Rayne didn’t know what to expect when Cassandra opened the door. Everything that he knew about her indicated that her apartment would be well-ordered and meticulously clean. Her class notes were cleanly scribed, the borders of each ruled page maintained with surprising detail. Where his notebooks had been filled by doodles and scribbles, hers were pristine records devoid of any apparent misdirected merriment. Or boredom, he admitted to himself.
They’d met in their medieval literature class last semester; he working on the more esoteric departmental requirements of his secondary English education major, while she was finalizing two degrees, one in English literature and the other in ancient languages. Cassandra was deeply intelligent with a drive that made him feel feeble and inadequate, but she kept carving time out of her schedule for him, so he figured she was somewhat less critical of him than he was.
It was the expeditious pace of her studies that had kept him from visiting her apartment until now, and, he realized, this brief visit only came to pass because it made their planned evening more efficient. The plan—her plan, he reminded himself—was the only thing that made the evening possible. Between her yoga class, her broken car, and the inadequacies of the campus bus system, she had pointed out that if they wanted to have the chance to enjoy the local festival, he would need to pick her up and wait for her while she got ready.
Rayne followed her down a short flight of stairs, smiling to himself as he watched the errant strands of blonde hair swaying at the curve of her neck. She typically wore her hair down, but it was tucked up and sweat soaked from the exertion of class.
“Of course it’s a workout,” Cassandra had insisted. “Shavasana is just a meditative release.”
“Shavasana?” he asked.
His jest had earned him a slap on the thigh, but she had been smiling. “Sometimes,” she admitted, “but that indicates true release of tension.”
“So, if you can fall asleep within those last five minutes, you win yoga?”
Cassandra had turned to look out the window, watching the sun drifting toward sunset, and Rayne wasn’t sure if his joke had gone too far.
“Could I go with you some time?”
Her head snapped back and the sparkle of her green eyes startled him.
“You want to do yoga?” she laughed, her hand cupped over her mouth.
“What? You don’t think I could do it?”
“No,” she said, “I’m certain that if you stuck with it you would find it quite fulfilling, both physically and mentally, but I just never thought of you in yoga pants.”
“I could say the same thing, Ms. Jeans and a T-Shirt.”
“There are precisely three reasons to wear yoga pants. One, because you actually intend on doing yoga. Two, because you’re lazy and have no modesty. And three, because you’re trying to invoke lust in the brutish sex.”
“Brutish?” Rayne asked. “Are you looking for an antonym of ‘fairer?”
“You got one?”
“I’m comfortable with ‘brutish.’ You’re not wrong in my estimation with either your portrayal of men or the function of yoga pants.”
“Sometimes the rules overlap,” Cassandra smirked.
As Cassandra jingled her keys into the deadbolt, Rayne let his eyes wander, wondering if he should have asked her reason. Or reasons.
Through the door, Cassandra dropped her shoulder bag and shed her jacket, tossing it toward the couch where it missed the arm and dropped already forgotten to the ground. Her water bottle she clattered into the sink—rather, onto the heap dishes that filled the sink.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” she promised. “Make yourself comfortable. Sorry about the mess.”
Rayne wondered, as he studied the disaster that was Cassandra’s apartment, which part she was apologizing for; if she actually understood that her domicile was an absolute disaster. Every horizontal surface was mounded with books and papers. In and amongst the debris of the apparent nuclear biblio-explosion, he saw socks, shirts, mugs, cups, plates. Apparently, Cassandra’s penchant for order did not extend to her living quarters.
“Hey, Cassie,” he shouted down the hallway, hearing bath water already running in the bathroom.
The door cracked and her head snaked out, her blonde hair now free from its tie-back. “Yeah?”
“Um,” he said, “I don’t mean to be rude.” He hesitated. “Would you be offended if I started stacking some of your papers?”
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. The door opened wider, and for an instant Rayne thought she was going to rush at him, but she restrained herself. “No. If you move anything I’ll never find it again. I know it’s awful. I know it looks like chaos. I’m so sorry. I really am embarrassed for you to see it this way, but you can’t move anything. If you move it, it’s gone.”
