I agree with his reflections-as-portals premise in that I avoid looking into puddles when baked.
see the rest here
I agree with his reflections-as-portals premise in that I avoid looking into puddles when baked.
see the rest here
Powder white swept in through the arch and lay in a shallow little pile on the floor of their chamber, a token of the snow descending in the darkness outside. Sachiin lay down on the sill with his hands upon his face, greeting the flakes that settled on him as a blessing so gratefully received that she could not begrudge the cold. She shuffled down beneath the sleeping bag with her back against the wall, conscious that their companion saint might not have sanctioned the long draughts of the liquor she awarded herself. Its influence delayed her reaction to the flurry under the quilt until it came in contact with her leg, and she threw it back in dismay to discover Fyodor, no more appreciative of her presence than she was of his.
“What did you do with Petrouchka?” she asked, reinstating the cover.
“I put her to bed.”
"Was any of that true?"
He could not reply directly, and she waited without further insistence.
"If it's Helaine and Kala'amātya, you don't need to make it up." Sachiin sighed. "I never knew... but... I just can't, cloudcheeks... it's too much. Talk to me, about something else."
“She’s going to hate us even more when she finds out Fyodor's defected.” He lay with his eyes closed. "Are you alright?"
"Snow makes it better."
“I had no idea you were this attached to winter.”
"I am the white witch. It's always home."
“Do you ever miss it? Where you come from?"
“No... and yes... every day.”
“You haven’t told me why you left.”
His eyes slid open at the softly reproachful tone of the remark.
“Honestly, I’m not sure it’s something you want to hear after half a pint of mystery schnapps.”
“Is that what this stuff is?" Susan allowed herself to smile. "Remember the mystery jam? I was up late, and you came in and I made you help... I think that was when I fell in love with your shoulders. And your neck.” The intelligence restored something of his ease; he glanced along his nose at her.
“You with my what now?”
“You were looming, and I was thinking god, you’re such a giant shambolic monstrosity, then I saw that actually, you did have lovely shoulders, especially that bit there, that comes down from your neck..." She stroked her own in demonstration. "It made me think hmm, you’re quite fit really, even if you do eat buckets of pills and drink from the tap like a Bromley fox. Tell me, though.”
He sat up slowly.
“I’ve completely forgotten what I was going to say.”
“Why you left where you came from...”
“It’s complicated.” he murmured.
“Oh well, cut it short then because I’ve got a hundred other fucking things to do, obviously.” she reminded him aridly.
“Oh Christabel... it’s not a happy story.”
“Yes it is. If you hadn’t left, you wouldn't be here with me.” He looked into the darkness overhead, then back at her, deeply thoughtful. "It's strange to tell me, isn't it? And don't say yes and no."
He brought his legs up into a lotus pose upon the sill so that he seemed like a panel from a Khmer frieze, strangely transposed.
"When I was young, we were taught to believe... and I did... that we were apart from all else for good reason. I believed the moon was the first of our mothers... I believed that we, like all righteous beasts, were her children, given to her sister earth because she had no means to raise us. But I didn't believe what they did to Kala'amātya was her judgement, that he had been born to it and I hadn't. When he was made bai'issātva, I never thought I'd hear from him again. I heard of him... rumours always came back with the baby priestesses every spring, when they went to give them instructions... they said he was in charge, and did as he pleased, but since what he pleased kept the i'ss'it from the mountains, no one interfered...
One day a message came to me... to meet him, through about a dozen people. I didn't think he'd really be there, but I waited the whole day at the edge of the hills just in case, and at the last minute... there he was." The dust thrown up by his brother's horse as it turned before him swept past his face again. "I didn't know it at the time, but the sthali'sātva... the priestesses... had tried to make him poison all the wells down on the plain." Susan scowled at such a measure, unable to encompass its vicious rationale. "He wouldn't do it, and he'd been exiled, so he must have thought it was the last time we would see each other. He said nothing for a while, and then he asked me... Sachiin, are you content?" Its haunting emphasis returned to him. "I had no idea what to say. It was like asking a cow if they liked grass. I couldn't answer, and then... avoir disparu... he disappeared. No one knew where he'd gone, or what had happened. After a while, they made it official, saying Kala'amātya had been exiled, which was the same as dead.”
“Did you believe it?”
“He wasn’t with us, and he wasn’t with the bai'issātva, and I didn't know that there was anywhere else you could be. About a year later they held the T'shibai’sailye... the Green Star Night, around a little lake, a thing that everybody came to and where the sthali'sātva dropped the dime about your future. If you were an eyeroller, a backchatter, a slightly imperfect, you were sent down... made bai'issātva. If you’d survived the apprenticeship, you made your sthali'sātva bones and became a priestess. Nyāti was getting her pointy hat that night. If you were just old enough, you got the ball and chain, shotgun Vegas styles, with whoever they’d picked out for you. Rana was hot and highborn and out of my league... I was a trashy twink, and Kala'amātya's brother, and I remember not believing they had chosen me, but... it made my mother happy... I suppose they thought Rana would keep me out of trouble. What was I supposed to do?”
“If you don't know by now, I can't help you." she sighed.
“There was no no. So yes, I was pencilled in as Rana’s bitch and was polishing my cherry, minding my own business with Bede down by the water, when everything went quiet. I remember it so well, and I knew even before I saw him that there was only one person who puckered that many arseholes at the same time.”
The expression on his face became so irradiant that she chuckled into the bottle.
“Kala'amātya was meant to be at the bottom of the ocean, and then he walked into the Green Star Night. Ana'siām'ilye was sending the new bai'issātva down... she stopped in the middle of it and looked at him. I could see them both from where I was, and I remember feeling as though the air had turned to stone and wouldn't let me breathe. Everybody waited for her to say something, but... what could she say? He was carrying a siitān, a sacred bird that came over the mountains with the rain. I had never seen one that close, and the thought that he could hold it in his hands was like... watching someone carry Al Buraq into the Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām. It was dead... I could smell the poison it had swallowed from where I stood. He lay the bird at Ana'siām'ilye's feet, and then took something, from here..." He lifted a hand from the folds of the remembered robe. "He had found her comb in one of the wells... at first I thought no, he wouldn’t... but he took it...” Sachiin performed the act that he narrated slowly, bringing his hand to the priestess's head. “And put it back, into her hair."
Ana'siām'ilye's face flickered, as black and white as she had seemed.
"The other sthali'sātva stepped away from her, as one. He was profane, and had profaned her, and now it was Ana'siām'ilye who had to go into the sea. She took off her robes and jewels... everything else that made her what she was, slowly, as though she couldn't believe what she was doing, turned from us and started walking... and that was the last anyone saw of her. I was too amazed to notice that Kala'amātya had gone too."
"I ran to the top of the hill and saw him following the stream, and then I ran until I caught him. ‘Go back, Sachiin’ he said. ‘They will forgive you.’ But I followed him down the valley, and he looked at me again and said ‘Go back, or I will use my knives on you.’ I didn’t know at the time that he meant it, but when he saw I was still there, he knocked me down, put me on my face and was just about to do it when Rana called out that if anyone was going to lame me, it was her.”
The soporific values in his voice had stilled her amid the sleeping bag, the bottle resting at a forgotten angle in her lap. Snow had banked on the sill beside him, softly bouffant, and settled on his shoulders. Susan shrugged the bag around her ears.
“What did she do?”
“Tried to drag me back... she almost pulled my arm off trying to get me across the river, but Kala'amātya saw I didn’t want to go, and wouldn’t let her take me." His brother's features spoke the words again, for the first time in two millennia. "He told me that if I went with him, I would never see my mother, my wife, or this place again... that it was no small thing to turn my back, and nothing I should do on his account. ‘Do not think me blameless, Sachiin.’ he said. ‘I am everything they say of me, and worse.’ I had three seconds to decide.
I could see it in his face... that moment he always gives you, but I didn't think him blameless... I thought him my brother." She smiled at the profession. "He took my arm and pulled me back over the river, and Rana really lost her shit. She came at him, but he got hold of her and threw her on the ground like a big sack of potatoes, then off we went. At first I didn’t realize, because I was too busy staring at the back of Kala'amātya's head, but she came after us again.
She couldn’t go back without losing face... we didn’t even really know each other. It was just pride. He took us past the poisoned wells. Kali’niah... that’s not something you ever want to see with your own eyes. We followed the river west, all the way to Paršvãb... Samarkand... and that was my first city. Before we came to the town, we saw a shepherd and his wife on the side of the road, eating curd, and they were the first people I had ever seen, close up. I just... could not believe it... they were so like us. We'd always been told the i’ss’it were... you know... hideous devil creatures...”
“Thanks very much.”
“I wish you could have seen Rana’s face. Kala'amātya asked her what she thought about the dogma now, and she said that if we had been born women we would know that the i’ss’it were created by witches, out of envy, and it was obvious that they hid their monstrous errors and deformities beneath their clothes. At that point Kala'amātya paid them both a good year’s wages to take their clothes off, which they did, and Rana got down from her horse and examined all their parts, and said nothing more about her superior knowledge of the world."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
But that's my problem, not yours. If you haven't caught wind of the unparalleled excellence of Bite's sticks yet, pull the dicks out of your ears. It's not 2002. There's no need to be wearing the questionable shit you bought at the chemist. Throw that stuff away or regift it to your more ratchet friends and treat yourself to an Amuse Bouche shade. There are different levels of coverage and moderate variations in finish, so read a few reviews to find exactly what you're looking for. Or you could honestly almost pick one at random. They are thoroughly lovely.
Crushed Chili is from the LE Spice Collection, which contained some earthy bangers; I almost went for Hot Harissa but decided I needed more warm intermediate shades. It was a good choice. The texture alone is worth the $40 or so NZ bucks outlay- unctuous, comforting, impossibly pigmented, satin-smooth and kind to neglected lips.
Colour-wise, Crushed Chili is infuriatingly ambiguous in the tube and I was pretty flummoxed as to exactly what to expect. Don't squint yourself into thinking it's some sort of deep dusty peach or dark melon. Behold yonder hand swatches in afternoon sunlight, especially the multi-shade ones at the bottom of the review; they tell the real story.
I included both a fairly true red and orange at either end for accurate reference.
L2R, MAC unless stated: Russian Red, Bite Crushed Chili, Verve,
Chilli, Taupe, Spice It Up, Nars Iberico
Die Happy: More Lipstick Review
Although I definitely appreciate asymmetry in Japanese artistic expression, I do not enjoy shit being off-centre in my daily life, so I apologise to all my strictly midpoint homies for this left-side-of-the-bed-wide-angle wonk.
A few years ago we were compelled to fell two young Himalayan Birches in a garden realignment and decided to screw them into the end of the bed. Since then, all manner of international glamour has settled in their branches, including but not limited to:
Malband (for securing/decorating baggage and animals during migration), probably Anatolia or could be Persian/Bakhtiari, 20thC. It's a particularly festive one with metallic thread and a billion multicoloured tassels.
Yak hair rope with white terminal details. These are apparently made and used everywhere from the Wakhan Corridor to Mongolia and possess really peculiar physical properties, being exceedingly bristly, as well as light, strong and waterproof. This one is from southern Tibet.
Ikat Hinggi, Sumba, circa midcentury onwards. Sneaky dealers try to pass all of these impressive pieces off as antique, but if you've travelled through Indonesia in the last 30 years you may share my suspicion of this attribution. To my jaded eye this piece has the slightly generic look and certain lack of conscientious detail that usually hint at modern production. I could be wrong; the colours are definitely all combinations of red, blue and neutral, exemplifying the traditional palette. All I know about textile production in Sumba is that it has always been regarded as highly idiosyncratic. I'm not entirely sure they're still being executed in this particularly large format as the process is almost unimaginably skilled and laborious.
No matter what their age, large expanses of ikat will always trip you the fuck out and reward hours of idle contemplation. Here's an interesting piece on it. I can't be mad at anything that boasts both chimeras and skull racks.
Below right: Fuck yes I'll have that for $40: a lovely vintage Siirt battaniye, a Turkish/Kurdish iteration of that most treasured of domestic ephemera, the angora blanket. Local goats are shorn of the silky fibres that are hand-woven into simple kilim-style cotton-warp plainweaves and then given a thorough brushing to yield this pelt-like pile. They are light, dirt-resistant and warm without inducing the sweaty thermal panics that characterise my relationship with duck down.
Just as an aside to that particularly baffling cohort of anti-wool (wool? You're angry about wool?) agitators out there; shearing a caprine is not inherently distressing, cruel or painful and I'm not sure exactly where people have been getting that fucked up idea. Wild sheep and goats lose their wool/hair via seasonal moults, like cats, but most domestic breeds absolutely require manual wool removal if they are not to end up lodged somewhere like a wad of felt. I've shorn and crutched sheep myself, both with hand shears and a comb, so I'm not just talking out of my arse. There's really no way you can shear a sheep without its cooperation. They quickly learn the process and relax into the positions as you make your long blows down their flanks etc. It's no more traumatic than getting a buzzcut when you'd rather be having lunch. Watch this to see what I mean.
If you have animal husbandry concerns (and all of us should), I urge you to get off your arse, visit a farm, see what goes on for yourself and make decisions from there. PETA's campaigns have done more harm to public perception of animal welfare reform than anything else I can think of.
Top left: I'm not 100% sure where this length of tent/yurt band came from but because of the width and very atavistic motifs I'm guessing Central Asia, probably Uzbek or Kirgiz. Turkish dealers always cut these for some fucking reason, which really pisses me off as it takes ages to sew them back together.
^ Doga, Duacik, Tawiz or Moska, an embroidered amulet from northern Afghanistan/Uzbekistan, possibly Chodor Turkmen people. This one has pages of the Qu'ran or a similar text (I haven't been tempted to look) sewn into it but others contain salt and other auspicious substances to repel evil influences. A nice man gave it to me for washing his Kente cloths. Thanks Philip!
Dog, circa last year. The most expensive fibres in this array by a factor of 10, and connoisseur of Siirt angora.
(Disclaimer: apart from said dog which was an essential purchase, all of these items are vintage/second hand and nothing cost more than $100; most were less than $50, so we're not exactly flexing lol.)
I may have posted this before a while back, but I'm having a GM retrospective sort of night and who the fuck doesn't appreciate this kind of third degree burn? It was TWENTY FUCKING YEARS AGO ARGGGGHHHHH bursts into ashy pall of ancient dust. RIP George. Still dancing on the D train baby.
I don't want to keep you or any of these people in suspense any longer so I will just release my grades right now.
Yes/Thematic Success/ Would Wear to Supermarket Personally
Thought Was Mmmokay But Am Blinded By Hatred Of Wearer
There was some merit in Cardi B's paradisiacal genitalia cosy but big trains are so fucking played out and I lose IQ points looking at her just as a general rule, so no.
A World of No, LOL, Cringetastic Conceit and Not With Someone Else's Dick: Low Information Edition
Burning resin spat from the tall splinter of pine that Sachiin pushed down into a narrow fissure in the table, hissing where it fell onto the back of his hands. Their gracile shapes were painted in a flickering orange degraded into umber and obscurity by the light of the flame at the end of the wood, its plume of oily smoke snaking toward the ceiling of the chamber. That it had once been a refectory was evidenced by the gaping, crater-like fireplace standing at the far end of its rectangular extent and still housing the great kettles and cauldarium, rusted and overturned. The dusty black scent flushed down the chimney flue was overlaid by the amberous emissions of the living flame; Susan leant back as she sat before it, another glob of hot sap landing on the wood before her.
“That had better not explode.” she murmured. A pile of medlars gleaned from beneath the two trees of Sachiin's discovery lay in repose upon the table, their strange autumnal smell reminding her again of their equally peculiar savour. He sat down across from her, easing his long legs over the bench. She dealt seven cards from the slick airport pack in her hands, face down onto the dusty grey timber.
"You have to be quiet for this. I'm going to pick up a card, and you have to tell me which one it is. If you only get a colour, just say which one." she instructed.
"I'm not psychic."
"You don't know that."
"Yes I do." he chuckled dryly. "The universe has spoken."
"Just do exactly as I say."
He set his chin on his hand, murmuring answers as she worked through the suite. Her perplexity, writ faintly at first, deepened as the experiment concluded.
"You got every last one wrong." Susan frowned, gathering the cards and suspecting the blamelessness of his expression before looking round the feeble details allowed by the torchlight. “No Petrouchka again.”
“A girl’s got to eat.”
“Eat what? I’m the only thing on two legs for god knows how far...”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
"I told you... she's avoiding me."
In entering the chamber Kala'amātya troubled the smoking flame but made no sound, and Susan quashed an embarrassing start, keeping both feet on the ground. While he surveyed their seclusion mutely it occurred to her that he was providing an opportunity to demonstrate disinclination; when she made no obvious objection, he sat down at the end of the table and chose two medlars for himself. The torch stood mirrored in the polish of their eyes as a golden ellipse, and she was struck, then disturbed by the idea that they would have dispensed with it altogether if she had not required it, contenting themselves with a darkness that was no more opaque to their perception than rain was to her own. The glow was returned by their faces, its effacement of all minor detail rendering them so perfectly alike that one might have been the reflection of the other, though when she made a deliberate attempt to confuse them, she discovered it was not as easy as she feared. She shook her head at Sachiin none the less.
"You're dyeing your hair." she told him.
Kala'amātya drew his knife through the medlar in his palm and ate as though unaware of the scrutiny she accorded the entirely novel tableau; Sachiin’s stare narrowed in sympathy with the rest of his expression, shifting with the pressure Susan placed upon his foot under the table. She addressed herself to their visitor.
“Have you seen Petrouchka?”
“She left three nights ago.” Kala'amātya replied, while she selected her own piece of fruit.
“Because of us?"
"No." Sap sparked again from the torch.
"What do you think the weather will do?”
He cut around a blackened portion of the drupe; she spectated patiently, leaning on her elbows.
“We won’t get stuck here, will we? I thought we might get going, in case that happens.”
Again she waited, leaning further over her arms in an unconscious attempt to discern the wordless aspects of his discourse, finding only subtle disapproval of the inquiry in his gaze.
"Will we? Get stuck here?" she pressed. Kala'amātya chose another medlar.
“Christabel, he's not going to putt a fucking box of chocolates out his arsehole.” his brother assured her dourly. She sighed his name. “Susan…” he countered, wide-eyed. "You don't have to pretend it's not gruesome... look at him... it's like trying to small talk with a giant fucking shrunken head."
She examined their guest again, revealing a tilt in her expression that grew while Sachiin continued to enumerate objections until they seemed more to obscurely commend than execrate their object. Dealing seven cards for Kala'amātya, she explained the procedure briefly, receiving his silence as assent; he looked from each toward her as he rendered his verdicts.
"Six of clubs. Black king. Red queen. Ace of spades. Two of hearts. Small red. Black jack."
Susan frowned as she attempted to articulate her findings.
"You um... you got them all right..." He watched her colour at the implications as she stared at them in turn. "You're not... are you?" she demanded. Even as she spoke Kala'amātya's gaze caught and bound her own, altering to the colour in the foot of the flame, its consuming, gem-like blankness stoking her dismay.
"I can only read you when you're looking at me." he told her. In the darkness of the wall against which he had leant Sachiin rolled his eyes and sighed at her horrified credulity, picking up one of the cards.
"He's fucking with you. We can see them in your eye." he laughed, leaning forward so that she could perceive the red queen miniaturized upon the surface of his own. Susan snatched it back from him, including them both in her admonition, her tormentor receiving it with the faintest of half-turned smiles. Sachiin shrugged. "Yeah well, I warned you about him."
“What did those alujha want the other night?" she demanded. "Did they talk to you?”
“They came to troll Pet for putting us up... she called them a bunch of banjo-picking ballbags and told them to fuck off.”
“And what else?”
His reply was complicated by another medlar and she turned to Kala'amātya for clarification.
“They were looking to be compensated for their loss of personnel.” the latter explained.
“You’re joking... what, money?"
"We told them we weren’t carrying any currency. Any claim they might have had was voided by their offensive anyway.”
Clearing his throat conspicuously, Sachiin let his stare settle on his brother’s face.
“See the rainbow this morning?” he asked. She grinned as she shuffled the cards.
“No... you’re not still afraid of them, are you?”
“It’s not fear, it’s respect.”
“I used to be scared of vacuum cleaners.” Susan chuckled, looking back to Kala'amātya. “So, what... you told them we were broke... and?”
“They said they’d take you, in lieu of money.” That she did not at first believe him was expressed in laughter and he elaborated. “Your inamorato explained his objections the only way he knows how, and since negotiating with someone aspirating their own blood presents difficulties, I was forced to support his position. After which they left.”
She scowled again at Sachiin.
"I thought you said it wasn't on."
"They started it."
“So... you beat them up and they went away with nothing?” The cast of Kala'amātya's gaze confirmed it. “Good.” she concluded, returning her attention to him. He bore it stoically, the lack of unequivocal refusal in his demeanour like some persisting mirage. She decided to test it further. "What's India like?"
"Difficult to summarize." he replied.
"Could you have a go?"
"It's adjacent to Afghanistan."
In the ensuing silence she turned her expression to Sachiin, who smiled back at her contentedly.
"I know it's probably horrible, but I really want to go to Afghanistan for some reason." Susan declared.
"I don't care for it myself."
"Shall we just go to India then?"
His disinclination was tangible, like a change visible through his skin. The thought that his plans might diverge from their own in actuality was like a kick from a stranger, and something she could not immediately accept. Taking the box of cigarettes from the end of the table she applied herself to picking out the gold tab from its cellophane.
"Why were you pretending to be an artist?"
"High spirits got the better of him." Sachiin mused.
"I don't understand why you weren't allowed to make anything. It just seems completely mad."
Her knowledge of the ancient interdict sent Kala'amātya's gaze back to his brother, but he replied in his own time.
"It is the axiomatic fundamentalist ultimatum. All creation performed outside the divine inceptive act is necessarily profane, and ours was a profoundly idiopathic subversion of the natural process... any hieratic structure was obliged to instate an orthodoxy emphasizing absolute legitimacy to confute the presumption inherent in all independent creativity."
She emitted a smoke ring, watching it slow and double over as it dispersed.
"It suffices to say my motives may not have borne sustained inquiry."
Susan's frown migrated to the side of her face.
"I don't know about that... I just... I'm not convinced you ever do anything you don't really want to."
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"I don't know why... will you please just go back and find Lilian, for god's sake? It drives me mad just looking at you." Kala'amātya greeted her impassioned observation darkly. "Do you honestly believe she never wants to see you again? And don't say you don’t want to go against a woman’s word... you're not fucking pro-choice when it comes to teeth.”
“Would you have preferred to die of sepsis?”
“Some arguments are academic, some are not.”
Sachiin received her exasperation with equanimity, though the sound of his brother rising from the table pulled her off the bench in an impulsive attempt to prevent his departure. He stood as though awaiting some concession from her; Susan was loath to provide it, sitting back down only when he moved to do so, wary of any further evasive measure.
"I... while you're both here, there is something we should sort out." she told them. "I do know that if anyone's going to get dragged into an unmarked van, it's going to be me... if that happens, I want..."
"If you get picked up, we come and bust you out. Je m'en fous." Sachiin interjected.
"The only thing that can't happen, Christabel, under any fucking circumstances, is us getting pinched together. If I'm collared, you have to get as far away as fast as you can."
"There are fifty billion of me... you're all that's left of you. I mean it... do everything you can to help each other, but don't get caught on my account... promise me that."
The brothers looked to one another in a mirror-like consensus.
"If we end up in the pokey it's because we were dumb, or drunk, or both. I wouldn't pull his arse out a wet paper bag and the feeling's pretty fucking mutual."
"You haven't even thought about this, have you? You could wake up in a steel box with air holes and be stuck there for the next two hundred years while they do god knows what to you! You won't even get the chance to blag your bloody way out of it."
"That's the point of individual responsibility." Kala'amātya reminded her.
"I said I wouldn't bust you out." his brother muttered. "We got her into this shit and it fucking behoves us to get her out of it, if it comes to that."
"How long could you watch someone taping electrodes to her before you agreed to whatever they wanted?"
Susan slapped a hand to her forehead.
"Thank you. If anything happens to me, drag him in the opposite direction."
"The fuck he will."
"Acquire some defensive capability and it might not come to that." said Kala'amātya. Susan dropped her head and shook it wearily.
"Will you both stop nagging me? I told you... I hate guns, and I'd be complete rubbish at them anyway." She lit another cigarette, squinting when the smoke from the torch swung back into her face. "I did mean to ask you, though... what's it like, being shot? Out of ten?"
"Twenty nine." Sachiin muttered. "We don't have a luxury shock reaction. We get it all, the going in, the hitting the bone, the turning round, coming back out again... it's very detailed."
"Is there anything you can do to stop it happening? Magic words... getting your tits out?”
Kala'amātya appeared to deliberate upon the extent to which he should oblige her inquiry, the pause lending such weight to his reply that she was startled by, then suspicious of its brevity.
"He's being polite." Sachiin sighed. "Do you really want the R-18 version?"
"Do you want to stop being a patronizing muppet?"
"Out of any ten people with a firearm, seven will be competent to hit a stationary object at close range, five at a distance, two if it's mobile." Kala'amātya continued, unexpectedly. "Ballistic weapons are the friend of the contemporary imbecile. If you have a brain, use it if you don't want it emulsified. Being female is to your advantage if you're willing to embrace the fundamentals."
"How do you mean?"
"Without training, you're too small to hurt anyone conventionally, so don't try, except in extremis." She was less than pleased by the blunt nature of his assertion, but did not interrupt. "Always cry. A significant proportion of human males from any cohort cannot execute a weeping woman. And offer sex. Feign enthusiasm. Someone will eventually cut your hands loose." Susan folded her arms, looking away from him. "There's no more discredit in that than there is in eating their food. If you're committed to survival, the only failure is to waste an opportunity."
"I don't know if I could."
"I'm pretty sure most of us would fellate a fucking warthog if it had a nine to our ear." Sachiin assured her. "You do whatever you have to do... I've done it, he's probably done it... live, and have a breakdown later." he added, far more gravely.
"How hard is it? To shoot someone, when they're looking at you?"
Kala'amātya did not respond and his brother interceded.
"It depends who you are... some people can gut you with a clawhammer but can't pull a trigger... others can strafe you stupid but couldn't slap a douchebag if he was teabagging their grandmother on the front lawn." She screwed up her face; he leant across the planks and took a hit from her cigarette. "Some people are born lucky and can do you both ways, right from the get go... the tueur fou, ange de la mort... but you really should learn to pop a cap, cloudcheeks, allez. It's not like we're asking you to hang someone from a fucking light cord and go at them with a baseball bat. It's baby steps to the psycho shit... for erm, most of us." he chuckled blackly.
