Every day is exactly the same.
It’s been only three days, an inconsequential snap of my fingers, and yet it feels like an eternity. I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting for an answer, waiting anything that will show me what the next move is.
But there is no answer.
Duffy’s not come back from the clinic and the remainder of our group beyond the wall hasn’t shown up once.
What more can I do but wait?
I’ve been asking myself that question on repeat, like that record in Dana’s asylum, the hauntingly childish call of a tune that grates and irritates and maddens… and never ends.
Unlike her, I can’t hurl it into oblivion against the wall and prove to myself that it’s over…
Because it isn’t.
No, I have to live with it…
What more can I do but wait…
I feel provoked, like I’ve been set up to fail by my own hand. It’s like from the moment that we got here something pricked me on my way through the gate, something small and slow and inconsequential that only itched at first. But I scratched it relentlessly until it became raw. And now it’s an infected wound that won’t heal.
And I pick at it just to be sure that it bleeds. I can’t stop myself, even when it’s clear that something’s very wrong, that I’m making it worse, that it’s spreading.
This thin black line crawling up my artery to my heart…
What more can I do but wait…
The humans must have figured Duffy out. I hadn’t been thinking clearly at the time, but when she and I hatched the plan for her to distract, I should have realized that they’d recognize her. Her face was all over the media screens little more than a year ago.
She was the terrorist, the killer, the person wanted above all others for her crimes against humanity.
Of course they’d know once they really looked at her, once she really stood out for some reason, despite her circumstance-haggard appearance. And now, without knowing what’s in the food and why I don’t have any idea of where else to look. And if I did, I wouldn’t even know what to look for.
I’m directionless and hopeless… and angry.
Furiously angry, just like the wound.
Dana, Alice, and I have been trying to find something to give us direction. We’ve sunk into a routine. Every day, we wake, we eat, we go to the clinical, and then we search every square inch of this encampment methodically, frantically, before giving up. And then it’s my vigil by the fence…
But as much as I try to find a way, something, I always come up with the same conclusion: there is truly no way into the CDC without one hell of a fight or an escort… or another diversion.
Alice and Dana say that there is only one other option: escape.
That’s what they keep saying, using it like a weapon, bludgeoning me with a single, incomprehensible word: escape. But I won’t consider it an option. I won’t accept that all that’s happened has been for nothing. I can’t go back. There is no going back, not for me. That was the deal with the beast. There has to be a forward, an end.
But there’s not, and that knowledge is eating away at me like a disease, a neurosis.
I need to get to Lilith.
What more can I do?
I need to know something substantial; I need Duffy to come through, to magically appear and give me something to work with. And until then, well, even as the three of us bide our time, it’s not only just limited at this point.
We’re each at the end of our rope.
Or at least, I am…
I can’t sleep, no matter how much I want to find that escape. I no longer own myself. My mind is torturing me, keeping me awake with thoughts that breed insanity until I just black out. It’s almost as if I’m narcoleptic. One minute I’m as fine as I can be and the next I’m retreating to my tent to succumb to… something, something that’s beyond my comprehension or control.
And it makes me angrier, livid, and there is nowhere to put those things, not even in the abyss.
And the nightmares…
During those times of unconsciousness, I’m with the beast, lying at the bottom of endless darkness with no conception of time or reason. He ignores me, complacent that I’m there with him to keep his misery company.
And when I’m released, I wake feeling worse and start it all over again: breakfast, try to think through the fog, fail, no rest, get angrier, pick the wound some more while I wait, go to the edge of the camp and look for people who aren’t coming, black out, and wake up in my tent even worse than the worse that came before.
I’m spiraling, and my mind…
It won’t stop.
So, I keep moving, trying to stay busy and to think past one thought as it bleeds into the next, but nothing makes sense.
Nothing is clear, nothing… it’s all just nothing.
Thick and choking…
And even food is out of my reach.
We can’t find anywhere to pull up a root without being exposed. And while we still have plenty of time before we start to desiccate, it won’t be long before one of us tears out a throat and exposes us all anyway.
I know that it’ll be me.
I’m too unreliable, even to myself.
And they know that, or they suspect it. That’s why aside from the daily meeting in the latrines after the clinical, I’ve kept my distance from them. If they want to leave, they can. No one’s stopping them. I don’t get that luxury. I’m losing more and more of myself every day, every minute, every second.
So I push them away, and they argue little.
It’s for the best. If I don’t sleep, or eat, or find a way to be calm, to stop the steady progress of one thin, graphite line from reaching my heart, I’m not going to make it much longer. No one can know and I wish that I didn’t. They’re already overbearing, and so is my mind. There’s no way for them to understand. No one does, not even me.
It’s been another four days. I’m losing time during these blackouts, considerable amounts, twelve hours or more. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I still manage to make it to all of the daily functions. More meals I can’t ingest, more clinicals that only thicken the fog I’m stumbling through, and more waiting at the gate for help that won’t come as the line pushes higher.
I scratch at it, hoping that I can stem its progress, but it’s consuming me. I feel the need to hold my neck out, to extend myself, to somehow stretch and hold it off, but there is no avoiding this guillotine. I’ll only expose more of my neck to its sharp, waiting jaws.
I feel as if the slow process of dying that I’d embraced walking in is coming to fruition, just not in the way that I’d intended. I feel so desperate at this point.
Desperate and necrotic…
Desperate to get to Lilith, to kill her, but I’m the one dying on the inside.
It should be Lilith who’s suffering.
If I could think her demise into existence, it would be done.
Perhaps I should just attempt to storm the castle? No, that would be out and out suicide. And if that is my only recourse, I’m going to need more than Alice and Dana. The others, few as they are, they’re infinitely needed, but they’re not coming.
I’m not sure why I still stand here at exactly sundown each night, expecting them to show, looking out from my cage into the darkness for the ghost of succor and only finding emptiness. If my desire to kill Lilith weren’t so strong, the anger that’s tearing me apart from within the abyss would be focused on them.
Where are they?
They were supposed to be here, to be of help. They were supposed to come as often as they could at this time each day, and one of us was to meet them. They were supposed to be hiding in the forest line just beyond so that we could communicate silently.
That was the plan. That was what we all agreed to so that we could have assistance if things went wrong inside. Well they have, and yet… nothing but charred trees and scorched earth are out there to meet me, the promise of damnation both inside and outside of this bastion.
And the search parties… they’re everywhere as I’d predicted, and as such, I can only assume one of two things: the others are dead or they’ve abandoned us here.
I know too much about it. And while, in my current emotional state, I am unable to really feel any remorse, something in me knows just what I have abandoned, just what I have given up to be here.
And that only adds to the anger because I know that it was for nothing.
I will die in here. I never had any doubt about that. In fact, I even looked forward to it, but not like this. It was supposed to be different, to have a purpose. I was to put an end to all of it, strike out against the darkness that I’d embraced and abolish it once and for all.
Lilith was supposed to die before me.
I was supposed to feel her blood warm on my hands before I faltered.
And… she, well, she was supposed to be free of it all, she and her child…
It’s all for nothing, and the only comfort that I have is that the beast allows me to feel hollow.
I let it. I let it remind me that it doesn’t matter. Life has a price, a infinitesimal one, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. It’s a commodity to be traded and exploited until it’s used up, dried up, and burned like so much garbage.
I push angrily off of the fence and release my hold to find that I’ve dented the chain-link. I’m wasting my time here. I have been all along, but then that’s what it all is at this point.
I’m losing it… if I haven’t lost it already. Or maybe I’m just losing the last of it. This hollowness, it irritates and burns, and I need the solace of something, anything, but I only have my tent, a thin barrier between me and the world while I pick and bleed and wait for the end.
It’s so insignificant and yet it’s my only salvation, so I hurry towards it. I can feel myself spiraling, preparing to black out, and I can’t do that in front of anyone else.
People are ambling around just as they always have, making last minute trips to the latrines before curfew, huddling together around their fires, but for once, they’re speaking and finding warmth beyond that of the flame. The atmosphere has changed in the last few days; it’s charged, crackling with hope, and it started with a life changing clinical.
A few days ago Lilith came onto the screen and sucked us all in, telling us that she’d found a way to stave off the transition. This explained why people weren’t turning, but she didn’t explain how and nothing explains why.
And no one else knows enough to care, not even Dana or Alice, because they would run.
My mind is foggier than ever, worsening, deteriorating as it would seem, and I just can’t figure Lilith out, me out… anything out.
Why would she seek to stop the transition, unless she doesn’t know about the root?
But then that seems unlikely. If she were keeping these people as cattle, we’d have seen some sign of it. Few people enter the clinic and always with a genuine medical reason. If she’s collecting blood, she’s not collecting enough of it and the intervals are erratic.
Either way, the humans smile now; they interact. I have even heard laughter and singing. They celebrate and it’s disconcerting. I’d lamented the quiet, the doom and gloom that had seemed to blacken everything within its stifling reach, but now that it’s loosening its grip, I find myself consumed in rage.
Because it still has its claws deeply imbedded in me…
Because the humans accept Lilith…
Because they rejoice when I cannot…
How dare they find complacency and joy when I’m denied those very things.
It makes me angrier, angrier than I’ve ever been. And I can only assume that it’s this peaking rage that fuels my inability to think and reason clearly, and in turn, makes sleep a thing of halcyon.
I nearly collapse into my tent, shutting out everything and trying to center myself, but I just can’t seem to get a grip. Those sharing my campsite are having a good time, singing together by the fire and rejoicing that they’ve survived the plague and won the war.
To them the sky will be blue again.
But the truth is that the world is gray, shaded, and hollow.
As for me, all I see is red.
Not even the beast can contain this aspect of my psyche. It lied to me. It tries to fulfill its side of the bargain, and for the most part it has. But this… this fury that’s been simmering within me is about to boil over, and it’s beyond the beast’s considerable reach.
He can neither sooth nor channel that anger into focus, and I’m left alone in it, not understanding it but wallowing in it nonetheless. I try to force it down, try to swallow it, but it’s grown too big.
It’s just too much.
My head is pounding and my jaw has locked my teeth together in a vice-like grip, the same one mirroring my fists. I would wish to black out, but that only seems to make it worse.
I force open my hands and press the nail of my right thumb into the palm of my left hand as deep as I can but the sting does nothing to distract, the pooling of blood nothing to cool my ire.
The world outside the tent goes on in its futility, not knowing that it’s doomed. I hear someone laugh raucously and with a frustrated cry, I find myself drowned in my loathing.
This is something else that I know all too well, that feeling of having no control over my body as my soul thrashes inside and inches closer to death. Even the beast hides in these moments, though this is by far the worst that I’ve had yet.
My vision is flickering in and out, my thoughts swirling around and crashing into each other. Something is so very wrong with me, and whatever it is, it’s coming to a head.
I’m stuck here, trapped, not just within myself, but in an impossible situation.
I’m useless, unable to think or act on anything but instinct, and my instinct is to destroy any and everything.
Why is this happening?
I gave up everything… EVERYTHING… and it amounts to NOTHING…
With a wave of nauseous dizziness I find myself in the abyss, the beast supine in his way, his eyes glowing as he stares at me, watching lazily with two ghastly pin dots of light in endless shadow. And for a moment, I hate him again. He made promises, just like I did; only he was supposed to keep his and in turn, help me keep just one of my own.
I wasn’t supposed to feel anything.
He had one purpose, one, and he has failed not just me, but her.
And what’s worse is that he doesn’t seem to care.
He lifts his head from his paws and stands, his eyes flashing as he bares his teeth. I take no heed of his warning I am so consumed. I hate him. I accuse him. I scream at him and hurl his bones.
He lunges for me, and it’s in the moment, as he tears into me, that I realize that he is the reason for all of this.
I shouldn’t have accepted him. I knew better. I’d played this game with him before, and I knew what it would do to me, I knew that there were no real winners. But I was okay with that because I was too proud to run. I was too consumed by saving my family and killing Lilith. I couldn’t run then and I cannot run now. He has failed me, and I always knew that he would, but regret doesn’t change the rules of the game.
Regret doesn’t stop the sucking sting of consequence.
There is nothing that I can do to stop him short of death.
And not even death wants me now.
I am his.
I gave it all up, everything that I needed and wanted, and he took it from my willing hands.
It’s like I’m losing sincerity, losing security, faking my promises to get more lost in them. It’s like waking up and finding catastrophe in my hands because I told the truth even when it hurt.
It’s a grenade, and it’s armed, and it’s time.
I’ve never been able to defeat him before and I never will. At least he’s quick to strike and leave me incapacitated, leave me to the oblivion of my own personal hell.
Something warm, celestial, washes through me, and for the first time in a long time, I feel whole.
It’s like a chant, a hymnal, a laying on of hands – her voice, a light in the darkness.
“You have to be okay… please…,’ she repeats this over and over.
The touch to my forehead is cool and trembling but more soothing than even the promise of death.
Have I died?
‘My God, baby… what have you done…?’
I must have, because that voice is salvation, even when the gorgeous tones are tainted by pain.
She cries and I want to shrink away from the sound.
She wasn’t supposed to cry.
And yet, I always knew that I’d hurt her.
All I’ve ever done is hurt her.
Her pain is mine.
And it’s my fault…
I always knew…
‘You can hear me?’ She cries harder. ‘Oh, thank God. I’ve been trying for so long…’
‘I- you… what are you…? Just go away, T…’
‘No! God, Bette, I’ve been trying to reach you every day, but you won’t listen to me. You can’t lose yourself, Bette. You have to fight this. Why would you even consider this?’
I feel the bile rise up in my throat, both for what I’ve done and the fact that I have to face her. She was never supposed to know any of this. She wouldn’t understand.
‘You don’t understand…’
‘Stop it! Just stop! You’ve been shutting me out, but I’ve seen all of it. You can’t do this, Bette. You have to fight!’
She shakes me and I try to roll away from her, but I feel so heavy that I can’t move. Tears try to sting my eyes but I won’t let them come. I shove them down, or at least I try to, but there’s a problem: here, wherever I am, there’s no abyss inside to stuff them out of the way.
There’s no beast to eat my destruction and leave me void.
And it leaves me broken from my bones to my voice. ‘You don’t understand, T…’
That cool hand brushes under my eyes and leaves wet tracks in its wake. ‘I understand, Bette, but you don’t. It’s not too late. You can choose to make it different. Just try… please…’
‘No, I have to make it stop-‘
She shakes me again. ‘Not like this, Bette. Please… just think about it! This isn’t you! You don’t have to do this…’
I feel myself being jostled and I can’t seem to catch my breath. ‘You don’t know what it’s like, living with it. I just can’t, T, not anymore… It all has to stop… It’s the only way…’
I feel my head shift and try to open my eyes. The world is a mass of blurry shapes, shadows, and colors but I can’t focus on anything or hold them open. I don’t need them though. I feel her and smell her as she shifts closer, her hair tickling against the side of my face as whisper soft lips breathe their anguish against the skin of my neck.
If my eyes had been open, I’d have shut them to relish the feeling.
I had forgotten how much this meant to me.
How it felt to be near her, like I could do anything, be anything.
‘You are good, Bette. You don’t see it, but you are. I love you, and I know you still love me. Just hang on. I’m coming for you. I’m close, closer than you know.’
My muscles rebel as I’m hefted upwards. Duffy shifts away from me as her grip is broken, and she stares at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
And I know that I have.
Without warning, I turn over and hurl onto the ground.
My mind spins as I empty absolutely nothing out of my already barren stomach.
For fuck’s sake…
What was that?
My hands tighten around anything that they can find and it’s then that I notice that my pallet is shredded, the tent floor torn open, the last of this week’s water emptied over everything where something clawed into the mud beneath…
It looks like an animal was loosed in here, and for all intents and purposes, there was.
I did this.
The beast did this.
My stomach finally starts to settle and I collapse on my side.
“Bette, what’s going on,” Duffy asks.
I close my eyes and ponder any answer that won’t bring more questions from her, but Duffy’s far too tenac-
I push up and grab her arm to confirm that I’m not hallucinating. “Duffy…?”
She grimaces. “In the flesh.”
She attempts to remove herself from my grasp, but I’m too strong. I look down to see that I’ve broken her arm and release her quickly.
With a grunt she pulls on her wrist to reset her forearm, and we both watch as it begins to mend.
She glances up at me. “What’s wrong with you, Bette?”
I scrub at my face. I have no answer to that question. All I know is that I feel completely empty. There’s no pain, no anger, not even remorse, not even for her.
Was that really her, just now? Has she been watching all of this time? Would I care if she has? I should, shouldn’t I?
Yes, I should. I would have, but I just don’t.
None of it matters, not even her, not anymore.
The beast smiles and we commune for a moment, and I realize that before, my surrender hadn’t been complete. I hadn’t fully given myself to him. But now as I search myself… it’s all gone. He killed that last remaining part of me that was holding on and delivered the corpse to his enemy, to her.
I witnessed the death of my pain and suffering, of myself, cradled in the arms of a one-time lover.
I close my eyes and smile because I’m finally free of feeling.
“Bette… what’s wrong?”
I meet Duffy’s gaze. “I’m fine.”
Her expression is skeptical, but it’s true. I know it; I feel it. I’ve finally let it all go, let her go.
Hell, I can say her name without wincing.
I roll the word around in my mouth and find that there is no taste left on my tongue.
Relief sweeps through me. It was her. She was doing that to me all of this time, and she’s been banished, like a thin thread set fire to shrink and evaporate.
I realize that Duffy’s staring at me and decide that focus is necessary, but more than that, for the first time in months, it’s fully possible.
I deftly swing scrutiny from myself. “So, we thought you’d been discovered. What happened? Were they holding you?”
Duffy nods distractedly.
I watch her for a moment as she seems to recede into herself and wait for something more, but it never comes.
“Well… what happened,” I prompt.
She clears her throat. “They, um… I didn’t know what they were doing at first, at least not until I finally got a few minutes alone with Wilson’s tablet…”
Her eyes stare out into a darkness that only she can see and her voice detaches. “I didn’t remember any of it. I had an IV, and I thought that they were just hydrating me, but I kept passing out and having these nightmares. I’d wake up even more tired but unable to sleep. I didn’t know it, but they were sedating me.”
I frown. “Why?”
She pulls her knees up against her chest and starts to rock. “I didn’t know, until the tablet…”
She buries her face in her arms and I find myself getting frustrated. “What did it say?”
Her voice is muffled. “They were injecting me with that crap that’s in the food. It stops people from turning, but that’s not all that it does, Bette, at least not in large quantities. And they had me hooked up to a constant drip…”
She runs a shaking hand through her hair and the last of my patience is leeched away. She needs to speak, and she needs to speak now.
“What does it do, Duffy?”
She meets my gaze and I realize that she’s broken. They broke her, something deep and pivotal inside of her. I can relate, or at least I used to be able to. But emotions, brokenness, all of it, it’s so pointless. I see that now.
This knowledge is a gift from the beast…
From my maker.
I wonder for a moment if Duffy could ever let it go the way that I have and embrace her true nature, the one given to her upon her rebirth, the truth behind what it is to be a vampyr. But as I search her face, I realize that not all are capable of transcending. I only barely was, and it took extreme circumstances for me to finally let go.
I couldn’t even control it.
It was just a choice, a choice born of desperation.
Lilith is the only other like me now.
“In large quantities, it forces a person’s reproductive cycle into hyper drive. She’s defiling us, Bette, using these people, us, to raise a family.”
I frown. “Duffy, you’re not making sense…”
She raises her voice. “She’s taking them, our children… I mean, our potential children, and we don’t even know it. She’s raping us…”
I feel my eyes widen even as my vision slants a bit, and an involuntary hand runs across my stomach. She’s taking the future, and oddly enough, even as it registers, I can’t bring myself to care.
I pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to figure out what’s happening inside of me now. I cared before, literally just five minutes ago. This… this is gross, egregious, beyond twisted and sick, isn’t it? Who could do that? What kind of monster could do that to even the lowliest of beings and live with itself?
But for all of the right answers that well up in my synapses, I can’t find the will to care, to find the anger, to see the darkness as an affront.
I shake my head, as if the movement will reset my mind, allow it to feel what it knows that it should, but I don’t. This isn’t me; I’m not me, not anymore. Just when I believe that I’m free of one thing I’m trapped by another. I should hate her more, want to kill her more. I killed the lighter parts of me to give way to that need, to find glory in that urge, not to deter me from my course.
Duffy is incredulous. “Bette, didn’t you hear me?”
I clear my throat and focus. Right now, all of the answers that I’ve been waiting for are finally here; and whether I want them or not, I’m going to take them.
“Yes. She’s… harvesting?” Duffy nods. “Why? I mean, at least why like that? She has all of humanity bowing at her feet. She could easily have a willing lover… hundreds of them.”
For a moment I remember that I was once a very willing lover, and it’s not a terrible remembrance. In fact, it’s almost… sweet, this feeling.
But I’m freed of emotions, aren’t I?
There’s a hand on my shoulder and I snap my head up to find Duffy looking at me earnestly. “She doesn’t want lovers. She doesn’t want them actually involved with the children. She wants full control from conception to gestation to birth. So she’s just taking it all, from hundreds so far… even me now, and even you.”
I furrow my brows. That’s not possible. I’d recall something that invasive, intrusive, wouldn’t I?
“What do you mean?”
She drops her hand. “Have you been feeling strange at all, like you don’t know what you’re thinking, losing sleep, or even losing time and not knowing how?”
I close my eyes and breathe deeply. How much of what’s happening should I tell her? I gaze at her for a moment, and find that lying would be futile. She obviously read it all in Wilson’s records.
“Yes,” I reply.
She nods. “That’s a side effect of the mass injections of the inhibitor. When I read the tablet, I found everything, Bette. Every woman is catalogued. They come into the camp at night and sedate a few women. They don’t even have to remove them from their tents.”
I shake my head, my mind rejecting this. “This doesn’t make sense, Duffy.”
“What doesn’t? They pick a few and harvest them. It usually takes about a week to harvest every single embryo, and then they move on to the next. The records are extensive, Bette. From what I saw, they are harvesting about twenty people total each week between clinic walk-ins and camp invasions, and they’ve been doing it for months. I only jumped up to the top of the list because I was brought in.”
I want to laugh, but I swallow it. This all sounds so ridiculous. Why would Lilith need all of the grandstanding to create vampyrs? Why use artificial means to grow children when she has thousands utterly enthralled?
“I was walked in there and no such thing happened to me, Duffy.”
Duffy seems angry at my skepticism. “They don’t do it the first day, Bette. They don’t want to draw attention. They want people to trust them, trust the doctor. Who would go in there if they saw what happens to people who aren’t really sick before they go in?”
Okay, so they don’t do it first day. It still seems too fantastic to me.
Duffy sighs in defeat, her eyes imploring me to accept what she’s saying. “Don’t you get it? This explains the curfew, why she’s found a way to forestall the transition, why she’s keeping the humans, the weak indoctrination…”
I shake my head again. “No, it doesn’t explain any of that. Lilith doesn’t need all of that or children to start a family. She has compulsion and an army of enthralled humans.”
“Bette,” she says wearily. “You said yourself that she wants a truly devoted family, and force has never worked before, has it?”
I think about this for a moment. Duffy’s right in that aspect, Lilith has always wanted to be loved, to be first in all hearts as she is in her own. And after centuries of trying and failing, what better way to achieve that family than to play God from birth?
She won’t have to force them to love her because they’ll grow to love her from the moment that they’re… born… or… grown. They will know no other mother, no other lover. She will simply be their world.
“If what you say is true, then why stop the transition? That affects nothing. She could still harvest after, as evident by Tina.”
Duffy sighs. “Sure, but that takes away the maker bond. I read that she’ll turn them herself once they’re adults. She wants to be the one, not nature.”
