I’ve referenced these sections enough times now that I’d like to be able to point people to them. Massive spoilers follow.
From “The Book of Blood”
Mary Florescu drummed the table with her fingers. Her wedding ring was loose today, she felt it moving with the rhythm of her tapping. Sometimes it was tight and sometimes loose: one of those small mysteries that she’d never analysed properly but simply accepted. In fact today it was very loose: almost ready to fall off. She thought of Alan’s face. Alan’s dear face. She thought of it through a hole made of her wedding ring, as if down a tunnel. Was that what his death had been like: being carried away and yet further away down a tunnel to the dark? She thrust the ring deeper on to her hand. Through the tips of her index-finger and thumb she seemed almost to taste the sour metal as she touched it. It was a curious sensation, an illusion of some kind.
To wash the bitterness away she thought of the boy. His face came easily, so very easily, splashing into her consciousness with his smile and his unremarkable physique, still unmanly. Like a girl really — the roundness of him, the sweet clarity of his skin — the innocence.
Her fingers were still on the ring, and the sourness she had tasted grew. She looked up. Fuller was organizing the equipment. Around his balding head a nimbus of pale green light shimmered and wove —She suddenly felt giddy.
Fuller saw nothing and heard nothing. His head was bowed to his business, engrossed. Mary stared at him still, seeing the halo on him, feeling new sensations waking in her, coursing through her. The air seemed suddenly alive: the very molecules of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen jostled against her in an intimate embrace. The nimbus around Fuller’s head was spreading, finding fellow radiance in every object in the room. The unnatural sense in her fingertips was spreading too. She could see the colour of her breath as she exhaled it: a pinky orange glamour in the bubbling air. She could hear, quite clearly, the voice of the desk she sat at: the low whine of its solid presence.
The world was opening up: throwing her senses into an ecstasy, coaxing them into a wild confusion of functions. She was capable, suddenly, of knowing the world as a system, not of politics or religions, but as a system of senses, a system that spread out from the living flesh to the inert wood of her desk, to the stale gold of her wedding ring.
And further. Beyond wood, beyond gold. The crack opened that led to the highway. In her head she heard voices that came from no living mouth.
She looked up, or rather some force thrust her head back violently and she found herself staring up at the ceiling. It was covered with worms. No, that was absurd! It seemed to be alive, though, maggoty with life — pulsing, dancing.
She could see the boy through the ceiling. He was sitting on the floor, with his jutting member in his hand. His head was thrown back, like hers. He was as lost in his ecstasy as she was. Her new sight saw the throbbing light in and around his body — traced the passion that was seated in his gut, and his head molten with pleasure.
It saw another sight, the lie in him, the absence of power where she’d thought there had been something wonderful. He had no talent to commune with ghosts, nor had ever had, she saw this plainly. He was a little liar, a boy-liar, a sweet, white boy-liar without the compassion or the wisdom to understand what he had dared to do.
Now it was done. The lies were told, the tricks were played, and the people on the highway, sick beyond death of being misrepresented and mocked, were buzzing at the crack in the wall, and demanding satisfaction.
That crack she had opened: she had unknowingly fingered and fumbled at, unlocking it by slow degrees. Her desire for the boy had done that: her endless thoughts of him, her frustration, her heat and her disgust at her heat had pulled the crack wider. Of all the powers that made the system manifest, love, and its companion, passion, and their companion, loss, were the most potent. Here she was, an embodiment of all three. Loving, and wanting, and sensing acutely the impossibility of the former two. Wrapped up in an agony of feeling which she had denied herself, believing she loved the boy simply as her Go-Between.
It wasn’t true! It wasn’t true! She wanted him, wanted him now, deep inside her. Except that now it was too late.
The traffic could be denied no longer: it demanded, yes, it demanded access to the little trickster.
She was helpless to prevent it. All she could do was utter a tiny gasp of horror as she saw the highway open out before her, and understood that this was no common intersection they stood at.
Fuller heard the sound.
‘Doctor?’ He looked up from his tinkering and his face — washed with a blue light she could see from the corner of her eye — bore an expression of enquiry.
‘Did you say something?’ he asked.
She thought, with a fillip of her stomach, of how this was bound to end.
The ether-faces of the dead were quite clear in front of her. She could see the profundity of their suffering and she could sympathize with their ache to be heard.
