By Blood We Live Page 2

I hoofed him in the balls and broke his left arm.

The last moment before the bite is like the last moment before coming: stopped time and shrugged-off space, an instant of seeing how it is for God. It’s why people in sexual extremis say Oh, God. It’s not a cry to the Divine, it’s a recognition of their own divinity. I was very aware of my mouth open, my heartbeat in my teeth, the obscene ease with which I held him, the room like a frozen grin around us, and beyond it the Californian night and the orange blossom and the desert and the sprawling dark continent’s indifferent consciousness gathering to a kind of Meaning. All Randolf’s details huddled in him like a terrified village crammed inside its church. This is what happens: the particulars gather, exude their fraught vibe like an odour and before you bite, before you drink, you get an inkling of what it’s going to give you, the base notes, the exploded secrets, the finish. All your victim’s decisions and imprecisions and crimes and losses gather and sing—in this moment—of the tiny and unique ways in which this life will, once you’ve drunk it down, change you.

He was trying to say something, but my hand around his throat reduced it to abortive sibilants and fricatives. He was struggling, I suppose, but he might as well have been a sack of oatmeal for all the good it did him. I shifted my grip to cover his mouth, lay fully on top of him, looked him in the eyes, once—then sank my fangs into his throat.

Dark and sweet and total. Surrender like the guillotine’s drop. The universe comes in through those eye-teeth as it does to a suckling babe through the nipples of its mother. You want more, you want it all. So you take more, you take it all. Randolf’s life.

If I’d got a woman to kill her own child while I fucked her in the ass—

This was one of his last thoughts, unfortunately. It was unavoidable, once he knew he was dying. In the wake of every failure his psychology had said it was his fault, he hadn’t gone far enough, and he’d thought that would be about as far as you could possibly go. Only he’d never gone that far, and now he was dying this thought along with others (his mother’s powdery face, the Jersey tenement stoop, the hot flank of a big dog that had knocked him down when he was small, a million TV fragments and hoarding slogans and women’s faces spattered with come) flashed brief and vivid against the wall of fear. He’d thought he’d known fear. But I showed him the end of his psychology—worse even than a handful of dust—and he realised he’d never known fear before.

You don’t let the heart stop. Anne Rice got that right. But I know when there are a dozen beats left. Ten. Six. Three. Two … Naturally you push it. Naturally the last draughts are precious, carry the yolky taste of the soul’s torn caul, the residue of its confused farewell. The swallowed life fans out in your blood, exhales its wisdoms and losses, its poignant incidentals that enlarge you, force you to find shelf-space in the groaning stacks. Your heart’s library, whether you like it or not, expands. I used to see it as a woeful irony that murdering humans increased my love for humanity. Now I accept it, drink, make room, get bigger, love them, go my ways. Because someone has to bear witness, the voice of my maker had said, long ago, in the darkness of the cave.

I sucked hard, went wholly seduced—went wantonly into the drink. If the soul was immortal it left its memories behind in the blood, shed consciousness and passed on, naked and pure, to the realm beyond image and word, to be wrangled over by God and the Devil, or to reach final dissolution in the void. But I didn’t need the soul. Only the blood. Always and always and always the blood. I drank and felt the rhythm of the drinking in my eyelids and fingertips and nipples and feet. I drank and swam down into Randolf’s goodbye pulse, softened into the beat, systole, diastole, systole, diastole, at last lost myself, went, for a time, out of time.

But the sixth sense hauls you back. I stopped with two heartbeats left. Watched his eyes flutter, observed the last moments. His psychology had brought him all the way to death then turned and left him with nothing. Now he was going, desperate, terrified, unready, like the last grains of sand sucked through the hourglass’s dainty midriff. Gone.

Randolf’s life had woken the other lives in me and my heart was a rose of fire. Cells bloomed, the song of my dead throbbed in the tissues. The universe’s half-revealed Meaning surrounded me. The busy clues to the grand architecture that was like an irresistible enigmatic smile.

I stood up, hilariously strong, a glut of sly power in the shoulders, the thighs. You forgot how good it was. You forgot it was everything. You forgot it took possession from soles to scalp, refreshed fingerprints, eyelashes, pubes, the queer little papillae of the tongue. You forgot it let Meaning bleed back in like colour returning to a monochrome world. You forgot it was something perfect, and in the way of perfect things—the pole-vaulter’s flawless clearance, for example, the skater’s nailed triple salchow—made you want to laugh. I might have laughed, too, had the memory of the dream not suddenly flashed and fractured me again, had He lied in every word not buzzed like a wasp in my ear then whizzed away, leaving behind in me a feeling of knowing that I knew something without knowing what it was.

Downstairs, the gofer dropped ice cubes into a glass. I took a last look at Randolph’s shocked face (his formidable head was the centre of an expanding Rorschach butterfly of blood), wished, briefly, that I could always take the lousy ones, pick the human race clean of its wretches like oxpeckers rid Cape buffalo of their parasites, then I leaped across the room to the window, slid it open and jumped. One of the angular escorts looked up, thought, Jesus that was some fucking … Do eagles fly at night? No, that’s … that’s owls. Anyway, whatever …

2

STUNNED AND SYMPHONIC with new blood, I retraced my steps through the woods to the car, a humble Mitsubishi (the trophy vehicles went years ago, novelty exhausted; I regretted it just then, remembering the lurch and grip of the bronze ’68 Camaro, its smell of gasoline and vinyl and the stoned end of the decade, Jimi on the eight-track) and within minutes was heading east on the 101. The moment—rolling darkness and the empty LA hills, me wide-eyed and stinking rich with stolen life—needed music (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” both sprang to mind), or rather, it would have needed music, had not the quenched thirst left me at dreadful liberty to consider the madness of everything that had happened since I’d opened my eyes in the vault less than three hours ago.

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