Sachiin's companions looked to one another in silence.
Susan had come to recognize the small cues provided by their detection of approaching parties, and sat up while their erstwhile hostess shuffled along the passage outside, tripping over the heaps of plaster lying by the walls. She could smell Petrouchka before the latter hove into view through the arch in her saturnine mink, hands and mouth, chin, collar and sleeves blackened thickly by fluids that had lost their sheen and settled into tarry craquelure.
“Look... is like chernozopy hut, in Akusha..." the vampyre gurgled, laughing at the humble nature of their arrangements. “Black hair will grow from your ears.”
The clotted purple stink of her victims' blood was effused by the waning warmth it had confided, rolling over Susan when she slumped down with them. A bottle of stolen home-brewed spirit and a flask wrapped in camouflage mesh clattered onto the wood before her; she pushed the former toward the brothers with a grimace, screwing the stopper from the latter and sucking down a long draught. The sluggish consistency of its contents was demonstrated by the toiling undulations of her throat when she lifted the vessel skyward. To Susan’s unique perception she was transfigured by her meal, overpainted with the dilute semblance of life, though the pulse-pink and infant blues had already begun to degrade. More troubling was the flailing anima that still struggled within her enclosing skin; it held her eyes wide and worked her chest with the long-forgotten exertions of laboured respiration, pulling back her lips in a stranger's grimace over her half-translucent teeth. From behind the flask Petrouchka caught sight of Sachiin exchanging a discreet manual remark with his sibling and spluttered blood that ran from her chin and down her creaseless neck, smudged against it by her collar when she moved.
"What you say? Don't, unless we all can hear!” she warned shrewishly, voice leaping from her throat. "Po'shyol 'na hui... I know what you say... she eat alujha mudak and is drunk, like soldier. These wolves, they don’t like me now, because of you but I don't care..." Her eyes grew wider. "I dujju them, why not?” She shoved the bottle of spirit toward Susan and sagged on the bench, still clutching her flask in her small hand. “You are still here? Look at you, sitting like princess... drink, govno... get drunk." she told her. "You don't have much time, 'suka."
Sachiin's glance was pointed and she returned it in kind, sinking into the fur.
“How many?” he asked.
“One, darlink... two, maybe. I dujju two. I don’t think they miss. They weren't pretty, but... facile. Trés facile.”
She began a loose, divaricating monologue in three languages during which Susan turned slowly to him in search of reassurance; in reply he made a gnathic face, allowing his eyes to roll up into his head in imitation of the vampyre’s inebriety. She sucked in her lower lip to contain her reaction to his impression, while Kala'amātya partook of the făţată sparingly, privately ruing his own broad comprehension.
“But don’t you feel sorry for them... they were lucky... the deer dies with the wolf, but the wolf, he die alone, they say... these wolf don’t die alone.” the vampyre concluded, her observations meeting with a silence that spoke too plainly on the part of her companions. She gave vent to a brief, roaring spate of embittered laughter, its alien nature prompting Susan to flinch away from it; Petrouchka reached out and snatched her arm, drawing it into the dense pelt in her lap, stroking it slowly. “I forget... you are young and stupid.” she told her. “You know how old I was, before this happen to me? Fifteen year. My father, he marry me to a man of fifty... oslayob... who force himself on me, every day, and flog me like plough horse when he could not. What you do at fifteen? Live in pretty house with family who love you... like him.” She nodded at Sachiin. “You can see in their face, these ones who were loved. Look at this one...” she muttered, gesturing to Kala'amātya, her voice sinking into the thickly pleated vowels of her native tongue. “Nobody love him when he was young.”
Petrouchka slid her tongue over her teeth and used a second hand to encircle her guest's arm as though the first had called for reinforcement. It burned with the strain of resisting the vampyre’s grasp, though Susan bore it as stoically as she was able.
“I know you could not be happy, Sachiin, as I am... you can’t smile until every body love you. If I was Auberjonois, I would break her neck for you sending her to me. But he think to have you back.”
“How bad is that stuff?” Susan asked him, reaching for the bottle of spirit and swigging from it before he could warn her; her spluttering recoil prompted another round of barking laughter from the vampyre.
“Is bad!” Petrouchka roared, the sound percolating in her throat as though the blood itself were speaking. “Now we are friend, I think you tell me... you know of Sachiin, before he have you?”
"No, I fed her ketamine and chained her to an engine block." he assured her; Susan took another pull from the bottle, shaking her head as she replied.
“I knew there was something wrong with him before he opened his mouth.”
“Yes...” the vampyre cackled. “Of course he tell... he know you are not clever... your curious is poison, and it bite you for him...”
“She’s the biter.” said Sachiin morosely.
“Will you please stop telling people that?” Susan lost patience with the vampyre's grasp, twisting her arm then jerking it back toward herself. Petrouchka’s head snapped sideways, small face lit by the frozen glitter of her gaze; she lurched at her, but Kala'amātya's fist caught the collar of her coat while Sachiin vaulted the table and sat down between them. Planted in her seat, Petrouchka was held still until they were satisfied the impulse had passed, the brothers' dispassion lending the act a plangent surreality. Susan settled on the far end of the bench, clutching her parka about her neck; slowly, marking the vampyre closely, she reached around her companion and retrieved the bottle, lifting it over his arms.
Their hostess reeled as she was released and took some time to reclaim what she had lost, her gaze and then her hands falling to Sachiin's where it lay upon the table. He bore her wandering examination patiently until she addressed herself once more to Susan.
"You think I am a horror, but you love this..." she murmured, tracing his eccentricities with her fingers. "So much you don't know." Petrouchka took her guest's hand in her own and passed it through the torch flame, chuckling to herself while the sinuous plumes licked around his palm and between his fingers where they should have blackened them and conferred irresistible agony, turning cool velvet blue and remaining in an almost wistful association when he slid free of her grasp. "See, kotik? When you want to push him into fire, he won't burn. Eto prosto pizdets." She received no answer, and looked down at her coat, brushing small crystals of ice from its glossy nap. “Look... did I say? It snows. Is snowing now. I don’t like anymore... I think too much of de Marchand... it bring her back.”
Pearls of cold rosé pink were born in the corners of her eyes and spread across them slowly, holding on her lids before breaking down her face. She slid toward Kala'amātya, staring up at him with a mouth bitterly downturned.
"You think you were the only one to love her, but you don't know either. Before you, she go to sleep with my hands in her skirts. I give her pleasure, and she give to me..." His silence drew at her as surely as any audible solicitation. "Sometime, she speak words, over man... from village, sometime, from town... she bring, into her bed. I look while he serve her, and I lie with them and take his blood, taste everything they do. If I had life, you think she would choose you?" Whatever she had sought from him seemed to elude her, and she lapsed back from her study. "The snow always bring her back. How can you look at it? Sometimes, I cannot look, and I sleep, all through the winter, so I don’t see her. I am careful for so long..."
“Belyaev...” Sachiin murmured. “No one can change what’s done.”
“Be quiet!” she cried suddenly. “What you do for her? You are like him, you do nothing…”
“Belyaev.” he interjected, shaking his head at her gravely. Cognizance of his caution slid across her red-stained eyes as though she had blinked, but it was not enough to stop her. Her murmur recommenced, turned with her gaze toward Kala'amātya.
“Do you know she did not trust you? One night, before winter, she undress and look at me, and she say Trouchka... I am with child." The vampyre met with lithic disbelief, which she disregarded. "How can it be, I ask... have you known only this creature Kala'amātya? She ask spirit, and they tell her... Walpurgis, on the Brocken altar, when everything is too close... it open her to you. Was she happy? No... she weep, because she know... you only want what does not need, and have nothing to give. She drink the cup of roots, and was happy to be rid of this poor little thing, and we promise together, never to tell you..." She looked up at the ceiling rendered so faintly overhead. "When I see her in your house, I thought I die again, of joy, but she come for you... I cannot bear! You are more dead than I, you poison thing...”
Sachiin stood and stooped to slide his hands beneath the arms of their intoxicated hostess, lifting her from the bench and setting her on her feet, walking her toward the black shape of the doorway. Susan sat with Kala'amātya, the flame settling once more into strict verticality. The dread spirit of Petrouchka’s revelations hung about them in the air, neither undone nor redacted by her departure; she felt them keenly even in her innocence, and how they fared amid the agonizing context borne by her companion was something she did not care to contemplate. Returning alone, Sachiin used his gaze to suggest an exit, to which she assented. His brother lifted the burning pine from the table and handed it to her as she passed him, remaining alone in the spreading umbra that closed around him.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK(ish)
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Alligator mississippiensis, Theloderma corticale, Dendrobates tinctorius azureus +Atheris hispida
I grew up with a plethora of reptilian/amphibian pets and really miss their forthright energy (they're just too difficult to house and feed well in New Zealand so I abstain here).
Do your eyes a favour see the rest of these portraits here