Talulla Rising Page 4

‘It’s a lie about the ransom, isn’t it?’ Kaitlyn said, when I reached the bottom step. ‘I mean I’m not stupid. No one who gives a shit about me’s got any money.’ She was through the crying phase. She was through all the dramatic phases: shock, terror, rage, grief. It had taken seventy-two hours. Now there was mechanical misery. If we held her long enough it would become boredom. Eventually acceptance. But of course we weren’t going to hold her long enough. Why do you keep going down there? Cloquet wanted to know. You don’t have to have contact with her. Why don’t you let me deal with it?

‘It’s bullshit,’ Kaitlyn said. ‘I know it is. There’s no fucking ransom.’

The ransom story had been a kindness. To fill the hole. Which would otherwise have filled with terrible things. Though never in a hundred years the correct terrible thing. I felt sorry for her. The Curse didn’t purge empathy. It waited for transformation to alchemise it into cruelty. That was why I kept coming down here, to measure how much of my human remained. Too much. Always too much. That was the genius of lycanthropy: species divorce was never finalised. No matter what you did to humans their claim on your feelings endured. (Wulf rolled its eyes. Of course their claim on your feelings endures. If it didn’t, killing and eating them wouldn’t feel so unbelievably good, would it?)

‘Tell me,’ Kaitlyn pleaded.

Her jeans smelled appetisingly sour. My hands were full of busy weakness. Three months back I’d eaten a twenty-four-year-old hiker in the Alleghenies. He was covered in russet fuzz and full of startling supple strength, the way a rabbit or a goose is when you grab it. He hadn’t ever been in love. He had a lot of love, waiting, undischarged. Courtesy of the dark hilarity, I thought Kaitlyn would be good for him. They’d be good for each other. When they met. In me. Talulla the matchmaker. This was the thing with dark hilarity: once you started, there was no end to it.

‘Don’t,’ she said, when I took a step closer. Without warning wulf had flared and bulged, pressed on her intuition like a thumb on a bruise. Fresh fear opened her pores, released fraught pheromones, a mouth-watering mix with the acrid denim. The animal moved in my jaws, rippled, swelled, for a second seemed to have torn through – that familiar trick, so convincing I put my hand up to where the giant muzzle should be. Nothing. Of course. Not yet.

‘Tell me why you’re doing this,’ Kaitlyn wailed, at the edge of tears.

I didn’t answer, but I knew when I raised my head the monster was looking out from behind my eyes. Kaitlyn’s face crimped and trembled. The low room suddenly obvious and me like no woman she’d ever met. She put her hand up to cover her throat, where her skin was as pale as the flesh of an apple. The ghost claws tugged the nerves under my nails. They knew the body’s soft tensions and the joy of rupture. For a moment she sensed what was coming off me and thought not human – but nausea mugged me again and I turned away, heaved-up more bile. My fingers and toes strained in their sockets. My canines needled. A wall went up in Kaitlyn against what she’d thought because not human was, after all, crazy.

‘How can you do this?’ she said, not quite knowing what she meant. ‘I mean you’re fucking pregnant.’

I’d thought she was going to say: I mean you’re a fucking woman.

Technically I wasn’t a woman, but even I, dirty, filthy little girl that I was, had wondered if the Curse wasn’t an opportunity to offer the Sisterhood some belated help, by taking male victims only. Asshole male victims, wherever possible. But wulf’s tastes were aggressively catholic, demanded the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – and everything in between. Jake had tried it, the forced diet of villains (he once ate five murderers on the trot) but the monster had backlashed, pushed him into a reactive run of innocents. Wulf’s got God’s appetite, Lu, he’d said. Or literature’s. It wants the full human range, from saints to psychos. You try to weight the scales, trust me, the fucker won’t have it. He’d had the dark hilarity. Dark hilarity had been his MO – but it wasn’t enough on its own. He’d needed a purpose, too. That was the werewolf survival kit, dark hilarity plus purpose. For a hundred and sixty-seven years his purpose had been penance. Then he met me – and his purpose was love.

‘Did you hear me?’ Kaitlyn said.

I straightened, wiped my mouth, waited for the sickness to subside. ‘It’ll be over soon,’ I said. ‘I just came to see if you needed anything. He’ll bring you some food down in a little while.’


Richard, my ex-husband, once said: I hate that smug look a woman gets when she’s pregnant, as if her cunt’s gone on to the higher calling. It was the sort of thing he came out with to offend the po-faced, but deep down we both knew he meant it. I’d seen it in pregnant women myself, the new centre of gravity, the benign autism. Then, when I’d started to show, I’d seen people seeing it in me: a woman rich or dumb with certainty, glowing with inane self-containment. Even grief couldn’t touch it. I’d be lying curled-up on a hotel bathroom floor, face a mess of tears and snot because my idiot heart couldn’t stop reaching into the emptiness where Jake should have been – but a part of me always remained sealed, inviolate, wrapped like a force field around the new life I carried.

Until the night I met Delilah Snow. After that the force field pretty much unravelled.

By the time I got upstairs to my room the cramps were so bad I couldn’t make it to the bed. My face was a neuralgic map. My teeth chattered. I got down slowly onto my hands and knees and forehead. The thin Inupiat rug had a friendly smell of dust and patchouli and mould. Thanks to pain I’d rediscovered the humble rewards of lying down in unlikely places. I could hear Cloquet weapons-checking downstairs. It was what he did to reassure himself. We had hardware stashed all over the lodge. Machine gun in the laundry hamper. Flamethrower under the sink. Crossbows in the closets. A dozen grenades. Tucked beneath my pillow were four wooden stakes and a Glock nine-millimetre. (Glocks, Colts, Springfields, Walthers, Tri-Stars, Magnums, Berettas. Until the Curse I’d been no more likely to own a gun than I would’ve been to own an elephant. Now I could’ve opened my own store.)

It took me a long time to crawl to the en suite and begin running a bath. (I’d taken a lot of baths, less for physical relief than psychological comfort: they reminded me of my teenage self, the little white bathroom on the third floor of the Park Slope house, where I’d go and soak and read and brood and scheme and take stock of my body and jerk-off.) Undressing was a dreamlike ordeal. For a moment, I knelt in front of the mirror. Stone breasts webbed with veins I’d never seen before. Belly as big as a cauldron. Navel sticking out like a lewd gesture. It’s disgusting, Lauren had said of her sister’s enormous pregnancy. She used to be pretty. Now she’s just this fat, shambling cow. Lauren would rather not have had a body. As far as she was concerned her body was engaged in a full-time campaign to gross her out or embarrass her in public. I remember the way she reacted when I told her – a while before either of us had begun it – what menstruation was. What do you mean you bleed an egg out? An egg? Jesus Christ, Lu, that is so repugnant. Why do you make this stuff up? But even while she was objecting I knew she knew I wasn’t making it up. I missed her. She’d ended up siliconed and divorced from a Los Angeles gangster. It had been years since we’d caught up, and now, no matter how long we talked, we’d never really catch up again.

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