The moon is much brighter, much bluer when you're stepping on it, and Zack takes his time to take everything in. It feels too real to be fake despite the complex hues of its light, the pale glow of its surface soothing to the eyes even against the pitch darkness of everything else. Looking up from stirring what is almost glitter with bare toes, he sees the sky nestles what appears to be another moon, as small it would look from earth on days it is closest to the lonely planet. And that makes Isaac Foster recall, like a dream when you wake on a holiday, that everything such as it is is most unnatural because...
He looked around to actually searching for something this time around, anything to get his sanity back on track because holy fuck, if this was where he thought it was and his time had come to have all his skin stabbed off his mashed bones as they set him on fire for all of eternity then surely, surely...
Surely he should already be immersed in much more pain than this?
Surely he should be able to panic as this place should be making him now but somehow magically wasn't?
Surely... or maybe... maybe he wouldn't be alone here and now?
And with this hope, he saw it, a lone star on the moon. So he stopped feeling himself for weapons or anything to help him with and shrugged, ah, to hell with that, if she was here with him, he could brave through anything. 'Raaaaaaaaay! Over here! Raachel Gaaaardneeeeeer!'
He had to chuckle as they drew closer to one another, not running when they should, placated by the subconscious belief (knowledge) that they had all the time in the world in this place. Zack wasn't excited. He doubted the air he was breathing—was he breathing?—could let him be anything more than relaxed, fucking tranquil even. He wondered what to call whatever it was that had him screaming the blonde's name as her hair continued glowing in a wind he couldn't feel, growing in mass, in length as she started running to him at last, a lighthouse in his silvery-blue world. But he stopped thinking when he saw her eyes.
'Zack! Oh, Zack!'
She threw herself at him and he didn't have a care about anything. 'I knew I'd see you again. I knew it. I knew it.'
'Yeah, well, took you long enough.'
'I was here before you.'
'Ugh, when will you quit nitpicking, woman.'
Ray giggled, finally parted from him as if she suddenly remembered he really didn't like touching. Somehow Zack remembered that too. He fought the urge to grumble and pull her back, but found himself distracted by those eyes again. He remembered the last time he saw her smile just like this—seconds, hours or maybe even years ago, who could tell?—and smiled wider himself. He had to be honest with her this very moment: 'You were really pretty when I killed you, Ray.'
'Yeah. Your smile was so alive and your eyes were so full. You made the moonlight look nice.'
'Not the other way around?'
'What kind of sick romantic sap would I be to agree to that?'
Ray blushed (would she still have blood at this rate?), and grinned at her feet. 'Did killing me feel good?'
It was Zack's turn to grin in pleasure. 'Oh, hell yeah. It's been, what, a year since we got out of that shithole? Nearly? They wouldn't even let me smash things. I don't know how I got through all that sane.'
'You did great, Zack. Tell me about the kill.'
Zack couldn't help but scratch the back of his head, squirming as he swayed from where he stood. He knew the concept of praise but actually receiving it was foreign to him and he'd be damned if he wasn't enjoying himself. 'Ohoho, now we're talking. Let's see. Usually killing people for me'd feel like scratching an itch I'm not allowed to, or like... like finally getting to the toilet after the longest damn line in your life with your guts full of curry. You know what I mean?'
'I think so.'
'Yeah, well killing you... it was like sneezing. Like wanting to sneeze all your life and not even knowing it and then you do and it's like... well. Like sneezing for the first time. I have no fucking clue what that's like but that's best I could come up with now, I guess.'
'You mean it?'
'Hell yes I mean it. Except... it was...'
Ray's smile faltered a little but her eyes and cheeks still glowed. 'Except what?'
Zack searched for the words, scratching his head. 'Except it was more... magical, I think. Not that I know what that's like. I don't think I can put it in words. I felt somethin' here,' he jabbed at his chest. 'Or maybe I didn't because whatever was in there left and it's been around forever so I forgot how my heart's supposed to feel without it. So... its absence surprised me? Or was it replaced by something else? Hold on. I think I sound reeeeally stupid right now.'
'It's not stupid to feel things, Zack.'
'If you say so,' he mumbled, feeling very hot around the ears.
Ray bowed her head in thought, hands clasped. 'I couldn't say for sure if this is the exact same thing... but I felt something similar when you broke through that window. And when you said you'd kill me and held out your hand... there was too much of the feeling that some of it had to leave my body as tears.'
'Really? That's where tears come from? Hey, don't answer that.'
Zack took a look around them, longing to kick off some of the strange giddiness he saw no reason to feel. 'Let's go somewhere we've never been to. No rush, though. Just wanna explore this place more.'
