Pain. My head and ribs ache. I taste blood. My lip is cracked and bleeding. God, it hurts. Where am I? It's the alley behind Ethan's house. How the hell did I end up out here?
Now I remember. He finally did it. He brought home another woman, Leisha. When I expressed my displeasure, he beat me and threw me out with the other trash.
The bare light bulb above my head bathes drifts of dirty snow in sulfur. Icicles gleam like bones of ancient creatures. Electrical wires form a network of blackened veins over a brownstone wall. Rats squeal and squabble over scraps of food from the garbage cans. Desolation.
This time he nearly finished me. What stopped him?
Come on let's go! Get up! Stamp the feet and wiggle the toes to get the blood flowing. Blood... My head is throbbing. There's only one way to stop it now. I need blood. Get moving girl.
Maybe this new woman will be smarter and get out quick. Where did it all go wrong? Or was it doomed from the beginning? Once it had been different. Once it was enchantment. It quickly became a nightmare. The bruises will fade fast enough. This body heals rapidly, but the soul? That's a longer and far more excruciating process. The demons refuse to rest.
The wind is really starting to kick up. My head won't stop pounding. I have to move on.
Brush the hair out of your eyes and fix your sights ahead, Mia.
How he hated the short haircut. This little act of rebellion riled him pretty good, but that was nothing compared to the words I hissed at him tonight.
"Does she know what you are?"
Gee thanks for the encouragement, now here I am, dumped along with the other refuse. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore... Where have I heard that before? Oh, it's that poem by Emma Lazarus about the Statue of Liberty. Liberty. Freedom. Freedom!
My future is uncertain. Barren. Bleak. But freedom beckons. Still, the pulse in my head echoes my fear. Go. Go on. NO. YES! Pain! We've known pain before. Fight it! Move on.
Where? I have no friends here, no family anymore, no cash, no plastic, not even a lousy subway token. I must find shelter soon. That's vital. I'll go back and pound on the door! Demand to be let in. I'll beg him if I have to.
Don't you dare! To hell with him! Find a way. Freedom!
Look at the icicles everywhere. They could kill someone if they fell. Stake them right through the heart maybe. Ice? It's a girl's best friend, so they say. But I can't pawn his first gift to me, this beautiful butterfly, with the dazzling blue and white stones set in its wings. Screw him, he bought you with trinkets and sweet, southern palaver. More reason to hock the damned thing!
I'll head downtown. The Upper East Side never really was my neighborhood anyway, much more Ethan's milieu. Why didn't I dress warmer tonight? Leather has a certain rakish charm, but isn't very warm. I'll sell my necklace to get some cash, and check into a hotel. A hot bath and a warm bed, that's something to look forward to. But what kind of place could I possibly afford? Certainly not the Plaza, those days are gone. Surreal.
My head throbs much worse. I'm starving and colder by the minute. Just keep going girl, the movement will warm you. My ribs at least feel much better now. What's that smell? Charcoal? Nice and warm, roasted chestnuts like Papa used to make when I was little. That pawnshop where Ethan used to sell our takings, where was it? Near Times Square, I think, Forty-Second Street or maybe Eighth Avenue?
What time is it? I really should have worn my watch. I probably could have sold that, too. So much ice everywhere tonight. It's too slippery to walk really fast. The shops are all dark. It must be past ten. Snow softly falls and coats the grime. The city that never sleeps at least rests quiet for once. So still. It's weird to see New York streets nearly empty, but it's kind of peaceful and pretty.
It was winter when I first saw Ethan at the theatre, so many years ago. I nearly swooned.
He spoke in a lovely Virginia drawl. "Are you all right, Miss Disantini?"
"Just a bit tired after my performance."
I lied. He overwhelmed me, so tall and beautiful. His ice blue eyes looked on me with strange mix of awe and contempt. His laughter still rings in my head. Head throbbing. Throat dry. Pain in the gut now. I've got to get out of the cold soon. How many more blocks? Walk faster.
Got to get cash. So-o-o hungry! Hang on, girl. It won't be long. It's odd to be walking these blocks alone. You never know what lurks in the shadows. What's that noise? Nothing. The subway below. The wind whining through the caverns of buildings. Pigeons roosting on ledges. No ghouls for the moment in any case.
Seventh Avenue, finally, signs of life! Ah, the theatre district, my part of town, well at least it was for that brief affair. That's ancient history now. The shows must have just let out. Lots of tourists can be found here this time of year. A cornucopia of smells assails the olfactory. Pasta, garlic and fish. Those carnations at the bodega reek like a funeral parlor to me. Papa? Banish that thought! Concentrate on the important scents musk, iron and blood. Blood...
Times Square. Anything catch the eye? Group of teenagers in sheepskin jackets, Japanese businessmen, families with kids? No, not what I'm looking for. Keep going, cross Broadway and head south. Iron scent is sharp in the air, surrounding me on every side. Blood! I can't stand much more of this. Why tonight of all nights must I deal with this inconvenience?
Forty-fifth. I hate the Marriot Marquis. They tore down two theatres for this monstrosity? Hideous. Ethan was right. Culture is dead like Nietzsche, God and Queen Bloody Victoria. Hail to the twentieth century! Your child is back on the streets again!
Forty-second. Turn west. Out of the way moron! Jesus, what a pig, I bet he can't even see his prick anymore. How do they get so fat? Buzz. Buzz. They all sound like bugs to me. Like what you see? Must you stand in the middle of the sidewalk? Move you idiot! These porn titles are hilarious. Innocence Lost. If they only knew. No, I don't care to come inside and check it out.
I don't see the pawnshop anywhere. It can't be here. It must be on Eighth. The traffic's heavy and it's snowing much harder, turning the streets into rivers of brown slush. Careful not to slip. Look up the block, there it is, three golden balls on the sign above the door.
What do I smell? A teenaged girl stands huddled in the doorway across the street, probably looking to turn a trick. She's all alone. No one would miss her but her pimp. Her eyes are like glass, no expression, dead colder than me. Someone should put her out of her misery.
Forget it, she's not our flavor. Keep going, it's just a few more steps. No lights burn inside of the shop and the sign says closed until nine in the morning. Shit. Plan B? I'll go to the Port Authority, get out of the cold and access the situation. Maybe, I'll find one there.
What's that slinking up? Turn around and face him, he thinks he's sizing me up. Yellow crooked teeth grin. Wheels turn behind his pale eyes. He stinks like vegetable soup. Yuck. Not very appetizing, but we can't be fussy tonight. He speaks. Buzz. Buzz. That's a dangerous invitation you make, Loverboy. What's going on in that devious brain? You think this is all new to me? Or have I played this game before? Oh, I've played with the masters. You're getting far more than you bargain for.
He wants to know my name. Go on; use that breathy little girl voice that always gets them.
Let him put his arm around you and guide you to that fleabag hotel on the corner. The wind rips down the street and stings my cheeks. Pull the jacket collar tighter and let his arm draw you closer.
Here we go. Christ, this place is a real roach motel. But what can I do? I'm hungry and cold and it's getting later. Don't you dare desert me now!
Don't worry... I'm here. We're nearly one.
He opens the door to a tiny hole of a lobby. A huge cockroach crawls across the peeling wallpaper and down to the filthy linoleum floor. Loverboy saunters up to desk and wakes the old man snoring there. He whispers dark mission into the old man's hairy ear. Go on boys laugh. You won't have the last one, I promise you.
Loverboy approaches me with glazed eyes. No more talk? I'm really not in the mood for conversation anyway. Hungry! Head splitting in two! This elevator will never make it. It'll stop between floors, and we'll be stuck. Just what I need! No, there it goes. Wait for the door to open.
Loverboy beckons to me. I follow down a dank, dimly lit hallway. His heavy shoes clomp on the sagging floorboards. My boots are silent. He unlocks the door and pushes me into the room. It closes behind and he locks it up tight. He sits on a full sized bed sporting a fraying, olive green spread and picks up a remote from the wobbly nightstand to switch on the TV.
I know that music...
He turns to me and suggests I make myself more comfortable. He's all business. I lay my jacket over the back of the chair. His watery blue eyes sweep over my body, collarbones to ankles. He takes pack of cigarettes from coat pocket and tips one out, tapping it against the nightstand. He pulls out a lighter and sticks the cigarette between thin lips. Lighting up, he takes a long drag. Smoke burns my nostrils and I cough.
"I hate cigarettes."
He laughs. Have you decided yet who I am, Loverboy? Snow White or Rose Red? Madonna or Magdalene?
He makes his move, baring his teeth. His nicotine yellowed nails dig into my arms. Stubble scrapes like sandpaper on my face and my head throbs harder. Saliva flows into my mouth. I shudder in anticipation. Not much longer now.
He laughs again as his fingers slither to the buttons of my blouse. His breath smells of nicotine and cheap booze. The silk slips from my shoulders and he grasps my bared breasts. I can't help the moan. He breathes encouragement and buries his head in my cleavage, probing with tongue and lips. The bony tip of his nose jabs into my sternum.
Just play along a little more, Mia. He's almost where you want him. Lean your head against his. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply, ah, that yummy iron scent. Twine your fingers in the slippery hair and clasp him just a little bit closer. His breath is so hot on my body.
Feel the heartbeat, lub dub, lub dub, pumping blood to all parts of his body? Kiss that little pulsing spot on his throat. Just run the tongue over the ear and that slim cord beneath the salty flesh. Try that little trick with your hand.
He groans, nuzzling his face into my neck and pushes me down to the mattress. Thinks he's pretty strong, does he? Throw him off! Look at his face! He's pissed now. He balls his fist and draws back to punch. Raise your hand at us, animal? Go on, slug him in the face! He's down! Red spray! Blood! Blood!
He rips off his belt and gets up, slapping leather against his hand. Delicious red streams from his nose and down his chin as he closes in.
Reach for the throat now! Easy, don't crush it; the arterial spray is so much nicer when intact. Slam your quarry hard against the wall. Crack the head. Ah more blood, hot and syrupy sweet! Tighten the grip. Grab his balls, squeeze hard. Bring him close to the face. Slam him again, harder and show him the old pearly whites. That move always makes them wet themselves.
No screams? Is it hard to breathe? Why would I have sympathy for you? I'm the Bird of Prey! You're just a bleeding hunk of flesh! One small kiss and then goodnight... Surprised you, huh? Just a little sting, you hardly felt it. Not quite what you had in mind for this mouth? Terrified? Very nasty demons haunt you. They're coming for you. They have you in their grasp. There's no escape.
Try all you want but you can't get away. Ah, your flavor! I love the would-be predators, just the right bouquet. Red heat burns through me! Jet fuel! I soar!
What's that music on TV? Ave Maria, that's Pavarotti. Is it Christmas? Shit. Papa sang it at midnight mass--that last one we had together.
Ave Maria, gratia plene
Bendicta tu in mulieribus
Et benidictus, fructus ventris tui Jesus
Now you'll be a fucking, crying mess! Come on focus...focus on the scent. Iron! Salt! This is what we live eternally for. Shut it out! It's just a song. Go on, drink it all down. Hot, red delicious life!
Ora pro nobis...
Nunct et in hora...
My head is clear now. I'm cozy and warm. Loverboy ceases to struggle. Mmm... Life ebbs away so easily, it's all mine now. You're all limp and senseless, Loverboy. Someone should pray for you.
"In hora mortis nostrae. Amen."
