Her throat hurt. The pain had stitched it up so that she couldn’t swallow. Her mouth was dry of saliva either way. She tasted something salty and metallic – tasting blood, dad had said when he dragged her along for a jogging lap. She’d sucked on cuts to get them to stop bleeding, blood had never freaked her out.
For a long while she saw nothing and felt nothing other than the stinging in her throat. Then she became aware of the flicker of lamps at the outskirts of the dark. Someone – it must have been Mikael – stuck their arms under her shoulder-blades and thighs, lifted her and placed her on a hard surface. She could feel her body again, but there was a faint lightness in her arms and legs. Even a weaker person might have been able to lift her. She knew it was Mikael, because his skin didn’t give off warmth.
“This is no way to do it, Yrsa,” he said.
Something light and hard touched down on her eyelids and slipped them open. She could see his face, veiled with strands of hair that might have been coated with gold dust. She couldn’t see where the light was coming from, but it had to be candlelight, it was unsteady and redder than electrical. She wished he’d put them closer to her, because it was cold.
“It takes a few minutes. Your old body needs to die first. I’ll leave you now, but I’ll be back when you wake up.”
She tried to smile in response, but she couldn’t smile. She couldn’t close her eyes.
The pain waned with consciousness. The blown-out lightness grew in all her bones, until she didn’t think her arms would fall back if she raised them. Perhaps he was carrying her again. Perhaps he was rising towards the sky with her in his arms.
She grew stronger. She could blink and feel the coolness of the eyelids, she could breathe and feel the chill of oxygen in her lungs. A few times she coughed, too harsh for her chest. She could sit up.
It was nothing more romantic than a basement. She should have guessed that his house had one, but she’d never seen it before. The candles, red, sat in wrought iron holders in the concrete walls. A dark stairway led up. As far as she could see there was nothing stopping her from leaving. A heavy shovel stood leaning on one wall.
She was aware of the cold, but she wasn’t freezing any more. When she looked down at herself she was wearing a white dress, anachronistic, in some glossy fabric. He was the only one who could have undressed her, and the thought made her huddle up, but it didn’t matter now. Were her clothes and jacket still up there? She had guessed what she was sitting on before she saw it: a large wooden crate, not intended for a human body. You would have to lie curled up in it. On the corner to her right stood a wineglass filled with an opaque red fluid.
She stood. Her throat still hurt, only when she swallowed. The metal taste was still there, but it didn’t sicken her any more.
Then he’d done it.
She put out her hand, took the glass and drank. The blood gave her energy straight, like sugar. When she put it back, she thought she could see a brief shimmer of light around her hand. It was gone when she focused on it.
It was the keener sensory perceptions she’d been longing for, when she’d gone to him and persuaded him to turn her. They were there. Everything she saw was grainily textured, like when she got her first pair of glasses. (He’d taken the glasses as well, but she didn’t notice until she touched her face.) She could see the grains of sand in the eggshell surface of the concrete, nuances of red in the scuffed varnish of the coffin lid. When she listened she could hear something – Mikael – closing wardrobes on the ground floor, the wind in the branches above, even the distant whir of a plane. Her nerves didn’t feel just her, but the worms and insects below the loosened soil floor, and other little lives outside the house. Somewhere low in her brain she knew where she was located in the pulse of night and day. There was nothing more to see in the basement. She wanted to use this to look at the wondrous textiles up in his house, and the water and the stars.
She hadn’t looked closer at the candles. She walked up to the one to the right of the stairway and felt the circuit of heat earlier than she should have done . Perhaps it was more dangerous to her now. Sunlight was going to burn her skin, he’d said: not fatally, and she would heal again at night. She stood there looking at the flame with its transparent blue base, how it flickered from the slightest shifts in the air, before she put out her hand to see whether the glow on her skin was different.
There was something new. There was a nimbus of light around her hand – not from the flame, and not just a haze, she could see the reflections of fingers and joints. Did she have an aura? It wasn’t moving in coordination with her hand, it was slower and slid further out. Was she hallucinating, or was this supposed to happen? She sat down again to see whether she’d get equilibrium back. A band of brown hair fell in front of her eyes, and one or two hairs broke the light in shades of fire.
When she raised her head, something else was in the basement with her.
“What the hell are you?” she called out.
Later it would occur to her that she’d never thought that it was some form of Mikael’s, or one of the vampire kin he must have. It had nothing in common with a human except for its size and upright stance. It resembled a curved seahorse or wyvern; its lower body was merely a turned-up ornate tail that didn’t rest on the floor. It didn’t consist of anything other than light. She could see the wall between its outlines.
She put her hand out. None of its limbs changed position, but it floated off so that it was at the same distance from her hand.
“I am your guide.”
Its voice was neither male nor female, and equally empty of emotions.
“That doesn’t tell me anything.”
She made her voice softer this time. The creature’s light blinked as it twisted around.
“I have been here for as long as you have existed,” it said. “I have… communicated with you. When you have been faced with a choice, I have tried to guide you to the best alternative.”
“When did you do that?”
She got the idea that it was studying her before it replied.
“You didn’t know it was I. Humans don’t. You thought it was merely your own mind.”
“So you have made me choose the most moral alternative?”
The Guide didn’t shake its head, but Yrsa got a sensation as if it had.
“That is what I have tried to do. We cannot control you, we can only influence. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not.”
Yrsa gripped the splintery coffin lid with both hands to be sure that she was sitting upright.
“Did you try to stop me when…”
It hadn’t deserved it. The Guide didn’t take its eyes off her. It had calligraphic markings down the cheeks of its long dragon-like face, just sections where the light was fainter. Its voice was mild.
“It does not matter any more.”
She couldn’t remember that she had hesitated. She had been afraid, at least when she started stalking him: she had found light sparrows outside his ramshackle villa, and once a squirrel that was just bones in shrivelled-up fur, all dehydrated as if someone had tried to make ornaments from them. (The human victims of the bout of anaemia in town hadn’t died, they were going to form new red blood cells in the hospital, but was that necessarily mercy? It was possible that he didn’t want to leave corpses.) The risk was not important: now she had the chance to become something more.
Now came a slow period where she waited outside his house on the forest edge, by the dark and maybe stagnant tarn behind the remains of the garden, and tried to wind her way into his life, as if she were planning to seduce him. He was admittedly beautiful, like an angel or a gold-leaf illumination. Every time she went out she told mum: not because she was afraid, but so that she could tell him that people knew where she was.
He didn’t agree to turn her straight away, but it didn’t take long to persuade him. If it was true that vampires couldn’t conceive, then it was the only way for him to reproduce.
“Have you always been there?”
It said yes.
“Is it because this happened to me that I can see you?”
She couldn’t even say the word, it was a cliché. She kept her voice low; perhaps Mikael had already heard her. She looked down at her body, still thick-set and broad-shouldered, encased in the fabric that was the same saturated white shade as cream. The only thing that showed that there was a difference was the lack of blush underneath her skin.
“No. It is because I am about to leave you.”
Yrsa looked up.
“Is it because of that?”
She stood up, without reason. The Guide slid backwards.
“Were you my soul, then?”
It sounded distant. The Guide’s head sank a little.
“No. I was only with you.”
It went on, as if it had needed to stop to catch its breath:
“I guided you. I cannot do that any more.”
It had drifted further. Maybe it was going to sink through the concrete, but she didn’t want to see it.
“Are you going to die?”
She could have asked whether it hurt, but she didn’t know whether it could feel anything. It was silent for a moment.
“We don’t die.”
If she got closer she would drive it further. She sank back down on the lid.
“Is there anything I can do to stop it?”
“What’s your name?”
She was about to reach for it again, to grasp this time, and it was gone. She was human enough to feel a sick chill in her stomach when she heard footsteps.
Mikael’s long coat whispered across the last few steps. He walked out into the light and gave her a mild smile. He must have had one of them as well, but she didn’t know how many years had passed.
“You will go out with me tonight,” he said. “I’m going to need to show you how to do it.”
It was good, because once it was over, she would need to go home to mum and dad, and she didn’t know what they were going to see. Those thoughts started to sink as she followed him up the stairs.
THE ENDRecommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in