I steer the ute out along a dirt track for a while and stop only when I feel it is safe.
I assess my situation.
I am naked, my right forearm is crushed and throbbing, my buttock is lacerated and I am bleeding from a gash in my left calf. I am lucky that is the extent of my injuries. I will heal. But I have lost blood. And I have no idea of where I am. I don’t know if there is a hospital nearby, or any source of blood supply. I don’t wish to invade a farm house, even if there was a farm house in sight. I am in the middle of nowhere, in the dark of night, with only the moon to smile upon me.
I rummage around the cabin and find my clothes behind the passenger seat.
I use one of the blankets as a bandage on my leg. It is quickly soaked with red, but I can sense the blood clotting; it will suffice. I fashion a sling from my shirt sleeve, and then with great care put on my clothes. The car seat is wet with my blood, but I decide to drive for a while, if only to calm my nerves. I feel faint though, from the loss of blood.
I feel I am driving in a circle. I turn at intersections hoping to find a more substantial road but in the dark each road is the same. I try the GPS, but it cannot register where I am. I am nowhere.
I weaken with the loss of blood. Sunrise threatens. I can barely keep my eyes on the road. My head spins, the world turns before my eyes. I pull over. I lever myself out of the cabin of the ute and stagger to the back of the tray, clinging to the side of the car. I lift the cover with stubborn effort and crawl inside. I lay myself on the mattress and let the cover fall with a clatter over my head.
I stir occasionally, but my blood is so low I cannot move. I will wilt. I will die here. I fear I am done. Blessed sleep takes me again. I am too enfeebled to dream. My last thought is of her, her face, laughing with irrepressible delight.
* * * * *
My god she is beautiful. Those eyes, flashing green, deep searching, soothing. The high cheek bones, and the wide captivating smile. She tosses her long hair to one side and displays her slender neckline. I am so captivated I could sink my teeth into her silken flesh. But as my late grandfather used to say “Heed first your companion so you may better command your desires.” Although he said it in Latin, which for the life of me I have lost for want of use. So I ask,
“Deni, is that short for something?” I say, “Denise perhaps, a devotee of Dionysus, or Denuta, the gift from God?”
“They would be nice,” she says and her voice is the both call of the past and its yearning for the future. Warm seas and spring air beguile me, the yawl of wilderness and the hush of a safe haven. I am going to enjoy this one.
“Deniliquin,” she says.
“It’s a town on the Murray, between Echuca and Hay.”
“And may I ask -”
“My parents named me and my brothers after where we were conceived. My brothers are Sydney and Boston. I got Deniliquin because they were newlyweds on a camping trip through New South Wales. It’s why I don’t believe in Heaven.”
“How so?” I ask.
“Could you stand spending an eternity being reminded of where your parents had sex?”
I laugh. This beautiful witty, insightful woman, and at my table.
“They have a ute muster there each year.”
“No, the whole town. It’s big.”
“And have you been to this ute muster?”
“Of course, it has a Blue Singlet Count,” she says.
“Count Blue-Singlet-Ute of Deniliquin,” I say and she offers me a generous smile as if I had uttered the most lavish of witticisms.
“And what brought you to the big smoke?” I say.
“I wanted to study vet science,” she says. “I did post grad and got a good job and now I’m doing a PhD and well, maybe one day I’ll get out to the country again.”
“And your doctorate is on -?”
“Dogs,” she says. “Specifically the antecedents of dogs, wild dogs, domestic dogs, wolves et cetera. I’m looking at the genetic inheritance of Australian dingoes and their relationship with both past breeds such as wolves and modern day breeds, such as kelpies, cattle dogs and even domestic pets.”
“Has that not been done already?”
“We have a unique opportunity here. Dingoes arrived around 60,000 years ago with the first Australians, and then, two hundred years ago we started importing a range of other breeds. That’s 60,000 years of almost untouched history. How closely related are dingoes to ancient wolves, where did they diverge and so on. You aren’t eating?”
I look at her plate, bulging with beef ribs and sparkling salads, and at my solitary cocktail.
“I tend not to eat too much at this time of night,” I say. “I have my Bloody Mary.”
“So you’re at the blood bank,” she says. She even makes that sound interesting.
“I am,” I say.
“Good job for a vampire.”
I look at her, stunned, and place my hand across my chest in a gesture of mock astonishment.
“How did you know?” I say and we both laugh.
“Well I figured times would be tough for a vampire these days. With the advances in forensic science the old bite-‘em-in-the-neck routine would probably result in a murder conviction, so you’d need to find some other source of blood supply. Do you syphon off a bit extra from each client and take it home for dinner?”
She is extraordinary! Beautiful, stunningly intelligent, and now, quixotically playful.
“Let me guess,” she says. “You had estates in Eastern Europe that were taken by the communists, so you had to flee and start from nothing again, and needed to replace the income you received from the peasants who tended your lands. So a blood bank fulfils two roles; it earns you rent money and is a source of good clean blood. It’s just that you don’t enjoy quite the same lifestyle you once had.”
I laugh again as she takes a sip of wine and I imagine those lips against mine in a hot embrace.
“I’d never thought of that,” I say.
She sets the wine glass down, and wipes from the side of her lips a delicate spot of wine, scarcely a droplet, claret red against red lips.
“Oh I love all those myths and fantasy stories,” she says. “I’m a PhD, therefore I‘m a nerd. The genre kind of goes with the territory. You know, though, one thing I never quite figured out is what are female werewolves called, were-vixens or were-bitches? Panna cotta or tiramisu?” She holds up the menu.
I adore a woman with an appetite.
“I always had a soft spot for tiramisu,” I say.
“But not now?”
“I look after my health,” I say.
“A man of your youth?”
“It’s how I maintain it.”
“And that ghostly pallor. How many all-night blood banks are there?” she says.
Again I place my hand across my chest.
“You need a bit of sun,” she says and runs an elegant hand along her well-tanned forearm. Her middle finger sports a ruby ring with a cluster of diamonds, an heirloom perhaps.
“I have no idea,” I say, “what female were-wolves are called.”
“And the hierarchy of it all,” she says. “Who eats who in the mythical world? For example, do vampires kill werewolves or vice versa?”
She says it with relish, daring me to play.
“I have no idea. Who makes up these stupid rules anyway,” I say. “They change with whatever film or book is most in fashion. Stake through the heart, garlic, a silver bullet, who’s who in the zoo. Ooh, I’m a vampire, I glow in the dark! It’s all garbage. And besides, are you studying dingoes or werewolves?” I ask.
“Dingoes,” she says. “It’s hard to get hold of werewolf specimens. As you say, people just make stuff up, which is why it gets confusing.”
“So you left Deniliquin at the height of the crime spree,” I say.
She pulls back, a piece of rib dangling from the side of her delicate lips. I whip out my handkerchief from my breast pocket and lean towards her, offering to wipe her face. “You have a little sauce there,” I say. “Let me help you.”
She is as still as a caught bird as I touch her cheek. It is soft and smooth, I can feel its softness even through the fine cotton of my handkerchief. She clasps my hand just as I complete my task. That too is smooth and soft, despite its evident strength. I want it to hold me.
“Thank you,” she says, and I think I see the suggestion of a blush.
“Have I offended you?” I ask.
“Not at all,” she says, and places my hand upon the table. “I’ve gotten used to men being forward.”
I look at the handkerchief. There is a crimson spot on it now, muddled blood-like with the fabric. I fold the handkerchief and return it to my pocket. She looks fragile for a moment, as if her usual strength has been somehow briefly compromised. Perhaps it is a sign of willingness. Is she putting out another signal for me?
“I hope I am not something you have gotten used to,” I say.
“No, it’s fine,” she says.
“Perhaps you were unsettled by the memories of Deniliquin. I am sorry,” I say.
“It was awful,” she says. “In the first half the year the police found five or six horribly disfigured corpses at various locations about the region. A serial killer the papers said.”
“Too dangerous for a tender lass like yourself?”
“Who only wants to help the animals, yes,” she says, “I probably had a lucky escape.”
She scrapes the last of the ribs’ sauce from her plate, combines it with a knob of bread and encloses it within her capacious mouth. She is smiling a little now, and stares directly at me, the vulnerability supplanted by allure.
She looks away to the waiter to order dessert. “Nothing for you?” she says.
“The killer was never found though,” I say.
“No, it’s an open case.”
“I’ve not heard of any similar cases since then,” I say, “in Deniliquin or anywhere. Of course there are always missing persons.”
“Maybe he’s getting better at hiding the bodies,” she says. A plate of tiramisu arrives. She plunges her fork in and the cream oozes across the white china. She lifts it to her mouth and a dollop of mascarpone lodges itself on her red lip. Her tongue flickers out to retrieve it. I almost faint with desire, and she giggles.
“Lovely,” she says, “you’re missing out.”
“No, I’m not,” I say. “I get to watch. In response to your earlier question, I think that if, and I mean if, vampires and werewolves were to fight I think the werewolf would be in trouble.”
