[thesis_block type=”alert” header=”Note” content=”This is SERIOUSLY seriously in need of editing. I’m rewriting this book, and chose to share raw, messy first-draft stuff. Think of it as a glimpse into my writing process, and please don’t judge me too harshly on the mess. ;)”]
It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood. / Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak. / Augurs and understood relations have / By magot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth / The secret’st man of blood.
What I tell you now has no home.
Some secrets wander. Never shared, never given bed in those fissures called the hearts of other people. Mine has wandered a long time, nearly as long as I have lived; and that is a very long time.
Perhaps it is time for even my secret to find its home. Soon, it will no longer have one in me.
I submit, my friend. I will tell you of my past, of the long and terrible history that bled and burgeoned to become the family that is the Night Children.
We are a mutant family, and we have our cancers. But I will come to this later.
Yes. It is time. My friend, this is the secret that has no home: this is the take of the Night Children, of me, and how I came to be.
For me, it begins with a bear.
My memories flicker into place like a failing bulb, unreliable and confounding, and their pale yellow light reveals the bear in my arms.
The blood in my mouth.
The turgidity of my… self.
The blood woke my mind, seared the moment in violent shades when nothing else lingered; and bodies littered the grove, bodies in forms monstrous and otherwise, their lives taken from them by a violence their hearty natures could not contend. A crater belched smoke and metallic odors, pinching the air with seared flesh.
But I had no interest in any of that. No, only the bear whose throat-fur irritated my mouth mattered, the bear whose own natural filth smeared onto me as the poor thing shat itself and died.
And then – a flicker of dream – faces surrounding me, laughing, celebrating, sharing a beverage in celebration.
A flicker of dream, and the bear died.
His filth increased as his bowels released themselves, and my newfound awareness took a blow in the wake of his death as though I had been poisoned.
Dead blood. Dead blood; you know my people cannot drink blood preserved, no matter how well, and this is why: something changes when the true life leaves a creature. Is it soul? Some instantaneous chemical transformation in response to the cessation of brain-waves? I cannot say. The blood – so sweet, so perfect, so warm – turned foul to me, and I dropped the bear to vomit what I had taken.
A flicker of memory – of running from that strange clearing, leaping over and ducking below the ruined trees and timbers and remains of walls, bodies upon bodies in my wake and the evidence of an underground explosion… and one exsanguinated bear.
Betrayed by the blood I’d so quickly come to love, I cried, my wordless wails escaping all around me to warn the world that Hunger was here.
The Beast had come, and no one was prepared.
What did I know but torment? Driving hunger, pain unimagined throbbing through me and devouring, it seemed, my very flesh as I had nothing to feed it. I screamed and cried, tore at myself until intestines and pulverized members exploded in my hands, yet nothing would ease it.
I retreated further into myself, clinging to lapses of memory and darkness as cessation from the burning, hollow pain, but I could not stop waking up again.
Each time I woke, it was in response to the call – the taste, the feel – of fresh blood pouring into my now-healed gullet, of a heartbeat briefly controlling my own so our beings pulsed and pounded in perfect harmony. And in those moments – so brief, so warm – I knew the ease of my pain.
It did not go away completely. My blood burned, searing me, exsiccating my very veins until threads and streams and rivers of heat scored me from within. Yet, the blood helped; and so, though I could only learn but very slowly, I came to the wordless understanding that drinking the life from others eased my pain.
I say wordless because it was wordless. My thoughts – pictures, feelings, colors at best – lacked even the slightest sound. I could not even imitate or recall the noises living things made around me, much less assign them meaning.
This time, I sought living blood before the blackness took me, and as I took that liquid life, the flame in my veins simmered low to a flickering ember.
Clearly, this was my purpose. I existed to take blood; and if the death of my chosen resulted in that turning-away, in that leavetaking of cruel and painful proportions, what of it? Such was evidently normal, and all I knew.
I took life.
I took it, gulping it, wasting and spilling it, and asked no questions of anything in my world. I could not. That ability had been taken from me.
I do not know how long this lasted. I recall winters, saw the strange hues of autumn and spring, loathed the smell of animal fur in the stifling heat of summer, and yet even these recollections are but brief flickers, uncertain and half-solidified by much later memory.
I took life.
Sometimes, I slept.
That was all, and might have been all forever… but for the Lake of the Rose.
How to describe a world no longer existing even in the finest, most ancient minds? It is no more, and the flow of time and cosmos has rushed us all so far down that stream that we shall never find it again.
I can try to describe it to you.
See, friend, a sky so broad its edges always misted in shadow. Feel an earth beneath your feet remarkably warm, so much so that some places resisted snow even in the depths of winter. Water captures light to spit it back in rainbows, in crystal splashes, and even the mists rise in a cloud-color of their own making.
Grass is greener. Meat is redder. The soil is richer, darker, its loamy scent invigorating enough to need no additional fuel.
The vibrancy of the Silver Dawning and the fortitude of Ember and the eerie cold stillness of Umbra and the all-encompassing sleep of the Dream met and mated and mattered here, creating a world that encompassed all of them. But now they are gone, their own unique spheres, and earth – their mother, their originator and home – is less for their escape.
I ramble. I fear that sometimes, I shall do that. This secret wishes to remain at large; it must be pinned down.
In all this vibrance, somewhere in mountains that no longer rise and a valley that no longer blooms, a lake lapped sweetly at its shore and reflected the moving sky.
An accident of flora surrounded it with flowers in hues of pink and blood, somehow casting their own light back toward the clouds, which then sent it down to the lake again. The whole valley glowed with sunset tones all the day, and the water itself – refracting rose from all directions – slid clouds along its surface with the smooth grace of a knife along a leather edge.
There were no roses. Yet I have no word for what they are except delicate, pink, and somehow fond of high altitudes.
And they made the water blush.
I came to this valley as I came to any other place – searching for beating hearts, for the red life that flowed through veins, and instead found this lake.
It had a heartbeat in it. A big one. That is the only possible reason why I threw myself into the cold, clean water.
Water! Can you comprehend believing the world solid, only to find such a large part wasn’t? I’d expected to dig through the pink strangeness, to burrow my way toward whatever great beast it was that crawled beneath its depths.
No. There was no digging. There was wetness, sinking, splashing, and panicking. Then there was choking, coughing, and something far worse.
I swallowed water, bitterly confused, afraid of that which I could not comprehend – and the large creature that had chosen to inhabit this lake for it’s hot-spring warmth heard my splashing even as I had heard his heart.
I caught a glimpse of bigness, of teeth unending, of a slick-smooth hide like some strange nightmare-fish, and then he swallowed me.
Spongy compression and a complete lack of air filled my personal terror to overload, and when I found myself in its acidic and corpse-filled stomach, I would have wept had I spare air with which to do so.
His heart beat so close to mine, now. So close.
When panicked, many of us return to what we know. I knew blood; I knew the siren-song of heartbeats, of its seductive hip-hitching dance and the throbbing glory with which it filled my veins, and so in this moment of terror and blackness and acid in my eyes and my mouth and my nose, I dug for that heart like a terrier after a rabbit.
Bone was no barrier to me.
I cracked his sternum, spilling blood into the acid and rot of his belly, and the great beast reacted as any of us would: he vomited with such force that I was expelled with half-dissolved bodies and blood and bile into the weirdly warm water.
He swam away, and I, in a cloud of indescribable horror, sank to the bottom because I had no concept of swimming.
Heed, now, friend: this time below the water is one of three moments in my life which created the being to whom you listen now.
I sank, as I say, without help or plan, and landed in the soft silt in a panic. I tried to breathe, but of course, could not; my lungs filled, burned, expelled water on their own, and I repeated this horrible pattern several times before my poor, beleaguered brain realized it ought to simply stop.
I stopped breathing.
The water, expelled, stopped burning.
My lungs quieted. My heart slowed.
And for the first time, the world no longer sounded and smelled of blood.
To be robbed of a sense is more than mere blindness. It remaps the entire world, reforms and frames every other sense, forces transition of thought and understanding until home becomes an alien landscape and all one thought one knew is dead.
No, not dead. Replaced.
Language is a dread thing, so very limited, so very small. Even those ancient and many-layered tongues which survive an era’s passing fails to canvas the fullness of life, its complexity and color and variation, and especially its experiences and understandings when from the viewpoint of the disabled. You know the word “blind.” It is simply absence of sight – yet is that truly all it can be, the full encompassing of one’s extra senses, of one’s additional and hitherto unexplored abilities in sight’s mere absence?
Of course not. “Blind” was created by men who see, and so is a limited word.
I, in that water, was blind, but not robbed of sight. I had been robbed of the two senses by which I navigated my entire world, and the sharp-edged gulf into which I subsequently fell could not be described with known words.
It was disconnect.
