“The sister played so beautifully. Her face was tilted to one side and she followed the notes with soulful and probing eyes. Gregor advanced a little, keeping his eyes low so that they might possibly meet hers. Was he a beast if music could move him so?”
--Franz Kafka, 'Metamorphosis'
The supplier was late.
Adam checked the time on his pocket watch—it still bore its shine from the Victorian age a good century ago, thanks to Eve’s polishing every decade or so. It was nearing four in the morning; the summer sunrise could sneak up on him at any minute in this sweltering, melting city, and yet the supplier hadn’t shown his face.
He leaned his head against the wall, closing his eyes. The heat was sinking into the dark jacket he refused to shed even in the dog days, drying his skin and his tongue until his teeth felt like wood. It had already been forty-five minutes—any longer and the sun would suck him dry. The irony.
Seven more minutes dragged by and Adam cursed. The sky was already paling, the protective black hue bleeding away as day threatened its move. He clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to resist licking his lips else remind himself how parched he was. Wherever that supplier was, whether he was five minutes on the tube or all the way on the south bank of the Thames, Adam grudgingly knew how sickeningly dependent he was on the man.
He took in a deep breath. It nearly choked him on the way down and left droughts behind. A moment later, he opened his eyes, just to realize that he didn’t remember closing them. The sun was rising. He felt his limbs shake.
Someone groaned. He turned his head sharply, tightening his grip on the thick wad of pounds in his pocket. When a figure rounded the corner, he sank into the wall, crumbling curses in his mind. Not the supplier, who he hoped for—just a homeless man, picking through the rubbish bins, unnoticing Adam most precisely.
Adam let out a breath. His stomach hurt with hunger. He bit down on his tongue to keep it from tasting ghosts of good, hot blood at the sight of the human, who was too blinded by his own hunger to realize Adam’s presence.
Not plump, he knew. Drugged, contaminated blood for all Adam knew. But no one would notice. He was just another homeless man, another body shoved and pulled about in the wave of people on Camden Town road. No one took care of him—that meant no one would mourn him. No one would even remember.
The sheer cruelty of those base thoughts shocked the hunger out of Adam. He clenched his teeth as if to rein in his craving. God, how twisted enslavement was, that the ones so heavily depended upon were reduced to insentient machinery, because surely they were so damn needed that Adam could hardly remember that they were just as weak as he.
He held his breath. He could smell the living flesh already. It made his mouth water.
Don’t, he urged himself. He pressed his lips together. Don’t. He has evolved, improved, enlightened since the days of murdering to survive. Don’t.
After knocking about the rubbish bins, the homeless man tottered away. Adam let out a breath. It trembled.
Five more minutes, he told himself. The moon was fading. His breath shook. Five more minutes, and that supplier would come. He said he would, last week, after giving Adam the goods. He said he would be here, an hour ago.
He closed his eyes again. The sound of his breathing rattled in his own ears.
He could almost dream of the slick salt smoothing the inside of his throat.
The sun was rising. He could already feel his skin sting.
Where was he?
The next time he opened his eyes to check the time, it was already four thirty in the morning. The sun was coming. He swallowed heavily.
“Shit,” he said.
He nearly didn’t make it back home before the sun skimmed the horizon.
Do you remember, he once asked Eve, if you were born?
Adam remembered this scene—it was the fall of 1858, and he had brought her to the chilled pasture in Denmark to show her the blinding comet that he was so eager to see ever since Donati announced its discovery. From Europe to the Americas people sat out on porches and rooftops just to catch a sight of it, and rumour had it that someone would capture it for the first time in photograph.
Photographs, Eve, he had said to her in hushed awe, leading her hand in hand into the rustling grass. Photographs! Soon we will have more than just memories to relive what’s past, and what we remember from years past won’t just be stories anymore. Don’t you see, Eve, isn’t it exciting?
She had smiled knowingly at this, his rare excitement, and tightened her grip on his fingers. He could almost feel the thrum of her pulse at her fingertips through their dark gloves they always wore, as if the world was far too fragile for their touch.
