By blood we live, p.9
By Blood We Live, p.9Glen Duncan
Cut to: A large digital stadium clock. Counting down.
Cut to: Wide angle. Twenty or thirty of the cells visible. A sudden silent flurry of activity. Soldiers and iPad personnel moving. Prisoners screaming—all with the terrible visual intimacy of silent film.
Jerky zoom in.
In one of the cells, a woman of around twenty years old is turning into a werewolf.
Because, I now realise, the countdown has reached zero—and the full moon, though we can’t see it, is up.
Two soldiers empty magazines into her.
Silver, manifestly, since she falls, immediately.
“THAT WAS SHOT in secret three months ago at Zanghye, Gansu Province, in the People’s Republic of China,” Olek said. “It was one of dozens of such actions currently being carried out by the Chinese government. They’re starting small.”
I was still, absurdly, sitting on the bathroom floor. I was thinking three things. First, that the footage was genuine. Second, that it wouldn’t be possible to roll out extermination like that openly and nationally—to industrialise it. Third, that that was naive. It had been done before. Many times. Which gave birth to a fourth naive thought: In China, maybe, but not at home. Not in the U.S.
Wrong. It couldn’t happen here was exactly the thinking that made it happening here possible. Wherever “here” was and whatever “it” might be.
“You’re thinking, perhaps,” Olek said, “that even if what you’ve just seen is genuine, it’ll be confined to places like China. Places without what the West likes to call freedom.”
“I’m a little ahead of you, thanks,” I said.
He laughed. A sound of genuine delight. “A pupil of Mr. Marlowe’s,” he said. “Of course. And perhaps his Conradian namesake. ‘And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ Very good. This saves us time. We have a sensibility in common. I’m so much looking forward to meeting you.”
“Now you’re ahead of yourself,” I said.
“You wouldn’t want to spare your children extermination?”
“It’s going to be a long time before they’re at risk.”
“You have a long time. All of you. Four hundred years, give or take. The writing’s on the wall, Talulla, and people with a big simple enemy will have no trouble reading it. Extend logically from what you’ve just seen. Extend twenty years. Fifty. A hundred. Your species—and ours—is living in the last days of its liminality. China is the New Inquisition’s first whisper in secret. But soon the whisper will be a proud global shout. Genocide has always depended on getting people to see the enemy as not human. A redundancy, if the enemy isn’t human.”
Walker had appeared in the bathroom doorway. I hit the video’s Play button and handed the laptop to him.
“I’m offering a way out for you, for your children, for any of your kind who want it,” Olek said. “You’re too smart to dismiss it out of hand.”
“What makes you think we’re going to line up for this?” I said. “You think this is going to happen without a fight?”
“Of course not,” Olek said. “I imagine you’ll raise an army. Turn as many as you can. Maybe you’ll win. Maybe you’ll become the new master race.”
I had a vision of myself and the pack going through city after city, biting or scratching everyone we could. News reports of escalating panic. A world map showing a werewolf population exploding. But it was followed by a vision of the Chinese model turned into a primetime game show, bets placed, just another outlet for the viewing world’s already rapt boredom.
“Maybe you’ll elect to roll the dice of all-out war,” Olek said. “If anyone could lead a species … Well, you’ll think this is just flattery. But I think the truth is you know they’ll win. They have that thing. They have collective durability. It’s a sort of stupidity, really, a lack of refinement, but it keeps them going.”
I felt tired, suddenly. Claustrophobically irritated. Questions I hadn’t wanted to ask myself were here now whether I liked it or not, petitioners who, once they were in, simply wouldn’t go away. Even the sunlight and the garden’s sleepiness felt like the soft edge of the world’s incipient threat. It’s coming for you. They’re coming for you. It’s only a matter of time.
“Why don’t you tell me what it is you want from me,” I said. “Because I’m pretty sure whatever it is it’s something I’m not going to give you.”
“Talulla, I promise you, it’s nothing that will harm you. But I don’t want you to make a decision until you’ve seen the proof.”
“The proof of what?”
“The proof that the cure works.”
“Which you have.”
“Which I have. I want you to come and see him.”
Walker had watched the video. He set the laptop down, open, on the bed, and returned to his objectless vigil at the window. I knew it wouldn’t have made any difference to him. I knew he wasn’t, under any circumstances, going back.
“Fine,” I said to Olek. “Let me think about it. I have your number. Don’t call me again.”
“But you mu—”
I hung up.
“Don’t say anything,” I said to Walker.
He didn’t, but he didn’t stop staring out the window either. I kept telling myself to get up off the floor, and kept failing to get up off the floor. The bathroom smelled of unwashed laundry and the villa’s lousy drains. I thought: Symbolic—then was immediately pissed at myself for thinking it. It was an annoying habit I’d acquired, of looking for signs, correspondences, metaphors, the goddamned pointless tic of finding things behind things, things connected to things, things in things. Don’t bother looking for the meaning of it all, Lu. There isn’t one. But ever since the vampire sought me out … Ever since the recurring dream …
The self-disgust was enough, at least, to get me up off the floor. I was about to go to Walker and stand close behind him and wrap my arms around his chest and haul whatever was left of love up into my heart and be thankful, when he said: “That’s becoming the thing you say to me.”
I’d lost track in the reverie.
“What is?” I asked him.
“ ‘Don’t say anything,’ ” he said.
THE NEXT MORNING I picked Madeline up from Fiumicino in the rented Cherokee. I was tired. Lorcan had had a wretched night. Dreams that woke him screaming in a sweat. He wakes and doesn’t seem to recognise me. Fights me, initially. It’s only after I’ve gone and got Zoë and put her in bed with him that he calms, focuses, realises that for better or worse it’s me, his disappointing mother. I hadn’t slept much after that. You might not want it for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children.
“It’s official,” Madeline said, before she’d even got her seat belt on. “WOCOP’s gone bust.”
I was nervous. She and I were close. I wasn’t confident I’d be able to screen my thoughts. She looked, as usual, hilariously attractive: blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, catty little green-eyed face precisely cosmeticised, signature French manicured nails. She was dressed in a pink boob-hugging t-shirt, skin-tight Prada bluejeans and a pair of tan suede Giuseppe Zanotti ankle boots. A soft little aura of Shalimar by Geurlain surrounded her, flashed through—to my kindred nose—by two-days-pre-Transformation wulf. She and Fergus had made fast money on European foreclosures over the last two years, courtesy of my ten-million-dollar investment for a thirty per cent stake. Natural born capitalists. Resign yourself to killing and eating someone once a month and there’s not much point being anything else.
“The whole organisation’s been running on empty for the last three years, apparently,” she said. “Not helped by the top brass using every trick in the book to line their pockets.” She took a softpack of Winstons from her purse (a small Chloé Elsie python-leather shoulder, about two grand) and lit us one each. Running on empty. Every trick in the book. Line their pockets. I thought of Jake wincing at the clichés. Then letting the irritation morph into desire. No end to s
Every time I thought of how simply and generously she’d behaved it made me feel tender towards her. Followed lately by a dash of sad selfishness, since having been given what I thought I wanted I’d discovered it wasn’t enough.
“Not, frankly, that it makes any difference,” she said, exhaling smoke, “what with these fucking religious nutters taking over the show. Did you see that Cardinal on Sky? They’re like pigs in shit.” The Catholic Church, she meant, thrilled with what the actual existence of diabolical critters was doing for their investment portfolios. “They’ve raised close to fifty million already,” Madeline said. “In this climate! You can’t believe people are that stupid. Except of course you can.” She cracked the window, through which the airport’s smell of baked asphalt and jet fuel and ready meals rushed in. The sky was turquoise. I’d been in Italy two months and the country’s casually piled-up history still made my American reel. The Colosseum like a giant half-eaten cake, its ghost-odours of big cats and urine and death, blood puddles in the hot sand. In Rome a tour guide dressed as a centurion had walked past me outside Burger King in a whiff of sweat and leather and for a moment it all slipped back. I’d thought of the vampire, Remshi. Twenty thousand years, he’d said, you think you’ve seen it all.
“It’s the Catholics now,” Madeline said, “but Fergus says the Russian and Greek Orthodox aren’t going to be far behind. Once the American Fundamentalists and Africans join in there’s going to be billions in it. Careful!”
I should’ve known there’d be no evading her. She’d probably sensed I was hiding something from the moment she got in the car. A few minutes’ misdirect with the WOCOP/Vatican update—then a swift, effective rush in. I’d felt her, a sudden tingling or effervescence in the shoulders and scalp, the so much stranger feeling of someone moving like cold air over your thoughts. I’d nearly rolled the Cherokee. An outraged Fiat driver leaned on his horn. In the stream of Italian that went with it I caught, not surprisingly, vaffanculo and pucchiacca.
“Sorry,” she said, grinning. “Why don’t you tell me all about it?”
“Sorry,” she repeated, laughing, retrieving my cigarette from the floor where I’d dropped it. “Should’ve just asked. But for fuck’s sake, Lu, you’ve got to get better at this.”
“I am getting better at it,” I said. “With everyone else. Fuck.”
“Who’s Quinn, anyway?”
There was nothing else for it. I told her. All of it.
“So what’s the cure?” she asked, when I’d finished. We were on the coast road heading south, just passing the Lido di Capo Portiere on our left. On our right the umbrella’d beach and sunlit Mediterranean. Blue and gold. Colours of the Renaissance. She hadn’t sounded particularly interested.
“No idea,” I said. “And I don’t know what it is he wants, either. That’s the whole point. I have to go there to find out. You obviously don’t think it’s for real.”
She was searching in the Chloé Elsie for something. Her hands were white, lovely, quick-moving. I thought of all the men she’d touched, professionally. Jake, foremost, naturally. There was a line in one of his journals: Madeline’s hand, French manicured, was warm, lotioned and even in its moist fingerprints promissory of transactional sex.
