Continuation of my futuristic feminist / Satanic Novel about a female attack victim and how she views the world around her after her attack.
The sun was down, the moon was slyly peeping. Having detached Kate from her aunt, Bruce was guiding her to the platform of the Electro-Train. He had told Kate that his home was a minute’s walk from the Electro-Terminus, and she, still searching desperately for a way out, had replied that it was as well: it meant that she could get home in reasonable time.
“That’s not what I had in mind,” said Bruce firmly, as they seated themselves on one of the platform’s plastic benches. “You can stay at my house overnight. I’ll take you back to your aunt’s place in the morning.”
Kate heard his crude proposal, and let her hand remain in his, though she could not repress the inward shudder. Her eyes were fixed on the long electric cable which was in mild spasm as the Electro-Train approached. Anything was better than discussing, or even referring to what she feared so much. She stumbled as they entered the nearest carriage, and Bruce had to catch hold of her arm.
“Are you tired, Kate?” he asked.
“No,” she mumbled. “I don’t think it’s that.”
They took their seats and the Electro-Train sped on soundlessly, slicing through a landscape which was fading in the dusk.
“You’re not unwell, I hope?”
Kate felt convulsed, eaten up; how she hated all this probing! She shook her head quickly and stared out of the windows, not seeing anything. But when they reached his station, and they were speeding down in the communal lift, she felt impelled to say:
“I… I’m a bit frightened, that’s all.”
“Don’t be afraid, Kate,” he assured her. “I’ll be gentle with you; trust me.”
She glanced at her watch; but more vivid in her mind’s eye was a crushed and mangled timepiece of long ago, lying in the Farmlands’ dust. This superimposition alarmed her even more. Then she heard Bruce laugh, and his laughter had a hateful, unnatural sound, as if it were some stranger at her side, whose arm was locked with hers, and who was hurrying her forward.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, almost truculently.
“you’re so tense, Kate,” he told her, “but you’re very sweet. Don’t you ever look at yourself in a mirror? Don’t you like what you see?”
“A mirror is not oneself,” retorted Kate, momentarily forgetting her fear. “Mirrors only reflect nasty, external rubbish.”
“What’s the matter? You’re as jumpy as a cat, Kate. What are you afraid of, love?”
She suppressed a groan of irritation and merely asked how much further it was. They were walking through a wretched dark alley which seemed to magnify her fears. If they could have parted there and then – he to take his way and she to take hers – she would have sighed with relief. But she had to grit her teeth and go on.
“It’s all right, Kate,” he said, pausing briefly to take her hand. “I realise by the way you’re reacting that this will be your first time. I’ll take care of you. It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
“I want to be away from this dreadful alley,” she said breathlessly, haunted by her memories.
“You will be very soon,” he assured her. “It’s only a few more steps up here.”
They hurried on their way. Kate’s spirits remained oppressed by her unspoken fears. It seemed important, for some reason that she could not explain, not to look directly into Bruce’s face. She let him guide her, keeping her eyes down, the night menacing her with its blocks of darkness and rustling shapes. Even breathing seemed difficult to her; as if a giant hand were pressing on her, with some evil intent.
She waited on the doorstep of a house which, in the only glance she gave it, had a shabby, unprepossessing appearance. Bruce was excited and was finding difficulty fitting his key into the lock. He succeeded at last and threw the door open, going ahead to turn on the light in a wide, luxurious hall. Kate noticed pictures of vast Finnish landscapes on the walls.
Taking her arm firmly, he led her up the plushly carpeted stairs. He was merciless; he would allow her no escape.
“This is the bedroom,” she heard him say.
In her head, the voice said louder and louder: “I don’t want this! I don’t want this!”
His fingers were awkward and heavy as she felt him slowly unbutton her mac. He eased her dress from her body, and she stood inert in the cold moonlight, still evading his eyes.
“Look at me, Kate,” he said gently, tilting her head with his fingertips under her chin. “This is not a punishment, you know. I realise that you were attacked in the past, and I want to help you to overcome it. Why do you look away from me, Kate?”