She saw plainly that the highways that crossed at Tollington Place were not common thoroughfares. She was not staring at the happy, idling traffic of the ordinary dead. No, that house opened onto a route walked only by the victims and the perpetrators of violence. The men, the women, the children who had died enduring all the pains nerves had wit to muster, with their minds branded by the circumstances of their deaths. Eloquent beyond words, their eyes spoke their agonies, their ghost bodies still bearing the wounds that had killed them. She could also see, mingling freely with the innocents, their slaughterers and tormentors. These monsters, frenzied, mush-minded blood-letters, peeked through into the world: nonesuch creatures, unspoken, forbidden miracles of our species, chattering and howling their Jabberwocky.
Now the boy above her sensed them. She saw him turn a little in the silent room, knowing that the voices he heard were not fly-voices, the complaints were not insect-complaints. He was aware, suddenly, that he had
lived in a tiny corner of the world, and that the rest of it, the Third, Fourth and Fifth Worlds, were pressing at his lying back, hungry and irrevocable. The sight of his panic was also a smell and a taste to her. Yes, she tasted him as she had always longed to, but it was not a kiss that married their senses, it was his growing panic. It filled her up: her empathy was total. The fearful glance was hers as much as his — their dry throats rasped the same small word:
That the child learns. ‘Please —, That wins care and gifts.
That even the dead, surely, even the dead must know and obey.
Today there would be no such mercy given, she knew for certain. These ghosts had despaired on the highway a grieving age, bearing the wounds they had died with, and the insanities they had slaughtered with. They had endured his levity and insolence, his idiocies, the fabrications that had made a game of their ordeals. They wanted to speak the truth.
Fuller was peering at her more closely, his face now swimming in a sea of pulsing orange light. She felt his hands on her skin. They tasted of vinegar.
‘Are you all right?’ he said, his breath like iron.
She shook her head.
No, she was not all right, nothing was right.
The crack was gaping wider every second: through it she could see another sky, the slate heavens that loured over the highway. It overwhelmed the mere reality of the house.
‘Please,’ she said, her eyes rolling up to the fading substance of the ceiling.
Wider. Wider —The brittle world she inhabited was stretched to breaking point.
Suddenly, it broke, like a dam, and the black waters poured through, inundating the room.
Fuller knew something was amiss (it was in the colour of his aura, the sudden fear), but he didn’t understand what was happening. She felt his spine ripple: she could see his brain whirl.
‘What’s going on?’ he said. The pathos of the enquiry made her want to laugh.
Upstairs, the water-jug in the writing room shattered.
Fuller let her go and ran towards the door. It began to rattle and shake even as he approached it, as though all the inhabitants of hell were beating on the other side. The handle turned and turned and turned. The paint blistered. The key glowed red-hot.
Fuller looked back at the Doctor, who was still fixed in that grotesque position, head back, eyes wide.
He reached for the handle, but the door opened before he could touch it. The hallway beyond had disappeared altogether. Where the familiar interior had stood the vista of the highway stretched to the horizon. The sight killed Fuller in a moment. His mind had no strength to take the panorama in — it could not control the overload that ran through his every nerve. His heart stopped; a revolution overturned the order of his system; his bladder failed, his bowels failed, his limbs shook and collapsed. As he sank to the floor his face began to blister like the door, and his corpse rattle like the handle. He was inert stuff already: as fit for this indignity as wood or steel.
Somewhere to the East his soul joined the wounded highway, on its route to the intersection where a moment previously he had died.
Mary Florescu knew she was alone. Above her themarvellous boy, her beautiful, cheating child, was writhing and screeching as the dead set their vengeful hands on his fresh skin. She knew their intention: she could see it in their eyes — there was nothing new about it. Every history had this particular torment in its tradition. He was to be used to record their testaments. He was to be their page, their book, the vessel for their autobiographies. A book of blood. A book made of blood. A book written in blood. She thought of the grimoires that had been made of dead human skin: she’d seen them, touched them. She thought of the tattooes she’d seen: freak show exhibits some of them, others just shirtless labourers in the Street with a message to their mothers pricked across their backs. It was not unknown, to write a book of blood.
From “The Hellbound Heart” (scene in the hospital)
Had it not been for the white walls she might never have picked up the box. Had there been a picture to look at-a vase of sun-flowers, or a view of pyramids—anything to break the monotony of the room, she would have been content to stare at it, and think.
But the blankness was too much; it gave her no handhold on sanity. So she reached across to the table beside the bed and picked up the box.
It was heavier than she remembered. She had to sit up in bed to examine it. There was little enough to see. No lid that she could find. No keyhole. No hinges. If she turned it over once she turned it half a hundred times, finding no clue to how it might be opened. It was not solid, she was certain of that. So logic demanded that there be a way into it.
She tapped it, shook it, pulled and pressed it, all without result. It was not until she rolled over in bed and examined it in the full glare of the lamp that she discovered some clue as to how the box was constructed.
There were infinitesimal cracks in the sides of the box, where one piece of the puzzle abutted the next. They would have been invisible, but that a residue of blood remained in them, tracing the complex relation of the parts.
Systematically, she began to feel her way over the sides, testing her hypothesis by pushing and pulling once more. The cracks offered her a general geography of the toy; without them she might have wandered the six sides forever. But the options were significantly reduced by the clues she’d found there were only so many ways the box could be made to come apart
After a time, her patience was rewarded.
A click, and suddenly one of the compartments was sliding out from beside its lacquered neighbors. Within, there was beauty.
Polished surfaces which scintillated like the finest mother-of-pearl, colored shadows seeming to move in the gloss.
And there was music too; a simple tune emerged from the box, played on a mechanism that she could not yet see. Enchanted, she delved further. Though one piece had been removed, the rest did not come readily.
Each segment presented a fresh challenge to fingers and mind, the victories rewarded with a further filigree added to the tune.
She was coaxing the fourth section out by an elaborate series of turns and counter turns, when she heard the bell. She stopped working, and looked up.
Something was wrong. Either her weary eyes were playing tricks or the blizzard-white walls had moved subtly out of true.
She put down the box, and slipped out of bed to go to the window. The bell still rang, a solemn tolling. She drew back the curtain a few inches. It was night, and windy. Leaves migrated across the hospital lawn; moths congregated in the lamplight. Unlikely as it seemed, the sound of the bell wasn’t coming from outside. It was behind her. She let the curtain drop and turned back into the room.
As she did so, the bulb in the bedside light guttered like a living flame.
Instinctively, she reached for the pieces of the box: they and these strange events were intertwined somehow. As her hand found the fragments, the light blew out.
She was not left in darkness however; nor was she alone. There was a soft phosphorescence at the end of the bed, and in its folds, a figure. The condition of its flesh beggared her imagination—the hooks, the scars. Yet its voice, when it spoke, was not that of a creature in pain.
“It’s called the Lemarchand Configuration,” it said, pointing at the box. She looked down; the pieces were no longer in her hand, but floating inches above her palm. Miraculously, the box was reassembling itself without visible aid, the pieces sliding back together as the whole construction turned over and over. As it did so she caught fresh glimpses of the polished interior, and seemed to see ghosts’ faces—twisted as if by grief or bad glass—howling back at her.
Then all but one of the segments was sealed up, and the visitor was claiming her attention afresh.
“The box is a means to break the surface of the real,” it said. “A kind of invocation by which we Cenobites can be notified—”
From “The Hellbound Heart” (ending)
Only then did she realize the purpose of the collision. Lemarchand’s box had been passed back to her, and sat in her hand.
Its surfaces had been immaculately re-sealed, and polished to a high gloss. Though she did not examine it, she was certain there would be no clue to its solution left. The next discoverer would voyage its faces without a chart. And until such time, was she elected its keeper? Apparently so.
She turned it over in her hand. For the frailest of moments she seemed to see ghosts in the lacquer. Julia’s face, and that of Frank.
She turned it over again, looking to see if Rory was held here: but no. Wherever he was, it wasn’t here. There were other puzzles, perhaps, that if solved gave access to the place where he lodged. A crossword maybe, whose solution would lift the latch of the paradise garden, or a jigsaw in the completion of which lay access to Wonderland.
She would wait and watch, as she had always watched and waited, hoping that such a puzzle would one day come to her. But if it failed to show itself she would not grieve too deeply, for fear that the mending of broken hearts be a puzzle neither wit nor time had the skill to solve.