Charon – 18

Part iv: Martin

Chapter Eighteen

The Sanctuary fell away from Martin as he scrambled to escape. The floor was tarmac, rushing beneath him, too fast, slick with rain. The walls were barely there. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore it as he pushed through doors that slipped form his senses as he did. He found the steps up to the plains outside, and staggered up them, two at a time. The photos on the walls no longer showed patients and their doctors. They showed a man and a woman, sometimes with a child in their arms, a baby, a little girl, a toddler sitting on their lap. And Martin screamed and fled from them.

The plains outside appeared different from before, the landmarks had changed, the hills were gone, all the stars were in different places. Martin collapsed to his knees as the wind whistled about his ears, a roar of air forcing itself into his head, cold and impossible to ignore, though he clamped his hands over them as best he could, his heart racing fit to burst.

And above him the Erinyes circled, the fluttering gathering shades with the faces of vengeful women. They were waiting for him, they were always waiting for him.

“Who are you?” he screamed at them, though he knew the answer already. “What do you want?” he demanded. And they answered with a screech of fury that tore scraps from his soul. There were more than before, the sky was growing heavy with them, they were blocking out the stars and the moon.

“Leave me alone,” he cried, knowing that was impossible. “Why won’t you leave me alone,” knowing exactly why.

And so he ran, ran as fast as he could, and they followed, for they could do nothing else.

“Which way do we go now?” he demanded.

 “I don’t know, I’ve never been this way before.” Katherine said, stressed and upset already

 “You took the phone call.” Martin snapped

“She said right at the pub.”

 “Which pub, we’ve passed three.”

 “The pub after the roundabout.”

 “The roundabout was three miles back. There’s no pub. Are you sure she said the second turning.” Martin ‘s voice was rising to a shout.

 “I think so.” She managed.

 “You think so! What does that mean. How does that help.”

 “You know I can’t navigate.”

 “Yes, you’ve made that quite clear. Look at the map. Not that one. How will that one help.”

 “Mummy, I’m feeling sick.” That voice, that tone.

 “Sort her out Katherine.” He snapped viciously, “I can’t do everything. Look, did you see that sign. Was that it?”

 “I don’t know, I couldn’t see.”

 “Katherine, please. I only ask one thing. I’m driving, getting Jennie ready, practising my speech, practically arranging this entire evening and all I ask is that you keep an eye on the signs so we know where we’re going.”

 “I…”

 “There, is that it?” he demanded.

 “I…I don’t…I think…”

 “What, yes, no? Now look, I’m past it. I can’t see a fucking thing in this rain.”

 “Martin!” she finally snapped at him, and he remembered feeling that she was the one being unreasonable for snapping.

 “We’re lost in the middle of the bloody countryside… they’ll all be there by now…look there. What does the map say?”

 “What road are we on again?”

 “Katherine, please!” he was exasperated, patronising.

“Well, I don’t know, I’m trying to stop Jennie from being sick. I can’t see the signs anyway, the windows are all misted up.”

 “You’re fucking blind, that’s what.”

 “Martin. That’s enough.”

 “Mummy, I’m cold.”

 “Don’t worry darling, we’ll be there soon.” She twisted in her seat, false smiles for their daughter.

 “Fat chance with your mother giving directions,” he sniped, to get back at her for snapping at him earlier.

 “Pull over.” There was venom in her voice now.

 “What good will that do. There’s no one…” his voice petulant, like a spoilt child, he thought, looking back.

“Pull Over!” She shouted.

So many memories, flooding to the surface. All the little wounds he’d caused them both, all the many moments of shame and self-disgust. There were no excuses now, nowhere to hide under the open skies as the furies swarmed and fluttered and screeched. What kind of a man did such things, what kind of a person could cut down the ones they loved out of pique and frustration? What kind of man was he?

He’d loved them, he knew that for a certainty. His heart had sometimes felt like it would burst with love for them. He’d thought at times he would willingly give his life for them. But if he loved them why had he hurt them with such relish, such satisfaction at his petty victories. What kind of love was that? If that was love, had he ever loved them? Was he even capable of it?

“Daddy, I’m tiiiired”, her voice pitched exactly right to scratch across his mind like a fingernail on glass.

“Shut your daughter up, will you, I’m trying to concentrate,” he’d replied, petulantly.

He remembered, he remembered every moment, every cutting remark, every awful thing he’d ever done to them. And as he did he looked over his shoulder at the fates that harried his steps and realised that they wore their faces.

   “…great pleasure…present this Award” He didn’t even hear his name as he rose, the room applauding spontaneously around him, perhaps not quite as loud as they could have been, but a decent acclaim none the less. They were measured, reserved people in any case, he could not expect… His head spun out reasons why he should feel more than he did as he walked towards the podium.

He should be happier, prouder, this was the greatest accomplishment of his career…and all he could think of was Jennie being sick in the car park as he hurried away, furious with them both. And Katherine trying to comfort his daughter by the side of the road as he wrestled with the map and tried to work out where he was going.

He had snapped and sniped at her all the way, unable to stop himself in his rage and frustration. And when they had pulled up finally, with only minutes to spare until his presentation, he had fled from them as they whined and wept and vomited. The beautiful dress was ruined, his daughter had never been so miserable.

And Katherine was not here, not watching as he stood in front of the cream of his profession and accepted their accolade. It was ash in his mouth, thoughts grating against his skull, his teeth ground and his feet were heavy and the podium was dull and bare before him.

He stood up before his peers and stared out at the room, at the empty seats at the table he had come from, knowing his hair was wet and tufted, his bowtie ill-fitting, his suit wet and creased, his face like thunder. And he pulled out his speech and tried to smile, a false grin he hid behind that did nothing to hide his mood.

And he read out the words he had worried over for weeks, the speech he had pored over sentence by sentence, word by word, for hours and countless hours. The speech Katherine had helped him with, the joke that he had included to make Jennie smile. And he almost grimaced as he came to it, but ploughed on, committed to this mummers farce now, he just had to get through it.

And as it all turned to nothing within him he pulled himself in and fired the well of loss and guilt into a wall of hate, an armour plated suit he held up around him. And he rose up on his rising tide of righteous anger, his injured pride. How could they, how could they ruin this? This one day, that’s all he asked for and they couldn’t even sort themselves out for this one day.

Their fault, Jennie was just a kid, a spoilt brat, but Katherine, she was old enough to know better,  this was the worst thing she’d ever done, this was a betrayal of the worst kind…this was…he realised the speech was over and the applause was leading him back to his seat.

Muted now, as the evening moved on, he couldn’t meet anyone’s eye, he couldn’t feel their words of congratulation as he passed them and they pumped his hand. He wanted to leave, he wanted to scream in frustrated rage. But he had to stand and smile and thank his well-wishers as the two Judas’ remained outside. Nowhere to be seen. He must look like a fool, he thought.

The Erinyes wheeled and wailed, and their fingers caught in his hair and would not let go as they screamed their furious accusations into his ears. The plains were no protection now, the ground was barely there. The skies were gone, blanketed by those fluttering flickering shapes. The sound of a wailing siren filled his senses, professional voices too faint to make out, bright lights flashed in his eyes, someone was asking him a question. It sounded urgent, that’s all he could gather, it sounded urgent but it was a million miles away, and the furies were far closer.

He had to get away, he knew, and so he bucked and tore his flesh from their grip, struggling and screaming, trying to get his rage to move him forward. But his rage was gone, the memories flooding up were sucking the anger form him and leaving only black despair. The ground was sucking at his feet, trying to pull him to his knees, it was like wading through treacle. His limbs were so heavy, so impossibly heavy he could not lift them at all.

The ground fell away, the stars vanished, the sirens ceased, the lights went out, even the furies faded. Was this it? Was this the end? He felt like he was falling, he felt like he was dropping into infinite darkness and would never stop falling ever again.

But then. But then the ground rose up to meet him, the landscape pulled itself into place, he dragged himself up from the depths, gasping, and struggling, his limbs free of the clawing, clutching fingers of his pursuers. He saw a wall up ahead, a high wall, and a gate within it. If he could only make it there, he thought. If he could only find shelter behind those high, grey walls.

He ran to them.

> Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Seventeen <

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