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Evan Morris is mysterious chap who apparently lives and works in South Africa.


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Breeding Season

by Evan Morris

 

     Lencey showed me the contents of his tattered black bag. He laid each item out on my coffee table while I laughed at him.
     "Hammer," he said. "Mallet, really. Three short wooden stakes. Ten heads of garlic. Wild rose branches. Phial of consecrated water. Bible. Silver crucifix. Torch. The hell you laughing about?"
     I paused, since you never could tell with Lencey, and then decided it was far too ludicrous to even be considered, so I laughed again. He stiffened in the way he had, like you had just likened his favourite old granny to a smelly sock. He sniffed.
     "This is a heavy issue, dude," he said. "Vampires. You laugh at a vampire all you want, it's still gonna suck your lungs out."
     "This would be an actual mythological animal, you mean," I said. "A reanimated corpse that rises from the grave to suck the blood of the living. Usually a disgruntled minor aristocrat."
     He waved one hand and adjusted his shades with the other. "That's all tripe," he said. "Dracula and so on. I'm talking about genuine biological anomalies. Every culture attests to them. Bloodsuckers, dude. It's real."
     "So they're not dead?"
     "No. They're undead."
     "So they were dead."
     "They were living. Now they're undead. The point is to nudge them a bit and teach them how to be dead. Don't laugh at me, man."
     "I don't know what else to do," I said.
     I poured us both more wine. It was late and I was on my way to bed when he arrived. Tiredness crackled in my ribs. It was easy to laugh.
     "Let's suppose," I said, "that these things exist. What makes you think you're going to stumble across one? I mean, why get all this paraphernelia? It's not as if you're in any danger of meeting one of them."
     "That," he said, slurping chardonnay, "is where you are mistaken."
     I laughed again. He just looked at me intently, patiently, waiting for me to give up and listen to him. I lit a cigarette.
     "Proceed."
     "Right. As you have probably guessed, I have located one of these nefarious creatures. I have, in fact, become the object of its attention. It is seeking me out. Hence the paraphernalia."
     "For someone who is the potential victim of a bloodsucking animal from hell, you look pretty chill."
     "That is because I have acquired these defenses," he said. He smiled at me.
     "And you drove over here to tell me this because?"
     He grinned. "Because you, china, are going to help me hunt the bitch down and pop some death in her pants."

 

     "No," I said.
     It was the next day. Lencey had crashed on the sofa and was now shovelling scrambled eggs into his face and complaining about my lack of impetus. It was not possible to take him seriously, with his purple jeans and his idiotic circular sunglasses. I was trying to ignore him. It was Saturday morning. My weekends usually involve lounging, leaning, musing, pondering, scratching lazily, and sleeping. They are frequently - in fact continuously - devoid of adventures involving vampires.
     "Listen to me man," Lencey said, spitting hardened egg froth onto the table. "This is not a joke. Do I have to put up a billboard on the damned highway? Do I have to show up here with teeth-marks on my throat?"
     "You have to stop smoking the pips, dude," I told him. "Or your socks, or whatever it is. Let's go see or a movie and take your mind off things."
     "Movie? I'm in a movie. I'm living in a Wes Craven movie, dude." He bounced up and down, jabbing invisible things with his fork.
     I had seen Lencey last about a week before. We had gone to a party and drunk too much whisky. He had spent the latter part of the night talking in a corner to a friend of his, a man I was not acquainted with. The two of them had gone off together, looking intent. Probably going to acquire drugs. Whatever had transpired with regard to this vampire must have happened in the last seven days. After hours, since he presumably was holding down his day-job at the CD shop. I wasn't falling for any of it. Probably this whole thing was an elaborate pose designed to somehow entrap an otherwise unwilling woman. Either that or it was just a mild case of dopey delusion, which Lencey was occasionally subject to. Once, I recall, he spent six weeks researching his genealogy, scribbling furious missives to far-flung rural archives and parishes, because he had become convinced that he was descended from Charles the First. It passed.
     "Victor," I said, because it annoyed him, "I am not getting involved. Stop taking acid. Get laid. Wake up."
     He looked at me with his mouth open, full of egg. "You think I honestly went out and bought all that toss in the bag because I'm playing a joke? Because I'm having a flashback? I spent money on that, dude."
     I got up and went to read a book. Ten minutes later he came in and sat down on the futon, smoking. He threw a few glances at me until I put the book down and paid attention to him.
     "Come with me to my place," he said. "We'll stay there tonight, you can check it out. You don't see anything eerie, fine, come home and forget about it."
     "Why don't I just forget about it now? I think I can manage that. Hang on...yes. I've forgotten about it."
     He flicked ash into his palm. "Bugger you," he said.
     I heard him clattering around in the kitchen and then I heard the front door open and close. A moment later I heard his old Beetle wheeze awake in the parking lot.
     I cleaned up the dishes he had dumped into the sink and then I tried listening to music. Failing to divert myself, I tried reading and watching TV. Eventually I got in my car and drove down to the mall to try and get involved in some serious aimlessness. Nothing worked.
     At eleven I drove across town and knocked on Lencey's door. He grinned when he saw me and welcomed me into his home.
     "Good on you," he said.
     "This better be worth it, you headless freak."

