Chapter 4 : fred
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Also, I have to rewrite Chapter 2 in order to be stylistically consistent with Fred's parts, and then I'm going to swap the two chapters (2 and 4) around.
Oh, and the characters belong to JKR.
I think my eyes are open but I’m not sure. One thing I’ve figured out is that I can see with my eyes closed, and I can also see with them open. Thing is, there isn’t a lot to see. What there is, is fog. A thick fog, scentless and without sensation. Swirls of it sweeping past, dirty white rags of fog. There’s nothing else. It isn’t damp. I notice this. At first I don’t know why I’m all wired about the absence of damp, but then I remember this: fog, rolling over hills and over streams, sponging up the wet grass and the water until it was so heavy that I felt it sliding against my skin, a clammy touch. Behind me, a crooked house, layer stacked on layer, the sides refusing to line up, the chimneys all wonky.
I don’t know where I’m at or how I got here or what happened before I got here.
It’s not just the fog. I can’t see myself. I’m completely invisible. I’m holding my hands up right in front of my eyes and I can’t see them. I move my fingers and I feel them moving. I try looking down at myself but there’s nothing to look at. So I don’t have a body. Well, I do but I can’t see it so in a sense I don’t have it.
Something moves to my left. A silhouette in the mist coming closer. When it’s near enough I see the red hair, the eyes, the shapeless mouth pricking into a smirk. I have a word, and I try to say it but it’s a struggle forcing it off my tongue. The syllable is like a brush in my mouth, the bristles catching in the nooks between the teeth; the sound is sticky, pooling in my throat – treacle pudding, I remember treacle pudding, I ate it before and it smeared over my gums and glued my jaw together.
“George?” I say.
It feels like the first time I’m hearing my own voice. It’s hard to recognise, even though I suppose, it’s something of mine. It’s dry, a whisper, a residue.
The other person whom I just called George laughs. I don’t know who George is, but something makes me take that name out of nowhere and pin it to the face of this person.
“George is your brother,” he says. The skin all round his eyes is crinkling. “Funny isn’t it? Most people would have a right old fright thinking they’d seen themselves. But you straightaway think of George.”
I shrug. “You’ve lost me.”
“You’re been drifting. In and out in and out. But I don’t think you remember, eh?”
“How am I – where is this place and why –” I wave my hand around “– is it so…foggy?”
When I talk the words leave my mouth in opaque tufts, like the mist all around me. Maybe whole cloud I’m stuck in consists entirely of the scraps of words and the thin curling whispers of hundreds of voices trapped in air, talking non-stop in their entrapment.
“You’re close,” says the red-haired person who is not George. “But they’re not just words. They’re thoughts. Memories. Dreams. Everything half-conscious or more. And not all of them are yours, just like you’re not the only one here. It’s the soup of the subconscious. Something like that.”
I peer at him, trying to get a sense of him. His hands are clasped behind his back and he’s standing in a very formal way, with his face pushed forward, ahead of the rest of his body as though he’s scrutinising something. The colours of his robes are shifting – maroon to green to black, spattering brief colour in the swirling grey. The outlines of his face are fuzzy, they’re blurring, and the edges are breaking off into threads of white, wafting and winding away into the smoggy matrix. I have this unpleasant feeling that if I keep watching his face, it will peel away into smoke, shred by shred, right before my eyes.
“No, it doesn’t really work that way,” he says and he sounds so reassuring that it comes off as a bit condescending, “I can always come back anytime I like. I live here. In a sense.”
“You didn’t answer me. Where is this place and how did I end up here?”
“Why shouldn’t you be here? You might have been here all along. Can you remember when you’ve not been here?”
I try to close my eyes but it doesn’t do any good because my eyelids are transparent. I see through them, through my own bloody skin and it’s more than a little creepy. Where was I before I realised I was here? I can’t remember.
“You can start with your name. Surely you remember that, mate,” he interrupts again.
I know my name. It comes back to me all of a sudden, a buzz in my ears, striking through my thoughts. I have difficulty saying it. I grind the word out from between my teeth. “F-Fred. I’m Fred.”
“Well done. Bravo.”
He looks at me, right where I’m standing. He can see me even as I can’t see myself.
“I suppose that’s my body you’re having.” I lift a finger and stab it toward him. It gives me a sense of direction. “Give it back.”
He laughs. Throws his head back. Rolls his shoulders, stretches both arms, latches the fingers together and turns the palms to face upward into the non-existent sky. Wanker.
“Take it,” he drawls. “If you can.”
I move toward him, as if I’m going to grab my body and find some long hole in the side and slot myself in, zip the skin up like it were a costume. I can’t reach him. He floats out of reach. He exists just beyond my reach. He smirks. Half his face has already dissolved into the mist. There’s a hole in his torso. The edges of him, of whatever remains are fraying like ruined cloth.
And then the half of his face which has melted reappears some distance away. An arm hangs in the air, a single leg, standing unsupported and supporting nothing. Body parts float in the fog as though someone has to come along and put them all together, reattach them with Permanent Sticking Charms.
“It’s a lot easier than that. And yes, I can read your mind. Your thoughts are all over the place, anyway. Literally.”
“Who are you?”
The hole in his torso grows larger, creeping outward, swallowing his flesh. Fog curls through the gap. “Gred and Forge, remember? You and George used to make up silly names. You remember? You better start to remember or you’ll be stuck like this for a long time.”
“Don’t know what you’re on about.” I’m beginning to feel a little sleepy. Maybe if I shut my eyes for a minute, when I wake up I’ll be somewhere else. This is all a dream.
“You’re drifting again. Row, row, row your boat. Tell you what, I’ll accept the name Forge. From Gred and Forge. It’s a funny sort of name. F-f-f-forge. Forge of the Fog.”
I ignore him. Bloody idiot’s still not making sense. “What happened to me?” I say at last. “And what happened to George?”
“Nothing happened to George. It’s you that all the bad stuff happened to.”
I try to think back to the time when I wasn’t awake in this foggy world. It’s like thinking of sleep. It’s like thinking of what being asleep feels like – not the dreams, just the sensation, the process of being asleep. I can’t think of it. “Do you even know what happened?”
“Course I do. I know what happened because you know. You just don’t know it yet.”
“Are you going to get to the point or not?”
“Well, for starters, you died.”
“What? Oh, you’re funny.”
He sighs in mock sorrow. The top corner of the remaining half of his face has vanished, and it looks like something bit a huge chunk out of his head. His solitary eye narrows and bulges, the eyebrow flicks up high into his forehead before settling slowly back down.
“You got Avada Kedavra-ed. Shot in the chest. Killed you instantly, or almost. Then a wall collapsed over you. Your body was quite badly broke.”
“Smashed your mother’s heart you did, dying like that, Fred.”
So I have a family. There’s not much left of them but I know George, he must have looked like me once, I think I remember that. Everyone else doesn’t exist, not yet.
“Is George the only thing you remember, then?” There is a taunt spiking his words.
And then I see something, a new image sailing right into my head. Not so much a single image as a tightly-wound coil of impressions, unsnarling with firebolt speed. And for a minute, the clarity blinds me. There’s heat. Sand. I remember the feeling of sand scratching at the back of my throat, kernels of thirst.
“Are you remembering something?” Forge calls, but his voice is distant, breaking into pieces, the consonants falling apart and swallowed up by the writhing swirling world we’re both in. “Be careful,” he says again, and there’s a curious singsong note swinging through his words.
The fog dissipates along with the Forge-fellow and his obscure jokes and I’m somewhere else, blinking in the sudden brightness of the day, sunbursts tingling at the backs of my eyes. Not anywhere I’d expected; the outskirts of my vision are flushed with orange. Sand piles up and falls into humps and valleys under the sun. In the distance, a wide blue river, and beyond that, a clay city, buildings like squat cakes. I turn around and in front of me, three massive structures – pyramids, their clumsy crooked planes needling at the very last inch into the sky.
A car winds past me. Its insides are crammed to splitting with a family of redheads. Something tugs at my thoughts and it occurs to me that I know these people. I race after the car. It’s surprisingly easy to keep up with it; something is wrong with the car, it’s moving so sluggishly, the wheels are a slow trickle on the road. There’s so many of them seated inside – nine of them.
The car pulls to a halt in front of the largest pyramid and its occupants spill out. Their heads are an unnatural shade of red, and the wind rifles through their hair, turning their red wigs into flames. They’re all in stripey kaftans and they seem to be laughing. I can’t see them clearly no matter how hard I try. For some reason they’re always at an angle even though I keep moving around. I try to circle around them to get a good look at their faces but it seems that they, or perhaps this strange dazzling world I’m in, are rotating along with my movements, so I can only see their side profiles. My perspective is frozen.
There’s a mother and a father and six boys, two of them identical to each other, and a girl. It’s the twins that get my attention. One of them is George and the other is me. I can say this firmly now because I know. But which one is which? Standing at a distance, at a stupidly fixed angle to them, I can’t tell which one is me and which one is George.
They start to climb the stones of the pyramid. The blocks of stone are huge, some of them more than six feet high, yet these people scale them easily, even the girl who leaps up easily block to block, her arms swing her up, boneless and elastic – her name is coming back to me slowly – Gin gin strong as gin Ginny yes that’s it Ginny. Ginny and George. I have two names – I pluck them out of the air and put them in my pocket, their sounds and syllables rattling in my head. I climb after them. It’s easy. I feel light as nothing, although there’s a strange weight in my head, the weight of two names jangling in my skull.
There is a triangular slit in the stone, and all of the family slide into it in single-file and are gulped into the darkness beyond. I hesitate at the entrance. The air is granular and a blast of wind throws more sand at me, pinging against my invisible skin. Invisible or not, it still stings. I can’t stand this place. I go inside the pyramid.
I have been here before, in this dark musty place, in some other version of this place. There are long twisty passages – these I can’t recall. There’s no twinge of familiarity about them like there was when I saw the redhead family tumble out of the car or when I looked back at the sprawl of the square clay buildings across the river. The sun sets on this side of the water, this I remember.
The passages spiral through the dark, bracketed by rows of lamps haloed in sickly green. They don’t give light so much as they draw in to themselves whatever residual light is in the air. I’ve been walking through long blank galleries, and along passages that split but somehow my feet know where to go, following the unseen trails of the other people, tracing the faintest vibrations of laughter in the air. At some of point, the path I’m taking becomes constricted, like a throat closing off to the air, sharp flinty stones jutting from the walls.
At the end of yet another gallery, there’s a doorway cut into the stone. Light is slopping out of this doorway, pooling on the floor. I step through into a large airy chamber. I’m no longer in a pyramid – that or the pyramid’s top has been cut clean off because above my head is the sky and a round white sun and a wind eddying the sand into gritty vortices. In the centre of the chamber is a large stone block, a sarcophagus. All the people are there, the red ones. Seated round the sarcophagus expectantly. Their faces still elude me.
The twins elbow each other. A tall thin older boy throws up his hands in a mock gesture of exasperation.
The mother comes bustling into view, a large tray in her hands. “Dinner’s ready, dears,” she sings.
She sets the tray down and everyone perks up and reaches out to grab the contents. I try my voice for them to hear, maybe they’ll hear, maybe they’ll know me. Maybe the one who is supposed to be me will recognise me even if I don’t recognise him yet.
I call out hello. There’s a faint stirring in the air but they don’t pay attention. I call out again. Can you hear me, I say, I’m looking right at you, I’m here. Again they ignore me. I walk toward one of the twins, reaching out a hand and grasping his shoulder, shaking it, saying OI. I’m talking here, I know you can hear me.
His shoulder is soft – softer than flesh, like beaten leather. Dragonleather, boots made of worn dragonleather, left out in the rain for too long that the material had sucked up all the damp and became sponge. There were laces on the boots made from the coarser hairs of a Kneazle. The flank of the left boot was charred. I don’t know why I can remember the boots. Something else: the boots were hanging on a line of washing, their laces looping over the line and tied into a knot. Next to it was the washing, thin sheets swelling in the wind. The mother, coming out from a back door of some kitchen, wand in hand, shouting about clean washing and filthy boots.