He held up his hands to stop her ramble. “It was rude, and I apologize. Sincerely. I’m truly sorry. Sometime tonight, I’ll show you my mom’s Facebook page and bring up the naked baby photos of me that she posted.”
She grinned, but Rayne was certain that he’d offended her.
“I’ll just go sit.”
Cassandra watched him for a few moments, and Rayne tried to discern the meaning in her expression. Had he actually ruptured her trust with a single question? Was she super nuts, but really good at hiding her obsessive personality? Without another word, she ducked her head back into the bathroom, leaving Rayne alone.
Rayne stepped cautiously back into the living room, searching the room for a television, completely unsurprised when he didn’t find one. As he assessed the room further, he noticed that there was really only one place for him to sit. The chairs around her dining room table—okay, dinette table—were overflowing with books, loose papers, and document boxes. The table, likewise, covered entirely by the detritus of a life lived half in a library. The single chair in her living room looked comfortable, but the only function it currently served was as a not-a-basket for her laundry. Clean? Dirty? Piled and wrinkled, certainly.
No, the only place where he could sit was the center cushion of the sofa, though even it was encroached upon by sheaves of paper. Carefully, stepping around random strewn clothes and sliding past leaning towers of erudition, he settled into place. Rayne took a deep breath and gazed at the room.
This, he knew, was the most intimate moment Cassandra had yet shared with him. The look of terror that crossed her face hadn’t been born from insult, but rather, he reasoned, from vulnerability. Naked in more than one way, and he had criticized. He shook his head at his poor behavior and silently promised to make it up to her. A first-time guest and he’d insulted her. How embarrassing.
As Rayne sat there, intruding upon Cassandra’s sanctum sanctorum, he studied the room. Yes, it appeared as a shrine to chaos, but Cassie had indicated that he could disrupt it, which meant there was a certain measure of order to be found. At least for her. He wanted to get an understanding for how this girl, thought.
They’d only been dating—if that was even the right word—for a few months, and even then with some irregularity. Rayne had taken the sporadic nature of their meetings to mean that she wasn’t all that interested, but when she had asked him out for the first time, about three weeks after their third date, he had been forced to reconsider. So, he ventured on, preserving some measure of hope that there was something between them. And he was glad that he’d persevered. Now, from where he sat, he could learn more about Cassandra in minutes than he had gathered in three months.
If he could understand what he was seeing.
He smirked, realizing there was little hope in that. Instead of torturing the room for secrets, Rayne glanced down at the coffee table before him. This surface wasn’t simply covered in the stacks of books and poorly gathered papers that dominated the rest of the room. Instead, he found that the piled tomes were actually marked with improvised book marks, while others were left wide open. The notebooks there were likewise open, and a multitude of pens, pencils, and highlighters were ordered neatly on the right hand side of a central working space. This one clear spot to sit and the semi-ordered surface served as Cassandra’s work station. This was her office.
With utmost care, then, Rayne scooted to the edge of the cushion, reaching his hand out to almost touch. But not quite. He hesitated, taking a mental picture of the precise placement of each piece of the most important puzzle he could imagine. If he didn’t put everything back precisely as it was, there was a good chance that Cassandra would rightly cast him out, stranding him without a chance at redemption. And he had almost decided to leave her work alone—in fact, he was already starting to settle back to wait patiently—when he noticed a title scrawled onto the cover of one of the notebooks.
“Echoes of Carcosa,” he read in a whisper.
Rayne pulled the notebook cover back, a slight tremble in his hand. When he read the first page, he did so under the assumption that he was going to peruse her initial outline for some grand project, and he was right in some regard. It wasn’t long, however, before he realized the scope of her research was beyond what could be taught in some paltry university class. This was proof that the heights of Cassandra’s intellect could never be served by the men and women who claimed to be her teachers. No, he had seen her exercises in Greek and Demotic and Sanskrit, but this was… Rayne didn’t have the foundation of knowledge necessary to begin to guess at what she was working on.
