Talulla Rising Page 52

‘Forty seconds gone!’ Murdoch shouted.

Caleb took two steps forward and went down on one knee – but got up again immediately. The blood-ration was still taking effect. Tunner came close, hesitated, came closer. They circled each other. ‘I don’t know what you’re getting so embarrassed about,’ Tunner said to him. ‘It’s not as if it’s any use to you, is it? I mean it’s just as well it’s not a whopper, really, because what a waste that’d be.’

The boy staggered forward. Tunner dummied him left – then came in from the right and cracked the nightstick hard and fast on his kneecap. I heard the bone shatter. When Caleb went down Tunner marked him on the back and shoulder – once, twice, three times with the felt pen – to another cheer and a smattering of applause.

‘Sobel!’ Tunner called. ‘Give him another bag. He’s slower than my fucking nan.’

Sobel looked at Murdoch. Murdoch held up two fingers. Two more. Sobel grinned. Tossed the pouches in.

This time Caleb caught them, both, with astonishing hand-speed, tore into one and sucked.

‘Nuncle, that’s not fair!’ Tunner said.

Murdoch ignored him.

Tunner kicked at Caleb’s hand – and the unopened pouch flew to a corner of the cage. Caleb turned to go after it and Tunner pounced on him, actually landed on the boy’s back and began whacking his head with the nightstick. Caleb took three or four steps – an eleven-year-old giving a one-hundred-and-seventy-pound man a piggy-back – then went down on both knees. Tunner had marked him ten or twelve times with the felt-tip pen.

‘One-minute-thirty gone,’ Murdoch called.

Tunner dropped the pen behind him and with the now-free hand grabbed Caleb by the hair and yanked his head back. Caleb was six inches from the blood pouch, straining to reach it. The circulatory webbing was fainter now. Tunner smashed the nightstick across the boy’s trachea. Caleb, gagging, shoved himself to his feet – then launched himself backwards, jamming Tunner against the razor wire. Tunner screamed and twisted, ripping the flesh on his back and speckling the nearest Hunters with blood. Several of them were looking at Murdoch. Murdoch, lips pursed, kept his attention on the watch.

Caleb was weakening again. It took both his hands to tie up Tunner’s nightstick arm, which left the Hunter’s other arm free. With a strange precision he reached around, got a grip on the side of Caleb’s head, then dug his thumb into the boy’s eye.

‘I shouldn’t worry too much,’ Murdoch said to me, when the eye – or rather half of it – was out, ‘he’ll have another by tomorrow morning. You know how it works.’ Then to Tunner: ‘Two minutes gone. Aesthetically very poor, Mr Tunner. Aesthetically very poor.’

The rest of the contest was leaden and repulsive. Tunner gouged Caleb’s other eye enough so that the boy could barely see, after which the Hunter could strike virtually at will. After kicking the unopened pouch out of the cage he had leisure to retrieve his felt-tip pen, and by the time Murdoch stopped the clock the boy lay curled semi-conscious on the floor covered in dashes of red ink, face a mess of black blood. As a final insult Tunner yanked the sweats down again and made a big red tick on one bare buttock. It took Caleb, sightless, limbs hot and confused, three attempts to pull his pants back up.

‘Cheers, fuckhead,’ one of the warming-up Hunters said, as Tunner exited the cage. ‘He’s not much use to the rest of us blind, is he?’


What felt like several hours later Murdoch came to see me. I’d been put back in my cell and given half a loaf of bread and some cold chicken, which, after a clash and wrestle of hungers, I’d eaten. I’d spent the time trying to express milk and pinballing off the same few thoughts: I was going to die in here. The vampires would kill Lorcan. Cloquet would abandon Zoë. The Hunt would find her. I’d never see my dad’s face again. I had to get out. I was going to die in here...

My rhythms were scrambled. Wulf surged, came with confused violence right to the edge – the sudden deep strength in the chest and haunches, the iron in the eye-teeth, the shriek in finger- and toe-sockets – then exploded, left its ghost like a mist on the human machine. I kept wondering if, changed, I’d be able to bend the bars. I kept knowing the answer: No. The steel told my human hands exactly how far short wulf’s power would fall: not much, but enough. And anyway I’d be dead by then, or a vegetable on a gurney.

They’d brought Caleb back in a couple of hours after me. He was unconscious – or perhaps, if it was daylight outside, merely sleeping the sleep of his kind. His stink was dense and boiling. If I hadn’t already vomited myself empty I’d have been at it again. I’d watched the damaged tissue of his eyes blacken, shrivel, drop off. Murdoch was right, I did know how it was: the silent jazz of cellular regeneration. When he woke up he’d blink and look at me out of his big green eyes, good as new.

‘You’ll be wondering if you’re going to get raped,’ Murdoch said. His odour of leather and clean canvas had been joined by the smell of spruce male toiletries. He’d showered and shaved since the cage. ‘The answer is No. Science is coming tomorrow to begin a complete exam and analysis and my men are under orders you’re not to be touched. In any case, it’s not something I allow.’

I almost said, That’s a shame, I could do with the action. I would’ve said it just to provoke him, but having thought it, there, like an embarrassing odour, was its truth. Desire was, whether I liked it or not, writhing around in me like an insomniac snake. Now, along with the struggle not to loathe myself for my fucking uselessness, plus the effort not to think about Lorcan and Zoë, plus despair like a soft white bed waiting for me to get in, plus the reality of death hitting me at random moments like blasts from a furnace – along with all this was the grinning idiot reliability of wulf lust. Yes, well, say what you like about the Curse, Jake had written, but don’t say it doesn’t have a sense of humour. Sadistic or slapstick or absurd, but humour nonetheless. In Poulsom’s white jail I’d had a room with a door and a light that could be turned out, and though deep down I’d suspected infra-red surveillance there was at least the illusion of privacy. Not here. The lights in the cells stayed on 24/7 and the CCTV never slept.

‘Sex is a force for chaos,’ Murdoch explained. He had a lovely mellow-toned voice. ‘I let it into this arena, pretty soon I’ve got distraction, conflict, insubordination. It’s a rogue energy. This is an insight I have.’

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