If I was born? Eve had asked.
Yes, said Adam.
Were we ever children?
I’ve long forgotten.
Eve watched the skies, waiting for the comet to streak past as quickly as a blink. They lay side by side, unmoving, save his thumb running over her knuckles.
We’re always children compared to this world, Eve said.
That’s different, said Adam. That’s not the same.
Is it, Eve said.
She dug her fingertips into the soft dirt and weaved grass underneath them.
These stones, this mud, she said. They’ve all seen so much more than us in all our centuries, darling. They are mother to us, teaching us, watching us grow.
Adam couldn’t help but smile, even though the heavy question did not leave his chest.
You always have a way of spinning poetry out of accidents, said Adam.
But I’m serious.
Do you remember being turned—
Or were we always like this?
Eve licked her lips. Their last meal still dyed their teeth—a woman in the nearby village, who was already dying. They were quickening the process, Adam told himself. Ending the agony, Eve had said, of both her and her mourning family listening to those moans of a failed childbirth. Their stomachs were so full that for the first hour they ached.
Her baby died—the woman’s baby was a stillborn, but Adam and Eve wrapped it gently in the scraps of a blanket, even if untainted blood was stilled in its veins. Frozen in time as a baby, in death—for a wild moment, Adam wondered that if it could have breathed at least one breath, if he would have the chance to turn it—and it would stay frozen a baby for eternity, because what was the difference between death and turning?
He couldn’t remember ever being a child, only that he felt like one sometimes, when in Eve’s arms.
We must have been turned, said Eve. Creatures like us can’t create.
Can never create? Adam said.
His voice was fragile. Eve turned her head to him. She broke her hand away from his grip, only to cup his cheek.
No, she said.
We can create thoughts, of course. Music, art, ideas, arguments. Theories, experiments, experience, stories. Operas. Cathedrals. Bridges.
But, said Adam. Not life.
Eve turned toward the sky again. She let out a soft breath.
No, she said. Not like that.
Adam closed his eyes. He couldn’t remember even touching a child, if he could even hold a baby in his arms without it crumbling at his touch. Sometimes, in the deep night, when Eve is breathing softly in her sleep beside him, he would wonder until he ached.
He opened his eyes. The moment he saw that white streak, the blinding light, like fire cutting through the sky, he felt flutters in his chest.
Eve, he said, breathless. Eve.
It glided through the sky, weaving in and out of the dark blots of clouds in the night, leaving behind a dust trail of its own blush. Light years, light years away, something was moving, something was rushing and flying as if alive, things beyond his own control and understanding was creating something unfathomable. It made him almost gasp out loud.
The comet took its final bow before delving into a long stretch of cloud, dousing them in darkness. Adam breathed deeply as if he had drowned and was pulled back into the air. He turned toward Eve, a feverish word of excitement at his lips, to see that she was watching him with bright eyes.
You’re beautiful when you’re happy, she said in a hushed tone.
But, said Adam. Did you miss it?
Eve’s smile was tender.
I’ll see it again in another millennium or two, she said. It’s all right.
Adam opened his mouth to speak, but Eve leaned in toward him, pressing her forehead against his. He was speechless just at her simplest touch.
But I’d miss that too, she said, if I could watch you be happy another time.
His fingers were stiff.
Adam could barely press down on the strings of the sitar—fourteenth century, straight from the Delhi Sultanate period, and most importantly Eve’s anniversary present to him in the thirties. The strings dug into his fingertips more sharply than before, leaving them burning as if he was made of delicate parchment. He stopped nearly every fifth chord, trying to flex his fingers. He didn’t want to think they shook.
“Pathetic,” he said to his fingers, as if to scold them. They only throbbed in response.
He shifted in his seat on the floor of his Camden apartment—leave it to Eve to insist on moving them to this eclectic, artsy borough of London before fluttering off like birds in winter to Dubai to visit old friends for several months. How she had friends among the others at all, Adam could hardly say, only that he commended her for being able to stand them for so many centuries. At least with humans, if he ever found them to start annoying him, they at least would tactfully die.
