Thursday, 4 November 2010

Never a Change for Tradition

NOTE: Crossed Genres are encouraging writers to post a short story for those in Haiti. If you like this story, please consider donating to one of the charities working in Haiti here, or check out some of the other free fiction if this one doesn't work to part you with your dough. This was one of the first stories I ever wrote, aged 17. I'm sorry if it shows.

Kisses. Kisses and kisses and fingers and cherry vodka lollipops. All in this darkness: kisses. A modern crypt below ground, fifteen feet by fifteen feet, cushioned walls and slithers of silk against naked bodies. One small doorway, top corner, thirteen feet up; opened only by four pressure-points that must be met by twenty fingers and four hands in complete unison. Easy now.

No record of this modern crypt exists: this private cell, padded and blackened with darkness but light as day to their now-nocturnal eyes. No record, or records, because all were deleted from government computers. No visitors. No bills.

In this darkness, broken pieces of cherry vodka lollipops scattered across their bodies, kisses. Ezma and Eternity. Born to white families in India, then brought to England for marriages that never were. Little flickering memories of Kali and Ravanna. Little flickering tongues hungry for tonight’s souls: the blood of the warm breathed in.

Originally just cousins, and so not too alike in appearance, they have each now metamorphosed to become faithful images of the other and so seem as twins. This after the decades.

Ezma brought the taste for lollipops to their sanctuary, after sucking first on one from a little girl with hair like spider’s yarn, and then confirming her new appreciation with the flavour of cherry vodka on the six she had claimed from the body of a nightclub promoter. Sometimes they brought ice cream, sometimes pink champagne—always pink, never piss-gold—sometimes humans as playthings. But of course, only the life derived from the vein and artery suffices to keep them.

And so, when Sun sank and Moon ascended to pale prominence, they would climb out of their cell into the underground lair containing this room and they would be cleaned and clothed and decorated with the tribal paints of the day—this day. In day they sleep, dream or play, and at night they hunt. In day they might slip out of their bodies to prowl as ghosts and at night they would most certainly prowl as beings of flesh.

Exquisite flesh it is. Cold flesh, strong flesh, godly flesh. Unearthly as the ivory of the Moon. Untouched by sunbeams for over a century and a half. And their minds are no longer human, existing instead in a place between beast and higher power, aware in the main part only for blood but aware of all those other things for sure. Merely uninterested. Humans are food and tender-bodied dolls for this twosome. Black hair falls like ribbons from their heads; mahogany eyes evaluate—in terms of food and sport—from their faces; skin the colour of deep-sea fish covers their strong bones.

Like sensuous maggots they wriggle from their womb of darkness, out into a basement of aged furniture and antique jewellery. From the dresser they take clothes modern in style and they cover their flesh. Next they apply make-up in silver, electric blue and indigo, playing with the paints, powders and colours as a child would. As I said they would. Lashing tongues meet.

Outside, above ground, they move through shadows—moving to the rhythm of the human heartbeat they follow. The one that roused them from play, below the ground. The park is a beautiful green thing tonight, basking in the secret-sharing glow of her Lady Luna. Minute creatures that move as if mechanised sing tonight. The human sits on the park bench, dreamy head filling the empty night air with fantasies that the vampires can see. Dreams of horses and sea-shores. His breath smells of weed, his precious firm cock smells of heat, his body wears faint musk as its mark. And his blood smells . . .

. . . Smells of life. Smells of the afternoon’s sushi, his mother’s love, the life of the middle-class. Smells like cinnamon and paprika and yoghurt. Smells like tasty things to Ezma and Eternity—tasty things they must and will have. In the coruscating shadow they are white Siberian tigers; in the silence they are as air. Creep, creep, creep. Creep, creep, creep. And four slender arms move, as would ribbons cast around this man. Stoned eyes of a tropical frog . . .

. . . Smells just as they had imagined it would. Tastes ten times better, life blossoming in their cold hearts and spreading its vines through their circulatory systems. A little explosion of white fills his trousers and his druggie-dreams lead his soul off to its end.

Ezma holds his body tight, close, to keep every bit of its warmth for herself. Eternity peers through his body to see his spirit leave, and marvels at how pretty. How pretty it is. Fluttering ethereal butterfly, slipping from its fleshy chrysalis. Ssshhh! Don’t break the silence. As the soul leaves it is quiet, but the body murmurs slightly and releases its final wind.

