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It’s like a dream. I’m surrounded by misshapen faces and sightless eye-sockets, repellent and horrifying, and then they part and all I can see are two eyes, looming out of a soft field of grey. They’re brilliant, hard-edged, and filled with so many shades of blue that you could spend hours counting them and centuries trying to describe them all. I feel like I’m falling into them, being lost in a blue, crystalline world. They are entrancing.
“How did I ever think you were the one?” the Vile asks, in a voice like dead leaves falling from an autumnal tree.
I try to say something, but the Minions have gripped my throat so hard that it’s all I can do to breathe. They hold my arms and legs down too, so that I can’t kick or hit the floor and make a noise. Mondo has distracted all but four of the Minions, but they are freakishly strong, and if I struggle they just tighten their grip all the more.
‘You are but ordinary,’ the Vile announces, without letting his voice rise above a whisper. Despite the sense of blood and violence that shrouds the room, it is frighteningly, deathly still.
‘But not him. He is quite different. I can almost see the power,’ the Vile whispers, almost reverently, and gestures at Raff. ‘The energies linking different planes, shifting and simmering, falling in and pouring out. It is all I hoped for and more.’ He glides over to Raff’s side, and motions as if to stroke Raff’s hair with his talon. ‘And they can see me coming. The soul. The spirit. The potha. Ah, the legihusen. I’ll go to them first.’ Almost absent-mindedly, his talon drifts down to Raff’s throat, to the little hollow where the skin is soft and vulnerable.
I kick out desperately, and my foot just nudges the dressing table. There’s a tiny clatter of my jewelry in a little crystal saucer, not enough to wake Raff, but the Vile snatches his hand back, and gives me a hateful glare.
‘Still, you are a problem. I cannot risk killing you and being drawn into one of your planes. Not now that I’m so close. However…’ he looks thoughtful for a moment. ‘If I take out your eyes, that should suffice, I think.’
I gather what little breath I have and manage to force out a single word. ‘Why?’
‘Why?’ he echoes curiously. ‘Why claw out your eyes? I’m afraid that’s a secret.’
I shake my head as much as I am able, which isn’t much.
‘Why… all of this? Why all the killing? Ah, I see. The physical realm has such limited understanding. It’s called hatred, human. The Viles live to hate. We hate you. We hate the denizens of the spirit realms. We even hate ourselves and the craven, sickening things we do. Our hate is pure and clear. You may feel many things right now, human, but nothing to match the perfect clarity of my hate.’
I can feel the blood thudding in my temples, and tiny flecks of light dance across my darkening vision. The Minions are squeezing the life out of me even as the Vile decides to blind me instead. I can’t even struggle. Terror seems to have turned me into a rag doll.
Then something draws the Vile’s gaze away from me, to the bedroom door. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mottled shape slump into the room.
‘Ah yes, the perverted beast,’ the Vile says calmly. Then I realise that the thing edging toward us is Mondo.
There are no more Minions behind him, but he is barely holding himself upright. One of his legs is badly twisted, and he limps on it. His breath comes is deep, ragged gasps, and his fur is thickly matted with blood. Whether it belongs to him or the Minions I can’t tell. His gaze flickers between me and Raff, and he tries to bark, but he is too exhausted or hurt to make more than a tortured wheeze. He looks over at me, and his soft brown eyes are filled with pain. I find tears welling up in my own.
The Vile’s eyes remain flawless. He drifts over to the old dog, who growls weakly. For the first time, the Vile smiles; a thin, cheerless stretching of the lips that makes him look all the more abhorrent.
‘Now you, soulless thing, I can safely kill,’ the Vile whispers. ‘Or does your obscene sentience still think it can stop me?’
Mondo’s sad eyes suddenly flash with cunning. ‘Maybe,’ he mutters. The Vile frowns and slashes down, but Mondo surges with a last burst of energy. He reaches out to Raff’s arm, lying motionless on the blankets, and bites into it, hard.
It’s as if the air of the room suddenly shatters. Raff spasms in the bed as if he’s been electrocuted, and he screams in agony. His body instinctively tears his arm out of Mondo’s jaws, spraying blood across the bedclothes and hurling Mondo against the wardrobe. He flails, fighting off things only his dreaming mind can see, and then he is sitting up, staring sightlessly into the room, still not quite awake.
‘Quickly,’ the Vile gasps. I look toward him. He is pressed up against the wall, frozen in terror, staring at Raff. ‘Quickly, you fools! Tear out her eyes!’
In their shock, the Minions have relaxed their grip just a little. It’s enough for me to yank one of my legs out of their grasp, then kick the Minion holding the other one, and drive my heel into the stomach of the one clutching my arm and throat. They frantically grab for me again, but I’m scrambling backwards into the corner, where they can’t get behind me.
‘Carrie?’ Raff’s voice comes sluggishly. Dazed, disoriented and bleeding profusely, he manages to focus on me. His gaze drifts to the Minions, and he frowns. Then he looks over at the Vile.