 

     By nightfall, the whole interior of the house stank of garlic, and I stank of it too. Lencey and I literally scrubbed every available surface with the stuff. It was ludicrous, but surprisingly entertaining.
     "Like putting down pest control," I noted.
     We went and sat in the living room/dining room. Lencey's house was more of a cottage on a subdivided plot. The main house was only about thirty meters away, but it was obscured from view by a head-high hedge and some poplars. Lencey used his own gate at the rear of the property, so to all intents and purposes, we were alone.
     He said: "Your standard nosferatu is basically a lot like a rat. Or any other sort of vermin. It isn't some romantic, mystical thing wandering this earthly round. It's sort of like a particularly annoying insect that happens to be able to kill and eat you."
     "I thought they sucked your blood and you became one of them."
     "No," Lencey said after a pause. He sipped beer. "Basically they just kill and eat you. Unless it's breeding season. They have limbic urges, same as anything else. They have to reproduce, see. I think it's pretty complicated."
     I cracked open my own beer. There was an obvious implication to Lencey's comment, so I tackled it: "This -- uh -- nosferatu of yours, then. She's in heat, I take it? You're not just supper?"
     Lencey shifted in his seat. "I imagine that is the case. I mean, she could have scrunched me to begin with, if that's what she wanted."
     "Don't tell me any more," I said, laughing. "Please. I want to see for myself."
     We drank a few beers and listened to music. Around eleven that night Lencey flung a pillow and a duvet at me. "Don't do anything stupid," he admonished me. "She's a cunning one, this one. Leave everything to me."
     I shook my head. I was tired and slightly sozzled. "See you in the morning," I said, meaning exactly that.
     I slept immediately, there in the living area, on the floor, because I despise soft surfaces. I must have been asleep for an hour or two when a knocking woke me. I confess that when I first heard it through the murk of sleep, I had visions of some faceless ghoul breaking into the house and throttling me, but when I struggled into consciousness I found I had managed to wrap the duvet around my own throat by accident.
     I sat up and rubbed my face. The knocking came again, quite politely at the front door, accompanied by a rather delicate and pretty sounding girl's voice: "Mister Lencey!"
     It was black out the window, still the middle of the night. I waited for Lencey to get up and answer the door, the way any civilized person would. He did not appear. The girl knocked harder and called out his name again, and I imagined she sounded tearful, or at least distressed.
     I got up and went to the door, without turning on any lights. I was about to turn the key when a hand dropped on my naked shoulder. My testicles invaded my stomach. "Jesus Christ, Lencey!"
     He was standing against his refrigerator, dressed all in black. "What the hell are you doing?" he hissed at me.
     The girl knocked again, insistently.
     "Opening the door."
     "You dunce," he said, still whispering. "Just look outside. Don't open anything, just look."
     I stood next to him and peered through the window. We had a view of the doorstep. On it stood a girl I thought I recognized, even though it was difficult to see her features clearly. There was no moon, and Lencey had not turned on the nightlight. The girl was wearing a quite provocative set of pyjamas. Let me rephrase that: she was a teenaged girl in pyjamas knocking on a door I had the power to open in the middle of the night; this is inevitably provocative.
     "I'm going to let her in," I said.
     Lencey pushed me back into the interior of the cottage firmly, glaring at me. "She's a god damned vampire, dude."
     "Christ, shut up," I sneered at him. "She's ... I know, she's bloody Louisa from the house." It had come back to me. The girl was the daughter of the house-owners on the other side of the hedge. Clearly there must be an emergency. Lencey's drugged paranoia might lead to somebody's death. I shoved him out of my way.
     "Take this," he said, shoving something cold and angular into my hand. It was his crucifix. "You'll see."
     I made a sour face and unlocked the door. The knocking had stopped, and when I swung the door back I saw that the girl had gone. I stuck my head out into the night, listening hard. Crickets shrieked and a black wind streamed along the mass of hedge.
     "Don't go out there," Lencey insisted. "It's a trap, dude."
     I frowned. Then I peered hard at the dark house beyond the hedge. No lights were on. This struck me as odd. "Hello?" I called. "Is there a problem?"
     Silence for a few seconds, and then a rat-tat-tap somewhere behind me, like somebody at a window in Lencey's room. I turned back inside, closing the door, and pushed past him into his bedroom. The girl was standing at his window now.
     "Mister Lencey!" she called again.
     I traipsed over the mess of clothing and bronze bongs and comic books to unlatch the window.
     "Hello? Louisa?"
     I could see her looking at me curiously, clutching the top of her pyjamas closed with a thin hand.
     "What's the matter?" I asked. "Come inside."
     "No!" Lencey bellowed, right next to my head. I hadn't noticed him standing there. I jumped, lost my footing and fell, cracking my scalp on the metal frame of his bed. I shouted something painful while Lencey shut the window. I struggled up and he turned and pushed me back down, much more forcefully than I would have thought him capable of. He wrested his crucifix out of my hand and I saw him holding it up pompously to the window, and reciting something in a language I took to be Latin. It was bizarre.
     After a few seconds he crouched down next to me. "She's gone," he said. "It's okay now."
     I clambered to my feet and turned on the light. He was wearing a ridiculous sheer outfit of stocking and a sweatshirt. "You moron," I said. "That's not a bloody vampire. I hope her father evicts you, arsehole."
     My indignation over-rode my sense of emergency. I stalked back to my makeshift bed and lay down. Lencey came and tried talking to me but I ignored him and he went away. Eventually I fell asleep again.
     I woke once more, briefly, just before dawn, because something was scratching at the door. I thought it must be a dog, and went back to sleep. Only when I woke in full morning did I realize that neither Lencey nor Louisa's family owned any pets.

 

     I found the cottage empty, so I made some brinjals and egg and ate breakfast in the Sunday sunlight. I did the dishes and Lencey was still not back from wherever he had gone. Also, there did not seem to be any activity in the main house.
     During the course of sleeping and of idly mulling things over this morning, I had shaped a reasonable explanation of the night's events. Admittedly it was mangled, and did not cover everything, but it made some sort of sense to me:
     Lencey was giving shots to his landlord's daughter. Not right now, but in general. There was an affair. Or perhaps Louisa was petitioning for shots and Lencey -- being not idiotic -- understood the inherent danger of removing a sixteen year old's panties on her father's property. (There is an inherent danger in removing a sixteen year old's panties anywhere, of course, but under the nose of her progenitor is exponentially more hazardous).
     So, far from having mounted this baroque operation in order to gain egress to somebody's trousers, Lencey was in fact trying his damndest to discourage the advances of a groin that was being urged on him. Being Lencey -- which is a state of serious psychological malfunction -- he could probably think of nothing more mundane to achieve his end. Since he himself only responded to drama and melodrama, it did not occur to him to approach the matter in any sane way.
     I thought about this for an hour or so, smoking a lot, and finally convinced myself of it. There were loose ends, of course, but on the whole it looked sound. It was better than the alternative, at least, and it gave me something to do. Because if I was right, then Lencey's absence might have something to do with Louisa's father. Possibly the whole lot of them were busy discussing the affair as I sat there. I should investigate.
     I wandered across the lawn and through a gap in the hedge, left open for this purpose. I approached the house cautiously, because I did not know the inhabitants very well -- I did not even know their surname -- and also because I might be about to walk in on one of those messy domestic scenes involving thrown objects and fists and miserable tantrums and dramatic exits.
     The house was completely silent. Not even a radio was on. I tried the back door and peered in at each window. No one was inside. I circled the house, straining up on my toes occasionally to look in, and saw only puffy armchairs and cheesy block-mounted prints. At the front door, I knocked for several minutes, but there was no answer. Eventually I inched up their garage door, to discover that their car wasn't inside.
     For some reason, their complete absence -- taken together with the absence of Lencey -- made me nervous. Had Louisa's father -- what was his name? Jerry? Reginald. Had Reginald taken Lencey and Louisa out on the highway to shoot them? I chuckled at the thought, but the chuckle began and ended in my face; the rest of me felt awkward.
     I went back to Lencey's cottage and put on some music. Then it hit me. It was Sunday. Probably they had gone to church. Some people apparently still do that.
     Not Lencey, but his absence could mean anything. Maybe he had decided in the night that he was the living incarnation of the god Vishnu, and was this minute preaching his advent from on top of a tomato crate in a public park.
     He came back at midday with an iron box filled with screwdrivers and spanners and an alan key and a crowbar and so on. He looked quite at ease, cleaned up and wearing his REM t-shirt and his sunglasses. I helped him carry the box into the house.
     "You're shagging Louisa," I said, when we both had a beer. "That is the true meaning of all this. Deny it."
     He looked at me in confusion. "What?"
     I explained my theory. "Maybe you're not shagging her, but she wants you to shag her, and you're trying to put her off. Right?"
     "You have a very grubby mind," he said. He scarfed down a piece of bread and threw beer into himself. "That wasn't Louisa last night, dude."
     I laughed. He did not. He smiled imperiously.
     "For your information," he said, "Louisa is in bloody Argentina. They're on holiday, dude. They have been for two weeks, and won't be back until next Saturday. And I am not shafting her at all. I am not a reprobate."
     He chewed his food where I could see it, and then patted me on the shoulder.
     "Now," he said. "The plan."

