Author’s Notes: I see some of you have been a little impatient. I have no intention of not finishing the story. The last chapters were not already written like the first several ones, hence the delay. There will be one final chapter after this one to wrap things up.
By the time she had dropped Izzy off with her friends, Claire was nearing the very edge of her tolerance. Her mind was worn and frayed around the edges by a migraine that made that spot behind the back of her eyes feel like it had a throbbing pulse of its own. She pinched the bridge of her nose as she drove through a neighborhood that was even better than the one she called home, with its lush, sprawling lawns and cleverly trimmed hedges. The houses all looked freshly painted and starkly white against the blue sky. The wives were all what she would have expected: not people she had any interest in knowing. They came from those picturesque kind of families that had pained her as a kid.
It had taken only a few moments before she had quickly abandoned her daughter to the throng of children and made it to the door without so much as an explanation. Many of the other mothers had stayed, but she herself felt no guilt about not being involved. There was nothing for her there, and there never would be. It was Izzy’s world, and she couldn’t decide whether or not to be somewhat proud or more disgusted with what her daughter had chosen for herself.
David would pick Izzy up and play the mother, he always did. He was the sort to easily make conversation with anyone, and he got his own enjoyment out of interacting with Izzy and meeting her friends. He loved kids, and had it been his choice, they might have had more of them. He thrived on the teaching and the playing and the caring. It was yet another trait about the two of them that was glaringly different. She smiled to herself, wondering how he could have ever believed that domesticating her would somehow change her.
She was not motherly, and she never would be. But she had gone through with it all, somehow. She could distinctly recall the horror she felt standing in front of the mirror in the nude, looking down at her growing abdomen and trying to come to terms with the fact that there was a living, breathing, thinking thing inside of her. Even after 19 years, it was hard to look at her son and realize that he was a part of her.
She had done it for David, and still felt bitter and angry about that fact. It was what he had wanted, what he had said would make him happy. Stupidly she had believed that somehow her perpetual discontent would be quelled, that maybe it would impact her, that perhaps there was a chance that she could somehow become vicariously happy through his happiness. In the end, she didn’t regret it, which had always been a source of surprise. Despite the fact that it had failed, despite the fact that when she had first held her own child in her arms, she had felt a strange nothingness, she would not take it back. It had taken time, as she knew it would. But in the end she had picked Gabriel.
She had known from the start that he would emulate her, and not because it was his desire, but because it was as much ingrained in him as it had been in her as a child. Izzy was a different animal, more like David. At 5 years old, she hadn’t looked up at her own father with barely-disguised dislike. Claire wouldn’t have believed it, not in a child so young, but it had been there. She had seen it in Gabriel, and it had frightened and fascinated her.
She had quickly lost hope in Izzy. It hadn’t taken long. She knew it was harsh to judge a child, but she hadn’t cared. Izzy was the embodiment of what Claire hated, and even with the strong desire she had to crush all the little girl’s instincts, she had left her alone. She had done it for David, because after watching the years pass with a son who held him at arms’ length and seeing her husband’s deep sadness and confusion, he needed the little girl. He needed the frills and the pink and the expensive toys. He needed someone who could love him unconditionally, in a way Claire herself would never be capable. And that was why she had gotten pregnant the second time, even though she hated it, even though she knew she could spare no love. Izzy would not go without, she knew that.
She drove her way up to the gate, waiting a few seconds before it finally admitted her out, back into the familiar. The drive would be a little over an hour, and she did not know whether her showing up at random would be appreciated. Either way, it mattered little. She had always shown up when she felt the need, and there was not much that could deter her. It was hot, but not overly so. She kept the windows rolled down, even when the force of the wind tended to whip the black tendrils of her hair into her field of vision. It was about 45 minutes before she could smell the salt on the air, and that distinct oceanic tang that never ceased to make her heart race. She even imagined she could detect the scent of hot sand, though she knew it was nothing more than her memory rushing into the present.
When she came up over the rise, she could see the ocean off to her left, and an expanse of rough, pebbled beach intermittently covered with patches of textured sand. The tide was high, and the white water that tipped the rolling waves was enough to make her stare off at it for longer than she should have. The sun was beating down on the green-blue water, making it glimmer ominously. She had always hated being in the water, but looking at it was something else entirely. Something about it was captivating. It was at times, calm and inviting, the thin facade of welcome at odds with its true, violent nature. She knew all too well what it felt like to be swallowed whole by such an unstoppable force, how water could choke your lungs with a terrible burn while all the while it pulled you further and further from the safety of the surface. She knew that was why he had chosen to live here; such a cruel force of nature was something that drew him in as much as it did her.
The road became bumpy and uneven. Plumes of dust spiraled out behind her car, making it impossible to see the way back. The house was 15 minutes into the rough road, passed the few vacation homes. There were many trees, probably not indigenous, but old and gnarled and strong just the same. The atmosphere was foreboding. The shade from the branches combined with the seawater to make it damp and cooler than the main road had been. When she came up on the house, she felt as she always did: strangely numb. She parked next to an old pickup covered in rust and peeling, cream-colored paint. He was home.
She stared up at the two storey house with its high windows and water-damaged siding. The steps creaked, and she kept her hand away from the splintered, rotting railing, as she made her way to the front door. Everything was dilapidated and old, and she knew it had nothing to do with a lack of money. The doorknob felt cold but familiar in her hand, and for a split second, she considered going back home, as she always did. It was not fear that drove her away, but something else, something dark and insidious that wound its way through her gut and up into her heart, where it stayed until she was back on her own doorstep. She pushed her key in, and wrenched the old door open.
The place smelled musty, like old books, with cool, clammy air that was something she always associated as being a part of living by the sea.
“Gabriel?” she called, walking into the living room.
It felt cold and empty as it always did, as though there were not someone living there daily. The furniture looked more like refuse than anything useable. Even the leather couch in the corner was torn in several places, and the rug was threadbare. There were a few hints of personalization, things that a normal onlooker would have believed came from the man himself, but none of it could be farther from the truth. The few things he had, she had given him, and she knew all too well that the items he truly held precious were not anywhere for unfamiliar eyes to see.
She went further into the house, until she was in the kitchen. He was standing with his back to her, in front of windows that were nearly floor to ceiling. They were the only addition he’d added to the home in the ten years he had been living there. The moth-eaten drapes were pulled back, leaving nothing but a view of the distant ocean and its crashing waves. His hair was a shock of white, and thinned slightly at the temples. It had become fine-stranded with age, to the point that it seemed delicate.
She moved to stand next to him, and they stayed there for a time, saying nothing. He looked even older than the last time she’d seen him, as though the time alone had not been kind to him. He had always been reclusive, but had become even further introverted in his later years. His face was lined and weather-beaten, and a thin, hairline scar ran from his lower left cheek down to the underside of his jaw. He was cleanly shaven as he had always been, and he smelled of the tea tree oil he liberally used to part his hair. He was short, only an inch or so taller than Claire herself, with thin-fingered, almost feminine hands and a slight build. His eyes, however, were what had always set him apart. They were dark, so deep brown that they seemed to be void of an iris. It was a trait she had inherited. Her own father had been blue-eyed and fair haired, and she had been glad to not have taken after him. Ironic that David looked so much like him, or maybe it wasn’t so ironic. Her jaw tightened uncomfortably, making that aching pulse return behind her eyes with a sick vengeance.
Gabriel finally moved from the window, seemingly breaking the trance. He went into the kitchen, his movements clean and precise, contradictory to his withering body. He was thin to the point of malnourishment, but he had always been, and she had never before seen him without sunken cheeks and eyes that seemed to recede into his skull far more than was normal. She pulled herself from the window as well, and settled into one of the chairs at the battered table without invitation. They did not speak, as it wasn’t necessary. Their strange exchange was one that had been happening for years, to the point that it was little more than a routine. When he finally sat across from her, he had brought a carafe of strong coffee with him, and gracefully placed a cup and saucer in front of her. The china was chipped and scratched, but it was the same set he had used for as long as she could remember.
He folded himself into a chair, and drew his cup close, dark eyes distant but searching. He took a drink, smiling over his cup at her with crooked, yellow teeth. His skin seemed to be overly-stretched atop his skull, as though it was being pulled back. The shadows beneath his hollowed-out eyes made his face appear to be nothing more than a skull. He was a grotesque parody of a human being.
“You look terrible,” she commented, leaning into her chair with an air of indifference. “Even worse than usual.”
There was a wet huff. He cleared his throat, and her eyes fell to his hands, which were covered in a crisscross of white scars and the telltale wrinkles of old age.
She decided to start, unperturbed by his silence. “I would have called, but you don’t have a phone.”
“Don’t lie,” he said unkindly, no longer baring his teeth in a poor imitation of a grin. His lips were thin and papery and stuck to his eyeteeth. At one point in his life, he had been what many would have considered attractive in a cultured sort of way, but the veneer of age had washed away all illusions. He bore the marks of a bitter, cynical man, with sharp lines between his narrow brows. “You come when you like.” He took a swig of coffee, seemingly considering the taste as he swirled it around his shallow cup. “Far be it for me to stop you.” The last statement seemed to be something of a challenge, as he leveled his eyes at her.
“It’s not as though you’re busy,” she returned, pointedly glancing about his dingy kitchen.
There was an intake of breath, one she’d come to associate with his displeasure. “What do you want? An apology for before?” he accused her, voice slightly gravelly, as though he had only just woken up.
“Hardly. I came for advice,” she admitted, tracing the lip of her cup with a fingernail.
“Advice? You mean you want to hear my opinion and then ignore it?” he asked, a hint of humor to his voice. “Not about the boy?”
“He would behave better if you had taken a belt to him like I told you.” His eyes seemed to glint strangely at his own words, and he gave her a tightlipped smile that was somehow worse than his grin.
“I think I know how to raise him, thank you,” she said more harshly than she intended. “No, this isn’t about Gabriel.”
“So quick to jump to his defense,” the old man mused.
She ignored his jibe, though it left a bad taste in her mouth nonetheless. “Do you believe there is ever reason to sensor yourself?”
“In what manner?”
“I’ve told you all about there being a time and place,” Gabriel stated.
“I mean in private.”
There was a bark of a laugh. “You know exactly what I think of that.”
“‘If no one sees it, it didn’t happen’, you mean?”
There was a grunt of approval. The man pulled a worn pack of cigarettes from his pocket, then pounded them into his palm. He offered her one, but she shook her head. “Suit yourself. Makes you die faster,” he commented, before lighting up with a relish.
“It doesn’t seem to be working as you’ve intended,” she observed.
He blew a puff of smoke into her face and relaxed further into his chair, eyes glittering in an unsettling way. “You’re only yourself in private,” he began. “In life, all of us are nothing more than actors playing a part. If you can’t be true to yourself behind closed doors, then you are either a masochist or a coward.”
He inhaled again, and she watched the end of the cigarette blaze orange. She could tell he was not finished, so she waited, watching the way he watched her.
“There is something to be said for those out in the open,” Gabriel continued, “however, being so blatant about desires can ironically keep you from what you want the most.” He tapped some ash onto the tabletop, which was scarred with black burns. He leaned over the table slightly, as though he were about to impart a secret. His voice was low and tinged with smoke, “In this world, it pays to be a deceitful bastard. I would hope that you would know that by now.”
It was her turn to laugh, though it was tainted with vitriol. “You say that as though you don’t know me.”
“Do I?” he asked, seemingly finding his own question to be funny. The corners of his eyes crinkled even further.
“Ha ha,” she mocked. “We’re in private. I can be what I want to be, as you’ve just said.”
“No my dear,” he countered. “I’m not stupid enough to think you’re honest with anyone, even yourself.” He could see the anger flash behind her eyes, but he pressed on, “If you know you want something, you take it. Consequences only come to those who are too foolish to avoid them.”
“Is that what they told you?” she questioned, her tone incredulous and scornful at the same time.