'When I killed you, Ray,' Zack said once they had come into stride and he had scoured the sky long and far enough to see there were no stars and only the moon that never stopped hanging over their heads, 'I felt like I couldn't kill anything else in my entire life ever again.'
Ray fell a step behind him but caught up in half a second. They have been walking god knows how long in this duneless, craterless moon, and Zack knew if this had been anywhere else, they would both be gripping stitches at their sides and limping with sore feet by now. Their hair trailed behind them like they were underwater when they moved, but the effect was more striking on her long, long locks. 'Is that a bad thing, Zack?'
'I don't think so. Because nothing would compare to it. Ever. I know. I just can't say why.'
He looked at her and she's shocked, looking too afraid to believe him. So he patted her head as if that would make her.
'I wanted you to be my final kill. That's how good seeing your face going all gooey made me feel.' He stopped to raise her chin, the smile she mirrored falling when he couldn't find what he was looking for.
'What is it?' Ray asked, pink in the face and concerned.
'I think...' Zack said slowly, adjusting his head and hers in different angles, still searching for any sign of the one thing that led her here. 'I think I might have done such a clean job that I didn't do anything at all?'
Taking after him, Ray felt the junction where her skull meets the skin of her neck; 'That can't be true.' But there was nothing out of place which in itself was something to worry about, Zack guessed. 'Maybe... maybe we don't bring our scars in death.'
Now that was something to think about. 'You think?'
Zack rumpled his hair as he felt around his skull with a hand. The other he used to grope at his stomach under his hoodie. 'Huh. My head's intact s'far as I know but my skin still feels weird. '
'Maybe it's what kills us that have no place here. You think?'
'O-oh. I mean, that could be.'
She bowed her head but he wasn't particularly curious why. Now that one of them had said the 'd' word, Zack reckoned it was time to seriously consider where they were and started walking again. 'You reckon they forgot to turn the heat up here?'
'Hm? Oh. Well, hell is sometimes depicted to have different layers, like a building.'
'Based on experience, that makes a whole lotta sense. What are they like?'
'Windy, rainy... swampy... steamy... lots of demons making sure you never get out.'
'I don't think it's just "that's it" if you have to stay forever.'
'What about the whole boiling blood shazzam?'
'That appears in one floor. But the worst part of hell is supposed to be a frozen river.'
'That's underwhelming. I survived, what, four winters without a decent coat or hideout. Guess hell's not as bad as everyone's making it. Nothing to worry about then!'
They walked on in silence for a while, this time with Ray holding on to Zack's hand. He wasn't sure if hand-holding was supposed to be so tight but he let her be, it made him feel more at ease with what was yet to come. Not that he was so worried. This place had something going on that made him feel so light.
After what felt like several hours later, Ray asked, 'What could that be?'
Zack had to blink a few times before seeing what she was pointing to. 'Looks like a bigass building.'
And it was. Zack almost couldn't believe it: 'What on earth is a church doing in hell?'
'Maybe a reverend runs it too. Should we knock?'
'Good manners never die, I guess,' he muttered.
But as they approached they found there was no need to. In every way save for the complete lack of a door, the cathedral was the exact copy of the one above Reverend Gray's building. 'Oh,' Ray swooned, 'there are birdies nesting up there. Do you think they're dead too?'
'So long as they don't shit on us, I couldn't care if I tried,' Zack bristled. Whatever drug the groundskeepers laced the air to tranquilize the pair with, Zack still felt uneasy over the prospect of reentering his personal not-happy place. The memory of the blood gushing out of her mouth too vivid on his mind, he wondered what Ray must be feeling and tried to distract her. 'I guess the gates to hell are... gateless after all, huh?'
They stood side by side, squinting at the darkness beyond the entryway that would not let any of the surface's light in, nor moonlight. The black hole seemed to squint back: even the stained glass of the windows didn't seem to have any effect on its large and looming presence.
'Hey Ray... Did I just go selectively blind or is there literally nothing inside this place?'
Ray said nothing. She was so still next to him that Zack finally took a look at her to see what was up. He couldn't read the intensity in her gaze, nor the way she held her breath in a way that didn't suggest it was in fear. 'Ray?'
'I think,' Ray whispered, 'someone's calling me from inside.'
Zack thought he might have flinched—really would have—if they had been elsewhere. 'Really. Um, from this idiot raised on horror flicks' point of view, that's usually the first sign we should scram. Like, now. Asides from how dark it is. Not that that scares me, by the way, it's just not natural. And asides from, well, everything else.'
Ray shook her head but did not step forward. 'It's not evil Zack. It's not.'
'How do you know?'
Ray only kept still. What the hell was wrong with-
'Oh, I get it! You were dying then so you didn't see. Remember that pisspot where we met? Turned out the whole place had a bigass church on top, like a bluff or something. Exactly like this one in fact, but with doors.'
