CHAPTER 8: SURGERY
She lay on the table, arms splayed, her breathing shallow.
“Mistress Angela.” one of the students whispered.
Angela turned to look. The student was pointing to Marie’s chest.
There was a bulge, visible now even beneath the fabric of her blouse, a protrusion in the middle of her chest that seemed to grow visibly.
“There’s something inside her.” Angela whispered.
The “customers” were now slinking one by one out of the cellar. They were all like Gameral, bald and wretched looking.
“Mistress.” another student whispered to her “What are they?”
“Devils.” she said simply.
“Actually.” Gameral purred as he approached the table “We dislike the term “devil”. It’s so generic. We are the Rikitatae-el-Goli, the people of envy, the ninth legion.”
“Imps.” said Angela.
“Indeed yes.” said Gameral “And how is the lady Angela? Returned many sheep to the fold, as it were? I must enroll in your school one of these days. As you know, my people are always looking for a way to return to Heaven…”
“We’re full.” said Angela coldly.
“Yes. I’m sure.” Gameral sneered “I’m sure they’re breaking down the doors for the chance to repent and face their sins. You know, I have been coming to this city for a very long time now. And each time, it only gets bigger.”
There was a hideous sniffing laughter from the clump of imps in the corner.
“Gameral.” said Hoss “The girl?”
“Ah yes, yes, your little…”
Gameral stopped dead as he saw Marie.
“Oh…my…” he breathed.
There was a rustling as the other imps flocked around the table to get a better view, they hissed and spluttered incredulously and began conversing in their own language, which sounded like snakes writhing in acid.
“What?” Hoss asked “What is it?”
“This…girl…she is not like you. She is a deva.” Gameral stammered.
“What? What is that?” Angela asked.
“A human soul that has crossed over without dying.”
“We know that.” said Hoss “She never died.”
“You don’t know the half of it.” Gameral replied and he growled “How to explain it you? The Oli-adann, the living, human beings, are not one creature but two. They are two species living in union, a form of symbioses you might say. A body and a soul. The body is an animal, a crude ape, but it can survive in the material world. The soul cannot survive alone in that world, so it must anchor itself to a body. With a soul, the body is able to do things it would not be able to otherwise. Think, feel, aspire, love, sin. Both creatures are stronger for the union, and combine to create a whole person. When the body dies, as all animals must, the soul’s anchor to the material realm is cut and it returns to the spirit world, the realm of Gol if it has been evil, the realm of the enemy if it has been virtuous, or here if it was neither. You are all souls without bodies. Now I, and my colleagues here, are not so. When you look at me are you looking at my body or my soul?” Gameral queried, and flexed his jet black wings.
“I…well…” said Hoss.
“Oh spare me, it was a rhetorical question. The answer is, both and neither. With me the distinction simply does not exist. My body is my soul and my soul is my body. A deva is a human for whom this is also true. Like the girl, here. I have heard of such things but never seen them for myself. When she passed into this realm, her body and soul fused together. Like us, the distinction between them no longer applies. She has no body, no soul. She simply has herself. A mixture of the two.”
“Is that what’s wrong with her?” Angela asked “Is that why she’s in pain?”
“I do not believe so.” Gameral replied “While I have never seen a deva myself, I have heard accounts of them.”
One of the other imps hissed something excitedly at Gameral. Angela caught a word.
“Alighieri? I’ve heard that word somewhere, what does it mean?”
“It does not matter. As I say, there are stories of Oli-adann entering Heaven or hell and suffering no ill effects. Well, nothing like this at any rate. No, there is something else at work here. I, for one, am very interested as to what this is.”
Here he pointed a filthy nail at the lump on Marie’s chest. It had swollen while he was speaking, and the skin looked so taut that it might rip at any minute.
“Whatever it is.” he continued “It is clearly growing rapidly and before long it may simply cause her to explode. Entertaining though that undoubtedly would be, if we want our supply of Lethe water we should probably get it out of her sooner rather than later.”
“How do you propose to do that?” Angela asked.
Gameral smiled, reached under his wing and produced a wicked looking knife.
“Three guess.” he smirked.
“No she’s not. It’s not possible.”
“Yes. She is. Now the demon says he has a way to save her. I believe him.”
“Were you this stupid when you were alive? They don’t save. They damn. They torture. That’s what they do.”
“Nothing else. No good can come from them, they are not capable of it.”
“Listen to yourself, you are talking about letting that girl die…”
“And you are talking about letting that thing cut her open. How can you even consider…”
“There’s no other way.”
“What makes you think she can survive that?”
“People survive surgery. That’s why they do it.”
“Yes. When it’s performed by surgeons. With the proper tools. And anaesthetic. By people who aren’t utterly evil.”
“We’ll dose her with Lethe. She won’t feel it.”
Angela and Hoss turned and started. Gameral was standing over them. Neither had heard him approach.
“I couldn’t help overhearing. You are planning on giving her Lethe water to anaesthetize her?”
“Yeah.” said Hoss “Why?”
“What Lethe water would that be?” Gameral asked politely.
“The Lethe water in the cellar? The Lethe water, that is in fact mine now? That Lethe water?”
Hoss exploded “Why you miserable…”
“The water is mine Hoss, we have a deal.”
“You get the water if you help her.”
“And I fully intend to. I’m honouring my side of the bargain.”
“You can’t do this.” said Angela.
“Really? Very well, we shall be on our way then.” said Gameral.
“Gameral.” said Hoss “I just need a little. Half a bottle, there’s enough down there to last you for years.”
“Yes. And it’s mine.”
“It. Is. Mine.”
Angela quietly reached for the handle of Marie’s blade but Hoss stopped her.
“Mal!” he called to the bar “You know that bottle that’s still in the back?”
“The red stuff?”
“That’s the one. Bring it out here, would you?”
“Holding out on me, Hoss?” Gameral hissed.
“I offered you everything in the cellar. The whole stock. This bottle is still being perfected. It ain’t stock, it ain’t in the cellar and it ain’t yours.”
Gameral growled, but said nothing and returned to the table.
Angela finally let go of the hilt.
“That’s the last thing we need.” Hoss whispered to her.
They were ready.
Angela leaned over her head and whispered.
“Marie? I don’t know if you can hear me. We’re going to give you something to drink now. You’ll fall asleep, and when you wake up the pain will be gone. I promise.”
Hoss lifted up the bottle. It was around a foot and a half tall, with a slender neck, full of fluid the colour of blood. He popped the cork.
“This should do it.” he whispered.
“What is it?” Angela asked “What kind of memory?”
“Ain’t exactly sure. We were still refining it. It seems to just bring back stuff you’d forgotten. It’ll keep her out of it until it’s done.”
Marie was passed hearing.
She felt the Lethe water passing through her teeth, cool and slightly sweet. It hit the back of her throat, and her mind dissolved like a handful of sand cast to the wind.
“Well.” said Gameral, drawing his knife. “Shall we begin?”
She was lying in her bed and the sheets and the bedposts and the walls and the floor were all around her, all around her like old friends, she was wrapped in familiar smells and she was home. She choked back tears.
She was home.
Never let this end.
The knife bit in and Hoss turned his eyes away. Angela forced herself to look on, not taking her eyes off Gameral for a minute as he drew the knife down.
There was silence. Gameral stopped.
“Yes.” said Gameral simply, taking a pinch of it in his fingers and letting it sprinkle down “Sand. She’s full of white sand.”
It was true. Under the skin there were no bones, no blood. Just whitish-pinkish sand, as fine as table salt.
“Eh…this may seem a stupid question.” said Hoss “But…why is she full of sand?”
“It would appear.” said Gameral “That that is all that remains of her interiors. All those wonderfully complex tubes and pumps and valves, all gone. No need for them anymore. They were ground to base matter when her soul and body merged. But no matter.”
“What?” said Hoss.
“What?” replied Gameral.
“Is there matter?”
“You said there’s matter. Then you said there’s no matter.”
“Yes. There’s matter.”
“But you said…I thought you said….”
“No matter.” said Gameral irritably.
“What?” said Gameral, exasperated.
“You said there was no matter.”
“Well obviously there’s matter.”
“Then why’d you say…”
Angela cut him off abruptly.
“Hoss. Shut up.”
There was light in the kitchen, she could see the square halo burning yellow in the dark through the cracks in the door frame. She slid out of bed, and it seemed like it took an eternity for her feet to touch the floor. She was tiny. The bed was huge. She must be very young. How old was she? Pitter-patter to the door. Adult voices rumbling on the other side like storm clouds, low and dark. She stopped.
“No heart.” Angela murmured to herself.
“What?” Hoss asked.
“Her…her heart. It’s gone. It’s strange to think of it.”
Her heart pumped in her chest like a drum, the blood crashing against her ears like the rolling tide, her head ringing with it. It was her father’s voice. She had almost forgotten the sound of it. The strength and comfort of it. Rich and deep, strong and sweet. How it sounded like the sun would speak if it had a voice. And in that moment Marie wanted nothing more than to throw open the door and run into his arms. But her legs wouldn’t move, and in a moment of bitter regret she remembered that this was only a memory, and she had no control over what happened next. She felt herself leaning in to the door, her small ear flattening against the rough wood, and the voices on the other side became clearer.
The imps pulled back suddenly, hissing madly. Only Gameral remained standing where he was, the scalpel hanging limply from his hand.
“Oh…” said Hoss.
“…my.” said Angela.
Marie was full of light.
From the opening Gameral had cut in her chest a storm of brilliant white light had broken through and played on the ceiling like a moth on a window pane. Then it swooped down low and everyone ducked as it bobbed and arced.
It was utterly formless, and yet as Angela looked at it she couldn’t escape the impression that it looked like a person, or rather, it looked like a thought of a person might look, before it was fully formed. Vague shapes seemed to form and dissipate in the light, sound thrummed from it, high and meaningless. Then, it swelled to six times it’s original size, a sudden inflation of area and mass and it fell to the floor like a stone. It was more solid now, like a great drop of glowing white water, rippling and boiling. The sound was now lower, louder, more insistent and rhythmic. Angela strained to listen.
Aye, aye, aye, aye; it sang like an axel grinder.
“Angela.” Hoss breathed, “Look.”
She looked where he was pointing. The glowing mound had changed consistency again, and now looked like white, shimmering tar. What seemed to be a tendril had exploded like pus from the centre but as Angela looked she saw in amazement that it had what looked for all the world like four fingers and a thumb, that twitched and clenched into a fist. The mound was now changing shape, drawing into itself and solidifying, two legs, a back, arms and a head growing now clearly visible. Still it glowed blinding white, still the thrumming sound aye, aye, aye…
It was beautiful, form growing from formlessness. The creature, for it now undeniably was that, was bald and naked, it’s face flat and featureless, large eyes clenched shut in pain or fear. And the mouth, the mouth chanting rhythmically; aye, aye, aye…
And then Angela realised the sound was a word, repeated again and again, a mantra. An affirmation. A desperate prayer. Hair was now growing on the creature’s head , long and grey. Clothing formed on his body as if he was a rough sketch being refined by an artist. A nose grew on his face, cheekbones became more pronounced. He was now a rather good looking youth of around seventeen years of age.
“I…I…I…I…” he gasped and slowly staggered to his feet. He turned to face them.
“I…am…” said Virgil.
And he collapsed on the floor like a felled tree.