It was shocking awareness of my own skin, as though it had never existed before.
It was sudden intimate knowledge of the hairs on my body, moving in warm current.
It was abrupt aloneness with my own self and nothing to distract – no blood, no hunger, no Beast.
Since my waking in the woods, I had never been alone with my thoughts – if such wordless impressions could be termed such. Yet here I was. In the complete absence of my most familiar senses, the Beast went to sleep, and I… was I.
I sat so long the silt settled around my knees. Sat so long the fish decided I was no threat but merely an interesting decoration, and swam around me, nibbling flaking filth from my skin and the tips of my hair. Sat so long that above me, the sun rose overhead, and transformed the waves into an epiphany of sparkles and light.
Beauty. This was beauty. And I would now know it forever, marked, mine, though as of yet, I had no word.
I sat so long that the sun finished its crawl across the entire sky, constantly changing, playfully tipping ripples with white light sharp enough to cut, casting questing fingers at angles as if to explore and worship in this watery temple. Prisms were born and shattered, gentle grasses caressed the skin of my feet and knees and sides, the current trapped and enticed silt in sweetly subtle patterns through the waves.
And in it all, I sat, and knew awe.
I do not know how many days I stayed there. I know the moon – punching through the darkness of nighttime water like a fist – passed overhead, enthralling me with its terrible whiteness. My memory is punctured, pocked with craters like that moon and tattered along its edge. I know I stayed until my limbs grew weak with hunger, and my thoughts played among the reddish glints of sunrise and set with distracted desire.
Had I stayed, I may have died there; chosen to, welcoming weakness, relaxing into the sweet embrace of endings. I would have stayed… if not for her.
The heartbeat came against my skin like repeated kisses, intimate and enticing. It could only travel so because she stood in the water, speaking some words as she cried and pour water over herself with a clay jar.
Her voice carried, too, and its tones were ones I knew from animals: desperation, fear, misery. But her voice itself was one I’d never encountered.
She was human. I had never seen a human before.
I rose – silt-clouds burbling around me like barely-formed ideas, and walked her way.
I stumbled on hidden rocks; grasses tied themselves to me, tangled, but I tore through them. Fish – alerted now to my living status and no longer thinking me some manner of odd underwater bush – swam away, panicked, their tails knife-flicking through the sunlit water.
She sang, broke down in sobs, spoke.
It was not a scream of fear; this was rage, helpless rage, wrath without target or aim, spilling like fire from the sides of a too-small furnace.
Her heart beat.
The Beast stirred.
When I rose from the water, I must have seemed like a god.
She gasped and trembled, her thin robe clinging, wet, to her form like grasping hands, and I – abruptly awed for a different reason – continued my slow and steady walk from the water.
I did not remember to breathe yet, so there was no ungainly sputtering or coughing. I simple came, water sluicing from my skin, curls kissing my cheeks and water-reddened lips, my skin steaming in the cool of the afternoon.
She bared her teeth at me and… well. I presume she shouted a challenge.
I had no idea what the meaning of her sounds were. She was magnificent; a softer brown than the mud in which she stood, her black hair straight as the horizon, her curves a simply perfect expression of what nature is meant to be. She trembled, fierce, terrified, clutching her clay vase like some water goddess of old. Her golden eyes gleamed a challenge.
My hunter woke.
I tore out her throat.
Joy! Joy, rapture, purpose, fulfillment, excitement, lust, design – this was what I had been created to drink. Human blood, human blood, oh, the flavor and experience of human blood! There is no comparison, no close second, no near-cousin of tastes and touch, and as her blood splashed onto my skin and tongue and face, I knew rapture.
But she… didn’t.
I knew sounds of distress; I’d made them myself, and every animal I had taken made similar sounds. Those were hers now, albeit strangled because of the harm I’d done. And her heart stuttered.
I can only blame empathy for the strange logic that took me next.
I was happy; she was unhappy. The answer was obvious: I had blood and she did not!
So I tore out my own throat to give my joy to her.
Blood was happiness; blood was peace. Blood was everything, and hunting something down seemed less expedient. I bled onto her, into her, into her wound and into her mouth, and by some amazing chance… she swallowed.
Her body convulsed then, eyes rolled back, heart stuttering and slowing and quickening again, and then – to my extreme horror – she voided herself.
That was horrible. My own body had never done anything of the sort, though several animals had upon their deaths. I confess to you… I might have abandoned her right there and never looked back but for one thing: as she changed from human to a child of the night, our souls locked together like welded steel.