I follow his gaze, and as my eyes lock onto the Vile I feel something move deep inside me. It’s as if there is a massive door just behind me, and it’s slowly creaking open, letting a cold draught whistle through. A tremor runs through the house, rattling the ornaments on the dressing table and making the panes shiver in the windows.
Hesitantly, his beautiful eyes wide with panic and fear, the Vile takes a step towards Raff. But somehow, impossibly, he also takes a step towards me. His head distorts; one eye looking at me, the other at Raff.
The chill draught has become an icy gale, whipping out of me, encircling the Vile and drawing him closer. The same blast appears to be coming out of Raff, doing the same thing. The Vile seems on the verge of being torn in two. His expression flickers between terror and rage, desperation and hysteria, and underneath it all, I recognise something that can only be his hatred.
The house is shaking now. A painting falls off the wall. The telephone dances off my bedside table. I hear a crash from the kitchen as a dresser full of dishes falls over.
The frozen storm howling through me gets wilder and wilder. I feel psychotic, as if my mind were being torn apart into its components. Then I feel them coming, a vast swarm of alien presences screaming toward me from the other side of the door. From nowhere a brilliant light dawns in the room, one that burns all the colours away in a blinding surge of white. My back arches uncontrollably. The forces welling up behind me are like the final few seconds of falling, as the ground rushes up to meet you and you tense for the sudden impact.
A torrent of three-eyed monkeys bursts out of me into the room, racing like the rapids of a living river, up the wall and across the ceiling. Out of Raff pours a horde of other creatures, flying snakes with steel spines down their backs. They swirl like sparks from a burning log, hurtling around the room.
The house is spasming. There’s a dull whoosh as the hot water heater tears itself off the back wall and explodes. My bedroom chair is splintered against a wall. The pink glass light shade is torn off its chains and vanishes into the maelstrom.
They descend upon the Vile, now so deformed that it’s difficult to tell which part of him is which. There are cries and shrieks and screams, but I don’t know if they’re coming from the Vile, the creatures or me. The Vile is lost in a swarm of bodies, churning like a thundercloud, furious as a blizzard.
Then suddenly, one of the three-eyed monkeys darts back at me, and as it hits me and vanishes it feels like a punch in the stomach. More peel off the swarm and shoot back into me, snapping my gut as each passes through.
They pour back into me now, in a flash of golden eyes and fur like roiled smoke. The steel-spined snakes are disappearing into Raff. The last monkey-creature pauses for a split second in front of my face; there’s a manic light in its eyes, and a trickle of blood on its lip, and a tiny shred of the Vile’s cloak caught in its sharp little teeth. Then it vanishes with the others. The house groans and shudders, blowing the few remaining windows out of their frames, shedding a few more roof tiles onto the lawn, and it trembles into stillness.
It seems like ages before I can struggle, bruised and shaken, to my feet. The bedroom is devastated. The furniture is all broken. The wallpaper has been shredded by steel spines. One of my bedside tables has gone through the ceiling. The other one is embedded in the windscreen of a car across the street. Mondo is huddled in the corner, whining piteously. The Minions have disappeared.
No trace of the Vile remains.
Raff looks like he’s in shock. But he squeezes my hand when I take his, and he looks me in the eye when I say his name.
The police arrive. An ambulance arrives. The neighbours peer anxiously through the shattered windows and holes in the walls. As Raff and I help each other out to the road, I hear someone say ‘Earthquake’, then someone else say ‘Explosion’, then someone else say ‘Tornado’. The final word eddies through the crowd, apparently gaining credibility with each repetition. The explanation seems to fit the fact that only my house is wrecked while the neighbouring houses are undamaged, except for bits of my furniture strewn across their lawns. ‘Tornado’ is what the flustered policemen seem to be scribbling in their notebooks.
I don’t know how much Raff has managed to process. He is very pale and the paramedics seem to be treating his arm as something that needs to be attended to urgently. As they help him onto a stretcher, he pulls me close. ‘Carrie… don’t let them hurt Mondo.’
It takes me a moment to realise what he’s talking about. But then I recognise that a limping, blood-soaked dog who has just mauled a man might not be given the benefit of any doubts.
‘Don’t worry,’ I whisper. ‘I’ll take care of him.’ Then they load him into the ambulance.
I go back into the ruins of the bedroom and find Mondo.
‘I’m okay,’ he insists, but when he tries to stand his legs buckle under him.
I gather him into my arms and carry him outside. My neighbour, an imperious middle-aged Scotswoman who rules her household with an iron fist, orders me in no uncertain terms to borrow her car and drive Mondo to the 24-hour vet hospital on Parambah Road. I put him on a blanket in the back seat, then get behind the wheel. My neighbour majestically shooes the police away when they try to detain me.
It doesn’t take long to get to the vet. The hospital is all vinyl floor tiles, antiseptic pale green walls and harsh fluorescent lighting. I help the vet get Mondo onto the consulting table, and I stoke his ears as she goes off to her dispensary for some drugs.
‘Are you alright, Carrie?’ Mondo asks as the vet walks out.
‘I’m fine. Raff will be fine too, thanks to you. Mondo, I don’t know what to say. You saved our lives.’
He looks acutely embarrassed. ‘I nearly got you killed first. The Vile was far stronger than I ever imagined.’
‘What are you talking about?’ I ask.
‘That’s how he managed to stay in the physical realm all day.’ Mondo explains. ‘I didn’t think he’d be strong enough to, but it seems he was. I wonder where he hid? Probably in a sewer, judging by the smell of him.’ He crinkles his nose in disgust.
‘Well,’ I say as I smile at him, ‘there you go. You learn something new every day.’
Mondo nods solemnly. ‘Including why Viles are so terrified of being witnessed.’
I blink at him. ‘Uh, I think I missed that one. I was very busy cowering.’
‘The Vile had to kill those two women to open their dimensional gates, but it seems that just seeing a Vile is enough to, well, ‘unlock’ the gate. When both you and Raff laid eyes on him at the same time, your gates unlocked, and the beings behind them opened them, drawing him in two directions at once. He was trapped. A spiritual being on the physical plane is naturally drawn back to the spiritual realms. Once the gates were opened, of course, the inhabitants of those realms moved in to get rid of this threat once and for all.’
‘So it’s really over now?’ I ask nervously. ‘We’re safe?’
‘Oh yes. You’re both safe. And I think…’ his eyelids flutter. ‘I think it’s time to go.’
‘Oh, Mondo, no!’ I bite my lip and clutch at his fur. ‘Hang in there! The vet will be back soon.’
He chuckles. ‘Oh no, I don’t mean that. Most of this blood on my fur is Minion blood, Carrie. I’ve sprained my leg but I’ll be right as rain in a week or so. No, I mean I’m going back. I can feel it already. Everything’s receding, drawing back in.’
‘No, no, it was always going to be a temporary thing,’ he says. ‘I’m no that unhappy to see it go. It’s a lot of responsibility, this sentience business. I can see why Argyle was so eager to get rid of it.’
I rub his neck affectionately.
‘Just do one thing for me,’ he mumbles, as if speaking is suddenly difficult. ‘Take good care of Raff.’
He sighs. ‘Goodbye, Carrie.’
‘Goodbye, Mondo. Thank you.’
He doesn’t reply. I pretend I see the spark of intelligence flicker out in his eyes, but I really know it’s just my imagination.
I am picking through the remains of the house, a few days later, being watched by two grouchy, injured pets. Mondo has his sprained leg, and Argyle has his gouged stomach. Both are healing well. Neither of them give any indication that they remember what we went through.
I’m trying to salvage what I can of my belongings. My computer survived, more or less intact, so thankfully my work hasn’t been lost. The TV is smashed but my VCR somehow still functions even after a bookcase fell on it. I found my bedside lamp in a tree two houses away.
I had no idea what to say to Raff when I saw him at the hospital. So I just sat next to him and forced myself to tell him the whole story. I don’t know how much of it sank in; he was weak from blood loss and they’d given him painkillers. But I think he absorbed enough. Now as he sorts through my CD collection, finding which ones are okay and which are broken, occasionally he looks over at me and smiles. It’s his usual smile of quiet understanding, but there’s something behind it now that’s for me alone.
I miss the animals though. I miss Mondo’s quiet, thoughtful wisdom. I even miss Argyle’s smart-arse sarcasm. Right now the cat is picking his way fastidiously through the fallen glass and plaster, while the dog is exploring interesting new smells through the cracked floorboards. I wonder if their animal minds even remember the Vile.
I haul the dressing table away from the wall to see if any of my jewelry has fallen behind it, and as I do, a long scrap of black cloth flutters down. Instantly, both Mondo and Argyle stare at it, their eyes suddenly wide and incensed.
They pounce on it, one at each end, using their teeth and claws to shred it as if all the fury in the world was suddenly inside them. It only takes a few seconds before the scrap is just a few floating wisps of black thread. The animals glare at these remnants in savage victory, then relax slightly, and look over to me.
They don’t remember the details, but they remember enough. I kneel down and give them both tight hugs. Mondo barks joyfully and licks my face. Argyle just squirms as if revolted by my attack on his dignity.
If anyone out there has any bright ideas on what I should actually call this story, please email me and let me know. I’m totally stumped. It probably doesn’t need a title but I’m an old-fashioned sort of person… the last thing the world needs is something else called ‘Untitled’.
I would also welcome friendly critiques, notifications of glaring errors and suggestions on how to refine it.
Lastly, thank you to the people who emailed to tell me how much they were enjoying the story. It was encouraging to know that I wasn’t the only one reading it.
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