"The Music of Razors is a nightmarishly imaginative debut from a writer of real assurance and vision. Watch him: he's going to go places." - Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, Coraline and Neverwhere.
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The Music of Razors
Seventy-two angels fell with Samael.
As an angel is created it is gifted a function, portfolio, responsibilities. The angel charged with assigning power and function was a powerful angel indeed. Now that it grasped the concept of `rebellion' it truly understood how much power it held. The Power to assign Power. In the wake of this revelation other ideas followed, other realisations. This angel was staggered by the sheer enormity of what it might possess and achieve.
Thus the angel sinned.
An angel does not die. Anticipating what might occur should its audience with the Fallen One go badly, the angel seized upon another of its kind, sundered it, and stole the silver of its bones. From those bones the angel fashioned instruments approximating its own power. As the angel named them, they existed. Mercurial and undying, the living bone was bestowed with aspects of the angel's own function. The function of assigning Form and Power. It then scattered these instruments across the Earth, a safeguard against the possibility of its own failure, and departed the presence of the God which had Created it.
The angel found Samael in His new Kingdom, and made the Fallen One an offer of allegiance. An offer to create an army more powerful than that of Heaven, to seize what they had lost.
Samael was Beauty. The angel could not look upon it. It was all it could do to remain upright and not fall to its knees, as did the seventy-two Fallen gathered around their Lord.
The angel remembered the time of Samael's birth. A thousand others had been created to sing His hosannas. "It was your touch that awoke me. That awoke all of us," the Fallen Prince said. The crouched and bowed murmured anew. "It was you who assigned me Lordship over the Earth. You who granted me each and every attribute that I possess. You who seated me at the left hand of Our Father." The Son of Morning's countenance was beatific, inscrutable, unbearably perfect. "Do you recall the circumstance of our Casting Down?" Around Him, the Fallen softly moaned.
The angel dared not speak.
"Earth was to be a Paradise, our Father had said. A perfect place for the continued evolution of Itself. As Lord of the Hierarchy, as Lord of the Earth, as the very extension of the Godhead that had created that planet as a growing place for Itself, it was I who contended that a Paradise would be anathema to Growth. Nothing would come from comfort, from bliss. There must be conflict, there must be combat, there must be contrast.
"I - Created for the voicing of just such an opinion - was denied. And that denial came in the form of our Casting Down."
Again, the seventy-two assembled moaned. A sound mournful and strange, each utterance different from the others, born of the forms they had been cursed with.
"But there will be conflict. There will be combat. There will be growth. The time must come when the part of Godhead - the part of Ourself - that denied Myself is forced to reckon with that hypocrisy. It must see that hypocrisy has been Its undoing. That is the sole condition of victory I will accept. Triumph under any other circumstance is meaningless.
"And so to you. You who have turned away from the Force which created you, not by virtue of your function, as did I, but out of avarice. An infant would recognise within you a desire to do so again, to any Master who offered you succour. You have no place here.
The angel found itself exiled from Heaven and exiled from Hell. It found itself in the Presence of God.
It looked into the Face of God, and was stripped.
It lost its name.
It lost its sigil.
It lost its rituals, its summonings.
It could no longer be spoken of within Heaven, nor within Hell, nor upon the Earth.
An angel does not die.
It simply would not Be.
This done, it was Forgotten.
It would spend eternity as unlimited potentiality without possibility of use.
While, outside its nowhere prison, the instruments it had fashioned from the living bone of its murdered sibling waited to be found. To be used. To unlock that cage.
While riding his bike that afternoon, Walter had turned a corner very fast, and almost slid beneath the wheels of a passing milk truck. That was the moment Walter first realised that he could die. And this was the night the closet door first opened.
That’s not to say the closet door had never been opened before, but it is to say that it was the first time it had opened by itself.
Walter’s mother had tucked him into his great bed, for he was only four-and-a-half years old, rubbed his chafed hands and skinned knees and put his tiny hand on her swollen tummy. She told Walter he had to stay alive and out of trouble if he was going to be a big brother to his baby sister (who was arriving any day now). Then she had kissed his forehead and said good night, and walked to the door and turned off the light and said good night again. And then she shut the door behind her.
Walter was warm in his bed, piled high with goosedown comforters. Pale moonlight touched the room with silver. Silver on everything – on the books and the fire truck on the shelf, on the powder-white cotton of his comforters, on the shiny gilding of the white and blue wallpaper, on the model plane suspended from fishing line above his bed.
He was just beginning to slide into a dream about aeroplanes when he heard a snick. Opening his eyes, wondering what it could be, wondering if it was part of the dream, he looked down, down, down, over his comforter-covered toes to the closet next to the bedroom door. The closet was taller than his father – who was big and built houses and had taught Walter how to fold birds from pieces of paper – and wider than the toy chest at the foot of Walter’s bed. The closet door was slightly ajar, even though Walter’s mother had put his shoes away and closed it before she had said good night.
And there came a creak, as these things do, as the door slowly, slowly crept open. A black mouth. Walter imagined that if it opened too far it would suck him right in, right off his bed and into the blackness inside.
With equal parts panic and courage he threw off his comforters, scrambled over the end of his bed, almost tripping on the rail, stumbled across the room and slammed the door shut with a BANG! His little heart fluttered madly in his chest.
The house seemed so empty and so quiet as the sound faded from his ringing ears.
He crept back to bed, hoping the noise had not woken his parents (which it hadn’t) and he slept.
That night he dreamed of things that lived in the blackness and giggled. He was staring down over his comforter-covered toes at the opening closet door, at the thousand thousand black tittering things that lived there.
‘I’m afraid,’ he said, because he was.
‘You don’t have to be afraid, Walter,’ said a dry voice he didn’t recognise. Walter saw that a tall man with hair of pale red stood between him and the closet. He was a strange looking man with a wide hat and a dark coat that stretched down to the floor. His coat made a tinkling noise that Walter liked. Inside the dark coat Walter could see stars, blinking and shifting.
‘But why?’ Walter said in a tiny voice. ‘There’s one of me and a thousand thousand of them.’ The gigglers kept giggling.
‘This is only a bad dream,’ said the man. ‘and in the morning you will awaken as you have done every morning for four and a half years.’
‘A bad dream?’ said Walter. ‘There are bad dreams?’
‘Yes,’ said the man. ‘And this is your first. But there are ways out of them, Walter.’
Then the gigglers crept forward, spreading from the closet like chuckling and guffawing black syrup.
Morning came and Walter woke from a dream in which his parents had become red worms and were trying to eat him, and then were torn to pieces by a monstrous thing with hot eyes and gleaming claws. Walter climbed out of his great bed, stepped into his slippers and went downstairs. And oh, he was greatly relieved to find his mother making French toast in the morning light, and his father reading the paper, just as they had always done for the last four-and-a-half years. Which for Walter was forever.
The next night Walter stared once more down to his comforter-covered toes, at the shut closet door, and waited for what lived inside. And sure enough, there came a snick. And, sure enough, the door began to creep wide open. But this time Walter could not move. This time he thought about the gigglers and how many thousand thousand of them there were, and about a room full of cold red wriggling things, each with the face of his mother or father, and he couldn’t move.
Walter saw two red eyes reading him from the closet.
But they’re not eyes, Walter thought, desperately. They’re just the sparkly things on the back of my bicycle helmet, hung in the closet and catching the moonlight. That’s what they are.
Then, as if they had heard the thought, the eyes blinked. And Walter heard breathing. Slow, deep, breathing. He pulled the comforter higher – too high – until his little feet poked out from beneath, cold and vulnerable and inviting.
The thing inside the closet reached out into Walter’s bedroom with one huge, shaggy paw. Peeking over his little hands, Walter saw that the paw was tipped with claws that glowed pale in the moonlight. The thing pulled itself a little further into the light and Walter saw a great fanged snout beneath two burning eyes. He could hear the thing’s panting breath. He could smell its shaggy fur.
A monster, thought Walter, wide-eyed. My first monster.
‘Let me tell you something about monsters…” It was the man again, in his long coat – maybe like a wise Chinese man, only Walter didn’t think he was Chinese. He stood beside the open door, leaning against the closet. He had dark eyes and looked like he knew a lot of things that Walter didn’t. ‘There’s nothing to it. Tell it to go away and it will.’
