suspect that she’d made it up herself, because it didn’t sound like any folk tale I’d ever heard, and it so clearly seemed intended as a warning to me personally: stop being so gloomy. Don’t dwell on things so much. Look for the positives wherever you can find them.

 

It goes like this: a boy who woke up one morning and saw that a great gaping crack had opened up in the wall and window of his room, a hideous billowing black crack in the world itself and only darkness and emptiness beyond.

 

And the boy ran downstairs to tell his mother, and he saw that there was a crack in the world in the kitchen floor beneath her.

 

So the boy yelled, “Mother, look out for the crack in the world!”

 

And his mother looked, and as soon as she saw the crack in the world she plummeted into it, screaming helplessly, and was never seen again.

 

A second later the boy’s father walked in, and he asked, “where is your mother?”

 

And as soon as the boy answered, “she fell into the crack in the world beneath your feet,” the father saw it too and could not help but fall, and was never seen again.

 

And this sickness began to spread, because as people began to see the cracks in the world they called out to others, who could not help but fall, until the cracks were everywhere and ate up everything and everyone was gone.

 

And the boy who saw the cracks in the world was the last one left, crouching in a tiny corner, frightened and alone, because the world was only cracks and there was no longer anywhere safe to be, and there was no one left to help him.

 

To be honest, I think she might actually have misunderstood the moral of her own story, or perhaps just the application of it, because it was as if she thought this unhappy ending, this frightful fate of finding myself alone and beyond the ken of anybody else, would be enough to fix me.

 

But the story didn’t frighten me, and if anyone was afraid, it was her. Frightened for me, because in such a neurotic, lonely, unhappy child there could be no great success in the life to come. Frightened of me, because she’d created something that stopped making sense when she wasn’t looking.

 

I don’t know what went wrong with you, she’d snap, and it felt like a complaint to life’s senior manager. You used to be such a happy baby.

 

As if she couldn’t trace the point at which normal became, irretrievably, abnormal.

 

Riyo and I wake in ruins, eating scrounged leftovers in silence. Bathing from the cracked pipes of an abandoned house.

 

When we’re finished, we slip back into our shoes, and step out into the spitting rain, shawls wound around our heads, ready to continue our ascent.

 

It’s been two days since we’ve seen another living soul.

 

It’s been two days since we’ve been climbing.

 

The cathedral is still above us and beyond us. In two days, it hasn’t got any closer.

 

Before us - a vast and impossible corpse. Houses piled on streets, vast and winding, like the sheddings of skin. Stairways rising upon stairways, toppling into rubble.

 

The detail has sunk away from the city. Product fills the shelves in every window, but it is no longer clear what might be in those endless lines of identical cans. The neon lights are only light, no longer words, and they flicker and glow as if they’re coming from a very far way away.

 

There are still commuters walking, drifting from one place to the next, but they’re less than oily shadow, faceless, aimless black figures that stream through us and around us without ever seeming to acknowledge our existence.

 

And occasionally we come across something that does not belong; an old US Army truck, its wheels and chassis bent unnaturally into twisted new shapes. Trails of black ash across the scuppered seats. 

 

Empty suits, trousers and ties, laid out over park benches. The collar strewn with ash.

 

If the city is expanding elsewhere, then we are walking now through the wake of it; the forgotten detritus of a nightmare that dances on the surface of another planet.

 

It is dawn in Eskew, and it’s still raining, and we are lost.

 

Perhaps hopelessly lost, because I doubt that there’s anything left here capable of being eaten by us, and as the attention to detail fades we may well find ourselves in a city without street lamps or interiors or a working sun. 

 

I am deep in the cracks of the world now, mother.

 

A curiosity; I’m no longer afraid. Exhausted, yes. Beaten and broken, and marred. But I’m too close to the end to give any further thought to fear.

 

Each new curve of the streets, every towering spire we ascend or dingy cellar we explore as we make our dogged way upwards, is haunted and sodden and ours. There’s nothing here capable of hurting me, only wet stone and bright sky. I climb every step with a new eagerness and a new bound, hoping to see whatever’s at the top of that last great hill looming above us.

