The Visit By Bethany Van Sterling

A trio of hollow knocks on wood interrupted his pen. He irritably paused for a moment, hand in mid-air, and then carefully set the nib in the crystal inkwell.

Lilith heard his heavy footsteps approach the door, already anticipating his mood. He’d grown to be a man resistant to disturbances, no matter how innocuous or even pleasurable they may be.

Joaquín threw on his spectacles, blinking a few times as if just having woken up from a long slumber. Her form was a silhouette in front of the hazy, silver dusk: a wool coat tied at the waist, black heels buckled at the ankles of her stockinged legs, and a flowered felt hat perched at the side of her somewhat-haphazard waves of hair.

“What are you doing here?” he murmured under his breath, without even saying a hello.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she retorted, pushing past him and clunking down on the torn velvet of his antique sofa.

She looked up at him, her sallow cheeks caked with powder, and her lips a ruby red that added some color to her otherwise wan countenance. She left on her fitted gloves, and neatly folded her hands across her lap.

“Can’t you see?”

“What’s happened to you –?”

“I’m hungry,” she groaned.

Joaquín exhaled and approached the glass cabinet in the adjacent room. When he re-emerged, he passed her a serving of clear, distilled liquor.

“What’s this?” she uttered dubiously.

“It will help.”

“You’re joking.” She slid the glass on the table in front of her. A cockroach circled her shoe and she started. Joaquín seemed to pay no heed to it and took a seat next to her.

“How are you managing? Or… you don’t.”

He didn’t say anything.

“Well,” she lifted her eyebrows, and then unsnapped her purse. “I have something for you.”

From the pouch she removed an object loosely wrapped in ivory muslin, and gently extended it his way. He accepted it and peeled off the layers of fabric, finding an old, silver dagger that he recognized immediately.

“Take this away from me,” she insisted. “I don’t need it to protect me anymore, and you know that.”

“But I never expected it back. I gave it to you, yours to keep. To remember me.”

“Remember you?” Lilith stood up, dusting off the back of her coat. “You’re the one who wants to forget me. Spare me the temptation, Joaquín. The temptation to use it in the wrong way. Look how feeble we are now. I can’t bear to wake another night, and a stake in the heart is not what you want me to do, is it?”

He said nothing. Instead, he tucked the dagger back in its sheath and set it down on the table. Then he stood up and went to the corner of the living room, placing a record on the gramophone. The needle scratched a bit before a fuzzy melody by Marlene Dietrich diverted the energy away from the conversation.

Joaquín extended his arm and Lilith finally pulled a hint of a sentimental smile. She unwrapped her coat and he helped her up in her still-gloved hands. They eased into an affectionate slow dance, just like old times. He was still tall and glorious and handsome behind the subtle signs of experience on his face.

They circled and smiled and laughed, and her visage almost gleamed anew again. Little by little, his hand urged down from the waist of her dress, and it was only due time before she couldn’t resist any longer. Maybe it was her hunger or her desperation or simply seizing what she deemed hers, that she tore him towards her into a violent kiss, perching herself on his desk and imprisoning him in the lock of her legs. The crystal inkwell tipped, sending a deluge of red ooze all over the papers that were set on the table.

She withdrew her soaked hand, and then the smell reached her nostrils. Like a wolf on instinct, she lapped at her palm, any mere drop quenching her famine.

Then her eyes flashed rage, and with all her might she slammed him away from her.

“You scoundrel!”

He glared at her in disbelief.

Lilith turned around and dipped her hands into the puddle of thick red liquid, lapping it up and then dipping them again and again like a drummer beating a drum. She turned back to him, smothered in the blood as if she’d been freshly slaughtered in an abattoir.

Lilith’s heels pounded on the floor as she tore open drawer after drawer, cabinet after cabinet, throwing the papers awry, her red footprints stamping all over them as she raided his meagre apartment. Finally, she uncovered the stash of bottles next to the gin, forcing open the corks and gulping them one by one.

He watched her, waiting for the frenzy to cease.

She threw the last of the empty bottles to the floor, sinking down in a blissful, bloated stupor.

“How dare you,” she mumbled, her eyelids bobbing. “How dare you dip your pens in the essence of our existence, while I starve alone in this barren place?”

“I never imagined you one to starve,” he justified. “You were always the bolder one, or so I’d thought.”

You were always the bolder one,” she muttered. “You created this hunger in me. And what if I’m not fed?”

Lilith fought the drowsiness, as if in an opium dream. Finally, she reached for the edges of the mahogany cabinet, trying to stabilize herself on the slippery floor. She unwrapped the muslin and wiped her face, studying her reflection in the blade of the dagger. Then she bundled herself up in her coat again, and adjusted her felt hat over her unruly locks.

A smirk drew across her now-raw lips.

“Thank you,” she nodded.

The door opened with a creak. Joaquín was still standing next to his demolished desk, smears of crimson and trampled papers and shards of glass concocted into a landfill on the floor. He slipped on his glasses to get a better assessment of the damage. Lilith stepped out, and a glow seemed to surround her elegant form in the background of the hazy, indigo sky. She slammed the door behind her.

Bethany van Sterling is a poet, performing artist, and writer of historical, horror, and fantasy fiction. Her stories have appeared in magazines such as The FantasistWild Musette, and Sub-Saharan Magazine, and anthologies such as History Will Be Kind (The Copperfield Review, 2015), Crossing Over (Thirteen O’Clock Press, 2015), and Passionate Pasts (Kellan Publishing, 2013). She resides in Madrid, Spain.

Published 2/14/19