Part 1: Camelot
Abby walked toward a farmhouse that seemed empty and dead compared to the star-filled sky above. She wore nothing but a thin nightgown, over which long, matted hair fell. Her face looked hungry, sad, bored.
Abby noticed a girl of about sixteen hiding behind one of the farmhouse's shade trees. She approached the young woman slowly, cautiously. Like Abby, the girl wore nothing but a nightgown. And her hair seemed to be even more unkempt, if that were possible.
At some point the girl became aware of Abby. She motioned the vampire over at once, putting a finger to her lips at the same time. "Quiet," the girl whispered. "They'll hear you."
Abby glanced about quickly, her expression now confused and frightened. She seemed ready to bolt. But the girl reached out a hand and plucked Abby into the spot behind the tree. "I'm Constance," she said, her voice no longer soft. "It's a good thing you made it on time. Peter Parley's coming for tea. He's bringing a live Megalosaurus. It's always best when the food you eat has a sporting chance of eating you first. Are those buttons?"
Constance scooted around Abby and examined her shrift. "I don't understand why they put the buttons where you can't reach them. Jo March sprints faster than a buffalo. She took me for a joint-stool. Susie says she can only come for tea if she brings Hamlet. But you have to bring poison for the play," she emphasized, poking Abby in the chest. "It's always best when someone gets poisoned during tea."
Abby's face grew even more confused. "Who's listening?" she asked.
"This is a birch, this is an elm; no sound can passage through my realm. The doctor claims he retched a place, to stash my parents' foul disgrace. Would you like a gumdrop?" She offered an acorn to Abby. The vampire wavered for a moment, then extended a tentative hand. Constance slapped it away. "You'll ruin your supper," she scolded. Then she put one arm around Abby and the other hand on her hip. "Susie wants to know your name. It's always best when she knows your name."
"Abby," the vampire said, beginning to smile. "My name is Abby."
"Do you want to go hunting with me?" Constance asked.
"You may seek it with thimbles, and seek it with care; you may hunt it with forks and hope; you may threaten its life with a railway-share; you may charm it with smiles and soap." She began patting her nightgown. "Did I share away my share? I swear." She pinched Abby's cheeks. "We've got smiles, at least. No soap, though. Goodness, you stink worse than I do. Our prey will smell us from a mile. Off with you, Abby. We'll take us two baths. Tomorrow night we stalk."
The next evening Abby returned, clean and presentable. She found Constance waiting behind the elm tree, picnic basket over her arm. "We've no blank map," she informed Abby. "But I still think we can find our way. Don't foul the rudder." Constance headed down the road. Abby followed.
"Three rules," Constance said. "Number one, you can never laugh at Susie. It hurts her feelings, and it's rude, anyway. Number two, you have to read my favorite books and like them. They're mostly British, I'm afraid, but that's the way it is if you're going to be my friend. Number three, you can never let them get me. Are we clear?"
"Yes," Abby said.
"And what are your rules?"
The vampire took some time to think. "We never talk about family," she said. "It hurts my feelings. You have to do my laundry, and you can't complain no matter how bad the stains are. And you're never allowed to ask me to see the sun."
"Day and night shall cease," Constance observed, "unless we harvest raspberries." She stopped by a clump of bushes and began picking fruit. Abby joined her. They filled a clay pot inside Constance's picnic basket. Abby kept pausing to smile at her new friend. A few times she even giggled.
Constance eventually took Abby off the road to a large stone house. She went up onto the porch and knocked boldly on the front door. After a minute a balding man in his fifties opened to inspect them. He held a lantern high and gazed through his spectacles.
"Constance?" the man inquired. "What are you doing out so late, child? It's one-thirty in the morning."
Constance glanced at Abby and waited. Abby spoke up. "Pardon us, sir," she said. "We were reciting lines in Boxer's Field. Then we wanted to see the stars, but we stayed too long. We took a shortcut to hurry home. A foolish course in the dark, sir; we lost our way. It's cold, and we're so very tired. Might we please come in?"
"Certainly. Come in, come in," the man replied, ushering them through the door. "There are blankets this way. I'll build up the fire." They followed their host through the foyer into a sitting room crammed with overstuffed furniture. "Your parents are sure to be terribly worried, Constance," the man clucked. "How many times must we tell you not to leave your property unescorted?"
"I have Abby with me, Dr. Williamson," Constance said, squeezing the vampire's hand.
"Well, that's fine," the man allowed. "But you shouldn't be out at night. There are some predators perfectly willing to eat people, you know."
Constance's voice turned accusatory. "You told Father I'm the Mad Hatter. Susie's the Mad Hatter. I'm Alice. And Abby," she added, stroking the vampire's long hair, "is Wonderland." She directed her attention to Abby. "You promised," Constance reminded her. "You can never let them get me."
Abby leaped on the doctor, bowling him over. She bit into his carotid artery and he screamed. There was a brief struggle, but it didn't affect the outcome. After thirty seconds the man grew still.
Constance pulled a tea set from her basket and arranged the pieces on the floor. "Save some for me," she insisted, pushing on the monster until she gave way. Constance held a cup against the doctor's neck. When she was satisfied with how much tea she had gathered, she permitted Abby to resume.
Constance used her fingers to comb the dead man's hair. "Your saucer needs cleaning," she said. "The walls have ears; no asylum is free; I see what I eat; I eat what I see. That'll teach you to play with spoons." She took a sip of blood from her teacup. "Now I get it. You want to go to the beach. Don't get sand on your scones, mind you. It's worse than lemon."
Abby broke the doctor's neck, reverted to girl form, and sat smiling at Constance in fascination.
"You need to work on your manners," Constance lectured, pulling out a napkin and wiping Abby's chin. "No use crying over spilled milk. Seems like you ate more than your share of the raspberries. That means I get the other lump of sugar." She plopped a white cube into her teacup, tried to swirl it. "You should really steep the leaves," Constance recommended, swallowing a mouthful. "It's no wonder you forget to bathe."
Abby waited in the barn behind her friend's house. Constance entered mid-conversation. "You're being very rude," she commented. "Abby's not that kind of girl." She reached the vampire's hiding spot and rummaged in a bag. "Susie insists. Please don't be cross." Constance pulled out three cloves of garlic, a silver crucifix, and a glass jar filled with water.
She raised the crucifix and shoved it in Abby's face. She rubbed the garlic on Abby's arms. She poured the water over Abby's head. "That settles it," Constance concluded. "Susie says you are a very peculiar sort of vampire. Can you see your reflection?" Abby nodded. "Can you turn into mist?" Abby shook her head no. "Can't vampires do their own laundry? You must have Chinamen in Transylvania. Hypnotize me, hypnotize me! Oh, please do, Abby."
Abby took hold of her friend and shared a memory. In this flashback she cowered in a shack next to a wood-burning stove. A man with a thin beard glanced at Abby, then cocked his head as someone banged on the door. "You've got to answer for her, John," a voice insisted. "You come willingly or things are going to get a lot less polite."
Abby surged outside in a wild fury. She bit the first constable's head off. Constance cheered. The second man she tore in half. Constance whooped like it was the start of summer vacation. The last officer Abby ate slowly. Constance gloated through the meal, then stood up, severing the connection. She danced in circles and clapped. "You throw the best parties," she informed Abby. "And the guests always bring something to eat!" Abby's somber expression changed into a grin.
Constance began running about the barn, peeking through cracks in the walls. "They're coming for us, Abby. They always know where we are. Will a boojum make you vanish? I haven't been the same since I vanished. Maybe we could take the train. Susie's jealous. She thinks we'll leave her at the station."
"Susie…" Abby said. Her face became thoughtful. "Susie can come, of course. Susie, please come. It won't be the same without you. I promise to put sugar in your tea. It'll be fabulous. Three huntresses against the world."
Abby flew into a courtyard surrounded by a tall, wrought-iron fence. She entered a brick mansion and killed the nurse on duty in the lobby. She started heading down the corridors, pulling open door after door, freeing the patients. One surprised orderly got his heart ripped out. Another Abby paused over long enough to eat.
She found the right room, but Constance would not leave. Abby took her by the hand and urged her to get off the floor. Constance stayed in the corner, arms wrapped around her knees. She refused to look at Abby.
"It's time to go," the vampire said, her tone urgent. "Just like we said. The three of us stick together. Come on, Constance."
"I didn't kill Dr. Williamson," Constance repeated. "My secret vampire friend did. She only comes out at night and she has to drink human blood and holy water doesn't hurt her and she sprouts wings. She puts thoughts in my mind. She plays nice with Susie. Everyone is out to get her. No, Abby, you needn't be blue; I'm truly, madly crazy for you!"
The girl broke into a grin, jumped to her feet, and gave Abby a kiss. Some blood transferred to Constance, who licked her lips and frowned. "You know how I like my tea," she complained. Constance held her mouth open until Abby produced a sugar cube and placed it on her tongue. Then she took Abby's hand and led her skipping into the hallway.
"I told you they were out to get me," Constance said, stopping by the body of one of the orderlies. She grasped Abby's other hand and began dancing around the corpse, forcing Abby to do the same. "The snark and friendly jabberwok, consumed the mouse inside the clock; the snark I roasted on a spit, the half rodent inside of it. Sing, Abby! We can't fly unless you sing."
