The Tlāhuihpochtin had moved around Mexico through the centuries. They had likely originated in the north of the country, coming in contact with the Aztecs long before the foundation of Tenochtitlán and the establishment of their empire. They spread through central Mexico during the time of the Spanish Conquest and several clans ventured back north in the nineteenth century. Atl’s mother was born in Sinaloa in 1895, and though she lived in Mexico City for several decades, she never forgot the North.
Atl sat by the window, trying to remain still, holding her cup of tea between her hands. She took a sip and grimaced. It wasn’t right. She headed back into the kitchen, in search of sugar cubes. She found them and discovered that the ants from the other day had returned and were eating the cubes she had left out in the open.
She crushed the ants with the palm of her hand, even though it would likely do little good. If they had found their way in once, they’d find their way in again.
She popped two sugar cubes into her mouth and wondered what she’d do about this pest. Ant repellent. What was a good ant repellent? Vinegar? Perhaps. Cinnamon. She didn’t like the smell of it. Pepper? She thought ants didn’t like pepper. Except for sugar cubes, some drinks, her tea satchels, and a bag of dog food, her kitchen was empty.
Atl supposed she ought to stop by the supermarket to buy pepper. She could also buy food. Cans of tuna and vegetables. Cereal. She would not eat it. It was for show. In case she had visitors, as she’d had tonight. Not that she planned to have many visitors. She wasn’t staying in the most elegant of buildings. But that meant more sanitation sweeps. If a sweep did take place, they would look around, either to make sure she wasn’t harboring illicit substances or to see if they could steal something. She could see a curious sanitation worker going through the kitchen drawers and finding them empty, a bit fishy, that. She could picture the worker staring at her. A young woman, alone, no ID papers and no food. Northern accent. Let me check … my, this woman’s body temperature is not right.
Maybe they wouldn’t peg her for a vampire. Maybe the curious sanitation worker would think she was a junkie or a Croneng. There were tons of people with Croneng’s disease running around these days. It was a virus that made humans hemorrhage from the nose and gave them sores, spoiling the blood supply so that now on top of cancers, STDs, AIDS, and tuberculosis, vampires had to also watch their food to make sure it wasn’t tainted with this new disease. Vomiting dirty blood was no fun.
She’d heard people blaming vampires for this, saying they had caused it, which was ridiculous, but humans had a way of blaming vampires for everything these days. Back in the Middle Ages—back when her kind was still half-hidden behind myth and superstition—some people thought vampires caused the plague. They did not, though the bubonic plague did help to expand the reach and power of the Necros. Necros, just like the German Nachzehrers, when in a pinch, could feed off carrion, something unthinkable to other vampires. They found a plentiful supply of corpses in Europe while other vampires would have starved, deprived of a clean blood supply. The old wives’ tale that vampires liked nubile virgins perhaps had some root in the sensitivity of vampires to tainted blood. If you had a virgin on your hands then you could avoid drinking the blood of a syphilitic. But since STDs were not the only awful diseases humans carried, that did not provide much protection against anything.
The boy had remarked about her lack of furniture. The furniture could be explained by a recent move, but the lack of food … yes, she must do something about that.
Atl sighed and put away the sugar cubes.
It was hard to think about those kinds of things. She wasn’t used to keeping up appearances. She hadn’t needed to. Back north, Atl had her mother and her sister and a host of servants to take care of her. The North was like a great oozing wound, and the vampires drank from it freely. Mexico City … it was not friendly to her kind. But she’d run out of options.
This was it. Her safe haven.
She hated the apartment, though. She hated the color of its walls and the scratches on the kitchen counters, the ancient dirt in the bath tiles and the way the pipes rattled. She hated the smell of it, the smell of the whole city. Dirty. When it rained, it smelled like wet garbage—and it rained constantly. The stench was worse in the subway, but she forced herself to take it. She lacked a license and ID papers, no way she could drive. Taxis were an option, but she was afraid of getting in an unknown vehicle. No place to run, there. It was better to brave the subway, to walk down the filthy streets with her umbrella. And she’d found him in the subway, at any rate, so good things did come from that place.