By Blood We Live Page 87

And now this.

Him. Sick. Again.

I lay on the comforter on my side with my knees drawn up. The house hummed, quietly. I was thinking: Just let him be okay. If you let him be okay … If you let him be okay I’ll never … Just let him be okay and I’ll be bridesmaid at their fucking wedding. Please … Please … Please …

You think like this. As if there’s someone you can plead with. Even when you know there isn’t.

Then suddenly I thought of what my world would feel like without him in it. The cold fact of it. All the countries and faces and skies and cars and TV screens and people. Without him to make it bearable.

And it was like the earth falling away underneath me.

80

Talulla

IN MY ROOM I packed my rucksack.

Then sat on the edge of the bed looking at it.

It was a beautiful morning. The window was open. Blue sky. Furious birdsong. The garden’s perfumes. A very slight, sporadic breeze brought, at moments, the faintest whiff of the ocean. It seemed odd to think of it so close. Barely a couple of miles.

I took out my phone. Time difference. They’d be asleep. The kids, at any rate, would be asleep. Walker might be awake.

In bed with Madeline.

I hoped he was. And the hoping put another fracture in my already crazy-glass heart.

I could give my children the chance of a normal life.

For Christ’s sake, Lulu, I imagined my mother saying, either think it through or shut it down.

My mother. Jake. Cloquet. Fergus. Trish. The dead were an unimaginably long way away. A distance that defined loss. The living were only a little nearer. The distance that defined sadness.

I picked up the envelope, tore it open and read.

It was exactly as Olek had summarised. Of course it was. I hadn’t expected anything else. He had no incentive to make it up.

Gods. Souls. Bargains. Sacrifices. A hidden scheme of things.

Absolutely every part of me—except one—rejected it, utterly. The one part of me that didn’t was the memory of knowing exactly what Olek was going to say before he said it. The part of me that recognised it, as something I’d known all along. I thought of the Apostles at the Last Supper, hearing for the first time the words that would become the rite of Transubstantiation:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:

for this is my body which will be given up for you.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:

for this is the cup of my blood,

the blood of the new and everlasting covenant …

To them it wouldn’t have felt like something new. It would’ve felt like something they’d once known and subsequently forgotten. The neural pathway or soul’s grammar would’ve opened to receive it, to welcome it home in an act of giant, terrible, thrilling recognition. If it hadn’t, Christianity would never have got started.

Grishma (presumably) had left a new bottle of Macallan and a clean glass on the nightstand. An unopened pack of Camels, too, next to “Childe Roland.” I put the pages back carefully in the envelope, poured a drink, lit up and went to the window.

The chance of a normal life.

Put the all but total scepticism on one side. What sort of normal life? One that would depend on them not remembering anything from the life they’d already had. Was that likely? Certainly not unless I took the cure as well. If I didn’t, I’d have to let them go. Elsewhere. Adoption. A brand-new start with human parents. Either way the therapists of ten or fifteen years in the future were looking back to my present and beaming.

At which point I knew, very simply, that even if I believed the ritual would work I wasn’t going to do it.

It was a funny, liberating thing to be able to reject what you knew to be true.

Besides, Remshi’s voice said in my head, that’s not what you were brought here for.

81

Remshi

I WOKE JUST before sundown feeling better than ever. Notwithstanding I hadn’t the faintest clue where I was. My opened eyes (I felt not just well, but reborn) showed a white ceiling with three fluorescent striplights. My (what felt like virgin) nostrils reported chemicals and processed air. My sentience (washed, primped, ready for devil-may-care action) said wherever I was it was exactly—it was precisely and wholesomely and inevitably—where I was supposed to be. I sat up.

Fine. A laboratory. Vaguely familiar. Teasingly filed somewhere in the crammed mental cabinet. The thing to do was not to try to remember it. Think about something else and it would pop right in like magic. I got to my feet. I might as well have been Lash-sated, because even that humble physical action filled my molecules with glee. Look at me! Standing up! A marvel!

A big memory door swung open on a vision of Justine sitting in the corner of a large bedroom, knees up under her chin, covered in blood.

Schrutt. Duane Schrutt’s house.

Bangkok.

Mia, Caleb …

I stood there for a few moments, following the image-trail backwards. The jet. The devastated Militi Christi base. Leath’s place in North Vegas. Justine’s note. Turning Justine. Near-death darkness. The attack on Las Rosas. Porn king Randolf. The two lost years.

Vali.

Talulla.

Vali.

I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me.

Perversely, I hadn’t had the dream. The beach, the twilight, the someone behind me, the knowing that I knew something without knowing what it was. Nor, thank God, had I woken with He lied in every word gad-flying around my head.

What’s the last thing you remember? As I’d trained Justine to ask.

Schrutt’s bedroom. Not being able to stand up.

It seemed absurd, given how beautifully I was standing up now. I was the Platonic Form of Standing Up. You could go a long way, my singing legs and spine and head said, before you’d find a better example of standing up than the one we had right here.

In the room next door—more bottled chemicals, fridges, unnervingly thin gizmos—I found Mia and Caleb, still sleeping, spoons fashion, on blankets on the floor, mother behind son, her left arm wrapped around him. He was frowning. Poor lad had a busy dream life, I knew. The stunted subconscious forever wrestling with the unchangeable fact that he’d never be a grown-up, no matter how many millennia he lived. I felt a great flowering of tenderness for them. I must make sure and transfer more money later. I must make sure they had no material worries. The image of the two of them making a home of the house in Big Sur was a warmth and a comfort to my heart.

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