Chapter 3

We were the original Aryans--blond and blue eyed. We invaded India, before there were calendars, like a swarm of hornets in search of warmer climates. We brought sharp swords and spilled much blood. But in 3000 b.c., when I was born, we were still there, no longer enemies, but part of a culture that was capable of absorbing every invader and making him a brother. I came into the world named Sita, in a small village in Rajastan, where the desert had already begun to blow in sand from the dead lands to the west. I was there at the beginning, and had as a friend the mother of all vampires. Amba, which meant mother in my language. She was a good woman. Amba was seven years older than my seven years when the disease came to our village. Although separated by seven years, we were good friends. I was tall for my age, she was short, and we both loved to sing, bajans mainly, holy songs from the sacred Vedas, which we chanted by the river after dark. My skin was brown from the harsh sun; Amba's dark from a grandfather who was of original Indian stock. We did not look alike, but when we sang our voices were one and I was happy. Life was simple in Rajastan.

Until the disease came. It did not strike everyone, only half. I do not know why I was spared, since I drank from the polluted river as much as Amba and the rest. Amba was one of the first to fall ill. She Vomited blood the last two days of her life, and all I could do was sit by her side and watch her die. My sorrow was particularly great because Amba was eight months pregnant at the time. Even though I was her best friend, she never did tell me who the father was. She never told anyone.

When she died, it should have ended there. Her body should have been taken to the cremation ground and offered to Vishnu, her ashes thrown in the river. But recently an Aghoran priest had entered our village. He had other ideas for her body. Aghora was the left-handed path, the dark path, and no one would have listened to what the priest had to say if the panic over the plague hadn't been in the air. The priest brought his blasphemous ideas, but many listened to him because of their fears for the plague. He said the plague was the result of an evil rakshasa or demon that had taken offense at our worship of the great God Vishnu. He said the only way to free our village of the rakshasa was to call forth an even greater being, a yakshini, and implore the yakshini to eat the rakshasa.

Some thought this idea was reasonable, but many others, myself included, felt that if God couldn't protect us, how could a yakshini? Also, many of us worried what the yakshini would do once it had devoured the rakshasa. From our Vedic texts we knew that yakshinis had no love for human beings. But the Aghoran priest said that he could handle the yakshini, and so he was allowed to go ahead with his plans.

Aghorans usually do not invoke a deity into a statue or an altar but into the corpse of someone recently dead. It is this practice in particular that has them shunned by most religious people in India. But desperate people often forget their religion when they need it most. There were so many dead at the time, the priest had his choice of corpses. But he chose Amba's body, and I think the fact of her late pregnancy attracted him. I was only a child at the time, but I could see something in the eyes of the priest that frightened me. Something cold and uncaring.

Being so young, I was not permitted to attend the ceremony. None of the women were allowed. Because I was worried what they were going to do with my friend's body, however, I stole into the woods in the middle of the night they were to perform the invocation. I watched from behind a boulder, at the edge of a clearing, as the Aghoran priest with the help of six men--one of them my father--prepared Amba's naked body. They anointed her with clarified butter and camphor and wine. Then, beside a roaring fire, seated close to Amba's upturned head, the priest began a long repetitious chant. I did not like it; it sounded nothing like the bajans we chanted to Vishnu. The mantras were hard on the ear, and each time the priest completed a verse, he would strike Amba's belly with a long sharp stick. It was as if he were imploring her to wake up, or else trying to wake something up inside her.

This went on for a long time, and soon Amba's belly began to bleed, which frightened the men. Because she bled as a living person, as if there were a heart beating inside her. But I knew this could not be. I had been with Amba when she died and sat beside her body for a long time afterward, and not once, even faintly, had she drawn in a breath. I was not tempted to run to her. Not for a moment did I believe the priest had brought her back to life. Indeed, I was tempted to flee back to my mother, who surely must have been wondering where I was. Especially when a dark cloud went over the moon and a heavy breeze began to stir, a wind that stank of decay and waste. The smell was atrocious. It was as if a huge demon had suddenly appeared and breathed down upon the ceremony.

Something had come. As the smell worsened, and the men began to mutter aloud that they should stop, the fire abruptly shrank to red coals. Smoke filled the air, curling around the bloody glow of the embers like so many snakes over a rotting prey. Some of the men cried out in fear. But the priest laughed and chanted louder. Yet even his voice failed when Amba suddenly sat up.

