I met her through a slip of paper, buried in my mass of bills and catalogues. I pried the stack out of my minuscule letterbox in the lobby and trudged up to my apartment, each step laborious. I could imagine parties in this place, back in the day. Opulent rooms full of beautiful people making empty promises, all while a record churns out soft jazz. But now it wasn’t even old in the charming way. The rent’s dirt cheap. If I returned from work one day to find a heap of rubble, I doubt I’d even care. As I climbed the winding grand stairs, I tried to find my rusty house key. I kept fishing out my new key from work instead. It reminds me of the rectangular ones at hotels. This mass-produced plastic with the company’s logo stamped on the front. It feels more like a collar than a key, relegating me to that sterile office. I kept seeing my boss’ face in the back of my mind. One of those charmless men that somehow has it all. An ill-fitting suit, a semi-impressive job, a soulless wife and the knowledge that no one will ever have the balls to question him. This afternoon, Madeline’s elbows leaned on his desk during lunch break, his hand over her mouth to muffle the screams. Sweat blotted by button-up shirts and suit pants. The new walls are glass. I saw her staring into the bathroom mirror at the end of the day, red-faced and silent. I said nothing. I knew that words wouldn’t mean anything to her. They can’t change the past. Protect yourself from hungry eyes, it’s that simple. It’s all a stupid game. I dropped all the mail on the floor; I’d lost the energy to care. The force made the bleached envelopes explode outwards, leaving a tea-stained scrap at the impact’s center. I snatched it up. It felt brittle, delicate. Not a uniform colour, but many layers of tea stains. So many herbs had all been dried together into a singular earthy smell. On the back were a jumble of numbers, a time and a name in immaculate cursive. Tonight, Sunset. 37.8136° S, 144.9631° E. Kora Leland. With one foot still in the corridor, I looked outside and grabbed my coat. Latitude and longitude not a ship but smooth carpark concrete overlooked. Above, A peach-tinted sunset revives a greyscale colossus A chill in the air False summer. Too bright, too open A call from voiceless veins Dig deeper, dig deeper. Far from their world of Sunken eyes and Store-bought miracles. I wander down A cautious ghost Bathed in fluorescents of the stairwell My last life did not follow me. A dozen women cloaked Cocooned In corporation’s bowels No lights from the ceiling To mock the sun. Fire Destruction contained at a circular core Creating distorted shadows Interlocked, flickering, grinning. Facing me. She, the night Dark, dangerous, shimmering. Kora Leland An incantation Bathed in velvet-smooth darkness Orange flickers. Upon ochre arms A silver snake Imitation scales Etched in white ink My eyes follow Slithering from finger-tip Down curved elbow To a metallic noose. ‘Eve, villainess from the beginning Punished for desire Colluding with the snake To find truth’ Her voice, fragment of a misplaced memory. ‘P...pardon?’ My infantile squeak. A beat of silence. ‘We never wrote rules We destroy them With our flesh we are not permitted to control Brew rebellion from beneath them’ Shriek Singular note Rounding to a chant I join the masked The note unknown Encased in a memory Of fury. Now, her hand outstretched Brown paper flecks I offered mine Her other hand Plants united by twine Together thrown into the flame. Her body Smooth endlessness Towering in flickering light Only a pendant catching gold and green Winding curves A mighty serpent Curling around perfection. In her eyes, eternity lies dormant Speckles of planets in tresses Her lips, infinity Cinnamon spice Small burning brands In contact Mind flying Chaos and whirlwind Body no longer divorced from self All concentrated to one Nerves, once lonesome starts Connect to constellation. To be consumed by her Until sweetened nothingness Plastic buttons and zips Redundant remnants Smoothed away Lie on dusky concrete. New yet ancient bloomed From a place deeper than names Nerves singing Chanting Honey flows with blood Beauty unseen Wonderous flowing creatures And I among them As I arrive at the rapture Their temples will burn Until Darkness, all darkness. The fluorescent lights crackled and hummed above me. I couldn’t even remember how I arrived. Memory had slipped away from my grasp. The phone pierced through the haze, fumbling to get to the receiver in time. They gave us a script to say on the first day, but it’s lost under the mental sludge. ‘Hello! I’m calling from reception downstairs.’ The voice on the other end was too chipper for the morning. But nothing could change the cadence at its core. Kora. ‘Charlotte.’ Her voice was smoother now, an antidote to the world. ‘I’m so glad that we found you. There will be two invitations in your letterbox. Use them wisely.’ Then she hung up suddenly, leaving me in a sea of crackling white noise. My limp hand cradled the receiver. Nothingness filled my head again. My eyes gleaned over to the photocopier, the water cooler. The swathes of grey. Until I settled on Madeline’s empty desk. My second invitation.