The girls spun around the body, Constance chanting nonsense and urging Abby and Susie to join her. Abby started giggling, then laughing freely, until finally she, too, began singing in time to Constance's inner music. Abby's motions grew thrilled, ecstatic, wild. She gave herself to the dance, flinging her hair and stomping her feet. Eventually they collapsed on the floor, panting and blood-spattered, the undead girl and the insane girl and the imaginary girl. None of them had ever felt so alive.
Chapter 1 Survival (Both Kinds)
Abby twisted her dress, releasing a powder of fine, rust-colored flecks. The dead dust swirled within the car's empty confines, making Constance hoot with delight. A reaction that made no sense given how dark it was. But there was a lot about Constance that didn't make sense. Abby's fellow stowaway had been locked up for a reason.
Constance returned to lying with the top of her head sticking out the door. Abby kept working the bloodstains. After an hour she reckoned Constance had fallen asleep, though it was hard to be sure over the noise of the wheels on the tracks.
She must be starving, Abby thought. She has to be starving. It worried the vampire that Constance kept making no mention of being hungry. Three days without food, yet Constance seemed as content as during the hour of her deliverance. It wasn't normal.
Abby felt guilty about not bringing food. She had never been good at planning. She had discovered Constance's imprisonment, and in blind rage she had attacked. Consequently the sum of their possessions consisted of an (empty) jug of water, a thick wool blanket, and the clothes on their backs. And Abby's dress was turning to rags as she clawed the material. Wearing blood was bad. Was going naked worse?
Abby reckoned she was about to find out. She couldn't fly with a shirt on, and her dress was a single piece. But they had to get off before the train entered Atlanta. That meant flying Constance out of the car while it was still in motion. Constance had seen Abby fly, but she had never been flown. Then there was the problem of Susie. Abby had no idea how she was going to transport her.
Abby got on her hands and knees and crawled toward the door. "Constance?" she whispered. "It's time to wake up."
"Why is the Virgin the only thing Leo has to eat?" Constance asked, opening her eyes. "You don't eat virgins, do you?"
The question jarred Abby. She sat up, the breeze tangling her hair. Had she ever eaten a virgin? Was that worse than eating a married woman? Why did she normally eat men? Did she think killing a woman was worse? Or were men simply out more late at night?
Abby realized Constance was staring at her, smiling. Abby broke into a grin of her own and gave the reclining girl a kiss. "It's time to go," she explained, standing. "I'm going to fly all three of us. You'll face me and put your arms around my neck. What do you think would be best for Susie?"
"The Virgin will swing her out," Constance said, pointing out the door at the southern sky. "She'll go hand-to-hand, see? Virgin to Herdsman to Hercules."
"Excellent," Abby replied, pulling her dress off. This made her quite self-conscious, but Constance obviously felt differently: she let out an excited giggle and removed her own clothing.
"Constance," Abby said, "you need to keep your clothes on."
"Why?" the girl challenged.
Abby opened her mouth, closed it. Why should they wear clothes? Abby certainly didn't need them, and on this muggy evening neither did her companions.
Constance scooped up her asylum coveralls and cast them from the train with a triumphant shout. Abby hesitated for a moment, then gathered her ruined dress into a ball and tossed it after.
"Come on, Susie," Constance insisted. "Get rid of that stupid thing!" She howled with glee as Susie discarded some ridiculous shrift or hoop skirt or petticoat. Now they were a team to take Atlanta by naked storm. At least if they got caught, no one would be surprised where they had escaped from.
Constance wrapped her arms around Abby, and Abby became immediately aware of the weight problem. Constance was a thin girl, but she was still sixteen - four years older than Abby and significantly taller. The vampire would not be able to fly with her for longer than five or ten minutes. At least she didn't have to carry Susie at the same time.
Constance invoked her stars: "Virgo, Ishtar, Ceres, Isis, we are here to cause a crisis; poke Herdsman stomping in his boots, soon gandering our attributes." Then the three girls leapt into the North Georgian countryside.
Nudity could be a weapon. The imminent sunrise drove Abby to use it. She knelt before a farmhouse door, banged on it several times, and hunched so only her back could be seen. After a few seconds the door opened, followed by a gasp.
"Oh my God," a female voice exclaimed. "Child, what happened?" A hand reached out and lifted Abby's chin.
Abby made eye contact with the questioner, a sturdy woman in her 50's whose face showed both concern and wariness. Abby hugged herself and began rocking back and forth. She looked through the woman, past her, into a farmhouse from another century. She could enter that dwelling without invitation. There were hats to try on. The kitchen smelled of bacon. Sunlight caught her mother's hair...