“How so,” she says, and another ladle of chocolate and coffee enters the delectable abyss of her mouth. For a moment I wish I was the morsel on her fork. All the better to be eaten by.
“At most times a werewolf is only a normal human, and therefore vulnerable to a vampire’s charms.”
“Is that what you’re doing now?” she says.
“What?” I ask.
“Working your charms,” she says. I smile blandly.
“How am I doing?” I ask.
“Well so far, but you carry on.”
My god, she is saying yes, she will be mine, I am in love and lust I want her now and all night, but I keep a lid on it and say,
“Once a month, with the full moon, the wolf is laid bare, and roams the countryside with insuperable power, which means it would be a match for a vampire.”
“And presumably immune from the vampire’s charms,” she says.
“Well it’s a dog at that time. Have you ever charmed any of your subjects?”
“Charmed, no, tamed yes,” she says, “I make them sit up and beg.” She flashes that taunting smile again. I’d beg too, if I had to.
“But even then there is a problem. A vampire can only be killed by a stake driven through the heart. How is a crazy beast going to do that? It doesn’t have opposable thumbs for a start. And who has stakes these days?”
“Bunnings do,” she says. “I’ve seen them next to the garden stakes. They’re called Vampire Killers, five for thirty bucks. That was good.” She flings her fork on to the empty dish.
I laugh. She pushes the plate to one side and leans in.
“Whereas the vampire, being ex-human, or post-human, has the physiology to shoot a silver bullet through the heart of werewolf,” she says. “I get it. But the bigger question is, what happens when a vampire and a werewolf mate?”
“That,” I say, “is one of the great mysteries of the universe.”
She stretches her slender arm to touch my hand, and electricity flares up my arm. Her touch is the very definition of tenderness, but has a muscularity that sparks the imagination. She swills the last of the wine in her glass, drinks it in one gulp and returns her entrancing gaze to me.
“Then let’s find out,” she says and rises from her seat.
Seeing us rise the waiter appears with the bill and his payment machine.
“I’ll get this,” says Deni.
“No no,” I say. “You’re an impoverished PhD student.”
“You’re an impoverished old world émigré,” she says.
“If that were true, chivalry would demand I pay,” I say and force my credit card upon the waiter.
* * * * *
Out in the street the night is richly luminescent. A fat, but not full, moon sits astride the cosmos, masking the light from distant stars. Only a few faint shreds of cloud dare trespass upon its domain.
“A waxing gibbous moon,” she says. “I love that word, gibbous.”
“It’ll be full in a day or so,” I say.
“She’s pregnant,” she says. “See how the tides rise to attend her birth, and the air assumes its glow. She feels full and bloated. Soon she will release lunacy upon this earth. Rituals will be performed, the sea will flood homes, and people will howl like wild beasts. Pray to god she is not premature.”
“What if she is?” I ask.
“Then we are unprepared. This is my car, let me drive you.”
We stand before a brilliant tiger bronze utility. The black wheel frames catch the streetlight, the paint is spotless. It is as if a piece of showroom splendour has been planted in our midst.
“Do you know much about cars or are you the history and myths type?” she says.
“I’m a bit weird like that,” I say. She snorts and says,
“I like weird. They’re often the tastiest. It’s a 2017 Holden Ute SS V Redline. The last ute to come out of production in Australia. The Redline is top of the range. Less a bogan coupe than a prized souvenir.”
I stare at it, nonplussed. It has its own beauty. Its lines suggest power, its functionality confirmed in the plain of rigid black plastic that covers the tray.
“Girl’s gotta have a ute,” says Deni. “Hop in, I’ll drive you.”
The interior is as black as space, with chrome edging like the rims of galaxies. I sink into the passenger seat, perhaps a little low. She fires the engine and a throaty roar escapes the exhaust.
“Buckle up,” she says. She checks the mirrors and with a mumbled “no cops” we launch into the near vacant street. I am thrust back into my seat as the engine bellows.
“Got grunt, this boy,” she shouts, grinning. “All three-o-four kilowatts in a V8!”
Streetlights flash by as we roar down the road. I shake and bounce in my seat as we plummet across potholes and cracks in the bitumen.
“Sorry about that,” she says, “nineteen inch wheels and hard suspension. Lets me feel the road.”
We drive through vacant streets and enter the freeway. It is late, and cars are sparse. The dark world shines around us as we fly along the corridor of night. I look at her. She is even more dazzling in her domain. Confidence and calm, and a fascinating grace inform her movements.
“What do you use the tray for?” I say.
