Episode #24: “Lamia Victoriana” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

March 15, 2016

Lamia Victoriana

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The poet’s sister has teeth as white as new lace. When she speaks, which is rarely, I feel a shiver down my skin.

I am not here for this. I am here to persuade my own sister, Mary, that she has made a terrible mistake, that eloping as she has with this poet who cannot marry her, will not only be her own ruin, but that of our family.

My tongue stumbles on the words, and every indignant speech I practiced on my way here has melted to nothing. The poet looks at me with his calm, beautiful eyes, and Mary sits scandalously close to him, determined to continue in her path of debauchery and wickedness. I cannot take my eyes from the poet’s sister.

Full transcript after the cut:

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 24 for March 15, 2016. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

This is the last story for the first year of GlitterShip! We launched last April, and although our episodes have not been quite as regular as originally planned, we've managed to settle into a 2-per-month schedule.

Coming up on April 5th, we will have our FIRST GlitterShip original story, and will continue with one original and one reprint every month.

GlitterShip is currently funded through the end of year 2 (through the end of March 2017) but will be looking for funds to continue the show for a third year -- and hopefully more!

If you like what we do here, please consider adding a dollar or two per month via our Patreon page, at http://www.patreon.com/keffy. You can also donate directly via Paypal at https://www.paypal.me/keffy or the Donate button at glittership.com/donate

I'm working hard to catch up on the first year's Kickstarter rewards, including the Year 1 anthology. There will be an update for Kickstarter backers by the end of the month.

I also ran a listener poll for the stories that were podcast during 2015!

The winners were:

1st Place: "Sooner than Gold" by Cory Skerry (Episode 9)
2nd Place: "How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps" by A. Merc Rustad (Episode 1)
3rd Place: "Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon" by Ken Liu (Episode 15)

Thank you to everyone who voted!

Our story today is "Lamia Victoriana" by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Tansy is a Tasmanian author of science fiction and fantasy. She is a co-host on two podcasts: Verity! and Galactic Suburbia. "Lamia Victoriana" was published as part of Tansy's short story suite Love and Romanpunk, and was previously reprinted in the Mammoth Book of Gaslight Romance.

Lamia Victoriana

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The poet’s sister has teeth as white as new lace. When she speaks, which is rarely, I feel a shiver down my skin.

I am not here for this. I am here to persuade my own sister, Mary, that she has made a terrible mistake, that eloping as she has with this poet who cannot marry her, will not only be her own ruin, but that of our family.

My tongue stumbles on the words, and every indignant speech I practiced on my way here has melted to nothing. The poet looks at me with his calm, beautiful eyes, and Mary sits scandalously close to him, determined to continue in her path of debauchery and wickedness. I cannot take my eyes from the poet’s sister.

She is pale all over, silver like moonlight. The pale twigged lawn of her day dress makes her skin milky and soft. I have never seen such a creature as her.

‘If you are so worried about my reputation, Fanny, then come with us,’ urges Mary. ‘Be my companion. I know you have always longed to see the continent. We are to Paris, and later, Florence.’ Her deflowering has rendered her more confident than I have ever seen her. She glows with happiness and self-satisfaction.

 ‘You may have relinquished society’s good opinion, but I cannot countenance such a thought,’ I say.

But the poet’s sister arches her neck and says, ‘Come,’ and I am lost.

Within a week, it becomes obvious that they are not human. The poet and his sister enter rooms so silently it is as if their footsteps are swallowed by the very air. When we leave hotels, one of them speaks softly to the owner, and we leave without money or promissory notes changing hands.

Language is their coin, and they buy every trinket with a pearl from their tongues. I wonder, is someone somewhere keeping track of the cost of this life of ours?

Mary is immersed in her poet. At meal-times, she gazes fiercely at his hands, as if the way that his fingers toy with the silverware or hold a wine glass are in themselves a great work of art. She sighs about hunger or thirst, but does little to assuage such desires.

I eat, but the food tastes like ashes, such is my fear. I should not have followed my sister. Her fate should not be my own. I tell myself I chose this path because of my terror of what Father would do to me if I returned without Mary, but the truth is, I came with them because the poet’s sister asked me to.

On the ninth day, she kisses me.

I am distracted by my latest letter from home. The paper is clutched tight in my fist and my first concern is passing by the poet’s sister in the passageway without our skirts getting tangled together or my hip pressing unduly against hers. Unexpectedly, she turns to me so that our bodies are aligned in that narrow space and gasps her mouth against my own.

I drink her in, for a moment of perfumed air and warmth, and then she is gone, her laughter spilling against the walls as she moves, so fast, so fast.

Gone.

Mary cups her hands over the slight swell of her belly, admiring her new curves in the mirror. “I am greater than I was, Fanny,” she tells me. “The world is greater than it was.”

“You are foolish in love,” I tell her, snipping off the end of my embroidery thread. Love. Is that the fluttering feeling in my bones when the poet’s sister looks at me? Am I a greater fool than my sister?

“Admit it,” says Mary, tugging the silk of her dress out so that she can imagine how she will look when she is more months round. “Paris is beautiful.”

