Sunshine, p.2
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       Sunshine, p.2

           Robin McKinley
 
Chapter 2

 

  They dragged me up the last few stairs to the wide, once-elegant porch; the treads creaked under my weight as I missed my footing, while the vampires flowed up on either side of us with no more sound than they had made ranging through the woods. One of them opened the front door and stood aside for the prisoner and her guards to go in first. We entered a big, dark, empty hall; some moonlight spilled in through open doors on either side of us, enough that my eyes could vaguely make out the extent of it. It was probably bigger than the whole ground floor of Mom and Charlie's house. At the far end a staircase swirled up in a semicircle, disappearing into the murk overhead.

  We turned left and went through a half-open door.

  This had to be a ballroom; it was even bigger than the front hall had been. There was no furniture that I could see, but there was a muddle overhead - its shadow had wrenched my panicky attention toward it - that looked rather like a vast chandelier, although I would have expected anything like that to have been looted years ago. It seemed like acres of floor as we crossed it. There was another muddle leaning up against the wall in front of us - a possibly human-body-shaped muddle, I thought, confused. Another prisoner? Another live dinner? Was waiting to be eaten in company going to be any less horrible than waiting alone? Where was the "old-fashioned guest" who liked dresses rather than jeans and sneakers? Oh, dear gods and angels, let this be over quickly, I cannot bear much more. . .

  The muddle was someone sitting cross-legged, head bowed, forearms on knees. I didn't realize till it raised its head with a liquid, inhuman motion that it was another vampire.

  I jerked backward. I didn't mean to; I knew I wasn't going to get away: I couldn't help it. The vampire on my left - the one who had asked me why I didn't beg for my life - laughed again. "There's some life in you after all, girlie. I was wondering. Bo wouldn't like it if it turned out we caught a blanker. He wants his guest in a good mood. "

  Bo's lieutenant said again, "Shut up. "

  One of the other vampires drifted up to us and handed its lieutenant something. They passed it between them as if it had been no more than a handkerchief, but it. . . clanked.

  Bo's lieutenant said, "Hold her. " He dropped my arm and picked up my foot, as casually as a carpenter picking up a hammer. I would have fallen, but the other vampire held me fast. Something cold closed around my ankle, and when he dropped my foot again it fell to the floor hard enough to bruise the sole, because of the new weight. I was wearing a metal shackle, and trailing a chain. The vampire who had brought the thing to Bo's lieutenant stretched out the end of the chain and clipped it into a ring in the wall.

  "How many days has it been, Connie?" said Bo's lieutenant softly. "Ten? Twelve? Twenty? She's young and smooth and warm. Totally flash. Bo told us to bring you a nice one. She's all for you. We haven't touched her. "

  I thought of the gloves.

  He was backing away slowly as he spoke, as if the cross-legged vampire might jump at him. The vampire holding me seemed to be idly watching Bo's lieutenant, and then with a sudden, spine-unhinging hisssss let go of me and sprang after him and the others, who were dissolving back into the shadows, as if afraid to be left behind.

  I fell down, and, for a moment, half-stunned, couldn't move.

  The vampire gang was, in the sudden way of vampires, now on the other side of the big room, by the door. I thought it was Bo's lieutenant who - I didn't see how - made some sort of gesture, and the chandelier burst alight. "You'll want to check out what you're getting," he said, and now that he was leaving his voice sounded strong and scornful. "Bo didn't want you to think we'd try anything nomad. And, so okay, so you don't need the light. But it's more fun if she can see you too, isn't it?"

  The vampire who had dropped me said, "Hey, her feet are already bleeding - if you like feet. " He giggled, a high-pitched goblin screech.

  Then they were gone.

  I think I must have fainted again. When I came to myself I was stiff all over, as if I had been lying on the floor for a long time. I both remembered and tried not to let myself quite remember what had happened. This lasted for maybe ten seconds. I was still alive, so I wasn't dead yet. If it wanted me awake and struggling, to continue to appear to be unconscious was a good idea. I lay facing the door the gang had left by; which meant that the cross-legged vampire was behind me. . . Don't think about it.

  I was up on my knees, halfway to my feet, and scrambling for the door before I finished thinking this, even though I knew you couldn't run away from a vampire. I had forgotten that I was chained to the wall. I hit the end of my chain and fell again. I cried out, as much from fear as pain. I lay sprawled where I struck, waiting for it to be over.

  Nothing happened.