“You’ll find out,” she says. “I know a good place.”
She turns off the freeway and says,
“Come drift with me.”
We are in a semi-rural area. A few houses spot the shadowed hillsides. There are wire fences and the occasional cow. She turns, we hit a dirt road which tosses us about for a while until an open paddock appears.
“This’ll loosen your cravat,” she says.
She floors the accelerator and we launch on to the dirt paddock. Suddenly she twists the wheel and the car spins sideways in clouds of dust and the engine screams and Deni laughs. I am thrust against the door. We are drifting across dirt and sand. I can hear the wheels tearing the earth as she grapples with the car. Then she spins it the other way and I am forced on to her shoulder. I like it.
“Hang on, buddy boy!” she shouts, and the car twists again. More dust rises to soil the night and the moon whirls about the cabin. Shadows of trees flit by. We twist this way and that, and I lurch from left to right and all the time Deni keeps a fierce eye on the wheel and emits a rapacious scream.
After what seems like an age she slows down, and steers the car to a nearby eucalypt. The vehicle trots over a few tree roots and then stills, the throttle gone, the stillness of the night settling with the dust. She turns her head. Her eyes are fire, her face an icon of allure.
“Come,” she says, grinning.
* * * * *
We get out. The tree towers above us, its scraggly bark peeling in long strands. The moon is a beacon above a sacred plain. Something shifts in the branches above us and is silent. Deni stands at the rear of her car.
“We have all night,” she says, “and what a night it is.”
She raises the lid of the tray. It rises like a drawbridge to reveal a mattress and woollen throws. She reaches into a corner and pulls out a hip flask which she opens and drinks from. She offers me a sip. I decline, with thanks.
“But what is this for?” I say. I am holding up an old spear, a javelin almost.
She tosses her head back and laughs. “An old fella outback gave me that on a field trip I did a couple of years back. I keep it as a good luck charm. Cool hey.” I study its point: it shines as if from a precious metal. I flick its point with my finger. It draws blood.
“They don’t muck around,’ she says. I put it back and she draws close. She takes my finger in her mouth and sucks the droplet of blood from it. My legs almost collapse beneath me.
“You know,” she says, “It’d be great if you really were a vampire.”
“Your spear isn’t made of wood,” I say. “It can’t kill me.”
“But it’s so sexy, don’t you think? Gruesome, being bitten in the neck, but oh so sexy. The woman lying back, dull with spent lust, her the neck open to his devices.”
She tosses her hair to one side and turns with her jaw held high to expose her neck line. It is pale in the moonlight, log and taut. She runs two fingers down it and closes her eyes.
“The surrender,” she whispers, “the ceding, the bite into soft flesh, the ecstatic squeal. Oh god, le petit mort, and when she awakes” – her eyes open and fix upon me with the glare of keen avarice – “the world is new and she will love forever. Fuck that turns me on.”
She tosses the spear into the ute and pulls me to her, and we kiss beneath the moonlight. I smell the whisky from her hip flask and feel the mollusc of her tongue searching and demanding my design. She unbuttons my waistcoat and tosses my cravat on to the dirt. Her hands snake on to my chest. They are warm, as soft as ermine, and tell me of want, and of closeness and of urgency.
She puts her lips to mine again and says, “Bite me, buddy boy.”
And there, in the back of her ute, we are joined. It is as fine and fierce as the night. She is legs, she is heat, she is heart and shoulders and bent back into it. She calls and the dense night dissolves our cries. She screams, we fight, she yearns and guttural moans summon the demons that belabour her lust. Our mouths and bodies smack, I hold her and she howls to the gentle moon. She is my territory now, she insists, careless of what we spawn. In the timeless night our souls are scoured, or bodies wet and our lungs exhausted. Such is the rigour that precedes the emulsion of hearts.
She sleeps, peacefully beside me. I rise to sitting. The tree is still there, indifferent to our presence. The moon is still there too, but lower in the sky now, as if it stoops to check we are okay. Did it just wink? Or was it a passing cloud?
I look down at my prize. She is exquisite. She lies on her back, brazenly exposed to the sky. Her hair is festooned about her like a mandala, her skin is paler in the early morning. A gentle smile caresses her cheeks. I watch her chest rise and fall with each breath. One arm lies across her breasts, the other is angled on the side of the vehicle. She is a gift from the gods. I am smitten.
I place a blanket over her. She murmurs and turns her head to one side. She is defenceless now, in the wild and vacant night. I look about me and see nothing save the tree and the dirt on the paddock and the smiling moon. I sense the aroma of eucalypt, but the tree is not stirring. I smell the aroma of her flesh, sweet and resplendent with our debauchery. Far off, a cricket stops chirping as if the night has removed the last of the noises, and falls to a resolute silence. There is no sound from the earth, nor from the trees, neither the sky nor the moon. Not even god says a word.
I look at her neck. It summons me. It is an invocation from the wicked past. We are alone. No-one knew we were coming here, no-one is expecting us back. It has been years, but an ancient urge swells within me, a burgeoning, an emerging inner revenant. No-one would know. No-one would catch me out. I feel my blood rise within me. I see her neck spread like the plains before the moon. A heat trammels my thoughts. Is this what one does to one’s love? This is what we were born to, this the eternal living. I lean down. Her perfume stirs my lusts. Yes, this is what one does to one’s greatest love.
My teeth bare and I bite into the softest of flesh that ever a man has kissed.
Blood spurts from the wound and runs down her neck. I drink, and am enlivened. She is a pure blood, sweet and viscous upon my tongue. I thirst for more and draw the elixir from her artery. It flows through me and ravages my soul. I am alive, I drink the blood of life and feel my cheeks rouge. My muscles twitch, my senses sharpen, my heart pounds with the drug I imbibe. I cackle and laugh as I slurp at her neck. I am greedy, untethered, and drink til my stomach bulges. Throughout she is still, unaware of what is happening. I am astounded by her. She has offered herself to me and I have taken. I turn my head skywards and roar at the moon, as blood flows down my chin.
Finally satiated I sit up and belch. She was a full meal. I view her frail neck drizzled with blood. It has pooled a little in the reeds of her hair. She is beautiful. She has not moved. She is senseless as to what I have done. Is this wrong? Have I committed a crime here? I do not think so. She surrendered her will, and ceded herself to me. She said so. This was her desire, not mine. This was her want as much as mine. I have no guilt, but that I feed what perverse nature has imbued me with: an eternal searching and bloodlust. I am in love.
Drunk in my excesses I lay down and sleep. A distant currawong is the last thing I hear.
* * * * *
I wake. The world is pitch black. Grave black. Coffin black. Moonless, starless. I may as well have a lid upon my vision. I reach over to touch Deni, but she is not there. Startled, I move to sit up but my head hits a hard surface. I drop down again and rub my forehead where it was struck. Then I realise, it is the cover on the ute tray. Clamped down so tight not a skerrick of light can enter. It is hot. I am encased in a stifling box of blackness. Then I am conscious of meat burning. Someone was having a barbecue. I bang the cover. I hear Deni’s voice.
“Hello, sleepy head. You’re awake.”
“Yes,” I say. “I’m stuck inside the ute here. Can you let me out?”
“Sorry lover boy,” she says, and a terror floods my mind. What is she up to? Then she says,
“It’s mid-morning, i.e., daylight. Vampires can’t cope with daylight, can they?” I hear her rap on the side of the car. A mixture of frustration and gratitude fills my mind. How could I have been so stupid, to fall asleep and wake in the day. What a terrible risk. And to be stuck in here, in this blank casket on wheels. Yet at the same time grateful to have been catered for in this makeshift way.
“What happens to you if you get caught in the sun anyway?” Deni asks.
She is talking vampire life. What a fool I have been to have revealed myself in that way. She knew from the start. She said it. “Good job for a vampire”. My god, she was on to me from the start.
“Are you one of the ones who shrivels up, or do you just glisten awkwardly?” she says.
I snort. Awkward glistening. Those wretched films, they know nothing.
“Anaphylaxis,” I say. “I get an anaphylactic response.”
“Really? You mean like some people eating peanuts?”
I want to get out. Goddamn this car. Goddamn this beguiling woman. Goddamn this curse of the sun. I realise I am naked. I feel about for some clothes, but they are difficult to locate.
“Sort of,” I say. “But it’s much worse.”
“Huh, does your blood pressure drop or rise?”
I’m not in the mood for technical details.
“I don’t feel like talking about it right now,” I say.
“Okay.” I listen intently and hear her walking away. “Deni,” I call.
“What?” Her voice is my only comfort at the moment.
“What is that smell?”
“The meat smell.”
“Oh that.” I hear her come back to the car and lean on the side. “I’m cooking up a storm here. You were a greedy one last night. You sucked me dry. I was feeling faint when I woke up. I took four iron tablets and now I’m grilling a couple of T-bones to get my iron up so I can drive again.”
“Messy too, you old beast you. And I’m not just talking the blood, although there was plenty of that. My hair was matted. I was like a stuck pig. I’m just checking on the meat. Don’t go anywhere.” She emits a little chuckle as her footsteps recede. Was it malevolent or just ironic?
I hear a metallic clanging on a grill. Then she is back.
“I am so hungry. You went all night, you know that? It was brilliant. You’ve left me stiff in the joints,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t be. I loved it. My whole body was off the ground at one stage, did you know that?”
Did I know that? I was so captivated by her I am not sure what we did.
“You sure lived up to the vampire’s reputation,” she says.
Then it is quiet again. I think I can hear her chewing. I wait, staring into the safe black void, trying to control my feelings of claustrophobia.
“Oh man, that was good,” she eventually says. “T-bones on a flame grill. You still with us?”
“Us?” I say.
“Figure of speech. You and me. Man and woman. Vampire and victim. Lover boy and lover girl. Here’s the plan. We’ve got a bit of driving to do, to get you to a safe place. So you best settle in as best you can for a while.”
My heart jumps.
“What do you mean safe place?”
“Just that, a place for you to be safe.”
“Why not just drive me home?”
“It’d still be day. I know somewhere better,” she says.
“You’ll see,” she says. I hear the door open. A bag is tossed into the cabin. The door closes, and the roar of the V8 shatters my hearing. I am in an echo chamber. I curl up and clamp my hands to my ears. I am thrown about as the car fronts bumps and dips in the track. I cling to the mattress and bury my head against the throb of the motor. Then with a last lurch inside the tray we turn on to a smoother road.
We drive for I don’t know how long. It could be hours, or days. Nor can I tell which direction we are headed in. We seem to be moving at speed though, as the car has a steady whine on the bitumen, a white noise in my black box. In an odd way the buffeting of the road and the thrum of the motor are a soporific. As I fall asleep my last thought is I am probably the first vampire in history to be ensconced in the tray of a – what was it? – Redline ute.
We are still moving when I awake. The more frequent turns suggest we are on lesser country roads. My throat is parched. I lick my lips. A fleck of dried blood lies on my lower lip. I pick it off and swallow it. I am stirred by the memory of her. Her physicality, her wit. I was both captivated and captured. I want this woman.
Then I realise. I drained her blood, but she is driving a car. I engorged in a gluttonous fit. Yet she rose and cooked and ate food. How could she have done that? If a maiden is lucky enough to survive first bite she is always faint for days. It takes weeks for them to recover. But not Deni apparently.
Am I so out of practice in neck biting? The blood bank is a tame life; perhaps I have become tame myself. Is she now a vampire? Has she converted as she should have? What powers does this strange and entrancing woman possess, with her PhD intellect and her country origins? Have these given her immunity?
These and other thoughts broil in my mind as we rattle along what are indubitably country roads. We make no stops, other than on rare occasions so slow and turn a corner. I can hearing nothing above the engine that might give away my location. I can see only the dark heart of my wanting.
I am her captive, there is no doubt about that. Whether for good or ill I do not know. Nor whether I will be freed and under what circumstances. And if I am not, what is to be my fate? What am I to her, or to those to whom I am being delivered? I pause and a deep horror plumbs my bowels. Am I to be another of her unfound victims, lost outside Deniliquin, hidden in an undetectable manner away from the law? I have been charmed by a serial killer. All this talk of a PhD and her submissiveness. She fled the town, and now she intends to finish me off.
I am a vampire though. She will be no match for me. Regular victims yes, shoot them, hack them to unidentifiable pieces to be reassembled according to their dental remains. But not I. I need a wooden stake in the heart. And I saw no Bunnings purchase in this ute.
I feel about the cover for a release, a bolt or clip of some kind. There is nothing. It is fastened from the outside. I will be alert. I will be ready when the time comes. I will have to bide my time until it is opened, just a crack, and I will strike, with the fury of eons of bloodshed.
It is colder now. I don’t think we have risen in altitude. I did not get a sense of the engine straining or pulling up a hill. Not that this engine would strain. But I think it is evening. Perhaps of a second day, I don’t know. I doubt it though: surely she could not drive for that long.
I resume my search for my clothes. I do not know how much time I have. I twist and turn in the car, feeling for my jacket, or a shoe, or my shirt. I find nothing, only blankets and the mattress. I lift the corner of the mattress and plunge my hand underneath, but there are only the corrugations of the tray. I sift through the blankets, blindly, carefully, in case anything had been caught up in them, but there is nothing.