He glanced at the books on the table, not in the least surprised at the fact that he couldn’t read the titles, let alone the countless pages of illuminated scribble that were a language of another place, far back in the history of the world. But one stood out to him. It was smaller than the rest, not much bigger than one of the crappy newsstand paperbacks he often carried with him, and it was significantly less ornate. Brown leather bound, though worn. The pages yellowing and brittle. The ink fading. When he turned its pages, he could smell—what was it? Not mildew. Not wood rot. Just damp? An unfamiliar scent that nonetheless impressed upon Rayne the weight of time.
On its first page, he recognized a line of text and pulled Cassandra’s notebook along side. Echoes of Carcosa, is what was written on the spiral bound book, but beneath those English words was the same title in another language. It wasn’t Arabic. It wasn’t Chinese. If Rayne were forced to voice the thought forming in his mind, he would say it didn’t belong to any human script. And in the leather tome, beneath that title, a symbol altogether different from the words above it, but giving that same impression of inhumanity.
Rayne turned through the horrible book, the tremble of his hand now gone, though a disquiet in his spirit began to grow. He could read not a word, and no sense of its meaning was transferred through his passive study, but he was nonetheless stricken with an insensible desire to know what secret knowledge was locked within this book. And, setting the ancient codex aside, turned to the translation in Cassandra’s modern notebook.
The dazzling lights twinkled up and down the block. The bings, blings, and bells from the game stalls were all but a backdrop to the shouts of the carnies yelling at them as they passed by. Cassandra gripped a small, pink, plush rabbit in her right hand, and held Rayne’s hand in her left. The smell of fried food settled over the street fair, intermixed with intermittent clouds of horse manure, hot machinery, and sweat-stained humanity. It was turning out to be a beautiful evening.
“I didn’t know you knew how to shoot,” Cassandra said.
“Yeah. I was on the rifle team in high school,” Rayne told her. “I never fell out of it. I could take you to the range some time. You might like it.”
“After you go to yoga, maybe?”
“Deal,” Rayne smiled.
“Your first shot was way off,” she added, keeping the conversation alive.
“So there’s a couple tricks they like to play with that game,” he said. “The first is maladjustment of the sights. They don’t need to be too far off because most people don’t trust their ability. They’ll assume that if they miss it’s because they’re a bad shot. They might whine about the sights after they lose, but inevitably, if they try again, they’ll use the sights anyway.
“The second bit,” Rayne continued, “is the way they check the paper. A lot of people will try to shoot out the star from the center outward, but if you leave even the tiniest speck of red on the paper, it doesn’t count. So the trick is to cut the star out completely. You don’t want to hit the red, because that will all but guarantee a loss.”
“That’s interesting,” Cassie replied. “I see that a lot in my translations.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with a translation, and when I sit back to figure out what I’m doing wrong, I assume it’s something I’m doing wrong, you know? Like, I never even think to examine the tools I’m using.”
“Okay, so maybe I’m stretching a little,” she admitted, “but I think the analogy can fit a lot of things in life. People like to believe they’re right in everything they do or say, but when faced with some form of authority, they dive right into doubt. It’s a special kind of person who can openly question the validity of the authoritative voices that come before them without being belligerent and needlessly antagonistic.”
Rayne whistled. “You got that from star paper?”
“From misaligned sights,” she told him. “Blind trust.”
“I get it. Do you often find that what we know about ancient languages is insufficient to bring them into English?” he asked. “I mean, is all that ancient knowledge locked away from modern minds?”
“No,” Cassandra shook her head, her ponytail bouncing. “Take Egyptian and the Mormons for instance. When Joseph Smith translated his papyri, he didn’t get a single word right. Not one. It wasn’t until we had the Rosetta Stone that we could confirm that he didn’t possess some rare writings of Abraham, but actually the very common Egyptian Book of the Dead. Sometimes, we just have to wait for the right tools. In other instances, we have to use a combination of tools.”
“So there aren’t any languages out there that we can’t translate. Like, if we found a new language, we’d always be able to figure it out?”
Cassandra glanced at Rayne curiously. “That’s too hypothetical to answer. I can give you a modern example, though, to clarify what I mean about combinations.”
