"If you’re that bothered about Bede, just go into town and find him."
William shook his head.
"I’m not leaving you alone here.”
“I'm not alone."
He punched another number, muttering again to himself.
"Christabel, you can't count the psychopaths you've angered recently as company."
"Will you please either go and look for him, or leave it.” she snapped. Sparks flew past his legs and settled on the carpet behind him. She pressed a hand to her forehead.
“Sachiin...” Petrouchka purred. “We need balshoy box of vodka... go in your car for this, then maybe we talk.”
He swore at the battery warning beeping in his hand before setting off with his phone still to his ear, keeping an injunctive finger pointed at the vampyre and almost walking into his brother. Edward had descended the stairs before Lilian and Susan was surprised to see them through the doorway in their coats. She leant back out of sight as he held out his hand; without interrupting his call, William dug the latter’s keys from his pockets and tossed them at him, preceding him into the garage.
When both vehicles had pulled out through the gates Susan withdrew the two small books she had concealed beneath her skirt, sighing to herself and easing one open in the firelight, striving once more to disregard the attention of her remaining companion.
“You want to push Sachiin into fire?” the vampyre speculated.
“It’s lucky I didn’t think of that while he was standing there.”
"Sometime I feel him in my bones, like I am old man."
“At least you don't have Edward staring at you with his lizard eyes... that's like being in a room with something that’s going to bite you if you blink." she muttered, glancing sideways at her own unfortunate simile though Petrouchka's stare expressed no offence. The ensuing silence was punctuated by the complaints of the damp wood chewed over by the flames while the creature observed her, eyes grown narrow.
“You take this book?” she asked, stroking her own hair thoughtfully as she peered down into the lampblack text and deeply-graven woodcuts in Susan's lap.
“I think a bit of research is well overdue.”
“I could not steal from Kala'amātya when he is happy...”
“Yes, well... he should have killed me when he had the chance.” The soft, dusty smell of the vampyre's fur lay heavily on them both, the warmth from the fire holding no sway in the depths of her ash-grey gaze; from studying the flamed-flushed length of the complainant's neck, Petrouchka nodded downward once again.
“Die Kinder der Hölle... ugly stupid book, but we think amuse to have. Is like Jew, having Nazi book.” Susan decided not to express her opinion of the comparison and relented, giving over the shabby volume to the vampyre's covetous, bird-boned hands. They let the pages fall open, then swept them over slowly to expose the title and its blurred, quill-penned inscription. The whipping characters of Helaine de Marchand's signature resolved themselves before Susan was prepared for them.
"Imagine being Lilian and finding this..." she whispered. "I’m going mental and it’s not even me.”
“What is mental?”
"I think she is crazy, to want Kala'amātya, but Helaine was crazy also. I tell her... two bad thing don’t make a good one, but she have no ears." The vampyre gazed down into the hearth. "She was my great friend... such a witch as you will never see these day... she break the ground, and call the blood out of your bone until it pour from your mouth onto your feet..." Petrouchka's voice sank with the shade of her expression. "I don’t like him, for only watching her die. Is not fair she did not see these times... you, you are too lucky. You don't deserve." A disturbing smile moved her features from their slough; her little hands arched and came together in her lap as she found something to relish in her own account. “In our time, if you were woman, you could be slave and live in cage, or escape régime, be free, and have nishto... nothing. Helaine and I, we were queens of this nishto... it was our own. Sometime men would come from town, to put chain on us... we wait for them, and catch, drink their blood and give them to the moon... chase and beat them, screaming, through the woods, and call to the alujha... I hear them still sometime, begging for their life, weeping, like orphan... their terror is a feast for you, you can take breath from it...” Her account was lopped by a belated discretion that tempered the atrocious brilliance of her grin. Petrouchka lifted the book in both hands. “Priest write this book... chush' sobach'ya... you don't find the children of hell from a man who believe heaven. We speak with our own tongue." She turned the volume over slowly. "When Kala'amātya put his gun on you, he speak. And when he let you go, he speak again. Is good to listen.”
“All I do is listen." Susan muttered.
“You don't like to be told? No, I don't like either. But you don't know, so someone must tell you." Leaning forward to set another piece of wood onto the sagging coals, Susan spied a predatory motion of intent that seized the vampyre within the slim, unwitting opportunity her inattention had presented, collared as quickly as it emerged, the culprit sitting back in her chair and sliding her hands into her thick sleeves. Helaine's book remained in her lap. “You like Gideon?” she inquired as though artless. “I like. Dark, but still so séduisant. I know him from Sachiin... four hundred year now. Four hundred, and still we go to restaurant and laugh and curse en Provençal. I think sometime he is tired and maybe want to leave us, but then I see him drink champagne and chase the flesh like he still have heat in his bones... I hope is true... I think is possible... he is twice as old as I, and Kala'amātya, three time as old as that, and we know he is not a buddha.” Petrouchka reached across to pat the volume that Susan had reserved. “This is good book. You read. I think I will go for bath, if there is water. You don't know in this place.”
Her bloodlust departed with the flesh that it commanded. Susan relaxed, avoiding the dead witch’s relic in favour of the other book, a translation from a French work, its worried cotton binding alluding to rough usage. Given Petrouchka’s recommendation, it came as no surprise to see that it was crowded with the vampyres of most known lands, strutting, leering, spilling forth on their crepuscular offensives. They were accompanied by those creatures supposed to haunt the wastes and forests, lissome nymphs reveling in treacherous, indelible beauty, werebeasts devoured by the needs of a binary flesh, sharing the tongue of their witch sisters and consorts, addicted to ecstatic, shameless rites and trances. Other bogies of less certain character rejoiced in lengthy pseudoscientific epithets, but were left largely to the obscurity they most probably desired. The text dripped with sly, admiring apologia, granting the undead the power of flight, the ability to profit from the ages, growing more vital with each passing year, evolving ever toward some remote, transcendent perfection. She set aside perfection as superfluous, but was moved to ponder transcendence, finding an allegory in the flames that worked the dully inert wood into the light that coloured her face and hands.
A car pulled back into the garage, rousing her, and two figures emerged instead of the one she had expected. She glimpsed them in section through the half-closed door, Edward securing his belt buckle, his dark shirt open beneath his jacket while Lilian closed her coat about herself. Neither spoke, but ascended the stairs in the thick of the goad that had driven them back to the house.
Another hour had passed before the presence at the French doors registered on the back of her neck, declaring itself officially with a scratchy little knock. Susan recognized the caller through the glass and slowed her approach, raising her hands to her hips and stopping short. Siobhan’s smirk left no exhalation on the glass, but it perceived her intransigence and crouched lower, chuckling through the keyhole.
“William's not here.” she muttered. “But the other one is, so bugger off before he gets wind of you. He's not in a good mood.” The vampyre shook its little head in mockery of her warning.
“Do ah look like a fuckin stranger t’ tragedy?"
"I told you he's not here."
"Ah cal-clate ye precious petal’s downtown en-dearin himself t’ th’ fuckin populashun as per usual, an ol Ed’s up there, makin Streetwalker Barbie wish she weren’t never fuckin born. Ah know that hoe bah repu-tashun, an she’s wern nasty fuckin glass a bad news. Word is she durn shot out a pimp's brains, but, so she kint beh all bad, heh heh heh... ah’d a payed handsome ta git a peep at that shit. Bitches venta’latin bawds... s’what fuckin Jesus woulda wanned if he'd stuck around. Anyweys... it aint them ah durn peddl’d out t' see.”
She frowned, skeptical as she attempted to digest its discourse.
“You're here to see... me?”
“Ye ketch on quick.”
