They saw Hughie come and go-Hughie, whose real name was unpronouceable and whose eyes were as clear and sweet as spring water. None of the four could stand to watch him die, and so they hid behind some boxes, hands over their ears. Carlos at first found himself crouching right next to his badly-preserved face, but Catherine saw this and made him swap places with her. Thus, she spent the night cheek-by-jowl with the leathery mask that bore no resemblance to its owner, and he spent it wedged between Jim and the ghost of the killer.
Carlos remembered this act of kindness for many days afterwards, and it struck him afresh when he saw the shadows gathering in her eyes, the harsh resistance to outrage that he himself knew so well.
The womb in which they roiled, that slimy, stony hell that was fast becoming all they knew, had a new smell added to it after a time, when poor Hughie became part of the macabre collage pinned to the wall.
One day, Jim mounted the basement steps and went out into the sunlight. The sky was a hard, brilliant shade of blue. A familiar feeling came over him.
"Oh," he murmured, "it's time. I've got to tell them," and he turned and galloped back into the flat.
"Carlos!" he called. "Catherine! Showalski! It's the last day."
Carlos' head popped up from behind a crate. His eyes were wide. "What do you mean, Jim?"
One word was all the answer he needed-"Eugene."
Suddenly Carlos was on his feet. He bounded across to where the other two were huddled in sleep.
"It's Eugene's day, it's your last day here," he told Catherine. "Quick, get your wits together. Splash some water on your face or something. Come one. Come on."
"My last day?"
"I know, right?" Jim bounced around the cell, scratching together his few belongings, counting his cards. "We'll be rid of each other by tonight." He prodded Malachi with his toe to waken him. "Up, asshole. It's Eugene's turn. God damn it, I'm full of feathers. Up."
They filed into the cab of the truck for the last time, each wondering what would happen when the carnage, their sole reason for being in that place at that time, stopped.
"Catherine?" Carlos murmured.
They were alone in the cab of the truck. Out on the beach, the living Malachi had Eugene stretched out on the sand. His shadow-self and Jim were watching and conversing a few feet away.
"What's up?" Catherine replied, twisting around in her seat to look at him. Her face was kind and round, like a harvest moon at twilight. Carlos wondered how she'd seen fit to lock herself into a pallid fantasy for most of her adolescence.
He asked her how she'd been able to stand it.
Catherine blushed a little in shame and looked away. "Now that I think about it, I couldn't say...I guess that it happened gradually. I mean, I went to school, I ate dinner with my folks, but the whole time I was waiting for the moment when I could escape into my room and fire up the computer. People didn't say I was fat anymore."
"No, they said you were insane," Carlos reminded her with a smile.
Catherine chuckled and slipped an arm around his shoulders. The sensation was one of having a hot water bottle held where she touched him-a delicious warmth spreading from that spot and through his skin, from the roots of his hair to his pinky toes.
"Catherine, would you kiss me?"
Carlos didn't even realize that he'd said it until he saw her face and replayed the previous few seconds in his head. He groaned and buried his head in his hands.
But she was not horrified, only puzzled. "You hide things well enough," she noted drily.
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Oh, look at that-Showalski's got Eugene in the water. I should go watch."
"I think I could forgive stuff right now," Catherine whispered beside him.
He turned back to her, and put his lips to her mouth, their noses seeming to fit together like machine cogs. It was a strange and wonderful sensation to be so close to another human being. He had a hand on her wrist, and could feel her pulse with his two fingers, just as Malachi Showalski was checking Eugene's for one before he cut off his head, split it from his body at the chin and left it spinning in the shallow waves.
His undead self was gone, because Jim, who'd known that there was one split end he could not leave loose, had told him to start off on his trip to the best place of all. Now the world felt a bit cleaner, and Jim felt as though he could finally rest easy. He flicked an eye at Catherine and Carlos in the cab of the truck with their arms so tight around each other, and decided to leave them where they were happy for the time being. Carlos would always be able to visit her in her own time, anyway.
He laid himself down to sleep on the beach, listening to the soothing rustle of the marram grass on the dunes. As he grew drowsy, he sang the old rhyme to the gentle stars:
Montbretia, shepherd's purse.