Paris. Paris is chocolate and pastries that we do not drink or eat, though it sits prettily before us at meal-times, in perfect china vessels. Paris is expensive frocks that my sister and her poet cannot afford, persuaded from fancy shops with quiet, forceful words.

Mary buys me a travelling dress, of sturdy linen and wool, with a jaunty hat. The colours are violet and black, as is proper for a widow rather than an unmarried chaperone. I wonder whom it is that I am supposed to be mourning, but I rather like the way that I look in the costume.

On the train to Florence, I stand at the window, gazing at the winding ribbon of Italian countryside. This, this is the world. I am free of the dust and the smallness of Father’s house and our street in London. I feel as if I could fly.

The poet’s sister brushes against me in the narrow cabin, and then again, so that I can tell it was not done by accident. Her fingertips linger on my waist as she steadies herself against the bunk. “Shall we join Mary and my brother in the dining carriage?” she asks.

I shake my head, not willing to say aloud that I cannot bear another meal of artifice and elegance at which nothing is eaten. They all enjoy the ritual, but it only serves to remind me of what we have lost, and what we have left behind. It unsettles me that such a vital human need has been lost to us.

Hungry. I am so very hungry, and yet I cannot swallow even a crumb.

“Well then,” she says, and tugs down the stiff blind that shuts out the light. “We are alone.”

The travelling dress comes apart so easily, as if it were designed for this. A button, a lace, and I am unpeeled. Her hands are cold against the heat of my skin, and her mouth fits against my neck perfectly.

My mind is overwhelmed with her fingers, her palms, the soft mound beneath her thumb, and the whisper of my chemise as it gives way to her. I do not notice the bite until she is so deep inside me that there is no return, no escape, just heat and taste and the rocking pulse of the train through every inch of my skin.

For the first time in days, in weeks, I am sated. Finally, I understand what I was hungering for.

To be food.

Later, much later, there is a whistle. The train has stopped. I am lying dizzy in the lower bunk, my body wrapped in the languid arms of the poet’s sister.

“We’re here,” she says, and slides over my inert body to dress herself. I watch as her white skin disappears into layers of fabric, of stockings and stays and damask. When she is her outer self again, she turns her attentions to me, drawing me to my feet and dressing me as if I am a doll. She even combs my hair, playing the lady’s maid.

When I speak, it is only to say, “So quiet.” Where is the bustle of the other passengers, the calls and urgent conversations, the mutterings as they embark or depart?

“All the time in the world,” she says softly, and powders my face.

Every apartment on the train is empty as we pass. But no, not empty. If I look too closely, I can see a hand here, a foot there, a fallen lock of hair.

She catches me looking. “My brother was hungry,” is her only explanation.

We meet Mary and the poet on the platform. They are bright with colour, delighted with themselves. Several porters come forth to carry our trunks, but they all have a dazed look about their eyes that proves the poet has already paid them with his dulcet words.

“I know we shall love it, here in Florence,” says Mary.

“It is a most accommodating city,” agrees the poet, with a satisfied smile.

We have been in Florence only three days when someone tries to kill us. He is a most unassuming looking gentleman. The poet’s sister and I are wandering the city markets, choosing furnishings and flowers that will look splendid in the new house that her brother is buying for us. He spends his days going from place to place, searching for the perfect villa, while Mary plans the garden where her children will play.

The assassin lunges out of the shadows, a rope knotted in his hands, and wraps it around my lover’s throat. She is caught unawares, but he does not expect me to savage him with the fine brass door-knocker I had been admiring on a nearby stall.

Blood pours from the wound on his head as I hurl the knotted rope away, cooing over the ugly bruises on her throat.

“Do not concern yourself, Fanny,” she says in a beautiful rasp. “No one shall destroy us.”

“You are not one of them,” the man gasps, holding his sleeve to the wound. “Do not let the lamia take your will and your life from you, Frances Wolstonecraft.”

I shiver that he knows my name. Or perhaps it is that other word — lamia. I do not know what it means.

“Come near us again,” said the poet’s sister. “And my brother will kill you.” She takes my hand, and we run away together, through the market.

“Who is that man?” I ask at the supper table that night. The poet, his sister and Mary all look at each other as if I have said something unpleasant, a truth not to be named aloud. “Why does he hate us?” I persist. Am I the only one not to know the secrets of this new family we have formed? I am not a child!

“He is an old enemy of my kind,” the poet says finally, shifting his wine glass one precise inch to the left, so that the candlelight makes a prettier pattern of ruby shapes on the tablecloth. “He hates us for being. That is all. His name is Julius. He is not important.”

“He was so strong.” I can still remember that look in his eyes, as if my lady were some kind of monster.

“We are stronger,” says the poet’s sister, and squeezes my fingers with her own.

From Florence, we travel to Switzerland, determined that our plan to live together in all happiness and beauty shall not be spoiled by the horrid man, Julius.

I wonder sometimes if he was sent by our father, if the poet only wished to spare Mary and I from that awful truth, that our own family would rather see us dead than happy.

