Sunshine, p.18
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       Sunshine, p.18

           Robin McKinley
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Chapter 18


  "My - unlikely friend. He should have come back, and he hasn't. And I don't know how to find him. "

  "And the binding between you?"

  I shook my head. "It isn't strong enough, or - or it's like it crosses worlds. And I can't enter the vampire world. " Or I can, I thought, but I don't know what to do when I get there. Like how to find anything. Like how to get out again.

  "Then perhaps he has not called you. "

  Interesting that she should know he had to. "I think he is in trouble. I think he may be in enough trouble that he can't call me. Or he doesn't know how. Vampires don't call humans, do they?"

  One eyebrow stayed up as she thought about this. "I see the difficulty. " She sat silent for several minutes and I sat in that silence, half-remembering a thing called peace. I'd forgotten peace in the last four months. It said something about my state of mind that merely sharing the fact of Con's existence with someone else with a heartbeat made me remember it. . . in spite of the hard, dreadful knowledge of the existence of Bo.

  She stood up and went inside. I gave myself another cup of tea and looked at the roses. Feeling at peace, however fragilely, made it easy to slip into the visionary end of the dark-sight. The rose shadows said that they loved the sun, but that they also loved the dark, where their roots grew through the lightless mystery of the earth. The roses said: You do not have to choose.

  My tree said yessssss.

  My doe stood at the edge of the forest shadows, looking into the sunlight, her back sun-dappled. You do not have to choose.

  I didn't believe it. Hey, how many hamburger eaters on the planet are haunted by cows?

  When Yolande reappeared, her hands were full. "I can make something more connected for you, more like a - a loop in a rope; but here is something you can try straightaway. " Two candles, and a little twist of strong-smelling herbs. "Put the candles on either side of you, and the herbs before and behind you. Light them as well - do you have smudge bowls? Wait a few minutes till the smoke from all mingles. Then seek your friend. "

  I waited till full night dark, and then I settled on the floor inside the open balcony door. I lit the candles and the herbs, and stubbed the herbs out again. I waited for the smoke to mingle. It wasn't exactly a pleasant smell, but it was interesting, and intense. A. . . drawing sort of smell. It drew me into it.

  I closed my eyes. Con, damn you, where are you? I'm sure you're in trouble. Call me to come to you, you stubborn bastard.

  I was back in the vampire space, but the smoke had come with me, wrapped round and round me like an enormously long scarf, streaming behind me into the human world, streaming before me into the vampire beyond-dark. I lay, suspended, in between, but this time I felt neither lost nor sick.

  Sunshine, pay attention. I felt neither lost nor sick. It wasn't the same space. It was some other weird Other void where no human had any business. The big difference was that this one wasn't trying to kill me. At least not at once. Was this the back way, the little country lane way, after the speed and roar of the superhighway had been too much for me earlier? I still couldn't read the map.

  Pity you couldn't just take a bus.

  I wriggled a little where I lay - there was still the uncanny pressure of alien-space, the difficulty breathing, the blindness, the awkwardness, as if a human body was the wrong vehicle if you wanted to travel here; but it lacked the malevolence of the nowhere I'd been in that afternoon in Aimil's living room, and the smoke-scarf gave me a little protection, as if against a bitter wind. If I were a car, then I'd rolled my windows up. Okay. Here I was. I practiced breathing. A little time went by, if time went by here. Till the strangeness, this nonmalevolent strangeness, began to feel like. . . merely the medium I had to work with.

  I was a painter who had been handed a dripping glob of clay, a singer who had been handed a clarinet. . . a baker of bread and cookies who had been handed a vampire.

  I bent and turned, seeking the alignment I wanted. There. . . no. Almost.


  And then I heard his voice.


  Once. Only once. My name. There.

  The shock of when I hit the exact bearing felt like putting my whole body in an electric socket. Wow. But then I was blazing along that line like an arrow from a burning bow. The smoke was stripped away by the speed of my going, my hair seemed to be peeling off my scalp, and the pressure was increasing. . . and increasing. . . I was being stretched - rolled like a ball of dough between palms to make breadsticks, a fluff of sheep's wool twisted and squeezed to wind round a spindle - thinner and thinner and thinner, a bit of blunt thread crushed between huge fingers, poked painfully through the eye of a needle. . .


