By Blood We Live Page 92

On the way down the hill, he collapsed. His legs went out from under him. He got up straight away, with jittery, unnatural speed.

“Are you all right?” I said.

He smiled. Took my hand and drew me gently to him. Put his arms around me. Held me. I didn’t know why I was crying. But there was the feeling of fracture in my chest. The mental doors were open again. The whole dreary mob of questions free to enter. Yet now they were, they didn’t. They stayed put, staring, confused, as if they’d just received news of their own collective pointlessness. As if the monster they’d come to kill had turned out to be already dead.

“Come on,” I said. “We have to move.” It pressed on the fracture, that I was the one bothered about how late it was. I knew I could go on getting him to do things, for a while, but not forever. There was a simplicity and calm in him that I worried would get away from me, eventually.

The real world reimposed itself by degrees, via the sound of our tread through the grass, the receding simmer of the trees, the crickets, the soft whir of a bat. (The filament-ghost was waxing, too, a little vengefully: A bat! Ha!) He still hadn’t spoken. It was as if some huge, peaceful mathematical problem was working itself out in his head. He didn’t have to do anything. Just watch it resolve.

I was thinking I should drive, but when we got to the BMW he took the wheel. I didn’t remember the way, anyway, and it was hard to imagine him calling directions out of his trance. The car’s interior smelled good, new leather and vinyl and carpet. It said continuity, the human determination to keep making things possible. Which pressed the fracture again, the thought of how long that had been going on, and how the word “human” had separated itself from me. How I’d lost my entitlement to it. There was a sadness to the little facts of the key in the ignition, the sound of the engine starting, the lights suddenly wrecking the privacy of the dust and the tarmac and the pale dry grass.

88

Justine

I WOKE TO loud birdsong and the sweet smell of blood. For a moment I couldn’t understand the sudden tip and swing and gravity all wrong—then I realised someone was lifting me over their shoulder. When I opened my eyes, not just sight but all my other senses seemed to rush into a kind of focus. Daylight was close. I was looking down past whoever’s back and legs these were onto the bloodstained forest floor. A pulled-off human arm lay there. Combat fatigues. Militi Christi. I lifted my head (not easy) and looked around. Bodies and body parts. Impossible to tell straight off how many. Half a dozen at least.

“Put me down,” I said.

“She’s awake,” Caleb said.

“I can walk. Seriously. Put me down.”

Mia bent forward and I slid to my feet.

“We have to hurry,” she said. “You sure you can walk?”

“We have to find him,” I said. “He’s out there somewhere.”

“There’s no time,” Mia said. Her aura was still thrumming from what had happened. There were two faint pink flushes under her blue eyes. In the seconds when the first bullets had hit me I’d thought: And still you’re stupid, stupid, stupid. They’d seemed to come from every direction at once. I’d gone into a kind of dream. Killed two of them without even really being aware of it. A confusion with bits of detail. My fingernails going clean through a guy’s throat. A young woman’s silver crucifix and neckchain flying through the gloom. Caleb’s little voice going: Fucking hell. The sound of Mia snapping a neck. I’d never seen anyone move that fast. One guy’s head had come off with a terrible wet tearing noise, her pale hand wrapped in his hair. The bullets had hurt like hell. A dozen tiny explosions in my gut, three or four in my left leg. I remembered a bolt going like a line of fire through my left arm. The wood in your flesh made your heart suddenly like a buried alive person trying to pound her way out of a coffin.

“Easy,” Mia said, when I took a couple of steps and nearly went over. “Easy.”

“The guy with the binoculars,” I said. “Did we get him?”

“He got in a car,” Caleb said. “I said we should’ve gone after him.”

“If they know about us, they know about Remshi. We can’t leave him out there!”

“There’s no time,” Mia said. “Minutes. We go now or we die. And I have no intention of dying.”

She was right. The sun was close. I could feel it like a wall of sound, rising. My body screamed the need to get underground. It feels like all your cells or molecules or whatever are pulling, billions of little creatures straining at the leash.

“If they find him, they’ll kill him,” I said. “In his state … In his …” But it was no good. Mia was already thirty feet away. Caleb was tugging at my sleeve. His pale hands were covered in blood. I felt sick. The sun was so close.

“Come on,” Caleb said, pulling me almost off my feet. “Why are you crying?”

I went quicker with every step. My wounds rushing to heal themselves were like things quietly chattering. In spite of everything there was a sort of sick pleasure in knowing that when I woke I’d be good as new. Good as new and wide awake in a world where the only person I’d ever loved might be gone forever.

89

Talulla

THE CAR BRAKING woke me.

No memory of falling asleep.

I opened my eyes to see him staring at something up ahead. A person. An old man dressed in layers of ragged clothes, leaning on a crutch, roadside, just at the edge of the headlights’ reach.

“What?” I said.

He didn’t answer, but I felt his aura gone suddenly rich. The old man—dark-skinned, filthily bearded, with one completely bloodshot eye—shifted his weight onto his good leg and raised his crutch, as if pointing to something. He was smiling. I thought: Does he want a ride? What is this?

But he lowered the crutch, turned, and limped away into the darkness.

“What is it?” I asked again.

“That hoary cripple,” he said, and laughed.

“What?”

He sat, smiling, both hands on the wheel, staring out of the windscreen. He looked bright with tiredness.

“What did you say?”

The headlights of another car came bumping towards us. The road was wide enough—just—for it to pass. A Land Rover with mirrored windows.

He hadn’t moved. Hadn’t looked at the Land Rover. I knew if I asked him he might not even have registered it, though it had gone by with only inches to spare. He was still busy with what looked like a kind of empty delight.

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