George A. Blair
Copyright © 2000
George A. Blair
NOTE: This novel is subject to revision depending on what happens in the other six novels of this series (supposing that they ever get written).
Heat everywhere--heat outside the house, heat inside the house, heat pouring from the walls, heat gushing through the window in what on any other day would have been a breeze, heat in the very light that tormented her head. Heat rising from the bed, pressing down on the bed, attacking the heat that rose to meet it from her body. Heat in her rage, heat from her pain, heat from her entrails that seemed to be boiling within her, heat seething in her brain, scorching her skin and drying her tongue to leather. She tossed in agony on the bed.
The loathsome insect who called himself a doctor had gone outside for the moment, ostensibly to let his horrors work in her, but more likely to get away from the heat and the blood and the smell. To get a drink of water from the well. But she scarcely noticed. His absence was no relief, only a difference in the source of the heat.
Her pain and sickness became different forms of heat, and the heat a new kind of pain. Her breathing and muffled groans somehow were like cacti growing out of her mouth, which was a desert and hills full of snakes. Now the heat was the air itself, and she tried not to breathe it, since she could see it as a fire, and it seared her lungs. She wanted to put it out with water, and the water was the pain; and she conceived a plan of cultivating and encouraging the pain, to combat the heat, but it was like oil when she poured it on, only making everything hotter, and spreading the pain further.
At the thought of swallowing something, her stomach rebelled again, and she leaned over the basin, fighting the force that made her turn herself inside out, knowing that she had nothing left, that all she would do would be to tear herself apart--and she began tearing herself apart, trying to push her stomach through her mouth, choking herself with the attempt, hoping that she could die and be done with it, and knowing that she could not die, that this would continue forever. Then suddenly, she was released to drop back exhausted on the bed, cursing the fact that she was still alive.
The rectangle of light from the window was still in the middle of the far wall, just on the edge of her vision as she lay back. It had not moved. It would never move. Was she some Jericho who made the very sun stand still until she had been fully conquered? "Then let it be noon for all eternity!" she shrieked in her soul. No, she would not die, because they would like her to die; they had plotted her death with this abomination within her, this spider, this octopus, this Gehenna she would rid herself of, cost what it cost.
And what a cost! She had had no idea what it would be, listening to the others boast about the pain, because they all went through it sooner or later, and some, they said, five and even ten times. It was not possible. It had to be earlier, no one could go through this twice. How could one avoid killing oneself to escape the prospect a second time?
But now her abdomen, which the heat and the retching had made her forget, resumed working--she had to work despite herself. It would be one thing if she could just have lain back and suffered, but she had to do it, to shove out this invader, now that the process had started. There was a demon below her diaphragm, pulling and squeezing at her; she herself, grown foreign to herself, had snatched her body out of her control and said, "You wanted this; then see what it is you wanted!"
No, but she would not die from it, and not because she had any will to live--not, even now, any will to torment her tormentors, who no doubt wished her dead almost as fervently as she herself did. She would survive, because those inside her wanted her to live, she now saw, even though she had stolen a march on them and taken action, she thought, soon enough. Not soon enough! Not within months of soon enough! She hated herself for waiting and now having to endure this.
But of course, she had always hated herself, at least since she was a child. But even then? Her abdomen tightened and pushed so fiercely she could only gasp. But how her own body hated her! She had no idea that her very self loathed her so much. The interior of the body whose outward shell she pampered, for practical reasons, as the tool of her hatred and revenge against both men and women.
She pampered her outer body, because it served her so well, her outward form, for the men, to even the score, and the women, who gnashed their teeth in envy. But she could not pursue her enmity for others without becoming the enemy of her inner body; and now it was showing a vengeance and vindictiveness she would have admired if she had consciously conceived one so complete.
An enormous wrench inside her. She shrieked aloud. The heat became a sweaty male thing, a man embracing her and licking her face and body, a beast full of prickly fur raping her from inside and outside at once. It was the heat, that was what it was; it was the heat. Without the heat, it would have been easier, if not pleasant; but the "doctor" had said that she was already much too far along, that if she waited it would be worse, and she might lose her shape permanently. That could not be allowed, and so she told him to go ahead. He was in league with the heat, just as all the others were. They wanted the heat to destroy her without destroying her.
And still the sun had not moved; time had passed in centuries, but the world had taken no note of it. It had decided to stay at the hottest hour of the hottest day because she had defied the world and dared it to do its worst. Well, let it be so. She would live.
The man came back inside. She raised her head a little and saw him, a slightly worried frown now on his too-round face. He must have heard her scream, it seemed now hours ago. As she laid her head back, she saw that his face was relaxing into the leer that had been there before. He enjoyed seeing her like this, the toad! And he looked like a toad, the fat body and no neck, with the eyes like mushrooms on his bulb of a head. He enjoyed it, just as all her clients would have enjoyed it. He would be thinking with self-satisfaction that she was receiving justice for her sins, with no consciousness of his contribution to her sins--unless she insinuated it, as she would normally do, into his mind--since she noted that while he rejoiced in her torment, he gazed on her naked body with desire, for all its filth--or even because of it. Its filth attracted him, she could see. No wonder she hated men.
What she should be doing at this point is leading him on, working on his feeling of virtue and his perception of her sinfulness, making him think of himself--for the moment--as the helpless victim of her wiles, so that whatever he did with her was her fault, not his. And then, by little and little, she would induce a subtle change of heart, making him think that perhaps he might have something to do with this, lead him, when he was most helpless after his satisfaction, to question whether it was she who had conquered him, or he who had taken advantage of her.
She had a marvelous ability to appear innocent, shocked at what had happened; and he would be like all the others, once the moment had passed. He would never admit it, but he would feel more and more to blame--as he was, as he was. As they all were. And then he would have to meet her again to talk about it, ostensibly to make it right, and the same thing would happen again and again.
What astonished her was how they kept coming back, feeding their guilt, trying to assuage it by making it worse, and nourishing her revenge. Some even saw through what was happening, even told her that they were fully aware that she was Satan and worse, but they kept coming back to be cursed again and again. They hated her as much as she hated them--no, not as much, not nearly as much, ever!--but they came back.
And in their guilt and hatred, they had made her rich. Until this disaster, she had everything. Except dignity, whatever that was. Except love--no, she probably had even that, from the fools she left back in Bethany, one or two of them who still in internal whispers called themselves her family, but who thought of her as lost or dead. If they knew who she really was, there could be no love, she was sure. How could there be? No, there was no love there; she was raving. Love was a phantom, what the men were all after, and all there was was hate. Hate and heat and torment.
"It will not be much longer," she heard the man say, and realized that he had just now completed the motion of sitting down that he begun so long ago as soon as he had entered. She could live her whole life in the time it took a man to sit down. It was not that her mind was racing; she was thinking at her normal rate, it seemed, and so clearly, so very clearly; but everything outside her had slowed almost to a stop. It was the pain that did it, the pain that was this heat and the torment and travail below her breasts.
He laid his hand on her naked abdomen, and she started to raise her hand to hit him, and found that she was too weak to move. Let him, for now. For now. Later would be different, she would make sure. She could see how he looked at her, was still looking at her, and she knew what he would want in addition to the enormous sum of his payment.
And she would give it to him, or perhaps lead him to think that she would give it to him, have him drooling and sweating even more than she was sweating now, and then walk out and watch his reaction. She must have smiled, because she felt his hand press in the beginning of a caress, as if he thought that the touch of his hand had awakened erotic feelings in her. It had, indeed, but the erotic sensation, as always, was what accompanied the thought of vengeance.
"Wash my mouth," she said. She had felt the vomitus as she smiled. The bed was filthy with it; she would have to have Judith take all the blankets out and burn them to rid the room of the smell. All trace of this eternal agony would have to be thrown out. The bed would stay, the frame, with its lions carved growling at the foot; there was a secret symbolism in having men lie in the belly of the beasts, and it gave her an added satisfaction, while they only thought of it as erotic luxury. It would stay, but everything on it would be new. So the way these blankets were did not matter; nothing mattered now. But let him clean her nonetheless, because she knew he hated it, and it took him away from attending to her genitals.
The sun had moved after all, if slightly. It was easier to see the square of light. The man moved through the shaft slowly, as if walking along the bottom of a lake. A lake of heat. A lake of liquid fire; her home. Everything inside her and outside was liquid fire, like potent drink, but without drinks promise of numbness, a fire only less intense than the fire that was her mind, burning her thoughts, searing her sensations into an intensity, always, that no one of her clients or the other women could imagine.
She shrank from this fire, but loved it, because it was so impossible to bear. Fire was her home. The pain she now felt was just the physical aspect of the unholy fire she had had in her mind--and in her eyes; it showed--at all times. That was why she would live; the mental fire still burned hotter than the heat of the day or the heat of the pain.
He began at last to wipe her mouth with a damp cloth. She looked up into the round, pasty face. "It will not be long now," he said. "It is almost time to begin."
To begin! To begin! What had she already been doing forever, if it had not even started yet? The draught she had taken so long ago, before even the sun had come into the room; the hideous taste she had so valiantly fought to keep down, and had succeeded for an hour, until the room swam and she had to lie back and then empty her stomach as her abdomen began to writhe in agony. He had said that it was enough, and she had thought that this was all; it was just a question of waiting and letting it work. He had said something about waiting and letting it work. And now he said it was almost time to begin!
What was he saying now? Something about a little pain, and would she take this wine to dull it. "How could I keep it in my stomach, you imbecile?" she cried. "Do what you must do and be done with it! Pain and I know each other."
He began saying things, explaining what he was going to do to her, but the words came into her consciousness as buildings of some sort, forming themselves into villages and cities of sound. She watched with her ears and the houses were planted alongside each other, along streets of pain, which now ran off in all directions into the heat of the landscape, which was somehow her body. She could almost trace the parts of her body in this city; and it relieved the pain somewhat to follow the road that the houses were being built along--except that when each word fell into place, it made a thud that jarred the road from its roots and made her start all over again.
And now he was between her legs, and now he was reaching in with something not made of flesh, and now she began to understand what pain was.
Would he reach up to her throat? What was he doing? He had let rats loose inside her, and they were fighting, clawing, chewing and tearing in a frantic effort to get out. Oh God, he is pulling me inside out! Oh God, oh God, he is tearing me apart! It will not let go, and it will take my guts along with it! Oh God, if I have cursed you, I repent, but have mercy on me this one time, and I will--and she could not continue. She had begun to realize what she was saying, and her loathing for existence wrenched the word from her mind and left only agony.
And the pain grew and grew until it filled all space, until it deafened her, and she heard herself screaming, with a voice she had once heard before, as she came to herself from a period of nothing, screaming louder and louder and higher and higher, No! No! No! No! No! No! No!" until suddenly it exploded in a clap of thunder as the lightning struck her blind.
Nothing. Again nothing.
She woke, apparently not weeks later this time, in a sea of weakness, with alternate waves of pain and relief passing downward from her throat to her toes. Whatever had been happening was over, though the fire inside her had left its smoke and ash and the charred remains of her sin, perhaps never entirely to be covered over. The pain had changed from living, attacking, to dead and decaying. Each successive wave was a little less high than the last, and the relief that followed it was wider and stronger. It was not possible for it to go away so quickly, she thought as she felt it leaving, hurrying from her as if afraid, or as if anxious to move on to the next fool who would invite it in as she had done.
It already began to be hard to remember what it was like. Perhaps one did die and come back to life again; and the new life did not remember what the old life was. But she knew what the old one was; it was the same; she had died, perhaps, but had not died.
She saw the "doctor" who had killed her cleaning up the mess he had made. So she must have been unconscious only for a moment or two this time, because he gave no sign that he was aware of any change in her; he was still talking. They were sounds now, not houses, the words, but they had no meaning; it was as though he were one of those Egyptians babbling in their own language--although she was simultaneously aware that this was not so; he was talking Aramaic, as he had been all along, she realized, except that nothing made sense.
He stopped for a moment and took a cloth and wiped the sweat from his head and chest, as if he had been working hard. He and not she! His right arm up to the elbow and both his hands were red with blood--her blood--and everywhere he wiped his naked chest, he left a streak of blood--her blood--as if he had been whipped.
There was a smile now on his face. Not the leer of before, but the smile of an athlete who had just won a match, or of a carpenter who had just finished a new table. Everything about his reptilian appearance and the tone of his voice said a job well done; and so that must be what his words meant also.
So it succeeded, and she would be able to begin all over again. And this was what she wanted, was it not? Why? For what purpose? To have the satisfaction of perverting mens satisfaction into a hunger far worse than that satisfied? What good was it to continue this game, now that she knew she could do it?
But she knew that of course she would go on, even though this horror might happen again. She had been so careful, and yet it had happened; there was no way to be certain. But never again would she wait so long to remedy the mistake; though even now she knew that, having been through it, if it came to that, she would be able to go through it again.
But then the years stretched out before her, hopeless years of what people called "pleasure," only because they could not bear to admit that the pain was pain, because it was so necessary. Necessary for what? Not to mention the tedium, especially the tedium of pretense that the preliminaries were exciting. As well look forward to defecation as the ultimate in satisfaction. It would be the same. Pleasure and pain were what you called them.