“Well hell, ah got mah reasons, but if ye sweeter on critter dick then ye are on th' fuckin tea ah got fer ye, don’t let me tear ye away fr’m sittin on ye lonesome cooch suckin down crispeh cremes!” Siobhan sneered, clutching its glittering shoulder cape to its chin and turning to shuffle off. The gibbous moon glared like a spotlight, arranging the garden into layers of funereal colour; the dead wood that William had massed at the foot of the house lay like sticks of giant kindling in their lazy pile. She rubbed her arms while the visitor trundled on over the cold grass toward the orchard, the coruscations playing across its beaded black cape drawing the lines and hollows of its bony shoulders with ruthless precision, the corpse beneath the doleful finery never more wasted or pathetic.
“If you’ve got something to say, let’s just be having it.” Susan advised, closing the door behind herself and standing with her arms folded. Siobhan swung in a U-turn and came back toward her in one conjoined motion.
“Item... ah deal credit where it’s fuckin due. Ah fuckin seen ye, frontin 's well as any homely piece a pink with a taste fer strange'n nasty... got meh thinkin... she don't look too fuckin crazy bout goin down fer th’ count when th’ tahme comes round. An whah shud ye? Aint no fuckin shame in shiftin fer ye’self.” Its features lost something of their pinch as it satisfied itself that they were not overlooked from any window.
“You came all the way out here to tell me I’m a minger and I’m going to die?” she laughed.
“Ah weren’t fixin t’ put it on th’ table without a fuckin ribbon on it. Truth is, ahm comin down hard on th' bitches comin cryin t’meh fer it, thinkin it’s gonna git em outta saggy paps n’ hot flashes... there aint much worse in th’ whole fuckin world then some dead hoe whinin bout how she jest kint suck no more.” Siobhan reassured itself of her attention before continuing. “But that aint yew now, is it? Ye got what ah lahk t’ fuckin call po-tenshul.”
From somewhere on its repellant person it produced a gold-tone tube of lipstick and circled its sunken mouth in the strangely compulsive gesture Susan had already come to revile, looking so much like a Reformation caricature that she almost expected flames to gush from its mouth and ears. Despite the moonlight’s unflattering clarity, whoever the vampyre had once been remained completely imperceptible, buried as surely as an ember under a yard of mud. Susan shuffled her feet against the sudden sense of lassitude that had settled on her, weighting her clothes like dew as she complained.
"I cannot understand a word you're saying."
“Well ye aint hangin off meh lahk a ten buck slut cause ye lahk mah fuckin per-fume.” Siobhan chuckled, reaching under its cape and slipping the catch loose. “But seein as ye are...”
Susan had barely moved before the vampyre was on her like something lunging out of water, securing handfuls of her hair and clothing even as they crashed backward onto the wet grass. She lay winded; its thin arm prised her head back from her shoulder when she hunched against it and opened her mouth to scream, clamping her windpipe closed until she could neither breathe nor utter sound. Kicking and twisting in its grasp, she saw the stars and moon swim thickly on blurred white tails, knowing the coldness of the ground and rage at the hand sealing her throat as suddenly distant forces while the dead face watched her struggle fade. With its knees stamping its bedstone weight into her stomach, the vampyre fastened its gape on her neck, punching teeth so deeply into her flesh that their dry gums bruised the skin between them. It shook its head to worry the wounds open, the hot taste of her blood shot against the roof of its mouth by the pounding of her heart.
A vacuum scoured her brain, licking at her spine and organs like low flame creeping over liquor. The grip on her neck slackened slowly as the vampyre gorged, greedily ingesting throatfulls of her blood until it sputtered and ran from its ragged nostrils and she sucked a single choking breath, the air like acid in her starving lungs, her ear cupping the stream from her throat as her head fell back. The creature snarled against her skin, cursing her ruined vein and forming words that rattled in her windpipe, pushing the arc of her neck so far that she heard her small bones shriek and grind against each other as it tore at her again. Pain slapped at her, shaking her awake and she lifted her hands, fumbling for purchase and digging her heels into the grass, pitching herself toward the house until they fell together against the woodpile and were struck by toppling branches. She rolled free of the tangled wrack, blood draining away into her dress, rising again to swing at the vampyre with one of the broken branches and catching its shoulder as it swayed in crapulous disorder. The creature staggered as hopelessly as she did, unused to the uncontaminated potency of the blood rolling in its gut, cackling brokenly and pawing the air as it lay like the cape it had abandoned. Still clutching her neck, Susan went down on one knee, then keeled onto the grass, the scents of damp earth and broken green departing on the tails of consciousness.
