Talulla Rising Page 5

I hauled myself onto the toilet and slumped there, exhausted.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself, my mother used to quote, lifting my chin with her fingertips, drying my tears with her sleeve. A small bird will drop frozen from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself. It worked every time, until one day when I was seventeen and hungover and heartbroken and I turned on her and said that wild things were incapable, by fucking definition, of feeling sorry for themselves and it was a stupid bogus poem and D.H. Lawrence was an asshole. And she’d said, Oh, I didn’t know you’d become so literal. I guess you’ve joined The Humans. That’s too bad.

A single big cramp dragged something out of me. I got, trembling, to my feet, and looked into the toilet bowl.

Blood. Mine. A lot. For a moment I thought I’d had a miscarriage. Relief, panic, excitement, anger – then the realisation that of course I hadn’t, that a seven-and-a-half-month foetus couldn’t just slip out like that, that there were no limits to the sort of moron I could be. Meanwhile the toilet held my blood with a kind of pathos, something sad and ugly it was condemned to show me. Standing there looking down at it I felt sorry for the little girl I used to be, who’d had no idea of the terrible changes to be visited on her.

I never saw a wild thing sorry... My mother said it one last time, between morphine fugues in hospital on her final day. My dad had gone to the bathroom. I was alone with her. I took her hand.

What’s that, Ma?

The disease and the drugs had given her a traumatized version of her beauty. When I was small one of my favourite things was watching her getting ready to go out, which she always did ironically, as if it was beneath her, until the very last moment, when she was ready and would give me a look of female collusion, woman to woman, in the mirror. I loved that look.

You’re like me, she said.

We stared at each other. For a distended moment it was as if we’d become one person. She said: I don’t want to go. Then the drug descended again and her eyes closed. It was the last time she spoke. Four hours later she was dead.

I flushed the blood away. Goosefleshed, scalp aching, I stepped into the tub, lowered myself, eased my shoulders under the water. The heat took the edge off the pain, and the change in temperature surprised the baby into stillness. I thought of Kaitlyn saying, How can you do this? I mean you’re fucking pregnant.

Then something heavy and alive passed across the roof, very close, travelling fast.


WOCOP. Vampires. Didn’t matter which. They’d found us.

Adrenalin zero to sixty – instantly. (And a flash of surprising relief: they’ll kill me and it’ll all be over and I’ll be dead and with Jake or at least with Mom. I had a vision of the three of us in a beautiful Roman forum version of the afterlife, olive trees, blue sky, me carrying the baby, laughing.)

I slipped getting out of the tub and chipped a bone in my knee. Ignored it. Dressed quickly, grabbed the Glock and a stake and went downstairs to wake Cloquet.

‘Did you see anything?’ he whispered. His face was pouchy from drunk sleep and his breath rotten with Jack Daniels but he had the Cobra’s safety off and was waking up fast.

‘Felt,’ I said. ‘Didn’t see.’ He understood: this close to transformation wulf made big inroads.

‘Here,’ he said, ‘take this.’ A crossbow and quiver of wooden bolts pulled from the drinks cabinet. ‘Anyone comes through the door, you know what to do.’

‘You need me with you,’ I said. He started to protest, but I cut him off. ‘If it’s a vampire you’ll need my nose. I’m not asking.’

He knew I was right. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘but please stay close.’

We opened the door and stepped outside. Cold assaulted us. Moonlit snow scintillated as if with delight. The drive, cleared by Cloquet days earlier, ran straight to the dirt road beneath the trees thirty yards away. At right-angles to the house was a stone outbuilding housing Ski-Doos, snowcat, mini-plough, emergency generator and miscellaneous tools. The Cherokee was dug-out and snow-tyred, ready to go. I put my hand on its flank as we passed, the way a girl would casually reaffirm the bond with her horse. We scanned the roof’s edge in silence. Cloquet looked at me. Is it still here? I nodded. Yes, but not close. Vampire? I couldn’t be sure. We don’t get on with vampires, Jake had warned me. Mutually assured revulsion. We’re inimical to boochies at the genetic level. Genetic or not, we couldn’t stand the smell of each other. If there was one nearby the reek would soon have me reeling. My dead pins-and-needled in my arms and legs. Cloquet mouthed, emphatically: You stay here.

I mouthed back: No fucking way.

It must have taken us fifteen or twenty minutes to go around the lodge, stopping, listening. In places the snow was so deep we had to wade. There was frantic cellular activity in my chipped knee. Cloquet used night-vision binoculars for a sweep of the trees. Nothing. Nevertheless the ether trembled. Whatever it was it was still here, moving as we moved, preserving the distance between us, an odour or vibe maddeningly just out of range.

We made it back to the driveway, exhausted, without incident. Cloquet’s face looked scrubbed awake. A dewdrop hung from the tip of his nose. I knew what he was thinking: if I’d sensed a vampire then a vampire had sensed me. Our cover was gone. We’d have to move. Right now. That thought – flight, again, the energy it would demand – filled me with fervent weakness. I tried to see myself rushing upstairs and throwing essentials into a bag. The image drained me. I closed my eyes and rested my head gently against the Cherokee’s passenger window. I wanted to sleep. For ever. Lie down in the snow and go out. Go out, go out beyond all doubt—

Then the scent hit me full force, and I knew what it was.

I opened my mouth to tell Cloquet – didn’t need to: a wolf, lean and dark and silent, dropped like a long dollop of molasses from the roof to the pitched porch, sprang from there onto the bonnet of the Jeep, paused, didn’t look at me, then leaped down and took off along the drive.

We watched without a word until it disappeared into the trees.

Smiling, I realised it was the first time I’d smiled in days, maybe weeks. I’d got one glimpse of his green mineral eyes and a big pulse of his alert masculine allegiance. I’d felt myself extending into him, seeing through his eyes and (paradox like a zen koan) my own, simultaneously. An invisible nervous system stretched through and beyond him to an unseen wolf pack. They were with him, with me, we were part of the same tense consciousness.

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