So this is how she wants to play it. I am to be slaughtered naked and buried for the worms to consume me. I wonder if we are going to the same burial ground as with her other victims. I steel my resolve. She has not seen the depths of me yet, only the lusts of the living, not the strength of the dead.
* * * * *
We lurch on to what is obviously a dirt track. It is uneven and I am jerked about. We now seem to be going uphill; the engine is working. The car jumps about, and I am rocked with it. Pearls of dust enter from beneath the seal of the cover and splatter on my body. I feel them dry on my skin. Then we turn the way we turned beneath the tree – when was it, yesterday? – the car stops and the engine dies.
I hear the door open. This is it. I steel myself.
I contemplate how I might best position myself to strike. I take a corner, on hands and knees, feet pressed against the wall of my prison. I will go for the neck, teeth bared, blood hungry. There is her spear too. I can stab her with that. I feel around for it feverishly and locate it on the side of the vehicle. I listen.
Where has she gone? To get a stake, perhaps? A rifle or a shovel? I have no way of knowing. What will she do – fling open the cover with lights to blind me and attack? I will be a savage, blind with rage, god knows I have done it before.
I listen for signs of life. I hear trees. There is a squawk followed by the flutter of wings. Two birds fighting. I hear an animal sniff at the car near me, and then blow out. A possum perhaps. It repeats the sniffing. Its feet clatter on the cover, a claw scratches on the duco. It must have leapt from a tree. Its nose works along the edge of the cover. I try to ignore it to detect what else is around, but it is scratching the car.
“Go away” I whisper, and urgently seek out other sounds. But it persists, scratching and now biting the vehicle. Feet patter on the cover above me. I smile. I have been left alone. The locals have come to inspect if there is food in here. Cute.
There is a clack as a clasp springs undone. A corner of the cover is lifted and a vague splinter of light shoots into the tray but closes shut again. Then it lifts again and closes, flinging shutter light into my box. My eyes are attuned, I will see anything. I hear a bitter throaty growl. This is no possum. This is a hound.
The cover claps on the corner. It is working at it. It smells me and is trying to force the cover open. Its growls are louder now. Spit pierces the cover whenever it is lifted. It bangs and claws the car. I prod it with the spear. It starts baying. Then a nose is caught beneath the cracked cover. I can see sharp teeth, but the jaw is pressed shut by the cover. I lunge and bite it, tearing into the flesh of its nose. It is disgusting, a clot of wet blood, snot and spittle but, I know the taste of that blood: I had it last night.
I know the moon is full. I know the curse she endures, I know what she has become.
The nose has retreated with a squeal. I spit out the bloody chunk and I return to my corner to wrap blankets around my arms for protection when this gets nasty. I finger the spear and wonder if I will need to use it. I realise now, the spearhead is silver, the metal that can kill a werewolf. She must keep it if things get to hard to bear. Every one of us weird ones – werewolves, vampires – somewhere hides the escape from our curse, in the event that it gets too hard to bear. I have a stake in my attic.
The car starts rocking. She is banging herself against the ute. To what end I do not know but it makes me unsteady. A claw appears in the crack. It is huge, and teeth from a lower jaw join it, as the she-beast tries to wrench the cover upwards.
She assaults the opening, savaging the cover and ripping at the car. She bays and howls with the scent of meat, of me. I crouch ready to attack, teeth and hands ready. The cover clatters with her efforts and my cabin fills with the foulness of her breath. I see teeth again as the cover lifts further, and a pink slice of tongue beneath them. The nose I tore at appears and growls. She canters about the vehicle, thrusting at it with her massive claws. I see a weakness emerging in it. I make my move.
I put my back to the cover and push with all my strength. With a great cry of force I wrench it up and open and stand on the ute tray.
A werewolf stares at me, drool teetering from frothing jowls. She leaps on to the tray and lunges with open jaws. I force a blanket to the back of her throat; a razor tooth rends my flesh as I pull my arm out. It retreats and leaps again. I slap its head and we fall to the ground. I am on top of her and sink my teeth into her neck, but she twists and escapes, returning to attack again. I roll, a claw swipes my buttock and I leap out of range.
We pause and eye each other, her teeth dripping with saliva. I grab the spear from the cab and wave it in front of her. I shout,
“No Deni, don’t!” I know I can’t use this on her, but I threaten in the hope she will retire.
But she is deranged and pounces at me. We roll on the ground her teeth millimetres from my face. I hold her back by the neck and kick furiously. She lunges repeatedly and her breath clogs my eyes, but I resist, holding her off the ground and squeezing her windpipe. She jerks free and leaps to one side, panting. I spring to my feet ready for the next attack. I toss the spear to one side.