“No one had to tell me anything,” he returned, jaw tightening. “Any animal worth his mettle knows.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you deny yourself, or even lie about what you’ve wanted. You never bothered to cover up anything,” she said, visiting their former conversation.
“And you can see where it has gotten me. I live on memories, nothing more,” he answered, his accent thicker than usual. The utterance seemed to make him nostalgic, his eyes becoming glassy and unfocused. He twisted a battered skull ring around his forefinger absently.
“Because you have chosen to,” she asserted. “You have had every opportunity to live, but you stay holed up here. You have no one to blame but yourself.” she finished angrily.
“Don’t be foolish girl. I can’t live the life I want! It’s over! That world is dead and gone to me now. I have no interest in,” he gestured outwardly with his hands, “whatever this is.”
She scoffed. “Yes, you just have the worst possible life, and there couldn’t be anything outside these walls that means anything. Don’t give me your bullshit diatribe; I’m sick to death of hearing it,” she said sharply, daring him to say something.
His eyes had gone even darker and his lips were nothing more than a thin slash across his face. “You know nothing. You’re just a stupid little girl, as you always were. You can’t even begin to understand what’s been lost to me. So don’t start thinking you can come into my home whenever you please and berate me like I’m that boy of yours. I’ve seen more than you will ever see, and if you think you know evil, you’re terribly mistaken.”
“Oh, I know it,” she breathed, for once not looking him in the eyes.
He laughed disbelievingly and finished up his coffee, setting his cup down with more force than was necessary. “Tell me about him.”
She looked up at her grandfather, teeth set on edge. “He’s fine.”
“He get that knife I sent him?”
“He was impressed with it,” she admitted, though her eyes remained hardened.
Gabriel smiled in that way of his. “Good, good.” He watched for a moment, as though considering his next words. “I’m surprised you’re back so soon,” he added conversationally, though it was truly anything but.
“I always come back,” she responded flatly, though there was something lying dormant under her cooled exterior that Gabriel could easily sense.
“When do I get to see him?”
“Never,” she whispered, gaze falling to the old man’s ring again.
“I hardly think you’re in a position to stop me.”
“Oh, but I am. I’m his mother. You’re nothing but a forgotten relative.”
Her words stung, causing him to straighten in his chair like an adder drawing itself up for a fight. “I know where you live, and if I wish to see him, I will.”
“You don’t want to start this with me again.”
“But I do. He’s my grandchild. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the girl.”
“You didn’t seem so disappointed with me,” she pointed out, knowing she was setting herself up for his harsh words. She didn’t care. She wanted to rile him. They had been playing the game for too long, and she knew that after all of the years of it, she no longer had the upper hand.
“If I were your father, I would have put a pillow over your mouth when you were an infant. You know exactly what I think of women. You were lucky to be old enough to fend for yourself or I would have left you to those disgraceful people you call family.” He looked almost amused, though again she could hear his accent creeping into his words, a sure sign that there was more to what he was saying than he was letting on.
“You did such an exemplary job,” she commented, laughing darkly. “I’m as much of a misogynist as you, despite all evidence to the contrary,” she finished, gesturing to her body.
He smiled genuinely for once, and poured her more coffee. “It’s been years, Claire. It’s my right to see him.”
She sobered at his words, eyes narrowing. This argument was nearly as old as her son was. She knew the time was coming when she would no longer be able to keep him away. He did have the right; she had accepted that, however she had decided long ago to postpone their meeting one another as long as she was able. That way her son’s namesake would have less of a hold, less of an influence. She wanted her son to remember her words before his grandfather’s. Gabriel Sr. was hardly the person to have around impressionable children, particularly with her son having a penchant for making the wrong choices.
There was a deafening silence, wherein they both eyed each other, Claire wearily, and Gabriel with a somewhat smug expression. He knew he was finally going to win the argument, and he was gloating about it in that underhanded way of his.
“Let me choose when,” she answered finally, conceding to his will.
She studied him for a moment, frowning. She took another sip from her cup before rising from her chair. Her grandfather gave her a surprisingly respectful nod.
“Thank you for having me.”
“Of course,” he said.
Something shifted in his eyes, something that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She knew what it was, but she wanted nothing more than to be blind to it. It was a look she was all too familiar with from her own childhood, and it made her sick to her stomach.
She wanted to close the door to that house behind her and never come back, but she knew that she wasn’t capable. He was right about one thing: she always came back. Always.
It was night when Gabriel woke. He rubbed at his eyes, blinking tiredly, and contemplating whether or not it was even worth getting up. His mind instantly conjured up images of his mother at his desk, and with a jolt, he sat up, wide-eyed. No, she wasn’t there. He let out a low laugh and pushed his sheet back. His bladder was protesting from the abundance of sugary drinks he’d had earlier, so in spite of his laziness, he moved toward the door, stretching. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something. He frowned, taking a few steps closer. A key. He stood there staring at it for a moment, registering in the back of his mind that his mother had taken the one to his door with her. This one was different, larger and gold, and very worn. He picked it up, then out of curiosity, and a need to prove it to himself, walked to the door and attempted to use it, only to discover the key would not go fully into the lock. So it was a different key. He looked at his room with a critical eye, trying to discern if anything was out of place otherwise. He could find nothing. There was no note, no explanation as to why the key was there. She had to have put it there. Who else would leave him a key?
He could only think of a few places that were locked in the house, and given the size of the key it probably wasn’t for the safe or glass cabinets, or anything like that. His gut told him it was a key to the basement, but that seemed incredibly far-fetched. She had run to her husband last night, not to him. She certainly hadn’t treated him much differently than she ever had, and there had been no indication that she wished to share any of her private life with him. He twirled the key in his fingers, knowing that he had no choice in the matter. He wouldn’t be able to sleep without knowing. After finishing his business, he made his way to the basement. It was 11pm, and Izzy and his father had already gone to bed. His mother could have been home as well, which troubled him, but not enough for him to reconsider. If she gave it to him, she would expect him to use it. There was also the chance she was still gone anyway, which would make everything all the easier.
Walking down the steps gave him the chills. He felt like he was doing something criminal, which only seemed to fuel his desire to finally get behind the door that had been closed to him since he was a small child. He knew that even his father had never been inside, and the fact that she’d shown favoritism to him in such a way, was somewhat gratifying. She was sharing with him and no one else. That is…if the key fit. He fumbled for a moment, trying to get the key into its place. It was dark down the stairs, shadowed, even with the light from the floor above. He had to feel with his fingers to find the slot, then getting the damn key to go where he wanted was a trial in and of itself. The lock was worn and didn’t seem to want to work, and momentarily he panicked, concluding in the back of his mind that it was all a sick joke. He jiggled the key in desperation, yanking on the doorknob so it clicked irritably. Finally, he could hear everything fall into place, and he was able to force the door open.
The first thing he noticed was that it was too dark to see. He moved a few paces forward, searching through the dark, but unable to make much of anything out. When he took another step, he tripped, having to grab the wall for support as he realized that there were several more steps down. There must be a light, he thought, feeling around. He wanted to go get a flashlight, but his mind was in a whirl, and he couldn’t bear to not know what was waiting for him at the bottom, even if it meant facing the unknown, inky blackness. As he slowly edged his way down, his hand found a panel on the wall, then eventually a switch. A single bulb above him flickered to life, its light pale and sickly, but enough to illuminate the staircase and cast frightening shadows on the walls that were almost worse than the impenetrable black.
It smelled damp and earthy, and the air was considerably cooler. There were a lot more stairs that he had ever pictured, and he realized that the basement was much more underground than he had ever suspected. When he finally made his way off the last step, he came into a dark room, with hulking, scary shapes that could be nothing more than furniture. Somehow the whole place put him on edge, maybe because it was forbidden. His heart was thrumming painfully in his chest, as he expectantly tried to make things out. Again, he gracelessly searched the walls for another switch, his eyes adjusting somewhat to the dark, though not much. When he found it, the room instantly became cast in an eerie red glow. The lightbulbs, he realized, were red. He squinted at the room, making out the black walls covered in shimmering objects. Daggers, he thought. He moved forward cautiously, his pulse rising, as though anticipating a threat. What if it was a mistake? He thought ridiculously. What if he wasn’t supposed to be down here?
