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Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Bianca

Seams in the fog drift across an acute, rocky slope backing the dunes. The glow descends, weaving through mottled patches of brown and beige whose borders undulate around the passing glow, separating, re-annealing, clumping in its wake. These patches, I realize, are people.

The wind flaps Sabonis’ trousers wildly, billows out his overcoat, and pulls his long, frizzled hair horizontal.

“I know this one,” says Sabonis.

“What is it?” I say.

She, not it,” says Sabonis. “You’re lucky, kid. You got a good one, as far as Guides go. This one won’t mess with your head the way some do.”

He is right. The glow is a woman. She glides down a cliff of sand fronting the dunes. She is translucent, like a deep sea fish. I can see her heart beating. Light seeps through her creases, highlighting her naked form against the volcanic sands like jewels on black velvet.

“Marco? Fancy meeting you here.” Her accent is an odd blend of British and Irish. “Last I heard, the Facilitators were after your head. Bit risky, no? Going out and about on foot in the day like this?”

“I’ll take my chances,” said Sabonis.

“What are you doing windward? It’s not your usual haunt.”

“Thought I had a meeting … with Delgado,” said Sabonis, his expression dour.

“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“It … didn’t work out,” says Sabonis.

“Oh?”she says, cocking her head, looking quite pleased.

“He swiped my cat,” Sabonis mutters.

“Your … cat?” I say. The woman giggles, her laugh as liquid as any I had ever heard.

“He means his boat,” says the woman.

“My catamaran,” says Sabonis. “Fucking Delgado stole it right from under my security detail. Slaughtered one guy, bribed the others.”

“A … boat? I say.

“Not just any boat,” he says. “The best on Lethe’s shores. Not one of those piece of shit dinghies and coracles everyone else uses. This damn thing is seaworthy.”

“Why … a boat?”

“You’re absolutely right,” says the woman. “Boats are a ridiculous trifle here, a complete distraction from the mission of the soul.” She studies her palm and looks at me, squinting, looks back to her palm. “Wait a minute, here. You’re … Daniel? Daniel Tompkins?”

“Yes,” I say.

Sabonis sniggers.

“Is this supposed to be a joke?” says the woman. She glares at Sabonis.

“I got nothing to do with it,” says Sabonis.

“This is how I came,” I say.

“Alright,” she says, collecting herself. “Perhaps there’s a good reason for this.” Her eyes roll heavenward. She takes a deep breath. “Daniel. How do you do? I am Bianca. I’ve come to guide you through your process of Clearing.”

“Excuse me?” I stare at her hand, but I don’t dare touch it. Bianca frowns and pulls it back.

“Your Clearing. For your eventual Ascension. It’s what you’re here for. Now follow me.”

Bianca turns and heads back for the dunes. I stand up. My legs wobble. I cover my naked female bits with my hand and arm. I feel all dangly in the wrong places.

Bianca stops. “What’s wrong?”

“Feels all weird. I’m not used to going naked. And this female business ….”

Sabonis pulls off his overcoat and hands it to me.

“Why, Marco,” says Bianca. “Bravo for you! What a gentleman you’ve become.”

I pull it on. Button every button.

“This is nice. A little big, but that’s good. Where did you get it?” I say.

“Stuff washes up,” says Sabonis, shrugging. “Whole containers, sometimes.”

“From where? How?” I say.

“Don’t exactly know,” says Sabonis.

“Clothes are a crutch,” says Bianca. “They interfere with a proper Clearing. But it’s your first day. I see little harm.” She goes up to Sabonis and turns his shoulders, pointing him down the beach. “Now run off. On your way, Marco. It’s good to see you but I have work.”

“Um … I’m going to tag along with this one for a while,” says Sabonis.

“No, Marco,” says Bianca. “It’s not appropriate.”

“It’s just … she’s … he’s American. I just want to chat and get some news.”

“But Marco!”

“Just for a little bit. I promise.”

Bianca inhales through her teeth. Her lungs inflate behind translucent ribs.

“Come, Daniel. I’m sure we’ll leave him in our lurch as soon as we start our climb.”

“Think so, eh?” says Sabonis, skipping alongside, as we go up a dune. “I might surprise you.”
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