Reward and Punishment
“Have you fed?”
Daniel spoke without looking at me. He was lying exactly where I’d left him a month ago, on the white and blue striped lounge in front of the open veranda. The dusty mauve Mumbai skyline was streaked with peach wisps. The sun, hidden below the horizon tickled the undersides of a few thin clouds with fiery fingers.
“Yeah,” I said sulkily. I ran my tongue along my teeth and grimaced.
“What’s wrong Marta? Breakfast not to your liking?”
I always suspected the man had eyes in the back of his head. “He tasted like…” I stopped to identify the flavour. “Asparagus.”
He laughed – not with humour, but with irony. “It all comes down to genetics, doesn’t it?”
“Who was he?” Not that I actually cared – not after a month of punishment in a four by four dirt hole a hundred feet below street level, sweltering, lightless, foodless and damp.
Daniel propped himself up with a great show of effort. His gaunt, handsome face absorbed some of the purple light, giving him the look of an impressionist portrait. “Latika snagged him. He offered her $6,000 for her virginity.”
On hearing her name, the tiny sprite of a girl who’d been sitting in a lotus position on the balcony catching the evening breeze in her long, tangled black hair turned around to look at me.
“I apologize Marta, but I can’t be held to account for what they dine on before I cross their wicked paths.”
The twelve-year-old gave me an impish smile, designed to make anyone forgive her for anything. Of course, she wasn’t twelve – she was over sixty, but she’d never shaken the archaic sentence construction that had been beaten into her during the British Raj. Her father had wanted her to speak like a proper English lady before he married her off, but she’d almost died of smallpox before he got the chance.
It wasn’t clear who’d taken pity on Latika and turned her in the extremis of her illness. She never told us, either because she couldn’t or didn’t want to remember. Her maker hadn’t stuck around to care for her or teach the newling anything. When Daniel found her, more than forty-five years ago, she was still making her dawn nest in the soft earth of the old Sewri Cemetery, snuggling down for her day’s rest with the corpses of her country’s oppressors. She had been filthy and wild, and he couldn’t fathom how she’d survived – until he’d followed her through the dark, stinking alleys of Dharavi, one of the city’s more infamous slums, and witnessed her kill. She found her adult prey by luring paedophiles. It was something of a specialty for her.
“Wonderful! My first meal in a month and I get an asparagus-eating, genetically flawed pervert. Thanks.”
Latika smiled again and turned once more to face the breeze and let it play with her hair.
“Where is he?” I asked Daniel.
“You’re such a mean bastard, Daniel. You know who! Stefan.”
“Stefan?” He stared toward the darkening ceiling dramatically, as if I were asking about a misplaced pen or a pack of cards. “No idea.”
“I’ve taken my punishment, Daniel. Now where is my boy?”
Daniel uncoiled himself off the couch and stood up with a sigh. “My, my. What a rotten temper you have, Marta! I was just teasing. Your boy is fine – very fine in fact. We all agree that he’s a sweet little thing. ”
“You didn’t!” I growled.
“Fuck him? No, no. Admittedly, you claimed first dibs. But I did have a little taste.”
I scowled at him.
Daniel shrugged. “Well, we all did. He’s just so shiny and new. Quite impossible to resist.”
“I told you that before you sent me to the hole!”
Daniel shook his head dramatically and held up a finger of comic reproof. “Rules are rules, Marta.” Then his expression became softer and more serious. “Look, I understand that right now you’re feeling a lot of spite and resentment. It’s natural. Get it out of your system if you have to and then let us go back to being our old selves, okay?”
Daniel, so very insightful about the psychology of others, was almost totally blind to his own. “But it’s fucking unfair, Daniel! If you couldn’t have resisted him either, then why…”
“Oh hark, I hear the patter of little sexy feet,” Daniel interrupted my flow of indignation. “You broke the rules Marta, and you paid the price with great dignity. Now it’s over – let it go. No one has taken a bite out of the apple of your eye. Well, no more than a nibble anyway.”
The hall door opened and Stefan came into the salon, naked but for a loose pair of boxers. His face was still swollen with sleep and his lids still drooped over his ice-blue eyes. He looked at me almost drunkenly and smiled a woozy smile.
“Marta!” He made a little whoop and wrapped his long, lithe arms around my neck. He nuzzled my cheek and gave it a clumsy kiss. “I missed you.”
Daniel sighed laconically. “Oh, how sweet. The baby bird missed his mommy!”
I glared at him over Stefan’s bare shoulder. “Shut up, you!” I hissed, embarrassed to admit that there was something faintly infantile about Stefan’s greeting. I slid my hands around Stefan’s waist, across his lower back and settled them on his astonishingly well-formed ass. Nothing in the least bit maternal about my intentions. “Don’t listen to him, sweetheart. He’s a nasty, nasty man.”
A pleasantly carnal sound emerged from Stefan’s throat and his hips pressed into mine. His lips against my ear, he whispered, “Daniel’s gay. Did you know that?”
Unable to help myself, I laughed out loud.
“Gay?” I repeated Daniel’s benefit. “He’s much more than gay, sweetheart. He’s positively omnivorous. He’ll fuck anything with an orifice. Did he do bad things to you, darling? Did he put his grubby paws on your perfect little ass?”
I’d slipped my hands beneath the waistband of Stefan’s boxers, cupping his buttocks. My fingertip trailed a path along the cleft of his ass. The nascent bulge that had been nudging my hip firmed and grew.
“No, not really,” Stefan murmured.
I couldn’t tell whether the plaintive quality of his denial was due to distraction or regret. A little of both, I assumed. Daniel could be very persuasive. The boy’s hips began to prod me with quiet impatience, and it was satisfying to know that Daniel could see it. Another snort from the divan suggested that he hadn’t received quite as enthusiastic a response to his attentions.
The final haze of dusky light had fled the room and Daniel’s voice was disembodied. The silhouette of his reclined form dark against the indigo sky, he raised a hand and flicked it. “Get out of my sight, you two. You make me nauseous.”
“You’re such an old cynic.” I took Stefan’s hand and led him towards the hallway.
“I’m going hunting later,” called Daniel. “You can come and bring the boy, if you’d like.”
It was a peace offering. Daniel only invited his favorites of the moment along with him when he went out to feed. He said that antagonism had no place at the dinner table. Perhaps he felt a little guilty about the hard line he’d taken to my turning Stefan in the airport at Sheremetyevo. Perhaps he was just feeling lonely. And whatever lingering resentment I felt, it would have been foolish to brush away the olive branch. In the end, we all needed each other.
“Sure,” I called back on my way to my room, trailing my new toy behind me. “Give us an hour. I need a bath.”
* * *
My room was on the main floor, at the back of the villa, looking out onto the small walled garden. Both the outer wooden shutters and the inner metal ones were open to the night air. I tugged the filthy linen shift I’d been holed up in over my head as I walked towards my bathroom and switched on some lights. Not that I needed them, but they added atmosphere.
“This is your room?” Stefan’s question was timid.
Shy little monster; my little monster now.
“You’ve never been in it? A whole month, and you haven’t explored the house?”
I plugged the old, claw-foot bathtub and turned both faucets on full. The water gushed against the cream-coloured enamel, its torrent echoed off the tiles. I leant against the doorjamb, watching him.
“No. I didn’t want to – you know – be nosy or a bad guest. I don’t know how to behave here, really. Everything is so different now.” His voice trailed away as he stood by one of the tall windows, looking out into the dark garden.
“But someone took care of you, right?” I didn’t believe for a moment that they hadn’t been fawning all over him the whole time I was gone.
“Sure. Katerina and Ben, and Daniel and Latika. They’re all very nice. And they all taught me…things.” His voice softened again. It was sad and ashamed.