  Again I thought, Please, gods and angels, let it be over.

  Nothing happened.

  Despairingly I sat up, hitched myself around to face what was behind me.

  It was looking at me. He was looking at me.

  The chandelier was set with candles, not electric bulbs, so the light it shed was softer and less definite. Even so he looked bad. His eyes (no: don't look in their eyes) were a kind of gray-green, like stagnant bog water, and his skin was the color of old mushrooms - the sort of mushrooms you find screwed up in a paper bag in the back of the fridge and try to decide if they're worth saving or if you should throw them out now and get it over with. His hair was black, but lank and dull. He would have been tall if he stood up. His shoulders were broad, and his hands and wrists, drooping over his knees, looked huge. He wore no shirt, and his feet, like mine, were bare. This seemed curiously indecent, that he should be half naked. I didn't like it. . . Oh, right, I thought, good one. The train is roaring toward you and the villain is twirling his moustache and you're fussing that he's tied you to the track with the wrong kind of rope. There was a long angry weal across one of the vampire's forearms. Overall he looked. . . spidery. Predatory. Alien. Nothing human except that he was more or less the right shape.

  He was thin, thin to emaciated, the cheekbones and ribs looking like they were about to split the old-mushroom skin. It didn't matter. The still-burning vitality in that body was visible even to my eyes. He would be fine again once he'd had dinner.

  My teeth chattered. I pulled my knees up under my chin and wrapped my arms around them. We sat like this for several minutes, the vampire motionless, while I chattered and trembled and tried not to moan. Tried not to beg uselessly for my life. Watched him watching me. I didn't look into his eyes again. At first I looked at his left ear, but that was too close to those eyes - how could something the color of swamp water be that compelling? - so I looked at his bony left shoulder instead. I could still see him staring at me. Or feel him staring.

  "Speak," he said at last. "Remind me that you are a rational creature. " The words had long pauses between them, as if he found it difficult to speak, or as if he had to recall the words one at a time; and his voice was rough, as if some time recently he had damaged it by prolonged shouting. Perhaps he found it awkward to speak to his dinner. If he wasn't careful he'd go off me, like Alice after she'd been introduced to the pudding. I should be so lucky.

  I flinched at the first sound of his voice, both because he had spoken at all, and also because his voice sounded as alien as the rest of him looked, as if the chest that produced it was made out of some strange material that did not reflect sound the same way that ordinary - that is to say, live - flesh did. His voice sounded much odder - eerier, direr - than the voices of the vampires who had brought me here. You could half-imagine that Bo's gang had once been human. You couldn't imagine that this one ever had.

  As I flinched I squeaked - a kind of unh? First I thought rather deliriously about Alice and her pudding, and then the meaning of his words began to penetrate. Remind him I was a rational creature! I wasn't at all sure I still was one. I tried to pull my scattered wits together, come up with a topic other than Lewis Carroll. . . "I - oh -
they called you Connie," I said at random, after I had been silent too long. "Is that your name?"

  He made a noise like a cough or a growl, or something else I didn't have a name for, some vampire thing. "You know enough not to look in my eyes," he said. "But you do not know not to ask me my name?" The words came closer together this time, and there was definitely a question mark at the end. He was asking me.

  "Oh - no - oh - I don't know - I don't know that much about vam - er," I gabbled, remembering halfway through the word he had not himself used the word vampire. He'd said "me" and "my. " Perhaps you didn't say vampire like you didn't ask one's name. I tried to think of everything Pat and Jesse and the others had told me over the years, and considered the likelihood that the SOF view of vampires was probably rather different from the vampires' own view and of limited use to me now. And that having Immortal Death very nearly memorized was no use at all. "Pardon me," I said, with as much dignity as I could pretend to, which wasn't much. "I - er - what would you like me to talk about?"

  There was another of his pauses, and then he said, "Tell me who you are. You need not tell me your name. Names have power - even human names. Tell me where you live and what you do with your living. "

  My mouth dropped open. "Tell you - " Who am I, Scheherazade? I felt a sudden hysterical rush of outrage. It was bad enough that I was going to be eaten (or rather, drunk - my mind would revert to Alice), but I had to talk first? "I - I am the baker at Charlie's Coffeehouse, in town. Charlie married my mom when I was ten, just before the - er. " I managed not to say "before the Voodoo Wars," which I thought might be a sensitive subject. "They have two sons, Kenny and Billy. They're nice kids. " Well, Billy was still a nice kid. Kenny was a teenager. Oh, hell. I wasn't supposed to be using names. Oh, too bad. There are more than one Charlie and Kenny and Billy in the world. "We all work at the coffeehouse although my brothers are still in school. My boyfriend works there too. He rules the kitchen now that Charlie has kind of become the maitre d' and the wine steward, if you want to talk about a coffeehouse having a maitre d' and a wine steward. " Okay, I thought, I remembered not to say Mel's name.

  But it was hard to remember what my life was. It seemed a very long time ago, all of it, now, tonight, chained to a wall in a deserted ballroom on the far side of the lake, talking to a vampire. "I live in an apartment across town from the coffeehouse, upstairs from Y - from the old lady who owns the house. I love it there, there are all these trees, but my windows get a lot of - er. " This time what I wasn't saying was "sunlight," which I thought might also be a touchy topic. "I've always liked fooling around in the kitchen. One of my first memories is holding a wooden spoon and crying till my mom let me stir something. Before she married Charlie, my mom used to tease me, say I was going to grow up to be a cook, other kids played softball and joined the drama club, all I ever did was hang around the coffeehouse kitchen, so, she said, she might as well marry one, a cook, since he kept asking - Charlie kept asking - she said she was finally saying yes, because she wanted to make it easy for me. That was our joke. She met him by working for him. She was a waitress. She likes feeding people - like Charlie and me and M - like Charlie and me and the cook. She thinks the answer to just about everything is a good nourishing meal, but she doesn't much like cooking, and now she mostly manages the rest of us, works out the schedule so everyone gets enough hours and nobody gets too many very often, which is sort of the Olympic triathalon version of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, only she has to do it every week, and she also does the books and the ordering. Um. It's just as well she's back there because a lot of people don't come to us for nourishing meals, they come for a slab of something chocolate and a glass of champagne, or M - er, or our all-day breakfast which is eggs and bacon and sausages and baked beans and pancakes and hash browns and toast, and a cinnamon roll till they run out, which they usually do by about nine, but there are muffins all day, and then a free wheelbarrow ride to the bus stop after. Er. That's a joke. A wheelbarrow ride over our cobblestones would be no favor anyway.

  "I have to get up at four a. m. to start the cinnamon rolls - cinnamon rolls as big as your head, it's a Charlie's specialty - but I don't mind. I love working with yeast and flour and sugar and I love the smell of bread baking. M - I mean, my boyfriend, says he wanted to ask me out because he saw me the first time when I was up to my elbows in bread dough and covered with flour. He says that for most guys it's supposed to be great legs or a girl being a great dancer - I can't dance at all - or at least a good personality or something high-minded like that, but for him it was definitely watching me thump into that bread dough. . . "

  I hadn't realized I'd started crying. My long-ago, lost life. The tears were running - pouring - down my cheeks.

  And suddenly the vampire moved toward me. I froze, thinking, Oh no, and at last, and okay, at least my last thoughts are about everybody at the coffeehouse, but all he did was hold one of his big hands under my chin, so the tears would fall into his palm. I cried now from fear and anticipation as well as loss and sorrow, and my tears had made quite a little pool before I stopped. I stopped because I was too tired to go on, and my whole head felt squashy. I suppose I should have been flipping out. He was right next to me. He hadn't moved again. When I stopped crying he lowered his hand and said calmly, "May I have your tears?" I nodded, bemused, and, very precisely and carefully, he touched my face with the forefinger of his other hand, wiping up the last drips. I was so braced for worse I barely noticed that this time a vampire really had touched me.

  He moved back against the wall before he licked the wet finger and then drank the little palmful of salt water. I didn't mean to stare but I couldn't help it.

  He wouldn't have had to say anything. Maybe he'd liked the story of my life. "Tears," he said. "Not as good as. . . " a really ugly ominous pause here ". . . but better than nothing. "

  "Oh, gods," I said, and buried my face in my knees once more. I had begun to shiver again too. I was exhausted past exhaustion, and I was also, it occurred to me, hungry and thirsty. And, of course, still waiting to die. Gruesomely.

