intermission

The curtains come down, lights go up. All around you people rise, gather their belongings, handbags, walking sticks, they button waistcoats and evening jackets; it is overly warm in the theatre, many in the audience show a faint sheen of sweat on their forehead, you hope it is not the influenza.

Part “Totentanz”, part “Masque of the Red Death”, in this time of pestilence you find the play both ironic and macabre. No one has died so far, but death has been dancing invisibly amongst the players leading their lives, touching one here, one there. The dancer chooses randomly, the vile, the innocent, the powerful, the suffering, none are safe, none can protect themselves.

You are surprised by the size of the audience. How many here carry the virus? How many will be infected here? How many will die because of this evening? Yet they are here in masses, all seats are occupied. The play has received good press, the actors are renowned, but why risk infection?

They have come to see their life and their death. They have come to see their insecurity and their fear. They have come to see how defenceless they are.

You slip your shawl over your shoulders and join the crowd in the atrium. It is the intermission.

***

She stands at the edge of the crowd, glass of champagne in hand. She is tall, thin, almost scrawny, in a black dress, black hair escaping from where it’s tied back. Her face is pale, drawn; her eyes gaze out intently over the assembled throng. She sees them and despises them, despises herself for that. Unconscious sacks of skin, filled with meat and bones and blood. Stuffing more meat into their mouth, cheese, bread, sweets, washing it all down with cheap champagne, pretending it’s worth the price they paid at the bar.

She can smell it all, the slight smell of rot from the meat which wasn’t kept fresh, the cheese which has gone stale. The smell of desperation in the patron’s sweat, which they try to hide from themselves with alcohol. Deeper, she smells the sickness which has infected them, the fear of contagion. The fear of the virus spreading further every day. She smells the mortality in their blood. Their blood. Her breath catches and she takes a gulp from her glass.

She hears their voices, which reveal the same desperation. A little too shrill, a little too excited, a little too loud even for here, even for tonight’s show. She sees their clothes, none quite new, none quite matching. Her own dress isn’t much better. Their gestures are wild, and she can see drops of sweat forming on their skin, veins pulsing in their necks, on their forehead.

She can smell the sweat too and more fear with it. The fear excites her. Her heart beats a little harder. Even if they don’t fear her, are hardly aware of her presence, she still reacts to it. She feels like a predator, a spider sitting in a web, the little humans oblivious of her, waiting for her to suck them dry. She despises herself for these feelings.

She gulps down more champagne, concentrates on the alcohol flowing down her throat. The prickling keeps her concentrated, centered, grounded, but unsatisfied. She imagines a darker liquid, warm, sweet, salty, spreading through her mouth; she can smell it, see it everywhere. She clenches her fists, drives her nails into her palm, snaps out of it.

She refocuses, realises that her gaze is resting on a centre of calm in the surrounding hubbub; that her gaze is being returned. She can’t break the stare; she sees recognition in the eyes looking back at her, sees that the other knows the real danger in the room. All her senses focus, the girl staring back at her has a different smell, her fear more focused, her whole body alert, her heart beating faster, pumping blood more swiftly through her veins. Her veins, so vulnerable under thin fragile skin, in an undernourished body.

She knows that she is dangerous. She knows that she can’t let herself lose control. Yet she thirsts so much. The other still has her gaze fixed on her. If she doesn’t leave, she will hurt her, why won’t she leave, she knows the danger, why does she just stay there, almost welcoming her?

Her fists are clenching rhythmically, her pulse hammering in her temples, her breathing more like gasps. She advances through the room. Not breaking her gaze, she arrives in front of the girl. “Leave!” the word comes out as a hiss. They stare at each other, for seconds which are eternities, as understanding flows between them.

The tall girl takes a step back. Breaks the gaze. It is not possible. She cannot take this. She turns, rushes off, through the crowd, through a door, away. Away, where it’s safe. Where there’s no one she can hurt. No one to remind her of her need. No one to make her into a monster. Away, alone, safe.

***

You do not want to be there. You do not want to be in this crowd of strangers, these boisterous people. Talking too fast, drinking too much, laughing too loud, you know they are hiding their fear of what may happen, of what is happening. If it weren’t tragic, you could almost imagine that it is a continuation of the play; a modern interpretation of the masque of the red death, in which all the players know that death is shut in with them; yet they continue to party.

Except for that one woman whom you see across the room. Tall and thin, she stands out from the others. You notice her because nobody else seems to, because she stands alone, different. She radiates control, if not of her surroundings, then of herself. Or so the woman seems to, until you notice her eyes staring into the void; until you see her eyes refocus, fix on yourself. Then you see hunger, need, a wild desperation deeper than any other you can see in the crowd.

When the other approaches you stand rooted, fixed to the spot. You know that you are not safe; you have not been safe since this pestilence started sweeping the streets. Now you know a different danger, a danger of drowning, of being devoured, of giving your self to feed that hunger which has found you. As she grips your arm you want to flee, but even as you hear her command to leave you know that you can not, will not. You have never felt such desire, such hunger as this stranger has, you are already lost in her need, in your need to satisfy her.

Then she rushes of, effortlessly slipping between the people as if she were inhabiting a different space. You stand alone, in shock, you feel almost bereft. You have never felt such intensity of emotion, such hot desire, such icy self-control. You know that she is dangerous, but you know that you can not let her be; and what is danger in this time anyway.

You can just see the tall stranger stepping through wide doorways on the other end of the atrium, and you decide to pursue her. But the crowd hinders you, where it parted like liquid for the stranger. Fat sweaty men crowding you, gesticulating, blocking your passage. You try to push your way through, but the crowd behaves like it were conspiring against you. You feel anxiety rising, urgency, what if she escapes, how will you find her again in this city in turmoil? You let out a piercing mental shout of “Let me through!” and suddenly the crowd parts in front of you, leaving a straight path to the doorway through which the dark lady disappeared.

You rush into another room, brightly lit, white marble, cold, only a few scattered people are here. A stairway with black cast-iron railing leads upwards, and on the top landing you see her, tall and slender, her eyes fixed on you. Suddenly wary, you slowly climb the stairs, aware that she is watching your every step, aware of the hard banister under your hand, aware of the silence here, of the chill in the air, of the toothy smile appearing on her face as you reach the landing.

***

She stands at the top of the landing, panting. But not from lack of breath, she is panting from a deeper need. She is glad of the cool air in this room, glad of the quiet, relieved that there is no crowd, that the few people here are at a distance. She quietens her breathing, reinforces her control over her body. Mostly she is glad that she has escaped from that other girl’s gaze, those deep dark knowing eyes, that pale fragile skin with veins visibly coursing underneath. Her breathing becomes heavier again. She’d been so close, she had felt her pulse where she had gripped her arm, the sweet life-force running under her fingers, she had smelt it almost… Best not go there. She breathes the cool air and calms her thoughts.

Then the girl flies through the doorway. She sees her stop, momentarily disoriented by the stark difference between the atrium and this hallway. She sees her searching, their gazes finding each other. She is incapable of looking away, she sees the girls hesitation, a moment of insecurity. Mentally she shouts at the girl to run, run away, danger! But instead she advances, lays her hand on the banister, climbing the stairs, deliberately, one step at a time.

Is she mad, this girl? Can she not see the danger she is in, that she is walking straight into the arms of a monster, a killer? Does she not realise what will happen? That she will cut her skin, release the hot pulsing red blood from her veins, drink her blood, drink her life, consume her. Does the girl not see that she is giving herself to a demon, a monster?

She looks poised, calm, but she is salivating, almost drooling. She licks her lips, and as the girl climbs the last few steps to the landing she is unaware of her face forming a smile, a grin, a predatory rictus. As the girl is in reach she grabs her, the second time tonight, she moves towards a door marked “staff only”, drags her through the door, into the dimly lit corridor, along the corridor.

She is half-aware of words leaving her mouth, of the girl struggling, but all she can see is her skin, the veins beneath, the dark red blood that will fill her mouth, that will rush down her throat, explode in all her senses, fulfill her.

Thus she hurries down the corridor, up dark staircases, not knowing where she is going, seeing all through a red veil of need, of blood, lust, and hunger, knowing nothing but the need to find a safe place, a secure place, a place to feed.

***

You are being dragged through a dark corridor; the grip on your arm is like an iron vise. You struggle, try to wrench yourself free, but she is possessed of unexpected strength. You try to grab on to doorframes, furniture as you pass by them, but to no avail. You are scared now, she told you to leave, why did you follow her.

You hear her speaking, words pouring out of her mouth, many garbled and incomprehensible, some whispered or hissed, a few shouted, almost shrieked. “No” you hear again and again, and “blood”, “want”, “now”, “need”, “feed me”, but also “run”, “leave”, “fight”, “dangerous”, and ever again “blood”, “red”, “hot”.

She drags you down the corridor, through a doorway. In a room you see somebody else and call for help, but you are already gone down another corridor, this one so dark that you can’t see anything, just hear your ravager’s panting breath and stumbling words. In a staircase you hold on to the railing, and she yanks viciously at your arm, almost wrenching it out of your shoulder. You are in pain as she pulls you, almost lifts you up the stairs.

Finally you go through a small doorway, and she stops, releases you. You are in a small room, dimly lit from below through gaps in the wooden floor. You hear the door click shut. Faint voices echo from below. Her ragged panting, her hands clenching rhythmically into fists, she stands still, like you she has nowhere left to run.

You are shocked by the change in her voice, she sounds almost calm as she says, “you shouldn’t be here”, and after a pause “I am dangerous, I should not exist”. You hear despair in her voice, and you know that it is despair over her own condition, over her need, over losing control. She opens the door and steps away, “you should leave now”.

You could bolt. The scared wounded animal in you wants to flee through the open door. But you stand still as the door gently swings shut again. You can not leave that pain, you can not leave that need. As the latch clicks shut again you take her hand. The room is almost bare, only a small patch of carpet offers any comfort. You lead her there, amazed at how docile she has become, you kneel, then sit on the carpet, pull her down with you. You offer her your arm, “take what you need”.

You feel her flinch, go tense, she whispers “no”. “Do not be scared”, you answer, “it is a gift”. She shies away, “I will hurt you!” You flinch from the pain in your shoulder as you lay your other arm on her neck, you feel the muscles there, they are tensed up, hard as stone. You gently nudge her forward, “please take this gift, it is freely given”. She takes your offered arm in both hands; you can feel her warm breath on your skin. She whimpers “no”, but her hands tighten and she tenses even further. Then she opens her mouth wide and sinks her teeth into your flesh.

***

She is in a little room with the girl, there is nowhere left to go. Why won’t the girl leave? The door is open, she has hurt her, shown her the violence that dwells within her, she should leave now before it gets worse. She hates herself for the hurt she’s done, she is a monster, how can the girl just accept that? She hates herself for her need, despises her lack of control. Yet even in the dim light she can’t help but focus on the veins running under the girl’s skin, all along her bare arms and shoulders, pulsing at her neck.

She doesn’t resist as the girl takes her hands, she willingly sinks down with her. She knows that she shouldn’t, where this is leading to, she does not want to hurt the girl. She stares at the arm that is proffered her, at the beautiful pale skin in her arms, so soft, the veins just underneath, the blood flowing.

She does not want this, what kind of monster is she? What kind of… She can not resist the desire, the need, the lust for her blood. She is barely aware that she is being spoken to, that she is being nudged. She tightens her grip on the girl’s arm, leans forward. She licks the fragile skin, takes it into her mouth, bites down.

At first there is resistance, then the skin breaks. The first drops of blood fill all her senses, she loses herself, bites harder, a sudden gush into her mouth, hot, salty, sweet, so full of life, she swallows and is filled with pleasure. She needs more, she bites deeper, trying to get at the veins, the blood, her mouth is full of blood, she swallows, chews, rips out little bits of skin, of flesh, swallows those. Blood is dripping from her chin, running down the arm that she is gripping, dripping down her hands, and she drinks it down, all of it, so very thirsty, she bites more, deeper.

Dimly she is aware of a noise, a sound, which is not blood, which is not her feeding. The sounds don’t make sense at first, they are weak, repetitive, only slowly does she recognise it as a voice, as the girl’s voice. “Stop” she hears, “stop, please stop, please stop”, a weak trembling voice. She looks up and sees the girl, she is white, trembling, terribly drawn; she looks years older.

She becomes aware of the arm she is still holding, of the blood dripping, of the open wound in the girl’s arm, the jagged edges, the missing chunks, of what she has done. A quiet horror overcomes her, settles like poison in her stomach, and throws a shadow over her satisfaction. She feels sickened at herself, at her deed, at the wound she has created, the pain she has inflicted.

The girl collapses in her arms.

***

At first it is pain, more pain than you expected. As her teeth sink into you, as she bites again and again. You try to pull away, her grip is hard as steel, gives more pain. For a moment your whole consciousness is filled with pain.

Then you go into the pain, flow with it, flow through it, out the other side, the pain is in your arm, you can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt. You see the blood dripping, but it is outside you. You see the look on her face, drunk, wild, ecstatic. She is no longer shaking, the muscles in her neck are no longer rigid; she doesn’t feel cold any more.

You snap back into your body, your pain. You feel her chewing on your arm, you feel sick and weak and cold. Feebly you try to pull away again, you have no force, you try to ask her to stop, you beg her, “please stop”, again and again, “please stop now”, your voice quiet, fading, just a whisper.

Finally she stops drinking, lifts her head, her mouth smeared with your blood, looks into your eyes. Her eyes are calm now, almost peaceful; you fall into her gaze, calm now, dark and warm, soft, calm.

You are lying on a bit of carpet, your head is lying in her lap, her hands cradling you. You look up into this dark stranger’s eyes, and you see peace, joy, where before you saw hunger and need. You know that it is your gift which has brought this change.

There are voices coming from below, cries of anguish and despair. The intermission is over; the play has long since resumed. Death has revealed himself, all that he touched are dying.

You are untouched by the dying, may the disease take you or not, you no longer care. You no longer fear death.

copyright 2009 miss diss; all rights reserved.

  1. April 19th, 2009
  2. June 3rd, 2009

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