Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Page Straight From Thomm Quackenbush #apagestraightfrom


Danse Macabre  by Thomm Quackenbush

She knew that she was once human, but the memory was no more than a shadow. She had been born in what was now Malaysia. She had not been the sort to have cared about the naming of things that existed well without it, which was why she had long since lost any name but Sati, forsaken along with the life to whom that primordial version of herself belonged. To her, it was like asking a butterfly what it remembered about being a caterpillar. She could fly now and nothing could touch her when she left the cocoon of her body behind at night. There was no one alive who did not find her beautiful, something she doubted she would have been able to say when she remained earthbound.
Her rebirth stood in her mind with the clarity of a perfect diamond, the light scattering the rainbows through her body. She knew the sacrifice. She knew what a penanggal did. She knew what she would become when the sun set and what she would have to do to preserve her eternal youth and beauty, and she did it anyway. The witch in her village, clad in a darkness that spread across the horizon, helped Sati for a decade of her unquestioning servitude. In the night, Sati murdered the witch's enemies, extinguished the bloodlines of all who persecuted her and stood in her way. During the daylight, Sati was free to live as she wished with her newfound beauty. She would have found it a bargain at twice the price.
When her decade of bondage ended, Sati slit the witch's neck open and let her corpse molder. There was nothing delectable to Sati in the carcass. She considered it a mercy, as the witch's powers dwindled over the years until Sati was the only thing keeping her from the fire. Those in the village were not as stupid as the witch supposed, nor as blind as Sati did. While she thought herself genocide, Sati left witnesses who had no trouble remarking how the beautiful, timeless stranger resembled the ghoul who had gashed open their mothers' wombs.
The mob came. Foolishly, since they suspected her nature, they came in the night with barongs so sharp they could almost cut the barrels of muskets. She escaped with her body intact and most of the mob escaped with their lives, which Sati considered clemency enough for so inconveniencing her.
Sati was on a boat going anywhere before the next sunrise. She had nothing material with which to barter her passage, but her face and body were coin enough. There were few men who could resist a penanggal, at least among those without stillborns and dead wives.
That ship had been traders, but they had transported her far enough from the life she had shed and the violence that would be attempted on her if she ever tried to return. She started fresh, a new name and a new identity, charming one sailor after another into toiling for her sake. Still, in her new home, as the wife to a man who always smelled of fish, she found nothing quenched her like the life of a fetus still growing inside its mother. Even twenty years into her rebirth, she was imprudent, unable to place her anonymity above her hunger. The colony in which she lived suffered near complete stillbirth to fill her belly. Those few mothers who rallied the strength to make it to childbirth made it no further. She tried to convince her stupid husband it was a blessing she was unable to conceive, given the fate of her peers, but her husband was one to believe in curses over blessings. When the fathers of the rare newborns began to place the placentas under trees as an offering to the creature they could not admit they feared, Sati knew her time had grown short. Again came the torches in the night with fierce mandaus. As she was one of the few women remaining and the only one who had not aged a day while living a life that turned daughters to hags within a year, her guilt seemed plain.
Another ship and another, hiding as long as she could until she would smell a fertilized belly and know she needed to feed again. Marrying stupid men for cover, pretending to be guileless. Fleeing within the decade, often because her secret had been guessed. Sometimes, it was simply that she could not spend another night pretending to be a caterpillar. She did not pity herself. She chose her disguise as surely as she had chosen to become a fiend.
She came to the United States in the 1900s and wandered. Her beauty was enough to get her into most any situation she desired and her tongue—sharp and venomous—was enough to get her out again. In America, almost no one noticed her curse. Americans bred like rabbits, expecting the reaper to slaughter at least a few before they reached ripeness. Where some spoke of it being a land where the streets were paved with gold, Sati saw it paved in the corpses of those fat with bastards. She wore out her welcome time and again, icy stares or the screams of "nigger bitch" substituting for knives and fire. It seemed so funny to her that the worse thing they could think to call her was the wrong racial epithet. There were far more terrible things about her than the fact she had not been born with pale-pink skin.
Joachim found her. She thought, at first, he was like any man. Easily led. Stupid. In all her time wandering the Earth, she had not met another monster like her. She had forgotten they might exist. He was weaker than her, she knew. Any blade that entered her met no flesh or blood, as though it stabbed at air. Joachim was soft, easy to kill, almost enfeebled, yet he carried himself as though he were untouchable.
He taught her stealth, how to blend into society. That, with some cleverness on her part, she need never abandon a home again. He helped put her through nursing school, helped her curb her appetite enough that she would not be genocide again, asking nothing more than that she join in his confederacy of devils and keep the peace. He spoke to her in a tongue she had not heard in a lifetime, Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu, “unity is strength.” He gave her a new life and a way to slake her hunger, assisting in abortions and prenatal care, without arousing suspicion.
She thought of Joachim now as she watched the boy hobble toward the emergency room doors. What would he have her do with this human who boasted killing countless of their kind? What would he have her do with the one who associated with the vampires infecting Red Hook with idiot children?
What would she do with a fellow genocide?
She strode to meet him. She could smell the gore on him when she was within twenty feet. She could sense him growing septic. This might appeal to Joachim, but it might not. He kept his urges so well in check, but he had to if he did not want—
"Stay back!" Noah warned, swallowing his cough and trying to straighten his posture. He began to reach for something in his coat, but his fraction of a second of hesitancy told her he was missing whatever weapon he thought would hurt her. He dropped a vial to the pavement, not realizing, properly used, that would have been enough.
She grabbed onto his shoulder and held him still. "You are injured. You have nothing I want. Keep your mouth shut, and you will live to see morning."
Noah held his tension and bravery a moment longer, and then fell into her arms and abject unconsciousness.


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