Gateways: “The Left Hand of Death” by Terry Galvan read by Courtney Lynn



TRANSCRIPT:

Plagued by Catholic guilt and a love of whiskey, Terry writes about social & environmental problems through the lens of fantasy and science fiction. The former anthropologist and Fulbright grantee currently contributes reviews and interviews at Chicago’s own Third Coast Review, and would very much like to sign an agent sometime before they die. Follow Terry @TerryGalvanChi https://terrygalvan.com This is “The Left Hand of Death”.

 

We vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. Even the most stubborn, close-minded, and reactionary of us admitted it. It only took a few decades to realize, living as a superpredator with no natural enemies or a natural way to die. 

When you become a vampire, you don’t really live anymore—you only hunger and thirst, and hunger and thirst, day after day, year after year. So we eat and eat and drink and drink, but we’re never truly satiated. We just get hungrier and hungrier, thirstier and thirstier. And unlike our mortal cousins, no death comes at the end of it. We’ve come to resent humans: die though they might, they know satiety and satisfaction. They know endings and beginnings, and, most enviably, they know the sweet kiss of death. 

But I digress. One must forgive an old vamp her ramblings. Where was I? Yes, we vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. It was more immediate and pragmatic than philosophical or existential: simple overpopulation. Like any apex predator, we hunted with abandon, never watching our backs because there was nothing to watch for. Not even Death Herself, that stingy bitch. Perhaps if we had anything else in common with apex predators—disease, control over reproduction, or, you know, the ability to die in any way—the ecosystem would have rebalanced on its own. But we’re the Left Hand of Death, and that’s not how we work.

For example, if you screw up a single feeding—get your fangs in the wrong artery, snap the neck with insufficient force, or god forbid, develop feelings for the damn human—instead of a nice meal, boom! You have another hungry mouth to feed. Newborns are notoriously needy, and you can’t just abandon them, because they’ll eat all your food. So you have to take them in and split the food, but because they have no goddamn idea what they’re doing, they’ll probably screw up and create more newborns, and so on and so forth. You get the picture. 

You’d think that we’d have decimated the human population by now, but those bastards reproduce like rabbits. And, like rabbits, humans eat everything. They eat flowers and seeds and plants and animals, they eat oceans and rivers, rainforests and mountains, lakes and prairies; they eat glaciers and tundras and fossil fuels and minerals buried deep in the earth.

We vamps, passionate about numbers and accounting (to distract from the endless hunger), have kept precise records of Earth’s biodiversity, charting the growth and decline of all species.

You’d have to stupid or mortal not to see the writing on the wall. While we were killing humans, humans were killing everything else. We knew once the humans ate everything and died out, we’d have nothing to eat. There’d just be thousands of us roaming the dead Earth, hungry forever.

So we did what every civilized society does when it’s overexploiting resources: we selected our best and brightest, built them a generation ship, and sent them off into the unknown to find other resources to overexploit.

My grandson was on that generation ship. We loaded enough fresh meat into the cargo hold to last them a few dozen light years, we calculated—but those calculations soon proved to be gravely inaccurate. See, while we’re very good with numbers, we’re bad at pretty much everything else, especially the social sciences. A psychologist or a historian might have predicted that the young vampires, suddenly free of the rigid clan structure and territorial boundaries of their seniors, would let loose a little. And that’s just what they did.

With unrestricted access to thousands of humans in the cargo hold, the vamps’ best and brightest went on a feeding frenzy, an orgy, a bender, a rampage, and decimated half their rations in less than a year. I don’t blame them, really; the opportunity for a full stomach—a truly full stomach—is so rare that it turns the best of us into animals.

My grandson, during this time, was engaged in a torrid love affair with one of the human women set aside for breeding purposes. I shouldn’t begrudge him this—if you’re not engaged in a torrid love affair involving vastly unequal power differentials and a questionable consent situation, are you even really a vampire?

My grandson of course promised to protect this woman in exchange for sexual compliance. For all you humans listening, a useful tip: yes, we always make these promises, and yes, we always break them. So, unless you have a kink for bleeding out, or, worse, spending eternity in constant hunger and thirst, I suggest you refrain from accepting our kind as lovers.

Once the bloodbath was over, and the vamps were satiated for the first time in their lives, a peculiar thing happened: both hunter and hunted, faced with the reality that they would all be dead or in hell if that happened again, sat across from one another and talked. Their bellies full, the vamps found they could think straight, and the humans, scared shitless, found themselves unnaturally eloquent. (Don’t ever think humans can’t work under pressure—if you think that, you haven’t scared them enough). 

So the two species pooled their intellectual resources to find a consistent source of food—for the humans, so the humans could feed the vampires. 

