Gods and Insects: New Gothic Novella

gods-and-insects-cover-9by6-thumbnailMy new gothic horror novella, Gods and Insects, is out today. This is a sequel to Love is the Cure. To celebrate the new release, I’m offering the first book free for 5 days (until next Tuesday).

If you’ve read the first one, this one is a little bit different: it’s all from one point of view, Asher’s, with a more traditional narrative structure, and more than twice as long. Asher is the youngest vampire from the first book. This new book follows his ill-fated attempts to find his place in the vampire world. There’s more horror, freaky blood trips, gay and bi characters, a trans vampire (yay). At its heart, the story is a tragedy, and a fall (in the biblical sense).

Here’s the first chapter of Gods and Insects to whet your appetite. You can buy the ebook on Amazon (and download the first one for free until next Tuesday). There will also be a paperback edition to follow soon. I hope you enjoy the read.

1.

I should have fed before my shift. Now my skin is on fire with the need, my nostrils full of the scent of my co-worker’s blood, as I try to keep my distance in the enclosed space of the coffee shop counter. The tick of the clock on the wall echoes round my head, mocking me. Still forty minutes to go. And then I have to feed somehow. I botched the last one four nights ago; lost control of the guy I was feeding from. I’m no good at mind tricks. He tried to run and I had no choice but to—

The door opens to the night and the swish of tyres through the spring shower. My eyes are drawn to the man who enters. I can tell he’s one of my kind straight away. He has that presence the older ones have, somehow bigger than his physical body, straining against the limits of geometry. And the absence of the animal scent that mortals have, which most people don’t even notice. He joins the queue behind two drunk students and a weary looking woman in surgical scrubs and a coat. My eyes flick to him constantly, as if magnetised.

When it comes to his turn, I’m on my guard. He walks up to the counter and flashes me an amused smile, dark eyes twinkling. His skin is light brown, his black hair short, and he looks a little older than me. He has killer cheekbones. Even in this confined space, he moves like a dancer. He pulls a note from his pocket and that simple gesture is elegant, the rise and fall.

“So it’s true,” he says softly enough that only we can hear.

I’m not sure what to say, but I don’t want to look like a fool. Images of Sebastian and Kerrick flash through my mind, spattering blood across my thoughts. My creator and his other child. I try to push this fear aside, these violent memories. They can’t all be monsters. We can’t all be monsters.

“What?” I ask, trying not to show my nerves.

“One of our kind working in a coffee shop.” He chuckles and I bristle.

“Can I get you something?” The irritation sounds in my voice, but at least it hides my fear.

“Why don’t you choose for me? It doesn’t matter what, after all.” He gives me a conspiratorial grin.

I turn and prepare the machine to pour a double ristretto, the most expensive drink I can make. My tiny piece of revenge. His eyes bore into the back of my neck, as the dark liquid trickles into a cup at an agonising rate.

When it’s finally done, I place the cup in front of him and risk eye contact. His eyes are a rich dark brown. Permanently amused.

“When do you get off?” He slides the note towards me.

I try to read his face for some clue to what he wants from me, but he seems so relaxed. “Half an hour.”

“I’ll wait for you.” He lifts the cup to smell the coffee, eyes full of humour. His amusement doesn’t seem malicious, but I’m pretty sure I’m the joke.

I go through the motions for my last half hour, my eyes constantly flicking to the back of his head, as if I’ll find answers there. Contrasted against the dark of the night outside, the harsh electric lighting seems to spotlight me, picking me out for scrutiny. I wonder if he can see my hunger written across my face, as my co-worker nudges past me to clear the tables. If I could just taste her— I force the image back, though it seems more real to me than my surroundings. I can control this.

He’s sitting in one of the far booths, facing away from me, staring out into the night. That presence he has, I wonder whether I have it too. I’m sure it’s just the older ones. I’ve no intention of returning to Sebastian or Kerrick to ask them for advice. Kerrick offered me this escape from him, this chance to make my own way. At the time, I’d been afraid to be alone, but now I’m determined to make it work. I got this job far away from Spitalfields and Kerrick’s other haunts. Far away from Kensington, and Sebastian’s sphere. Somewhere central and neutral, where I thought no one would ask questions or even notice me. But clearly there’s nowhere to hide.

