Edition 30: Delicious, Delicious by Karl Bunker
In free-bioform Hong Kong, Dorotéia Fernandes performs on her lute. A meeting with Kailee, part bat-part woman, lingers with her well beyond their evening conversation. A whole new world opens before her. -SY
Puffs of breeze were the first I knew of her. A gust of wind first tickling at my hair from behind, then blowing into my face. Then a voice: “Dorotéia.” And a few seconds later: “Ms. Fernandes.” It was a thin, high-pitched woman’s voice, with only a hint of Cantonese accent, and it came from somewhere above me.
It was late, and dark. I’d just finished my recital at Hong Kong University’s concert hall, and I was in the nearby Tai Mo Shan Park, trying to walk off my post-performance adrenaline. The path I was on was dimly lit, and when I looked up there was at first only a black sky. But in the next moment I saw a flicker of movement, a shape. She was flying, hovering, then landing on the path in front of me. The span of her wings must have been eight or ten feet, but her body was tiny, the top of her head barely my waist-height. She was dark brown, almost black, and whatever she was wearing was close to the same shade as her membranous wings and the skin of her face. Only her hair was a different color; a splash of closely-cropped blonde curls at the top of her head and disappearing behind huge, pointed ears.
“Ms. Fernandes,” she said again, “please don’t continue down this path. There are some men ahead who look…unsavory.”
I’m one of those people who defaults to stupid when confronted by things sufficiently strange or unexpected. So I looked down at her—she was only a couple of paces in front of me—blinked a few times, and said, “Hello.”
Of course I’d known that Hong Kong was an open-bioforms city. One of the first things I’d seen when I got off the plane was a couple of nine-foot-tall men, as slender and graceful as reed grass, chattering and gesturing to each other as they loped along through the airport lobby. And I’d seen much more than that in pictures and videos. People and animals redesigned to a thousand different shapes, whether for some utilitarian purpose, or esthetic effect, or perhaps simply out of whimsy. People who could breathe water, laborers blended with elephant or rhinoceros, giants and miniatures and chimeras of all sorts. I couldn’t recall just then if I’d ever seen a bat-human merge in pictures or video, but I’d certainly never seen one in real life.
Her wings were folded now, swept back along her forearms and then extending up and behind her body like a cape with a gigantic starched collar. “Please come,” she said as I continued to blink stupidly at her. “I know those sorts of people. I don’t think they would harm you, but it could be an unpleasant experience.”
She walked toward me and past me, and when I only turned to watch her but didn’t follow, she came back and gripped my pants leg, tugging. “Please, Dorotéia.”
Like a sleeping child, the sound of my name woke me out of my stupor, and I walked along beside her. “How do you know my name?”
I looked down at her and got two more surprises. First, the hand that was attached to my pants leg wasn’t a hand. It was just a pincer; a thumb and one finger. Of course, her other fingers were the umbrella-ribs that supported her wings. That’s how bats’ wings work. And second, she was naked. There was no clothing the same shade as her brown-black skin; there was just skin. Two little breasts, muscular buttocks, a tuft of black pubic hair. A corner of my brain found time to wonder if the blonde hair on her head was a dye job.
“You are Dorotéia Fernandes,” she said, as if this was an answer to my question. “I was at your concert tonight. You play the lute beautifully. Just beautifully.”
Of course. Why wouldn’t a genetically-merged bat-woman be a fan of Renaissance music? No reason at all. Perhaps she had been hanging upside down from the rafters in the concert hall, rather than paying for a seat.
“Your second selection tonight,” she was saying, “the John Dowland allemande—absolutely gorgeous! You are truly an artist, Ms. Fernandes. I have many of your recordings already, but now I know I’ll have to get all of them.”
“Thank you.” Strange, that compliments feel no less awkward when they come from a source as unusual as this one.
“I should confess I was following you. I saw you come out of the back entrance of the auditorium, so I followed you in the air, just…just to watch you, to see where you went, what you did. I’m afraid that’s something I do sometimes with people who interest me. Having wings makes it so easy, you see.”
“You have another recital tomorrow night, don’t you?”
“I will be there. I will most definitely be there. You have a certain spark, a presence, in your stage performances that is charming and delightful. Your studio recordings are excellent, but your personality doesn’t come across the way it does in live performance.”
“Um. Thank you.”
“But then again, maybe it will, now that I’ve seen you perform. I’m going to listen to something of yours as soon as I get home. I’ll listen, and I’ll think about how beautiful you are when you play.”
She stopped walking. Her tiny legs had to skitter along pretty quickly to keep up with me, and I wondered if she was getting tired. “But I’m bothering you,” she announced, looking up at my face. “Naturally, you would prefer to be alone. Not to be accosted by a silly, chattering fan.”
The light was better on the path now, and I could see her face clearly. Her mouth and nose protruded from the rest of her face in a blunt, dog-like muzzle, and her eyes were round with no visible whites. And then there were her ears, each one almost half the size of her head. And yet she was beautiful. It was a challenging kind of beauty; it stretched my notions of what is beautiful. She was beautiful without looking remotely like anything I’d ever called beautiful before.
“No!” I said too loudly, angry at myself. Of course she would interpret my hopelessly tied tongue as sullen rudeness, or worse, as bigotry against the genetically modified. “You aren’t bothering me. Really.”
“Good!” she chirped. And then she was spreading her arms, unfolding her wings. “But I’ll leave you alone now anyway. If you’re going to walk here at night, you probably should stay on the more populated paths after dark. Okay?”
“Okay, I will,” I said, ever the sparkling conversationalist.
“Thank you for talking with me, and for your music.” She grinned, revealing long, sharply pointed teeth that gleamed white against the darkness of her face. Then her wings flapped, flapped again, and she was gone, disappeared into the black sky.
“Hey,” I said, gazing up into the dark, “what’s your name?”
“Kailee.” With the word there was another wing-beat of wind in my face.
Looking around, I realized that I was on a “more populated” path now. Half a dozen people were scattered around me, passing me. None of them seemed to take much notice, of me or the apparition that had just departed.
I called Ann when I got back to my room. “Hi sweetheart,” she said with a fleeting smile, leaning in close to her screen. It was late morning for her and she was at her desk at work, propping her head up with the heel of her hand against her cheekbone.
She was having a hard day, she said. Her boss treats her like an idiot. She was working on a doomed and pointless grant proposal. She ought to quit, she said.
I sympathized, I consoled, I reminded her that there were things she loved about her job. After a lull I said, “My concert went well tonight. Especially my second piece; a John Dowland.”
She still had her cheek in her hand. “Of course your concert went well, Dorry. You’re brilliant. Everything you do is brilliant.” Her voice was flat.
I knew then that I wasn’t going to tell Ann about Kailee, and the decision cheered me; I felt like a child with a cache of candy that she doesn’t have to share. I made some more comforting noises at Ann and signed off.
At my recital the next night I scanned the audience for a diminutive figure with enormous wings. It was a small concert hall, only a hundred seats or so, but with the stage lights in my face I couldn’t see much. After the performance (decent, with a few bobbles in the Van Den Hove piece that I shouldn’t have attempted right after intermission), I went out to Tai Mo Shan Park again, trying to follow the same route as the night before. I sat on a bench, and looked up into the night sky.
I didn’t have to wait. There was a puff of wind in my face, and she was there, perching beside me on the back of the bench. “Hello again Dorotéia,” she said. “Not walking tonight?”
“Hello, Kailee. I was waiting for you. I was hoping to see you again.”
“Oh?” She smiled at me. I’d spent the day trying to remember her face, trying to decide if she really was as beautiful as I’d thought, and when she smiled at me that doubt was gone. I found myself wondering how old she was. Her eyes seemed childlike, but her body put her well past adolescence. And of course I didn’t know if she aged at the same rate as a non-modified person.
I marveled at all the layers of unknown there were to this woman. “I wanted to apologize,” I said. “For being so…so monosyllabic with you last night. You see—”
“No need to apologize, Dorotéia. Anyone who’s watched you perform can see that you put the whole of yourself into your playing. I know it takes time to recover from that kind of effort.” She hopped down to the seat of the bench and sat on one of its armrests, facing me. She was as naked as the night before, but I saw that she had a pouch of black fabric strapped to one ankle. The bat-woman equivalent of a handbag? “But if you wanted to see me,” she said, “you could have just looked me up through the university.”
“Oh! You’re a student?”
Her needle-toothed grin showed again. “A professor. Kailee Cheung, Department of Musicology. I was on the committee that petitioned for your visiting professorship.”
“Oh! Doctor Cheung! I didn’t…I mean…I…um…” Blushing furiously, I floundered like the royal idiot that I am. I’d seen her name dozens of times in my correspondence with the university, but…
She laughed; a sound like happy birds. “Well, I don’t suppose you have many professors in Hartford who look quite like this.” Her wings twitched, partially opening with the word this. “It’s not exactly the vocation my mother had in mind when she had my DNA re-twisted, but these—” she pointed to her ears with both of her two-fingered hands “—are good for more than echolocation.”
I was all set to flounder some more in tongue-tied sentence fragments, but she rescued me: “So how are your accommodations, Dorotéia? Are you comfortable?” And after I grunted some affirmatives, “Have you eaten tonight?” I mumbled that I hadn’t. “May I take you to dinner? There is a pleasant little restaurant not far from here.”
The pouch at her ankle turned out to contain a tiny garment. A leotard-like thing with a gray-on-white botanical print, it fastened at her shoulders but was completely open along both sides. As it had to be, I saw; the membrane of her wings merged with her body from her neck to her ankles, and I could see how even this minimalist bit of clothing might interfere with her flying. Also in the pouch were a pair of silver earrings. Watching her put these on, finding the hole pierced near the base of those magnificent ears, was a mind-twisting blend of the familiar and the alien, the homey and the dazzlingly exotic. “There,” she said when she was done, spreading her arms and half-opening her wings. “Am I presentable?”
“You’re lovely.” The words slipped out before I could think about them.
The waiter at the restaurant knew Kailee, and was extravagantly flirtatious with both of us. He spoke in English, except for one moment when he looked closely at me and then turned to Kailee and said something in Cantonese while touching his forefinger to the side of his neck. He seemed to be making a coy joke, but Kailee hardened her eyes at him and didn’t answer.
Kailee sat on her chair with her legs folded under her, Japanese style. She handled chopsticks deftly with her two-fingered hand, and ate with energetic gusto. We talked about the university, about music, about teaching. Kailee said that one of her favorite methods of waking up a dozing class was to put on a music recording, stand on her desk, and imitate conductor’s gestures by waving her open wings in time with the music. We laughed, we drank wine, we laughed some more.
“And who is waiting for you at home?” she asked at some point, and I talked a little bit about Ann. “I haven’t had a serious relationship in years,” Kailee said. “But rather a few not-so-serious ones. Mostly with women, of course.” She gestured at her chest with her chopsticks. “This little body is not so well suited to the—shall we say—‘attentions’ of a standard-size man.” She grinned, and my own snorting giggle reminded me that I’d drunk more wine than I was used to.
We finished our meals and sipped hot yuanyang. “Come back with me to my apartment,” she said, making it something between a command and an invitation. “We can trade favorite pieces of music.”
As we left the restaurant she slipped her fingers into my hand, and we walked like that the few blocks to where she lived. We drew some attention from people passing us on the street; sometimes a glance, sometimes more than a glance, and sometimes, from men, a lingering, lecherous stare. After the third of these, I finished the walk with my eyes fixed on the ground a few feet ahead of me. I was smiling.
Her apartment was a cavernous loft. The ceiling was perhaps forty feet high, and the walls were decorated with scattered pictures and fabric hangings all the way up. Also in the walls were nooks, cupboards, shelves, most of them far above the reach of anyone of normal height. The moment we stepped in the door, Kailee’s leotard dropped to the floor and she hopped into the air, her wings open and booming softly with each flap. “Please be comfortable,” she said from high above me. “Have a seat—” she pointed to a big overstuffed chair with her foot. “The bathroom’s over there—” She pivoted and pointed in another direction.
I sat in the chair. Kailee flew into one of the elevated nooks and reappeared a few moments later with a tray gripped in both feet. There was a bottle and two sherry glasses on the tray; hovering, she set this down on a coffee table. She put on some music, we drank sherry, she sat on the padded armrest of my chair, her feet resting on my thigh. We talked, she made a joke and I laughed, she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, she opened the top button of my blouse, then the next one.
Her breath tickled the inside of my ear when she spoke: “I think I may be going too fast for you. Am I?”
The music playing was Delibes’s Lakmé, and the act one duet for two sopranos was beginning. I thought about rollercoasters, about skiing, about jumping from a high place.
“Yes you are,” I said. “But don’t let that stop you.” I brought a hand up to stroke the arm she was sneaking into my open blouse, slid my fingers down over her wing—and gasped.
The membrane of her wings wasn’t bare skin; it was covered with the softest, finest, shortest fur imaginable. It was velvet, raised to the nth degree, and it was warm and alive; it rippled under my touch, caressing my fingertips.
“You like that?” she cooed. She moved so she was standing over me, her feet on the seat cushion on either side of my thighs. She raised an arm and swept her wing across my face, and again I sucked in a gasp. I was drowning in softness, in warmth; I was overwhelmed by a touch that was as light as a breath. I moaned out loud, and I brought my hands up to touch her back, to hug her to me—and hesitated.
Kailee must have felt me stiffen. She took her wing down from my face and looked at me, questioning. “My body is very strange to you, isn’t it?” she said. “Perhaps too strange?”
“No, no,” I said, a little too emphatically. I added a breathy laugh that I hoped was the right combination of coy and sexy. “I’m…just not used to letting myself be seduced quite so quickly.” This was entirely true, as far as it went. “But I love your body. I love the…the differentness, the strangeness of it.” Also true, as far as it went. But at the same time that I was drawn to her impossible, magical body, there was a part of me that told me I should be repelled.
It was partly an animal body, and it was the size of a child’s; both of which things had some strongly non-sexy connotations for me. But still, it was a magical thing; not animal-like or childlike, but something out of mythology, out of a dream, out of fantasy. And inside that body was a woman—a brilliant, funny, charming woman who knew what she wanted, and clearly wanted me.
I put a hand to her face, stroking her cheek. “You’re beautiful, Kailee.”
With my mind doing pirouettes, I pulled her toward me, and she leaned in eagerly, smiling. We kissed, and despite the muzzle-like shape of her mouth, the smallness of her lips, the prominence of her sharp little teeth, it was very, very much a kiss. She threw her wings up around both our heads and we were cocooned in velvety darkness.
After some length of time she withdrew her wings, folding them back along her forearms and pulling her face away from mine. She ran her hands down my body from my shoulders to my breasts, plucking at my bra before pulling them back. “But…” she said, “speaking of differentness, there’s something we should talk about.”
“Do we have to, Kailee?” I put my hand on the inside of her thigh and slid it up over her dark skin until it wouldn’t go any higher. “I was hoping we could take a break from talking for a while.” I tightened my grip and added a little upward pressure to my hand.
Kailee’s eyelids fluttered, but then she looked at me firmly. “Yes. We do.”
Trying not to pout, I lowered my hand an inch and waited.
She started slowly, sounding tentative and uncertain for the first time since I’d met her. “I am different, Dorotéia. I’m not entirely human—I’m guessing you’ve noticed that—and sex for me is a little… different.” I started to say something reassuring, but she talked over me. “If we’re going to do this, to really do it, then I’m going to want—to need—something from you. Something that you may not want to give me.”
I waited, but she only waited back at me. “Want—need—what?” I finally demanded.
She reached up and touched the side of my neck. “This, Dorotéia.” Again we stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Then she drew her hand back again and pointed at her own face. “Look at me,” she said. “Look at these.” She opened her mouth, showing her teeth. In particular her upper incisors, which were two delicate-looking fangs that tapered down to needle-like points.
“This is what I am, Dorotéia. When my mother decided to have a modified baby, this is what she chose. For whatever reason—” there was the briefest catch in Kailee’s voice— “she chose this. A bat-mix, and not a fruit-eating bat or an insect-eating bat, but a vampire bat. Apparently the esthetics, the kinkiness, the cachet of that particular choice appealed to her.”
“But… but you eat regular food,” I stammered. “Why would you need to…drink…blood?” I had trouble getting the last two words out.
“I don’t. Not for food. But I need it for sex. That’s how the exo-genes were wired into my personality. Like I said, my mother decided…” She shrugged, letting the sentence die away. “Anyway, when I have sex, if it’s going to…to work for me, it has to include that. I bite you, I take blood from you, I drink it.”
I sat looking at her, and after a few moments realized I wasn’t breathing right; I couldn’t seem to get more than a sip of air into my lungs at a time. I made an effort and sucked in enough to speak with. “You…need this Kailee? Are you sure? We couldn’t just…?” I cut myself off, realizing I was being stupid. Kailee was sitting cross-legged on my lap now, looking up at me with serious eyes, her miniature, abbreviated hands resting on top of mine.
Some long seconds dragged by before I spoke again. “Damnit Kailee,” I said. “I grew up in a flyspeck of a village in a part of the world you’ve probably never even heard of. For most of my adult life I’ve lived in a little house on a little street in a little town in Connecticut. My idea of excitement is hearing that my favorite author has released a new book. I’m a very plain, very ordinary, very conservative, very, very boring woman. I don’t know—”
“You are none of those things, Dorotéia,” Kailee interrupted, snapping the words out. “I wouldn’t be interested in you if you were. But I’ve seen you play your music; I’ve heard the things you say when you relax a little.” She stood up, her feet planted on my thighs this time so that her face was higher than mine. “I have seen you, Dorotéia. I have seen who you are, and I want you.” The fingers of her left hand touched my face, my lips, slipped briefly into my mouth before dropping away again.
“It’s not much blood, Dorotéia,” she said. “No more than you can spare. I don’t open a vein and drain you white, like Dracula.” A close-lipped smile flickered on her face.
“Does it hurt?”
“It hurts. Some feel it more than others.” She smiled again, this time showing her teeth. “Some enjoy it more than others.”
She was moving toward me, lowering her head and tilting it to one side. Her hand was on my breast, pressing in hard. Her wings were enveloping my head again, her mouth was at my ear, whispering. “Please, Dorotéia. Just try it. Say yes. Say yes.”
She flattened her body against mine, her pelvis grinding at my hip. I could feel the heat of her skin, could smell the perfume plus woman plus animal scent of her, could feel the desire radiating from her body, flowing into me and merging with my own dizzying excitement. I put a hand on her back to pull her closer, the fingers of my other hand gouging into the armrest of my chair. “Yes.”
There was, of course, a sharp pain. I tensed, grimaced, whimpered a little. Then there was pain again, and again. This wasn’t the quick stab of a hypodermic, I realized. Her teeth were sharp, but they weren’t literally needle-like. And human skin isn’t all that thin. She was working her teeth deeper with a series of bites; she was chewing her way in…
I shrieked, wrenched away from her, threw her off me and squirmed out of the chair. With a beat or two of her wings she landed on her feet. I stood looking at her, my breath rasping in my throat, holding a hand to my neck. When I took my hand down there was only a smear of blood the width of two fingers. I’d expected a lot more. “Could you please get me a bandage?” I said, trying with no success to keep the quaver out of my voice.
“Dorotéia, you’re hyperventilating. Please try to calm yourself. Take some slow, deep breaths.”
“I…I just want to go home now. Could I have a bandage, please?” I knew I was sounding like a baby, and knowing that only made me feel more like crying.
Kailee made a low-flying hop over to her bathroom and returned a few seconds later with a bandage, removed from its package and ready to apply. I fumbled it approximately into place and left without speaking, without even meeting Kailee’s eyes.
There were three messages from Ann waiting for me when I got back to my room. I took a shower before calling her back, putting on a bathrobe and flipping the collar up to hide my neck. Even as I called her I wasn’t sure what I would say. Sob out the whole story of my night’s adventures? Make a joke of it?
“Where were you?” Ann said by way of a greeting. “Why was your phone off? Isn’t it past midnight there?”
I waited a beat before answering. “I had dinner with one of the faculty here.”
“You’re seeing someone? Already?”
“I am not seeing someone!” The words leapt out of me in something like a bark. Embarrassed, I tried to calm down. Slow, deep breaths, Kailee’s voice said in my ear. “And anyway, Ann, we agreed about that. I’m going to be here for six months—”
“I know what we agreed,” she snapped. “I guess I just expected it would take longer than a couple of days before you started sleeping your way through half the population of Hong Kong. I guess that shy-and-mousy routine of yours works with Asian women too, huh?”
Slow, deep breaths. “Ann. Please.”
Her face crumpled up and she started crying. “I’m sorry, Dorry. It’s just—” And off she went, about the bad time she was having at work, about how insecure she felt about our relationship, about how she was talentless, stupid, unlovable and ugly. And on. And on. I sympathized, I consoled, I told her good things about herself. I reminded her of wonderful things she’d done and accomplished in our time together. Talking and talking, I warmed up to the job as I went along. I waxed poetic, my face lively with enthusiasm. I was giving her my blood, but it wasn’t a lot; it was nothing I couldn’t spare.
Eventually Ann was wiping her tears, smiling, laughing, telling me she loved me. I told her I loved her too, and for the first time in a while I was pretty sure it was true. A few minutes later we signed off, and I sat looking at the blank screen where her face had been. Then I got dressed and went out, taking a cab back to Kailee’s apartment.
When she answered the door I was already taking my clothes off in the hall. Not long after that I was underneath her, holding her small body tight to mine, helping her to press her mouth against my neck. When she drew back, her face—her half-human, impossibly beautiful face—was a red-streaked mask of exaltation. My vision was so clouded with sensation, with lust, with a few stinging tears, that I could barely see her. But I could hear her.
“Delicious,” she said. “Delicious, delicious.”
Karl Bunker’s short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Interzone, Cosmos, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and elsewhere. In the past Bunker has been a software developer, jeweler, musical instrument maker, sculptor, and mechanical technician. He currently lives in a small town north of Boston, MA with his wife, sundry pets, and an assortment of wildlife. He maintains a website at www.karlbunker.com.