Walter never liked dogs. They were always so much bigger than him, so careless, so loud, with such big, wet mouths. Secretly, he had been glad when their dog had died. It could have fit Walter’s entire head inside its jaws.
Walter pulled the comforter over his head as the thing in the closet took one heavy step into the room. From beneath his comforter he saw his cold and bare little feet, and could see the thing’s shadow creep over them.
‘Tell it to go away,’ the man said again. ‘And it will…’
The thing’s breathing quickened. Walter wanted to tell it to go away, but all he could do was squeak.
The thing at the end of the bed roared so loudly Walter thought he would go deaf, and decided that he must have fainted instead, because the next thing he knew it was morning.
At least, he thought – trying to look on the bright side – I didn’t have any bad dreams.
Walter didn’t see the man after that. He supposed the thing from the closet must have got him. But every night after that the closet still opened. And every night the thing would step out and stand at the foot of Walter’s bed. And every night Walter would hide beneath his comforter, his feet pulled to his chest, and shake till he slid into sleep.
With that monstrous thing standing, and standing, and staring.
Walter’s mother chided him for staying awake so late, for never wanting to go to bed when he was told. He would plead with his mother and father, tell them of the thing that stood at the foot of his bed every night – the thing with shaggy fur and red eyes and moonlight claws – and they would laugh and tell Walter how they both had a closet monster when they were his age. It happens to all boys and girls, they said. Four-and-a-half years from now we’ll all be standing here listening to your baby sister saying exactly the same thing.
As always, they would send him to bed. His father made a bird out of orange paper and put it on the little bedside table where a glass of water sat, in case Walter got thirsty during the night. ‘This is a magic bird,’ Waller’s father said. ‘And it will protect you during the night.’ Walter said thank you, but knew the paper bird was just a paper bird.
And as always, after they had tucked him in and wished him good dreams and turned out the light and closed the bedroom door, the closet would snick, and the closet would open, and the shaggy paw would wrap around the door. And the monster would step into the room on heavy feet and stand… and stand… and stand… and watch Walter all night long.
One night, after many nights had gone by like this, Walter thought of the old man and wondered about what he had said.
Could Walter really just tell the thing from the closet to go away and it would?
It took him many nights to raise the courage to lower the comforter and look at the thing. When he did, it was every bit as fierce and horrible as it ever was. It was so big that it stooped beneath the ceiling. The hair on its back and mane brushed against the plaster. Its wet snout bumped the model aeroplane that hung over Walter’s bed. The beast filled the room with a sodden musk like damp dogs. Its eyes were every bit as deep and red as Walter remembered. Its paws were half as large as all of Walter, and its claws were that size again.
And it was looking at him.
‘G…’ said Walter, trembling. The thing’s brow creased.
‘Go…’ said Walter. The thing made a hrrmph? sound, the way Walter’s old dog used to when it was confused.
‘Go away,’ Walter said, sitting up now. ‘Go away.’
The thing at the end of the bed did nothing for a long time but look down at Walter lying small in his great bed. Its great claws could have my head off in a second, Walter guessed. But then, as he looked up at it towering above him, its eyes no longer seemed quite so fierce, and its claws no longer seemed quite so long. If anything, Walter thought, it looked sad.
‘Go away,’ he shouted again. ‘Go away, go away, go away!’
The thing whined, just the way Walter’s horrible old dog used to, and opened its haws (which no longer seemed quite so fanged), and it began to fade away. And as the thing at the end of the bed faded away, it spoke the way Walter imagined his old dog would have, if it could have spoken when it was sad…
‘Love you…’ it said. And then it was gone.
And Walter wondered what he had done.
‘Thank you, son,’ said the man, suddenly back inside Walter’s room, and standing before the opened closet door. The man’s coat tinkled delicately as he shifted and Walter caught glimpses of something like starlight from within. ‘Nothing gets in my way more than a closet monster.’
And Walter saw the thousand, thousand gigglers and heard their sniggering as the old man spread his arms, and they swarmed around him like a wall of wobbly black.
His father’s magic paper bird just sat there, as the bad dreams began.
Little Walter didn’t wake up the next day, no matter how much his mother shook him. They took his temperature – he didn’t have a fever. They tested his pulse – nothing was wrong. They pried open his eyelids – his eyes stared. They shone a light into his pupils and nothing happened. Then Walter stopped breathing and they raced him to hospital.
