The door behind the panel hung on blackened strap hinges as wide as her thigh. Though she found she could stand upright in the passage beyond, William was forced to assume a hunch in order to descend steps hewn from clammy bedrock, their treads worn concave beneath ponderous timbers butted overhead, so that the passage resembled the shaft of an abandoned mine. A single naked bulb protruding from the wall like a waxy rhizome provided an uncertain light. The chrome-like smell of groundwater seeping through the rock conspired with the impoverished air to turn her misgivings into physical discomfort.
“Now you know how the gerbil feels.” he suggested, leaning back against the wall and allowing her a view of the landing dimly apparent below. She drew him back toward herself.
“We need some sort of thing... I’ll... I'll touch my nose, if I want out. Don’t forget.”
“Or you could just ask to leave."
“No! I don’t want it thinking I’ve bottled out.”
“Christabel, if it even looks at you the wrong way, I’ll rip its fucking head off.” he promised.
“Please don’t ever do anything like that in front of me.” she whispered, then smiled, leaning closer to him in the darkness. “But that did sound very butch.” He bumped her with his hip, grinning, and they concluded their descent, Susan waiting while he pounded on another ponderous door.
It was hauled back on shrieking hinges and a pallid, knuckle-faced inmate shuffled forward to squint at them, affecting myopia in order to survey Susan intimately while it slathered a tube of panstick over its chin. The creature stepped aside to allow them in, a flesh-coloured skull cap imprisoning what remained of its hair in the absence of a wig. A terrible smell wafted from the lurid green satin of its housecoat.
“Heh... mighty nice a ye t’ git back th’ wernce after ah call ye three score fuckin tahmes.” Siobhan muttered, returning to a dressing table and seating its sagging frame upon the velvet stool. Summoning the will to gaze at their surroundings, Susan found they stood inside a domed chamber almost the size of William’s bedroom, though it seemed much smaller in the stagnant darkness, the sloping walls daubed with lime and streaked here and there with gruesome splashes of brown. The blue stone floor was intensely cold through the soles of her boots, as if sealing the pit of an obsolete hell. A sooty encrustation marked the ceiling where it flickered orange over an iron candelabra, a floating aroid stink exuding from its icterical tapers. The same candles stood on the crowded dresser, once the pride of some post-war debutante, sickly kitsch amid the shambolic herd of balding, uncouth colonial pieces, fashioned by farmers' sons in a twisted spirit of apathy and repression. Nailed to the plaster were a trio of polyester rugs featuring white tigers disporting in a rainbow jungle and a band of Arab horsemen carousing through an oasis, the second identical to the third, but for a slight chromatic variation. Their arrangement curled Susan's toes inside her shoes, as did the taste already forming on her tongue, of aged orange candy rolled in graveyard soil. Siobhan’s wardrobe hung from a stand, the vintage gowns sagging like the freshly-flayed skins of alien fauna.
The dresser mirrors returned a perfectly faithful, if gruesome, triptych of the creature, contrary to popular supposition, while it flicked dust from a pair of electric blue lashes and began their application. William sat down on one of the daybeds, long arms lying in passive disuse on either side. The vampyre devoted a jaundiced eye to Susan.
“Thought ahd git meh a better fuckin look at lil White Dove, since ye seen fit t’ ella-vate her t’ the rank of kint say ye weren’t fuckin warned." Its manifestly anaerobic state produced speech that was airless despite its rancour, the wingless observations flopping at her feet.
“I didn’t ask to be told if that makes you feel better." she replied.
"S'at raght? Guess every night's a fuckin hentai night now, aint it?" Siobhan smirked, warming to the subject. "Mebbe ye kin riddle me this... rumour fuckin has it old Red here gits in t' double figures with his icy fuckin devil-wood... can ye con-firm or de-ny?" William bit a loose claw from his fingertip and spat it onto the floor, shrugging at her narrow, pointed glance. "An kin ye tell meh... do it blow hot or cold up there aginst ye chit'lins?" It was visibly gratified by her wordless stare, and turned back to her companion. “Fuckin lights look on, but there aint much home, ah'd sey." it chuckled. "Used t’ be th' thing standin tween a cooter an ye private fuckin dealins was a edu-cational whuppin, but ah kin see ye aint raised a guiding fuckin hand t' this wern.” the vampyre complained. “Ye gotta git em in th’ house an git em too full a child t' fuckin run. Mah mammeh, she fed critters, cut corn, cook’d, chop wood an still bend over fer mah pappy when he durn whissle at her... only peep ye fuckin heared outta her were when she squit out another fuckin mouth t’ feed down bah th’ tater yard.” Siobhan directed a thumb at Susan. “Ye cud still set her on the path, an hev yeself a fuckin tahme into th’ bargin. Even eight month gone, ah bet she still look thirteen from be-hind."
