The bar was empty, a good thing, and he sat in wait at a table by the door. It was minutes to midnight and the reporter would soon announce his appearance. The Lazarus, the Nosferatu, the walking corpse of the written word. A single candle burned in a glass on the table beneath his face and he smiled with his lips, with his mockery of a blissful, vacuous serenity.
The door opened and a stranger stepped inside. Fraught and ragged, his hair and beard straggly and unkempt, his brown overcoat several sizes too big for his feeble frame, his face yellow and oozing with sores. He drank it all in, drank in the reporter’s presence at last so close to view. It was hard to say who saw the other first. Their eyes locked for a moment outside of time—between each all was understood.
“Please,” said the killer, “have a seat.”
“You’re the one who called me.”
“That’s correct. Would you like a drink my friend? You look positively arid.”
“No thank you.”
The one called Brian Hardy sat down in the booth opposite him, back to the wall. “What do you know about Emily Whelan?” he said.
“Why don’t we have a drink first?”
“I said I’m not thirsty.”
“Well do you mind if I partake? My nerves are all in jitters you know.”
“Go ahead,” said Hardy, “but be quick about it.”
The killer walked all the way down the long empty barroom to the bar itself. Hardy watched him as he went, tense and apparently in awe at the lackadaisical manner and stride of him. The killer serenely scoured the shelves behind the bar, searching for a missing bottle. He cleared his throat to the woman working the bar.
“Excuse me,” he said, “do you have some Advocaat?”
The barwoman turned to check the shelves and then shook her head. “Uh-huh,” she said, “I can check out back for you if you’d like?”
“Please, and in the meantime give me a glass of Bailey’s.”
The woman served him and then left the room. Instead of waiting for her return, the killer took the drink already served and then turned to walk swiftly back to Hardy. As he approached he reached out to place the drink on the table, the last second flicking it up towards Hardy’s face. As the milky booze hit him Hardy recoiled, the killer’s other hand revealing a needle, sharp-point out, reflecting for a split-second the light of the candle, before jabbing right into Hardy’s neck.
Hardy stumbled back and fell out of the booth, one hand clutching his throat, a thin stream of blood trickling out and his face and chest soaking with spilled Irish Cream. His legs gave out, his vision blurred. He moved to fall but the killer caught him in hold.
“Should have just had a drink, Brian Hardy, would have been easier for you but I think I liked it better this way.”
Hardy mumbled—soft, meaningless words, his consciousness distorted and diminishing. “That’s right friend,” the killer said, “I think we’ve been here long enough. We’d better get out before they kick us out.” He guided his carrion out of the door and the two men stumbled into the night, like a pair of old friends in the intoxicating throes of some long-overdue merry reunion.
We are drunk and we are merry, we’re going to feast on Brian Hardy. I did it, I fucking did it! I got him, I trapped the beast! He’s mine now, tonight we do the act. Tonight we do it, the release, the bliss, the fucking kill!
Outside the street was empty, quiet, frozen in time—the fat yellow globe of the moon reflecting like a sorrowful river off the pavements below. With his arm around Hardy’s shoulder and his other holding him up by the gut, the killer stumbled forward along the road. A taxi up ahead was waiting for its fare like Charon in the moonlight, pulled up to the empty jetty of the footpath. With his eye wild and intent upon this carriage, the killer and Hardy lurched forward.
That’s right, that’s right. Just another few steps my friend. Just another few steps and you will know nothing more of misery or woe. You were too good for this world, they didn’t know you like I did. We’ll remedy it all, remedy it all. Relax into your medicine, be glad—the universe itself has buckled tonight to make such exception for you. These hands were never meant for the likes of you but you are special. I love you, yes I love you now and I will release you, soon. We must… just… press forward…
He pulled open the passenger door beside the taxi driver and looked inside, face twisted into a ghastly, leering, liver-lipped smile.
“Hello there,” he said, “my friend is worse for wear, can you bring us back home?”
The driver, an African immigrant, eyed the killer and then Hardy, weighing up the odds of some impending messy disaster.
“Ok,” he said, “get in, but if your friend gets sick back there you will have to pay a fine.”
The killer nodded, his face now solemn, but his eyes still maniacal and wild. “Agreed,” he said. “Agreed. You have a deal my good man.”
Fucking kill this one too if I have to, if he asks questions. Stick the needle in from the back, right into his spinal cord. The car will swerve, out of control, foot still on the pedal. Enjoy it like a rollercoaster as it hurtles to fiery doom.
The killer and Hardy piled into the back, Hardy comatose and bleary, the killer in rapturous high spirits. He bounced around with every movement, gestures animated and thrilled, like a child on his way to an amusement park for the first time.
“Where are you going?” the driver asked.
“Take us up to Menlough, good sport, out by the old Pier Road.”
Home, back home again, back in there, down
“Out by Lough Corrib, yes?” the driver said.
“In that direction, that’s right.”
Bring him back there, to the dinner table. All the good times, all the lovely happily happily. Oh God, Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus…
The driver pulled out of the street and up towards the Dyke Road leading out of town, parallel to the river and under the Bicentennial Bridge. Soon they passed the old ruined river house and the sprawling waterworks. Trees and fields now, the twinkling tapestry of the city-lights behind them, only the black of the countryside by night ahead.
“Your friend there,” the driver said, “he had a heavy night tonight, eh?”
The killer stared, pale-faced, mouth puckered into a little black O. “He…? He had a heavy night? Yes! He’s had a rough one, yes! He’s a very bold boy!”
He elbowed Hardy aggressively, the other man moaning slightly at the assault, face still dripping with milk.
“He’s a bad boy, oh yes, Mammy will have to spank him at home! Out with the old shillelagh again! Straight to bed with no supper for this one, this roustabout, this empty shell, this configuration of a man’s appearance! A ghost! A ghost!”
The driver did not speak again. In the back seat, the killer poked and prodded at Hardy, played with him like a boy and his favourite action figure. As they approached their destination, a strange stillness settled over him, like the very hairs on the nape of his neck were standing rigid and cold in the moonlight.
Coming up, it’s coming up. I can feel it again. Feel it all, the place, the home. What is this? This feeling. What is it, other? Is it in you too, can you feel it now too? Do you feel anything at all?
His voice was flat and dead when he spoke.
“Pull in up ahead here,” he said, “by those old gates.”
The driver drew the car to a stop on a narrow country road, close to the lake and the source of the river, but barred from both by the thickness of the trees. Beside them, a few feet forward, was an old drive, overgrown with nettles and weeds, the posts of the gateway almost entirely subsumed by brambles and bracken.
“That’s fifteen euro please,” the driver said.
The killer gave him twenty. “My friend and I have very important jobs in town,” he said, “we are bankers and businessmen. We wouldn’t want anybody to hear about our drunken ways. Do you catch my drift?”
The driver stared at him.
“Just keep it,” the killer said and dragged Hardy from the car.
Here we are now, they’re all still here. Here in the wind. I hear their voices in the rustling grass. The hoot of an owl is a welcome back home—welcome back, you never should have left us. Why did you leave us? Nobody gave you permission to leave us.
The taxi pulled away back into town, and the killer and Hardy persevered through the overgrowth up the narrow, twisted drive. The soil was thick and black and pungent beneath their feet, thorns and nettles tore at them and stung as they pushed forward—neither felt a thing. The moon had disappeared behind a veil of silver now and the night was dark, all deep blues and purples. It was almost impossible to see the way ahead.
The path twisted and turned, now under rows of bent and blackened oaks, the overgrowth only thicker and wilder the further they went. Fields of uneven, rocky soil passed them on either side, the earth years untilled. Up ahead the dim, bloated shape of a building slithered out of the darkness and now the moon was coming through the clouds, now the entire broken purlieu was aglow in the bloated white moonlight.
Home. Home again at last. Safe again. Little house on the prairie. Little monster by the lake. Back to burnt-out womb. The washed-out brick and charred wooden beams. Do I love this or hate this? What is this?
“Welcome, my friend,” the killer smiled, a thin bead of sweat running down his pale forehead and shining in the moonlight. “Welcome home.”
The house had suffered a fire some years past. The bricks were torn and stripped of their outer layer, grey and gritty and black with the char of fire damage. The roof was falling in on itself, ancient red shingles clutching like dead skin cells to the broken, dusty beams. It was a two-storey farmhouse, with a small shed built to the back of it like some depressive’s half-hearted afterthought. The path to its mouth was completely taken under by the rampant wild foliage. The door was open, barely clutching to its faltering hinges.
Sucking in a last breath of effort, the killer stumbled forward with his arms around Hardy and guided them both up inside, into the dark.
All still here never went away never died never burnt voices still here noises the pot on the stove and the paper on the table the cows moaning from outside it’s all right here it never left none of it always here
They stepped into the house and the killer let go, Hardy falling with a thud and a sigh to the ground beneath him.
Moonlight spilled in icy beams through windows that were jagged with the shards of ancient glass, jambs and lintel splintered and grey, blackened from the fury of whatever flames had raged this place. The moonbeams pooled in perfect squares—latticed by the shadows of the failing window-frames—that appeared across the dusty floor like pallid spotlights waiting for their performer to enter and commence his solemn re-enactment.
Dust and broken glass littered the way—animal carcasses long since stripped of their flesh by the hunger of decay, domestic and wildlife alike—and the killer kicked through it all like some jolly, harried housewife moving stray socks and children’s toys out of the path for a guest to enter. There was no hallway in this house. The front door opened on a large single-spaced room that was part kitchen, part living room, part threshold. By the back wall an old broken staircase, now falling in on itself, stretched its arms upwards in petition to the collapsing ceilings above. Over the highest step, before the steps themselves descended into broken wooden chaos, a mounted deer head peered down from the wall with marble-black eyes glinting subtle moonlight like sorrow untold, watching the distraught of it all beneath.
Hardy lay where he had fallen by the door. The killer left him there, moving to and fro in zigzags about the chamber, following the precise trail of some private reverent ritual that could not be known or understood by anyone who had not shared his own exact legacy of fearsome experience.
The killer stroked dust from a dresser, picked up a black and white framed photograph of a roasted chicken on a table, the glass cracked by some long ago blow. He moved to the kitchen, stood before a rust-coppered pot on the broken old stove, full to the brim with some hardened crusty black matter that may once have been a supper decades before.
Whatever fire had raged here had been reserved mostly to the upper-floor, to the bathroom and bedrooms above, and in those areas where the moonlight spilled through cracks in the ceiling, the killer would pause and look up into the light, his face naughty with the recollection of some long ago mischief. Behind the haggard staircase, a trapdoor, reinforced with a bolted lock that could not be more than a few months in place, led down, down to a cellar below. Down into a dark, almost empty space where even the killer would not go but rarely, to perform his terrible, avaricious self-revelation.
He returned to Hardy and hunkered down in the dust beside him, leaning over his face and studying him with a complex, curious inquisitiveness.
“Should I kiss these eyes that have seen me?” he said.
The killer stood up slowly, catching Hardy by the ankles as he rose, and then dragged him through the disarray and deeper into the black heart of that broken domain.
“They saw nothing at all, only shadows.”
The killer let Hardy’s legs fall again and they hit the dust with a thump, the unconscious man moaning with an ache that was more of his dreamscape sedation than the world beyond it. The killer stood above him, hands behind his back, as though pained by the underwhelming disappointment of his enemy’s ultimate form.
“We frolicked in the grass, down to the water, all three. Summers past, late in the evening, found a way to laugh. Down in there, our stockings caked in mud up to our pale little knobbly knees. Drowning in filth almost, we embraced it. Caked ourselves in mud and if it wasn’t found out it was because we would wash ourselves clean in the river before returning home. As if, as if. And then the screams, blackening the trees, sending crows flapping like clouds of darkness into the great, grey endless sky above.”
The killer kneeled down over Hardy again, patted him gently, consolingly, on the thin paunch of his stomach.
“He died on the road coming home, hit the tarmac and broke his skull and it was in the bright hot daylight of morning. We came to see though whipped for it, we watched and saw, his eyes open and blank, surprised. Imagine it, surprised. All that animation gone away, it was like a painting that we stepped into, through the frame. Not real and yet moving. Even the paint was still wet.”
Hand still resting on Hardy’s core, the killer sat back and sighed, a beam of moonlight splitting his face right down the middle so that one side was brightness, almost absolution, and the other was ineffably dark.
“After that the work was worse, wasn’t it? Yes, yes, and we hated the cows, we hated them. Hated the sheep and the chickens too, who were all of them like our secondary masters, we hated the dog even. Hate is where the heart is and it got better and better and better from there. Don’t you recall? I do, I do.”
The killer inched back now, pulling Hardy’s head forward and lifting it onto his lap. He caressed Hardy’s scalp, hair sticky and straggly with spilled Irish Cream. Now the moonlight was on Hardy alone and the killer alone in darkness. He held the unconscious man like a soldier waiting with his fallen comrade for the end to come, the bomb from above or the bullets from all around the slaughter that surrounds them.
“In my fifteenth year I took to wearing a long black robe tailored from the feathers of ravens and crows. Call it the vapidity of youth…”
Stroking Hardy’s pale, stricken forehead, the killer hush-hushed him, wrapped his other arm tight around the man’s abdomen and held him close to his breast.
“The journey was a long one, fraught with demons and ghouls, the banshee at the end of every road, shrieking. Did I go where shamans go? I say that I did. I did, for that was the path that I chose. I slew the fat spider in the cavern, believe me, I slew her and then I suckled from the bristly teat. I tasted the poison and evolved. What more was there to do after that? How reality paled… But the quest went on, indifferent to my woes, the river never ceases. If you can’t go forward, go sideways Mr. Hardy, sideways and down.”
The killer turned his head upward now and perceived the moonbeam ahead of him in its entirety, not as a whirlpool of photons hurtling around Hardy in his arms but as one great piece, a single translucent pillar that could never be touched by human hands.
“Perhaps you would follow me where I go, reporter? You would report. You would pen the next bible perhaps, disciple? Alas but you cannot, this is our final caress. I fear that you are an anomaly, I thought long and hard of what to do with you before it came to me in a flash of inspiration, a choral hymn of all the girls yet to be killed guiding my eyes, unveiling the way. I will honour you. Yes, I promise this at least. You will be honoured before your cessation.”
The killer stood up, letting the unconscious Hardy slide slowly down from his lap and onto the floor.
He returned to the dresser, removed his mobile phone, placing it on the dusty surface, and then pulled open the top drawer, the shelf grinding out with a churning, awful sound that only accentuated further the dead silence around. The drawer inside was lined with cling-film, protecting the precious items within from the interminable dust of their surroundings. Small bottles of chemicals, a pair of pliers, a meat cleaver, gloves and a roll of chicken wire. The killer ran his hands through the air above them, like a clairvoyant in the act of divining, and then he removed the chicken wire and the pliers. He turned and walked slowly back to Hardy.
“You can’t stay here Mr. Hardy, you must know that much at least. This is a sacred space, it was not built for the likes of you, unique as you are—as you say you are. I don’t mean any offence, but this is not your home. I have a special place for you, somewhere you will be clean. Somewhere we will both be clean.”
He was above Hardy now, smiling in the darkness, savouring the anticipation of what was to come. He kneeled down and gently but firmly drew Hardy’s hands together across his lap as if into a position of prayer. Then, bare-handed, he unwound the coil of chicken wire and held the point against Hardy’s wrists. Rolling the coil around Hardy’s hands, he bound them tighter and tighter, the blood seeping out in thick red beads that seemed black in the darkness. The killer gave no thought to himself, his mouth open in wonder, as the wire cut through his own fingers too, drawing his own blood in sharp black beads. Holding the bind tight with one hand, he took the pliers and twisted the point into a knot, holding the metal in place.
Next he scooted down to Hardy’s ankles and did the same, wrapping the razor-thin wire around the man’s bony ankles until the blood seeped out of the metal on either side.
“You wanted her for yourself, you greedy swine. It’s alright, I understand. The victor bares no vitriol for the fallen, in victory he celebrates the battle for the dance it always was. I understand you and your hunger alike Mr. Hardy. But she is not yours. I wonder does she listen now, down there beneath us, listening and smiling, tight-lipped in the darkness, trying not to laugh? My sweet little angel.”
Beneath him, hands and legs bound, Hardy stirred in his slumber. His voice was a murmur.
“Emily,” he whispered.
The killer smiled above him, open and earnest at last here in the one place where he could be honest.
“You will never see her,” he said, “not as you are. Maybe afterwards, after you’ve been released but even then it will only be from a distance. Only as if in a dream. She is floating in the darkness, that which you can never touch. I imagine I won’t see you after this, that I won’t know where you are at all, but I hope you find your own darkness on the other side Mr. Hardy. I wish you that much if nothing more.”
The killer paused and looked up, through the beam of moonlight and over to the old wooden trapdoor, to the rusty bolt that he himself had fastened there so that only he could have access, only he should control. What was in there could only be opened by his own dark volition. It was the sole achievement of his existence. Somewhere beneath the furious maelstrom of his mind, he knew this.
He stood up on his haunches, placed a hand on each of Hardy’s wrists and then rose slowly, hoisting the other man up and then into a bear hug, arms wrapped around his waist, Hardy’s wire-bound ankles dangling loosely below.
“That’s it, that’s it,” the killer soothed. “Hups a daisy, come on now big fellow. We’re almost done.”
If he could have sensed his own body, the killer would have known that he was already exhausted from dragging Hardy to and fro all night according to the derangement of his own mad whims, but he had never been receptive to such signals. It was an affliction that allowed him moments of almost other-worldly strength, like a man under the influence of some powerful stimulant, burning up every iota of energy in his body without any distress at all, until finally he would collapse on his bed and sleep for twenty-four hours or more. He never questioned these binges of sleep or connected to them the fiercely taxing bouts of physical labour that preceded the rest. In his thirty years of life there had been little he had questioned.
Hoisting Hardy across the room, he dragged the convalescent back towards the door, grunting and heaving, grinning over gritted teeth the whole time.
“Say goodbye Hardy, say goodbye to the one you could not save.”
And now they were outside again, the killer moving backwards from the doorway onto the path, the glow of the fat white moon that beheld it cold and damning over that savage reliquary of sorrow and woe. He dragged his captive on a tangent from the path, through a jungle of soaking reeds and grass that had not been cut by beast or man for many years. They crossed the field which cradled the chamber and then through a gap in a wild, unbridled hedge to the next field over, this one centred by a flat-topped, gradual knoll. At its far side the faint shapes of cows could be seen, black in the night, and beyond them, the river—broad and flat and glistening with the moonlight that danced along its precious ripples, dancing forever. The killer dragged Hardy direct across the way towards it.
Are they buried out here still? Did we erect a stone for each of them, one after the other? No of course not, who could be? There are none here. There were no lack of tears to wonder at, wonder all night in the darkness under a thin blanket.
But what is it then? What was it we buried here? Pieces of me? Under the soil, chunks I somehow forgot I once had had? Poppycock. The chunks are all right here. I have them right here clutching to my grateful bones. Each one sings their own song. Sometimes I just forget to listen. That is all.
They moved across the field beneath the moonlight, themselves two black shapes, seeming more like one single entity the further they went—a shifting, churning transmogrifying thing. Closer to the water’s edge. Now the lake could be seen, the great broad black lake that stretched far up into the countryside to the north like a Connla’s Well, not of wisdom but of woe. From its turgid haunches spilled forth the shortest river in the nation, the ocean itself mere miles below, sucking it all into eternity forever.
This is how it ends for him now, this is how we release. Take him down to the river and baptise. Baptise us both. I too have become unclean. I have been coaxed astray from the path. I must find my way back again. I have lost myself along the way. What was my purpose? Was there ever a why? I don’t know what it is.
They passed further through the wetness of the field, over the gradual crest of the hill and down the other side, down where the gradient moved steeper, sharper towards the banks of the river below.
I hope you were wise enough to prepare a hymn. I, in my fever, did not. Shall I place my fingers on your lips as I lower you down, would that release your song? I want to hear it Mr. Hardy, it would be a privilege to hear you sing.
They moved now through thick black trees, the final threshold before the land gave way to that which was not one thing but a multitudinous flow of many, billions upon billions of shifting molecules that could never be beheld together in one place and would never again be in that one place after, not a thing at all but a never-ending ongoing happenstance that cleansed the sands over which it passed. Black soupy stinking marsh gobbled at their feet beneath them as they moved through the trees, schlepping sounds like the muck were goblins slavering at their toes.
Now they were out in the open again, the river broad and free before them, crests and waves uncountable sparkling with an armour of moonlight all across the way. The water flowed gently in the stillness of the night and the sound of it lapping was like the call from a den of riverine nymphs, promising sensuous death, the final longed-for release that could only be gifted in the embrace of their aqueous vulvae. The killer dragged his foe across the swampy, reedy marsh. Even though the rain had been heavy the night before, tonight the skies were clear and the tide was low. The killer paused, frozen, clutching Hardy in his grip, face turned up to the great white goddess in the sky.
What was it again? The why of it all. I fear it has escaped me. A momentary loss, brought on by the frenzy of haste. Yes, yes. There was a reason. Of this I am sure. I will find it again soon after. Perhaps it is Hardy that has blocked it. It will return when Hardy departs, that itself follows itself, logic after logic. Of course.
He wrapped his arms tighter around Hardy’s waist and then stepped into the river.
It flows around my feet, soaking into my boots and through the satin, lacy socks. Over my toes, icy-cold, wet and moving. It wants me to move with it, it begs me, implores me, but I must move through it. We must move through it, across it, against it, out as far to the middle as my legs can take me and only then may I release and be freed.
The bed beneath the water was rocky and uneven, sharp in places with stones that had been shaped and sharpened over centuries by wind and water and the gravity of a planet that hurtles forever in circuits of movement through the perfect pristine wonder of infinite space. The water flowed swiftly around them, lapping against them, soaking up and into their trousers as they waded further out to its depths, leaving the riparian world behind them forever. Hardy’s eyes were open now, had been open for some time, and they shone gravely in the luminescence of the moon. His body still limp, trunk surrendered still to the killer’s clammy embrace. They moved further, the broad channel deepening rapidly, now the icy caress of the river around their waists, playful water spirits dancing up from the underworld to meet them. From here neither would walk on land again.
I feel it under my balls, shrivelling in the cold, now against my navel, the infinite tongue of some all-knowing naiad lapping against my skin, tasting and forgiving the baseness of my flesh. Why was it all? Why didn’t we make it down here before they called us back again—up to our hearts in the blackness of mud? What was I in the world when I moved across it? Soon, surely, I will find the answer and retrieve it. Yes I will. I open myself to receive. Hardy now you may open too.