Doctors came and went, no one knew how to wake him, no one could explain what had taken him. So they attached a bottle with a tube to Walter’s arm so he wouldn’t have to eat, and put another tube in through his nose to help him breathe, and they left him. And he stayed in that strange new bed, beneath thin, rough, white sheets, without his comforter, a long way from home. And his parents were very sad.
And Walter did not wake up.
He ran through a field of snapping flowers that bit at his angles, taunted by a thousand thousand voices, all daring him to fall and be eaten.
‘No!’ Walter cried, tears threatening to spill out from behind his eyes. ‘I wont fall! You wont eat me!’ Ahead, standing tall in the middle of the field that clacked with teeth, was the closet door. He raced towards it, wet choppers nipping at his heels. He flung the door open and heard the man calling his name from somewhere behind, but Walter could not see him.
Walter jumped inside and slammed the door shut.
The inside of the closet wasn’t dark, as Walter had expected. It was hung with his school uniforms, his shoes resting beneath them, all polished and waiting. His soccer jersey was here, and his bicycle helmet with the red shiny things on it. Piles of old Spiderman comic books were stacked against the wooden wall, gone tumbledown from where he’d tossed them. Above his head was the shelf that held shoe boxes filled with plastic action men and aliens. But the closet was much deeper than it was supposed to be. He pushed aside the musty old jacket that he never wore – shirts and coats he didn’t recognize, and beyond them more. He moved further inside, and the further he went the less clothes there were. Finally, he stepped into a room made of the same wood as his closet, with clothes for curtains hanging over windows that looked onto a forest of giant clothes racks and hat stands, all hung with every imaginable kind of garment. It seemed to stretch forever into an endless black. Inside the room there was a fireplace fuelled with burning dresses and socks. Before the fireplace was a rug of fur coats. Little Walter laughed to see an old sofa upholstered in brightly striped and dotted boxer shorts.
‘I have never heard you laugh,’ said a voice. It was then that Walter noticed the thing standing tall and monstrous in the shadows, away from the firelight. ‘I have only seen you tremble.’
It was as tall and wide and as fierce as Walter remembered, but there was nothing so scary about it now.
‘Are you a monster?’ Walter asked.
‘I am a monster,’ it said, voice like grumbling thunder. ‘The monster that keeps the other monsters at bay. I am your first monster. And you sent me away.’
‘I did not mean to,’ pleaded Walter, trying hard to see the thing inside the shadows. ‘The man told me…’
‘And you listened.’ The monster’s voice was sad. It gave a great breath, stooped to walk on all fours like a man with very long arms, and loped into the light, claws clacking against the wooden floor, to be nearer the warmth of the burning dresses and socks. ‘He told you what he told you for his own gain.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Walter said. ‘I did not know.’
The thing gave out another long, sad breath. It made Walter think of a horse. Only horses always seemed happy, but the thing looked at the fire and Walter saw tears had dampened down the grey-black fur beneath its burning eyes.
‘You want to go home,’ it said.
Walter nodded desperately. ‘I want to go home.’
‘Do you know what happens to someone who has no monster?’ the monster asked.
Walter shook his little head.
‘They fall asleep,’ the monster said. ‘and they can’t get home. And sometimes the bad dreams get them.’
‘But you are my monster,’ Walter said.
The thing gave a slow shake of its great head. ‘No more.’
Walter could see how sick it looked. How its great slabs of muscle had thinned, how its fur hung limply on its loosening skin, how its eyes did not gleam as ferociously as they once had.
The thing’s elbow buckled and it lurched. Walter rushed to its aid, little hands closing around its arm, trying to keep its great weight from crashing over.
Close now, close enough for its great red eye to fill Walter’s vision, the monster said, ‘All I have ever wanted was to guard you all of your life.’
‘Then guard me,’ Walter pleaded. ‘Be my monster.’
But its fur was falling away, and soon the floor of the room was like the floor of a barber’s – layered thick with grey-black fur. More of its muscle was slipping away. With a clatter the thing’s claws fell off entirely.
