By Blood We Live Page 38

Her eyes closed again. The bleeding had slowed. Phlegm rattled in her chest when she exhaled. I realised I was looking—a flower of absurdity opened in my heart—at her breasts, which were small and hard, nipples dark as blackberries.

I felt very rich in the body and confused in the head.

“You have nothing to fear from me,” I said, pointlessly. For a moment her eyes focused and I saw all her dreadful power, the monthly rhythm of her need for living meat, the work it had been to find room for the beast. The souls of her dead babbled in her blood, not knowing if her dying would release them. My own dead stirred, wondered how it was for these others suddenly close by. “Something’s happening,” I said. To her, to myself, to the universe—or was it the universe saying it through me, matter-of-factly? Something’s happening.

By accident or her own intention her giant knee relaxed and touched mine where I knelt. Then her eyes closed again.

32

A LONG AND unhinged night for me, walking up and down outside the cave telling myself what was happening wasn’t possible. I kept laughing out loud. The sound of which frightened me and made everything worse. Details were urgent and vivified: a bare white-branched tree; the shadows of small stones; the odour of snow. The moon sailed by slowly like a delighted intelligence, faceless yet somehow grinning, somehow in on it. My guest’s breathing sounded as if she had a slight cold. I kept going back to her—(Her! Upper case was ten thousand years in the future but she’d acquired its mental equivalent)—ostensibly to see if she was awake or to check on the progress of her budding palms and fingers. In fact to keep feeling what I was, against all reason, feeling.

What I was feeling.

Yes.

I laughed again, and again it made me feel worse. I lost my balance—actually found myself falling sideways and reaching out; I would’ve fallen over—fallen over! Me!—if I hadn’t been so close to the sheer side of the hill. Instead I leaned there, imbecilic, incredulous, full of dumb certainty. The blood in my head was colossal and unruly, a giant who’d drunk too much.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the shock derived from the hilariously inappropriate object of my desire. (I could see the faces of my vampire friends going from plain surprise to crimped bafflement to wrinkled disgust. Really? A gammou-jhi? A dog? Gods, Rem, you’re sick in the blood!) But you’re wrong. It wasn’t the object of my desire. It was the fact of desire itself.

Desire.

After a thousand years.

(Or two thousand. One loses count.)

I’d passed thirty-nine summers before I became a vampire. I’d fathered several children. My equipment had, back in the human days, worked. Splendidly, on occasion, if the shrieks and teethmarks and flailing not-quite-knowing-what-to-do-with-themselves limbs of my various lady friends were to be believed. But since my Turning, nothing. Not impotence. Just a complete absence of desire. It’s common knowledge in modern times (thanks not least to peskily scribbling Jacob Marlowe) but back then we had to make the wretched discovery for ourselves: The Lash murders libido.

But here I was … Here I was …

Nor was it merely desire. Desire alone would have cracked the paradigm’s egg and scrambled it. But I repeat: It wasn’t merely desire. Every time I went within range of her scent reality’s tectonic plates shifted, threatened to come apart entirely. Because here, along with desire, was an unbalancing recognition. I knew her. I knew her. The ether between us shivered with dark remembered joy. Remembered joy. It wasn’t perversion. It wasn’t—I searched myself thoroughly for this—the titillation of taboo. It was … It was …

A burst of laughter from the moon smashed the reverie and I looked up to see it was almost below the horizon.

33

IT’S NOT SOMETHING they want you to watch.

So said the lore, and my roused shame as I approached the cave endorsed it. But I had to see. Had to.

She was on her feet, leaning back against the left-hand wall of the cave, head lowered, jaws open, panting. Her tongue went back and forth with each pant. The wounds had healed. Only the claws on the regrown hands hadn’t yet arrived. The smell of her dizzied me. Its soft kernel was in her somewhere, an infinite source. I wanted to find it. Go into it. Lose myself.

I stepped inside the cave. She knew I was there, of course, could have snarled or chased me out, made a need for privacy plain. But she didn’t. Instead she turned her magnificent head and looked at me.

I know you. You know me.

How?

All my past gathered, as if it knew what was about to happen would draw a line marking the beginning of a New Age.

Then with a strangled sound she grabbed her belly, doubled up, and crashed forward onto her knees.

It was compelling and ugly to watch. After that first choked gargle she didn’t utter a sound. Which made her body’s mad monologue of bone-squeak and muscle-crunch loud. A jerky series of implosions, the beast done bit by bit out of its molecular rights as the long femurs shuddered through their appalling compression and the head thrashed from side to side as if the inner skull were trying to shake off the outer. Her odour bloomed, swelled for a moment at the edge of rottenness, then in an instant atomised around her and hung, suspended, waiting to resettle in its human version. And all the while my baffled certainty grew, reached a warm fullness as all but the now resting head returned in three, four, five slow spasms (she would climax with these same pretty convulsions, I knew) to its human form. She turned her face away for the last and most intimate part of the transformation, though I watched the scalp’s short fur hurry out as thick dark human hair, one long wave curved as if by design over the breast nearest me.

Moments. Her face turned away, her breathing slowing. Our mutual awareness naked. I thought: Was I mistaken? Am I mistaken?

Then she turned her face to me, and I knew I wasn’t.

34

IN THE LANGUAGE of the upper river people, she said: “I’m freezing.” Her voice was low and soft and confident and the colour of the river at night.

I answered her in her own tongue: “Take these. I’ll make a fire.”

“These” were the fur, emptied of its human remains, plus my own bearskin cloak. When she wriggled into them giant desire uncoiled in me. Laughter rushed up immediately, made itself available. I only just resisted it. The vastness and simplicity of wanting her in that way—of wanting anyone in that way—was so vast and simple laughter seemed inevitable. It was as if someone had lifted the sky like a lid to reveal a completely different wonderful realm beyond, one that made everything we thought we knew redundant—and hilarious. Every drop of my blood stared at its new reflection, scared to recognise itself, convinced that to accept this gift would be to lose it.

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