 

This must be how normal people feel, when they walk in normal cities.

 

Perhaps this will be how I feel all of the time, if I ever get to the end of this.

 

Perhaps this place has finally changed me for the better.

 

I say as much to Riyo, and she just snorts with laughter and scoffs,

 

‘Self-actualisation at the end of all things.’

 

And...you know what? Yes. 

 

Maybe.

 

If all of this is coming soon to an end, then perhaps our selves are the most lasting thing we can shape.

 

She doesn’t tell me to shut up, so I tell her about the tennis ball.

 

That when I was in London, and alone, and I needed to get out of the shadows of the apartment I shared with my mother, I’d take flight out into the city overnight, running and first and then walking, through empty streets until at around 2am I came to the pure black heart of the river, and in a certain prominent place I’d pass, buried in the pavement, a green fluffy tennis ball, its curve just visible, as if some child had thrown it there while the cement was setting, and in the years since nobody had thought to dig it up and pave over the hole to make things good and flat.

 

Every time I came to the city at night, I would pray that the tennis ball would still be there, embedded in the concrete, for me to scrape softly and reverently with the heel of my shoe, because if it was possible for something that was so odd and out-of-place and, practically speaking, useless to survive there, if only by being invisible to anyone who mattered…

 

...then perhaps I could endure as a small and hopeless creature, even if only through going unnoticed.

 

That was the place where I came to Eskew, I say out loud.

 

In the rain, by the black churning river, with my socks squelching in my Reeboks and tears freezing in the chill, and I was not cold and unhappy enough to consider going home.

 

I had already vowed to walk all night, as I had walked all night many nights before.

 

I could not exist in that home, in that kitchen, where I’d have no choice but to listen to the screaming; the shattering of plates; the quiet drunken curses that were just loud enough to be heard.

 

I did not want to be occupying the flimsy shelter of my room. Because even when the door was closed, she would come, spitting with frustration that I was not there to bear her insults, and when the door was locked, she would be there, rattling the handle, demanding admittance.

 

Because of course, being in my room away from her, away from anybody, was only proof of an abnormality that needed to be crushed.

 

What’s wrong with you, David? What’s wrong with you?

 

Out in the rain and the darkness I could go unseen. I could walk forever, so long as the darkness and the rain never stopped.

 

And it was there, in the rain, by the black churning river, that I turned, gazing out over inhospitable tower blocks lit in the glare of golden lampposts, and I saw an archway that I did not remember being there before.

 

Just a tunnel through grey stone bricks, with a rim of dry cobble faintly visible before the passageway sank into darkness.

 

I had my own established circuits, of course, when it came to roaming the streets of London at night. And although I was curious to see what lay at the other side of the tunnel, I was also petrified by the possibility of being seen by anyone - a mugger, a policeman, my mother, anyone - who might ask me what I was doing out here so late by myself. 

 

The awful possibility that someone might try to hurt me or help me.

 

I walked on, past the archway, travelling east towards the lights of the City, my head bowed beneath an anorak hood.

 

And it was maybe four or five minutes later that I tilted my head to realise, curiously, that the river was no longer on my left.

 

Instead, I was staring up at a flat surface of grey stone, pocked with moss.

 

As I walked I tilted my head to the right, and again it was strange that instead of shopfronts and mesh grills, I was surrounded by old stone, and as I glanced back to my left the passageway wall seemed closer, as if the street was becoming a tunnel, as if something was constricting on all sides around me.

 

I stopped walking.

 

I looked back.

 

Somehow I’d taken a wrong turn. Worse yet, I’d made it quite a way into the darkness of the passageway without noticing.

 

The shimmering lights over the Thames were visible behind me, but small, contained in the distant archway’s frame like a miniature city in a snowglobe.

 

As I watched, it darkened, and then it faded from view entirely.

 

I turned again, with a rising panic that could not be explained, into the darkness of the tunnel ahead, which was only darkness, pure and silent as a swallowing mouth, and yet-

 

-I could hear the rain falling, somewhere beyond.

