pt. III

You remember I said that I used to want to appear and disappear like the Ferrymen? That was before Laris took me on a ride into the Barrier.
Now I know better - God do I ever know better.
I can't describe what it's like in there, except to imagine being carsick at ten thousand miles an hour with the scenery going insane on you. That's "insane" as in surrealist painting insane: an infinity of roaring gulfs and dark spirals of colors I couldn't find a name for, a total lack of all sense of direction and perspective, and the sound of horrible thunder, the crashing of massive tidal waves and the awful, backwards gong sound of the world coming apart one molecule at a time.
We weren't in it for very long, but I was there long enough to get one other, important reason to never go back.
And that's that somewhere under it all, I could hear the screaming, crying, shouting and gibbering of a hundred million insane ghosts. I just knew that they'd caught our scent a second after we'd gotten there, and were heading straight for us
And then I saw them coming - just as if they'd been hiding around a corner.
There had to have been millions of the Damned, there - all shapes and sizes, all hideous mockeries of what they'd once been, or had never been at all. If I'd been alive and faced with that much disgust and horror, and a horde of monsters coming right at me, I think I would have thrown up all over myself and just laid down to die.
{And I can honestly say that, for a moment there, I thought the sense memories were going to make me do it, too - just like they make me relive my death every April.}
But Laris still had his hand on my shoulder, and I guess that counted for something. I could feel his courage and certainty pouring into me, as if to say "this isn't our time, yet" - and maybe he knew that for sure, too.
All I know is that the creatures only got so far towards us, and then banked away in formation like stunt pilots - rushing past us on all sides, at speeds so fast I couldn't even follow them without feeling even more nauseated.
Now look, the Ferryman commanded, once we were out of the thick of the Damned, pointing his free hand to a close, dark cloud: Look there. See what is immanent.

I did as he told me, of course, but I wish I hadn't.
Off there, in the shifting clouds and spirals, floated that dark cloud, which wasn't close at all - it was just really, colossally huge. It shook and shivered in sluggish, slow motion, as though it were struggling to keep itself together, or hold something inside it.
And then I realized that it wasn't actually a cloud at all - it was a swarm of the Damned.
There had to have been hundreds of them, in there, buzzing around each other like angry, misshapen hornets. They were circling over and over without end, as though they were waiting for orders, or for something to happen.
And then it hit me, just before Laris spoke: the breach.
They await the breach, he confirmed: If the way is not shut, they will enter. And all will die.

"Shit" - that was all I could say in the face of it.
They will be the first of thousands more, Laris went on: Untold numbers await behind them. If the way is not shut, they will all enter

"...and all will die." I repeated, lost in the immensity of it all.
I couldn't comprehend it fully, then, and even now there's a part of me that wants to just crawl up into a ball and scream to keep myself from thinking about it. Storms are bad enough, but how can you really allow yourself to understand that something like that could come through?
At any moment, anywhere, and wholly without warning, an army of the Damned could erupt out of the Barrier, and the cost to the living and the dead would be...
See, that's why I don't like to think about it. I had to not let myself understand the why of what I'd done for months afterwards, just to keep from screaming every time something just appeared, and running away as fast as my legs would carry me.
{And there's another question - how far do you have to run to get away from the truth?}


But then it was all over, and Laris and I were standing in Joey's penthouse apartment, with the dead air rippling around us slightly. He took us out of the Barrier shortly after I "got it," as there was nothing more to be gained by being there - except a quick trip upstairs from the lobby.
"Oh Jesus..."I said, my knees buckling: "Jesus, Jesus... Jesus Christ"
The Ferryman took his gauntlet from my shoulder and slowly turned to his right, arcing his arm over the whole of the apartment and ending at the couch. I followed the path of his pointing, metal finger as he did, taking in each and every thing there: the amazing, high-tech stereo Joey's gotten just the other week; the gold and marble end-tables that matched the floor; the super-wide plasma-screen television up on the wall; the Louis XIVth wall lamps on either side of it; the coffee table, done in the same style and materials as the end-tables, with a very expensive - and recently used - shooter's kit laid out on top of it; and the white tigerskin couch, which had been made with real fur off of some poor kitty they'd had in the local zoo {he'd bribed or blackmailed someone there to get it}
And on that couch - slumped in the far corner by the window, and drooling onto his blue, silk suit - was my son.
Saying he didn't good was well, obvious. I mean, I could see that he was nodding off, and pretty harshly, but he looked bad on top of that, too - like he'd been missing meals for a couple days, or was fighting off pneumonia, or something like that.
I sighed, going over to Joey and just looking down at him, with my hands on my hips like he was six all over again, and just doing something stupid...
Of course, my Shadow had something to say about that, and I just did not need to listen to its crap right then and there. So I started yelling at Joey, again, wondering aloud how I was supposed to get him out of here if he was done up on horse.
And, yeah, it was out of habit, too - almost as if everything Laris had shown me had never been seen, and it was old times all over again.
And then Laris stopped me: Who are you speaking to with these words? Who are you punishing, here and now?
"This isn't punishment," I said, turning around to look at the Ferryman: "He's not a kid anymore."
Then what is this, Rachel? He asked, using my name. He hardly ever used my name, and that should have been my cue that something else was going on here.
"This is... it's tough love, Laris."
And how deep does that love run? He asked, leaning on that hammer of his as though he were a teacher looking at a student: How far would you go for him? What would you not do for him?
"You know that already," I replied: "I would do anything for him... that's why I'm here, risking the Injunction, isn't it?"

And it was true, just like I'd said a million times before: I'd have done anything, anywhere for him... risked it all for him. And even if it meant I would not come back from whatever I had to do, I'd have done it.
And he nodded, coming closer to me with his hand outstretched: And that is why the decision must be made by your hand, and why I cannot interfere.

I tried to ask him what he meant, but it was too late, and his hand was on my shoulder. And I could feel him inside my mind, again - moving things around as he shared his view of the world with me.
Now turn, and see what is made plain, he said, leaving the gauntlet on my shoulder as he gently turned me around to look at Joey again
And when I did... I screamed.


I now see where it had all gone wrong. Looking back at something allows you that luxury, which was something I didn't have at the time.
As much as I hate to admit it, Sister Mercy was right - everything I was doing for my son was just helping my Shadow.
I mean, there was no way I could have not helped him. It goes beyond the fact that he was an Anchor - he was my own flesh and blood, for Christ's sake.
But my feelings for him were... complicated, I guess we could say.
Love's like that - complicated. You love someone, but at the same time a lot of that love, and how you feel it, and how you express it... it's all tied up with how you feel about yourself, or how you see yourself reflected in the ones you love.
So I loved my son, but at the same time I was very, very disappointed in him - and that's because I was also very, very disappointed in myself.
And that's where my Shadow sprung out of - or where Sister Mercy and her replacement think the bastard came from, anyway - my own disappointment in my life, and what I'd done to fuck it up. So every time my Shadow got me in the same room with him... well, I guess it must have been a five-course meal for the bastard.
But it didn't stop there - not by a long shot.
You see, Shadows trick you, and they get really good at it over time. And once they've gotten away with tricking you once, and completely fooling you, then they want to keep it up, and try to trick you with something else, too.
And them something else, and then something else, and before you know it, you're in a state where almost anything you see, hear or experience is a complete and total lie.
They say that a Wraith who lives like that is Lost. The Injunction tells us to save the Lost, but you can't always tell if someone's gone that way - especially if their Shadow's been careful about it.
And in that moment, looking at my Son, I realized that my Shadow had gotten me completely and totally Lost around him.


His apartment was threadbare, for one thing: almost all the luxury items he'd had were gone, and they looked like they'd been gone a while. And that meant that the expensive stereo hadn't even been there at all - just another stinking trick.
The only thing left was the tigerskin couch Joey was nodding off on, and that was utterly filthy, like something out of a junkie's flop.
And the smell... my god, I always hated that smell. That's why I dealt out of my house or around it, instead of meeting customers on their own turf - the terrible smell of unwashed skin, pissed pants and misery, along with the stench of willing surrender to the source of that misery.
It was coming off of my son - radiating from him like little stink lines from a cartoon.
In front of him, on the floor, was his "kit," such as it was. He didn't have the nice, surgical steel one he'd gotten on vacation in Amsterdam, while I was Asleep, and I figured he pawned it for junk.
All he had now was a lighter, a spoon and a grimy little needle, sitting next to a small plastic baggie that had dark crystals left inside it. 
Yeah - it was bad enough that my son had gotten himself so badly hooked on anything. But pitch... that shit didn't just fuck your body up, but it messed with your soul as well, opening your eyes to things you weren't meant to see, and bringing in things you had no businesses dealing with, ever.
And yes, that put a few other pieces together for me, but I wasn't in any shape to think of them just then. 
Because the worst thing of all - the worst thing in the entire world, and the thing that made me scream - was that my son wasn't just nodding off with that bad, fucked-up and evil fix in his arm. It was that he had the exact same look that everyone else in the building had.
My son was going to die - and he was going to die that night.