‘Who decides these things I do not know,’ said the monster. ‘But I am not your monster anymore. It is not my place to protect you from the things outside the door.’ And Walter could hear the things outside, leaping and laughing and – most of all – waiting. They would always wait, always wait for Walter.
The monster was now only half the size it had been. ‘Only two things will save you.’
‘What are they?’ Walter asked, all the time thinking What will save you?
It did not look quite so wolfish now, but it was still large. Its hands were long and thin, and its eyes were turning from red to deep yellow. ‘Always remember who you are…’ said the wolf-thing.
‘Goodness,’ said Walter, with wonder. ‘You look just like…’
‘… and this.’
With a sudden sweeping up, and with the last of its strength, the thing swallowed Walter whole.
The man came into the closet a long time after the monster had swallowed Walter. None of the black giggling things came with him; he came alone. He had looked down at what was left of Walter and his monster, small and blond and shaking, and said:
‘I don’t wish you any harm.’
‘Who are you?’
‘I am a doctor.’
‘I don’t understand what is happening,’ the Walter-monster said, not entirely feeling as he used to. There were two parts to him now, trying to fit in with each other. Something older than recorded time. Something four-and-a-half years old. Something precisely as old as human fear. Something small and confused. There was something he had to be. Something enormous inside his little chest was telling him things, telling him to shift the weight to the balls of his feet, to swing upward and bring three claws to rest inside the doctor’s heart. But the Walter-monster didn’t know why. He didn’t even have claws, he just wanted to go home…
‘I can help,’ the doctor said. ‘I can teach you things.’ He crouched, and extended a hand. ‘If you like.’
Walter had taken the proffered hand, because he couldn’t quite sort out who he was from who had been, because he was afraid, and because he didn’t know what else to do.
The doctor’s hand was thin inside the stiff leather of his glove, and his voice had the comforting rumble of something distant and massive and watchful.
‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘Did you know only seventy-two angels fell with Samael?’
‘Per-kew-tay-nee-uss Fee-ding Gas-tross-toe-me…’
Hope Witherspoon, age four-and-a-half, had spent a lot of time remembering it right and learning to say it. It made her mother smile, sorta, only she just called it a PEG.
‘Why do we call it a PEG if the middle letter is really F?’
Her mother told her it was just easier to remember that way.
The PEG was a hole in Walter’s tummy. It was just above the… sigh-lass-tic bag his Number Twos went into. The PEG had a… a… sigh-lass-tic tube for squirting running food into. Hope’s mother had to buy it from the hospital. They also got special medicine from the hospital, which stopped Walter getting suck from the tube his Number Ones came out of.
While Hope’s mother fed Walter, she would softly sing a song to herself.
You’ve got everything you want
You don’t know what to keep
The dreams you abuse
As they rock you to sleep
Swallowing the sense
Just to stay here with me
And knowing it’s you
It was a pretty song. Hope didn’t think Walter could hear it though.
The Number Two bag looked weird. Hope’s mother said that it was attached to a bit of Walter’s insides. That’s what that pale lump was – part of his insides poking out.
And then she told Hope that it was time she learned how to do it herself, and unclipped the Number Two bag. It smelled bad. Her brother’s tummy reminded Hope of wobbly sausage.
Hope screwed up her face and shook her head.
Hope’s mother explained that both mummy and daddy worked very hard to keep Walter alive, and that they all had to do their part. So Hope said okay. But she didn’t really want to because Walter scared her, and her parents loved him more, and she wanted him to go away. And her mother said thank you sweetie. From then on, Hope would take the Number Two bag (trying not to breathe while she did it), seal it, and replace it with a fresh one. Every two days she would rub creams into Walter’s cool skin to stop him from getting sores. And every day she would walk past all those pictures of Walter hung in the hallway and every night she would sit at dinner and listen to her mother and her father talk about Walter, and nod as they told her what a perfect little boy he had been.
Everyone gets a monster. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are ugly, and sometimes they are nothing like that. But they all look like the one thing that scares you the most. And that is how it keeps your other nightmares away; it scares them too.
Everyone gets a monster.
‘The man told me to wish you away,’ said Hope Witherspoon, trembling in her great wide bed, her thick blankets bunched in her little hands.
‘I know,’ said the perfect little boy, smiling gently with bright wolf-teeth. ‘And that is why you mustn’t.’