There was a very large TV toward the right of the room, with a stereo and everything else. The PS3 she had confiscated a year ago was also there, along with all the games. There were new ones as well, he noticed. He should have been angry, but somehow he found it amusing. In a case next to the TV stand, was a porn collection to make anyone blush. The cabinet was over six feet tall and at least three feet wide, with videos stashed in tiny jewel cases. He grabbed from places on different rows, just to be sure it was all pornography. Somehow he found it kind of endearing, and he briefly wondered how she would feel about letting him borrow a couple of movies. As if that would ever happen, he thought wryly.
There was a tattered Nazi flag on the wall, stark against its black backdrop, accompanying some large, intricate looking axes above a door that probably led to the bathroom. There were two other doors, he noted, which he would get to. A desktop computer was set up in the corner opposite the television, with a large leather couch positioned somewhat in the middle of the room. It was worn, but looked comfortable, and was a deep ebony like most everything in the room. The space seemed smaller and claustrophobic because of the dark paint, and it gave the illusion of everything being hidden from view. There was a lamp by the computer, and it was tall and bent, with a shade made of red glass. When he switched it on, it too had a red bulb, and brought the cutouts that were pasted onto the walls into focus.
He moved closer, reaching out to touch the precisely-cut magazine centerfolds and small photos. One of them was a woman with her legs spread open, her fingers pulling at the lips of her most private of parts, holding it so that it was gaping wide for all to see. She was wearing tall patent boots that came up to her knees, and her face was frozen in a look of invitation. Some were men, but mostly they were women, each one posed in some act of debauchery. Nearly the entire wall by the computer was covered in them, some numerous that it was hard to separate one image from the others. There were even pictures of bestiality, which although they made him grimace, were difficult to look away from.
Gabriel couldn’t help but move along the wall, looking at all it had to offer. He had inadvertently made his way to a bookcase, its shelves lined with unmarked tomes. He pulled one down, rubbing at the sleek leather spine that was smooth under his fingertips. He flipped it open, enjoying the ‘crack’ sound that accompanied an old book. The pages were handwritten, some smeared as though his mother had been in too much of a hurry to allow them to dry. From what he could tell, it was another story, one that had a title on the first page that he didn’t recognize. Unpublished books? His eyes automatically scanned the rows, until he realized there were a few books that were different from the others. He frowned, trying to make out the title on the spine of one particularly heavy tome in the low light. He brought the volume close to his face, letting out an audible laugh. Really? Juliette? He grabbed another, not completely surprised by the German copy of Mein Kampf, though he wondered if she was even capable of reading the language. There were a couple more philosophy books that he recognized and a fictional book on some German WWI pilot he had never heard of, but he decided not to dwell.
He remembered that his mother could be back soon or could wake up, and the thought of getting caught in her basement was enough to make him return the books hastily to their spots. He wanted to know what was behind the doors; he needed to know, and he didn’t have much time. He walked to the nearest one with trepidation, fingers pausing on the door handle momentarily before he wrenched it open. A bathroom. How anticlimactic. It was small, but had the traditional amenities, including a clawfooted tub that was overwhelming in the small space. Everything was dark, but somehow still remained tasteful. The entire basement reminded him of some kind of live-in dungeon, with its black walls and medieval weapons. It was somewhat cliché, and he found himself a little disappointed.
He went to the next door, not expecting much. When he opened it, he was somewhat taken aback, finding the smell of incense to be accosting in the small, closet-like space. There was just enough light from the living room to throw shadows against the wall and catch on the myriad of objects that were neatly arranged on the table and walls. But most troubling was what was hanging on the wall, perfectly centered like a tribute. It was a large skull with horns thick and tapered enough that they could likely rend organs from one’s body. It was preserved forever in a half-decayed form, visceral and terrifying, like an acid had burned through fur and flesh, leaving behind the wet, bloody innards of muscle and tendon and bone. The sockets were nothing more than gaping black holes, somehow more horrific in the fact that there were no eyes to see from them. There was no telling what lay behind the darkness, and that thought made him shudder. He had never seen anything so monstrous. In fact, just being in the room made his head pound and his heart race. He felt wrong and unwanted in the space, enough so that the small room felt suffocating, yet somehow he couldn’t bring himself to look away.
It was as though he had torn back the veil to find his mother’s deep, dark secret, rotting and evil at its core. He found it sickening, frightening, even. At the same time, it was astoundingly fascinating in its otherworldliness. It was beautiful. He didn’t even want to begin deciding what any of it meant. There were a couple things he could think of, none of them good, which somehow made his excitement grow.
The altar—the only term he could think to describe it—was covered in beautifully crafted candelabras, all holding half-melted black candles with wax frozen in elegant drips down their sides. There was a rich tapestry protecting the tabletop, a deep red that was embroidered with symbols he didn’t recognize. There was something else he could smell but could not identify, along with the acrid scent of smoke and something long since burnt. He noticed the chalice, which appeared to be the source of the smoky aroma. He picked it up somewhat hesitantly, the coolness of the silver feeling like fire on his heated skin. It was filled with bits of paper, their edges curled and brown. He grabbed at them, only to have them disintegrate in his fingertips. He rubbed at the ash that coated his hands, then put the chalice back, giving the wall hanging an inquiring stare. There was only one white candle in the bunch, placed to the right, seemingly strategically, though the meaning was lost on him.
“What are you doing down here?”
Her voice startled him badly enough that he bumped into the table, the tinkering sound of the metal being jostled making him wince.
“It’s not polite to go through people’s things,” she commented, looking sinister in the red light that silhouetted her.
“The key,” he said, struggling not to tumble his words, “you left it for me.” When her expression didn’t change, a panic started to rise in his chest. A clammy, cold sweat was starting at the back of his neck. Could it all be some terrible mistake? Was he not supposed to have it? What would she—-
“What did you expect to find?” his mother questioned, coming nearer so that he was wedged between the altar table and her lean form.
“Something dark,” Gabriel answered truthfully, unnerved by their sudden closeness to one another. His eyes were having trouble seeing things in perspective with the strange red glow and his mother’s body blocking the tiny entrance, making his end of the room cast in shadow. He didn’t want to look back at the hanging on the wall because he knew that in the dull, unnatural light it would be even more menacing, a wet, living monster made of tortured internal tissues with gaping holes for eyes.
Gabriel shook his head, unsure of how to proceed. He could maneuver his way passed her, but she was quick and he didn’t doubt she would catch him on the stairs. He had also never attempted to physically overpower her before, at least not seriously. He was unsure as to what she was capable of, though he knew he was taller and weighed more than her. He damned his curiosity and whatever tricks she was playing on him. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to play her game with any proper sense of direction. He felt as though he was in the wrong, yet she had left the key in his room! Hadn’t she?
Without any warning, she backed out of the room, and slammed the door shut, locking her son inside. Instantly, Gabriel was cloaked in darkness. The smell of incense burned his lungs as he stepped forward toward the door blindly, fingers grasping at air until he came into contact with its rough surface. He tried not to think about the thing on the wall. If he thought about it, he knew he would be reduced to nothing more than a scared child. He didn’t know why it creeped him out so much, but the intense fear he felt just looking at it, was enough for him to be cautious of the thing. He wouldn’t think about it…
“Mother,” he said, yanking on the doorknob to no avail. “Mom,” he implored weakly, hating himself for being so stupid, and hating her for being such a mean bitch and putting him in a situation he couldn’t be in control of. He pounded on the door a couple of times with his fist, finding the slight pain to be a welcome distraction. He beat the door harder, his anger lighting up instantly.
“Open the goddamn door!” he shouted at her, trying not to let his body take in the shallow breaths it wanted, and instead trying to calm himself by breathing deeply. “You fucking bitch, open the door!”
