As Ames had walked past the statue where Wolf was bound, he’d looked at Wolf. And he’d smiled, and Wolf had suddenly known fear. He’d been afraid of Ames, but with that smile, suddenly he was afraid of Rose herself. What she could do to him if she wanted…. Wolf knew how she was afraid to love, how she was afraid of him because of her desire for him. He could smell it on her. Ames was confident that she’d destroy him because of that. And the sonofabitch might be right. He’d stripped her naked, not in order to raise Wolf’s desire, but to raise her fear of him, her fear of her own desire, to the point where she’d embrace the darkness and strike first.
And just as suddenly his head was swimming with desire for Rose. But it was desire tinged with dark currents, with fear and resentment. He hated being powerless here with her, he hated how she’d always knew what he was thinking, how she could see what he was thinking now, now when all this horrible stuff about her was going around behind his eyes where, damn it, it should have been private. He had no power here, because he was tied up. They both were, but her power didn’t have a thing to do with the ropes, did it? She could cloud his judgement, she could hurt him, maybe she could even kill him. His desire had risen like a long-forgotten creature from the still depths where he’d buried it along with Maria. And he’d found himself blaming Rose for Maria’s death, and he’d found his fear working with his need for vengeance and trying to find a way to hurt her because her kind had hurt Maria, because she could hurt him, to stop her before she did anything to him.
And that was crap thinking on the highest order. That was where Wolf put the brakes on his mind again. It had been a gift like Rose’s gift, but Maria’s death hadn’t been Rose’s choice, it had been Ames’ choice. It was his fault, not hers. And once the brakes were on, the rest of the pattern came down. The combination of desire with distrust and fear was where rapists come from. Rapists use sex to take powerful women down a peg, or as a way to take vengeance against them. And rapists disgusted Wolf. He set down the bar in his mind, simply by flatly refusing to be one of those disgusting creatures, and the pattern Ames had set up collapsed.
The desire was still there. That, he couldn’t quell as easily, and it hadn’t collapsed along with the rest of Ames’ pattern because it didn’t need the support of that pattern. But he did not look at her. And he breathed through his mouth so he wouldn’t smell her. And if he still wanted her, then he would try at least to let it be the honest want of a man who wants a woman as a friend and a partner and a playmate, instead of the darker crap Ames had tried to frame his desire with. Wolf recalled that he’d told Rose once that he trusted her. That was a better course than the fear and the resentment. Now he had to trust her not to destroy him for harboring that desire.
But inside his mind, his need for vengeance was sitting up and sharpening its knife, waiting for Ames to return. And that was his own darkness, and he was going to have to trust Rose with that, too.
Minutes dragged into an hour. Finally, though, Ames returned, puffing slightly, with two of the pawns who’d taken down Rose, Wolf, and Mitch dragging a skinny guy with
a mask over his face by the coat collar and a muscular naked blond woman by the arm. The skinny guy, he tied to Agony – the statue that Wolf had first recognized as Laura Houang.
Then he casually dragged Mike and the dead woman who Wolf didn’t know off the empty pedestal to the right. He set the new naked woman down in the pool of blood, and bound her hands and feet.
And then he crouched, in front of her, and just waited for her to wake up. Wolf’s eyes narrowed. Was this how, an hour and a half ago, he’d waited for Wolf? He didn’t move; Minute after minute ticked past as Wolf, Rose, and Mitch stared at him, and he waited motionless.
Finally Aphrodite woke up.
“You’re the Goddess Aphrodite,” said Ames. “I can tell. You let yourself be formed by all those people’s desire and loneliness and need. And now, I can hurt all of them, all at once, just by hurting you.”
“Do you know what I need, Aphrodite?” Ames asked. “Do you know what I desire?”
“You…. You’re broken,” Aphrodite responded with a frown. “You cannot love, and you don’t need to, don’t even want to. You’re beyond my power.”
“What I need,” said Ames with a smile that was almost gentle, “is for you to hurt.” He handed her a knife, to hold against her own breast in her bound hands. “These are the things I love, Aphrodite. Pain, and sex, and blood.” His power hung in the air over them. These were only the initial steps of what he would force Her to do, to become.
But Aphrodite rejected his power, more easily than Wolf had. She looked at the knife, then set it down. “That is not Love,” She said simply. “You desire those things, but none of them can love you.”
Ames laughed. “I have all the time in the world to work on you, Aphrodite. I can feed my power, and you cannot. You’ll be my creature before three days are gone. Why start off by fighting?”
