It was a brilliant bright Saturday morning, the sun screeching through the warehouse window like a cat stuck inside a trashcan. And Ray was tearing his hands inch-by-inch against rope. The warmth of blood spread to his fingertips before pooling on the warehouse floor behind his back.
He rose to the shrieks of the other prisoners, drawing from their curses and tears what one of more superstitious belief might take for some kind of supernatural force. In one movement, a clenched hand swung and buried itself deep in the recess between Nachtigall’s cheekbone and jaw-line. He tumbled like a house of cards in a hurricane.
Turning to the figure floating on the periphery of the room, Ray paused. Ruby red had faded to nothing, her once full and luscious lips now just the thin, notched line of a ghost incarnate.
“You’ve been behind it all – the death of the Blog, Nachtigall’s leather book – it was all part of this twisted plan to draw me here.” Ray stalked the edge of the vast room.
She swirled across his path. “But it began so much longer ago, Raymond. In this very city you were formed, you became part of our plan. And all I had to do was to steal an illusion from under your nose…” She turned, pulling the vast black gown across her body until its furls and folds spread and suffused with colour. Spinning with balletic grace, a figure long lost to Ray reappeared. Angeline – the old Angeline – was reborn for but a moment. But beneath the veneer of life there was nothing more than a conjuror’s trick.
Ray continued without so much as a breath. “And you drew me into a world of stories and shadows, left me to dive into my work until I was nothing more than a living lie – a cliché within a cliché.” He pulled from his shoulders the faded trench coat, stopping only to wipe the streaks of red from his wrists. “And every time I thought I was making a decision, it was you…you, ever in the background, a ghost writing my life.”
The vision of the past died as suddenly as it had been revived. Angeline reached forward and spread her pallid palms out. Ray watched as the white creases of her hands folded in on themselves and began to float inexplicably away from her body, each whiteness dividing and multiplying until they obscured her figure. The mad rush of fluttering began, and the bright light from the windows high in the warehouse walls was also eclipsed, suddenly filtered through thin sheets of paper which were now showering the entire room like deathly birds.
Fumbling through the reams of white, Ray had lost sight of his target. But he realised what was happening. He knew what he had to do. This was his last scene, the last time he would step onto this particular stage, and he had to play his part one final time. He clenched his jaw until it was as tense as an undercover cop in bed with a mob boss’s wife.
He charged, knowing that if he followed his instinct then he could finish this little tale. He had broken the mould, and she was scared. All he had to do was to play into her fears, and they would… Out of the paper shower he caught a glimpse of her figure, and with a vigour which he had thought long lost, he barrelled through the white rain toward her, missing her right arm by centimetres. She disappeared, running past him to the right. Ray tripped, falling through the leaves and slicing his skin on a stream of pages.
But as he regained composure and looked up from the paper-strewn ground, he saw Angeline standing over him, her hand extended in a throat-shaped grasp. Ray tried to rise, but for a moment he couldn’t move. Then he was dragged rapidly from the corner where he lay, lifted to his feet and… he rose from the ground, his feet dangling free in the air, his neck constricted, airways closing, blacking out amid this deluge of paper, and –
A streak of red blurred into the corner of his vision and he fell with the thunk! of an African elephant and the cracking of bone. He was close to losing consciousness but he pulled his neck around to catch the final moments of a stunning tableau, a scene which could only exist amid the rain of pages…
To the left of the spectral figure which was now lying on the ground stood the red streak, the feminine lines, and the sultry curves that were Candy Soosman. Despite the bruises and cuts – no doubt the work of the pathetic Nachtigall – this was perhaps the most beautiful sight Ray had ever seen. She turned to her right, shouting something into the downpour . Ray couldn’t hear her above the blackout which was pulsing slowly across his temples, but to Angeline’s right another figure appeared, holding something in his hands.
Ray collapsed to the floor, laying on his back and looking up at the warehouse’s high vaulted windows; if it had been a more ordinary day, what he saw would have merited the term ‘astonishing’. Once again the light began streaming across him as the shower of paper slowly dispersed, then fluttered and finally poured itself in a single file flow toward the second figure. As the pages were drawn out of the air against their will, the light caught Ray’s retinas, and he passed out.