She was the youngest of ten, a stout little jewel amongst her multitude of brothers. A creature of mischief and poisonous stares. Armed with a guitar and a silver tongue, Alma paraded around the world ever since she had turned of age. Mind you, never with a clear route in mind. Those were for birds and ships, she used to say. Her name meant soul, and she would only follow the path of her own.
I go where I'm not needed
I go where I don't need to
It took her a few years to hear about the Fire, foreign as she was. She'd been serenading Orion's belt from a friend's balcony when Elena's loud entrance provided a better distraction. They spoke in hushed tones, the words colored by Elena's tears. A woman had killed herself two streets away. Burned her apartment to the ground. The pianist, Langdon, had been playing on the floor below, his grand performance interrupted by the outburst of fire. The Herbalist, an old friend of the family, would be handling everything.
The body was found by the window. The thought made shivers run up Alma's spine, so she kept playing her guitar for the sky until her fingers bled. It was November, a heartless one.
I play when you can't hear me
I'm scared of hearing your answer
It felt as if the story had been branded onto her mind, red-hot iron filling her skull with thick smoke once it touched her. She would believe she was haunted if she didn't know demons couldn't be cursed. And she hadn't earned her title of devil for anything. And yet, she couldn't help her hands when they composed odes to a faceless stranger. She couldn't help her ears when they heard the woman's name being dropped by Elena, she couldn't help her lips from whispering "Fátima" over and over. Late into the night, those three syllables felt like lead on her tongue, the ghost of ashes staining her throat.
We're not saints when we're alone
We're not sinners once we plunge into the night
So what are we, dear ghost?
Her friends were getting worried, Alma could tell. A few months had gone by, in which her dreams were plagued by scorching hands and whispers. She had worked hard to appear careless and aestival before everyone else, she wouldn't let a story consume her. She tried to lock Fátima in a corner of her mind, but the ghost had a clever way of being one step ahead of her at all times. A restless specter, a suffering soul. Alma didn't know how to handle those, so she asked around.
The nights got longer as she probed around for answers, writing letters, singing lullabies, collecting flowers. Once, she'd even met her brother in a seedy pub. He'd been talking to a handsome stranger, the other answering in sign language. Perhaps it was that medic, the one with the sad eyes. Perhaps.
The Centipede bought Alma a drink, didn't ask her name. She didn't ask how he knew who she was.
"Rumours spread fast around here," he leaned in "You've been looking for my sister,"
"She's taken a liking to me, it seems" Her voice is but a whisper, "Did she use to look like you?"
"That's not the right question. Either way, I guess you can find out for yourself,"
He pushed a crumpled note towards her. Fátima's apartment address was scribbled inside.
"I don't cure people nor souls. Especially not those I know. Especially not hers," he put on his hat, the tall stranger was waiting for him, "The door is always open. If she has you, tell her she should've taken that bus,"
And yet, you stayed? For what, love?
If you asked, for once, I would stay.
She got to know Fatima for over a year. She was insistent in the way she pulled and tossed Alma into all sorts of nightmares, dreams, fantasies. Sometimes she came as a gentle morning, invisible arms wrapped around her guitar. Others, she hid inside her hair, had to be tugged out with a comb. A heartless November morning, she didn't come. And Alma knew.
Knew that her time had run out. That Fatima was only so patient, and now she was waiting.
So she dared look at Nine Abadón in the eyes, feet weightless on the cobblestones. The street didn't bite back, didn't make a sound. The windows were wide open, but the faces inside didn’t pay much attention to her. The slender doctor directed her a faraway smile when she passed by his place, his hands clean.
Alma performed a personal procession of silence through the ratty street. It curled around her finger, welcomed her enough to make her feel distrustful. But a faint smell of smoke and the lullaby of the cicadas managed to give her the strength she needed. Past six houses, and up twenty-three stairs.
The door was open.
I’m laid bare before you, my ghost. You won our game, now what will you do with me? You’ve robbed a devil of its horns, but do you know how to use them?
Once she stepped inside, she froze. Alma realized she didn’t know what she was expecting. Perhaps she just threw a coin at a well out of curiosity. But whatever this was, she’d rather not play the cat. The living room was barren, consumed by a vengeful spirit. It was spat on, marked, sorrowful. It had been dead for a long while. It died crying out the same name she now longed for.
But the name had escaped long before she arrived. It had risen the morning Alma felt its absence and made her promise to stay. Stay for someone long gone.
"No," she pleaded, a servant on her knees "No, please, I-" she couldn’t help it. Alma was cut short; her words replaced by loud sobs. Tears burning down her skin, she whispered profanities to the floorboards. She hit on them until her fingers bled.
Fátima was not there. She wasn’t a demon of the street. She wasn’t a demon of Alma’s.
And when the November night howls, It will find me kneeling for you, Fátima. It will wrap around me as I beg, As I call when you can’t hear.
And if anyone heard the sobs that night, they politely closed their windows. If anyone heard the hundreds of songs written over a year, they applauded without probing for more. If anyone saw Alma, the demon robbed of its horns, they whispered a name under their breath.
They whispered “Bless you”
With Alma, the series Nine Abadón reaches the end of its short life. Thank you to everyone who's stopped by to read, and I'd greatly appreciate if you'd let me know your thoughts and interpretation. This was an experimental project that I enjoyed, and I hope you did as well. Be careful.