see more of the series here
With the night settling around them she could not reconcile the ruin’s shape with her uncertain memories, following a curving case of steps cut into the boss of stone shrugged out from the mountainside like something worn upon its shoulder. The pain in her skull flared with the effort of the ascent but she kept her hand from her face and her head down, mouth pressed tightly against any verbal demonstration. The colonnade shared its contour with a surmounting parapet, castellated by ragged failures and dressed with supple, intrepid birches, their white shapes persisting in the darkness. It hemmed the eastern edge of a roof yard, bare but for an orphaned bench and narrow wooden table silvered by the elements. The supporting ridge rose sheerly to the west in a face like blank ship steel before leaning once more away. Behind an arm of rolling cloud the moon paid scant regard to the land laid out beneath her, couching it in flattened shades of sooty black and benthic blue. No light or road or sign of habitation troubled the darkness.
“Where is this?” Susan asked, the sleeping bag still clasped around her shoulders.
“It’s all Dacia to me. But it’s very roomy and scenic, poupée, honestly... no rent, no…” Sachiin extended the syllable and then smiled again, gesturing toward the steps. “Look, they have piglets...”
A small and strangely-formed intruder skipped up onto the roof with an air of slight, inquiring disapprobation, quadrupedal, jacketed in longitudinal stripes of creme, sable and russet and wearing a pair of bat-like ears on its narrow head. Small bronze eyes followed a questing snout; the piglet paused, peering at her suspiciously before trotting across the flags on tiny hooves and placing its nose against her leg in a brief, assertive nudge. Susan bent down to touch its back but was checked hard by her tooth, an imposition it scurried from anyway with its tail erect. From the same steps came the ruin’s heavily-swathed chatelaine, coat fastened about her neck as though the swiftly-settling cold demanded it. An almost clockwork transit took her along the parapet, though for a moment the vampyre paused and frowned at the sight of her porcine companion standing on its hind hooves and gazing up at Sachiin, who stroked its velvet ears and picked it up.
“My little darlink Fyodor.” Petrouchka sighed. Her stare settled on Susan, who had sat down on the stony margin and embraced herself beneath her quilted cloak. “You... walk to here?" Her guest nodded without looking up. “My god. Now I know why you look such a horror.” The observation finally commanded Susan's attention, but the steps projected the small sounds of Edward’s approach, distracting them both. He carried a pair of loosely gracile shapes in the crook of his arm; two hares twitched stiffly in the rigor of their recent deaths when he lay them in her lap, the warm blood oozing from their mouths soaking her jeans while one kicked against her stomach. Susan sat imprisoned between dread and disbelief, looking up at him with both flagged in her expression. His mouth drew back over his teeth in a strange, embryonic expression of contempt, its brevity integral to its power.
“Where would you be if nothing ever died for your convenience?” he asked her. Across the yard the vampyre tisked and rolled her stony eyes, both of them watching Susan rise and let the dead beasts slide onto the flags before retreating to the corner of the parapet. Sachiin berated him acidly. "Sis'thle vahd'ya si srihyaan." Edward muttered as he quit them. Fresh tears slid down her face as she turned it toward the gorge, her misery unwittingly compounded by its spectators. Petrouchka regarded Sachiin implacably from across the yard as he concluded his admonition.
"Avai'sahdi..." he sighed, looking back to Susan. "I'm sorry... I do have to go and walk the river. If we have to get out of here we need to know where to get across." She sat hunched as he kissed her head and took the stairs himself.
Her hostess came forward and shooed the piglet from the dead game where it had fallen on the flags; she took them up and set them on the table between them, producing a folding, pearl-handled knife from the pocket of her sable. Petrouchka used the blade to strip the hares of their elastic hides, turning them over and dressing them without pause, except to lick the fresh blood from her fingertips.
“My mother’s mother, she was old bajorai countess from Kaunas... her family have many bad time. She say to us, know how to eat rabbit and you will never be slave." the vampyre began, small voice winding around Susan's shoulder though she spoke with an almost recessed disinterest. "Why do you leave from Gévaudan? Here is no place for you.”
Susan took a long time to reply.
“I’ll go if I’m not welcome.”
“Go? Where do you go? You know good hotel?” Tart amusement sharpened the vampyre’s smirk. “No... you won't go... you have what you want, so you stay here, feel sorry for you. You bite, but you can’t chew."
“Does this look like something I wanted?”
“You come here from Auberjonois, who care for you like prince... these two, they bring you safe, fight alujha for you... Kala'amātya, who hate to kill a thing that can’t talk back, he give these, and you have Sachiin, all for yourself, who has never said a word to you in anger, who live only to please you...”
"He lives whether I'm here or not."
Petrouchka wiped her blade on the dry fur, small teeth shining in the darkness of her sardonicism.
"Who must we blame for this outrage? Pauvre de toi." A wind had risen from the gorge, climbing up over the drop and blowing their hair across their faces. "What has happen, kotik? You see something of yourself and you don't like?" Her trenchant analysis met with a gaze that fell again toward the flagstones. "I think so. You find that face in mirror."
Misery intermingled with the poison leaking from Susan's tooth, striking down her will to speak in her own defence. Petrouchka obviated the need to do so by cutting sharply across the yard and scowling down over the wall onto the slope below where it lay thickly strewn with fallen debris.
“Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” she called, the sudden, argute volume of the demand lifting Susan’s head. “Allez-vous faire voir! Otyebis!” The vampyre’s curt manual dismissal, tossed out over the drop like refuse, translated her remarks. Three figures in hooded black and olive camouflage stood upon the hillside, their mirrored, skyward stares the last thing Susan could have wished for. Two of them shared enough of their dark, parochial physiques to have been brothers while the other wore a severe, shadow-like crop and two stars tattooed on his wide throat. In the midst of her affronting scorn Susan saw that her hostess quartered the strait of forest behind them, while the alujha persisted with their own argot, its imperfections antagonizing her further. "Zatk'nis, you pigs! Idi na khui! You don’t come here to tell to me... I tell to you! I am surioarã!” she shouted down at them, flying into a Russian tirade enlivened by the choicest local epithets while Fyodor stamped and squealed at the hem of her coat. Susan took herself back into the ruin, unable to bear the sound of their voices even as the brothers walked out of the trees behind the visitors with their rifles in their hands, absorbing the details of a situation they had overheard from halfway down the gorge.
