‘Me Love You Long Time, Ten Dollar’ by Helen C. Murphy

November 25th, 2013

The archangel Gabriel was mightily pissed off. That in itself was not an unusual state of affairs. Gabriel was frequently melancholy, sullen and prone to explosive fits of temper. Being the angel of death, amongst other, more socially acceptable things, had an infuriating propensity to play havoc with one’s social life. He liked to think of himself as multi-skilled, but mostly everyone just saw the black leathers, the pale ivory skin and raven wings and drew their own conclusions. People also tended to give him a wide berth when he played his silver trumpet. It could get very messy, like the time He asked him to put on jam sessions at Sodom and Gomorrah. He had really blown his audience away. It had taken him centuries to get the stains out of his robes.
Unsurprisingly, Gabriel had fewer friends amongst the heavenly Hosts than he would like. He had his imitators amongst the lesser hierarchies, which he treated with a disdain that bordered on pathological hatred – none of them had the balls to do his job.

Mostly they just fluttered about wailing about the unfairness of existence, dying their hair black and writing appalling poetry, which was all well and good, but did not help him meet his productivity targets. He grunted his thanks as Uziel, one of his trusted lieutenants, slid a full glass of bourbon into his hand.

Like his boss, Uziel was dressed in sleek black from silk YSL shirt to expensive metal-decorated boots. Reflective black eyes perpetually covered by impenetrable Oakley shades, he projected an aura of sinister cool that was second only to Gabriel’s. All angels were cool. They had their own patented images to jealously protect. Where the archangels led, other angelic beings followed. The divisions were almost tribal, gaggles of cherubim, ophanim or seraphim mimicking the style of their chosen role model. Of course, their primary allegiance was to Him, and if He decided He wanted His angels to return to the old uniform of white nightdress and halo, they would obey. But it would be silk Prada nightdresses.

Languidly, Gabriel allowed his gaze to wander around the crowded strip club, taking in the slightly tacky frothy pink décor and the pert-breasted waitresses dressed as French maids or Playboy bunnies. Gender was a subjective thing for an angel. Gabriel had once tried being Gabrielle, but found his tits got in the way when he played trumpet and were less than aerodynamic. To his horror, Uriel had tried to cop a feel, asking if he wanted to see something big and hot. Uriel took his role as Regent of the Sun a little too seriously. Gabriel now confined his gender bending to the first century of every millennium, finding that no matter how hard he tried, he still loved corsets. He had taken great delight in tipping off humankind about better uses for PVC than flooring and piping.

The baby pink door swung open to admit Raphael and his afghan-clad entourage, their forms obscured by fragrant clouds of smoke that smelled suspiciously like marijuana. Handing his rose-coloured velvet coat to the doorman, a granite-faced cherub with an artful five o’clock shadow and sweeping peregrine grey wings, he staggered to a table. Contrary to popular mortal opinion, cherubim were not fat winged babies, though many liked the youthful image and affected blond curls and plump-cheeked cuteness. The doorman was not one such cherub, his appearance owing more to the sphinx of ancient Assyria than nappy-filling human offspring.

Lounging back in his chair, Raphael pushed his pink-tinted Gucci glasses up his nose and waved at Gabriel cheerfully, a lopsided grin on his goatee-bearded face. Gabriel scowled fiercely enough to melt glass, biting back a scathing put-down. It was not wise to insult the angel of science and medicine, for although he tried most of his trippy concoctions on himself, he was known for slipping them into fellow angel’s drinks. The results could be interesting, to say the least. Propping his platform shoes on the table, the cuffs of his blue denim flares trailing, Raphael snapped his fingers for absinthe and girls. One of his cronies magicked up an acoustic guitar and began strumming, nodding to his companions to sing, filling the dingy club with ethereal soaring harmonies.

Fingering the smooth-sliding valves of his trumpet, running a loving palm over its gaping bell mouth, Gabriel suppressed the urge to raise the instrument to his lips and reduce the hippy-dippy, tree-hugging idiots to a smoking collection of bones. The best part of being the angel of death was he could always resurrect anything he had slaughtered and try a new method of execution. Unfortunately, He had decreed that His archangels were not to be killed. Ever. Damn it.

However, that did not preclude the dismemberment of lesser angelic beings. Brightening, Gabriel licked the sticky bourbon film from his lips and lifted his trumpet, only to have two silently roaring presences materialise at his shoulder. Muttering a curse, he returned it to his lap, exchanging exasperated glances with Uziel, who turned and insolently gave the newcomers the middle finger. Raguel and Sariel, respectively charged with watching over the good behaviour of angels and meting out punishment to miscreants, were unimpressed. Clicking his tongue against his teeth reprovingly, Sariel tapped his exquisitely engraved silver fountain pen against his leather-bound clipboard while Raguel ticked a box. Identical in severe, unflattering suits of clerical grey, steely clipped hair and slate-coloured wings, they epitomised the bureaucracy of heaven. And they always showed up to spoil Gabriel’s fun. He longed for the day when the irritatingly smug pair would be caught out and he could play them a private coda. Everybody had the odd skeleton or nephilim love child rattling in their closet, the most recent of whom answered to the name Elvis and lived somewhere called Graceland. After all, only God was perfect, although certain ex-members of the Host would disagree. Lingering until satisfied the angel of death would not let out a sly parp, they quirked an eyebrow in unison and vanished in an implosion of navy blue light. Looking around to make sure the bothersome pair had indeed gone, Gabriel swivelled in his cane-backed chair to surreptitiously point a long white finger at Raphael and his tuned-in, spaced-out sidekicks.

His trumpet was not a necessity in the game of piss-off-the-archangel. The guitar-playing seraph gave a loud indignant shriek as the wooden instrument spectacularly burst into flames, toppling over to lie kicking on his back as his friends swatted at his burning clothes. Unlike earthly fire, the blaze did not wane, the tangerine flames growing hotter until all that was left was a smeary ash-angel on the floor. The stench of burnt feathers was abominable.

Gabriel and his lieutenant chuckled throatily as the inebriated smile on Raphael’s face faded, wheels of chartreuse green lightning sparking in his blue eyes as he handed his glass of absinthe to a scantily clad seraph stripper. Hand jumping to the polished willow hilt of his sword, which due to his archangel status was larger than that of more junior divine beings, he locked gazes with Gabriel. Uziel looked expectantly from one luminous face to the other, glancing at his diamond-set platinum Rolex. He gave it precisely thirty seconds before his governor barbecued Raphael’s remaining entourage like chicken wings. Licks of blue green energy spiralled along the cold steel length of Raphael’s sword as he imbued it with his angelic power, a glowing nimbus of white light flaring around his chestnut brown hair. Gabriel merely looked exceptionally bored and yawned loudly, brushing a speck of something only he could see from the burnished flank of his trumpet. For all his cooler-than-thou posturing, Raphael would be at a distinct disadvantage if it came to a serious fight. Power of life and death over all His beings did whop the arse of any fancy-pants light show. Despite the fact he was technically not allowed to kill another archangel, Him Downstairs included, you never could tell with Gabriel.

Other angels often secretly speculated on just how close he was to an exclusive private room with padded walls in a quiet corner of purgatory. Several millennia of slaying firstborns and laying waste to cities appeared to have left him several virtues short of a second choir. Raphael decided he did not want to risk pushing the angel of death over the edge and backed down, sheathing his sword with a metallic sibilance and a beatific smile. Smirking triumphantly, Gabriel crooked a finger at a passing waitress for a refill, slapping the nastily grinning Uziel on the shoulder. He knew what was whispered about him, and he played on it. If he was feeling charitable, he might reanimate the unfortunate seraph at a later date.

Regarding the pathetic charcoal smudge on the floor with distaste, noting the apparent expression of deepest surprise singed into the  carpet at the approximate region of the head, Raphael frowned and belched softly.

Watching Gabriel drink a toast with his lieutenant, he stroked the pearlescent wooden hilt of his sword and plotted a suitable revenge. Vengeance was supposed to be divine, and Raphael certainly counted as such. If only Gabriel was caught doing something naughty, he would be sin-binned long enough for Raphael to enjoy an extended gloat and perhaps spike the drinks of a few of his lieutenants. They would be so high that the Almighty himself would have trouble bringing them down, not to mention the skull-shattering hangover. Where the angel of medicine was concerned, all the hyperbole about the undesirable after-effects of drugs could be taken quite literally. When Raphael threw a wild all-century party, it was not unusual to find globs of grey brain matter floating in the punch bowel. Rubbing his hands craftily, he called for a dancer. Disinterestedly watching a leggy blonde seraph with breasts like overripe melons peel off her sugar-pink bra, which was little more than two triangles of marabou-trimmed material held together with string, Gabriel leaned his chin in his hand and frowned. JC was supposed to meet him for a few beers and was late. Like any child, the Son of God was going through his rebellious stage and liked nothing better than carousing with the big, bad, black-clad angel of death. He had even taken to roaring about heaven on a silver Harley Davidson wearing a leather jacket emblazoned with the legend ‘Lived fastidiously, died young’. This amused Gabriel no end. All he had to do was persuade him to get a tattoo, and his work would be done. Michael thought Gabriel was a bad influence and often sniffily told him so while adjusting his gold cufflinks and drinking endless Martinis. What He thought remained a mystery. The archangels supposed He had things of cosmic importance to worry about that outweighed a tendency to drink too many Slow Comfortable Screws and make lewd comments about Mary Magdalene.

An obscenely high, toothpick-thin stiletto heel stamped down onto the tabletop, narrowly missing Gabriel’s left pinkie. Uziel looked up, eyebrows escalating, and he whistled appreciatively. Slowly removing his Oakleys, revealing impenetrable eyes of mirrored jet, Gabriel allowed his gaze to wander over the tall wedge sole and up the tightly  laced black patent leather boot to a fishnetted thigh. Waist cinched organ-crushingly tight by a buckled corset that matched her  micro skirt and opera-length gloves, all of which were gleaming black PVC, the stripper nudged aside his empty glass with her foot. A single eyebrow quirking at her audacity, Gabriel produced a crisp green bill, tucked it into the top of her thigh boots and asked what her name was. Tossing back her shiny black bob, dark almond eyes heavy, lips whore crimson, she huskily breathed that it was Salome. Gabriel grinned toothily and allowed himself a gruff chuckle as she began to gyrate to the music, pulling at the fingertips of her gloves with perfect teeth. They were all called Salome, Delilah, Jezebel or  Lilith. There were less Liliths around than one might imagine. Imitators who dared steal her name tended to pale before the sheer feral female magnificence of the original. That and the fact she had a habit of punishing impersonators by forcibly turning them male before castrating them with blunt spoons. Gabriel had dated Lilith for a few millennia until she unceremoniously dumped him, declaring she was bored and wanted more to do at weekends than jazz concerts and Earth fetish clubs. Currently, she was running an exclusive dungeon in purgatory, flagellating male angels for their venial sins and the odd minor demonic being who did it just for recreation. Secretly, Gabriel had been quite glad when she gave him his marching orders. Though he was loath to admit it, he simply could not keep up with her.

Iridescent magpie wings spread behind her, effortlessly defying the laws of gravity, Salome inched off her glove and threw it into Gabriel’s lap. Daring to run her tiny fingers over his jaw, she began to remove the second, oblivious to Uziel’s eager gaze. Enviously watching as his boss fingered the discarded glove, something approaching interest sparking in his black eyes, Uziel pulled a note from his Channel calfskin wallet and leaned forward to slip it down her cantilevered cleavage. Finding his wrist caught by a powerful white hand, the delicate bones grinding, he bit back a cry as Gabriel glared daggers at him. Meekly sitting down, he pulled out several sharp blades and winced at the damage to his jacket. Working for the angel of death meant hefty bills at the tailors and dry-cleaners, not to mention the life insurance premiums.

The second knee-tremblingly glossy PVC glove hit Uziel in the face, wrapping around his head. He snatched it off and cradled his prize in sweaty palms, transfixed by the lazy, come-hither sway of her hips. Head tipped to one side, looking just as predatory and dangerous as he was, Gabriel watched as she began to unbuckle her corset, cooing endearments. Such an eye-wateringly restrictive garment would almost certainly have fractured the ribs of a human, and listening to the tortured creak of metal boning, he was not convinced Salome was entirely comfortable.

Glancing across at Uziel, whose wet pink tongue had unfurled almost to his knees, he pulled out his cellphone and surreptitiously made a call. Snapping shut his phone, Gabriel gave a wire thin, chilling smile and slid it into the inside pocket of his silk-lined black leather trenchcoat. Casually, he asked who she worked for, as she was not like the usual line-up of blonde, milk-skinned seraphim with raspberry-glossed lips and tiny pastel bikinis. When she replied she was one of Lilith’s Girls, with a capital ‘L’ and ‘G’, the angel of death merely nodded sagely and sat back to enjoy the show. Seeing Uziel’s tongue was trailing on the floor, he rolled his eyes with an air of long-suffering patience as Salome burst free of her corset with a sound like two popped springs. Sliding her hands enticingly along the glistening length of her thigh boots, laughing at the gradually increasing puddle of drool at Uziel’s feet, she flicked a disdainfully dismissive glance at a waitress who dared flutter past to collect empty glasses.