 

Did it sound any different to the rain where I’d come from? Could I have guessed that ahead of me lay a place where nothing, least of all that awful, ceaseless rain, could be trusted? 

 

All I knew was that rain meant an end to the horrid passageway, and if I could make it to the end, I could find my way again.

 

I ran on, away from home and my mother, on into the rain.

 

Out of the frying pan, etcetera.

 

Riyo walks in the quiet and the falling rain beside me for a long time, and then she says,

 

‘Your mother’s dead, David.’

 

‘Oh,’ is all I have by way of reply.

 

We keep climbing, through the empty streets in silence.

 

I’m not surprised. I’m a little surprised at my lack of surprise.

 

But I think I knew.

 

Perhaps somewhere in the twisted streets of Eskew, in the greasy shop windows teeming with a multitude of screaming faces like holes in drawn sheets, I must have seen her face.

 

Just as I’ve seen so many others. Just as I’ve seen mine.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ Riyo says. ‘I don’t know what happened between you, but I can tell you that from what I saw, she loved you, she missed you. She sent me to look for you-‘

 

I don’t tell her she’s wrong, that she didn’t know my mother - the anger of my mother. That if she wanted to find me, it was only because she couldn’t bear the thought of her fury and shouting misery playing out against an empty apartment for the rest of her life.

 

That my mother had been staring at the cracks in the world all her life, and she hated the fact of a son who was too unhappy and too frighteningly strange to paper the cracks back over.

 

Perhaps the hurt and the horror in that flat on the fourteenth floor, that flat which has echoed and bled into every inch of Eskew as I know it, deserves to be forgotten.

 

Instead, I say,

‘Thank you for looking for me. Thank you for finding me.’ And my God, I mean it.

 

We resume our ascent in silence.

 

And then, a moment later, we stop.

 

Because suddenly we find that we’re standing at the top of the hill, gazing up across the empty cobbles with no more steps above us left to climb, the rooftops ducking fearfully down in every direction. We’ve made it to the pinnacle and heart of Eskew, to the one place I could never get to.

 

Only...

 

The cathedral isn’t there any more.

 

Instead, that great glass dome and tower is filled with bright balconies and white curtains fluttering in the rain. There are hanging golden lanterns over the foyer.

 

Hotel Grand Basilica, the sign says.

 

Beneath it, a rather cruder and hurriedly scrawled sign reads,

 

‘APOLOGIES CERTAIN QUALITY STANDARDS MAY NOT BE MET DUE TO CONTINUED WAR EFFORT’

 

The great glass doors are open in invitation, and a single still figure in black uniform is waiting for us on the steps. Impossibly tall, a black top hat underneath its arm, the inky depths and chalky whites of its face drifting gently in the breeze.

 

We don’t approach it.

 

Riyo says,

‘How do we know if it’s safe?’

 

‘We don’t,’ I tell her. 

 

We exchange glances.

 

Together, without hesitation, we walk forward. 

 

Up the steps. Past the low bow of the Thing That Is Not A Doorman, over the final threshold.

 

***

 

The Thing at the front desk is not a receptionist. But it looks happy to see us. 

 

Its face billows in and out of approximate humanity, but no matter where it appears, there’s always a grin.

 

“You’re booked in for the one night,” it tells us. “Just the one, and then the car will be coming first thing in the morning to pick you up. Dinner is included with compliments, so we hope you’ll eat with us tonight.”

 

The Thing slides two tarnished key fobs over the front desk towards us.

 

“You’re in Room 6,” it tells Riyo. “It’s one of our Superior Rooms, on the third floor. And you, sir, you’re in-“

 

“I know,” I reply. “I know. Room 14.”

 

***

 

The hotel room is small, but comfortable. There are golden lamps shaped like lilies in elegant golden sconces; a single bright orange bulb opening out from the inside.

 

There’s nothing under the bed, and when I look in the mirror I see the face of - I suppose - a man, muddied and wide-eyed, his cheeks drawn, his eyes sunken, his hair prematurely tinting into silver around the edges. Nothing else.

 

I go to the curtains and draw them back.

 

The balcony door is already ajar. There’s no breeze.