I knew what things: the kinds of things that kept the likes of us alive, so we didn’t make a mess, or endanger ourselves, or burn to a crisp in daylight. But it was awful at first. I remembered – always. Not the sorts of things you ever forgot.
Get used to it, little lamb.
A terrible wave of guilt washed over me. I’d made a number of newlings in my time, but never like Stefan – never on a whim. Perhaps the punishment of the hole hadn’t been unfair after all – not because I’d endangered the coven, but because I had changed the course of a life that would have run so straight had I not intervened. And perhaps the punishment wasn’t over. Looking at his tall, lean body – so young and strong. Built to climb mountains, to walk out into the shining morning world, to fight the good fights and make babies for some smiling girl. Those things would never happen for him now; I had robbed him of all that. And I despised myself for it.
The bath was full. I stopped the water and stepped into the tub. It would not clean away my sins, but it would do in the meantime. And there was no point in letting Stefan see my regret; it wouldn’t help him get used to what I had made him.
“Come talk to me while I wash,” I said. “Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
He stood by the tub and pulled off his boxers. Then, with one foot already poised to get in, he stopped. “Can I?”
“Of course.” I moved to one end to make some room for him. He settled into the water opposite me.
I hadn’t really looked at him until then. His hair had grown into a pale, ash blond shaggy mop. His skin, which had been pale in life, was paler now. His small boyish nipples stood out darkly against the flesh. And the bones in his face, all angles when I had made him, were even stronger. But still he looked so young. Shiny and new, that’s what Daniel had said.
Perhaps just a little tarnished now? A broken toy. A dead toy. A china doll whose mechanical eyes had stopped blinking.
Stefan took one of my feet and, grabbing the soap from the dish, began to wash it. “When I was little, I used to do this for my mother,” he said. “I know in other countries, they think that is strange. But in Scandinavia, it’s normal.”
I nodded. “I’m not your mother, Stefan.”
“I know that, Marta.” He smiled. It was lopsided and gave him a wry naughtiness. He submerged my soapy foot and pressed it against his very erect cock.
I smoothed my sole along the length of it, watched his cockhead bob up at the waterline. My lust tangled and twined itself around feelings of regret and self-loathing.
A strange and heady mixture: sadness and desire.
Stefan moaned and moved against my foot, leaning back against the side of the tub and closing his eyes. I pressed harder, the smooth skin of his cock raking along my rough sole. His knees splayed and his hips tilted beneath the water. His fingers, clutching either side of the lip of the tub, squeaked against the unyielding porcelain.
“Marta,” he gasped. “Please, stop!”
But he didn’t want me to stop. Not at all. “Why, sweetheart?”
“Because…because… let’s fuck.”
“Oh, God, ” he panted, his hips arching, thrusting himself up against the underside of my foot. His eyes were shut tight. The fine, strong chin angled upwards, the tendons in his neck stood out against his lovely throat. The throat I’d torn out in the bare, cold washroom in Moscow.
Flawless, healed, whole? Appearances are so deceptive.
“Come for me, Stefan.”
His eyes flew open. “No! No… oh…”
That strange shadow of pain that often accompanies pleasure spread across his face – fleeting, always poignant. He twitched hard and a jet of cum shot up the length of his hairless chest, and then another, and another. Thread over thread of pearlescence against his ivory skin, spattering the underside of his chin. Then he slumped against the side of the tub, panting.
“Mm-m. Nice.” I leant forward, caught a drip of his cum on my fingertip and I tasted him on my tongue: earth and salt and the bitterness of sweet tamarind.
“But I thought you wanted to fuck.” Disappointed, as though he’d missed a train.
I retrieved the bar of soap softening in the bottom of the tub, and began to wash myself. “I do. But we have all the time in the world.”
Stefan gave me a puzzled look. So new, what did he know of time? But he would learn like we all had. Time can lie very heavily on a soul if you don’t save something for later.
“Aren’t you horny? After all that time?”
“Yes. And hungry, too.” I kissed him on the cheek and got out of the tub. “Let’s get dressed and go hunting with Daniel.”