Several seraph strippers stomped away in disgust as their marks began to pay less attention to their pink-pantied rears and more to the razor- cheeked Salome. Provocatively, she dropped her corset into Gabriel’s lap, much to his lieutenant’s disgruntlement. It settled with a faint squeaking creak of PVC over his trumpet, metal boning concertinaing the material. Plucking another note from his wallet, he proffered it between his index and middle fingers. Bending over backwards with the inhuman flexibility of a reticulated python, she closed her teeth on the bill, the small silver rings in her nipples glinting in the light from the slowly revolving mirror ball. By this time, Uziel looked about ready to explode like an angel-sized thermonuclear device, wisps of steam emerging from beneath his collar.

Deciding there were things he needed doing that very instant, Gabriel snapped his fingers imperiously beneath his nose. Much as he trusted his number one lieutenant to do his job, Uziel had an annoying disposition towards rampant lechery. When one wore all black, questionable stains were extremely hard to conceal or explain away. Excluding blood, of course. Jackdaw wings unfurling indignantly, Uziel almost took umbrage at the interruption, then remembered his place. The last seraph in Gabriel’s employment who had put a metal-heeled biker boot over the line was currently serving as a wine rack in his cellars, bottles of vintage Bollinger wedged into his exposed ribcage. Many an unsuspecting guest was shocked to find the wine rack breathing and uttering the occasional low moan of despair, eternally caught between life and death. Catching his boss’s glittering reptilian eyes, receiving silent orders, Uziel readjusted his Oakleys, snapped a brisk salute and disappeared in a muted implosion of vermilion light.

Wrinkling his nose at the lingering odour of sulphur, Gabriel made a mental note to talk to his underling. Being mean, moody and wearing hideously expensive designer clothing was one thing, but it did not go down well with the establishment if angels were caught imitating the Big Bad’s calling card. Besides which, no angel in his outfit should go around smelling like a catalytic converter. No matter how popular it became, Armani would never produce cologne that smelled awfully like bad eggs.

A sly, self-satisfied smile bowed Salome’s crimson-slicked lips and she descended from the table with a minimal flick of her wings. She landed faultlessly, an Oriental fetish Barbie with all the right accessories. Slithering into Gabriel’s lap, daring to move aside his trumpet, she slipped her arms around his neck and whispered something smutty into his ear.

The proposal was quite indecent and required parting with a considerable amount of cash.

Idly sliding a hand up her thigh, the angel of death began to smile. It was not a pleasant sight. It was the kind of smile that made mothers with nubile teenage daughters nervous and pretty, smooth-cheeked boys even more so.

Casually, he retrieved his wallet and checked how much money he had, making sure the crisp wads of ten, twenty and one hundred-dollar bills printed with His face were clearly visible. The exchange rate was good at the moment, although there was talk of introducing a single currency that could be used in heaven as well as purgatory. This had caused a furore in the angelic and demonic business communities alike, prompting dark mutterings about devaluation and the destruction of economic autonomy. The uproar, backbiting and general ill feeling had kept Raguel and Sariel buzzing about like two anally retentive grey bees for centuries.

Apparently satisfied with the ludicrous amount of cash in his wallet, Gabriel nodded, allowing her to take his hand and lead him away. Across the floor, Raphael watched as Salome shimmied her way to a cotton candy pink door marked ‘private’, and all but hauled the angel of death through. The door slammed shut, leaving a single floating raven feather and a discarded PVC microskirt. There was a loud crash followed by tinkling glass as a waitress tripped over it, ending up sprawled with legs at ten and two on the floor. Cackling wildly, so much so he dislodged his Gucci shades from their already precarious position on the bridge of his nose, he rubbed his hands with glee.

Soliciting a whore was definitely a sin. His scheme was working with heavenly perfection, which was to be expected. After all, he was one of His archangels – the closest living beings to God. Well, apart from Jesus. Pupils dilated to black hole proportions, he joked how it was about bloody time Gabriel got to duet after centuries of playing solo.

His entourage sniggered obediently, having reached the stage of intoxication that allowed them to laugh at anything and everything. A prerequisite of joining Raphael’s clique was the ability to drop tabs of industrial-strength acid and any other psychotropic substance like Smarties. Several were spreading out the powdery ash remains of the incinerated angel and doodling in it with their fingers, cooing over the pretty patterns. A mop-topped seraph in a collarless suit began to wheeze with helpless giggles as he realised he had got some of his erstwhile drinking buddy on his carefully shined Chelsea boots. The angel of science and medicine rolled his eyes, realising he would have to foot the bill for the carpet cleaning. Retrieving his solid silver Viner’s absinthe spoon from the centre of the table, he lovingly filled it with sugar and poured on a little of the fey green, noxious-looking liquor. Snapping his fingers, he produced a clear blue flame from the tip of his thumb and proceeded to light the absinthe-soaked sugar. Watching greedily as it dripped through the spoon’s perforated bowl into his half full glass, he expertly added water, snuffing the flames. Cheerfully quoting Mary Poppins to his cronies as he lifted the glass for a swallow, he blew out his lit thumb. Everyone laughed, including the strippers, who were very pleased the client-snatching Salome was off the scene.

Beaming like a stoned Cheshire cat, Raphael fluttered his psychedelic wings and leisurely contemplated dropping a line to Raguel and Sariel’s secretary. Just as dour and uninteresting as her bosses, her efficiency was legendary, as was her suspect enthusiasm for her job. Prim in grey pinstripe and Jackie O horn-rims, a boot-faced, Bond-less Miss Moneypenny with wings, it was rumoured she had suggested beginning criminal proceedings against Lilith for lowering the tone in purgatory. Raphael, the mighty archangel who sat at the right hand of God, shuddered slightly. Nobody screwed with Her and lived. Except perhaps Gabriel and Him Downstairs. She evidently had a soft spot for the angel of death, meaning she did not kill and dismember him on sight like she had other ex-squeezes. As for Lucifer, they had had an on-off fling for millennia.

Careful not to think the name too loud in case he accidentally invoked the Ultimate Evil, Raphael pouted jealously. The Son of Morning, the fairest of the Host, always managed to get the girl, even after his unfortunate tumble from grace and subsequent make-over involving horns, cloven hooves and a forked tail. Sending a folded green hundred-dollar bill in the general direction of the nearest bee-stung-lipped stripper with a flick of his index finger, he began compiling a mental list of misdemeanors. Solicitation, bringing a respectable business into disrepute, threatening behaviour, oh, and a criminal dress sense. The untimely and downright impolite cremation of his seraph guitar player was somewhere below Gabriel’s taste in fashion on Raphael’s list. The angel of death would have the book thrown at him. Not The Book, just the one with all the rules and regulations compiled by countless millennia of the celestial civil service. Raphael pondered that such a book would undoubtedly crush Gabriel flat like an unnaturally shiny black creepy-crawly. Squish.

Briefly wondering what the inside of an archangel looked like, he settled back to enjoy his drink while a small herd of bored-looking strippers lined up to prepare for the grand finale of the evening. An exceedingly professional bum wiggle began at one end of the line, progressing through the assembled ranks like a titillating Mexican wave. Arse wiggle, tit thrust, pout and stretch.

The club door abruptly banged open, jolting the cherub bouncer from his pleasant doze. Disgruntled, he rose to his full impressive height and grumbled like an approaching juggernaut with the brake cables cut. Uziel sauntered through, politely stepping aside to usher in a female figure cloaked in black velvet. With two beats of his sleek black wings, he rose to level with the doorman’s slightly pointed ear and whispered, gesticulating eloquently. A sharp-eyed observer might have spotted a wad of money transfer from the lieutenant’s pale hand to the cherub’s breast pocket.

Nodding assent, the doorman waved a shovel-sized paw in a fair imitation of a policeman directing a tanker filled with explosive trichloroethane. Uziel grinned, Oakleys flashing in the strobe lighting, and shepherded his guest towards the back of the club and the private rooms. Attention caught by the bank vault clang of the door, Raphael watched the pair like they were wired up to a not inconsiderable amount of dynamite. With Gabriel’s lieutenants, it paid to be cautious and have a fire extinguisher handy. You never knew if one of them would turn kamikaze and napalm themselves, secure in the knowledge their boss would resurrect them. The smell, whether in the morning or heart of darkness, was never pleasant, though self- sacrifice did seem to appeal to Gabriel’s sense of aesthetics.

When Uziel opened the door to the room occupied by the angel of death and the athletic Salome, Raphael could hardly believe his luck. He could kill two crow-winged angels with a single stone. The archangel’s sin compounded by a copycat transgression on the part of his subordinate. Too utterly delicious for words. Looking furtively around, Uziel directed a small bow towards the cloaked figure and closed the door behind her.

The angel of medicine hugged himself and kicked up his Jimmy Choo platform shoes, laughing so much he spluttered watery absinthe spit all over his sycophants. He clapped and whistled loudly as the strippers jiggled in formation, wings pumping furiously as they formed concentric aerial tiers that began to shed pieces of clothing at an alarming rate. Raising his fingers to his lips to let out a trilling wolf-whistle, Raphael suddenly realised that the velvet-cloaked, exceptionally female being who had arrived with Uziel did not have any wings. The ramifications had just begun to filter through his stupefied divine brain when there was an eardrum-bursting, strangely asexual screech from the private room.

Thrown out of synch, the graceful carousel of long-limbed blonde seraphim ground to a muttering, swearing halt. Staring around like so many Manga-eyed clones, they flinched in unison as the scream abruptly ended in a gurgling sound not dissimilar to ‘ack!’. All eyes flew towards the cherub doorman, whose job it was to break up fights and turf out inebriates whose halos were in distinct danger of strangling them. He grunted noncommittally, scratched at his sandpapery stubble and chose that exact moment to lumber away for a well-earned cigarette break. A questioning babble broke out, melodious angelic voices rising well into the ultrasonic range. A few glasses shattered here and there, dousing a number of laps and sleeves. Come Monday morning, the dry cleaners in purgatory would make a killing.

Just as Raphael was considering sending an expendable flunky to investigate, the floor shook like a tube station platform in the wake of the nine a.m express. Heralded by a vicious clap of thunder, Gabriel materialised at the centre of the dance floor, sending the strippers scurrying for cover like so many pink bunnies. Glistening jet wings spread behind him, coat and hair whipping in a seething maelstrom of wind and hissing lightning, he raised his dazzling silver trumpet.

Raphael sniffed disparagingly as the mad scramble for the exit began. In his opinion, the grand entrance smacked of unnecessary theatrics that were so ninth century B.C. He half expected a burning bush to appear at any moment.

Gabriel liked to remind the Host that he was Guardian of thunder and lightning as well as Death Incarnate. Wondering what had got his silk Armani boxers in a twist, Raphael waited expectantly for the inevitable rampage of mass destruction. Sometimes, all one needed to do to find Gabriel was follow the trail of mutilated cadavers. Overkill was an apt description.

Suddenly, to everyone’s utmost surprise and bewilderment, the angel of death lowered his trumpet. An audible sigh of relief rippled around the club, a sigh that trailed away into eerie silence as Gabriel began to grin, revealing far too many teeth. Finding his hand had jumped to the willow sword hilt at his belt, Raphael got an uneasy twinge in his gut. When Gabriel smiled like that, it was usually time to get the hell out of Dodge. Still grinning, the angel of death stalked across the empty dance floor and stopped in front of his table. Raphael’s entourage shifted nervously, a combination of loyalty and good old-fashioned mortal terror keeping bums on seats.

Obsidian eyes tracking slowly around, lingering over the anxious pastel huddle of dancers crowded in the far corner near the DJ booth, Gabriel blinked twice, mamba-like. Uziel and the anonymous female being appeared at his side in a flash of crimson light, their entrance markedly less showy. Upstaging was not advisable. The nearest group of ophanim gagged and coughed a little, waving their hands before their noses at the sulphurous fumes. Uziel shot a barbed glare, killing two and maiming another.

Returning his attention to the angel of medicine and his abruptly stone cold sober cronies, he began to grin exactly like his boss. Gabriel’s smile thinned and he studied the quaking seraphim as if contemplating which head to rip off and play football with first, while studiously ignoring Raphael. At his gesture, the cloaked female stepped forward and dramatically threw back her hood, precipitating startled gasps of ’succubus’ and ‘Lilith’s Girl’. Mob mentality took hold, reducing His representatives to the level of pitchfork-wielding peasants. If peasants carried limited edition Fendi handbags, which was debatable. They stared at the succubus. She stared back. Uziel made a rude noise.

Jet-haired and chalk-skinned, with bruise purple lips and enormous dark eyes, the succubus glared imperiously at the angelic beings. Shrugging off her cloak to reveal a spray-on leather catsuit and impossibly high stiletto boots, she snapped her fingers and magicked up a large silver serving platter with a domed lid. Gliding forward like a dominatrix ballerina on wheels, no mean feat in vertigo-inducing heels, she contemptuously swept away everything on Raphael’s table and slammed the platter down. Raphael looked at it, then at her, then at Gabriel, who merely grinned. The succubus snatched off the lid and threw it away. Pearlescent features tinged faintly green, Raphael realised the game was up. A severed head lay on the platter, artfully arranged on a bed of fresh asparagus. It was Oriental and obviously male, despite the smeared scarlet lipstick, earrings and formerly sleek bob haircut. The overall effect was kabuki-meets-porno-flick.

It
did not take a genius to work out that Salome had received Lilith’s patented punishment for infringement of copyright, and then some. She usually ordered a simple castration. A neatly written note was stuffed between the teeth of the whore-turned-rent boy. Jaw tightening, Raphael plucked it out and read the single word – John. With an involuntary yelp, the archangel recoiled as the disembodied head began to soundlessly mouth like a badly dubbed kung-fu movie. Unfurling a scroll handed to her by Uziel, who was torn between hopeless, jelly-kneed lust and fits of laughter, the succubus began to list violations of copyright, trademarks and licensing laws. Smugly, she handed the angel of medicine a Heavenly Court Summons brought by one Lilith, Lilitu, Lilia, Kali, Hecate, Morrigan, Nebt- het, Ix-chel (ex Mrs Adam I). Incensed, Raphael leapt to his feet, sword roaring into full zinging, lightsabre-esque life. When Gabriel began to laugh like an emptying drain instead of tooting on his trumpet and levelling everything for a four-block radius, Raphael got that sinking feeling. Stopping short, sword dangling from his hand like a naughty schoolboy’s catapult, he turned around to see Raguel and Sariel. The divine civil servants tutted reprovingly in unison and shook their Bryl-creamed heads. Raguel took the top off his fountain pen. Sariel ticked four boxes on his form.

Turning an unfetching shade of aubergine with outrage, Raphael began to splutter and protest like a boiled kettle, realising his scheme had backfired. They knew he was responsible for hiring Salome, taking Her name in vain and attempting to engineer the discovery of a fellow archangel in a compromising situation. One look at Gabriel’s smug little smirk told him he had known all along and cleverly turned the tables. Raguel huffed and Sariel ticked two more boxes. Speechless, the dope-fiend angel looked in real danger of having a seizure. With a dull pop, two cherub heavies appeared, a pair of cauliflower-eared bookends with dragging knuckles. They took hold of an arm each and towed the apoplectic Raphael away. Waving after him from the wrist like a child, Gabriel beamed, black eyes dancing like spiders. He would like to be a fly on the wall when Raphael had to explain this little incident to Him. It was not good for PR when the archangels were caught with their pants down. Raphael would be suspended with no pay for a few centuries and might even have his wings clipped. Score one for the angel of death. Nobody got one over on Gabriel. Clapping Uziel chummily on the shoulder, he planted a triumphant kiss on the succubus’s porcelain cheek and signalled to the DJ to put on something with a catchy tune. Turning to Raphael’s entourage, who were trying to sneak out unnoticed, he waved an admonishing finger. They froze like hedgehogs caught before a speeding Robin Reliant. Quickly, everyone else within striking range edged away. Several sets of terrified eyes watched as the angel of death raised his silver trumpet to his lips and blew.

(c) Helen C. Murphy, All Rights Reserved

Interview with Laurell K. Hamilton by Helen C. Murphy

November 25th, 2013

(Editor’s Note: these interviews date 2001-2009, so some information may not be current)

Laurell K. Hamilton has generated a phenomena with her Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Series. Since Guilty Pleasures was released in 1985, we’ve seen eleven awesome books, including her latest, Cerulean Sins. In this exclusive UK interview, this accomplished author shares some of her secrets to success.

Titles: (List updated 2009, though perfectly sure I’ve missed some!)
Danse Macabre, The Harlequin, Micah and Strange Candy, Narcissus in Chains, Cerulean Sins, Incubus Dreams, Blue Moon, Obsidian Butterfly, Burnt Offerings, The Killing Dance, Circus of the Damned, Skin Trade, The Laughing Corpse, Blood Noir, Guilty Pleasures, The Lunatic Cafe, Bloody Bones.

HCM: The Anita Blake series is groundbreaking – the rather prim Catholic girl with a collection of stuffed penguins who kills the undead for a living. What inspired you to create such a strong, memorable female character in a genre dominated by men?

LKH: The very lack of strong female characters in the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction seemed to act as a challenge to me. The men in the genre got to curse, have sex with no guilt, and kill people. The few hard-boiled women rarely cursed, rarely had sex, and if they did it was very off-stage, and not addressed much. If the women killed anyone, it was a big deal.

They had to feel really bad about it, and could only do it under the most extreme circumstances. Men seemed to be having a lot more fun, and it just wasn’t fair. So from the moment I created Anita Blake, she was meant to be as tough, or tougher than the men. She had to be able to more than hold her own, because as any woman in a male dominated field knows, to be considered half as good as a man, you must be twice as good. It’s not fair, but it is still true of most male dominated fields.

HCM: Beautiful monsters such as Jean-Claude are favourites with your readers. Why do you think the vampire is such an enduring cultural icon, and why do they feature so heavily in your work?

LKH: Why beautiful vampires in my work? Two words: Hammer films. The original Hammer vampire films, not the ones with Christopher Lee, but the low bugdet ones. I was a very young child when I was allowed to stay up late and watch those movies. Every once in a while I go back and watch them, and see the lovely men in the frilly shirts, and think, gee, I wonder if that had some effect on my subconscious? You think? As far as why the vampire has become a cultural icon. I can’t really answer that. I can talk about the fact that the vampire represents death, both the conquoering of death, and the embracing of death. And we in most Western cultures are fascinated with death, or terrifyed of it. Pick one. Either we like vamps because they give us hope that death is not the end, or we like them because they will give us the last kiss, and make of our deaths something more. For myself, I ‘m just orally fixated, and they get to bite people. Remember I like shapeshifters, too.

HCM: Did you think you would write so many Anita Blake stories when you wrote the first?

LKH: I planned on the Anita Blake series being long running. First, I seem to think, mostly, in huge chunks of plot. I rarely come up with just one idea, without having that idea breed a half dozen more. I am blessed in this respect, since I talk with other writers who struggle to get ideas. One of the ways I tell if I have my character’s voice dead-on, is that once that voice is right, other characters gather around them. The right character will create a world, minor-major characters, and plot. I am very much a character first writer. Before I had finished the first Anita Blake novel, GUILTY PLEASURES, I had tentative plots for fifeteen or seventeen more books. I still haven’t gotten many of those plots in print, because one book, or new character, will breed other plots, other books. But I gave myself enough toys with Anita so that I wouldn’t get bored. I’d seen so many mystery and fantasy series where the author seemed bored somewhere between book five and eight. But as I make notes for book twelve of Anita, and prepare for book eleven, CERULEAN SINS, to come out, I am still learning new things about my world, my characters, Anita’s work with the police, the vampire’s society, and the society of the shapeshifters. For me a series gets comfortable, and better for me as a writer, after book four, about the time that most people are growing tired of their worlds. It just keeps getting more fun to write.

HCM: Where else can our favourite vampire killer and alpha female go? Can we expect her to go out fighting or live happily ever after?

LKH: I’m hoping for happily ever after, but it’s not my life. Anita will do what she wants to do, which is what she usually does anyway. Anita is like most of my friends I can give them dating advice, but they rarely take it. Career advice, I don’t even try. I would like to see Anita truly happy for more than moments at a time, but I no longer know the route we will be taking to get there.

HCM: Do you think “The Vampire” as a genre is dying, does it have any real horror left in it?

LKH: To your question is ‘the vampire’ dying as a genre, let me say only this. More than ten years ago when I was trying to sell the first Anita Blake novel I had publishers reject the book, and the series idea, because the market could not bear another vampire novel. The genre was dying. No one wanted to read about vampires anymore, the publishers said. Well, here we are a decade later, and I am the happy writer of a very successful series that is just full of vampires and other onsters. Not only are people still eager to read vampire books, but they’ve become an even more widely accepted cultural event due to television. When you can turn on the telly and see vampires on two different shows, every week, it’s not a genre that’s dying. They keep predicting the demise of the undead as a genre, but they are tough critters to slay once and for all. I don’t think we need to worry about vampires loosing their hold on the popular imagination.

HCM: In your opinion, what is the greatest vampire story ever written and why?

LKH: I can’t possibly pick the greatest vampire story ever written. I mean ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan la Fanu, is still a senuous word feast. Stephen King ‘s SALEM’S LOT, certainly stands out as bringing vamps down from their castles and putting them in our everyday world, which was interesting, and certainly, had it’s effect on me as a young writer. And no list is complete without Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. That was, and still is a most lovely book.

HCM: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

LKH: Write. You’d be surprised how many wanna-be writers never seem to do that. Write, then finish it. Finish the story. Finish the book. Do two pages a day, every day. Do not revise as you go. If you come to something you don’t know, like what does 14th centuary underwear look like, put a note, skip it, and keep writing. I hear the wailing and knashing of teeth, but trust me I’ve met too many writers that have the perfect three chapters of their book, but nothing more. Three chapters isn’t a book, it’s a beginning, finish it. Once you have hundreds of pages on the other side of your computer, then go through and fill in those blank spots with research. Now, you can look up how to undress your 14th centuary herione. Now you can choreograph that fight scene. If you spend more than a week on a scene, maybe two days, skip it, write a note that says, fight scene here. You know who wins, just move on, keep going. The second draft is just filling in the blank notes. The third draft is where you begin to edit, and polish the writing. I did seven drafts of my first book, and I wrote it just like I’ve described. It sold. Most first novels don’t. My way is not the only way, heaven knows, but it’s the way that allowed me to write my first five to six books. I’ve gotten better at my job, and I no longer need seven drafts to get it where I want it. But I find even today as I write my fifetenth novel, that if I spend more than a week on a scene, I’m stuck, and I need to move on. Perfectionism has set in, and I’m trying to make it perfect. Perfectionism is an unattainable goal. Trust me on that. Just write, try not to worry, and when it’s done, send it out.

Try to sell it. For money. Not copies, not for friends to read. Sell it. This is a business, not a charity. Remember that. Your goal is to earn a living writing what you most love, right? Well, if that’s your goal, act like it. I always started at the highest paying appropriate market for my short stories, then worked down as they got rejected.

I’m assuming that you have researched your markets and aren’t trying to send vampire stories to magazines that don’t even buy fiction. It’s a business, remember. Sending your stories to inappropriate markets is like showing up for a job interview because you really want to edit fiction books, but you’ve walked into a computer engineering firm. They don’t edit fiction books there. Sending your story to the wrong market is the same deal.

Here’s another important piece of advice. Send the story, or book out, then get started on the next one. Don ‘t fret, and hover around the mail box angsting over that one story. It’s like a mother with one child, you worry more. So have more literary children, that way when one is rejected you know that there are others out there, that haven’t been. It takes some of the sting out of the rejection process. Not a lot, but some.

You’ve got to want this more than any other job, and you’ve got to toughen your ego, so that the business doesn’t crush you. Be tough. Believe in yourself and your dreams.

HCM: If Count Dracula popped up one night and offered you immortality, would you take it?

LKH: No.

Interview with Kelley Armstrong by Helen C. Murphy

November 25th, 2013

(Editor’s Note: these interviews date 2001-2009, so some information may not be current)

Titles: (List updated 2009, though perfectly sure I’ve missed some!)

The Awakening, Frostbitten, Men of the Otherworld, The Summoning, Made to be Broken, Living with the Dead, The Reckoning, Personal Demon, Bitten, Stolen, Broken, No Humans Involved, Dime Store Magic, Haunted, Industrial Magic, Exit Strategy.

HCM: Elena reflects the growing trend for strong female characters in horror / science fiction. She is a thoroughly modern woman, albeit one who regards society with bemusement. What influenced her creation?

KA: My writing has always tended toward strong female characters. I don’t deliberately create characters with an eye to making them ‘strong’, and I’m often surprised when readers comment on their strength. For Elena though, her physical strength was definately premeditated. I tried to create a woman that I thought, could survive–and thrive– in the rough-and-tumble male world I’d created. Physical strength and athleticism seemed important for that….a woman who could fight back and could truly enjoy the werewolf’s increased physical abilities.

HCM: Are you planning to feature Elena in any other books after ‘Stolen’? Will we see a long-running series, or are you going to concentrate on other characters?

KA: After ‘Stolen’, I do switch narrators, but I’d love to come back and do another Elena book or two. I have a few plot ideas in mind, so it’s not that I’ve run out of ideas, but simply that I felt it was wise to branch out to other narrators early, before readers come to expect a full series of werewolf books.

HCM: Your werewolves are very down-to-earth characters, without so much of the pretentionsness that affects other examples of the genre. In particular, the mix of human and wolf traits is very interesting. How did you go about structuring the Pack and its resident unique personalities, like the singularly psychopathic Clayton?

KA: The idea for ‘Bitten’ arose from a short story I’d written, and the short story was prompted by a whim to create a more wolf-like werewolf. I’ve always thought that the more common portrayal of werewolves as generic monsters is a waste of a fascinating concept. If you’re going to create a being that is half-wolf, it should really be a true human/wolf hybrid with real wolf characteristics. For Clay, I imagined a werewolf whowas bitten so young that he forgets ever being human. Clay is the purest representation of a wolf-in-human-form that I could come up with. He’s devoted to his pack and his mate….and he has little regard for anything else. He jokes that he’s the neighbourhood psychopath, but he’s very different from any of the human killers I portray. If a human threatens his Pack, he kills without compunction, but he’d never consider killing anyone for any other reason. Instead, like a wolf, he prefers to shun humans and live amongst his own kind.

HCM: Will there ever be a happy-ever-after for Elena and Clay? Any cubs? Or do you think they’ll bicker their way into posterity?

KA: By ‘Stolen’, Elena and Clay are settling in pretty happily. They worked out their biggest conflict in ‘Bitten’, and I didn’t want to ‘create’ one for the sequel. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t bicker, but it’s taken on a more teasing tone. As for cubs….. well, there’s a hint at the end of ‘Stolen’ about that one.

HCM: ‘Stolen’ deals with sorcerers and demons. Will the other big legendary creature, the vampire, ever make and appearance? If so, will they be as ‘natural’ as the werewolves, or more supernatural?

