Impundulu

The night has a sultry pressure and the sharp, clear smell of rain: lightning flickers on the swollen clouds. The street outside the nightclub is dark outside the garish pools of pink neon. He leans against the bricks, dragging on his cigarette, and eyes the women as they pick their way, high-heeled, down the pavement. They are gaggled by colour, pale-skinned blondes or elegant black girls, all short skirts and curving breasts under scant fabric, flanked by possessive, matching men whose presence disrupts the glances the girls throw him. He runs his tongue around the fang which has started, reflexively, to lengthen in his mouth, and waits.

The rain-drenched breeze cuts the hot highveld air like wings against his cheek. She drifts featherlight out of the dark doorway, the light catching bronze cheekbones and the high, proud line of her throat and close-cropped skull. Tattoos writhe across her scalp, pale lines on the dark skin. Her body in the tight leather is bird-thin, spiky, an atavistic warrior, enchanting and sexless. The laughing, colourful crowd, teeth white in dark faces, part around her, suddenly and mutely cowed, but he sees only that she is alone.

She stalks down the pavement towards him like the embodiment of a fever dream: her glance invites and transfixes him. Wordlessly, he follows her into the alley.

Her mouth is cold, metallic, alien; shockingly, he is no longer the predator here. He cannot distinguish the thunder from the blood pounding in his ears, the lightning from the colours behind his eyelids. The storm breaks in a cacophony of noise and light as he curls on the filthy tarmac in a puddle of his own blood, hearing through the downpour the cry of some enormous bird, and the beating of wings.

5 thoughts on “Impundulu”

  1. Oh God, this is so atmospheric and beautiful, plays like a movie in my head – the wet darkness, the pounding colours, the stylish players – this is masterful. Favourite turns of phrase (there are many):

    garish pools of pink neon.
    gaggled by colour
    teeth white in dark faces
    Her mouth is cold, metallic, alien
    He cannot distinguish the thunder from the blood pounding in his ears, the lightning from the colours behind his eyelids.

    I did not know what the title meant and had to look it up – love the legend and the way this story fits your proclivities – vampires, birds, and girl power :)

    I would have left out “shockingly”.

    Beautiful and powerful story, and love the twist on traditional vampire.

  2. Really enjoyed this.

    The first paragraph invokes the African urban environment in a powerful way – brings to mind Harare or Gaborone very strongly – I think the mention of highveld takes a little away from me by placing it so specifically.

    Loved the description of the second character – very string movie visuals for her entrance – I found the transition between the first and second vampire a bit abrupt but don’t know if this can be improved without adding significant length.

    Also loved the contrast between the first vamp – male, static, leering, passive – and the Umpundulu – sexless, moving and dominating.

    Love how you integrate the lightning bird thematics without being too explicit or requiring any pre-knowledge in the reader.

    Really enjoyed the turning around of the seduction, especially the expression of his happy, hapless falling into danger. For me ‘he is no longer the predator here’ is already there and didn’t need explicit mention but it didn’t distract me much.

    The final sentence with the movie-like fade to black of a corpse in the storm was very cool.

  3. This is a hunt scene: a vampire (who I thought of us being a “traditional” vampire type) is looking for a kill; he comes across something he didn’t expect, an impundulu. Like him she’s vampiric, but also something more: a bird of lightning and thunder, a witch’s familiar.

    I enjoyed the atmosphere and descriptions: the heat and oppressive thunder storm, the tattoos and leather clothing, the crowds. The last paragraph is quite adept at being evocative of the attack on Our Victim and his surprise without being explicit.

    This was good fantasy stuff. Made me want to know more about Our Hero, who she was, is she someone’s familiar. Also, this scene was handled with great finesse: it could easily have been schlock (one vampire feeding on another, the leather, the sex, the androgyny, the hunt; scenes done in a countless fantasy books and movies), but you kept it far from that.

  4. I thought this was fantastic. A wonderful retelling of traditional vampire tales with an exotic African element. I had never heard of the Impundulu before and am delighted to add it to my creature list.

    The descriptions are rich, sensual and evocative, and the climax is powerful.

    Thanks.

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