And Zack finally saw the reaction he had been waiting for: wide eyes and a step closer to him, slightly towards his back. He couldn't help but chuckle. 'That's what I thought.'
They said nothing for some time in that place where no wind blew. Zack had a funny feeling there was nothing else for them on this moon and no other way to go anyway and hoped (futilely, he knew) that Ray wasn't thinking the same thing. He watched her eyes wander up to the birds above them.
'But I never would have met you if I never came here,' she whispered.
Zack scoffed, trying to outrun whatever it was beginning to break loose in his chest. 'Ray, I get that you asked to be put there cause you wanted to die and I don't regret... that.' He sighed at his incompetence, shuddering a little. But he had to keep trying. 'You do get me, right? Seeing how you're already actually dead and we're safe as munchkins by the dozen as is, I am really not keen on... feeling alive again. Cause, you know, being alive means being sc... yeah. Though we're, uh, technically dead as far as biology goes, I guess.'
She bowed her head and whispered so small that he almost didn't catch it: 'I'm scared too, Zack. I-I don't want to die anymore.'
Zack wanted to cackle, thought it might be disrespectful to anyone watching for some reason, and struggled to rein himself in. 'Pfft. Okay. What are you afraid of now? Where else other than hell do you think we'll wake up when they do us in for being bad?'
'Somewhere without you next to me.'
He couldn't say anything to that. 'Then,' Zack yelped once it was clear to him that he was probably going to end up needlessly martyred by her side now that she had let him in on something like that, 'why go in there? Can't we stay happy and fearless and dead?'
Ray shrank in on herself, and her hair seemed to go limp entirely. 'I'm scared of the answer, Zack.'
If he had been anywhere else, Zack would have had punched her to the floor by now, or at the very least start hissing and stamping his foot. But he wasn't, so he breathed through his nose and said 'Ray, listen. I may have gotten out of jail on my own but yer gonna have to explain this to me. Full-blown commentate like it's a ballgame if you have to. That's the only way I'm gonna understand you. You know I'm an idiot when it comes to my own feelings and a hell lot more when it's others', right?'
To his surprise, she chuckled. He never thought she'd have it in her to do something as useless as chuckle. It sounded as bitter as her tiny sneer. 'It goes against everything I learned from my time with you Zack. But I still feel it. That... this isn't... what I wanted to be dead for.'
Zack counted the things he immediately got from that—zero. Okay. She didn't want to talk about it. But she wasn't doing anything to stop him from knowing either.
He sighed again, It's okay. There's enough time and patience to go around on this glittering moon for them to figure this out. But he already knew from the way she hugged herself now that whatever conclusion he reaches, it wasn't going to be pretty.
First (maybe—it's not like he knew how to rationally think about these things), what was it that Ray wanted? Death because she was guilty of mauling her parents, said guilt stemming from some fat book Zack had zero knowledge about, which he then helped channel to her instead—The death wish was hers and hers from that little moment of theirs on the floor of her mock house onwards, and not some non-existent slob's anymore.
So he gave her what she wanted in exchange for the most beautiful smile Zack had ever seen in his life. They find that death isn't so bad; it's pleasant even. Boring but considering their backgrounds, it wasn't like they could be ungrateful for it. Here, hell was just an option and it was the option Ray wanted to take.
Why? She said she doesn't want this—this being not alive, this being not scared. Who in the right mind wouldn't want that? Or maybe... maybe it was Zack with the problem. Danny once told him that he hadn't slightest trace of basic empathy in his bones to explain why he killed people. Not that Zack understood that, but whatever the hell that geezer meant, he wish it applied to Ray too. But now wasn't the time to think about that.
Okay, Zack repeated to himself, looking up at the moon once staring at her looking so small started doing shit to his nerves. Assuming Ray wasn't in the right mind, why would she no longer want... not to die as she had said, but to suffer? He immediately had an answer: guilt. He never had a past that allowed him to be guilty about anything, always getting hurt whether he deserved to be or not, and what the hell, he wasn't going to get anywhere at this point. He should ask her to just tell him what she meant by all that, but she flinched like he hurt her when he caught her staring desperately up at him, and looked back to her feet, tears making tiny, ever-growing, and (he notes after watching their progress for a while) never ending ripples in the dust where they stood.
When he realized her guilt was enough to change the geography of one entire planet—the moon is a planet, right? whatever—he decided to stop wondering why and instead resorted to doing what he did best with his thoughts—to see how he felt about them. He looked back to the dark mouth of the abandoned shadow-church and decided that that irked him more than the prospect of suffering again: Ray believing she didn't deserve peace. Ray wanting pain, not because she enjoyed it, but because she thought it's something she deserved.
Zack wasn't sure how that would feel entirely, but if the sand tickling his bare feet on its own was anything to go by, it must be painful.
And he didn't like it. He couldn't tell which was worse: the idea of Ray hurting or Ray wishing she got hurt. He didn't like not knowing which one was, for god's sake!
He didn't like how there was no way for her to get better unless it was to hurt even more. And he most certainly didn't like the prospect of going after her just because he couldn't ignore how he didn't like her hurt, emotionally, physically or otherwise. He also didn't like that given the choice, he wouldn't get rid of this inability to ignore Ray's emotional state, and What the hell. It was too much at once and he had to fucking process it. And realizing that was the last straw.
In Zack Foster fashion, Zack lost all the names and labels he had given the products of his musings in a snap and knew only that he was pissed. Pissed, pissed, pissed, fucking pissed, pissed as much as this place allowed one to be pissed, which was not very much to be fair, but he stomped his way forward to let her know anyway because it wasn't like Zack Foster to keep his negative feelings bottled in. Not even in death.
Not even in hell.
'We're going in.'
'That's what you want, isn't it? Well, I'm not about to let your unsupervised, underage, unbendingly moral, masochistic, shrimpy little weakass excuse of a behind walk through hell without a full-grown functioning adult for a chaperone, dammit! Let's go already!'
Ray stared at him The silver trails from her eyes were blown away by a wind that couldn't be felt, the same that set her golden hair in motion once more. The sands ceased to swirl and shift at once. 'You don't have to come with-!'
Zack stormed up the building's stone steps to shut her up. He would have kicked down the door if there were any but there weren't, so he crossed over the threshold instead: 'Watch me, Rachel Gardner!'
Unlike how it looked (or not) from the outside, moonlight highlighted the abandoned chapel through the shattered stained glass windows, bouncing off puddles sidling upturned pews to shine back against graffiti on moldy walls. Nothing dripped from the ceiling as far as Zack could tell, but whatever water the floors have gathered from years of neglect left the entryway's layers of dust alone. The general fearlessness Zack was only just learning to appreciate disappeared so suddenly the way heat assaults you leaving the convenience store on a summer's day. He was hyperaware of the weight of his own skin in an instant.
'Did we go through this place before?' Ray asked timidly. Zack thought their steps against the floor should make a dent on the quiet but found none. Her hair no longer flowed behind her even as she moved.
'Nah. It was just a hallway—probably a secret passage or somethin'. Must have been, actually, we came out through a smaller door than'
the pair that was now suddenly very solid and real and slamming themselves shut behind them.
As a precaution, Zack let Ray press close to him, even enforced it by holding her shivering frame against him with one hand. Just in case. 'I guess, Ray whispered shakily, 'I guess that means we're trapped here.'
'Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious. Now what?'
'We look for a way out. Or... do we go deeper in?'
'Che. Not a-fuckin-gain.' But he slowly pulled his hood back on, feeling more real than ever in what must have been ages on this quiet, quiet moon, and guided Ray forward.
The closed doors behind them did not make as much of a difference on the lighting except now it seemed that they cast no shadow in any direction. Had it always been this way and he just noticed or...
'I'm gonna have nightmares about this to the next life,' Zack predicted. He sniffed, figured nothing out from the action, and shuddered. ''Fuuuuu-huck. If I had my damn scythe or a knife or anything, I wouldn't feel so damn shaky-'
Wary of the pews they were about to walk level with, he stepped further ahead of Ray. 'Zack-'
One of his boots made a ripple in the puddle nearest to them and turned the entire structure of the building into the clearest glass. Each little wave on the water bloomed into dozens more, and each triggered a chime from the depths of the building, the dust motes, the very air they breathed, until a thousand church bells roared in their ears and they held onto one another, shrieking and paralyzed. And in the slow, eternal time it takes for water to become still again, the din rang out of will and unfiltered moonlight glowed undisturbed on the church's floor.
'Bitch-fucking asshole,' Zack wheezed, knees barely knocking against each other, 'sucking shit out of your mother's blackhole of a shit-sucking squeeze on your inch-long dick, what the fuck was that?!'
Ray said nothing, only kept her wide eyes watchful. 'I think it's safe to move now,' she whispered. She rose from where she had fallen, taking Zack with her.
They edged forward, careful to avoid anywhere wet but that was proving to be impossibly easy. The moonlight made the floor look invisible and the water look like the high noon sun on a cloudless day, but even then their gazes seemed to manage to cut through the light to what it blanketed beneath. Zack paused by a broken pew on its knees against a puddle to better stare at the sight. 'Are you seeing this, Ray?'
'I think so.' She did a quick survey of the area, 'The largest is by the pulpit.'
They skirted around the smaller pools that littered the aisle and found Ray's pool. Here the image each individual puddle showed like a shelf of televisions in an appliance store was clearest:
Two figures slept directly below them, in a garden of white flowers lit by a full blue moon (the same hanging above them now?). Dark liquid coated Ray's entire neck and dyed quite a bit of her pale hair, but Zack was more concerned with how peaceful her expression was, whole body looking so cozy in his arms. His brains wreathed above his bloodied head like a halo, and his hood was down like he had nothing to hide from. Police surrounded the area, some taking pictures and notes of their slack embrace or the sickle he had pierced through her nape and out her throat a few feet away to where it flew off his grip when they fell.
'Oh, Zack,' Ray whispered now, kneeling with her palms clenched on the marble tiles. Her falling tears left no trace on the water nor what it reflected. 'I thought... I thought when I came to and met you sooner than I thought... I thought time just worked differently here. Why...'
'They shot me as I was making my escape,' Zack said quietly, settling on the floor himself. 'I was bleeding at your window, remember? I reckoned I took my own life on my own terms than wait for their bullets to drain my guts dry.'
'You should have taken the chance,' Ray choked, still not looking at him, 'to escape to a hospital where nobody knows you and have them patch you up. Didn't I say I'd keep our oath in my heart even if you could never fulfill it? Zack, I'm sorry- I wanted you to live long and h-have more chances to be h-happy...'
'Hey, hey. Can you not... cry or something? You're making me uncomf- oh, what the hell, girl. Look at me. Look at me. Can you calm the fuck down and look at me?'
Snuffling, nose running, Ray squinted at Zack through puffy eyes. He had to roll his own. 'Jesus, it's like I'm talking to a three-year-old. Down,' he lunged closer to grab the back of her head, 'there,' and jerked it downward.
They peered into the pool, its image so clear it was as if there was a hole on the floor. If Ray breathed her last like someone paused footage of her in the middle of laughing, death made Zack look as if he had as much control over his relieved grin as much as a sleeping baby. Head tucked over the top of her own almost protectively, he looked nearly as peaceful as her; and he had to admit he looked nice.
'Does that look unhappy to you?' Zack asked not unkindly. 'Huh? Does that fucker look like he's got any regrets being there at this very moment?'
Their view was disturbed when the authorities drawing a chalk line around their bodies paused over their figures to figure out whether or not to draw around Zack's splattered organs or stay true to the shape of his smashed head. Probably interns?
'No,' Ray admitted quietly.
'That's because I didn't. But don't go looking all smug now, I wasn't entirely ecstatic about it either. You forgot to close your eyes and freaked me out enough to almost prematurely kick it. So I jabbed them shut and closed mine too. Couldn't decide if it was the moon or the memory of them behind my eyeballs when I breathed my last, though.'
Zack had no idea why he said that out loud. Was the weird air from outside coming in through the smashed windows? 'Aww, don't look so fucking scared, Ray. You're not too bad for a final meal for the eyes. Or was it something else?'
'I told you, I don't think killing people is gonna do anything for me anymore. Even if it did, I doubt there'll be much of anything in the world left for me. And that's not your fault,' he nipped her incoming retort in the bud, 'My life is—was—my own, Ray. So was—is—my death. I don't owe you or anyone nothing and I think... I think that goes for you as well.'
And Zack saw it again, that look of fear and fear and fear that dared to hope that blue eyes deserved to shine better than they were doing at the moment. And Ray began to cry again for a very different reason, like from when Zack first saw that look months ago in the fake house of a very real girl, and he rumpled her hair when she said 'Okay.'
'Atta girl. See for yourself: you look better when you stop worrying about other people.'
And she did. The interns had brought out body bags, some prying the dead bodies' clutching fingers off one another at last. But that did not change the look in Ray's face, the one Zack felt so proud of having been the one to bring to her at last.
He told himself other creepy things he wouldn't usually think of so he wouldn't have to focus too on them scoop his brains back into his head at the corner of his eye. He was glad whoever it was handling Ray's body seemed to be the sentimental type, gently laying her to her back and taking care not to step on her hair.
'Where do you think they'll take us?' asked Ray.
'A morgue somewhere, duh. Maybe they'll throw my body into a river to cut costs. No one's gonna come around looking for it anyway.'
'I was kidding. Christ, I can't joke around here, can't I?
Her tone was more curious than accusing: 'How could you not care?'
They put Ray into her body bag—feet first, then legs lifted off the ground by firm hands over the hem of her red and white dress. Like they were afraid of waking her up. Just as they should be.
'It's just me, Ray. Or what used to look like me. I'm not that thing anymore so it doesn't matter.'
They said nothing as her upper half was held erect (softly still, and gently) and a paramedic lifted the black plastic over her still-smiling face. They made it so none of her long, dripping hair had to be pushed in after her once her body had disappeared inside the sack. Zack swallowed. 'What about you, Ray? Anyone coming over to ruin their eyeshadow over you?'
'No. My grandparents disowned my mom because she ran away with my dad. They never spoke since, and I'm not sure if they even know I exist. And Daddy was orphaned when he was little.'
'Aah. That's what Grey meant, wasn't it?'
'Never mind. Anyone else then? Uh, coworkers? Guess I would have had some, but we did them all in.'
She shook her head. 'I didn't have friends at school. Nobody understood me. And... I think I was scared that no matter how hard I tried to be nice, they'd push me away too.'
'Oh. Well, people do that, see. Guess no one's coming for us both, then.'
Watching the cleanup crew place their body bags on gurneys and push those back into the ambulance made Zack realize something. He wasn't hungry, he wasn't on the run yet, he didn't have the urge to sleep, shit or break something, and for the first time in so long, he had the luxury of thinking ahead of where he was right now. 'Say, would you have had if, I don't know, I crack my nuts by accident before coming around to snap your neck? Come over to the creek you push my body off from I mean?'
'Yes, Zack,' Ray instantly turned to look him in the eye. 'Without a doubt, but not to a creek. I'll make sure you have a grave close to where I live. I'd give you flowers and visit regularly too but I'm not sure if you'd like that.'
'Aww. You're thoughtful for such a spoiled brat.' But he wasn't sure if he was talking about her visiting or refraining from bringing him flowers anymore. Somehow, imagining Ray standing over his dead grave and speak to his equally dead ears made him feel... weird, but not in an unpleasant way exactly. He swallowed.
'Err... That reminds me. I forgot something.'
'I was planning to ask you what your favorite color was before straight up murdering you. But I guess it wouldn't have mattered.'
'I was thinking of what flower to get for you once I'd given you over to the worms. Not that I was gonna come over often. You're not that important.'
Um. Maybe all of that had been the wrong thing to say, so Zack switched course. 'Weren't you all out bitchin' over your grave from before then? You're all loose right now. Wassup with that?'
Ray looked at him with that look that made him wish he could have his emotions all figured out like a normal person for once, then she turned to watch a woman with short hair and glasses speaking tearfully with the police by their cars with a not as shining, more sober expression. Made sense that they didn't let her into the scene until they had her patient packed away, but Ray and Zack had missed most of the interview and it looked like they were just about to wrap things up.
'I had wanted to be desired in life,' Ray told Zack. 'To me, having someone spend resources and time to make a grave for me even though there's no real need for one was a way of expressing that. I thought Eddie's gesture was nice even if he didn't understand me at all so I was upset when you broke it.'
'You're not now though, are you?'
'Nn. That was long ago.'
'Just checking. I mean, ehem. Go on.'
'My... thinking back on it, my body was all I really had. At least in a physical sense. I guess that's another reason I would have liked a good resting place, even though a body that has put others in their graves should probably be spared that privilege. But I'm not as sad as I thought I would be losing it because somebody... somebody ended up wanting me dead anyway. You're right, Zack—that body isn't me or mine anymore. But knowing you would have cared for it, Zack... That's a possession I would choose over anything any day.'
Zach shook his head with annoyance. 'There you go again, tying your sense of self-worth to me.' But it wasn't annoyance that made him want to reach for something harmful, it was just one he had learned to associate with Ray, especially when she looked at him like that. It was one that made him want to smile at the expense of his ego anyway, so he didn't see it as much of a threat despite the pounding heat in his ears. 'We'll have to fix that, you know?'
Ray blushed further but straightened and struggled not to pull her eyes away from his, 'Nn. We will.'
The ambulance and police cars pulled out of the facility gates, into a path through the woods, now cruising over the road to somewhere, not rushed by the spent mortality they contained. Zack wondered if the images in the puddles wouldn't fade away until they were completfurther because he blinked and he and Ray were gone.
'You're weird. You're not happy just getting eternal peace, but you look at me like I'm Nikola Tesla just cause I tell you I would have used your rotting corpse as fertilizer.'
'You know him? Oh, Zack, he was something of a hero for me when I was-'
'No frickin' clue what you're talking about, it's just a name I heard from somewhere. I just like how weird it sounds so I said it. Like "Galileo Galilei."'
They looked back at the puddle together but that had disappeared completely too. The church had changed while they were distracted as well: only the patch of roof that shadowed the non-existent altar remained transparent In its place stood
'A confessional?' Ray wondered.
'Isn't that the squeeze where a priest jerks off to our sins cause we're guilty of being imperfect?'