Their business concluded on the slope below, Edward returned to the cheerless exposure of the roof where he found Petrouchka still partaking of those qualities. There they remained, together and apart through the unlamented hours that were the claim of the long-lived and the long dead. Behind them the moon bore her own waning scale toward the horizon, a pitted, barren planet in place of that distant emblem glimpsed between the structures of urbanity, the sky arrayed with stars that wheeled as though pinned to her black skirts. Petrouchka raised her head and voice together.
“All this time, all of this long way, and Helaine is still with you. I see her, in your eye.” she observed. “You are not alone, at least.” She shrugged her chin down into her coat. “It will be ugly winter... no place for that girl. I don’t like her always in front of me.”
“I told him to leave her in France."
"Pozhalujsta... you thought he would?"
"They won’t stay here.”
“And you? What do you do?”
“Rebuild some capital.”
She contemplated his response for some time before steeling herself to deal with more immediate concerns.
“These mudilo wolves, they have offend you? How many die for it?”
“No more than necessary.”
“I did not trust them, but they bring, from town for me, when I need...”
“If you need something, I'll go for it myself.”
“Maybe. Maybe, I don’t need, anymore. But these alujha, they are chefur govno... they crawl in from all over... next week, I don’t know which one I talk to, and you know a wolf as well as I... they will come back to you for this.” She smiled to herself, staring up into the impassive darkness. “You don’t care, I know… you want for them to do this, but Kala'amātya…” the vampyre urged, awaiting his gaze. “Look at me and ask if you can wash her off your skin with blood.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Despite all the good intentions bestowed on their creation, fire areas are rarely entirely successful and I'm glad I noticed that in advance. We're happy with ours after a couple of test drives but we already had a terraced hillside to work with. We can hear and see the ocean. We're not overlooked by a thousand unsavoury neighbours. The moon is usually visible. So we can't snatch all the credit for our atmospherics.
Here's a few things to consider. There's a mysterious seclusion-to-convenience ratio that will make or break your fire area. Don't put it a mile away from the toilet/fridge/woodpile, or you won't use it. Conversely, setting it too close to the house will kill its secret sexiness. Also, you need it to be somehow surrounded in order to define the space; not necessarily walled, but meaningful physical demarcation is important. A line of fancy pebbles will not achieve this. The seating has to be slightly tight so the privilege of a decent berth around the flames is appreciated. Nocturnal airflow at our place means the initial smoke is reliably ushered away downhill, but you need to think about that too- don't put yours in a dead air zone. And last but not least... if your fire pit still looks and feels fucked despite your best efforts, it's because you cheaped out on the brazier, to within a 99% probability. That central element is crucial. I'm a stingey bitch who abhors those stupid overbuilt pizza oven/crematorium/half a fucking house-type installations beloved by sad outdoorsy wankers, but nothing looks cheesier than a shitty, budget, flimsy-arse brazier in an otherwise nice setting. Stop looking for vintage bunting and artisanal tealight ephemeral bullshit. Spend that extra hundy on something proper steel and handmade.
And thusly our scant wisdom hath been imparteth.
Fir tried to lie right under the damn fire so we brought his bed out. A guy in Christchurch makes these awesome corten braziers- I forget his name but you can look him up on TradeMe.
I know it's not a technically spectacular shot. But this tiny, tiny camellia approx 15cm high produced this perfect china-red bloom amid this carpet of lacy cranesbill and I thought you should know about it.
If the camellia can make an effort to do something beautiful, so should we. This sentiment is pretty fucking rich coming from someone who has been putting off posting in favour of general spring cleaning drudge bullshit, I know. Imma put some new stuff up this week, pinky promise.
Thanks for reading and looking.
In virtually every culture that has encountered them you will hear stories about how herons were historically duped out of their previously mellifluous voices.
Fledglings are easy to identify: generally, their proportions are a wee bit stumpy, their feathers retain that vaguely downy look, their beaks are shorter and their behaviour is distinctly teenage. Though they're fairly common, this is the first pair of chicks we've noticed in our time here so it's nice to know they're breeding successfully in this urban-ish area.
It's officially Spring down here from Sept. 1, but really we've been in the latter season for at least a month now after a fucking balmy, frost-less winter that seems like several worlds away from the brutal ones we experienced upon arrival in Dunedin 20 years ago. The climates, they are a changing. Thanks Shell, BP et al.
Dressed stone had never seemed so close to comfort beneath her sleeping bag as Susan opened her eyes, to dust-grey walls and light made feather-soft and reticent, as though held between two hands. A long night and a day passed over her amid the cold smell of wind and water; a pulsing pain redoubled in her mouth when she turned upon her back, encased in the stale warmth of clothing that had dried around her while she slept. Shuffling sounds and faint, blown smoke curled in through the arch that stood open to a formless, cloud-coloured sky. She paid them as much heed as the hands that sometimes parted her cocoon to wipe at the smears on her face and chart the bruises mottling through a dull, plumbaceous spectrum on her left side. Dimly, beneath hooded lids, she saw fresh scars sawed into the skin of the attending arms. Water swayed in a pail set by her side, its thin steam redolent of greening metal. She ignored her name and was allowed to, and went back to sleep.
Through the arch another day declared an end, recalling the colour loaned to the vaulting overhead and leaving them in variated monochromes. Her gaze followed the fluted shapes in stone toward the wall, noting for the first time that it bore an image in the plaster elsewhere dissolved and sloughed away, the robust and wide-eyed figure of a mounted saint. His halo seemed no less sturdy than his plicated robe, its royal blue deposed by natron grey where the tempera proved as perished and forgotten as the order that had raised the remote redoubt.
