By blood we live, p.4
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       By Blood We Live, p.4

           Glen Duncan
 

  Not the heart. But this time less than an inch away. The dark girl had got behind one of the Thomasvilles and lined me up in the crosshairs.

  The heart, in shock, went still.

  It sprang a lock in me. I leaped, took the armchair and the girl twenty feet across the floor to crash against one of the stacks. Books toppled and fell. I pulled her out by her hair. She wriggled extraordinarily, and twice I almost lost my grip. But the heat coming off her now spoke of resignation. Her soul had turned to the exit, was already murmuring the first words of its prayer.

  In fact, no: she was murmuring a prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. In Latin.

  “Pater noster, qui es in cælis,” she said, while blood ran from her nose. “Sanctificetur nomen tuum; adveniat regnum tuum; fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.”

  “Who are you?” I said.

  “Panem nostrum cotidianum—”

  “Who are you? Speak now or you—”

  I don’t know how she did what she did next. I had her by the hair. Her back was arched, her feet flat on the floor. I felt her thrust backwards against me, then her weight shifted—and her legs were around my neck.

  There was, I knew, very little time. Her hands were free and already busy with a holstered stake. Heat pounded out of her. Her tiny armpits were drenched. The small, frenetic reality of her made me feel tender towards her, as did the inevitable realisation that we were in the sixty-nine position, albeit vertically, followed by the intuition that she was a virgin.

  However, I broke her neck, cleanly and quickly, then let her slide to the floor, where she lay, one hand trapped beneath her, the other on one of the toppled books. It was open, face-down. An 1894 edition of Browning’s Collected Works. Something else fell, too. A first edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus. I thought, I bet that’s open at “Black Rook in Rainy Weather.”

  At which moment the light in the room shifted, and Justine screamed.

  7

  SHE WAS ON her back on the floor in front of the desk. She’d pulled the Tiffany lamp off the table by its cord. The redhead stood over her, leaning on the sword as if to provide support to her broken leg.

  But the sword was buried in Justine’s guts.

  Although a single leap took me back across the room, there was plenty of time. Time does you this perverse service of expansion when all you’ve got to fill it with is horror. Time to begin the relevant calculation of how long Justine might have left, of how quickly an ambulance could get here, of how I’d have to move her to another room—or better still outdoors—I came home and found her on the lawn like this—and how soon, since it was a stabbing, the police would show up. But time for questions, too: What would I do if she died? How would I stand being alone? Where, since Las Rosas would die for me with her, would I go? Time for whatever it was she hadn’t told me, the lacuna she might take to the grave, and for the dream, and for the beginning of the sense that I knew something, I knew something if only I could reach it … Time, too—how not?—for the perennially available option—to Turn her—and the irony that after all these years of her postponing it, choosing it now might kill us both.

  The redhead had one of her own stakes buried in her thigh. Good girl, Justine. It had hit the femoral artery, and even before I landed on her she was slipping to her knees. I had to take hold of the sword lest it tilt and make the wound worse—at which point I perceived it had gone all the way through my girl and deep into the walnut floor.

  “Keep still,” I said to her. I pulled the stake from the redhead’s leg—her pale green eyes had closed, she didn’t make a sound—and drove it hard and fast through her sternum into her heart. Her mouth opened and I got a glimpse of her shrimp-pink tongue and one charmingly overlapping tooth. Then she was gone. The room was soupy with death. I imagined Sylvia Plath witnessing it all through the portal of The Colossus and not being the least surprised. Ted Hughes, on the other hand, for all his hawks and foxes and crows, would be agog.

  “Do it,” Justine said, when I looked at her. Life was faint in her face. Wrists and neck and groin spoke of an equivocal pulse.

  “I can get you to a hospital.”

  “I want you to do it.”

  I looked at the amount of blood she’d lost. There was no way of knowing. The air between us jammed with all the dialogue we didn’t have time for.

  “I want you to,” Justine said, then her face twisted in pain. When it went back to normal she looked at me again. “I mean it, Fluff,” she said.

