By blood we live, p.32
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       By Blood We Live, p.32

           Glen Duncan
 

  And still didn’t. I wondered what it meant.

  “Look,” I said. “I don’t know who you are. Maybe it’d be easier to talk outside. Hang on.” I went back into the library, where Natasha and Konstantinov were righting the furniture. I got a tube of the nose-block from Natasha.

  “They’re in the upstairs sitting room,” Natasha told me, meaning Mia and Caleb. “What’s the story?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “Stay put. I need to talk to the girl.”

  In the garden, I offered her the paste. “It’s not perfect,” I said. “But it takes the edge off.” I applied my own when I saw her hesitating. “Go ahead. Seriously. It’s fine. We’re all using it.”

  She put it on, but kept her distance. I sat down on a carved stone bench backed by a huge bougainvillea.

  “For starters,” I said, “who are you?”

  78

  PARTLY, I COULD sense, because she was ragged with newness and too much too soon and exhaustion and air miles and fear, fear, fear for him, she—Justine—told me everything. Or at least told me so much so disingenuously that it was hard to believe she was keeping anything back on purpose.

  “Is it true?” she asked, more than an hour later. “Are you … I mean who are you?”

  The muscles in my back were full of granular crunch. Wulf, regardless of plot intrigue, was still fighting every inch of the road back to quiescence.

  “You mean am I the reincarnation of his dead lover of thousands of years ago?”

  She didn’t laugh, exactly, but her face acknowledged that I was acknowledging the ridiculousness of it. Or at least the ridiculousness of the way it sounded.

  “I’ll tell you the truth,” I said. “I don’t believe in any of this shit. Afterlife, God, reincarnation, dreams, clues, destiny, magic. A plot. I don’t believe the world’s got a fucking plot. I really don’t. But ever since I met him, ever since those first moments on Crete, and afterwards, when he came to see me … Ever since then he’s been in my head. Ever since then I’ve been having this dream.” Our eyes met. “I know, a dream, right? But anyway I’ve been having this dream about …” I hesitated. Then thought, Fuck it: she’s been honest with me. “Oh God, well, it’s partly an erotic dream”—she looked at the ground—“but it’s mainly the two of us on this beach. Walking along this beach at dusk. It doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a weird quality to it. I know: It’s a dream. Of course there’s a weird quality to it. But this is different. I realise I sound like a lunatic, by the way. I’m sorry.”

  “Do you have a cigarette?” she said.

  Two Camel Filters—just two—left in my crumpled softpack. One—just one—tear-off match from an airport bar. We looked at each other. Again, didn’t, quite, laugh.

  “Thing is,” she said, “here you both are.”

  I was thinking I liked her. I was thinking she was a fast learner. If she survived even another two or three years she’d be a force to be reckoned with. There was damage there, but she had sufficient self-brutality and hunger to make herself bigger than it.

  “When I left him in LA,” she said, “I wanted him to be free to go look for you. But he didn’t do that. He came looking for me. And because of that, he’s here. On the other side of the world. In the same house as you.”

  “Well, if you believe in destiny,” I said, “I guess that’s what you’d call it.”

  “Do you?”

  I remembered the conversation with Maddy on the way back from Rome airport. Ever since I met him I’ve had this feeling that this isn’t just all random crap. It’s as if someone’s watching it all, or making it up.

  “I dislike it enough not to believe in it,” I said, thinking: That’s the first time I’ve ever thought that. There was that Forster quote: How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?

  “So how come you are here?” Justine asked.

  Well. Yes.

  And though merely opening my mouth to begin felt like a labour against giant exhaustion, I told her everything. Granted there was an uncanny ease between us, but I was so sick of weighing narrative rations by now that I would have told anyone. All of it. Quinn’s Book. The myth of origin. The Chinese executions. Salvatore and Bryce. Olek’s vampires. The fucking human world closing in. You might not want this for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children.

  “We were attacked by the religious nuts, too,” she said. “Back in LA before I left. Mia says it’s going to be an all-out war.”

  “Or all-out primetime entertainment,” I said. “Whatever does not kill them makes them make TV shows.” I had an image of Zoë and Lorcan pitted against human kids: assault courses; IQ tests; spelling bees; cooking shows. I could see the new version of Blind Date. One of these three would-be Prince Charmings has a dark secret … Will tonight’s Cinderella still want to go to the Ball—when she finds out it’s on a full moon?

  “So what is the cure?” Justine asked. As I’d known she would, since I’d stopped short of the details. I’d stopped short of the details because the cocktail of disbelief and nausea and absurdity and intuitive certainty made me want to go somewhere far away in the middle of nowhere and sleep. I thought of Muni, her calm, smiling physical care for the baby. I thought of Devaz, lying on his bunk, staring into space. Human again.

  While I told her the details she stood looking at the ground, frowning, slightly, one arm wrapped around her middle, the other—hand holding the all but untouched cigarette—down by her side. I told her without emotion. Just what I’d heard. Just what I’d seen.

  When I’d finished, she said: “You don’t believe that.” Fast learner was right. I’d known her less than a couple of hours and here were the pronouncements. On me. On what I believed.

  “No,” I said. “I don’t. But I knew without him having to tell me exactly what the ritual was. It didn’t feel like an educated guess. It felt like a memory. And there’s Devaz. He was a werewolf. Now he’s not.” As soon as I said this I realised (slow, Talulla, this place makes you so dumb and slow) that of course Olek wouldn’t let him leave here alive. He was probably already dead. He’d probably already been neatly driven away by Grishma and neatly buried somewhere. It was a strange little fleck of disgust in the mass of disgust. Out of it, I said: “I could give my children the chance of a normal life.”

  You say these things as an experiment. To see if you believe them. How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?

  An hour before sunrise Olek surfaced. “He’s conscious,” he said, “but very disoriented. I’ve given him a lot of blood, but he’s not metabolising properly. I don’t know. I’ve never really seen this before.”

  Justine and I had come in from the garden. Mia and Caleb, showered and changed, were sitting at the bottom of the stairs. Konstantinov and Natasha were boarding up the window in the library.

  “Can I see him?” Justine asked.

  “Go ahead,” Olek said. “He’s very heavily sedated, however. I doubt he’ll know you. Mia, Caleb, there’s plenty of room below stairs. Please make yourselves comfortable. Do you need to drink?”

  “Tomorrow,” Mia said.

  “Fine,” Olek said. “I have everything. Talulla, you and I need to—”

  “I need to go to bed,” I said. “I’m exhausted.”

  He looked at me for a moment. Then smiled. He took the envelope containing the remaining pages from Quinn’s journal and handed it to me. “Corroborative reading,” he said. “Just so you know I wasn’t making anything up.”

  I was thinking: I’ll go upstairs, get my things, give it a couple of hours, then walk away from here.

  I was thinking this.

  79

  Justine

  I WANTED TO stay awake, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to. The sun comes and sleep’s like the ground sucking you in. Like magnetism from hell.

  “I promise you, my dear girl,” Olek said, laying out a comforter and pillows on the corridor floor, “I’ve done absolutely everything I can for the time being.
If he makes it through the daylight hours he’ll be much stronger. Then we can re-assess. Now you’re sure you wouldn’t like one of the other rooms? I feel an absolute barbarian letting you sleep here like a little cat, albeit a lovely one, with personality.”

  “I want to,” I said. “I’ll feel it if he wakes up.”

  He squeezed my arm and gave me a neat little smile. He was one of those guys you couldn’t tell whether you hated. So polite and charming you thought it had to be a cover for something.

  “Of course,” he said. “I understand. Well, if you have everything you need, I’ll take my leave for now. I’ll be one floor below if you need me. Bottom of the stairs, second door on the left. Just knock.”

  So, I thought, after he’d gone, that’s her. Her. I guess I shouldn’t have felt happy when she told me she didn’t believe she was anyone’s reincarnation. For poor Fluff’s sake I should’ve been sad. Except of course she hadn’t said she didn’t believe in it. Not exactly. No such thing as destiny. But Fluff had come after me, not her—and it had brought the two of them together anyway. It was impossible to believe it was all part of some invisible scheme of things, like God’s plan, like a fucking story. And just as impossible to write it off as a series of accidents. Both ideas impossible to believe and impossible to dismiss. Which is what he’s told me Christ knows how many times before, about the signs, the connections, the correspondences between things, the goddamned beguilement. You have to both believe it and know it can’t be true, he’d said. You have to learn how to be the wry servant of two masters. I’d been so annoyed, I’d said: Yeah. I’ve never known what the fuck “wry” actually means.

  And now this.

  Him. Sick. Again.

  I lay on the comforter on my side with my knees drawn up. The house hummed, quietly. I was thinking: Just let him be okay. If you let him be okay … If you let him be okay I’ll never … Just let him be okay and I’ll be bridesmaid at their fucking wedding. Please … Please … Please …

  You think like this. As if there’s someone you can plead with. Even when you know there isn’t.

  Then suddenly I thought of what my world would feel like without him in it. The cold fact of it. All the countries and faces and skies and cars and TV screens and people. Without him to make it bearable.

  And it was like the earth falling away underneath me.

  80

  Talulla

  IN MY ROOM I packed my rucksack.

  Then sat on the edge of the bed looking at it.

  It was a beautiful morning. The window was open. Blue sky. Furious birdsong. The garden’s perfumes. A very slight, sporadic breeze brought, at moments, the faintest whiff of the ocean. It seemed odd to think of it so close. Barely a couple of miles.

  I took out my phone. Time difference. They’d be asleep. The kids, at any rate, would be asleep. Walker might be awake.

  In bed with Madeline.

  I hoped he was. And the hoping put another fracture in my already crazy-glass heart.

  I could give my children the chance of a normal life.

  For Christ’s sake, Lulu, I imagined my mother saying, either think it through or shut it down.

  My mother. Jake. Cloquet. Fergus. Trish. The dead were an unimaginably long way away. A distance that defined loss. The living were only a little nearer. The distance that defined sadness.

  I picked up the envelope, tore it open and read.

  It was exactly as Olek had summarised. Of course it was. I hadn’t expected anything else. He had no incentive to make it up.

  Gods. Souls. Bargains. Sacrifices. A hidden scheme of things.

  Absolutely every part of me—except one—rejected it, utterly. The one part of me that didn’t was the memory of knowing exactly what Olek was going to say before he said it. The part of me that recognised it, as something I’d known all along. I thought of the Apostles at the Last Supper, hearing for the first time the words that would become the rite of Transubstantiation:

  Take this, all of you, and eat of it:

  for this is my body which will be given up for you.

  Take this, all of you, and drink from it:

  for this is the cup of my blood,

  the blood of the new and everlasting covenant …

  To them it wouldn’t have felt like something new. It would’ve felt like something they’d once known and subsequently forgotten. The neural pathway or soul’s grammar would’ve opened to receive it, to welcome it home in an act of giant, terrible, thrilling recognition. If it hadn’t, Christianity would never have got started.

  Grishma (presumably) had left a new bottle of Macallan and a clean glass on the nightstand. An unopened pack of Camels, too, next to “Childe Roland.” I put the pages back carefully in the envelope, poured a drink, lit up and went to the window.

  The chance of a normal life.

  Put the all but total scepticism on one side. What sort of normal life? One that would depend on them not remembering anything from the life they’d already had. Was that likely? Certainly not unless I took the cure as well. If I didn’t, I’d have to let them go. Elsewhere. Adoption. A brand-new start with human parents. Either way the therapists of ten or fifteen years in the future were looking back to my present and beaming.

  At which point I knew, very simply, that even if I believed the ritual would work I wasn’t going to do it.

  It was a funny, liberating thing to be able to reject what you knew to be true.

  Besides, Remshi’s voice said in my head, that’s not what you were brought here for.

  81

  Remshi

  I WOKE JUST before sundown feeling better than ever. Notwithstanding I hadn’t the faintest clue where I was. My opened eyes (I felt not just well, but reborn) showed a white ceiling with three fluorescent striplights. My (what felt like virgin) nostrils reported chemicals and processed air. My sentience (washed, primped, ready for devil-may-care action) said wherever I was it was exactly—it was precisely and wholesomely and inevitably—where I was supposed to be. I sat up.

  Fine. A laboratory. Vaguely familiar. Teasingly filed somewhere in the crammed mental cabinet. The thing to do was not to try to remember it. Think about something else and it would pop right in like magic. I got to my feet. I might as well have been Lash-sated, because even that humble physical action filled my molecules with glee. Look at me! Standing up! A marvel!

  A big memory door swung open on a vision of Justine sitting in the corner of a large bedroom, knees up under her chin, covered in blood.

  Schrutt. Duane Schrutt’s house.

  Bangkok.

  Mia, Caleb …

  I stood there for a few moments, following the image-trail backwards. The jet. The devastated Militi Christi base. Leath’s place in North Vegas. Justine’s note. Turning Justine. Near-death darkness. The attack on Las Rosas. Porn king Randolf. The two lost years.

  Vali.

  Talulla.

  Vali.

  I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me.

  Perversely, I hadn’t had the dream. The beach, the twilight, the someone behind me, the knowing that I knew something without knowing what it was. Nor, thank God, had I woken with He lied in every word gad-flying around my head.

  What’s the last thing you remember? As I’d trained Justine to ask.

  Schrutt’s bedroom. Not being able to stand up.

  It seemed absurd, given how beautifully I was standing up now. I was the Platonic Form of Standing Up. You could go a long way, my singing legs and spine and head said, before you’d find a better example of standing up than the one we had right here.

  In the room next door—more bottled chemicals, fridges, unnervingly thin gizmos—I found Mia and Caleb, still sleeping, spoons fashion, on blankets on the floor, mother behind son, her left arm wrapped around him. He was frowning. Poor lad had a busy dream life, I knew. The stunted subconscious forever wrestling with the unchangeable fact that he’d never be a grown-up, no matter how many millennia
he lived. I felt a great flowering of tenderness for them. I must make sure and transfer more money later. I must make sure they had no material worries. The image of the two of them making a home of the house in Big Sur was a warmth and a comfort to my heart.

  Justine was asleep, curled up on a comforter in the corridor. She looked beautiful. I put my hand out to wake her—then didn’t. There was the loveliness of her, just now, the sweetness of her unconsciousness, but there was, too, my reluctance to disturb my own state of quiet benevolence, my feeling of privileged watch-keeping. If I woke her now there would be questions, her ravenous intelligence and fiery heart; there would be the (albeit joyful) clatter of narrative, of talk, of connecting and making sense. Her energies would wake the others, and the happy problem would be compounded.

  Suddenly my own heart hurt. Not cardiologically, but with the need—in spite of everything I’d just thought—to hear her voice, see her awake and animated, in full flight, my little Justine with her smart mouth and her courage and her sometimes terrifying silence. It was a bizarre, urgent upwelling of love for her, for all the ways in which she was precious to me, from the shy, secret way she sometimes took a book from the library to read without wanting me to know, without wanting me to start asking her about it, to the speed and obliviousness with which she habitually tucked her hair behind her ear. Her particularity—the uniqueness cashed-out in fingernails, daydreams, coughs, memories, glances, regrets—brought such a surge of need for her that I reached out again to wake her.

  But again, didn’t.

  There was time. There would be plenty of time.

  At the top of the stairs a door led into the pleasantly underfurnished hall of what, it was becoming increasingly obvious, was a large and wealthily looked-after house. A memory-bell tanged, faintly … But no. I knew this place, I really did, but it wasn’t quite ready to come clean. There was a last sliver of low blood-orange sunlight running across the oak floor between me and the stairs. It was the flamy centrepiece of the hall’s stillness and beauty. And (Berkeleyan idealism notwithstanding) had been here, gradually narrowing and deepening its gash of colour on the oak’s golden grain even though no one had been there to see it. I remember thinking a long time ago—perhaps the first time I ever observed the growth rings in a tree-stump—that if there was a Creator then he was a compulsive and promiscuous artist: not content with filling the big canvases of skies and oceans (a different one every day, every millisecond), he must doodle rings in the secret bodies of trees that no one by natural rights should ever even see.

 
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