When I’m done for the night, I untie the apron from my waist, fold it into my satchel, and grab my coat from the back of the shop. The visitor is still waiting for me in the same place, his cup of coffee untouched. He turns as I approach.

“Sit yourself down,” he says, with that same sparkling smile. He gestures to the bench opposite.

It’s getting close to 2am. I work the night shift, of course. The graveyard shift.

“I’m Xavier.” He offers his hand. He has the trace of an accent, though I can’t place it.

His handshake is brisk and business-like and I try to ignore the pang of loneliness that hits me with his touch.

“Asher,” I say, though it’s right there on my badge. I slide into the booth.

He tilts his head to one side, examining me. “You don’t look like an Asher.”

“I changed my name when I left home. It used to be Alex.”

He nods. “You look more like an Alex.”

I stifle a sigh. This again. “You mean, I look Greek.” Kerrick and Sebastian both held fantasies of gods and heroes from ancient times, and somehow I was in them. It seems to be an obsession with these older vampires.

He shrugs. “There are worse things to look. Don’t be sorry for your roots. I’m from that part of the world myself. From Venice, originally.” Venice. That was the accent. “Long time since I was there,” he continues. “But you’re quite new. Who made you?”

I tense at the question. Was this information I should share freely? There were so many rules, and I hadn’t paid enough attention to Kerrick’s lessons. Or, rather, some of them had overshadowed the others.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he says in answer to my silence. “I’m just curious. I heard a rumour one of our kind was working in a coffee shop off Tottenham Court Road. I wondered, how does such a thing happen?”

I’m a rumour. Perhaps other vampires have seen me too; perhaps they were here and I didn’t notice. I feel on display in this glass box with the night pressing in all around. But I force myself to answer. “I needed a job.”

“Alex, this isn’t a job for one of our kind.”

“Asher.” I shouldn’t have told him my old name.

He waves his hand as if it’s nothing. “As you like. Asher, where’s your creator? They should be taking care of you. You should still be by their side.”

“Kerrick,” I say. There’s a flicker of recognition on his face. He has enough mastery of his emotions to hide whatever else he’s thinking, but I can guess. “George Kerrick made me. But I left him.”

“Ah,” he says, and revolves his cup around. “Well, that’s a hefty legacy.”

“You know him, then?”

“Everyone does. I don’t know him well. Just by sight. He keeps his own society.”

Beyond Kerrick, and Sebastian’s little closed, incestuous world, I’ve never met any others of our kind. But the way he talks makes me think there’s a whole lot more of us. I suppose it was just a matter of time that they’d crawl out of the woodwork.

“Maybe I could find you work,” Xavier says.

I shift in my seat, my skin prickling. Why does he want to help me; why the interest? I take a breath to steady myself. “What kind?”

“Something better suited to your nature.”

I’m not sure what that means. All I’ve seen of our nature is violence. Xavier doesn’t seem like the violent type. Then again, neither did Sebastian.

“These are dangerous times, Asher. Ancient powers are on the move. You need the company of your own kind. Do you even have a safe haven?”

 I live in a shared flat in Stratford, above a seedy club. It’s a dive. Barely habitable. I don’t even have my own room. My dad said he would send me money, but it hasn’t arrived. I keep checking the cash machines, hoping the balance finds its way a little further into the black. I don’t want to beg. I want him to think I’m doing okay.

“You need to learn to guard your thoughts, as well,” Xavier says. “Those of us who’ve been around a while, we tend to pick things up if you think so loud. Listen, I’m going to a club. Why don’t you come? I’ll get you in.”

I look at my watch, trying to focus on that and not my heart pounding in my chest. I don’t know how to refuse him, or even if I want to. I don’t even want to think in case he hears me. I stare at the second hand ticking away, paralysed with indecision.

“Plenty of time, yet,” Xavier says smoothly, as if I haven’t just frozen. “Besides, they have rooms if we get stuck at dawn. It’s a special club.”

In the bright light of his smile my worries appear foolish. Those eyes of his warm me through, relaxing me. I want to trust him. I’m sick of being alone, sick of the frail existence I’ve built for myself, so insubstantial I could knock it over with a breath.

“All right,” I say. His smile grows into a satisfied grin.

***

The club is walking distance from work, in Soho, but it’s easily missed. There’s a little gateway in one of the buildings. No signs. It’s been recently painted in black and gold. We walk through the entrance into a small courtyard enclosed on all sides by high buildings. Neat little topiary bushes sit about in pots. A gold plaque by the door says ‘Varney’s’ in a modern italic script.

“Just a little joke.” Xavier gestures to the sign. I must look blank, because he says, “have you never heard of Varney the Vampire? I guess you’re pretty young.”

“Twenty-one,” I say.

“Jesus. You weren’t one for gothic literature in your mortal life, then?”

“I don’t really read much.” I shift awkwardly, my hands in my back pockets. I always end up feeling like a dumb kid around others of my kind.

“Don’t worry,” Xavier says. “I was an ignorant fuck in my mortal days, as well. I just happened to be living in Renaissance Venice, so I couldn’t help but fall into some culture now and then. Cheating, really.”

Ignorant fuck. His words sting. He smirks and this time the joke’s at my expense.

“The owner of this club is one of us. Nathaniel Hook, he’s called. Did your creator explain the rules about young vampires?”

I shake my head.

Xavier brings his thumb and forefinger up to the bridge of his nose and massages it. “All right. Here’s the thing. You shouldn’t really be out without your creator, not among other vampires. I’ll vouch for you tonight, say you’re under my protection. You don’t have any quirks I should know about?”

My mind races for an answer, but in the end I shrug. “I don’t think so.”

“Funny feeding habits? Propensity to fly into violent rages?”

I shake my head. I’m not sure if he’s joking now.

“What are you good at?”

I shrug again. “I’m fast. Strong.” My list falls short.

“You don’t have a bloody clue, do you? Never mind. Perhaps it’s too soon for you to know. Follow my lead. You can trust Hook. Be careful of the others.”

I follow him through the anonymous black door. A bulky bouncer nods to Xavier as we enter. On the other side is a modern looking bar buzzing with people. They all seem to be mortal, including the bouncer. The smell of their blood overwhelms me.

Xavier puts an arm on my shoulder, and pulls me closer. So close I can smell the sharp tang of his cologne, feel his body press against mine. Bolstering me against the pull of that scent. I realise how alone I’ve been.

“This is just the public section. The club is out back,” he whispers hot into my neck.

We pass the bar which stretches the length of the room. It’s carved from golden wood, cut into waves and polished to a shine. A small man leans at the end, watching us approach. He has a long face, with a long nose, and, as I draw near, I realise he’s one of us. That strange trick of space and presence again.

“Hook!” Xavier exclaims. “Good to see you. This is my friend, Asher. I’m showing him the sights.”

Hook smiles at us with his thin lips and looks me up and down. “He seems a little fresh, my friend.”

“I’ll vouch for him.”

“See that you do. Welcome to Varney’s, Asher.”

“Thanks,” I say, and he gives me a brief nod.

We go through a door behind Hook, marked ‘Private’, into a cloakroom dimly lit by a red bulb.

“What does he think I’ll do?” I ask.

“Lose control,” Xavier says. “Act inappropriately with the guests. But I think you’ll be all right, as long as you stick with me. Okay?”

“Yeah.”

“When you meet someone new, just bow your head and keep your eyes on the floor. Don’t address them as you did with Hook. Most of our kind are very concerned with seniority and good manners. Do you understand?”

I nod, a lump rising in my throat. I’m no longer sure I want to meet anyone. I’m not in the mood for bowing and scraping. It sounds like the sort of game Sebastian would enjoy.

We go through a set of double doors. My feet sink into thick carpet. The light is golden, glistening from chandeliers and wall sconces, all electric, but with a muted tone. It shines off the gilt-edged decoration and furniture. I can’t help but think of Sebastian’s beautiful antiques.