From somewhere overhead the smell of another fire issued its primal invitation, en suite with the echoed, disjunct sounds of someone moving with a purpose she could scarcely envision, pain and torpor having pupated into something far more comprehensive. In its depths she was grateful for the enclosing seclusion provided by the surrounding structure, a quality promoted from its former station as the blandest facet of entitlement and beatified alongside the faded saint. Her pack lay against the wall, half-gutted of its contents. Banks of needles crowded the corners of the chamber, sere tokens of abandonment and solitude.
She rolled onto her side and was struck immediately by a sensation like the intrusion of a blade, an outward-looping vertigo drawing back the walls and floor as though on rubber bands. They swayed, one version doubled over the other, returning only as the agony began to slacken, leaving her tightly knotted. Susan opened her mouth to breathe and inched backward onto her shoulders, the taste of festering gore flushed from under her tongue as she stroked her broken tooth and the flesh that pounded all around it. Though startled by the hinges grinding by the rust-streaked door she lay still as Sachiin eased a dark shape balanced on his head around the partition, a copper pail in each hand, nodding the bundle of fraying fabric onto the floor and arranging its cache of fresh pine needles against the wall. With the same discretion he set down the carton of cigarettes beneath his arm, letting himself onto his knees beside the smaller pail.
"It'll be warm for about ten more minutes." Allowing for her apathy, he waited half that time before reaching back into her pack for her face cloth. "The drool is fucking with your bloodstains now, poupée..." he added, attempting remediation from which she rolled toward the wall despite the toll exacted by her tooth. Sitting back, he sighed and took up the box of cigarettes, plucking the golden tab encircling its cellophane and drawing out the crisp, beguiling sounds of its removal.
"Just give me one and go away." she croaked, clearing her throat.
"I thought you were giving up." he smiled to himself, sitting the damp, balled flannel on the side of her head when she did not reply. Susan turned again toward him, dark stare framed by strands of rain-washed hair and fluvial deposits, then dragged herself onto her hands, leaning over the bucket to lap the water from its rim. "How's your tooth?"
"Where is everyone?" she murmured, lapsing back against the stone.
"He's out jerking off somewhere. Haven't seen Pet yet."
She lay still.
"Now I can't call him Edward." He waited for her to elaborate with the same forbearance, two fresh cigarettes parked between his teeth. "It sounds... wrong... once you've seen him... doing things."
“I know. It's like calling Satan Toodles. Kar-lar-amaat-yah…” he suggested in a lugubrious tone, though she did not seem to have heard him. Squinting, Sachiin lit the cigarettes and piped the smoke from the corner of his mouth. "Allez... a problem shared is everybody’s problem.” He shrugged at her lack of response. "Well, I've got nowhere else to go, so y..."
“Stop being so fucking nice..." she snapped. He glanced around himself uncertainly. "I ran away and left you, alright? They could have been... ripping your fucking arms off...” The feeble glow from the arch diminished again as the sun dropped beyond the unseen horizon. Sachiin folded his legs.
“I can't say how it looked to you, but I don't think we were ever going to be dancing around with their nutsacks on our heads, so don't feel like you stole our chance at glory. If you hadn't been there, personally I’d still be headed downstream like there was a fucking inboard up my arsehole." He smiled and offered her a cigarette. "We made it out in three good pieces... pas de probléme." A glance related the inadequacy of his assurances and he reclaimed the damp cloth, warming it once more in the bucket. She did not protest its application. "I've always thought the chick who wrote The Art of War should have done one called the art of not getting into shit in the first place, but then none of the hot mess headed for the front line actually fucking read, do they? I mean, I look like I fell out of a fucking cement mixer and I didn't get that way smoking a bowl in a titty bar after bugging out of Nuristan before I got my head kicked in..." he laughed. "And that's because I'm a retard. But like I said, pas de probléme... if you live, pick up your ninja wings... you just qualified. As for running like a little bitch, I think that was me powering right past you. I probably pushed you over trying to put on speed."
She closed her eyes again against his arguments.
"You're not fucking useless... I am. I can't carry my pack, you had to go back and get it... I can't do fucking anything."
"Silence, mortal." Sachiin pronounced. "Would I steal a box of home-brand Ukranian cigarettes from a vampyre for a useless person? I went back for your pack because I'm too much of a fucking gimp to watch you suffer." He lifted the end of the sleeping bag and made a quick survey of her feet. "That's not heroic, and it's all bullshit anyway... heroic people are just impatient cowards. The dickhead who throws himself on the grenade is the same dickhead who would have bolted like everybody else if he'd thought about it, but then boom... he's human stucco, and stucco can't express regret. So stop feeling bad, immediately. How's your tooth?"
She drew her feet beneath the covers.
“Pet doesn't want me here.”
“Did she say that?"
"She didn't have to."
"Ouais, she's suffering you in silence because politeness is like a religion to her." he laughed, rolling his eyes. "Christabel, you just startled her dead arse.” He reached back toward her boots. “Come on... you can bring your hump upstairs.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
It goes on like a dream from the tube and smooshes obligingly around the mouth without streaking, settling into lines or balding out in the middle of your cakehole. That latter effect really pisses me off and I've come to expect it from these shades, so Pepper's obedience and impeccable coverage on my dark lips were a nice surprise. It's the lightest opaque shade I've found real-world wearable due to both this fantastic coverage and its nuanced colour profile. So to summarise- look into this one if you're in the market for a cool neutral and own a face that usually bucks them. It's probably not even your fault; these shades are so often poorly composed, ending up as visual yawns or just unalloyed face-gack. Pepper is the closest I've personally come to satisfaction in this pursuit.
Bite has issued a number of these modest, organic pinks and in my opinion does a better job of them than MAC, perhaps because they serve a slightly more sophisticated demographic. Yeah, I'll say it; MAC's neutrals are outclassed on most fronts these days. Seriously, stop buying fucking Velvet Teddy, people. You can do better.
(L2R, MAC unless stated) Russian Red, Bite Pepper, Mocha, Brick O La, Aim to Please,
Nars Dolce Vita pencil, Verve
My crazy dad's images of PNG back in the day, remastered. A 2 part series.
Textile freak? Have a look at this piece about the resurgence of indigo in India;
Indigo Sutra (from Hali)
'The cultivation of indigo dye across the Indian subcontinent is growing. From 9-12 November last year, an international event on the revival and resurgence of natural indigo—Indigo Sutra—was held in Kolkata. It aimed to ‘create awareness of reviving the cultivation of indigo in Bengal and other places where it had stopped due to political unrest or other reasons and also to encourage the use of natural indigo dyeing using natural methods’. Here, its chief advisor and author of three books on indigo, Jenny Balfour Paul, recounts her experience there, ahead of the making of a Channel 4 news programme on the subject this autumn, which came about as a result.'
I'm going to post a few things about the building process because I feel there's stuff I wish we had known before we began; it's like having kids- no one tells you about the bad shit until you're stuck in the middle of it. We've learned a lot and really sort of know what the hell we're doing now that the process is almost over. Just like life. You finally get a few things sorted and then poof, you're back to level one: microbial sludge.
On that note I will leave you and go the fuck to bed before the paint fumes induce me to produce lewd couplets. There'll be another lipstick review this week because I have a backlog to document before offloading some. Reasons- I have them. Shut up.
Standing in the almost alien brilliance of a clear mid-morning, Susan's companions reserved the content of their discussion via the interfluent galop of their hands, arguing silently at the edge of an incline. She turned in her sleeping bag, wincing as the flesh that had stuck to the inside of her boots tore free.
"I told you not to fucking carry me..." she called, climbing out and rolling up the bag.
"I didn't." Sachiin sighed. Her gaze flew to Edward, who looked back at her wordlessly. “Pet’s place is up that gully and halfway down the other side.” the former advised, pointing out the neighbouring ridge while she waded toward them through matted, rotting fronds. Her expression brightened to an uncertain smile until he drew her attention to the ground at their feet. It dropped away in a deep concave, then a monstrous swathe of tumbled, bramble-choked tumulus where the hillside had lapsed wholesale into a gorge a century earlier, undermined by a spring buried in its shoulder. Cottage-sized blocks of rock studded the jagged, compacted chaos, some still garnished with randomized fragments of the original forest. The gradient alone rendered it impassable except to the slowest and most conservative descent, a prospect further complicated by the maze of nightmare boscage. Far below, like some dreary and imperfect déjà vu lay another river partitioned from contiguous view by the ridges running down to it, appearing dully petrochemical in its sunken course. The plateau on which they stood had been carved in half by the water's taste for its pervious stone, the distant eastern face of the cloven formation still rendered in the colours of night. "It used to be straight down to a ford from here."
"This is why they let us through." Susan concluded. "Now they can really have some fun with us." Neither of them contradicted her, watching her struggle back toward her pack.
"There's no way we can make it before dark." Sachiin called. She ignored him. "Christabel... it's too far and too fucked up. You'll go two clicks and fall on your face... we need a def pos." He peered at his brother through the hand he had pressed to his eyes. "Just say we have phosphorous... I just want to hear the words. I don't fucking care if it's true."
"Seven six two, some hollow point." Edward replied, laconic.
"He's an artist so he can disappear up his own arsehole, but I don't think there's enough room for three of us!" she laughed bitterly.
"Listen to me." Sachiin told her, tugging on his own ears. "You can not make that distance in the time we have. Not if you ran all the fucking way, and you're not running anywhere on those." He nodded down at her feet. She dragged on the rest of her clothes, bent to haul her pack onto her shoulders and walked past him, bowed under its weight. They watched her set off along the hill top alone, looking to each other until Sachiin hurried after her, bringing her back.
"I can't sit here and wait for forty fucking... for them to find me. I want to make them put some effort into it." She stared at him while he walked away from her to stand at the edge of the drop with his hands clasped on his head. Susan sighed again. “Sachiin…” she murmured, letting the pack fall. “Don’t get into a flap... think. What would you do if I wasn’t here?” He took out his lighter and began flicking its wheel, throwing it at the ground when it provided no relief.
“You are here, and if the wind blows the wrong way once the moon's up, sai'ith ah'na essir. Bon fucking nuit.” Edward reached into the pocket of his own trousers and drew out a coin, to which his brother raised a hand in sarcastic appreciation. “Hey, why the fuck not? Nothing says backwoods clusterfuck like a fucking rouble toss. Kiss it with your dick first.” Sachiin agreed despairingly, the thought of the coin’s impartial decree making him curse again under his breath. “She can't make it... they'll fucking run us down." His gaze fell to Susan. The brass case of his lighter lay by the toe of her boot, golden and impervious, a gleaming sigil to her irresolution. She nodded at Edward.
"Prends ton courage á deux mains. That's what Gideon told me. He said to never run."
“That’s because his fucking knees are shot.” Sachiin complained. She looked up at him and took his hand.
"Be quiet. It's up to me."
The weight of Susan's body conspired with the impetus arrested by the noose of bindweed on her ankle to pitch her violently forward; her hands closed on vegetation that slid wetly through her fingers until her face struck stone. She lay still. Blood ran from the tear her teeth had cut into the soft flank of her cheek, and from a stabbing pain alongside it. She spat a fragment of enamel onto her palm and shook rosy saliva from her fingers, rolling over beneath the arching canes and dripping hellbine, its glabrous filaments draped in tentacles of septic pink and slippery amphibious green. The vast pallium of coldly-glowing shadow thrown down by the retreating sun was like a hand upon her shoulder that could no longer be ignored, the river seeming no closer than two hours before. She spat blood again, head pounding and hands full of fended thorns, blinking eyes red with dust shaken from the brambles.
As her breathing slowed it let her listen to the tiny sounds around her, of the miniature animals moving stealthily beneath the briars as they recovered from the fright of her crashing descent, birds flitting overhead, darts against the dim sky, the small creaks and rustles in her clothing. The pistol kneed the small of her back and she drew it from her belt, setting it on her stomach and noting for the first time how little of its dull stamped shape seemed devoted to the workings of its purpose. She could find no real aversion to lying lifeless where she had fallen, solitude attending her as faithfully as ever. In its quietus, she overlooked her scattered bones as they lay, streaked soft matte grey amid the briars, their enduring forms dusted slowly into obscurity, her flesh flowering once more in the blossoms proffered by the thorns. Tiny insects couched in points of emerald green and ebony hove into the vacancy created by her passage, swept away when Sachiin leapt down from the boulders behind her; she sighed as he hauled her up, blood spilling down her chin.
"I was wrong and you were completely right. Not about everything... just this. I thought I'd force myself to say that." she admitted, smiling. He took the gun from her and checked its load before slapping it back into her grasp. Edward ducked beneath the veil of vines, climbing back toward them as a flash of fluted rays farewelled the day, the sun sliding behind trees silhouetted on the ridge above. She opened her mouth to query their unbidden confluence but Sachiin urged silence with a hand and they crouched together, listening intently.
High on the ridge a pair of widely-separated birds exchanged a mournful cry, repeated twice, almost in unison with the white crown of the lunar disc surmounting the eastern scarp, staining the shadows on her hands a deep, transparent amethyst. She expelled another mouthful of blood; Sachiin caught it in his palm before it could hit the ground, wiping it onto his clothing, then slid the pack from his shoulders and launched its awkward weight into the brambles beside them. He caught the two magazines Edward threw to him, stepping aside to let her down the tumbled rocks.
"Where are they?" she whispered, to which he divided his fingers and used them to point over his shoulder in two directions; the ache in her face was replaced by a sudden burn in her back and shoulders as though someone had seized them, fear wiping her mouth dry. She turned to scrabble onward through canes that opened to an uncertain drop, forcing her to let herself down onto bare stone, cracking her tooth along another axis as she landed badly. Stumbling over her own momentum, Susan dragged it up through her legs and used it to plough along a boar-track, regardless of the tendrils that whipped and tore at her hair and face and outstretched hands. With eyes screwed closed against them she stumbled out onto a sudden plane of flat ground peopled with the standing hulks of deracinated elms; as she skidded to a standstill a sound ripped free and rolled down through the living trees behind her, a hoarse, bloated, saw-like roar flushed from deep in something terrible and newborn, taken up by others until the gorge thrummed, charged with its nauseous harmonic. Sachiin seized and turned her around, drawing down the zip of her parka.
"They won't come all at once." he shouted over another burst of the sound as he wound the garment around her neck, knotting it thickly. "When they hit us, go down, keep your arms in, in, like this..." He tucked his hands under in demonstration, forced to lift his voice again over the roaring that rattled through the fluids in her throat and eyes, so close that she heard the raw breath dragged in before it. "They'll flank us... watch our backs and don't run, no matter what. Do not run." Edward dumped the ammunition from his bag and swung his rifle from his shoulder while Sachiin pushed her into the enormous tree, ripping out dead wood and honeycomb from the empty bole and showering her with black debris. They took up a guard before it, exchanging brief advice while Susan stood in the dead air of her hide, clasping the pistol in both sweating hands. He glanced back at her once, though anything he might have said was obliterated by the hellish chorus that hit them on the full, filling the tree and the caves in her head until she screamed with it, toppled backward through the rotten wood, and ran.
She was struck almost deaf as she fled by a high, tuneless tone in her ears. It drowned the roaring and smoothed her blind, scurrying flight into something she almost observed from without, wiping all notion of her companions until they caught her up and she glimpsed them as lateral blurs, sliding on her hip down another drop and crashing into cracking green and purple. Behind them alujha poured through the thickets like huge beads of mercury, fanning out to run them down from either side. The moon had breathed upon their skin, charring and dragging it taut over a frame that answered four feet as well as any biped could; they lurched horse-like but for their graceless weight and tailless quarters, long, ponderous heads hanging low and flat and earless, black holes gaping behind their blank white eyes, devouring sound. They pounded the ground as their voices had throttled the air. She felt a grasp on her clothes, Sachiin catching her and fending the dark shape that leapt at his shoulder, fist twisting in her sleeve. The ground failed under them both, falling away, and they plunged with the undercut earth and disarticulated litter into a torpid vacancy.
The tone in her head let her watch her two companions straighten out and meet the water with their hands, a moment before she smacked on her side into its black face, arms out against the bucking shapes hurled down on her, their braying cut short as the freezing darkness burst and swallowed them impartially. The surface soared away overhead, lost to her as she fought to disengage from her pursuers; her clothes flooded, plumes of silvered, beaded air crawling over her while cobblestone knuckles pounded and raked at her face and chest. She twisted and tore free of them, kicking desperately against the boots that dragged on her legs like sacks of stone. The night above proved a fouled and battering hell of choking spray and scourging limbs and she was trodden under again, gasping a throat full of water. Clutching the creature floundering beside her, she saw its great head swing back over its shoulder at her, jaws slamming with the sound of snapped bones; she braced her boots against its flank and dived back under.
Within the river's echoing bourne the blackness was a backcloth against which all pale shapes were rendered in plastic, bloodless white, her hands corpse-like before her. The water had carved itself a depth too great to reckon by the moon; she lost her bearings and pulled around toward the crack and rumble of submerged violence, using all four limbs and brushing back her snaking tendril hair. From her remove she watched Edward ascend from the obscurity beneath one of the struggling beasts and stroke his arm across its belly, drawing a wound that birthed a gravid flush of serpentine entrails and stained him marbled shades of cold, sweet pink. With no need of the surface he read the rhythms in the champing jaws and toiling limbs, moving to their dictates, becoming one more of the water's horrors with a knife that opened their assailants as though their bloody contents longed for the release; he joined his brother as the latter drowned the last uninjured beast, dragging it beneath the surface with his arms locked around a head that spun slowly in a grinding circuit. Hooked claws in his feet tore its taut skin as he punched his knife into the silver-flashing eyes and the gleaming, knotted flesh behind its skull. Turning away, Susan caught a draught of air and sounded again. Through the gloom the far bank loomed as ashen and uncertain as a distant sea mount, rising steeply beneath an unseen shore.
The shelved stone offered little purchase to boots that skidded hopelessly against it, forcing her further along the ledge. She kicked herself onto a stretch of silt, humping over mud until her knees found solid ground. One and then another of her companions hauled up on either side of her, Sachiin grasping her with a torn hand while the last beasts pawed at the far wall of the gorge, vainly seeking egress. Overhead and clearly limned for the first time, their remaining fellows loomed atop a cliff no longer entailed by shadow. Where she thought of the wolf, they scarcely obliged her, both canine and hominid subsumed by a churning fusion that confounded the sum of its parts; they crouched, held down by the weight of their saurian heads, funeral hues caping their minotaur shoulders before flanks stratified with heaving musculature. They sucked the breath from her mouth with their argentine stares, maws lolling open and thickly spiked with fat, flared tusks.
Sachiin boosted her over rocks she could not negotiate in her mud-greased state toward Edward, and they climbed into the trees where she sat down, the river pouring from her bagging garments and the mirror bag still hanging round her neck. Her arms and shoulders shook, but he lifted her back onto her feet.
"Thi'i sai'inae." Sachiin told his brother, wiping his face on the torn sleeve of his shirt. She watched dumbly as he headed back down to the river, Edward catching hold of her arm.
"He's going for your pack." he advised, anticipating her demand as she gasped its first syllables. Taking the rifle from his shoulder he chose a clear line through the trees and targeted the beasts still leering on the cliff top, scattering them back into the scrub while she closed her eyes against the muzzle flash.
On the far side of the ridge top Edward let her lie against a tree and catch her breath, though she continued the broken song that she had droned during their march uphill, her damp clothes still sucking at her skin. The moon's shadow leant out across the tiers of broad, sedate nocturne beneath them; the river, having curled south and looped behind the ridge, passed eastward, seated deeply in the basement stone of the wider valley. Conifers once more usurped the broadleaves of the hills behind them, clothing the windward mountains with their dour, balsam-scented recurrence, thin arms held out as though in an expression of dread. When he glanced at her again she was staring back at him, unblinking, and he replied with a look that should have discouraged her, though it did not. He took up his rifle and moved off and she fell in, catching and pushing past him on the narrow way and trundling down into the swept and dusty vacancy beneath the pines. As if something had tripped her Susan went over on her face and lay flat out on the ground; he stooped to catch her parka, standing her back upon her feet and watching her continue on without a word like a toy he had set back onto its tracks.
A thick pelt of dead needles had blown across a narrow way before them, its regularity evolving into a crooked line of hand-cut steps pouring like a frozen cataract from a crevice in the stone. Their cracked, decrepit increments could not have been more welcome if they had been clad with carpet and lined with rails; she leant over to inspect them minutely, first scowling suspiciously, then laughing to herself in macabre delight, the sound tumbling away into the valley. Blood ran from her mouth and spotted the stone, her cackles giving way abruptly to gurgling expectoration. She followed them to a divergence where one flight headed down into the gorge, the other cutting across a cirque toward the north and its termination in a basaltic redoubt, the formation standing like the lonely corpse of some slab-sided pachyderm. A shallow curve of hollowed shapes crowned it in the waning moonlight, a plain, perfunctory colonnade staring through arches toward sister peaks on the far side of the gorge; Susan trudged the path across the slope to its agreement with the flank of rain-streaked stone, where it barely allowed the width of her companion's shoulders. The steps ended in a mound of alluvium washed from the cracks in the rock overhead and the studded ruin of a postern door, its black timbers fretted with finger-deep cracks. Leaning against the abutting stone, Edward spoke in Russian, as though to someone standing on the other side.
Ten minutes passed before he was answered by the tapping of miniature feet. The door was hauled back off its giant latch and Petrouchka retreated with it in the folds of a black fur, murmuring a greeting to him while Susan stood humming tunelessly, her own blood dried around her mouth and chin, hair and clothing hanging like a drowned pelt.
"You are very, very strange girl." the vampyre remarked as the latter shuffled past her.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
This prolonged exposure captures the essence of the teen poodle's infernal spirit: play play play yap play play steal play rubbish rummage play play drag person 5 K play play sleep play. At eight months his testosterone is off the charts and it's fair to say that Fir is a fiend for action.
A wee trip to the vet is due: don't tell him that.
Fir will find your bladder and stand on it at 5.30 every morning with unfailing accuracy. His opposition-pull reflex is off the fucking charts. He gets up on the sofa behind you while you're lighting the fire, positions two paws on your shoulders and presses a sloppy toy to the back of your head. His recall might be getting (slightly) better but he'll still fly across the yard and disappear into the unfenced bushes or frolic on the road if he gets the chance to bust out of the side door. He pulls everything onto the floor and jumps up and down on his back legs screaming like furious toddler in a supermarket if I dare leave the room without him. Doorways are for pissing in when it's cold and windy. The rubbish bin = lunchbox and don't ask what he does with high-quality poos if given a chance. Just... don't.
Fir loves citrus, persimmons and almonds, which is weird and annoying because you have to give him yours, goddammit. He bounces on the spot barking hysterically at the prospect of R's fried egg sandwiches. I've realised I don't really know how to raise a normal dog. They always end up like this.
Also- highly recommended for extreme-chew dogs with squeak fetishes; the Kong rubbery squeaky bones. The noise isn't too maddening, ours has lasted over a week now and doesn't show signs of disintegrating into atoms, unlike almost every other toy we've tried.