Stop that crap! But Papa left me so young. No one kept the demons away. Ah, come off it. You accepted the gift with open arms. Enjoy the ride, sweetheart.
I feel so old, so tired all of the sudden. I'll just lie down and enjoy the warmth, all those little drops of delight dancing in the cells. It's one hell of an orgasm. Too bad there isn't one of our own kind to consecrate this sacrament. One need satisfied and the other already troubling us.
Who's that? An apparition...an angel...or maybe the god of love? Lovely as the dawn surrounded by cascades of blood red flowers... I'm free now! Look! The sunrise and the beach are here, just like Brovik promised. Your breath and lips fall warm on my throat. Your weight on my body is lighter and sweeter than Ethan's ever was. Kurt, mio amore, spirit me away from the darkness.
Wake up! He's far from an angel. They're all the same. You fell for those big baby blues like a fool. Can't waste time on wet dreams of Brovik's little boy-toy.
No relief tonight. Or God knows when. What time is it? I must have drifted off. There's work to be done before I can indulge in hopeless dreams.
Yuck. Got to get rid of this thing on the bed, it already stinks. It's revolting. It was bad enough alive but dead it's even uglier. Eyes clouded, mouth open in a silent scream, it gets more disgusting by the minute.
I'll just rifle through the pockets and find enough money to get a hotel room. Nice black leather wallet, a little shy of thirty bucks in it. Not enough to get a room in New York, not at any hotel I know of. Leave it to me to choose the only pimp in New York with no money in his pocket. But I really didn't have the luxury to shop around under the circumstances. Ah well, we'll have to improvise.
Well, well what have we here? A Rolex, a real one. Well, it seems the vermin had expensive tastes. Something else to pawn. Also a gold chain around its neck and one diamond stud in its ear. That will help too. Maybe there's something to say for jewelry after all.
Don't forget the pack of cigarettes from the nightstand. Toss them on top of the corpse. Add the overcoat and suit jacket to the pile. Wrap the entire thing up in the bedspread. What time is it?
The Rolex says it's just after four. Guess I rested a little longer than I thought. After a kill I just feel like lounging for a while to savor the experience. Like a smoke after sex? Filthy habit. Smoking that is, the other I like too much.
Here comes the hairy part. One can't leave corpses lying about all over Manhattan. Don't provide fodder for the tabloids. One must clean up after meals. That's the rule. Ethan did teach something of value. I may be just a tad rebellious but this is one custom I understand.
Okay, throw the bundle over the shoulder. Did I forget anything? Nope. All nice and tidy. Open the door, quietly now and pause a moment to listen, nothing, not a creature stirring except for a vampire. This place reeks of bodily fluids, blood, urine and eau de amour. Close the door, good, not a sound. Down the hall to the back stairs, what you're seeking will be found in the basement.
This won't ever get any easier will it? Kill, eat and dispose, no one else around to help with the unpleasant details, Sweetpea.
These stairs are steep and kind of slippery. Jesus, don't they ever clean anything around here? The cobwebs have a distinctly ancient look to them, right out of the late-late show. I hope to hell the basement door isn't locked. That could make a lot of unwelcome noise.
Okay, here goes nothing. Good, it's unlocked. It's dark. I'll wait a moment for the eyes to adjust to the darkness. There it is. Incinerators leave too much behind, Ethan always said, but this one was a scumbag. Lots of people hated him. Who thinks twice about a wasted pimp? Or a cast off concubine for that matter?
Don't start now. Christ, he'll never fit in one piece. I can jam the legs in just a little further, but the arms will have to come off. Remember the way he taught you? Knife through the tendons, between the joint, just like boning a chicken. There. Nice work. All blood is gone, no muss, no fuss. A fitting epitaph? Burn in hell little man.
What's this sensation running through me? Is this freedom? Freedom! You're free at last, little girl! Ethan said you couldn't do it.
"Ethan, you colossal prick, I'll survive to see you rot. It'll take a hell of lot more than you to kill me."