Tuesday Fiction: “A Puddle of Blood” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Author Week #6)
This week on the World SF Blog and as part of our sixth Author Week, we feature Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s story, “A Puddle of Blood”, which inspired Silvia’s novel-in-progress Young Blood (the fund-raiser for which is currently running!). If you liked the story, do consider donating to the author!
The story was first published in the anthology Evolve 2 (2011).
A Puddle of Blood
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Six dismembered bodies found in Ciudad Juarez. Vampire drug-wars rage on.
Domingo reads the headline slowly. Images flash on the video screen of the subway station. Cops. Long shots of the bodies. The images dissolve, showing a young woman holding a can of soda in her hands. She winks at him.
Domingo waits to see if the next news items will expand on the drug-war story. He is fond of yellow journalism. He also likes stories about vampires; they seem exotic. There are no vampires in Mexico City: their kind has been a no-no for the past thirty years, around the time the Federal District became a city-state.
The next story is of a pop-star, the singing sensation of the month, and then there is another ad, this one for a shoulder-bag computer. Domingo sulks, changes the tune on his music player.
He looks at another screen with pictures of blue butterflies fluttering around. Domingo takes a chocolate from his pocket and tears the wrapper.
He spends a lot of time in the subway system. He used to sleep in the subway cars when he was a street kid making a living by washing windshields at cross streets. Those days are behind. He has a place to sleep and lately he’s been doing some for a rag-and-bone man, collecting used thermoplastic clothing. He complements his income with other odd jobs. It keeps him well-fed and he has enough money to buy tokens for the public baths once a week.
He bites into the chocolate bar.
A woman wearing a black vinyl jacket walks by him, holding a leash. Her Doberman must be genetically modified. The animal is huge.
He’s seen her several times before, riding the subway late at nights, always with the dog. Heavy boots upon the white tiles, bob cut black hair, narrow-faced.
Tonight she moves her face a small fraction, glancing at him. Domingo stuffs the remaining chocolate back in his pocket, takes off his headphones and follows her quickly, squeezing through the doors of the subway car she’s boarding.
He sits across from her and is able to get a better look at the woman. She is early twenties, with large eyes that give her an air of innocence which is quickly dispelled by the stern mouth. The woman is cute, in an odd way.
Domingo tries to look at her discreetly, but he must not be discreet enough because she turns and stares at him.
“Hey,” he says, smiling. “How are you doing tonight?”
“I’m looking for a friend.”
Domingo nods, uncertain.
“How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” he replies.
“Would you like to be my friend? I can pay you.”
Domingo isn’t in the habit of prostituting himself. He’s done it once or twice when he was in a pinch. There had also been that time with El Chacal, but that didn’t count because Domingo hadn’t wanted to and El Chacal had made him anyway, and that’s when Domingo left the circle of street kids and the windshield wiping and went to live on his own.
Domingo looks at her. He’s seen the woman walk by all those nights before and he’s never thought she’d speak to him. Why, he expected her to unleash the dog upon him when he opened his mouth.
He nods. He’s never been a lucky guy but he’s in luck today.
Her apartment building is squat, short, located just a few block from a busy nightclub.
“Hey, you haven’t told me your name,” he says when they reach the fourth floor and she fishes for her keys.
“Atl,” she replies.
The door swings open. The apartment is empty. There is a rug, some cushions on top of it, but no couch, no television and no table. She doesn’t even have a calendar on the wall. The apartment has a heavy smell, animal-like, probably courtesy of the dog. Perhaps she keeps more than one pet.
“Do you want tea?” she asks.
Domingo would be better off with pop or a beer, but the girl seems classy and he thinks he ought to go with whatever she prefers.
“Sure,” he says.
Atl takes off her jacket. Her blouse is pale cream; it shows off her bony shoulders. He follows her into the kitchen as she places the kettle on a burner.
“I’m going to pay you a certain amount, just for coming here. If you agree to stay, I’ll double it,” she says.
“Listen,” Domingo says, rubbing the back of his head, “you don’t really need to pay me nothing.”
“I do. I’m a tlahuelpuchi.”
Domingo blinks. “You can’t be. That’s one of those vampire types, isn’t it?”
“It’s vampire-free territory in Mexico City.”
“I know. That is why I’m doubling it,” she says, scribbling a number on a pad of paper and holding it up for him to see.
Domingo leans against the wall, arms crossed. “Wow.”
