The Forest Bull (The Fearless), страница 1
The Forest Bull
Cover Art Credit: Stephen Landry
Copyright © 2013 Publisher Name
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: XXXXX
Library of Congress Control Number: XXXXX (If applicable)
LCCN Imprint Name: City and State (If applicable)
For Missy and Teddy, of course.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male. - Rudyard Kipling
“You may kiss me now,” she stated in a voice devoid of music. The mirthless bow of her full lips betrayed her intent to me, but I knew the invitation, like my costume, was a lie. She was pretending to be human. I adopted the persona of just another lonely, awkward snowbird, my own illusion that had brought me to this intimate second with her, inviting me closer with a flicker of her brow. I bought in, leaning towards her in the alcove of a cheesy hotel that advertised in French and English. The boardwalk nearby was a haven for the Quebecois who fled the rigors of winter for the sun and crowding of Hollywood, Florida, squeezed between the fashion of Miami and the canals of Fort Lauderdale.
We were a mismatched pair because she saw what I wished: a slouching, white-bread tourist being rewarded by the gods of fate with the company of a pale, elegant woman whose body filled her sundress flawlessly. Other couples and groups passed us in a late night rush between the bars and gathering places of the beach. It was cool for November. Bursts of drunken laughter mixed with the quiet spaces surrounding lovers who walked, faces turned to the shushing metronome of the surf. A single set of footfalls clattered nearby, interrupting our moment of impending passion. It was a woman dropping her keys and swearing in lightly-accented French. With a metallic tinkling, she picked them up and moved off into the night, leaving us alone again.
Reaching out, I took the woman’s thin hand tentatively as she leaned into me with beautiful but shopworn looks, tired under her makeup. A halo of dark curls was pushed back from her oval face with hair combs that were deeply burnished red, gleaming like rubbed bone. They looked regal in the careless way that beautiful women wear trinkets with quiet entitlement.
She had approached me in a bar an hour earlier as I sat alone nursing a comical umbrella drink and reading a paperback. I dress with purpose when I become someone else, leaving a riot of clues about my weaknesses and desires scattered on me. I hunch. I become meek. I mute my ego and become subservient to an affectation of absolute mediocrity. A cheap, tacky sweatshirt and garishly new deck shoes completed my identity as a visitor, unsure of my surroundings and far from home. I added moping loneliness and an aura of desperation purely for effect. With my shoulders rolled in and my body language long on failure, women ignored me. I, in turn, avoided anyone who made eye contact until she sat down, sliding into the space next to me and settling quickly. She was very still except for her eyes. They were alive, but brittle and hooded.
“Senya,” she introduced herself when she calmly sat in my booth without invitation.
There was no uncertainty in her motions as she drank one glass of wine while asking a mechanical litany of questions. Where was I from? Did I have family with me? Was I staying nearby? She delivered these in a throaty accent that was purely Eastern Europe, all while flirting with me in a listless way. I played the role of the flattered rube, and, when she asked me to leave with her my eyes, went wide, the shock of my good fortune lighting my face. I fumbled awkwardly to the door with her.
And, now, here we were, in a shadowed place with the wind and water muted. Alone, or as much as you could be in public. She pulled me to her and I inhaled her scents of red wine, foreign tobacco, and the lingering grit of the ocean. She opened her mouth and circled me with her arms, warming to the moment as we kissed. I felt her body begin to flower from our contact and winced with regret as my hand whispered upwards, burying the slim knife I had silently palmed deep into her ribs. She buckled and tried to pull back, but my arms locked on her like heavy stones resting in earth. Her eyes never opened as the poisonous blade wrecked her spirit, the silvered steel shooting through her without mercy, cutting the bond to her body forever.
Immortals are always surprised when they die. She was no different, judging by her open-mouthed, hiccupping sigh as I lowered her spasmodic body, eyes fluttering, to the concrete of the hotel patio. In seconds, she began to sublime, her ashes fleeing upward with tiny blue points of moonlight that left her dress an empty outline. I stepped back, looking at the dust of Senya, and began to turn away. In that instant, two obscenely fat moths fluttered down and began to delicately scatter her remains with their feet.
I have learned that killing immortals causes changes in my body. Maybe another executioner could learn how to fly, read minds, or bend a metal rod with their hands. I tend to think that each immortal death makes us better at what we know. For me, I grow faster, more confident. I know I am something more after fourteen years of killing their kind.
I still can’t fly, but one thing is certain. I’m very good with knives.
Arriving home, I parked, stepping through the door to find all three of my housemates spread over the living room and kitchen. Home is a single level duplex built in the 1950s. We removed the center wall years ago and tiled the floor seamlessly to match, leaving an airy feel that was classic Floridian. When one lives with people long enough in our particular dynamic, there is little need for privacy. In our unusual occupation, we also needed to be instantly available to each other at odd hours. The wall had to come down, and it turned the duplex into an open, common place for us to live and work. To the left sat Risa, her legs pulled up on a chair at the kitchen table. Her earbuds leaked music that belonged in a Lebanese nightclub. Despite a fearsome intelligence, her taste in music was on par with a cheesy disco rat. She was a compact, dusky girl with enormous black eyes and curly hair that she keeps short. Her full lips were moving slightly to the music as she pored over her laptop. A glass of wine sat next to her hand, fingers tapping lightly on the table. I could see she was scrolling through an internet message board of some sort. One browned leg hung down, her toes just touching the floor. Risa was not tall, but her intensity made her seem imposing, especially when one questioned her musical choices. I know from experience.
“How’d it go? Anything?” she looked up and spoke, reaching for her wine.
I tossed my keys on the table and opened the fridge.
“Wally bought some beer. It’s in the door,” she offered.
“Thanks, got it. Ale? We’re moving up.” I took an appreciative sip of our upgrade.
Usually, we drank like we were still on a budget in college, swilling cans of beer so foul, a person could strip paint with it. I think it was a reflection of our guilt at being financially secure after years of noodles and late rent. I glanced over at the couch before I spoke. Wally was stretched out with a bowl of popcorn balancing precariously on her bare stomach. Her long legs were split like tanned twigs, one on the coffee table, and the other thrown across the sleeping form of our enormous Great Dane, Gyro, who had achieved the same superior state of relaxation. Both were snoring gustily. With a snort, Wally launched the popcorn bowl onto the floor and resettled, mumbling. When standing, she was a California blonde out of central casting. Her long hair hung artfully, without effort. Her green eyes and freckles were perched on a flawless face and a full mouth of perfect teeth that she flashed during her nearly constant smile. For women who looked like Wally, life was a long stretch of free food, men fighting to hold doors for her, and glares from women as their husbands walked into parking meters when she passed by. We exploited her carefree attitude and stunning looks at every turn. She was our key to even the dourest obstacl
We three had met in college while I dawdled on government money after four years of self-discovery in the United States Army. With my presuppositions in hand, I had joined after the death of my parents only to find that I had rarely been so wrong about anything in my life. The army was filled with dedicated people who carried a wide range of skills abroad and within our own borders. I found that I was average at taking direction, poor with guns, good under pressure, and able to kill with little lingering introspection. Under the dedicated system that had been producing soldiers for more than two centuries, I exited the army a man, when I had entered as a skinny loner with no team-building skills. I also learned that, excepting the beaches of my home, I detested sand and heat equally. When my four year sojourn into the world of the martial sciences was at end, I returned to begin a relationship with the two women who would be my partners for what I hoped would be the remainder of my life. I am 6’3”. I left the army at two hundred pounds of muscle, and I had the good fortune to inherit my mother’s Norwegian looks and blue eyes with my father’s crop of black hair. After serving, one could call me an adult, yet even my innate fearlessness made the physical and intellectual attractions of Wally and Risa stretch the very limits of my masculine confidence. They challenged me with their thoughts, their bodies, and their simple presence.
“Ring, you smell like salt. Beach?” Risa brought me back to our discussion.
“Yeah. I camped at a booth in Vince’s and read. I didn’t wait long. You were right about the place. I think your idea to read the missing persons reports from Canada will pay off big.”
Vince’s is the bar that tourists frequent most on Hollywood Beach, as it offers the requisite cheesy nautical décor and ice cold beer. Risa had combed French-language newspapers from Canada in hopes of finding a lead on where immortals were working in our area. We simply look for the unusual. Missing persons, sudden divorces where one partner never returns home, anything that seemed off. We followed it all. Since tourists were a moveable feast to immortals, we spread our search accordingly. We read every major online news site from the northern United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Our sources included translations of news from the heart of Europe to the coast of Africa, and they never failed to yield a story that was both sad and enraging. In the news, we read of broken lives and loneliness that called for vengeance, which we provided with increasing efficiency.
Risa had drawn the short straw and learned French, since it was her idea to comb the Quebecois media for tips. We all learned a second and third language in order to make collecting information that much faster, but Risa had a true gift. To her, there was a rhythm to speech and a pattern to writing. Riffing on her linguistic skills, she built on her knowledge of different languages with each passing year. Risa was a translator, a thinker, and an analyst who knew that the pitch and timbre of words could yield secrets that we needed. Some immortals refused to speak English, angry and repulsed by finding themselves at our scant mercy. Their arrogance usually held until the bitter end. Risa, Wally and I have been cursed in so many tongues we’ve lost track. It doesn’t make it any less sweet to see a predator give in to the fear that they have visited upon humanity for years, or, in some cases, centuries. I think about the final minutes of terror that mothers, fathers, children, and lovers have felt at the hands of the supernatural. I don’t know if all immortals are bad, but the ones we kill certainly pass that test.
I settled on the chair in what Risa called my debriefing pose as she began to add to her running compilation of files, which ranged from readily available sources to items she acquired less honestly. She was not above hacking an email system or server in order to get at information we needed. I looked straight ahead and told her of the beautiful East European and her odd accent. Risa stopped me occasionally, asking for an additional detail.
“Senya?” she asked, her hands poised over the laptop’s keyboard.
She typed what facts we knew of the woman I had met and dispatched. And, so, our personal database grew with each encounter among the undying.