Pink elephants dissolve to black.


Kumani had only survived because of her blood. The bullets of the soldiers hadn’t killed her and neither had the war before it and the famine after. Africa was a treacherous continent, with its violent sands and its genocidal tyrants; its parched earth like the parched tongues moving along dried riverbeds for a memory of water. Children starved on the roads to freedom, the uneasy paths. Big heads and bulbous bellies, swelling with nothingness and despair.

But the blood saw her through. Gods were in her veins. Here in England they called her Dhampyr. Or Blood-Slave.

The trees were full of regret. Kumani could feel how it rose, only to be trapped beneath a canopy of leaves and dry fingers, and hence was left to linger. The stench of it was awful: ugly and struggling. Dying.

Kumani had first tasted the blood of others in the body-filled pit where they had tried to kill her. She had been tied up and lined up; pointed at with the barrel of a gun, then mowed down by the stormtroopers of a murderous maniac. Dead things, cast aside, piled above her, leaking blood that awakened some latent strength and dormant hunger within her soul.

Kumani moved away from the trees and their stench. The hunger was returning.

A dark part of her soul had come alive with the red treacle of life, and it whispered of cousins who were dead but rose by night to plunder human throats and human veins for those liquid rubies she knew so well. Life and death in their hands.

A little stray thought of twins adorning each other with make-up. Kumani wondered where Death was tonight. His cold hands never missed a night like this. Not with regret so eager to play.

Orphan of night and orphan of war, Kumani had the body of a fourteen year-old and the eyes of Methuselah. She didn’t age any more—at least, not much—as her ancestry began to take hold. Soon she would not age at all.

That she had been born with a full set of teeth, that these replaced themselves in a week if they fell out, now made sense. That she used to bite her mother’s breasts until there was no other option but to be fed formula milk was entirely understandable now she knew what she was. Yes, Kumani was more than human. But in order to survive, she had to be. And now she was free.

Kumani had made it to Sangat and crossed the Channel in the back of a fisherman’s lorry a whole six days ago. Already she felt as if she had known these streets forever.


Two demons huddle close to the warmth offered by a dead body gradually becoming cold. Heat serves no purpose other than to rouse nostalgia and a closeness to lost life, but let them huddle anyway.

Across the park is a child we know as Kumani. These demons know she is there. They feel her in the marrow of their bones and the tiny spaces between the hairs on their heads. Suddenly aroused, Kumani is distracted from her meditation on regret by a twang in her heart signalling their proximity. This brings out the thirsty part of her soul; vampires taste so much better to her than humans. Sin makes their blood sweeter; the blood of humans is rendered stale by apathy.

Ezma and Eternity think themselves too old and too powerful to consider Kumani’s presence a threat.

Kumani is hungry.

Raise your head, now. Take a sniff of the two vampires. Their kind enslaved your mother with their power and made her a dhampyr, thus making you one too. Liberation lies in their blood; taste them to feel you have finally been freed from their magic, even if you will not be.

Eternity has the corpse in her arms, ballroom dancing with it on the grassy dancefloor. It is limp but its limbs are stiffening already. Kumani approaches with her hunger, wisps of regret trailing behind her from the trees. Death with his rusted scythe hovers near—late, but here.

Ezma sees a bird in the tree beside her: a pigeon. She climbs up the bark like a lizard, reaches the branches and snatches the creature in her fists. It tries to flutter out of her grasp, but she holds it firmer and brings it to her lips. She inhales its scent, then rubs its head against her cheek, cooing softly. When it pecks her finger, she smashes it against the tree, then looks up into the sky as if awaiting some decades-expected change which has not come. Waiting for Destiny.

Kumani stops a few feet from the place where Eternity dances.

The regret remains from all the wasted human lives, Kumani knows now.


Dacia held her gravid belly to protect it from the hatred in the air. Nomadic by nature, her whole life had been spent moving from country to country, searching for the land where the soil smelled of peace and the water was the colour of embraces. Even the air was wrong in this place. The warlords exhaled their poison into it, making it unbreathable due to the heavy crush of pain and power.

All her life she had waited for this. The night gods had found her and would take her to their Paradise: save her from the air and the earth that screamed with the million angry corpses inside it.