Rose, still tied to Terror, was buffeted harshly by the power of their presence. Each time one of them used the power, it was projected hugely, overwhelmingly, from preturnatural reserves of energy that others had given them, and Rose was having trouble trying not to drown in huge seas of power each time they spoke. And Aphrodite, as Rose could see already, could resist but wasn’t going to be able to fight. Rose had recognized who Aphrodite must really be the moment after she’d recognized Philo behind that mask, but with her zen concentration, she had not been thinking about it. Until now. If Aphrodite couldn’t fight, then they needed Indra.
Indra, we need you, thought Rose. Indra, wake up. But Aphrodite did not notice, and neither did Ames. Nothing of hers penetrated their presences, which, combined, were fully as powerful a presence as that of the Jade Pagoda. Rose was alone in her head, and so were they.
Damnit, thought Rose, it wasn’t Aphrodite they needed now, it was Indra. But when Rose tried to wake Indra up out of Aphrodite’s dream, she couldn’t reach her.
It made sense, in its way. If Indra had gone and gotten Lost because she didn’t want to deal with the dark stuff she’d been working with, then she’d have chosen to be someone who wouldn’t have to deal with it, and wouldn’t be able to deal with it. And then she’d gotten caught in all the loneliness and need and the aching lack of love, and it had transformed her into Aphrodite. And though She’d only been a Goddess for a day, already Aphrodite was a focus of human attention – worship – far greater than the paltry things Rose used for shelter, and Rose couldn’t reach her mind.
And the Hook for his part gave focus to all the deep fear that monsters have for people, and his presence had been made into a looming thing that hid who he’d been far far beneath its surface.
Aphrodite sat on the dias reserved for Horror, and it was impossible to penetrate Her presence with a specific thought. The raw emotions might get through, but the intimate touch where freaks like Rose and Indra could know each other when they looked into each other’s eyes, that was gone. Too light a touch was required, too much subtlety, too many specifics. And all that kind of detail was lost in Aphrodite’s presence. Nothing could penetrate to the Goddess of Love except … except Marta’s loneliness and need for love had come through in full to Her, hadn’t it?
And the Hook … he’d been a monster, a demon, whatever you wanted to call it, for weeks, and he still fed on the pain and suffering of his victims, didn’t he? He still could get the full measure of the thoughts with which they framed their pain and degradation and suffering, couldn’t he? Yes, he could. He’d named all their secret demons as he’d gone around the circle.
Suddenly, Rose knew how to wake Indra up.
Rose cast about for a few moments, then fixed her mind on Philo. Philo knew who Indra was, and he needed Indra more than he needed the Goddess, because he loved her.
And she found Philo’s mind, and she looked inside it. There it was. His love for Indra. It was real, it was strong, and it was beautiful. She reached out, allowing herself to feel it too, making it stronger – but then stopped. This would be doing what the Hook did. This would be changing who and what Philo was.
Philo, she whispered in her mind and his, Your love for Indra can save us all. You have to wake her up. I can’t do it, I can’t give her a reason to be Indra instead of Aphrodite. But you walked through the fire for her. She pushed as hard as she could, because Philo was only a little bit sensitive…. but he felt her. He heard the whisper, he knew what to do.
“I Love You, Indra.” Philo said quietly. “You’ve always been my Goddess of Love. Te Amo, sweetie. You ain’t no ideal to me, you ain’t no hifalutin’ concept of love, you ain’t none of that moldy Greek Goddess bullshit. You’re the real deal. You are the flesh and blood woman who makes my life worth living, the artist, the exhibitionist, the one who comes with me even when I’m being nutty and the one who pulls me out of the fire when I’m in trouble. You’re the one who I come after when the universe does you a bad turn and you’re the one I care about more than anything in the whole wide damn world. I need you, Indra. I love you and I wanna be with you forever. Please, sweetie. Come back to me.”
On the pedestal, Aphrodite looked up, hazily. “Need me to be…. ” her head slewed around, rocking like a marionette’s head on a string. “Philo…” Finally she met his eyes. A long moment passed between them, then another, and another.
She made a sound like a crow’s caw. “Philo…” The sound came again, but this time it came out as a dry, rasping laugh, and Indra sat up on the platform where lately Aphrodite had been bound. Her eyes came around and lit on Ames.
“You are a thieving, murdering bastard,” she enunciated a little too carefully, guarding herself against slurring. “You stole people’s lives, and for what?!”
“They were mine to take,” Ames said, his eyes narrowing. “Our kind are the princes of nature, and I’m the strongest of us all.” He sneered and turned, preening for the people he’d tied to the Gargoyles. “You hear me?” he said. “None of you can stop me. This is my place of power, and you can’t touch me!”
