A little urban fantasy - Editor
Light and Blood
by Lydia Kurnia
My first memory is of crying alone in a sea of corpses.
My tears had long gone dry. Like the blood, caking around their flesh, making dark rivers over the rotting landscape. Their faces—what remained of them—held a shadow of dread. Every single one of them. The murdered and the murderers.
My parents lay before me, their vacant eyes staring into the stars. The houses were no longer burning—rubble and ashes on a crimson mud.
I was alone. Crying. Until my sobs matched another’s.
You were as broken as I was, naked and lost in the sea of corpses. We were the only two that did not drown. The only two who wished we had. I crawled to you. My hands aglow. It was as if I held the sun in my palms. Your legs were twisted the other way. I folded them together, making a criss-cross of bed where I would lay.
I remember how you held me, so gentle the way a fog kisses the ground. I lay there in your arms, curled up like a foetus. You curled over me like summer.
I bit into your thigh. You didn’t even flinch. Perhaps you were too broken then. Perhaps I was too hungry to care. It didn’t matter because we must have been beautiful—a shimmering red island in a sea of death.
I drank you in, your sweetness swirling over the walls of my mouth. You melded with the glow emanating from my body. I closed my eyes. Feeling you feeling me.
In light and blood.
The caravan door opened and Victor walked in. His hair was scruffy and he smelled of sand. "Hush, Muffin.” He pulled her into his arms. “It’s okay. I’m here now. I’m here.”
Faith tried to speak, but her tears wouldn’t let her. Dreams aren’t real. She clutched Miffy more tightly and wished she were braver.
"Want me to read you a story?" Faith shook her head. She was too old for stories. “Beetroot juice then?” Victor’s beetroot juice was the best, but she didn’t want it tonight. She shook her head again. “Tickle-boo?" He did not wait for her response this time and poked her waist. She giggled and poked him back.
That sort of worked.
She looked down. Her hands were still glowing. That always happened after the nightmare. Victor took them in his and rubbed the knuckles with his thumbs. She followed the light as it travelled his hands, along his arms before it withered away. When she looked up, Victor had his face all twisted as if lifting something heavy. He always looked like that when she glowed.
Victor pulled away. Confusion shrouded his eyes as his fists curled and uncurled on his lap. “Muffin, you want—you want to talk about it?”
She didn’t. Victor had heard all about her nightmares. She had it so many times, he could probably recite the scene detail by detail. “Will you just sing for me, Victor?”
He hopped into her bed, her body melding comfortably into his like dough to a mould. He wrapped around her, making a blanket. Her fingers played with the hair on his arms. Victor felt like a massive stuffed bear. A giant Miffy. He was the best place to be.
He sang. He picked the one in that language she did not understand. She loved his voice. It reminded her of mountains—strong and scenic—the peaks touching the clouds. Victor was the rainbow, splashing trails of colours along the path traveled.
She closed her eyes. Everything’s alright when Victor is near.
They had a visitor.
Faith did not remember the last time they had visitors. They were stationed so remote in the outback, the caravan stood alone in the middle of red like an alien invasion. Sometimes she liked to think it was their spaceship, star-crashed in the midst of red dust and Eucalyptus trees.
They were the aliens.
The visitor was a curious sort—tanned skin covered in tattoos, almost like Victor’s, but more faded. His hair was long and he wore it half-up like a girl. His cloak was odd, like those ones she had seen in fairy-tale books. It went down to his knees, the hem touching the ears of his boots.
Victor told her to stay in the caravan. She did, grudgingly, but she remained by the window and stalked them like a hunter.
"What do you think you’re doing?" the visitor roared as soon as Victor walked out. "You took an oath, Veren. Have you forgotten who you are?"
Faith didn't know why he’d called Victor by a different name, but Victor did not correct him. He answered with a question, but it was lost in the wind. Faith leaned forward, determined to steal pieces of their conversation.
"It doesn’t matter how,” the visitor replied. “I found you and I want answers! Your job was to eradicate all of them, not collect souvenirs.”
Victor ushered him away, but the visitor broke free, throwing his arms in the air. “You don’t get to make decisions, Veren! You’re a warrior. Warriors follow orders. Now Alpha wants both your heads.” Victor did not say anything, so the visitor continued. “It’s not too late. Finish your job and your life may be spared.”
“Go home, Greth.”
“Think of our family, our friends who have died in their hands. Think of your army, the ones you left be—“
Victor spun around so fast, she didn’t even know where his fist had landed. The visitor tumbled down. When he wiped his mouth, there was blood on his sleeve. Faith had never seen Victor so angry like that. She did not recognise this man with fire in his eyes.
“What are you doing playing mummy to the last of their kind? I swear, Veren, sometimes your heart is bigger than your head.” The visitor paused. Victor’s shoulders rose and fell like the tide. “Come home with me.”
"You weren't there.”
“I was there! Fighting the same war on the other side of the world.” The visitor’s voice screeched like a banshee’s. “Or are you planning to start another?”
Victor looked as if he was about to hit the visitor again, but he didn’t. He just shifted from side to side. “I should have died,” he murmured, falling against the side of the caravan as if he had taken a blow. “I should have died with my men, but I didn’t.”
The visitor laughed. “You think she saved you? It’s a false sense of bliss, typical after the healing. It’s their way to make you trust them before they go back to the ripping and—”
“She never touched me that way.”
“She never—“ The visitor caught himself. “By the Gods. You one sick masochist.”
“How much time do I—”
“No, Veren, I’m curious. How does it work? She’s your drug and you’re her food?”
“How much time do I have, Greth?” Victor’s eyes were aglow with warning and that made the visitor behave.
“Two days. Maybe less.”
Victor ushered him to his car, opened the door, and pushed him in. "I thank you for the alert."
“Veren, I beg you.” The visitor’s face softened and he looked at Victor with pleading eyes. “It’s a lonely place where you’re going.”
Victor didn’t say anything but banged the car door closed, just missing the visitor’s leg. “You saved my life more than once. Let me save yours,” the visitor persisted. “When Alpha sends his—“
“I don’t expect otherwise,” Victor cut him short. “You do what you must. So will I.” He tapped the hood of the car. “Goodbye, Greth.”
The visitor stared at Victor for a long time, looking struck. After a time, the engines came to life and he drove off.
Victor stood still, watching the dust settle on the spot the wheels had ruffled. He stepped backwards and slumped into the plastic chair, burying his face in his palms.
Faith came out then, and ran to him, wrapping him up in her arms. Her light returned and she could hear him hauling his breath in before he squeezed more tightly than usual. She waited until he pulled away. She saw pain in his eyes. How she wanted to brush it away like the cookie crumbs on her dress.
Victor grabbed her hands and just stared as if he didn't know what to do with them. "Muffin, go get your things. We leave tonight."
Their Jeep entered the highway.
Faith sat in the backseat, watching the trees roll by like a movie. It wasn’t the first time they went for a long trip, but it was the first time Victor left the caravan behind.
It was exciting, but then the trees kept rolling, and the sun kept sinking, and Victor hadn't said a word since they left the desert. He looked distracted, forever checking the mirror even when there was nothing there.
Faith took Miffy out of her bag and made him leap on the window like a rabbit. "Victor, who was that man?” she asked. “I don't like him.”
“Greth is a friend.”
“He's an idiot.” At this, Victor arched an eyebrow. “He made you mad.” It seemed a logical conclusion. Victor was always calm as the sea.
A thin smile spread across his lips. “You’re right, Muffin, Greth’s an idiot.”
“Did you do something bad?” Victor shifted in his seat. When he did not answer, she added, “Did you kill someone?” Victor had killed things before. The spiders in the loo, the cockroaches that stole her lunch, the dingos that came near the caravan…
Victor's fingers tightened around the wheel. He opened his mouth, but his eyes caught something in the mirror. He pressed the brake so suddenly, her seatbelt felt as though it’d split her in two. Victor jumped out.
At first, she thought he was mad, so she kept apologising until she saw his face behind the window. Victor wasn't mad.
He was terrified.
"Get out," he demanded and craned his neck up to the sky. She followed his gaze but all she could see was the orange of an angry night.
Then she heard it. The screaming. It was coming from the clouds.
Victor yanked her out and pushed her behind him, his hands trembling around hers. His head swayed side to side, anticipating something. He made her nervous. Then he dropped to his knees, grabbing her arms. "Faith." Victor only called her by name when she had done something wrong. She flinched.
He groped at his jacket and pulled a silver ball out of the pocket. The surface glinted in the moonlight, she could see her own reflection in it. Victor took her hand and placed the ball in her palms. It felt awkward. She had to hold it with both hands to keep it from falling.
"This is a grenade, Faith, a special one. If you—"
"I don't want a grenade," she said, confused.
"—press this button here, and throw it in the air, it will release silver nitrate rays. The rays will harm us but it will protect you." His hands tightened around hers. “Faith, if I ever turn against you, you must use it. Do you understand?"
She didn’t. But before she could ask questions, he rose to his feet and shuffled her close. His gaze returned to the sky.
The screaming had stopped, but the eerie stillness remained. "Take Miffy with you.”
Victor lifted her to his back, and ran. Into the red.
Faith was certain they were lost.
But Victor kept moving as if he knew where he was going. The desert stretched far and wide, the red touching the blue, spinifex grass disappearing. Faith realised after a time that they were following an obscure path. They passed a sign: Mercury Mine. 82 km.
Faith did not know what a Mercury Mine was or how it would save them, but it seemed they were heading there. Victor sounded tired. His breathing hoarse, his movement irregular. But he did not stop. She pressed her cheek against his back and prayed that whatever it was they were running from would soon go away.
Then Victor tripped.
They both rolled down the hill until she hit a boulder. Faith cried on impact and looked about. Victor was gone. She heard grunting noises to the left and snapped her head towards it. She found him, flipping on all fours, hunching his back. His face was all crumpled like the newspaper in the caravan.
He was shiny with sweat, yet shivering as if it was winter. "S—stay back, F—faith!" But it was him who kept crawling away, panic flickering in his eyes.
The screaming returned and they both looked up to the sky. The moon was golden and full, black birds flying across it. The noise was coming from them and they kept increasing in size, closer and closer until she could see. They were not birds: wolves with dark capes floating on their backs.
Like the one the visitor had worn.
Faith turned to Victor… but he wasn’t Victor anymore. He had hair all over his face, and fangs at the front of his teeth. Faith screamed, stepping a few paces back. But something in his eyes made her stop. She recognised those eyes. Those beautiful blue were still Victor's.
He growled and kept waving his hair arms at her, shooing her away. "Run. You—you must run. Faith—the mine. Go to—to the mine!" The words tumbled out of him like waterfall.
She didn't move. Couldn't. She watched Victor explode out of his shirt, his torso expanding and strands of brown streaming out of his skin like sieved play-dough. She looked down to his hands: claws shot out of the tips, clipping the sand.
“Victor...” Faith sobbed. What was happening to him?
The flying wolves were still screaming, deafening sounds saturating the air. They landed a few feet away and charged, faster than any Jeep she’d seen.
Something buzzed in her brain. Images. Blurry and contorted. I have been here before, where a horde of dark beasts stampeded towards me, my parents….
“Victor!” But Victor was still transforming. His nose protruded outwards to form a muzzle, his fangs stretched, cutting through his gums. A bushy tail sprouted out of his tailbone, his eyes fixed on hers. They said: Run now, or I will make you!
As fast as she could into the red. In her head, she saw those corpses again—the ones she had seen in her nightmares—running with her like zombies, away from them, those dark creatures just like the ones stampeding towards them now. She shook her head. What’s happening to me?
Her eyes caught another boulder. She threw herself behind it and looked back. Victor was already fighting the wolves.
She must get to the mine. Get help. But she could not leave Victor behind. Faith clutched Miffy more tightly, hoping decision would dawn on her.
Victor leaped back and forth, clawing and snapping at the caving beasts. He was fast, his movement fluid like an angry sandstorm. But there were so many of them and they kept coming, ripping him apart with their teeth, their claws, their whipping tails. Victor persisted even when he was dripping with blood. He fought like a mad dog trapped in a landslide of livid wolves.
Faith could not stop crying. Do something!
She looked down. It was still in her hands. She tried to remember Victor’s instructions. The button. Her finger hovered over it, but she remembered what Victor had said. She didn't want to harm him.
A thud and she looked up. Victor was down. The big wolf—bigger than the rest—had his claws on Victor’s neck. There were tattoos on the inside of his front legs. She recognised them. The visitor.
The two were growling at each other as if engaged in a heated argument. When they fell silent, the visitor released and blood-drenched Victor leaped back to his feet. The other beasts moved away, forming a circle around the two. Victor whimpered, staggering, and then the visitor stretched his left paw out. He brushed the ground twice with it. After a moment’s hesitation, Victor did the same. It was then that the two broke into orbit, eyes engaged, bodies contorted like taut bowstrings.
Greth is a friend. She remembered what Victor had said in the car. She prayed that whatever it was they made ready for, the visitor was going to help.