He swallowed hard, trying not to wince. The action itself roughed his throat, as if the insides were coated with blisters. He tried not to remember that it had been two weeks since he drank.
Two weeks, six days, and thirteen hours.
This should be nothing. There were times, especially during the world wars, when blood was just as coveted among humans, when he hardly drank a drop except when massacres and bombings spilt forth fresh supply. But at least then Eve hadn’t whisked off to the United Arab Emirates, as if an antique sitar was enough for Adam to replace her.
Two weeks, six days, thirteen hours, and forty-two minutes. And he felt every second of it.
He wondered if he could last a little longer.
Adam propped the sitar against his coffee table—the tinny notes were rattling in his head, and he could hardly fingerpick five bars, much less create anything worthwhile out of it. At the sight of his hand, he grimaced; it was shaking, the bones pressing more tightly against the skin.
A damn camel could last better than he could.
He rubbed his eyes; even when it was dark, a bleary drowsiness hung over him like rain, and he found himself curling asleep as early as two in the morning. The faintness ought to worry him, if he wasn’t too damn tired to think.
Adam groped blindly for the phone. Jabbed at the ten numbers and pressed his ear against the phone. Pretending that this wasn’t the fifth time he tried calling the supplier. And that he would try each time not to pick up, not to beg on the phone that was never picked up, so he wouldn’t get the blood, wouldn’t be so desperate for someone else’s weakness.
Ringing. It made his ears ache. He squeezed the bridge of his nose, trying to clear his head. It spun, as if it was a globe and a child was abusing it on its axle. Breathe in, breathe out.
Still ringing. For a moment Adam wondered if—should the supplier pick up at all—he could even speak a word. His lips were so dry he could barely move them without fearing they would rip and crinkle. His throat burned every time he tried to make a sound.
Oh God, he was so hungry.
Ringing, ringing—six rings, and maybe the supplier would have picked up after the sixth if Adam didn’t slam the phone down onto the receiver, as if to throw off grime. If the supplier picked up, Adam didn’t know if he would have begged for blood or not.
Good, he thought, even though he throbbed, good.
Two weeks, six days, thirteen hours, and fifty-one minutes. The stacking numbers made his head hurt.
For a wild moment he thought, desperately, that he should just sneak into a hospital or a blood bank himself, and drown himself. Steal blood, even, from those who were less fortunate. Damn the humans, why do they need their blood anyway, if they were going to die off so quickly? Damn the humans, why couldn’t he drink them all?
The famished thoughts unnerved him. He ducked his head, wrapping his arms around his knees. Those dark, destructive desires—instincts—frightened him. He was desperate, dependent, pathetic…starving.
If dependency made him see others as tools, then this dependency, this hunger and need—this was savagery.
A lone car horn blared outside in the sleepy streets. Adam turned toward the window, vaguely registering that he wasn’t the only one awake in the middle of the night. Life, brewing outside—red, hot, dripping life that was fit to burst, like a pouch too full, that only a thin needle could prod at it and it would come bursting out, gushing, sloshing in its sack and rivulets running down into a dry, desperate well—
Adam bared his teeth. No—he promised himself already, ever since Paris in 1926. He wasn’t going to suck dry another human being just for drink again. That was a time left behind.
He could almost feel his stomach collapse on itself, trying to shrink the empty space of hunger inside.
Tomorrow, he told himself, as he lay against the couch, head tilted back as if he meant to count the stars and not because he could hardly hold his spinning head upright. Tomorrow, he will search again—for the supplier, for blood, for anything. After he sleeps.
Time inched by. He tried not to imagine each second as a cut slowly oozing, drop by drop.
Marlowe, allegedly, had no choice.
One of the letters he had exchanged with Eve explained it with a stiff upper lip. The human apparently was a young father, and he had already been bleeding when Marlowe found him. And Marlowe just couldn’t help himself, even when he knew that the human’s daughters were only several hundred meters behind. The blood was spilling from the hunting accident in the woods, and Marlowe couldn’t help himself.