Then she had to yield to his brute insistence and gaze into his eyes – for the first time since they had left the crowded Amphitheatre. And the man she saw there was not the athletic Bruce; this was another man’s face, seen once before and never quite forgotten. It destroyed her when she realised who it was. This face had a motive to ruin; this face had reappeared to do her harm; she felt that very clearly.
Now that she looked, she could see it in every detail. Its hair was black and greasy, brushed tightly behind its ears. It had thick, rubbery lips and hostile, deep-set eyes. It was tall and came from the Farmlands. It had done its foul business ten years ago, and at this crisis point it had returned to make sure that it held her still.
Shrinking back in fear and alarm, she fell across the bed, guarding with all her strength the lacy undergarment which still covered her nakedness. Bruce pursued her on hands and knees. In stark terror, she snatched up her mac, freed herself from him and fled into another room.
Here, too, through the uncurtained windows, the moonlight spread over floor and wall, like drifted snow. It drifted over her, too, and whitened her red mac as she worked desperately to push her arms into it, and button it up.
The heavy vengeful sounds of footsteps came outside the door. The door flew back with a crash, and Bruce walked in holding her crumpled, Non Hemisphere dress. Seeing her expression, he flung it at her in scorn.
“You shouldn’t have run away, Kate. Why don’t you trust me?” He sounded angry and frustrated. “I’d have been gentle with you just now if you’d allowed us to take our relationship further.”
Kate did not reply. What was she to say? How could she possibly explain that another, a ghostly third had been present at their lovemaking; a vile destroyer.
“It’s a great shame,” he went on furiously. “You’ve the looks most women would envy, but what’s the use? You won’t let a man get near you. Look, I know you were attacked ten years ago. But that’s a long, long time; time heals all wounds.”
She showed him the scar on her wrist. “But the scars remain, Bruce,” she said. “I wish they didn’t, but they do.”
“Perhaps that’s because it’s what you secretly want,” he retorted in disgust. “Perhaps you don’t love me, after all. Perhaps you’re merely using your past attack as an excuse because you don’t want a full relationship.”
“That’s not true!” she cried. “I do love you, Bruce.”
“You mean platonically,” he sneered. “Like a brother?”
“No,” she said earnestly, “that’s not it at all. I’m extremely attracted to you. I don’t merely see you as a day-t–day friend. You send me further than that.”
“Then why can’t you make love to me? Why do you repel my advances if I mean something to you? How can I believe you when you say you’re attracted to me when you are doing nothing to prove it?”
Kate stared at him forlornly, not knowing how to reply. He grew impatient and demanded an answer. She did her feeble best.
“When we were in the bedroom just now,” she began lamely, “I couldn’t see you. I kept seeing someone else. He was my attacker – I was horrified!”
He gave her a wry look. “I’m sorry, Kate, but I don’t believe you.”
“What… what does that mean?”
“It means goodbye, Kate.” His voice was as expressionless as his face. “I think it would be best if we both called it a day.”
She ran from that house, still clutching her Non Hemisphere dress in her hand. Her eyes blinded with tears, she made her way back to the familiar squalor of Terminal Lane, via the labyrinth, without caring if it would lead her into another brutal attack.
Chapter Twenty One
The whole setting was familiar to her from childhood; the majestic Rubicon temple; the adjacent forum and basilica; the public baths where her father had offered to instruct her in self-defence; the high Amphitheatre which lay beyond the wall surrounding the town; the watchtowers and ditches and the vigilantly guarded gate, through which she, now a foreigner, humbly made her way.
With her wedding gift for Rebecca held under her arm, she hung about the entrance to the temple, feeling too self-conscious to go in alone. She had decided this, and was looking around for her mother and Deborah, when she spotted a vaguely familiar couple drawing near. She realised, as they came closer, that they were Rebecca’s parents, whom she had often spoken to years ago when she was a regular visitor at their village to see Rebecca. She turned, therefore, to wave to them, but on seeing her they threw her a cagey, sidelong glance and hurried inside. Kate’s smile of welcome faded and a could seemed to run before the sun.
“Hello, Kate! Here we are again!” said a cheery voice. Kate swung round to find Deborah, who had just arrived with her mother.