  “It might not work.”

  And it might kill me, I didn’t add. But the momentum was established. The alternative future—of ambulances and doctors and elaborate false testimony and separation and possible flight—dissolved in both of us with the mental equivalent of a sigh. We let it. We’d always known this time would come, and here it was. She’d had ten years of self-debate; now chance had forced the issue. It’s what chance is for. As with all such surrenders, it was a relief.

  Which is not to say she wasn’t afraid. I felt her fear. She was leaving behind the biggest thing she had. She was going into the darkness. This was what she’d been thinking of, all alone in Las Rosas, for almost two years.

  “Promise me you won’t leave me.”

  “I won’t leave you, angel.”

  “Promise.”

  “I promise I won’t leave you.”

  The room bore witness. The world registers promises.

  “Are you ready?” I asked her.

  She said, “Please,” and turned her face away, the way people do before the needle goes in.

  I took one last look at her, the person she would never be again.

  Then I pulled the sword out of her in one quick motion and began to drink.

  8

  IT WAS VERY bad. As bad as I thought it would be. Less than a quarter of the way through draining her the over-oxygenation started. Blood packed, hardened, became a warning throb: Stop drinking. Stop drinking. Stop drinking. Yet there was nothing to do but keep drinking, keep increasing the pain, keep bearing it. My eyeballs were big. I thought: warm hardboiled eggs. I had these thoughts. A capillary tearing. A soft inner explosion. Blood suffocated by blood. You can’t do this. You can’t do this. Stop drinking. Stop now. You can’t go on, so you go on. I thought of Paul Newman’s egg-eating scene in Cool Hand Luke, George Kennedy squeezing them past his lips, saying, them’s little eggs, quail’s eggs, really … Eggs again. Symbol of the soul … Or you do the Hemingway thing, promise yourself you’ll hold on for just one more second, then one more, then one more—and the seconds become hours, days. Like that, I thought, just do that, one more suck, one more swallow. Trick your own courage, your own cowardice. The Old Man and the Blood.

  I saw what I didn’t want to see. The girl of five or six, her face too warm. The low-ceilinged room with a knocked-over table lamp throwing a stretched ellipse on a stained wall. The woman and the men like dark giants to her. Mommy, I don’t like it. The men’s massed concentration, their intent. The child’s world contained these fun-house distentions and drops that were the opposite of fun, these invisible mirrors that turned people into monsters. Her mother’s face was moist, with a look sometimes of frowning irritation, sometimes of giddy disbelief. In herself. In being able to do this. One of the men said, Come here. There was always thereafter a man saying, Come here. I saw what I didn’t want to see. The young girl, the teenager, the young woman, the religion of self-hatred, the men, always and deliberately the wrong men. The endlessly renewable contract with her own brokenness. The deep reassurance of their contempt. You like that, don’t you? Tell me you like it, you little cunt. I like it. Easier to say the more it was a lie. A pure inversion she could hold on to like a talisman.

  But the destruction wasn’t complete. There were bright fragments. I saw her standing alone on the edge of a wood in falling snow, face upturned for the sacramental flakes. I saw her sitting in an apartment, hands wrapped around a mug of hot tea, at something like peace, maybe just a break in
her identity, an accidental transcendence. I saw her opening a front door suddenly and unintentionally giving the FedEx girl a fright, and the two of them laughing. Laughter was absent from her life. Unless strategic or issued in triumph at some further depth she’d managed to go down to. I saw her seeing a bare tree against the sky and thinking, That’s like the cross-section of a lung … trees give oxygen, lungs need oxygen, a connection … But the thought overtaken by her habitual self, whose job it was to piss on such thoughts. I saw her seeing me in the freezing lot and, after a brief intuitive stumble and leap, knowing what I was. I saw her set down one by one the invisible burnings she carried and walk towards me. Inflamed. Scarred. Too far past everything to be afraid …

  I couldn’t go on.

  I went on.

  Muhammad Ali said the third fight with Frazier in Manila was the closest he’d come to death. The closest he believed it was possible to come to death without dying. They call us the undead. It’s not true. We’re born. We live. We can die and so we can come close to death. I was close to death. The blood was a deafening totality. Like the scream of God. I wouldn’t be able to go on drinking. I would die.

  I went on drinking.

  Ten beats of the heart. Seven. Five. Four—

  I tried to say to her, “Drink,” but there was no room in me for speech to come out of, no place words could have been kept. The blood was stone. I was stone. For a moment I went completely into darkness. I thought: Is this it? Is this death …? Then I came out. I opened my left wrist with the edge of the sword and pressed the wound to Justine’s lips.

  The pause before the connection, before the wavering magnet snaps to the metal. Darkness came close a second time. If I went in again I knew I wouldn’t come out.

  Then I felt her. Not the little mouth and teeth, not the hot face, but the first tiny shift in the weight, from blood coming in to blood going out. In Kenya two hundred years ago I’d seen a doctor lance a man’s infected foot. With the first expression of sepsis the man wept. The joy of passing from pain to relief. He’d held the doctor’s hands and kissed them. It had made them intimate, like loving brothers.

  Justine drank. Hard. Rushed the conversion with the weight of her need, the way nurses squeeze the drip bag to hurry fluids in. The receiving veins ache, you imagine. These were the giving veins, however. Mine. And they didn’t ache, they felt like they were haemorrhaging powdered glass.

  The progression would be from slight relief, to relief, to deep relief, to the bliss of blood equilibrium. Then, since she would have to drink on, since it would be murder to stop her, from blood equilibrium to slight discomfort, to pain, to agony. Finally the fear, like a vast soft darkness edging near, that she would drink me to death.

  And if I got it right, stopped her when she’d drunk enough to Turn her without killing me, we still had three bodies to dispose of—and not a half hour of the night left to do it.

  There were these thoughts. But they were frail or faint next to the other thing.

  The thing that had gone into me from her at the very edge of her death.

  The thing she hadn’t told me but that her blood couldn’t hide: that in the werewolf, Talulla Demetriou, the spirit of my beloved Vali was alive and well and waiting for me to fulfil the prophecy.

  9

  I REMEMBERED.

  I’d had the dream of the deserted beach before. Had been having it, in fact, since That Night almost three years ago in Big Sur. (I have a house there. One of the dozen or so sub–Frank Lloyd Wright luxury bunkers, formerly owned, though rarely lived in, by lovely and mysteriously deceased Natalie Wood.) I remember I slept late That Night, too, and woke not long after moonrise …

  … A full moon.

  No coincidence.

  The dream had shocked me. Of course it had. The beach. The twilight. The poor-show sprinkle of stars. The someone walking behind me. He lied in every word.

  That Night, when I came up from the basement, Justine was on the couch in the TV room, meticulously painting her toenails pale blue. A Day at the Races was on the plasma screen. My hands were shaking, so I stuffed them in my pockets. “Jesus, Norm, you look terrible,” she said.

  “I’m fine,” I said. “Oversleep headache. I’m just going out for some air. Back in a bit.” I couldn’t tell her. Partly because the shock of having dreamed was still too giant and raw for language—I could barely stand up straight, let alone discuss it—but mainly because it would alarm her. I’d worked so hard to make her feel safe in our world. She wouldn’t like this. A dream. Fluff—dreaming? It would seem ominous to her. It was ominous.

  “Don’t be ages,” she said. “I need to talk to you about the club.”

  I walked. Staggered, rather, once I was out of sight of the house and free of the need to dissemble. I chased the dream images, never quite … never quite … My hands and feet and face had discrete little fevers. The world’s gears had shifted while I slept. A dream! All these years. All these years.

  The first dream since Vali died.

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

  I had waited.

  Hadn’t I?

  The footage threatened. The dense montage of my life that was like a cliff-face uprushing past because you’d fallen and were now plummeting down the sickening drop. More sickening still, you were abruptly and randomly stopped and forced for a split second that opened onto infinity to confront something vivid—your neck craned to see Michelangelo’s bare paint-spattered foot poking over the edge of the scaffold and the chapel’s contained heights filled with the smell of oils and plaster; a mob-capped young housemaid with red curls and a copper warming pan looking up and seeing you, her blue eyes fractured by the understanding that this was her death; Viking longships on the black Volga in the small hours, helmets and spears moonlit, one—just one—of them seeing you standing and observing from the bank, the curiously tender exchange of consciousness, then the window of connection closed; sodden soldiers in a trench full of blood, the stink of wet leather and rotting flesh, a rat swimming, chevron ripples from the lovely little head; a toilet in Rwanda with a Tutsi baby cut in half and shoved in it—before being just as violently yanked back into gravity’s grip and the nausea of all the time and weather and extremes and approximations—

  I stopped and lay down on the forest floor. Sometimes lying down is just the thing. (Millions of people’s bad days would be improved if they listened to the impulse to lie down for a few minutes on the office carpet or bathroom tiles or pleasantly chilled pavement. Drunks and children know the wisdom of this—but who listens to them?) I lay down on the forest floor and the softness of the ferns and the odours of earth and evergreens gave me solace. Don’t be ages, Justine had said; but it was very hard to imagine moving anytime soon. Empty sleep for millennia, now this: a dream like a furious disease, an inverted plague that had swept life instead of death across my inner continent in a single night. I turned my head to the left and for no reason (no reason except the currently flashing narrative insistence) parted the undergrowth and looked down the slightly inclined forest floor.

  Which is when I saw her.

  Them, rather.

  Two werewolves, a female in front, a male a dozen paces behind. They were thirty metres away, downwind—

  Her scent hit me. Eliminated all time and space between now and then. Tipped the world like a kids’ ball-bearing puzzle and dropped me back to where … to when it had … Oh God. Oh God.

  It was Vali’s scent.

  Which was impossible.

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

  For a moment I think I lost consciousness. At any rate I had, a few seconds later, the feeling of emerging from profound darkness, a feeling of shocked, sudden birth. Or rather, rebirth.

  I will come back to you.

  The female—Vali, Vali, Vali—stopped and lifted her elegant muzzle to the moon. Light silvered the long throat, the wet eyes and snout.

&nb
sp; My heart almost refused. Even in the midst of its own upheaval my heart knew what was at stake and tried to refuse. If it’s not … If it’s a trick, if it’s an illusion—

  But a thread of blood in my cock twitched. My cock! Which, since her death, had been of no more consequence to me than the fluff in the seam of my pocket.

  Desire. Desire.

  Was it possible?

  I breathed the carried scent of her and my cock leaped. The smell couldn’t lie. Her smell. Her. My eyes filled. Joy for the return, sorrow for the years of loss. It was an eviscerating happiness, left me empty and frail with hope. Left me with all but disbelief in my own hands and feet and teeth, in the forest and the night, in the real, solid world.

  Moonlight salved her hard breasts and lean belly. Her navel was a well of shadow.

  Just as I remembered. Just as it had been. Vali. My beloved.

  The joy moved up into my mouth, which opened involuntarily to call to her.

  But at that moment the male came close behind her and wrapped his arms around her and she tilted her head back so their muzzles and tongues could touch.

  I followed them. With sickness expanding. With sickness making me giant. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Of course they couldn’t. I knew how it was for her. I knew how it was for her because with her that was how it had been for me. For us. Killing. Together.

  Their victim was a neighbour of mine, a music producer, Drew Hillyard. I climbed a plane tree at the edge of his high-walled front yard and watched. Grabbed my own giant sick head and rubbed my own giant sick nose in it. America’s Next Top Model played on the flatscreen to a room wild with blood. Hillyard’s white leather couch became a canvas for his frantic red swipes. Vali opened his chest and rammed her snout in. Her hindquarters shivered as the male entered her, his hands roaming over her flanks and belly and breasts. The open chest was mine. The sternum cracked cleanly and prised apart, the heart plucked out and tossed in the dirt. A thing of no importance. A negligible thing. A joke.

 
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