I felt her pain. Her panic. Her terror and wonder that she was not dead. And her disgust at her own body, for it was not obeying her.
So I picked her up and carried her into the water, having learned that it could clean a person down to their skin.
Water, fish, and her own hands did their deeds. I – bound to her now in ways no words could comprehend then or now – stayed, holding her, increasingly fascinated by what she revealed as she disrobed to clean herself further.
I have no doubt that the monster in the lake would have struck us, had I not wounded it so badly. In fact, I have no doubt the monster in the lake is why she was there: this had the air of ritual about it, of unwilling required sacrifice. But something other than death had come for her.
She gasped, struggled, vomited what solid food was in her stomach, cleaned herself… and when she looked at me again, her golden eyes had gone green.
She groaned; her lips parted. Her eyes lidded even as her pupils grew to take me in, and in the moments that followed, she showed me what her curves were for.
We coupled in the water and on the shore with wild abandon, strength and new energy meeting with passion and shared sensation (I felt her, felt every inch of her, even as she touched me) until the sun set and our yowls likely sent every animal in the area far away.
Then her hunger took a different path. She rose from our temporary nest, wet and slightly red from our fluids, and took off.
I followed. I followed like a kite on a string, completely shell-shocked by what we had done (by what our bodies could do – whoever thought of such a thing?) and trapped in the wake of her hunger.
We had to go some way before we found living things with blood in their veins. Find them, we did; devour, tear, rend, we did. Ah, the joy of a meal shared, do you not agree?
She seemed to have direction in mine for our hunting. She led me in a wide circle, eating as we went, leaving enough corpses to pave our journey, until she came to an entire village full of human.
Do you recall the first time you stepped into a bakery filled with the glory of fresh bread?
Or a factory, perhaps, where chocolate is melted and molded?
Maybe a happy home with bacon in the air, and coffee – a magnificent combination?
They pale compared to this.
She tore through this village with silent wrathful terror, with driving hunger and hatred that combined guaranteed no one would leave this place alive.
Tied, connected, desirous, I followed her, catching would-be-escapees and drinking them dead, mesmerized by her mad and intelligent ferocity.
When we were through – when everyone in this place was dead – she crouched in the center of this place and wept, holding herself as if to keep from flying apart.
I can make no excuses for myself. I had taken her, yes, out of ignorance, but brought her into a life she never requested. Now, she was something else – perhaps a monster – and judging by the traces of her scent around this dead place, she’d once lived her.
I comfort myself with the thought that these people, maybe, sent her to die. It would not validate what I did, but it would, perhaps, dull that blade with irony.
I had no experience with comfort of any kind, so I knelt beside her, silent, waiting while she pushed through waves and tidepools of emotions I could feel but not identify, and after a time, she turned to me – tears streaming down her cheeks – and babbled.
I do not know what she said. I cannot know.
I simply listened, fascinated with the beauty of her lips and already growing turgid with memories of what we had done, and decided at last to reach for her.
This, at least, I did not force: she came to me with all the passion she’d shown in everything she did, all the time, and we joined in the midst of dead people she’d once known, in the middle of a place I think she once called home.
When we finished, she wept; she clung to me.
Her emotions washed through me like ink in water, foreign, coloring everything; I comprehended none of them, understood nothing, but knew she was unhappy.
I did not want her to be unhappy. Her happiness, in fact, suddenly mattered quite a lot to me.
So I took her hunting.
Carried her through the woods for a time, brought her squirming and squealing things still dripping from wounds I’d torn, urged her with wordless language – running up to her and away again, like a dog – until we found another village (this one with none of her scents) and laid waste to it.
Her mood lifted… slightly. No, that is not correct. It hardened.
We drank and killed, killed and drank, and I was of a mind to celebrate again as we already had, but this time, she was not interested.
Instead, we she dropped the last body – just rattlings final breath, for as I said, we learn quickly not to drink from the dead – she swayed in place.
I touched her, cupped her fullness in my hands.
She passed out in my arms.
You, of course, know all about this now. My new children must feed, then sleep – sometimes for a long time – before they come back to themselves. I did not know this then, nor had I the intelligence to reason through it. I merely knew she slept.
Well, I had slept! I knew what to do. I dug a hole in the ground – tilling the soft soil to grow a crop I couldn’t possibly understand – and pulled her with me into the soil.
I curled around her – my beautiful one, my soft and curved creation, this being to whom the tattered shreds of my soul now clung – and slept.