It was in this attitude that Petrouchka discovered her, the cloying stink of Susan's wounds rising as though fuming from a brazier, bending the vampyre like a charmed serpent. She knelt and rolled the girl onto her back, hissing exclamations; Susan opened her eyes, accepting the agony of being dragged by a single arm to the house and propped against the plaster as a disinterested observer. The white linen of the vampyre’s peignoir exposed both the delicacy of her limbs and the caruncular scars that encircled both her knees and elbows where someone had long ago used a thick blade in a rough attempt to partition her. She turned quickly from the supple crimson pooling in the hollows formed by Susan's flesh and took up the length of red-greased timber she had abandoned, towing it toward Siobhan and using it to batter the stirring predator's prone form into a gratifying silence.
"Kala'amātya...” she entreated, returning to its victim. "Biyastra!" Bending low, the latter pressed his fingers beneath Susan's jaw in search of her pulse, studying the volume of blood still coursing from her injuries. Siobhan had vanished, leaving a dark trail of its own upon the grass. Susan brought a hand up to her neck.
“Go away.” she murmured hoarsely, beginning to cry as the pain closed its fist, her sobs squeezing more blood between her fingers. “I’m cold...”
"Get my phone." he told the vampyre.
"Ni khuya sebe! Pozhalujsta... do what you must, I beg you..." Petrouchka entreated, her arms held laxly before her as though they were not her own. "Finish this... think of your brother..."
Despite the vampyre's despairing appeals Edward leant forward and lifted Susan from the ground, shaking her briefly when her eyes rolled up behind their lids.
“Stay awake.” he instructed. Her head lolled in the curve of his elbow, allowing her a blurred glimpse of Petrouchka hunched over her own hands, sobbing to herself as she sucked the blood from her fingers.
When her eyes opened again it was into flame-lit darkness thick with the stench of sweat, burning flesh and hair, and her own clotting injuries. Over her head swung the struggling form of a fowl grasped by its scaled legs, the royal lustre of its wildly flailing wings flashing black and blue and green as they struck her face, its lifeblood streaming from the stump of its headless, dripping ruff. When she moved she felt cold clinging to her, and her hands closed against black plastic, the rustle growing around her legs when she remembered them, even beneath the twinned chant of the women, one white-haired, the other brunette, naked to the waist and daubed in black; they passed the headless bird between them, lifting it to their mouths, the draughts they took from its severed neck swelling their cheeks. Leaning over with their blank black eyes they spat down hard onto her body, the blood swinging from their chins in thick wattles as they roared out the names of the invoked and slapped the smoking flames in their hands over her skin, dousing her with searing embers. Red-stained saliva flooded the back of her throat and she choked on it until someone, stationed at her head, lifted her shoulders from the ground onto their knees. Her gaze fell backward and she saw that it was Edward who knelt behind her. Her blood had dried in wide, crazed streaks upon his white skin, on his side and on his bare arms; they were riven with a dense and plaid-like hatching that seemed to blur and mingle as it crept back toward his body from something approaching order at his wrists. A painted line divided and consecrated his features as he looked down at her, embers falling slowly from his shoulders. He brushed the brands from her hair.
The rhythm of the chant pulsed through the dead oak and the white floor of the bathroom overhead, through Lilian's bare feet, along the bones of her legs and into the depths of her body. She lay down to meet the sound, hands and ribs and hips pressed to the glassy, ice-like tiles, her cheek sliding as she stroked her face against them.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce