Severin Molochi is aboard a train… but to where? And come to think of it, what year is it? He has lost his place and time in the world. Could it be the work of the bewitching predatory woman who enters his private car, wrapped in furs, with designs and desire in her eyes? Heirs of Cain, a gothic horror fantasy erotic thriller novelette series, begins here.
(estimated reading time: 1 hour and 33 minutes)
Heirs of Cain
Venus in Transit
The number one… followed some time later and after strenuous mental investigation by the number eight. What was the one? One of the seven? One of the six? One of the two? All of these number were suddenly in my head, throbbing as if of great importance, but they were a distraction.
What had I been searching for? It was difficult to recall as I had my forehead pressed against the cold glass of a locomotive window, eyes chilled as if dangling just outside by threads. What I saw was snow-cloaked firs by the thousands, with a stormy winter tailor still in the process of garbing them.
Naturally I assumed the number one had occurred to me because I’d seen something solitary somewhere in the landscape, and I’d lost the notion as we went speeding away like a ticket ripped from my hand by the inertial wind of the line I was supposed to board. Nay. A false conclusion, I decided when my analysis of the view returned nothing but trees. There were no singular features of any kind, even the moon lost in the white-on-black, the gray of wet seeping newsprint.
Far from my first instinct to brag, I’m afraid I must do so to elucidate my state of mind at the time. That was the central question actually. It was a time… but which time? My brag is that I’ve always been adept at approaching problems from new and unexpected angles, fully willing to try options that may initially have a whiff of insanity about them. A strategist is what I consider myself, with strategy being defined here as ‘becoming the thrall of a new and untested theorem’.
Whereas a more typical passenger, more successful in most dimensions of civil society than myself, would let these numbers, one and to a foggier degree eight, join the firs in flying off into the distance, disregarded in favor of something more immediate, I insisted on placing them, and since I could not do it in the space outside the train where I’d been gazing I attempted to do so in time.
Quickly I was placed back on track. The year. I had been trying to remember the current year. A curious thing to let slip, but I did not let it at all. Always my mind has been a steel trap for certain things, mathematics and poetry chief among them, so I was rather put out by the concept silently grappled with in my private car, so much so that I muttered sentence-devices designed to force the information back to its place.
“The current year is…”
“No, I don’t mind your asking at all; I was born in the year…”
“Do I have the time? Why it’s… oh you mean the year? My pocket watch seems to think that unnecessary, but I can tell you this is the year of… one… eight? Eighteen! Eighteen…” A half-successful experiment. Firmly placed I now was in the nineteenth century, and precise enough that would be for a god, but an animalcule such as myself feels a clawing need for more magnified understanding. I can’t die in peace without knowing how many teeth are in the maw of the beast devouring me, without knowing the chemical composition of its saliva, and what gave it a craving for Severin Molochi.
Which is my name, I should mention, for your benefit and not the benefit of the woman who came into my car at the height of my perplexed distress, who had a perfect opportunity to slot herself into my life like a puzzle piece and instead chose to enter as a razor and slice away any obstacle insisting she wouldn’t fit.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, reflecting too many times in my corridor of mirrors, as she might put it. First, since I’d regained my chronological latitude as eighteen some-and-such, I also needed to acquire my spatial longitude. Drat. That was nowhere to be found either, and I looked for it, in my pocket, under my legs, beneath the seat, as if it was a misplaced handkerchief.
The pine trees were no help of course. Half the world had pine trees, and all of it had the night, save those boreal zones of mystery that ran off with the sun and moon for months at a time. The snow had no character, no map etched into the flake that landed on the glass and quickly melted. I didn’t need them to be maps to buried pirate treasure, just something with a name hugging its coastline, assuming it had a coastline to hug.
A strategist formulates a strategy, and I wouldn’t call myself such if I hadn’t the habit of doing so. Somehow I, one (not followed here by an eight) Severin Molochi, had misplaced myself. The surroundings were unfamiliar, so the best chance at getting my bearings and chaining them down was to clarify what I knew about myself. Somewhere in there had be a clue as to how this person that was me managed to do such an absurd thing.
Most obvious among the potential answers was insanity, some rot of the brain enacted by a parasite boring tunnels to let some natural sunlight into his halls, but even a cursory glance at myself, either my attire and countenance or the broadest brush strokes of my life, revealed that I was no lunatic, at least up until the very moment I lost the moment.
Memory told me that Severin Molochi was a man of thirty-three, that number didn’t trouble at all, who, as of yet, did not exactly make a living of his own. He and I had an uncle, a magnate among clothiers, whose fine vestments had brought wealth to the entire family. Uncle Piotr: the best dressed man in… No, that sentence-device couldn’t get me to my country of origin. Drat.
Regardless, Uncle Piotr had his nephew do some of his errands in exchange for a life of luxury in Manor Molochi, tasks I was well-suited to and well-suited during. When his fatigue with the social world was veiled as chronic illness I was dispatched to speak to the women ordering for their dress shops, the trappers who had beaver fur and velvet to peddle, and the other smaller magnates who felt Uncle Piotr looked down on them simply because he sold the coat while they sold the needles, thread, and buttons.
The women loved my poetry, though it was entirely borrowed and not mine at all, rather like my position in the business, and the men appreciated my shrewd and swift calculation in financial matters, all the more reason I was privately humiliated in my train car for having my mind stumble on a one and stop cold on an eight.
What was Severin Molochi doing on that train car, in far from his finest overcoat? Could I get myself back to that point at least? Yes, for there was a scourge that transcended time and place in subtle insidious ways: the creature that had driven me from my comfortable life and into frozen foreign territory. Throng’s delirium.
Strategist, mathematics-voyeur, salesman-of-himself, but not a physician. There’s very little I can tell you about the plague that isn’t already contained in the word ‘plague’. From what corner of the world it had sprung was uncertain, though some suspicion was cast on house cats and their wet nuzzling as a possible passageway for the pathogen.
Better understood was what came after, a host of dreadful symptoms, chief among them a rash resembling strikes of the whip between the shoulder blades and across the ribs as well as a clouded manic mental state. I’d seen some infected people, five days adrift from their diagnosis, and when they were upright they always staggered, eyes unable to focus, mouth hanging open, but never a breath heard. One babbled about a ‘roseate supersensual mist’.
Death was not guaranteed, but his dice looked much more suspicious to the gray of hair, my uncle among them, who was very agitated one day when I told him I could not perform an errand as the person I was supposed to meet had, despite only meeting it in passing, given their life to Throng’s delirium.
My uncle was most incensed, though I recognized it as fear. With the plague’s means of transmission still a mystery, he decided it was not safe to be around me when I had been gallivanting all about town touching many raw materials, and admittedly petting every house cat that came my way and a few I had to chase after, crouched and scurrying equally like buffoon and baboon.
Still, he had no intention of being cruel to me, and so used his many connections to secure me passage aboard… yes, finally! Aboard that very train! And while I could not place where it was going, I did know what it was heading toward. A largely unbuilt camp. A gestating village, part of a most noble scientific pursuit that I was perfectly happy to be a part of, though I also would’ve been perfectly happy to remain and risk the illness.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of a quarantine, diseased folks all gathered in one place so they cannot risk infecting the general populace. Obviously a morbid idea, as it orders the sick to die in sight of each other rather than their friends and family, but nature does not take suck kindnesses into consideration when smithing her push-daggers.
Now this camp was quite the opposite idea, with people living in health together instead of suffering and dying. The wealthy fellows funding it called it a reverse-quarantine, hoping to retreat to it should the plague saturate their homelands too densely. Only those who had never been infected and showed no symptoms would be allowed in, and they may remain sequestered there, receiving supplies only by timed delivery, for months or years at a time.
It had to be built first, so they couldn’t enjoy it yet, but I certainly could. As per my uncle’s orders I was to go there and assist in its founding, whether that be manual labor, tailor work, or simply finding a cozy place for my warm and affable personality so that I went largely unnoticed. I was to help, and to test it for him should he decide the journey was necessary for his own health.
Never mind that his initial paranoia was built around the possibility that I was already a carrier of the intangible lash, or rather its recipient, and that would make me a risk to such a fledgling settlement. It seemed his suspicions were just strong enough to send me away, but not strong enough to warn others about me. For my own part I was confident I was not secretly ill, for all seemed to manifest clear physical symptoms within three days of exposure, and I’d already been on the train nearly that long.
Three days on the train with my observant nature also had me sure I knew the faces of every passenger, as well as the engineer, the cook, and the rest of the staff, yet I did not recognize the woman who slid open my door and took a seat opposite me in the car that seemed to rapidly shrink from the moment she appeared. Even by the time she closed the door, mere slices of a second since it was opened, its closing click was somehow reduced down to the sound of a toy or an overturned beetle righting itself.
Rude as it was, stranger too, I paid her no mind, for I was still distressed by my inability to find my footing on a floor that had turned to paper and in a year like an unstable hill in an hourglass. Normally I was very attentive with women, but not prone to chasing them foolishly as I was kittens. Like a songbird, one does not reach out to a woman, for she will only be frightened before she even begins to sing, and pursuit would be both uncouth and pointless seeing as she has wings and flees into another reality entirely where no man has ever been able to pursue. Instead he is left standing on the Earth, beach of the sky, scratching his head oafishly.
But such thoughts were for the women I was accustomed to, women who lived in years and places that I properly remembered. This was no such woman. She spoke not a word, but even as my head was frozen to the window, mind swimming in a slush of opaque nonsense, I felt her eyes on me.
Without looking I knew her posture and expression, though it was still devoid of features to me. She sat upright (this was the act of sitting and not relaxation after the act) and kept her head centered on me, so she wasn’t hiding her efforts. Eventually, which I say though it was actually very quick, the pressure she applied became too much and I was forced to right myself, back to the red velvet cushion, and take her in.
She was not a small woman, but she looked it, almost swallowed whole by the fluffiest furs I had ever seen. A coat of silver sable she wore, though the silver was a magnificent and awing shade, like treasures reclaimed from their burial under starless moonlight; it shone as if unsheathed from a pressurized and petrified peat bog to the howling of packs of impressed wolves.
About her neck sat (a hood? a scarf?) a fur from an unknown creature, though it looked light enough to be taken away by the wind even when it had been full of bones. Its rich brown spoke, and perhaps even smelled, of cocoa powder, of the dust left on a dessert in the tomb of a mummified emperor.
Her square hat was fur, and larger than her head. Her cuffs were fur, and her boots. Half the continent, whichever continent it was, had sacrificed their lives to clothe her, something I’d never been able to offer the clients of my uncle’s business.
Here I must mention, for it will become clear that she knew something of this, that I’ve long had a romantic notion of women in furs. Even with my active imagination, dedicated as it mostly is to organizing shelves of poetry instead of composing it, I had not dreamed up that shadow-blued silver of her sable vestments, for I was always thinking of the same woman in her more typical furs.
Who she was I had no idea, in fact, upon reflection, she was rather the human equivalent of the year and the place I had lost: a person who moved through my life like a phantom who just happened to be traveling the opposite direction on time’s trail, both of us heading for our deaths. I met her outside my schoolhouse when I was just a lad, though not so small as to see women as nothing more than larger girls.
A lesson was in progress, but I was on the other sunny side of it, educating myself with wildflowers instead of Chaucer and regretting none of it, as I do to this day. I don’t recall why I chose to skip lessons that morning. Disobedience is uncommon within me, albeit much less so when the authority figure in question is lacking in civility, sense, or wit. Yet there I was.
The reason is lost through typical follies of memory, not the arcane business aboard that express train to reverse-quarantine, and I know what triggered it was her appearance. This other woman of my past startled me out of myself, grabbing my wrist and pulling me away, plucked white flowers, small and common, dropping out of my hand like sugar lumps.
Right away she was speaking, scolding me for avoiding the lesson. I didn’t see her face as I was dragged along behind, just her sable furs. Nor did I ever see her face. She was naught but a voice and an authority wrapped in furs, tone so capturing and hypnotic that there was no discerning the moments when she pulled my wrist from the moments I chose to follow her, wherever she was taking me.
She stopped us in front of the schoolhouse doors, put my back to one of them, where I was deeply conscious of how much thinner the wood was than the surrounding stonework. The image of her kicking my little body straight through and spraying my classmates with splinters flashed through my mind.
Still she scolded, so I did not look up at her face. All I saw of her were her hands on her hips, and they were gloved in pristine gray. Her lecture on my truancy was at the perfect volume as to not be heard through the door but still make up the entirety of my perception.
“Don’t you want to make something of yourself some day?” she asked. “The flowers don’t need lessons or your help; they make themselves. It’s in their nature. The best you can do is kill them in an attempt to show others what they’ve made. Without lessons a little scamp like you won’t know which way is up. I’ve half a mind to…”
On she went as heat smoldered in my cheeks. I didn’t dare correct her, but she was wrong to assume. I did not want to make something of myself, and this feeling remained into adulthood. Always I’ve wanted to have something made of me instead. I would like to be someone’s work of art, or a tool of their trade, kept safe in their collection and brought out for display or use with favored regularity.
An equation is teased out from the wool of the intellect, as are poems from the imagination. To think that my behavior, my accomplishments, and even my scars might be the verse of some mightier being is a most invigorating fantasy to me. This is how some people no doubt see their god or gods. With me it is how I see other people. I welcome their influence once I am certain I will not be mishandled.
And perhaps she sensed that; it could hardly be obvious in the bend of my schoolboy hairline. At some point her tone shifted.
“But if you’re going to make something of yourself you have to be the one to make the decision. If you’re not motivated I’m just shouting at a brick wall. So go on then, decide. I’ve said what I have to say.” Then she turned and walked away, back to whichever people actually counted as members of her family.
For the longest time I just stood there, hot, slightly ashamed, melting like a candle. Making a decision was impossible if drops of me kept sliding down my sides. Eventually the lesson concluded and my peers were let out. The force of them behind me started me walking and I pretended as if I’d just been released as well.
Had I made a decision? Or had I been postponing it all my life? It seems impossible to differentiate between choosing to stay outside the classroom and remaining there in indecision. Whether the question was still open would quickly become irrelevant, for by the time I stepped out of that car, of my own volition, it would be closed and sealed with a hot wax kiss.
Now that we’ve examined her furs, and somehow much of myself in the process, but still not found that blasted year or locale to place my pin on the map, it is time to tell you of her actual appearance. Each feature could fill a volume when I’m holding the quill, but I’ll try to keep it brief, even if my left has to slap my right to keep it from stroking her ego and her rhetorical silhouette in equal measure.
Her auburn hair was cut so short as to make one suspicious, as if she planned to disguise herself as a man in the near-future, a plan I was sure would never work given the way she radiated an aggressive predatory femininity. Despite not a hair being more than an inch across most of her head, there were two misbehaving tufts hanging in front of her ears like inverted flames.
She had small ears that stuck out slightly, giving the sense they only did so when she was listening intently, and that she did so all hours of the day and night, sleep included. A pin drop might make them grow, and a nervous swallow from three cars away might make them wiggle. There was one in the same car as her at that very moment, whichever moment it was.
Barely confined by a taut sharp jaw and a prominent chin was her wide mouth with lips perpetually ready to split and show teeth in all of their many capacities. I wasn’t sure if she was wearing lipstick or if they naturally bore such a similar shade to her crop of hair. In this initial observation I was spared a full smile, which could’ve stopped my heart.
Above her unassuming nose, bolted into its bridge as if punched in fine leather, sat the two most magnetic eyes I’d ever seen, and the most piercing. Green, slick, electric. Like lightning seen through a castle window and an empty wine bottle held up to it. But the strike never ended. Some eyes are only briefly sharp, focusing when emotion or intuition flares, but hers were constant, like sheets of rain rolling down a conical emerald tower.
Combine these features with her papyrus skin, the bundles of freckles pinched between eyes and nose, the thick reddish eyebrows, and a long neck cemented into a collarbone as sturdy as a brass stand holding fire pokers upright to get… her. The most striking, pouncing, devouring, savoring woman I’d ever witnessed and ever will. A goddess. My Venus in furs.
Yet Venus was merely the first comparison that occurred to me. Probably a side effect of too much poetry, that was. Many of the greats were Greeks, or emulated the Greeks, and so made frequent mention of their goddesses. But there was more to communicate about this woman beyond her incredible beauty and divine aura.
If she was any god at all, it was an even older type. She was the sort of god that slunk out of the shadows, only revealing her eyes as separate from a wolf’s or a demon’s after a long conversation about your soul. Gods of her pantheon came out of the dirt. Their miracles were practical: making food where there was none before, reproducing in earthen vessels when bodies were not sufficiently nourished, and drawing curses on the ground with the fluids poured from them in the birthing.
Godly names likely defy pronunciation, but I imagine her most primal name sounded of man’s oldest tongue and woman’s oldest thought: a round sound like being cradled in the crescent claws of a gargantuan mole. Perhaps an ‘oo’ like in the fullest moon. or an ‘ah’ as in ‘ah goddess, please spare me your wrath.’
My visitor had a name she was willing to share, but one of us had to speak first. This was a car reserved for me alone; she had trespassed upon my privacy, attacked me with her gaze, and intimidated me with her grin. But a staring male will always be the rudest creature in any chamber, civilized or barbaric, so I spoke first, after coughing out three non-words that were but the shriveled remnants of the sentence-devices I had almost said.
“Eh-eh-emm… excuse me.”
“For what?” Her voice. I hadn’t realized how much I’d yearned to hear it. It crackled like dry brush underfoot. Enriched with explosive potential. This was a voice that would throw sparks in an argument and topple buildings if applied to a few curated stanzas. A mere two words rained on me like flung phosphorus. My heart tripped down a flight of spiral stairs.
“I’m not sure what, but I have distracted you somehow. I felt your eyes on me. What is it? Have I the imprint of the window on my face?” I felt for it, but the chill in my cheek was completely gone, and indeed I felt like my face had lost the capacity to feel cold altogether. My mouth was a sauna.
“You are a malleable man,” she said boldly, “but not so much that leaning on a window will misshape you permanently.” I did my best to awaken the sociable self that could get a disappointed customer to invite him up for drinks.
“I won’t deny the trait, but I’m curious how you know. You have… vivisecting eyes. Are you perceptive, or do you just peel people open and have a look at their character?” She sank into her furs, luxuriating in the collapsing heap of sable like a bubbling bath.
“Your name is Severin.” She blinked slowly and sighed, as if the darkness under her eyelids allowed her to see my soul as a glowing coal. It was impossible to get a chill just then, but my spine stiffened and one of my feet developed a babbling urge to tap.
“No eyes perceive that much. Do we know each other? The idea that I could forget someone like you, even having met in passing, is enough to make me question my sanity.” Even for me this was forward, but this Venus in furs had a power that drew me in strand by strand. Every statement felt like an offering to a shrine, each one inadequate.
“We’ve never met,” she assured me, to some measure of my relief. “We’re headed to the same place, but not to do the same thing. I should like you to change your mind, stop doing a favor for whoever you’re doing it for and do some for me instead.”
“Earning your favor sounds most intriguing,” I said, turning the phrase as expertly as I could, trying to twist the knob of the conversation’s gas stove and get it to a more comfortable temperature, “but I’m not much for spycraft. You must be a master, given what you already know about me Miss…”
“Pelts,” she said, teeth glittering exactly once in sequence, “Wanda. Blasphemer. Pelts. For you? Wanda. I should like to be your Wanda.”
“My Wanda?” An iron ball dropped into my stomach, and there must’ve been a chain attached for something tugged and ripped my heart down immediately after. I wasn’t saying it as if she belonged to me, quite the opposite. She was mine in the same way the sky is mine, the Earth is mine… because I am of them. They are all I know, and thus mine.
“That’s good to hear, and I’m sure pleasant to say,” she said, reading me yet again, though ‘pleasant’ was a colossal understatement.
“What is it that you would like me to do for you, my dear Wanda?” My insertion of the word ‘dear’ did little to alleviate the flare of emotion I felt in addressing her. An erupting magnetism. A blast of super-heated air at my back nearly knocking me off the seat and to my knees.
“First, answer me this question Severin. What nation is this train currently passing through?” So she’d read that as well. This woman had to be a mesmerist of some kind, or so I would have thought if I didn’t also feel a giant supernatural hand fondling my internals while both hers sat somewhere under those silver furs.
“I do not know.”
“And what nation holds our destination?” I shook my head, but my eyes couldn’t break contact in a polar perversion of my memory with the woman whose face I never saw. “And what nation did we start from? Are they all the same?” She knew I could not answer, and it amused her. She targeted a greater vulnerability. “Tell me my Severin… what year is it?”
“Eighteen and change,” I said as confidently as I could with only half an answer. One of her eyebrows rippled, like a fox stirring from slumber. I’d actually managed to surprise her, if only slightly. Her aura, which I must insist she had, no more a figment of my imagination but an actual bubble of emotional stew about her, pulsed. There was a roil, a tinge to it that suggested irritation. Was my incomplete helplessness a disappointment?
“So all but the century is lost to you?” she purred, recovering, a fur pulled over the chink in her armor.
“Yes. I’m aboard the most advanced and direct form of transportation known to man, a mechanical marvel, yet I’m as adrift as a shipwrecked wretch. You are the first vessel that has passed by since, my dear Wanda. Will you be rescuing me from this woeful ignorance?”
“Severin,” she answered softly, retracting her feet up into her furs. The mass of her cloak leaned forward as she flashed her true smile, one with the sharpest canines I had ever seen outside a stoat’s mouth. My Wanda was fanged. “Twas I who sank you.”
“Then my feelings haven’t deceived me, but I cannot fathom your purpose… or what you have subjected me to.” I didn’t accuse her of anything. There were elements of hostility to our interaction, but how much does a man own information about the world around him? It was hardly a theft. The world about me had lost none of its qualities; I’d just lost my page. Even if she had slammed the volume shut I should still remember roughly how far along I was.
“This is a natural reaction,” Miss Blasphemer Pelts explained. “You, a particular sort of man, are responding to me, a particular sort of creature. If you have any fear it is a healthy fear. Your place in the world is lost because I am near to you, drawing ever nearer, and I am taking its place. I am your new world… because I am a goddess.”
I knew it. Obviously it made no sense at all, which my mathematical side insisted upon. Emotionally, coming to me from behind volumes of poetry with much more than a whisper, I knew she was not ordinary. Venus in furs. A phrase that now meant Earth, according to her. Never had it occurred to me that a man is conceptually anchored to both his planet and his chronological lifespan, until I lost them both. Or rather, they were shoved out of my mind, each one now a slicing radiating green eye, shooting beams at me from a formerly black point in the deepest tart pit of the cosmos.
“If you lose the ground, I will provide new footing,” she continued as I processed. “If you ask for the time I will tell you it is the Age of Pelts, and you will be satisfied; you will be as calm as you were when you were a babe and your mother told you the sun would be back on the morrow.”
“And what sort of god are you?” I choked out. “Forgive me for saying you don’t seem particularly… Christian.” She laughed. My Wanda laughed. It filled me with joy, for I had created it. It filled me with dread, for perhaps my suffering could trigger it as well.
“Nothing would insult me more than finding my likeness in some Catholic’s pocket shrine, how obscene. Though their dogma does come from my stories. You Severin, you will get it straight from the golden calf’s mouth. First let me make myself comfortable.”
Wanda ‘s head was swallowed up by her hood that could also have been a scarf. The ball of furs shifted, like a breeze blowing over grass, and then she reemerged in a most magnificently scandalous fashion.
Bare feet slipped out with no sign of her footwear, and they did so on the left side of her seat. Which hole in which fur they passed through was a mystery. Then her arms appeared on the opposite side, stretching toward the window, fingers interlocked and palms out. Gone were her sleeves. A slight purple tint in the flesh of her underarms turned up and away as her arms formed a cradle for her reappearing head.
She’d entered the car with no jewelry, no spectacles, and I’m certain not even powder upon her face, yet even more seemed to have been removed for this second look. Her cheeks were brighter, as if she’d just been blanched and set out on a fine towel to shed steam. While her furs still obscured everything above the thigh and below the collarbone, I innately understood that she’d shed all her clothing within, all performed in silence, no click of unhooking hooks, no taps of shoelaces on wood, nothing.
“That’s quite the parlor trick,” I said with a palate of cement, “but better suited to the boudoir.”
“Would you like to hear the story?” she asked, making it painfully clear my attempts at wit were just throwing molasses on our locomotive’s tracks. I nodded silently, apologetically.
“For now I’ll say it took place in 1816-“
“Ahah! Since it has already taken place we must be in a year past 1815!” I couldn’t help but blurt, which earned me a most flaying punishment, although should someone passing by have looked through the glass and witnessed it they would say it was nothing more than a glare. In that excoriating look I was made well aware that she thought disclosing that information was of no consequence, and that even if she told me the correct year of our ride my mind would let it slip moments later, for my entire world was in her presence, and my entire time the time spent with her.
“Please, continue,” I pleaded, “I am taking a vow of silence until you ask something of me next. If you leave this car without doing so then I shall never speak again.” I had every intention of keeping my word, even as I saw in her reaction idle musings about what sorts of torture would get me to break my vow with scream or howl.
“You could say it was the summer of 1816,” she resumed, the invisible noose about me loosening as she turned her head and stared at the ceiling. Her arms moved to clasp each other just under her bosom, which was barely concealed by her furs. Despite their voluminous fluff that portion of her shape was revealed to me, and I no longer did her the disservice of assuming she was unaware of the effect, nor of the effect inside my own body.
“Except that year did not have a summer Severin. Rain fell in sheets for months, sick clouds doubled over our continent, shambling about in the gray evening-days it created. Staying indoors was immediately in fashion, but some fools ran from one set of doors to another when they grew bored, eager to be more fashionable recluses.
In one such run, across borders even, several people came to the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva for a conclave. They were quite famous, a few of them. One Percy Shelley. One Mary Wollstonecraft. They’d run through the rain to hole up with a friend of theirs, a pariah from their native England: Lord Byron. Rumor was he’d had an affair with his sister, and in a huff he’d gone abroad and pretended he had a new life of holiday retreat. With him when Percy and Mary arrived, bringing with them Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont, was Byron’s personal physician John Polidori, who was happy to, within the confines of Diodati, be little more than a font of laudanum for further alleviation of boredom.
For a time they made themselves headaches to Byron’s servants, and heartache to each other, until a particular thunder grew in the vagrant clouds. It brought night even more prematurely than usual, and these spoilt children of high society huddled together in the villa’s innermost rooms, furthest from the crashing outside.
A book in their possession called Phantasmagoriana contained a multitude of ghost stories, which the men used to frighten the women, not giving a second thought to how their ensuing nightmares meant they had frightened themselves as well. No, the fools, waking in cold sweat, decided to call it inspiration.
From the terror of the tales told under the incessant rainy dark they devised a competition amongst themselves. Lord Byron was a well known poet and author, so too was Shelley, and in truth the brightest among them was young Mary. The contest was one of creativity, as each guest was tasked with writing a tale they believed would genuinely frighten the others.
As they collaborated with each other and chased after slinking shadows that might offer plot lines, as long as they were the tamer indoor shadows, there was much talk of what was frightening. Were ghosts frightening in themselves, or simply because they were dead, with death being the truly frightful concept?
Galvanism was brought up: the stimulation of dead tissue with electrical current. And they discussed vampirism too, with Dr. Polidori crafting a menacing silhouette of a character: a wealthy charismatic man, but one depraved, who moved from state to state, appearing at social gatherings as the life of the party only to leave with several people now in his thrall, drained of blood and soul alike. Byron took some offense to what looked like a fantastical exaggeration of himself. An argument ensued.
Now nobody knows if their stories would have been completed or gone on to any success, which would’ve been nightmares across the continent, because they never managed to write more than a few fragments each. Their laudanum and drink fueled play was more than a flirtation with the occult. It was a ritual, performed under an abnormal storm that almost looked the harbinger of a dark and evil age.
And this ritual was a success. It gave off a most enticing aroma caught by a miserable and ancient creature that similarly sought shelter from a rain it was finally tiring of, after weeks without a roof that wasn’t better described as a cave.
This creature, a woman to them at first, knew to arrive at the least opportune moment, when the ghost story revelers were intoxicated and arguing about whether or not Byron’s behavior was vampiric or Bacchanalian. She did not bother to knock, as it would not have been heard over the thunder, and none present had decided to lock the place up either. Who would be so mad as to be out in such weather?
An heir of Cain, that’s who, that’s what. She appeared to them in a passage just as the argument spilled into it, dripping wet, hair obscuring her face. Her clothes were dingy almost beyond recognition, but they were at one point intended for leisurely bathing, so her arms and legs were bare. Without a look at her face it was impossible to guess at her age.
‘Good Lord, she’s half-drowned,’ Mary wailed, scurrying past a paralyzed Byron and taking the figure by the hand, dragging her to the fireplace, which was barely kept alive. Claire went to fetch some towels for what had to be a lost traveler too dazed to explain herself while the doctor got down on his knees, careful not to get between her and the pathetic warmth of the fire, and separated her curtains of wet ropy hair to ascertain her condition.
What he found was more frightening than anything in the pages of Phantasmagoriana, or in the scattered leaves they’d assembled for their contest so far. Underneath her disguise sat two eyes like mine, dear Severin. Exactly as you named them: vivisecting eyes. No sooner did he recognize that their fictions had leapt from the page than she pounced on him, fingernails digging into his scalp.
Her feet clawed at his belly, rolling him backward into the open fire where she proceeded to bash his head first into the burning wood and then into the ashes as it broke away and then into the stone underneath. All the while the flames destroyed his clothing and cooked her meal.
Mary screamed and fled, with Percy and Byron not far behind. It was Claire who was too far to separate the shouts from the thunder, who thought she was finally being helpful after days of having no story to offer when she entered the heir’s presence with a stack of fresh towels. They blocked her view, and no one was responding to her questions, so she hurried to set them down on a lounge and see what made those peculiar noises.
As it turned out those were the sounds of a cannibalistic creature perched in the crackling collapsed innards of her prey, feasting on the heart first and the lungs second, to steal his affections and take his breath away. Claire was frozen with fear as the heir stepped out from the hearth, came over to her, and bent down as the girl collapsed, cradling her.
They shared a look, but the power of the heir’s eyes cut through the thin cloth of her human soul, and she could not be in that position and possess anything but awe or terror, so the heir spared her the indecision between the two by breaking her neck with a single twist before gorging on the pale of her exposed throat.
As said, Mary was the cleverest of the crop, but she could not intuit that they needed to leave the villa and flee into the storm despite its raging. She thought nature would strike her down and that she stood a better chance with its perversion stalking the halls. Percy was by her side, and he had armed himself with one of the girls’ parasols. He would defend her, and she thought him more than capable of fending off a woman she now guessed to be in middle age… but she had not met the eyes of Cain yet. If she had she would’ve gladly fled into the dark and damp, and her life would’ve been saved.
Percy broke the parasol over the heir’s head when she appeared to them, having followed the scent of their desperation. Stabbing at her with the broken tip only broke it further. Mary’s back hit a wall and she slid down it at the same rate that Percy’s skin slipped down his body, the heir starting at the scalp and opening him in a horrific reverse of the sausage-making process. He was dead before it reached his elbows, but screaming all the way down.
Mary was next, but like Claire she was spared the painful fate of the men, who suffered more because the heir was recently very embittered by an experience with a man of her kind, and sought revenge wherever she could take it. And so in a flash the girl against the woll became acquainted with the stonecraft; and if you catch my meaning try to drop it quickly. I’m sure all of this seems terribly cruel to you Severin, but you will learn the way of it soon enough.
Byron watched from a crack in a door, bedclothes wet with indignity, but he thought himself safe for he was quieter than he’d ever been. Quieter than he was as a child. Quieter than a church service. Quiet as the mice lapping at the puddles of laudanum their festivities had left behind in the seams of the hardwood.
He backed up into the shadows and stood, clutching himself, wondering where this vile creature had been spawned from. He would never understand it was, in the end, the same loins that had spawned him, for the heirs of Cain are the brothers to mankind, but also the betters, and ultimately their murderers.
The door flew open, and the heir charged in, taking him by the legs as he howled and begged. The fugitive from decency was dragged up the stairs, body bouncing violently, each bump convincing him to try a different tactic: groveling, bargaining, screaming, raging, insulting…
None had any effect; there was no penetrating the fog in her mind. She was thinking of her recent lover and what he had stuck her with. The humans about her were barely more than objects, and might have even escaped her perception if they hadn’t so tempted the dark forces patrolling the loam of the Earth, biting through the oldest roots. These are not the shadows one can flirt with. They are not the shade of a flowering tree, nor your hand blocking out the sun.
Heirs of Cain can kill without reason, but she had one. Once she’d seen Villa Diodati under the storm she’d seen the perfect place to nest, seeing as it came with plenty of vital food for her time in brooding.
For you see the heir had fallen pregnant, and was struck with terrible bouts of bitterness and craving alike. She wanted to be alone, and violent, and asleep, and eating all the while, which the year without a summer and the conclave provided.
So she rested, and moaned through her various pains, and ate from the corpses of the writers whenever she felt the urge, keeping them by a constant fire to slow spoilage. Her natural aura prevented visitors, and by the time the truth was learned months later there wasn’t enough left of them to tell what had occurred. Just five skeletons sitting cross-legged in a circle, all their hand bones flat on the copy of Phantasmagoriana at the center, with a few pages of something called The Modern Prometheus and another called The Vampyre used as bookmarks.
Now an heir of Cain is a creature of much variance, and in this instance she did not brood very much like a human at all. It was less of a pregnancy and more of a prolonged illness with chronic bouts of labor. Offspring were produced, but intermittently, over the course of months. Each one was taken out into the woods and abandoned, as is their way. When she was done producing them she finally moved on from Geneva and disappeared back into the space between society and wilderness.
One of these offspring survived. She grew into herself, then realized it was time to grow into the world, to take up her ultimate place and live out the rest of her days as what she was meant to be. The first step in this process was to board a train headed to a reverse-quarantine, and the second was to sniff out the car of one Severin Molochi, both of which she has now done. And now she wonders, ready for anything he might say but unsure which response he’ll pick, what Severin has to say about everything she has just revealed.”
Severin could not say anything, not for several minutes anyway. The whole time she unraveled her hideous tale she had her head against the cushion, staring into the ceiling. But she wasn’t, I realized. She was looking straight through it at the stars, recounting a past as wild and unbelievable as the stories that assigned the constellations their names and poses.
Once finished she turned in her furs without letting any of them slip from their many crucial positions protecting a decency I was now sure she did not possess. She turned to look at me, head resting on one palm while her bare legs glided across one another.
In that moment my eyes were almost as powerful as hers, but only in the shock they expressed. Any wider and I would’ve broken them, being the first man to invent that particular injury. Clearing the roadblock in my throat proved impossible, so I spoke through a crack in it while holding the incredibly defensive posture I’d taken up during the story, with my legs crossed and both hands over the higher knee, like a hermit crab trying to seal his shell off from the very air.
“You, Wanda Pelts, are also an heir of Cain.”
“And an heir of Cain is a variety of goddess, just not garden variety.”
“I believe you wholeheartedly when you say you are unchristian, but would this be the biblical Cain? The first murderer?”
“That is the name history has chosen, though he has had many names throughout. Even his parents Adam and Eve have had others, like Ask and Embla. Every name has a story attached, but within those stories only one or two correct details.
You’ll forgive me for rushing an account much grander and older than the Conclave Diodati, but I assure you that the time I’m keeping in a drawstring pouch, to protect you from its distractions, is still limited.
The evolution of life that crawls, that spawns in slime, is entirely separate from the evolution of the spirit. While there is no definitive separation where the bodies of the cave dwellers became the bodies of the villa dwellers, one does exist for the ascended, intellectual, devious soul.
There was a first couple of this sort that would come to dominate the world, owing their ascension to the paradise in which they dwelt: a secluded natural garden of plenty. No large predators roamed there and the animals the first couple ate knew no fear, and had lived complacently for so many generations that they did not feel pain when slaughtered.
Fruitful they were, and their first four children were two men and two women who paired and married. The brothers we now call Cain and Abel. Cain, who is my ancestor and not yours Severin, was of an exceptional intelligence but tumultuous emotion. He alone saw what death was, though its painless state obfuscated its meaning to his family.
He feared it would eventually come to them, for his parents were growing gray as the animals did, but they insisted they were immortal, and that immortality was due to the plucking hand, which is what they called the high spirit that split them from the animals by plucking their fruit from the tree of the world.
In being harvested from the tree they no longer drew nourishment from it, and would neither draw the signals in its fluid that eventually caused death and decay. In thanks the first couple bowed down in worship of the plucking hand, made it a ritual to be performed daily, which they insisted their offspring join.
But Cain had seen no bright hand, no giant’s fingers. He asked this high spirit to reveal itself, and it never did, though he did not go unheard, for while there were no other man-like creatures in their secluded garden there were other older minds who made their way in from underneath and above alike.
One day he refused to worship, much to the consternation of his parents and siblings who did not understand that it wasn’t their place to worship anything, now that they had the fire of intellect. Cain, aware of death, but not well versed in its mechanisms, went instead to keep watch for it, as if it was a beast that might patrol and drag them away as they slept.
Leaving his family behind he did in fact find a beast, but not death incarnate, and the creature willingly revealed itself. What he found was a great serpent, the biggest in all the world, large enough to constrict and choke the life from the tree of the world. This world serpent had been plucked from ignorance as well, though trying to fathom by what can kill a man’s sanity easier than a fatal fall from a cliff.
Plucked man could and would proliferate, spread his ascension far and wide, but the world serpent kept its ideas to itself and did not seek a mate. Instead it taught other creatures, and sometimes these lessons were actually assaults, heavy burdens on minds meant as retribution for some slight offense the serpent did not care to shrug off.
It is not known if Cain had offended the creature, for there are many ways to interpret what he was shown. First came their conversation, in which the serpent asked what he was doing so far from his family. Cain answered in frustration, saying he was only acting out the gulf that already existed between their spirits. He was separated from them because he was drawn to the truth.
Truth. Now there was a word that riled the serpent, for his prodigious girth and length afforded him a much more extensive view of any truth anywhere. With thrills flicking on its forked tongue and hunger in its narrowing eye, the beast told Cain that it could reveal so much more, and that he need only ask.
My forefather, even under its predatory breath, demanded rather than ask, and the world serpent obliged, telling him to ride upon its back as it slithered deep into the sky and showed the man the abyss of space.
Cain saw death, and saw it wholly different from the serpent, pupil going wide instead of narrow. He saw that even planets and stars die. He saw the idea of extinction, of death so common that entire forms were erased from time’s march forever more. The mammoths would go that way, and the flightless hunting birds that stood taller than man.
Death could not be beaten by simply keeping watch for its approach. All the world was its approach, mere prelude to an expansion of the abyss of space. We exist to be emptied out, to be cleared like weeds, at least that was all Cain could make of it in the wake of his dive into the infinite.
So lost in despairing thought was he that he didn’t noticed when the world serpent dropped him off right near his home, mocking him with the smallness of his life until that point. It was as if he’d been placed on a stage, and only in the process of being lowered in understood he was merely an actor.
This false play was the worship of the plucking hand, a hand that did not even pen the script. My forefather became violently angry, and when his brother, still an actor, still a mind blissfully truant from the truth, came to him and asked if he was going to apologize and join them in their rituals Cain took up the nearest stone.
With it he scattered Abel’s closed mind across the ground in order to open it by force. This was the only way he could be made to see death, for he would never possess the guile of Cain, or so the brother that still stood thought. He shed no tears for his brother, as the fool died with no knowledge of death, so his capacity for suffering was infuriatingly small.
But the others came upon the evidence, and so learned of mortality, and further accused Cain of creating it within man. He tried to tell them it was all the approaching tide of the abyss of space, but they saw only the sky, and even if the serpent had come at Cain’s call his family would have been too frightened to accept a seat on its scaly neck.
And so came the sundering of elevated man into its two lineages that live to this day. At the time of Abel’s death his sister-wife Zillah was already with his child, and so through her came many, including you my dear Severin. Although Adah, Cain’s sister-wife, was horrified by what her now bettered half had done, she would choose his companionship over the integrity of their old lives and structure.
The first couple banished them both from the garden, which had, for one reason or another, had its stone walls opened by the slithering of the world serpent. My ancestors took their leave, and also bore children across a vast stretch of time, at least by the standard of man, for Cain had taken his brother’s life and so lived it too.
The heirs of Cain are violent, amongst each other and their lessers, so of us there are few. Tens of thousands of you for every one of us, but we live long and powerful, and in the emptiness of the abyss we see the emptiness of material, and so can mold some of its less stubborn facets into different shapes.
We take and use your lives because we know what to do with them better than you do, which Cain proved when he took Abel’s life and built our lineage, one far more powerful than yours, little Severin. What say you to that? How does a tailor and a poet such as yourself react to the shadow of the world serpent, and a woman whose soul could smash yours into oblivion with a single swing of a stone off the ground?”
At first I had nothing to say, as I believe would have been the reaction of all my equals. I knew what she said to be true, for she had already made herself my framework for existence with the simple act of stepping into my private car. There was no privacy from her, nor from the abyss she kept wrapped in her furs, which she could no doubt open by lifting a flap and toss me into, like a pebble down a well.
“I would dare to, rather than say, ask,” I finally said, seeing the slight impatience in her eyes, as threatening as the groan on a mountaintop overdue for an avalanche. She had mentioned that time was limited, but not what was limiting it. “I would, understanding there is some urgency at play, fly by the thousand implications of her and her story to ask what on Earth any of it could have to do with me.”
She grinned wickedly, but also with satisfaction. Somehow my statement was the desired effect, and I wondered if I only made it because she’d stranded me in an ocean of her schemes without my noticing the rising floodwaters. How would a man less to her liking have reacted? Was one such man safer from her designs, or would he be dead already?
“An heir of Abel you may be,” she said, sitting up, furs clinging to her unnaturally as she leaned forward and flashed her pert little fangs, “but never has your kind been useless. You are food. You are reminders of what we are without our abyssal truth. You are less demanding companions than our own kind, and you can make exceptional servants.”
“But this is a train full of servants my dear Wanda, unless I made the most egregious blunder when boarding back on the platform. Why would you want a servant from this car?” Rather than speak she retreated into her furs again, head, arms, and legs swallowed up.
The lump, predominantly silver, but with flashing sashes of brown, black, and red, flowed onto the floor like a vapor and made its way to my side, as if I was being accosted by an overturned tub of hot taffy yet to be pulled. It slithered up my legs, applying the most sensual pressure, and into my lap where my Venus in furs unfurled once more.
Her clothing was back, and I suppose now technically counted as riding clothes, for she straddled me more aggressively than I ever had a saddled horse. Her full weight sank onto my thighs, communicating an otherworldly density to her, as if to say the abyss of space was actually a lake of tar, compressed to black as crushed and liquefied stars, one minute drop of which had just fallen into my life and anchored it anew.
So overwhelming was her nearness, her veiled touch, that my vision temporarily went bright and then black, as if I’d just held my breath for several minutes. I would’ve been reeling, but she somehow pulled me up into full consciousness, which was almost painful to maintain, and she did it with psychic force alone. Wanda looked down at me, salivating expectations into me, craving my usefulness in her employ. I think it was all she could do to not take it then and there by force. And as much as it felt like it, this was not force, not by her standards. It was mere pressure, an enticing lean. This was her holding back for courtesy’s sake, as we’d only just met, so all she dared do was become my everything organically rather than ravenously devour and digest it outright. In the back of my mind I saw her nightmare mother similarly atop Dr. Polidori, doing just that.
“Long has it been since the heirs of Cain have asserted themselves as the gods they are,” she told me hungrily, nearing a growl. “Partly because of things like this train. It used to be one of us could appear to a starved tribe of Abel’s nomads and aid them in the hunt, or lead them to a valley of plenty, and take the place of the plucking hand in their adoration.
We, unlike that hand, are real. We deserve worship, and I know this because it enriches us, increases our supernatural abilities. My mother never sought her place on an altar-throne, content to be a stalking horror, but I am different. Just as she was drawn to the imaginations of those writers who unwittingly colored them with abyssal shadowy truth, I am drawn to the industrious and frightened aboard this train who plan to found a new and isolated town.
This reverse-quarantine will be the perfect place for me to nest, though what I will breed is a new faith where I am its central figure. I wish to grow, and thrive, and be strong, surrounded by devotees who understand that in wrath I will take their lives and fashion them like furs but in contentment I will encompass, enrich, and protect everything they feel is theirs.
I am not the first to do this, and I will not be the last, but I believe I am the first of this more technological age. If I am going to solve their problems I will not be able to compete with the most practical modern solutions. I would be bested by express freight, by efficient mass manufacturing, and even by humble tinned foods.
Instead I must solve emotional riddles deep in their souls: a true challenge for an heir of Cain who would rather, historically, bite out the throat of the issue and let a solution bleed forth. I must be comforting, understanding, but still in full control of what they fear. Perhaps I can be a romantic god, a sexual god, as no man has yet understood every dark corner of his desire. My abyssal truth can live there, cozily in fact.
They will think of me as you do right now, my Severin. Without awareness you have granted me so many permissions, so many licenses on this body of yours. Within the temptation of this train you were added, your demeanor even more alluring. You’ve already allowed it, so now I will test exactly how much you are mine.”
I made no attempt to stop her. You might think me spineless for my passivity, and perhaps I was, but by virtue of being the first man in that situation in a long while, at least according to her, I can attribute my reaction to unfamiliarity and even call it bravery that I didn’t flee. Taking her advances thankfully, rapturously, took far more confidence than squirming and mewling would have.
Wanda’s right hand climbed up my stomach, over my clothes, but I felt her claws against my skin nonetheless. Each one gouged a hole, but only in my newly wild imagination. She was not carving my literal flesh, not yet, merely making her way to my heart, which jumped to a higher tempo with each stretch of her fingers.
When she was settled over it her palm came down, cast a shadow on that most vital organ, which somehow stoked the fires within all the more. Staring into my eyes, locking them in place with hers, she gauged my reaction as her fingers slowly twisted about the skin over my heart as if adjusting a valve.
The further and slower she went the faster my heart pounded in turn. She was setting its pace, for she controlled my time and space, and if she wanted me to live faster all she needed was for the instincts moored in my flesh to be receptive.
In her clutches I did not believe there was an upper limit to her manipulations, but, somewhere within my soul, there was. She quickened my heart to an agonizing gallop, my breath throttled in and out like the sputtering blast of race horse nostrils. Any faster and it would be indistinguishable from stillness, which would’ve killed me on the spot.
But my heart refused to accelerate further. Her hand still twisted, but at a snail’s pace. The space between my survival instinct and my fawning self-sacrifice was but a hair, though her growing precision expanded its details. Wanda had to know its exact width, exactly how much of my core being was not automatically subject to her domineering will.