We have our house of dreams, finally, in the midst of such green splendour, and a good distance outside the town where prying eyes might seek to spoil our circle. The poet and Mary visit the town often, to buy pretty trinkets, and to slake their thirst. When they are gone, it is as if the house is ours, only ours, and the poet’s sister and I can finally love each other as we long to.

She needs no drink but what she takes from me, in sweet drugging kisses that make me feel alive.

Mary’s child is born; a perfect silver nub of a creature with bright eyes. She is hungry, so very hungry, and nuzzles her constantly, sucking, biting, clawing at her for food. She hires a nursemaid from the town, and then another, but the babe’s thirst is too great, and for a while it is as if we are constantly digging graves for the scraps left behind.

Left unsaid is our belief she will not survive.

We will have to move again, and soon, but we have been so happy here. It pains us to speak of leaving the garden, the egg-shell drawing room, the balcony that looks out over the valley.

We stay too long.

I am awoken from a deep befogged sleep against the body of my beloved when I hear a scream in the night. The baby makes so much noise that I am content at first to ignore the interruption, but then there is another, and the shattering of glass.

The poet’s sister sits up in bed, shining and glorious in her white nightgown. “Him,” is all she says, and then she is up on her feet, hair streaming behind her, teeth gleaming in the darkness.

He has come for us.

The downstairs parlour is alight as we come down the stairs: flames crackle up the curtains and blacken the wooden walls. My beloved gasps as she finds the body of her brother in a pool of silver blood, his body pierced through the heart and his head lying some distance from his neck.

“Fanny!” Mary screams, and bursts through the flaming doorway like an angel, bearing her child wrapped in a sage-green blanket trimmed with ivory lace. “Take her,” she begs, placing the wailing bundle in my arms.

I stand there, immobile as Mary and my beloved turn back to the smoke and the flames, ready to avenge the death of the poet.

He — Julius, slayer of lamia — walks through the wall of flames with his sword held high.

It is a short sword, and bronzed rather than steel. How odd, the things you notice at such moments.

My sister bares her teeth, as sharp as those of my beloved, and they swarm him. I do not want to watch. I flee, through the kitchen, where I grab the only weapon I can find, a kitchen knife, and spare cloths for the baby. Then I run out of the house, my niece crying in my arms, down the hill, away from the beautiful house.

I feel it minutes later, the death of my beloved. It is a blossoming pain in my chest, as if someone has carved out my heart. I do not feel Mary die; we have no such connection. But my tears fall for them both.

I run and hide, but the baby is hungry and she will not stop crying. Finally I press her mouth again my upper arm and she suckles deeply, her own teeth finding the vein and drinking in great gulping swallows. I shall have to wind her afterwards, and the thought is almost enough to make me burst with laughter.

Too late. I should have silenced her minutes ago. He is upon us. I hear him treading the crisp grass nearby, and the rasp of his smoke-filled lungs. “Frances,” he says, as if he still thinks he has an ally in me. “Give me the child.”

The baby’s feed is not as delicious as that of my beloved. It hurts, though there is still a satisfaction in it, in knowing that I am food, that I am needed. Little Mary. Mine now. “No,” I say, quite calmly, though he is standing not far from me, and he has a sword. I do not think he will hurt me. For some reason, he does not believe I am one of the monsters. I keep the knife hidden in my skirts, so that he shall not see that I am able to defend myself.

“Listen to me, Frances. I have tracked these creatures for years. They were the last, the three up there in the house.”

My family. Tears rush anew down my cheeks, and I cannot wipe them away without disturbing the babe.

“There is only that one,” he continues. “When it is gone, the world will be safe. One less monster to ravage families, to destroy the lives of innocents such as yourself. Lamia who are born rather than made are the most powerful, the most dangerous. I have worked for centuries to weaken these creatures, and if this one lives to make more of its kind, it may be centuries more before they are wiped from the face of the earth.”

The baby releases me with a gasp and leans against my breast, breathing deeply. She is asleep. My niece, the perfect silver child. My daughter, now. He cannot even acknowledge that she is a ‘she’.

“No,” I say again.

“You can go home, Frances,” he says, in a soothing voice. “Home to your father, to your old life…”

The thought of it makes me shudder. “No!” I scream, and run at him with the knife.

He does not expect it, even now. He thinks I am food, a docile milk cow, with no reason to defy him now that my lover and sister are dead. I catch him in the neck, and he twists badly, falling down the hillside onto his sword.

I do not think he survived. How could he, a blow like that? After months of standing asid, as my sister and the poet killed for food, I have become a murderer myself.

Perhaps the murderer of thousands, by keeping my little Mary alive. The blood of my body will not sustain her forever. But I have learned that the lamia power of persuasive words is mine to share, if I hold the baby close to my skin, and that has been enough to get us from train to train, from country to country.

We will travel as far as we can, to a land so distant that another Julius can never find us. She will grow, my darling daughter, and she will feed. Some day, perhaps, she shall make me another lover to replace what I lost. We shall be a family, all together.

She shall live, my little Mary, long after I have gone, and live, and live.

I am not sorry for it.

END

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