The place is nearly empty. A middle-aged woman reclines on a couch in one corner. She wears a colourful patterned robe and a turban, and fingers a long string of beads around her neck. With the other hand she smokes a cigarette in a long holder. Two men lean against a small bar in the corner, regarding us. They’re both smartly dressed in suits, their ages difficult to guess, perhaps somewhere in their forties. They nod at Xavier and I look down as he’s told me. His hand presses against my back, guiding me to a couch on the far wall.

“Good,” he says, his breath against my ear. I crave that closeness. “You’re doing fine. It’s very quiet tonight.”

We sit on the couch. The woman in the corner is watching us with interest. Xavier smiles and nods at her, a respectful gesture of acknowledgement, but he doesn’t seem to want to engage. His focus is all on me.

“Have you fed?” he asks.

I shake my head, ashamed, picturing my last victim running across the park, me driving him down to the ground, before he could escape. He’s not the first I’ve messed up. I’ve tried so hard not to kill like Kerrick. Each victim is etched in my mind, a tally marked across my soul.

He strokes my cheek with his hand. “What did they do to you?”

I meet his eyes. I don’t have the words to tell him my fear and I’m not sure I want to, but I feel the brush of his consciousness against mine. It’s the softest touch, not like Sebastian’s force. I soften and melt towards him. His arm wraps around me and I rest my head on his shoulder.

“Evening, Xavier.” It’s a woman’s voice. I raise my head to see, but it feels heavy; my whole body is like lead. It’s easier not to fight this strange, sleepy feeling, but to release myself to it. My eyelids flutter, allowing me a glimpse of the slender young woman in front of me. She wears a long deep blue satin dress, which drapes over her hips and flows down to the floor like water, pooling at her feet. Blonde hair falls to her waist. I don’t look up to her face.

“Do you have any guests tonight?” he asks.

“Of course,” she says. “Would you like a room?”

“I think that would be better,” he says. He turns to me. “Come on, little sleepy head. We’re going to get you something to eat.”

Somehow I rise. It’s as though I’m floating, pulled by an invisible string. I bob along beside him in the gentle stream he’s made for me. We leave the room, following the woman. The satin of her dress whispers to me, as we move along the corridor. She opens a door for us and ushers us in. The room is modern, a wash of pale cream with touches of red. It has a Japanese feel. There are no windows. A large bed dominates the room.

“We’ll take the room until tomorrow night, if that’s all right?” he says.

“That’s fine. Shall I put it on Mr Sforza’s account?”

“Yes.”

I sink onto the bed, the covers softer than anything I’ve felt. What’s he done to me? I can’t control my body, but my senses are amplified a thousand times. The cream blankness of the ceiling is comforting, as I stare up at it and imagine myself floating up to meld with the nothingness. The woman leaves us. The door hisses across the deep carpet and clunks neatly into place.

“Are you a messy eater?” Xavier asks me. He towers above me. I see Sebastian ripping chunks of flesh away with his teeth, blood pouring down his shirt.

“No,” Xavier says. “You need to stop thinking about that.” His consciousness holds mine a little tighter. “You’re afraid to feed. You must understand you need the vitality to function. Do you want to die?”

Once I did. Now, I’m not sure. Can he see that uncertainty in my mind? I can’t speak. He must know I can’t speak. My throat tightens as my panic rises.

“Shh,” he says. “Stop fighting me.”

I didn’t realise I was. I’m not sure how to control it. I sense him probing my thoughts. I imagine my mind like a flat blank plain, like the ceiling. A vast expanse with no walls. Everything fades bright white around me, until I’m floating in that nothingness.

I remain there for a long time, enjoying the peace of that empty space. The uncomplicated blank. Then there is red, a dribble at first, across the whiteness. It’s hot in my throat, as it blossoms into a bloody flower. I reach out with my mind and touch a petal. It’s soft-fuzzed and delicate. I stroke it, savouring the velvet surface.

Xavier’s voice comes from very far away, calling me back, and I float up into the room. There’s a man kneeling beside the bed, a mortal man. He doesn’t look much older than me. He smiles as I open my eyes. He’s holding his wrist out to me, two clean puncture marks where I’ve fed from him. I pull myself up onto my elbow and lick the wound. It heals.

