The Offering

Today we have on display a tale of sacrifice. Of truest love. Enter at your own risk—it will break your heart.

He wanted what every soul has been sold for; he was nothing and craved eternity.

When the voices began speaking to Felix, he listened. He sat upright in bed, clinging to momentary hallucinations persisting after dreams. He wrote them down until they lost the ephemeral enchantment of having seemed to have come from someplace else, someone or something else.

He wasn’t sure, but he listened.

It was only a few months until they began to echo outside of his nighttime reveries. They whispered when he navigated busy streets, sang to him in the loud booths of packed trains. They got in the way of his copyediting job at the local paper. The ink stretched from the letters pounded out from his typewriter, reassembled themselves before him.

It was a spring day overcome by overcast skies when it finally happened. When it occurred.

The voices became permanent. They shadowed every thought. Exchanged ideas. Engaged him. Perhaps it was his fault. Perhaps his entertaining them, even seeking them out, invited them into the depths of his mental faculties.

“Perhaps I don’t mind,” he thought.

Felix dropped the bouquet in his hand. He sidestepped the cabby’s carriage as shouts were hurled at him. The horses trampled the roses into the cobblestone.

He had been on his way to meet a girl at a theatre in Loudun. The performance, the importance of cordiality, punctuality, kindness and romance, it all evaporated with that realisation. He could almost see them disintegrating into smoke, as if they were all possessions turned to ash in his clutches.

It seemed the importance of reality itself all but crumbled around him. He was no longer on a busy street with carriages clattering by, the homeless crying for alms.

He was in pitch darkness. The details of strangers around him turned into intangible wisps. Barely the forms of phantoms.

The only light was far away. A dim glow from a small structure in the distance.

There was still one sound that seemed to persist besides the voices.

The sound of a butcher. He was hacking away at flanks of flesh in the open market. The heavy curnk followed by the scrape of the cleaver.

Curnk!… Curnk!… Curnk!

Dimly, he remembered the tolling of a bell. The ticking of a second hand.

Then the voices were louder than he’d ever heard them. The streets swam around him. His heart rose and fell in his chest in arcs of misunderstanding and infatuation.

It will take an exquisite arrogance,” she said. “A numbing euphoria. They will bind your hands and ankles with silk.”

Felix felt as if he could faint and fall into the arms of those words. They felt as real and heavy as strong hands leading him away. And he was being led, striding swiftly away from the marketplace to a sepulchre at the edge of a cemetery far away from the bustling city. The light.

“When the flesh bends at the blade,” the voice told him, “there will be no screams.”

Felix shut the door of the sepulchre behind him, clothes sloughing off into dust as he entered the dark, cramped space. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking, but he was relieved to have arrived.

The voices stopped their instruction and turned into melodies. The soft, feminine hymn warmed the blood in his veins, relaxed every tension in his body, exhausted every muscle fibre.

A relieved laughter left Felix. The voices were no longer in his mind. They were here. In the room with him. Their breath and bodies just within arm’s reach.

His pupils seemed to consume the whites of his eyes. He fell onto the marble slab in the centre of the chamber. All around him were silhouetted figures. The contours of their bodies shifted with the candle-cast shadows. Stretching, cadaverous fingers attended to him from the darkness like lithe ropes of spider silk. Prodding, caressing, adjusting.

They closed his eyes and massaged warmth into him.

They attended to his body with maternal care, every motion methodical. They could exercise no greater compassion, no finer flaying. Their hands sliced, severed and separated with expertise.

Their thirteen pairs of black, depthless eyes bloomed an illuminating white as his blood drained into the cracks of their hands. The longer the procedure went on, the faster they worked, the more he recognised the feminine figures around him. The more comforting it all felt.

Felix struggled to say something.

One of the matrons displaced herself from the circle and bent forward to hear him. His voice was cracked, hollow and growing weak.

“They will sing songs written to entertain ghosts,” he told her.

She responded by placing a finger to his lips.

Felix surrendered the last of his will. His chest cavity unlocked, ribs opened up like hands begging for something from above. His organs evaporated at the barest touch from the matrons, coalescing into smoke that hung above him.

It swirled, danced and conveyed dreamscapes as it waited for a form to inhabit.

When the matrons had finished their work, every part dissevered of its original form, the pieces rose up from the slab. Severed fragments, untangled chords, the thinnest tissue dissevered without a single tear, and not a millimetre of substance wasted. All of it hung before them in the vaporous clouds.

“What would you have?” they asked.

In shuddering, determined movements, the pieces reassembled themselves. The effect was momentary and absolute. His slick, renewed flesh and immaculate details unveiled themselves. Uncurled slowly from a cocoon of slick wings. He was still hovering at the heart of them, hands splayed out and head bowed like a saint hanged at the gallows.