It was plain to see on her face, once the twisting stopped but the pressure remained, that its breadth concerned her. My Wanda’s concern was anger, and I now knew why. It was only rage and frustration that pushed Cain away from his family. Turmoil turned him to the stars and empowered him, but always through anger. The curiosity of his heirs was eternally infected with it.
Just as my mind was alive with all sorts of scenarios, delectable and unsavory alike, where Wanda did what she was wont to do with me, I know she saw one playing out as well. It was her forefather all over again, raising his rock to bludgeon and repurpose the misused life of Abel. Except in this version Abel was not felled in one blow. He still crawled afterward, begged for his life. This imperfect result could’ve sent them both down even more terrible paths, and this was the sort of possibility enabled by my heart’s insistence I, not Wanda, had the ultimate control.
“You’re keeping things to yourself,” she said, revealing how she tended to phrase incomplete submission. It was couched in an almost petulant and pouting tone. I’d robbed her of me, or disappointed her. “Now I will have to ask, which is not ideal. Will you help me achieve fullness Severin?”
“How?” I breathed.
“Every faith needs its chief disciple. You will be my representative among the people. Through loving me you will learn the contours of my nature, and understand Cain better than your peers. Your devotion to me, and obedience, will be met with faithfulness on my part. We will be together, disguised so commonplace as man and wife that our emotions will grow to match. However, the abyssal truth will remain: I am goddess and you are servant.
You enticed me so because you are mostly willing, but not wholly. You keep your life to yourself, though I have just explained to you why it is Cain’s to take and use. More of you should be mine I think, but we can make do. Your choice to obey me, rather than your compulsion, is what qualifies you to be my chief disciple. If you make this choice it means your loyalty extends beyond my influence, and so beyond the influence of other heirs of Cain.”
“Others?” I breathed harder.
“Yes Severin, others. Such a clear opportunity to found ourselves is rare, and I will not be the only one to sense it. Already there is another, and he is aboard this train. It is he who constrains our time. It is all his fault I cannot get to know you and your limits with more measure, and for that I will never forgive him.”
“Will we be attacked?” I breathed my hardest.
“Not if we attack first, my Severin. You must understand… heirs of Cain do not have the power to kill each other. We never earned it, with stone or otherwise, but we can fail our ancestors, and be felled by heirs of Abel.
You will need to end his claim on our territory Severin. As it so happens I know this heir already. He is called Ruthven Typhus Andronicus, and in form you would call him a vampire. While we prattle away he is recruiting disciples of his own from the other passengers, and I imagine he is quite enraged that I got to your car first, for you are the best candidate aboard, by so very far my dear little Severin.”
“You mean to dispatch me to the task of murder!? I haven’t a violent bone in my body. I outright lament whatever compels poets to write about war. I grieve for them in the hopes they will turn their pen to lighter subjects!”
“You do have a violent bone; I just explored it and planted my flag nearby,” she insisted with a feminine snap, like a steel trap about my Adam’s apple. “It’s right here.” She jabbed at my heart with a finger and I felt a twinge of deep retaliatory fear. She referred to what I would do to defend my own life. “That is what you will use, and you will be willing to use it, for while you will enter his presence first, he will be the one to strike. You will but respond in kind.”
“Will we not fight together?”
“You will go alone. Do pay attention. If you won’t allow me to make something of you then you must make something of yourself. I cannot kill Ruthven, nor can he kill me. However, if he were to exert his vampiric control over me it would be far more disastrous than him acquiring another Abel-thrall.
By now, just as I do, he will have at least one servant. They must be neutralized so they cannot compete with our claim upon arrival.”
“Wanda you expect too much of me. I blew onto this train like a leaf on the wind. I am no element of anyone’s grand fate. I’m barely worth a passing comment.”
“No talk such as that will be tolerated in my presence, nor about my chief disciple,” Wanda declared as she squeezed my thighs with hers. “I will debase myself and ask, once and only once, as this is our first union Severin. Will you be mine? Have my will move your body? Submit to my commands and defend my name?”
“My body screams an answer,” I said, nearly choking on that answer suppressed. Wanda’s face was ablaze, all the potential of the expectant smirk she wore upon entering my car fully unleashed. She was a wall of fire, but incinerating in total darkness. Heat without light. When her avaricious hunger did not immediately convince me to acquiesce it destabilized and collapsed into a landslide of entitled lust.
Even then I thought it was incorrect that I could ever be so crucial to anyone. Severin Molochi was the boy picking flowers in the schoolyard, still wearing one of those flowers over his ear decades later as he ran errands and socialized. Would that person willingly be baked in a divine kiln, hardened into some sort of enforcer, for… what even was this?
A relationship. No matter what grand forces were at play, this was ultimately what I would be entering into. A romance, and an entire future, with this admitted creature of times deep and spaces dark. She thought herself my superior, and demonstrated much that damn near made that claim into revelation, but in her vivisecting swallowing eyes, like spots where a planet used to be, I saw her desire for me and a knowledge that nothing could be done without my willing participation.
I always wanted someone else to make something of me. It was time for Severin the object, Severin the tool of a divine trade, to exert just enough will to tumble off the shelf, and into the stern hand of the master craftsman. Perhaps, from now on, simply called master.
“And my soul matches it, my Wanda, my everything, my all but the last breath. Yes! I trust you. I am yours. We will found a home together.” Her arcane strengths collapsed onto me, penetrating my surface, making me feel more alive than I’d ever felt, perhaps because I was being showered with underutilized life from fellow heirs of Abel that she had for safekeeping. She had me, and for the briefest moment she just savored the fact, before thrusting her full being against mine.
“Feel them, breathe them in, all but your last!” she panted, hands closing around my ears, sharp lush mouth planting on mine. The breath of a goddess poured down my throat and splashed against the walls of my lungs like a squall, mingling her silvered air with mine. Though I had witnessed her truth upon the beguiling serpent’s back I now felt it, not as evidence, but as an assertion of hers that I trusted.
My own hands dove into her furs and searched for her waist, seeming to journey for a month before finally finding it. They clasped about her magnetically, but she could not be pulled closer than she already was without being one flesh. Sable tickled my silhouette here, there, somewhere unexpected, somewhere impossible.
What she imparted empowered me, but all the while our carnal writhing did something else. It escorted me to new summits of pleasure, thinned my thoughts with a hot, voluminous, expanding, swallowing, billowing, blooming, charcoal smoke cloud of euphoria. It is entirely possible that within it a climax occurred, but if it did its traditional form was lost in a crowd of others exclaiming their novelty.
Within our embrace I experienced a climax of touch on my fingertips, sable like licks of flame, transitioning to her hair without my knowledge, and to the frizzly tufts over her ears which my fingers either wrapped around or were bound by. A climax of taste occurred in our kiss, where the flavor of her pent up passion and craving had notes of honeysuckle and oak heartwood.
These bumped shoulder to shoulder with my other competing senses. A climax of scent in my nose as I inhaled the experience on her skin and trapped in her furs. I intrinsically knew how far she’d traveled to board my train, how most of it was dense forest, and how she’d slept in a bed of leaves she convinced to turn red and fall with nothing but her demanding eyes.
A climax of vision as her face eclipsed the lamplight repeatedly. My Venus was only more beautiful up close. The bundles of freckles pinned against the bridge of her nose by her eyes were so richly brown that they were now the aerial view of a noble countryside after a rain had taken the shallow roots of the new green. Her thick reddish eyebrows proved their luscious appearance when her forehead glided across mine between kisses.
What we had just achieved together was the perfect inverse of her founding violence. Rather than taking my life in one bludgeoning blink she had shared hers with me, and so stretched time upon the rack of a pleasure so thoroughly indecent that I immediately understood why no history books told of such relationships as ours. They were obscene to the civilized mind, but an experiential cathedral of every vaunted color in the spectrum to the senses.
As I recovered and felt every bullet of sweat standing its ground on my hide I recognized something about her retreating face. In superficial appearance we were the same age, but her features moved with more give and more knowledge. My Wanda was older than she appeared, from which I deduced the year had to be later than 1849, but now knew to keep my little investigations to myself, in the same locked drawer as that final disobedient breath of mine.
“Oh Severin, we are going to make each other so happy… once the obstacles are cleared.” With that she was crossing the lapels of my coat over my chest, a coat I had not been wearing moments prior. At no point did my back leave the seat. My Venus in furs continued to demonstrate her uncanny abilities, as she passed one billowing sleeve of sable over me and I was suddenly presentable: free of sweat, hair in order, clothes without wrinkle.
“Where is Ruthven?” I asked, my task rushing to the forefront like a standing coffin out of a fog bank.
“Behind us, in the dining car. He has surely cleared it of everyone he couldn’t corral and ensnare in such a short time. You will need this.” Wanda’s hand disappeared into her furs, into the space where she kept truth and horror and garb alike, and withdrew a thick wooden stake still smelling of sawdust.
“Your lord prefers to be called Wanda,” she corrected me, sliding the item into my coat and patting it into place, almost solemnly, like a wife about to send her husband off to war. Then she slid off my legs and stood, waiting for me to do the same. I obeyed swiftly, only to flinch when I saw that I was the taller of us by about a shot glass.
I don’t know why it surprised me, as nothing about her was giant save her aura. My Wanda looked up at me, running her hand across my cheek; I swear I felt every swirl on every fingertip and each crease of her palm as if they were canyons.
“Remember my love,” she said, eyes locking so that I might calibrate my position in the world from theirs, “that he will use servants in his efforts just as I do. Do not let Ruthven bite you. Do not look into his eyes. Only a blow to his heart will fell him, and once completed do not remove the stake from his chest.”
“I understand. I love you Wanda Pelts.”
“And I you Severin. Now bring this train into the station so we can disembark with dignity, begin our reign with a romantic stroll across a clean slate.” I took one final look at my goddess, disbelief far behind me, appreciation and affection seemingly endless. If she had disappeared at that very moment I still would’ve spent the rest of my life periodically looking up from whatever task was at hand and admonishing myself for letting it happen.
To step away from the center of my world was painful, even disorienting, but once I was in the narrow passage between all the doors it helped me get my bearings. The journey to the dining car was not far, but much changed about me with each additional step that separated me from Wanda’s overwhelming presence.
It came to me that I had essentially been sitting in a car that was consumed by fire and somehow not been burned, or that my perception had been so distorted that I had mistaken the pain of injury for the height of pleasure. But if I had been injured I was just as quickly healed, by the hand of my goddess.
Her power over me faded, but my trust in her did not. Nor did my desire to be with her, to assist her in everything she sought to do. Only, she had ordered me to kill. Severin Molochi was no killer, even of eldritch monsters squeezed into human skins. Such an order immediately pushed me into my last breath, the disobedient one, the one that had to betray my oath to Wanda to keep my identity, and likely my body as well, living.
She had to know this, had to have learned it in her assessment when she nearly twisted my heart out of my chest. Now that the haze of her command had dissipated I saw her desperation. She had no better plan, and if there had been time she would’ve staged this conflict somewhere else, certainly not such an enclosed space containing two gods that could do battle but only slay their surrounding subjects.
If Wanda was desperate, perhaps even her version of frightened, then it was my duty to settle her mind. That did not have to be done with a wooden stake, at least not initially, and not according to the last breath Severin Molochi would ever take.
Armed only with my typical easygoing smile, I gently opened the sliding door to the dining car and found it empty of all but three people. Or, two people and a god. Those like myself were a man and a woman, casually sat across from each other in a little booth as if they were just having coffee, scones, and a chat.
Between them were plates and cups, but both empty and bone dry. Now they were but table decorations, for those sat there were changed as I was, and thought all their nutrition would flow from their master. Each was younger than myself, and the man younger than the woman, enough so that I thought it unlikely they were a couple before they were united here, under the bat wing of Ruthven.
The woman had to twist to look at me, and in her dark but sparkling eyes I saw the same estimations that certainly lit up mine. We each saw what we now looked like, having been transformed from spiritual nomad into a disciple of Cain. There were thin red marks on her earlobe, distinct enough that I saw a cross pattern.
A christian perhaps, wearing crucifix earrings. The moment she had converted they had burned her flesh, not because the god of Christ was true, but because the parts of Ruthven now running through her veins rejected such opposing symbols.
Through her nearly platinum ringlets I spied the man, the more nervous of the two. Cynically, I immediately judged him as the more vulnerable should things come to conflict. He had the largest gap to cross in turning himself over to a new god, not because of a prior obligation to the Christ, or the Buddha, or Hanuman, or any other, but because of the intimacy between heirs of Cain and Abel.
The heirs did not pretend they were immune to human vice and flaw, at least Wanda did not, merely claiming their expressions of such things were inherently better, colored as they were by ultimate truths of scale and significance. So when we were united there was an automatic element of love, and one nearly as automatic of sex.
My personal taste has always been strongly for women, so there was no hurdle when Wanda entered my car. Our relationship was always a possibility. But this fellow’s expression suggested that his newfound love for Ruthven conflicted with his love of women. I don’t know if he understood it as clearly as I did, but there was no conflict. They were gods, and we were but men. That gap transcends all matters of form and biological function.
Careful I needed to be, I reminded myself. Already I was assuming things about Ruthven based on my interactions with Wanda, but there was no reason this new creature had to be as kind and understanding as she. In the end, despite her instincts, she had asked for my participation, for love rather than addiction, and Ruthven might not have done so. He might have taken what he could. The fangs of the vampire seemed a much better tool for that taking than the impish thorns in my Wanda’s nipping smile.
“Lovely that you’ve decided to join us,” Ruthven said, standing across from his subjects, behind a bar. In his hands was a cocktail shaker. An empty glass with a tall delicate stem sat on the bar in front of him, waiting for him to finish and grant it an identity.
Wanda had warned not to look in his eyes, which was difficult to do. It felt like there were ropes tied to mine, pulling them toward his, a sensation I combated by circling around his face and observing everything else. He wore a purple smoking jacket, and there were many black rings upon his fingers. As close as I got to his eyes was the slick strand of hair, long and red, dangling off one side of his face.
“I was hoping we could settle all this in a civil manner,” I said, probing for Wanda’s presence behind me now that Ruthven’s filled the room. The carpet was like gooseflesh under my feet, even through my shoes. The fog on the window was his very breath, which was itself graveyard mist.
“Hmm. That’s certainly not what she told you to do,” Ruthven said in a silken oily voice, like the pour of walnut oil on fuzzy wood. “Come, have a seat, and a drink. Liset made it herself.” He tapped the bar, next to the glass. The woman, now known as Liset, smiled falsely. I wasn’t sure how she had made me a drink, given that Ruthven had the shaker and the glass was empty.
“You’ll understand why I can’t put my back to your friends there,” I said, sitting on the stool at the end of the bar rather than the one between the vampire and his servants.
“I know the reason, but it’s not a position I understand. Any desire to be further from me than necessary is an abnormality. You suffer under her perversion. One look at me and you would be quenched, now and forever.” Certainly he saw that my eyes were fixed on the couple. That only changed when I heard the shaker open, my eyes drifting to look but refusing to angle higher.
What I saw was most curious. When he tilted to pour nothing emerged, yet the glass did fill, from the bottom up as if it had struck oil. Initially it appeared to be red wine, but it was too thick, and the red too assertive. That was when a tiny moan sent my eyes back to Liset, who had closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. Tendons in her neck strained against the skin, her head lolling to one side.
Another parlor trick. Ruthven used her body not just as his property, but for show. This poor young woman was fuel for a party, and I didn’t doubt the vampire was the sort of god who took from his servants until there was no more to take, then discarded the husk that might have had life in it yet.
The heir of Cain slid the full glass down to me, the object stopping precisely under my nose without sloshing a single drop. I was eager to prove I was not intimidated by his tactics, not with the fierce Wanda curled up in my heart, so I looked down at the blood offering. But I was deceived.
It was not my face reflected in its calm red surface, but that of Ruthven Typhus Andronicus. The hypnotic power of his eyes was not lessened through the blood, causing me to nearly lose my composure and smash the glass with my forehead. Only an invisible claw held my head aloft, planted by Wanda in one gale of her mighty typhoon kiss.
The vampire was of course a handsome creature, expression soft, cheeks pale, youthful nose nearly reflecting lamplight, but all that was secondary to the drunkenness applied to victims of his gaze. This heir of Cain was something that came over you, like a miasma, or the first sneeze of a long head cold, rather than the stalking approach of Ms. Pelts.
I reeled. Straight off the stool and into one of the booths. Head spinning. Yet that was a partial victory. Ruthven had not hypnotized me; instead I had imagined Wanda’s face right next to his, and the two had immediately done battle. It was their tumbling scrape that made my head spin, and if not for it I would be locked in a descent into the vampire’s vacuum.
I couldn’t see straight, but I could hear just fine. People scrambled over booths. Closer. Clambering like squirrels in need of a claw trim. And under that the sound of someone much more agile passing over the bar, pants just grazing the wood. They were closing in. Two to hold my arms and one to push my head aside and expose my neck. It became my hope that my pacifist spirit would forgive me for not allowing it to come to that.
With athletic flourish that would’ve spilled me onto the floor on any day prior I sprang out of the booth and extracted the stake from my coat, brandishing it in one hand like a rapier, for a few fencing lessons were my only brushes with violence.
No doubt I was far below the visual threshold of a significant threat, but it must be remembered that the heirs of Cain were not pulling from the soldiery currently, just ordinary train passengers, and Lyset and her companion were no more prepared for this battle than myself. Both of them froze at the sight of my weapon, and each was perched upon the back of a booth like a cat with bristled back.
Ruthven had of course assessed the strength of his own weapons, and was prepared for them to falter. Rather than charge at me directly while I wielded the wooden stake he moved from the floor to the booths, jacket suddenly billowing like the tail of a ghost, and landed on the back of the young man in his thrall.
“Shield your master Burton,” the vampire ordered, his words turning into a yawn that exposed his hideous fangs: long, curved, and hollow, like sabers turned into champagne flutes. Both needles of ivory sank into Burton’s shoulder blade, far enough down and back that if I were to strike I would certainly have to hit the human shield first.
And that was very much how this god intended to use the poor fellow. The bite infused him with monstrous influence, a darkly enlightening display of the same power that so enriched my embrace with Wanda. Burton’s skin turned a stark gray-blue like ice over a headstone. Fog swept into his eyes. His own mouth stretched unnaturally open and he was forced to grow fangs not meant for biting, but for battle, swords to cross with mine.
Now puppeted by a creature with plenty of hunting experience, the Burton-ghoul climbed down and ran at me, arms outstretched. If the courage to strike down my fellow man was somewhere inside me, it had not yet reared its head, so I retreated and found the entrance to the bar. I put myself behind it, hoping the wall of bottles behind me would prevent me from getting surrounded.
As mount Burton and rider Ruthven crawled onto the bar Liset scurried alongside it to find my back. Even with the vampire refusing to fight for himself it was still two against one, and victory seemed impossible. Yet there had to be a way. My Wanda would not have sent me into this chilly hell without confidence. Her love was presumptuous, but if it was not genuine, did not truthfully cherish me, then I had already miscalculated so badly that my death was deserved.
She knew I was no soldier, and so expected me to use my cleverness. My sense of people. A sense that perhaps extended to the heirs of Cain. To bolster my nerve I thought about how I might have even seen the swing of the rock coming, were I in Abel’s place, and duck to avoid it.
What did I know of Ruthven that could be exploited? How did he differ from Wanda? As terrifying as it sounded, Wanda was like her mother. She was a beast, a matron of the wood, and took what she wanted the way a bear takes honey despite a cloud of bees. When she can’t acquire the prize she moves on in a huff and begins to forage anew.
But not the vampire. He sprang traps, and he sprang them in polite conversation. You turned your back and you were bitten, or your eyes fell upon him and you were doomed. Just as Wanda’s will had squeezed its way into my soul, Ruthven’s traps and tricks were left open, avenues for influence and life to pass between him and his thralls.
It was a wild theory, cockamamie incarnate, but my situation was desperate enough to act on it, as desperate as Wanda was when she sent a poetry-loving tailor into battle with a blood-drinking dark god.
Lyset passed behind the glass of blood that still sat on the bar untouched. Breaking it might break the spell, so rather than bat at it with the stake I reached out with my hand and turned it over, spilling its contents across the bar and onto the floor. One glass worth of blood poured out. Then two. Three. On the fourth she understood.
It had been filled from her font in an attempt to distract, impress, and horrify, which were all the same to Ruthven. That connection remained open, so much so that by the time she lunged to right the glass she’d lost too much to maintain consciousness. Her reaching hand faltered as she collapsed to her knees and paled.
Her paleness was about to become far more intense, supernaturally so, for the vampire was unwilling to let his numbers advantage disappear. The creature detached from Burton, billowed across the bar, and swung his body around Liset’s shoulders onto her back. He was much too large to weight that little, but the more concerning magic was in his teeth.
They sank into the woman’s shoulder so that she underwent the same transformation to blue skin and teeth so terrible they were more like walrus tusks. Godly speed was on his side, but the transfer still took precious seconds. I would not waste them.
Burton was dazed by the sudden absence of his master, his body quickly returning to its natural state. With my free hand I took a bottle of rum from the shelf behind me and swung it straight into the man’s cheek with all the force I could muster. It broke on impact, leaving a shard of glass in his face and several expensive drinks in his eyes.
The blow knocked him unconscious, and luckily the undead influence of his master did not allow him to stay on his feet as some sort of concussed somnambulist. Once he fell to the floor I turned my attention back to Lyset and her vampire jockey.
Now was their moment, while I was still turning back, so the dual creature lunged over the bar, grabbing at my coat with claws that grew longer by the second. Her chest was on the bar. Ruthven was far more exposed in that position, and all I had to do was disregard the teeth as big as antlers about to skewer me to the wall.
The fangs were set at wide angles, so I grabbed one by the middle, praying only the tip was sharp, and forced it off to the side, knowing the other would be too wide to slash me. Then my stake hand slipped between Lyset’s shoulder and Ruthven’s breast. It was an unworkable angle to pierce him, but the mere touch of the wood startled him so that he lifted his chest in indecision.
They had failed their moment, but I would not fail mine. I did not know the year, but I knew precisely what every second without Wanda by my side was, and they were damn near intolerable. I used one to pull the stake back just enough to thrust it again, this time through his jacket and into his flesh.
The jacket was the greatest barrier. His actual substance gave way like layers of cobweb. No wonder he could alight on his servants’ backs so easily. He was eyes and bite, and little else. For one callous moment I had to disregard my chivalry and clamber over Lyset to make sure the stake did not slip free as the vampire slid off her and stumbled back.
As more pressure became available I applied it, forcing him across the carpet and into a booth. Finally, as he struck the wall, so too did the tip of the stake. Only then did I release it and step back to see his face in full.
I expected the dregs of a monumental rage, something in line with Wanda’s passion, but the creature’s visage was almost immediately at peace. His eyes, now without hypnotic power, slowly closed as if nodding off to sleep. Lips closed over fangs, last drops of blood upon them sneaking inside when they should have fallen. My heart was still pounding with exertion, and my limbs burning, but these sensations were all rapturous, for neither would be possible if the vampire had taken any of my blood.
My chivalry was first to recover, so I quickly went back to the bar to right Lyset’s glass, which still trickled. At the time I didn’t know if her life was saved or not, nor Burton’s. Just as I leaned my back on the bar I suffered a hiccup in my recovery, two actually. The first was a jolting twitch from Ruthven in his booth, but it was just his limbs contracting like some sort of dead spider, his little smile contorting into a displeased scowl.
It was likely in response to the second hiccup, which was the door to my right sliding open. In strolled Wanda, mounds of luscious preened fur bouncing on her neck and shoulders, hands burrowed into massive sleeves. Quickly she surveyed the carnage of our first battle for independence.
“Are they-” I started to ask.
“-dead?” She looked at Lyset and Burton each once more, implying that wasn’t what she’d investigated initially. “No. Killing them might be a favor. Ridding themselves of his influence will be very difficult.” She looked at me and saw I did not approve of the idea. “If not they’ll have to be sent away, the further from him the better. As they are tainted by him they could never be disciples of mine now.” Our attention shifted to the crumpled creature in the booth, like some cantankerous hollow-leg awaiting his ordered drink.
“I’d never considered,” I remarked, “that vampires did not have reflections simply because they moved them somewhere other than the mirrors they faced. He nearly had me with that glass trick.”
“But someone had you already,” she said in a fashion must sultry, most possessive, hand appearing to run down my chest. It seemed to pull my sweat down with it, and then vanish it along with her fingers retreating into her coat. My breath was even. She moved on to Ruthven. “A reflection is little use to us, as we look outward, at the permanent night. All you Abel-bodied, you children of reflection, are so obsessed with them, as if you might lose yourself moment to moment. If you reflect less, you’ll learn more.” Her face swung back to mine. “You did splendidly Severin, as I knew you would. This takes care of him for a while.”
“Only a while!?” I sputtered. How frequently would I be required to stab someone to death in her service? Monthly? Biweekly? An act of violence to be taken every eight hours like some arthritis palliative?
“A year and a day to be exact,” she answered, not a hair on her ruffled. “We will box him up and bury him outside of our town. Then when he rises again you will be there to greet him and send him back to sleep. It is his power. He is weaker in mortal form because death is temporary for him. Isn’t that right brother?” The rigid corpse seemed to scowl a little deeper.
“Brother?” I repeated, less shocked than you might think. The though was fleeting mid-struggle, but something about the way they’d spoken of each other rang with a certain kind of familial familiarity. There certainly was no family resemblance in appearance, just in presence. “When you said you survived Diodati, what you meant was that you were one of the survivors.”
“One of seven,” she said, looking at me coyly, fully aware that she had withheld the information and still certain she was justified in doing so. “If you were paying attention the way Cain listened to the world serpent you would not be surprised by sibling rivalry running so powerfully in my line.” As usual she was correct; it was an obvious conclusion.
“Are you saying your other brothers and sisters will… come calling in our little paradise?”
“At least a few of them,” she admitted, “and perhaps all.” My Venus in furs brought her body close, pressed it against mine. I felt her heartbeats leaping across the small chasm of air between our breasts. Her vivisecting green eyes grew new plots in their periphery, thorny vines crawling across and testing the edges of the oldest stone well. “But if they want to take our paradise they will not be after deeds or townsfolk or even me. They will be after you, Severin.”
“What do you mean?” The shadow of her hand enclosed my heart again, compressing it gently to slow it. At least I assume it did, for I could not bring myself to look down. Exposing my neck to this bloodthirsty creature was every bite as dangerous as exposing it to the vampire.
“I told you my brother was upset that he couldn’t reach you first. The reverse-quarantine is but the opportunity, and you are the best means within in. You have an uncommon spirit, obedient but not without personal dignity. You are not a worm.
The more I foster our connection the more adept you will become at acting the conduit between an heir of Cain and her people. Without filtering my will through you my servants would know me only by fear, which does not nourish the ultimate loyalty. To flourish as a god I need the best chief disciple I can get.
And were my siblings to come and take our home, without taking you, alive and willing, they will effectively be burning down the rest of it and starting over. You are now my most precious jewel Severin, and you will grow only more precious with time. I trust you will understand this, and remember my reasoning… when the leash I keep you on gets a little shorter each year.”
We both felt the train chug, then slow. The whistle blew its loudest, but not a single creature in that deep snowy wood woke from their long slumber. The real disturbance had not quite arrived yet. Distant clicks as doors opened. Hundreds of feet shuffled out of their cabins, completely unaware of what had transpired. Their biggest concern was getting their bags down from the upper compartments without disturbing the contents.
“And what year is it, my Wanda?” Her mischievous smile captured me, threatened to crush.
“The first year my little Severin. And it will only be the second once we’ve had an anniversary. Now be quiet, and look out the window, just as you were when I first saw you. I want you blissfully distracted, unaware. I don’t want you to know what’s coming.” Her head dipped, but I obeyed, staring out at the whipping snow.
Her hands moved lower, under, between. But I obeyed. The snow. Faster now? Spurred by her? My Wanda flayed me of my civility, pieces of me or my clothing dropping to the floor. I shuddered, nearly knocked Lyset’s glass over again. But I obeyed. The snow. Just white now. Better to look at it than what was below. The heat in the darkness.
Wanda could be trusted to make something of one Severin Molochi, man of eighteen hundred and something or other. She certainly knew how to properly use the dining car, for she comfortably made a meal out of me.
Wanda and Severin will return in
Heirs of Cain
Venus in Quarantine