"What happened?" the farm wife insisted.
Abby hung her head. "Negroes," she whispered.
"Dear God," the woman swore, outraged. She scooped Abby into her arms and bore the vampire inside.
Abby had long discovered that being carried into a person's home was as good as receiving verbal permission to enter. She still waited several seconds, just to be sure - time for the farm wife to seat the vampire in a rocking chair and offer some sort of covering. Instead of accepting the blanket, Abby attacked.
By the time she stood up, the room had brightened noticeably and the urge to seek shelter was becoming overwhelming. Did this house have curtains? How thick were they? And where was Constance? Abby felt rooted in place, terrified of walking around a corner and encountering the first rays of dawn streaking through a window. She began digging at the floorboards, clawing and splintering, exposing the precious cellar.
"Constance, where are you?" Abby cried. There was no answer. Abby shook her head, snatched the blanket from beside the dead woman, and retreated underground.
Abby jerked awake fourteen hours later, disoriented, nude, nauseous. She hated feeling full. She hated summer. The days were so long, the extra sleep a miserable chore. The need to flee goaded her. Every minute counted if they were going to make it to Atlanta before sunrise.
Yet instead of heading upstairs, Abby pressed tighter against the house's stone foundation, tucked her knees under her chin, and hugged her legs. It had been decades since she had seen so much dawn. First the horizon's edge turned blue, then green: warning. Yellow and orange came next: compulsion. Finally the red band: mockery and madness. Every morning death rose wrapped in rainbow. And because of this – because rainbows cloaked the hateful sun – they inhabited the same category of felicitous creatures as heavy drapes and winter scarves. Rainbows were on her side.
It was her own fault the sun had nearly caught her. Abby had flown from farm to farm, searching for a target that would generate minimal casualties. This proved difficult, as sensing prey inside a home took longer when she wasn't hungry. Plus it seemed she had to kill at least one dog at every stop. And carrying Constance made everything take twice as long. But they had found what they were looking for: isolated house, single occupant, cellar without windows, horse with full buggy.
Abby wished Constance had thrown down some clothing. True, the vampire was covered in blood and needed to bathe before she dressed. But she doubted this was why her friend had neglected her need. Hopefully Constance had at least covered the farmwife, or shut her eyes, or rolled her over. The thought of slinking naked past that glazed expression appalled Abby, especially given that she had killed out of neither anger nor hunger. She's dead because I insisted on bringing Constance. Why did I bring her? Why did I bring her?
The urge to get away finally pushed Abby toward the hole in the ceiling. She flew up into the sitting room, was pleased to discover nothing but a bloody patch where the woman's body had been. No lanterns or candles seemed to be lit, but Abby saw better in the dark anyway. She walked through the foyer, drawn toward the kitchen by foul odors and the sound of snoring. There she found Constance.
The unclothed girl sat slumped at the table, passed out in a pool of her own vomit. The farmwife occupied another seat, her body leaning so far back that her hands brushed the floor. Abby looked away before discovering whether or not the woman's eyes were open. A young man sat in a third chair, his heart pierced with knitting needles. A service for five decorated the table. Everyone had been served tea, bread, and jam. None of it had been eaten.
Abby put the pieces together. Five places set. That meant Constance, Susie, Abby, woman, hired hand. For of course the woman would have help; she couldn't run a farm by herself. Why hadn't Abby realized this obvious fact before choosing to strike? Why was her thinking so muddled?
She lifted Constance's head and tried to get her to wake up, but it was useless. A half-empty liquor bottle sat nearby, along with a pouch of chewing tobacco and an empty sugar bowl. Based on the consistency and smell of the vomit, it seemed Constance had chugged the whiskey and swallowed the tobacco, perhaps sweetening the mess with spoonfuls of sugar. Three days without food, and this was what Constance had decided to eat.
Abby fled onto the back porch. How had Constance killed the farmhand? Who had moved the woman's body? Why had Abby brought Constance in the first place? The vampire could have simply left her in the asylum. Certainly she hadn't put any real thought into the decision. Abby loved Constance and wanted her with her. But why? What was there to love?
The sound of mooing stock interrupted Abby's thoughts. She walked out to the barn and found ten miserable cows in desperate need. "If you kill the farmhand," Abby declared, "milk the cows." She grabbed a bucket and a stool, and got to work.