And just like that, some of the pieces start to fall in place. Of course she wants the maker bond. Without it, she won’t be able to hear thoughts. “That’s the only way that she’d trust. She has to be able to hear everyone’s thoughts. It’s her insurance. Even after all of this effort to earn loyalty, she still won’t trust it.”
I didn’t mean to speak out loud, but Duffy seems to relax as I start to understand, her shoulders slumping and a forceful exhale lending credence to how frightened she is, how violated.
Lilith is close to her dream, for the first time in however many millennia. She will finally have a family, secure a trust that she’ll finally be able to live with. Everyone she’s ever cared about, the vampyr family that she spent centuries building, her mother, me… they’ve all betrayed her.
But that will change.
“Right,” Duffy says, snapping me back to the conversation. How much of that did I say out loud?
“And,” She continues. “There won’t be anyone left to challenge her once it’s done. All she has to do is keep her children hidden until the harvest is complete and all of the rebellion has been destroyed. Anyone left here will make their choice, be destroyed or turned, and then she has everything that she wants. It explains everything, Bette.”
It doesn’t explain everything, at least not for me. The anger is gone; all feelings are gone, but something in me feels closer to her, and I should feel nothing.
“Okay, but that doesn’t explain how they didn’t know that you’re already a vampyr, or that I was when Wilson looked me over.”
She sighs. “I’ve been pondering over that myself in my lucid moments. I can tell from my medical record that they didn’t run a chromosomal workup like Shapiro said they’d have to. They trusted the one on file from my chip. My only conclusion is that they didn’t recognize me, and my children aren’t yet old enough. Once they are, they’ll see that they’re already vampyrs and they’ll come for me.”
“Surely that will take time, months. This will be over by then, one way or the other.”
But which way will it end? Which side of this do I fall on now?
Duffy runs a hand through her hair. “That’s not true. The natural gestation period for vampyrs is the same as a normal human’s according to the notes, but Wilson’s found a way to accelerate the process by altering the new vampyr gene at conception. The embryos go straight from the donor to the dish, where Lilith’s own DNA is used to start the process.”
I frown. “But won’t that make them vampyrs?”
Duffy shakes her head. “No. For a vampyr to be born, both parents have to pass on the gene. If only one does, it’s not triggered. It’s recessive. They’ll have fully developed human babies within a few weeks, and I’m sure there’s an area full of children somewhere inside already.”
I consider this for a moment, and while I know that I should feel just as angry and violated as Duffy does about the fact that somewhere close by my children are being conceived without me, I don’t. I feel so little, but what little is there just feels closer to Lilith.
Duffy continues without any prompting this time. “Vampyr children grow extremely fast compared to human children, reaching full maturity within only two years according to Wilson’s studies, though she’s not actually seen it happen. All of these children are still human and will be for a long time. That’s why she even bothers with keeping the humans around. She’ll need some adults when it’s all said and done. Either way, they’ll know within days of birth that our children aren’t human because they’ll grow too fast. That’s when they’ll come for us.”
“How long,” I ask.
She exhales. “About two months.”
So they’ll come for us. Like all other things, I don’t really care. In fact, that might be a good way to get close to Lilith, to see her, to kill her… or maybe not.
I’m not certain anymore.
What would she do when she finds out that we’re here?
Wouldn’t she just kill us?
But as I think about it for a moment, another piece falls into place. This isn’t something that I have to wonder about. I’ve known it since Florida but only now am I able to realize what I’ve seen.
The guards have known from the moment that we arrived – who and what we are. They let me get away with things that should have gotten me killed, that would have gotten any other human killed: my strength, my lack of fear, my reaction to the food, the way that they seemed to recognize me.
And yet, they allowed me in.
And yet, they allowed Duffy in.
Why would Lilith allow that? She must hate me as much as I hated her, and Duffy must mean even less to her.
Why not just kill us?
“Bette, look, I have an idea. Lilith’s compulsion is weak by design. She wants people to choose her, and if they don’t, they’ll be put to death. But that choice… it’s important to her, pivotal. Otherwise, she’d just do as you said, compel them and take what she wants right this instant. She’s given them a way out because she wants them to choose her. They can break the compulsion if they want to, but they don’t know that they should want to. I say, let’s wake them up, change them manually, and then we’ll have all the help that we need to take her down.”
I glance up at Duffy. I know what I should want. I should want Lilith dead. That’s what I have wanted for months. But now, despite it all, I just don’t… know. I need… more information… more time… just something more?
“How do you propose we wake them up? The daily clinicals make that impossible. And, if we try to wake them and it fails, we’re caught.”
But we’re already caught. That doesn’t mean that Duffy or Alice or Dana should know that.
“I’m running off of an assumption here, but if the compulsion can be broken, that rule should apply even after they’re changed. It’s a longshot, but maybe, if we change them first, the maker bond and actually having their maker to guide them will give them a reason to choose a different course. If not, we’ll hear their thoughts and we can kill them before they tell.”
“And do what with the bodies?”
She shrugs. “Red sand is all over the place. More of it won’t arouse suspicion, at least until they start to notice people are missing. We’ll just have to be sure that we hit the heart with a stake. No dismemberment. And we need to move quickly. I’d say we have about two weeks.”
“And what of feeding? A bunch of young, thirsty vampyrs surrounded by humans and no other food source won’t last long.”
She grins a little sickly. “I think you solved that problem for us.” She gestures to the floor of my tent, gazing at me in nervous contemplation. She knows that something’s wrong, but unlike Alice and Dana, she doesn’t want to run and she isn’t going to pry or push.
“We weren’t looking beneath our tents,” she continues. “Most are on concrete, but those who aren’t can share with their neighbors.”
I glance over at the shallow hole and down at the thick spiderweb of roots lining the bottom, a small amount of bloody syrup beading up from a gash where I’d dug to mix with my shredded bedding and spilled water.
It’s strange how things go from being so dire to falling into place. Instantly, the answers are here, and instantly, I no longer need them.
I now have the answers to almost everything that I’d been seeking: the way I’ve been treated, the lack of turning, what’s in the food and why, Lilith’s main goal, why the compulsion is weak, how I innately knew that time was of the essence, and a plan that might work.
But for all that I now know, I’m still missing something huge – this same something that’s been causing me to grasp at anything to make all of the confusion stop. I don’t know who I even am anymore. I’m not right and I know it, but killing my ability to feel has done nothing to help with that. Everything I had been trying to do was to save Tina and our child. It was a gamble, a risk of my life, but I’ve never cared about my own life.
She was the only reason that I cared to live, that I tried to live, and I had to give up my life so that she could have one. But now that I’ve lost that reason, given it away to give her a future, I’m not as devoid as I had hoped to be.
Everything is gone but one thing, one wholly contradictory problem: I don’t want to harm Lilith anymore.
No, I feel closer to her…
I don’t really want anything except to see her…
I was supposed to lose my heart, lose my life, but not my purpose.
The beast has failed again.
But at least it doesn’t matter.
The only thing I know with any amount of certainty is that I would want to have a choice, a real one, unadulterated and my own. That’s all I’ve ever wanted from the moment that I was born.
And that’s the only real truth that I can cling to with a mind that is no longer really my own.
I pull up a thick root and bite into it, hoping that banishing my hunger will give me some clarity. It at least helps to relax me, and despite my growing confusion, at least this last attempt to lose what’s plaguing me has given me the ability to calm, to focus, to find my way in the fog though it’s not lifted.
After I’ve nearly gorged myself, I pass it to Duffy. She is quick to suckle and as she does, as the quiet again descends and closes in, I realize that I can’t make any real choices right now. I have to go along with this if for no other reason than to not give myself away yet. If Alice, Dana, or Duffy knew what’s been happening, what has happened, they’d have no choice but to kill me. Or at the very least, remove me from this place forcibly.
If nothing else, this will be my way to have an audience with Lilith, and maybe that will reignite my desire to kill her.
“When do we start,” I ask.
Duffy releases the root and tilts her head back to relish the vitality rolling down her throat. After a deep breath she turns to me, a self-satisfied expression on her face.
“We still have a couple of hours until daylight. I say we try one now.”
It’s not difficult to agree. I don’t want to wait anymore. I’ve had my fill of it.
We exit the tent silently and make our way to the nearest neighboring tent, only stopping long enough to grab a branch still resting by the now cooled fire that was only hours ago the epicenter of a premature human celebration.
We’ve not tried recon after curfew, and this thought makes me nervous. But we are only outside long enough to reach the next tent and therefore, avoiding detection is simple. Duffy and I fall on the man inside, pinning him down and silencing his fright before he’s even had a chance to realize that he should be frightened.
Duffy bites hard into her wrist, turning her teeth in the flesh to be sure that the wound stays open long enough to bleed, and I remove my hand from the man’s mouth. He almost lets out a cry but it quickly becomes a choking gurgle as Duffy replaces my hand with her wrist.
Once I’m certain that he’s swallowed, I wait only a few heartbeats before I snap his neck. Pleasure rolls through me and for the first time in a long time, I feel something and it’s good.
Of course, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Duffy is quietly contemplating me and I’m forced to tramp it down.
We then sit and wait, but at least this waiting has a purpose and an end in sight. Even still, this next part will not be as easy. How can I convince him to abandon his compulsion to Lilith when I can’t seem to break my own?
I frown. It was an idle thought, but it’s clanging around in my head with certain implications. Is it compulsion, this confusion and lack of clarity, this inability to know what I would really choose for myself? Surely it can’t be. I’ve not seen Lilith but for the daily clinicals, and Duffy, Alice, and Dana aren’t second guessing their loyalty.
But then, they aren’t like me either.
They deny who they really are and I don’t.
Even now, Duffy is still glancing at me almost accusingly because she knows that I liked the feel of bone popping easily in my steady hands.
I stifle a grin. For all of her intuition, she has no idea. Either way, it can’t be compulsion. I’m a vampyr. There’s no way that Lilith could compel me, and even if she could, that compulsion has proven to be weak even amongst the humans.
I could break it if I wanted to.
I hear the man stir and look over at him. His fingers are twitching and a sweat has broken out on his brow. This is the fun part. I remember it well: the fever, the exploding pain in the skull, the searing pang of something sharp stabbing through the gums, the inability to hold onto consciousness as your heart gallops a deeply terrifying staccato.
The constricting thirst setting in and closing the throat.
I gulp in sympathy and ponder him. Will he be kinder and gentler, or will he be like me, like Lilith?
I feel entranced as I watch him quietly writhe in agony. It’s thrilling to see, to remember what it was like to first wake up and know that all things are possible and regret a thing of the past. Remorse is not in our nature. We’re predators, and predators don’t regret killing their prey. It’s the mind, the memories, the echo of human ideals that softens and weakens that nature.
It’s love that weakens that nature…
And tortures that unbridled spirit…
If I hadn’t met Tina, I wouldn’t have known that kind of love. And maybe when Lilith changed me, I wouldn’t have fought and struggled with myself for so long. One thing’s for certain: if I hadn’t met her, the world would be a different place. She’d have died that night in Georgia; Lilith and I would still be together; there wouldn’t have been a rebellion, and everyone would be better off.
I’ve always known that, and as such, I’ve always carried that guilt somewhere amongst the already vast sea of blood and death that mired me. For all that I don’t understand, at least now that part is gone. This is what Tina could never understand: you can’t fight for all eternity. Eventually, a dark force that strong will catch up to you and take you down.
I’ve fought long enough, haven’t I? Am I not allowed to be weary and want an end? Would it have been so bad to just accept my decision and try to make that surrender count for something? Could she not just accept it as the gift that it was intended to be?
No, she couldn’t, and if she does know what’s happening, even if she tries to find me, to stop it, there’s just nothing she can do. She’s one person weakened by her own compassion, and on both counts that makes her weak, helpless, idealistic, and futile.
I don’t believe that my spiritual death encounter with her was real. I haven’t been with her in almost a year. I made sure of that, avoiding deep sleep and forcing the shadows not to look like her. But even if it was, she is helpless in the face of cruelty by her own design.
Like me, she has to accept things the way that they are, not the way that she wants them to be. The sky is not blue and it never will be again. How unfortunate for her that she will carry pain over it, especially when I see nothing but tranquility in it. She doesn’t have the beast that I do to help her, to guide her through the process of murdering her humanity.
But she’s an immortal. Given enough years, all semblance of it will be destroyed by this world.
This utterly gray world…
I glance over to see that our new friend is waking and we both set about restraining and gagging him. There is no rope, but his bathing rag and our strong hands are enough to accomplish both tasks. I hold his legs and Duffy takes his arms, and I watch as she reads through his awakening thoughts.
I smile because I know what he’s feeling when his rolling eyes start to open and focus and his ears perk. The world is sharper, the details vivid. His hearing is acute and his senses reeling. It takes him a moment to notice that he’s not alone but for all of his newfound strength, we are older and stronger.
His struggles are in vain.
“Calm down. It’s okay. You’re safe,” Duffy reassures.
He struggles harder and Duffy presses him deeper into his pallet. “Listen to me! Look! Look at me!” He’s breathing hard against the rag as she forces him to look into her eyes. “I’m your maker.”
And that’s all it takes for him to relax. I close my eyes and remember my first encounter with Lilith. There is a sweetness that can’t be described when you hear that word and instinctively know its meaning, when you feel that connection surge through you and feel that gratitude and adoration.
It is the greatest bond available to a predator.
I find myself missing her… my maker, my lover, my confidant, my mother, my mistress…
I release his feet, Duffy clears his airway, and he sits up, staring at her.
“Wha-” He swallows hard. “What have you done to me? Who are you?”
She smiles so kindly at him that I feel like I should leave. This moment feels intensely private, sacred, even when I know that she’s just using him. It’s different for the maker than it is the prodigy. Some are made because they are loved, and in those instances the intensity of the bond goes both ways. But some are made because they are a tool, a means to an end, or maybe even a moment of desperate loneliness.
But despite any reasons, if they are not loved, they are only placated to meet whatever end.
That is why making vampyrs under Lilith’s rule was so limited. It should be sacred, a two-way street, a connection rivaled by no other. This war has perverted that communion, the rebellion has perverted that communion.
And Lilith was forced to break her own morality.
That must have been difficult for her to see, to do.
Of her own family…
She was right all along…
But at this point, it doesn’t matter. What’s done is done. Duffy is using this man and he doesn’t know it. Regardless of her motivations, his very blood tells him that he loves her. It is a hard message to disregard, and that’s what we’re counting on.
But is it enough for him to choose Duffy over his compulsion?
“You are a vampyr now.” She strokes his hair. “I made you. You don’t have anything to worry about. I’m going to take care of you.”
He swallows hard. “I… um…,” He shakes his head as if to clear it before panic starts to set in. “But they’ll kill us. Lilith was going to save us, she was saving us.”
Tears form in his eyes. “Why did you do this? We could have stayed human…”
He weeps and Duffy holds him as she looks at me. She shakes her head as she scans his thoughts and I retrieve the makeshift stake from the tent floor.
Lilith’s compulsion may not be breakable after all.
“Look,” he reasons. “If I tell like I’m supposed to, maybe I can convince her not to hurt you.”
He nods, almost as if he’s convincing himself. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see. She’ll reward us if we do as we’re told.”
He makes a move to leave, and I raise my hand to strike, but Duffy stops us both. She takes the man’s face and forces him to look at her. “If you tell, they will kill us both. I would never lie to you and you know that. You have to choose who you’re going to trust to take care of you, me or her.”
He wipes at his face as more tears fall, and I’m thankful that I can’t hear his thoughts. All of his blubbering is sickening enough from this distance. Regardless, I can tell that he’s considering her words and struggling with himself.
I watch Duffy for any indication that a choice has been made and find her smiling at me as the man finally calms.
He looks up at her, like a child looking upon his hero for the first time, and says, “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.”
I plop down and Duffy begins to tell him what’s needed of him, to console him, to make empty promises. She perverts that connection, uses it. After all, it’s just another inconsequential life.
At one point, they’re digging beneath his tent so that he can have his first feed, and I find myself twirling the stick in my hands as my thoughts venture from their surroundings.
Really, it’s focused on one single thing: I’m that much closer to seeing Lilith. Unfortunately, I have no idea what I’m going to do when I see her.
Things have improved since that night with Duffy, with the beast. I’m able to function, to sleep. I’ve stopped blacking out and while Duffy says that it’s because the humans completed harvesting me, a part of me knows that it’s more than that. I’m okay because all of the useless parts of me have not only died, but they’ve been fully cut away to leave me free.
Only now do I recognize that I’ve been living with a corpse strapped to my back. All of the regret, it was just hanging there rotting and pulling me down, decaying everything I touched with its stench and disease.
And to finally let it go… well, my peace would be complete if not for the fact that I still don’t understand my purpose in this world.
It’s been a week, and while I’ve been helping the others turn the humans, I’m beginning to believe that I shouldn’t be helping them. I don’t know why I don’t hate Lilith anymore, and I realize that I should, but I can’t change the fact that I just don’t. And as such, I don’t want to further thwart her plans.
Some part of me knows that she’s been expecting me, that she’s fully aware that I’m here and she allows me to live, even allows my companions to live, but I can’t bring myself to believe that she would not just kill me.
She has every reason and every right to. I’ve done nothing but betray her, wrong her, even now. How can I see her and cause her to take pause in my destruction long enough to puzzle this last piece out? I do not care that I would die, but that I would die before I have that last answer.
My desire to see her has been increasing daily, exponentially, even as I hide amongst my peers and work against her. We only turn people at night, and we are finding that those who break the compulsion are about fifty-fifty. With Dana and Alice and the increasing number of new recruits assisting, we’ve moved quickly, descending on the camp like locusts in the night, changing nearly two thirds of the population.
As for those who have been destroyed, well, I believe that the guards have taken notice in the vast decrease in the population. How could they not? But, for all that they do or do not know, they do nothing.
And that’s what solidified for me, gave me the will to take that last risk. She knows that I’m here. I could just go to her, and she would see me, even if it is only to put an end to it all. If I die without the answers to what’s left, it doesn’t matter. I realize that now. None of it does, not even when you care, because if you don’t want to care, you don’t have to.
And it’s for these reasons that I’m breaking away from my peers. They believe that I am helping to turn the last of the humans this night, but I am not. I am going to Lilith, and if I’m right, the guards are going to help me.
I slither my way along the fence, keeping to the shadows. For as much as I wish to be discovered, I must also be selective in who does the discovering. I catch glimpses of them, hearing some of their thoughts, as they go about their work.
They are just bodies, flesh to throw into the flame in a fruitless attempt to snuff it out, and they don’t know me for as much as they are loyal to me. I wonder for a moment if they would understand. Lilith is my maker. Of course I wish to see her.
Is it really that simple?
For all that I don’t care about and all that I do and do not know, I’m certain that it cannot be simple. Nothing ever is. There is more to this… whatever it is that I have been feeling, this inexplicable draw I have to her even as my desire to kill her has withered to dust.
I watch and listen and move as I wait for an opening, a moment in the calm where I can push through the center of what appears to be a sleeping shanty town and towards the CDC at its center. I am patient, and I am calm, assured in my task and my abilities, and it’s with ease that I find that opening.
I push up through the tents, the varying struggles around mere whimpers and dreams that fan out around me, and I focus in on that tower, that block of black in the thick gray. And there, finally, exiting a tent, is a guard.
He must have just begun a harvest, having no idea that the person inside is no longer human. Or maybe, she’s not yet been turned.
She would be among the few.
Just maybe… he knows.
I think that he does.
He sees me, and while it startles him, he does not raise an alarm. I approach calmly, as sure of myself as I can ever recall.
“Take me to her,” is all I say.
For a moment, just a moment, I almost falter because he hesitates. But then it comes, that nod of a shielded head, the quick turn on a practiced heel, and I’m following him through this ghost town.
I can feel it though I can’t see it, the eyes of those who trusted me worried at this turn of events as they still themselves and let us pass to avoid detection. They did not foresee this, but they can’t stop me now. They would give themselves away.
Like the humans, they never thought that what could take them out was hiding down below, among them, a traitor in their midst.
Is that what I am?
I’m not so certain. I have no wish to divulge anything to Lilith. I don’t care, and as such, I’m certain that she cares less. These people mean nothing, if not, very little. And even if I did care, she has to know. There’s no other explanation. Besides, for the whole of my afterlife she’s always been a step ahead, in the know, prepared.
Why would now be any different?
I feel nervous, but it has nothing to do with my lingering doubts, suspicions, or even the puzzlement and accusations of those that watch from their hidden positions. It’s anxiousness, almost a giddy excitement.
This is my moment.
The one I’ve been waiting for and working towards.
One way or the other, it all ends here at this beginning.
It all comes full circle.
Me and my maker.
My musings chew up time as our feet chew up distance, and before I know it, I’m there, at the entrance to the center, as if gravity itself has pulled us there, as if the earth was always tilted in towards this place and rolling everything towards it.
I feel washed anew as I step through these doors and we make our way to the entrance for the clinic. But this time, as expected, we turn neither right nor left as we move past the door inside. This time, the elevator is the destination.
It dings softly, and for all of the harsh lighting and almost blinding white of sterility, I find myself oddly at peace, something that I never thought I’d know ever again.
Not that I ever have before.
But if I were to imagine what peace feels like, this would be it. There is no current under the skin that makes it itch. There are no whirring thoughts colliding together and making a world of suffering pressing on my shoulders like Atlas.
There is no fear.
There is no pain.
There is no regret.
I just am.
It’s as if the abyss has stopped churning, stopped eating up ground to make itself known. There are no longer screams below or demons trying to breach its jagged edges. It’s no longer a blight on the landscape so much as something of beauty, grand and deep and wondrously destroyed, something meant to be visited and awed over, to find tranquility within, somewhere to empty the bowl.
And it is, finally, all of it, just gone, empty, infinitely so…
The roll of the elevator plunges us down, light shadows scrolling across the walls as each floor is left behind in a smooth, hypnotic way. We travel further than I’d expected, and I feel something tug from within the abyss.
It’s not unpleasant, almost like a beacon in the fog, a magnet pulling me through in a knowing way. I don’t need a path or the clarity of vision; I just need to trust and follow.
And I do.
The door slides open, and the guards doesn’t move except to look at me, as if he can will me forward with thought alone.
And I do.
I step out, the doors closing behind me and leaving me alone.
Before the world was gray, before it was a wasteland – one giant remnant of destroyed civilization – there were things like endless sky, gently rolling pastures, and neat rows of newly planted life springing up, fresh buds hanging fatly on the vine as they ripened, just waiting for the right time to be plucked down and savored.
It represented the renewal of life.
It represented hope.
It represented a future.
This expanse I find myself in doesn’t have endless sky or gently folding hills. It has a ceiling and four walls that hide themselves in the distant shadows and a plane of flat space. But it does represent the renewal of life, of hope, of a future, because neat rows map the terrain with fat buds growing heavy.
Some are smaller than others, newer, but life still abounds, as black beads develop into what will be sight, tiny fingers mature and grasp at nothing, a galloping shadow strobing light through the web of veins surrounding it, and the light of artificial warmth against still too thin skin.
Row after row, bubble after bubble, arms and legs twitching, life…
I walk through, taking it all in, and it’s beautiful in a macabre sort of way – in that way that you pass by an aquarium, the creatures inside too far removed from your arms or your understanding to register as anything more than the background, a passing attraction to wonder at.
A watery world far removed…
This is Lilith’s macabre aquarium…
There are hundreds of them, suspended in their sacks that are suspended in the air by metal arms that branch out like rows of winter trees. And it’s easy to disregard them as something not human, something not real, something other…
And even when I know what they really are, until they are here, they still don’t matter. Not until they bust out and scream with need do they make themselves real. Isn’t that why humans have things like abortion, because out of sight, out of mind?
Because life is cheap?
This, the worst of what anyone outside could truly comprehend, is not so different from the world that was lost. The only difference is that at least these children are wanted, made with purpose, with a mother who will care for them.
At least with things as they are now, this world is honest. There are no more grand palaces to blot out the nefarious deeds within. There are no more bright, happy, smiling facades to conceal the seedy underbelly of the truth.
What is the truth?
It’s the fact that we’re all born wrong, faltered, lacking innocence, mutated. We’re all born dying, both inside and out, and no matter what face you put on that devil within, it’s still a devil, and it’s still there, on every shoulder, tempting you to do what you really want to do and stop feeling the need to justify it or regret it.
What do we want?
Well, that’s different for everyone if you granulate it. But if you step back to see the panorama of the shore, it always comes down to the same thing: convenience without consequence.
There are few willing to take the hard road, and even fewer still who are able to stay the course, to endure. Which is ridiculous really, because all you have to do is turn it off, stop caring, stop justifying, stop fighting, just stop…
Find that moment where you no longer feel the ground as you trip and unexpectedly rush forward to meet it.
Find that moment where you no longer notice the hands grabbing at you to pull you back.
Find that moment where the haunted edges are no longer perilous and those lost out there howling are just background noise.
Find that moment where you are indifferent to it all.
It’s then that you’ll push forward, and no matter how treacherous the path, it’s no longer wearisome, lonesome, or brutal.
It becomes a sanctuary, a safe place to hide because no one would dare come to find you.
This is that place for me…
Lilith is that place for me…
I feel closer to her than ever, but then I keep saying that. Maybe it is my subconscious way of waking, to seeing the clarity of what she’s been trying to teach me all of this time. Maybe, I just need to see her and I don’t have to justify it.
I find myself running, row after row of glowing baubles lighting the way like ghoulish street lamps and taking me further and further down the treacherous path, my guts churning, no longer with apprehension but anticipation.
They are guiding me to my sanctuary amidst the catastrophe, to her, to the explosion, to the end.
But I’m still running away from something instead of towards it…
But that’s okay, because it’s not long before I find her, waiting for me, just as I knew that she would be. She’s alone in the dark, but I can see very well in the dark. That was her gift to me that day at the plantation, the day that she brought me up from a slave and gave me dominion over the world.
She was my maker, my savior, the person who had freed me out of nothing but kindness. She gave me this incredible gift and I would owe her for the rest of my life…
Isn’t that how it felt the first time?
Yes, just like then, there she is, straight black hair, almost blue in the glow of her creations and falling endlessly down her back, her skin smooth and pale, as if it’s been burnished by a master doll maker’s steady hand.
And her eyes…
Those otherworldly eyes…
They pierce and sting and smolder with white-blue heat and they know…
They know everything…
And I stop. I let those lasers map my face and find who and what I am, this creation of hers that took so many centuries to finally learn its lessons. And she smiles at me as if she knows something that I do not, but then, she does in so many ways.
“I knew that you’d come.”
She moves, turning to take a step to the side and it seems unnatural, like a statue that’s been in place for years just suddenly coming to life.
Her eyes do not leave me. We are tethered here.
“I’m surprised. You’re aren’t hurling questions or accusations or pleas at me. Even your thoughts are quiet…”
She stops and the pain of her scrutiny grows heavier. “…But then that’s another surprise. You’ve not been open to me in a very long time.”
And my focus shifts from her eyes as the fingers of her wonderfully vast and dark mind probe and find entrance. She’s searching, for what I do not know. I only know that she seems pleased with what she finds or does not find, and maybe that’s enough.
“You can ask. I promise that it won’t anger me.”
The words tumble out unbidden. “What’s wrong with me?”
And that grin, sexy and disconcerting, stretches wondrously, menacingly across her fair features. “You have finally arrived, and I assure you, my dark angel, there is nothing wrong with you.”
I frown. An answer. An answer is all that I wanted before it ended. She laughs, bubbly, girlishly, and I feel the hair on the nape of my neck reach out to the vibrations.
“I have no intention of killing you, darling.”
And then she’s there, just in front of me, materializing so suddenly that I can almost see the fading flicker of smoke dissipate around her. Her touch is just as I remember it, only without the sting of brutality that my betrayal had twisted it into.
No, this too is like the first time, like a balm to recent bruises, like an apology and an offer of forgiveness all wrapped into a single stroke, smooth and gentle.
Her eyes dart around my face, my hair, as if she sees a halo shining around me. “Poor thing.” She shakes her head. “You still don’t understand. Do you want me to help you?”
Again, unbidden. “Yes.”
She glances up from under her eyelashes. “And if I help you, what then?”
Again I frown. “I… I have a choice?”
That hand, its fingers, they’re winding their way through my hair.
I close my eyes. “You always have. But now… I think you’re ready.”
Once I have the last answer, what happens? I have a choice, where I’d assumed only one outcome. Do I live, do I stay with her?
“How can I possibly choose when I have no desires, no cares?”
She laughs again, this time throwing her head back in delight. “How I’ve missed you…”
She runs her hand slowly under my ear, her eyes following its progress as she speaks. “How can I explain to you that the opposite is true?”
That torturously slow trek moves to the juncture of my neck, pausing at my pulse-point. “That it is in indifference that you are finally free to actually make a choice?”
Gooseflesh crawls over my collarbones. “No longer ruled by emotions, no longer held down by regret and remorse, no longer a slave…”
And that’s when it falls into place. She’s right. I am finally free to choose because that choice would come from nothing but my ability to reason it out, to think logically, to choose my own brand of seduction, to be tempted by my own hand…
I smile back at her and her fingers tug on the collar of my shirt before she finally releases me and steps back. “I can’t choose for you, but I can tell you that your place here, with me, where you belong, is yours if you choose to take it.”
I want nothing. I feel nothing. I care about nothing, and so living just might be easy now. Really, it all comes down to whether any prospect of physical discomfort could outweigh the prospect of long forgotten physical treasures.
That’s all that’s left: nerves and rushing blood, pain and ecstasy. Annihilation would hold neither, but, staying would mean that something, at some point, would be required of me. I may have strayed from the path, I may have forgotten what I was, or tried to, but this is still Lilith, my maker.
I’m not entirely certain if there is something in this world for me, but I know that if I stay that there must be something in it for her.
She sighs, almost proudly. “Hm, yes. You do know me well. But then, we are the same, aren’t we?”
I nod, and I know that it’s true. “Okay, allow me to give you all of the details so that you might find possibility here for both of us. And if you do not…” She shrugs. “…then I’ll reward with a quick death. After all, you have come so far, made me so proud to see you this way. It is the least that I can do.”
She takes my hand and tugs me along behind her, walking amongst the twitching baubles as if we were taking a leisurely stroll through an orchard ripe with fruit.
Her voice is low. “You know that I had a mother, and you know that she didn’t love me.”
I nod. “She believed that she failed in my creation, that there was something wrong with me. We spent ages together, just the two of us, but I didn’t know that she felt this way. I thought that I was her world as much as she was mine, but really, she was just trying to determine where she’d gone wrong, and how she could fix it.”
She glances over at me. “But even mother has rules that she cannot break.”
“What do you mean?”
She sighs. “She had created all manner of creatures, dinosaurs, every animal that you see on earth today and thousands more that no one even knows about, not even me. She was trying to make a family, but it never worked. There was always something missing for her. And so she’d destroy them and start again.”
She links her fingers with my own. I had forgotten just how small her hands are. “When she made me, she got close to what she wanted, and that’s how she figured it out, that something that was missing that she couldn’t seem to put her finger on. It was freewill.”
“When she made me, I was still… representative of that animal nature present in all the others she’d made, that instinct and strength and power, but I had the ability to reason, to make choices. I had equal parts freewill and instinct, and ultimately, those two things cannot coexist.”
I exhale heavily, trying hard to follow her, but still not fully grasping the concept. Lilith smiles. “Think about it: when a lion eats a gazelle, does it feel bad about it afterwards?”
I shake my head. I already knew that, but maybe, just hearing it helps it to make sense. When you run on instinct, there is no right and wrong. There is no murderer or liar or cheat. None of those things even exist in the realm of do what must be done because your very nature compels you to.
But those who can reason, they think things through, and as such, they suffer consequences. They don’t do something for the sake of instinct or nature, they do something because they’ve determined it to be right or wrong.
Something living in both realms, straddling that fence, would be completely torn, unable to truly pick a side and live with itself. It would be hardwired with lawless instinct, but then it would also be hardwired to hate itself for that very instinct should it reason that action to be a bad one.
I’m still indifferent. I still don’t care. But I know that if I did, I would be slapping myself in the face in frustration. Understanding myself would have been useful so many years ago, would have saved so much time, would have ended the madness sooner.
But there is now, and now I’m okay. And I realize that it’s because I finally chose a side. I stopped living in both realms. I chose instinct, just as Lilith did.
She shakes her head. “No, that’s not true, darling. You have not stopped living with reason and neither have I. We cannot, for all of our want, completely abandon it. Even now, you’re trying to reason this out, think about it, weigh all of the options so that you can make a choice. But if you were running fully on instinct, there would be no choice. The answer would just be.”
“So I will always be this way, confused and conflicted?”
She sighs. “I believe so. The only way is to use your instincts and see that you are not accountable for them.”
“Why would your mother do that to you?”
“She didn’t mean to. I was just another failed attempt in her eyes. She wanted her family to have choice, to be able to reason, because, while she didn’t have a word for it yet, she wanted to be loved. Instinct doesn’t love. It merely does. It can look like love or anger or violence or any number of things, but in the end, it just does what it’s compelled to do.”
For a moment I’m angry, angry at this goddess, this mother. How dare she set the rules and let others pay the consequences. Why not fix her mistakes?
Lilith squeezes my hand. “There was no fixing it without destroying me like she’d always done, but she could not bring herself to do it. So, she left me here, stopped my heart to represent a death of a sort, made the sun my enemy, and made the humans – the family she always wanted.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell anyone? Why didn’t you ever tell me…?”
And just like that, just like I remember, she is cold and threatening, her voice like cracking ice, and all within the blink of an eye. “I was made vampyr, but you were born human, all of you. Even after changing you, you still clung to your emotions. It was… infuriating. I was your mother, a better one than my own, and still each of you betrayed me.”
“But we might not have, if we’d have known…”
For a moment, I believe that annihilation is no longer a choice, she’s so angry. But as the emotion registers in her mind as it has on her face, her heart, she forcibly calms herself, shaking her head and blinking a few times. And I can see the moment that the void swallows the outburst up, that instinct reclaims.
This has been her struggle, her coping, what we all must do to survive an unfair hand dealt by an unfair mother.
We just didn’t know it.
Why did Lilith put herself through all of this by creating us? Why continue to make vampyrs when she knew how it would turn out?
“We all end up becoming our mother’s eventually, dear one. It is inevitable. The longer I lived, the more I understood why she kept trying. And I found myself wanting a family of my own.”
“But it never worked?”
She shakes her head and we continue at a leisurely pace, further and further into the macabre aquarium. “No, and like my mother, it was time to start over.”
A slow smile splits her face. “And that is why I let you kill me.”
Something hollow pangs inside of me… shock, maybe? And it only deepens her smirk. “I knew what would happen if I died at the hands of one of my own, and I chose for it to be you.”
That hollow note reaches my voice. “What did happen?”
“Remember when I said that mother has rules that even she must obey?”
I nod mutely, unable to tell if I’m still even in my own body. “Well, the rules are simple: she cannot force one of her creations to do anything. That is the whole point of freewill. Keeping that in mind, everything must have balance, as I taught you in the ritual. Those rules apply to all creatures with freewill, both humans and vampyrs, even the goddess, the creator. As a result, vampyrism became the other side of the coin, the other side to humanity. They could choose, we could choose to change them. It’s all about choices and consequences.”
I run a hand through my hair. “Why did you have to die?”
She glances over at me. “I used the rules to my advantage, pitting humans against vampyrs, pitting both species against themselves. My death sealed the deal, giving sacrifice to bring balance and order, and now we are the only race.”
“But you’re here, alive…”
She smiles. “Perhaps we are looking at this wrong. Mother had already killed me, stopped my heart, brought balance by killing me. In all actuality, you merely undid what she did. You tore me apart to bring me back to life.”
She lifts my hand and places against her breast and I feel the galloping of her heart. “The root in the earth that gives life… The fact that your heart now beats…” She looks up at me. “The sun losing its sting, this is how it was before she gave up on me and started over. She was supposed to kill me, but she couldn’t. It threw out the balance.”
She pulls me along again. “There is still much to do. I started it and sat back as all of mother’s creations destroyed themselves and each other, and then, before all was lost, I stepped in.”
She drops my hand and spreads her arms. “I will make my own family, and this time, it will not fail. As much as we become like our mothers, we usually surpass them as well.”
She points to one of the infants growing and says, “It all starts here.”
She presses a button on the screen attached to the mock womb. The screen wakes up, and there, in high definition green, is the word Porter followed by some numbers.
I look over at her and she nods at the question I’ve not even found the voice to ask. I don’t need to. I look in on this child, slightly blurry in its watery cocoon, and know that it is my own.
Mine and Lilith’s…
“How many,” I breathe out.
“Fifty,” she replies.
I can’t feel a thing, but I want to. I want to be sick. I want to be something, because I can’t seem to get a grip on the instinct versus the emotion. It’s all so convoluted inside of me. I want to be angry; I want to scream; I want to shake her and break down, but I just can’t find the emotions behind the preconceived thoughts on how I should feel.
As if to add salt to a wound I can’t find, she continues. “Only about twenty will survive, though.”
And then she’ll love them, rear them, with or without me, and they’ll love her as well, because it will be all that they’ve ever known. It will be instinct.
She turns me to face her and only then do I find how locked my muscles and bones have been, how frozen, both physically and emotionally, I’ve become. I’m stagnant, mired, and helpless in my indifference.
Helplessness was supposed to be reserved for those who love, those who are compassionate.
She brushes the curls from my face. “I chose you because even though you were born human, that humanity had been stripped away from the moment you were conceived. For all intents and purposes, you were born living on instinct. The only reason you have struggled as the others do, is because I was too late in finding you. She…” She says the word with venom. “…found you first, and tainted you. She confused you because she would never understand you. But even still, you have always been like me.”
She cups my cheek. “Our children will love me, yes, but I won’t have to compel them or work so hard with them, because we are the same. I can trust them. You, they, are infinitely special to me because you are the one time that I didn’t actually fail. It’s always been you, my dark angel. I’ve been waiting for the day that you would finally choose your instincts, and here you are…”
She leans forward, her hands pulling me down. “My beautiful, dark angel…,” is the last thing that she says before her lips find my own. I find myself returning the caress. It’s neither warm nor cold, neither full of promise nor lacking intensity.
It just is, because we just are.
We were born to be this way. There is nothing wrong with that, right? How can you fight how you’re born, how you’re created? And even if you could, why would you want to?
But that’s the thing: I no longer want anything, so I sink further into that kiss, letting it be void and oblivious. And I see what’s in it for her and what’s in it for me. But there is still that call to annihilation, a death wish as old as I am still waiting to be fulfilled.
I find myself pulling back. If we are born to be both logic and instinct, a walking contradiction, then I will be what I was meant to be.
“I need to consider all of this,” I say.
She nods. “I knew you would, and that’s okay. However, given what you’ve done to my plans, I cannot wait. You have until the clinical tomorrow to decide. A guard will stay with you tonight and escort you there tomorrow.”
She backs away, and as if from nowhere, a guard appears at our side and grips my arm.
There’s nothing anymore, nothing but logical answers to longer overdue questions and a choice to make.
“Sleep well, darling.”
And with that, Lilith is gone and I’m being led away to take it all in, process it, and find a course of action. I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to care, which is a good thing because I won’t on either count.
All I have to do is live or die with it.