“Oh no,” she said (ignoring the sly shared heat Jake in my head had bred between us), “it might be totally genuine for all I know. But I mean, what’s the point?”
I was going in and out of being able to read her—she wasn’t screening—but it was tough to concentrate on driving at the same time. I’d got: WHO WANTS TO BE CURED?—then withdrawn.
“Not me,” she said, knowing I’d picked it up. She’d said it with a brightness that touched the place guilt or shame ought to be. Not wanting to be cured was, after all, wanting to go on killing and eating people once a month. She felt me thinking this and it did hold her still for an honest moment. There were vestiges yet to be burned through. But only by way of formality. The new version of herself was up and running. I could feel wulf at smug athletic ease in her, expansive and secure, at home among the victims babbling in her blood. It drew my own wronged dead up, an icy itch in the flesh, a swelling ache. “I mean there’s no going back for me, now,” she said. “I can’t. The old life. I just can’t.” The reality of which pressed on us: the warm wet weight of future meat, the frantic hearts and fraught faces we’d get to know through the obscene intimacy of murder. You want disgust, but that’s not what the Curse gives you. The Curse gives you the cunning to find room for the Curse. To welcome it. To love it. You contort and manoeuvre but eventually despite your wriggling its dirty truth holds you still: It’s only the best for us if it’s the worst for them.
“Is that what this is really about?” Madeline said, having found the sunglasses she was looking for in her purse, Bulgari wraparounds, gunmetal grey.
“Is this what you really want to change?”
Walker, she meant. She saw so far into me I thought for the umpteenth time the sanest thing would just be for her and me to become lovers. It’s the inner life that fucks up relationships: with her I wouldn’t have one. My hands on the Cherokee’s wheel felt heavy and electric and tired.
“There’s something wrong with me,” I said.
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“I’ve got everything I want.”
“Wanted. Wanted. It’s not going to stay the same, is it? If it did you might as well drop dead.”
She put her booted foot up on the dash and stretched her arms back over her head. Glimpse through the t-shirt sleeve of nude white armpit, scent of floral deodorant, deeper sweet stink of wulf. Mischievous twinge in my clit. Jake’s ghost pulling up its chair and reaching for the remote. I knew she was feeling it. Mentally I sent: Just ignore me. I’m a fucking mess. She closed her eyes behind the shades. Had put them on, I now realised, to make the Walker conversation easier for me. Kindness was one of the dozens of the things Jake’s skewed portrayal of this woman had missed.
“It’s not even that,” I said. “Or it’s not just that. I love him. I mean I do, I love him.”
“I know you’re still thinking about him,” she said.
I released a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.
“Feel free to laugh,” I said. “I know it’s ridiculous.”
“D’you think this other thing’s connected with him? All this stuff with the book and a cure and all that?” Then she made the predictable leap: “Wait. You think it’s the same person? You think Olek is Remshi?”
“No,” I said. “The voice was different, and I don’t know why he’d bother pretending to be someone else, since I know who he is. But I can’t help thinking there’s a connection. That’s really what this is, if you want the truth. Christ, this is more embarrassing than having a crush on a fucking vampire. Are you ready? Ever since I met him I’ve had this feeling that there’s something going on. That there’s a kind of …”
I could barely bring myself to say it. Wished fo
“A kind of meaning to it,” I said, feeling slightly sick.
After a few moments Maddy said: “No, you’re right. It’s not.”
Not Madeline’s department, was what I’d been thinking.
“Don’t be offended,” I said. “It’s not mine, either. In fact it’s a sort of retardedness. I thought I was done with all that crap. Jake’s probably turning in his grave. Except he never got one. I don’t even know what happened to his body. What the fuck is wrong with me?” Because suddenly I was on the verge of tears.
“Here,” Madeline said, producing a quarter bottle of Bacardi from her purse, unscrewing the cap and passing it to me. “For God’s sake, have a drink.”
I took a pull. The shock and shudder (last night’s tequila had thought it was being left to rest in peace) did actually help, short-circuited the tears, or at least took the emotion out of them.
“Ever since I met him I’ve had this feeling,” I repeated, determined to get it out without fuss, “that this isn’t just all random crap. It’s as if someone’s watching it all, or making it up.”
“Like we’re in a TV series.”
She took a drink, thought about it. Shook her head. “See that’s the difference between you and me,” she said. “I don’t care if we’re in a TV series as long as it’s good. As long as I get … you know, a good part.”
“Seriously? You wouldn’t care? You wouldn’t want to know?”
More thought. “It’s like …”
Madeline isn’t used to framing similes and metaphors, Jake had written. But she can blow her nail polish dry with unparalleled eloquence.
“Like when you watch the extras on a DVD, behind the scenes and all that. I don’t watch those bits anymore. It ruins it for me.”
I started thinking: That’s not the same, that’s not analogous—but let it go. The precision of the analogy didn’t matter. I knew what she meant. And it was a fundamental difference between us. In college there’d been a band called Miserable Socrates and the Happy Pigs.
By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan / Horror / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes