Even as I kept my memories just out of reach of the clutching gloom, I could feel nothing but pity for the dream on the very cusp of death. My denial of its will to survive sent explosions of hypocrisy blooming into my darkness, illuminating my many scars from the Dead Mother—where some of her still remained, like an infection, growing tumorous, trying to fill me with all the convictions of the whited dead. Convictions such as the will to survive despite all else, a singular cosmic drive, overthrown only occasionally, when the survival of the group takes precedence. And there I was, trying to cast out a drowning man from my tiny life boat, the fear of capsizing making a worried coward of me.
My next actions should have been my first—I held out a terrible memory, and then another and another. Handfeeding the desperate dream brought it into me, where it began to lay down deep, thirsting roots, anchoring itself to my many and hidden woes. But the painful reacquaintance with my neglected past was prerequisite for the dream’s survival. It fed upon me till it was drunk and fat from ripest misery—drab walls renewed themselves in thick sheaves of liquescent wood rot and scuttling vermin, and so the temple to depression blossomed like a blackened meadow filled with burned flowers, strong with the scent of smoldering beauty. In the distance, far above me, I could hear the construction of a new room, a liveborn space of specific horror—my horror, where the blood of my family outlined the places where I had slain them . . .
Where I had eaten them.
The room retreated from me, a spent morsel, a husk. Perhaps I’d always been empty, I was forced to consider, and had only just nursed a void. Over the course of my many and sundry battles, I’d been struck by creatures that might have been gods, and kept my feet—but never had any blow diminished me so thoroughly as the memory which now stood revealed. I collapsed to the ground. And for my troubles, the apartment house mimicked the sounds it had plucked from my ultimate sadness, no doubt the equivalent of turning a canteen upside-down—an attempt to coax one last drop of nourishment from its hiding place. A terrible memory came spilling from without my overturned mind—of the time when I took them all from the world.
They could vanish from sight within an empty white room, sever the spine of a charging razorback in seconds, scale a wall like scuttling spiders—my sisters were, in every pore of their souls, hunters. That night beneath the storm and darkness of night, we played one last game together, with knives and smiles and blood and death. It was our mother’s wish that we do so. It was necessary, and we understood why. I remember when they tricked me into that attic, with vanishing footfalls and feigns aplenty, their abrupt laughter coming from impossible places, knives sliding across my skin like bladed breaths. The tiny room seemed to shrink, closing in on me, denying me the use of my strength. When the door closed from behind, they were upon me. Their speed was inhuman, moving over and across me with their blades dragging behind them, freeing my blood into the darkness, giggling like pull-string dolls, eyes blacker than funerals. I dove into the deepest silence I could manage, hoping to lose them in my wake. But it was no use, I was trying to outswim barracudas. They were only toying with me, and we all knew it. It was the nature of our game. I could never hide from them. Never evade them. At the best of times I was only their plaything, and that night—the worst of times—my heart wasn’t in it at all. I could never hurt them, even for Mother. I just sat upon the floor, waiting for them to take me, my whole purpose forfeited. My test failed—I wasn’t the one my mother needed. I lowered my head in surrender. While I could not hear them, I knew they were standing over me, my wonderful sisters.
“It will be our secret, dear brother,” they said in whispered unison. I could feel them slip my bone-handled blades into my limp hands—the knives which formed the principal scaffolding for my skills with a blade. They were warm and wet with blood, my sisters’ blood, as my sisters had drawn them across their throats. It was all they ever wanted in the world—to join me in spirit. Here was the real test, to see the task completed, without shedding a single tear. I held the two of them close, their whispered blood falling across my shoulders and down my back, gossamer waterfalls of bottomless red. Their sweetened smiles were like hot tears against my skin, and they whispered again, “Whatever joy is left in this world, dear brother, we will find together, as one. Now, do what you must. What we all must.” There is no visual memory of what came next, only the deepest refusal for knowledge, a pictureless recall of events wrapped in such darkness as I’ve never known, before of since. I do not know if I had cried. I hope that I had, test be damned.
Then the floor shook as if the world were coming apart beneath the rage of a mad god—my father would not come to me like a lamb, but as a lion. His test was violence, pure and red. My forebear’s axe moved through the world without resistance, passing through stone and steel as easily as smoke, its killing edge irresistible as time. The old mansion within which we sheltered cracked and split as he charged. When at last we came together in perfect violence, I truly believe the resulting calamity cowed the storm that hung above us—lurking and looking upon our contest with some interest, no doubt. His first blow sent my knives tumbling from my hands where they collided with the falling axe, cast my body through the air, a wall, and a third-story window. Laughter like the end of the world followed me all the way down, gnawing at the raw tips of my every nerve. What I took for more thunder became the sound of my father smashing through the wall next to the window he’d sent me through—axe raised above his head, descending thirty feet from the black, stormy air, laughter exploding past his frothing, gaping jaws.
Asserting my own strength, I backhanded the axe’s edge to the side, causing the bones of my fist to crack and snap, and threw my shoulder into Father’s hurtling mass. Reality might have buckled slightly as I denied the inertia of his attack, delivering us both back into the dilapidated manse, crashing through its outer partition and roaring through what was left of its cellar door. The underground darkness was quick to obliterate us, but not before I hoisted the axe-bearer from where he struggled upon my shoulder and threw him into the churning pitch. Yet, not entirely to my surprise, there came no hint of the near six-hundred-pound man crashing down, only empty silence waiting to be filled with the din of war. My father, like myself, was friend to both darkness and silence. Suddenly the silence broke, as my father’s axe was tossed carelessly into a corner, clanking down upon the cold stone. Then came the sound of stiff joints being cracked loudly, in preparation for a final confrontation of the most primitive and brutal kind. A voice exploded through the darkness.
“Come, boy . . . show me what you’ve learned!”
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