Sunday, 23 November 2014

Iron maiden

Verity had stopped shivering.

Pale white streamers surrounded her. They shimmered and twisted like the Northern Lights. They went with her hair, which gleamed in the spotlights. Light shimmered on that deep green gown: the one that reminded him of his happier days, lost days in the past.

He didn’t know how she remained standing, but she did.

Her pulse was faint. Her hands were cold. Her feet were bare.

They had turned pale blue with the cold of the flagstones: pale blue like the fear of pain. But she wouldn’t have lasted the night like that; her low-burning mortal warmth would all have drained away. He had needed to stand her on something a little more forgiving. He’d fetched some rags from the witch’s pyre.

There were no shackles slim enough for her in the entire museum except the ones attached to the rack, so he had to let her stand with her hands free. He had set the echo silencer on the chair nearby.

He had brought her to have a look at the iron maiden. He had let her feel its points and talked her, in detail, through how it worked: what it could do to a mortal body. He knew she couldn’t help but listen, with her scientist’s curiosity.

He had got her convinced she would end up inside it, but of course that wasn’t his intention; he didn’t want to concede any more questions, any more penalties. He just wanted a night as enjoyable for him as that Party fundraiser had obviously been for her.

To stand her there: silent, cold, spellbound as those standing stones in the evening mist.

To see her fear. Fear without object: pure as his own.

To feel the pure white fear slow down her time: make this night seem, to her, to last an age. Slow her time to fall in step with his. Until it resonated. Perhaps like Mortals feel their ‘empathy’.

He noticed the edges of her glow occasionally blushed ever so slightly deep blue. Fear of oblivion: fear that his Plan would run, through its inexorable logic, to its completion. So, she had faith in him. Beginning to anticipate defeat: good lass...

He laid a hand on her right shoulder. He could still feel her pain there: wished he hadn’t been so careless. Those ruddy questions. She now not only knew his weaknesses but had also, by asking about a sentence left on her bedside notebook, regained the secret of the Apple. Learning from her previous mistake she had promptly emailed it to herself and all her Party contacts, disguising it as a humorous article about ‘Greed’ for their newsletter. She had also written the complete set of instructions in her notebook.

Her final question, about the physics of fear and how it propagated, had caused him to boast of how it could, by resonance, hold entire countries in its thrall: Germany, 1933; The USSR, 1934; China, 1966. It could move through any medium and, by slowing down time, could travel faster than light. It could overcome any obstacle; could persist in rooms, even invade dreams. He had let slip far, far too much. He’d only stopped on noticing her smile, which had quietly said, “He who boasts will not endure”: a truth from the ancient Far East.

Worst of all, he had given away the cure for Indifference: the equitable income distribution from Rawls’ book ‘A Theory of Justice’. Bringing everybody’s wealth levels closer together would, it had been shown, bring the Mortals themselves closer together; there would be more resonance: more ‘empathy’.

She already knew of Rawls: he had featured as a character in her little play. Rawls and his Veil of Ignorance: the veil that let Mortals see into each others’ lives; each others’ minds.

On being told of the cure for Indifference, she had the very next day gone and picked up a copy of Rawls’ book in her charity bookshop.

£2.99: a bargain.


The hour had once again come to say something to make her scream, to check that she hadn’t lost her mind and cost him anything inconvenient: questions, penalties. He had promised himself he would do this every two hours through the night, and had so far remembered to do it both times.

You had to know your limits.

He could tell her mind had begun to wander: to defocus. All that needed done, then, was to bring her attention back to the matter in hand. To those points.

He wondered how best to phrase what he wanted to say.

I need time to think... the irony: he of all folk, in need of more time.

He only realised he’d spoken his thoughts out loud when he heard her echo them, in a whisper, from deep in thought.

Then she blinked, as if waking up, and looked afresh at the iron maiden. She took a deep breath: good, he thought, she’s going to scream.

But no scream came.

Her beautiful Northern lights blinked out. She had fled the slow, aching chasms of fear and reverted to mortal time: that swift time measured with heartbeats; with music.

She sang.

He knew the song.

Knew of its lost origins: its purpose.

Sung by bands of swarthy Mortals, captive, overworked and abused, and who longed to be free. The song, a march, gave them hope, telling them of the day when they could go to a better place, with the people they loved and admired: with their saints.

Verity had chosen well: a song written with the very purpose of dispelling Fear.

He would take this as a challenge: stay put.

Those opening notes pained him: absolutely spot-on pitch. Resonant with defiance...


Through the haze of confusion he thought he heard unexpected notes.

And unfamiliar words.

Verity was not singing of a band of happy Mortals marching off to meet the saints they loved: far from it!

She sings of a Mortal in solitude, in darkness, walking away from something he has witnessed, something so dreadful that he cannot tell whether it really happened, whether he dreamed it or whether...he is in fear for his own sanity.

It came to him in a wave of nausea that far from sending him away this song, with its imagery of fear, resonated with him: forced him to remain. And listen.

Did the lass have any idea..?

He couldn’t think; the music stuck to his mind like treacle.

He forced himself to look: tried to gauge whether she knew what she was doing. Watched her clench her fists to gather breath for a major sixth. Heard her hit it with pure, mathematical precision. He noticed her hands no longer felt cold.

She gazes up into the spotlights, as if on a stage. The Mortal caught in her words is experiencing his worst fear: that he may be, himself, the very vision he has just seen...

She is him, using empathy, and yet she is not him: not in fear.

She has put her fear into the song and I am trapped behind its bars! She reaches the high octave with bitter passion: singing of my own face, in her nightmares...

At last the unspeakable sixty seconds came to an end.

Verity pointed at the iron maiden and laughed. “Number of the Beast! It’s practically your anthem, Mills!”

And she disappears into impossible whirling black threads of twisted time: she is fearless. Verity lass I’ll make you pay for this...


She sat up in bed and raised her arms in defiance: screamed the final word of the verse; screamed in tune.

Sacha woke up.


“No more nightmares...” She snuggled back down, resting her head on his shoulder.


She stole an arm round him.

“Sends him away.”

“Sends who away, love?”


She felt terrible about waking Sacha up. He got little enough sleep as it was.

But in the time it took her to work out how to even begin to tell him, Sacha had fallen asleep.

And she had to get up early tomorrow, to go to Leeds.

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