Atl nods. “I need young blood. You’ll do.”
“Wait, I mean…I’m not going to turn into a vampire, am I?” he asks, because you can never be too sure.
“No,” she says, sounding affronted. “We are born into our condition.”
“It won’t hurt much. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I mean, do I still get to…you know…sleep with you?”
She lets out a sigh and shakes her head.
“No. Don’t try anything. Cualli will bite your leg off if you do.”
The kettle whistles. Atl removes it from the burner and pours hot water into two mugs.
“How do we do this?” Domingo asks.
Atl places tea bags in the cups and cranes her neck. Her hair has turned to feathers and her hands, when she raises them, are like talons. The effect is disturbing, as though she is wearing a curious mask.
“Don’t worry. Won’t take long,” she says.
Atl is a bird of prey.
The first thing Domingo does with his new found fortune is buy himself a good meal. Afterwards, he pays for a booth at the Internet cafe, squeezing himself in and clumsily thumbing the computer screen. The guy in the next cubicle is watching porn; the moans of a woman spill into Domingo’s narrow space.
Domingo frowns. He pulls out the frayed headphones wrapped with insulating tape and pushes the play button on the music player.
He does a search for the word tlahuelpuchi. Stories about gangs, murders and drugs fill the viewscreen. He scrolls through an article which talks about the history of the tlahuelpocmimi, explaining this is Mexico’s native vampire species, with roots that go back to the time of the Aztecs. The article has lots of information but it uses very big words he doesn’t know, such as hematophagy, anticoagulants and matrilineal stratified sept. Domingo gives up on it quickly, preferring to stare at the bold headlines and colourful pictures of the vampire gangsters. These resemble the comic books he keeps at his place; he is comfortable with this kind of stuff.
When an attendant bangs on the door Domingo doesn’t buy more tokens. He has more money than he’s ever had in his life and he doesn’t know what to do with it.
It is nearly dusk when he finds his way to Atl’s apartment. She opens the door a crack; stares at him as though she’s never met him before.
“What are you doing tonight?” he asks.
“You’re not getting any more money, alright?” she says. “I don’t need food right now. There’s no sense in you coming here.”
“You only eat kids, no?” he says, blurting it.
“Yeah. Something in the hormone levels,” she waves her hand, irritated. “That doesn’t make me a Lucy Westenra, alright?”
She raises an eyebrow at him.
“I figure, you want a steady person. Steady food, no? And…yesterday, it was, ah…it was fun. Kind of.”
“Fun,” she repeats.
Yeah. It had been fun. Not the blood part. Well, that hadn’t been too awful. She made him a cheese sandwich and they drank tea afterwards. Atl didn’t have furniture, but she did have a music player and they sat cross-legged in the living room, chatting, until she said he was fine and he wouldn’t get woozy and told him to make sure he had a good breakfast.
It wasn’t exactly a date, but Domingo has never exactly dated. There were hurried copulations in back alleys, the kind street kids manage. He hung out with Belen for a little bit, but then she went with an older guy and got pregnant, and Domingo hadn’t seen her anymore.
Atl lets him in, closing the door, carefully turning the locks.
The dog pads out of the kitchen and stares at him.
“Look, you’ve to get some facts straight, alright? I’m not in Mexico City on vacation. You don’t want to hang out with me. You’ll end up as a carpet stain. Trust me, my clan is in deep shit.”
“You’re part of a clan?” Domingo says, excited. “That’s cool! You’ve got a crest tattoed? Is it hand-poked?”
“Jesus,” Atl says. “Are you some sort of fanboy?”
Domingo shakes his head. “No.”
“Why are you here?”
“I like your dog,” he says. It is a stupid answer. He doesn’t have anything better. He wonders if she’ll go with him to the arcade. He went there once and drank beer while he tried to shoot green monsters. It would be cool. Maybe she is too old for arcades. He wonders what she does for fun.
“It will bite your hand off if you pet it,” she warns him. “I’ll give you a cup of tea and you leave afterwards, alright?”
“Sure. How come you drink tea?”
She doesn’t reply. Domingo is about to apologize for being crass, but he isn’t up to date on tlahuelpocmimi diets. Except for the kid part.
A knock on the door makes them both turn their heads.
“Health and Sanitation.”
“Open up. Don’t tell them I’m here,” she whispers, moving so quickly to his side it makes him gasp.
She goes towards the window and jumps out. Domingo rushes after her, pokes his head out, and sees Atl is climbing up the side of the building, her shoulders hunched and looking birdlike once more. She disappears onto the roof.
Domingo opens the door.
Three men waltz in, faces grim.
“We have a report there’s a vampire here,” one of them says.
Domingo, with the experience of a master liar and a complete indifference to authority, shrugs. “I don’t know. The guy that’s renting me the place didn’t say nothing about vampires.”
“Look around. You, I’m going to check you, give me your hand.”
Domingo obeys. The guy presses a little white plastic stick against his wrist. It beeps.
“You’re alone?” the guy asks him.
Domingo takes out a chocolate bar and starts eating it. The dog is sitting still, eyeing the men.
“What are you doing?”
Domingo can hear the other two men opening doors, muttering between themselves.
“It’s all empty,” one of the other men says. “There’s not even clothes in the closet. Just a mattress in there.”
“You live here?” asks the first guy, who hasn’t moved from Domingo’s side, carefully cataloguing him.
“Yeah. For now. I move around. Been working for a rag-and-bone man lately. I used to wash windshields and before that I juggled balls for the drivers as the stop lights, but this guy I worked with beat me up and I’ve got the rag-and-bone gig now.”
“Just a damn street kid,” says the man, and Domingo thinks he must have an earpiece on or something, because he sure as hell isn’t speaking to Domingo.
The men leave as quickly as they’ve come. He locks the door, sits on the rug and waits. Atl doesn’t fly in — not technically — but she seems to jump in with a certain grace and flexibility that is birdlike.
“Thanks,” she says. The feathers disappear, leaving only pitch-black hair behind.
“How’d you do that?”
“The bird thing.”
“It’s natural. We all do it after we hit puberty.”
She goes into her room. Domingo stands at the entrance, watching her pull up floor boards with her bare hands, taking stuff from under there and tossing it into a backpack. She rips the mattress open and begins to throw some money and papers in the bag.
“It’s been nice meeting you. I’ve got to find another place now.”
“What sort of trouble are you in? What do those guys want?”
“Those guys aren’t the trouble,” she says. “That’s just sanitation. But if they got word there is a vampire here, that means the others aren’t far behind.”
“Who are the others?”
Atl gives him a narrow look. “One month ago my aunt’s head was delivered in a cooler to our home. I left Ciudad Juarez and headed here before I also ended in a cooler.”
“Who killed her?”
“A rival clan. It’s part of our territory fights. We were trying to kill a certain clan leader and botched it. She’s got a big scar across the middle now, and she’s mighty pissed at us. I hope you can appreciate the situation,” she says, zipping her jacket up.
It sounds very exciting to Domingo. He’s only seen the gang fights from afar. Mexico City has managed to insulate itself through the conflict, partly because it keeps the vampires who are waging the wars out of the city limits, and partly because it is so damn militarized. The drug dealers in Mexico City are narcomenudistas; petty peddlers, small-scale crooks focused around Tepito and Iztapalapa. If they kill each other, they have the sense to do it quietly, without attracting 20 special forces ops who are ready to put a gun up your ass and shoot before bothering to ask for identity cards.
Atl goes down the stairs. Domingo follows her.
When they reach the front door she turns to look at him and he thinks she is going to tell him to beat it. Her hands tighten around the dog’s leash. She takes a step back.
Thirty seconds later Domingo is in a comic book.
Half a dozen men pour in. The dog growls. Somebody yells. “Stay the fuck still. Stay the fuck still,” they say. Big bubble speeches.
A guy grabs Domingo by the collar and drags him out, pinning him against the ground and putting a plastic tie around his wrists.
Domingo doesn’t know if these are cops, or sanitation, or narcos. All he knows is he can hear the dog barking and he is being dragged against the pavement, then kicked towards the trunk of a car. They’re trying to stuff him in the trunk.
Domingo panics. He tries to hold onto something. The guy punches him and Domingo folds over himself.
It doesn’t really feel like he thought it might feel. Action. Adventure. Comic book manic energy.
The guy pulls Domingo by his hair and Domingo gets a glimpse of teeth, half a smile, before Atl pulls him off Domingo with a swift, careless motion that breaks his bones.
Domingo, on his knees, looks up at Atl. She cuts the plastic tie and the dog comes bounding towards her.
She’s got three sharp needles sticking out of her left leg. Blood puddles next to her shoes.