“Thank you,” Xavier says, from behind me.

The man nods, and stands. He pads out of the room, barefoot. I roll over to find Xavier sitting beside me, leaning back against the bedstead.

“That was very nicely done,” he says. “The flower, and everything. They love that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t—” I begin.

“I controlled your panic, the traumatic responses you’ve learned. But you created the vision and he shared that as you fed from him. These are the things your creator should have taught you.”

“Who was the man?”

“One of the mortals, who visit here. They call them guests. Some people enjoy being fed from. They find it pleasurable. Hook provides a specialist service, in two different senses. A complementary arrangement.”

“They actually enjoy it?”

“Sure. Why not? It can be a rush for some of them. And, of course, there’s the thrill of danger.” His lips draw into a slow smile and I catch the glimpse of his fangs.

“Can we feed here all the time?”

Xavier shakes his head. “Sadly, not. Hook just can’t supply enough. He must be very careful who he invites here, for our security. And it’s not a good idea to depend completely on another for your sustenance. You make yourself a slave to them. Understand?”

I nod. “Just like we can’t feed from each other.”

“Not quite. It’s simply unwise to trust everything to others. That’s all I mean. What you said isn’t quite true. We can feed from one another and it isn’t always bad. There are different bonds we can create with our blood. But you have to be careful. My lover and I, we’re bound to one another. It’s a mutual bond, but created over a long time.”

I feel a pang at the mention of a lover. Stupid. We’ve only just met but I don’t want to share him.

“What did you do to me, before, when I lost control?”

“It’s a mind-trick, baby boy. Did you like it?”

“I’m not sure.” My confusion is real. I know, somewhere at the back of my mind, that I should fear this, but I can’t find my fear. I want to trust him so badly.

“Would you like to spend the day here with me? I’ll keep you safe.”

“Yes,” I blurt out, far too eager.

“Would you like me to teach you?”

I nod, too afraid to speak in case I spoil something. It’s too perfect. He’s too perfect.

“I need to make a phone call, Asher. Perhaps tomorrow night you can come home with me. I need to check. I share my safe haven.”

He slides off the bed and disappears through the door.

 

(c) Ambrose Hall, 2016

Love is the Cure Excerpt: The Crow King

angel-grave-highgate
Detalle de Sepulcro en el cementeriode High Gate by Carlos Ramos Alar, from  WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

This is an excerpt from my gothic novella, Love is the Cure. This part is from the point of view of a very ancient vampire, Bren. It’s the most gothic point of view, so the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. You can download the whole ebook for free this weekend. There are 56 other ebooks available for free here as part of the promotion.

The paper dolls dance and play, their consciousnesses tugging at my own by the bond I made with them. My world, dull grey, is peopled with transparencies. They light a thousand candles each night for me, but not one nor a thousand can light this place. My empire of ash. They call this mausoleum my court; they cannot tell a grave from a throne.

It comes, first the scent. Unmistakable. Hot trickling red, thick with heady power. Her force, her essence, running through their veins. The pull, after centuries, is still irresistible.

Mortagne, the parasite who inhabits my shadow endlessly, approaches me. His is a pestilence, an infestation of which I am never rid. Bathsheba too ascends the dais, lurking, sliming, funereal, dragging her mothball scent. I do not recall which chest I pulled her from, so that I may put her back.

Where did they come from, these wraiths that hang from me like so many tattered garments?

“Hic est ignis,” I hiss at them, raising one finger and pointing at the two strangers who have appeared at the bottom of the stone stairs to my vault, and now await official entry. My Latin is not strong, but Mortagne and Bathsheba do not understand my own tongue. It is long dead to them. It does not matter; words are not needed. I have my hooks in their minds. They can feel my will without my voicing it, though they little comprehend my desires.

These two strangers glow with her flame, taking on her substance, her strength, and the scorching fatal colour of her. “Ena,” I mouth, but I will not sully her name by speaking it in the presence of my parasites. I recognise him, the dark one. He is her child. She laid her kiss on him when he ran through the shadowed tunnels under Londinium, and stumbled near her realm. It marks him like a burning brand, drawing me to him.