  I couldn't bear not to keep an eye on him for long, however, and I raised my now sticky face from my knees soon enough. I wiped my face on a corner of my ridiculous dress. I hadn't really noticed what I was wearing - there had been other things on my mind since I had been obliged to put it on - in other circumstances I would have found it very beautiful, but an absurd thing for a coffeehouse baker to be wearing, even a coffeehouse baker in a ballroom with a ball going on in it. If I were attending a ball I would be there as one of the caterers, I certainly wouldn't be there for the dancing. . . I'm raving, I thought. The dress was a dark cranberry red. Heart's-blood red, I thought. It was put together slyly, in panels cut on the bias, so it clung to me round the top and swung out into what felt like yards of skirt at the hem. It draped over my awkward knees in drifts like something out of a Renaissance painting. I supposed it was silk; I hadn't had a lot of close-up experience with silk. It was soft like a clean baby's skin. I knew quite a lot about babies, clean and otherwise.

  I glanced at him - at his left shoulder. He was still watching me. I let my gaze drift down, over his ragged black trousers, to his bare feet. He too had a shackle around one ankle. . .

  What?

  He was shackled and pinned to the wall just as I was.

  He must have seen me working it out. "Yes," he said.

  "Wh-why?"

  "No honor among thieves, you are thinking? Indeed. Bo and I are old enemies. "

  "But - " The reason for the wasteland around the house was suddenly apparent. No shelter from daylight except inside the house. Whoever it was - Bo - thought the shackle itself might not be enough. The chain that held him was many times heavier than mine, and both the shackle and - I could see it, now that I was looking - the plate in the wall that held the ring were stamped with. . . well, to start with, with the old, most basic ward symbol: a cross and a si
x-pointed star inside a circle. The standard warding against inhuman harm that ten percent of parents still had tattooed over their babies' hearts at birth, or so the current statistics said. It was illegal to tattoo a minor, because of the possible side effects, and you nearly had to have a dispensation from a god to be granted a license for a home birth since the Wars because the government assumed that the opportunity for an illegal tattoo was the only reason anyone would want a home birth. Warding tattoos didn't happen in hospitals. Theoretically. Jesse and Pat said that no fiddling tattoo would stop a vampire, but the real reason for its being illegal is that the stiff fines levied against parents who had it done anyway was a nice little annual nest egg for the government.

  There was some evidence that a tempered metal ward spelled by an accredited wardsmith and worn next to the skin would discourage a vampire that unexpectedly came in contact with it, long enough for you to make a run for it - maybe. The problem with that scenario is as I said, most suckers run in packs. One of the friends of the one that let go of you would grab you, and the second one would know where not to grab.

  I didn't want to peer too closely, but there were rather a lot of other symbols keeping the standard one company: the staked heart (I hated this one, however simple and coolly nonspecific the design), the perfect triangle, the oak tree, the unfallen angel, true grief, the singing lizard, the sun and moon. There were more too. Under other circumstances I might have thought the effect was a little frantic. As if whoever had planned it was throwing the book at a problem they didn't know how to solve.

  The wardings did seem to be having some effect. The ankle the shackle encircled was swollen and a funny color (although what counted as a funny color for a vampire I wasn't sure) and looked pretty sore. The skin looked almost. . . grated. Ugh. But if the metal ward did protect - or in this case debilitate - who had belled the cat - fixed the shackle? Leaving aside for the moment who had done the smith-work. I daresay a wardsmith wouldn't argue if a gang of vampires showed up and put their case persuasively enough. Which is to say good wardsmiths can't provide perfect protection, even for themselves.

  But. . . did Bo have nonvampires available also? That standard ward was supposed to prevent harm from the rest of the Others too. . . which would mean that this Bo creature had human servants. Not a nice thought.

  Again he seemed to read my mind. "They wore. . . gloves. "

  That had been another of those really nasty pauses. I stared at him. So, I thought, the wards do work, but a vampire can handle them so long as the vampire and, or possibly or, the wards are properly insulated? I wonder what the insulation is? No, I'm sure I don't want to know. There's a blow for all the wardcrafters if word gets out though. But then again maybe it would improve their business if it was known for certain that the wards worked at all. What a lot I am learning. Perhaps that was why Bo's gang had used gloves to touch me - in case of hidden ward signs. Now that I knew their attitude toward their guest a little better I thought perhaps they were hoping I was wearing a good one. And since I was chained up, making a run for it while he blew on his burned fingers or whatever wasn't an option for me.

  Or maybe they just hadn't wanted to leave fingerprints on me. Perhaps it's not polite to handle another person's food even when you're a vampire.

  There was a sputter and crackle behind me. I turned sharply around: one of the candles in the chandelier was guttering. They were all burning low, casting less light than they had. But the room seemed no darker; if anything the contrary. I looked out the nearest window. Grayness.

  "Dawn," I said. I looked back at him. He was sitting as he had been sitting since I had come into that room, cross-legged, leaning - no, not quite leaning, straight-backed, only his head a little bowed - against the wall, arms on knees. The one time he had moved was when I'd wept. I looked at the windows in the big room. They were big too, and curtainless, and on three sides. I wondered about the weal on his arm.

  Daylight increased. The sun was coming up over the lake, on my left. So we were on the north side of the lake; my family's old cabin was on the southeast, and the city on the south. Even in the desolation where I sat it was impossible for my heart not to lift at the coming of daylight. Dawn was usually my favorite time of day: end of darkness, beginning of light. I was kind of a light freak. I sighed. It occurred to me again that I was very hungry, and even thirstier than that. And so tired that if he didn't eat me soon I might die anyway. Joke. I didn't feel like laughing. I glanced at him. He looked even worse than he had by candlelight. How long has it been? Bo's lieutenant had said. So presumably he'd lived - if lived was the word - through some days here already. Ugh.

  As the light grew stronger I could see the room more clearly. Near the corner to my left there was a heap of something I hadn't seen before. Too small to be another vampire. No comfort. It was something lumpy, in a cloth sack. For something to do I stood shakily up - watching him over my shoulder the whole time - and edged over toward it. I could just reach it, at the fullest extent of my chain, almost lying along the floor to do it. The vampire was tethered in the center of the wall of the room, while my staple was a little more toward this end. If our chains were the same length, then I could reach this corner, and he could not. More vampire humor? If it was me he wanted, of course, he could just pull on the chain. I stood up again. I opened the sack. A loaf of bread - two loaves of bread - a bottle of water, and a blanket. Without thinking I broke off an end of one of the loaves: standard store bread, fluffy, without real substance, spongy texture, dry crumb, almost no aroma. Not as good as what I made. It was Carthaginian pig swill compared to what I made. But it was bread. Food. I raised the end I had broken off, and sniffed it more carefully. Why would they leave me food? Was it poisoned? Was it drugged, would it sedate me, so I wouldn't see him coming? Maybe I should want to be sedated.

  I was so hungry that standing there with bread in my hands made my legs tremble, and I had to keep swallowing.

  "It is food for you," he said. "There is nothing wrong with it. It is just food. "

  "Why?" I said again. My continuing total-immersion course in vampire mores.

  Something like a grimace moved momentarily across his too-still face. "Bo knows me well. "

  "Knows. . . " I said thoughtfully. "Knows that you wouldn't. . . right away. The bale of hay to keep the goat happy while the hunters in the trees wait for the tiger. "

  "Not quite," he said. "Humans can survive several days, perhaps a week, without food, I believe. But you won't remain. . . attractive for that long. "

  Attractive. I looked down at the cranberry-red dress. It had had a hard night. It was creased, and there was more than one smudge of dirt at the hem as well as the spots that wiping a teary face make, and my feet, sticking out from underneath, were scratched and filthy. I would have looked no less a lady in my T-shirt and jeans. I ate the bread in my hand, and then I broke off more, and ate that. It tasted no better than it looked, and while it had a funny aftertaste I assumed that was just flour improvers and phony flavoring garbage and nothing worse. It also might be my mouth, which tasted pretty funny anyway after the night I'd just had. I ate most of the first loaf. How long were these supplies supposed to last? I opened the bottle of water and drank a third of it. It was a standard two-quart plastic bottle of brand-name spring water and the ring-seal on the lid had been intact when I twisted it loose.

  I looked at him again. His eyes were only half open, but still watching me. He was well in shadow but while he sat as unmoving as ever, he looked smaller now. Under siege.

  I moved into the sunlight streaming through the window. Food and water had helped and the touch of the sun on my skin helped even more. I set the sack down again, with the rest of the bread in it, and sighed and stretched, as if I were getting out of bed on a Monday morning, the one morning a week I got up after the sun did. I felt tired but. . . alive. I clung to this tiny moment of comparative peace because most of me knew it was false. I wondered how mu
ch worse the crash would be when the rest of me remembered, than if I hadn't had it at all.

  As I say, I am a light freak. My mom found this out the first year after we left my dad. She'd got this ugly cheap dark little apartment in the basement of an old townhouse - she wouldn't take any of my dad's money so we were really poor at first - and I spent eight months crying and being sick all the time. She thought this was about losing my dad, and the doctors she took me to agreed with her because they couldn't find anything wrong with me except listlessness and misery, but the minute she could afford it she got us into a better apartment, on the top floor of the house next door, with real windows. (This was when she started working for Charlie, and the minute he heard she had a sick kid he gave her a raise. He didn't find out till later how young I was, and that she was leaving me home alone while she worked, and that the reason she tried for a job at the coffeehouse in the first place was because it was so close she could run home and check on me during her breaks. ) It was winter, and she said I spent three weeks moving around the new place lying in every scrap of sunlight that came indoors - including moving a table and a heavy chest of drawers that were in my way - and by the end of that time I was well again. I don't remember this, but I do remember that that eight months is the only time in my life I've ever been sick.

  I stood there in the sunlight feeling the life and warmth of it and holding off the crash.

  I was still clutching the bottle of water. I looked at the vampire again. His eyes were shut, perhaps because I was standing in the light. There seemed to be a thin sheen of sweat on his skin. Did vampires sweat? It didn't seem a very vampiry thing to do.

  I stepped out of the sunlight, and his eyes half opened again. He didn't look around for me; his eyes opened on where I was. I almost stepped back into the sunlight again, but I didn't quite. I walked over to him, to within easy arm's reach. "You haven't. . . killed me yet because if you did, that would mean Bo had won. "

  "Yes," he said. His voice, inflectionless as it was, sounded exhausted.

  Pretending to myself I didn't know what I was about to do, I held up the bottle of water. If vampires sweated, maybe they drank water. . . too. "Would you like some water?"

  He opened his eyes the rest of the way. "Why?"

  Involuntarily I smiled. His turn for the intensive course in human mores. "I don't like bullies. " This wasn't quite the whole truth, but it was as much of the truth as I knew myself.

  He made the cough-growl noise again. "Yes," he said.

  I held out the bottle and he took it. He sat looking at it for a moment, looked at me again, then at the bottle. He unscrewed the plastic cap. All of this was happening at ordinary human speed, although all his movements had that creepy vampire fluency. But then. . . another third of the water disappeared. I didn't see him drink. I didn't see his throat move with swallowing. But there was only one-third of the water left in the bottle, and he was screwing the cap back on. And he looked a little better. The mushrooms he was the color of hadn't been in the back of the fridge quite so long, and they weren't quite so wizened. "Thank you," he said.

  I couldn't quite bring myself to say, "You're welcome. " I moved far enough away again that while I was still mostly in the shade, the sun was touching my back, and sat down. The band of sun-warmth was a little like having a friend's arm around me. "You could have just taken it. "

  "No," he said.

  "Well. Ordered me to give you some. "

  "No," he said.

  I sighed. I felt irritated with this treacherous, villainous, mortally dangerous creature. The weight of irony might smash what remained of my mind into pieces before he did, in fact, kill me.

  He said slowly, "I can take nothing from you. I can only accept what you offer. I can at most. . . ask. "

  "Oh, please!" I said. "I can refuse to let you kill me! Vampires have never killed anyone who hasn't said 'oh yes please I want to die, I want to die now, I want you to drink all my blood and whatever else it is that vampires do so that even my corpse is so horrible that after the police are done with it I will be burned instantly and the ashes sterilized before they're turned over to the next of kin!' " I would never have said such a thing while it was dark. Daylight was my time. For a few more hours I could forget that the nightmare would come again too soon. I was tired, and half-crazy with what I had already been through, and at some level I didn't care any more. I had seen the sun once more - it was a beautiful day - and if I was going to go out now, I was going to go out still me.

  "If you have the strength of will you can stop me or any vampire," he said. Again the words came slowly, as they had when he had first spoken to me in the night. The curious thing was that he seemed to want to speak. He'd also used the word vampire. Well, so had I. "These signs," and he gestured briefly at his ankle. "They are. . . effective signs. They will do what they are made for. They will - contain. As Bo arranged for them to do here. They will also prevent inhuman harm to a human. But they can only do that if the human who bears the warding holds against the will of the one who stands against. Vampires are stronger than humans. Rarely can any hold out against our will. Why do you think you should not look in our eyes? We can. . . persuade you anyway. But looking into a vampire's eyes is any human's doom. "

  In horror I said: "Then they do ask you to kill them. They do beg you to. . . "

  "Yes," he said.