The boy whose shoulder I’ve got in my hand shrugs hard, trying to shake me off without turning round to face me. I grip him harder, my fingers squelching into the sponginess of his shoulder. Everything is wrong. The textures, the voices, the colours (his hair is so red it sears my retinas, it’s the red when you close your eyelids against the midday sun but the light turns your membranes into glowing coals).
He starts to turn then, slowly. They all start to turn. I’m going to look them full in their faces for the first time. Maybe I’ll know more about them, remember more. I look at them and swallow.
“Hey,” I can hear my voice speaking as though it owns itself, floating out of me unchecked, “Who stole all your faces?”
Indeed all their faces are gone and the fronts of their heads have nothing but flesh smoothed over, no apertures for nostrils or mouths or eyes, just soft bumps for noses and dents for eyelids pulled down and sealed into their cheeks and skin as bald as eggs. How the fuck they’ve been talking and laughing without lips to frame the words and let the sounds out I can’t even begin to think. But they’re silent now. Silent as they all turn their (non-existent) faces to me in some sort of sick ridicule, saying in their unanimous blankness, well? is this what you want?
The mother is all of a sudden standing next to me. She reaches out and fastens her fingers around my wrist. I look at her hand and it looks as though it’s gripping a column of air since my wrist is still invisible. So unfair that I can’t see myself as I am now, while these people, these bodies with mannequin heads attached to their unaligned necks who don’t even have eyes to see, can see me.
She pulls me down to sit at their sarcophagus-table. They pass me some of the food from the tray in the centre. It isn’t anything edible, just a pile of sharp rocks.
“Go on, dear,” the mother pipes in and I turn to her but her face is still vacant and mouthless. “You need to eat.”
So I sit down with the whole bunch of them. I count them all again. I have five brothers and a sister. I look for myself. I look for George. They both turn their faceless faces to me and one of them gives me a thumbs-up. Next to me, one of my brothers I suppose – he’s sort of shorter and bulkier than the rest – pushes something in front of me.
“Here you go mate,” he says.
It’s one of the stones from the tray. All of them are turned to me as if expecting something. I don’t know what they want.
“Eat your dinner, dear.”
For some reason, I put the stone in my mouth and bite down – I don’t know why; it must be her voice, how compelling it is, how the inflections tug at the nerves in my body. There is pain puncturing through the roof of my mouth as I bite on the stone and its knifelike angles, lacerating my tongue. I know I’m meant to swallow it like a bezoar. But the thought of it slashing its way through my gullet the thought of it – the pain – the – I spit the stone out. Fluid dribbles from the corners of my mouth. I suppose it must be blood, only I can’t see it because my blood is bloody invisible as well.
I want to get out. Help me out. I’m thinking please Merlin God whatever the fuck.
It works somehow – maybe I have some mote of control over this nightmare, I don’t know – and slowly, everything around me, people and all if you could call them people, begins to melt into a haze of colour, which begins to bleach and blur. Tendrils of fog twine around my ankles, rising to my knees, up to the level of my eyes and until I’m completely submerged again in The Wasteland, that indecisive hell of a place.
“Ouch, it wasn’t a good one, then.” And he is back as well.
“What happened to them?”
“Questions, questions, questions.” Forge yawns. This time he’s intact, though his sides are still smudging slightly. His robes are a dazzling scarlet. “Hey, look at this,” he says, drawing his wand out from his robes and sticking two thirds of it up his nose.
“What the fuck…”
He smirks, the damned stick still poking out his nostril. “Come on, you used to do this all the time. Frightened your little sister, pretending the wand had shot a spell right through your skull and blasted your brain to bits. I see you remember her name, now.”
“How do I get out of here?”
“Where would you go?”
“Where is there to go?”
“I can’t answer what you don’t know.”
I grit my teeth. Wave my useless hands about as if that will clear anything up. Turn on my heel and walk far as I can. Outrun all these vapours. Outrun everything. The world seems to spin. I’m face to face with him again, the prick. He can read my thoughts, and he’s grinning when I look at him. I look down at my feet again. Hold up my arms in front of my eyes. Still nothing. I’m clear as glass. So this is what life after death is.
A/N: Another author's note! Don't know if I still have any more followers for this story since I took so many months to update, but thank you for reading until this point. This story is going mad, as you can see. I lost all my detailed notes and now I'm starting to plan again :)