'In most of colonial history, yeah.'
'Figuratively, that's how it works.'
Zack regarded the platform and slowly rose. 'I'm not that familiar with churches,' he said slowly, 'but everything else is gone too, right? Like the candles and the organ and everything?
Ray followed suit and agreed with a nod. 'Maybe the altar's gone because we have nothing to sacrifice, I mean, nothing to lose anymore. And mortal error,' she whispered darkly, 'is the true heart of institutions. Even the church. Especially the church.'
Zack looked in the opposite direction and saw the puddles were nowhere to be seen. 'The pews are alright now. This isn't some fucked up pay-per-view where we're morally barebacked by a hypocrite who's just as bad as we are, is it?
'Nn. I hope not. Hmm... there's only one booth to confess in. Where is the other one...'
Zack followed Ray to the confessional, stood watch as she inspected it from top to bottom. 'There doesn't seem to be a priest in here. And there's no way to get in.'
'Thank god,' said Zack, 'I don't feel like getting boned at the moment. Physically or otherwise.'
Their inspection came to a circle before the lone booth where they began.
'You didn't do that, did you?'
'Yeah, I doubt you'd be sneaky enough.'
The entrance to the booth was now covered with a white curtain, cut as if meant to fit a window placed high above the floor. It fluttered modestly in an unfelt wind and its bottom fringes displayed spatters of blood: 'Just like from my bedroom,' Ray whispered. Before...'
'Out of the asylum,' Zack muttered, 'and into the world.'
They stared at that stained piece of cloth—meaningless if it weren't for so much they could never hope to undo—until Zack realized he was looking up at the blue moon shining like a coin of light on them without knowing why. Unlike the perfect sphere the church was built on, this one could not be viewed for long periods of time but not because of physical restraint, it just... didn't... feel right to do so.
Somehow, Zack knew it would never stop shining down on them even when he could no longer see it.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He let it go. 'Do we go in there, Ray?'
She clutched his hand again but didn't look at him. 'I'll go first. I'm the one who want this after all-'
'No way. I've got a bigger chance at takin' a cobblin' from whatever the fuck's in here. Move over.'
He parted the curtain and stepped onto the booth.
'What do you see, Zack? Nothing's changed on this side so far.'
Zack pulled on his hood again; it had slipped off as he was looking up at the moon. 'Looks a hell lot like those elevators at Grey's. You reckon they're trying to spook us, or is this just what they usually look like?'
There was silence. 'Ray? Give me an "I'm dead," and I'll come for you, you hear?'
'I'm... alright. Anything else?'
'There's an unlit candle above the down button. And no cameras.'
'Which wall is it on?'
'To your left. There's... there's nothing beyond the bars. It's creepy.'
'I feel like I'm in a chicken cage is all. Oh, the rest is solid walls, by the way. I think they're made of steel. No... glass. But,' There was a heavy thud and a barked curse. 'Sure as hell don't break like one.'
Ray made a little noise. 'Confessionals have a candle above the priest's booth to let you know when they're ready for you. Try the button, Zack.'
He did. 'It's not working. And... hold on... I don't think there's anything here to make it work. Come over and see if you find something. You're better at this than I am.'
He heard her shadow take a deep breath behind the white curtain. 'Nn. Nothing seems to be changing out here. Let me see-'
Unnaturally strong candlelight bloomed before them the moment Ray's two feet touched the platform, and the opening behind her was replaced with a very solid-looking elevator-interior kind of wall. None of them noticed the change until after they had flinched over the switching of the light, so different from that of the moon they could no longer see.
'Hey. It looks like the button'll work now,' Zack nodded towards the freshly lit candle once they had caught their breaths. They let each other go slowly and looked around. 'So... no way out for us, is there.'
He shuddered, Oh boy, not even a single sharp object on him, or anything to smash things with other than his own body parts and spite. But before his nervous adrenaline rush could push him to reach out and punch the wall in frustration, Zack found something wrong with their prison.
'That wasn't here before you got here.'
Ray also branded her attention on the letters that had etched themselves above the mesh-like divide into the priest's chamber. Once he was sure it wasn't changing, moving or doing anything else that would normally be out of place, he turned to Ray to see how she fared with it. She was frowning. 'That's strange.'
'Why? What does it say?'
'As far as I know, the gates of hell are supposed to say "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." This one says-'
'"Earn new hope, ye who enter here."'
He looked up at the letters, faintly trying to connect the sound of Ray's words with their shape in written form. 'Ever heard of that saying about liars going to hell? Maybe the devil hires them to be advertisers or something. Like a tourism committee that makes up bull for posters and shit.'
'Nn. That could be.'
'I was jo... never mind.'
