By blood we live, p.12
By Blood We Live, p.12Glen Duncan
The last of Sue’s life was going. I’d had her liver and kidneys and several big chunks from her midriff and haunch. In with the meat had gone the frail fragments of a life lived on tiptoe, a few big moments like standing stones—the day at St. Catherine’s when she’d got her first period in the middle of hockey and run from the pitch in tears; breaking her leg when Jane Radcliffe’s swing collapsed; the surreal afternoon when, knowing it was insane, she’d gone down by the river with the boy from the fair and he’d got angry when she wouldn’t and she’d thought she was going to get raped; her first time—with Alan, the appalled intimation that it might be better, much better, with someone else, but letting the idea go, like a bird released from her hands that would never come home; giving birth to Carmel, seeing Alan’s solar glow when he held her; her demented father in the nursing home not recognising her, accusing her of stealing his cardigan. The World was the ITN News and the Daily Telegraph and Carmel’s i-gadgets and wars always with some foreigners and toothless old women in burkas always screaming over someone’s body and even though she knew it was terrible imagine if your son had been killed she wished they wouldn’t scream and wail like that with no teeth and the men were no better screaming and carrying on and wrapping their arms around the coffin Alan said our immigration’s the laughing stock of the world and not enough whites having kids now because of women having careers and the Muslims breed like rats and pretty soon they’ll outnumber us ten to one and it did seem like they were everywhere now there was a weather girl in a burka the other day …
NO. I CAN’T.
Walker, bloody up to the elbows, had put his hands on my hips.
I WANT YOU.
I CAN’T. THE OTHERS.
Go to the others, I meant. Trish. Lucy.
IT’S OKAY. I WANT YOU TO.
Lorcan and Zoë were in the room. I hadn’t called them, exactly, but the mental restriction had slackened. They were waiting for permission to feed. When I gave it, neither of them hesitated. Zoë scampered to the wounds in Sue’s midriff, but Lorcan leaped up onto the table and began tearing at Alan’s corpse. We didn’t operate a not-in-front-of-the-children policy (they’d seen what adulthood added to the kill, but they didn’t understand it; it was already a nagging tumour, the question of what I’d do with them when puberty kicked in) but their presence this time confirmed me.
I CAN’T. PLEASE. DON’T.
It seemed to last a long time, that pause. In it, I felt him taking it completely into himself that I was leaving him. Had been for months. Maybe years. Maybe two years. Maybe since the night the vampire came to call. It shocked me. As long as Walker hadn’t believed it there was room for a little denial in me. But now he did—and it was like sudden cold air coming up from a sheer drop behind me. Immediately I wanted to undo it, to tell him he was wrong, that we’d stay together, that whatever this was it wasn’t the end of us, that I loved him, of course I did, my God this was us—
But at that moment bullets shattered the kitchen window and I realised we were under attack.
WALKER HAD LORCAN safe. Not safe, but out of the kitchen and into the stairwell, walled on both sides. Original walls, two and a half feet thick. I hadn’t been aware of grabbing Zoë, nor of leaping for the stairs after Walker—but there we were. He and Lorcan were already on the first-floor landing. I could hear windows smashing. Searchlights swivelled. I was conscious of some brain department riffling through calculations—two points of attack so far; how many miles to the RV? why hadn’t we arranged a contingency rendezvous?—while the big engines of panic churned blood and haemorrhaged adrenaline and moving was a thing of slow delicious vividness—here’s my enormous leaden leg bending its knee to climb another step … and here’s my giant head lunging through the molasses of emptiness … The chateau breathed its odour of damp plaster and dust, avowed in a sad silent way its harmless existence here for two hundred years; it was like a gentle old person forced to witness some modern obscenity in the street. Sue’s spilled blood and beef and onion casserole brought Cloquet’s death back along with the certainty that these were the same assassins. It irritated me, in the midst of all this physical immediacy, that the world had to interfere with us, that the world couldn’t leave well alone.
But of course as far as the world was concerned we weren’t well, we couldn’t be left alone.
Walker shoo’d Lorcan back down to me as an explosion did big damage to the building’s fabric somewhere on the first floor. Incredibly, a severed human foot flew past Walker’s shoulder, struck the wall beside me and bounced down the stairs. Painted toenails (a colour very close to “Scarlet Vamp,” my disinterested ironist observed); Carmel.
Madeline, snout and hands and arms jewelled with winking gore, appeared in the doorway that led from the kitchen into the hall. A huge shard of glass was sticking out of her back. She didn’t seem to know it was there.
I LOST HER TOO MANY OF THEM SILVER SILVER SILVER—
I could feel it, too, on my tongue, in the roof of my mouth. Lorcan and Zoë had their hands over their ears, not understanding it was too late for that, that the metal’s threat and promise was already in the air, in their heads, their lungs, their blood.
Madeline reached out as if to fend off a negligible invisible blow—then sank to her knees.
At which point I saw the two men behind her.
Both young, trim, fair-haired, giddy with health and taut with training. Light combat fatigues in dull grey, niftily designed to accommodate the silver-delivery gadgetry. One of them held what looked like a scimitar. Not silver (only an idiot would make a sword out of silver) but that wouldn’t matter, since its purpose was to separate werewolf head from werewolf body, werewolf life from the universe.
DON’T MOVE DON’T MOVE WALKER THE KIDS—
Since if I didn’t move myself Madeline would die and the instruction to Walker and the imperative to Zoë and Lorcan were left behind like a bright smudge in my slipstream because I was flying through the air—in slow motion, always in slow motion, with time to feel three, four, five silver bullets cut my aura but not my flesh, leisure to see Sue’s moist guts like something her body had heaved out with the very last of its strength and Alan’s head all but severed, eyes open, tongue trapped between his teeth and the windows shattered and figures moving outside and a female voice screaming Gloria Patri! et Filio! et Spiritui Sancto!—time to take in all this (and to examine from all angles what might be the last shape of my life: besotted with a vampire; hurting my lover; distracted from my kids; infected again with the suspicion of a plot and simultaneously a little sick of myself, my greed, my promiscuous curiosity, my nothing ever being quite enough so perhaps this is what gives you the courage to risk death—time for all this before, with a detonation of blood that speeded time and space back up to normal, I landed hands-first on the guy with the scimitar, the blade of which went with extraordinary ease, with a delight in performing its function, clean through my lower left abdominals and out the back of me with a feeling of ice that I knew within seconds would become fire.
I ignored it. First contact had buried the claws of my right hand in his throat just above the Adam’s apple. I tightened my grip and pulled. Out came the trachea and a fistful of blood vessels. Sufficient damage—but there was no time for self-congratulation. Nor was there time to pull the sword out of my guts. I looked up to see the second guy standing over me. He’d learned a valuable lesson: Don’t fuck around trying to cut heads off when you’ve got a holy .44 Magnum with a chamber full of silver bullets at your disposal. The gun was pointed directly at my head.
THE BRAIN’S AN honest organ. It began the avoidance calculations—time, mass, speed, energy, angles, trajectories—but couldn’t disguise their pointlessness. The gunman’s finger already had the trigger halfway through its spring. I was going to die. I felt the future like a vast dark landscape fu
I’M SORRY, I sent them. I’M SO—
Then something smashed into the gunman’s face and knocked him off his feet.
A piece of rubble the size of a bowling ball. Flung by Walker. An explosion had wrecked the room opposite the head of the stairs. In one move I pulled the scimitar out—felt the tissues scream—and thrust it straight through the assassin’s midriff and into the wooden floor.
Madeline had struggled to her feet and Walker had come back down the stairs and pulled the glass shard out of her. The twins were huddled between the two of them. My most perverse self said: That’s the proper picture. That’s how it should have been. Walker and Maddy and the twins. You don’t love anyone enough. You don’t have love. Just fucking curiosity. Like your mother.
But all the ground-floor exits were covered. The house was encircled by thirty Angels at least, and all the ammunition was silver. Even with our speed we’d be hit. The woods beyond had a beautiful darkness and large, indifferent sentience.
ROOF. THEY’RE CLOSE ENOUGH. OVER THEM.
If we could get up on the roof there was a chance we’d be able to jump clear of their perimeter. It wouldn’t guarantee not getting hit, but they were less likely to be looking over their own heads than at the building’s obvious exits.
We went back to the stairs, Zoë on my hip, Lorcan clinging to Walker’s back. Madeline had recovered from whatever had debilitated her. Plaster and brick dust swirled.
Half the front wall of Carmel and Rory’s room had been blown away and the fresh smell of the night came in mixed with the stink of gunfire. Carmel’s body had been ripped in half—though by the explosion or by Trish and Fergus it was impossible to tell.
We’d all felt it, a moment before seeing it. Trish’s body, splayed, dead. One arm was bent awkwardly under her, her head twisted to the left, mouth open, fat tongue lolling. Thirty or forty bullet-holes, the ether still migrained from where the silver had gone into her, the terrible reaction that touched all of us in our mouths and nostrils, bittered our saliva, turned our guts.
There was no time. There was the fact of the death—everything that was Trish—that had been Trish—began the rush together, the panicked gathering in us so we would know all that we’d lost—but there was no time, no time—bullets spattered the wall behind my head and a searchlight’s beam swung—
Down the landing a second flight led up to another floor. Four more bedrooms, a half-plumbed bathroom, a tiny water-closet, ladders and tarps, bare plaster, an exercise bike, a brass curtain rod … Zoë, clinging tight to me, was trying to find room to accommodate Trish, lying like that with her tongue out it meant it meant that thing that happens to the humans that happens but and what will where will she go—
Walker had found the hatch in the ceiling that led up into the attic or loft. He set Lorcan down, bent his knees, leaped, straight up. The hatch crashed open. He got a purchase and hoisted himself up.
Lorcan first, tossed up by Madeline. Then Zoë, full of gossiping adrenaline. IT’S ALL RIGHT, ANGEL, WE’RE GETTING OUT OF HERE.
Three skylights. We would have very little time. No time, really. Three or four seconds, maybe, before the first shooter spotted us.
Madeline was first out. I passed Zoë up to her (felt her LIE FLAT ON YOUR TUMMY, SWEETHEART) then Lorcan.
Walker. I didn’t argue. A second later I’d joined Madeline and the kids, prostrate on the cold shingles. It was better than it might have been: two of the house’s half-dozen chimney stacks shielded us on two sides. We had to go simultaneously. Fast, high, hard. Three at once (and the twins) would be more confusing. Spread their fire. Make them miss. The lies you tell yourself. The necessary lies.
YOU HOLD VERY TIGHT. BOTH OF YOU—UNDERSTAND?
Walker took Lorcan again. Zoë scrambled onto my back, wrapped her arms around me. It was a fifty- or sixty-foot jump. Hit the ground running. Eighty yards to the trees. And then? And then? The RV was no good to us in this state, and there were still two hours to moonset. Two options: get back to the change site, pick up the clothes and get as far away as possible, or fuck the change site (which they’d more than likely have covered), hit the nearest house and take our chances killing the inhabitants and stealing their clothes. Clothes. The inability to drive with these hands and feet. Practicalities. Like a group of happy idiots you could never ditch. You’ve got to laugh. Except when you’ve got two three-year-olds laughing’s not always an option.
As with all actions performed because other options have ceased to exist, it was a relief. I had time to notice a torn sheet of hurrying cloud just below the moon (while the moon reminded me I hadn’t eaten enough), and, glancing down, to pick out the upturned face of one of the Angels, a young man not more than twenty, wearing some sort of protective headgear (a cross between a boxer’s headguard and a cycle helmet) that framed a sweet, sharp-featured, androgynous face. He was looking up in just the way he would’ve looked up—freckled, wide-eyed—at a spectacular firework when he was little.
Walker hit the ground a split-second before me. Madeline landed close. The forest rushed towards us like a crowd storming a barricade, full of love. Gunfire and wildly swung searchlights and a voice screaming some order over and over in Italian that mine wasn’t good enough to catch.
Then the tiny detail of something sharp going into the back of my left thigh—before everything went black.
WHICH WAS WHY my sweet Justine had kept shtoom. If I found love again, she thought, there would be no room in my life for her. And what would finding Talulla—Vali reborn—be if not love?
“I know why you didn’t tell me what we were doing in Europe,” I said to her, when I came up from the vault, when I came back from death. “What I was doing in Europe. I know why you didn’t tell me about Talulla.”
She was in the study, naked, on her hands and knees, scrubbing at the bloodstains with bleach and a brutal-looking brush I didn’t even know we owned. It was just after one a.m. There was no sign of last night’s bodies. Without looking up, she tossed me a roll of garbage bags, which I caught. We don’t drop catches, especially when thrown by one of our own.
“Strip off and put your clothes in there,” she said. “We’re going to have to burn them.”
“We don’t have much time. Go take a shower, then get dressed in something you don’t like because we’ll have to burn that as well. And don’t track back through here when you’re clean. Go around through the lounge. Wait for me in the garage.”
“They’re in there. We’re going to have to bury them somewhere, right?”
The three from last night. For a moment I stood watching her, full of love. It’s terrible the way someone intently doing a crossword or tying their shoelace or scrubbing a floor can ambush you with the whole weight of your tenderness. When she’d drunk from me I’d felt death very close. A huge soft darkness. Then her blood had come to me like a rope. And in spite of myself I’d grabbed it. Oh, hadn’t I just. That wretched moment when I realised I couldn’t stop, that she’d have to make me stop. And she had. It was a delight to me to know she’d had the strength and instinct to do that.
“Justine, angel, listen—”
“Look, we have to deal with this,” she said. “This. Now. Okay?”
It was very, very difficult not to pour out reassurance. My heart ached with the need to tell her she was wrong, she was worrying for nothing. But her force field made it plain: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You saved my life.”
She didn’t look up. Her little breasts bobbed, prettily, as she scrubbed. Then she said: “Yeah, well, you did the same for me. Now will you for Christ’s sake hurry up?”
“Is this how it’s going to be now?” I asked her, desperate to put my arms around her.
“You barking orders at me all the time?”
“Yes. Get out of here. Go shower.”
Under the jets (set to massage, striking my head and shoulders with a hail of soft bullets) I realised I’d had the dream again. (Coming back from death it’s light-years of void, void, void, but eventually the void morphs into the ocean of sleep, and sleep into the shore of waking.) The memory hit me like the smell of the sea: the deserted beach at twilight, someone walking behind me, the abandoned rowing boat. The terrible feeling of being on the edge of a profound and simple truth. And the maddening familiarity of He lied in every word circling my head like cartoon concussion birds when I woke.
Again, fear was very available, if I were only willing to turn and face it.
But I’m no coward when it comes to cowardice. I concentrated instead on soaping my genitals and wondering how long it would take me to pick up Talulla’s trail.
“LOOK AT THE tattoos,” Justine said. “They’re Angels.”
We were in the garage, getting the bodies ready. The two women each had a black sigil above and to the right of the navel. The man had one on his right bicep.
By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan / Horror / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes