Cajoling French bounced up the stairs and grew louder still as the number of fluent speakers crowding the entrance hall expanded exponentially, their exchanges punctuated by booming, confluent laughter. Susan could hear William’s voice in the disturbance as she stood on the landing with her dinner plate, unwilling to descend into the throng disgorged from the squadron of vehicles that had flattened the front lawn. They were a largely homogenous cohort, smelling of hair product and hashish and stentorian pour homme, sporting coppery suntanned limbs, polo shirts, piercings and conspicuous masculine bravado, from which she guessed their awarness of Edward’s absence. They espied her in the midst of their grinning surveys, one young man tugging William’s sleeve and nodding back at her from beneath his dark crop.
“Sachiin... qui est cette fille? T'as vu ce cul? Ask her to come down...”
William glanced up at her.
“Christabel... nous avons bollchu...” he called, with an introductory wave of his arm toward the door. An enormous vat of dented metal was dragged laboriously inside by a party of attendants; after them came a girl in black, librarian glasses framing her heavily-kohled eyes, accompanied by a stranger who, from his resemblance to her employers seemed to be the elusive guest to which William had referred. Bede glanced up at her and gave a brief, acknowledging smile before following his companion into the drawing room.
“I think I’ll just go up.” Susan replied. “Oh... your brother called while you were out... he said he’ll be back in about an hour. Something about the flight being nobbled.” William fell silent, stilled along with those of his companions still in earshot, and she waited while the full implications of her advisory settled upon them, smirking at the effect. “I’m joking.” she added, finally.
"Spank her, Guillaume!" his friend cried.
"I'm too scared to now." he confessed. "But it's May Eve... you have to give us a kiss, poupée. Bad luck not to." William announced. She murmured to herself, then clumped halfway down the stairs where she leant out over the balustrade to oblige him. William fended off Luc's demand for the same consideration and grasped the bannisters, drawing himself up to meet her. Susan touched her lips to his forehead, then to the corner of his smile when he turned it to her.
“They could have taken that around the side.” She nodded at the huge vat and the manner in which its handlers were struggling to pass it through the drawing room door.
“They’re from Languedoc and their parents were cousins... if you upset them, they start crying and shitting their pants.”
“Hey, serpent-visage... tais-toi! My mother she is a whore, not an inbred! Remember that when you are fucking her, eh?” called one of the subjects of his caution.
“You’re not coming down?” William reached out to slap Luc's head in the midst of the lurid demonstration the latter had begun for her benefit. "I'll lock him in the garage..."
“Scorcese marathon.” she shrugged, nodding up the stairs. “Have a good one.”
Gouging the parterre with the feet of the cumbersome vat, the party crossed the lawn beside the pool and disappeared from Susan’s window view into the distant trees with William’s ghettoblaster, culling firewood from the edge of the orchard as they went. Their site settled upon, Bede accepted the bollchu ladle to the disgust of the French contingent who clamoured for precedence.
“My god...” he grimaced. “If it wasn’t Prometheus who taught werewolves to make bathub absinthe, it must have been someone else who’s liver regenerated overnight. Sachiin, this is Fred... we met in Venice." he added, referring to the darkly-clad girl.
"Frederica." she said quickly.
"You may not be charmed, but I am." William smiled at her.
"She’s ah, fully au fait, in case you were wondering.” The girl sat down between them in the tall grass, pushing it back from her knees and adjusting her glasses; William looked from one to the other and let his mouth drop open. “She’s very learned, you realize... art school.” Bede smiled nervously; their host had not recovered from their initial revelation.
"This was a really stupid idea..." Frederica confided to her companion.
"No no... you are... probably... entitled, under the circumstances... it's just... fucking hell... B's a bigger chickenshit than I am." William admitted, regarding his friend with the ghost of a frown. “Art school? You’ve heard of my brother then? Serious artist... ugly oils on canvas, looks like a rotten bird hit an angry windscreen?”
“Sure... his stuff's blowing up right now. This place is amazing... it would be so great to get in here with medium format before all the work's done.” she sighed as she looked back over her shoulder through the trees. William scratched at his head for a moment and almost replied before he was interrupted by the youth behind them.
“This place is like the bomb!” the latter agreed. “We can go crazy here! Not like France, you know, with all the stupid rule an asshole vampyre death squad... fuck the cochon noir, I tell you... I will fuck them up the ass, an then Étienne, he can have them after with his tiny baby cock. But Sachiin, allez... we need to bring you an your brother home with us... it’s no good.” Bede lay back against the grass and propped his head on his hands, glancing down his nose at William. “...An Unite de Recherche d’Anomalie... fuck you too, eh? Loupgarous put you into plastic bags.”
“That was you guys?” asked William, looking to his cousin. Luc patted his stomach, lowered his chin and emitted a tremendous belch as though it were the opening note of baritone part.
“Not er, exactement... maybe we have some help from Auberjonois..."
"You do his fucking garden."
"N'importe quoi... Léon an Étienne, they polish wood also.” A pine cone struck the back of the smirking speaker’s head, loosed from the hand of Étienne.
“Thank you baby Jesus.” William murmured at the contingent of local alujha sauntering past the pool toward them, bearing gifts and greeting their Continental counterparts with sly digital gestures and other vulgarisms. Upon arrival in the grove they dumped a sack of charcoal, petrol tin and the gutted, headless carcass of a small ungulate down on the grass. Clothing and accents aside, they resembled their compeers closely, their disconcerting vitality a ubiquitous equivalence. The foremost wiped the grease from the carcass on the back of his jeans and lit a cigarette, his faded leprechaun-green mohawk tied down in a tail. He nodded toward the vat of bollchu with parental pride.
"Ca-leb." William smirked.
"You like this batch a’ b? We knocked back the artemesia by... shit... half, I guess, hit it with some sativa, Sticky Gerald's Aphex Doom clone, man... we put in like an acre of that shit under a fuckin badass dual rig..." The newcomer shook his head as though he barely believed his own temerity. "Brought a few pounds down... oh yeah, and scopolia, we got scopolia like you wouldn’t fuckin believe this year, coming up along the interstate... we got that up while things were gibbous, so it’s extra fuckin gamey... Mallet dropped some amanita in along the way, he’s a sneaky bastard. So yeah, maybe... don’t go operating machinery. Do we set some shit on fire now, or will old Ed bust a fucking vessel? Don’t want him at the farm in a bad fuckin mood because we eighty-sixed his lawn... we don’t have to cook it... just thought, y’know, it’s more fuckin polite...”
William glanced at Frederica, who stared in horror at the florid colours of the caracass lying within an arm’s length of her leg.
“I think we'll go with the fire.” he advised. They watched the party toss the collection of dead branches into a pile and douse it liberally with solvent before leaping backward as the whole went up in a great burst of jacinth flame. As one, the trio crabbed back against the trees to avoid the singeing heat and the sight of the meat being loaded onto its spit to the sound of whooping approval. “If only carnivores would just drop the shit and eat each other.” William sighed, sharing the girl’s disapprobation. “So you’re baelna rather than dralna?"
She blew her heavy black bang from her forehead.
“Oh yeah it’s baelna alright... I have a hard enough time just like, cutting the heads off flowers, so I don’t know if I'll ever be really ready to get jumped in by the kitten-skinners... guess I’ll go with the Green side of things til I get disillusioned with society.” Frederica mused over the oblivious cackling of the other guests.
“Don't feel too bad... the green side of the Craft's probably OG... it’s just that the Red girls use machetes on anyone who says that. Have you...” William suppressed a smile, shaking his head at the ground. “Met Nyāti?”
“Nope. Don't do mama drama.” She spoke and smiled with the perfect ease of someone never punished for the expression of either. “I'm not scene. Nothing political... I mean, it’s great that there’s a community, but I really do not like vampyres, and the lunar side of things...” She looked pointedly over her shoulder. “Not so much either.”
“Nobody likes vampyres...” William assured her.
“Look, it’s really fine. I don’t do hardcore, no one else is involved...”
“Frederica, believe me when I say you can’t trust the normals..." Bede interjected. "It’s not that we don’t enjoy their company, it’s just that when adversity strikes, they’re heavily inclined to drop the portcullis on your head in their haste to differentiate themselves. You must be careful, and that does mean being affiliated. For the peer review if nothing else.”
