Thrall_edited_edited_edited.jpg

Thrall

This story was originally featured in issue 23 of Gutter ❤️

It may be a morbid bit of city planning, but Maggie’s glad that the Necropolis is close enough to the hospital that she can see it from the corridor windows. There’s time to kill before visiting hours, so she goes out the back way, past the people in scrubs having a mid-shift fag. It’s especially beautiful at this time of day: the hillside gravestones reaching up to stroke the sky like outstretched fingertips.

            She climbs, her phone in one hand, the other held out in case she trips on the stone steps. The grassy perch underneath the mausoleum, flush with green ivy and daisies, is one of her favourite spots. With her back against a headstone that’s more like a statue she wonders, is it disrespectful that she hangs out here? Nah. The people here were probably all racist colonisers, and dead anyway. Besides, it’s easy to relax here, with city laid out before her, cars of people driving home from work and the aquamarine cathedral roof. She will look at this sunset for a full minute, sixty seconds. She will lose herself in the moment.

            She turns down to her phone and Googles ‘brain damage alcohol reversible’. Then, ‘alcohol related brain damage mortality’. Reading the article, the word ‘permanent’ jumps out at her.

            Closing her eyes, she lets her head thud against the stone and decides to cry. She only manages a couple of tears, weak enough she’s not sure if they’re caused by emotion or the golden hour sun. She hopes Dad will be awake in time to see it before it sets. It’s almost time to go back.

            Opening her phone again, she closes down the article, methodically banishing tab after tab of Google results.

             How to grieve for someone still living?

            Low sex drive depression?

            Mindfulness what is Mindfulness?

            Until a black and purple tab snags her attention: Darkgift.net.

            She’d forgotten about making an account. Last week, when she was a bottle of wine deep and convinced that only a vampire could get her off: she needed a master ASAP, that night preferably. Oh, God. Her post is still up. Willing Vic seeks Vamp 4 Thrall/Master Fun. Glasgow +50 miles.    

            Not original, but people are rarely unique when they’re fucked up. Everybody wants the same things.

            Ignoring the comments underneath, her finger hovers over delete, when she sees a message in her inbox. Her profile is sloppy. Torn between gratitude that she hadn’t put up an actual photo, and embarrassment that her avatar is a stock picture of red lips biting themselves, she clicks on the message.

            Hi :-)

            The writing is in red and there’s a red tick beside the name. A verified account. A real vampire.

            Asl?

*

They meet that weekend: wait any longer and Maggie will lose her nerve. She wants this, she reminds herself on the bus, and again when she buzzes into the flat. She wants this. It’s always been her fantasy.

            what should I wear?

The vampire had been specific about what she should bring, and she’d assumed there would be an equally specific dress code. Leather; lace; a white nightdress.

            Whatever you feel comfortable in :-). And then, a minute later, something warm.

            Tana is not what she expected, and for a moment she thinks she’s got the wrong flat. She’s shorter and slimmer than Maggie, with dark curtains of hair like a nineties pin-up boy and acne-scarred cheeks.

            ‘How old are you?’ Maggie asks before she steps over the threshold. Fuck, did she just quote Twilight?

            If she recognises the reference, Tana doesn’t show it.

            ‘Hard question,’ she says. Her accent is thick, but difficult to place. She steps aside to let her in.

            The flat is clean and small and hot. The high tenement windows in the living room are boarded up. There is a huge computer in the corner, beige and humming. Beside the couch where Maggie waits are several dying houseplants and an empty fish tank with a red-light bulb. The cramped heat makes her feel aware in an alien way that her is blood pumping in her veins where it would usually crawl.

            Tana comes out of the attached kitchenette. Her cheekbones are brutally sharp and her brows are dark. She looks different: not superhuman, but like she’s not from around here. In one hand is a glass of water, in the other is a sheaf of papers from The Sandyford Centre. They’re more detailed than the matching set Maggie had given her. While she reads, Tana sits on the other end of the couch from her. Maggie takes a sip of water. She rereads them. Clean. Vampire.

            When she finally puts them down, Tana’s eyes are already on her; like she’d been waiting. ‘So…what are you into?’ she asks.

            Maggie knows the answer to this one. She read it on a WikiHow.

            ‘Whatever you are, master.’

            Tana’s eyebrows raise in surprise. There’s silence for a long moment. Maggie’s embarrassment at her obvious misstep is overwhelming: her cheeks burn.

            But Tana moves. The hair falls away from her eyes. They’re almost colourless; like they were painted blue a very long time ago.

            After Tana puts a CD into the computer, she kneels down in front of her. Maggie’s forearm is stretched out on a cushion, resting on top of her knees. Eyes on hers, Tana turns her arm so the pale underside faces up. If Maggie could look away, she would. She’d read that cats exude a pheromone with the power to stun mice. Some theorised that vampires had a similar effect on humans. Studies had been done with inconclusive results.

            Tana noses at her wrist. She’d explained that the skin at the wrist is thin, making it a good place to bite. Right now, the part of her skin that Tana is touching with her jaw feels like tissue paper, like there’s barely anything separating her mouth from the inside of her body.

            ‘Ask me,’ Tana says. She’s still looking at her. In the light of the tank, her eyes look red. ‘You have to ask me.’

*

Afterwards, Maggie lies in the dark. Tana brings her a carton of room temperature apple juice and a blanket, dark blue and fluffy. Her body feels heavy and light at the same time. The bite doesn’t hurt. She hadn’t even felt it until Tana stopped.

            After it was bandaged, Tana bites the tip of her finger, dabbing the drop onto Maggie’s bottom lip like balm. It dissolves on her tongue like wasabi: the bite begins to burn. Maggie doesn’t notice, swiping her tongue right and left to chase the electric taste.

            Tana tilts her head sideways to look into Maggie’s eyes and says, ‘Just one drop.’ She runs her hand over the blanket; Maggie’s arm is underneath it, but she can’t quite feel the weight. ‘To heal.’

            Thralls didn’t need, except when they were needed. But still, she asks, ‘Why not more?’

Her jaw is relaxed, and the words come out half formed.

            As Tana takes away her hand and stands, Maggie instantly regrets her words. When the reply finally comes, she’s given up on it.

‘It would be too much of…’ she begins, before shrugging. ‘I don’t know in English.’

            She calls her an Uber.

            Two months later, they lie in the dark, in bed. The sheets smell of Tana. Maggie can never quite put her finger on what that smell is–somewhere between a nosebleed and damp earth–she only knows that she misses it when it finally fades from her clothes. By Wednesday, it will be replaced with the smell of hospital.

            The days leading to Saturday night pass slowly. Tana’s hunger is her preoccupation: she feels it, even throughout the week when they’re apart. It builds at the back of her skull, like a buzzing insistence that is unbearable by Friday. Once, when she was relaxed after a feed, she’d suggested to Tana that perhaps they could meet during the week, too. ‘Not possible.’

            By Thursday, Maggie can’t stand it. When she comes home to her flat from after-work drinks or from the hospital, she gets out her phone, types ‘I’m thinking of you’ and deletes it. But what to say instead? She suspects memes would be lost on Tana. Once, she’d broken the unwritten rules, texting Tana to tell her that tonight was a supermoon. Her reply had come hours later.

            Thanks for this :-). Do you need anything?

            As soon as the sun sets on Saturday, she arrives at the flat. Tana will make her a tea with milk and two sugars, ask her about work. A couple of weeks ago, she’d even suggested they watch a film together before. All Maggie could think was, aren’t you hungry?

            But eating is secondary, like a chore that Tana does because she has to. Running her fingers over the bandage on the soft part of her stomach, Maggie realises that she has never ever seen her own blood, not really. As soon as it’s over, Tana turns her face and wipes her mouth, before pulling out the first aid kit.

            But she insists on holding her, afterwards. It’s the most that they touch. Maggie lies with her head on Tana’s chest, ear pressed against the skin. It wasn’t a heartbeat, but underneath the surface she can hear something moving.

            Do vampires need to breathe? Maggie still didn’t know. Tana didn’t talk much. Her English wasn’t the problem: she’d watched from the couch as Tana completed the crossword in an old copy of The Sunday Times in an efficient twenty minutes, without Googling once.

Where are you from?’ she’d asked once.

            ‘Czechoslovakia,’ Tana replied.

            She thought for a moment to last year’s Eurovision. ‘I thought that they…isn’t it Czech Republic now?’

            Tana frowned. Maggie wasn’t sure if she was angry, or embarrassed.             ‘I forget.’

            ‘So which part are you from?’ she’d asked. ‘Czech Republic or Slovakia?’

            ‘…Slovakia,’ Tana had said. ‘Yes. Slovakia. And you?’

            Surprised, Maggie had craned her neck to look up at her. Tana’s expression was lost in the dark.

            ‘Just here. Why?’

            It’s Sunday too soon. Extracting herself from Tana’s arms, Maggie uses the light of her phone to find her shoes.

            One missed call: Mum ICE

Tana lies still, eyes closed, as if she’s asleep and doesn’t hear her leaving. They both know that vampires don’t sleep.

*         

The last time Dad had recognised her, she hadn’t known it was the last time. He was already bad then, but his liver had showed some signs of recovery. Blue eyes bloodshot, full of promises that she still believed, promises that her Mum had known long before the divorce that he no longer had the power to keep. Later that week, Maggie had found him drinking her favourite perfume.

            So, it doesn’t matter that she wasn’t there, Mum keeps telling her. It’s not like he would have known.

            She touches her collarbone, where the freshest in a series of slowly healing wounds lives. In moments like this, Maggie closes her eyes and tries to ignore the clean alcohol and hidden vomit smell of the wards. There’s a river in her mind, the water increasingly red and so hot that when she draws her limbs out to walk, steam clings to them.

            Underneath her skin, she can hear her búšenie srdca a cítiť jej krv ponáhľa. Prečo ste zranený? Her thoughts aren’t always in English anymore; often, they aren’t even words, just urges that surge up inside her and say don’t touch them and come closer and prosím, prosím, priblížte.  

            Her fingerprints smudge the cracked screen when the bottle is empty. Need u. And then plz.

            Tana is in black sweatpants when she opens the door to let her in.

            ‘You’re drunk,’ she says.

            Maggie laughs at this, pulling at her shirt until her bra and the naked wound above it are spilling out. Her cheeks are flushed, and she knows it makes Tana hungry. ‘Will it make you drunk, too?’  

            Tana shakes her head. She backs away. ‘I’ll call you a cab.’

            ‘Bite me,’ she says, following her. ‘All the way. Don’t stop. I want it to hurt.’

            Tana shakes her head, face closed. ‘No.’

            Reaching for her, she falls. The floor startles fresh tears out of her, like a child in the playground.

            ‘I know you want to bite me,’ she said, still on the ground. She looked up at her. ‘It’s what you need.’

            Tana’s eyes bore over at her from the corner of the room. ‘I don’t need it.’

            The realisation hits. The rigidness of their schedule, and the ease with which Tana orchestrated their arrangement–Maggie is not her only thrall. She feels sick.

            Tana seems to know what she’s thinking. ‘I don’t mean like that,’ she says, as panicked as she’s ever seen her.

            ‘Then what do you mean?’ Maggie asks.

            Tana looks at her for a long time, thinking. The answer never comes.

*

Maggie hated the idea of cremation. It was too logical. Like the body of someone you loved was an inconvenience to store, or a gift that was sweet but not useful. But it was what Dad had wanted.

            After the funeral, she came to the Necropolis. There was no one she could really mourn with anyway. Memories of Dad as he was are distant, even to her. Scrolling through her phone, she ignores the texts from her friends, only looking at the pictures. She tries to remember being a child while the sun sets. It seems to last forever.

            When it’s over, she sits between two trees, at the highest point. From here, Maggie can see both entrances, but she doesn’t see Tana until she’s standing beside her.

            ‘How did you find me?’ Maggie asks, before realising that it’s the wrong question. She knew Tana could find her, if she wanted to. Maggie’s surprised she wanted to.

            Tana sits down beside her, and Maggie realises that it’s the first time they’ve seen each other outside the flat. Stealing a glance, she thinks darkness suits Tana, somehow.

            Tana looks back at her opening her mouth as if she’s going to say something. In Maggie’s dream last night, Tana had been all teeth. But the buzzing is gone: she hasn’t gone hungry.

            She closes her mouth without speaking and reaches for her instead.

            Her body is light, held together with magic and warm borrowed blood, but it’s enough to press Maggie down further into the wet grass. Her cheek cools against the soil as she turns her head: the sky is dark blue, but she’s warm. Her chapped lips buzz from blood. Tana licks the wound on her neck lazily, her tongue brushing the flesh inside.

            Maggie closes her eyes, savouring the moment. She will let the current carry her until she sinks.