CHAPTER 2: An urgent hunger
A month ago
Zondadari never ceased to be filled with dread anticipation before the transformation.In the privacy of his secluded Maltese villa he stood on the stone balcony, dressed in black leather, his shoulders draped with a cloak of the same colour and material. Very theatrical, but appropriate. As the pains filled his chest and raked across his back, he hunched forward, his fingers grasping the stone hand-rail for support. Mediterranean fir-pine trees cast their deep velvet shadows onto the balcony, concealing most of the pale yellow moon. Shadows were his friend.
Slowly the organic material of his clothing pressed against him, even into him, taking on the contours of his large muscular body. A straying wild bird flew over and shrilled and then darted away quickly, discouraged by the unholy smell that emanated from him during his change.
One day, he feared, his heart wouldn’t hold out against the battering it took.
Coherent thought shimmered. He started seeing double; then multiples of everything. Disoriented, he lowered himself down on one knee. It would be a few minutes more before he would be able to control the numerous images.
Small gaping flesh-red mouths, with razor-sharp teeth, appeared on the surface of his body. Disproportionately large furry ears flicked out at all angles and black beady eyes glistened all over him, like a constellation of the devil.
Five minutes of harrowing pain passed and already he was separating, literally coming apart. With an unpleasant sucking sound, dark shapes peeled off from the form that had been a man. But he was a man no longer.
With a flick of thin yet deceptively strong leathery wings, the freed bats broke away from each other and landed on the balustrade.
The shape-shifting was complete. His mind was the sum of these forty-six creatures. He could see through the eyes of a single animal or perceive separate images through all of them. They did his bidding – because they were him in every sense. Every sense.
The hunger was upon him again.
As one, the bats flew up into the night sky.
* * * *
He remembered his pains with a shiver; then gulped the revitalizing warm blood from the church’s golden chalice and licked red dribbles from fleshy lips.
Ever so slowly, the draught would do its arcane work and heal the agonizing ache and give him new life. Not for the first time, Zondadari cursed Theresa. Still, there were compensations: and blood-lusting Desiree was just one of many.
He turned in the high-backed wooden seat to eye Father Pont, sprawled lifeless at the base of the choir stalls. The fool’s vacant eyes reflected no beatitude at abruptly and prematurely meeting his Maker and perhaps because of this they stared at him accusingly. And with good reason. The poor man’s heart must have stopped for a fleeting second as he saw a cloud of bats swoop down from the belfry. Father Pont’s eyes were almost extended on stalks as he viewed the creatures in front of him clustering together, as if purposefully forming into a seemingly pain-racked leather-clad man. Suffused with agonizing pain, the man glared and then smiled, grabbing the nearest piece of silver to hand. The priest stayed rooted to the stone flags, an easy target. No wonder his eyes stared accusingly.
Zondadari shrugged. Even after all these years, he wondered how he could have been taken in by such an empty religion. Of course, in those distant days, superstition reigned supreme.
He stood and hung the plastic crucifix round his neck.
In a moment he would drag the dead priest down to the catacombs to join his ancient brethren. With great will-power, Zondadari refrained from draining the blood from the priest; he would return for the rest later, a cool libation, after which the body would moulder and become sacred dust.
Taking his time – of which he had plenty – he donned the dead priest’s round-brimmed hat. He paused to check his reflection in the shining silver ciborium, its rim smeared with blood and hair where he had clubbed the kappillan.
He lifted his head, accentuating the line of his aquiline nose. His steely grey eyes shone mischievously. Quite the local vicar, he mused, but he still preferred to see himself in his ancient knight’s helmet.
Licking the silver clean, he smiled. Today, he would have a little amusement.
This book is now out of print - until further notice...
NB – Kappillan is Maltese for parish-priest. I can recommend Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Kappillan of Malta.