 

     Of course, I did not let Lencey get straight to the plan, although he was eager to do so. He was drawing a diagram and mentioning a certain cemetery I had driven past often, and referring to booby traps and the necessity for speed and determination, and all the while I was walking around him in little circles, interrupting him.
     "Victor, shut up. Please. Just put that on ice for a second here."
     "There is no time, man," he said.
     "I'm not going to listen to you regale me with plots and procedures until I know what the hell we are dealing with, dude. Okay?"
     He stared at me as if I had confessed ignorance of the alphabet.
     "We are dealing with a vampire. There's not a whole lot more to be said, man."
     "Vampires do not exist. Vampires are like unicorns and werewolves and the Loch Ness Monster. They are bogeys for people to discipline their children with. They are special effects in movies full of women with D-cups. They are-."
     "They are living in Barrington Cemetery, china, and one of them is trying to get into my pants. Or shirt. Or skin. You saw her."
     "I saw Louisa. Or if not Louisa, then another young girl in Donald Duck peejays, banging on your window in the middle of the night."
     "They shapeshift, arsehole!" He waved his hands around his head in a frustrated arabesque. "They are cunning. They lure you and entice you. They want you to let them in the house."
     I opened another beer and sat down. "Why don't you just tell me the truth? Please. I won't be angry. Actually, this has been very entertaining. But there is zero probability that I am going to go creeping around Barrington and opening graves, so you might as well just unburden yourself. Who is she?"
     He bounced to his feet and I thought he was going to throw something at me, but all he had was an empty beer can. He crushed it and dropped it into the waste basket.
     "You want a resumÄ?" he said at last.
     "I want to know who the girl was that was out at midnight in her pyjamas. I want to know whose daughter she is and what kind of trouble you got her in. And I want to know the reason for this theatrical solution you have dreamed up."
     Lencey went into the kitchen and came back immediately, shaking his head.
     "Look," he said. "It is not a she, except in a very remote biological sense that I don't want to think about. It is an it. It assumed the shape of Louisa in order to appear more alluring."
     "Why Louisa? Why not? Why not Pamela Anderson with no clothes on?"
     Lencey sighed. "When you get your own rapacious bloodsucker who wants you to become its offspring, maybe it'll disguise itself as Pamela Anderson. Knowing you, it'll probably disguise itself as Ashlyn Gere. But I am not you. I hate having to repeat this, dude: the damned things are cunning."
     I thought about this, and then smiled at him softly. "So you are shafting Louisa. Or you want to."
     He pouted and looked away. "I am not being in any way smutty with her. I have an affection. The vampire knows that."
     "Does Louisa know? Does Reginald?"
     "Will you please forget about them? They have nothing to do with any of this."
     "You're telling me these things are psychic, too. They can see into your soul."
     "I'm telling you what has happened, china. Draw your own conclusions."
     I emptied my beer, lit a cigarette, looked out the window. I did not want to believe him. Simple as that. Looked at objectively, given the facts and his intensity, Occam's Razor should have dictated that I follow his lead until contradictory evidence presented itself. Unfortunately, when Occam's Razor expects you to believe in Count Dracula, I prefer to cut my mysteries with common sense instead.
     "Where did you meet her?"
     "Who? The vampire? What difference does it make?"
     He had a point there. It really made no difference, except I was trying to trip him up. I had a strong idea that there was something more elaborate and obscure going on that Lencey was trying to keep from me.
     "I simply will not believe in undead ghouls," I said. "Sorry."
     "Will you believe it when I come knocking on your door at midnight and eat your spleen out of your body?" he snarled at me.
     "Maybe," I replied. "Until then, you have a choice: tell me the truth about the girl outside last night, or forget about talking to me until you decide to behave like a grown-up."
     He looked at me, started to say something, changed his mind. He stood. "Go on, then," he said. "I told you if you didn't buy it, you could go home. You didn't buy it."
     "You're throwing me out, now?"
     "I'm not doing anything to you," he said quietly, turning his back.
     He went into his room and shut the door. I waited for a few minutes, certain that he would come bounding out in a moment and carry on talking to me, but he did not, and nor did any sound emerge from behind the closed door. I tried knocking, and then saying his name, and then apologizing. Nothing worked. I started to feel daft, talking to wood like that.
     I cleared away my ashtray and beer cans. On my way out I went to his bedroom window to see if I could get his attention, but he had drawn the curtains, and would not respond to my tapping.
     I went home.