“You guys... now you’re freaking me out.” Frederica complained.
“Hey...” Caleb agreed, interrupting his eavesdropping to lean over and hand them the bollchu ladle. “Better to freak you out now than toss a fuckin medical waste dump for your bodyparts later... try that shit in summer. Lamb... you mind if I put out a call? I got some friends who know some people...”
“Do these people have a pulse?”
“Hell yeah. Some of them’ll let you take a core temp. I’ll hook you up.” The sound of car doors slammed on the road outside the house rendered the gesture redundant, however; the bollchu master grinned and slicked down his mohawk in concupiscent expectation as a throng of heavily-painted and thickly-bejewelled women rounded the side of the house, bearing shopping bags bulging with alcohol and foodstuffs. “Gotta love the kitten-skinners. They always bring a fuckin plate.”
“Caleb, hopefully they’ll get drunk and do stuff to us, so let’s just think about what we say before we say it and concentrate on getting bad-touched.” William reminded him earnestly. Frederica stood up and brushed off her legs.
"I think I'll get back... I'm halfway through a thing... gotta turn it in by the weekend, so..."
She reached down to shake William's hand again before beginning the walk back to the house with Bede, in time to pass the incoming dralna party. Smoke swooped down through the seated conclave and they waved it away with complaining hands. William smiled a greeting to the witches that murmured and trailed their fingers through his hair as they passed him by.
“B... why are really you here?” he asked without preamble as the latter returned. “She's nice, but you’re her summer bitch, and Nyāti sure as hell didn’t cross the Atlantic to have a thing with an art school witch." Behind them, the growing volume of Luc and Caleb's exchange overrode Bede's halting reply.
"Everyone say to me, Luc, don't take your nice clothes, Americans they are all salopes but that's not true... they are fucking coincé an I have no baiser at all! C'est naze!" The locals pricked up their ears and scowled, Caleb shaking his head regretfully.
"That's a pretty hard thing t'say about my people there Luc... cuts me deep when a man can't find a slut in a freakin slutstorm and dammit, I'll fuck you myself if it makes you feel more welcome." he promised. "I'll peg anything that twerks my way, and you sure as hell aint the worst that ever has, jesus... I'd call you pretty if it weren't a fuckin week off the full." he added, referring to the three-quarter moon overhead.
"Fancy talk won't get you to the cigare, mon ami." Luc suggested, insouciant.
"He's more brokeback than downtown." William warned. "You'll be lucky if he spits in his hand." Those between them shuffled back; proximity did not visibly deflate either protagonist, and Luc shook out his arms, cracking his neck to one side.
"Allez?" he inquired.
"Fuckin A." laughed Caleb, unbuckling his belt to the acclaim of their companions. Bollchu got the better of their physical coordination and sent them staggering sideways through the fire, Caleb throwing the Frenchman down into the grass beyond the charcoal where they tongued and pawed at one another hungrily while spectators dug dollar bills and cigarettes from their pockets, showering them with palpable encouragement. Their trajectory spawned an argument between the squabbling cooks, who cried out in two languages as the crudely-spitted carcass dived into the cinders in a burst of sparks and ashes. William shook his head as they began to trade accusations.
“Étienne... qu'est-ce que tu fous... eat it, or bury it.” he called, leaning sideways to avoid the rustic clinch absorbing his two friends as it rolled in his direction. Pouring scorn, the witches displaced the fire’s scowling attendants and usurped their duties, swigging from vodka bottles and demanding the bollchu ladle.
When William dreamed it was often of remembered things, visions charged with partial, elusive significance, faces and voices, joys and horrors, the tenderness of familiar hands and the still-bitter sting of recrimination. At other times, long passages of mnemonic life returned to him in their entirety and he would awaken to an alien world that seemed far less material than the departing dream. Lying on the ground beneath the tree, his outline painted dim red by the distant glow of the fire, he wiped blindly at his face and rolled onto his back beside a hookah that had fallen into a similar recumbence. Around the makeshift hearth half a dozen figures were still partially sensible, but they were greatly outnumbered by those who had succumbed.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
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