“Hello, Kate,” said Mrs Tiberius more distantly. “How’s Aunt Nancy?”
“Oh, she’s fine,” replied Kate. “Taking everything in her stride as usual.”
Mrs Tiberius lowered her voice. “She said something to me at the International Olympics. I gather there is a topic which you and I need to discuss.”
“Did she tell you what it concerned?” asked Kate, who had a pretty good idea.
“No, but she did say it was only right that I should be informed. In fact, she was most insistent.”
“Yes, I’m sure she was,” replied Kate acidly. “Well, Mother, this is hardly the time nor the place, would you say?”
“If we’re to get a good seat, I do think we ought to go inside,” Deborah diplomatically suggested. “People are arriving all the time; it would be nice to be near the front.”
“Yes,” agreed Kate, “let’s go in. I’m sure it will be a fantastic wedding.”
The temple was huge, but the congregation was also a large one. Most of the people, after this space of time, were unknown to Kate, although she did notice Rebecca’s mother inconspicuously sitting two rows behind an elderly Eastern Hemisphere couple. As the watchtower struck noon, all rose to their feet; the Wedding March struck up and Kate felt her heart flutter when she saw Rebecca gracefully gliding down the aisle, arm in arm with her father; her white, sequined veil trailing along the patterned floor. She looked at ease with herself, her head prettily adorned with orange, fragrant blossoms, a bouquet of peonies and gladioli lightly held in one hand. By the altar a more nervous Judah stood waiting for her.
The service was led by a tall, young clergyman from the Southern Hemisphere Synod, wearing purple robes. All proceeded without incident; the vows were exchanged and the rings, and the young couple were leaving the church when something behind the altar caught Kate’s eye.
“Kate, where are you going?” exclaimed her mother, as her daughter climbed the marble steps to take a closer look. Without so much as a reply, she advanced towards the window, where a man in full armour stood beckoning her. In his right hand he held a pilum; in his left, a little wooden bowl that she had seen somewhere before.
“Can I help you? Are you lost?” she asked him, as a feeling of intimacy invaded her senses. The conversation had got no further when Mrs Tiberius came up.
“Kate, what are you doing?”
“That man by the windows,” she replied, half turning, her eyes filled with tears. “He wanted to speak to me.”
Kate turned back towards to stained glass window expectantly, but all was different there; the armed soldier was now nowhere to be seen. It was a moment of vision; she knew it had been her father.
“Do come along, Kate!” said her mother, with a touch of irritation. “This is no time for silly games.”
Kate did not reply. The last members of the congregation were leaving the temple by the doors at the far end. She descended the altar steps.
“Kate,” went on Mrs Tiberius, “we may not get another chance to be alone, so I do think it only fair that you tell me what it is that your aunt has been hinting at. I am your mother; I do have a right to know.”
“Did she point you in any particular direction?” asked Kate sourly, cursing the meddlesome creature in her mind.
“She did not go into any details,” replied Mrs Tiberius, “but I’m almost certain it involves the man you are courting.”
“Oh, Bruce!” murmured Kate in an offhand way. “You liked him, didn’t You, Mother? But I never got around to mentioning that he’s a married man with a daughter of two. Aunt Nancy didn’t approve of that!”
Mrs Tiberius was shocked. Her eyebrows shot up.
“Neither do I approve of it!” she said severely. “This puts a completely different light on the situation. Here have I been telling everyone how happy I am that you have found a partner at last, and that there was a good chance of your getting married, when all along you know it was out of the question! It was very wrong of you, Kate, not to tell me about it!”
“Oh well, you needn’t worry any more about that, either,” the young woman retorted. “You see, the relationship between myself and Bruce no longer exists. He sent me packing at the beginning of last month. He no longer wants me.”
“Goodness, Kate! Whatever happened for him to reject you like that?” Her mother was looking more and more surprised.
“I’m sexually inadequate, Mother,” said Kate calmly. “I was unable to please him when the time came. Is that enough for you, or do you want me to go into the details?”