Fir growls at rearranged furnishings. He is cute, though.
The colour that had opened her eyes rose from the wrinkled floor of her tent, a nebulous Pleiadian blue glowing on the back of her hands and what she could see of her own face in the darkness. Beside the foot of her sleeping bag, as though surprised in the act of encroachment, a string of lights lay crowded on a knotted black cord, emitting the powdery glow that had roused her. With her eyes narrowed she saw that it passed through a gap at the base of the zippered door, and slid out of her sleeping bag, crawling with them into the quiet night.
The bulbs ran tendril-like along the ground between trees heavy with a felted nocturnal blackness; through them she could feel the sound of water scouring stones, its lapping babel translated into pulses expressed by the globes in a strange, staccato transcription. The venous cord diverged like some engulfing tropical vine, climbing and hanging in snarled loops from the branches, dry violet dust spilling from their frayed ends as she passed beneath them. A scent fell with it and lit upon her, of mingled, pungent lilies and a sliced and sappy green, strangely unrelated to the glow that deepened to the flickering hue of holographic shade on her arms and in passive trees fruited with bulbs blooming almost as round as her head. The cable had begun to express the same cyanic hue, lighting the undergrowth until the leaves gave way to round grey stones where the lights climbed down and ran between her ankles into sable water. It swallowed and slowly dimmed them; she stared into the depths while they spiraled around the cord, its luminescence pulsing slowly, the water rising in slippery black fingers, tendrils swaying before her like a hundred eyeless serpents.
No birds chimed the hour as cold soaked through Susan's socks and lapped her feet. Dawn pierced the dilettante mist over the river of her luring dream and cast its spiritous gold through her lids while she stood, shivering fitfully, no glowing vines slithering between her ankles when she looked down. Her teeth clattered together in her head; the forest ran up a slope behind her that she did not remember, though the mud streaking her knees and forearms recounted her descent of it. She waded back toward the shore over clinking river cobbles blue with cold. Her own weight brought her down on a boulder while cloud shouldered out the sun, its condensing mass once more portending rain. In their shadow she felt her eyes well, bled by a despondency that pushed up through her throat, and she leant over to weep into her lap.
William wiped at his own face when it began to stream in sympathy with hers, sitting amid grass-green aigrettes of ferns at the edge of the trees. She heaved a broken sigh at the sight of him, shifting to make room on the stone and nodding slowly to the sleeping bag he lay over her shoulders. They sat while she pondered his unquestioning constancy.
"Something blue was glowing... I think it wanted to talk to me." she murmured.
"The river... they do that sometimes. What did it say?"
Shrugging, Susan shook her head and gazed down at her arms amid the quilting.
"Yesterday, when I was by myself... I found out why your brother wears suits."
"Long sleeves." he admitted, surprising her with his grasp of the allusion. "If I had told you, would you have believed me?" She shook her head. "He stopped doing it for a while, I think, with Helaine, but..." He suffered a moment of conflicted silence. "Is it better to know?"
She shrugged again, unable to assort the wreckage of her own sentiments.
"I don't know... but I don't think I can call you William any more."
He leant over to puff the dew from the length of their last cigarette.
"Ala'il sha bai. I don't think I ever was one."
Her feet forced her to a halt at noon when she was tripped by a web of buried branches into a crackling mass of bramble canes. Sachiin lifted her out of them and set her down, plucking the broken lengths free of her parka and leggings. The birch bark dressings dropped off in heavy rose-pink wads as she peeled away her socks.
"Fuck!" she shouted, enraged, lying back in the ferns with her eyes closed while he swore softly to himself at the sight of the damage. As quickly as her heels mended the new skin was soaked and bitten away, leaving wet pits of angry scarlet flesh to reproach him. The sight of him poring over her extremities as though they were dying animals proved briefly, obtusely amusing, though she screamed when he ripped open a stretch of dead skin crammed with debris. They both looked up at the sight of his brother emerging from the slope before them, rifle in his hand, exclusively intent upon their captive.
He shoved the youth onto his knees and tore a sleeve from the latter's wet pullover, stuffing half into his mouth and knotting the remainder around his head as an emphatic gag. Frowning, he kicked the scout hard, satisfying himself that he was unable to emit any significant vocal response.
"How many?" Sachiin sighed, getting up.
"Twenty five, thirty."
Susan pulled on the heavy khaki anorak she had abjured thus far when it was handed to her, keeping a close watch on the far more subtle visual elements of the brothers' exchange.
"Alujha." Sachiin admitted. "Have a look for my balls in your bag... I'm going to need them back for a bit."
"Could we not just... go round them?"
"They know we're here and they're sitting on the only way through this shit in any case. If we front them they might jump us but if we don't, they definitely will." He began to look over his weapons; Susan gazed around herself, expressing dismayed expletives, rolling onto her feet and sucking an agonized breath through teeth clenched against any further exclamation. On his knees beside Edward, the scout smirked around the fabric in his mouth, shoulders shuddering in a gloating chuckle as he watched her deplore her own failing flesh. She grew still, staring back at him, then took up her boots, sitting down to stuff her bleeding feet into their sodden confines.
Edward's fist drove their captive down the steep, greasy descent, through a last stand of jostling saplings and onto the floor of a valley crowded with great skeletal copses of black-fruited bramble, shaded even from the glimpse of sunlight allowed by a rift in the clouds. Walking behind him, Susan found in the hard-blown sound of her own breathing and Sachiin's murmured appeal to those antediluvian objectives still enjoying his regard an almost somnambulistic state; it drew from her companions and even from their captive, his hatred permuting into a fuel that set her bitten feet down and picked them back up again. The smell of smoke through the trees troubled the chains that circled the eidiré's black piles and conjured the sudden, airless notion that she might find their wretched inmates amongst the party they approached. It crashed into her obliquely, opening her eyes wide, grinding against the impetus that pushed her onward, every step she stamped down in the alujha's muddy wake threatening to crack her bones.
A clearing, like the hollow of a bird's nest, had been fashioned using dead limbs to pin back the thorns, rendering it almost invisible from without. A creek wound, a flat, sluggish shade of bronze, past the salix that overhung the bivouac, the camp divided by a narrow course of smoking, half-green logs. On it lay the remains of a doe, the foul smell of its scorched hide rising from the pyre. The blackened corpse lay torn in two, innards raveled over spitting branches, and strung along this focus were the alujha themselves, squatting beneath dappled cowls like the members of some barbaric mendicant order. Their faces were pasted with soot so that the whites of their eyes glared in glassy contrast, the variances parceled out by nationality and fortune as shallow as the pigment smeared over their skin as they ate from their hands, chewing blue flesh and sucking dripping marrow from fractured bones. The nearest rose at the sight of their youngest member staggering before the strangers as the scout was thrown down on his face at the end of the blaze, discarded as soon as the gesture he embodied was perceived. He sprang to his feet and wiped off his gag, scowl contracted around a furious denouncement that brought the rest of his tribe off their haunches as Susan stepped down between their mirrored ranks. Their blackened faces crowded out the sky, the youth's rage left behind in slurring pantomime.
He was the smallest of them. The remainder were limned in unwonted clarity by her survivor's gaze; the colour drained from their eyes at the sight of her, hands knuckling up and curling under, their breath and bodies stinking of spilt seed and offal and oily, unheeded sweat. She saw the clear ground at the distant end of the hearth disappear behind their heavy shapes and almost faltered, forced to step into the embers by a shoulder that struck her own. Though her hood secluded her face, the milk-white smell of her body lofted from her clothing with the heat of the coals, lapped and swallowed by those crowded on either side. The brothers' great forms framed her own; their strange affinity and the crystalline animus foiling their gazes prompted the older alujha to make protective gestures, passing the peril of their stare over their shoulders.
"Yásta utut na ábita... jáma wel hasitt sha sittra náfan." one of them advised his fellows, displaying more complacency than the rest, his silvering hair and short, striated beard an obvious device of seniority. To their astonishment one of the intruders replied in passing, his grasp of their secretive tongue like a blow to their faces.
"Kút ifa ján, in sejju na mujjin sootcha hastná vech wel ídv." Edward warned them. "Na nachát isin na najún if íyet hahdra, jáma sin itujrr lá Belyaev na vampyr."
"Ídv tuj vech plajúr kuchani na Lúnar." the alpha replied, containing himself.
"Shata kushir ján mitha nán vech." promised the stranger, something more personal confided by his eyes and the teeth that had shaped the acuate contention. The hood flapped back from Susan's head with the wind that broached the trees, her damp hair, woad-blue, pressed to her neck. A guttural response passed about her as the creatures seized upon the glimpse, tongues creeping from their mouths, hands glowing hotly through her clothes as they snatched at her, eyes crawling over her skin and dragging her stolen shape behind their faces. Thick fingers rose at her face, groping for her mouth, but she punched them away and Sachiin shoved the offender back. Another caught her trailing hood; she threw herself forward, wrenching free of the last of them and ploughing into the mud and rushes at the edge of the stream.
Susan thrashed her way over the slimy rocks and dragged herself out on the far side of the water, terror marching her on up the face of the abutting hillside like some sadistic numen. With both hands she hauled herself over the slick, latticed roots and twining creepers, tearing her bleeding feet free and snapping what remained of her nails against the buried rock.
"Christabel, slow down or you'll blow something..." Sachiin called, catching her leg. She jerked it free and pushed on, scrambling up onto a game trail that cut across the slope between the narrow tiers of trees.
"What did they say?" she urged.
"Nothing you want to hear."
"What did he say?"
He thought over Edward's address, climbing alongside her.
"Fuck with us and it'll be the last dumb shit you do... this woman is my brother's wife, we're guests of Belyaev."
"He flipped them off with something. Christabel..." In the light of her comprehensive disregard he watched her pull up before a fallen trunk, then squeeze under it where the roots had propped the bole clear of the ground.
Midnight passed before a moon yawning almost to the full began to set, remaining all the while in an ironic, starless purdah, leaving them only with the promise of her next appearance. In the ensuing darkness Susan conceded to his demand for surcease, crushing whorls of bracken as she keeled onto her side. He spoke her name and waited for any sign of comprehension before collecting her bag and summoning his brother.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
If you loved MAC Giambattista Valli Margherita and share my abject sadness at not being able to really pull that shit off, Cin Cin is like an answered prayer you didn't even know you were mumbling. It has the same pastel-esque tangerine-y loveliness, but with j u s t enough depth to bless the darker lip-haver with something more satsuma lite than glue residue. Whereas Margherita suffered the technical difficulties inherent in white pigment+lip, the Luminous Creme formula rides to the rescue by not cock-blocking any natural affinity with our native schema.
It clashes with the broken veins and redness on my sad old face, so consider any scarring or pigmentation issues you might have before splashing out.
Vento's charm lies, counterintuitively, in its lack of graphic heft; it is subtle, casual, vintage, conventionally pretty, completely SFW and a nice foil to a big eye. It offers a nice alternative to those of us wanting a bit of polish without the slimy grossness of lip gloss- Vento's lustre is low, satiny and durable. It's just the smidgen of sneaky pastel that strikes the wrong gong for the warmies; oh well.
I wear it around the house anyway, purely for the pleasure of its sublime texture. This shit be angel grease, second only in my experience to the crushingly expensive Chantecaille stuff (which I must get around to reviewing) as far as conditioning and comfort are concerned. And Vento is so visually lightweight and stable that I also sneak it under all those chalky-arse mattes that will suck you dry if you don't amend, which is why it's staying in the stash.
L 2 R, MAC unless stated: Russian Red, Bite Cin Cin, Nars Iberico, Chili, Bite Vento,
Girl About Town, Bite Amarone, Nars Afghan Red natural outdoor unflashed