She was hideous to behold. Her face dripped blood. Her eyes bulged from her head as if pushed out from the inside. Her grin widened over her teeth as if pulled by wires. Worst of all was her tongue; it stretched much longer than any human tongue could, almost a foot, curling and licking at the air like the smoking snakes that danced beside what was left of the fire. I watched it in horror knowing that I was seeing a yakshini come to life. In the haunting red glow it turned to face the priest, who had fallen silent. No longer did he appear confident.

The yakshini cackled like a hyena and reached out and grabbed the priest. The priest screamed. No one came to his aid.

The yakshini pulled the priest close, until they were face to face. Then that awful tongue licked the priest's face, and the poor man's screams gagged in his throat. Because wherever he was touched by the tongue, his skin was pulled away. When the priest was a faceless mass of gore, the yakshini threw its head back and laughed. Then its hands flew up behind the priest's neck and took hold of his skull. With one powerful yank it twisted the priest's head around until it was

facing the other way, his bones cracking. The priest fell over dead as the yakshini released him. Then the monster, still seated, glanced around the campfire at the terrified men. A sly glance it was. It smiled as its eyes came to rest on me. Yes, I believe it could see me even as I cowered behind the huge stone that separated me from the clearing. Its eyes felt like cold knives pressing into my heart.

Then finally, thankfully, the monster closed its eyes, and Amba's body lay back down.

For a long moment none of the men moved. Then my father--a brave man, although not the wisest-- moved and knelt beside Amba's corpse. He poked it with a stick and it did not move. He poked the priest as well, but it was clear the man wasn't going to be performing any more ceremonies in this life. The other men came up beside my father. There was talk of cremating both of the bodies then and there. Hiding behind my boulder, I nodded vigorously. The stench had blown away on the wind, and I did not want it to return. Unfortunately, before more wood could be gathered, my father noticed movement inside Amba's belly. He cried out to the others. Amba was not dead. Or if she was, he said, her child was not. He reached for a knife to cut the infant out of Amba's womb.

It was then I jumped from behind the boulder and ran into the clearing.

"Father!" I cried, reaching for his hand holding the knife. "Do not let that child come into this world. Amba is dead, see with your own eyes. Her child must likewise be dead. Please, Father, listen to me."

Naturally, all the men were surprised to see me, never mind hear what I had to say. My father was angry at me, but he knelt and spoke to me patiently.

"Sita," he said. "Your friend does appear dead, and we were wrong to let this priest use her body in this way. But he has paid for his evil karma with his own life. But we would be creating evil karma of our own if we do not try to save the life of this child. You remember when Sashi was born, how her mother died before she came into the world? It sometimes happens that a living child is born to a dead woman."

"No," I protested. "That was different. Sashi was born just as his mother died. Amba has been dead since early dawn. Nothing living can come out of her."

My father gestured with his knife to the squirming life inside Amba's bloody abdomen. "Then how do you explain the life here?"

"That is the yashini moving inside her," I said. "You saw how the demon smiled at us before it departed. It intends to trick us. It is not gone. It has entered into the child."

My father pondered my words with a grave expression. He knew I was intelligent for my age and occasionally asked for my advice. He looked to the other men for guidance, but they were evenly divided. Some wanted to use the knife to stab the life moving inside Amba. Others were afraid, like my father, of committing a sin. Finally my father turned back to me and handed me the knife.

"You knew Amba better than any of us," he said. "You would best know if this life that moves inside her is evil or good. If you know for sure in your heart that it is evil, then strike it dead. None of the men here will blame you for the act."

I was appalled. I was still a child and my father was asking me to commit an atrocious act. But my father was wiser than I had taken him for. He shook his head as I stared at him in amazement, and took back the knife.

"You see," he said. "You are not sure if what you say is true. In a matter of life and death, we must be careful. And if we are to make an error, it must be on the side of life. If this child turns out to be evil, then we will know as it grows up. Then we will have more time to decide what should be done with it." He turned back to Amba's body. "For now I must try to save it."

"We may not have as much time as you think," I said as my father began to cut into Amba's flesh. Soon he held a bloody male infant in his hand. He gave it a gentle spank, and it sucked in a dry rasping breath and began to cry. Most of the men smiled and applauded, although I noticed the fear in their eyes. My father turned to me and asked me to hold it. I refused. However, I did consent to name the child.

"It should be called Yaksha," I said. "For it has the heart of a yakshini."

And the child's name was as I said. Most considered it an evil omen, yet none of them, in their darkest dreams, would realize how appropriate the name would be. But from that time on, the plague vanished and never returned.

