"If you’re that bothered about Bede, just go into town and find him."
William shook his head.
"I’m not leaving you alone here.”
“I'm not alone."
He punched another number, muttering again to himself.
"Christabel, you can't count the psychopaths you've angered recently as company."
"Will you please either go and look for him, or leave it.” she snapped. Sparks flew past his legs and settled on the carpet behind him. She pressed a hand to her forehead.
“Sachiin...” Petrouchka purred. “We need balshoy box of vodka... go in your car for this, then maybe we talk.”
He swore at the battery warning beeping in his hand before setting off with his phone still to his ear, keeping an injunctive finger pointed at the vampyre and almost walking into his brother. Edward had descended the stairs before Lilian and Susan was surprised to see them through the doorway in their coats. She leant back out of sight as he held out his hand; without interrupting his call, William dug the latter’s keys from his pockets and tossed them at him, preceding him into the garage.
When both vehicles had pulled out through the gates Susan withdrew the two small books she had concealed beneath her skirt, sighing to herself and easing one open in the firelight, striving once more to disregard the attention of her remaining companion.
“You want to push Sachiin into fire?” the vampyre speculated.
“It’s lucky I didn’t think of that while he was standing there.”
"Sometime I feel him in my bones, like I am old man."
“At least you don't have Edward staring at you with his lizard eyes... that's like being in a room with something that’s going to bite you if you blink." she muttered, glancing sideways at her own unfortunate simile though Petrouchka's stare expressed no offence. The ensuing silence was punctuated by the complaints of the damp wood chewed over by the flames while the creature observed her, eyes grown narrow.
“You take this book?” she asked, stroking her own hair thoughtfully as she peered down into the lampblack text and deeply-graven woodcuts in Susan's lap.
“I think a bit of research is well overdue.”
“I could not steal from Kala'amātya when he is happy...”
“Yes, well... he should have killed me when he had the chance.” The soft, dusty smell of the vampyre's fur lay heavily on them both, the warmth from the fire holding no sway in the depths of her ash-grey gaze; from studying the flamed-flushed length of the complainant's neck, Petrouchka nodded downward once again.
“Die Kinder der Hölle... ugly stupid book, but we think amuse to have. Is like Jew, having Nazi book.” Susan decided not to express her opinion of the comparison and relented, giving over the shabby volume to the vampyre's covetous, bird-boned hands. They let the pages fall open, then swept them over slowly to expose the title and its blurred, quill-penned inscription. The whipping characters of Helaine de Marchand's signature resolved themselves before Susan was prepared for them.
"Imagine being Lilian and finding this..." she whispered. "I’m going mental and it’s not even me.”
“What is mental?”
"I think she is crazy, to want Kala'amātya, but Helaine was crazy also. I tell her... two bad thing don’t make a good one, but she have no ears." The vampyre gazed down into the hearth. "She was my great friend... such a witch as you will never see these day... she break the ground, and call the blood out of your bone until it pour from your mouth onto your feet..." Petrouchka's voice sank with the shade of her expression. "I don’t like him, for only watching her die. Is not fair she did not see these times... you, you are too lucky. You don't deserve." A disturbing smile moved her features from their slough; her little hands arched and came together in her lap as she found something to relish in her own account. “In our time, if you were woman, you could be slave and live in cage, or escape régime, be free, and have nishto... nothing. Helaine and I, we were queens of this nishto... it was our own. Sometime men would come from town, to put chain on us... we wait for them, and catch, drink their blood and give them to the moon... chase and beat them, screaming, through the woods, and call to the alujha... I hear them still sometime, begging for their life, weeping, like orphan... their terror is a feast for you, you can take breath from it...” Her account was lopped by a belated discretion that tempered the atrocious brilliance of her grin. Petrouchka lifted the book in both hands. “Priest write this book... chush' sobach'ya... you don't find the children of hell from a man who believe heaven. We speak with our own tongue." She turned the volume over slowly. "When Kala'amātya put his gun on you, he speak. And when he let you go, he speak again. Is good to listen.”
“All I do is listen." Susan muttered.
“You don't like to be told? No, I don't like either. But you don't know, so someone must tell you." Leaning forward to set another piece of wood onto the sagging coals, Susan spied a predatory motion of intent that seized the vampyre within the slim, unwitting opportunity her inattention had presented, collared as quickly as it emerged, the culprit sitting back in her chair and sliding her hands into her thick sleeves. Helaine's book remained in her lap. “You like Gideon?” she inquired as though artless. “I like. Dark, but still so séduisant. I know him from Sachiin... four hundred year now. Four hundred, and still we go to restaurant and laugh and curse en Provençal. I think sometime he is tired and maybe want to leave us, but then I see him drink champagne and chase the flesh like he still have heat in his bones... I hope is true... I think is possible... he is twice as old as I, and Kala'amātya, three time as old as that, and we know he is not a buddha.” Petrouchka reached across to pat the volume that Susan had reserved. “This is good book. You read. I think I will go for bath, if there is water. You don't know in this place.”
Her bloodlust departed with the flesh that it commanded. Susan relaxed, avoiding the dead witch’s relic in favour of the other book, a translation from a French work, its worried cotton binding alluding to rough usage. Given Petrouchka’s recommendation, it came as no surprise to see that it was crowded with the vampyres of most known lands, strutting, leering, spilling forth on their crepuscular offensives. They were accompanied by those creatures supposed to haunt the wastes and forests, lissome nymphs reveling in treacherous, indelible beauty, werebeasts devoured by the needs of a binary flesh, sharing the tongue of their witch sisters and consorts, addicted to ecstatic, shameless rites and trances. Other bogies of less certain character rejoiced in lengthy pseudoscientific epithets, but were left largely to the obscurity they most probably desired. The text dripped with sly, admiring apologia, granting the undead the power of flight, the ability to profit from the ages, growing more vital with each passing year, evolving ever toward some remote, transcendent perfection. She set aside perfection as superfluous, but was moved to ponder transcendence, finding an allegory in the flames that worked the dully inert wood into the light that coloured her face and hands.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce