Endless Ages excerpt 4: Heart of Flesh

Vampire: The Masquerade

This Halloween we’re celebrating Vampire: The Masquerade’s 25th anniversary with the Endless Ages fiction anthology, with stories covering every era from Vampire’s 1st Edition through to the 20th Anniversary Edition.

We continue our journey with a preview of “Heart of Flesh” from author Nerine Dorman:

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The Mother City, as Cape Town’s known to her locals, is simply steeped in a history that dates back to the very earliest of her inhabitants, a people the Dutch colonists named as “strandlopers” or “beachcombers”. Yet it’s this city’s colonial past that so deeply fascinates me, how a city defined by its iconic flat-topped mountain shelters a veritable melting pot of cultures, where East meets West, and gets stirred in with Africa’s vibrant, often blood-drenched past.

This sort of conflict is grist for any author’s mill, and from my younger years when my friends and I used to hang out in student digs role-playing an assortment of the then popular White Wolf games, it was almost always to Cape Town that we returned for our games. There was so much going on.

“Heart of Flesh” is inspired by South Africa’s recent past, and how this still affects the vampires that call the Mother City home. Divisions are drawn between human and vampire alike, and often the wounds caused by a colonial past lie all too deep. And sometimes a vampire needs to work through her past so that she can build bridges in a community that desperately needs change.

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The artist’s deft strokes create a vivid, almost three-dimensional effect to the mural. A tortured, contorted figure in chains sinks into what appears to be a morass of blood and broken bones, the paint splattered and sprayed in a way that gives shape to a Jackson Pollock nightmare married to HR Giger. The distorted subject is unmistakably meant to represent one of our kind, yet is aesthetically pleasing, if the viewer can stomach the gore. This makes a change from the usual bubbly script and bloated, cartoonish faces artists usually scrawl on walls. Too bad I’m supervising the cover-up of what some consider exceptional public art – it’s all too easy to imagine our local clique of arsty-fartsy bloodsuckers squawking and flapping about this atrocity at our next little shindig.

Janzs’s ghouls are sloppy with their gray acrylic, messing as much on their steel-capped toes as they slap onto the concrete pillar of the overpass. They’ll be done in half an hour. Ah well.

Pity that it’s night too, so I can’t take photos, but this mural has been up for two days and by now someone must have had a camera in hand. This is the eighth piece so far, and our esteemed leader goes absolutely bat shit every time another mural does the rounds in the media. Because these pieces are attracting attention.

I can’t quite see how these paintings threaten our secrecy. Sure, whoever the artist – Ezekiel – is, he’s managed to take a stab at key personages among the Mother City vampires – and the facial features of this particular figure bear an uncanny resemblance to the leader of the sewer rats. Both are equally butt ugly. Is this mural a warning? Perhaps. I have a near-delicious shudder wonder­ing whether I’ll feature once Ezekiel has run out of more illustrious subjects. Or maybe I’m not high enough in the pecking order. Perhaps I don’t have enough historical blood on my hands, like our darling prince and his retinue. After all, I’ve barely been knocking around for twenty years in this unlife.

And yet that name, it reminds me of someone from my past, of headier, madcap days as students. A boy with a beautiful smile and soft, paint-flecked hands – but no, it couldn’t be. Someone – most certainly a vampire – is hav­ing a ball of a time taking a stab at the upper echelons, and I can’t help but feel admiration.

I’d get skewered if I passed a flippant comment that the humans would merely see these murals as the doings of a street artist poking sticks at imag­inary monsters. The days of serious protest art are over for them. But not for us. I’m no stuck-up artsy-fartsy, yet it still seems a shame to have to cover up the art. Even if it’s detailing a litany of European vampire misdeeds since old Jan stepped off the Dromedaris in 1652.

Ruan slashes his brush over Ezekiel’s tag, at the bottom left-hand corner of the mural. The ghoul can slap on paint all he likes, but next week there’ll be another one, maybe this time on the off-ramp from De Waal Drive headed into Gardens. Or even on one of the bridges over the Eastern Boulevard – and those are a real bitch to cover up. The devil alone knows how many early rush-hour lemmings will get an eyeful on their way to the office. And Ezekiel is fast. He can paint one of these pieces in an hour, perhaps even less. I should know, because I’ve hunted him. If the artists among us know his true identity, they’re keeping mum.

Well, no one’s been tagging “Free Mandela” like they used to. There is that. Yet I sure as hell don’t see how things are ever going to change for the Cape Town’s undead population. The Anarchs will have to pry the prince out of his castle with a crowbar or burn him with fire. Or preferably both. If I still ate popcorn, I’d sit on the sidelines having a feast, but knowing my luck, I’ll have no choice but protect that daft bugger and the rest of his retinue. Ah, the joyless loyalty of blood.

My phone bleats at me when the ghouls are nearly done. The green screen lights up with my sire’s number.

Crap.

Vampire The Masquerade Camarilla ankh

The Endless Ages Anthology is now available from DriveThruFiction!