Part iii: Martin
Broken thoughts gathered like crows and perched in ragged lines just out of reach. And Martin fled the sight of them and ran further from that surface where so much pain lay drunken, paralyzed, broken, weeping.
But the further he ran the harder it was to avoid the sight of what lay behind, before, around him always. And the valley was lost to memory behind him as the moors had been before that. And though he could not ignore that hateful truth and he could not deny it either still he could not look upon its jagged, tearing face.
And so Martin fled again into Acheron’s depths. Fleeing the valley, he closed his eyes until he was past the worst and then kept them fixed upon his own hurrying feet. Aghast at the corpses hanging from walls and gateposts and rocks and balconies he fled Ankhor, unable to deny the dead any more. Just as he had fled Hypnos unable to ignore that there was anything other than life and the present.
And the plains came up and he staggered on until the dead could not be seen. The foothills gave some small safety in their shadows and so he skulked from town to town, seeking some shelter and some comfort. For those upper plains were exposed to that same lonely wind that blew so nakedly against his mind upon the moor.
And yet every town had a graveyard and Martin fled each one of them, unable to look upon the stones for he had no eyes to see such things without dying himself. And every time he caught a glimpse of those symbols of mortality he thought it was the end of him, he thought his heart would break. For perched atop each one of them was one of the Erinyes, the fluttering, harrying fates, the tormenters of those who’d spilled the blood of their own. And they screeched at him and their fingers caught in his hair, and their sharp nails scratched at his soul. And he knew they were relentless.
The rain lashed the night-blanketed street like a madman outside the window and Jennie was still crying. Katherine grabbed her, squatting lower to meet her and trying to be firm, the tension vivid in her voice as she gently shook the girl and tried to reason with her. “Perhaps we shouldn’t bring her, she’s still full of cold. And she’s tired,” the words echoing around his head as he tried to concentrate on his speech but couldn’t.
He was tired, unable to sleep last night from the anticipation. He fumbled with his ridiculous bowtie. He’d never worn a real one before but considered it appropriate for tonight. If only he could remember how to tie it. And he couldn’t remember what came after the thank you’s; to his colleagues, his friends, his patrons, his students, pause for laugh. What came next.
“Will you shut that child up!” he yelled, exasperated at the constant drumming outside and the water pouring down the window and his daughter’s cheeks. And he couldn’t get his hair right, however much gell he used. He couldn’t flatten that tuft at the side and now his hair was thick with gell and it looked like he was trying to be one of his own students.
Tonight would be a disaster and, he looked at his watch, he was already later than he’d wanted. Fiona would be early, he knew and he wanted to have a word with her before she was collared by the crowds. It was late, too late, and he couldn’t get his hair right and Jennie kept crying.
“What’s wrong with that girl,” he yelled and stormed out of the bathroom. Katherine was struggling to get her into her dress. Jennie had been so delighted when they’d brought it out for her. Now she whined and flopped around in her mother’s arms like a rag doll, head in her lap, arms loose, sniffling in the most infuriating manner.
“Katherine, don’t you know how much this evening means to me?” he snapped at her.
“Of course I do. You’ve gone on about nothing else for the past month.” She yelled back. His face went black as she stung him and he pushed past her and grabbed Jennie by the shoulders, hauling her to face him and tried to speak keeping the anger out of his voice.
“Come on now, darling,” he said, a smiling through clenched teeth. “Come on don’t be silly. You want to see your daddy get his award don’t you?” She sniffed unhappily. “And your lovely dress. Should we just take it back to the shop then. And you’ll never wear it. Is that what you want?”
“Noooo.” She clutched at it.
“Then don’t be a baby. This is an important evening for me. You don’t want to ruin it for daddy do you?”
“Martin,” he tried to ignore Katherine’s voice.
“All those people are there waiting. And you won’t even put your dress on. All those important people.”
“Martin!” Katherine tried again. He turned on her. “And can’t you go and do something with your hair?” knowing how long she’d spent on it.
Katherine shot him a look and stormed off.
“Come on, darling,” he turned back to Jennie. He grabbed the dress and pulled it roughly over her head as she wept and struggled.
And truly his journey almost ended there and he would have passed beyond Acheron’s strangely fluid surface to whatever lay beyond. But something kept him going, some last remnant of strength that the tears hadn’t yet washed out, that the wailing hadn’t fully sucked from the depths of his will. And he endured.
And as Martin stumbled onwards those towns of the upper plains dwindled. And the land became broken, rock slates slanting from the moss and shrubs. And the wind became less in their lee and Martin fell, exhausted and dying against one, huddled and shivering helplessly, clutching his knees in hopelessness.
And then he saw the door built into the side of the rock, heavy posts forcing the rock to stay open and a door between them.
And writ large upon the mantle post was the legend ‘Panacea’. And, desperate now, Martin forced that door open and crawled inside. And he closed that heavy door fast shut behind him, locking out what lay beyond. And there was then light and there was warmth.