Note this, lovely Eve, he had written in his letter, which Eve read out loud by the fire to Adam. It is better to take them away than to leave them to learn on their own. They ought to be taught rather than let live. Those weeks of denial in the beginning only make the hunger hurt, if primal instinct does not take them first.
Marlowe had turned the young father, thinking it a mercy to spare the man’s life than to suck him dry, until not long after his children were found shriveled and dead in their cottage, and a bloody young man howled as if in pain.
Fuck Marlowe, said Adam, when Eve folded the letter close. He was curled up on the sheepskin rug, head resting against Eve’s thigh.
He’s a goddamn fool if he didn’t expect it.
His hands were shaking. He held them by the fire, as if it would make a difference.
He couldn’t help it, said Eve. And neither could that young man.
He doesn’t know that, Adam said. What if he kept closed his mouth a little longer?
Could you? Eve said. Would you?
Adam wanted to say yes. He knew the difference between eating and barbarianism. He knew—he knew—the line between terrible choice and primal instinct. And that was not instinct.
The poor family, Eve whispered.
I suppose he will forget the pain, said Adam. In time.
He will forget their faces, too, said Eve. And their names.
Adam carded the wool with his fingers absentmindedly.
In how long? he said.
Perhaps several centuries from now, said Eve. Maybe earlier. He is a young man. He has less to forget.
Adam rubbed his fingers absentmindedly. There were few lines on his skin. He wondered how quickly he must have forgotten, if all memory of Before was washed out like the sand on the shore. If he was in love before Eve, if that was at all possible. If he knew names and faces that no existed nowhere, neither in time nor earth nor memory.
At least everyone cleaned up after themselves, Adam said. No orphans were left behind.
No, said Eve. They would have orphaned him instead.
Adam lifted his head toward her.
How do you mean? he said.
She stroked his hair gently. The feeling of her hand made him warm.
They’d grow up, said Eve. And before he knows it, they’d grow older than he. And he would try to father them, but they would keep growing and growing until they were more parents to him than he to them, and he cannot catch up. He’d watch them forget about him, have families of their own, lose families of their own. He’d watch them die, and the only thing that could move him on would be time.
Maybe he would turn them, said Adam. And they’d be together forever.
I suppose they could stay children all their lives, said Eve. Though, it would be awful.
They always would need help reaching the honey jar from the top shelf.
Adam cracked a smile as Eve’s gentle fingers brushed the hair from his eyes. That smile was fleeting, and he stared at the crinkling fire.
He must be devastated now, he said.
He will be, Eve said. There’s nothing very joyful about it right now.
I don’t understand, Adam said, if there is a God, why would God make such wretched creatures like this.
Eve’s hand paused. It reached and took his chin, lifting his face to her like a mother speaking to her child.
Do you think us cursed, said Eve.
Adam said nothing. She let out a sigh.
If it were not for what we are, said Eve. I’d only have a half a century at most with you.
Only a half a century? Adam said.
When one hundred centuries with you would still not be enough for me, she said.
She leaned down and pressed a lingering kiss on his forehead. He closed his eyes, hungry for it. Maybe in the past life, she was a mother. She might have been. Maybe she knew what she was talking about. Maybe she wished for that scrap of humanity—to beget life, except neither of them could.
You’re enough for me, he said to Eve. He held onto her, desperate to know her presence. You’re more than enough for me.
He wondered if he was enough for her.
“Talk with me, darling,” Eve said.
Adam was curled up in the corner of the couch, phone pressed between his cheek and the armrest. He couldn’t stop staring at the unraveled fringes of the rug. He ran his tongue across the back of his teeth. It was so dry a nick could cut it—if it bled, he could taste the iron, and the possibility exhilarated him.
“How are you?” he said.
“Splendid,” said Eve. “Dubai is enchanting.”
“Mm,” said Adam.
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t like it, though,” said Eve. “The city doesn’t sleep at night.”
“No,” Adam said. “I suppose I wouldn’t.”
He breathed in, breathed out. His eyelashes felt like lead.
“Have you been?” said Eve.
“Sleeping. You sound so weary.”
“I’ve slept a lot,” said Adam.
It wasn’t a lie. He slept more than he usually should.
Eve hummed in response.
“How’s your supply?” Eve said. “Are you keeping healthy, my darling?”
Adam bit his lip. His voice was cracking.
“It’s a little rough,” Adam said. He couldn’t lie to her, or at least, couldn’t in that she could sniff out a fib easily even if he tried.
“What’s wrong?” Eve said. He heard the worry fringe her voice. “Love, are you low on the goods?”
“I’m fine,” said Adam. He tucked his legs closer to his chest. “It’s just a little slow. I’ll be okay, Eve.”
“Adam, love,” Eve said. “When was the last time you drank?”
“A couple days ago,” said Adam. “It’s all right.”
Except it was a couple days, on top of a couple weeks. The blood that he would have drunk must be going to humans now, pumping through their veins, powering their heart, their lives. Maybe saving lives without taking them. He didn’t remember how that worked.
“No, it’s not,” said Eve. “That’s foolish thinking.”
“Eve, it’s nothing,” said Adam. “It’s nowhere near as bad as during the world wars.”
“Still,” said Eve.
“Blood was on higher demand from the humans than from us,” said Adam. “We got by.”
“We did,” said Eve. “But I still worry. You sound so worn. Like a mountain face ready to crumble under the rain.”
“I don’t see how that’s supposed to be bad,” Adam said. “There’s nothing feeble about an avalanche.”
Eve sighed. Adam ran his hand down the phone as if he could cup her face this way, even if they were miles apart.
“How is visiting others in Dubai?” said Adam.
“Oh,” Eve said. “I’m not here to visit others. Did you think I was visiting others?”
“I hardly know others, love. Except you and Marlowe. It isn’t exactly easy to tell when you’ve met one, you know?”
“I see,” Adam said. He licked his lips. They cut his tongue. “Are you all right, then?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’re on your own.”
“Darling, I can hold my own.”
Adam dipped his head. He wasn’t very sure why he thought Eve would be visiting people; he only unquestioningly assumed it. He didn’t see why she would be alone—she was so lovely, and countless lives were missing out on knowing that.
“Not visiting Marlowe?” he said.
She laughed softly.
“No one,” she said.
“Then,” he said—
Why aren’t you here?
“Stay safe,” he finished.
He imagined her walking the clay streets in the outskirts of Dubai, scarves wrapped around her pale hair and eyes glinting in the midnight streetlights. He imagined silence, except for her feet upon the road. No voices, no music—none to dance to. He imagined her quiet, and alone.
He imagined her with him.
It never occurred to him that Eve did not love him. That was never questioned, and even if she did he would not stop loving her. But now he wondered if she loved him because she had no other choice—because humans had no time to love her in their brief candle-lives and there were no others that she knew. Perhaps he was her only option.
The thought was strangely painful.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to tell you something,” said Eve.
“What is it?” said Adam.
“I won’t be back for another week and a half,” said Eve.
Adam’s heart sank. His eyelids were slipping close—they were too heavy to keep open. At the broken promise of Eve’s expected arrival, trying to stay awake was no longer valid.
“I’m paying a visit to Tibet,” said Eve. “It will only be a short while.”
“Is the east all that fascinating?” said Adam.
“It’ll be worth my while,” said Eve. “You will take care of yourself. Won’t you?”
Adam breathed in softly.
“Mm,” Adam said.
He felt light, as if he could float up to the ceiling, bobbing against the rooftop like a balloon slowly losing helium. His head felt clouded.
“I miss you, my treasure,” she said.
“I miss you too,” he said.
It was a struggle to say it, because those words just put truth into that dull ache in his chest that had less to do with the hunger.
“Would you play something for me?” said Eve.
“My music?” he said.
“No, play chess with me through this little phone,” said Eve. “Of course your music. Have you written anything new?”
