By Blood We Live Page 11

My heart almost refused. Even in the midst of its own upheaval my heart knew what was at stake and tried to refuse. If it’s not … If it’s a trick, if it’s an illusion—

But a thread of blood in my cock twitched. My cock! Which, since her death, had been of no more consequence to me than the fluff in the seam of my pocket.

Desire. Desire.

Was it possible?

I breathed the carried scent of her and my cock leaped. The smell couldn’t lie. Her smell. Her. My eyes filled. Joy for the return, sorrow for the years of loss. It was an eviscerating happiness, left me empty and frail with hope. Left me with all but disbelief in my own hands and feet and teeth, in the forest and the night, in the real, solid world.

Moonlight salved her hard breasts and lean belly. Her navel was a well of shadow.

Just as I remembered. Just as it had been. Vali. My beloved.

The joy moved up into my mouth, which opened involuntarily to call to her.

But at that moment the male came close behind her and wrapped his arms around her and she tilted her head back so their muzzles and tongues could touch.

I followed them. With sickness expanding. With sickness making me giant. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Of course they couldn’t. I knew how it was for her. I knew how it was for her because with her that was how it had been for me. For us. Killing. Together.

Their victim was a neighbour of mine, a music producer, Drew Hillyard. I climbed a plane tree at the edge of his high-walled front yard and watched. Grabbed my own giant sick head and rubbed my own giant sick nose in it. America’s Next Top Model played on the flatscreen to a room wild with blood. Hillyard’s white leather couch became a canvas for his frantic red swipes. Vali opened his chest and rammed her snout in. Her hindquarters shivered as the male entered her, his hands roaming over her flanks and belly and breasts. The open chest was mine. The sternum cracked cleanly and prised apart, the heart plucked out and tossed in the dirt. A thing of no importance. A negligible thing. A joke.

It seemed to last a long time. It occurred to me that if the wind shifted slightly they’d catch my scent. There was an appeal in that, the rushed confrontation, the surrender to chaos, the relief of rushing the male, of killing or being killed. It would consume me, at least, eclipse the unspeakable wealth of detail, of sordid, brilliant particulars, of her tongue curled in martial or erotic delight, his dark moist cock giving rhythm to my misery, in, out, in, out, her body warm and full of cunning welcome. I knew how it was. I knew, I knew, I knew.

He lied in every word.

The dream images burgeoned and died, repeatedly, bled through by the other dream, sent to me by Vali or the liar in every word the night she died. I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me.

And here she was, and I had waited, and now become a giant, laughable sickness. Because apparently it wasn’t me she’d come back for after all.

I tailed them, unseen, all the way to where they’d left their gear hanging high in a tree, the packed rucksacks, the clean-up products, the car keys. Justine would be pissed—but there was no going back until I’d seen it, seen her, in human form. Short window between moonset and sunrise. I’d have to move fast when it was over—but I wasn’t thinking about that. I wasn’t thinking, period. I was caught in the slipstream of the living dream.

They lay a little apart on the ground. Here were shivering ferns, nodding bluebells, the tree roots’ knuckles breaking the earth. The scene had a quality of appalling familiarity. Hadn’t I been here before? Those three small pale rocks there, blotched with yellow lichen? Those twittering leaf-shadows?

She regained her human form quicker than he did his. Hers was seamless CGI, his clumsy stop-motion. I watched her skeleton’s fluid shrinkage, the impossible resizing of muscle and skin, the human head resolved out of the lupine’s compressed implosions. Her hands were the lovely hands I remembered, touching me, idling on my chest, tracing the outline of my jaw, buried in my hair. The body was the body I knew, the pale breasts and belly, the small shoulders, the tenderly functional knees. Her shins were wet with dew. The last phase of the transformation turned her face-down in the ferns. Her spine rippled, hooked—half a dozen vertebrae bulged like buboes, then settled, straightened, found their place, stopped their squabble—and there was the smooth and deep-grooved back I’d run my fingers down a thousand thousand times (the journey never got old, renewed its mystery with each passage of discovery) and the sacrum’s flare, and the beautiful rear, upthrust in fabulous diptych, as it had been for me, for me, for me.

She lifted her head. I saw her face. The dark hair and self-accommodating eyes. The full mouth.

I knew her.

It was Vali.

It was Vali.

10

Justine

I WOKE UP in the vault, in bed with the vampire.

I woke up in the vault—a vampire.

A vampire.

You can’t imagine what it feels like.

No matter how much you’ve talked about it or thought about it. You really can’t.

The weird thing (like there’s one weird thing; like the whole thing isn’t the weird thing)—the weird thing is you know straight away how soon it’ll feel completely normal. Like the first time I drove a car I knew that by the third or fourth time it would feel totally familiar. My hands on the wheel remembering something from a former life. Second nature.

This is my second nature.

I didn’t like my first, so I changed.

Vampire. Vampire. Vampire.

That thing where if you keep repeating the same word it just becomes meaningless sound.

No going back.

Ever.

There were empty MRE bags scattered around. Spots of blood on the sheets. Fluff told me once that in the old days they used to hang the new bride’s bloody sheets out the window to prove she’d been a virgin. And the ones who weren’t virgins used to shove pellets of goat’s blood up themselves to fool everyone.

I sat up, slowly. Thought back to what had happened. Tried to put it together.

Last night I’d woken in the study to find Stonk slumped across me. White, cold, not dead—but dying. I could tell. It wasn’t just the way he was breathing. There was something else, like I could feel his life inside mine. It took a weird effort to feel it. Like the effort you have to make with those Magic Eye pictures, the trick of sort of looking and not looking at the same time. I can’t describe it. It was like there was a bigger body squeezed inside mine that any second was going to tear through, like the Hulk ripping through his clothes. All my sensations were big and soft and heavy. Everything—the chair, the rug, the lamp on the floor—was somehow too much itself, like all the dials had been forced up past max.

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