“Look!” I shout, vainly hoping she might register the spear, somewhere in the back of her mind. She stares at me, a hungry growl emerging from her dripping mouth. Her eyes are wild and unknowing.
She springs. I am ready and dodge her advance. She catches my calf though and I stumble. She turns but I remain standing. I scream and growl back at her, and her teeth encircle my forearm. The blanket reduces the puncture, but her bite crushes my bone. I cry out, she starts to wrench my arm from side to side but I feint and follow her moves. She is momentarily unsettled and I lift her with my other hand and bash her against the car. My arm screams with pain, but I repeatedly ram her head on to the duco until she is forced to let go.
I use the moment to leap into the cab and slam the door shut, just as she makes another lunge. Her jaw is caught in the door frame. She hammers the side with her claws. I press the ignition and the car springs to life. I punch the accelerator and we surge forward, with Deni dragged alongside. I pick up speed, steering one handed between ragged stumps and clumps of earth. She finally lets go and I pull the door shut.
I slow and turn the car around. I shine the full beam upon her as she limps in the middle of the clearing. She rears and howls. I start moving towards her and she races to meet me. I accelerate and see her leap, and a flash of grey hair hits the bonnet and rolls to one side. In the rear vision mirror I see her lope off into the dark vegetation. The moon has set her path.
I steer the ute out along a dirt track for a while and stop only when I feel it is safe. I am naked, lacerated and light of blood. I am in the middle of nowhere, with only the moon to smile upon me, and my lover – now werewolf – somewhere in the wild. I chuckle. She was right. What do you call a female werewolf?
I find my clothes behind the passenger seat. I bandage my leg and drive. I weaken with the loss of blood, and pull over. I stagger to the back of the tray, and crawl inside. Sleep comes with the thought of her, her face laughing with irrepressible delight.
* * * * *
Through muggy ears I hear a voice say, “Howdy stranger.”
I force my head to turn. It is night. In the waning moonlight I can make out a person, a woman I think, given the length of the hair and tone of voice, but she is disfigured. Her nose is a scabby blotch that insults her better features.
“Feeling limp, are you?”
I can scarcely move.
“Here, allow me,” she says. I see, or I think I see her draw a blade and cut the palm of her hand. She holds it to my mouth. I drink like a lost sailor, like a wounded dog. I feel it run through my desiccated veins. My vision clears slightly.
“One and the same.”
She lies down beside me. She turns her neck to me.
“Drink,” she says.
I look at her.
“I mean it,” she says. “My blood has returned. I can be your supply.”
‘No,” I say.
“When I attacked you, you could have used the silver spear to pierce my heart, but chose not to. Now it’s my turn to help you.”
Love overburdens my heart and I weep. She smiles and lifts my head to hers. We kiss lightly before she pulls me to her neckline.
* * * * *
We are heading I don’t know where, but she does, apparently. Tall trees sweep past in the dim light. The road rises and falls before us.
“You were there for a few days,” she says. “A full moon lasts for three days. I don’t reappear until it wanes. Sorry I attacked you.”
“You had me worried for a bit,” I say.
“I told you, the moon is pregnant, and will birth what it does. The instinct grew within me, like a woman in labour. I drove to a place where we wouldn’t be found. I didn’t want to do anything, but by the time I arrived the transformation was occurring. I fell out of the car in the last stages of the change.”
“Sorry I bit your nose,” I say.
“Comes with the territory,” she says. “It’ll heal.”
“You were fantastic in the sack,” she says. She places a hand on my knee. I place mine on hers. It is soft again, and accepting.
“We’ll have to set some ground rules,” she says. “Love has to accommodate our base proclivities.”
It is love. Yes, this is love.
“Deal,” I say. “By the way, what does happen when a vampire mates with a werewolf?”
“Mates with? What are we, animals?” she says.
“Impregnates, falls in love with.”
“I have no idea. We’ll find out soon enough.”
I look at her. “We will?”
“Mmhmm,” she says, not taking her eyes off the road as a broad smile crosses her face.
“You can tell so soon?”
“What can I say,” she says, “I’m an animal. With a woman’s intuition. Governed by the moon.”
I rest my head on her shoulder in abject adoration. She says,
“You don’t have a drivers licence do you?”
I sit up again, embarrassed. “Vampires don’t drive. We are driven.”
She snorts and says,
“Who makes up these stupid rules anyway?”
On the horizon a light appears. It is the city, not the dawn. We’ll make it home before the sun comes up, and if we don’t, there’s always the back of the ute.