I wasn’t there.
But from what Violet told me and what I have dreamed and seen since knowing her, I can imagine it carefully (but completely) and I think it was something like this…
Violet, just ten then, small and pale in the restless shadows of her suburban bedroom, trembling in the frilly cage they made for her, their little darling, cluttered with all the objects a healthy girl of her time and space might like. As if they didn’t even know her. Trembling from a breeze through the open window and from missing him, from missing her big brother so much that she’s sick with it. It would be his birthday in just a few minutes, and he wasn’t home, and the tendril-tips of her nervous system were almost stabbing through her skin from within, from her abject hunger and thirst for him. Her brother Johnny. The only one who knows her, or who knew her then.
Her walls and ceiling were plastered with glow in the dark stars and her nursery cosmos felt vast that night, she just a ghost girl or a little moon, floating in it. All that queasy light. All that bubbling darkness. And the real stars, churning through the blurry lens of her fever, through a scrim of lacy gauze, through the pretty wound of a window. She trembled for several forevers, wondering if his great change would come to pass, if he could unfold fully without her watching and doing the movements. There’s nothing for her to pray to but the beast on the other side of his shifting. But prayers can sometimes summon things, even if you don’t know what shade of angel might be listening and pulling some strings.
And then there he was, the brother, climbing in through her window in soggy hospital clothes, pungent bughouse pyjamas, a twelve year old refugee from the land of Nod, going on thirteen and never coming back. But in the little bedroom with her, suddenly summoned, suddenly real, so much more actual than the dolls and the painted rainbows and the cartoon taxidermy. Sprawled in a Disney-skinned puddle of tree-scarred moonlight. As pale as she, with Peter Pan freckles and eyes too tired for a face so young, but lighting up at the sight of her, at the smile she’d break into whenever he made mischief.
They must have kissed like symbiotic siblings kiss. They must have held each other.
He was soaked with something and he smelled like the scary garage, but she didn’t care. What trials must he have endured to survive and escape that place on this special night? She couldn’t imagine. It was her nature to forgive him everything always and sacramentalise his every defect.
They must have savoured the reunion and communion with a special intensity. Considering what they’d been through, what they knew. Knowing the hell that must come to him in this room in a matter of moments, otherwise a story is just a story and the things they said aren’t true. Johnny was as hungry for Violet’s proximity as she had been for his. But the process they serve is higher than love. A transcendental process, though they didn’t use those words.
Johnny was a religion unto himself. Violet was his only apostle.
Three years between them, but he deferred to her always, with a sincere reverence, since way back, since before his hysterical revelations and their religious conversations and the strange secret games they played that changed everything. In Johnny’s mind, Violet was closer to the thing they were before the beginning of things, and therefore more holy than he. But he was so close to tasting that place and state again. It’s what birthdays are all about.
She would follow him into any old nightmare. His way of seeing made sense of everything in ways the tired monotone myths of the grown-ups did not.
He asked her if she remembered what to do. Because of this desperate improvisation, they couldn’t employ all the elements of this ritual they had rehearsed so often they could do it in dreams. But so much of it was window dressing anyway, all the props and the incantations. It really all comes down to acoustics and chemistry.
Of course she remembered.
The kitchen matches she stole for him were hidden in the dollhouse. They did foresee some emergencies. She handed him the box and hated the hurting but loved him and believed him, and there is no death, if you know the ritual tones and poses. Only a change of state. No words were necessary. No noise but a tone only children can hear. No haggard parent would wake up to stop this, not until it was too late.
He sat Indian style at the foot of her ridiculous princess bed, opening the matchbox, sharing a brave gaze with her. She sat on the bed and contorted into a configuration of limbs only a child could achieve. She was a Möbius strip of girlflesh, wearing a doll mask, staring through him and into him with the innocence of a mirror.
