“What is that?” Hal asks.
“Pop art,” Cutler replies eagerly. “Like Andy Warhol.”
Hal stares at the garish poster and wavers between tearing it to pieces and tearing Cutler to pieces.
“There’s a difference between me and Marilyn bloody Monroe,” he says listlessly. Also, he doesn’t have swamp green hair.
“Yeah,” Cutler shrugs. “She could be photographed.”
Starting tomorrow, this poster will be in every street, on every wall of every building.
“I’ll have the hue toned down.”
Leave Cutler to his own devices, and he will depict Hal as Tom and humanity as Jerry, locked in a constant pursuit. Except that would send entirely the wrong message because everybody knows who the real villain of that cartoon is.
It’s cold in Kópavogur but they go wherever Snow fancies to send them. People need to see Hal. Humans do, too.
It looks like a toy town full of abandoned dollhouses. Fragments of shattered stained glass crunch underneath Hal’s feet.
Cutler looks up. “Sorry, what?”
“You said once that you wanted them to give you Brazil. Why? There is a giant statue of Jesus in Rio.”
“Yeah, but Copacabana! Ipanema. And you can wear white and act like a dick and walk barefooted in the sand and no one will say a word.”
“No one talks to you as it is.”
Cutler snorts and stares sourly at the white ruins of a church powdered with snow. Frozen bodies rim the hollowed out carcass of the building, scarier than Titanic in 3D. Perhaps Mr Snow is trying to tell them something.
She must be in her early twenties now, a lifetime to be chasing a prey, and from what Hal has seen (glimpses, snapshots), she is a pretty blond thing underneath the indelible crust of dirt.
“For over twenty years now we have waited for that slip of a girl to go John Connor on us,” says Cutler and plays the Judgment Day theme on his phone. There are a few chuckles. Fergus rolls his eyes. “She still hasn’t. Don’t you think there might be something Mr Snow is not telling us?”
Questioning Snow is quite often physically impossible, but Hal doesn’t tell them that. He picks up the microphone and sings smoothly:
Eve and Adam had a garden, everything was great
Till one day a boy says: pardon, Miss, my name is snake.
He likes to think he can hear her heart thudding in her chest as she runs. He never addresses her on the radio directly, only drops a name in an occasional quote, but he always speaks to her. Only two things can make a heart beat so fast: mortal fear and immortal love.
Cutler proposes another hare-brained scheme of catching the War Child. The others engage in a heated discussion. It’s all they seem to be doing lately. Who would have thought world domination could be so tedious?
“Can I kill the pipsqueak?” Fergus whispers in Hal’s ear.
“No,” Hal says. It’s a ritual exchange at every meeting where Cutler opens his mouth. “He’s funny. You’re not. So unless you learn how to make me smile, I suggest you bear with him.”
They are in a small village in France, and Cutler cannot shut up about Hollywood.
“Could have at least considered leaving a couple of actors alive,” he rambles on. “You can’t make vampire films with actual vampires. You can’t make any films for obvious reasons. Does Snow even know that when he eats somebody on live television, people can’t actually see it? They’ve got this lone human like a string puppet, limbs jerking all funny…”
A small girl hugging a cardboard box close to her chest lurks in the shadows pooling between the houses. As soon as she spots them, she abandons her load and starts running. Cereals spill out of the box. Hal stares at them, transfixed, onetwothreeforfive–
“Hal,” Cutler’s voice break in, “you’re doing it again.”
He snaps his head up and wraps one arm around Cutler’s shoulder and the other around Fergus’s.
“Boys,” he says, “let’s have a night out.”
The girl looked quite appetising. He wants more of those.
He walks away from the cereals, pretending they don’t bother him. He can’t stop counting in his head. Teneleventwelvethirteen.
Cutler is stuck on classics because humanity hasn’t written any new songs since they painted the white cliffs of Dover red. It’s all: war, blah-blah-blah, we stand united, blah-blah-blah, like that actually helps. Telling stories is all they are capable of doing these days.
“Is there more to the War Child than what you’ve told me?” Hal asks the next time Snow comes with an inspection. He calls them courtesy calls. Furnaces always burn the brightest whenever he plans these visits.
“You’re asking questions, Hal,” Snow observes. Tea and crumpets. Smiling with blackened teeth. Six bodies on the floor. Hal resists an impulse to rearrange them by size or weight category. “Why?”
“Is there?” he demands.
Snow stretches his thin, cracked lips into a smile. “There is. Would you like to know what it is?” He holds out his hand and Hal takes it, feeling like he is making a deal with the devil.
“Well?” Cutler asks as soon as Hal leaves Downing Street. “What did he say?”
Hal looks at him, dazed, and counts the specks of dust on his jacket.
“Then we’re back to square one. Lovely.”
Blood stains form a pattern on the floor that looks like the Rorschach test. Hal pores over it, trying to see anything but blood.
Cutler delicately trails his fingers down Hal’s cheek.
“Why don’t you kill him? Why don’t you kill all of them?”
“What for?” Hal asks, mesmerized by the blood stains. The thought of killing Mr Snow is both horrifying and appealing. It’s also a pipe dream.
“So we could go somewhere nice and warm.” Simple, selfish reasoning. “He only ever sends us to the bloody poles. I don’t even like frozen food.”
He fishes out his phone and stares at it mournfully. The battery’s dead.
“Sleazy bastard,” Fergus mutters. “He’ll kick you when you’re down, my lord, mark my words.”
“Oh, Fergus,” Cutler laughs. “If you fancy me, you should just come clean about it.”
Their bickering amuses Hal. They could not be more different if they tried. They continue shooting insults at each other, blissfully unaware that they are fighting the war that is already won. Hal lowers himself on the floor, splays his fingers over the blood stains and thinks that there is a big black hole in the heart of England sucking the entire universe in.
He sees her accidentally the next time his motorcade makes way through the desolate streets of London. It’s not necessarily her (the resistance has used decoys before), but she has the same hard, fierce eyes and the same dirty-blond hair. The rebels attempt a raid on the procession. The vampires fight back. Amidst all the chaos, fountains of fire and dust, she and Hal are the only ones doing nothing. He looks at her, the little queen of the make-believe Underland, Alice stuck in the house she has outgrown, and marvels that she doesn’t know. And she never will. She will keep running until it’s too late, until grass grows over her bones.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he tells Snow later. “Even if she dies, they will carry her on like an idea, her name will become a symbol, her face a beacon of hope.”
“Of course,” the Old One says in his low, sing-song voice. “That is if she dies now, in the prime of youth, while she is still fresh like a spring flower. But when she is old and grey, when there is no more light in those radiant eyes, when her mind is frail and she cannot tell reality from a dream, who do you think will remember her? Only us. We shall cherish our Cinderella who never did get her glass slipper back.”
She watches him, with only the wall of men fighting and dying between them, and he almost feels sorry for her.
He goes for Sinatra in New York because classics never die (not unlike the Old Ones). He knows she is listening. New York used to be one of the main strongholds of the resistance – and now it’s theirs.
The world belongs to the vampires.
He hopes she is scared. He wonders what her blood tastes like when she hears his announcement. Must be hot and spicy like coffee with cinnamon and pepper.
That day he feasts on three young blond girls and writes her name in blood on the floor. Forty, fifty years from now there will be a laugh riot when he tells the others there was never really a War Child.
“What’s that?” Cutler asks, pointing at the writing. Sometimes he fears that the part of Hal that went away in 1955 has never come back.
Hal smiles, exposing bloodied teeth.
April 18–19, 2012