“Not exactly,” Adam said. All the music he had written, they sounded so horrendous that he would throw away the instrument as if his hands were burning them. They sounded less like funeral music, and more like condemnation. They sounded ugly. “I’ve only been experimenting.”
“That’s still good,” she said. “What about your sitar? Would you play me something from that?”
“I—” Adam could hardly lift his head from the couch. But Eve asked, and Eve wanted, and he wanted nothing more than to give her anything. “Yes. Okay. Give me a moment.”
He pressed the button on the corded phone to speakerphone. He winced as he managed to push himself up to a sitting position. His head spun and he had to lean back to keep himself from falling over. He could hardly lift his arms to pick the sitar off from the floor.
“Are you still there, love?” Eve said.
“I’m here,” Adam said. It was barely above a deep breath.
“Don’t go too far away from me, sweetheart, I can barely hear you.”
Adam closed his eyes until the fatigue subsided. He dragged the sitar from the ground. His fingers smarted just touching the strings.
“Are you still there?”
“Okay.” He wondered if she had anywhere or anyone else to go to at all, if she even wanted to. “Okay.”
He ignored the stinging when he pressed down on the strings. By the end of it, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
If it sounded hideous, she did not say.
He hated Ava, but he couldn’t convince himself that she was to blame.
He could have turned them, he suppose. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult. It would be fitting, even. They were ten at the very most, and didn’t Barrie once say something about children never growing up? It would have been all right.
He wanted to blame Ava, but in the end he couldn’t.
It was 1926 the last time Ava positively fucked up his and Eve’s peace. She couldn’t keep inside, couldn’t keep still, delighted at the thought of trailing Adam when he would stop for a chat with Hemingway or Stein and otherwise causing a scene. Paris was never inherently peaceful to begin with—Ava made it impossible.
He tried to blame Ava, but he knew that the choice had been his.
(They were only children)
Don’t stay here, Adam, Eve urged him that morning, after it all happened, after bodily hauling Ava out of their flat and after burying the bodies in an ashy pit. Leave, it won’t be good to stay. There’s nothing to be done, so leave this behind.
She wiped the blood from his lips as she spoke, but it was easy for her to say that, easy for her to do—she didn’t do it. She didn’t make that choice too easily, didn’t act too quickly.
Why does it hurt, Eve? Adam had said blindly, lips barely moving as her hand moved over it. Why does it hurt?
Because this was what he was, this bloodsucking monster, this killer, this parasitic freak of nature, and it shouldn’t be a surprise, shouldn’t be anything to bat an eye at, except it hurt and it was disgusting and it was wrong and if it was so wrong to eat to survive then maybe it was so wrong to exist.
You’re no monster, Eve said to him, and said to him, and said to him. You’re no monster, you couldn’t help it, it’s not your fault, you can’t help it—
He couldn’t help it. It was in his nature, wasn’t it? To suck dry children without mercy until they were merely dried sacks of brittle flesh, even when he told himself to stop, to just turn them, they did nothing wrong, they were just in the way. Ava gave away what they were to those humans and he had to protect their truth he only meant to turn them and by the end of it all they were so sunken they were nearly unrecognizable, more skeleton than corpse until Ava scampered to Eve to tell her what her husband did—
It’s the city, Eve said, when they took the train to Belgium that very night. She cradled his head to her chest. He wouldn’t move, nearly catatonic the moment he sat down and felt her presence. She held him as if he was gossamer glass. She said, they do always say that Paris appreciates their drink.
He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He didn’t want to remember that truly, those ten children’s blood was delicious.
(It wasn’t that he did it, it was that he couldn’t stop .
And animals never know how to stop, do they?)
Adam was almost proud of how long he did not need blood.
Three and a half weeks, closely edging toward a month. It was like overcoming a disease, or hell, what those humans called a diet. He fought the battle and he was winning—except he didn’t know what it looked to have won.
He stretched out his greying fingers—watched them shake. He could see his veins in his wrist, with whatever borrowed blood that smuggled itself through them.
The sight, as ghastly as it may be, did not disgust him. There were much worse scenes.