The vampires, it turned out, didn’t need air, water, radiation protection, or much of anything on alien planets. Even gravity was a moot point, so they headed off the ship without the rigamarole of space suits or air tanks. Only Earth’s sun burned them, they found, so they frolicked naked and joyous in the blue and violent and green light of foreign stars.

The vamps could ingest anything and everything without consequences aside from a bad aftertaste, so they searched for something to feed their precious cargo. After a few nasty experiments, they identified human-appropriate food, and spent long days toiling to forage algae, farm fungus, and fish adorable little cephalopods that were very high in protein.

And since they were trying everything in sight—knowing nothing in this wide universe, not even Death, could kill them—they eventually found a better source of sustenance than human blood. And then they came home. 

They landed in Antarctica. It took us Old Guard some time to arrive, waiting for the cover of the southern hemisphere’s winter, so as to not get scorched by midnight sun. Things got strange in the months leading up to our visit. Birds acted erratically, flying into windows and migrating in the wrong direction. Weeds thrived and native plants shriveled. Solar panels and satellites and electronics failed, and our compass stopped working halfway there. 

When we arrived, we saw why. Great industrial chimneys of unidentifiable alien metals plunged deep into the ice, gushing steam and sulfurous fumes. A city of tents and igloos surrounded the generation ship, parked right on the South Pole. The human cargo had multiplied, and vamps walked arm and arm with them, faces fresh and full and—content.

“Grandmama!” My grandson sprinted out of the village and embraced me. “Grandmama, I want you to meet my wife.” 

Behind him appeared an ancient human woman, laugh lines crinkling her eyes under hair silver as the moon.

“You didn’t eat her?” I glared at her, pretty even in old age. 

“Grandmama! No, I told you, we don’t eat each other anymore.”

“Hm.”

“And Grandmama, we have children. Generations of them.”

“How?” I spat.

“I adopted them, Grandmama, their biological father died some time ago.”

“Did you eat him?”

“Grandmama.”

What a strange sight it was. I, thousands of years old, trapped in the body of a twenty-four-year beauty; her, in the shriveled body I ought to—I longed to—inhabit. I couldn’t help but feel jealous as well as hungry.

“Here, I’ll show you.” He and his “wife” guided me to one of the steaming pillars. From a spigot he poured a steaming mug.

“Do you remember Spanish hot chocolate? Steel cut oats with cinnamon and honey? Milkshakes?” He offered me the mug. “Try it. It’s like all of those at once, but better.”

Inside was a liquid that glowed orange like hot coals. “What is this,” I hissed, almost dropping it.

“Grandmama.” He steadied my hand. “It’s magma. The blood of the Earth. Rich in iron and teaming with energy, more than the blood of the most pedigreed human. When you drink it—you’ll feel full.” He beamed, and the woman crinkled her eyes at him.

I shook with anger, with hunger, with jealousy. “We sent you to find more nourishment, so as not to kill this planet. Instead you come back to drink your own planet dry? You’ll kill the Earth! The birds, the radiation, the crust itself is going to collapse—”

“The Earth has been dying for a long time, Grand-Dame.” The hag spoke for the first time, using my correct title. “With all due respect, I know that’s the real reason you sent us, and the real reason I got on the ship, and it’s the real reason I married your grandson. I understand that your kind is the Left Hand of Death—that you exist to help things die. People, planets, stars. The sun knows a vampire will bring it to death’s door, and that’s why it burns you so. You are Death’s undying hands, and I am honored to assist.” 

I scoffed at her.

“If it means anything to you,” she continued, “your grandson has agreed to ‘eat’ me when it’s time, so we can be together, forever.”

I ground my fangs, looking between her and him suspiciously.

“Grandmama. We’re here to collect more humans—you know, to diversify the gene pool—and then we’re leaving.” My grandson wrapped his hands around mine, around the mug. “You taught me everything I know. Please, come with.”

I glared into the glowing mug. “Shame he didn’t turn you,” I finally said to the hag, and took a sip of Earth’s fresh blood.

Courtney Lynn is a Chicagoland area performer and director and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University’s BA Theatre Studies program. She most recently directed “The Centenarians” as part of Otherworld’s PARAGON Sci-Fi + Fantasy Play Festival. Other area credits include performing and directing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and projects with Hela’s Hand Productions and Fake Geek Girl Productions. When not performing, directing, or toiling away at her day job, Courtney can be found posting pictures of her totes adorbs rescued Corgi, Walter, on Instagram (@wigglebuttwalter), designing and crafting hats and fascinators for her business Say Something Hats, reveling in her love of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, and creating costumes for cosplays and photoshoots. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!


Leave a Reply

*