“Kate, Kate!” her mother reproached her. “I realise you must be disappointed at how it has turned out, but there’s no need to go off the rails like that while explaining the situation to me, especially in a place of worship! You’re very frank, Kate.”
“I’m absolutely fed up, Mother,” replied Kate almost truculently. “I’ve had to put up with a lot over the past ten years and I’m just about sick of it; and if anyone doesn’t think that the attack I suffered ten years ago was not enough to put me off men for the rest of my life, well, that’s their problem, and not mine!”
“Now then, Kate,” said her mother, beginning to walk in her agitation. “That will be enough of that. We’ll consider the matter closed.”
“Oh, I agree!” snapped Kate, unrelenting. “The face is that I’m frigid, whether Bruce is married or not.”
They joined the guests in the basilica next door without another word.
Rebecca, of course, was there, looking radiant in her dress of sequined lace, and chatting convivially. As soon as she saw Kate she came hurrying forward, drawing Judah – who had been having an amusing conversation with the good-natured Deborah – along with her.
“Oh, Kate, I’m so glad you could make it!” she said joyously, taking her in her arms. “How very very nice! May I introduce you to my husband, Judah? He’s heard so much about you.”
“How do you do, Kate?” said the young man, beaming and shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you,” murmured Kate. Her tone was aloof and reserved. She had been intending to tell them how pleased she was for them, and what a happy day it must be. But suddenly, standing alone, without a man of her own, she felt resentful; the words obstinately refused to come.
“Mrs Tiberius!” called Rebecca, as she saw Kate’s mother advance, slowly and gracefully, towards her. “How lovely to see you!”
Kate, silent and uneasy, was a bystander at the exchange of courtesies which followed. She heard her mother say rallyingly: “Well, aren’t you going to congratulate the bride and groom, Kate?”
“Oh – congratulations, Rebecca and Judah,” she rapped out automatically. She could do no more. “Excuse me for a minute,” she added, and she hurried form the place to seek solace in the quiet of the deserted forum. On the first steps she found, she sat down disconsolately, cupping her face in her hands. The wind blow and she heard the laughter of the guests from a distance.
Presently, a light hand rested on her shoulders, and she looked up into Deborah’s kind face. The woman came to sit down beside her.
“What’s the matter, Kate?” she asked gently. “I saw the look on your face when you left the basilica just now. Is there something troubling you, by any chance?”
“Yes,” blurted Kate from the depths of her despair. “As a matter of fact there is.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that easy to explain.”
“What is it? You know it’s better not to bottle things up. Tell me: I may be able to help.”
Kate sighed and stared into the distance. “I suppose,” she began quietly, “it must have seemed rude of me not to have congratulated the bride and groom on their wedding, and to have practically fled from the reception the way I did; but the fact is I couldn’t help it. When I saw them both standing there, looking so adult and sophisticated – Rebecca outshining everyone in her lovely, sequined dress – I felt so insignificant, so stupid! I felt as if I’ve been left a thousand years behind.”
“But no two people’s lives are ever the same,” said Deborah soothingly. “You’re a person in your own right, just as much as Rebecca is. You’re just living a different life from her, that’s all.”
Kate shot her a bitter glance. “Yes, that’s right. I am, indeed, living a very different life from my privileged friend and I resent that face; I loathe it!”
“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, Kate,” said Deborah, placing a comforting hand on her arm. “You’re a very beautiful young woman. There’s no need for you to feel outclassed by Rebecca.”
“Yes, I have to admit, I am jealous of her,” burst out Kate. “Sounds good, doesn’t it? Jealous of my own best friend, who invites me to her wedding, and is so welcoming. In fact, I’m so jealous I almost feel I hate her.” She saw Deborah raise her eyebrows in surprise, but she pressed on. “I suppose when you reach a certain age, and you still have no partner of your own, and you see your friend happy with her partner, it’s bound to have an effect. You begin to feel an obstacle; the odd one out; the misfit who tags along behind like a shadow, with no one or nothing to your name. There are Rebecca and Judah, with good jobs and a villa to move into; and here am I with nothing at all. It’s as if I don’t even exist.”
“But you have Bruce,” Deborah reminded her with a sympathetic smile.
