Chapter 25

I came around the corner and finally saw it.

The machine was gigantic, standing freely in a long smooth pit, and towering infinitely into the sky. Even if you broke your neck trying to tilt your head up, you could never see the end. It broke the sky. I could see clouds orbiting it miles and miles up.

This close, the hellish noise was a grinding, howling, blistering buzz, like a fly a hundred feet tall made out of rusted metal. I could see the problem: as the machine's spokes went around, they were creased with blood-- or maybe slimy red oil-- that ran down from somewhere high above and grew gummy as the machine's spires revolved.

In the center of the gears and springs and putrid clockwork a sick red light pulsed. I looked at at it and felt sick myself, as if it were the heart of a vast ugly monster that inspired revulsion. I felt like it was looking back at me.

A walkway suspended above the machine's pit (the machine seemed to go down infinitely too) reached out to the machine and disappeared into the center of that light. I couldn't tell how this little catwalk kept from being crushed by the gears it had to pass to get to the center, but it remained intact and stable.

I wouldn't be taking it. To follow that concourse would be to get chewed up by the workings of the machine or be burned alive by that red light. Nothing would be left and, I averted my gaze, be at the cost of my own soul.

I threw my eyes around until they hurt, looking for her. And there she was.

Right by the rusted railings, looking toward the center; her blonde hair crystallized red by the light and her ruined dress flowing around her as it was disturbed by the warm wind slowly escaping from light. Small, she looked-- so small. She'd never been a large woman, but in front of the machine she diminished and seeing her there brought my heart up. Finally! Finally, there she was. It'd been hell, but there she was both real and present. I'd always hated her romance movies but until I saw her there I had never realized why. It's not the bad writing, the cheesy premises, it is the endings. They're too easy they can't happen. In the movies, you race to the airport to confess your undying love to save the girl from moving away to Chicago or London or Phoenix and keep her from marrying the movie's douchebag. But in real life you get to the airport and the plane has left, or the girl refuses, or there's a fight, or you don't go at all because you've both grown so distant in time or space that there is nothing to say, or you don't go because one of you has shot a hole so big through the relationship that nothing can ever be repaired. But! Here was my wife, for God's sake, looking into a tower or pistons, gears, motors, and electrical arcs.

I couldn't stand and watch. Today I'll force it right, I thought. I love her and that thing is not taking her.

"Catherine!" I yelled, but the noise drowned me out.

I ran to the woman I loved and caught her by the hand.

She turned, her pale blue eyes reflecting the machine's hellish light.

"Oh hi," she said, as her hair whipped around us. She looked up with neither surprise or fear. "I was afraid you'd be too late."

"Too late for what?" I asked.

"For Sarah," she said.

"Sarah?" I asked. The words burned in that infernal atmosphere. "Catherine, for Christ's sake, we can still get out of here. I've got a boat waiting. We can go home. Or go to Paris, or a park, or anywhere but here!"

"Sarah's here," she said.

"Catherine," I said losing my patience, "Sarah's dead. We have to go."

"No, Catherine said. "She's here."

Her hand rose, pointing down the catwalk into the light.

I looked.

"There's nothing there," I said, moving to secure both her wrists. She twisted away.

"She's right there," Catherine said. She started to pout. I'd seen this before and it always meant trouble, usually for me. We couldn't afford for her to have a temper tantrum now. She continued with: "We need to go get her."

"Listen!" I said, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Sarah's been gone for over a year. You said yourself the guy who took her looked like a-- a-- a-- person who would hurt her. He broke your nose, for--"

"She's here," Catherine said.

That light had poisoned every thing about her. Orange infernal hues flickered on her torn dress, across her face, in her eyes. It cut through flesh and fabric. I could see her sharp and too thin hipbones through the dress, the heart tattoos above them, and the dark patch below. It was obscene. I'd seen her naked hundreds of times, but had never seen her like this.

"She's not here!" I yelled.

"I'm going to get her," she said spitting in my face. "If you can't even help your own--"

"I'm not letting you walk into that thing," I said. I don't bother to wipe off the spit. I can feel it run down my checks. It was cold.

She tried to wrench herself out of my grasp, but I was too strong.

"You son of a bitch!" she said. "I can't live this lie anymore! Every damn day it eats and eats deeper and deeper. The man didn't break my nose, Isaac. I broke my nose."

"What?" I said. "Come on, Cathy, we need to go. This place isn't healthy. I think it might be affecting our minds."

"Isaac," she said calmly. Now she was grasping me by my arms. "Isaac" she said slowly. "There was no man. I smashed a brick into my own face."

"What?" I asked.

My hands slipped. She'd gone crazy. The light had driven her mad. I need to get her out of here.

"Isaac," she said. "Our daughter was never kidnapped. That day, I gave Sarah all the Percocet from my jaw surgery and I carried her down to to the well in Jansen's yard. I pried open the boards and I--"

"Stop, stop, stop," I said. "Please. Please!"

But she didn't. Her voice was low, monotonous, and lifeless, and though the machine squealed on, I heard ever word.

"-- dumped her down there and I nailed back the--"

"Don't!" I cried. The yell reverberated in the machine as if the thing were hungry for it.

"Isaac. I killed our daughter."

I backed away from her. I could only stare. Her blue eyes blinked once the pretty blonde lashed painted red and she turned from me.

"Isaac," she said, over her shoulder. "I killed our daughter. And now she's there." She pointed. "And I must get her back."

I watched her. Step after step toward the pistons, blades, and vibrating springs. I saw her step too close and get clipped by a giant fanbelt and I watched as it pulled her up into the workings shredding first her dress and last her bones. I saw all the bones rise and break as the light cracked them open and I fell to my knees and watched dumbly for I realized I couldn't see her anymore. But I didn't follow her.

God help me, I let my wife walk into the machine.

The End