1932

While dancing upon Route 66 - the Mother Road - Angel found himself hiding in a crypt in the St. Louis Municipal Cemetery - acre upon acre of stone, none with names he recognized.

He lay motionless atop the cracked slab that sheltered the remains of a civic leader from St. Louis' Gilded age, watching the golden light of high Autumn filter safely across the mildewed pink granite ceiling through the remains of a shattered Tiffany window while spiders spun their webs upon his body like one more coffin lid effigy. A marble angel with a face that mirrored his had he known it, guarded the outer threshold, stone tears running down its face from blind eyes, broken lily in one powerful hand, sword in the other, crumbling wings outlined against the killing day.

Outside, the muffled rush of traffic whispered past: here a streetcar, there a coal truck. In between, like dull thunder, murmured the countless voices and heartbeats of the human hive that concealed him. Blushing maple leaves whispered restlessly, anticipating their final drop while the grass slowly died with a long drawn out hiss in the late-October afternoon sun.

Angel's attendant spiders gave off faint crackles of sound like distant untuned radios as they spun their webs about him, one using the bottom of his cracked left brogan as an anchor between it and an overturned bronze urn. His predator's ears caught the whirring clatter of the elderly groundskeepers's push mower, acting in sharp counterpoint to the groanings, wheezings, dry copulations and farts of the resident pack of ghouls that had holed up in the surrounding tombs, waiting for sundown.

In the Italian section, a priest gave a quiet funeral sermon in subdued Latin for a stillborn baby, while his protestant rival bellowed the Word of God at the side of the grave of an immensely fat woman in the Woodmen of the World section. (Angel knew she was fat by the heavy steps and muttered complaints of her pallbearers as they manhandled her coffin past his shelter to her final resting place half an hour before.)

Under all were the batwing rustlings of the vampires who made this place their home. Their scent trails as well as those of the ghouls filling his nose with every shift of the wind: here there was a very old alpha, smelling of opium and dried blood, two virgin children smelling of beeswax and communion wafers...and others —all hopefully confusing Angel's scent for his pursuers.

Overhead swirled the piccolo grace notes given off by Monarch butterflies migrating southward to Mexico in an orange and black river against the cobalt sky.

Angel had never seen one in daylight - but the ribbons of pheromones that the frail creatures left sparkling behind them in the air as they fluttered south on a millionbilliontrillion tissue thin wings made his nostrils twitch, reminding him of the time Darla had taken him to blood soaked Mexico, when things had been so much simpler.

Mexico had been a carnival of cruelty and old blood soaked temples - a paradise where the Monarch butterflies drifted overhead ever southward. Some said they carried the souls of the dead home in time for Los Dias de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead. Others said they were heading for the Aztec Land of the Dead.

The stories intrigued Darla, who was usually more interested in sex and slaughter - the Land of the Dead? To be dead in the Land of the Dead? The souls of the dead coming back to a mountain called Herrada? How utterly delicious!

"We must follow them, the butterflies all the way to Mt. Herrada, my sweet boy. Wouldn't it be a delight? All the way to the Land of the Dead!" She had said one night in a nameless mountain village with blood running down her pointed chin as they shared a peasant girl lured away from her family's all night graveside vigil in honor of Los Dias de los Muertos with false promise of kisses from a rich man.

They went that night to the mountain where the butterflies went, speeding on foot beneath the full moon, Darla in the girl's dress; long white-gold hair blessed with marigolds and glow worms because it amused her, Angelus in a fine linen suit because it pleased him to play the part of Don - Darla flitting ahead upon dainty bare feet across the darkened land in a blur of speed that only another vampire could detect, through orchards and melon patches, through bean fields and rancheros as the owl sailed across the moon in the cricket mad darkness.

As they climbed the steep mountain road to the place where the Monarchs went, the fragile insect's thickening scent trails aroused Angelus to a frenzy - he roughly shoved Darla to her hands and knees in the middle of the road in a dark blossom of stolen skirts, her face greenishly radiant beneath its living crown as he mercilessly pounded into her from behind, grinding her breasts and belly into the dust as she screamed like a panther with every thrust.

Satiated, Angelus had left Darla limp in a pool of blood and dead semen as he followed his nose to the oyamel fir groves where the Monarchs slept, in a rustle of a millionbilliontrillion wings, radiating life from a millionbilliontrillion bodies no longer than the smallest finger of a child, intoxicating him. They dripped from the branches like living stalactites, covering him with their wings. The presence of so many tiny lives concentrated into one space made him harder than before and Angelus found himself leaping and snapping at them like a kitten, trying to feed off of their rich concentration of life as they stirred in the moonlight, blowing up from him in glittering clouds of wings in the pale moonlight.

Darla, his deathless whore, laughed up at him lynx-eyed, seated on the dry earth, skirts now torn and caked with blood, semen and dust, her scent of rotting peaches and blood mingling in with that of the butterflies, "Silly boy, this is the Land of the Dead, you can't eat them all in one night!" she cooed up at him even as she pulled him down in front of her like a worshipper at an alter, brushing butterfly dust from his face, "Silly silly boy-child!" He lifted Darla's skirts and spread her cold thighs, taking her again and again against the rough bark of a tree as the butterflies, disturbed by their rutting, whispered around the glades, blocking out the moon in a fluttering cloud, exciting him even further as Darla screamed, clawing long bloody furrows into the back of his fine linen coat.

Sunrise caught them dozing on a carpet of broken butterfly wings, forcing them to take refuge in the remains of a nearby chapel.

Angelus tenderly combed broken wings from Darla's long golden hair and re-braided it into two plaits even as the gaping holes that had once been windows lightened at the sun's approach.

They slept upon the remains of the desanctified alter in a comfortable tangle of arms and legs while the Monarchs that survived the night spread their wings in the dawn and cascaded down the mountainside in search of water in a burning tapestry of orange and gold.

Their descendants now sailed effortlessly above Angel in his borrowed refuge; disturbing him with their whispers and perfumes while spiders wove their webs across his body.

A Monarch fluttered through a gap in the Tiffany window where the glass had fallen out, the veins on its wings echoing the lead strips that held the window together. Angel's eyes tracked it as it fluttered above him, miraculously avoiding the spider webs, wings lightly kissing his face before it flew out the other side of the tomb unscathed in a flash of black and orange against the bluish purple of the Autumn sky.

What was left of Angel's dead heart snatched fruitlessly after the little creature. Cold tears echoing those of the stone angel guarding Angel's borrowed front door trickled quietly down his face and into his hair as he wished for wings so that he could follow the butterfly out into the daylight, up into the face of the sun so that in one final Icarus burst he would break into a millionbilliontrillion burning pieces that would scatter to the four winds.

Instead, Angel remained earthbound, covered with fine spider gauze, cracked left brogan anchored to a bronze urn by a gossamer strand, the right one now tied to the crumbling guardian angel with its dissolving marble wings by another, listening to the drone of priests and the giggling and farting of ghouls, waiting for the sun to go down.


Author's Note: The Mexican Day of the Dead/Los Dias de los Muertos roughly corresponds on the calendar with our Halloween and is a Catholicised Aztec festival where the living and the dead mingle. Rather than sad, it's a generally joyous occasion with special foods, prayers, and memories. Monarch butterflies hold a special place in the beliefs associated with this holiday.