The beasts broke into thunderous roar as Victor leaped forward and the visitor met him in mid-air. She had judged wrong.
Faith held her breath, watching them fight with her heart in her throat. The two were engaged in a deadly lock, like lovers, jaws tight-gripped around each other’s neck. They fell to the ground and broke apart. The visitor was up in no time, but Victor tottered. Blood dripped from the visitor’s teeth as he watched Victor sway about like a drunk. The visitor waited, hate flickering in his eyes.
Greth is a friend. He was not one tonight.
They were back circling each other and the others egged them on with impatient snarls. Victor looked worn-out, he kept tripping in his own steps. Faith clutched Miffy more tightly and wished her courage would come.
And the visitor was atop Victor. They sprawled into the audience, who took that chance to rip Victor like a prize. The visitor slithered back into the moonlit centre, his teeth clenched tight around Victor’s tail. He dragged him out from the hungry rampage, and Victor coiled about, crimson drizzle everywhere. He dodged a strike from the visitor’s claw only to receive successive assaults from the other beasts. Something was alight in Victor’s eyes then, something feral and it formed a shape at the back of her mind.
Her throat retched.
Victor went berserk.
With terrifying swiftness, he stormed at the visitor like a mindless fiend. It was chaotic, the way he assaulted the visitor with his claws and teeth. Victor moved so fast, sometimes she could see nothing but a brown shadow. Or two, when the visitor fought back—fluid patterns in a whirl of spraying red dust. The others moved away, in shock it seemed, and Faith did not know whether to cheer or weep. She had never seen anything so frightening and beautiful. Because it was Victor, fighting like one possessed.
For a while he was magnificent… until the other beasts joined in.
“No!” He was lost then, sucked in a quicksand of rampaging beasts. It went on for a long time and she could not see him, she could not see if he was still fighting. Her vision blurred in her own tears.
Faith screamed. Her body moved on her own accord, dashing forward—Miffy in one hand and the grenade in the other. Her heart pounded loudly beneath her chest as she pressed the button and threw the grenade up to the sky. She did not stop, her course fixed on the dark centre that was Victor.
Something hot washed over her, coming from within and spreading outwards.
The beasts dispersed at the sight of her, opening up a path, leading to him. They all looked terrified and that gave her hope. But her heart sank when she saw him.
Victor lay in a pool of blood.
“Victor!” She ran to him and gathered his limp body into her arms. Her arms—they were glowing, just like they did after the nightmares. Perhaps that was what had scared the wolves; perhaps it was the grenade that should explode any minute now. She didn’t care. All she wanted was Victor back.
“Victor…” Faith buried her face in his matted fur, searching for his heartbeat, clutching him hard. Her hope soared when she found it, faint, but it was there. “Wake up.” She watched her light travel along his torso. Beneath that, were the wolves, coming closer and closer…
The grenade exploded.
She curled her body over him, hiding him as best she could because she remembered what he had told her. The desert was awash with amazing brilliance, as if the world momentarily disappeared. Her own light expanded, forming a yellow safety dome under which they lay. She looked ahead. In the white light were whirling shapes of brown and black. The wolves. They were screaming, trails of ash drizzling in their path.
Victor howled then, with such anguish, it shook her to the core. At first she thought he was hurting, but she saw: he was howling for them. He made as if to join them, but she yanked him back when she saw his paw scorch in the white. She kept him still, stroking his fur. In the end, he did surrender.
Faith could not breathe. It was as if she was falling in and out of sleep. The images came back: the sea of mangled blood-stained corpses, the stench of rotting flesh…
“Faith.” A voice. It was Victor's. Victor was back. His hand pulled her head down to the curve of his neck. Without thinking, she bit into his flesh.
He didn't flinch. Perhaps he was too broken then. Perhaps she was too hungry to care. It didn’t matter. This all felt familiar. He tasted familiar like…the beetroot juice she drank every night.
Beetroot juice. Every night.
We have been here before.
His sweetness swirled over the walls of her mouth and he melded with the glow emanating from her body. They were one—a shimmering red island in a sea of death.
Dreams aren’t real. But she had been here before. With him.
Her muscles went taut.
It had always been there—the memory—knocking softly at the door of her sleep. But tonight, it lay naked before her, naked as a newborn babe. That day, the day everything was taken away from her. It all came rushing back in a rapid jumble of mess. The beasts—like the ones fighting Victor tonight—swarmed into the neighbourhood like an outbreak. They murdered everyone even in their sleep, destroying everything in their path. Her parents and the neighbours fought back, but the beasts kept coming like a giant flood. There were too many of them. Too many…
Faces of corpses scattered about, eyes vacant to the stars...
Faith remembered and bit deeper, marvelling in the sweet taste of his blood. The blood of the murderer who had destroyed everything and everyone she loved. This time, Victor did flinch, but his hand did not stop stroking her back. He let her take him in. All of him.
Her fingers yanked at his hair, nails digging into his skin. She forced his neck open, sinking her teeth deeper in. Her tongue touched his bones, licking every drop that splashed out of the muscles between. In the distance, the trees rustled, the Kookaburras were laughing, the sounds of dawn breaking… every minute detail of the world they could have shared.
Her pain expanded, melding with her anger, one she did not know she had. She had lost everything because of Victor and she was certain of it because he had been there in the aftermath of great destruction. Victor must pay. He must pay for what he’d done.
She would drink him dry and watch life fade out of him like water to a drain. But she remembered his stories, the songs he’d sung, and his steady heartbeat against her cheek. My giant Miffy. Her massive stuffed bear.
Her rage was coaxing her: end it here. Victor must pay.
But Victor… was the best place to be.
With every bit of her strength, Faith pulled away and watched the last of her light mend the gap on his neck. Victor quivered when she released him. She crawled away, wiping his blood off her mouth with Miffy. For a moment, they just lay there panting, staring at each other, a thousand emotions charging between.
“You killed them.” She didn’t even recognise her own voice, raw and savage, coming from somewhere dark within. “You killed them all.”
She waited for him to deny it, tell her that he hadn’t lied about the car accident that made her forget. Victor sat up and hugged himself. “I did what I must do,” he murmured.
Nothing would bring them back. Nothing. Her anger clawed at her like the ghosts.
“Why did you spare me?”
He shook his head, looking so broken tangled in his own limbs. “I don’t know,” he replied, so soft it was barely audible. “Perhaps the same reason you did.”
Had she saved him? She remembered crawling into his arms, searching for warmth, for comfort. They were the only two who had not drowned. The only two who wished they had.
“You held me so tight,” he continued, “I just—I couldn’t let go, Faith. You healed me time and time again. Not just my wounds, but here.” He tapped at his chest. He was silent for a while, still afraid to meet her eyes. “I didn’t know how to break away.” He shuddered. “I still don’t, so I stayed.”
You’re her food and she’s your drug. That was what the visitor had said. It was not love that bound them, but this—this perverse connection they could not break.
She felt ill.
Victor crawled to her. “Don’t…” she whispered and he sank away. She could not see his face, but she knew that had hurt and was glad for it.
For a moment, Victor seemed lost, then he pushed himself up to his feet. He hesitated in that awkward grace familiar to her, before limping into the ashes. Immersed in the remains of his kind, Victor stretched his palms out and waved through it. She watched his face contort with grief.
Greth is a friend. And Victor had howled for them.
Those beasts—horrible as they were—had been family to him.
Were they even then?
Victor opened his arms, head up to the sky. And then he sang. It was the same lullaby he always sang for her, the one in that language she did not understand. But it was different tonight, the way he sang it, as if desperate to draw comfort from it. It was the comfort she could not offer. The comfort she did not feel. Tears streamed down his face, and something else, something broken. Faith was broken with him, against her will.
Victor was a murderer. Victor was home. She knelt still on the ground, confused.
Could she forgive him? This man-beast who had fought like one possessed and traded his life for hers? How would they live with this pain between them?
Victor was alone, just like she was, shunned away by his kind, by his own choice. If it wasn’t love that bound them, it was something stronger, even if she didn’t know what it was as yet.
He fell silent and sank down to his knees, sobbing, and she was sobbing with him. They shared something none could understand, even them, because none other had tried.
She imagined life without Victor in it. A life without Victor … wouldn’t be life at all.
So she crawled to him and opened his arms. She lay herself in them and he welcomed her with a sigh. He wrapped around her, making a blanket; she played with the hair on his arms like she always did. They were still crying, swimming in their own tears, and the blood that spilled on the world they must share.
“They won’t stop until we're dead,” he whispered into her hair.
“I will protect you,” she said between her sobs, “so don’t shoo me away like you did, next time.”
A pause, followed by a muffled laugh. “That’s a good plan,” he agreed.
She smiled and drew him closer, shutting her eyes. So thus they were, intertwined forever.
In light and blood.