“Quis sit qui venit?”

“It is George Kerrick, my Lord,” Mortagne says.  “And his get, Sebastian Talbot. You recall, my Lord, that we won Talbot’s soul for you dicing but three nights ago. He is yours by right.”

I let out a low rattle. It is something like a sigh. I care not for their foolish games, or the other one—the soft, preening blond they call Talbot. “Kerrick,” I say, tasting the name, savouring it. He is the one I want.

Mortagne and Bathsheba ooze down the stairs and across the room, but I do not wait for them. I point a finger once more towards Kerrick and beckon him to me. In his shadowed eyes there is understanding. He comprehends my purpose, even before it is known to me. He has come to barter.

(c) Ambrose Hall, 2016

halloween-promo

Free EBook: Love is the Cure

loveiscrowtreeThe ebook version of my gothic novella, Love is the Cure, is available free today on Amazon. So if you like bleak, gothic fiction, tragedy, classicism, and gay and bi vampires, take a look.

It’s a little bit experimental, as it’s a story told in fragments, and it’s not romance, but there are relationships. Honest reviews welcome.

US Version.

UK Version.

Or if you follow one those links, you should be able to find a version in your location.

You can read an excerpt here, and there is a peak inside function on Amazon.

[Vampire Month] Ambrose Hall Interview

Here’s my interview for Vampire Month.

Lurking Musings

Our second victim in the Vampire Month interrogation chair is Ambrose Hall… find out more about their life in the questions that follow…

  • What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

I did a lot of writing and drawing as a kid. I think most of my writing was fantastical orBFD Wool Exchange magical in some way. I remember being obsessed with witches, as well as Narnia and Robin Hood. I think I was a bit of a goth, even then. I had a secret magic club in my mum’s garden shed, which I shared with my friend. I wrote a lot of poems as a kid, and in my teens, but I’ve lost my bottle for it as an adult.

  • When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

I studied English and media with the intention of…

View original post 1,409 more words

Novella Promo: Love is the Cure

loveisthecure small

I have a promo running on my gothic novella this week. You can get the ebook for 99c/99p until Saturday in the US and UK.

Linkies:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Blurb: Love is the Cure

There’s a knack to eternity. Not everyone has it.

Kerrick’s come a long way from the gutters of Victorian Spitalfields, but he’s still rash, violent, and a demon with a knife. He’s also desperately alone. When he turns Asher, a young homeless man, he thinks he’s found a companion, but their relationship quickly turns sour, and Asher refuses to feed. Through his desperate attempts to save his new child, Kerrick attracts the attention of an ancient vampire who dwells beneath Highgate Cemetery, and he is drawn into an old feud that spans centuries.

A gothic novella told in fragments, from the points of view of five very different vampires.

You can read an extract here.

Inspiration: Dionysus and Ampelos

Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914) Ampelos and Bacchus

Bacco e Ampelo, Giorgio Sommer

One of the most entertaining things about writing vampires, especially if you’re a bit of a history geek like me, is drawing on all sorts of different historical inspirations. As I have a character from the 1920s, I wanted to reflect a preoccupation with classical myth, and the ideal of “Greek love” that some gay men of the time drew on to define their own feelings. The character is a sensualist, and indulges in his pleasures without much thought to morality. I took inspiration from the myths of Dionysus, and the practices of his raucous, and sometimes bloodthirsty followers, in his section. He also references the myth of Dionysus and Ampelos.

There are two different myths about Ampelos. Ampelos was a satyr youth, beloved of Dionysus, Greek god of wine and ritual madness.

In Ovid, the story goes that Ampelos fell while picking grapes from a vine hanging on an elm, and died. Dionysus lifted him up to the stars, and he became the constellation Vindemetor, the Grape-Gatherer (also known as Bootes).

In Nonnus, Ampelos was riding on the back of a bull. He boasted to Selene that he was best, as he could drive cattle and had horns. Selene, jealous of his claims, sent a gadfly to harass and chastise him. The gadlfy stung the bull all over, sending him wild. He threw Ampelos off, and gored him to death. Distraught about the death of his beloved, Dionysus transformed him into the first grape vine, and made wine from his blood.

