The moon’s shining spots were clearly visible through wisps of spidery cloud causing it to look like it was bubbling and steaming. We walked hand in hand with our fingers intertwined, locked tightly with warm sweat that began to feel cold when a gust of wind slid through us from around the corner. The road was wide and lit by orange street lights that seemed to flicker rhythmically with our steps.
“What’s happening?” I asked, pointing at them.
She shuddered and said, “It’s creepy but also makes me feel powerful.”
“Yeah,” I said.
We moved slowly through the crowds, feeling surrounded but mostly alone, as if an invisible cage was locking us away. Though we couldn’t see the bars we were both aware of their presence and how they affected us, an awareness we shared and acknowledged through cautious smiles towards one another while passing beneath tall buildings. Noise around us felt close by but muffled, a near inaudible rumble of shrieks and wails that blended to become otherworldly. I laughed and so did she. I raised my eyebrows and said, “They’re coming.”
She smiled back at me and said, “No. We are.”
We walked in between several figures that seemed to be ghosts or zombies. There were a lot of girls wearing little clothing but a lot of blood, as if veins had been slashed across the sky and rained down on them. They stared blankly as we passed, sometimes cackling, though it was hard to tell whether said cackling was sincere or mocking.
I finally released her hand for just a second but felt afraid so caught hold of it again, squeezing it, running my palms up her lacy sleeves that were made up of intertwining leaves, vines and thorns. She smiled at me and I stared at her dark eyes. They seemed bigger than I remembered, bigger even than just a few minutes ago. There was blood dripping from the corner of her mouth and I laughed quietly. She sniggered and her nose scrunched up. I turned around because I heard a bell ringing out slowly, mellow and resonant somewhere behind me, but the sound, it seemed, came from nowhere. The old church on the corner which we’d passed without realising was empty and silent. She released my hand and twirled in front of me so the silver webs across her skirt blurred into a metallic shimmer, causing me to ask her to stop because I was feeling dizzy. I wondered if I’d heard bells because I’d subconsciously seen the church. My subconscious was making me aware of the church’s presence by creating noises for the conscious part of me, I decided. I thought about God as a concept. I wondered why my subconscious would do that.
She was still spinning and I said, “I keep thinking of the subconscious part of me as someone or something else.”
She stopped spinning and looked at me concerned.
I smiled and nodded to reassure her. “It’s un-settling but in a good way,” I said.
She wasn’t looking at me anymore and I turned in the direction she was facing. A small crowd of the dead-faced figures had gathered on the pavement in front of us, seemingly out of thin air. There were around ten of them swaying slowly as if waiting. She smiled excitedly and started to spin again without releasing my hand. It looked like I was spinning her but I wasn’t the one in control, just holding on, barely, while feeling I was also losing control of everything else. She stopped spinning and laughed while bowing to the small circle of people around us who were expressionless but clapping rhythmically, urging her to carry on. I shrugged and clapped with them, feeling that although they were there, they somehow existed elsewhere and we were seeing only projections, as if the cage we remained within was a little pocket from another reality, drifting here, like a four dimensional window to the ‘real’ place where she and I actually existed.
She pulled a small blade from her boot and began to slice up and down in the air. I put my arms out and removed my hat, tossing it up high and clicking my heels, before catching the hat and dropping to my knees dramatically while grinning, embracing the sky, once again unsure if occurring events were sincere or mocking. This uncertainty was even more disquieting since the actions I now couldn’t discern were my own.
But the dead faces, the ghosts and ghouls, ceased being expressionless and looked angry. They started growling so we stopped our performance and backed away. Our invisible bars were disappearing, it seemed, as the fear in our hearts increased, as if fear was an eraser of boundaries.
I told her I didn’t feel safe anymore.
She nodded and said, “No, me neither.”
We ran away holding hands down the emptying streets. A greater darkness was on its way, realised through the sound of ominous chanting somewhere in the distance, the dead frightened and ready to kill to keep their ‘other’ night at bay. I held my hat down on my head with one hand as we slipped down a shadowy alley. There was a doorway on our left beneath a small archway in the otherwise seamless tunnel of brick. It was shielded from view, hidden behind the metal bars of a small iron gate which creaked as we opened it. The creaking sound made me shudder but I laughed to elicit self-confidence. The gate provided protection but physically existed ‘there’, unlike the bars of our invisible cage which had continued to fade, even now as both of us had stopped feeling scared and smiled and felt calm.
We stood opposite one another and stared at each other. I searched her eyes and felt myself falling in and then sinking but finding nothing which made me gasp.
She looked confused and asked if I was Ok.
I said, “I’m fine. I forgot to breathe and felt like I was falling.”
We lit cigarettes and smoke drifted through the iron bars and up towards the moon, still milky and clear, bubbling on up there. I looked down at the ground and felt the invisible cage sprouting from the concrete and sighed in relief, the distant growling and chanting feeling far away again. I smiled and kissed her on the forehead.
“I think we’re ready,” I said.
“For what?” she asked.
I hesitated and shrugged. “To face the darkness and other things again,” I said.
She smiled and raised her brows. “What other things?”
“I know that I know. I was wondering if you did,” she said.
As we stood in the doorway clutching each other the shadows of our former lives came in packs, the ominous chanting visually revealing itself. They screamed and wailed obscenities. They were trying to break us. They were trying to end our love.
Forms came in tight dresses and skinny ties, some I recognised and some I didn’t. She sobbed. Eventually she couldn’t take it and turned away from the little gate and staggering figures that were passing repeatedly, sometimes alone and at other times in pairs. She buried her face in my shoulder and asked me to make it stop. I told her I couldn’t and squeezed her head against myself. Other versions of us appeared in the street and I felt frozen, wanting her to see, but I let her hide. I watched alternate me and alternate her slug it out in the street, animalistically clawing and biting at each other. I wondered what this vision represented because it wasn’t something I recalled. I decided it was maybe the future but hoped it was only a visual metaphor for something she or I, or maybe both of us, had felt at some point.
I closed my eyes and placed my palm on the crown of her head, caressing it gently, waiting for the sounds of pack-like scrabbling and chanting to fade away. Silence came suddenly without me realising it and I sniggered quietly. She pulled away from my shoulder and said, “We’re winning. Follow me.”
We left the doorway and walked down the street which was still scattered with wandering figures but our cage kept us distant and untouchable again, its strength reinforced by elements and factors that were unclear to me. She was whimpering and I waved my hand at one of the figures to demonstrate how they could no longer get to us.
She shook her head and pulled her brows low. “Their mocking will last forever,” she said.
“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.
She smiled and stroked my cheek with one of her thumbs in patronising way. I shrugged. She pulled her blade from her boot like before and began stabbing at the sky. I felt scared so I grabbed hold of her arms and kissed her cold cheek, hoping to remind her of who we were because I increasingly felt like we, and especially her, were forgetting. Tears ran black from her eyes across her skin and I tried to rub them away but there were so many. She kept on smiling. We seemed to be alone. She was making quiet noises of effort but they sounded forced.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her after me down into another alley. I held her cheeks between my palms and smiled at her, trying to look my best. She finally smiled as I winked and licked the blood off my bottom lip.
In a theatrical voice I said, “Don’t worry my love, my all, we will defeat this night. Take my hand and battle with me till the end.”
“I will follow you till the end my love,” she said, in a similarly theatrical voice, taking my hands and smiling.
I hugged her and she kissed me while squeezing my shoulders and then neck. I licked her teeth and she laughed and then twirled, her skirt blowing up in a sudden gust of wind, as if a warning for us both not to forget where we were.
We turned to walk on but a man was blocking our path. He’d appeared from nowhere and stood still with his face in shadow and his shoulders hunched. I assumed he couldn’t see us so I carried on walking but he said, “Hey, I know you.”
“I don’t know you,” I said, staring at his face, feeling like I might recognise him but that it might also be a trick because his face wasn’t pale like all the others we’d seen.
“I know him,” she said, in a voice so monotonous that I didn’t recognise it.
I had to stare at her to make sure it was her who had spoken. She didn’t look back at me and ran at the man while screaming suddenly and unexpectedly. He didn’t move and she stuck her blade in his neck. He fell to the ground and started to bleed, still coughing and shaking like he was having a seizure. I panicked and started kicking him until he stopped coughing and lay still.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” I said.
“It’s Ok,” she said. “He’s not really here is he? Or we’re not really there.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Let’s go home. I need to wash my hands,” she said.
We walked home with our heads tilted together. She put her blood soaked thumb to my lip and I laughed but pulled away because it tasted strange. Voices in the distance were shouting, “Murderers,” but they sounded quiet and muffled like the sound of a TV through several walls, almost imperceptible, maybe not saying ‘murderers’ but something similar. I thought about my subconscious. The streetlights continued to flash with our footsteps but the moon had disappeared, fizzing somewhere out of sight. The bells were silent.
We lay on our living room floor in the dark under a blanket. Sirens sounded outside repeatedly, the blue lights often rolling in through the open curtains, but always rolling out again and leaving us in shadow, staring only into each other’s eyes, smiling, feeling victorious, regardless of what came next.
“I think we won,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “So do I.”
“It’ll be morning soon.”
She smiled and poked my nose with her index finger, laughing, saying, “No it won’t, but that’s OK.”