Today I am so pleased to welcome Ingela Bohm to Joyfully Jay. Ingela has come to talk to us about her latest release, Last Communion. She has also brought along a copy to give away. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Love in the age of the Condition
Behind me, the priest roared, “Don’t let it get away!” and there was a scramble of desperate feet. But my own desperation was stronger. Tossing the stake, I managed to trip someone up. I heard him stumble and fall, and the others were delayed for the seconds it took me to reach the door.
“Kill it! Kill the demon,” the priest shrieked.
In another time – another life – he would have shaken my hand and enquired after the health of my mother.
In the post-apocalyptic world of Last Communion, different groups of humans battle against each other. You would think that, at the end of days, any survivors would do everything in their power to help each other, no matter what social groups they belong to. Indeed, research shows that catastrophes tend to bring out solidarity in people. But in this case, there’s one horrible ingredient that makes all affectionate ties moot: the monsters who drink blood. Who kill for a living. In such a world, no one can be trusted.
The self-proclaimed ‘Confirmands’ – the vampires – see themselves as the crown of creation. In a Darwinian sense, they are the new kings of the food chain. The world is their oyster, and they swallow it ravenously. Their leader Nietzsche sees himself as a literal Übermensch, with the right to feed off the rest of the world as he pleases. For him, it’s simple evolution. In the lottery of Armageddon, he drew the lucky ticket.
But predators can also become prey, of which our nameless hero is made painfully aware when he tries to find sanctuary in a church. Hoping to be welcomed and hidden from the world, instead he’s attacked by the priest and his minions – the ‘Inqs.’ In their eyes, he’s nothing less than a demon, a monster to be exterminated. Just like Nietzsche and the Confirmands, the Inqs view themselves as completely within their right to kill whoever they want. The Confirmands are murdering beasts, aren’t they? To stake them is a social service.
Our hero survives the attack, but the Inqs have no intention of leaving the Confirmands alone. Sooner or later, they will find their hideaway and finish the job. Their only problem is that they don’t yet know where the Confirmands live – but maybe they have a way of finding out? Maybe they have the connections they need to extort the information?
One such source might be our hero’s mother. As a doctor, she’s part of yet another group of survivors, the ‘Pans.’ They are the elite, the rulers of the world that has just fallen: politicians, scientists, the rich. They have the resources to flee the chaos, maybe even to escape the ‘Condition,’ the terrible new disease that has brought it on. Maybe they and the Inqs can join forces and destroy the Confirmands once and for all?
Last Communion explores what happens in and between all these groups, but also what happens at their boundaries. Because just like in the real world, many of the characters belong to more than one group. Our hero is caught between his rich mother and the blood-sucking Confirmands. He has trouble fitting in with his new family, because he hasn’t completely cut the ties with his old one. Nietzsche and the Confirmands urge him to choose a new name, one that marks his new allegiance, but for some reason, he hesitates.
This makes Nietzsche suspicious. He’s the one who enforces the Confirmands’ strict rules, who makes sure the boundaries between groups stay in place. He’s the one who makes the Confirmands deny their past. They can’t even sing the songs of the old world, because they’re not meant to remember.
Nietzsche also insists that the Confirmands procreate. He doesn’t prohibit homosexual relationships, but he doesn’t exactly encourage them either. When our hero finds himself increasingly drawn to the mysterious Garangjas, it makes him vulnerable. Nietzsche already has half a mind to throw him out for having a Pan mother and for failing to adapt – and now he’s gay, too?
So what hope is there for our hero and Garangjas? Are they destined to be torn apart by Nietzsche, to be staked by the priest or to starve when humanity dies out? Or is there a middle road, a solution that no one has thought of yet?
Can human love and solidarity survive the apocalypse?
“You’d better brace yourself,” Garangjas said, but before I had a chance to do anything of the sort, he jerked the door open and pushed me inside.
“Who the hell is that?” was the first thing I heard. The disembodied voice was startlingly sharp. I squinted, but my senses were momentarily overpowered. All I knew was the smell. It slithered down my throat like a living thing.
“A small addition to our illustrious party,” Garangjas said over my head.
“Is that so?” A pair of cat-like eyes emerged from the darkness. Then, the glitter of jewelry. Sparkles in her ears, around her neck. Like something out of a Hollywood pharaoh movie. I blinked a few times and the rest of her took form: a woman I would have described as sturdy if she hadn’t been so thin. Something about her wide-legged stance and the way she planted her fists on her hips suggested a wiry strength I didn’t wish to contend with. Her long lashes dipped over her cheekbones as she swept an appraising glance over me, nostrils widening to take in my scent. Then she rolled her eyes and smiled, apparently amused by my inferiority. “Well, I guess welcome, then.”
“Ah, so now we’re thirteen at the table,” said a gravelly voice. “How apt.”
I turned to see a tall, grey-haired man block our passage. His face looked hewn out of a rock, and his smile was strangely unnerving. “Hello,” I blurted, and it sounded completely inadequate.
“Good evening, Nietzsche,” Garangjas muttered, veiled contempt in his voice. “Can we come in? Or do we stand around until the Inqs come to get us?”
Nietzsche made an inviting gesture, but he didn’t take his eyes from me while I stepped past him to peer into what must once have been a living room. Reddish outlines revealed the presence of a group of people I couldn’t quite see yet.
“Welcome to our humble abode,” the bejeweled woman said, sidling up beside me. Her lips slid up to reveal a predatory grin quite as impressive as my own. “I’ve taken the name Parvati. Pleasure to meet you.” She held out her hand, and I gave her mine. When our fingers touched, she grabbed hold and yanked me closer. Holding my gaze, she asked, “So who did you tap?”
My voice had some trouble making it past the sudden ball of fluff in my throat. “What?”
“Who did you tap? You’re not a virgin, are you?”
I tried to recoil, but her grip was strong. “What do you know about that?” I stalled, not entirely sure that I had understood her correctly.
Parvati grinned wider, but it looked strained. “I mean, are you an innocent?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I lashed out, perhaps a little unwisely.
Parvati released my hand and turned to Garangjas. “Haven’t you done your job?”
Garangjas just shrugged, and I felt a flash of anger. He was the one who’d dragged me here, but instead of preparing me for the third degree he’d probably known I would get, he’d used the time to wax philosophical about Darwin. Well, fuck this so called flock. They probably were asylum patients, just like I’d thought – I mean, one of them called himself Nietzsche, for God’s sake.
Parvati glanced back at me. “If you’re wondering: yes, we’re crazy,” she laughed. “But you’ll get used to it.”
I wanted to retort that I wouldn’t get used to it if I didn’t stay, but I held my tongue. No need to aggravate my new acquaintances more than necessary. I could sneak out later, quietly. So I dredged up my most charming smile and was just about to assure her that I’d suffered worse in my old job, when my gaze snagged on her hand. It was protectively cradling a huge bulge beneath her shirt – how had I not seen it before? Choking on the words I’d been about to say, I drew another snigger from her.
“It’s the Mission,” she teased, raising pointed eyebrows at me. Waiting for me to ask what she meant? Well, I had no patience for a game of twenty questions. Instead I just stared back, as calmly as I could manage, challenging her to explain. Parvati’s cocky smile didn’t waver, but her scent turned just a little bit sour.
Before the silence had a chance to turn really awkward, what looked like a bundle of clothes flung itself at my feet. “Turn back while you still can!” it cried, and the sheer force of that shrill plea made me take a step back. “It’s not too late for you.”
Parvati immediately lost her look of wry amusement. “Oh, shut up, Dolorosa.”
“No, no, let her speak,” Nietzsche sighed. “Let the virgin see who she is at once: Miss Hypocrisy, Miss Holy Crusade, who quite happily condemns everyone else while she has a God who can forgive her.”
“That’s not true!” The wreck called Dolorosa turned to me again, desperation shining out of eyes that looked strangely withered. “I fight temptation every single day. Nietzsche knows I only tap animals.”
“Yes, and look where it’s brought you! You can barely stand.”
Dolorosa started crying, a ragged sound without tears. Her knotted hair swung in time with her sobs, but if Nietzsche was touched, it didn’t show. His eyes swerved back towards me, cut through me like a flint knife. “You see? This is what awaits you if you don’t obey your nature. Your fate is written in your DNA. You can’t escape it.”
“I… uh…” Searching for something, anything, to equal Nietzsche’s grave sermon, I came up empty-handed. I felt the humiliating flood of warmth in my cheeks and sought out Garangjas with my eyes. His eyelashes fluttered uncertainly, and the faintest hint of a frown touched his forehead. Was he pondering some great mystery in the vault of his mind, or was he just supremely useless in a social situation of any kind? Either way, there was obviously no help to be had from him. I was on my own.
“But surely there’s a choice?” I said, gesturing at Dolorosa. “I mean… we’re not complete slaves under our urg–”
“No?” Nietzsche’s eyebrow made a perfect arch, and I blushed deeper. “The wolf doesn’t choose to hunt and kill. It’s in his genes. So you too must bow to nature’s dictate. If you refuse your thirst, this is what you come to.” He gave Dolorosa a push with his foot, and she swayed a little. I looked at her, unsure of what I was feeling. If Dolorosa was the only one here who resisted the urge to kill, I should be in awe of her. I knew first-hand how impossible it was. But she just looked grey and washed out, like discolored laundry. So helpless.