They had come with their faithful disciples; with a caravan of vehicles bedecked with masks, rich fabrics, ornaments and antiques. Out in the desert they had set up camp, with their vehicles encircling a grand fire that burned green. And Dacia had found them.

Stooping down to the ground, as the priest commanded, Dacia looked up into the swelling silver stars. They swelled with hope for her and the life inside her womb.

The priest was a man with his hair in braids that trailed four feet behind him, leaving serpentine tracts through the sand as he moved. His clothes were patched from a variety of materials, complemented by gold and other precious stones. The gods were sitting upon a platform on wooden thrones, naked servants surrounding them and staring intently into their unblinking faces.

These gods were swathed in heavy furs and delicate silks, seemingly unhindered by such concepts as heat and the need to breathe. They removed their ornate tribal masks, and the world seemed to sigh with anticipation—or perhaps it gasped with fear. Beneath: faces of onyx, glowing cat’s eyes, stern features. There were three of them. One of the three rose, his robes falling down about him, revealing nothing but splashes of blood upon his chest. He moved down to Dacia, whose clothes were being removed by the priest. How like roots those braids look, she thought. Worming into the ground to bring him nutrition, to support him, to keep him in place. Fixed.

Tree of life.

The god spoke in some dead tongue unknown to Dacia—so old, even, that she expected his tongue to crumble to dust, as if it were prehistoric parchment touched for the first time in millennia. Rising up was the blade of an ivory knife, long as an elephant’s tusk. Its sharp tip met the god’s wrist, opened it up like parted labia, allowing a rain of thick blood to wash over Dacia’s upturned head. Somehow the liquid forced itself into her—made her mouth open and her pores accept it—and it migrated into the empty chasm of her belly, full now for the first time in ages. More of the blood came, more than a human could safely lose, and it eased into her veins, settled into her cells, tickled her with its life.

Dacia felt herself collapse into something, something . . .

It was red. A dream, a sea, a . . . a dark place. A womb—her own—coiled amongst flesh and tissue and organs and love and warmth and air that she could breathe. Red rising. Sun of blood, sky of blood, horizon: blood.

A flock of scarlet birds burst then, from her flesh, flew up, fast, into the sky. Feathers falling—upon her face, upon her soul, upon the red ground. Air rose and she rose with it, drifting into a space that was red again, and then gloriously alive with bliss; that smelled of peace and had the colour of embraces. Kisses. Kisses and kisses and peace and ethereal lovers.

Then falling.

Down. Down, down. Down, down, down, down, down.

When she reopened her eyes, the sky was black once more. Dark as the faces of the gods. Oxygen filled her body in a rush; the hairs on her flesh lay back flat; her pupils shrunk back to their previous size. The red subsided.

And Dacia felt power inside her: divine power gifted to her by the blood of the night god. But a thirst lay with it inside her soul, for more blood, for more life, more power.

Dacia clutched her stomach again. Inside her Kumani wriggled, enjoying the blood of the night gods too.


Destiny arrived at last. But she came not for Ezma, instead coming for Eternity. Destiny is called Kumani.

Ezma looks down from the branches to her dead cousin, who transforms first to the face she wore when she was human, then to an aged corpse and finally to dust and bones. No blood remains—the last sign of that runs down Kumani’s chin, down her neck, down her clothes.

The dhampyr wears a military-green parka, a black blouse and khakis. Curly black hair trembles like tree branches in the wind. With small hands smeared in blood, sticky lips too fat for her face, Kumani is nevertheless a child. Eyes of a dead man, but a child still. Kumani turns, begins walking away.

Whispers in the tree, from the ghosts and the world itself, tell Ezma what she needs to do. The ancient bark talks of antiquity. The roots sing to her about loneliness and the branches stink of regret. Never a change for tradition, it says. Never a change.


And so Ezma jumps down, feral and beautiful, gracefully animalistic, and is upon Kumani the dhampyr. Both look at each other with fascination—whether to kill, whether to play, whether to stare longer. Time is a scary thing but so is change. Ezma thinks about change, recoils from it and thinks of forever. Thinks of eternity. Everything gone, everything dead, no justice, no crimes, no sin on her, just the graveyard of everything.

Destiny could have come for her—but it didn’t. It wouldn’t.

Forever is hers now. But she will not bear it alone.


All is death here. The cities are fine grit, the people are fossils and the sky a sunless cold. To the left: a wasteland. To the right: the same. All around is equal and nothing less, nothing more.

