Talulla Rising Page 51

I hesitated.

‘Please,’ he said, reading me. ‘No antics. You won’t be able to get my gun, and even if you did there are twenty men in the room next door. Not to mention Mr Tunner here. Absolutely no harm will come to you if you cooperate. It’s just a bit of peace of mind for your uncle John.’

‘You don’t need to cuff me,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to—’

He punched me, hard, in the stomach, faster than I would have thought possible. The universe sucked all the air out of my lungs and I dropped, first to my knees then onto all-fours. The pain absorbed me, immediately and completely. There was nowhere to go to get away from it because it was everything. I could see how far away being able to take a breath was, like a light on a distant shore. I’d be dead long before I reached it.

‘The way it works with me,’ Murdoch said, ‘is that I ask you to come into line with my will voluntarily. If you don’t come voluntarily you’re brought by force. I should have told you I only ask once. That was an oversight. I apologise.’

‘Getting sloppy, Nuncle,’ Tunner said, as he began fitting the now-redundant restraints.

‘She’s going to vomit,’ Murdoch said.

Tunner grabbed the bucket and got it under me just in time. I threw up in three abrasive installments then collapsed onto my side. As far as I could tell I still hadn’t breathed in. There was an anvil of blood where my lungs used to be.

‘Bring her in when she’s herself again. Here, give me that.’

Murdoch, now armed with the cattle prod, returned to the control panel, inserted his own key, turned, got the green light, then moved to Caleb’s cell, where the bars were already rising.

I couldn’t see Caleb, but I would have heard if anything passed between him and Murdoch. It didn’t. Murdoch just stood there for a few moments with the cattle prod in his hand. Caleb, evidently, was too weak to move.

Murdoch went back to the vault door. ‘Sobel,’ he called. ‘Give me a bag.’

Someone handed Murdoch a clear plastic pouch about the size of a man’s wallet.

It was full of blood.


The room next door was big and windowless, with the echoey feel of a school gymnasium. It contained nothing but a very large cage (maybe twenty by twenty feet with walls twice an average person’s height) that had clearly been constructed from other cages, doctored and bolted together. Razor wire had been bound along two of its opposite sides. Two dozen or so Hunters stood around it, most relaxed (one or two smoking, another drinking a Coke) but a few doing warm-up stretches. Two doors, one closed, the other showing a brightly-lit corridor. A whiteboard on the wall displayed a list of names and numbers in different colours.

Caleb was in the cage. The blood had given him enough strength to drag himself there, goaded by Murdoch with the prod. Now he’d collapsed again. Tunner, having fastened my restraints to a bar on the vault door, had removed his black vest and was limbering up by the cage, deltoids twitching, abdominals like a pack of boules.

Murdoch raised his hand. The men’s murmur died. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Mr Tunner. Time selection, please.’

Tunner rolled his head a couple of times as if to ease neck-tension, pursed his lips, took one deep breath, then said: ‘Two minutes forty-five seconds, Nuncle, if it please.’

Murdoch took out a stopwatch from his pocket. ‘Two minutes forty-five on the clock for Mr Tunner. Number of bags, Mr Tunner?’

‘Two more bags, Nuncle.’

‘Two more bags, Mr Sobel. Time starts on completion of second bag. Ink-up and get yourself in there.’

One of the Hunters handed Tunner a police nightstick and a fat red felt marker pen. Sobel, meanwhile, reached into a bag and produced two more plastic pouches of blood. Tunner entered the cage and the door was locked behind him. Sobel tossed the blood-bags to where Caleb lay. Caleb stared at them. I wondered how many times he’d been through this battle with his thirst. However many, he’d lost every time. Would lose every time. It was in his face. The only way out was not to drink. But the vampire always drank. Always.

I watched everything that followed. Partly because again the forced solidarity of imprisonment demanded it, but mostly because I was no longer (in fact, never had been) the sort for whom not watching was an option. Whatever horror it was, if it was put in front of me, I’d look. (My mother was the same. I’d caught the tail-end of an argument she’d had with my dad. You haven’t got a heart, he’d barked. You’ve got a fucking eyeball. With no eyelids, just permanently open, obliged to see everything. Yes, my mother had replied, with terrible calm sweetness, like God.) What followed was that Caleb bit into the bags and drank the blood. The livid circulatory map faded a little. He got first to his knees then to his feet, though it was obvious he was still weak, and, now that he’d had a taste, desperate for more blood.

Tunner approached, brazenly relaxed.

‘He’s not up for it,’ one of the spectators called.

‘He bloody is,’ another replied. ‘Come on, son, bar’s open.’

‘Let’s go, Casper.’

‘Teach him a lesson, son.’

But Caleb stood still. I could see in his jaw what it cost him, his rider simultaneously digging in the spurs and hauling on the reins.

‘Look at the will on my boy. Look at the will.’

‘He’s going... He’s going... ’

‘He’s not. He’s a fucking Zen master. You keep it down, my son. Good lad.’

‘Come on, Tunner, for fuck’s sake.’

Tunner was almost within reach. Caleb stared at the floor. His bare white feet were beautiful, fine-boned things.

‘Goo-orn, son, you show him.’

‘He doesn’t want to look soft in front of his new girlfriend.’

Which remark had two effects. One was that Caleb’s head snapped around to see who’d said it. The other was that it inspired Tunner. He leaped forward and yanked down the elastic waistband of Caleb’s sweats. Suddenly the boy’s small genitals were exposed – to a cheer from the crowd. It was only a second before he’d snatched his pants back up – but that was the end of his resistance. He flew at Tunner, mouth open, fangs exposed – with a speed Tunner manifestly hadn’t expected, since his evasive leap took him straight into the razor wire. Caleb spun back on him and suddenly the room’s atmosphere was tight. Tunner, now bleeding in several places, got away from the boy again, but only just. The crowd focused. The human heat and smell thickened.

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