“East European. Pretty. Pale complexion. She wasn’t from peasant stock,” I paused, considering. “She was a bit more highborn. Turned in the last century, I think. I saved her hair combs because they look like heirlooms.”
I fished them from my pocket and set them carefully in front of Risa on the table. She stopped typing and made an appreciative noise.
“These are very old. They look like . . . red jade?” she questioned me, turning one comb to see every angle in the light.
“It’s carnelian,” Wally announced. She had risen from her nap and stood with her head cocked at the edge of the kitchen floor, considering the rich red material of the combs. Her hair was mussed from sleep, and she yawned hugely while absently scratching her stomach. Wally knew jewelry. She plucked one from the table and examined it intently.
“Hand-worked. Very old. Look how smooth it is, yes? The more I see, I think it is very, very old. Maybe even late Roman.”
Her Argentine syntax was always more pronounced when she was sleepy, drunk, or angry. On occasion, she was all three simultaneously, usually during the World Cup soccer tournament, during which she would drink beer and curse lustily at the television screen during all hours of the day or night. While Wally continued to coo over the loot, a slight tremor shook my hands as the inertia of my night’s success wore off. Risa looked at me gently, knowing that the shock and effect of the immortal dying was coming home to roost. To dispatch an immortal is not without cost. I leaned over a bit, feeling a wave of unease. Sometimes, after a kill, we would feel invigorated, chatty to the point of being a pest, or aroused, but, after some more violent, personal kills, needy and awash with depression. It depended on exactly what we had contacted. Tonight, I felt an intense mixture of uncertainty and loneliness.
Risa held out her hand to me, saying to Wally, “We’re going to sleep this off for a while,” in a soft tone.
For all her intensity, Risa had always shown Wally and me the highest compassion when we were left with the emotional wreckage of killing an immortal. Her gentle side was freely given to us when we were most vulnerable, a sometimes hidden vein of ore in a mind that was deep and prone to cool reason. Wally patted my shoulder and gave me a one-armed hug as she turned to reclaim her part of the couch from Gyro. I followed Risa closely enough to smell the rosewater perfume she wore and decided that the comfort of her room was exactly what I needed to rid myself of the veil that Senya had left behind. She closed the door and turned off the lamp in one motion, moving through the darkness with a certainty that the kill had left me wanting. Her arms welcomed me on the bed and, very shortly, I couldn’t even remember what the waves had sounded like an hour before.
It was late morning when I woke up, feeling good for many reasons, not the least of which was the soft tangle of Risa the night before. The buzz from the immortal had gone to work on me immediately, received seamlessly into my muscles. I felt clear-headed and quick. It had been worth the ugliness of an act of murder, although that may sound crass. It helps to stay focused on what immortals do to humans and how, in many cases, they willingly left their original body behind. Some turned for vanity, others for power, and many from sheer vindictiveness. Sociopaths all too often found the lure of a long life of wanton sin to be irresistible.
I opened the back door and walked outside, Gyro right beside me. The grapefruit and orange trees groaned with their load of dark green unripe fruits, and I could smell the distinct musty salt of low tide. We lived on a canal that eventually connected to Port Everglades and then through the jetties, where the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean rolled. Our seawall was hemmed by a wooden dock with pilings that were covered in oysters. Two davits held our modest boat in the air, away from the briny water
From Risa’s Files:
For Sale: 2004 Ford F-150 4x4. Loaded, low miles, babied by owner who was last seen leaving work with some Goth tramp half his age. Since he left his wife and daughters without a word or warning, I’m selling his truck the same way. First 6,000 takes it. Reply to this email to see truck. If you’re my husband, don’t reply at all!
Immortality is a strange and inconsistent curse. Risa sees it as a type of disease that mutates from body to body, with the results being wildly divergent but rarely positive. Where Risa is analytical, Wally is emotional, judging the undying as criminals based on their sins. Between the clinical and sensory, we stitch together a name, a species, and a history for each new immortal. We have seen people who match the descriptions of nearly every mythical creature from recorded history. Some defy classification, their grotesque needs beyond any bogeyman from the sum of human fears. Their bodies change in ways that are subtle or shocking depending on what their new body craves. They adapt, and quickly, to the new, base wants that compel them to hunt and kill. Even in the blackest visions of Church cynics, human imagination placed limits on what could be described. Left to run free in the world, the effects of immortality easily surpassed those Church warnings of demons and beasts whose purpose was vile and fatal. What the supposition of mankind could not capture was the elegance of these predators. From our close vantage point, we were continuously stunned by the forms that death could take. We all agreed, regardless of the killer’s beauty, they could not be left to winnow the ranks of innocents. Looking at the massive sprawl of Gyro’s deep blue black frame, I was amazed once again at how some beauty could be benign and some lethal beyond belief. I was desperately proud of the fact that we three held life in such high esteem, even after years of hunting. It was a trait that I hoped would never fade, lest we become far too similar to our prey to continue calling ourselves human. I ended my musings in the bright sun and walked back inside, as it was nearing lunchtime, and that meant a visit to Hardigan Center.