Talulla Rising Page 55

‘I’d wake up and she’d be there,’ Caleb said. ‘Standing by the window or sitting by my bed. Her hair was the same colour as mine.’

She visited him every night for a week.

‘It was like déjà vu that went on for days,’ he said. ‘Everything she said, everything we talked about, the sound of her voice, the hospice smell, her white skin and her hand like ice on my forehead – it was as if all of it had happened before. She knew everything about me. She knew about my mother, and Jeff and Rochelle, and the cancer. She said if I wanted her to, she could cure it, and that I could go and live with her.’ He paused. Talking, and perhaps what he was talking about, was taking it out of him. The circulatory net had darkened in his skin. He was wet with the pink-grey sweat. He swallowed, an effort like clambering over something. ‘She wasn’t lying,’ he said. ‘In a film she’d be lying. In a film an eleven-year-old boy wouldn’t really understand what he was being offered. In a film she’d be sly, evil, mugging at the fucking camera or something. She wasn’t any of that. She said – ’ another powdered glass swallow – ‘she said she couldn’t have children like a normal woman. I understood. You tell yourself later you didn’t really understand, but you did. She never used the word “vampire”, but it was in everything she said. I could live with her and never get sick again. I knew it was true. I can’t explain...’ He had to stop for a moment. The last of the blood’s benefit was going. A convulsion took him for a couple of seconds. His odour sharpened, started to get to me again. ‘I can’t explain how I knew. It just seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. I asked her if it would hurt. She didn’t – ’ a spasm that lifted him almost into a sitting position – ‘she didn’t lie about that, either. She said it would hurt at first, but only for a few seconds. Then it would feel like drifting off to sleep.’

I wanted to hear the rest, of course, but I wanted to flick back to the Mia sections in the journal too. She’d made this child. Jake had set fire to her. I’d been Jake’s lover. Now here I was in jail with her child. Connections. Life with the plot again. Which will prove harder for humanity? Jake had written. The shift from a meaningful universe to a meaningless one – or the shift back? There are only these two modes, endlessly passing us back and forth like Tweedle fucking Dum and Tweedle fucking Dee...

‘It did hurt,’ Caleb said. ‘A lot. But like she said, only for a few seconds. Then it was like sinking into darkness and warmth. She told me to imagine a rope fastened around my wrist, so that no matter how far down I sank I was still connected to the surface. When I felt a tug on the rope, no matter how... No matter how tired I was... I must start to climb.’

Which, when the first drops of her blood touched his lips, is what he did.

‘It’s really hard at first. As if all your bones and muscles have gone. Then it gets easier. Then really easy. Then happiness. It’s not... climbing then. It’s like... being pushed up by a force... from underneath...’

He couldn’t continue for a while. Again I thought of the twenty-one or probably now twenty-two days he’d been here at this level of suffering, all alone underground. Like my son, wherever he was – though as soon as I thought it I told myself the idea of them torturing him made no sense. They couldn’t risk something going wrong with him. They’d want him healthy for the sacrifice. I told myself this while my facetious self said, Yeah, you tell yourself whatever you need to hear, hon.

‘She’d told me she’d need my help afterwards,’ Caleb went on. ‘Said I’d be strong and she’d be weak. I saw it all like a film, what she was saying, how she was telling me it would be. I took her to the room next to mine. There was a boy... I remember thinking... at school – oh, fuck—’

‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘Rest. We can talk later.’ But he wanted this. I remembered the relief, telling Jake about the night I was attacked in the desert, about my first kill in Vermont. You can’t live if you can’t accept what you are, and you can’t accept what you are if you can’t say what you do. The power of naming, as old as Adam.

‘At school,’ Caleb said, ‘before I got sick, people had started giving each other lovebites. It was a... craze. You were... cool... if you had a... lovebite.’

‘Oh my God,’ I said.


I could have laughed. I almost hadn’t asked Murdoch for the journal back.

But I had. And he’d given it to me. Keep reading, Lula, Jake had said. Well, I had kept reading. I thought of Lauren’s face when Mrs Maguire in English class had said that if a book wasn’t worth reading twice it wasn’t worth reading once. Lauren had waited till her back was turned then said, Yeah, ditto guys and fucking, but unfortunately there’s only one way to find out.

‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘I’ll tell you later.’

‘Tell me now. What is it?’

How many days since they’d brought me in? No more than two. That meant at most fifteen or sixteen days to full moon. Two weeks. Maybe just over two weeks. With a lot of work to do. God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive.

‘I think I know how to get us out of here,’ I said.


‘Science’ was three lab-coated unapproachables, all male, two (in obedience to the god of stereotypes) in their sixties, bespectacled and bald, but a third who looked like a young Clint Eastwood – or rather, given his polished skin, a waxwork of the young Clint Eastwood. No good. He had a bright, steady, impenetrable obsession with his discipline, impenetrable being the key word. The baldies’ age and aesthetic low-scores ruled them out. Even leaving my preferences aside there was an obvious credibility gap: they’d have to be narcissists or unfeasibly stupid not to realise something was afoot. If what I had in mind was going to work it wouldn’t be thanks to the men in white.

Fortunately, there were guards.

‘I don’t see any cameras in the corridor. Is that right?’

It was day three since my transfer to laboratory quarters. No amputations (yet) but I’d had swine flu, hepatitis C, HIV and TB, all of which my immune system had dismissed with a languid swat. Endless blood and urine tests; no stool (thank God) courtesy of wulf throwing up everything they force-fed her, although they bagged the vomit and carried it away with religious reverence. The great relief was that they gave me a battery-operated breast pump. Not out of compassion, but because they wanted the milk for analysis. I was drying up. By the third day I was down to a couple of spoonfuls. Not humanly normal, but then we all knew what the response to that was. I hadn’t looked in a mirror since leaving the Dorchester, but I could tell the last of the post-partum weight was almost gone. A world record, presumably, another random and redundant boon from the Curse – and a condition that (vanity or obtuseness) I hadn’t realised the plan depended on.

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