Stripper Killer – a short story about partying to excess

Intro to Stripper Killer

This short story about a rather dangerous stripper is a modified version of the opening chapter to Creation. The first of the five book vampire series Drakul, Creation tells the story of estranged vampire king Tepesch Drakul and the struggle to restore his race. Tepesch and his family seek to combine human and vampire DNA to allow assimilation. The novel opens with estate agent Jake’s stag party. Jake has just sold some disused warehouses to a mysterious buyer.

Stripper Killer

The rope seared his wrists as Jake squirmed against the sweaty plastic chair. He scanned the stamping bawling mob for a friendly face but found no pity in their eyes, only cruel anticipation. A storm was coming, the whole weight of atmosphere pressing down. The feeling that something bad was about to happen was getting stronger. Jake’s scalp prickled as the first bellow of thunder came, a dull thud that vibrated upwards through the chair followed by a tearing explosion. Lightning painted faces into clown masks. The incessant drumming fought back, deafening. The crowd bayed, waving bottles and cans, but when the woman finally appeared, everything changed.

The mob fell silent and parted respectfully to let her through, no one dared speak as she sauntered up to Jake. He inhaled her scent, something musky and wonderful that set his senses aflame despite the danger. The alcoholic haze cleared with a popping sensation and the room stopped spinning. Sounds faded to nothing as he observed the woman with startling clarity and it came to him then, that the stag night was a bad mistake.

She was dancing directly in front of him and Jake had never seen anyone move the way she did, gazing hungrily with parted lips as if in a fashion shoot whilst she brushed against him. The police officer’s hat sat at a jaunty angle on flowing blond hair. Her face was almost elfin, the ears delicately pointed. Her eyes were enormous, the gaze questioning and promising. Black, spun with Tiger’s Eye, set wide above Slavonic cheekbones, they gleamed with the essence of lust. To poor Jake, dreams of forbidden pleasures swirled in their depths. Her full bottom lip was blood red and pouted dangerously. She was looking straight at him as if they were the only people in the room, even in the world.

An errant thought flitted through Jake’s over-heated brain – someone like her would never be interested in an overweight, beer-sodden lump like him – but he was lost and he was damned and truth had no meaning. Even her mocking laugh turned him on but below his lust was a deep void of fear. When she stuck out her pointed tongue, he noticed small silver balls nestling above and below the dark flesh, matching the metal pierced through her right breast. The chrome was dewed with condensation and the tongue was strangely dark as if she had been eating liquorice, but he doubted she would do such things. Her perfect teeth were very white, the canines pronounced – catlike, sexy.

She held onto her hat as she lowered her head to whisper secret words whilst she continued to sway to the music, but the words meant nothing to Jake. He was only aware of her cold tongue caressing his ear and that cinnamon smell seeping into his brain. Sweat, musk, pheromones. His own swelling urgency, the distant yells of his friends.  Jake felt reality slipping away until he seemed to be floating in space, tied to his plastic chair, alone with the woman.

The music changed as ‘Addicted to Love’ throbbed through the room, and Jake’s infallible memory clicked into place – Robert Palmer, 1985. An ancient classic if a bit sexist, as Jenny had once pointed out, as someone who had never been a love addict. It had never sounded so good. As the cop danced before him, she undid the tight, dark blue shirt and took it off. The little he knew of females told him she was as excited as he was, from the swell of her lip and each nipple standing proud in its dark aureole.  She moaned softly and a thin trickle of saliva escaped from the corner of her wanton lips, the remarkable eyes half-closed.

Jake felt he was going to explode or have a heart attack or both and as she brushed against him, he wished more than anything that she and his friends would go away. He wanted order restored and he needed Jenny. He longed to put on his striped cotton pyjamas and slide under cool sheets, safe and alone with a book and a mug of tea. Jake was to be married the next day, but the man who craved normality was staring down a precipice and about to fall.

Robert Palmer screamed out the message. You can’t be saved, oblivion is all you crave

At that moment, it was true.

Her hips swayed enticingly as she slowly unzipped the dark blue miniskirt and let it fall, running her fingers down her gleaming thighs. Her lips moved, but she wasn’t singing to the music. Each sighing word was a shining jewel spinning a web of poison and he was the plump, tasty fly. 

“Caruu aamisa, caruu yazu,” she mouthed and wiggled her tongue in his ear. He could guess what it meant. The song thundered on. Your heart beats, in double time, another kiss and you’ll be mine

Two a.m. Jake remained lashed to the chair as the drunken cries and singing receded. The old biddy in the flat below had ceased banging on the ceiling and laid down her stick. He was finally alone and grateful for it, but still thinking about the stripper no matter how hard he tried. He heard the strange mantra of lust whispered endlessly – caruu aamisa, caruu yazu.

Thunder rattled the windows.

Jake peered at the sky as lightning punished the spire of a distant church, leaving him dazzled. He tried wriggling but the rope tightened obstinately and he realised he was soaked in sweat. It occurred to him that he could probably stand up and walk into the kitchen to get a sharp knife, and the sense of relief made him feel like weeping. He would free himself then take a shower and go to bed with his cup of tea, Earl Grey. All would be well in the morning, when the sun came up and drove away the darkness, and he would be with Jenny for the rest of his life. He tried to stand as the first hailstones clattered against the glass, but it was more difficult than he had expected.  His feet scuffled against the marble tiles as he tried another lift-off and nearly toppled backwards.

It could be worse, he could be in Poland, or tied to a lamppost . . .  or both . . . and he had not done anything to regret. Not done exactly but boy, he’d thought plenty and Jake could still detect that primordial smell. It seemed to hang in the air, unsatisfied and insatiable. Addicted to Love seemed to be stuck in his head and at that same moment, the lights dimmed to twilight.

“Hello, lover.”  The stripper seemed to appear from nowhere.

Jake let out a small yell of surprise.

She placed a finger against her lips. “Shh.” She pouted the sound, as if blowing him a kiss.

He gaped at her, wondering what to say whilst he experienced the plunging sensation of pure fear. The police hat was gone and her hair had been tied back in a ponytail to reveal a perfect neck, but his thoughts of lust were flown and all that remained was a strange anxiety. This was not a lad’s adventure any more, it was real, disturbing, wrong. She moved in front of him so that her endless, naked legs were either side of his, and her stilettos clicked against the expensive Italian tiles that his mother chose. She had abandoned the ridiculously short skirt and the police officer’s shirt hung open. He could not avoid seeing inside and a voice in his head was telling him to be very careful. His mouth dried up.

“What are you doing here? I thought you’d gone.” It came out as a panic-laden squeak.

“I came back, Jake. You have something I need.”

“Look, my wallet’s in the bedroom, in the right hand drawer. There’s plenty of cash. Take it and I won’t tell anyone, I promise. Take it and go, please go.”

The stripper smiled perfectly and tossed her head, swinging the ponytail. “I have much money. That is not what I need, Jake.”

He was nonplussed. “So what do you want? Tell me.”

She smiled again, so perfect and yet cold. “I will show you.”

She moved in closer and trapped his knees between her cool thighs. It was surprisingly painful, her grip unexpectedly strong. She put her hands on her hips, lifting the police shirt in the process, and he found himself staring at her crotch and its narrow strip of golden fuzz. The ruby in her belly button gleamed like fresh blood.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to insult you. But I d-don’t want you here, you understand.”

“We have unfinished business, lover,” She chuckled.

Her voice was husky, the accent exotic. Central European, he surmised pointlessly as he tried to make sense of what she was saying. He squinted up at her.

“What’s your name?”

The stripper laughed loudly, the sound harsh in the silence. “I am Angelica Drakul, but you will call me Angel. Yes, my name is Angel.”

Angelica widened her stance and sat astride him whilst unbuttoning his beer-sodden shirt, her elfin face filled with mischief and a betrayal of cruelty. Her tongue curled out to dab her top lip and flicked again as if tasting the air. The image of a snake came unbidden.  The snake’s eyes were soulless drops of gleaming jet, her skin pale and perfect but so cold in the choking heat of his flat. 

Before Jake could protest, she had undone his trousers. She laughed throatily as he pushed the chair backwards across the room, panicking. She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him forwards with astonishing strength. The sound she made was half way between pain and delight and he had the unpleasant feeling that she was about to feed.  The drop of saliva that fell from her tongue onto his lap was almost black and his mind cleared instantly at the sight.

“I want you to stop. Take the money and go,” he shouted.

Her expression hardened as she stood. She yanked his trousers off with brutal force, lifting his body half out of the chair so that it rocked forward alarmingly, and Jake weighed well over two hundred pounds. 

“Jenny and mother will miss you,” she whispered.

She straddled him again, taking his head between her hands.  Her bear-trap nails drove into his skull as he screamed. The fingers were icy. She was panting as quickly as he was praying and a strand of dark saliva swung from her lip, but he felt no breath on his face. The hands suddenly twisted his head with shocking force, the room blurred and Jake heard a cartilaginous crack. There was no pain and all sensation ceased instantly.

He found himself looking down on his vast, flaccid body as if it belonged to someone else. He knew he should be screaming or fighting back, but he could only experience an absurd sense of disbelief. Angelica did not simply lift herself off. She seemed to float upwards, drifting toward the ceiling and he was a puppet with severed strings. The weight on his chest made it hard to breathe and he knew what she had done, but he also understood it was not over.  He licked his lips and his tongue tingled with pins and needles.

“You’re going to kill me.” Each word an effort.

Her eyelids lowered in silent acknowledgement. “Are you frightened of death, Jake? Do you know what death is?”

All he could think of was why him, when there were so many others more deserving. He needed to say goodbye to Jenny and the thought that he would never see her again was more than he could bear. Jesus would look after him and he imagined the son of God taking him by the hand, guiding him into the light but below the comforting image was a gaping void.  The finality of death was more terrifying than he had ever realised and he felt utterly alone.

She was watching him with a cruel smile. “Did you pray hard enough? I don’t see him.”

“Jesus loves me,” he gasped.

“How sweet you are, a fat little boy who believes in Jesus. Would you like to see me, Jake?”

Jake tried to understand the question. Part of him no longer cared, part of him needed to know the truth. “Yes.”

The stripper slipped off her shirt and darkness seemed to swirl around the perfect form until he could only see an outline. Within her cocoon of darkness, the woman was growing taller. Needle teeth glinted where soft lips had been. Grey scales rasped as long limbs unfolded and the air was freezing. Bony wing struts scraped against the ceiling, setting the lampshade swinging and the dim light played over the monstrous shape. Angelica’s eyes alone remained unchanged and Jake stared into them, transfixed.

The thing before him was ancient, brutal, hideous yet strangely beautiful. The giant head tilted and lowered to his neck, a strangely intimate gesture that was more invasive than any atrocity. Jake felt a rush of warmth when Angelica looked up at him, blood poured from the grinning shark’s mouth. Sleep washed through him, but Jake was not ready to go and life had never seemed more precious than at that moment.

“Mmm.” She licked a curved talon. “Very tasty, Jake.”

He managed to utter one word. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I get bored, you know?” The words were sighs.

The snake-woman was bored so he had to surrender his future and his very existence. Jake was dying and he had never seen God and he had never seen Jesus, but he had finally seen the devil. As he watched with detached interest, the dark angel knelt down before him and bent her scaled head towards his lap. He could not see what she was doing to him because of the mound of his stomach but he could hear, and the trickling sound was his own blood pooling between his feet.

His mind was slipping into a confusion of memories and he allowed his eyes to close. Sleep would be his escape and when he awoke, he would get married. Sleep would make the devil go away.  She must have known what he was thinking because she sucked hungrily, a race against the last of his free will. The huge, curved wings trembled against her slender back.

When Jake’s eyes closed and his tongue lolled, Angelica stopped. The transformation was almost instant. She ran bloodied hands over the perfect body, gasping with pleasure. It could never be enough and frustration was already bubbling up inside. She knelt next to the dead man and stroked his hair back in place, disappointed but also angered by his passiveness.

“Was it good for you, Jake?” she whispered.

A Red, Red Rose – or when florists go bad


The idea of short story ‘A Red, Red Rose’ comes from a scene in Creation, first of the 5-book vampire series Drakul. Helpless bystander Lorna King is no longer a wishful dreamer when investigator Mark Williams visits her flower shop. Thanks to Josch13 of Pixabay for the featured image.

A Red, Red Rose

The smell of freshly cut flowers used to be one of the reasons Lorna loved her job so much, the scent of spring mornings or summer’s evenings. Today the violent reds, pinks and greens struck at her eyes. The florist’s shop was tiny, situated at the end of a small parade. Sam designed the name on the white boarding above the display window and Lorna painted the words in gold and green – ‘ Red, Red Rose’.

O my Luve is like a red, red rose. That’s newly sprung in June; O my Luve is like the melody. That’s sweetly played in tune.

Sam read her the poem on their second date. The name of the shop still brought a smile to her lips, corny but somehow uplifting, and she remembered how they’d argued about that comma, when painting the sign. Sam had argued it was the mark of genius. a know-all. Humming to herself, Lorna began working on a new flower arrangement, laying out daffodils, ferns and a spray of Baby’s Breath. She picked up a red, red rose and the petals were so soft, brushing her skin as she inhaled the sickly scent.

Laura clenched her hand around the stem, feeling the sudden pain as the thorns stabbed. The sensual aromas and colours in the shop screamed. A rose bush spilled petals, each a dark red gout of blood. She wanted to go down on hands and knees, lapping them up. Moisture filled the air, as heavy and oppressive as an approaching storm.

As she cleared up the petals, Lorna wondered what Sam was doing at that moment. He had left home early that morning, agitated and unable to tell her anything about his secret work. She had lost her temper with him, swearing and so angry. She told him to go, pushing him out the door and afterwards she had cried, but the tears were of rage and not of sorrow. He phoned her a couple of times and sent texts, but she had not replied to them.

Now, the anger was returning once more, fuelled by the heady scent of roses. Lorna began to suspect Sam was snooping. Maybe he was following her, checking up on what she was doing, but she could do what she damn well liked. Lorna used his surname but in truth they weren’t married. Could have been, but as usual he hadn’t got around to it. Damn the man and damn his silly job. Lorna looked at her watch and sighed.

Outside ‘Red, Red Rose’, a dense fog had descended and pressed against the windows so that the place seemed to be floating through clouds. Blood thumped in her ears like drums thundering deep in the glossy undergrowth as a bead of sweat trickled down her ribs. She touched her throat and it was wet. Her top was sticking to her skin and she eased the fabric away, fanning herself with a roses brochure but the sweat kept on coming, until a drop ran into her eye. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked.

More sweat trickled down the inside of her thighs. She wanted to yell with frustration, but what for, she did not know. Maybe she had a fever. Maybe she should close up and go home but the very thought of home made her more annoyed. The place was claustrophobic, so much like Sam and so little like her. Sam did not really know her at all, the real Lorna. He still imagined she was a dippy flower arranger, someone ruled by emotions and impulses. A dreamer who believed in the power of red roses.

Lorna was much more than that, if only he could understand. She knew that he had never expected her to succeed – not in his heart – and he wasn’t really interested if she did. He would ask her how her day had been, but it only ever seemed to serve as an introduction to talking about his day.

Okay, Lorna had a few problems getting the business off the ground but she did look at it as a business, didn’t she? Well fuck him. She wiped her forehead on the back of her hand and had to shake off the drops. She stood sweating in the steamy, earthy shop as if she had caught malaria or yellow fever. “Jesus, it’s so sodding hot in this place.”

The word was as bitter as nutmeg on her tongue.

Lorna wasn’t just hot. She was on fire, her skin tingled and the drumming of her heart was ever louder. Finally, she went into the washroom at the back where she kept a change of clothes, because flower arranging could be a messy job. She undressed slowly, peeling her clothes off in a slow, soggy striptease until she caught sight of herself in the moisture-dappled mirror and wiped away the condensation. Her underwear clung unpleasantly. Her skin gleamed with sweat and her hair hung in damp tendrils around her face. She seemed taller, thinner.

Lorna knew she should have been worried by such changes but instead she felt secure, as if they were supposed to happen and they were strangely intimate. She piled her hair up and pinned it, splashed herself with cold water and towelled herself as much as she could. The water almost sizzled off her skin but the sweating had eased. Lorna needed something other than sex and more than love. The want gnawed at her insides. The rose thorns burned.

The doorhandle to the shop rattled. The door opened and she heard a man breathing. She heard the door close and his clothes rustled as he put his hand in his pocket and jingled his keys, the sounds startlingly loud. He took a step, then another and rubbed his chin. She heard the stubble rasp against his palm. “Hello? Is anybody there?” called the stranger.

“Yes, hang on, I’ll be out in a second.” She prayed that he would not put his head around the door as stark naked, she pulled on the dress. It was made from a silky white material patterned with roses, and seemed a little too short when it didn’t used to be. She smoothed it over her body and the dress immediately clung like a second skin. She checked herself in the mirror before she went into the shop, self-conscious but determined.

The man looked to be in his early thirties. He had not shaved, she noticed with displeasure. But he had a nice smile, wide and generous. His brown eyes were tired but warm, so different from Sam’s pallid blue gaze. The crumpled raincoat made him look like an archetypal American detective, sort of sexy if she stretched her imagination far enough.

“hi,” he said softly with wandering eyes that stroked her body. “My name’s Mark Williams. I’m a journalist – I wonder if I could ask you some questions.”

Lorna licked her lips. Questions? She didn’t want questions, she wanted sex. The shop was a steaming jungle and she was the lonely wife of the plantation manager, ignored whilst her dull husband was up-river. And now, a handsome detective had arrived and all he wanted to do was to ask questions whilst the blood thundered in her head.

“About roses?”

He smiled shyly. “I’m trying to find a missing woman. Her name’s Angelica. She’s the daughter of a wealthy industrialist – Tepesch Drakul. You may have heard of him.”

“I’m a florist. What d’you think?”

He shrugged. “It’s just that your husband knows something. So I wondered-”

“If I’d betray his confidences. You know Sam?”

He repeated his shy smile. “You’d be helping him – besides, I know when I see a woman in need. Or am I wrong?”

Then the cheeky grin hit the magic spot, and she almost gasped aloud. The stranger was not wrong. He idly picked up a rose and pricked his thumb with a sudden intake of breath. He sucked it, leaving a smear of red on his mouth.

“Wait a minute, I’ll close the shop,” she said urgently. His eyes stroked her as she walked towards the door. Lorna wanted more than stroking. She locked up and pulled down the blind before turning and leaning against it. Her knees were practically trembling.

He took off his coat and wiped his brow, pushing his dark brown hair into damp-looking spikes. “Should we go somewhere? It’s awful hot in here.” He sounded as nervous as she felt.

“Where did you have in mind?” A little voice in her head was screaming to stop, but the hunger was tearing at her guts. “How about your place?”

It was as if she was listening to someone else speaking with her voice. Guilt and sorrow were consumed like leaves in an autumn fire. Doubt flickered in his eyes. “My place? Are you sure?”

“Yes – like you said, a woman in need.” Take me to your place or I’ll do you right here and right now, on the floor of my flower shop in full view of the street.

He said he had arrived by tube and so they got in her Mini Cooper. She drove fast whilst he gave directions, his tone increasingly urgent. She watched him casting sidelong glances at her legs as the dress rode up, and she allowed it to. “This is going to be good,” he said thickly.

The journalist lived some twenty minutes away and his apartment overlooked the river, but Lorna could not care less where it was. When they arrived, he followed her up the stairs to the first floor and she was an animal on heat. She felt him watching, but not her face.

“It’s this one,” he said, fumbling with his keys. She felt like screaming.

Her stomach rumbled and the hunger felt like it was eating her alive. When he finally opened the door, she pushed him into the apartment and thrust the door closed behind her with her bottom, kicking off her shoes. He was already fighting with his crumpled raincoat and she helped him, laughing whilst he pushed up her dress. She pulled it off as he started to unbutton his shirt and she ripped it off, kissing and licking his skin. She bit him on the neck and he yelped. At the same moment, someone knocked on the door.

“Leave it,” she moaned.

The knock came again, louder and insistent. “Shit,” he said. “Shit, I’ll see who it is.”

He peered through the spy hole whilst Lorna gnawed her lip. The intensity of her emotions was scaring her. This was not sexual hunger or some mindless cruel way of getting back at Sam. This had nothing to do with him and even less to do with her and only then did she remember what had happened and it astounded Lorna.

He had come to her.

He had come, blotting out the night and swooping down on their little house and she had invited him into her room. Lorna knew his name. She knew how he travelled the stars, and the pain and ecstasy of his long, long life. She needed him, not this apology for a man. The strange eternal spark that powered him had jumped between them and now it was consuming her, a voice from the far reaches of space-time. It was whispering secrets and sending her a stream of knowledge she could not disobey.

Eat, the dark voice said. Eat, drink. It was a communion from hell.

Williams was staring through the spy hole and his erection seemed bigger than ever. Lorna pushed him aside, putting her eye to the door. A smartly dressed blonde was outside, strikingly sexy, with high cheekbones and wide-set, dark eyes. The woman peered back as her lips moved and absurdly, Lorna could understand what she was saying. It was a mix of thought and emotion, images and sounds, and the images were terrible. She was not shocked by what she saw but she knew she should have been, profoundly so.

“Do you know her?” he asked.

“She wants to join us in a threesome,” she said, wondering what that would be like as she reached for the lock.

Williams grinned as Lorna opened the door with trembling hands. The woman strode in and kissed her on the mouth. She towered over Lorna, wearing a Burberry raincoat over a short leather skirt and black stiletto-heeled boots. She smelled of cinnamon.

“Hello lover,” the woman said. The accent was central European, the voice a husky sigh, the lips kissing the words. The eyes were honey-flecked and utterly deep. Lorna knew immediately that she would do whatever the stranger told her. A silent communication bound them together and it felt right. What the stranger wanted, she wanted. Lorna sensed a sea of pain and an insatiable rage. Revenge, death for death. She looked at Williams, his shifty eyes working out an escape route as he understood he had betrayed them both. The journalist ran into the bedroom and slammed the door.

“Get him,” the blond woman hissed.

Lorna ran to the door and kicked at it. The door burst in, torn off its hinges and slammed into Williams. She reached the cowering man in two strides, grabbing the mobile as she experienced a strange feeling of detachment. She was watching a stranger that looked just like her. The face of the other Lorna was distorted by a fury she could never know. She crushed the mobile in her hand, feeling it collapse like an eggshell and dropped the tangle of broken plastic and circuit board on the rose-patterned carpet.

He shrank away. “You – you’re one of them,” he whispered. “Please don’t hurt me. I won’t say anything. I thought you liked me.”

Lorna grabbed him by the arms and dragged him to the bed, throwing him on it where he lay with knees drawn up, whimpering and begging. She felt a bone break with a dry crack and his passivity unleashed something wicked inside her. Lorna leaped upon him not knowing what she would do, only aware of the hunger. She threw him onto his back as easily as if he was a child and sat astride him panting heavily, gripping his throat. Lorna put her hand on his face before he could scream again and saliva dripped from her mouth as she lowered her head. The gush of fluid made her spasm uncontrollably and every moment of passion she had ever experienced became a shallow imitation of that single moment.

She took her hand away and Williams squealed, but that only made her burn more fiercely. She drank and felt his life force flow into her. It was a golden taste so different from the salty, metallic smell of blood.

She bit into his body repeatedly whilst his legs thrashed against the bed, until his limbs trembled and finally he lay still. The frenzy never seemed to end until she stopped from sheer exhaustion and slumped against him, satisfied and yet horrified. It did not seem possible that he could have so much blood. He lay in a small lake of crimson and she was completely drenched. The woman helped her from the bed where the remains of Mark Williams lay, and the one misty eye still stared at her reproachfully. The blood reminded her powerfully of the roses in her shop. Say it with Roses, she thought crazily.

The stranger led her to the shower. “Get cleaned up, flower girl,” she said, sounding almost kind.

“You’re Angelica, aren’t you?” the novice asked.

“Yes. Sam King’s been looking for me.”

“I don’t want you to hurt him,” Lorna was saying, her voice shaking. “Don’t. Promise me you won’t hurt him and I’ll come with you.”

Some humanity still dwelled within the girl but there were no tears in her eyes, only the unfathomable depths of her new family and Angelica was quite certain that eventually, Lorna would kill Sam.

“I promise,” Angelica said.

“I’m afraid.” Angelica could read it in Lorna’s face. She pointed a shaking hand at the bed. “What in god’s name did you make me do? I’m a florist. I sell roses.”

Angelica kissed her forehead. At the very centre of Lorna’s fear was the insurmountable thought that she might do the same thing to Sam. Angelica felt strangely moved by Lorna’s devotion, but it would not do.

“Does the farmer murder the pig when he slits its throat? Does the fisherman murder the fish, as it drowns in the air? How many countless hundreds of millions of animals are killed by humans every day? They die in fear and misery, spending their short lives in crowded prisons and they are shown no compassion or kindness. Their deaths mean nothing to humans, who buy their meat in boxes or turn them into liquids and pastes. We must feed too, Lorna dear. They are not immortals like us – humans are born to die. They are born to be food. Why else would there be so many, and so few of us?”

Lorna was not listening. “How could I have done that? Why don’t I feel anything? Suppose I hurt Sam?”

Angelica smiled despite her irritation. “You are beyond his reach and he is not important any more. He is not worthy of your love.”

“How do you know that? Have you ever loved anyone?”

Angelica held her close and looked deep into Lorna’s eyes until the girl stopped sobbing and breathed quietly. Angelica listened to her heartbeat and it was already slowing, now no more than twenty beats a minute. In a few hours the heart would hardly beat at all, ready for its long journey and her emotions would be distant memories. No such luxury awaited Angelica. How she had loved, and there would be no diminishment of her loss. She stroked back Lorna’s hair.

“Now listen to me, lover. You will go home and sleep. You will not remember any of this, and I will come to you soon.”

Lorna gazed up at her. “Will I see him? Tell me I’ll see him.”

Angelica shook her head. “No. You will not see Tepesch Drakul again. But you may send him a gift. You can say it with roses.”