KA: Vampires are tougher to make natural, namely because there are so many more otherworldly abilities attributed to them (immortality, flight, regeneration etc) plus the whole ‘undead’ issue. When I wrote ‘Stolen’, I seriously considered leaving vampires out of my otherworld, both because these overtly supernatural qualities and, frankly, because vamps have been done so often and so well that I felt a bit intimidated. Still, it did seem odd having a supernatural world with everything except vampires, so I included them.

I did tweak the accepted vampire mythology to make them as ‘natural’ as possible. They can walk around in the day, they’re long-lived but not immortal, and they aren’t frightened off by crosses and holy water. That last one has always bugged me. Why is it that vampires are frightened off only by Christian symbols? Does that mean only Christianity can overpower evil? Sorry, that’s just a pet peeve of mine. Anyway, I haven’t made any changes that other authors haven’t made before, so I’m certainly not breaking new ground.

HCM: Do you think the werewolf and vampire genres are petering out? Or are they evolving into and all-new modern icon, removed from the stereotypical monsters of old?

KA: It would seem to me that the old idea of werewolves and vampires as ‘scary monsters’ is petering out. Your average serial killer is more frightening than a vampire, if only because people know that serial killers do exist and therefore pose a real threat. For the past couple of decades, writers have been moving more toward writing vampires and werewolves as more ‘human’, as a fantastical part of human society with both good and evil elements. I don’t foresee the market, at least for vampires, ending any time soon. I’m constantly astonished by the quantity of vampire fiction out there, yet it never seems to reach a saturation point, We’ve been fascinated by the vampire for centuries, and it seems will continue to be for a while yet.

HCM: In your opinion, which is the greatest werewolf and vampire story ever written, and why?

KA: For me, ‘the greatest’ would mean the ones that had the most influence on me. For vampires, that would be Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat, my favourite of her vampire books. Her novels really were the first depiction of monster-as-protagonist I’d read where the concept didn’t seem, well, corny. For werewolves, The Howling had the biggest influence on me, probably because I’d read it at far too young an age. That was the first book I’d read where the werewolves turned into actual wolves, and because of that, it was the first werewolf book I liked.

HCM: If Count Dracula popped in one night and offered you immortality, would you take it?

KA: I know my view may be in the minority, but I’ve always considered immortality to be a curse, rather than a gift. What would be the good of staying young and living forever if everyone around you always grew old and died? I’ve always seen a tragedy in that. So no, I wouldn’t accept immortality.

HCM: If Clay popped up and offered to bite you, how would you respond?

KA: As i’ve portrayed werewolves, there are ‘downsides’, but I think the advantages outweigh them, if only for the opportunity to change forms and experience life as something other than a human. So, sure, I’d take it.

HCM: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

KA: My biggest piece of advice, drawn from my own experience, is to write the story you want to tell. Sounds glaringly obvious, but the truth is that writers who are actively trying to break into the business often write what they think will sell. I spent years writing ‘Bitten’ and and off, mostly off, because I was certain that if I sold something it wasn’t going to be a werewolf novel. At the same time I was messing around with other genres, which I considered easier to break into. Elena’s story, though, was the one I genuinely loved telling, which is why I didn’t abandon it when I deemed it ‘unmarketable’. I wrote it because I wanted to, not becauseI thought it would launch my career. In the end, though, it did exactly that … and the novels I considered more marketable are still in my closet, and will remain there. My passion was with the werewolf novel and I think that showed through in the story.

Interview with Kim Newman by Robert-James Barker

November 25th, 2013

(Editor’s Note: these interviews date 2001-2009, so some information may not be current)

Interviewing someone in person is remarkably stressful. Especially when it’s someone you really admire and Kim Newman is one of my favourite authors. So, here’s me, a bit lost in London (which, strangely, smelt of dead things) flustered, nervous and watching the sky waiting for the heavens to open and drown me. It was that sort of ominous sky that hung above the city, or maybe it was smog and it’s always there. Anyway, by the time I finally got to Mr Newmans flat I was sweating and nervous and managed to fumble opening the door.

Plus the fact that the enormity of London had overwhelmed me and left me unable to find anything as simple as tapes for the Dictaphone, so if I misquote it’s entirely my fault due to my incredibly bad handwriting.

The flat itself was relatively modern, though it was hard to see the walls for books. Walking into Kim’s house was like entering a second hand book store, thousands of books, each one creased and read, and as I was to find out, absorbed.

Kim’s obsessions with the vampire started early in his life, though he’s quick to add that it wasn’t just the vampire, it was all monsters and this fascination is borne out by the array of plastic creatures crawling across bookshelves in his study. There’s also a Dracula set of shelves which made my eyes bulge and my fingers develop a shoplifters twitch.

We went for Lunch and Kim had venison stew, something the fitted perfectly with his Edwardian styled clothing and trademark facial hair. Although that makes the man sound wilfully eccentric which he’s not, there’s a very definite sense that he is just Kim Newman, not a manufactured media personality.

As we chatted Kim filled me in on Anno Dracula though the conversation quickly branched out, his knowledge of genre fiction and film is encyclopaedic. In Anno Dracula there is a definite sense of impish joy and Kim confirmed that he enjoyed writing it, “I enjoy writing everything I do, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” And he’s done a lot; Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha (AKA “A Judgement of Tears”) and the forthcoming collection of shorts plus one unpublished Novella, will most concern our readers.

Newman has also published Jago, The Night Mayor, Life’s Lottery, the Quorum, The Original Doctor Shade, Famous Monsters, Seven Stars and a host of non fiction books. As well as this he also writes under the name of Jack Yoevil, though he says the pen name was for no particular reason as he rates those books equally as much (and some more) as he rates the books written under his own name. He’s a busy man and tries to write about two thousand words a day, he has no rituals tied to his writing but like most writers I’ve spoken to often finds himself slipping into the heads of his characters and losing time, “I suppose I do go into a fugue state, and I always fall in love a little with my leading ladies, I think you have to”.

Anno Dracula has it’s genesis in a thesis about late Victorian apocalyptic narratives, as a footnote within the thesis Kim had written “Dracula is an invasion narrative, although the invasion is only one man,” Anno Dracula’s fearsome (and humourous) reinvention was formed from that seed.

“The vampire is a metaphor with many meanings, which is true of all cultural Icons. The Golem is the Golem, where the Vampire can be whatever you wish it to be.” I asked if he believed vampires actually existed “no, and I don’t care,” Anno Dracula is as much a work of satire as a work of horror, Newman has used the vampires as his ciphers, code touching on literature through the ages.

He’s not interested in eternal life either, “I don’t believe in capital punishment so even killing bad people is out for me, so no, if Dracula offered me a chance.”

He touched briefly on the fact that the trilogy was multi layered – you could read as much into it as you wanted. He then backed off, slightly embarrassed, he’s a very modest man and seemed a little embarrassed by praise. But I think he was right, the books can be simply a rip-roaring read or can be read deeper, to find the clues and hints to influences and interests of the author himself (for instance, he told me all the police in the first book are real names from the police who worked on the actual Jack the Ripper case, and he often does things like this).

He’s actually quite daunting, I consider myself reasonably well read and able to keep up with most people I know with ease, Kim Newman was way beyond me. His mind is a literary trap; he skips from Shakespeare to Italian horror films, obscure pop (“Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha” is the name of a song) to the fiction of James Ellroy. In the forward of the short story collection “Seven Stars”, Steven Jones (editor of many successful horror anthologies) says, “He has always been there when I have needed him – with a helpful piece of obscure information, a copy of an impossibly rare video, or just the short story I need”. After talking to Kim I can imagine how true this is, it made him difficult to keep up with at times, but no less an enthralling speaker.

It also made for some difficult choices for Kim, favourite author? “There are so many, I don’t know how anyone can have one favourite author,” desert island vampire books? “I am legend,” no hesitancy with that one, “Vampire Tapestry, Revenants is good, Fever Dream, Empire of Fear, Carmilla,” he looks downcast, “there are so many, I could go on forever and I’d still forget some.” He laughs.

The Anno Dracula world is populated by people we all know and love, Inspector Lestrade, crops up, various actors and actresses, Mr Hyde and Dr Jeckyll amongst many others, although some of them are way past the copyright laws still applying I wondered how he coped with the more modern characters.

“Copyright was never a problem, probably because I approached the characters with satiric intent,” but Hamish instead of James Bond? “I did that by choice, there were a few things I wanted to do with him that James Bond wouldn’t.”

From there we moved onto writing, Kim is a member of the HWA (Horror Writers Assocation) like myself and I wanted to know if he thought this was a necessary step for writers starting out, “not really, no. I mean, it can be useful,” then he said in a conspiratory tone “I just like to read all the gossip”.

He approaches his novels in a head on manner, “I usually know the end, then I just have to work out how to get there.” He doesn’t usually do chapter planners or strict guides and you get the feeling that he lets his characters guide the story to it’s conclusion. Although we only briefly touched on it he does research his books, he doesn’t just make everything up. Although he chooses not to use the net as a research tool. “There’s too much information and it’s hard to know what’s reliable and what isn’t. Neither does he see the net as a problem for writers in the future.

“A book is a machine and it’s very good at what it does, better than a computer or a laptop, you can’t read from a computer in the bath or stick it in your pocket to read in the park. If something old is better than something new then…” he lets it hang although the conclusion is obvious. He’s not worried about net piracy, “I don’t think it will have any more impact than books being stolen from shops has. No one really wants to read a novel off a screen. It may affect people like Stephen King, but he’s rich enough not to care anyway.”

Kim recommend new writers start with the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson, “Jeckyll and Hyde is a great plot, from there try mid twentieth century crime fiction, it will teach you not to overwrite. But the best advice is to write stories, read a lot, find old ideas and try and think of ways no one has done them before. Everyone has there own way of doing things.”

Before I leave I ask him what he’s got planned for the future “an occult nourish thriller with Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff.” I ask him if he will revisit the Anno Dracula world. “I may, I don’t want to outstay my welcome like some writers do.” How would you go back seeing as you killed Dracula in “Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha”.

He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, “Dracula was always dead.”

Interview with Freda Warrington by Bloodlust-UK’s Editor

November 25th, 2013

(Editor’s Note: these interviews date 2001-2009, so some information may not be current)

Freda Warrington is the author of a fantastic vampire trilogy, as well as being a renowned fantasy author, her books include

+ A Taste of Blood Wine

+ A Dance in Blood Velvet

+ The Dark Blood of Poppies

+ Dark Cathedral

+ Amber Citadel

+ Sapphire Throne
~v~v~v~v~

‘One one of the best young British writers of fantasy.’ – Publishing News

‘A writer of increasingly mature assurance.’ – Stan Nicholls, St James Guide to Fantasy Writers

‘She is emerging as a formidable novelist, already in command of dark romance and blighted love’ – Vector

‘Seriously out-Rices Anne.’ – The Vampyre Society

~v~v~v~v~

Ed: “When did you start writing and why?”

Freda: “I started writing little stories almost as soon as I could write, when I was around five I think. It was partly because my Dad gave me a love of storytelling and taught me to read before I even went to school. Also I think being an only child had a lot to do with it. I was used to amusing myself, and quite shy so I didn’t much enjoy the rough and tumble of other children. I was always happier on my own with a book or my daydreams, and writing was a natural progression from that.”

Ed: “A Taste of Blood Wine was your seventh novel. Why ‘vampires’ at this stage in your career ?”

Freda: “I have always been fascinated by vampires, used to sit up watching Hammer films with my Mum as a child, read Bram Stoker and JS LeFanu quite young, and started a vampire novel in my teens, so it wasn’t a new thing. The first version of A Taste of Blood Wine was written eight or nine years before the actual novel appeared in print, but was put ‘in a drawer’ so to speak while I worked on my fantasy books. I said to my agent several times ‘I’ve got this vampire novel I want to work on’ and he kept saying ‘the time isn’t right’ – this was before Anne Rice became huge! But finally my publisher decided they wanted it, so I was able to go back and have great fun rewriting the rather dreadful early version.”

Ed: “What qualities/attributes do you think makes vampires such an enduring icon in literature and film? “

Freda: “I think it’s because they are such paradoxical creatures. They represent things we fear, such as death or the dead coming back to life, yet also things we might desire, such as eternal youth or power over others. They can be terrifying or tragic, horrific or sexy, needy and hungry or aloof and mysterious. They can be anything to anyone, really. You can identify with them or battle against them. They are like the darkest side of ourselves.”

Ed: “Are any of the characters’ personalities based on real people?”

Freda: “I suppose Charlotte is a bit of me, really – I’m sure I would have been exactly that sort of hopeless quivering wreck if I was thrown into that awful high society party scene! And Holly in A Dance in Blood Velvet was based on a friend of mine who said ‘Please can I be a character in your next book?’ Unfortunately Holly turned out nothing like my friend at all, so I decided it is not a good idea to base characters on real people. Most are just out of my imagination. However, a few weeks ago, someone else asked me if he can be horribly killed in my next book, so I shall do my best to accommodate his wishes!”

Ed: “Did you plan the vampire books as a trilogy?”

Freda: “No, it just evolved that way. A Taste of Blood Wine was meant to be a one-off. But then the character of Violette popped into my head one day and I found I had so much to say about her it took another two books to say it!”

Ed: “How long does it take you to write a novel?”

Freda: “About a year, on average. The quickest I have ever done it is four months – I was given a rather ridiculous deadline for ‘Dark Cathedral’ – but that was a lot of pressure. Physically it is possible to write the words very fast, but the delay comes in having to work out the plot, the structure, the setting, and so on – not to mention the intrusions of everyday life!”

Ed: “How do you plan your day when you are ‘mid novel’?”