Kate winced at the mere mention of the man.
“No,” she muttered, “that’s where you’re wrong. I don’t have Bruce. He rejected me when the physical side of our relationship didn’t work out. Besides, he’s married. What a mess, don’t you agree?”
“Oh, Kate,” said Deborah earnestly, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t face telling anyone about it – Aunt Nancy knows, of course, but then she’s always poking her nose into everything. Actually, that’s not the only thing,” she continued on a sudden impulse. “There’s something else – something which even Aunt Nancy doesn’t know about.”
Deborah, who noticed that she was not as cut up about Bruce as might have been expected, asked her what it was.
“Something’s happened to my friend, Kathy.”
“Good heavens! What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know exactly.” Kate felt a great weariness stealing over her as she spoke. “All I know is that she;s ill in some way. She … sometimes she doesn’t make sense. She gets depressed easily. I wanted her to come with me to the International Olympics in March, but she was too scared; I think she was afraid she might not be able to get home again. I feel responsible for her, and yet I can’t make her take my advice. Oh, Deborah, it’s so nice of you to be so understanding. What with Kathy, and Bruce, and the fact that Rebecca and I have grown light years apart from each other, I don’t know. I just don’t know…”
She rubbed her forehead. She was thinking of that vision of her father, which she had seen less than half an hour before. If she were to mention that to Deborah, the good woman would undoubtedly think she was mad – but it had been so real. Deborah was right; voicing her worries had helped to lance the boil of agony.
“Things will sort themselves out, Kate, believe me,” said Deborah as they stood together. “Now, let’s go back inside, shall we. Or they’ll all be wondering where we have both got to.”
“Now, come, young lady; buck your ideas up,” said Aunt Nancy as her niece sat gloomily at the kitchen table. “It’ll do you no good sittin’ there feelin’ sorry for yourself. It would be better if you took a walk now that the weather’s gettin’ warmer; stop you broodin’ over that young man, who ain’t worth broodin’ over anyway.” She ingnored Kate’s reproachful look and automatically raised her voice.
“I always told you he was no good! A decent sort of man don’t two-time ’s wife an’ then ditch ‘is mistress because ‘e can’t ‘ave ‘is wicked way with ‘er. That Bruce was only after your body, Kate, an’ you know that as well as I do!”
Kate shut her eyes briefly. “Do you mind if we don’t talk about it?” she said. “I think we’ve already said as much as there is possible to be said on that subject.”
“What about Kathy?” asked the irrepressible Aunt Nancy. “‘Ave you seen ‘er lately?”
“No, I haven’t. I think she spends a lot of her spare time at the lighthouse talking to the lighthouse keeper. She mentioned something about it a few months ago, just after she started work.”
“A fine friend sheturned out to be,” Aunt Nancy remarked huffily. “She could be over ‘ere consolin’ you, instead of stuck up in some faraway light’ouse. It’s a strange place to be spendin’ one’s time in, anyway. She couldn’t be bothered to come to the Olympics two months ago, when we all went, I noticed. Fine, loyal folk youattract, Kate Brannigan. If I ever set eyes on either Kathy or Bruce again, you can be sure I’ll give them a piece of my mind!”
Kate stood up apathetically, reflecting that Aunt Nancy would not recognise Kathy if she saw her. She felt lonely and utterly deserted; reently it had occurred to her to wonder if that was how her father had felt during the last few months before his death.
“I think you’re right; I will take that walk, after all,” she said, drifting out into the passage to fetch her mac from the cupboard under the stairs.
“The sooner you start acceptin’ life the way it is, young lady, the better,” Aunt Nancy officiously called after her.
Kate shut the door behind her and set off towards the labyrinth by way of the warm, sleepy shore. At this hour only a few listless vagrants were about, dead souls who never ventured into the Hemispheres. She thought of Bruce, and of the meals they had enjoyed in ‘Politician’s Square’. Memories of that happier time made her loss seem all the keener; she had some idle notion of revisiting the place as she stumbled down the steps into the warren.
As she walked on aimlessly, she came to a place which, in that underground world, she had never explored. A passage led off to it obscurely, and to other recesses of a similar kind where sexual congress occurred in areas set apart. It was a hidden place, but you knew you were getting close by the character of the obscenities drrawn, scratched and painted on the surrounding walls. Here, wealth and jewels were exchanged for acts of darkness; sly men in city clothes went to have their choice of ‘fallen’ Non Hemisphere women. Indeed, these underground caves formed a mini-quarter network of their own; as corruptively rich and prosperous as the Non Hemisphere was barren and poor.
The temperature rose steadily as Kate approached. She, who had had no idea of going there, took off her mac under the impact of the heat. But a sudden gust of wind tugged it from her grasp, and with dismay she saw it being sucked down, far below into the verminous darkness of the sewers.
She paused, frowning, hoping for a contrary gust to return it to her. But this failed to happen and at last she obliged to take a step in that direction. On it went fluttering before her, as if drawn by a compulsive force; she followed with the same dread as someone straying into the red, yawning mouth of a sleeping monster. The descent was something like a gullet, smooth and steepening; she began to be afraid that she would never emerge again; she resolved to abandon her mac and go no further.
Then she lost her footing and, colliding with the walls, went down willy nilly; she fell in a heap within feet of where her mac lay.
She stood up, not much hurt, and retrieved it. The fierce heat here was making her sweat; she was anxious to be gone. But round a bend just ahead, she saw the door that was the magnet for the lost souls who came here; it stood like a softly-glowing coal fire. The word ‘Whorehouse‘ was engraved in gigantic crimson letters above it, looking as if the rock itself was flesh and had received a brand. Rumours of voices and of an indefinable grating noise came from beyond the door; it was not quite closed and a ruttish perfume was wafting out.
In spite of herself, she stood irresolute, breathing in the scent of sexual abandon, strangely penetrated by a fune of incense and ripe green apples. It was lulling and hypnotic and she might have been overcome had the door not opened at that moment. A businessman in a blue, pin-striped suit, his face smeared with red lipstick, emerged amidst clouds of steam which spurted intermittently as if being released from the spout of a kettle. A young woman followed, decked in a garment of diamonds and crisp, rustling bank notes; a bitten apple dangled at her cleavage and played about her breasts as she ran. Both were laughing; they chased each other like children, but with lascivious intent. Then, catching his hand, the girl drew him back inside the whorehouse door.
Kate, half choked, turned in haste to make her way back to the main tunnel of the labyrinth. In the darkness, she felt a moist hand clasp its fingers round her wrist. She immediately tensed up, turning to face whoever her assailant might be. Instantly there was a blast of hot breath directed at her face, which loosened and relaxed her through her whole body.
In that moment she must have closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw a man standing before her with one hand raised, in which there glowed an immense diamond which seemed to gather into itself all that was purity and light. Fascinated by the abnormality of its size, she raised her baffled head to take a look at the person who held it. He was slim and handsome, with lone, dark hair; he smiled at her wryly, directing her to look into the diamond again. She did so and, as he brought it closer to her face, she gasped to see within it the image of an enormous mansion with a swimming pool rippling gently in its back garden.
The man did not speak, but his eyes were eloquent, and they were fixed on her. He was tantalizing her with the world within the stone – her body for that unstressed, comfortable life. If she gave herself to him – and he was handsome and young – he implied that these things would be hers. Instead of poverty and aimlessness, he was promising wealth and splendour and a life apart.
So why did she hesitate – so little to lose for so much to gain? A rigid logic seemed to nullify the temptation; to her alert mind, the diamond-enclosed house was more securely locked than dead flies in amber. The perfection of its world was inviolate for it lay within a priceless diamond. One could not be reached unless the other were shattered; surely that forced entry would half destroy its value?
The handsome man seemed to read her mind, for his smile faded. He breathed on the gem and she saw the rippling water of the pool turn rigid with ice. Then, his eyes growing furious and black, he held up the stone and she watched it crumble instantly. With a cry, Kate turned and ran back to the main tunnel of the labyrinth.
