The Binding takes place tomorrow at the Sisters of Solace Hospital outside Charlottesville, Virginia. From my bed, I can just see the peaks of the October hills, dappled maroon and scarlet. If I could lift my head, I’d be able to glimpse the wing of what was once a dormitory at the University of Virginia and now serves as a Confinement Center for the most violent prisoners/inmates, but gel compression restraints, deemed more humane by hospital staff than electro-loops, ensnare my wrists and ankles.
It starts with a small child — a girl of no more than eight or nine, with stringy blond hair and grease caked under her ragged fingernails — trotting down a street in a not so fashionable district of London. It’s 1886. It’s nearly three in the morning, the night shrouded in fog. She’s barefoot and hungry, and back in the rooms she left just ten minutes ago, her parents have begun making up from the row they’ve just ended.
Four. Yes, that’s how many there were. Come to my home. Come to my home in the hills. Come in the middle of feast, when the skin had been peeled back and I was ready to sup. Interrupting, disrupting. Stealing the comfortable bloat of a full belly, the black scent of clean bones burning dry on glowing embers. Four.
The shadows press on your skin, prickled velvet that shouldn’t have weight, shouldn’t have texture, shouldn’t feel like you are wearing sandpaper and poison, but they do. You are almost used to it, this new way that things that shouldn’t happen do, but you do not like it. Here is one of the things that shouldn’t have happened: You are awake, and you do not want to be.
I’m not thinking about where I’m going to sit. I’m not thinking about anything at all. No sir. Not me. My mind is a total blank. I’m just walking into a bar to have a drink, which is a perfectly reasonable ambition. People do it, all the time. Everywhere. That’s what bars are for.
My hands were badly chapped that fall, the year we found Bog Dog. At least that I remember. The ground iced in early September, a month and a half early, and we had to dig the turnips from the earth with trowels. The soil was like pebbles of ice and the turnip tops were stiffened with freezing juice that re-froze on our hands as we sliced them off.
Anna hadn’t even wanted to go to the car show. She told herself that when Ruby called she would bow out, make some excuse. But when the phone shattered the hot stillness of her un-air-conditioned studio, pulling her up from thin, twisted sleep, she knew before she laid a hand on the receiver that she would give in, just like she always did.
They had known that the pillbox was in the woods, but for some reason they’d never got around to visiting it. Andy thought maybe it was because the older kids went there sometimes, smoking cigarettes and drinking cider and, so rumour had it, getting blowjobs from Mandy Sullivan. He wasn’t entirely sure what a blowjob was—though his older brother Nick seemed to think it was something to do with sticking your tongue into your cheek—but those ideas were enough to keep the pillbox out of bounds.
There was a tree. I remember it. I swear I’d be able to recognize it. Because it looked so unusual. It stood on my left, in the distance, by Interstate 80. At first, it was just a blur in the shimmering heat haze, but as I drove closer, its skeletal outline became distinct. Skeletal: that’s what struck me at first as being strange.
When we started playing LandsBetwyxt, Jerry was all about killing monsters. But Amy was in Drama Club at Hematite High, where we went to school, in the Upper Peninsula, near Lake Michigan, on the dateline, and for her it was about interacting with people we met in the online game. Me, I wanted a chance to not be Jim.