Freda: “Rather chaotically, I’m afraid. If I am feeling energetic and inspired, I can start at 8 or 9 am and work through until 8 or 9 in the evening. Unfortunately good days are balanced by bad days when I feel brain-dead and can’t write a word! When this happens you might as well give up and do something else, rather than sit at the PC torturing yourself! I try to set myself minimum page targets, say 3 pages, so at least I will have written something and not wasted the entire day. It’s hardest with the first draft, when I don’t quite know where I’m going with it. My favourite part is rewriting, when I’ve got the ‘skeleton’ there and I can enjoy filling the story out and giving it a final polish.”

Ed: “Can we expect any more vampire novels from you, Freda?”

Freda: “I had plans for a fourth, when unfortunately that particular publisher decided to drop most of its fantasy authors. So it never got written. But I would really like to go back to that world one day, I’m sure there is lots more to say about Karl and Charlotte and Violette and all my other beloved blood-draining fiends. Fingers crossed it will happen one day…”

Ed: “What advice would you give to aspiring writers?”

Freda: “Don’t be too precious about your work. Unless you are a genius, there’s always room for improvement. The best writers are usually those who are prepared to take constructive criticism and do plenty of rethinking and rewriting. Try to find a group of like-minded friends so you can read each other’s work, discuss ideas and make suggestions for strengthening it. This kind of feedback can be enormously helpful. Then when you are ready to sell your work, get the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – this is the writers’ bible, with lots of helpful advice and addresses of publishers and agents. Be prepared for a lot of rejection – this is usually no reflection on the quality of your work – and be very patient!”

~v~v~v~v~

(c) Bloodlust-UK.com. All Rights Reserved

‘Toizz’ by Mordant Carnival

November 25th, 2013

Trisha was, without doubt, the worst housemate I’ve ever had. When I think of her, I damn the ludicrously inflated property values that left me at the mercy of this lottery, that force me to share my home with strangers. Sure, I’ve met some great people through houseshares, but mostly it’s been two-legged nightmares wearing human faces like masks. There was the guy who used to get drunk and try and get into my room late at night, the graduate chemist who smoked the place out with homemade fireworks and kept brewing up great reeking batches of something in the bath (I never found out what), the conceptual artist who would ask the kitchen’s Instanator for stuff like fifty-seven blue marzipan cupcakes and two-score mock spare ribs to make some kind of installation, so that it would be tied up for four hours solid and the Deli-Paks were always running out (I mean, I hate Instanator food anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing), the alcoholic who ran up a £700 phone bill and left without paying it, the cokehead who decided to remodel the kitchen with a lump-hammer… and then there was Trisha. Trisha and her toys.

She seemed perfectly pleasant. A little vanilla, perhaps. I figured she might be a bit of a clean freak; you might have a few spats over the washing up now and again, but nothing worse. Her clothes were clean, her hair was washed, she didn’t look like the kind of girl who’d eat half a plate of food and then kick the rest under the sofa, or who’d wash down her cornflakes with Special Brew.

Even though she worked from home (she was a freelance something-or-other), I didn’t see much of her. Just the odd greeting in the hall, or we’d both find ourselves in the kitchen at the same time, making hot drinks in the old-fasioned way. I hate to admit it, but one of the reasons I took to her was that she liked to use the kettle instead of the Instanator, just like me. I never saw her cook a meal, although the kitchenware was used and washed up. But then, I was out of the house a lot: working late or out with friends. I didn’t really think about it.

I started to hear the voices coming from her room a couple of days after she moved in. I just assumed she had the telly on, or the radio, or something. But after a while I began to notice that it was always the same voices: one soft and feminine, one low and growling, another high and too-sweet, Disney cartoon animal sweet. There were others, lots of others, but those were the ones that stood out. They seemed to repeat themselves. I was sure I heard the same phrases, over an over again. I was puzzled at first, but then surmised that she was playing some long-running RPG on her computer. I didn’t think it mattered. She was personable, didn’t leave half-eaten pizzas or septic lentil casseroles lying around, paid all her bills. Even when I thought I heard something squeal like a piglet, I didn’t think much of it.

Then I began to hear other things. Crawling, clicking sounds, scratching. I wondered if she’d bought a cat, and asked her about it. She laughed.

“That’s my new toys. You want to see them?”

“Sure,” I said.

She went upstairs to her room, returning with an armful of figures.

“Oh,” I said, my confusion clearing.

“Toiiz.”

Toiiz were the latest craze. Sure, miniature robots equipped with rudimentary AI were nothing new, but Toiiz had just grabbed people’s imaginations somehow. They had a lot of consumer appeal: the cutesy kawaii look, the fact that they responded to petting by purring, chuckling and singing, the way that every Toii was just a little bit different from every other Toii. They were created to change in appearance depending on how much attention you gave them: pet them and talk to them, and they’d get larger and sleeker. Ignore them, and they’d droop, the fibers of their plush lying more haphazardly to give an impression of neglect. Emotional blackmail with batteries. I wasn’t sure how they were made, but I’d heard they made use of some new organic plastic or something.

I’d only ever seen them on adverts, or boxed up on shop shelves. Up close, I found them a trifle creepy. They shifted in her arms, snuggling up to her. One, the largest, looked like a traditional anime schoolgirl. It had deep violet hair and little black boots. The other two were some sort of jewelled lizard and a small hairy blue pig. The schoolgirl turned its head up towards her face and trilled something in Toiispeak. I cringed inwardly. Sure, having them talk in that baby babble meant that the AI didn’t have to be as sophisticated and there were no translation issues, but it wasn’t half nauseating.

“Very, er, nice,” I managed to say. She beamed.

“This is Moko,” she told me, indicating the blue pig.

“This is Jazz–” the lizard raised a forepaw and waved at me–

“and this is Leelee.” The anime thing turned its enormous brown eyes to me and fluttered its lashes. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

“Er. Hi there,” I said, foolishly. I felt like I had to say something.

“I’ve got loads more,” she said.

“The small ones, you know, MiniToiiz. I collect them. But these guys are my favourites.”

The introductions having been concluded to her satisfaction, she took her dolls back up to her bedroom. But after that I saw a lot more of the Toiiz, because she took to letting them wander round the house. I’d find them peering at me from behind chairs or tugging at my sleeves when I sat down to watch the InterTel. The doll was the worst, because it kept sort of flirting with me in a cartoony way, but I never really liked the pig either. Jazz the lizard bugged me less than the others. It seemed to be programmed to dig playing fetch, so I taught it to get my beers out of the fridge for me.

It was hard to be sure, but I reckoned the Toiiz were about as smart as dogs. They’d been given behaviour scripts that they’d go into: LeeLee’s flirting, Moko’s feed-me dance, Jazz’s hunt-and-fetch antics. You could train them, up to a point, but they didn’t deviate much from their digital rut.

At least, that’s what I thought.

I found the first casualty about three months into Trisha’s tenure. I’d come home late and I was hungry and tired, so I decided to put up with Instanator food for once. I flicked on the screen, selected some sort of pasta bake from the pattern menu, then made a cuppa while I waited.

The Instanator was the Autumn Nostalgia model, made to look a bit like an old aga. The stove top was a functioning hotplate, but the rest of the beast’s innards were pure high-tec. The Deli-Paks went where the fuel would have gone in days of yore, and the condenser was disguised as the oven.

The bell pinged, and I opened the door.

The smell was incredible. Roadkill on a hot summer’s day might come close, if it was a lot of roadkill. Choking, I took the mess out and shoved it into the incinerator as quickly as I could. What the hell had happened? Had one of the Deli-Paks somehow gone off? They were supposed to be all but incorruptible. They certainly tasted like it. I opened the compartment where the paks were meant to go, and immediately saw the problem. The protein pak, the thing the machine used to make meat or dairy-effect stuff, was lying at the bottom of the compartment. In its place hung a tangled mess of wires and plush and some kind of slimy goo. It stank, but not as bad as the bake thing had stunk. I put on a pair of rubber gloves and removed the mess, dropping it onto some newspaper. It was, without doubt, one of Trisha’s MiniToiiz. I was putting the Instanator on a scrub cycle when Trisha came in.

“What is that smell?” she asked, covering her face with her hand.

For an answer, I showed her the sad little pile of muck on the newspaper.

“It looks like one of your toys. I hope this one wasn’t particularly important to you.”

“God,” she said. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. It seemed to have got itself hooked up to the Instanator. It must have malfunctioned, or something.” She made a noise somewhere between an aww of pity and an eeesh of disgust as she peered down at the sad mushy puddle.

“I wonder how it got in there?”

“Fuck knows. Maybe you’d better keep them to your room in future.” I carried the newspaper to the incinerator, and threw it in. She watched me, chewing her lip.

She’d changed a lot in the months since she’d moved in. For a start, there was this whole sly, self-satisfied aspect to her demenour now which hadn’t been there before. She was dressing differently, wearing odd plasticky items that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the line of the body. They looked awkward on her. She’d changed her hair; her natural-looking blonde bob was now a stiff cap of some irridescent yellowish stuff that rustled when she moved. Her skin had the too-smooth look of PseuDermis, and her each of her nails had a fake microchip stuck in the center. Or maybe they weren’t fake. I didn’t know. These things could have been cool– I mean, I have a few mods myself: the memory jack, a six-hour speedola for partying, standard Virtua interfaces, some vanity stuff. But her, she wore all her new bits with a kind of pomposity that sucked all the fun out of them. I found her harder and harder to be around.

Despite my advice, she still let the toys have the run of the house. There seemed to be more of them every day. I almost broke my neck tripping over a lurid green snake that had decided to stretch itself out on the stairs, and one day all my pens disappeared, only to turn up as part of a purple dragon’s hoard in the cupboard under the stairs. The new toys all seemed to be the smaller variety, and not as bright or as trainable as the large ones. I was becoming increasingly sick of them. A couple of times I tried to tackle her on the subject, but she laughed it off.

One day I came home from work to find one of them lying in the mat. It was vaguely humanoid, but bright red all over. It rolled its black shoebutton eyes at me as I picked it up, and then it stopped moving. Sticky fluid was leaking over my hands; I turned it over, and saw that there was a huge gash in its back. Things were moving and twitching in there, but as I watched they slowed down and stopped. I felt almost sorry for it.

I showed it to her when she got in. She seemed unperturbed, merely observing that the neighbour’s cat must have got at it. I was happy enough with that explanation, partly because I really hated that cat.

But that wasn’t the last dead toy, not by a long chalk. The next one… I didn’t even realise what it was for awhile. It was just this filmy whitish sac, completely transparent. Ever see a frog that’s been devoured by a dragonfly nymph? They inject their prey with this stuff that liquefies them from the inside, and then suck out the mush so all that’s left is this sad, empty skin. The dead Toii looked like that. I dropped it with a reflexive “Euurgh!” of disgust. After that, I kept on finding dead Toiiz, each one in the same condition. When I cornered her and tried to talk about it, she just laughed.

“They’re only toys,” she said. “It’s not as if they’re really alive.”

“Trisha, this is driving me nuts,” I told her. “These things are everywhere. Where are you getting them all, anyway? Don’t they cost a fortune?” She murmured something about having her own supply, in a smirking tone. Like she had a private joke at my expense.

Things gradually deteriorated after that. The larger toys became more obnoxious by the day, always getting into my stuff, hanging around and singing to me while I was trying to watch InterTel or climbing up the back of my chair to play with my ears. LeeLee, she was the worst. Her Betty Boop act could have been designed specifically to get on my nerves. Jazz drank my shampoo a couple of times, but otherwise seemed subdued. It didn’t go near the other toys much anymore.

And then they killed the cat. Like I said, I had no love for the cat. The stupid dickheads that owned it had implanted it with one of those petvox things, and the evil creature just never stopped talking to itself in the retch-inducing voice that they’d picked out. I mean, it had a face like a sack of spanners and it ate its weight in birds every single day, and they give it this goofy, lovable-idiot kind of drawl. It didn’t know what the words meant, of course, it just had this bunch of stock phases; “I love you, Mummy. Come and play with me! Duhh, can I have a drink of milk?”, things like that. Listening to it chunter on in that voice as it played happily with a dying mouse was one of the grossest things I’d ever endured.

So, I was just standing there in the kitchen one morning, waiting for the kettle to boil, when I heard the neighbour start screaming. I shuffled into my unlaced boots and stuck my head out of the door. She was standing there in this little yellow dress and rainbow flip-flops, digging her magenta nails into her face, dragging down her cheeks.

“He’s dead! Oh, my Gooood! My little Bootsie! He’s deaaad!”

He was, too. The cat lay on its side on the path, its guts ripped open. Things were crawling inside it; I could see them, moving under the fur. I walked over to it. One of the things inside it flopped out in a trail of blood and slime. Kittens? No. It was a blue Toii, tear-drop shaped with a smiling mouth and big, liquid black eyes. It wriggled towards me.

The disgust got the better of me. I stumbled back and then began to stomp on the creature. With the woman’s screams ringing in my ears, I smashed it to a pulp. It was the most fun I’d had in weeks. That done, I turned and headed back inside the house. Trisha would still be home at this hour, but I knew she was up. I’d heard her moving around. I was still buzzing from the attack outside. I went up the stairs, shouting her name. “Trisha? Trisha! Do you know what they’ve done now? They’ve killed the–”

I didn’t finish the sentence, because I tripped over Moko. I caught myself, so I stumbled rather than falling back down the stairs. I clung to the banister, trying to kick that stupid blue pig off my ankle. It was squealing, clinging on with its hard little trotters. I thrashed my leg frantically, knocking it against the wall. It yelped, glaring at me with its shiny purple eyes squeezed half-shut in rage. I managed to kick it off, but it started to crawl back up the stairs. There was a flurry of movement, and then that damn lizard, Jazz, came barrelling round the corner and pounced. Not on me, though; on the pig. I didn’t stop to watch the fight. I carried on up to her room.

“Trisha!” By now I was becoming anxious. There’d been no response, not to my shouts or to the scuffle on the stairs, so I didn’t stand on ceremony. I pushed open the door, meeting some resistance.

She was lying half-in, half-out of the bed, naked to the waist. Stuff was moving under her skin, just like in the cat. She gave a moan, writhing back against the covers. At first, I assumed she was in pain– then I got a look at her face. That wasn’t pain.

There were… openings in her body. The things were crawling in and out of them. One of her fingers was plugged into the light socket of the anglepoise lamp from her bedside table. I saw LeeLee then, nestled up against her shoulder, face buried in the flesh, pink tounge licking at something. She was feeding on them, they were feeding on her… on whatever Trish had become. There was no blood. God only knows what she had in her veins.

I stood there, looking at the mess for a long moment. Then I slammed the door and went across the hall to my room, began throwing my stuff into my collapsible wardrobe. It took maybe half a day. Sometime after lunch I had the whole mess in my van, and was ready to roll. I knew there was no way I’d be getting the deposit back , so I nicked the Instanator on my way out. Oh, and I took the lizard. I didn’t trust it, but I couldn’t bring myself leave it with the others.

After that, the city seemed like less fun. I ended up living in the country with a few friends for a while, then got this place down by the sea. I’ve still got Jazz. Makes a great conversation piece: “Hey, is that– It is, isn’t it? One of those things. Eww!” It’s never expressed any interest in eating people, though I never did manage to wean it off the shampoo.

You probably know the rest. It got in all the papers: how people were using these things for the high that they got, and for a kind of extreme body-modification. How they were, in some horrible plasticky way, alive: how they’d eat stuff and get bigger and breed. How they’d kill each other, for food or just for kicks. How they could get into you, slowly turning your flesh to their plastic.

The things were withdrawn from sale; the company behind them seemed to evaporate into thin air with no lawsuits and only a couple of unexplained deaths. There’s still a few little enclaves of Toiiheads, but it’s not as trendy as it once was now that the initial frisson of scandal has worn off. Escaped Toiiz were rounded up and dissected or whatever, but cutting them open created more questions than it answered. There were rumors, notions; a government plot, evil spirits. Nobody really knows the truth. This urban shaman bloke that I knock around with swears blind that they’re some form of alien life, but then he’s said that about other things before now (including a table, some moss and his own hand). The general feeling is the designers had discovered this fun organic plastic stuff, and decided to try and find a way to make money out of it. They really hadn’t had any idea of what they were unleashing. A mistake, in other words, a fluke; just another dangerous toy.

I figured that they’d have learned their lessons, and that the whole sordid business was over. But I was in town the other day, and noticed some guys plugging in a new holoposter at the bus stop.

COMING SOON, it read.

PHRENZZ.

*******

(c) Mordant Carnival, All Rights Reserved.

‘Fashion (Turn to the Left)’ by Matt Winser

November 25th, 2013

The club was new, not the building but the owner and the name. The designer had made his reputation as an ‘enfant terrible’ designing two wine bars that caused an outrage. The seats had been covered in artfully worn and ripped red vinyl that had cost more than human skin. There was just enough glitter for show and the loos had been finished then ‘distressed’ using a three week acid process, scouring pads and at one point the design assistant’s keys.

Guerrilla marketing had ensured that the name was everyone’s lips and anybody who was anybody needed to be at the opening party. The mix was good, c-lists celebs rubbed shoulders with boys and girls who had ‘the look’, that something that set them apart from their peers. Everyone agreed that the club would be a great success, and whilst they hated the music, didn’t think much of the over priced drinks and would have preferred more comfortable seating, it was the only place to be.

Michael had made it his own place, he was at home with the bitchy attitude. People would smile at you then snarl behind your back, ripping your outfit, dancing and choice of partner to shreds in a second and he loved to dish.

Usually the DJ seemed to please himself, playing obscure records with mock german vocals but tonight he appeared to be trying to drive punters out of the door again by creating a sheer wall of noise. Michael bought the records and tried to see some merit in the electric squall and bad vocals, but they always gave him a headache. He would only listen long enough to produce a new dance then he was finished.

Every evening was supposed to be a different theme, but it always felt the same, same faces, same music, same drinks and the same hangover in the morning.

Tonight was Wednesday, so it would be ‘BitchFest’ He was getting ready to go out, having spent 4 hours deciding on what to wear. Cheap plastic tennis shoes, coupled with black jeans and an expensive suit jacket. He was bare chested underneath. He had blue eyeliner ringed around one eye and then smudged and a jammy red mouth, again smeared a little. He picked up the blue glitter trilby he had found in a joke shop and perched it on his head, teased some of his blonde and black striped hair out form underneath and pulling the front so that it almost covered his right eye.

He got some funny looks walking down the street and even more on the train, some Japanese tourists giggled into their hands and he was hoping that they would ask for his photo so he could say no and sulk. But he had to get off before they plucked up courage. A middle aged man in a raincoat tutted as Michael walked past. He turned and shook his head slowly at the guy, as if to say ‘I pity your lack of fashion’ it was a look he had practised.

As usual, because the bouncers knew him, they waved him ahead of the queue. He had the fleeting thrill of being somebody, as the latecomers gawked before entering the club itself. The noise made his eardrums twitch, he was sure the DJ was playing a piece of sandpaper to see what he could get away with. Just to see if people kept dancing.

He saw Jay and Char in the corner, sometimes Jay dressed as a boy and sometimes as a girl, today was a girl day. Ra Ra skirt, leg warmers and a Guns and Roses T-shirt. Nobody even knew if he, she, it was a boy or girl and certainly wouldn’t be as uncool as to ask. Char was wearing a loose, black kaftan, which would have been considered very un-hip, if not for the fact there was a hole cut in it and her left nipple was poking through the fabric.

Michael smiled at his cutting edge friends, inwardly cursing that he hadn’t thought to poke some of his anatomy through his clothes.

“Michael, welcome” Jay stretched out his/her arms as if to embrace him. But really it was more for ostentatious show, a ‘look at me’ gesture.

“Let me get the first drink” Michael was suspicious, Jay hardly ever bought a drink.

“What’s the occasion ?”

“We’re mourning the loss of your fashion sense. Didn’t you wear those shoes last week?” Michael felt his face flush a little, he had but knew he should lie,

“No I bought them today. Flicked through Sleaze Nation while I was out, apparently Melanie Griffith is no longer a style icon”

“Touche”

Jay tipped their glasses together and smiled, the smile didn’t reach the eyes. Char watched all of this with glee, the wet breathless eyes of someone watching a boxing match. Then she laughed on cue.

A song came on that they recognised, having done their homework. They moved to the floor to dance, it wasn’t so much a dance as a series of tableaux. Any silent film actress couldn’t have emoted more. When the song had ended, Michael needed to go to the loo, so he made his excuses and walked across the dancefloor, snorting at the rubbish dancing and worse clothes that he could see.

After he came out of the loo, he leant back and rested against the cool wall, plastered then gouged. He saw a tall man stalking towards him and felt awe. The guy had the perfect haircut, poised somewhere between mullet and punk. His clothes were a mix of designer and cheap and he had the biggest gold chain around his neck. He reached Michael and put one warm hand round his neck. He couldn’t remember if he was supposed to like boys or girls at the moment, but surely no one would blame him for snogging a fashion god. As the man leaned in, he opened his mouth and Michael could see his canine teeth were longer than the rest and black, shiny like PVC.

Before he had a chance to object, the kiss began and a numbness spread from his lips, coldly through his body. The bulbs in the ceiling grew a halo then he closed his eyes, gone.

He woke with a start the next day. He was in his own bed, no blood and no bruises. He felt a little bit sick and the sun seemed a little bright, but only because the curtains were open when normally they were closed.

His first thought was that maybe he had been given Rohypnol and ordinarily he would have burst to tell Char and Jay just to make them jealous, but today he just shrugged. He knew he had agreed to meet them later, then he looked at the clock and realised that it was later. Usually he would have still taken an hour to get ready and let them wait, but today he just pulled on the first things he touched.

It was only on the tube when he realised that he hadn’t put together an outfit. He looked down at what he was wearing, beige chinos and a polo shirt, and decided it was fine. He seemed to have a song stuck in his head, he knew it was Phil Collins, but didn’t really care.

Char was wearing a full nun’s habit and Jay was dressed as a boy today, albeit a boy in the Annie Lennox mould, people were staring at them, even here in London they looked odd. And they played up to the crowd. They both saw Michael at the same time and shrieked in mock/real horror.

“What are you wearing?”

“What?”

“Well there’s irony and then there’s too much” Jay was circling like a shark smelling blood,

“That is ironic, right ?” Michael looked down at his clothes and realised he had no idea, he had picked clothes for comfort for the first time in years and had no idea why.

“I, um..Look I think I was drugged last night” Char looked to Jay for her cue, but he only raised one eyebrow and looked him up and down,

“Maybe you are still on drugs, maybe you hallucinated that THAT was a reasonable outfit” Char tittered.

“Tell me something, name 5 bands that we like” No knight receiving a gauntlet in the face could have felt more fear.

“BloodMilk, the Shitake’s, umm, and the…”

“You have no idea, do you ?”

“Umm” He was really blushing now, furious and almost in tears.

“That suit in that window, fashionable or only fashionable ironically ?”

Michael looked at the suit, he had no response to it at all, except to think that it might be comfortable.

“You don’t know. Come on Char, we’re leaving this loser alone. Call us when you get better, if you do”

Michael stood on the pavement and waited for the tears to come, He knew he would probably never see them again, what was the point, if not for fashion? He would have to say goodbye to his dreams of being a magazine designer and with a final crushing blow he realised that he looked just like the people he despised, ordinary. He was the first but not the last.

Even though he no longer moved in the same circles as the others, he still heard rumours of what was happening at the club. More and more regulars were turning up after nights there in dull clothes with no idea of what to like and what not. In the words of one girl, whom he overheard in the queue for coffee ‘It was like the fashion was sucked out of them !’ But the club was still white hot and never less than packed, despite the fear that you could lose your fashion. It was like extreme sports for fashionistas, laughing in the face of death of style.

He hadn’t seen Char and Jay since that day, but the final straw finally came, that one moment when he had to find out what had happened. He was walking past an estate agent’s window, when he looked in and who should he see, sitting in a cheap suit at one of the desks but Jay. He opened the door, “Jay?”

“Michael, how the hell are you?” He shook hands and received a hearty arm slap,

“It’s Jason now, I left that pretentious Jay shite behind” Jason, so he had been a boy after all.

“Did you want to look at a house?” The same calculating look as when he was about put someone down and that’s what made Michael realise he was seeing the same person, the one who had made people gasp in the street. He may not have liked him, but for a while he had liked what he stood for.

He needed to know what happened.

“Not really mate, see you round”

“Not if I see you first” Jason snorted at his own joke.

Michael spent the rest of the day trying to choose the right clothes, handicapped by not knowing what worked and what didn’t. In the end he used one of his old outfits. As he approached the club he had no idea had he looked exactly like the try-hards he used to laugh at. The new bouncer didn’t even speak, just shook his head. Michael started to argue but another doorman who had seen him before pulled him around the corner.

“Look mate. Do yourself a favour and go home eh ?”

“But ..”

“I know what happened, it’s always the same. He opens a club, people come and the best ones lose it all.” “But if you know then why.. ?”

“I have worked for him for longer then you know, just leave it. You’ve still got a life haven’t you? Maybe not the one you were expecting, but nothing’s perfect” “But ….”

“Listen, you seem like a nice bloke, I don’t want to have to kill you. But I will if he tells me to, he has done before. Business see? Anyway, do you really think you can beat that?”

He pulled Michael back round the corner. A plain, black car drew up to the club. The man that Michael saw that last night, got out. He seemed to be surrounded by a glow of exclusivity and paparazzi flash.

“Just be grateful that he chose you, it means you were something once”

Michael felt the fight go out of him just looking at that glow. As he walked home, he could feel himself starting to forget all of it.

When he woke the next day, he felt scrubbed. He packed his things and ran out on his lease, to a small village.

Where he never opened another fashion magazine or listened to anything other than Magic FM again.

* * * * *
(c) Mat Winser, All Rights Reserved

‘Open Wide’ by Jennifer Moore

November 25th, 2013

There’s been a lot of nonsense written about my line of work. Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for. Admittedly I eat a lot of garlic, but that’s French cooking for you. It’s true I wear a crucifix under my coat but I’m a God fearing man from good Catholic stock. And yes, I admit it, I do carry a stake with me at all times but it’s strictly for emergencies. I mean, what fun is a stake through the heart? It’s far too quick for my liking – wham bam, dissolve into dust. Where’s the suffering in that? One minute they’re tucked up in their coffin, sleeping off the excesses of the night before and next thing you know they’re the wrong side of a dustpan and brush. It’s too instant, too humane.

No, I say if they want living dead, eternal life etc etc then fine. Go ahead. Let’s see how far they get without their teeth. Give them a few months of that and they’ll be begging for the stake. I’ve seen the pale drawn faces pressed up against the darkened window of the blood donor unit, the withered bodies hunched in the doorways of cheap motels, sucking noisily on a crushed bedbug, or out by the dank river in the summer, lying in wait for the drunk, sated mosquitoes, returning from an evening’s gorging. That’s more like it. After all, what is a vampire without teeth? And who better to take on the forces of darkness than a dentist? My waiting room is crammed full of terrified souls – dentists are scary, ask anyone.

This evening is going to be a good one, I can sense it. The air is heavy with the scent of violets. I could smell it as soon as I stepped off the train. That’s something Bram Stoker left out – not quite macho enough I suppose. Perhaps it’s time to set the record straight. Vampires and violets go together like death and lilies, dark and night. The stronger the scent the hungrier the vampire. There are some pretty hungry vampires round here, I’d guess. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It’s five o’clock now. That gives me a good three hours before sundown. I finished work early today to get here in time. Word is that Robert Dents has been making merry with the inhabitants after hours and he and I have what you might call some unfinished business to attend to. It’s been fifty years since we last met, though I’ve seen enough of his handiwork to last me a lifetime, chasing him through the sleepy villages of Northern France, across Europe, snaking along the Rhine, narrowly missing him in Florence, always one step behind. He knows I’m coming, that’s the problem – he can smell it – he’s tasted the same blood that runs through my veins, my mother’s blood. Even then, at the tender age of five, I realised that my destiny was inextricably linked with his. It was the single defining moment – I stood there helpless, drawn to the bedroom door by the sickly scent of violets and watched him suck the very life out of her – I knew that one day I would make him pay. He turned to me and smiled, the blood still dribbling from his mouth, eyes blazing with a frenzied hatred that made me cry out in fear.

“You’ll keep,” he whispered. “I’m a little full at present.”

I’m shivering now, despite the gentle heat of the sun. He still has that effect on me. I sit down to check through my armoury one last time, drawing warmth from them, a sense of power. Drill, pliers, white mask, pink mouthwash… emergency stake tucked under the lining at the bottom of my bag. Head back, open wide, you won’t feel a thing… Of course not having any anaesthetic to hand might be considered something of a hindrance in my normal line of work, but I like to get back to basics with my blood sucking friends. Besides, I’m sure a seven hundred year old vampire like Dents won’t be too shocked if I get a little ‘medieval’ on him. He’ll wriggle of course, maybe writhe around in agony for an hour or two but I’ve always got that stake if he needs pinning down. And when he looks up at me, blood dribbling from his mouth, eyes blazing with frenzied hatred then I’ll know I’ve won. You’ll keep, I’ll whisper, smiling sweetly, I’m a little busy at present.

First things first though, I’ve got to track him down before the terrible revenge wreaking can begin. Once upon a time this would have been very straightforward – head for the nearest ale house and corner a superstitious local who, for the price of a drink, would be all too willing to share their story of mysterious coffin cargoes transported under cover of darkness. For the price of two drinks they’d probably even furnish you with directions. Of course that’s all changed now that we’ve entered the age of the courier. Parcel Force have a lot to answer for. The property game’s all new as well. Vampires have got wise. Gone are the days when they hung out in the oldest, creepiest looking house in town, all lined up in neat rows of coffins for ease of staking. No, nowadays they lie low in neat suburban terraces, in pretty country cottages with roses round the door, basking in the squalor of student flats or living it up in their chic loft conversions. They could be anywhere. If you want to find a vampire these days you have to follow your nose.

The smell of violets is growing stronger as I turn off the high street onto the long tree lined avenue so I know I must be on the right track. The street is smart and classy, with big bay-windowed apartments and polished brass railings. Robert Dents is a creature of refined tastes. With seven hundred years of European culture and money behind him he has come to appreciate the finer things in life. He also has seven hundred years of successful hunting behind him which makes him as difficult to catch as he is easy to track down. The scent here is still so strong that I automatically quicken my pace, wondering, praying that for once I’m not too late.

I stop, on a hunch, outside number 42. There’s something about the heavy brass knocker and the blackout blinds in the basement window that catches my eye. The scent is unbearably strong here, heavy cloying fingers of violet grasping at my throat, tightening round my neck as if to squeeze the last breath from my body. This is the place. The street is empty. I check one last time before donning my white gloves and picking the lock. When it comes to breaking and entering I have all the skill and swiftness of a practised criminal.

Inside the air is dark, thick and pungent. A quick glance around the empty walls and bare unfurnished rooms tells me I am right. This is not a home, merely a resting place, another staging post on Robert Dents’ never ending vacation. The big Victorian rooms and polished oak staircase are merely ostentation. He was never one for roomfuls of beautiful maidens, the vampire harem. No, Robert Dents has always travelled light. He has everything he needs in a darkened room in the basement, of that I am certain. He’ll be travelling even lighter before long if I have anything to do with it.

Drill at the ready, and bootless, I descend the basement stairs. The practised hunter knows the value of stealth. By my calculations I have a clear hour before he wakes but I can’t afford to take any chances. It is some time before my eyes grow accustomed to the dark and I stare blindly at the dense shadow in the centre of the room, watching for movement, praying for life. The low coffin shaped futon comes slowly into focus, the reclining figure wrapped in a rich purple sleeping bag. ‘It could be anyone,’ I tell myself sternly as I creep towards him. ‘He’s not the first to choose purple,’ but my heart is beating fast with an unshakeable certainty. Robert Dents. He’s mine, all mine.

The face is still, eyes clamped shut, lips curled together, hiding the long white teeth. It is the face I see every night, the face of my nightmares. The mouth twitches and I am five again, rigid with fear, helpless. ‘Deep breaths,’ I tell myself sternly. ‘He’s not going anywhere. It’s my turn now.’ A stake through the neck would hold him steady of course, make things a little easier but that’s not how the story goes. I’ve waited fifty years for this moment – I want to do it right.

He stirs slightly as I straddle his stomach, pinning him down beneath me. I rev up the drill. My hands are shaking as if I haven’t done this a hundred times before, dreaming every time that it was Dent. I lean in towards him, gagging on the warm violet breath, watching the eyes flicking restlessly beneath their eyelids. His skin is cold to the touch. I pull back the thin purple lips and prise open the heavy jaws. “NO!” I reel back. “It can’t be.” I’m too late. Someone has been here before me. The mouth gapes up at me, black and empty, the shrivelled pink gums bare and useless. My mother’s face flashes before me. After all this time…

My stake. It’s not too late to make my mark. I know what I said – it’s too quick, too humane – but I have to do something. Where would the satisfaction be in letting him live, in letting him suffer if that suffering is not at my hand? I need to see the fear in his eyes, to hold him, just once, in my power. I owe my mother that much at least. I climb off unsteadily, kicking him in the process, no longer caring. He stirs behind me as I grope for my bag but I barely notice, ripping out the contents, sending dentistry tools flying. There! My fingers curl round the wood, testing the point with the flesh of my thumb. It’s sharp, very sharp.

I turn back towards him. He is still again, sleeping. I’ll be waiting when he wakes. My breath comes in short gasps as I take up my position and raise my hand, ready. The eyes are flickering… any moment now… I steel myself. ‘One… Two…’ The crocodile eyes snap open and a hand shoots up, locking tight around my wrist. ‘Three’ chokes in the back of my throat. He’s strong.

“Looking for these?” he asks, opening his mouth wide to reveal a perfect set of dentures, the long white points flashing in the darkness. Of course. I should have guessed. I struggle to move my hand. I have to reach him. The vice like grip tightens and he twists it sharply to the left. I can hear the faint crack of bones and the stake drops, useless, to the floor. It’s over.

“Nice to see you again,” he whispers, his mouth cracking open into a dry smile.
“I’m feeling a little peckish at present.”

(c) Jennifer Moore, All Rights Reserved.

‘New Experiences’ by Kit Tunstall

November 25th, 2013

“You don’t look like the kind of guy who hangs out in a place like this.”

Eddie turned around to see who’d spoken to him. She was about his height–five-nine–with thick black hair, streaked with red and gold, bright green eyes, almost feline in appearance, and full lips outlined in black lipstick. She wore white pancake makeup on her face, and had drawn symbols and pictures on her cheeks with some kind of black makeup, probably eyeliner. Thick mascara coated her eyelashes, and bright purple shadow was smeared across the lids. It was difficult to tell through all the camouflage, but she appeared to be quite lovely.

“Er, no, not really.”

“I could tell from the sports coat and khakis.” She winked at him. “And the nicely groomed blond hair and lack of makeup. You stick out like a sore thumb.”

Eddie ran a hand through his thick hair, then grinned at her.

“My friends dragged me here. They didn’t bother to tell me that it was an…alternative kind of place.”

“What brings you here?”

Lifting his beer, Eddie raised it in a salute. “Nursing a broken heart.”

She nodded. “Ah, so you got dumped and figured you would feel better by getting shitfaced?”

“You’re very blunt.”

She shrugged. “It is a habit.”

For the first time, he realized there was a trace of an accent in her voice. “Where are you from?”

“L.A.”

“I mean originally.”

She hesitated before finally saying, “Romania, once upon a time, but that was lifetimes ago.”

Eddie eyed her curiously, admiring her flawless figure in the flowing black dress, paired with black jackboots. “Lifetimes ago?”

“More time has passed than I care to contemplate.”

“Why did you come to L.A.?”

“Food was growing scarce in my world. I needed new opportunities, and I hungered for new experiences.”

Eddie lifted his beer as she picked up her glass of deep red wine. He clinked his mug against her glass. “To new experiences.”

She hesitated. “And fresh meat.” Her tone was flirtatious, but her strange feline eyes were predatory.

Ignoring his twinge of unease, Eddie leaned closer to her.

“Do you have a name?”

“Stragartha.”

He blinked. “What?”

“Straw-gar-ta.”

“That’s an interesting name.”

Stragartha laughed. “Unusual, no? Would you like to dance?”

Although he was not the kind to give in to impulse, Eddie found himself dancing with her a few seconds later. There was a heavy, pounding beat to the slow music, and she was grinding her body against him. As Eddie looked into her eyes, he found the memory of Nina’s betrayal slowly fading from his mind. The pain of her walking out faded away, until all he could think about was Stragartha.

He picked up a strand of her hair and found himself thinking of taking her to bed. He’d never had a one-night stand in his life, but it seemed like just the cure for his ailing heart.

“Want to get out of here?” The words seemed to come from a distance, as if someone else was speaking through him. Eddie blinked as he asked the question.

She smiled, flashing perfect white teeth. Was it just his imagination, or were two of her teeth growing longer? “My place is near here.” Stragartha took his hand and led him through the club. Eddie saw his friends in the corner and waved to them sluggishly, but ignored them as they waved him over.

She led him through the parking lot of the bar, not letting him stop at his Accord. “We will walk.” Eddie wanted to protest, but as the words came to his lips, they refused to leave his mouth. It seemed easier to give in to her, and he allowed her to lead him.

They walked two blocks down a dark alley and Eddie expected violence at any moment. To his surprise, they made it to her door with no problem. She had a side entrance, and she unlocked the serious-looking deadbolt on the door. “My apartment is above the deli.”

“‘Kay.” Eddie followed her through the door and into a dimly lit stairwell. She started climbing, and his feet followed her, even though he was beginning to have second thoughts. He didn’t even have a condom with him. He was not the kind to indulge in casual sex, and he’d never had unprotected sex.

“Stragartha, I don’t think…”

She whirled around quickly, two steps from the second floor, and placed a finger against his lips. “Shh. Do not think, just feel.”

His mind felt cloudy, but Eddie knew he wanted to leave.

“I’d better go…” To his surprise, she ignored him and grasped his hand, pulling him up the stairs with her. He stumbled near the top, but she steadied him. Eddie tried to tug his hand away, but her grip was incredibly strong. “Let go.”

“It will be fun if you let it,” was her only response. She maintained her hold on him as she unlocked a door with a crack at the base, and peeling paint.

Judging from the rest of the building, Eddie had expected a hovel, but the interior was very different. Thick carpets and hardwood lined the floors, and expensive cloth wallpaper decorated the walls. Creamy white leather furniture adorned the living room, and he saw a glass-topped table as she pulled him past the kitchen, down the hallway, and into her bedroom.

The carpet in her bedroom was matte ebony, and the walls were painted black. A huge bed, atop a platform, dominated the center of the bedroom, and it was covered by black satin sheets. There were no mirrors in the bedroom, and only one other piece of furniture–an alter with a statue of the Virgin Mother, and several lit candles. Upon seeing the familiar symbol of his childhood faith, Eddie started to relax. There was no question Stragartha was strange, but she couldn’t be that bad if she was a devout Catholic. “Nice room.”

“Thank you. I spent years decorating this place.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“One hundred and ten years,” she said flippantly, and winked at him again.

Eddie’s eyes fell on the bed, and his body swelled in response to his mental image of her lying naked upon it.

“Nice bed.”

“Um.” She stepped closer to him and started kissing him. Open mouthed, with her tongue sweeping inside his mouth. She wrapped her arms around him, and Eddie buried his hands in her hair as she guided him to the bed. He felt the back of his legs hit the edge of the bed, and then felt himself falling as she gave a gentle push.

Instead of a soft bed, he landed in a heap of earth. Black soil flew up in obscure clouds around him. “What the hell?” His hand was buried in the soil where the sheet had slipped loose. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” She crawled on top of him and looked deep into his eyes. “Ignore it.”

Eddie’s eyes widened at her demanding tone, and he was about to protest when he felt strangely lethargic. “Yes.” As her head descended to kiss him, Eddie felt himself floating. To his surprise, she didn’t touch his lips. Instead, she nuzzled her mouth against his neck. That was a particularly ticklish spot, and he giggled. “Not there.”

She ignored him, continuing to lick his neck. Deciding she was too strange for him, Eddie tried to push her away. “I think we should stop.” He pushed against her shoulders, but he couldn’t budge her. “Get off me.” He winced at the semi-hysterical note in his voice.

Suddenly she lifted her head and looked into his eyes. Eddie screamed when he saw the transformation she’d undergone. Her face was now twisted into a snarl, and her teeth had definitely grown. Her green eyes burned an intense red, and she licked her lips. “You wanted a new experience, boy.”

Eddie screamed again as her head descended. He flinched when he felt her fangs penetrate his throat. The pain was intense, but soon he felt himself floating. He knew she was killing him, but he couldn’t summon the strength to push her away. When she finally lifted her head, he could barely keep his eyes open.

“Delicious.” She licked the excess blood off her mouth with evident relish.

“Vampire…” he managed to croak, disbelieving it as he said it. There were no such things. Were there?

“Very astute.” She rolled off him and stood up. He watched her approach the alter and kneel before it. She crossed herself and began to pray, “Thank you, Lord, for your bounty…”

He frowned. Vampires were supposed to be afraid of religious symbols. His head felt fuzzy, and he couldn’t think clearly. When she stood up and returned to him, his eyes filled with tears. “Please don’t kill me.”

She shook her head. “I am not going to kill you, boy.”

“Are you going to change me?”

Stragartha shuddered. “I could not consign you to my existence. Living outside of humanity, with this constant hunger. Not even able to set foot in a church for fear that the priests will know what I am. You would hate this life. Close your eyes,” she crooned.

Eddie felt compelled to obey her, and his eyes dropped. He knew he was going to die, despite her words. His heart cried out for all he would miss, but his thoughts were interrupted by a whirling fog that filled his head. He passed out.

The ringing of the phone woke him. “Hello?”

“Eddie, where have you been? You haven’t answered your phone for over a day.”

Groaning, Eddie sat up and immediately noticed the ache in his head. “Ugh, I think I got stinking drunk last night.”

“The night before,” Ken corrected. “You disappeared. What happened?”

Strange, disjointed images popped into Eddie’s mind. Frightening visions of a woman who drank his blood. “I must have just passed out. I had some fucked up dreams.”

“So you’re okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Eddie assured him. “Thanks for checking on me, man.”

“No problem. You coming over tonight for the football game?”

“Sure, give me a little while.” After hanging up, Eddie rolled out of bed and swayed dizzily. He felt like shit, but Ken had rented the game from PPV and Eddie had $20 riding on the outcome. No way was he missing that.

He made his way into the bathroom and stepped into a steaming hot shower. When he emerged a few minutes later, he felt almost human again. Eddie wrapped a towel around his waist, then used another towel to wipe the condensation off the mirror. He was in the process of lathering his face with shaving cream when he found the wounds on his neck. Two perfect puncture wounds that indicated he had not been dreaming. For a long time, Eddie stared at the marks, trying to find a logical explanation.

None was forthcoming. For some reason, he found himself saying aloud, “You wanted a new experience.”

*******

(c) Kit Tunstall, All Rights Reserved

‘Venus Bat Trap’ by Frank C. Gunderloy

November 25th, 2013

The lover:

A single candle flares to life in a curtained night chamber, and I know my journey is over. I came here to watch outside the manor house in the silent darkness of early morning, standing in anxious vigil as I awaited a sign. The light speaks to me, tells me I have not quested in vain.

But what power has called me here?

I thought never to return to this land, this land of my birth, this land where once my ancestors ruled with the law of sword and knout, and townsman and peasant alike abased themselves in the dust as our curtained carriages rumbled past.

But I have come back — no, been drawn back — as inexorably as the shackled ballast stone draws the sailor’s corpse into the bowels of the sea. Drawn by a bouquet in the air, a haunting fragrance so compelling in its promised ecstasy that I never had thought to resist.

It began as a faint aura, a suggestion of warmth hidden between wisps of cool midnight mist, the aftertaste of honeyed wine melting on a single breath. I remember that night when first I felt its touch. I was afoot in the great city, one moment striding along the darkened streets in purposeful design, the next scenting the air and coursing back and forth along unnamed byways and alleys like some hound driven afield at the huntsman’s command.

Tonight I have reached the source.

The distance I have travelled matters naught. The wind- whipped ship, the rattling carriages, the weary hours trudging rock-strewn footpaths all fade from my memory.

There is only the light in the window.

And the woman framed therein.

I see her but dimly, a shadowy wraith beneath flickering candle flame, but I feel her reaching out to me, calling, promising me delights beyond all comprehension. It is she who has brought me here, her essence carried on the questing winds, seeking me out that I might respond in kind.

For I know that as my desire for her grows, so am I desired.

She steps now onto the balcony, and my heart leaps. The light behind her, the beauty of her full figure and regal profile are revealed in stark outline. I cannot see her eyes, but I know that she watches me, even through the gathered darkness, and I take a step forward. But I dare not go further. The faint beginnings of dawn tint the eastern skies, and soon there will be other eyes about, and I fear to reveal myself in the light of day. The mark of my ancestry is carved on my visage, and those who forced exile on me might seek a more onerous punishment were I to be discovered.

She turns away, but I sense anticipation in her manner, not disappointment. This day will be one sweet longing, with preparation for fulfillment, and tonight I will return, ready to claim my prize.

As I know she awaits to claim hers.

The husband:

I stare at her as I enter the common chambers, and my mouth is dry with disgust.

Repugnance has destroyed love.

Is this thing truly the woman I took to wife? She has grown ugly in the face, ugly in her coarse and bloated body, and ugliest of all in her manner and habits. And with all her inherent ugliness, when she should still be groveling her thanks both for my saving her life and for ultimately bestowing on her all the honors of holy wedlock, she treats me with a shrugging indifference, an indifference that grows almost at a pace with the wallowing masses of flesh that bulge and flow across her sodden frame.

I wish now I had left her searing in the flames of her strange conveyance, that night when the falling star belched fire and thunder, so many years ago. But I dragged her free, while my coachmen quieted the screaming horses, and then held her close in my arms as we dashed past the shuttered peasant huts to gain the safety of the manor house before moonrise. She was just a wisp of a woman-child then, lost and lonely, not knowing either our language or our ways, and her innocence enchanted me. But she was quick to learn, and I watched her grow into delicate womanhood, a creature slim and lovely. Thus, in the course of time, I asked her to be my own.

That was a long time ago.

Now look at her!

The childlike daintiness has fled, replaced by a caricature of jarring contrasts: an ossified blade of a face on its serpent neck, tacked like an afterthought to that gross, edematous body. How can she have changed so, how can parts of her have shrunk and shrivelled while the rest has grown so swollen? Her hair is harsh and fibrous, drawn straight and severe, knotted high on the occipital curve of her skull to expose a nape all powdered and shaven. Shaven! I am in mind of some ailing and scabrous dog, its pelt shorn away to expose the encroachments of mange, smeared with dried and flaking medication. And as for the rest of her stringy neck, it is drawn and laced with flaccid cords, throbbing spidery veins, and jutting thyroid cartilage. And what is so hideously incongruous is the sight of that emaciated appendage contrasting with the fleshiness of her upper torso, for all the world like a dry and spindly cornstalk emerging from her billowing bosom.

As if her appearance were not distressing enough, there have been other changes equally repulsive in character and demeanor. Her complexion varies mysteriously with the time of day, rising grey and sallow like a chill drizzly dawn, ending mottled and rubicund like a dying winter sunset. And as her coloring changes, so do her features. Slit feline eyes take on a slant that emphasize the nose, which in itself becomes a muzzle blending almost unbroken with the puckered line of pinched and wrinkled lips. And it is that little rodent’s mouth that belies in its economy the most offensive change of all: the avaricious gluttony that she continually exhibits, slobbering and clawing at the nutriments that her burgeoning bulk demands to sustain itself.

She is constantly at table, the serving-maids scurrying back and forth, the raucous clatter in kitchen and scullery a dissonant symphony to her greediness. Dozens of hen’s eggs, chunk on chunk of crusty loaf, mounded slabs of meat, pink juices swirling in the platter, all are grist for that chittering snout-like mill of a mouth. And the drink! Bowls of wine. Tankards of beer. Tureens of soup, the indiscriminate floating morsels sucked up along with the fluid. Buckets of pulpy extracts from the crushings and squeezings of fruit and vegetable. A pitcher of water is always at her elbow, demanding constant replenishment, used to wash everything down into that sloshing abyss of her voluminous belly.

There remains to me but to watch in fascinated disgust, repelled, as she shovels her way through tables, buffets, pantries, in search of — what? Satisfaction? Gratification? Rejuvenation? She eats as if she were searching for some special morsel that always eludes her, some sweetmeat unknown in our simple country fare. I have given up trying to understand her; I can just barely tolerate her, let alone pick and probe at her mental processes. She has been my lady here, a bit of brightness in a land long cursed by the evil shadow of the towering Carpathians. But she has relinquished all my respect and honor in her meaningless quest for this unnamed fulfillment.

She has taken to retiring early and locking the doors to her chambers. I can divine no reason for this latest aberration. The perimeter of the manor is secured with powerful talismans at nightfall, doubly renewed and blessed when the moon rises full. The peasant servants may despise her, but they are innocuous, so it would not seem to be fear that motivates her. And the heavens know, I am no threat to her person in any fashion. I have not even known her connubially these many years, a decision forced on me by an increasingly strange and painful incompatibility of our physical persons. At the risk of offending, I must tell you in all candor that as the moist obesity swelled her limbs and belly, it was accompanied by a shrinking and drying of her privy parts into the semblance of a vulture’s beak.

As I ascend the broad sweeping staircase, and close the doors to my own lonely bedroom, I can hear her voice, even through the solid oak. She is laughing and happy, almost as if this were her marriage night, and she a virgin bride waiting in naive anticipation. I can determine neither meaning in her words, nor reason for her laughter, but somehow I am very glad for the security of the cross that seals my door tonight.

The lover:

I stare at her through the windows of her bedchamber, my hunger whetted by the long day’s wait, and my lips are moist with eagerness.

Soon they will be red from the fervid caress of love.

I cannot remember such feelings for any other woman; liaisons of faded centuries disappear into facelessness as I glide from the moonlight into her room. Her very presence begins to warm me from my waking chill. She beckons me, and my heart beats anew inside my straining chest, my fingers stretch for the touch of her, and my lips draw back in answer to the growing taste of anticipation. She is lovely in ways no woman has ever been lovely before, awaiting me, desiring me, as anxious to please as I am to return to her, as I have returned to her so often of late, as I hope to return to her yet a thousand thousand times to come.

How can such a woman be of this earth?

Look at her!

She is a delight of delicate counterpoint, the incisive clarity of feature, the sensually severe curves of her throat, all shading in subtle contrast into the lush abundance of her full figure. How firm the lines of her visage, the clear definition of cheek and forehead, framed emphatically with her crown of hair. And Oh! The wonderment of her neck, vibrant joy from chin to collarbone, with the pulsing signal of living heart visible through the clear warm parchment of her skin — rapid, alive, inviting.

Her throat is like the fluted column of a Greek temple, etched with the desire of the ages, ever classic, but ever renewed. And sweetest of all, the deep moist clavicular hollows, glowing and ardent, where the softness of shoulder and breast unite.

As I drop my cape crumpled on the balustrade, she turns to receive me, her face bright, a fervid pink, ruby dipped in milk. Her heightened color accentuates the clarity of her eyes, the regal aquiline nose, the eager pursing lips, wet and inviting. Without being told, I know she has spent the day preparing for me and me alone, building up her strength, renewing her sustaining juices, her very life force, her essence. Soft, sanguine, sensuous, she reaches out to me, eager to begin. I am hypnotized by her desire, so new and strange to me after so many centuries, so many women bent to my will, accommodating me, but dreading my very touch. Why, at last, am I so fervently desired by one so well suited to my special needs? Does she have secret hungers that someday I will be expected to fulfill, even as I satisfy myself?

The door is bolted and the manor quiet, despite the fact that I have arrived only moments after sundown. But no- one will dare disturb us; her husband is a fool, and the servants are but sheep, cowering in their quarters behind candles and crosses. Quivering like a new bridegroom, I sink into the enveloping folds of her supine body, my probing incisors locked deep in the beauty of her throat.

The taste of blood is again sweet in my mouth, but somehow, other senses, long forgotten, are awakening. My groin has come afire, and the craving erectness, which I thought was never again to be mine, has returned to torment me. I penetrate her, now joined at both throat and loins as her interlocked fingers tighten to force me deeper and deeper into her clutching softness. A softness that enfolds me, surrounds me, sucks me down into darkness. A softness that conceals steely jaws and acid juices, where I am yielding my essences, my dwindling serums, to satisfy both a hunger and a lust such as I never knew.

I choke under the darkness, and have not the strength to lift my limbs. Her body arches, her thighs contract, and the acids are injected to course and burn inside me, melting my flesh, my bones, my organs. My heart hesitates, blisters, dissolves, and is sucked away by this thing that feeds on me. A thing that feeds a hundred — nay, a thousand — times more voraciously than I ever fed in my lifetime or my life after that.

I try to stretch my wings, to flit away into the safety of the night, but my body is but a shell, and cannot respond.

The fire has reached my mouth, my tongue, my eyes.

Darkness swirls around me.

Even the darkness is collapsing.

Ugly darkness.

Burning…

…love.

(c) Frank C. Gunderloy, All Rights Reserved.


This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.