Zack didn't suppose they were entering the listener's side of the confessional. The entire set-up suggested they were to descend to the moon's center and probably land into their own personal jacuzzi of boiling oil or something. He thought the whole ordeal was becoming more hellish by the minute. 'You said something about error earlier,' he reminded Ray. 'Unless that shit's deeper than you made it seem, I don't think we're supposed to find hope in here.'
'Yes. But... someone also used to say "Hope can be found in the darkest of places if only one remembers to turn on the light."'
Zack considered how impossible that was and how the candle went on once he was no longer alone in the elevator. 'Pfft. That's gay.'
'I don't see how. But I don't see anything wrong with it.'
'Me neither.' He looked down on her round, round eyes and exhaled through his nose. 'Might as well get this over with, right?'
'If you're gonna bitch about me being here, do it after I've spared your ass from some major whoopin'. From myself or some yodeling freak with a pitchfork out there.' And without really thinking, Zack jabbed the down button with his thumb.
Okay, his hand said. He wondered if that applied to anything right now. He wondered if it would ever apply to anything ever again.
Zack pulled away and felt the ground give way for their cage's descent.
A lifetime into their respective silent, nervous breakdowns churning around in their stomachs later, Zack gasped. 'Oh shit.'
'What is it, Zack?'
'Fuck, Ray, you chose this over the moon, that's how badly you wanted it and I just...' He snarled.
'I... I don't understand.'
He gestured around them at the entire elevator moving downwards but she just looked pitifully up at him. He sighed and pointed to the elevator button. Ray's eyes cleared in understanding, but she started looking weird again so he quickly followed up with a 'Sorry, alright? You should have had the honor of pressing that- you know, asserting your rights as a free person in a democratic country or some snitty little-'
But she threw herself at Zack and gripped him so tightly, he felt her short nails through his sweater and bandages. If she were any bigger than this, he'd probably be scared of having his guts squeezed out from how intensely she was holding him.
'Um. I said I'm... sorry?'
'Thank you, Zack.'
Ray shook and shivered against his stomach, curling in on herself. He poked at her hair with a finger, then with two, then with his entire hand. 'Hey... cheer up. It reads differently, after all. Maybe there's a piss's worth chance we're not in hell. Wait, that's what you want, right? So, uh, cheer up cause we must really be... I mean, instead of...
'Um. It's been a while. You haven't stopped. I'm not helping at all, am I?'
Christ, here we go again. But he should be careful with his words if the growth rate of the wet patch on his sweater was anything to go by. 'Hey. I'm just not as touchy-feely as you are but I probably deserve what's waiting for us. Like, a lot more than you. A lot more.' He scoffed, 'Jesus, girl, I thought we talked about this martyrdom thing of yours-'
Ray released him like he had burned her and declared, 'I'll remind you to turn on the light always, Zack. Instead of feeling sorry for making you suffer- I mean, instead of fuh, feeling sorry for mys-self, sorry for the situation, ah, ah, I will. Hic, I will be useful to you—to us. Instead. I won't, hic, blame anything or anyone for what happens next anymore. I won't regret m-my choices. I'll be useful to myself and to u-us and we'll do the best with what we're given. I promise you, Zack. I swear it!'
'Then,' Zack said, feeling as brave as the first and last time he surrendered to the police, as brave as earlier that day, when he ran weak and bleeding to where the girl now trembling with determination before him stood, 'I'll flick it on when it's somewhere you're too titchy to reach. Smash it if it won't work too.'
That seemed to surprise Ray enough to stop crying entirely. 'But- but that might break the light entirely, Zack...'
'Oh. I thought if I stopped it from turning off, it'll stay on forever. No wonder that's always what happens when...'
'Forget it! Blow your nose, emo kid. You're dripping all over the place.'
Dazed from how energetically she had been sobbing, Ray looked about them as if an elevator was a place that regularly procured handkerchiefs. She was an idiot like that, he sighed to himself. He pointed at her dress when she finally looked helplessly to him but it still took her several seconds to take up the skirt of her nightdress and blow on that.
'That's more like it.' Zack realized he had been smiling the whole time and that made him feel a whole lot better. 'Oh, and I promise you that too, I guess. I'll stay the good ol', unfazeable me until-'
Their stomachs lurched with the elevator, conveniently signaling the end of their descent. They said nothing as they pressed against each other, this time clutching hands like they were about to kill the other and die as they did a lifetime ago. They hadn't paid much attention to what lay beyond the elevator's web-like gate until now as it opened into a darkness more solid than any wall they have ever encountered... now fading... fading... faded into a rectangle of dim light that shone on their faces, like a suspended mirror in the heart of a black hole.
The first floor of Zack and Ray's hell.