Once she felt the cool air of the subway on her face again, she breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then she pursued her way more slowly to the cut-throat Northern Hemisphere, as she tried to make sense of the experiment in her mind. That she had been tempted was clear; even now it pained her to think of that beautiful stone ruthlessly reduced to dust.
But the tempter? As she emerged into the daylight at the end of the tunnel, all doubts faded. She had passed through the infernal kingdom. Through the handsome stranger had not come equipped with horns, or with a tail pushing through his clothes, she knew who he must be.
It was dark when Kate got home, dejected and worn out with wandering. Her aunt was nowhere about; taking off her mac, she flung it down, then went to help herself to a glass of Green Liquor from the cupboard above the cooker. As it flowed like a narcotic through her veins, the lids of her eyes felt heavy; the effort needed to keep them open could not match the ease with which they closed …
Rising from her chair, she glided noiselessly out into the lambent, evening landscape. From somewhere beyond the horizon a cold wind came howling, swirling Kate’s dress and pressing it against her virginal curves. Beneath an incredible purple sky stretched a bed of frozen semen, edged by distant skyscrapers and the silently turbulent seas. Kate skated over the ice as the wind continued to whistle; a grey figure kept pace with her, its shadowy arm in hers. They halted when they reached the curved ‘S’ of ‘Semen’, the shrill wind growing fiercer. Kate crouched down in an attempt to break the ice with her fist. She managed it after several attempts, the serpentine curve becoming a narrow frith of rippling water. The grey figure stood motionless at her side, without a trace of emotion. A wedding veil of which lace and a bouquet of multi-coloured gladoli fell from the sky, and landed in the icy pool. She tried her utmost to retrieve it, but the bouquet was drawn under and was soon lost to sight, forever out of her reach.
The plain of semen ice grew lustrous and transparent, sucking Kate into another layer of landscape lying beneath it. She found herself standing on the beach on the fringes of the Non Hemisphere. The labyrinth before her had been polished and renovated; but one part had somehow become detached and lay neglected on the rocks behond. Through this ran Kathy, restored to her youthful beauty, an unbitten apple hanging about her neck. The sight brought Kate to tears; then Kathy disappeared and instead she saw Bruce, walking happily through the broken piece of tunnel wearing a bright yellow toga, a mini Finnish spruce tree held upright in his hand.
The sea beyond was choppy and turquoise as usual, but the lighthouse was different. It had become a glistening ivory tower, a kilometre in height. She found herself suddenly within its spotless, circular walls, sitting nonchalantly at a candlelit table; the indefinite grey figure occupying the sat opposite. Both held silver goblets in their hands and were drinking gallons of a thin alcohol; both, it seemed, were laughing uproariously…
A succession of heavy blows directed against the front door, woke her suddenly. Aching and wiping the sleep from her eyes, she trailed down the passage – and opened the door into disillusion. After the radiant vision of her dream, the reality of Kathy’s appearance was all the more appalling. Her breathing was laboured; her legs, face and hands were torn, there was a look of manic intensity in her eyes under the ploughed and knotted hair – all these were bad enough, but her dress was heavily marked with damp blotches which horribly resembled blood. Kate nearly threw up at the sight.
“I took your kitchen knife, Kate,” whispered the monster through caked lips. “I just couldn’t stand what I was goin’ through no longer, so I went an’ used it on somebody.”
Kate’s hair stood on end. “You mean you … ?” Kathy, you’re having me on; you can’t mean you …?”
“Yes,” groaned the girl. “I went an’ stabbed someone – I killed the bitch ‘an all!”
Kate found herself drawing back from this apparition. As she retreated into the house, so Kathy came forward, determined to divulge the full details of her crime.
“Well, I ‘ad reason enough to do it,” she continued. “She ‘ad it comin’ to ‘er – the stupid, self-satisfied bitch!”
“Who?” asked Kate fearfully. “Who did you kill?”
“A business man’s wife.” Kathy shrugged. “‘E was one of the men I worked for. She ‘ad ‘im round ‘er little finger, an’ ‘e kept knockin’ me an’ praisin’ ‘er, till I decided I’d ‘ad enough. It was ‘Kathy, you’ve done this wrong’; Kathy, you’re supposed to be dealin’ with clients, an’ you’re not even makin’ the effort to communicate with the people you work with’! ‘E even called me into ’is room one day to give me a lecture on me attitude. But it was different when it came to ‘is darling little Sheila! Oh yes, poor little Sheila, little porcelain girl – careful how you touch her in case you leave a fingermark! ‘E’d ring ‘er up from the office: ‘Take care, Sheila,’ ‘e’d say. ‘You can only do what you can do, Sheila.’ The bastard! Well, she’s got a few fingermarks over ‘er now, as ‘e’ll find out this evening when ‘e gets ‘ome!”
“You’ve only just killed her?” asked Kate, her eyes widening in terror.
“What bloody different does the time make?” shrieked Kathy. “The main thing is that I’ve done it. I’ve got rid of that annoyin’, ‘orrible bitch. What are you looking at me like that for, Kate? Can’t you see what she was doin’ to me? I was right, wasn’t I?”
“But, but … ” Kate stammered.
“I mightn’t ‘ave gone through with it, you know,” continued Kathy, dropping into a conversational tone, “if somethin’ ‘adn’t ‘appened this mornin’. I told ‘im I ‘adn’t bothered to take driving lessons because me reflexes were too slow; an’ ‘e goes an’ gives me another lecture, doesn’t ‘e? Tells me I should be more positive an’ that I shouldn’t make excuses! Well, that was the final straw – when you think of ‘is precious Sheila, sitting at ‘ome doin’ sod all! When was the last time shewas positive? So that’s ‘ow it is, you see. Really, I ‘ad no choice. There you are: they say it all comes right in the end.”
Kate could feel her heart pounding; pity and fear worked together within her. For the first time in her life she wished that Aunt Nancy was there, so that she might not be so horribly exposed. Still Kathy talked on.
“I’ve lost weight again, Kate. Down to six stone now an’ still droppin’. But I can’t ‘elp it, can I? The ‘ole atmosphere of that office makes me feel sick. It’s a nightmare; not as I imagined it would be like at all.”
“But Kathy,” Kate exclaimed fearfully, “you’ll die!”
“Course I’ll die!” screamed the girl, whose wizened face haunted her with its madness. “I know that. So did my father - I’ll go like ‘im. I blossomed out for nothin’, didn’t I? ‘E bore me, ‘e breathed life into me an’ then ‘e goes an’ dies; lack of fuel; lack of fuel. All for nothin’!”
Kate just stared at her; but Kathy was not interested in hearing her replies.
“I’ve stopped comin’ on each month,” she said plaintively. “I don’t bleed no more. Oh, you thought this was me, didn’t you?” she continued, striking her stained front. “No, no, Kate, that’s Sheila! I expect she’s stopped bleedin’ too, by now. Hubby will be disappointed when ’e gets ‘ome. Oh no, no, no! What’s the use of blossomin’ out an’ ‘aving curves an’ ‘ips when you ain’t goin’ to ‘ave no children, or no man ‘oo’s goin’ to appreciate them?”
Suddenly she reached out and seized Kate by the wrist, exactly in the place where Satan had done. Kate nearly screamed, but desperately kept herself from doing so. From under the fog of her hair, Kathy’s eyes blazed like someone looking at her from another world. She seemed unsexed, though mad with desire; cold, but burning up.
“I’m meltin’ away, Kate; you won’t be troubled with me much longer. You’ve been a good friend to me; I should have listened to you. Me and me mum were wrong. You were right about those Northern ‘Emisphere offices. It’s no place for the likes of us. So ugly – I’m so ugly! The men turn their eyes away; the bitches whisper be’ind me back. Well, I’ve given ‘em somethin’ to talk about now. Goodbye, Kate. Remember me – remember!”
“No, Kathy, wait!” Kate called after her, stirred from her torpor as the girl shuffled off down Terminal Lane. “Kathy, where are you going? What are you going to do?”
She sensed, however, that Kathy did not intend to be followed. She fled like a shadow to join the larger night. Kate, pausing only to pick up her mac, ran out after her into the empty street.