Where sunless rivers weep
their waves into the deep,
she sleeps a charmed sleep;
awake her not.
Perhaps it was morning when hell stopped burning; Shelly found the flames that had worn her skin down to bone replaced by the sharp cool sting of dew on grass, the fires above turned to piercing diamonds on a black backdrop. She should have been relieved, but a new pain replaced the physical agony; where her heart should have been, seated deep beside her soul, she found only emptiness.
“Where am I?” she choked, slowly rising to her elbows. A nightingale sat on her knee, head cocked to one side, eyes wise and sad.
We’re moving on, a voice whispered in Shelly’s head. I’m sorry, my dear. He chooses to stay.
That was the emptiness, Shelly realized. That was the ache destroying her from the inside, the ache she would return to the fires to escape.
“Eric,” she choked out. “Where is he?”
You were given a choice at the river’s edge, the nightingale explained. You chose to stay with him, to cross those waters at his side. The bird lowered her face. He could not find peace. He chose to go back. He chose to avenge you rather than follow you into the boat.
“If he’s not here, then I’m not going anywhere,” Shelly protested. “What do you mean, avenge me? It’s over. There’s nothing left for us to do. The dead don’t come back.”
Sometimes they do.
A vision flooded Shelly’s brain, filling the space between her ears until she thought her consciousness would be torn apart:
Eric, his face painted in gruesome mimicry of the masks on their apartment walls, holding a knife to a man’s hand and slicing deep, slicing to the bone, slicing each finger away from the hand and then holding them to the man’s face.
“Where can I find them?” Eric demanded, using the severed fingers to draw figures in the blood pooling on a glass countertop. When the man didn’t answer, Eric shoved him back against the wall. “You answer me, you motherfucking piece of scum, or I will make you eat the hand that feeds you.”
“Won’t talk.” The man shook from the shock and drooped from the blood loss. “You think … think this is bad, this is nothing … what Top Dollar’s gonna do ta me …”
“Very well.” Eric threw the man aside as though he weighed nothing. “I suppose it’s time for dinner.”
Shelly recoiled. Eric--her Eric--never let her kill so much as a spider, and his eyes--she had never seen eyes so dark, eyes so cold. Eyes missing something:
Do you remember your final hours? the nightingale asked.
“They burned,” Shelly managed to whisper. “There were men--they broke down the door, they … they shot Eric. Oh God, they shot Eric.” The blood on the hardwood floors, the way his eyes tightened in horror, all drowned out the dark memories of her own body being taken from her control. Her mind shut down around the thought. “I burned,” she repeated.
The nightingale flapped a restless circle above Shelly’s prone body. You were beaten. You were raped. He saw it all before he died. He was offered the chance to make those who hurt you suffer. That is the choice he made.
The nightingale lighted on the grass. He is a man consumed by love, and humans are not meant to love so. When they do, they can become demons, and where we are going, there is no place for one with a soul so charred.
“Then send me back!” Shelly exclaimed. “Send me back with him, I’ll help, I’ll--” Feed a man his fingers, Shelly remembered. Find a monster in my eyes. But she would, because surely burning again wouldn’t hurt so badly if she could burn beside him.
Somehow the bird managed to look mournful. Dear, you would give up heaven? You would give up Elysium for him as he is giving it up for you?
Shelly stood, her legs shaking. “I’ll fucking give it all up, just take. Me. Back.”
That is not my realm. The nightingale came to land on Shelly’s shoulder. But if you can show me a part of him that is human--if you can show me that this love he manifests as violence is a pure love … Then perhaps I can make a deal with the Crow to bring your Eric to us.
Shelly frowned. “What do you mean?”
Start from the end, the nightingale advised, and tell me why you lived for this man, and why you would die again for him.