“During World War II, the Americans used Navajo to communicate over radio so the Japanese couldn’t figure out what they were saying. They’d tried all kinds of ciphers and encryptions, but none of them would hold. The complexity of the Navajo language, though, turned out to be a major stumbling block for Japanese intelligence. They couldn’t figure it out. It was, essentially, untranslatable into Japanese.”
Rayne nodded. “Code talkers. I’ve read about them.”
“Ever see that crappy movie?” Cassandra laughed. “Nicolas Cage, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think it was terrible. Just a dumb war movie.”
“Ugh, isn’t he just the weirdest? Like, is he a brilliant actor or just completely over the top?”
“Both,” Cassandra agreed. “Absolutely both.”
“So, Navajo wouldn’t go to Japanese, but if we route it through English we could get there?”
She nodded. Rayne missed her sigh. “Yeah. There are other routes of course. And once you find the relationship—really understand the language you’re trying to translate and the language you’re translating into—you can bypass the secondary step altogether.”
“Is that what you’re trying to do with Echoes of Carcosa?”
Cassandra stopped walking and dropped his hand.
“Did you go through my notebook?”
“I didn’t mean to intrude,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I was just curious what you were working on in your classes, and I was trying to pass the time. I didn’t want you to come out and see me just staring at my phone or whatever, you know, and I didn’t want to try to organize or mess up your organization. I was just passing time. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken the liberty. It won’t—it will never happen again.”
Cassandra lowered her gaze and shook her head. “Okay.” She looked back up, staring into his eyes. Brown eyes. She smiled. “Thank you for your apology. I accept. And let me apologize, too. I’m the one who invited you in. I shouldn’t get mad when you make cursory contact with my work when I sit you down directly in front of it. Literally.”
“Literally, literally,” Rayne added, testing a grin.
“Literally, literally,” she smiled in response. “I’m sorry for getting mad. It was unwarranted.”
“Apology accepted,” he said.
They walked onward, turning now toward the midway where the rides were laid out. The squeals of children and screams of adults echoed through the warm night air. Questions were still burning in Rayne’s mind, but he was content for the moment to let them go. Here he was, walking alongside a brilliant and beautiful girl who apparently enjoyed his company, and he was dwelling on some strange manuscript instead of simply soaking in the life going on around him.
“I really like you in that dress,” Rayne said.
“Oh,” Cassandra responded. It was an atypical choice for her. As Rayne had said earlier, she was more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt. She rarely felt the need to dress up, as her time was typically spent in the library or coffee shop. When she was at home, she’d lounge around in whatever was clean, but that typically meant sweatpants and too-large t-shirts. She wasn’t much for a beauty regiment. “Thank you,” she finally said.
Tonight, she thought, should be different. She really liked Rayne, and she didn’t want him to think her incapable of femininity. She noticed during their last date that he’d put on a nice shirt and sport coat when they went out to dinner when she’d barely managed to put on a decent blouse, so she thought she would return the sentiment. Cassandra almost didn’t go through with it when she slid into his car to find him wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, but he hadn’t judged her when she’d dressed down. So, sun dress and sandals it was.
She was glad that he appreciated her efforts. “Thank you,” she repeated, a warmth spreading into her cheeks. She hoped he didn’t notice her blush.
Rayne stepped closer and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m having a really good time, tonight.”
“Me, too,” she said placing her hand on his cheek and kissing him on the lips.
When they parted, there was a moment of mutual curiosity. They studied each other’s eyes, faces. Both smiled.
“Ferris wheel?” Rayne asked without preamble.
“Ferris wheel,” Cassandra agreed, taking his hand once more, leaning into him as they continued down the midway.
As they boarded the ride, the carnie took their tickets and gave Rayne a wink when Cassandra was turning to sit. Rayne hardened his gaze as the operator secured the safety bar with a metal pin. Rayne slid his arm around Cassandra and she slid closer, accepting the gesture.
“What should I name him?” Cassandra asked as the ride began moving.
“Oh,” Rayne laughed. “You’re naming him?”
“We’re naming him.”
“We are, are we?”
“We are,” Cassandra insisted. “What do you think?”
“Um, I dunno. Trigger?”
“That’s a horse’s name.”
“If I say ‘no’ are you going to suggest Bullet?”