My father gave Yaksha to my aunt to raise, for she had no children of her own and greatly desired one. A simple but loving woman, she treated the child as if it were her own--certainly as if it were a human deserving of her love. Whether she felt any love in return from the child, I don't know. He was a beautiful baby with dark hair and pale blue eyes.

Time went by, and it always does, and yet for Yaksha and for me the years took on a peculiar quality. For Yaksha grew faster than any child in the history of our village, and when I was fifteen years of age, he was already, in stature and education, my age, although he had been born only eight years earlier. His accelerated development brought to surface once again the rumors surrounding his birth. But they were rumors at best because the men who had been there the night Yaksha had come into the world never spoke about what had happened when the priest had tried to invoke the yakshini into Amba's corpse. They must have sworn one another to secrecy because my father occasionally took me aside and reminded me that I should not talk about that night. I did not, of course, because I did not think anyone outside of the six men would have believed me. Besides, I loved my father and always tried to obey him, even when I thought he was making a mistake.

It was at about this time, when I was fifteen, that Yaksha started to go out of the way to talk to me. Until then I had avoided him, and even when he pursued me I tried to keep my distance. At least at first, but there was something about him that made him hard to resist. There was his great beauty, of course, his long shiny mane of black hair, his brilliant eyes, cool blue gems, set deep in his powerful face. His smile was also beguiling. How often it flashed in my direction, his two rows of perfect white teeth like polished pearls. Sometimes I would stop to talk to him, and he would always have a little gift to offer--a spoonful of sandlepaste, a stick of incense, a string of beads. I accepted these gifts reluctantly because I felt as if one day Yaksha would want something in return, something I would not want to give. But he never asked.

But my attraction to him went deeper than his beauty. Even at eight years of age he was clearly the smartest person in the village, and often the adults consulted him on important matters: how to improve the harvest; how best to build our new temple; how to barter with the wandering merchants who came to buy our crops. If people had doubts about Yaksha's origin, they had nothing but praise for his behavior.

I was attracted to him, but I never ceased to fear him. Occasionally I would catch a disturbing glimmer in his eyes, and be reminded of the sly smile the yashini had given me before it had supposedly vacated Amba's body.

It was when I was sixteen that the first of the six men who had witnessed his birth disappeared. The man just vanished. Later that same year another of the six disappeared also. I asked my father about it, but he said that we could not hold Yaksha to blame. The boy was growing up well. But the next year, when another two of the men vanished, even my father began to have doubts. It was not long after that my father and I were the only ones left in the village who had been there that horrible night. But the fifth man did not just vanish. His body was found gored to death, as if by a wild animal. There was not a drop of blood left in his corpse. Who could doubt that the others had not ended up the same way?

I begged my father to speak up about what was happening, and Yaksha's part in it. By then Yaksha was ten and looked twenty, and if he was not the leader of the village, few people doubted that he would be in charge soon. But my father was softhearted. He had watched Yaksha grow up with pride, no doubt feeling personally responsible for the birth of this wonderful young man. And his sister was still Yaksha's stepmother. He told me not to say anything to the others, that he would ask Yaksha to leave the village quietly and not come back.

But it was my father who was not to come back, although Yaksha vanished as well. My father's body

was never found, except for a lock of his hair, down by the river, stained with blood. At the ceremony honoring his death I broke down and cried out the many things that had happened the night Yaksha had been born. But the majority of people believed I was consumed with grief and didn't listen. Still, a few heard me, the families of the other men who had vanished.

My grief over my lost father faded slowly. "Yet two years after his death and the disappearance of Yaksha, near my twentieth birthday, I met Rama, the son of a wandering merchant. My love for Rama was instantaneous. I saw him and knew I was supposed to be with him, and by the blessings of Lord Vishnu, he felt the same way. We were married under the full moon beside the river. The first night I slept with my husband I dreamed of Amba. She was as she had been when we had sung late at night together. Yet her words to me were dark. She told me to beware the blood of the dead, never to touch it. I woke up weeping and was only able to sleep by holding my husband tightly.

Soon I was with child, and before the first year of my marriage was over, we had a daughter--Lalita, she who plays. Then my joy was complete and my grief over my father faded. Yet I was to have that joy for only a year:

One moonless night I was awakened late by a sound. Beside me slept my husband, and on my other side our daughter. I do not know why the sound woke me; it was not loud. But it was peculiar, the sound of nails scraping over a blade. I got up and went outside my house and stood in the dark and looked around.

He came from behind me, as he often used to when we were friends. But I knew he was there before he spoke. I sensed his proximity--his inhuman being.

"Yaksha," I whispered.

