Talulla Rising Page 19

And how did I know any of this? Because after wrenching his head back and opening his throat (vocal cords, take the vocal cords) with my fingernails I threw him to the floor and sank my teeth into his shoulder, went in the first two ravenous bites through the carotid, subclavian and axillary arteries, mastoids and trapezius muscles, dozens of capillaries and a screaming multitude of nerves. His life, hurrying, grabbed all the above and countless other things on its way out (into me) but flashed between all of them was oh Jesus Jenny get out honey get—

I turned.

A skinny girl of around eighteen in pink sweatpants and a white bathrobe was backed against the flank of the staircase opposite the study’s open door. Her dark hair was wet from the shower. The look on her face was the look you get used to, the look of strained revision, the human system trying to accommodate something that seems to invalidate the system itself – the way everyone thought computers were going to feel at the Y2K moment, midnight 1999.

For perhaps two seconds we looked at each other. I was thinking that no matter what you did to eliminate risk, risk found a way. Between us Cloquet and I had spent a week watching George, establishing his routine. Today there had only been an hour, two hours max, he hadn’t been under surveillance. But risk doesn’t need hours. Risk can work wonders with five seconds.

Jenny’s eyes were full of me. Werewolf. Real. All this time. Horror movies.

A tardy wulf muscle popped in my shoulder, made me twitch. I packed my haunches for the leap. She turned and ran.

She didn’t get far, but that’s not the point. The point is that along with her own blood-delivered montage of kindergarten’s disinfectant smell and her mother letting her lick the spoon’s granular sweetness and the upside-down green world that time she fell out of the tree and Chris’s face when he came and how the vision she’d had of her future had come apart into uncertain pieces she couldn’t pull together the moment the peed-on indicator went unequivocally blue – in with all this like a repeated explosion was THE BABY THE BABY THE BABY and I realised (blood from her neck in rhythmic spurts like a magician pulling out silk hankies) that she hadn’t, as I’d thought, been going for the front door. She’d been going for the stairs.

For the baby.

My teeth had just met in her midriff. For a little while I kept them there while her pulse dimmed into mine and I saw it all, the unplanned pregnancy, the suspended college degree, the family shaking its collective head, Grandpa George taking her side (any time you need to get away, honey, you come and stay as long as you like) and the pain of labour like nothing else and the nurse saying you’ve got a baby girl and holding it up all covered in blood and gunk and despite months of not having the faintest idea of what she’d call it the name Delilah had sprung right out and she’d known straight away, under the hot lights, as if the baby itself had told her: Delilah Jane Snow.

But now, she thought, as her heartbeat eased into mine and her blood waved feebly and the darkness closed like warm black water over her head, a monster... a monster... that’s all my blood oh God it’s like sleep the way... sleep... steals... you...

Her heart gave its last soft shrug – and stopped. The house was in shock from the blood on its carpets and walls, my obscenely basic graffiti. I tore the flesh I had in my jaws (external and internal obliques, transversus and rectus abdominis) and felt her spirit slip not quite secretly into me. There’s always an obscure interim when the taken-in life struggles to find its place in the new prison. I chewed, stalling, thrilled in my palms, soles, anus, snout. A flicker of intuition in my clit.

One option (there was no denying it was a matter of options, of choice, of free will) would be to feed on Jennifer and/or George until I was full, until I literally couldn’t manage another bite. Then what? Leave the baby alone in the house? Take her with me and get Cloquet to deposit her on the local church steps? Call 911? Obviously I couldn’t speak, but if the line stayed open long enough they’d send a car. By which time I’d be gone. Or the nearest neighbour, half a mile down the road. There was cover. I could leave her on the porch, as in the movies.

Another bite of Jennifer. My fingernails had pierced her left breast. Blood and the close-packed odour of mother’s milk. The bulk of wulf strained and bucked, outraged at being held back from full plunge into the feast. But the slyest sliver of its being smiled, an effect like the pleasure of letting your pee out in a swimming pool, because it knew, it knew, it knew: these were only options because of the other option, the one that saw me going with thumping pulse and teased appetite up the stairs, to the pale pink room that had once been Jennifer’s mother’s, and had become – whenever she needed to get away – Jennifer’s.

And Delilah’s.

My third recurring daydream was of a werewolf turning to see its reflection in an unfamiliar mirror, a dead werewolf baby hanging from its jaws.

Wolves are not known to eat their young, Google told me, every time I asked.

Not known to eat their young. Not known to eat their young.

Wolves are not known for killing the things they love.

That’s werewolves, honey.

I’d been waiting for this moment ever since I’d found out I was pregnant. And now here it was, God’s last chance. My last chance. There must be some things I couldn’t do. There must be some things a mother couldn’t do. A spacesuit of heat surrounded me. My head was a lump of soft fire. Wulf smiled in me, the deep reassurance that all manner of thing should be well. I moved as if choreographed, mesmerised by the sight of my long-muscled hairy thighs going up and down for each ascended step in time with the throb of the new life up there. My human self was in deep adrenal enchantment, repeating its mantra like a dazed priest: I won’t actually do this... I won’t actually do this... while my legs climbed and framed Snow family photos went by, one by one bearing witness to this thing that I wasn’t, actually, going to do, because if I could resist this then surely, surely with my own... and then the bathroom’s whiff of steam and damp towels and coconut body butter and Jennifer’s young wet skin as it used to be only minutes ago, and then the pale pink room with its smell of diapers and talc and laundered clothes and the thing that I wasn’t, actually, going to do.

Delilah Jane Snow. Two months old, quiet and awake in her cot. Jennifer’s dark hair (as dark as mine, as dark as my baby’s would surely be) and a neat, round, cleanly detailed face that made me think of God using a very fine sculpting tool. She was absurdly unique, involved in her own schemes, which required occasional punches, swipes and kicks, as if an invisible bluebottle was testing her patience.

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