 

Just formless black, beyond the balcony rail. For a moment I think the streetlamps have gone out, but then I realise that there’s something solid about the black beyond the balcony rail, there’s no texture there, no shadow or shape.

 

It’s as if Eskew has been peeled back, all of it but this final stop at the top of the hill, and I’m gazing out into pure firmament. Absolute absence.

 

I open the door a fraction wider, then think better of it and retreat, sliding it shut behind me.

 

Clothes have been laid out for me on the bed.

 

Clearly I’m expected to dress for dinner. I will not comment on the implications of the funereal black of the suit, and as I lift the jacket I note the extra sleeves slopping back and forth, the tie that seems too long for a human neck, the general sense that this has been cut for someone who was no longer shaped like me.

 

The shirt and trousers are fine and crisp, at least. I shower - and the hot water streaming down my face feels as real and as glorious as anything in my experience - and I change before I depart.

 

OTHER DAVID:

-changed while I wasn’t looking the impossible streets have faded the sad and malleable flesh has fled there is only darkness now and as I swoop and flutter the oozing thickness of the darkness fills the space around me trying to hem me in like petrol trying to swallow me or change me but I have danced too long the dance must continue and as I swoop and flock and swarm I see in the depths a golden square of window growing larger or perhaps closer I come the glass is nothing to me all things can be altered I come close and I find my way in I find my way out.

 

***

 

Riyo meets me in the lobby. 

 

Eskew attempted to dress her too, it seems, because she’s kept her longcoat on but she’s torn one long strip of black silk raggedly from somewhere and used it as a headband, and a second strip is around her waist to hold her ripped coat in place.

 

Silently, we walk to our final dinner.

 

The restaurant is glittering. Crystal glasses beneath a crystal roof, lit by chandeliers like fountains. Silver platters moving back and forth in the arms of chalk-faced waiters that are filling in the gaps, in the absence of anything human.

 

We’re shown to a table. We sit, examining the empty white menus with interest.

 

Chalk-faced things in waiters’ suits bring us empty bowls and plates, and then larger plates, whisking away the empties after apparently random passages of time.

 

Around us, other diners are celebrating.

 

“We made it! I can’t believe we made it!” 

 

“Over at last, after all these years…”

 

Their faces are pale, phantom flesh and bone; the light passes through them.

 

Perhaps we look as faint as they do.

 

“It’s the war,” a woman says from the table beside us. “The city’s fighting a war, that’s what I heard on the radio. It doesn’t need us any more, that’s why it’s moved on!”

 

“Just one last night,” her companion murmurs. “And then we can move on.”

 

A shadow grasps me by the hand, beaming through an empty face. It takes me a moment to recognise him.

 

“We made it, David,” Kenneth says. “My God, but we made it through the terror and the pain. And can you believe that all it took was patience? If I’d only understood, if I’d only had the wisdom to see it...there was light at the end of the tunnel. It would have all been so much easier, if only we’d been wise.”

 

His fingers keep slipping through mine. There’s no detail to him any more.

 

“I can’t wait,” he whispers, and I can hear his voice weakening as he speaks. “I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

 

After dinner, Riyo and I take our seats at the bar, tilting empty glasses, gazing out into the unmade darkness.

 

“Do you think they’re right?” I ask her. “Has it let us go?”

 

“Do you think it’s capable of letting us go?” she asks, archly, and I know at once that the answer is no, that Eskew cannot contemplate a soul who could exist beyond it, but if it has not freed us…

 

...then it’s forgotten us. It’s moved on to fresh territories and no longer has the energy even to continue tormenting those it’s left behind.

 

Riyo drinks from her empty glass and returns it to the drifting, grinning bartender.

 

“How does that make you feel?” she says. “If Eskew has forgotten you?”

 

Like the final insult, I think, and say nothing.

 

Behind us, the spectral survivors are waltzing; crying out their triumph and excitement for the real life, the real meaning, that’s to come next.

 

Their voices are ever more soft, ever more imperceptible.

 

Their voices are like rain.

 

“Well, if nothing else,” Riyo tells me, “we faced it, right? You faced it - for years. Everything it had to throw at you, you endured. That has to count for something.”

 

Not quite everything, I think - and I know that my thoughts echo in the halls of this place, that it’s the quickest way of opening up my head and letting the horror in-

 

-but I think of my reflection, in the mirror that stood in dusty and forgotten rooms over twisting streets.

 

 I think of a shadow that fled from me.

 

OTHER DAVID:

-fled from me fled from me found you

 

“Hey,” my companion says suddenly, and it takes me a moment to realise that she’s addressing the Thing That Is Not A Bartender before us.

 

Its empty eyes meet hers.

 

“How can I help?” it asks through a motionless, grinning mouth.

 

“So,” Riyo says, “we’ve got a car coming to pick us up in the morning. Do you know where that’s headed, exactly? Any chance we could find that out?””

 

The Thing gazes from her, to me, to her again.

 

“Where it’s headed,” it says.

 

“Exactly,” Riyo says. “Is that written down, or is there someone we can check with?”

 

It’s silent for some time, and I am just feeling the first new tremor of fear that this should not have been asked, that this prodding at the bounds of Eskew cannot be permitted, even now - but then it answers us, simply,

 

“Where do you want to go?”

 

***

 

We chew on that for a while.

 

“We can’t trust it,” Riyo says. “I mean, obviously we can’t trust it. This is your experience, right?”

 

It is.

 

“Where would you want to go?” she asks me a moment later. “Where would you want to go from here?”

 

Best not to say it out loud, I tell her. Best not to risk it. How about you? Do you have somewhere left to go from here?

 

“All things being possible,” she says, “I think I do.”

 

RIYO:

A person.. Not a place.

 

Let’s hold on to these endings, I say, and I raise my empty glass in a toast. No matter what comes tomorrow, let’s keep our last refuges in our hearts.

 

DAVID:

I don’t know how to tell her that there’s nothing left for me. I’m not dreaming of a quiet sanctuary any more.

 

I don’t want to go back to the places where I was abnormal, and the nightmares were still real, but all in my head.

 

When I think of tomorrow, all I can think of is the unmade darkness beyond the walls of the hotel. The silence beyond Eskew.

 

But - one final lie, one final pretence of normality beneath my skin, can only do so much damage. I let my eyes soften, my chin slacken, as if I too am imagining my happy ending, and I raise my glass to meet my friend’s.

 

***

 

When I return to my room, the bed is soft enough to swallow me.

 

I lock the door, lie there, gazing up at the ceiling, marvelling at this one small moment of peace.

 

A breath. I close my eyes. I dream.

 

The rain patters gently above me.

 

It takes me a moment to realise It’s louder than it should be.

 

I sit up, slowly.

 

The balcony door is open again.

 

I closed it, I know I closed it, but now it’s ajar just by a sliver.

 

There’s no breeze, and the darkness beyond the railing is as still and as empty as it’s ever been.

 

But there are human footprints, oily and black, staining the stone of the balcony, the carpet of the bedroom, trailing along the floor and around the bed. Naked footprints.

 

I get up, slowly, and follow them with my eyes.

 

The footprints enter the bathroom door, and vanish.

 

Ok. Options.

 

The bathroom door is between me and the exit. To get out of here safely, I’ll need to move right past it.

 

Exiting into the unmade darkness beyond the hotel is, of course, unthinkable. 

 

Whatever’s out there, whatever is left after Eskew, is unlikely to be hospitable.

 

And there’s not much here that could serve as a weapon, either.

 

Gilt lamps on either side of the bed. A couple of fountain pens on the desk. Coat hangers, possibly? 

 

I don’t want to die trying to defend myself with a coat-hanger, and in the end this is what leads me to pick up the lamp, weighing it in my hand.

 

It feels awfully light.

 

Riyo would know what to do, I think, and inspiration strikes me for a second as I lunge for the bedside phone, and dial her room number-

 

An unpleasant tone. A voice that says, calmly and discordantly,

 

We regret that due to redirection of materials for the war effort, certain aspects of your experience may now be missing. We apologise for any convenience caused.

 

The line goes dead.

 

Alone again, then.

 

Nothing for it. Gingerly, I walk to the bathroom door, clutching the lamp in my hand, and crane my head around the threshold, ready for-

 

Ready for nothing.

 

The shower curtain is drawn back, just as I left it. The bathroom is empty. There’s no place to hide, and I catch the eye of my reflection-

 

OTHER DAVID:

-the thing in my reflection looks back at me, and does not see. It has kept its shambolic illusion of entirety. It has not unmade the city, as I have, reshaping flesh and concrete and bone into fresh symphonies and structures. It has not been unmade by the darkness that swallows all things in the wake of some great impossible beast turning its gaze and moving on to new feeding grounds leaving the earth barren and the scavengers starving leaving me alone to howl in the darkness alone I will not be left behind.

 

I will unmake it.

 

And it spills forth through the splintering glass of the mirror, my Reflection, silhouetted and faint, its hands grasping at my throat as I go falling back-

 

OTHER DAVID:

-back to how it was when there were streets and lights and lonely creatures and so much to be shaped, I will take us back, a lurching thing of two minds blinking eyes two bodies one body I will not lose I-

 

-I’m choking on the bathroom floor, as I gaze up into a glaring and gaunt face, my shadow’s face, livid with a satisfaction and pleasure that I have never known as it squeezes the life right out of me-

 

-and my limbs keep thrashing, because that’s what they’re designed to do as the oxygen is starved out of us, but it is now that I find myself, curiously, awash in feelings of impending peace.

 

This is where it finally ends. This is where I can stop running. There’s nothing lurking in the shadows beyond.

 

Nothing worse than this will ever happen to me.

 

My Reflection’s grip tightens. It can see my eyelids flickering, it must feel the fight going out of me as I struggle less and my hands claw feebly at its hands, and it begins to shiver with excitement, twisting its neck ever closer, crooning at me in my own voice,

 

OTHER DAVID:

Just a little further, yes, just a little further, not far to go now, just a little further, yes, we’ve been so tired and so frightened and so alone, but here’s an end to it, yes, an end to it at long last-

 

I am so tired. I am still so frightened. Wherever I run to, I’m not sure I’ll ever scourge Eskew out of myself.

 

Its grip feels like so certain. 

 

Like a finish line.

 

Perhaps it’s only its grin that stops me. That drawn grin across my own shadow’s face, the glint of resolution in its eye.

 

I’ve always been stubborn. And why, after all, should my shadow get to be satisfied?

 

I tear its fingers loose, lunge upwards.

 

I take its ear in my teeth and rip.

 

There’s no pain, but as it staggers back, shrieking, I can feel a tingling at the side of my own face, a sudden numbness, and its screams are echoing only through my other ear.

 

I recognise this shape now. I recognise the one thing I birthed in Eskew.

 

I’m damned if I’ll leave here with it intact.

 

I tackle it, as hard as I can, and together we go careening over the threshold and into the bedroom cabinets, but as the wood splinters all around us I lose my grip on it and we come apart-

 

OTHER DAVID:

Tear you apart-

 

My Shadow spills from darkness. It claws furiously at my wrist, and as I pull back, its fingers crumble into ash-

 

-my fingers are crumbling into ash.

 

I gaze at my stump of a hand in disbelief.

 

I’m coming apart. And it doesn’t even hurt.

 

And then my phantom is upon me again, gripping me in a murderous embrace, and we dance and grapple and bite, fragments of ourselves fleeing and crumbling from us and as skin and flesh fades, there are no longer any barriers to how much we can hurt one another.

 

Our faces sink into each other. My teeth tear at shadow. 

 

The door bangs open behind us.

 

And we can see Riyo standing there. 

 

She glances only once. 

 

She is not afraid, but furious. She snatches up the lamp and marches forward, raising it over her head like a baton-

 

My shadow screeches, lunging forth towards her, substanceless now as smoke-

 

No, I think. No, you don’t, and with all of my last strength I wrap my arm around it and haul us both backwards-

 

My friend yells out,

“David-“

 

We go through the window together.

 

***

 

RIYO:

In the silence that follows, I stand alone for a while in the broken glass and amongst the broken things, in a hotel that should not exist, beyond a city that has abandoned its own reality.

 

What should I tell you?

 

I could say that I feel robbed. That I came here in search of someone who needed rescuing.

 

That I failed. That I found a fellow passenger, but parts of his darkness would always be beyond me.

 

I could say I feel afraid. Because I am alone again now, and in the morning, I will leave for somewhere new.

 

Despair. I should probably land on despair. 

 

Because a long time ago, I lost the love of my life. Next I lost a mother who hired me, then I lost her boy.

 

A life of chasing shadows into depths unknown.

 

And yet what I feel, as I sit heavily on the carpet in the empty room, is hope.

 

A small and stupid hope, in the face of everything that’s happened and everything that’s yet to come.

 

David, I hope that you know I don’t resent you for leading me into all of this.

 

I hope that even if you’re gone, you went out believing that we were making progress towards someplace better.

 

I hope that it mattered, having someone beside you in the dark.

 

I sit there, alone with my hope, and I wait for the last dawn to come.

 

***

 

DAVID:

I can hear my other half screaming as the darkness swallows him.

 

Swallows us both.

 

OTHER DAVID:

-swallows us both.

 

His eyes are glints in the black for one instant, and lost the next.

 

Once there was a body to cage me in.

 

Now there’s only tattered remnants of organ and bone spinning around me.

 

Now, only a faint residue, the fading silhouette of head and limbs.

 

Now, not even that.

 

I am not afraid. These were always the parts of myself that I least feared losing.

 

Slowly, like any novice testing out an entirely new discipline, I climb out of the ruins of myself, hovering in the black.

 

A bird in the darkness. A faintest motion in the dead and primordial forest.

 

I fly unseen.

 

Swooping through the black beyond Eskew, diving and ducking, too fast for the darkness to swallow, I’ll always be too fast so long as I don’t stop, I’ll never stop-

 

Wait. There’s a light beneath me in the darkness. 

 

Two lights. Golden headlamps in a driveway.

 

Below, the Hotel Grand Basilica has been reduced to facade; just crumbling wall propped up against nothing. Broken glass that’s staining with mud and moss, and a balcony rail dangling loose as if from some long-forgotten fight.

 

The dome has vanished entirely.

 

This is all that’s left of Eskew here, and soon there’ll be nothing at all.

 

It must be morning down there, I think. 

 

Because I see my friend Riyo step out, in fresh travelling clothes, with a suitcase clasped in her hand.

 

The car is waiting for her, a great black car with a Thing in driver’s uniform to open the back seat, and I can see her mouth move as she tells it her next destination.

 

I don’t hear the words. I don’t want to.

 

You came so far for me, I think. You helped me through it. Go no further. Don’t look back.

 

She turns, at that, although I know I didn’t speak.

 

Her eyes cast up and down the ruined facade, searching.

 

She is tired, and she is wounded. 

 

But suddenly she tilts her head, as if she’s heard something- and she smiles.

 

“May we each,” she says aloud, “find the one thing we’re looking for.”

 

And as my friend steps into the car I’m laughing in flight, I’m laughing in joy as the vehicle pulls away into the black, its headlights shining their path on to new things, I’m laughing because we both made it out, in the end, just as well as we could.

 

Even if we both left parts of ourselves behind. Even if we carry Eskew on with us.

 

I fly on, like a dolphin chasing a ship through still waters. I fly on, saluting my friend and her victory, watching the headlights dwindle and fade until they are lost to me.

 

I fly on, into darkness, and whatever awaits me next.

 

DAVID:

I can’t carry on with my despair. No matter what I face, no matter what I become, hope will come bubbling out like tar from beneath the cracks inside me.

 

RIYO:

I can’t carry on with my hope. Because there will be no happy resolution in the endless worlds beyond the world I knew, and there is no greater kindness, and my road in the darkness has no ending.

 

DAVID AND RIYO, TOGETHER:

I think I’ll carry on.

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