Some rocks here, what could have been a skeleton, a glint of metal. A foot. Looking up, the foot is attached to a leg and that to hips, a body. The body had a name. What is it? Do you remember?

Her eyes are dead. You wish you could close them, to lay her to rest. Inside her skull swirls a vortex of what had been memories, personality, thoughts, life. You can see through her eyes to the back.

The bullets didn’t kill her and neither has time.

The blood has kept its promise and seen her through.

A second body stands beside her. Hair like black ribbons falling about her shoulders, skin like the ivory of the Moon. Are her eyes dead too?


Maybe something is in them. Maybe not.

The first girl’s mouth trembles, as if it wants to open, but its twin petals must be too heavy to do so in their thickness. That swirling mind must be too foreign to her flesh to give it any command. Don’t open it. Don’t. Only dust will come out anyway, so keep it shut. Save your dust, for if it spills out you truly will have nothing.

They have walked over these rocks before, seen this could-have-been-skeleton, been winked at by the metal in the dry soil. Every stone on this world they have seen, each one they have counted, each one they have played with in the palms of their cold hands. Not a difference has it made. No change.

Let’s pull away from this world, now. Let’s leave them to eternity forever, by themselves. Maybe Destiny will return for them both. Maybe not. But let’s fly away from here and take our prying eyes with us.

Poem of the Month

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  • LAVENDERBLACK Winter 2009 / Poetry collection, nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards (Gay Poetry & Bisexual) / Fruit Bruise Press

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  • CLUTCHING AT SEASHELLS Autumn 2009 / Poetry collection for SEAS Festival, Fruit Bruise Press (first edition)

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  • TROGLODYTE ROSE 30th October 2009 / Illustrated novel, Cadaverine Publications (numbered hardback edition; 100 copies only)

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  • CHIMERAWORLD 5 Winter 2008 / 'A Labyrinth of Entrails' (short story in anthology)

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About Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is a writer, publisher and live artist from Leeds (although he currently lives in Manchester). In 2011, he was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in Best New Writing. In 2009 he received four Lambda Award nominations, in both poetry and prose, and three British Fantasy Award nominations for works that he published. In 2008, his magazine, Polluto, was awarded the Spectrum Fantastic Art Silver Editorial Award.

He was one of the 2010 young writers in residence at the I Love West Leeds Arts Festival. He also writes for Bent, the UK's largest free national monthly magazine for the LGBT community, and works freelance in the marketing department at Peepal Tree Press.

Adam is a graduate of Street Voices 2 and an active member of Young Inscribe. In the past he has been a part of and Orson Scott Card's Hatrack River Writers' Workshop. Adam regularly delivers workshops and runs an annual mentoring and masterclass programme for new writers in the North who specialise in science fiction, fantasy, horror and cross-genre writing: the Dog Horn Masterclass Programme. Because of his work in the region, he is a Youth Ambassador for the Cultural Olympiad in Yorkshire.

He has appeared in Word Riot, Unlikely Stories, The Cadaverine, Chimeraworld 5, The Leeds Guide, WAMACK, Saucytooth's, Kaleidotrope,, and Ex Plus Ultra with work forthcoming in SABLE LitMag. Adam's academic writing has appeared at the University of Glasgow's eSharp and is forthcoming in the University of Texas' Queering the Fantastic. Last year his debut novella, Troglodyte Rose, was also released in limited edition hardback by Cadaverine Publications. An expanded novel-length paperback is due out the other side of the Mayan apocalypse, when he finally finishes it.

Check out a video of him reading here.

Precious Cargo (Fruit Bruise Press, 2011) (poetry chapbook)
Shiny Black Thing (Punk Ass Kids Productions, 2010) (anthology)
Troglodyte Rose (Cadaverine Publications, 2009) (novella)
lavenderblack (Fruit Bruise Press, 2009) (poetry)
Clutching at Seashells (Fruit Bruise Press, 2009) (poetry chapbook)
Borrowed Time (Fruit Bruise Press, 2009) (poetry chapbook)
Killing Bob Marley (Punk Ass Kids Productions, 2009) (anthology)
Chimeraworld 5 (Chimericana Books, 2008) (anthology)

MA Writing for Performance & Publication (University of Leeds)
BA English Language & Literature (Class I) (University of Leeds)

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