Taking out a cigarette, William looked to Susan with a wide-eyed grimace, touching his nose repeatedly. She pressed a dry smile into submission.
“You could have told me that on the phone.” he sighed. Siobhan swore and ripped off its misplaced lashes, shaking its little bullet head; its mouth dropped open and its eyes wrinkled up into slits, and Susan watched in horror as something resembling a monstrous sneeze was propelled in her direction, a spray of cold, watery blood from its flared nostrils splattering her even as she jumped back. The vampyre sat wracked by silent, gaping laughter at the sight of her expression.
“Did ah git ye?” it cackled hoarsely. She stared down at the dark spots soaking into the suede of her coat. “Are we gonna fuckin sit here lahk she aint a im-pediment t’ e-ffectual fuckin communication much longer, ‘cause yew surely aint th’ only shit ah got t’ deal with.”
“I’m not standing out there on my own.” she told them.
“She’s not standing out there on her own.” William reiterated.
“So ye fuckin what now? Ye know bout everywern?” it demanded of her; she stood frustrated in her inability to command the silence as expertly as William, who sat as tacit and unreadable as the stone beneath her feet. Siobhan circled its lips with orange gloss and precious little regard for physiological convention. "This shit's got more fuckin gut-laughs than a wall-eyed re-tard with a flayin knafe... in-formin yer bitches... gittin chugged fer th' soshul pages, bein a degenerit fuckin drug fiend or de-jayin nekkid or some other hell-bound fuckin outrage... an ye jest hed t’ fuck that piece Opal were raisin up straight, then ye jest hed t’ put her in th’ river when it turn out about as good a idea as jammin ye dick in a fuckin hornet nest... brung untold fuckin shit down on us... rott’n po-lice... now ye gummin' them shitpumps from th' Old Side jest prior to 'em kickin down our fuckin doors..." Tearing a glittering sheath from the rack of gowns, the vampyre dumped its robe and began struggling into the dress, tugging it over the bony little processes studding its sunken cadaver. Breathing slowly, Susan moved toward the door, hoping for some merciful draft of sodden air from outside. William lifted a hand against the sight of the creature's ensemblé.
“Siobhan, sequins are for the living.”
"Teh! What kinda live bitch kin rock all this at wernce? There aint one!" the vampyre retorted.
"No one with a fucking dumpster full of missing minors and a don't-ask organ trade gets to tell me to tone it down."
"Heh heh heh, that's raght... ye don't git t'be older then Satan hisself without knowin how t' slap th' fuckin blame down on the rah-chus. Now this cooch durn know us all by our first fuckin names, an a shit an a shave aint gonna help yew beat the fuckin line-up when she's durn yappin t' th' gover-mint!"
"Actually, I think I will stand out there on my own." Susan asserted, glowering at him beside the door.
"Ye kin square ye fuckin tab b'fore ye go." Siobhan muttered, squinting harder as it slapped a cloud of powder onto its nose with a greasy puff.
“We're having liquidity issues." William advised languidly. "Opal ripped Ed Brazilian-styles, so have a fucking heart.”
“Boo fuckin hoo. That ol’ split-tail frauds her ‘sociates lahk a tick bites fuckin curs. Aint no con-cern a mine." the vampyre observed, wiping a case of cocktail cigarettes from the dresser. “Git ye asscheeks topside an settle up... ah'll tek what ye got on ye. Aint none a us gittin any fuckin younger.”
No bouncers impeded their entrance to the Black Moth and Siobhan herded them past the doors and into the sticky, incorporated darkness, where Susan’s eyes took a while to interpret the sulky shades of sucking purple and swampy, decaying blue before she ceased to trip and stumble on the uneven floor and discarded glasses. Leaning on their skeleton elbows, the habitués that propped the bar turned their hooded eyes on them; she glanced at William, then frowned up at the line of doubtful-looking spirits on offer overhead, settling uneasily onto a stool.
“It all looks like it comes out of a dirty bath somewhere.” she muttered. Her perspicacity wrung a smile from him that he turned to her in gratitude.
“How do you know this stuff, Christabel?”
“I used to think I was paranoid, but it turns out I'm not.”
Her eyes fell a foot toward the mirror panel on the rear wall, seeking the source of her misgivings, and William briefly closed his eyes, leaning his forehead on his knuckles.
“I know..." he sighed. "Just don’t turn around.” She complied, forced to content herself with the reflected image in the thick, pin-dropping quiet. The face of every stranger in the room had turned toward them, from the parched and bead-like stares of vampyres to the large party crowded about a cluster of tables against the far wall, candle-lit miens made red and shadowed black by the swaying flames. They were silent beneath a pall of exhaled smoke, nursing their powerful green liquor, burgeoning hostility and the latent, half-inhumed equivalence in the darkness of their eyes that marked them all as kindred; Susan thought she recognized some from the hahdri, then guessed that she probably did not, perceiving that it was not their individuality that made them familiar. She glanced back to William. He muttered to himself and glared across the counter at Siobhan, dragging his keys and wallet from his pocket and depositing them in the crook of Susan's elbow in a gesture laden with weary fatalism. The vampyre chuckled, pouring the sludgy brown contents from a hip flask of tarnished silver into a milkshake glass and topping it with stale champagne, creating a pink concoction lidded with pale yellow spume and sucking off the froth. “I’m going to skin you before I chain you to my fucking hood.” William promised.
“Teh! Kint do that! We all family now, ye fuckin made sure a that! This hoe maght as well beh the sister that kint fuckin outrun ye!” The bargirls stared while Siobhan hunched further over the counter and referred a loud indictment to the gallery. "You dummer-n-shit dogs need t’ git into ye heads he aint a fuckin rockstar just cause he kin gut a critter blindfold’d! Nothin come easier t’ a perdishuss fuckin snakeface that got no moon or daylight nor drop a real blood t’ beh fuckin mahndful of... ye thought him cute up til t'day, but now ye fuckin knowest... he gave us all up fer a taste a fuckin weaner pussy, an if ye think what fell t' fuckin Caleb aint got shit t' do with them, yew all go right ahead an let 'em fuck ye dry, an don’t come crahin’ t’ meh afta’werd!”
In the darkness behind them, the murmuring from the seated conclave died like a draft killed by a closed door. William took his time over the dregs of hueless liquor at the bottom of his glass.
"What about Caleb?" he muttered, receiving no reply from the smirking vampyre.
"What about Caleb?" sneered someone from the party behind them. "Like he don't fuckin know." William shook his head to himself, turning to address the restive alujha contingent as he shed his heavy coat.
"Mallet, are you even on my dick, because I had to ask your mother the same fucking question." he replied. "And if you whiny alujha pricks stop sitting on your arseholes knocking back muppet-coloured horse piss, you wouldn't need my brother to do your fucking dirty work.” He stood up off the stool, handing the Afghan lamb to Susan and cracking his neck to one side. "Fuck it... who wants to go?"
His foremost antagonist threw back his chair and his cohort surged across the dance floor in his wake, climbing over the tables and shoving aside the vampyres that had braved the degenerating atmosphere in the hope of witnessing just such a spectacle. Mallet came at William without preamble, catching his shoulder and attempting to twist him onto the ground while Susan scrambled up onto the counter in an escape from the encroaching crowd, dismayed to find that Siobhan had also claimed the vantage. The vampyre shucked up its skirts and gave a shrilling whistle of encouragement to the fracas unfolding below. William knocked down, then hoisted the struggling form of his accuser from the floor in both hands and threw him into the crowd, seizing another contender and putting him head-first through the barstools into the counter as swift, reactive punches flew between the lycanthropes, their infective combat quickly extending to one another and any vampyre remaining in the throng. Susan shouted herself hoarse, both hands to her mouth while he caught and punched a spray of teeth from the nearest stranger; blue strobes cut downward from the ceiling, turning the alujha stares into rounds of floating silver, casting them as whooping predators massed beneath her on some nocturnal plain. The sight transfixed her amid Siobhan’s hacking cachinnations until the vampyre plucked liquor bottles from the rack over its head and flung them down into the fray; snarling, she punched both hands into its back and shoved it shrieking from the counter into the scrum below while William swung one of the fallen stools in a gruesome arc. Its victims yielded a jagged stripe of blood that struck her as she jumped down herself, landing heavily against a knot of preoccupied belligerents, her boots crunching and sliding over broken glass as she squeezed through the crush.
She was buffeted onto all fours as she caught William's belt and used it to haul herself upright, only to be flattened against him by two struggling neighbours, catching a flailing elbow to her brow and ear as she kicked a fallen stranger's grasp from William's legs and dragged him bodily toward the door. A sudden emission of bitter white gas parted the impounding crowd, the substance hissing from the decrepit halon extinguisher clutched in Siobhan’s hands. The little vampyre cussed as it cleared a path for itself toward the bar and left its victims to beat away the unwelcome pall, choking and grimacing.
Susan held the neck of her dress to her face, stumbling through the haze with her companion. She could feel the fractious, pyrogenic spirit struggling beneath his skin against containment when she grasped his arm; in the alley outside, he boosted her over the crumbling wall and scaled it after her, Susan climbing over the hood of the Jaguar to avoid the dumpster by her door.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce