The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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4. Infinity Judgements

 

-3-

Infinity Judgements

The prison cell was a hollow cube of concrete, one way in, no windows. In there you could have no idea how much time had passed or even if it was night or day. The only thing that was positive was the high ceiling and the chains hanging from it. It was totally disorientating by design. Given enough time a person could forget their own name in there. The isolation was total and the stimulation was zero. No sound, no light, no furniture or cloth of any kind, besides a ratty old mattress. Avis was sure to go mad in there. She didn’t know what was going to happen to herself, or to Casimir who was sure to being tortured somewhere.

She didn’t know how long she had been stuck in that match box of a place. She didn’t know what was going to happen to her either. She was a tower of ignorance, one that was sure to topple down eventually.

Eventually the heavily barded door was shoved open to reveal her father and her sister.

“Are you going to berate me for doing something wrong, father?” Avis bitterly said from her place on the mattress. “Are you going to ground me and send me to bed without supper?”

“Look at what he has done to you, my child,” Gabriel muttered, shocked at his daughter.

“Casimir has done nothing to me!”

“Oh, but he has, he has coerced you onto their side and I am sorry for that.” The pair father and daughter sat on the floor and observed Avis from her position. She was curled up like a child, hugging her face into her knees. Her hair hid her expressions and her voice was sometimes muffled when she spoke. Gone was the child who was too shy to speak at all but more negatively it was replaced by a girl who was brash and went with words unchecked my filters.

Avis on the other hand could not face to look at her family. She could not bear to turn and look to see their looks of disappointment. She had done hardly nothing wrong, Casimir had fulfilled his job of protecting her so neither had he, but all she had done was have fun, swap stories and live. Could they not see that?

“These past few weeks have been the most adventurous of my life, I have learnt not to hide behind in my own façade, to be the sun mother always told me to be, to not use Neveah as the clouds that would hide me. Can’t you see, I am more confident, more comfortable in my skin?”

“Oh, Avis, you’ve went around gaining that confidence in the wrong way.” Neveah sighed and she moved to embrace her sister. She was disappointed for her sister to flinch further into the wall at her touch and Neveah backed off and inched back towards her father. “Going around with a monster is hardly adventurous,” she said as her sister met her words with a gaze fueled with fire.

“How are they different to us? He has risked his life, sold his secrets in order to survive here, I can’t see what he did wrong!”

“He was under strict conditions to not call you anything other than Mistress and if he was to over step his conditions he would be punished.” Gabriel spoke, “You have over stepped your boundaries as well as he.”

Avis knew that she would never get around her father’s strict conditions and so listened to them berate her. She was told that the terms of the employment was a relationship that was tenacious at best and to overstep the boundaries like she had, becoming friends with the monster, was to show that monsters were capable of corrupting humans. She was told that they had to kill monsters in order to survive and she told them that she knew that. Her father and she argued until they were both red in the face, fighting for their sides with venom. Avis fought her corner saying that Casimir was just like them, fighting for survival and thus all monsters were the same. Gabriel shouted that the monster had corrupted her into believing something that was wrong and preposterous.

Avis had always thought that their way of living was a bit stupid and that Casimir just ignited the flame that was already there. Her father wouldn’t listen to any of it though and left the room as quickly as he came.

He couldn’t get through to his child.

He would be ridiculed for this, Avis didn’t know what she had done just by going along with the monsters plans and defending him to the absolute.  He went back to the Wall to watch the sun and to fire at any monsters came his way, taking his anger out on the only way he knew how. Gabriel didn’t answer the questions that were asked of him by the other patrolmen and he knew that he couldn’t defend his daughter because she couldn’t even defend herself.

This was his fault, he had invited the monster into his home. Her punishment was on his shoulders. It was just another weight to add to them.

Back in the cell Avis sat with Neveah in silence.

“This isn’t a crush is it, you are not in love with the monster are you?” Neveah asked as the sisters looked at their individual hands and not at each other.

She was Avis Eldred and she was not in love but had gained a friendship that she would never forget. She was in the grip of a bold and near impossible dream; a life where monster didn’t fight human and vice versa, a world that was not Hell.

“It isn’t a crush,” Avis spoke finally looking at her sister, “It’s a kinship, a friendship.”

“Is it worth the punishments that you will both be given?”

“Yes.” Avis’s words were final and absolute and in that instant Neveah knew that there was no getting through to her when she meant that.

“Promise me something…” Neveah started.

“Promises are futile in a breaking world.” Avis said but allowed her sister to finish her sentence,

“Promise me that you will be better than the rest of us, sought for a solution instead giving in to Death as our master. Sister don’t let Death rule you, let life pick your decisions instead. That may seem cryptic now but with time you may understand.” Neveah was close to tears at this point and rushed to curl her smallest finger around her sisters and rest her forehead against hers. Before she could burst into tears, Neveah left leaving Avis in the dark alone once more.

It was sometime later when a guard came by to deliver bad news: Casimir was to be executed that next day.

The sense of no time meant that Avis didn’t know when tomorrow would have been.

She panicked. Her panic made her skin crawl as if she was dragged down by millions of bugs. She had no other choice but to try and escape, to try and see Casimir one last time before he was lost to her forever.

Avis noticed that the walls were rough enough to try climbing up to the chains hanging for the ceiling and then to the vent at the top. Climbing the walls were difficult, there were hardly no foot holes and it took several attempts to get high enough to not risk going back down. She tried not to look down, she didn’t know if she was afraid of heights but she didn’t want to find out. Eventually she reached those chains. They were thin, not a lot to hold on to and to get to the top she would have to climb across them and jump to the next one.

Eventually, she was at a position where her knees would be imprinted with the pattern of the chains. Sway. The chains were unstable and getting off of them was a priority.

Her hands reached out to the next one higher up. She just couldn’t reach it even if she risked getting on her tip toes. She would have to jump. Closing her eyes and jumping she could feel the panic as her feet left the chain and it swayed dangerously to the right. She gasped but she was relieved when her hands met the last chain. From that height she could open the vent hatch and crawl through.

Crawling through the ventilation shafts was not a fun job either, hot air raced past her and the stench was horrible. Did nobody clean these?

It was all worth it though for the sight of Casimir who didn’t even notice her until she had climbed down the rougher walls.

“What are you doing here?” He whispered, still curled up in a ball in the center of the room.

“If you’re going to die tomorrow then I want to see you for the last time.”

That night they didn’t talk much just hugging in the center of the cell, embracing each other for the last time. Sometimes they would whisper short stories to each other, to relive their times when they were able to have secret story times. It was not until it was time for Avis to go that Casimir pressed an envelope into her hand. “If you have a chance to get out of these walls and explore the wild then open this and it will lead you to safety.”

“You know that that chance is marginal right?” Avis answered, hope for that chance was not a lot.

“I know but if anyone can do it, you can.” Casimir smiled and hugged her once more. “You are an amazing person and I am glad that I got the chance to meet you.”

“But because of me you’re going to die tomorrow.”

“You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes living is dangerous and you must live.”

*

That dreaded day arrived with a vengeance and a sick feeling in Avis’s stomach. She was forced to be escorted to a room where she saw the horrific sight of Casimir. They had been in after she had left the night pervious and made Casimir look awful. They had to assert their dominance, Avis spitefully thought. Casimir’s stag antlers were broken and ragged. He had been beaten and it seemed that it cost him great effort to keep up his head. If it wasn’t for the guard holding it so that his eyes met Avis’s his head would have slammed into the block and remained there. Although he couldn’t raise his head it was his words that struck a chord, “I don’t regret a single thing. You will still be a country of ghosts and murderers, my death will change nothing for you. I am glad that I have been able to ignite a single heart, a heart that is pure and better than all of your small hearts combined. Small hearts wrought small ambitions yet a heart on fire will change the world with their flames.”

The Governor, the man in charge of the Council was alight with anger and at that moment he was beyond reach of control and reason. He killed Casimir on the spot. One blow to the neck that was meant to sever his head completely but failed. The monster collapsed onto one hand, a river of blood controlling his movements, despite it he was able to use one of the more broken pieces of his antlers to strike at the executor who fell injured. One final blow sealed the deal for Casimir the thud of his head falling and the clatter of his antlers stopping it from rolling far.

Avis felt like she was choking on her own heart. Everything went numb and there was a constant high pitched sound in her ears. Her eyes would not leave the eyes of Casimir, deadened yet still focused on her.

It was not until she was dragged out of the room that their gaze broke and it was not until she left that room that she burst into screams.

*

Life was cruel.

Life was so utterly unfair and cruel.

Death was weird. Like as a concept, it was strange to think about. The idea that a person – who they were, their personality from their bizarre habits to their sense of humour – could blink out of existence because of something as tiny and inconsequential as a bullet or a blood clot. All of those indefinable tiny little things that added up to what some people might call the ‘soul’ destroyed in an instant. And then what was left? A few photographs and a box of random stuff that ended up in the back of a cupboard because the people that loved that person couldn’t quite bring themselves to look at it yet. That was it. A life turned into some cardboard boxes and memories.

Death was kind of like throwing a brick into a perfectly still lake. The event itself was that one gigantic splash – loud and dramatic. The fallout though, it was much more subtle. The quiet ripples radiating out from the centre until the entire lake has been disturbed, that was the aftermath – that was how death touched everybody and everything around it.

Except, Casimir wouldn’t even be granted a box in the cupboard, all that was left of him was the memories that were forged by them and locked in Avis’s head. All of his belongings had been confiscated and burned. The Council got rid of every evidence of betrayal.

Avis was still in that match box cell. Still being punished as if grief wasn’t punishment enough.

She didn’t eat that day or the next, still succumbed by the sight of Casimir’s head rolling and rolling and then stopping.

Neveah had somehow got a hold of a fine tooth of his antlers and gave it to her on a necklace. That was the one physical treasure of him. How Neveah got a hold of it was a mystery but Avis was grateful. Avis didn’t know what they were going to do with her.

She didn’t really care.

At one point the Governor came to her cell with eyes of cold fire and no sympathy. “Did you know that life is a curious thing? But death is the host of much more curiosity. That is because we don’t know what happens in death. It is also a lot more satisfactory than life, wouldn’t you agree?”

When Avis wouldn’t respond to his taunts he took a different route. “If you have me, you want to share me. But once you share me, I cease to exist. What am I?”

Avis still didn’t answer, she didn’t even think of the solution to the riddle.

“The answer to that is a secret. You see with secrets they are impossible to keep and you have all the evidence you need right here.” The Governor chuckled and Avis hated him a bit more. “A secret such as yours can’t go unpunished, a betrayal like yours can’t happen again and so three days from now you will take up the role of Courier and you will deliver a Dr. Lovelace to a post. If you fail to complete this task you be tossed from this dome like rubbish and never allowed back in again. Is that clear?”

Avis nodded.

It seemed like this wasn’t enough for the Governor, “I need words,”

“Yes Governor.” Avis whispered and repeated thrice at various volumes to appease the stubborn and strict man. As he left the room Avis conjured up energy that she didn’t know she had and shouted, “I am clear that you want me to die, I am clear that you are a bigoted, abhorrent, repulsive chauvinist pig and I am clear that when I get out of here I swear that I…” Her fire died down into spitting sparks when her fists beat the door insistently and her gasped gave way to ragged breaths. Her hair was in her face draping over her hair and she was sure that she like a mad woman. She was slightly insane.

Her sister was the only one there to meet her upon her release that morning, well her only family as Michael stood next to her. He was a silent soldier.

“I’m glad that you’re okay,” Neveah whispered into her hair while she hugged her furiously.

“I’m not okay, I’ll never be okay after seeing – “ Avis couldn’t say those words she couldn’t admit what she had seen.

“That’s a normal reaction to death,” Michael said as he swung from the tips of his toes to his heels. That day was spent sitting around in a blanket fort watching Michael and Neveah flirt but not doing anything more. They tried to comfort her but nothing would sooth the grief that lay under her skin. Although Michael said something the wrong way Avis couldn’t even remember what he had said but she punched him straight in the face.

Michael would later describe it in exactly these words: A pain that started in the nose and caused throbbing in the eyes, it was like stubbing your toe, but worse. The warm water from the eyes running down the face felt soothing, yet the pain persisted. or maybe the pain seemed to dull, but the tears kept flowing, and blood, so much blood, maybe because it mixed with his tears. 

Although he had exaggerated just a bit. But the punch ended the rather fragile bliss that had crossed between the three people.

The next day was spent alone; Neveah thought that it was better for her to collect her thoughts before the following day where they would meet the Couriers. That day was spent hovering in the doorway of the basement, her eyes unfocussed reliving stories and days long gone. If she gazed long enough into space she could just see the ghostly image of her monster kneeled like a Z on the mattress like she had seen him at first. She couldn’t look long it hurt too much. When she looked in the mirror all she saw was a little beast on her shoulder. It was a rather flat, blue thing that spread across her shoulders and her back and hugged her, almost squeezing her to death. It was suffocating. It was nauseating.

That day was spent sleeping and trying to get over the worst of the tide. She thought that the tide wouldn’t end. She hoped that it would though because it was the worst feeling that she had ever felt.

On the third day before she went to meet the Couriers she took out the letter that Casimir had given him – god she couldn’t get over saying his name even in his death – and started to read it:

Damaged people are dangerous

They know they can survive

A human said that, she was a woman with a name that I can’t even remember.

You see, you saw me as a strong person but I was not. You didn’t see all of me in fact, I don’t even think that that was possible. Telling someone that I’m not fine, admitting that I’m not alright, that I’m broken and a miserable mess of a thing would make it all real. Admitting that ugly truth would make it real and it would make the people around me worry, it would make them want to help me when, there is no helping me. People like me can never say that we’re not fine, but admitting that we’re damaged? That is a whole different set of things. Being damaged means we suffer from it, have nightmares, it haunts us, and we don’t want to go back to it, will do anything not to. I may be damaged, but I will always be fine.

I am vulnerable, it is what my mother said to me before I left for your dome. She sa;id that if I was lucky I would find someone who would make me stronger.

I believe that you were that person. You restore my faith for humanity, you make me believe that not every human wants to kill and murder.

You can do so much more for yourself.

You are better than anyone else and deserve all of the happiness that Mother Nature could conjure…

She stopped before she could even get halfway, it hurt too much. It was rather like ripping off a bandage but doing it so slowly that you could feel the plaster coming off every hair and piece of skin. She would one day pluck up the courage to read the whole thing but that day was not today. 

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