Legacy of the Vein
The red tide flowed past pallid lips, a sharp tongue drank the waste of life unborn, and the young woman cried every time those curved tusks brushed her labia. The fanged head rose from between those pale thighs and gave her a grisly smile. I saw her leave through the window and walk the streets of San Lucca. Tall and fair in the moonlight, which washes the color from skin but could never hide those striking green eyes or the features of the mestizo. Menses dripped down her chin to stain her dress, and she wore a belt of dried fetuses wrapped around her, dangling like amulets. In the dark behind her, I saw no shadow, only a train of faceless ghosts.
“Hail, Queen of Vampires.”
She paused and looked at me, cousin of the moon and night, and showed once more that gory grin.
“Once there was a conquistador, and the hunger in his soul was great, so that no amount of prayer or Aztec gold could fill the void within him, but drove him on to new heights of depravity and bloody murder as he killed and converted the Indios. So great were his sins and his hunger that he drew the attention of Tlaelquani, who eats the filth of the world and makes it pure again. Already was she to fade from the world, and she took that conquistador to renew herself – but he would not be the conquered, and they made love for three days and nights, until both were spent and broken. Nine days later, I was born.”
We went about her rounds in the village of San Lucca, and here and there she would stop and sniff, then stop in at some house and return with fresh-painted lips.
“I am the shameful pleasure and the surcease to the moonblood, the taker of stillbirths and abortions, who visits the first-bleeding virgin and the last-bleeding matron alike, and take my due. All women know me, some with fear and others with desire, and I take only what is my due, and shepherd the unborn until their time comes again.” She fingered the chain wrapped about her, long nails idly circling the orbit of a tiny eye in a tiny skull. “Once I went to a camp of the Indios, who still followed the old ways, up in the mountains. Where the women were all locked away to bleed together. They knew the daughter of Tlaelquani. Oh, what and orgy that was. I thought I would drink until my stomach burst.”
We stopped at a ditch that ran between two graveyards.
“Here is where I stay, where the women bury the things they bear but cannot speak of to husbands or lovers, and await the moon and night to come again. Here is where we will part,” she planted a bloody kiss on my forehead, and nuzzled cheek to cheek I felt the press of a fang on my ear as she whispered “but I am not the Queen of Vampires.”
At a desert that smelled of dust and sagebrush, a corpse in a suit sat on a log and stared at the fire like a wounded horse, the bodies of two travelers propped up on either side.
“It was the cat.” The revenant croaked, through a parched and ragged throat. “They was all set to bury me and lay me in the ground, but there was this damn black tom called Midnight, and he leapt across mah open grave.”
The suit was ill-fitting; clothes fit only for a final Sunday, now rumpled and torn.
“Ah woke with a powerful thirst, that no whiskey nor water could cure. An’ that ain’t the way of it, to wander into a bar with a pocket full of grave dust and try to drink that place dry. Ah got mad.”
Hands twisted into fists, grave-born nails biting into palms, tendons creaking in the quiet night.
“King o’ vampires? Ah was alone in mah generation. Ain’t no one about to teach me proper. Things got wuss then. Whole damn town crammed into that churchyard, and the padre spitting fire and forgiveness and terrible names, while I could just shuffle along outside. The mean holiness of that place was like to burn mah sorry hide.”
He held up his hands, showed the black scars from crosses laid there.
“Maybe ah was a bad man in life. Ah shot that Jenkins boy, and did his sister and her son. Ah howled at the moon that one night out with the Comanche, and let them drink deep of the wood liquor so they all poisoned and died, and made off with the horses. Ah quarreled and fought and drank and stole and drank some more. Ah had a thirst in me in life that I never quite clenched, and now here ah am.”
He hugged the dead man next to him, then drew out a long knife and a tin cup.
“You might want to look away from this part, boy.”