 

     That evening, while I was fixing myself a mixed salad to go with my grilled chicken wings, somebody knocked on my door. Because I was not expecting anyone -- and because I am largely misanthropic -- I peered through the peep-hole first to see who it was.
     No one.
     Except maybe someone very short. I waited a few seconds, then went back to the kitchen. About ten minutes later someone knocked again. There was no mistaking it, it was a definite knuckle-rap, repeated six or seven times.
     Again, investigating, I saw no one at the door. This time I opened the door and stuck my head out. I live in a block of flats with enclosed corridors. My flat is up on the third floor, and besides that there is a security system downstairs which is meant to keep out hawkers. Of course it is not infallible, but it reduced the likelihood that whoever was doing the knocking came in off the street. Most probably it was a child or some children who lived in the building. They must think it very amusing to knock on doors and run away.
     I saw nobody in the corridor.
     This process was repeated four times more before ten o' clock when I got into bed. Each time there was a knock, and each time I dutifully responded, the corridor was empty. The very last time I thought I saw someone slight disappearing onto the stairwell. Children. Little bastards.
     I closed up, turned off all my lights, and got into bed. Although I had not thought much more about Lencey since leaving him, I suppose I must have felt uncomfortable about our parting, because I dreamt about him. I dreamt I was attending his funeral, which was a cheesy sort of dream to have, and did not upset me at all. The funeral turned out to be quite comical, and towards the end the dream got steamy, with me clutching a complete stranger's buttocks in a thicket of trees behind the church. Because I am a single man, I tend to have sexy dreams about once a week at least, and this one would not have struck me as out of the ordinary were it not for a single moment, just prior to emission, when I found myself being masturbated by a rodent-faced animal with a furry belly and a face like a scarred anus.
     I woke up sharply and sat up in bed.
     Someone was knocking on my door.
     I sat still and listened, and the knocking came again. I checked my watch. It was just after midnight. Not even the most dedicated pre-pubescent prankster could be up at this hour annoying me.
     I pulled on my underwear and stumbled to the front door. Foregoing the usual caution, I slipped the chain and pulled the door open.
     "Lencey!"
     He looked haggard and confused. He had twigs attached to his head, whether by accident or design I could not tell, and his face was scratched. He smelled as if he had recently vomited on himself. He put a hand on my shoulder and leaned on me, breathing heavily.
     "God, man, what happened?" I asked, tugging on him. He looked at me without speaking, but resisted my attempts to pull him inside. I looked up and down the corridor, and only then did it occur to me to wonder how he had got into the building without buzzing me first. I straightened him up.
     "What the hell happened to you?" I asked him, feeling jerked straight out of a disturbing dream into fear. Even his skin felt strange. I am not in the habit of feeling people's skin, but I assume that Lencey's was not usually so rough, like something inorganic.
     He looked into my eyes. It was then that I knew that this was not Lencey standing out here in the middle of darkness, in distress. I knew it with my entire being except my rational mind. My rational mind was still tying to read Freudian things into getting jacked-off by a martian bat. The rest of me was alert to death and danger.
     I pushed whatever it was backwards into the wall and slammed the door shut hard, hoping the noise would attract my neighbours. Then I slid the chain into the door and started tracking backwards down the corridor, into my living room. My heart beat in my wrists. My chest felt like a dying fire in a greasy grate. I could hear myself breathe, which is always unsettling.
     From behind me, something said:
     "Let me in, darling."
     I flung myself around to face the noise, and then choked on my own amazement.
     Outside my window was a naked woman. She looked a little bit like Clara Bowe used to look when she was alive and young, with wet eyes and long lashes and a figure like a rubber doll. I could not see her feet below the edge of the window, but it didn't matter, because I have no balcony. The thing was levitating.
     "Let me in, you arsehole," it said in a baritone. Then it laughed and stuck out its tongue, and before my eyes it was transmogrified from a sexy vixen into a fat, tattooed man with a mohawk haircut and a vanishingly small penis. "Let me in, you piece of slime," it said. "You louse. You loser. Let me get in there and eat you." Then it laughed again, shaking its head around the way you see drunk punk rockers do in certain nightclubs.
     I stared at this phenomenon blankly. Even my fear had left me. One part of my mind was actually calculating the cost of the mechanism that could project such an apparition onto my window-pane. I felt split into several astounded people, none of whom knew what to do next. I just stood.
     The figure outside melted into a formless light. It was a light without any heat, and it flickered. It said:
     "Leave Lencey alone. Don't interfere. We don't want you yet."
     Then it blipped down to a point, like a TV set being switched off. It faded to translucence, to nothing.
     I stood in the living room for about a minute, shaking and staring with my mouth open. Then I smelled something acidic and tangy, and realized I had pissed myself. I cleaned up the mess and took a bath, and then I sat up in the living room and watched a corny melodrama on TV. I fell asleep there in the small hours of the morning, and when I woke I found myself curled in a foetal position on the floor, with one arm covering my face and my other hand's thumb inserted into my mouth for comfort.

 

     I tried going to work. When I got there, Frank Lume told me to go straight home.
     "You look like you ate a bar of soap."
     "I'm fine, really," I insisted. I stuck it out until ten thirty, tapping away at inventory lists until my fingers started cramping and my vision bent. Then Frank came in with Julianne Benford, who is my boss. I sat and melted under their gaze while they spoke globulous words that I couldn't understand.
     Eventually Frank enlisted the aid of some faceless person to carry me out of the building into Frank's car. I was burning up and none of my senses worked properly. Even my sense of taste was messed up. I kept tasting battery acid, or something very like it.
     Then, as we pulled out into traffic, I sat upright and coughed, and everything snapped back into normality like a piece of elastic. I even stopped sweating.
     Frank was trying to take me to a doctor, but I made him circle the block and take me back to my own car. We had an argument about this in the parking lot. Eventually he said he would tail me home. I made it back to my flat without any incident except one moment of severe migraine that lasted about two seconds and caused me to skip a red light. That was all.
     "Go see a doctor," Frank said through his car window. "Get well. Seriously."
     "I think it's food poisoning," I said, because it was all I could think of. He nodded and drove off. I stayed upstairs in my flat for all of ten minutes -- long enough to change into fresh clothes and to wash my face -- and then I was back in the seat of my car. I still felt queasy and tender, and I suspected that another spell of fever was in the offing, but I was only going to be on the road for a few minutes. It was a chance I had to take.
     However, Lencey was also not at work. I leaned against the counter in the CD shop, where they were playing some warped noise from the bowels of America. The shop had too many lights and mirrors, and all of the people looked like they were made out of plastocene.
     Jay -- one of Lencey's colleagues who knew me -- said: "You look spaced, dude. You okay?"
     "I'll live. Where's Victor?"
     Jay shrugged. "Haven't seen him in a week, man," he said, thereby destroying my earlier notion that Lencey was still holding down his day job. "He came in last Monday and puked all over the Alanis display, so we had to get him home. It was a gruesome event, dude. You're not going to puke, are you?"
     "Not that I know of."
     "'Cos you look sort of, like, green, china."
     "Victor didn't call you guys or anything?"
     "His doctor faxed the boss a note, like, booking him off? Till today. He's supposed to be back today, but he didn't pitch. You sure you're not going to ralf all over the shop?"
     He looked worried. I smiled, which must have made me look skeletal and eldritch. He said: "Dude, please don't kotch on the merchandise. You look exactly the way Vic did before he putzed himself, china. It was from hell."
     "I think whatever Victor has, he gave it to me," I said. I told him goodbye and left before he started to get aggravated. I sat in my car in the parking lot, waiting for this new attack to pass. It took about an hour. I listened to the radio playing Melissa Etheridge and Abba and so on, with my head down under the dash. Finally I cleared up -- quite suddenly again -- and pulled back out into the road.
     I had a strong suspicion where Lencey was, but I didn't want to think about it yet. The first place to go and check was his cottage. I drove over there slowly, trying to keep myself focussed, but the attacks were more frequent now. I had to pull off twice and wait for fifteen minutes until I could see again. By the time I got to Lencey's cottage, I no longer cared if he was home or not (he wasn't). I parked in the space vacated by his Beetle and crawled on all fours along the slate path to his front door. I knew he left the key under his doormat (junkie idiocy) and there it was. I let myself in.
     The first thing I noticed against my will was the smell of sealed-in garlic. None of the windows in the place were open. I gagged and pushed the door shut behind me.
     I tried to look around to find evidence of something that could help me to take some sort of action, but by this time the fever was attacking even my feet in my shoes. I sat down on the floor in the kitchen, my head turning slow circles, and pulled off all of my clothes. I dragged myself to Lencey's bathroom and rolled into the tub. I was too weak to actually turn on any taps, though, so I just lay there in the clutches of the cold enamel, sweating and moaning and muttering insanities.
     I woke up there after dark, completely clear in the head, as if whatever it was had wanted to incapacitate me only until nightfall, when it could deal with me on its own terms.

 

     I walked through the cottage and turned on every light. Then I dressed again. I ought to have felt physically devastated, but instead I felt fine. The only complaint I had was hunger. I sat down and ate half a loaf of bread and the last of Lencey's mustard and Colchester.
     I put on some music in the living area and systematically searched the whole cottage in case Lencey had left some kind of accidental clue or signal.
     As it turned out, he had left a quite deliberate signal for me, in the form of a folded note on his bed. I sat down in the living room and lit a cigarette. The note addressed me by name, and said:
     "I hope you decide to come back. If you do, it is either because you have changed your mind or because the bitch has visited you. For your sake I hope it is because you changed your mind.
     "I cannot take it any more. You have no idea what sort of madness this cow puts into your head. She is a disgusting creature and I must go to her now. I don't know if I will come back the way you knew me before.
     "I will try to kill her. I promise I will try. If I don't succeed, you must find a way to put me out of the misery I am sure to end up in. This means kill me. You know how.
     "I have gone to Barrington. Try to come in the day.
     "If the bitch has gotten into your head too, then I am sorry for you. She is a sly animal and has a sick plan. I am in horrible pain. Please help me."
     His handwriting -- never meticulous -- was like a jigsaw puzzle. It was as if each word was written by a different person, some of whom spoke languages other than English as their mother tongue. It took me about half an hour to decipher everything, even though the contents were pretty straight forward.
     I drank a glass of water and stared at the drain in the sink. I felt greasy and sad and ashamed of myself. I also felt tight in my rectum, out of extended, unshakeable terror.
     I went back to the living area and lit another cigarette. I thought about everything Lencey had told me over the weekend and tried to read some exposition into the words of his note. It was important to understand how this had come about, to understand what the damned thing was.
     One thing that was certain was the cunning of the adversary. It had attacked Lencey's softest spot for the girl Louisa, and it had attacked my own libido with the Clara Bowe manifestation. More alarming, I realized now for the first time why I had been so distressed by the fat circus freak outside my window. It was me. It was a version of me covered in loose fat and ragged tattoos. The face -- though slobbering and huge -- was my own face, stretched and made feral.
     My hands were shaking. I had the gnawing feeling that no matter what I did, I was trapped already, and had been ever since Lencey visited me on Friday night. The fact that I scoffed at him, the fact that I tried to distance myself from his problem, was all part of some complicated process that I could discern, but not understand.
     I wondered if I really had any choice in the matter at all. Could I get up now and drive my car home, or even drive out of town and never return? Would it matter? Wasn't the thing travelling with me? Couldn't it make me do anything it wanted?
     I got up and went through the cottage again, but could find only a small crucifix on a silver chain, and a sack of garlic in the cupboard. Lencey had obviously taken everything else with him. To Barrington.
     He had said I should try to come in the day, and I paused, considering the logic of this. Maybe I should hole up here where I was safe until sunrise, and then make my move?
     My stomach churned and I gagged. I knew what would happen. The bitch would knock me flat all day tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. One way or another, she would get me where she wanted me. My only defense was to attack.
     I took the garlic and the crucifix and went out to my car. Every step I took scrunched on the paving, and my knees were weak by the time I slid into the driver's seat. I had to wait a few minutes before I could summon the courage to turn on the engine.
     I kept expecting some carnivorous demon to hurtle out of the sky and bite off my head.

 

     Barrington Cemetery is in the west of town. There is very little residential area left over here. Mainly it is processing plants and workshops. It is the oldest cemetery in the city, founded by the first white settlers in the area about a hundred and fifty years ago. No one gets buried there any more, since all the plots are taken. A tour guide will tell you pleasantly that the last burial took place in the twenties during the Rinderpest. It is a monument.
     I parked my car on a fallingdown lot full of wooden beams and defunct washing machines, about a block from the graveyard. There were no cars on the road, and this struck me as odd until I looked at my watch and realized it was after midnight already. The bitch was playing with my perception of time.
     I felt light-headed and full of gas. I staggered down the block and round the corner, approaching the cemetery from the east side where there was no gate. I had no idea what sort of security systems were in place, what sort of patrols there might be to keep junkies and teenagers out. I didn't care. I walked up to the spiked wall and tackled it viciously, hurling myself over the top with only a mildly scratched ankle and a torn sock.
     I felt as if nothing could deter me. I would bludgeon opponents to death with my bare hands.
     I wandered around the periphery until I came to the back of the graveyard. It bordered on a hillside. The hill was also a monument because two groups of idiots shot bullets at each other there long ago. As a result the boundary of the cemetery was only a low brick wall, because access to this part of it was denied by the high fences around the hill itself. Once you were in the cemetery it was an easy matter to get onto the hill; it was all part of the guided tour of the city's historical sites.
     I paused to catch my breath and try to clear my head, but the idea was laughable. My head was buzzing and screaming as if some invisible surgeon was hacking through my skull with an electric saw. I was completely out of control. Rather, I was completely in some other control that had nothing to do with me. I knew with the skin of my stomach and throat where I had to go, and I went there.
     I pushed the wooden gate open and staggered up the incline. Low shrubs and thorn bushes brushed my face. I was clattering along in a semi-lope, as if I was already reduced to the status of animal. Certainly I was operating out of my ancient brain, and my front-mind was awash in a sea of heat and lurid imagery.
     I got halfway up the hill and broke through into a small clearing. The sky seemed like a ceiling, stuffy and close to my head. I gasped and straightened up, staring.
     Lencey was sitting on a rock. He looked abandoned, or as if he had abandoned himself. He was grey and his scalp was torn in several places. His eyes looked slippery and would not stay still in his head. A sweet odour surrounded him, too sweet to be pleasant. He looked at me feebly.
     "Oh my God, Lencey."
     He smiled. He had lost a tooth. He croaked something that I could not hear, and then beckoned to me with a tattered hand. I was not afraid of him. I knew it was him. And I knew already that it was too late to help him.
     I crouched down and he put his head on my shoulder. Under the sweet smell was another odour, of sweat and urine and gastric fluid. He patted my neck. His palm felt like a wad of wet newspaper.
     "I'm sorry," I whispered. He coughed. Then he started lazily to nibble on my ear. I drew back and looked at him and he grinned tiredly. It was clear to me that he would have taken a bite out of my face if he had been strong enough. But he looked sated and lazy, like a man who has just spent a night in the company of a troupe of geisha girls.
     "Jesus, I'm sorry," I said. My face was hot and wet, and I did not know what to do. It felt as if all my volition was draining out of the pores of my skin, leaving me haggard and cold.
     I stood up, and the next moment another person entered the clearing from behind Lencey. This was also a man, in torn jeans and with no shirt on. He looked more energetic, but not alert. He just stared at me for a second, and I thought I recognized him. Then he bared his teeth and hissed at me, and my fear slammed into my throat again. I backed away and bumped into another person. I shrieked, swatted the air with my hands, and spun around. I lost my footing and ended up on my back in the moist earth, looking through my fingers at the face of the bitch.
     She kneeled down next to me and patted my head. She was wearing her Clara Bowe body again, completely nude. She kissed me and slid her tongue into my mouth. Despite my terror, I grew warm in my crotch. The bitch chuckled and put her hand there. I tried to push her away, but there was no strength left in my arms. I moaned and managed to work the crucifix out of my pocket. I held it up to her. She laughed again and pushed my hand aside, all the while working on my groin.
     I closed my eyes and clutched clumps of grass. I was weeping heavily and my head was full of the noise of a million batwings and the squeaking of thousands and thousands of rats. I wanted to vomit, and at the same time I wanted to reach up and cling to her and let her show me her version of paradise.
     Once, I opened my eyes. Lencey and the other man were standing over the two of us, looking down with brutish expressions. The bitch had foregone her illusions. Her little rude, furry face was leering at me with its teeth.
     I don't know how long it lasted. All I know is that eventually I came to, disoriented and nauseous, in the front seat of my car. The whole thing might just have been a fever dream. Even the stink of my own semen did not verify the experience. I could have done it to myself.
     I rolled out into the dawn light and was sick. When the sun came up I felt it burning my eyes. I walked back to my car. Pedestrians made sour faces at me and two old hobos laughed and jeered. I did not mind.
     I knew I was not like them any more.

 

     Today is Friday again. I have been keeping track, even through the intermittent spewing and diarrhea, the almost constant dizziness and the total absence of sleep.
     For the last three nights the bitch has come to me. She likes to be called that. She says it is her privilege. I find it difficult to understand the workings of her mind. Only her immediate desires make sense to me. I know what she wants, and what she wants to give me, and I am powerless to resist it.
     Yes, I still feel the need to resist. This is necessary, she has explained. I have a task to perform for her before I can be released into the delicious darkness, and before I can feed.
     This morning she woke me. I felt her sitting inside my face, on the tip of my tongue. She woke me and had me wash myself. She had me shave and brush my hair. She made me eat fruit.
     I went out in the morning light with my sunglasses on. I drove through town and visited many places: hardware stores and novelty shops, jewellery stores, green grocers. She directed me. She whispered from afar. I sat in my car for a while with all my purchases beside me, and laughed, remembering like images in a dream the pictures of Lencey in the morning at my flat, and on Sunday at his own cottage, with his silly round shades on. And I remembered also the party we attended two weeks ago today, and the way he sat and listened to his friend. It only struck me now that the man with no shirt on in the cemetery was that same man. The one who had lured Lencey.
     Now I am sitting in my flat with the curtains drawn, and I am waiting for sunset. I have it all before me on the bed. My little black bag with its stakes and crucifixes and garlic and wild rose branches. The lure.
     I do not know who it will be, yet. She will show me. She is so much larger than we are, and she is even larger than her normal self now. She is in heat. It is breeding season.

 

THE END