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Certain Dark Things
Author:Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Domingo.

Atl wondered if she had made the right choice. Her instinct and her upbringing compelled her to drag her food to her lair, but she still did not know if this was wise, if the way she’d handled him was foolish or efficient. And yet, what other alternative did she have? If she had fed in the streets, someone could have seen her. The same went for the cheap motels that charged by the hour. Too many nosy people, both cops and criminals.

There were other problems. A willing donor, for example. Procuring a prostitute from the streets meant dealing with a pimp, and Atl did not want to pick a fight with a brute who thought she was bruising the merchandise.

No, too much trouble there. That narrowed the options. Young blood … Twice before she had found street kids sleeping in alleys. They were both out stone cold. She fed from them: no pimp, though she feared the eyes of vagrants upon her.

It was risky. Besides, the blood of the street kids was bitter from the cheap drugs and booze running through their veins. It gave Atl a headache and cramps. It almost made it worse than starving.

Atl had decided to change her tactics. Domingo had looked clean. No telltale signs of drug use. He smelled healthy, too. His blood, when she tasted it, was warm and sweet. Old blood, sick blood, drugged blood: that was like feasting on carrion. Finally she had found a fresh, delicious meal.

She must make it last. She must conserve her energy. Atl drummed her fingers against the ceramic cup. There was plenty of time before sunrise. Unlike European vampires, Atl could handle the sun, though it weakened her. It required too much energy to move through the city in the daytime. She must save her strength. This meant sleeping longer.

Sleep had its dangers, however. Cualli could guard her but he was not infallible. Between staying up and wasting energy or sleeping and being vulnerable, Atl picked sleeping. She closed the window and slid open the closet’s door. Inside were a sleeping bag, a pillow, a blanket, and scraps of paper. She had been nesting there. It was a big departure from her mother’s luxurious home, with its Aztec artifacts and expensive furnishings. All that had been left behind. Atl had only her wits, some money, and the vague hope she would be able to find Verónica Montealban, and she wasn’t exactly sure how she might manage that. What she had to go by were a few old papers her mother had held on to.

Atl got in the closet and reached beneath the pillow. She stared at the photograph. It was a Polaroid, one corner bent. The image showed her mother, and next to her, a young woman, whose hair was parted in the middle. It had been decades since the photo was taken.

Verónica Montealban was much older now. Very likely she did not resemble the young woman she was looking at. She might have left the city. She might even be dead. If she was alive, she wasn’t making it easy for Atl to find her. Why would she? But she had been mother’s companion, her tlapalēhuiāni, for a number of years—Atl refused to use the word “Renfield” to describe her; it was such a coarse term foisted upon them by Anglo popular culture.

Mother spoke fondly of the human girl. She had been loyal, efficient. The adult Verónica had smuggled certain items for her mother, years after she had left her mother’s side. She could be trusted, Mother said. If she found Verónica, Atl might be able to figure a way out of this mess. She couldn’t stay in Mexico City forever, but leaving its limits meant certain death.

Guatemala. There had to be a way to get into Guatemala. Crossing into the States was out of the question; the northern border zone was too militarized. God, she needed papers, a smuggler, a damn weapon that packed a bigger punch than her switchblade knife.

Well, you have to stop kidding yourself, that voice that sounded like Izel’s said. You can’t get to Verónica without Bernardino.

He’d know where to find Verónica. But there was no assurance she could trust him, and since he was … since he was a Revenant and that particular type of European vampire could gobble other vampires, well … they were a bit like boogeymen for the average vampire. There was also the issue of their customs. Vampires were incredibly territorial. They used envoys to communicate. She had none and could not imagine showing up at his place, dashing protocol. Although he’d been somewhat of a friend to her mother when she’d been much younger, mother said he’d turned on her in later years. Bernardino was dangerous. Paranoid. Still. There had been mention of certain debts owed by him, but these were vague allusions. All Atl had to bank on then was the value of her deceased mother’s name, and she wasn’t sure how far that might go.

Atl placed the photograph under the pillow. Cualli whined. She knew he wanted to sleep next to her, but she needed the dog to guard her.