At the very same moment, they emitted the tone. A vibrational lubricant that smooths the birthing of something Other as it sloughs its little kid cocoon. It’s what we’re here for. It’s the big secret. The big secret I know now because she told me. Striking a match. Still, the tone. A complicated grace attended their ceremony. The first strike made flame.
Flame unfolding like the wavering petals of a solarized timelapse ghost lily, licking his surface with pyjama-shredding, skin-blistering heat. Just like in his visions. Still, they made the tone. Despite the flame. Despite the pain. Louder now, just a minute or two until the adulty things come shambling through the door, stinking like they do of decay and shrivelled convictions.
Still, the gaze and the tone, and already he was beyond pain, his babyskin blackened into ash and brainjuice boiling, consciousness in ruins. Still, the lotus, like a young monk in wartime. The whole bedroom catching fire, then. His heart burst and something inside him was ready to leave and her gaze didn’t waver.
Her dollhouse was a hot pink holocaust. The dolls themselves were burning as they beheld him, as they bore witness to a metamorphosis perceptible only to mad children and their playthings. Johnny’s lungs were dust, but Violet went right on chanting until the parentals came running in, all electric with anxiety like always. As electric as they get.
The happening that kept Violet still despite the heat and the horror of it all and serene despite her violently disintegrating playmate, that event was invisible to the eye of “maturity”. All the parents saw that night was their allegedly incarcerated thirteen-year old son on fire in his little sister’s bedroom, wayward boy smoked into charcoal bones. Their daughters limbs twisted in some kind of acrobatic evil tween yoga, emitting a ghostly tone that afflicted them with phantom aches in every tooth they had lost since they were children.
The male parent screamed. The female lunged and seized her daughter, screaming too but fast and brave like a child, just for a moment. A moment was enough to save suddenly silent Violet, who let it happen.
She’d seen the shifting.
She knew it to be true then, in her nerves instead of just in her head, all the mad things Johnny had known and shared with her since before they started wrapping her up in words. She had emitted the tone, she had watched it all, and she didn’t cry. Her mask was incorruptible, for it framed the flames in her own future. There’s a place that is not a place where the thing we really are pleasures itself with many tendrils that dream that they are individuals until they are flexed and we remember. She would breathe him there, in the fullness of time. She had some growing to do. Rules. Always rules. No state has more rules than freedom.
Outside and “safe”, more alone with the old ones than ever, and yet full of Johnny and his triumph, she savoured the chaos. She liked the sirens and the flashing lights and the way their burning house lit up the screaming sky and the abyss itself was solarised, a broken girl with soft black stars in her eyes. The woman thing was holding her and turning to shield Violet’s gaze from the inferno where her sick brother died before her eyes. But Violet was squirming and determined to see it all, apocalypse and aftermath, and commit every hungry tongue of flame to memory.
She rebuffed the shrill consolations of the man and the woman and all the other misshapen grown things on the street in their nightclothes. She could see hints in the incendiary afterbirth of her brother’s transfiguration that made her laugh out loud.
Laughing madly, like every little thing in the burning world was funny. Laughing like that for too many minutes.
When the old doctor things gave her something druggy and the laughing stopped, Violet dreamed of a haunted world without him, only three years long. How should she spend those breathless hours? How could she honor him in that time and make his achievement understood? By other kids, that is. No one else matters. Not even the parentals. Especially not the parentals. They’ll run from brutal truth, like grown-ups do. They’ll take her away from all this, as if to start anew.
“Games tend to end,” he would say, “but a lot goes on forever.”
JASON SQUAMATA is a writer of weird fiction, desperate confessions,
surrealist poetry, spoken word hypnoscripts, and the occasional comic book.
He’s been working under a different name at Powells Books for almost a
decade. His work has appeared in Gigi Little’s CITY OF WEIRD, Stealing
Time Magazine, Deep Overstock, Pulp Impossible, and propellermag.
com. He’s currently constructing a podcast for mass consumption,
launching in November as THE ORAKULOID. He can be contacted and/or
commissioned at firstname.lastname@example.org