She knew too much to think that we seek pleasure because of some objective quality it has that attracts us. We are bored with life, and we must seek something; and so we find something to seek, no matter what, and then declare that it is pleasure. And fools delude themselves into thinking that they seek it because it is pleasant, when she knew full well that it was only called pleasant because they sought it.
No, it was not the pleasure that was exciting and attractive, it was just that some things, for no reason whatever, were necessary. Calling them "pleasure" simply is a way of justifying them: thinking that they are not necessary, but that one likes them. She knew--how well she knew!--that there was no real satisfaction, that the satisfaction was as much remorse as satisfaction, and she could see that this was the case with everyone who sought this satisfaction in her. But she knew how necessary it was for them--that was her power--and for her too, for her.
If only it were not necessary for her too, but it was. Without any of the mist before her eyes that blinded most, she knew nonetheless that she would not be able to stop, and that, when the time finally came, and the time was coming, that they would no longer pay to come to her, she would have to pay to go to them. Or kill herself. And that, of course, was what she would do, if she could, rather than have them turn the tables on her.
But if then, why not now?
Why not? Because she had survived this ordeal. The agony was not to be wasted; she would have to make many, many suffer much and much before things were evened and she could breathe out her soul to let it wander the earth forever and carry her fruitless cries in the wind among the dying tree branches, like all of those before her. No, she would go on--for a time, but only for a time. And the time would end as soon as a man would concern himself for her without lust, and she would be willing to have him--
What nonsense! What idiocy! Even if it could happen, it must never be allowed to happen! She must have the courage to die when she felt the first, faintest stirrings in that direction. All this was endurable, if one sustained oneself with hate; but to love is to disappear, as her mother had done. She would think of her mother, and she would do what she had to do when the time came. But until then there was hate.
The man was picking up something now and wrapping it in a cloth. It would be the thing from inside her. "What is that?" she demanded.
"I am going to burn it," he said, and made a move toward the door and the fire in the lean-to outside.
"Stop!" she cried, and he turned.
There was a pause. His eyes looked a question. "I want to see it," she said.
"I would not advise--"
"It is mine. I would look at it, and you will show it to me."
He shrugged and brought over the bundle, beginning to unwrap it, bloody, in front of her. She turned on her side and took it from him. She was weaker than she thought, and the cloth fell from her hands onto the floor. Blood ran out, staining the hard-packed earth; and blood dripped onto the floor and the cloth from the mass of membranes she still held. She let them slip through her fingers until all that was there was the thing itself, with a cord dangling from it to the membranes beneath.
So tiny, and it had caused such huge pain. The whole thing almost fit into one hand, head, feet, and all. A strange sort of leech--but oh, how it held on! Almost as if it cared. Almost, she thought for one moment, as if it had not invaded her body out of malice, but was indifferent to her, and only wanted to survive.
Hatred or love she could understand, but the thought that this thing was using her without even being aware of her, merely to survive, shook her. She could kill and maim people, and do it even with glee, but she could not harm the rat which came into her house looking for grain. She had got rid of the rat, but she could not hurt it, because it knew her not and cared nothing for her. She could only harm what she was important to.
It had not occurred to her before that she was going to hurt the thing; she had not even thought of it as so much even as a thing, but of what was happening within her, to her. And now that it was too late, there was a thing, and she had not only hurt it but killed it. One arm was pulled off, she saw, and the head was wrenched out of shape.
But what could she have done? Like the rat, she had to get rid of it. But not by hurting it, by killing it. She tried to overcome the feeling by paying attention to how human it looked, and how she hated everything human, including--especially--herself. Now she would have something new to hate herself for.
Because she could not do it. She could not hate it for its human looks; it was still only trying to survive, and if it was surviving at her expense, well that was her concern and none of its own.
And it had been doing rather well, she noted with a certain satisfaction. Discounting the violence it had just gone through, it had been progressing nicely; the fingers were already on the hand that was still attached--and she saw the tiny penis.
This was her son.
"Aiee! Aiee! Aiee!" she screamed, trying to drop him onto the mess beneath. But he stuck. He held on. "Aiee! Aiee!"
"I told you--"
"Take it! Take it! Burn it! Bury it! Take it!"
He took him from her hand and began picking up the bundle. "It is not--"
"Go! Take it out of here! I want none of your words! Go! Go! Go!"
And she kept screaming after him as he hastily picked up the bundle and fled.