It had been a long time since Abby had tended farm, but she had been born on a pre-Revolutionary frontier where children had been required to do their share of chores. When the vampire finished with the dairy cattle, she shifted to the horses, giving them clean water and rubbing them down. They didn't really like her, but it wasn't the violent reaction she got from dogs. Once the horses were mollified, she carried the milk inside and gathered food in a fresh pail. Then she slopped the pigs, collected eggs from the hen house, and killed a fox.
It seemed each task led to two more, but that was the nature of farming. Abby had forgotten how enjoyable plain, honest work could be. To labor sixteen hours, and collapse in bed exhausted, and feel ashamed of nothing you had done that day! The sleep of a laborer was sweet. Granted, Abby got lots of sleep. She supposed every vampire did. But there was nothing sweet about it.
At two in the morning Abby remembered she was naked. So many tasks she had performed in sight of the animals, yet not one of them had objected to her lack of clothing. None of the animals minded that they lacked clothing. Why didn't nudity bother them?
Did carnivores feel ashamed killing and feeding? Or did they feel a sense of accomplishment? Abby imagined chewing a human bone, gnawing and clinging to it like some kind of trophy. It was a horrifying thought.
She wondered what animals smelled when they smelled her. Blood? Death? Could animals smell nudity? People said you couldn't smell yourself. Abby wished she could meet another vampire, just so she could discover how vampires smelled. She did not want to think undeath smelled worse than death. But she was afraid it probably did.
Abby grabbed Constance under the armpits and jerked her away from the table. Much to Abby's surprise, this resulted in both girls collapsing onto the floor. The vampire searched for the problem, realized that Constance still grasped the dead man's hand. "Let go," Abby insisted, pawing at Constance's fingers.
"Noting my breast done knitted his chest," Constance slurred, opening her eyes and waving goodbye to the farm boy. "Linger past three and you force coquet tea," she added as Abby dragged her out the back door. "Where's Susie?"
"Down by the pump," Abby answered. "Goodness, you stink. Why did you drink so much?"
"Liberal bourbon cleaves groves of mugwumps. Pull, man!" Constance encouraged as Abby struggled with her weight. "Pull man. Pullman. Pull Man. Is he an above-the-track or below-the-track sort of fellow, that's what I want to know."
The girls fell to the ground again, but this time they were next to the well. Abby had positioned supplies: buckets, towels, soap. Lots of soap. She began working the hand pump, feeling the deep water vibrate against piston and lever. Constance lay on her back, staring at the stars.
"Dame Defarge knew how to knit," Constance noted. "She wielded watch and radically revolved. But 'twas a gullible guillotine she orbited. I don't think she ever figured that out."
"I don't think she cared," Abby replied.
Water began gushing from the spigot. Constance leapt into the stream at once, and at first Abby thought the washing would transpire quickly. Then Constance began digging at the ground with her nails. Water poured through the rills. Constance dug harder. She formed mud, fashioned it into a pie, and laid it aside. She began making another, insisting that Abby keep working the well.
After the tenth pie Abby interrupted. "Constance, we have to..." A glob of mud struck her chin.
"Susie says it's not right leaving you out," Constance pronounced, and cast another clump at Abby's head.
The vampire approached the edge of the mud pit, weighing her target. "They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care," Abby said, reaching down.
"They pursued it with forks and hope," Constance replied, leaning toward her pies.
"They threatened its life with a railway-share," Abby added, filling her hands with ammunition.
"They charmed it with smiles and soap!" they yelled, opening fire.
In the first stage of the battle Abby held every advantage, for she circled outside the mud while Constance and Susie struggled to move. But then Constance gained a lucky handhold and dragged the vampire into the mire. Abby eventually gave up, rolling in the muck, carving patterns, using her superior strength to deepen the bog while her friends pumped. They constructed forts and decorated them, engaged in an epic "snowball" fight, made pig noises till they collapsed laughing.
As they lay on their backs making mud angels, Abby asked, "Why doesn't being naked bother you?"
Constance pointed at the sky. "If Virgo likes bread so much, maybe Bootes did kill the Baker. That makes Snarks effervescent."
"What's worse," Abby pressed, "being naked or being bloody?"
For answer the insane girl began piling mud on Abby.
Why does being naked make me feel dirty? Why doesn't she care? Constance could probably walk naked down Main Street and not care. Abby hated being bloody. Nudity was just as bad, though. The undead girl wondered if she hated bathing simply because it required her to undress.
After ten minutes only Abby's arms, feet, and head remained exposed. Constance stroked the hair out of Abby's eyes, then cupped the vampire's cheeks and recited:
"You hide it in cellars, you coat it in stew,
You constrict it with burlap and crepe;
Still keeping one principal object in view -
To preserve its symmetrical shape."
Abby smiled. "Let's go to Atlanta," she said.