Parvati nodded at me, looking like she could guess at my thoughts. “You don’t want to end up like her. Just listen to Nietzsche, and you’ll be alright.”
“We would never have understood the Mission without his leadership. We all lived in our various forms of self-deception before we came here. Just like you. But Nietzsche changed all that.” She turned an adoring gaze towards the older man, and for some reason it enraged me.
“So what is this Mission you talk of?” I sneered. “To wipe out the last fragments of humankind that still exist?”
Parvati’s balmy fragrance turned into a pungent vapor. “What’s the alternative, genius? I hazard my child’s health?”
I hesitated, words of reason on my tongue. There was no way her baby’s life was worth more than the rest of humanity, but there was no point in saying that. No argument could prevail against a mother’s love. If her child was in the balance, everything else was meaningless.
“You’re part of the Mission now, whether you like it or not,” Nietzsche told me, looking like he was making a knighting speech. I could sense Garangjas fidgeting. No doubt the excessive ritualism grated on his rational nerves. “But of course, our hospitality requires that you follow the rules,” Nietzsche added. “We are the new elite, and our behavior must reflect that fact.”
I became aware of my cold fingers playing with each other. “Elite?” The word came out chopped, hoarse.
“Yes. You should be glad that you’re here. With us, you’re on the winning team. But there’s a price. We require your undivided loyalty. Naturally.” Nietzsche cracked a smile – actually cracked it open, like an egg. The result was as jagged as the edges of that fragile shell. “So you need to leave your old life behind you. And that includes your given name. You’ll notice that no one’s asked you for it. Well, there’s a reason. We don’t want to know. That person is dead. Instead you’ll take a flock name. It will be your token of membership. Your ticket to survival. We need to know that you’ve left your old identity behind you.”
I found myself nodding, mesmerized by that grey stare.
“And you don’t tap any Cons,” Parvati filled in. “Naturally.”
I turned to her, feeling a bit lightheaded. “Cons?”
“Oh.” She glanced at Garangjas. “Confirmands.” When I didn’t react, she frowned. “Us. We’re Confirmands. Really, Garangjas…”
“That won’t be a problem,” Nietzsche said. “He’ll learn how to smell the difference.”
Through the corner of my eye, I could see Garangjas sway where he stood. I met his eyes, and they were dark with something that looked like pain. He’d almost ‘tapped’ a Confirmand – me – but he’d stopped himself. For the briefest moment, I wondered what it would have been like, and then I banged a mental door on the thought. It was the last thing in the world I should be thinking about.
A worldwide disease has all but wiped out humankind. Only a few people survive, the doctor’s son among them. But there’s something wrong with him: he no longer wants to eat. Is he finally dying too?
The answer is as unexpected as it is horrible: one night, he discovers a new hunger – a mindless craving for blood. Horrified at himself, he flees into the night, but when he tries to find sanctuary, he ends up almost getting killed.
As he starts to realize that even a predator can become prey, he runs into Garangjas – another man who drinks blood. Irresistibly drawn, he follows Garangjas to his flock of ‘Confirmands,’ a weird group of people who might just be his ticket to survival.
There’s just one problem: how can the Confirmands stay alive if the rest of humanity dies out?
Ingela Bohm lives in an old cinema, tucked away in a northern Swedish forest where she can wander around all day long and dictate her books. She used to dream of being an actor until an actual actor asked, “Do you really need to do it?” That’s when she realized that the only thing she really needed to do was to write. She has since pretended to be a dietician, a teacher, a receptionist and a cook, but only to conceal her real identity.
Her first imaginary friend was called Grabolina and lived in her closet. Nowadays she has too many imaginary friends to count, but at least some of them are out of the closet. Her men may not be conventionally handsome, but they can charm your pants off, and that’s all that matters. Recent works include the twisted online love thriller #Not Safe For Work, Shakespeare/Marlowe litslash Rival Poet and the third instalment about seventies rock band Pax Cymrica.
Ingela’s more useless talents include reading tarot cards, killing pot plants and drawing scandalous pictures that no one gets to see. She can’t walk in heels and she’s stopped trying, but she has cycled 1200 miles in the UK and knows which campsites to avoid if you don’t like spiders. If you see her on the train you will wonder what age she is.
Ingela has brought a copy of Last Communion to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, September 15th at 11:59 pm EST.
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