She vomits. A sticky, dark mess.
The dog whines.
“Come on,” he says grabbing her arm, propping her up.
He tries not to look at the bodies they leave behind. He tries not to wonder if they’re all dead.
If this is a comic book, then it’s tinted with red.
She’s awake. He knows it because the dog raises its head. Domingo looks at her. Sure enough, her eyes are open, though he can’t make her expression.
“How you feeling?” he asks.
Atl looks down at her bandaged leg. He knows he didn’t do a great job, but at least he took out those weird needles.
“My bag. Do you have it?”
She clutched it all the way there. There was no way he could have left it behind. Domingo nods.
“There’s a blue plastic stick in it. Small. Hand it to me.”
He does. She presses it against her tongue and shivers.
She unwraps the bandage around her leg. The skin looks odd. Blackened, as if it were stained.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“Anaphylactic reaction from the silver nitrate. Lucky for me they didn’t want me dead yet.”
“It makes me sick,” she explains.
“You’ve been out for about an hour.”
Atl brushes the hair back from her face. She looks around at the little room and the piles of old comic books, hybrid personal protective clothing, and all the other assorted junk he collects and sells together with the bone-and-rag-man.
“Where are we?”
“My place. It’s safe. We’re in a tunnel downtown. It’s very old. I think the nuns used it. There was a convent nearby. Benito Juarez closed it fifty years ago.”
Atl chuckles. “You’re talking about the mid-19th century.”
She gives him a funny look. Domingo frowns. He doesn’t know lots of stuff and obviously she does. He doesn’t like it when people make fun of him. It’s unpleasant. Even Belen was rude at times, though there was no reason for that.
“It’s cool,” she says. “This works. It was smart thinking.”
She opens her arms and the dog rushes towards her, pressing its great head against her cheek. She scratches its ear and smiles at Domingo.
“How come your dog’s so big?” he asks.
“Cualli’s a special breed. He’s an attack dog.”
“Were those the gangsters?”
“Those were freelancers. Health and Sanitation must have tipped them off that there was something odd going on. Or somebody else did.”
“You were fast. Like really fast. Are all vampires like that? I’ve read a lot about the European ones and the Chinese, and how there’s all the infighting with them up north and if you go to Mexicali it’s like all run by the Chinese. But they say they’re all stiff, no? Jian shi and they can’t really be green, can they? I don’t know much about your type. Funny, it’s probably …”
“Please. Stop,” she says, pressing her fingers against her temples. “I don’t want to talk about vampires. Or gangs.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
Domingo wants to talk about everything. He sits in front of her, brimming with questions as she curls up and closes her eyes.
This is like a vampire sleeps. Not in coffins. Curled up, with a dog by her feet and a boy watching her.
He gets up early and goes above ground. It’s raining, so he ties a plastic shopping bag to his head as he heads to purchase food. He buys bread, milk, three cans of beans, potato chips and pastries. He feels very happy as he pays for the stuff, like it’s Christmas.
On the way back, he scans the screens at the subway in search of news. There’s nothing about the confrontation of the previous day.
As he stands in the subway car, listening to the tired music on his player, he conjures a story in which he’s making breakfast for his girlfriend, and she’s real pretty and they live together. Not in the tunnels. In a proper place.
When he returns to the tunnel he’s humming a tune.
She’s sitting, back against the wall, browsing through a bunch of magazines. When she looks up at him, the tune dies on his lips.
“Where did you go?”
“I went to get us breakfast.”
“I don’t need breakfast. It was stupid of you. Someone might have seen you.”
“Sorry,” he mutters and then, tentatively, to diffuse her anger. “How do you like my collection?”
“It’s great,” she says quirking an eyebrow at him and jumping up to her feet, showing him the cover of a comic book. “Not a fanboy, hu?”
It’s an old-style thing with a guy in a Dracula cape. She picks another one. This is a recent clipping from a magazine he stole a few weeks before. It talks about the narco-vampires in Monterrey.
He wets his lips, struggling for words. “Why are you angry?”
“I am not a goddamn hobby.”
“Who’s talking about a hobby?”
She shoves the magazine against his chest, pushing him back.
“Do you like vampires? Hu? You like reading about them? You like looking at the pictures of dead vampires?”
“Yeah, well…it’s exciting.”
“Do you know how long my kind can live? Three-hundred years. You know what’s the average lifespan of my kind? Thirty years. Do you want to know why?”
