We recommend reading the prequel ‘Soul Machina’ before exploring ‘An Eye For A Butterfly’:
An Eye For A Butterfly
There is no delineation between sleeping and waking now; both offer nothing but darkness.
I cannot tell which state I am in: it’s all the same. And in that way, The Machine has won.
When The Machine cracked, its dream-fabric splitting beneath the vision I conjured, somehow, in the Cathedral of Drones, we all fell, and for a moment, we did not know where we were. We had entered some inscape of emotion, stagnant and black, an emulsion that dragged us down as though with an undercurrent.
We swam and fought. The dead followers, eye sockets like greying mud pulverised into sludge, had returned to a kind of life and came with me. We did not know where or when or for what purpose. Adrift does not describe it. Afraid does not come close.
What if we were stuck there forever?
What if there was no world to go back to after The Machine?
But we were wrong, because at some point I found a shore. It was no differently coloured to the black waters, it offered no break in the relentless monochromacy of darkness, but I seized upon it, dragged myself up, and then, I was on solid ground and tasting air again. I heard voices, as though hovering above me. I tried to open my eyes.
But I couldn’t. And then I realised what The Machine had taken from me.
There were hands on me – invasive, violating hands – and something plastic pressed down over my face. And then I was airborne, thrashing like an angered serpent, squealing like a pig about to be slaughtered. I could not throw them off me; I was weak, exhausted beyond words. I fought because my mind had seemingly regressed to the basest of points: an amygdala of fear sparked by every sound and smell.
No sights, anymore.
They bundled me inside somewhere that rocked as they lay me down: an ambulance. Sirens blazed like war-time alerts, warning of some incoming attack, but all too late, the attack had happened, had done its damage, and we were broken as a result. I do not still truly know what The Machine was, only what it came for, and that it entered in our minds, where we were weakest all along despite what we told ourselves.
There was a period of darkness which might have been stillness or sleep, I do not know. Then I was being wheeled somewhere, the wheels of the stretcher screeching like disordered birds. I could hear everything as though amplified by an earpiece: the nurse’s ragged breaths, shouting, the wails of other patients like inmates in an asylum, the arguments and trysts of staff-members, the rattle of a saline drip. I spent a career as a PI noticing things: and now it was a bane, a frenzy of demonic entities battering at every sense except the one I needed most.
My eyes blazed, all of a sudden, as though first becoming aware of their sorry state. I could smell burning, my own roasted flesh, something to be peeled and bitten into. I screamed. It was like they’d been scooped out with a white-hot spoon and had grenades thrust into the sockets. I felt my head might burst at any time.
A needle was pushed into my arm. I did not give permission, I did not ask to be violated.
Then there was more darkness. I am fairly confident this was sleep.
Of a kind.
The darkness gave way to lesser dark, a stinging needle-point black, and I felt the softness of a bed, smelt the old-skin smell of hospitals, felt the intravenous food and wires in my arms, the bandage across my face like a coarse palm.
Peekaboo. I don’t see you.
Someone spoke to me, their voice like a lone drumbeat, bursting from silence; they asked me how I feel. Am I in pain.
There are no valuable answers. I cannot speak yet.
I cannot weep either.
I learn that my daydreaming has been corrupted as well. Blind people are said to dream more vividly and beautifully, but not me. The inner eye has also been scorched and melted, my imagination reduced to slag. I can still think. I can still put words together in my head, a kind of poetic liturgy I refuse to stop lest I go insane, but the images that once accompanied them are gone. It is terrifying. More than the loss of my eyes, it is terrifying.
Something has been wounded in me beyond healing.
I have no tear-ducts. I am a charred husk. The bandages are changed twice a day. Each time they have to be peeled away from the flesh, which clings to it like a new, half-liquid lifeform might the side of an asteroid. I can feel it tearing as they pull the bandages away. The new ones smell of alcohol. I wish I could drink, but that is not allowed here and no one answers when I call. Occasionally they interrupt the darkness. My sense of time has disappeared. I do not know what day or month it is. I do not know how long I have been in hospital or whether I will ever leave, because I am starting to think this is a coma.
I never woke up.
A new voice. Deep. Resonant. A bass note that quells all surrounding noises. Suddenly the screech of trolley and stretcher wheels is quietened. The bickering voices lower and fizzle out. It is just this deep wonderful voice. A voice I know.
I reach out, my arm weighty with drips and feeds. I flounder, as though it is a bloodless limb. Then his hands find mine. He brings my hand back to the bed, softly, and moves closer. I can sense him. A presence that radiates out beyond the darkness. If only I could reach him. If only I could see his face. I try to imagine it, but as with all my other attempts it fails. What did he look like – this is a desperate pain which surges inside my chest like an incision. I am being operated on. Someone is cutting me apart.
‘What day is it?’ A stupid question blurted, but the only one I can ask. This feels like the first contact in years.
‘Saturday,’ he says. ‘You’ve been here four days.’
‘Only four. Jesus.’
‘Felt like longer?’
‘Forever…’ And I hate how my voice is cracking, how reedy it sounds, like some besotted movie pin-up girl. But I cannot help it. I swallow down all of it, a more jagged and dry pill than I have ever swallowed. For the first time since ‘waking’ I think of my mother, what she would do. Her grief never told on her face – not even when her family died, leaving her only with us, father and me. There was only peace in her. Only acceptance. ‘Thank you. For coming.’
‘Of course I came, Kate. You saved me. I don’t – exactly – exactly know how. I’m so sorry.’
He falters, and I squeeze his hand, noticing his warmth for the first time. What had always been professional banter between us suddenly seems a precursor to some deeper connection. Not lovers – nothing so obvious or crass – but partners linked in some way.
‘Neither do I,’ I admit. I am hiding the truth as well as telling it, because I remember the Cathedral. I remember it all. ‘But what’s done is done. And don’t be sorry. I’d do it again. Someone had to. And maybe I was the only one who could.’
I sense Beckett is nodding next to me, but I doubt he understands. He is a man of reason ultimately, and despite what he has experienced, he will soon go back to the logical matrice through which he constructs his universe. I am the child of two cultures: the one half American and the other Red Indian. I know now it is the second half which is stronger, has always been, even if I never fully grasped my mother, even when I still think of her as a stranger.
‘What happened to my bike?’ It seems suddenly important.
‘It’s trashed, but Kate…’
‘I know I’m blind.’ And saying it makes it real, gives it the physicality of a marble sculpture. I will never ride again. Will never know the rush of the roads below me. Will never weave and slice time with the knife-blade of the bike. Will never hear it purr like a king panther sated on a kill. Will never touch that part of myself again.
And, regardless of my lack of tears, I cry all the same.
They do exercises with me. Walking. Using the stick. It all seems to mean so little, to achieve so little. I can barely walk. Amazing how much we rely on our eyes.
I try not to think about my profession, that alongside never riding a bike I will never open a case again, will never consult with Beckett, will never be myself.
I lay back in bed, exhausted each day, wondering what my mother would think of giving up the ghost, of willingly going down the spirits. Fuck whether they think my time or not. I know it is. I’m done.
And then one night he comes.
At first, I do not know what is happening. I presume some kind of seizure, the dark flickering with a movement like a dimly seen cloud of moths. The blackness stirs with wing-shapes, a kind of half-moonlight lifts the colour so that now there is silver amidst the dark.
What is happening?
Am I dying?
Despite my resolution I am afraid. I am not ready. It was meant to be on my terms.
The holographic black is nothing but a computer screen, whirling dots appearing, drawing perfect circles, mirages, like the ringlets which appear when stones are dropped into pools.
I thought I was asleep, but this is realer than dreaming.
The wings and the circles converge and he is stood there, a jigsaw miraculously formed. He wears a dusty leather jacket and springheel boots, like a cowboy. His jeans are ragtag and torn, beggar’s wear. He is nearly seven feet tall and his face is a labyrinth of scars, passageways of infinitely dark depth.
He has no eyes, but that does not matter, because I can feel he looks at me, the dark orbs penetrating like atomic shockwaves. I feel my insides pummelled, disintegrated, make a choking noise at the back of my throat. I have no throat. I am darkness, suspended.
‘Hello, Kate,’ he says. His voice is a saw cracking on metal.
I am speechless for a moment. I cannot open my mouth in his presence, because around him there is an aura like a star exploding. My mother told me once of auras, told me the soul of a person surrounded and enclosed them, radiating out, the brighter and bigger the more powerful the person. This man is a supernova, and at the same time, a black hole, magnetising all things into his orbit, into the glow of those long-dead eyes which yet can see deeper into the fabric of reality than a god.
‘Who are you?’
He smiles, and his teeth are too white and gleaming, the only part of him that isn’t damaged. Part of my mind screams wolf but another part knows that a wolf would bow down and lick his feet.
‘I’ve been called many things. Anti-Christ. Pedophile. Maniac. Saviour. But most people call me The Prince.’
‘Prince of what?’
‘I think you know. But darkness isn’t all bad, once you get used to it.’
‘How did you get here? You’re not from me. You’re not from my mind. Are you part of The Machine?’ I fear some lingering organism that was once part of it remains, sowing its seed inside me even now, corrupting the little I have left. I will die first.
The Prince laughs.
‘I’m not part of The Machine. But I saw how you dealt with it. That was nice work. Your mind’s eye is strong. Imagination is the most powerful thing. A curse too… I learned that all too well.’
‘My mind’s eye is dead.’
Terror grips me. Whereas before I was inchoate darkness, bodiless, now I feel like I have a form, and that form is ridden with maggots which rip at the still-living flesh. I feel nauseous enough to be sick. The dream, or vision, whatever it is, shimmers as though something has disturbed it. The Prince is making a shushing noise with his scarred, dead-man’s lips.
‘Don’t wake up just yet, Kate. You have to hear what I need to say.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘You’re mind’s eye is not dead, just weak. It’s not surprising after what you did. I’m here to jump start it again.’
‘Because my sister was called Kate.’ His smile is like a jester’s, mischievous and long. His cheeks make new hollows so that for a moment he has four ‘eyes’ rather than two. ‘And because someone showed me another way. Someone like you.’
‘Too many questions, Kate. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?’
He reaches out a hand, and a deeper dark bursts from his sockets, spewing like oil from a rip in a conduit, blackening the silvery sea of darkness. I scream as the darkness envelops, thick, oily, but also pulsing as though made up of a host of wriggling things. The wriggling things squirm against me, a sick, sexual heat rising in my stomach despite all the efforts of my mind to avoid it. I flush and choke. Then the creatures pop, ripe fruits shedding skin, and there is a flapping of wings against my face.
‘What are you?’
And what is he doing to me?
‘I am Michael Banner,’ he says, his voice rising as the flock of tar-black parasites buries me, consumes my vision with a deeper blackness than I could have ever known existed. ‘The third death. The prophet. The dark one. The freer of souls. I am the end of creation and the birth. I am the dark eye and the sightless sight. I am the face of chaos and the heart of God. I am forever.’
A moment of spasming pain, a kind of warped orgasm that stings like the pinprick of a syringe in my forehead. A scream so loud in my ears I struggle to believe it could be my own.
And then there is a burst of colour so vibrant that pain shoots across my head like a blood-vessel breaking open, a deep hemorrhage. Something warm drips over my upper lip. I touch it and look. Blood on my hands.
I can see.
Oh god I can see.
I am sat upright in the hospital bed, shivering, shaking like the lone survivor of a shooting. Nurses burst past the curtains and rush to me, their mouths dropping open like breached chests as they see my face.
‘Get Dr Yong, now!’
They rush to me and I collapse back on the bed.
On my bedside table there is a butterfly, its gorgeously patterned wings crowned with an imprint of beatific eyes, shining like two black jewels.
The words come to my lips without bidding, emerging like repressed secrets from the unconscious deep, a truth about my childhood I always knew but never could articulate, the final throes of a lifetime therapy.
‘The P-Prince has r-returned…’
I emerge from the hospital into a world of impossible colours. The white walls of the hospital, while more welcome than the unchanging blackness, were still bleak. Though the shapes of the city remind me distantly of The Machine, there is comfort in their familiarity, their solidity.
Beckett waits for me his face a blooming wildflower.
‘I heard but I didn’t believe. You’re one fucking mysterious woman, you know that?’
I offer him a grin that feels like a lifetime in the making.
We talk for a while – somehow more able to talk now I am better. He shares some of his experiences, but I sense he holds something back. That is fine with me. Each of us went through our own hell in different ways.
‘So, you want your old job back?’ he says finally.
I shake my head.
‘Please don’t take it the wrong way, there’s just something I’ve got to do.’
‘Top secret, I’m afraid.’
Beckett laughs. He moves over to his Merc, his beautiful beast of a vehicle, and I feel a pang once again for my bike.
‘Curioser and curioser,’ he says.
‘Keep in touch.’
He nods and drives away.
It is hard watching him go, but it is the only decision I can make. Because now I have been given a new purpose.
I must go after the Prince and pay him back. I don’t know how long it will take or even where to begin, but that doesn’t matter. He’s out there somewhere.
And I’m going to find him.
Joseph Sale is a Graphic-Horror writer, editor, gamer and creative. Originally from Bournemouth he studied English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.
He is a regular contributor on GameSpew. His short stories have appeared in magazines and journals such as Silver Blade, Edgar Allan Poet Journal 2#, NonBinary Review and Fiction Vortex. His story ‘Descent’ was chosen for Dark Hall Press’s Technological Horror Anthology. His first horror novel The Darkest Touch was released in April 2014, published by Dark Hall Press. He was nominated for the Sundress Award for Literary Excellence 2014. He has since authored Seven Dark Stars, Across the Bitter Sea, Orifice and The Meaning of the Dark.
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