Chapter 3: Victor
Life isn’t fair. Everyone knows that in their heart of hearts. Hope wasn’t a demon in actual fact, and she really did have a very young child die of cancer. The cancer that killed Mary was likewise an unfairness.
Ever since there were humans, humans have noticed this bitter, violent, depressing aspect of the universe, and they poured everything they had into fixing it. They created entire worlds where justice outweighed everything and the good people always won. They called this sort of thing “heaven.” Or sometimes “storytelling.”
“Mary!” screamed a voice.
Mary turned around and saw the father of her child approaching her. Within seconds he was there, close enough to touch.
“Victor,” Mary breathed.
She was at the foot of the mountain.
Mary had written to Victor after the fact, and lied. She had told him that she had had a baby, his baby, and it was given up for adoption. In his return letter he pressed rather angrily for more information. She had told him that the child had gone to a wealthy couple who couldn’t conceive and were growing desperate. They had promised her the baby would have the world, she claimed. He would never want for anything in his life.
Now Victor knew she had lied. She could tell just by looking at him, he knew. He came towards her, his expression unreadable and his eyes just blanks.
Then, he crushed her in a hug.
“The baby is here, isn’t he?” he whispered.
“Yes,” Mary said through her tears. She had not been held for a long, long time.
With a desperate push from the recesses of her brain Mary said, “I left him on the church steps right after I gave birth. I hammered on the door, but… I was so scared.” But Will must have been scared too, Mary thought in anguish. “No-one came. No-one came, and he died.”
Victor stopped hugging her, and let out a long breath.
“I knew you lied to me,” he said flatly. “In the worst way possible way you lied.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He let out another breath, and this one sounded like a death rattle. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now. We’re all here together in hell. What can I say that the universe hasn’t already said? But I…”
Mary knew what was coming. “You don’t forgive me.”
“No,” said Victor. “No. I do not.”
During the silence that came after, whole centuries might have passed on Earth.
“How are you here?” Mary finally said, timidly. “How did you die?”
“It was three years before you,” Victor said. “I remember. I had other girlfriends… some overlapping. Going back on my motorcycle from one of their houses and-“ He mimed something unpleasant, and final.
“No-one ever told me. I’m sorry,” Mary said.
“I think you have more than that to be sorry for,” Victor said. Then without looking at her he said, “You know what’s on the other side of this mountain?”
“A house full of children, I know.”
“You won’t see him, Mary,” Victor said. “There are other children I have known in my life who died before their time. A niece, a nephew, a godson. I climbed the mountain to look for them. There’s a house, a house bigger than all comprehension, but you can’t get to it.”
“There are guards?”
As a gaggle of demons flew overhead Victor said, “There’s a wall around the house. And I got to the gate. I pressed my face against it and I almost reached a hand out. I could unlock it, I knew I could unlock it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.”
“Why?” Mary asked in a howl.
“What can I tell you? I have no power here. No-one does,” said Victor. “You can’t go to the lighter place. You might see your child running in the courtyard one day, maybe, and after that you’ll want more and you’ll never be able to get it. You can’t get through the gate. No-one, no-one, ever has.”
Mary looked at the face of this man she had very much loved once, and through the neverending tears she said, “I want to try though.”
“Okay,” said Victor, a small touch of real sympathy in his voice for the first time. “You should. But you won’t be able to do it either.”
Mary glanced at the mountain ahead. She wasn’t sure whether to say goodbye to Victor then and there or not. She definitely owed him something but she had no idea what to do.
Eventually she just nodded at him. He nodded back.
“Well, good luck,” he said.
Mary began walking upwards.
It didn’t take as long to climb the mountain as Mary had thought. Oh, it was terrifying, in its own way. She looked down only once and saw hell spread out beneath her like the mouth of a world-devouring beast.
But what would happen to her if she fell? Nothing. She’d already fallen.
There were other people on the mountain too, some going up and some going down, but she spoke to none of them and they didn’t speak to her. The true challenge, the true horror, was on the other side. When Mary reached the top she saw a long path leading down, and far off in the distance a house that her brain could not parse as something solid. She walked, and she walked, and she walked.
The other people went away. Mary suspected some of them were walking the path with her but she simply couldn’t see them. She wasn’t sure if that thought brought her comfort or more pain.
On and on she went. The sky above her turned from red to a kind of sickly white. Mary strained to hear the voices of children on the air, but she heard nothing.
Then suddenly she did. A scream cut through the air, and Mary’s whole body contorted in horror before she realised it was a scream of joy, not of horror. There really were children here, and they were well, and they were happy. She was so staggered that she sunk to the ground for a moment, and pushed her eyes to see.
The house which held the children, it was… there. It existed, but that was about the only thing you could say about it. And around it, visible through a chainlink barb-wire fence, there were real, human kids.
Mary recognised none of them. Would she even know it was Will, if she saw him? She had wondered that all the way up the mountain. He had been a baby, had he grown? Did he actually look like the one demon who had mocked her with his face? Did he look like her?
There was a gate in the fence, the one Victor had talked about. It was unremarkable in every way. Mary reached a hand out to it.
And then she stopped.
That was it. There was nothing else. She just stopped. And then she turned away, and started walking in the other direction.
A great horned demon fluttered down in a haze of something vile.
“Well, you tried,” it told her. “Not really your fault. I suppose you were raised on stories where a lone hero succeeds where everyone else fails because their love was just that strong.”
“How would you know?” Mary asked wretchedly.
“Because literally everyone is,” said the demon. “Humans really do fill their children’s heads with absolute bollocks.”
He turned around and flew away. Mary followed him on foot. There was nothing else to do.
“They’re not real, by the way,” the demon told her. “It’s cute that you all believe we have a little nursery here. But we don’t take care of children. No more than you did. This is hell, for fuck’s sake.”
“Oh,” said Mary. That was all she could manage, the one syllable of empty numbness. It seemed, at that moment, an apt summary of her entire existence.