If his hostage had regained full consciousness the killer had not yet any inkling, Hardy in his arms as they flowed through the river, now almost floating more than walking. Hardy seemingly allowing himself to be carried entirely by the killer’s strength, using none of his own—perhaps so as to tire out his captor as much as possible in these last crucial moments. They were almost up to the solar plexus now each, when the killer halted their watery stride.
“Brian Hardy,” he said, “I’m sorry that the fates have not permitted your continued existence… but the only road forward now is cobbled with your bones. Goodbye.”
He turned Hardy around in his arms, letting the river take some of the weight, so that now Hardy was facing him. Hardy’s eyes were closed once more as the killer beheld him, considering what was to him the opaque paradox of the other’s human eyelids, and then in a hurtling fevered movement Hardy raised his arms, wrists still bound together, up over the killer’s head and down again around him, locking the other man in his desperate embrace. Launching himself forward against the killer, the two men plunged underneath, leaving a tail of turbid furious liquid hurtling up in fountains through the air around them.
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO no no no no no no no NO!
Under the blackness the men struggled. Down here no oxygen could feed their lungs, replenish them with life. Only above could either hope to find a further existence. Hardy had caught the killer by surprise and the strength with which he held him in his wire-clasped hug was equal to that with which he now held them both underwater. The killer’s heels dug and scraped against the dissolute silt, struggling in vain to find a sturdy hold from which to kick back. Hardy buried his face against the killer’s breast, against his throat, pushing downwards even with the force of his own forehead. Above the water only ripples gave hint of the mortal contest raging below.
No you can’t fucking Hardy no you can’t be in this now it’s not it’s not this Bastard you Bastard Kill you Kill you in the water cannot die I cannot die
Both men were weakening, fading, both men fought on with every minutia of determination left in their soul. They hurtled through the water around them, above them, the currents of the river pulling them out further, pulling them down deeper, assisting Hardy in his mission against the killer, the killer in his mission against Hardy. The river had made its judgement and now both petitions to murder would be irrevocably fulfilled.
NO PLEASE No Please Brian Hardy you’re like me, you’re just like me, I know I know. I surrender. I repent. I shouldn’t have challenged you, I shouldn’t have hidden her from you. Please just let me have air. PLEASE you can have it you can whatever it is just take it and LET ME GO
The blackness of the water through which they thrashed was nothing to the blackness seeping forward now from the depths of the killer’s mind. Final efforts of consciousness were given to the struggle against Hardy, such that he could no longer maintain the clasp over the bodily threshold of his own mouth against the water. His mouth fell open and the cold river rushed in, filling his stomach, filling his lungs. He did not feel it. He stopped fighting, stopped before Hardy—not for surrender but for the lack of any remainder of a conscious will.
I see it now, again, this is what I forgot. It moves towards me through the blackness, through this endless blackness. Not the future, not the past. There is not even now and I am flowing to it in the black, flowing, flowing as the black, and I see its face and it has many faces and they are not its face because it does not have a face. Hear it, I say it does not even have a face!
Certainly not the one I imagined, not the one I remembered from long ago, because it wasn’t that at all. It wasn’t ever that at all. And it opens to me, this, what it is, it is bigger than anything bigger than the black that flows into it, that—I—flow into it and it is a light. It is a light. It is a light and there was nothing to fear, there was never a thing to fear, never a thing to hate. There was nothing. There is nothing, there is a light and there is nothing and that is all it is.
The river flowed on, its streams now thoroughly unbothered by any ongoing petty pandemonium thumping through its watery heart. Under the water, under the black, sinking, were the two men in the cold. Their blood now too running cold, the sons of Hermes and Hades entwined together but for a sole crucial moment before one’s grip weakened over the other and that one, limp and lifeless, slipped into the stronger current of the river’s deepest channel and was pulled away from those shores and that place and then flowed off with the water under the moonlight in the silence of a night which was now just over, which had been uneventful but for this, which was giving birth to a new day which would flow again into night, suns and moons uncountable until the very sun and moon themselves burned from existence and something else unknowable had come to take their place.