Sources and additional art:

http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/SatyrosAmpelos.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampelos

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/dionysus-bacchus-ampelos-silenus-and-a-maenad-

Ovid, Fasti

Nonnos, Dionysiaca

Love is the Cure: Extract

loveisthecure smallHere’s an extract from the start of my vampire novella, just to give you a flavour.

Asher hasn’t fed for a week. Now he just lies on our bed, staring at the wall. He grows paler each day, taking on an unhealthy tone like grey mould smeared across white walls. It sickens me. The dry dusty smell of him seeps into the corners of the flat, permeating everything with the stink of death. His despair taints my mood, until I mistake it for my own. If I had a weaker mind, it would break me. I don’t know when it began, his despair. One day he looked at me, and in his eyes there was fear and disgust. My touch repelled him. He shrank away. And then he began to shrink from existence too, to withdraw into himself.

“Come on, boy,” I say, pulling him over by his shoulder. He falls back limply. His blank eyes look through me.

I slap him gently across the face and hold his jaw, forcing him to meet my eyes. His lids snap shut.

“No,” he says in a low whisper, paper thin, as if simply uttering that one word tears his throat. I look away. It is hard to bear, even for me. He’s mine, after all, my own creation.

“Let me go,” he rasps.

I look back and his eyes meet mine, haunting pale green, unnaturally so. When I turned him, they took on the strangest shade, lightening from the muddy moss colour they’d been, to iridescent jade. I saw the potential in him, but I couldn’t have predicted the masterwork he became. At first, he thrilled in his new strength and speed, and pushed himself to new limits, testing himself like the sportsman he is. His muscular form was exactly what I’d always wished for myself, and I desired him all the more for it. I’d preserved him in that perfection, unlike the skinny kid I’ll always be, teetering on the edge of unfinished adolescence. Eighteen forever.

I thought of Caravaggio, and Asher spoke of university rugby clubs, still clinging to his mortal world, and those youthful pursuits I’d robbed him of. I wondered then, if I’d made a mistake. He wasn’t the boy I’d thought he was when I’d found him on the streets, desperate for food and money, wounded at heart, like a fallen angel.

Now he decays, wilfully.

It is an act of will, what he does to himself. At first, the hunger wracked him. The nail marks down the lining paper above the bed bear testament to his battle. At his young age, it’s much stronger, that need, but it passes quicker. A few days, and he weakened. I could have forced him then. I could force him still. But I can’t bring myself to do it.

I trace my fingers down his torso, following the contour of his muscles. It’s hardening with lack of blood, assuming the texture of marble. Cruel irony—he’s fast becoming one of the Greek statues he so resembles. If I do nothing, that will be his fate, to be little more than a statue, not yet dead, but dead to sensation— it is existence only in the slightest sense.

He asked me, a month ago, to give him release. To drive a stake through his heart and take off his head, to expose his remains to the sun, to leave no doubt as to the completeness of his annihilation. He imagines me without emotion, that I could end him so easily. There was a time when I was capable of such an act. I’ve put my children to death before—those that rose up against me. I made the mistake of recounting those tales in moments of anger. But I’m unwilling to undertake that course of action now. Not for him.

My eldest child, the only other one who still lives, mocks me for these street boys I choose. He knows I was a street boy once. He was not. I turned him purely for his money, and he’s prospered, as he did in life. I should hand Asher over to him, trust my boy to a more capable man than me.

I pull the switchblade from my boot and flick it open, tracing a red line down my wrist. Asher shakes his head weakly, as I raise my hand to squeeze droplets onto his lips. He turns away at the last minute, and the deep red blood splatters against the sickly grey of his cheek. It takes strength of mind to resist this long, to ignore the overwhelming pull that blood holds. A particular kind of stubbornness, at least. I don’t understand the drive in him for annihilation. Perhaps he believes he has no other choice.

“Damn you!” I snap. I lick my wound closed, and pull away from him.

I slip the blade back into my boot.

Time to hunt.

***

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(c) A.Hall, 2016