The world reappeared in a whirl of whitewash walls and heavy wood floorboards.
The moment his body regained a sense of physicality, Casper’s legs gave way. Strong arms caught him just before his knees hit wood, and he choked and gagged around a surge of blinding nausea as the grip under his arms hauled him aside. The wood scratched his cheek and Casper pressed his face into the roughness of it. Something fucking real after the mind-shattering freefall of incorproeality.
A bang, right in front of his face. Casper screamed, a hoarse, broken sound, and scrambled backwards, teeth gritted against the retches that rolled up his throat. Cain’s shoe was planted just in front of him, and lancing away from it, the floorboards ruptured, a spine of jagged shards that drew back from a black chasm to the belly of the house. It split a circle just like the one he’d drawn back in the city, but this one etched into the floorboards themselves, the edges of the carving smoothed with age.
A cold, musty draught wafted against Casper’s face, but past that, it was warm. The air smelt of fresh coffee and vanilla.
Sickness heaved through him and Casper vomited on the floor.
Gross. But the acrid bile smelt like goddamn daisies against that stink as the world had torn away. The one like he waded through a mire of rotting corpses; a plague-bed – victims dropping too thick and fast to bury, and so they were thrown, sores and boils and lesions all weeping pus, to bloat and decay beneath the beating sun.
His gorge rose again, but but panting with bile a string hanging from his lips, he forced the burn of stomach acid back down. The puddle of yellowish liquid staining the knotted floorboards spun, and every sense felt distant as if it lay interspersed by a screen of creamy white nothing.
What had just happened?
A string of memories from minutes gone swirled through his head, and the image of Cain’s snarling fear made the snapping tail of the beast. Every time he remembered something new, the white deepened, sinking through sickly pink to a throbbing, messy red.
Casper dragged his sleeve over his mouth and stumbled up to his feet. Cain was still there, one hand braced against the wall and the other pressed to his face, guarding the expression beneath. His shoulders wallowed, like that fitted coat had been tailored for a giant, and the wool drowned him on dry land. Each of his breaths that broke the silence were frayed and bleak.
Behind it, the throb, throb, throb of blood pulsing in Casper’s ears. Something screamed, but the crimson drowned that wretched little kid in the back of his mind that cried at the dark.
Casper’s voice creaked like flaking rust, loud enough in this crawling silence that he kind of wished he’d just shut the fuck up and run away. “What the fuck just happened?”
Whatever Casper had expected, it hadn’t been laughter. Nosirree, anything but that, except maybe it should’ve been just that, because clearly psycho here was fucking cracked.
The laughter started low, a hoarse chuckle rolling around Cain’s throat, but while Casper stood there, fish mouth hanging in the breeze, it grew, tumbling through itself and gathering madness as it went until Cain stood with his back bowed, hunched over himself, and his hand still splayed across his face while he howled, cracking laughter hauled up from his gut and each time he lost the air, it cracked apart with a sob.
“It’s going to happen again.” The mad rant of Cain’s words turned to gasps through his laughter. “It’s just going to fucking happen again. It’s fate, love. Every time. “ He smacked his palm against the wall and his voice broke in a roar. “Every god—damn—fucking time – you’re going to die and it’s all my fault. I’m going to kill you again, Cassie. It’s just all going to happen again.”
Cain fell into a crouch, heavy like his knees gave out, and he slammed his fist into the wall, the thud echoed by a snatch of a snarl. His coat crumpled around his ankles and suddenly, any elegance he’d ever had belonged to another man, not this psycho mess crumbling to pieces on the floor – hair tangled by the wind and his raking hands, the madness in his laughter, the clumsy angles of his limbs as he slumped against the wall, head grinding against the plaster as he howled behind his shaking hand.
“You’re crazy.” Casper’s words cracked like dry parchment in the air. A shiver shot through his spine and he wrapped his arms tight around himself. Stupid that. Like his own damn warmth could ever keep him safe from this monster, ’cause here it was. Cain was going to kill him, and he’d been right all along.
And hey, maybe he’d pretend that the real crazy hadn’t been thinking psycho had ever loved him.
The lance through his chest had Casper stumbling back a step. A ragged breath tore from his throat, and some serpentine coil wrapped around his mind curled tighter, crushing his brain under the constrictor-death of reality. Cain was crazy, and Casper was going to die with crazy’s hands wrapped around his fucking throat while nutjob sobbed over his latest lost boy.
Maybe this was all just the afterlife anyway. Time borrowed from the Cain who’d cradled him on the bridge and eased him back from the edge.
How could someone who cared so much just kill him anyway?
There was a door just to his left, and without taking his eyes off Cain and his mad laughter, Casper fumbled for the handle. The knob was as heavy and rickety beneath his hand as the shudder of his heart against his ribs. He twisted it. It stuck – shit – then the sweat-slick grip of his hand caught and with a groan of protest, the door unstuck.
Casper froze, breath catching in his chest.
No reaction from the madman losing his mind on the floor.
On trembling legs, Casper edged out of the room into a dark corridor he didn’t recognise. With the shadows licking at his throat and his heels, he crept down it as quiet as he could, careful heel-to-toe steps with any knock against the wood drowned in the sobbing laughter that chased him down the hall. Only once he reached a familiar part of the house, murky grey light filtering in through a cloudy window, did he give into the adrenaline that raced electric through his veins and ran.
Yeah and you’re one to talk, roach boy. You slip into skins like dicks slip into you.