Domingo does not answer. She’s grabbing him by his shirt, holding him up.
“Because we’re all getting massacred. Before I arrived in to Mexico City, I was at the market in Ciudad Juarez. The decapitated body of a vampire bled onto the pavement, right next to a food stand. People kept eating. They bought soda. They were more bothered by the heat than the corpse.”
She sets him down. His feet touch the floor.
“I’m going to be a puddle of blood.”
He’s scared to say a thing. She sits down, folding her legs and staring at the wall. Eventually, he sits next to her.
“What are you going to do?” he asks.
“Hell if I know,” she whispers. “I need to eat. I need to sleep. I need to think.”
He pulls up his sleeve, offering his arm to her. She smiles wryly.
“You’re going to get hurt one of these days,” she tells him, “if you keep helping strangers like me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replies.
She presses her mouth against his skin.
Domingo is groggy when he opens his eyes. Atl’s still asleep. He doesn’t try to wake her. He flicks a battery-powered lantern on and looks at his magazines, feeling odd when he runs his hands across the vivid picture; the splashes of red.
The dog growls. Domingo lifts the lantern and listens. He doesn’t hear anything. The dog growls louder. Atl shifts her body, fully awake.
“What is it?” he asks.
“People,” she says.
He still can’t hear anything. Atl grabs her bag and pulls out a switchblade.
“Cualli, stay,” she tells the dog, then raises her eyes towards him. “Don’t move. The dog will keep you safe.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to take a look,” she says.
She runs out. Domingo crouches next to the dog, trying to listen for anything odd. The tunnels are quiet for a bit, then he hears loud sounds. Might be gun shots. The sounds seem to be getting closer. He’s nervous, heart beating very fast. He twists the dog’s leash between his hands.
Atl returns; she’s running and her face is very tense.
“Lead me out of here,” she says.
Domingo scrambles ahead of her, holding his lantern. He turns left and finds himself face to face with three people wearing a mask and goggles. They raise their guns. He blinks and is yanked back, thrown against the floor. The air is knocked out of his lungs.
There’s the zing of bullets; the loud blast of a shotgun. Domingo covers his ears. One of them lunges past Atl, towards him. Atl plucks him back, her claws and teeth tear the protective mask apart and she bites into the man’s face.
The man is trying to escape and Atl bites into his face like he is a ripe fruit.
The dog is also biting, tearing.
Domingo looks dumbly at all the blood.
“The place is crawling with them,” she says, angrily. “They must have followed you back. You’ve got to lead us out.”
“We’ve got to keep going straight,” he mumbles, picking the lantern off the floor.
The light illuminates a shadow, the figure of another man with a mask coming just behind Atl.
“Look out!” he yells.
The man’s head rolls onto the floor.
It literally rolls onto the floor.
Atl’s fingers are stained crimson. Brains are splattered over her jacket.
It’s his turn to vomit.
Dozens of mariachis in charro costumes litter Garibaldi Plaza. They’re waiting for someone to hire them to play a song and do not pay attention to two dirty beggars with a stray dog. That’s what Atl and Domingo look like, covered in grime and dirt after running through the tunnels.
“I’m heading to Guatemala, kid,” Atl says, her bag balanced on her left shoulder.
“Do you have friends there?”
“Sure. I’ll go,” he says.
She stares at him.
“You’re going to need to feed,” he says. “You’ll need someone to watch your back.”
“I don’t need help.”
“I can shoot a gun,” he blusters.
“You’ve almost died twice in less than a week.”
“The life expectancy of a street kid isn’t much higher than yours,” he says, knowing he’s got nowhere to go. There’s nothing but forward.
She smirks. “Find another way to commit suicide.”
She slips a couple of bills into his hand.
“Atl,” he says.
“Keep the dog,” she replies, handing him the leash. “It’ll slow me down.”
She takes a couple of steps. The dog whines.
“Stay with him,” she orders.
“Atl,” he repeats.
She walks away. She doesn’t turn her head. He tries following her, but the square is crowded at this time of the night and he looses her quickly. She must have flown away. Can vampires fly? He’ll never know.
A trio sings “La Cucaracha” while the rain begins to fall. He sniffles, eyes watery.
He pulls his plastic bag from his pocket and ties it above his head. He’s out of chocolate. He’s out of luck. He pats the dog’s head.
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