  I dropped out of the darkness, the void, the Other-space, back into something like somewhere. Back into my body, if I had been out of it.

  I fell a little distance, smack, onto something. Something rather chilly, and slightly yielding, but not very, and also curiously. . . lumpy. I would have slid right off it again.

  Except that it wrapped its arms around me, rolled me over so that it was on top of me, pinning me securely with its weight, and buried its fangs in my neck.

  I froze. Well, what are you going to do? And all this was happening flickflickflick like the frames of a movie, too fast to react to.

  It was dark, black dark, as dark as the void I had so recently traveled, and while I could see in the dark, I didn't have much practice in this kind of darkness, and also. . . well there was this other stuff going on, you know? My chief awareness was centered on the feeling of teeth against my neck.

  The teeth hadn't broken the skin. His teeth hadn't. His hair was in my face. I'd had his hair in my face once before, but he'd been bleeding on me that time. Maybe it was my chance to return the favor? He had said he wouldn't turn me - that he couldn't turn me. He'd also said that I could be killed, like any other human. Standard deaths of humans included being dry-guyed.

  Maybe vampires didn't like drop-in visitors. Well, I'd tried to call ahead. Ha ha.

  His teeth were still against my neck. Other than that he was motionless. I mean that. Motionless. Like being lain on by a stone. A stone with fangs, of course.

  His hair smelled musty, damp. It wasn't an unpleasant smell - if it reminded me of anything it reminded me of spring water, wet earth and moss on the rocks around it - but it wasn't his usual vampire smell. Don't ask me how I knew it was him but I did. Besides the fact that I guess if it had been any other vampire he wouldn't have hesitated midway through the fang-burying action.

  He was cold. Motionless and cold. Cold all the way down the length of him. . .

  There seemed to be a lot of skin contact going on here. I blinked against the dark. I shivered against his body. I felt, then, briefly, his lips against my neck, as they closed over the teeth. His face rested against the curve of my neck, a moment, two moments. Two of my heartbeats. He was growing less cold. I was used - sort of - to the lack of a heartbeat, but I was pretty sure he wasn't breathing either. What vampires call breathing. The fizziness I'd put my arms around when I'd discovered my car was gone, that day at the lake, that wasn't there either.

  He raised his head. Another of my heartbeats, and another. He shifted his arms, so he was no longer holding me like a garage clamp holds a recalcitrant engine. I turned my head fractionally. I could see the gray gleam of his cheek and jaw in the blackness: my dark vision was adjusting. I felt my eyes trying to see, like when the eye doctor gives you one of those funny lenses to look through and everything is all wrong. It was disconcerting to see in what I knew was darkness like. . . burial; no, not a good metaphor. But wherever we were, it felt underground, and I didn't think that was just the darkness.

  He raised his head a little farther and turned his head to look at me, and I saw the stagnant-pool color of his eyes change to bright emerald green again. I remembered that the first ti
me I'd seen his eyes, the night at the lake, they had been stagnant-pool-colored; how had I not remembered that transformation? Probably because I hadn't seen it happen. That had been back in the days when I believed myself to be fully human, and when I couldn't look into a vampires eyes.

  He was also getting warmer. He was now no colder (say) than a hibernating lizard. This was still a little chilly from where I was though.

  I felt his chest expand, and his first breath drifted across my face. I remembered being carried back from the lake, leaning against that chest, recognizing breathing, not recognizing any rhythm to it.

  He'd taken his weight onto his elbows, so I could breathe more easily.

  I remembered thinking, on the long walk in from the lake, that I wouldn't have been able to match my breathing to his. But he was matching his breathing to mine, now. I also abruptly realized that I was feeling his dick growing long and hard against my leg.

  We were both naked.

  I knew that vampire body temperature is at least somewhat under voluntary control, like circulation of the blood is. It is, perhaps, a bit variable, especially, perhaps, under stress. He'd gone from dead cold, you should pardon the expression, to what you might call normal human body heat, in about a minute. I'd known - I'd been pretty sure - he was in trouble; that's why I was here. Perhaps I'd - er - roused him too suddenly. Perhaps he was in what passes in vampire biological science for shock, and his control systems weren't responding.

