The first time you fall in love, you are hiding in the catacombs. In that cold, dry labyrinth of bones, the feeling comes on suddenly and takes the form of an unfamiliar ache in your chest. It’s a bit like rat flu; blood rushes to your nethers, your throat constricts. The tag hanging around her neck says her name is Marigold. Papery and desiccated, she is pinned to the wall along with the other virgins. Dried flowers the colour of bruises adorn her skull. You run your fingertips over the lace hem of her dress, once white and now stained yellow by time. There’s something about Marigold. She has the residue of magic that you recognise. This woman also dreamt of the ocean, the rhythmic crashing of the waves against the sea wall sang her to sleep too. You take a step back, and place your palms against the cold stone wall. The corners of your mouth turn upwards. With her jaw twisted in the grimace of death, Marigold could almost be smiling back. She wants you to help her; you make her a promise. You lift her down from the nails that pin her to the wall, dust from her bones smother your face and cloak. You breathe her in, tiny particles of Marigold fill your nasal cavities and the world turns on its axis. Glitter fizzes in your peripheral vision, your lips tingle. Of all the drugs you’ve taken, she is the strangest. You’re unravelling; the change is alchemical.
Darkness shrouds the city. Slicing your way through the winding lanes, you know the guts of Vardanel inside out, Marigold’s memories play out in your mind as if you had been there. You can see her now, in a meadow. The late afternoon light gilding her flaxen hair. Soft grasses sway around her ankles, there are shades of green you could have never imagined. She only thought of blues though, and the little boat that would carry her across the waves back home. She came from a land far away, her family dreamt of a better life on arable lands outside the great capital. They told her she’d need a new name here, and so they christened her Marigold, the flower of death.
Your brown linen dress is darkened by the downpour. It rains all the time now, saturnine clouds loom over the city giving the illusion of eternal twilight. Vardanel, the great city, is in its death throes. The great wheel is turning and the final cycle is almost complete. Factories belch grey clouds of chemicals, poison fog dissolves the statues in the plaza. Gulls, like pale spectres, fall dead from the skies. In the darkness below, knife-wielding miscreants like you lurk in the shadows. As a babe, you were spat out into the roiling docks; one rat amongst many more. Only the sound of the sea drowned out the nightmares. An honest life was never an option. Now you spill blood for money and your services are highly prized. You’re good at your job because your dice are loaded, you see people before they can see you. You know who’s at the door before they’ve knocked. Only a cockroach would thrive under these conditions, impervious to the pain and suffering you cause. You were born at the perfect moment in history – this is the time of monsters.
Marigold could see things, like you can. Like the blackthorn tree, she predicted when the harsh winters would come. The village folk feared her. They slit her throat on a rock by the tiny wooden chapel on the last day of spring. You feel her terror and your chest tightens. Her body was sewn into a calico bag and placed on the back of a wagon headed for Vardanel. The church took her in and interred her in the darkness of the catacombs. Hot tears fill your eyes.
The wet pavements coruscate in the light of the gas lamps. By the time you reach the docks, the dawn light, watery and thin, is seeping through the clouds. It’s raining again. Large spots of light now flare across your vision. A shiver of pleasure runs down your spine as Marigold still courses through your blood. A crust of salt pulls on your skin. You gently kiss her head, her skull is smooth and creamy white. With a prayer to St Perdita that she might find safe passage home, you lift Marigold over your head and drop her gently into the sea, her sparrow bones so delicate she hardly makes a splash. Slowly she begins to sink beneath the surface, until all that remains is her flower crown bobbing on the waves. Maybe you should follow her, you shouldn’t let her go alone and there’s nothing left for you here in this rotten city. You step onto the railing and your foot slips on the wet metal. As you look back to the sea, there is a spot of light blooming under the grey waves where Marigold went under. It begins to spread and then, with great violence erupts from the surface of the sea. The explosion rings in your ears. The wheel turns its full circle. A new age has begun.
R.L. Summerling is a writer from South East London. In her free time she enjoys befriending crows in Nunhead Cemetery. She has previously been published with Ghost Orchid Press. You can find her at rlsummerling.com and on Twitter @RLSummerling