First forever

First forever

On the marketplace plateau are built facades like colonial shophouses with food stalls inside. On the wall of Mr. Doughy's Pizza hangs a sign that says “Free soup - self service”. Two masked brothers in grey shorts and t-shirts operate the sourdough pizza shop. Their bright shouts are the main background noise in the open-air food court.

I stand up from my table and walk nearer without looking at them. The neighboring mala stall masks the pizza scent. The hairs in my neck stand on end, as I turn my back to the brothers and lift the lid off the lukewarm soup kettle. I pick the ladle from the side and stir it. Chunks of soggy lettuce and minced meat float to the top. I don’t hear any shouts behind me.

After I bring the soup to my table, the shouting starts back up. Night sinks on us, while I finish the soup. I eat the lettuce and leave the meat. The Doughy brothers pack the soup into the back of their store. While they don’t look, I slip the meat bits into an empty slot in my handbag. I leave the empty plate.

On the bus ride back to Marine Parade, the engine’s rhythmic drone and the road’s bumps rock my head into a sleepy groove. I stumble up to my 9th-floor HDB apartment. The building is from the 1980s and has no security systems beyond cameras. When I get inside, I have to slap myself in the face so I can still stand.

I rent my apartment for myself. The first bedroom is a study, the second I used as a love room, and the third I keep as a bedroom. None is a guest room. I pick up my framed picture of the grey-eyed devil-boy. His hermaphrodite form shows in his beautiful, feminine face and flowing, black locks of hair. I kiss his image on the forehead, press the picture to my chest, and stumble into my kitchen.

The cauldron stands on the gas stovetop, filled with water I stole out of the Church of the Holy family’s baptismal font. I turn the dial and start the flame to boil the holy water. The other ingredients lie on the bench.

I pour a vial of my own blood in the pot, followed by a vial of mercury and a pinch each of salt and powdered sulfur. From inside the frame, behind the devil-boy’s picture, I pick out the bound tuft I keep of his hair. I kiss his image again and toss the picture in the garbage.

Boiling bubbles start to pop on the black-red surface. I drop the tuft in the pot and watch it melt into the elixir. The black of his hair spreads and swallows all the rest. I turn the heat off and leave a hot, black alchemical mix.

A spoonful should be enough, but I don’t need to think about moderation. I pour all of it into my white mug. The brew looks like strong coffee. I carry it with my shaking left hand and let it burn down my throat.

I want to clean the rest, but I don’t know that I can make it to my bed then, so I turn and take a single step back towards my living room. The walls don’t stop spinning after that move. The streetlights from outside my window turn black. My head crashes on the floor tiles. I can’t tell if that hurt me or what position my limbs are in. I wanted to lie down first, but they’ll find me as they expect me.

***

A buzzing mosquito is the first sound that cuts through the pounding pain in my head. It lands above my left nipple and starts to suck my blood. I try to slap at the itching, but my hands won’t budge from their straps.

The bonds remind me where I am. As my brain wakes from their poison, my eyes start to catch details of my prison. My hands are tied wide to the iron railing of a palace balcony above the jungle behind me. Snickering, pleasing voices rise from the patio below. I try to turn and look down there, but my bonds keep me too rigid.

I sit naked and slumped on the hot tiles, facing in to a feast scene. Chinese and Malay guests in formal, silver-embroidered gowns glide along each other and laugh at jokes in Mandarin. They walk around a mahogany table carved with flowery detail. On the table lies a pale Indian woman with sunken eyes and bite marks on her bleeding wrists.

On my right, another balcony hangs over the wider party downstairs. Brilliant blue roof tiles cover it from the humid night above. A dark, muscular, naked Indian man slumps there in the same position as me. He starts to stir and kick at the balcony. His shouts in Hindi silence the feast for a moment before thrilled laughter rises over the jungle noises. The girl on the table in front of me seems not to notice.

A slender Chinese woman with black hair tied in a delicate braid behind her head strolls in front of the man on the balcony. He quiets, shivers, and stares, while she leans near his face. He whispers, “Please…” Before he can start a sentence, she tangles her fingers in his hair, angles his head aside, and bites down on his neck. He struggles to yank his head back, but her thin fingers hold it in place. Waves of amused laughter from below roll over his screams.

A vibrant voice rises from the ballroom around the Indian girl in front of me. A young Malay woman with bright, black eyes points at my naked body and shouts in Bahasa. The party turns silent again, except for the man’s rapid, panting breath from the other balcony and a cricket chorus from inside the jungle behind me.

The woman’s fat partner wears a purple suit with a bright red sash. His face does not show the age I see in his eyes. He steps towards me. His black mustache bounces on his upper lip when he speaks English with a slight Johor accent. “You are waking.”

“Thank you for inviting me.” My voice comes airless from the poison’s weakness. I repeat it louder. The shout scrubs in my throat.

Gentle murmurs travel through the unseen crowd below. The fat man rests his elbows on his knees and crouches, so his eyes reach nearly down to my level. With a slippery smile, he nods to the Indian on the next balcony. “You seem not like your unwilling commiserate.”

“If I were unwilling, you would not have me here,” I say. “If I cared about you, you would be dead.”

The vibrant, young Malay woman behind him drops her jaw. She has not before heard her food speak like this. Indignant whispers rise below me. “I am dead,” says the fat man. “You sound like you want that for yourself.”

“You are half dead,” I say, “half living and nothing complete. You all are, but I want the proper death for you all.”

“You speak such things.” His slippery voice lilts along with his smile. “But you are naked and bound to my balcony. It would entertain my guests if you tried to make loose your bonds.”

My head still swims with the poison. I don’t know how well my limbs will obey me, but I whip my legs behind me, kick off the railing, and push my body forward as far as my strapped hands allow. I growl through my brain’s haze, so the whole palace hears it.

“Today is your last day of feasting. You take and have taken, but you took the wrong boy. The devil-boy is mine. You cannot keep him.”

“The devil-child is eternal,” says the fat man. “They belong to no one.” His smile turns from mockery to glee. He leans so near I can smell his slick perfume.

“He belongs to me!” I snap forward and try to bite the man’s nose, but the leather straps keep me tight and draw a stretching ache in my arms. I yank backward and drop on my butt. Blunt pain grinds into my tailbone. I grit my teeth and sneer up at him.

“I know him!” A joyful voice reaches me from the party below. “He’s come for me!”. I try to twist my neck and see behind me, but my bonds are rigid. The voice is from my boy. I need to see him. It sounds joyful and bright, but this isn’t the place for that. I don’t know why it sounds like that. I need to know. The need is burning.

“Rebis!” I stretch and writhe in my bonds. “Rebis!”

The fat man laughs. “You have found them again. Your obsession has reached the end.”

“Show him to me!” I thrash against my leather straps and clang them on the iron railing. “Show me!”

Wild laughter rises below. The fat man slaps his thigh and grins at my struggle. He looks over my shoulder at the host below. “Do you wish to see your lover?”

“Show him to me.” Rebis’ steady voice rises from the party below. “The boy is from one of my lives and is dear to me.”

The fat man’s right hand jerks towards my face. It pommels on my jaw and crashes the back of my head against the iron. The blinding impact dips through the poison and blackens my world for a moment.

He works the straps off my wrists and lifts me onto my feet. I can’t stand straight, so I dangle from his hands. He turns me and jams my belly on the railing.

Fine, smiling men and women in embroidered gowns spread through the party below. Many carry glasses that look like they hold red wine. On a table in the center of the garden lies a pale, muscular Indian man. He has sunken eyes, and his brawn seems thinning.

Candlelight lines a pathway from the garden to an altar at the edge of the jungle. Surrounded there by naked human slaves stands a throne. In it sits the devil-boy, naked like his slaves, and with the same bleeding wrists. The blood that drips down his hands is black and burns the grass below.

His long, back hair falls behind his shoulders and shines in the firelight. His feminine face smiles with joy at our reunion. His hermaphrodite body is naked with both a penis and a vagina between his legs. His chest looks not like breasts but is fuller than a man’s. When he stands and walks down the steps to the garden, his curvy hips sway with each step.

He spreads his bleeding arms and smiles up at me. “You have discovered me again.”

“Rebis...” With my belly pressed on the railing, I can’t get a breath out of my mouth.

“You made me promises,” he says, “but I didn’t think you would come for me here. I thought you would know to run away.”

I wheeze against the railing but can’t make any words.

“I am happy that you have come,” he says. “We will be alike now. But not in the way that you thought.” He looks in the eyes of the fat man who holds me. “Throw him into the feast.”

“You belong to the devil now,” whispers the fat man and bites into my neck. The dull pain rages through the poison haze. If I had all my senses, I would scream.

His forearm holds over my chest. I grab it, force it up, and bite down on his bare wrist. His cold, hard skin aches at my jaw. I let my strength into the bite. The man’s rage-growl starts in the pit of his stomach and rings above the jungle. He tosses me over the railing.

I fly a fleeting moment above the crowd. Their hungry eyes jeer up at the ragdoll body that falls into their arms. Each one grasps a limb and twists it to their mouth. Every bite grinds into my skin and over my bone. My blood drains into the vampire feast. The pain yields to blackness. I can’t open my eyes or feel anymore.

***

Warm, slick blood drips down my cheek. I open my eyes free of pain. When I start to move, I feel the crust of my own blood crack around the bites on my wrists, thighs, and neck. The blood that lingers on my tongue is sweeter than my own. I wipe it from my mouth with my wrist. It’s black and burns on my skin.

I stand and look around the garden. Twisted vampire corpses litter the ground. Their gowns and pale skin are torn, where they clawed at themselves to reach where my blood burned inside them. Most have scorched scars on their bellies and where their skin was thinnest, on their lips, ears, and inside their thighs.

The slaves keep the same postures I remember. A handful men and women still kneel by the devil’s throne. The thinning Indian man lies on the garden table. The devil-boy stands with his back to me and stares into the jungle. Black blood drips from his left wrist and purifies the ground.

“You took my children away from me,” he says.

“I didn’t know they were yours,” I say. My voice has its strength again, but it has no feeling. Its ice does not surprise me. I think nothing can surprise me.

“I told you how little you know.” Rebis turns to me with a tender smile. Both his genders swing between his legs, as he steps towards me and lays a soft, warm hand on my wet cheek.

“Look around,” I say. “I knew all of it, and now there is nothing to know.”

“Only we are left,” he says.

My naked body feels cold in the hot jungle night. I embrace the devil’s warm form. The heat is the same as before. I feel his heat and his soft skin, and that’s all I feel. “That’s what I wanted,” I whisper in his ear.

“You didn’t know what it was.”

“We have everything else.”

“You’ll be my first again,” he whispers in my ear.