  I whispered: "Then, is it. . . okay, at the very end? Do they. . . like it, at the end?"

  There was a long pause. "No," he said.

  There was a longer pause. I jerked away from him, stood up, stood in the sunlight again. I pulled the bodice of the dress away from my body so the sun could pour down inside. I pushed my hair back so the light could touch all of my face, and then I turned round and pulled my hair up on the top of my head so that it could warm the back of my neck and shoulders. I was not going to cry again. I was not going to cry again. I could look at it as practical water conservation.

  I looked at him as I stood in the sunlight. His eyes were closed. I stepped out of the sunlight, still watching him. His eyes half-opened as soon as I was in shadow. "How long can you hold out?" I said sharply, my voice too loud. "How long?"

  Again his words were slow. "It is not hunger that will break me," he said. "It is the daylight. The daylight is driving me mad. Some sunset soon I will no longer be myself. " His eyes flicked fully open, his face tipped back to stare at me. I averted my eyes, looked at the weal on his forearm. "I may. . . kill you then. I may kill myself. I don't know. The history of vampires is a long one, but I do not know of anyone who has had. . . quite this experience. "

  I sat down. I heard myself saying, "Can I do anything?"

  "You are doing it. You are talking to me. "

  "I. . . " I said. "I'm not much of a talker. Our wait staff are the ones who know how to talk, and listen. I'm out back, most of the time, getting on with the baking. " Although several of our regulars hung around out back, if they felt like it. There was also a tiny patio area behind the coffeehouse that Charlie always meant to get done up so we could use it for more seating, but he never did, maybe partly because it had become a kind of private clubhouse for some of the regulars. When the fan wasn't going but the bakery doors were open I listened to the conversations, and people came and leaned on the threshold so I could listen more easily. Pat and Jesse's more interesting stories got told out back.

  "The worst time is the hours around noon," he said. "My mind is full of. . . " He paused. "My mind feels as if it is disintegrating, as if the rays of your sun are prizing me apart. "

  Silence fell again, and the sun rose higher.

  "I don't suppose you'd be interested in recipes," I said, a little wildly. "My bran and corn and oatmeal muffins are second only to cinnamon rolls in the numbers we sell. And then there's all the other stuff, lots more muffins - I can make spartan muffins out of anything - and tea bread and yeast bread and cookies and brownies and cakes and stuf
f. On Friday and Saturday I make pies. Even Charlie doesn't know the secret of my apple pie. I suppose the secret would be safe with you. " Charlie didn't know the secret of my Bitter Chocolate Death, either, but I didn't feel like mentioning death in the present circumstances, even chocolate ones.

  The vampire's eyes were half open, watching me.

  "I haven't got much more life to tell you about. I'm not a deep thinker. I only just made it through high school. I was a rotten student. I hated learning stuff for tests only because someone told me I had to. The only thing I was ever any good at was literature and writing with Miss Yanovsky. " June Yanovsky had tangled with the school board because she chose to teach a section of classic vampire literature to her junior elective. She said that denying kids the opportunity to discuss Dracula and Carmilla and Immortal Death was in the same category of muddleheaded misguided protectiveness that left them to believe that they couldn't get pregnant if they did it standing up with their shoes on. She won her case. "I'd've dropped out if it wasn't for her, and also Charlie really laid into me about how much my mom would hate it if I did. He was right, he usually is, especially about my mom. I'd been working at the coffeehouse since I was twelve, and I went straight from part time to full time after I graduated. I've never done anything. The farthest I've been from New Arcadia is the ocean a few times on vacation when the boys were little and the coffeehouse smaller and Charlie could still be dragged away occasionally. I like to read. My best girlfriend is a librarian. But I don't have time to do much except work and sleep. Sometimes I feel like there ought to be something. . . " An image of my gran formed in my memory: an image from the last time I had seen her. I had never decided whether or not it was only hindsight that made me feel she had known I would not see her again, that she was going away. Superficially she had seemed as she always had. She had said good-bye as she always had. There was nothing different about that meeting except that it had been the last. "Sometimes I feel like there should be something else, but I don't know what it is. " Slowly I added, "That's why I drove out to the lake last night. "

  I couldn't let the silence after that linger. "You could tell me about your life," I said. "Er. " Life? What did you call it? "Your. . . whatever. You must have done lots of stuff besides. . . er. "

  "No," he said.

 
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