Talulla Rising Page 12


With a glance at the redhead for permission, the young vampire jammed a third steel skewer through the upper part of my right arm, the hand of which was still holding my child’s head. The metal went through the long hairy bicep at an angle, missed the humerus, dragged at a knot of nerves. Pain jangled like a stumbled-into wind chime. Blood and oxygen frothed around the wound in my throat. It reminded me of a school biology experiment we’d done with bicarbonate of soda. Which in turn reminded me of a line from Jake’s journal: I have lost, I thought, mental appropriateness. My legs were afloat. I was a cripple tied to a post in a fast-flowing river. The redhead pulled a military knife from her boot and cut the umbilical cord. She was beautiful. Her lipsticked mouth worked slightly with concentration.


‘Grab it, Noah,’ she said.

The Bob Dylan youth, Noah, reached down for the child – and the child bit him.

Noah snatched his hand back, bloodied. ‘Ow!’ he said, half-laughing. ‘That fucking hurt.’

‘We’re wasting time,’ the grey-haired vampire said. ‘Give me the things.’

The woman had a leather satchel. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘Do it.’

There was a separate frail rage that I’d done all that exhausting work of getting this child out safely into the world and now here they were, erasing it. Separate, that is, from the overwhelming desire to close my eyes, turn my head away, let them take him. What did it matter? Why should I care? Did women getting raped suffer this profane indifference? Were some abuses so extreme it was easier to surrender the self than sustain it?

‘Watch that mouth,’ the redhead said. ‘Careful...’

‘The things’ were a cattle prod, a ketch-pole and a woven steel-fibre sack. They worked as a team and I got it all in dreamy detail, the prod’s dry zaps, my fingers one-by-one prised back, the child’s jerks and flinches, his high-pitched yelps and snarls showing white canines and a shrimp-pink tongue, the two-tone shimmer of the woven steel bag that reminded me of zoot suits or the iridescence of street oil, the redhead’s delighted absorption and pearly skin and pounding stink. She had no malice towards me. This was something valuable to her, that was all, a necessary object. Despite the cold coming in I felt as hot as a new-baked loaf. I watched my offspring lifted, throttled, jabbed, bagged, tied. The darkness closing over his head tore something between us.

For a moment all sound and movement ceased, as if someone had pressed a pause button on reality.

Then the helicopter’s whine and chop ripped through – and everything rushed back into motion. The aircraft was right outside, whisking-up snow and shooing-in freezing air.


There was a burst of automatic weapons fire, barely audible over the racket of the propellor blades, then the first of the wolves – last night’s black – was through the door.

The animal’s bite and slash tore a third of Noah’s face off. He went down onto his knees with a falsetto shriek and a violent shudder as if he was revolted. Simultaneously the grey-haired vampire, holding the sack with my child in it, shot straight up through the air and came to rest with his back against the ceiling and the wriggling bundle pressed tight to his chest. A second grey wolf sprang at the redhead. She got her left arm up and the creature’s jaws locked around it, its momentum knocking her backwards into the range. For a moment she looked like a woman at a bar resisting an insistent bad-breathed drunk. Then I saw the detail of her little round nostrils flaring as in complete silence and with a kind of delight she stabbed the animal repeatedly in its belly with the knife she was still holding from cutting the cord, until at the sixth or seventh puncture the big body slid from her to the floor, as if not dead but triumphantly passed out. Three more wolves ran in the door and a fourth appeared at the broken window. The warmth of them reached through the freezing air and went into me. I could feel my will in their shoulders and hind-quarters and necks. A kind of frantic joy raced back and forth between us. The black tore at flailing Noah’s throat. Shots fired. The wolf in the window fell with a yelp. My womb contracted. The grey-haired vampire was inching backwards on the ceiling to get his feet against a beam. Two grey wolves leaped and snapped under him, though it was obvious he was out of their reach. As he stared down at them, blinking, a big bullet-wound opened silently in his left temple without visible effect. I tracked the shot back: Cloquet, one arm useless, the other holding the Cobra, clearly without the strength to squeeze off another round. For a moment Cloquet frowned, struggling to haul himself into full consciousness, then with a confused scowling look of having been betrayed by something, collapsed. One of the greys had sprung onto the redhead in an exact replication of its brother’s move, except this time the jaws had locked around the knife hand. The vampire’s free hand – diamond-ringed, French-manicured – fumbled at her belt. A wolf the colour of burnt toast joined the attack on Noah, and after a queer, intense, concentrated moment, as if the animals were having difficulty holding still for a photo, the vampire’s head came off his shoulders with a wet crunch. Immediately the corpse’s capillary system began to darken, as if death had only a small window to stake its claim.

Outside, the chopper dipped and a cloud of snow shot in and swirled. I thought of TV feather-pillow fights. It was what TV girls did, in nightshirts, in panties, in men’s dreams. I’d never had a pillow fight in my life. The wolf on the redhead contorted as a spray of bullets struck its flank, then slid to the floor, tongue lolling. Two tall young vampire males with machine guns stood in the doorway, one facing in, the other out, laying down covering fire. I could feel wolves getting hit in numbers, a faint gunshot tattoo in my bones. The redhead, splashed and smeared with blood, ran to her friends at the door. Wolves were howling and yelping, jack-knifing, taking bullets. Three leaped in through the broken window and stood guard over me. Their good rich odour blotted out the vampires’ smell. I looked back up at the ceiling. The grey-haired one, crouched against a beam, stared down at me for a moment, the sack clutched tight against his chest, then sprang and swooped for the door, where the other three, as if choreographed, ducked down to let him, with his bagged captive, out over their heads.

‘Au revoir, Talulla,’ the redhead said. Then all of them ran for the chopper.


Clouds had come up from the south and covered the moon. Outside the darkness and the snow had a yellow tint. Cold air meandered through the wide-open door and broken window, ruffled the pages of Moll Flanders on the dining table. (Keep reading, Lu, Jake had advised. Literature is humanity’s broad-minded alter-ego, with room in its heart even for monsters, even for you. It’s humanity without the judgement. Trust me, it’ll help.) On the back of the dust jacket, I remembered, was a quote: ‘Moll is immoral, shallow, hypocritical, heartless, a bad woman: yet Moll is marvellous.’ That was the sort of character I was supposed to have become. That was the sort of character I’d failed to become. No, I thought, as two of my guard wolves struggled to get a grip with their teeth on the steel skewering my right hand, Talulla is not marvellous. Talulla is fucking useless. I kept seeing them prising my fingers back one by one. I kept feeling the distinctive weight of the child lifted from me. I kept groping in the void where my horror or rage should have been. I remembered reading a story about a woman whose ten-year-old daughter goes missing and is eventually found dead, having been raped and murdered. There’s this moment when the police come to the mother’s house to tell her they’ve found the body, and even as she’s hearing the words and understanding what’s happened she’s staring at the living-room floor where there’s a TV guide with Monica and Chandler from Friends on the cover and along with I’m very sorry to have to tell you, we’ve found the body of a girl matching the description is the thing about Matthew Perry being in a sex-addiction clinic and the two things are both in her head at the same time and it’s a disgusting equalisation and it must mean she’s evil or insane.

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