“A person with a naked lady tattooed on his neck came to the kitchen and told me to give you this.” she reported, handing over the brown paper parcel she had been entrusted with. He lifted it to his nose before looking at the house, disgruntled to see that the event was still in progress.
“Christ, don’t they have homes to go to?”
“It’s only twelve.” she replied.
“Have you decided where we’re going yet?”
Susan shook her head.
“I can't think where I'd take you.”
At her frown he beckoned to her, and she set aside uncertainty before offering the hand he had requested. He took it in his own, finding one of the small hollows on the underside of her wrist where her skin was shaded blue and paper-thin; it transmitted every nuance of the strange and dislocated pleasure that his touch imparted, bleeding upward toward her elbow in concert with the softly-stroking dulcet of his voice.
Opal let the overworked smile drop from her face and turned her stare upon the garden from the balcony, a glass full of expiring, untasted champagne clutched in her small hand. With nyctalopic acuity she perceived the figure of the maid in her formal attire standing before William, her will divided between his invitation and the failing boundaries of discretion; Susan inclined toward him slowly, until he seemed to reconsider the solicitation and let go of her hand. She stepped back, as though released by a far more comprehensive grasp, hesitated, and returned alone toward the house.
In Susan's absence, no peyote phantoms came to rattle flashing scales or spill out from behind the shapes and colours William already knew, and he concluded that the potion’s uncertain effect was hardly worth its evil savour. The veil of ornamenting galaxies strung across the darkness overhead were but a dying echo of the skies seen from the mountains and the soundless wastes of memory, their fearsome splendor crowded with divine memorials and the glitter of portended dooms and auspices. Weary, he closed his eyes again, until the sound of high heels punched into the thick turf pulled them open. Rachelle stumbled toward him in a silver-mesh dress that troubled her ankles, decollétage dusted with a micaceous powder, as though she had narrowly avoided a minor industrial accident. It shimmered with the heaving of her chest, and she swayed as though with the passage of some toiling swell, sweat already polishing her face and neck.
“We're going somewhere private. We need to talk.” she began, coming to a halt before the lounge, her voice too loud and eyes held wide. Tottering slightly with the tilt of her horizon, she smirked and slumped down on the grass. William's gaze returned to the sky. In the pinched midst of her expression Rachelle resembled her progenitor to a startling degree. “Just cut the crap, Wil-liam... we both know why you brought me out here. My god, why am I even talking to you?"
“Rachelle... you're right. I don't deserve you." he murmured. For a moment she softened, then bristled. "Go back inside and huff some more glue and have a rainbow party or whatever it is young people do today. It's easier to make your own fun than it is to suck it out of someone else.” He concluded his inelegant appeal and closed his eyes again. Her voice assumed a creaking, infantile tone laden with skewed menace.
“You’re not making fun of me are you, because you can't do that and still think everything's okay with us..." She struggled to her feet and almost toppled sideways in her haste to hoist her skirt over her thighs, straddling the lounge, chuckling to herself until he took her importuning hands in both his own and held them still, insisting on her attention.
“Rachelle... listen to me. If you bomb her show, Opal will have a fucking core failure and start auctioning your organs online.”
"I don't give a shit, okay? All I want is f..."
“Okay... I’m just going to say this out loud. I thought you might have known, and it's been bothering me that you don't." he sighed. "Opal’s a vampyre... I mean a real one, you know... bad teeth, no UV... she's a nasty, baby-munching talking corpse, as evil as they come and that's really fucking saying something, and if you don’t watch your back she’ll end up bleeding you out over a bucket, so don't flip her off too many times... they’re always hungry."
"Why are you always trying to control me with your bullshit? Do you really fucking think I don't know she's an energy vampyre? Harvey told me that..." Her hands turned to fists as she grasped his T-shirt and pushed him hard against the canvas. “Opal can go fuck herself... I'm going up there and she’s gonna find out she's not the only one who knows how to work a fucking microphone.”
"Please don't do that..."
Rachelle's shoulders sagged and her head dropped to what might have seemed a coquettish angle, had her stare submitted to the same moderation.
"Oh baby... you don't want me to?" She shuffled back and begun struggling with his jeans, tongue curling over her top lip. “I know what you're looking for." Rachelle cupped a hand over his mouth. "Shhh baby..."
To Opal’s increasing displeasure, Edward had ignored her instruction to attend the circle of buyers corralled upon the balcony. They represented the closely-guarded apex of her stable of patrons and collectors, a fissile mix that required decisive handling if it was not to split like some temperamental emulsion; widowed matrons, their plicated skin weeping falls of diamonds, brokers who could not be weaned from their phones to choose between the drinks they were plied with and predatory designers who rearranged the many homes of their clientele with ruthless biannual pedantry. Opal devoted her own attentions to a middleweight Ukrainian oil baron who had professed a desire to pack a shipping container with the work of her ascendant conceptual names in order to annoy his even wealthier father in Kyiv, who favoured early Sérves. Alcohol had brought a high pink shine to his face; he did not seem to be able to prevent himself from peering over his shoulder into the night, as though someone were calling him from that direction.
“Look, there..." he chuckled finally. "I think is hooker...”
Edward and Opal turned simultaneously, roused by the portentous nature of the remark. Drawn by the promise of vulgarity, the crowd massed against the balustrade. Approximately twenty metres distant, and more visible than not due to the nature of both her apparel and uninhibited theatrics, Rachelle attempted to wrest gratification from William’s stubborn flesh, her dress flashing like the side of a fish against the darkness, the tableau rendered grotesque by the grim flourishes of rapture even in its unmistaken absence. At the side of the house a pane cracked in the door that Edward threw back against the wall as he strode onto the lawn toward them. Rachelle cried out and struggled free of William, losing her shoes and screaming as she fled toward the trees. The latter sighed and buckled his trousers.
“Thanks for the save, but I'm over eighteen.” he murmured.
“So is your audience.” Edward snarled. William fished around for his cigarettes in expectation of an extended admonition, but his brother's attention swung in a new direction. “Have you seen Frost?” he demanded suddenly. William shrugged.
“Didn’t know she was here.”
Edward started back toward the house without another word. The stab of apprehension deepened while he scoured the gloomy ground floor for a glimpse of Lilian’s hair and shoulders, discovering instead the gatecrashers condensed into a smirking knot around the kitchen door, filling the darkness with their cold flesh. Light filtered underneath it in a slim, inconstant line, the handle secured from within. He could sense the vivid, expanding silence that pushed against the walls and smelled perfume, the new-suit scent of the pimp, broken skin and blood. Leaning against the door he spoke Lilian's name, but received no reply, and stood back to throw his weight against it.
The kitchen was thickly stuffed with the dirty, matte-red stench of savagery, its lashing shapes preserved by the hollow flicker of the florescent tubes overhead; one had given out, its housing crushed flat against the ceiling, the other smeared with dark stripes. The chairs had been swept out from beneath the table into a chrome-legged tangle behind the door, the refrigerator displaced sideways and resting at a heavy angle, painted with lightning bolts of red that had bled into the slick of milk oozing from the corner of the door, marbling the white with greasy pink. Two drawers beneath the counter hung from the last inch of their lengths, their contents lying in a complex disarray that flashed white under the blinking tube. Everything formerly stationed on the bench had found a new place in the chaos scattered across the linoleum, the cardboard boxes of cereal and pasta soaking up the blood in which they had settled.
Orb lay where he had fallen, on his back with arms splayed out, surrounded by a slowly spreading pool of mirroring darkness on the pied linoleum. It formed a dense, satanic gloriole beneath him, reflecting the bars overhead and soaking into his matted ivory locks. Lilian stood upon his chest in bared feet, her pale eyes fixed on the pain twisting his features, her floating, static poise at once weightless and transfixing while he choked on the blood glutting his airway, her forearms painted with it. Her left hand clasped a pair of scissors, their stout blades like something cast from a ruby-hued alloy, having gained the colour in the wounds struck into the man's throat, into his shirtfront and clean through the palms of his hands. Slipping over the edge of shock and subject to its strange array of gasping, spastic contractions, Orb's plight could not keep Edward from the sight of his assailant. A slicing whine rang in their ears, the shrill voice of a red stare. He stepped over the chairs and pulled the curtains against the garden.
A blackening bruise encircled Lilian's neck where it had been impressed by a throttling grasp, developing on her skin like a darkroom image. The dark, drenched satin of her dress hung about her in a slack embrace; slowly, almost imperceptibly, whatever held her began to wane with the sound in their ears and she wavered like flame, shoulders sinking as she listed toward the counter, forcing him to catch her arm. A neat line of her own blood divided her chin where it ventured from the deep split in her lip. He eased the scissors from her grasp. Freed of them, she stood under her own volition, the colour of her eyes consumed by bloated, staring pupils that were the fearsome hallmark of her state while on the ground her victim groaned and jerked. She lifted an arm and pushed it around Edward's neck, closing her mouth on his with a need that shared its flavour with her blood, whispering the black words that brought his hands to her and pulled their bodies down onto the table. He pushed her dress over her waist, grasp sliding on the slick, dark red it left on her cold skin as he dragged her hips toward himself. She tore his belt free and hissed another exhortation, closing her legs around his waist but the sound of her voice against his neck opened his eyes and caused him to step back from the table, where she lay down slowly, bringing her hands up to her face.
Wresting back something of his resolve, Edward doused a cloth under the tap, coming back to take her wrists and wipe the thick stains from her arms. Cold water trickled from her elbows.
“Can you walk?" She stared at him with dry, blank eyes; he struck the ends of his fingers swiftly to her brow, an ancient antidote to her immuring fugue, and Lilian came back to him slowly, looking from his mouth into his eyes as she returned. “Can you walk?”
She pressed her lips to the back of her hand, regarding the blood as though it was some unfamiliar substance.
"Where?" she murmured hoarsely. He dropped his jacket from his shoulders and handed it to her.
“Go up to my rooms and lock the door.”
The formica slid beneath her legs and she stood looking down at the man on the linoleum with the detachment of an incidental spectator, still feeling the stroke of Edward's hands under her dress. The soles of her feet felt glutinous beneath her and her head ached dully from behind where it had been slammed against the cupboards. He walked her to the door and pressed a key into her hands; Lilian stared down at it.
“I thought no one could ever scare me, but..." She spoke slowly, clearing her throat and the last words trailed off in her reluctance to complete the admission. "But you do... and now you got me cold.”
“I was never going to let you walk.”
“Smile when you say that.” she murmured, expression conceding an appreciation of the unwholesome sentiment, eyes falling to Orb once more. “Fucking cops are looking for him.” Bowing her head, she slid by him, walking through the onlookers as they stepped back from her. When she was out of sight Edward returned to the prostrated man and studied his condition before leaning forward and kicking at his broken arm, satisfying himself that he was as moribund as he appeared. Drawn like requiem sharks, the lurking presence clustered in the entrance hall waited impatiently, agitated by the prospect of blood so thickly saturated with the desperate, petrol-sweet essences of violence and agony. Their blank, expectant faces greeted him as he emerged.
"Thirty minutes." he muttered. "Clean it up."
The scavengers surged into the kitchen, sinking down on all fours around the dying man and immersing him in the dry, jagged sounds of the clothing torn from his body and the jerking violence with which it was disputed, addressing his slippery skin with their greedy wet mouths. The junior participants contented themselves at the back of the scrum, wiping their hands through the congealing, wine-dark puddle and grinning as they licked the taste from them. Some paused in their preoccupation to glance at the surrounding disorder. In the garage Edward pressed the door closed with his shoulder and stood alone in the vacant gloom awaiting their act of disposal, the taste of her blood still articulated in his own mouth.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce