Then there was the time she came to the club. She was older than most of us, and so very glamorous. She was beautiful, of course. More beautiful than they tell you. She'd had a long time to refine her features. Her skin was dark and smooth and looked like it would be warm to the touch. Even the greenest baby bat knew who she was. Larissa and Joseph were legends among the Fanged of Los Angeles. Jaysin, whose bad habit of speaking before thinking brought him to a bad end shortly after this was the first to talk to her, "Larissa! You do our club
such an honor. Who among us has not heard of your beauty, your grace or your cruelty? You must tell us a story, for this is story night, and who here can match you for experience or strange sights?"
At this she only smiled and raised an eyebrow. Jaysin continued, "Tell us a story of when you and Joseph roamed the nights. Tell us of your exploits before he turned away from us."
Larissa sat down on a barstool and crossed her long legs, "Very well," she said, "I will tell you my favorite New York story."
The baby bats howled in approval. The young Los Angeles fangs all regard New York as some exotic paradise.
Larissa began to speak, "The story I am going to tell you begins long ago. In these days no woman could travel safely, especially not a woman of my color. Joseph and I had met not long before -- he was a runaway -- and were travelling together. I wore the clothing of a man and called myself Victor. I was meant to be a rough, untrained freedman. This amused. Joseph had the education and bearing of a gentleman, despite being the property of another. So we travelled north to New York to make an Atlantic crossing.
"You are imagining New York as romantic, with tall buildings and elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen in the finest fashions traveling in gleaming carriages. Well-scrubbed immigrants with their sleeves rolled up eagerly participating in the new dawn of industry. And music wafting through the streets at dusk, possibly intermingled with the smell of fresh-baked bread. You will not imagine the mud that lay thickly in the streets, or the garbage strewn everywhere and the smells; the noxious human offal that backed up in the gutters, the stench from the slaughterhouses, the body odor of laborers who were superstitious about washing. All cities were filthy in those times. New York was filthy and charmless. The reality was not at all romantic. It was a collection of ramshackle ugly buildings, filthy illiterate workers with dead eyes and oily hucksters anxious to sell something you had no need for. I hated it immediately. Joseph was mildly intrigued, but he has always had an irritating fascination with people and found more variety in their kind than ever I could manage. Our travel to Paris required that we find lodging in this wretched cesspool of a city for a week; it would be nearly a week before a vessel that I would find at all suitable would set sail across the Atlantic.
"I once again assumed the name and custom of Marie, the wealthy foreigner. I gladly dropped the manners of Victor, the coarse, honest laborer and began to treat shopkeepers with the condescension and indifference that the rich always affect. This amused me. I could see the narrowed eyes and pursed lips of those who hated my black skin but were in need of my coin. I watched them bow and scrape all the while they wished that I was dead. They wrapped my purchases with inordinate care. I'm sure they despised my use of a parasol to shield myself from the sun. I killed a few of those shopkeepers, stalked them home and devoured their life with relish and joy. My favorite memory of New York is taking the life of a shopkeeper who refused to wait upon me. He snarled and rushed after me with his broom, calling out, 'nigger! nigger!'
"That night, crouched on the rooftops and hidden in shadow, I followed him home. He walked tiredly through narrow streets, his head hung down. He stared at his hairy hands and his dirty fingernails twice. He did not look up. Perhaps if he had looked up and seen me and started to run, I would have fallen on him from above, rending his flesh from bone and leaving him naked and dead in one of the refuse-strewn alleys he trudged through. But instead, he stared at his hairy hands and led me inevitably onwards to his home. He lived on the second story and walked up a dilapidated external wooden staircase. Through the gloom I could see him lighting a lantern and sitting at a meager meal with his thin, gray wife who was prematurely aged by the squalid lifestyle she had lived. Executing a neat leap and somersault I vaulted to the landing before my prey's door with little more sound than a thump. I reached forwards and grabbed the termite-ridden front door, pulled and smiled as it flew off its hinges, shattering outwards. Calmly, I walked through the debris of the crumbling doorframe amid screams of terror. Moving quicker than the vaunted cheetah I spun around, grabbed the shopkeeper wife's head with both hands, wrenched and pulled, showering myself in blood and gore. As her headless body sagged to the ground, I smiled, bearing my fangs at the shopkeeper, 'You remember me, don't you, rag man? You called me nigger. Your wife will never utter those words, though.'
"I then noticed two small children, cowering and silent in fear. Smiling through the congealing blood of their mother, I reached out and caressed the head of one of the children. The shopkeeper chose that moment to attempt to run away. Carelessly, I kicked out, shattering one of his kneecaps. He howled in incoherent rage and slumped to the floor. I pushed him over on his back, grabbed one of the knives from their dinner table and pinned his arm to the floor with it. Smiling gently at this man, I purred again, 'There are prices to pay for offending the wrong people. And these are heavy prices.'
"Then, I grabbed one of his cowering daughters, lifted her in the air, ignoring her weak kicks and punches and scratches, opened my mouth wide and sunk my fangs deep into her throat, glutting myself on her life's blood. She kicked once more and was still. I threw her body away from me in disgust, and then crawled over towards the shopkeeper who was screaming still. With one hand, I unsexed him and smiled deeper still at the satisfying sound of flesh rending. I turned towards his other daughter, kissed her on the forehead with bloody lips and said, 'Learn from this child. Never call anyone a nigger.'
"Gently, I picked up his surviving daughter, carried her through the doorway and deposited the shrieking child outside on the landing. I turned to find that hairy, mustachioed pig attempting to crawl away and hide, without gonads, pinned to the floor with only one working knee. How life does attempt to defend itself! The lantern was still flickering and more than half-full with oil, so I picked it up and hurled it against the far wall. The wood of that building was very dry and it was not long before I smelled burning flesh and heard his final screams. Fires are very beautiful. It was difficult not to stand there, transfixed by the dancing and undulations of the flames as they hungrily licked towards the dry timber. But I needed to wash before returning to Joseph, and there was still the crossing to pack for. I had so much to do.
"That fire burned for seven nights, decimating the neighborhood where that shopkeeper lived. Many years after, I learned that the daughter who survived had wandered the streets mad and mute, later becoming a whore. She was hung for murder after stabbing a man who murmured something about 'nigger bitches' in her presence. She had learnt her lesson well."
Her story finished, she gave an ironic little curtsey to her audience. The baby bats all clapped and howled at this. I had never heard this story before, but knew that she spoke truth. Larissa smiled at me and tipped me a wink before getting up and going out into the night. Joseph. It had been a long time since anyone called me that. Now that she had found me it was time once more to move on. I liked Los Angeles. Jaysin clapped me around the shoulder and whispered, "This will be a night to remember."
I nodded. I don't know if she would have noticed me if she hadn't been invited to stay and take center stage. I hated being inconvenienced. I smiled at Jaysin and licked my lips, "Oh, I'm sure they will tell stories about tonight."
I put a quarter in the dusty old jukebox. The two of us went out of the backdoor of the club and into the alley. The rock music from the jukebox almost completely covered the sound of Jaysin's screams.