Spindly fingers stretched to impossible arcs that ended in splintered nails, between them translucent membranes mapped with small black veins. The back was huge, humped with muscle, and covered in brown-black fur shot with silver. The torso was narrow and deep, like a dog or cat; but when those arms were spread wide the chest was broader than a blacksmith or circus strongman’s, and nipples ringed down the milk lines to the hairy tuft of the penis sheath, and the small, bandy legs with their outsized toes. It was the face that held me, the prognathous jaw, the flared nostrils on that near-muzzle, the overhanging arch of the beetle-brow, and those dark wide-staring eyes, all framed by those vast pink, shell-like ears.
He hung on the tree branch, and the night forest was alive around us. We regarded each other, and I know not what he saw in me, but as I traced his form I wondered at what strange path his evolution had taken. In the weeks I had seen him shuffle on the ground, fists curled up and top-heavy, like a great chimp; and I had watched him climb the trees with those spread fingers, shuffling up the trunk. Perhaps that had been the divergence, the descent from the trees. Or something farther back, some primal divorce between species that had led one to walk and another...
I had seen him fly.
I had seen him fly.
Slooping glides and flutters of wings. It took only one each night – a child, if it could manage, or an old villager whose gaze was on the ground to look for snakes – and if none could be found there were animals. To wrap those finger-wings around them and bite and lick the salty wounds that bled long after the struggles had stopped. Then once more the shuffling run, bloated and too heavy to run.
It had fed already tonight, and I wondered if those were animal eyes. Then it spoke, casting my own voice back to me in a high-pitched whispering screech.
A pale blue plastic valve was set in his wrist, and when he turned it a line of thin red flecked with black filled the hollow plastic tube, to drip into the beaker. The flame under the flask burned blue, licked with orange. A pale hand mapped with broken capillaries tapped at the elixir within, watched the liquid dissolve, turn to a clear translucent pink. He clicked off the flame and closed the valve. We waited for the black ash to settle on the bottom.
“There is a legacy in these veins.” We regarded the array of tubes and piping, the scales and stoppered bottles. He had dispensed with the headpiece of his orange plastic suit, and ran a dry hand over his bald scalp, scratching at the black scabs. He wore glasses that showed pale brown eyes, the whites shot through with yellow, and the ghost of stubble on his chin and around his mouth spoke of a mustache and goatee, gone now. “How well they know it.”
“Hereditary illness. Retroviral DNA, the result of some past infection. My mother had it, never lived past thirty. Physician, cure thyself. The blood-ague, a race against time and my own body. What would go first – my liver? My kidneys? Perhaps my bones would rot from the inside out. So I tried everything.”
He took out a six-sided pill, dry-swallowed it.
“Leeches. Anti-coagulant properties in the saliva, sometimes used to make drugs to treat heart disease. High incidence of blood-borne disease, interesting immune responses. Other untapped miracles: a secretion from a specific nerve, certain proteins in the stomach. I took them apart.”
The walls were papered with diagrams, anatomical studies, invertebrates flayed and exposed. The wind whistled, and the walls shook.
“The drugs paid for it, kept me going. The first symptoms were lassitude, loss of appetite, energy. I pushed it off with amphetamines, went to the limit of my studies. I got sloppy, desperate. Funding was cut, access about to be.”
I watched him unzip the suit, to show the pale, waxy grey flesh hang limply off the ribs. Things slithered beneath his skin, tapered bodies that undulated slow paths through him.
“They’re such simple creatures. Communicable cancers, growing beneath my skin, tumors that suck and filter and shit in my veins until they’re motile. Here,”
A jar on the table brought forth, a dull fat grey thing floating in alcohol.
“The best part.” He whispered. “Is they think they know what they’re getting. They shoot it up, and they feel the high come on, and think they’ll live forever. It isn’t until later, when they find an odd lump that they’ll think there’s anything wrong. Until it moves, and they can feel it crawling through them. Or they’re on the toilet one day and something bursts inside them; they shit out something that wriggles and when they go to wipe they get a handful of bloody shit.”
His teeth are yellow and grey, the gums drawn back and bloody-looking. A grey body bulging beneath one cheek.
“I am the king of the fucking vampires. Want a hit?”