Was James bipolar?”The tears returned, and I watched her battle them. “We don’t use that word in our family.”I stared at her for a moment. “Why not?”“Mum and Dad don’t believe in it.” She kept walking. “James was always … troubled. But there was nothing wrong with him, nothing more than anyone else anyway, everyone feels a bit down sometimes.”“Olivia! It was more than feeling down.”She laughed, bitterly. “I know, Dee, fuck, do I know that. I’m just telling you how it goes. The party line—what we told people when they asked.
I swore as the knife I’d been using to dice our dinner bit into my finger. I dropped it on the floor, blood spattering the counter and cupboard doors a furious red. I watched, mesmerised, as the blood welled up and began to seep down my hand; I tried to catalogue the amount of pain I was in. Surprisingly little, I concluded, pushing at the edges of the wound to see how deep it went. Deep enough. I was starting to feel it now, but it didn’t hurt so much. I’d endured far worse.If it came to it, I could do it. There was comfort in that knowledge.
James had taken his own life, but the need to do so was not something easily explained. He had the life he wanted: money, a home, a job, a wife, a good friend. I’d known people who died at their own hand because life became unbearable, or because something happened, something terrible. That wasn’t so for James—there was something inside him, something a part of him, something over which he had no control, but which had absolute control over him.
Death begins before birth. I have always found this an odd notion, but were it not for the death of certain cells during our initial development, humans would be born with webbed toes. Death moulds our physical being from the very start of our existence. It sculpts us, determines how we begin, and where we end. The events in life that define us, that break us and remake us, all stem from death—the death of a place, a time, a relationship, of those we hold most dear, and finally ourselves. Death is the one inescapable aspect of life, the only immutable force, the single thing in this world that cannot and should not be changed.But death is never the end.It is the beginning.
It was a fact that had become the focus of my entire life, a whisper in my heartbeat, a permanent, insidious presence that punctuated my every breath. I couldn’t escape it, that persistent voice, lingering in the blood pulsing through my veins. It said only one thing, over and over, a repetition of inescapable anguish, the knowledge of a thing that could never be undone.James is dead. James is dead. James is dead. James is dead.
he night beyond the window was still, mordant white snow, punctuated only by the eerie dark of the trees, gumshoeing their way along the edge of the path outside. Their skeletal fingers clawed up at the stars, held down by an insidious, weightless lacing of snowflakes. I gazed idly at the moon and wondered if it truly had the power to sway the will of men.
The night beyond the window was still, mordant white snow, punctuated only by the eerie dark of the trees, gumshoeing their way along the edge of the path outside. Their skeletal fingers clawed up at the stars, held down by an insidious, weightless lacing of snowflakes. I gazed idly at the moon and wondered if it truly had the power to sway the will of men.
Insects crawled across my skin, legs skittering across my flesh, numbed paths of cold left in their wake. They were the creatures that heralded my ghosts, and I knew them well, yet the revulsion they caused in those moments far exceeded anything I’d felt before.
The wolf turned to Rachel. She was afraid to run, afraid fleeing would make it chase her. Somewhere in the stored files of her mind, she remembered one should not look directly at a menacing dog, but she couldn’t take her eyes from it.
There was nothing physical she could do to stop Mario from carrying out whatever he wished. She shivered at the thought of what that sleazy, other world leftover might do should she launch an attack on him.
In the distance, steel-blue mountains loomed heavy on the horizon, their shoulders burdened with the same accursed snow the gods were currently depositing upon the lowlands. Between us and the mountains, the vast expanse of one of the innumerable caravan sites littering the Welsh shores was dimly visible, and at the far edges of the sands, grey waves tipped a mulch of brown foam up on to the beach, a sudden deposition of wishy-washy creatures that seemed to spider-leg over each other in their haste to reach the shore and see what all the fuss was about.But even these creatures comprised of sea-foam were freaked out by the death-stare, for the little critters swiftly dissipated under the force of a skeletal glower.A skull lay in the sand, its empty sockets staring down the beach at the retreating surge. Their fear wouldn’t last long. Soon they’d realise the skeleton had not engaged in pursuit, their confidence would grow, and they’d encroach, further and further up the bank. Eventually, they’d be close enough to see it was completely inert, and would overrun our position, victoriously sweeping up their fallen foe and dragging it back out with them into the dreary waves.
I imagined her poised, a humerus in one hand, a toothbrush in the other, as she gently brushed away the last remnants of the person who had once used that arm to shake hands, open doors, lift a mug of tea. I wondered if it was so very different from how I myself looked when I sat on the floor of my finds room, perhaps sitting cross-legged, at the centre of a circle of newly cleaned bones, a tibia in one hand, a toothbrush in the other …
A shade flickered to my left, an eerie shadow balanced even more precariously on the railing than I. Her plimsolls struggled to grip the same rail my fingers now held. I knew her face, just as I knew her death; I’d watched it often enough, those times I’d been unable to avoid crossing here. Nerys was always here, tied to the moment of her death, an echo, forever hurtling down into those waters, only to reappear an instant later, once more wavering on the rails.
It seemed for a moment as if something was there, loitering between the knurled and towering cherry trees, a flash of a presence as stark as the sight of the snow against their bare branches and cracked, piceous bark. Unblinking, I watched the edge of the lake, waiting for it to reappear, but whatever it had been was gone, vanished under cover of a willow tree, lofty and dense, rearing over the lake, its branches dripping all the way to the ground. The tree’s lament had been transformed into a thing of such beauty I was tempted to go and hide within it.
Joshua had always been able to get away with things—things for which he should never have been forgiven. He was a lot like James in that respect, for while my husband had bought his grace with his brilliance, Joshua did so with his looks. I considered that a moment, before turning away, suddenly finding I could not bear to look at him for fear of what I might forgive next.
The past had already been dealt with, to one end or another, it was certain, fixed, the horror of it was already over.For the living at least. They grieved, yes, but they were not trapped in the terror of the moment.Not so for my poor, elegant wraiths. They were like the old-fashioned zoetropes you find at the seaside: a tiny slice of a world in a box, brief yet somehow also eternal.
I found serenity in the towers, especially the highest, even in the midst of winter. The crows also enjoyed the lofts, and I habitually fed them.Often I held conference with the grotesques lining the summit. The gryphon was perhaps my favourite. I’d regularly sat beside them when feeling pensive, even before James’s death, one leg dangling precariously over the edge
She stood in the snow, effervescent, all pale skin and blonde hair, clad in white and bathed in moonlight. She should have looked angelic, instead she looked like a corpse, freshly raised from the grave, frosted in ice and darkness, swaying precariously in a graveyard.
The reflection was that of a putrefying corpse. By some trick of the light, her face seemed sallow and slipping, the patches of darkness giving the appearance of skin sloughing off in small pockets. I’d almost forgotten the knife in my panic; the woman was far more dangerous than the weapon. Blood drizzled down the blade, obscuring the macabre reflection of Natalya’s face and suddenly I was transfixed by a thought that should have been immediate:Whose blood is that?
Yes, but I am not human and to expect me to live by your rules or values is unrealistic. For my kind, I am quite altruistic.” Tyler Jones/Dhavenbahtek to Thulu and La Fi.