He let his hand fall lamely to his side—he swayed on his feet. The world tilted like contents on an upset tray, sloshing and trickling like spilt wine collecting along the rims. He took a step—and leaned heavily against the wall.
The hunger was so strong it was almost unnoticeable, not as noticeable as that pungent, chilling idea of blood, of biting into grimy flesh, of sucking dry the bone until his belly was full and sloshing. The idea made him want to vomit the nothing he had.
You can’t help it—
—it was in his nature.
He stumbled through the dark rooms of his and Eve’s flat, all cluttered and clumsy since her departure weeks ago. Sheet music lay crumpled at his feet, covered with ink blots that failed to become music—what he failed to create. Guitars and violins discarded on the beaten rug like the dead of war. They couldn’t make sound, he couldn’t elicit any life from their strings. They too had long been sucked dry, and were nothing but husks.
Can’t create life.
Not like that.
His fingers trailed against the walls that he passed. The wallpaper was ripped, still echoing his howls and screams when the hunger was so unbearable he thought his own stomach would break out of his skin and swallow him whole just to satisfy himself, and all he could think was biting into humans and tearing them to pieces like a wolf, which was only a step above what he was, because at least wolves had the decency to die in this circle of life and pay their dues.
He wanted Eve. He wanted her so badly. He felt less of a monster when she was with him, because something as pure as her could never love something terrible.
His sight blurred. He thought of the color red—it both sickened him and made him croak.
He barely made it to the four-poster bed, hardly able to pull himself across the covers and gave up before he could even tuck his feet in from draping over the edge. He thought he could smell Eve in the sheets. It was like a sedative, lulling him to peace.
Three weeks, six days, and twenty-one hours since he last drank.
His breaths felt shallower. Strange. Not sure why they would do something like that.
In his daze, he imagined the supplier standing in the alleys of Camden Town, checking his watch at one in the morning, with a carpet bag full of clean, slick blood in metal canisters, until concluding that Adam was never going to come.
What would he do with the blood then? Take it back to the blood bank for some poor bloke from a car accident to benefit off of. Or drink it himself, if his supplier was another one. Adam imagined the wiry, bespectacled supplier spooning the blood into his mouth like tomato soup and he smiled blindly.
Three weeks, six days, and twenty-one hours of not giving into his nature.
(You couldn’t help it—)
Yes I can.
Sunlight was beginning to bleed through the crack in the drapes. Adam couldn’t move his head to watch it trickle in.
When was it so damn difficult to keep a breath?
He couldn’t keep his eyes open.
It’s all right, his hazed mind soothed him as he barely put up a fight against the frailty. It’s time to shut away. Just wake up in the evening, and maybe you will be kinder to the music. Maybe then you’ll create something beautiful.
He finally didn’t feel his hunger—or anything.
The erhu was elaborate, and stunning, and everything that Eve was looking for. The snakeskin was silvery and still tight along the base, the strings aged but still wound firmly. The moment she ran her finger along the slim neck, she knew that it was perfect.
It took her longer than she wanted to find it. The only regret was that she could not see Adam sooner, but at the thought of how his face would light up at the sight of her gift to him, and how careful his hands would move across the strings and make them sing, she knew it would be worth it.
The tube closed past midnight, so she had to take a cab back to the flat from Heathrow, cradling the erhu package in her lap. Jet lag made her drowsy, but morning wasn’t for another six hours—after all, the moment she sees Adam, she knows it’ll be as if life had started over and she would want to stay awake for days just to be with him.
It was one thirty in the morning when the taxi sleepily pulled up in front of their flat. She carried her bags out of the cab, holding her breath as she approached the steps. Adam wasn’t at the window—he was probably busy, immersed in his music, and she could surprise him.
She unlocked the door to the flat, cracking it open just an inch and hoping to catch a glimpse of Adam before he could notice her. Instead, the living room was empty and disheveled, papers and vinyl scattered like the remains of a parade on the floor. Eve frowned as she came inside, sidestepping the sitar fallen lamely on its side. Adam was never the most orderly in his organization, but this was unusual even for him.
She placed her bags and the erhu on the living room couch. Something on the walls caught her eyes and she looked up to see the torn, clawed wallpaper. Something jolted in her chest—it reminded her of fear.
She followed the marks on the wall to the bedroom, the door half-open. She took in a deep breath, bracing herself for whatever emotional roller coaster Adam might be in, whether he was sullen or irate or anything. So long as he was there she could take him in her arms and talk with him, and love him, until he could calm down.
She pressed the door open and breathed a sigh of relief. Adam was only sleeping, draped across the bed. How he wasn’t awake at this hour was beyond her, but he sounded so tired when she spoke with him last that he could sleep the night away.
Eve quietly knelt at the foot of the bed, brushing Adam’s hair from his face, before pressing a kiss on his forehead.
“It’s time to wake up, darling,” she said.
Adam didn’t wake. She brushed his hair back; he must have been exhausted, doing whatever it was that he was so occupied with while she was gone. She nuzzled her cheek against his, breathing his presence in deeply.
“Sweetheart,” she said into his ear. “Won’t you welcome me home?”
He didn’t even stir. Eve frowned slightly, gently pressing on his shoulder to roll him onto his back. He fell easily, and slept on as if nothing touched him. She lightly shook his shoulder—it really was much too late of an hour to keep sleeping, and she couldn’t help but want to speak with him after being apart for so long.
“Adam,” she said. She raised her voice. “Adam.”
She shook his shoulder more vigorously. He didn’t wake. Fear clouded her mind. She crawled onto the bed, pulling Adam onto her lap. He was utterly unresponsive—he wouldn’t wake.
“Adam?” she said.
Her voice was strained. She didn’t want to be afraid, but she was. She couldn’t help it, but she was. She slapped him across the face. He didn’t show any other sign of life.
She pressed a hand against his cheek. Only then did she realize how much more gaunt he looked, how his skin was grimly grey and how he wouldn’t open his eyes. She pressed her ear against his chest—his heartbeat was faint. It made hers skip one.
It suddenly struck her. She pulled away from Adam—it was so difficult to let go of him—and rushed to the kitchen, throwing open the refrigerator door. It was utterly empty. She opened the freezer and found nothing. Wrenched open every cabinet, every drawer and pantry door. The metal canisters for blood were clean and collecting dust. Nothing.
“Oh, you fool,” Eve said. “You fool.”
She ran to the living room and wrenched open her bag, pulling out two thermoses from her things, before rushing back to Adam’s side. She gathered Adam in her arms, cradling his head as if it would shatter if anywhere but in her protection. She unscrewed the cap from the thermos and told herself that her hands weren’t shaking. This was nothing to be afraid of. He just needed to drink, and he will be fine. He will be fine.
He will be fine.
She could hardly hold the thermos still as she carefully poured drink into his lips. When at first the blood trickled past his lips and down his chin, she thought her heart would stop in her chest. But finally, his chest rose and fell, and his throat moved ever so slightly as he swallowed, and she could breathe.
After two long swallows, he began to stir in her arms. When he came to, his tongue catching the drops of blood that fell from his lips, he let out a shuddering groan. Eve tightened her arms around him as he tried to jerk away from the drink, gasping keenly.
“What is it?” Eve said. He only calmed down when she put the drink away on the bedside table, but he wouldn’t stop shaking. “Love, what’s wrong?”
Adam swallowed hard. He ran his teeth along the edge of his bloodstained teeth. At their taste, his eyes grew glassy.
“Oh, Eve,” he said. His voice was thick. “Eve—I was so close. I was so close.”
“What do you mean?” Eve said. He wouldn’t even lift his head to her. He was still too weak, too malnourished, and he was like a fragile doll in her arms. “What’s wrong, Adam?”
“I could’ve helped it, Eve,” he said. “I could have stopped.”
He closed his eyes and he shook. She drew him close to her chest, rocking him gently as if she could protect him from the world, from those dark clouds and lies he wrapped around himself. She hoped he did not feel her shake.