Rayne shook his head. “Not now.”
“What about Star? That fits with your motif, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose it does.”
Rayne looked up as they crested the apex of the wheel the first time, disappointed that he couldn’t see more of the cosmos above. The lights of the festival were beautiful, certainly, but nothing compared to what he would see without the light pollution.
“Do you think he’s out there?” Rayne asked without putting thought into forming the question.
“What?” she asked. “Is who out where?”
“Nothing. I was thinking of Nikator.”
“It really gets stuck in your head, doesn’t it?” Cassandra replied.
“That horrible, little book.”
“I don’t know about stuck, it’s just intriguing is all.”
“How much of it did you read?”
Rayne shrugged. “Just the first portion, I guess. Up to where you started trying to draw that symbol.”
“The Yellow Sign.”
“That’s what it was?”
“Maybe. The descriptions are vague, and I still don’t think I have it right.”
“You’ll get it.”
“Maybe,” Cassandra repeated, sounding less certain. “Hey, listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but can we not talk about it? It kinda creeps me out, and I start to feel weird whenever I think about it, let alone talk about it, and I don’t think I’m going to work on it anymore.”
“Have you translated all of it?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t really read it, you know? I mean, I’ve read it, but that’s enough. I don’t know if I have it translated right, because I’m not sure how much of it is supposed to make sense, and I don’t know that I really want to know. You’ve read the first part of it, but the strangeness that’s there is nothing—it’s really only a shadow of the things to come. Can we just, you know, leave it?”
“Of course,” Rayne told her. “I’m sorry for bringing it back up.”
Cassandra smiled and wrapped her arms around Rayne’s body, hugging him closer. His warmth was comforting against the sudden chill that spreading through her body.
After they got off the Ferris wheel, after they watched the fireworks display, they walked slowly back to Rayne’s car. Their fingers were intertwined and their movements brought their bodies into momentary contact with every few steps. During the fireworks, their initially hesitant kisses became more confident and deeply passionate. As the grand finale began, the cacophony of manmade thunder nearly deafening and the blinding light as near to the spectacle of warfare as they would ever witness, Cassandra whispered into Rayne’s ear. He whispered—nearly shouted—his reply, and from then on, they restrained their displays of physical passion.
In the car, the radio blathered some pop song, but Rayne couldn’t be bothered to change it, and Cassandra couldn’t be bothered to care. Rayne wasn’t the type of person to hop into bed with just anyone; even three months wasn’t a lot of time in his mind for such physical intimacy. He’d been raised by parents who paid lip service to abstinence before marriage, but he wasn’t sure if they had bothered to follow their own advice.
If he was honest, he could trace some of the problems in his last relationship to that evening when he and his girlfriend had slept together for the first time. She had become clingy and suspicious and jealous, and he had become increasingly insistent upon his own privacy. They’d never been responsible enough to actually discuss what they were feeling, and so their relationship disintegrated. Maybe those problems had been present before and only been magnified, or maybe their tryst had injected new issues onto old problems, destroying their weak foundation.
And then there had been “the scare.” She’d called him up about a month after they’d broken up that she was late and would he bring her a pregnancy test? All manner of thoughts rose up in his mind at that point, and he remembered sitting on the edge of her bed as they waited to see if there was one line or two. He didn’t tell her that he knew that she’d cheated on him, and he didn’t punch her in the face when she said that if the test was positive she would “take care of it,” and that she didn’t need him to pay for it. As though he would pay for murder.
But the test came back negative. And without a word, Rayne had walked out of the house, gotten into his car and driven away. The girl had been screaming epithets at him the entire way out. Insults and criticisms and unearned deprecations. But he’d kept his mouth shut. In the years since, he’d maintained his celibacy, but Cassandra was a temptation he wasn’t sure he could resist.
In her head, Cassandra was trying to figure out how fast was too fast. For her, it wasn’t a religious matter, but a pragmatic one. She felt a connection to Rayne she’d never felt with anyone else. He seemed to understand the pressures she put on herself. Further, he didn’t seem to take it personally when she had to choose her studies over her time with him. Previous boyfriends, if you could call them that, had become more and more indignant about her priorities, calling her all sorts of terrible names when she insisted that her work had to take precedence over her social time.