Gabriel yelled at her until his voice went hoarse, and threw his body against the door until his side ached. He managed to keep from panicking, but he was beyond angry at her, yet again. He didn’t understand how one person could so easily pull him through so many emotions. Again he tried not to think about what was on the wall, or the weird smell he was starting to detect, hidden under the heady scent of the jasmine or whatever it was that was making it hard to breathe properly.
He finally slumped to the floor, leaning his body into the door and letting his forehead rest against the coolness of its metal. It was five minutes after that that the locks on the door were worked, and he was finally let out. He scrambled to his feet, all too eager to be away from the tiny, claustrophobic room. He rounded on her seconds later.
“What was that for?” he asked her venomously, scarcely keeping his tone out of the realm of a snarl.
“For being presumptuous and going into my rooms without my permission.” She was smiling at him, looking decidedly amused. “And for being afraid of the dark.”
“You know what? Fuck you. I’m out of here,” he growled, no longer able to contain his hatred. He wanted to be anywhere she wasn’t. Just as he stormed by her, she snatched one of his wrists, her eyes even more of an enigma than usual. Light seemed to flicker in them like it was alive, and she seemed to be evaluating him, taking him in. She licked her lips.
“Leaving so soon?” He tried to pull away from her, but her grip was iron-like. His face twisted in fury and hatred and his blue eyes narrowed.
“Am I just a toy to you?” he asked, a hint of incredulity to his voice. “You think I’m just going to bend to your will and do what you want? You locked me in a damn closet! With that…” he searched for a word but could find nothing sufficient, “thing! What are you doing in here, performing some kind of whacked out black mass?” His gaze was accusing, but her expression lost none of its amusement.
“You’ve always wanted to know what was down here, didn’t you?”
“That doesn’t give you the right to lock me up! God, who the hell taught you logic?” Again, he twisted in her grip, ashamed that he found the bite of her nails in his skin to be appealing at such a moment. “Let go of me!” He knew he could have wrenched his arm free if he had truly put the effort into it, yet something held him back. The sick part of him the reveled in the attention, was awakening. Even in his anger, he couldn’t deny the appeal of her, looking so pleased with herself, so arrogant and cruel and horrible all at the same time.
“There’s a bedroom down here,” she commented offhandedly, finally relinquishing his wrist.
“Is that supposed to entice me?” he responded darkly, too bitter to believe she would ever do anything besides lead him on. He wanted to leave. He wanted to have the willpower to walk away from her without being plagued by regret, but he knew it was an impossible wish. He was rooted to the spot, even as the anger continued to twist and wind its way around his heart, settling in with the other strange emotions that lingered there. He wanted to be invited, he wanted to be the one she felt she could show things to, regardless of how seriously fucked up they might be. He knew he was seeing things that even his father had never gotten the opportunity to witness. Her secret world was at his feet, and the temptation of it was killing him.
She ended up making the decision for him. When her hands found the button on his jeans, he knew there would be no turning back. It was like opening a floodgate, and when all the water came crashing down around, there was nothing to staunch the tidal wave of resentment, hate, and desire that had been stifled for a large part of his life. He wanted to hit her, he wanted to kiss her, and he wanted to scream at her for being such a sorry excuse for a mother and letting him feel so wrong. He had convinced himself that it was all her fault, and something from the beginning had not set like it should have, becoming a sloppy rendition that was easily torn down and cast aside. There should have been barriers, but the second skin met skin, everything melted away, meaningless.
Her nails were scraping all the way down to his stomach, down through the sparse, dark hair that led in a lazy trail to his groin. Gabriel grabbed at her waist, struggling to get his hands beneath her fitted shirt as she blindly backed him into the door. She seemed to lose sight of her goal for a moment, as a wayward hand managed a light grope over the thin, lacy fabric of her bra. She slammed him into the door, as if to remind him of who was in charge, but he could only grin at her as he dragged her shirt over her head in a confused tangle. Then the door jerked open and they both stumbled inside, Gabriel momentarily disoriented by the sudden encompassing black. Then a pale, yellow light flicked on, causing him to blink rapidly.