"Sita." His voice was very soft.

I whirled around and started to shout, but he was on me before I could make a sound. For the first time I felt Yaksha's real strength, a thing he had kept hidden while he lived in our village. His hands, with their long nails, were like the paws of a tiger around my neck. A long sword banged against his knee. He choked off my air and leaned over and whispered in my ear. He had grown taller since I last saw him.

"You betrayed me, my love," he said. "If I let you speak, will you scream? If you scream you will die. Understood?"

I nodded and he loosened his grip, although he continued to keep me pinned. I had to cough before I could speak. "You betrayed me," I said bitterly. "You killed my father and those other men."

"You do not know that," he said.

"If you didn't kill them, then where are they?"

"They are with me, a few of them, in a special way."

"What are you talking about? You lie--they are dead, my father's dead."

"Your father is dead, that is true, but only because he did not want to join me." He shook me roughly. "Do you wish to join me?"

It was so dark, I could see nothing of his face except in outline. But I did believe he was smiling at me. "No," I said.

"You do not know what I am offering you."

"You are evil."

He slapped me, hard. The blow almost took off my head. I tasted my own blood. "You do not know what I am," he said, angry, but proud as well.

"But I do. I was there that night. Didn't the others tell you before you killed them? I saw it all. It was I who named you--Yaksha--cursed son of a yakshini!"

"Keep your voice down,"

"I will do nothing you say!"

He gripped me tight again, and it was hard to breathe. "Then you will die, lovely Sita. After first watching your husband and child die. Yes, I know they are asleep in this house. I have watched you from afar for a while now."

"What do you want?" I gasped, bitter.

He let me go. His tone was light and jovial, which was cruel. "I have come to offer you two choices. You can come with me, be my wife, become like me. Or you and your family can die tonight. It is that simple."

There was something strange in his voice besides his cruelty. It was as if he were excited over an unexpected discovery. "What do you mean, become like you? I can never be like you. You are different from anybody else."

"My difference is my greatness. I am the first of my kind, but I can make others like me. I can make you like me if you will consent to our blood mixing."

I didn't know what he was offering, but it frightened me, that his blood, even a little, should get inside mine. "What would your blood do to me?" I

it, the space beyond the black space in the sky where the yakshinis came from. Just with that tiny bite I felt as if every drop of my blood turned from red to black. I felt invincible.

Still, I hated him, more than ever.

I took a step away.

"I watched you grow up," I said. "You watched me. You know I always speak my mind. How can I be your wife if I hate you so? Why would you want a wife like me?"

He spoke seriously. "I have wanted you for years now."

I turned my back on him. "If you want me so, it must mean you care about me. And if you care about me, then leave this place. Go away and don't come back. I am happy with my life."

I felt his cold hand on my shoulder. "I will not leave you."

"Then kill me. But leave my husband and child alone."

His grip on my shoulder tightened. Truly, I realized, he was as strong as ten men, if not more. If I cried out, Rama would be dead in a moment. Pain radiated from my shoulder into the rest of my body, and I was forced to stoop.

"No," he said. "You must come with me. It was destiny that you were there that night. It is your destiny to follow me now, to the edge of night."

"The edge of night?"

He pulled me up and kissed me hard on the lips. Once more I tasted his blood, mixed with mine. "We will live for eternity," he swore. "Just say yes. You must say yes." He paused and glanced at my house. He did not have to say it again; I understood his meaning. I was beaten.


He hugged me. "Do you love me?"


"You lie, but it doesn't matter. You will love me. You will love me forever."

He picked me up and carried me away. Into the dark forest, to a place of calm, of silence, where he opened his veins and mine with his nails, and pressed our arms together, and held them such, for what seemed forever. In that night all time was lost, and all love was tainted. He spoke to me as he changed me, but it was with words I did not understand, the sounds yakshinis must make when they mate in their black hells. He kissed me and stroked my hair.

Eventually, the power of his transfusion overwhelmed my body. My breathing, my heartbeat-- they raced faster and faster, until soon they chased each other, until I began to scream, like one dropped into a boiling pot of oil. Yet, this I did not understand, and still do not. The worst of the agony was that I could not get enough of it. That it thrilled me more than the love any mortal could give to me. In that moment Yaksha became my lord, and I cried for him instead of for Vishnu. Even as the race of my breathing and heartbeat collided and stopped. Yes, as I died I forgot my God. I chose the path my father had rejected. Yes, it is the truth, I cursed my own soul by my own choice as I screamed in wicked pleasure and embraced the son of the devil.

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