She’d made the mistake once of inviting one boyfriend to “hang out” at her place while she finished her homework, but all he did was chatter and hover and grab. Finally, when she called him out on his self-centered behavior, he’d flipped her flimsy coffee table and slapped her across the face. Cassandra remembered being more infuriated by the catastrophe he’d made of her living room than the physical assault, but nonetheless she let fly her fury and landed a devastating kick to the man’s groin. Once doubled over, she railed a knee into his face that flipped him onto his back, blood-streaming nose ruining his clothes.
He scrambled up, swearing and screaming, but he made a hasty retreat and never contacted her again. After she’d thrown the deadbolt on the door, she felt herself getting more and more worked up, as though the danger were somehow still present. Maybe ten minutes later, she began to shake. And it wasn’t until she started crying uncontrollably that she felt anything like fear. He could’ve killed her, she thought. Sitting in Rayne’s car, watching the streetlights pass, she knew that was only definitionally true. Perhaps in a more realistic sense, she could have killed him.
As they pulled into Cassandra’s parking lot, she asked, “Do you want to come in?”
Rayne nodded. “Sure.”
And Cassandra started shivering, blaming it on the car’s air conditioner, but even as they walked through the hot July air, it continued unabated. She fumbled her keys, but the doors eventually opened. When she had closed the door to her apartment, she slowly operated the locks and turned to face Rayne. She slumped back against the door for a moment, looking at him looking at her, and then they were together.
She lost herself in sensation, recognizing only peripherally that they had moved to her bedroom, that he was undressing her, that she was undressing him. She fumbled with his belt, and he got briefly stuck in his own shirt, but the awkwardness and their shared nervous giggles only served to make the moment more intimate.
Cassandra noticed at some point that it had begun raining outside, the rain slashing at the window, lightning illuminating their bodies, thunder rattling the room. At some point there was an explosion outside—a transformer giving way, perhaps—and the hum of the air conditioner ended in obtrusive silence. She spared a glance at her clock to see that the digital display had gone dark, but it was a mere observation. Presently, she had more important things to care about.
When their energies were exhausted, they laid next to each other quietly, her hand was once again entwined in his. Cassandra watched his face as his eyes studied the ceiling. A previous tenant had put glow-in-the-dark stars up there. Odd constellations that could not be found in the night sky. She glanced at them, and back down at Rayne. He was looking at her, and when their eyes met, he smiled. He slid his arm behind her head and she slid closer to him, both of them comfortable in their discomfort.
It was still dark when Cassandra awoke. The power was still out, but the storm had apparently passed. In the span between heartbeats, she realized that she was alone in her bed, and she panicked, worrying that Rayne had left her in the middle of the night without saying good bye. Had she completely misjudged him? Had she done something wrong? Had she not been enough for him? Had she said something? Had she not said something?
But her moment of heartbreak dissipated when she heard movement in the bathroom. She sighed and rolled back, but her relief vanished, too, leaving a sense of unspeakable dread.
Cassandra sat up on the edge of the bed and scanned the floor for her underwear. When she didn’t immediately find them, she settled for Rayne’s shirt. She slipped it on and started for the hallway, unintentionally stalking forward on her tiptoes. There was sense. A feeling. “Numinous” is the word that slid through Cassandra’s mind.
The noise, again, and now Cassandra slipped into a crouch. Outside the bathroom, she could see a flickering light underneath the closed door. She would have dismissed it as candle light—there were enough in her apartment to make that a possibility—if it weren’t for the smell of smoke. She stood and placed her hand on the door knob. It was cool.
“Rayne?” she called out. When she received no answer, she turned the knob and pushed the door open.
“Oh, God,” she whispered, her hand to her mouth. Her stomach threatened to turn over, but she fought the reflex.
“Cassandra,” Rayne said, his voice hollow. “You didn’t tell me.”
Her eyes flicked from the flames rising from her sink to the horror that was Rayne’s face, then back again. She wanted to rush forward to extinguish whatever was burning, but the floor was covered in shards of broken mirror, and his face…every part of her mind was urging her to flee from this madness. It didn’t matter that she was barely dressed or that there was nowhere specifically to run to, the rational part of her brain was quickly retreating.
“Why would you keep it secret?” Rayne asked, tossing a final handful of shredded paper into the fire, though Cassandra couldn’t understand how he was still able.
“Is that…” she tried to ask. She had noticed the metal coil of her notebook leaning against the faucet. And then she noticed the small, leather bound book in the midst of the flames.
“Rayne, what are you doing?” Cassandra asked, realizing it was the wrong question. “What did you do?”
“It was there,” he told her, his voice getting louder as he continued. “It was calling me. As we slept, I could see the waves breaking on the shores of Carcosa. I could hear echoing footsteps in those empty streets, empty windows staring down on me. I could hear the songs of the king’s court. I could hear him urging me on, but then when I woke: Nothing.
“My sight was gone, and I could hear no more, yet I still felt his entreaty. When I sat there, reading your words—for they are your words!—it came to me that I can see only when I want to. That I can hear only when I understand what needs to be heard. So, I cast aside your stumblings, and began searching the king’s words.
“Don’t you understand? These words,” Rayne jutted a finger toward the non-burning book, the pace of his words quickening “are those of the King in Yellow. He may not have penned the book, nor did he intend for it to fall into your hands, but in spite of your ignorance, it has found its place, and I intend to take it to where it belongs.”
“You read it?” she whispered.
“Not only did I read it, but I understand it. How could you, steeped in it as you are, fail to comprehend? You understand that the languages of men cannot convey its magnificence, yet you cannot see how you have gone astray. The tools, you said. Examine the tools! The works of man are folly, yet you try to use purulence to convey glory!”
“You read it,” she repeated.
“Don’t you hear it?” he cried, his voice now a shriek. “Can’t you see what is yet unseen? You have tread the pathway, Cassandra! Illuminated the markers! You have provided the charts by which we can reach Carcosa. How then are you yet to begin that long voyage? The way is open to any brave enough to take but the first step.”
Rayne picked up a large shard of glass, and began waving it at Cassandra. Still, in spite of the obvious threat, she did not flee. Could not.
“But—ah!—you see the shadows first, and you tremble. But stare beyond. Look past that low city; those darkened windows and rusted railways, for Midloth is not but a pale mockery of what lies beyond. Tarry not where the songs of men carry out over the waves, but follow that sweet song of pelagial portent; the impossible promises from the ancient depths that speak of Things to Come!
“Yes,” Rayne’s voice was painfully shrill, and Cassandra did not know how he could be shouting as loudly as he was. “Yes, follow that voice to the terrible cathedral where the servants gather to welcome our Yellow King, to tremble before terrible Nikator, to accept the scorn of Hastur!”
“Follow me, Cassandra. Follow me now to Carcosa and beyond! Follow me now on the road that you, yourself, have shown me. Fear not! This age is coming to an end! Let us go together!”
With one hand outstretched toward Cassandra, Rayne slashed the razor-edge glass across his own throat, opening a wound that instantly spewed forth crimson that reflected black in the light of the fire. His throat, now matching the wounds where his eyes used to be, spat forth his gurgled last attempts at speech; nothing more than empty breath bubbling through spurting blood.
Cassandra watched in horror, failing to comprehend the scene before her. But when Rayne’s body finally slumped forward, pulling the sink from the wall, she stumbled backward and ran from her apartment. She ran as far as the sidewalk in front of her building, then turned to watch the flames flickering brighter through the bedroom window.
The neighborhood was quiet, and she was certain that she could hear the flames crackling. The fire grew brighter, and she knew that all of her research was gone. There was no way she could explain what had happened that night. No one could believe or even understand what she had witnessed. From somewhere in the building she heard an alarm going off, and something else.
Did she hear singing? It was Rayne’s voice, she recognized, and it sounded as though it was coming from far, far away. She looked up at the sky, staring into the black expanse, and realized she had never before seen so many stars. Rayne was singing to her, telling her how to find him.
Copyright © 2017 Chad D. Christy
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