  That didn't explain the dick though. It was responding.

  He was now suddenly hot, as hot as if he'd been in a kitchen baking cinnamon rolls in August. I already knew vampires could sweat, under certain conditions, like being chained to a wall of a house with sunlight coming in through the windows. He was sweating again now. Some of his sweat fell on me.

  I've always rather liked sweat. On other occasions when I've had a naked, sweating male body up against mine, I've tended to feel that it meant he was getting into what was going on. This usually produces a similar enthusiasm in me. Not that there was anything going on. . . exactly. Yet. Remember how fast and suddenly this was all happening. And if he was in shock so was I. Maybe my brain hadn't fully come with me in that zap through the void, like my clothes manifestly hadn't. With a truly masterful erection now pressed against me I turned my head again and licked his sweating shoulder.

  What happened next probably lasted about ten seconds. Maybe less.

  I don't think I heard the sound he made; I think I only felt it. He moved his hands again, to tip my face toward him, and kissed me. I can't say I noticed any fangs. I had the lingering vestige of sense not to try anything clever with my teeth, which with a human lover I would have. But I was nonetheless busy with tongue and hands. I wriggled a little under him. I kissed him back as he tangled his fingers in my hair. I arched up off the floor a trifle to press myself more thoroughly against him. I was undoubtedly making some noises of my own. . .

  I always thought the earth was supposed to move when you arrived, not when you'd only started the journey.

  One second I was raising my pelvis to meet him - and believe me, he was there - and the next second he had hurled himself off me and thrown me from him, and I was flying across the floor to fetch up with a bruising whap against the wall. He bounded to his feet and disappeared.

  I lay there, considering. Point one: wherever the hell I was (and I hoped this was not too literal a remark), it had a smooth, glassily smooth, stone floor. The wall I had caromed into at a guess was the same material.

  Point two: what the hell had happened?

  Point three: where did I want to start counting?

  I hoped I was going to have the opportunity to tell Yolande that she didn't have to make me anything special, that the herbs and candles had worked fine. If you wanted to call this fine.

  I remembered, with an effort, that when I'd arrived - so to speak - Con had been cold and not breathing. But for all I knew this is merely the vampire equivalent of a nap. Lots of humans are cranky when they're woken unexpectedly. No. I didn't think his eyes would go stagnant-pond-colored for a nap. Okay. Maybe I had accomplished my mission - that he'd been in some kind of vampire trouble and I'd got him out of it.

  I should have been embarrassed. I should have been paralyzed with embarrassment. I was sitting - no, I was crooked up - naked on a cold stone floor in the dark, having been cannoned off the wall by a. . . well, a creature. . . that I had been under the impression I was about to have an intimate encounter with. Maybe I should try to be grateful at having been spared intimacy with the most dangerous of the Others.

  Gave a whole new meaning to the phrase under the dark.

  I wasn't grateful. You want to talk cranky, coitus interruptus takes me well beyond cranky. My engorged labia felt like they were pressing on my brain - what there was of my brain - and if I didn't get to fuck someone, something, now - a vampire would do - I was going to fucking explode. My cunt ached like a bruise.

  Beyond cranky, rather fortunately, doesn't transmute into embarrassment. It transmutes into fury. As my blood pressure began to rearrange itself to a more standard unengorged pattern I was seething. I couldn't care less that I was also naked and alone in the dark of I had no idea where. Well, I couldn't care much. Not very much. Really.

  It was a large room. Empty - except for me - and the ceiling was so high even my dark-sighted eyes couldn't make it out. No furniture. No windows. No anything. Funny sort of place for a nap. Or maybe for a solitary siege. But then I wasn't a vampire.

  It was at least as dark as the inside of my closet. So nothing flickered when I looked at it. What there was to look at. Wow, what a bonus. I would try to control my euphoria.

  He reappeared. He was wearing what I was beginning to think of as his standard get-up of long loose black shirt and black trousers. No shoes. I couldn't be sure but I didn't think I'd ever seen him in shoes. He was carrying something else, which he came close enough to hand over without looking at me. I unfolded it and discovered another long loose black shirt. When I had pulled it over my head it came nearly to my knees. Gods bloody damn it all. I was not in a good mood.

  He was still not looking at me. I was still seething.

  "I beg your pardon most profoundly," he said.

  "Yeah. " I said. "Nice to see you too. "

  He made one of those quick vampire gestures, too rapid for human eyes. My no-longer-quite-human eyes could about follow it: at any rate they registered frustration. Good. That made two of us. Although on second thought, or maybe semi-thought, I doubted he was indicating physical frustration. Uncomfortably I began to be glad of the long black shirt, which probably made me look like death, especially in this light, er, this no-light: black is not my color, any way you hang it. But then looking like death might be very attractive to a vampire. In which case there was even less to explain why. . . My anger was subsiding. I didn't want it to subside. I needed the warmth. But he'd thrown me away, hadn't he? Whatever his dick said, he didn't want me. Anger was much better than misery. Misery approached. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered.

  Maybe he saw the shiver. "After your - " He paused. "You need food," he said. "I can't even feed you. " He glanced down at himself as if perhaps he was expecting a peanut-butter sandwich to be suspended about his person. If he was contemplating opening a vein and offering it to me, the answer was No. If he was contemplating it, he rejected the notion. I wondered what he meant by can't even feed me.

  "I must also thank you for. . . retrieving me," he said. Finally he looked at me.

  Retrieving? Shiva wept.

  "Any time," I said. "I'm sure I'll enjoy reviewing my assortment of new scars and recalling how I got them too. The ones from being slammed on my back and landed on like a sack of boulders, and the ones a few seconds later from being thrown across the room into a wall. "

  I saw him flinch. One for the human.

  "Sunshine," he said. He made a m
ove toward me, and I flinched away. One for the vampire.

  I didn't mean to say it. I didn't mean to say anything about it. I was determined not to say anything about it. My voice came out high and strange, and sticky with wretchedness: "Why? I know about having to - invite - one of your kind. " For about six months when you're thirteen or fourteen it's every teenage girl's favorite story: because it's about finding out that you have power. "Maybe I got the details wrong? Like you need it engraved RSVP - I suppose you prefer the black border to the narrow gold line - delivered to your door at least forty-eight hours before the moment? Maybe you need it printed in blood on - on vellum. And silly me, I couldn't find your door to deliver it. " My voice was getting higher and higher and squeakier and squeakier. I shut up.

  He stood there with his hands loose at his sides, staring at the floor. His hair flopped down over his forehead. I wanted to brush it back so I could see his eyes. . . I wanted to do nothing of the kind. I would bite my own hand off before I voluntarily touched him again.

  "I believe you were inviting more than you knew," he said at last.

  I sighed. "Oh good. Cryptic vampire utterances. My fave. Now you're going to say something opaque and oracular about the bond between us, aren't you? That it got me here but let's not get carried away maybe?"

  He moved so quickly I would not have stepped aside in time, but he stopped himself short and did not touch me. But he didn't stop very short. As it was he was standing so near it was hard not to touch him. I put my hands behind my back like a dieter offered a choice of Bitter Chocolate Death or Meringuamania. "I do not disturb you by choice," he said. "Can you not believe that?" He made another of those vampire noises: it went something like urrrrrr. "Perhaps you cannot. This - our situation - is not made easier by thousands of years of my kind. . . disturbing your kind. "

  "Disturb is one word for it, I suppose," I said, nastily. I was still in a bad mood, still unhappy and wanting to cause unhappiness in return. And still half blasted out of my skull by events since I had found out that evening that my landlady knew I was jiving with a vampire. A lot had happened in a short space of time. Not just one particular thing out of a morbidly kinky soap opera.

  "I too am disturbed," he said quietly.

  I had my mouth open for my next uncharitable remark and changed my mind. I moved away from him, found the wall, and leaned back against it. I didn't want to sit on the floor - and have him looming over me - and there wasn't anything else to lean on. Except him, of course, and that wasn't an option right now. Disturbance: okay. If I could stop feeling mortally wounded in the ego for a moment I might begin to remember again what was going on here. He was a vampire. I was a human. We weren't supposed to have any bonds between us, except straightforward generic ones of murderous antagonism and so on. And, speaking of kinky soap opera, no one ever had an affair with a vampire, not even in Blood Lore, which was always getting prosecuted for one thing or another. The reason why, when you were thirteen or fourteen, you outgrew your fascination with the idea that a vampire couldn't do you unless you let him is that you began to take in the fact that shortly after you'd said, "Come and get me big boy," you died.

  It was illegal to write stories and make movies about sex between vampires and humans. It was, in fact, one of the few mandates the global council really agreed on. The stories and movies got written and made anyway, but if the government caught you at it, they threw your ass in jail. For a long time.

  Okay. He probably was disturbed too.

  I looked at him, wondering if he was wondering how we'd wound up here, wherever here was. About why we'd been able to create this antithetical bond, and what exactly it consisted of. It probably was a good idea not to make it any more complicated - and intense - than we had to.

  A small part of me whispered, "Oh, rats. "

  Another small part whispered, "Yeah, well, how come he's the one who managed to remember?"

  Suddenly I was exhausted. "Truce?" I said, still leaning against the wall.

  "Truce," he said.

  I was only going to shut my eyes for a moment. . .

  I woke up feeling rather comfortable. I was lying on something soft, but not too soft, and wrapped in something warm and furry. And there was a smell of apples. My stomach roared. I opened my eyes.

  No, I didn't open my eyes, I only thought I had. I was having the most ridiculous dream of my life thus far - and I'd had some pretty ridiculous dreams in my day - something out of Gormenghast or The Castle of Otranto or House of Tombs. I wanted to say to my imagination, oh, come on.

  But my stomach was still roaring (I often eat in my dreams, I know you're not supposed to) and the apples were sitting beside me with a loaf of bread, and a fantastic goblet hilariously in keeping with the general flamboyance of my immediate surroundings, so I sat up and reached for the nearest apple. And saw the silky black sleeve falling back from my arm.

  I didn't hiss as well as he had, the night he discovered the wound in my breast, but I gave it a good shot. I was so used to my eyesight behaving strangely that the flitteriness of the lighting hadn't at first registered, but it did now: both that there was light, and that it wiggled. There was some heat source behind me; I turned around.

  The fireplace, of course, was huge. It was shaped like some monster's roaring mouth; you could see the monster's eyes (well, two of them; I chose not to look for more) gleaming above the mantelpiece of its writhing lips (you might not think writhing lips would have any flat spots, but there were candelabra balanced up there, shaped like snakes' bodies and dismembered human arms); each eye was bigger than my head, and gleamed red, although that may have been the firelight. No, it wasn't the firelight.

  Con, cross-legged on the floor, straight-backed, shirtless, barefoot, his head a little bowed, looked rather as he had the first time I saw him. Only not so bony. He was also less gray, washed in the ruddy firelight. And my heart beat faster when I looked at him for different reasons than it had that first time. He looked up as I turned; our eyes met. I looked away first. I picked up the apple and bit into it. So, maybe he lived near an orchard (how long had I been asleep)? That didn't explain the bread. I wasn't going to ask. I wasn't going to ask about the bottle of wine on the floor next to the little table either (the table was a depressed-looking maiden in a very tight swathe of material with no visible means of support, holding the carrying surface at an implausible angle between her neck and one shoulder. Even more implausible was the angle of her breasts, which I don't think even cosmetic surgery could achieve), which was a straightforward local chardonnay. I'd have preferred a cup of tea. A glass or two of this on top of everything else that had been happening and I'd be off my chump. But hey, I was already. Off my chump, I mean. I poured some wine gingerly into the goblet. Pity to waste it: he'd already drawn the cork. Ever the polite host. The wine seemed to go a long way down before it hit bottom, like dropping pebbles in a well.

  I ate a second apple and had a dubious sip of the wine. (It still tasted like straightforward local chardonnay, even from that histrionic beaker. ) The damn goblet tingled in my hand. I really didn't want to get into some kind of communion with an overdressed tumbler. It was knobbly with what looked like gemstones. Oh please. I ate a third apple and started on the bread. Texture suggested cheating: additional gluten flour, probably, but the taste was not too bad; the baker must have the patience or the sense to let the sponge sit a while and ripen. Maybe I was just very hungry.

  "Thank you," I said.

  Con's shoulders rippled briefly: vampire shrug facsimile, maybe. "It is little enough," he said.

  "How long did I sleep?"

  "Four hours. It is four hours till dawn," he replied.



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