37. Dark

I leap backwards, slip on a monkey carcass and land in a damp heap. The touch of recycling corpses to my bare back is preferable to that horrible eye’s gaze.

Slowly my heart settles. It was the white, but not in the color sense, in the empty sense, the way the hollow faces are, the way my death was, the way the thing Sylvia put in my veins was. My heart speeds back up. The empty has an eye.

I run my hands through damp hair as shivers make my skin crawl. Guts too empty to heave turn around in a little dance. The weeping voice echoes from the open door.

It might have been an eye, or a world, or maybe those were more of my sight’s revelations and it’s something the size of a baseball sitting in the bowl’s bottom.

A diamond the size of my fist, old Raisin-Face said. Boil the diamond down in an alcohol solution, Tellerhorn said. The silver bowl with its white world-eye sits against the stove-top, dripping down a pipe into the gold.

The golden bowl is more of a pitcher, or maybe a very tall cup, and deep enough that I have to lift it from its cradle and angle it toward the light to see what’s inside. It’s heavier than iron. Not gold plated. Gold.

At the bottom swirl a few teaspoons of a liquid that seems to move too far up the vessel’s side, spitting little drips and whipping about in amplified exaggerations of the bowl’s shifting. In this liquid is the white empty, churning against some vibrantly living power like dancing oil and water. The two forces, one a rainbow of colors, the other white, push through and around each-other, pull, and twist, warped by their repulsion but bound together and forming something almost itself alive. The binding agent around them is a deep and violent blue, so brilliant it’s hard to look at.

It doesn’t have a smell, but none is required. As I know the smell of heroine in my bone and blood, so do I know the sight of Heros.

The aches and pains of my weary body all sing their songs at once: the stitches in my leg, my groin where the dog-man’s knee hit me, the still seeping bites on my shoulder and stomach, and the thousand scrapes and abrasions of running, crawling, falling and fighting barefoot and bare chested through a city of mud and stone all call for treatment.

I’m exhausted. The laughing girl put this blue power in my mouth and all the wounds went away: worse then than I am now. Who’s to say what even a sip would heal.

But I don’t. Lowering the vessel from my lips is an act of will. Inside swirl barely two teaspoons. Maybe enough. Maybe not. I’ll need it all.

But I know something else too.

The silver bowl sits atop the crook of the stove’s chimney, its surface stained with soot lines. Rising once more to my toes, I peer into that strange vessel’s depths. The marbled globe is still there.

The eye. What if I grab it and it’s an eye?

It’s not an eye. It’s the Dreaming Diamond.

The keening of desperate struggle from beyond the door provides a grim accompaniment as I turn my hands to tearing off one leg of my pants to make a yard long tube. With that tube as a kind of glove, I take a moment to work up my nerve.

It’s one of the things I’ve come for, and carrying it out of here would be a coup. Even if it’s an eye, maybe especially if it’s an eye, I don’t want to see it destroyed. What if it’s a window? Will breaking it let something out?

I plunge my fabric gloved hand into the fluid and stub reaching fingers hard against the bowl’s bottom. The fluid inside is nearly boiling and my fingers sear in wet fabric. My pained yell echoes in the hall as my fingers close around the orb: its surface is smooth, round, hard. It comes out of the vessel with a splash that speckles my bare chest with hot fluid.

The cloth steams but the stone cools instantly. It feels very much like a diamond or other gemstone. Bigger than a baseball but smaller than a softball, its weight is like a half-gallon of water. I can see past its blue-glass surface and deep into it to where the white coils, seething, and as powerful as a sun. The world’s gone. All I see down there is white emptiness. White light sealed behind a thin lattice of brilliant rainbows that dance in living geometry.

I have it. This is the dreaming diamond.

The dark echoes with the whispers of indeterminable movements and the whimpers of the crying voice.  In the direction I came from, the dog door is a faint outline.

Though no eye is evident, it still feels like the light in the stone watches me.

I invert the tube of fabric so the diamond is inside it, covering that light with the cloth. In the welcome dark, I tie the ends together so it makes a little loop. Then I slide my arm through the loop so the diamond rests in my right armpit. The panic and pain I’m feeling aren’t mine. They’re coming from the voice down the dark hall.

Hefting the silver bowl by the pipe welded to its rim, I pour out its contents and then use it to scoop up some coals from the boiler. Whatever this fluid is, it hisses and steams in the dark, and smells a little bit like snow. In retrospect, I might have poured it out before reaching in for the diamond. I must be tired. Red embers from the stove glow as I scoop them into the bowl bottom. The silver shines with their light, giving me a makeshift fire-pan I can carry.

I feed my coals with one of the strips from my torn up pants and the cloth sizzles a moment before catching fire – a yellow light that rises to illuminate the weeping maw of the tunnel and spreads out into the dark of the bone room behind and around me. As I look back over my shoulder into the wide basement, a brighter flicker from the cloth-flame catches the edge of a spiral staircase leading up into the ceiling, about a dozen yards away.

A way out. It almost seems someone’s crouched there. But the light fades.

A second strip of cloth feeds the fire in the bowl and its light reaches out again. Gold glints among the bones. Mushrooms grow there with other strange plants, but the stairs rise empty and inviting.

Braying hounds drown the sobbing echoes in a sudden deluge of sound. The kennel I came through is packed with hollow-faced people. My light must have caught their attention, because they were silent until I stood. But now they rattle the bamboo bars with mad ferocity and the dogs bark and howl at them.

I scoop up the pitcher of heros and the sounds of splintering bamboo accompany my first step toward the spiral stair. One of the bars breaks.

I have the diamond and the heros. The stone could supply me with what I need to stay sane, even by Tellerhorn’s methods. I could stuff my pockets with gold and step out into the world. Jenny’s dead. Sylvia can handle herself. The German would just have to take care of his own problem, I don’t owe him anything. Given the state of things here, they’d never find me. The government tanks Jenny spoke of will tear down their walls and I’ll be at the airfield catching the first flight to anywhere.

But the weeping.

“Fuck.” I say.

So I turn, and with silver and fire in one hand, gold and magic in the other, the dreaming diamond tucked under my shoulder and nothing on my body but skivvies and wounds, I set out down the dark way and close the door behind me.

2 Replies to “37. Dark”

  1. Laura Moos says:

    I love your use of color to describe the diamond and the heros. And I especially love the last paragraph of this chapter, it’s so beautifully evocative, it fires the imagination.

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