Indra made her harsh little laugh again. “This is your place of power?” she said in a mocking, wondering tone. “These gargoyles here, these are yours? These are the images you had in your head when you woke up from nightmare dreams, the blood that drips down the backstairs of your own mind?” The laugh came again, louder, almost frantic. “This isn’t you facing your nightmares, you fucking idiot. It’s me facing mine!” She stood up and wiped a hand across her face.
The snarling kitten appeared. It was hazy, its outlines broken by cover cream she hadn’t managed to wipe away, but Ames finally recognized Indra, white hair and all. The grin fell off his face, and Rose was buffeted by his thrill of fear.
“These … demons … are … mine!” Indra growled at him. “This is my Terror here, this is my Hatred, my Loathing. This is the crap I had to get out of my head in some solid form when you offered me this stupid commission!”
Ames was rooted to the spot, suddenly able neither to move nor speak. But Indra didn’t know how to do any more than that.
Rose did. As Aphrodite’s presence fell away, she could touch Indra’s mind again. And in Indra’s mind, she remembered a burn Rose had got on her hand when somebody ground out his cigarette on a day when she’d been drifting back from the museum.
“Let me show you some other things I have to get out of my head, you bastard!”, Indra continued. “Let me show you the power of a Goddess and the rage of a human being whose life and love you tried to steal!”
And Indra turned to Cruelty, and remembered the welts she’d gotten braiding the whip and the burn she’d accidentally given the twins after bending its core. She did what Rose had shown her how to do, and Ames hissed with pain as his palms turned red.
Ames saw them taking pain on themselves, reached out with his mind, and tried to take hold of their self-hate … but it wasn’t the force he hoped for. Rose’s self-hate was bound about how much she was like him, and he couldn’t take hold of that without accepting a deeper hatred of himself.
Rose for her part knew exactly why to hate Ames. With an effort, she mastered her own fear of pain and snapped back into the memories of Junipero Hernandez. The pain came crashing down on them both, but the angry red welts came to Ames’ eyes and hands and balls and tongue and toes.
Rose remembered the marks of the whip on Anne’s back, remembered what it had been like to trip in Anne’s memories.
Indra felt the pain and knew, and she turned to Cruelty. An invisible lash like the lash of the steel whip she’d braided bit into Ames’ flesh. She winced, and Rose twitched, but it was Ames whose back showed the scourges of the lash.
Ames tried to turn the whipping erotic, tried to snap her into the sexplay domme role she’d shared a few times with Philo – but he couldn’t transfer her love from Philo to himself, and the whip came down on him harder for having tried as Indra wept hot tears of pain and rage.
The limp form in front of Indra’s platform – the corpse of the tiny woman who had worked here as Ames’ assistant – had become Horror, ravaged by disease and dying as the Hook prevented her from seeking treatment. Indra’s heart went out to her memory, and on Ames they heaped her weakness, her misery, the horrific pain of one dying. Ames groaned, still doubled over, and began to choke on his tongue. Then Indra’s anger burned Philo’s memory of the tear gas into him, and he sank to his knees, coughing and crying and clenching his gut.
Ames reached out one last time, trying to turn Indra’s rage – but he couldn’t do it. Each time he tried to take hold of it, it burned him. It was a justified rage, and she had no shame and no guilt and no misgivings and no self-deception about it. Her spirit was finally undivided and he could not turn her against herself, nor even against Rose.
Finally, Rose remembered the rifle shot Jensen had shown her from his nightmares, a moment which she’d made real for him. Ames’ head and Indra’s snapped back, then rolled loosely. Blood came from his ears and nose and he lay still. Indra sagged, but didn’t lose consciousness. Rose herself slowly went limp, supported only by the ropes that bound her to Terror.
Wolf watched as Indra took the knife Ames had given her and looked wonderingly at it, then cut the ropes at her ankles and got up on unsteady feet. Her nose was bleeding. She started to walk over to Philo, but lost her balance about halfway. She looked around in some confusion, then got up again, this time leaning against one of the pedestals. After a few more steps, she went to her knees. “Something’s wrong, guys,” she said. “I dunno how …” She staggered up again and levered herself over to sit on the platform where Philo was bound to Agony. She brought up the knife, then brought it down again on the ropes that tied his hands. She had to saw for ten seconds or so before the strands parted, and she managed to do it, and do it again, before she passed out.
“Ohshitohshitohshit,” Philo said, working his hands free, grabbing the knife, and starting on the rest of the ropes. “We gotta get her to a hospital now, goddamn it I am not going to lose her after coming this close to making it through this!”
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.