He named him the plants he loved best, one by one in a lyrical drone. It became a lullaby, and he half-sang it in the twilight, amidst the bloody clover.

Dog rose, knapweed, lady's bedstraw, montbretia, shepherd's purse...

The moon that night was as yellow as the centre of an ox-eye daisy.


Ebony Darkwrath-Y'Wrenn was a sixteen-year-old girl. Her hair was black and sleek, like the shining hide of a panther, with a stripe of electric blue on one side. Her hairstyle was a striking shoulder-length bob, which was tied in the middle and flared out beneath her ears. Her eyes were turquoise-aquamarine wheels, and her skin was the colour of clotted cream, without a single blemish. She was witty, intelligent beyond measure, and could outsmart any opponent.

That is not the truth. Ebony was impossible, forever beyond the reach of this flawed planet. She was the ego and inner manifestation of a girl whose only half-real identity was her online moniker.

This girl called herself "MrsMalachi666".

She had one god, one teacher, one guiding force, and his name was Malachi Showalski.

Mr. Showalski was dead, and had been so for twenty-seven years. He was a serial killer. He'd trailed across America from California to Oklahoma, leaving a scattering of bodies behind him as he went.

Malachi Showalski in his battered pick-up truck, waiting outside a high school. Malachi Showalski in a field of bloodstained daisies. Malachi Showalski fried alive in a special chair.

His name throbbed in Ebony's brain, rang in her ears, danced in her ribcage along with her heart. The human heart is the size of a fist and is quite different from that of a sheep, which is the only variation of the organ most of us ever see. Malachi knew this, because he had seen one.

He had plunged his hand into the wet, convulsing mess of a boy's innards and pulled out his restless heart. To do this, he'd utilized a method familiar to the boy's distant ancestors, the Aztecs.

The heart had continued its pulsing motion for a few seconds and then stilled forever. Carlos Estadiz, the youth in question, had stared at it through a red mist of blindness long after his last gurgling moan.

Carlos Estadiz, dead at sixteen. His slender corpse hanging spreadeagled from a tent pole. Tan skin withering from his bones until Malachi'd had the good sense to bury him in a field of poppies.

There were four boys hung spreadeagled from that tent pole, and here is one more. His name was Jim Preacher and he was the colour of Ebony's hair, the slick lacquer gleam of a panther's back. His hair was a glorious riot of tangles. They spilled over his forehead, his ears, his nape, the slit Malachi eventually put in his neck with something victims of certain African rebels know as a panga.

Jim was laid down in a field of clover. He was discovered some months later by a family on a picnic. He had a poppy growing out of his chest cavity.

Let us turn again to Ebony. One cold, wet evening, Ebony was to be found in her room, on the internet. She could always be found there. At that moment in time, she was telling the world of Malachi Showalski's physical attributes.

Hous passed. Her fingers grew gnarled with exhaustion, and yet she typed on. The world outside grew dark and quiet, and soon the only light in her room was the sickly glimmer of the screen. Ebony always thought of her body as perfect and flawless, but in far-off reality it was an unhealthy vessel.

But Ebony had left the real world a long time ago. She had spurned light and heat in favour of a dead man and her impossible inner self. She was not happy at first, but after a time, as a wild moth tolerates the bell jar because there are no longer any bats, she took it as her primary existence.

In a former life, the bats had had human faces, and copious amounts of acne.

Eventualy she finished her soliloquoy concerning Malachi's beauty. She rose from her computer chair. In reality she would have stumbled, what with muscle atrophy and reduced circulation. But here, in the bell jar of her mind, she was as graceful as a swan.

She decided that it was time to turn in. Without bothering to turn off her computer, wash, or change out of her clothes, she collapsed onto the covers of her unmade bed. Sleep claimed her within moments, as it always had. Ebony was a light sleeper, and woke often during the night. Her harlequined eyeballs rolled beneath her trembling eyelids, as if the computer screen were tormenting them still.

That night, someone entered the drab, safe bell jar. He was not a bat, but moths must worry about creatures other than bats, even those marvellous specimens that live solely on tears.