Sunshine, p.3
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       Sunshine, p.3

           Robin McKinley
 
Chapter 3

 

  That was clear enough. I looked over my shoulder. The sun was getting up there. I looked at him again. The old-mushroom color was very bad again, and there was definitely sweat on his skin. He looked like he was dying, or he would have if he was human. He only didn't look like he was dying because he didn't look human.

  "You could tell me a story," he said. The words were almost gasps. Did vampires breathe?

  "A - what?" I said stupidly.

  "A story," he said. Pause. "You have. . . little brothers. You told them. . . stories?"

  Scheherazade had it easy, I thought. All she was risking was a nice clean beheading from some human with a cleaver. And while her husband was off his rocker at least he was human. "Oh - um - yes - I guess. But, you know, Puss in Boots. Paul Bunyan. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The Knight in the Oak Tree. And they were always wanting stories about spacemen and laser guns. I read all of Burroughs's Mars books and all of Quatermain's Alpha Centauri books to give me ideas, except the women in my stories weren't so hopeless. Nothing very - er - riveting. "

  "Puss in Boots," he said.

  "Yeah. You know, fairy tales. That's the one when the cat does all this clever stuff to help his master out, so his master winds up really important and wealthy and marries the princess, even though he was only the miller's son. "

  "Fairy tales," he said.

  "Yes. " I wanted to ask him if he hadn't been a child once, that surely he remembered fairy tales. Surely every child got told fairy tales. Or if it had been that long ago that he couldn't remember. Or maybe you forgot everything about being human once you were a vampire. Maybe you had to. In that case how did he know I would've told my brothers stories? "There are lots of them. Snow White. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The Frog Prince. The Brave Little Tailor. Jack the Giant Killer. Tom Thumb. My brothers liked the ones best that had the least kissing in them. So they liked Puss in Boots and Jack the Giant Killer rather than Cinderella and Snow White, who they thought were all glang. I agreed with them actually. "

  "What is your favorite fairy tale?"

  I made a noise that under other circumstances might have been a laugh. "Beauty and the Beast," I said.

  "Tell me that one," he said.

  "What?"

  "Tell me the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast," he said.

  "Oh. Yes. Um. " I'd learned to tell this one myself almost first of all, because the pictures of the Beast in the storybooks always annoyed me, and I didn't want any kids under my influence to get the wrong idea about him. I wondered if any even-more-than-usually-misguided illustrator had ever tried to make him look like a vampire. "Well, there was this merchant," I began obediently. "He was very wealthy, and he had three daughters. . . "

  How to tell a story - how to make it go on and on to fill the time - how to get interested in it yourself so it would be interesting to your listeners, or listener - all that came back to me, I think. It was impossible to know, and presumably vampires have different tastes in stories than little boys. I thought of a few car journeys we'd had on those holidays to the ocean, when I would tell stories till I was hoarse. There was a lot you could do with the story of Beauty and the Beast, and I had done most of it, and I did it again now. I watched the arc of the sun over my left shoulder. The light crept across the floor, and the vampire had to move to stay out of it. First he had to move in one direction, sliding along the floor as if all his joints pained him (how could he both look as if every movement were agony, and still retain that curious fluid agility?), and then he had to slide back again - back again and farther still, nearer to me. I moved to stay in the sun as he moved to stay out of it. I went on telling the story. There was no spot on the floor that he could have stayed in all day, and stayed out of the light. Vampires, according both to myth and SOF, did something like sleep during the day, just as humans sleep at night. Do vampires need their sleep as we do? So it wasn't only food and freedom Bo was depriving this one of?

  He'd said it wasn't hunger that would break him. It was daylight.

  I wondered dispassionately if I might be getting a sunburn, but I rarely burned anyway, and the idea in the present state of affairs, like worrying about a hangnail while you are being chased by an axe murderer, seemed so ludicrous I couldn't be bothered.

  The sun was sinking toward the end of day, and my voice was giving out. I had drunk several more mouthfuls of water in the course of the story. (If you haven't seen a vampire's lips touch the mouth of your bottle, do you have to wipe it off first?) I concluded in a vivid - not to say lurid - scene of all-inclusive rejoicing, and fell silent.

  "Thank you," he said.

  My tiredness was back, tenfold, a hundredfold. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I had to keep my eyes open - this was a vampire. Was this one of the ways to - persuade a victim? Had he been killing two birds with one stone - so to speak? Make the day pass, make the victim amenable to handling? But didn't they like them unamenable? I couldn't help it. My eyes kept falling shut, my head would drop forward, and I would wake myself up when my neck cracked as my chin fell to my breastbone.

  "Go to sleep," said his voice. "The worst is over. . . for me. . . today. There are five hours till sunset. I am. . . harmless till then. No vampire can. . . kill in daylight. Sleep. You will want to be awake. . . tonight. "

  I remembered there had been a blanket in the sack. I crawled over to it, pulled it out, put my head on the sack and the remaining loaf of bread, and was asleep before I had time to argue with myself about whether he was telling the truth or not.

  I dreamed. I dreamed as if the dream was waiting for me, waiting for the moment I fell asleep. I dreamed of my grandmother. I dreamed of walking by the lake with her. At first the dream was more like a memory. I was little again, and she was holding my hand, and I had to skip occasionally to keep up with her. I had been proud of having her for a grandmother, and was sorry that I only ever saw her alone, at the lake. I would have liked my school friends to meet her. Their grandmothers were all so ordinary. Some of them were nice and some of them were not so nice, but they were all sort of. . . soft-edged. I didn't know how to put it even to myself. My grandmother wasn't hard or sharp, but there wasn't anything uncertain about her. She was unambiguously herself. I admired her hugely. She had long hair and when the wind was blowing off the lake it would get into a tremendous tangle, and sometimes she would let me brush it afterward, at the cottage. She usually wore long full skirts, and soft shoes that made no sound, whatever she was walking on.

  My parents split up when I was six. I didn't see my grandmother for the first year after. It turned out that my mother had gone so far as to hire some wardcrafters - smiths, scribes, spooks, the usual range - and on what money I don't know - to prevent anyone in my dad's family from finding us. My father hadn't wanted to let us go, and while his family are supposed to be some of the good guys, it's very hard not to do something you can do when you're angry and it will get you what you want. After the first year and a day he had probably cooled off, and my mom let the fancy wards lapse. My grandmother located us almost at once, and my mother, who can drive herself nuts sometimes by her own sense of fairness, agreed to let me see her. At first I didn't want to see her, because it had been a whole year and I'd been sick for a lot of it, and my mother had to tell me - that sense of fairness again - what she'd done, and a little bit, scaled down to my age, of why. I was only seven, but it had been a bad year. That conversation with my mother was one of those moments when my world really changed. I realized that I was going to be a grownup myself some day and have to make horrible decisions like this too. So I agreed to see my gran again. And then I was glad I did. I was so happy to have her back.

  She and I had been meeting at the lake every few weeks for a little over a year when one afternoon she said, "I don't like what I am about to do, but I can't think of anything better. My dear, I have to ask if you will keep a secret from your moth
er for me. "

  I looked at her in astonishment. This wasn't the sort of thing grown-ups did. They went around having secrets behind your back all the time about things that were horribly important to you (like my mom not telling me she'd hired the wardcrafters), and then pretended they didn't. There'd been a lot of that that nobody explained to me before my parents broke up, and I hadn't forgotten. Even at six or seven I knew that my mom's wardcrafters were the tip of an iceberg, but I still didn't know much about the iceberg. I didn't know, for example, that my father might have been a sorcerer, till years later. And sometimes grown-ups said things like "Oh, maybe you'd better not tell your parents about this," which either meant get out of there fast, now, or that they knew you would tell anyway because you were only a kid, but then they could get mad at you when you did. (That this had happened several times with some of my dad's business associates is one of the reasons my mom left. ) But I knew my gran loved me and I knew she was safe. I knew she'd never ask me anything bad. And I knew that she really, really meant it, that I had to keep this secret from my mother.

  "Okay," I said.

  My gran sighed. "I know that your mother means the best for you and in many ways she's right. I'm very glad she got custody of you, and not your dad, although he was very bitter about it at the time. "

  I scowled. I never saw my dad. Once my gran had found me he started writing me a lot of postcards but I never saw him. And the postmarks on the cards were always blurry so you couldn't see where they'd been sent from. All the postmarks were blurry. Two or three a week sometimes.

  "But she's wrong that simply keeping you ignorant of your father's heritage will make it as if that heritage doesn't exist. It does exist. You can choose to be your mother's daughter in all things, but it must be a choice. I am going to provide you with the means for making that choice. Otherwise, some day, that heritage you know nothing about may get you in a lot of trouble. "

  I must have looked frightened, because she took my hands in hers and gave them a squeeze. "Or, perhaps, some day you will be in a lot of trouble and it will get you out of it. "

  We were sitting on the porch of the cabin by the lake. We'd been walking earlier, and had picked a little posy of wildflowers. She'd fetched a mug from the kitchen and filled it with water, and the flowers were standing in that, on the rickety little table that still sat on the porch. We'd been walking in the sun, which was very warm, and were now sitting in the shade of the trees, which was pleasingly cool. I could feel the sweat on my face drying in the breeze. My gran pulled one of the flowers out of the mug, put it between my two hands, closed my hands together over it so it was invisible, and put her hands over mine. "Now, what have you got in your hands?" she said.

  This was a funny sort of game. I said, smiling, "A flower. "

  "What else could you have inside your hands instead? What else is so small you can hide it completely, doesn't weigh very much, doesn't itch or tickle, is so soft you can barely feel it's there?"

  "Um - a feather?" I said.

  "A feather. Good. Now, think feather. "

  I thought feather. I thought a small, gray-brown-white feather. A sparrow, something like that. There was an odd, slightly buzzy sensation in my hands, under her hands. It was a little bit sick-making, but not very much.

  "Now open your hands. "

  She took hers away from mine, and I opened them. There was a feather, a little gray-brown-white feather there. No flower. I looked up at her. I knew that one of the reasons my mom had left my dad was because he wouldn't stop doing spellworking, and doing business with other spellworkers. I knew he came from a big magic-handling family, but not everybody in it did magic. I had never done any. "You did that," I said.

  "No. I helped, but you did it. It's in your blood, child. If it weren't, that feather would still be a flower. It was your hands that touched it, your hands that carried the charm. "

  I held up the feather. It looked and felt like a real feather. "Would you like to try again?" she said. I nodded.

  She told me that we only wanted to do little things this first time, so we turned the feather into a different kind of feather, and then we turned it into several kinds of flower, and then several kinds of leaf, and then we turned it into three unburned matchsticks, and then we turned it into a tiny swatch of fabric - yellow, with blue dots - and then we turned it back into the flower it had been to begin with. "First rule: return everything to its proper shape if you can. unless there is some compelling reason not to. Now we've done enough for one afternoon, and we want to say thank you, and we also want to sweep up any rubbish we've left - like sweeping the floor and wiping the counters after you've been making cookies. " She taught me three words to say, and lit a small bar of incense, and we sat silently till it had burned itself out.

  "There," she said. "Are you tired?"

  "A little," I said. I thought about it. "Not a lot. "

  "Are you not? That is interesting. Then I was right that I had to show you. " She smiled. It was a kind, but not a reassuring smile. She was also right that I couldn't tell my mother.

  My mother had stopped bringing me out and taking me back after the first few visits, although she made me wear a homecoming charm. I realized later that this might have looked like the most colossal insult to my gran, but my mother wouldn't have meant it that way and my gran didn't take it that way. I hung it on a tree when I arrived and only took it down again when I was leaving. My gran walked me out to the road and waited till the bus came into sight, made sure the bus driver knew where I was going (the charm wouldn't have stopped the bus for me if I'd forgotten to pull the cord, and I was still only a kid), kissed me, and watched me climb aboard. "Till next time," she said, which is what she always said.

  We played that game many times. I was soon doing it without her hands on mine, and she showed me how to do certain other things too, some of which I could do easily, some of which I couldn't do at all.

  One afternoon she pulled a ring off her finger, and gave it to me. "I'm tired of that red stone," she said. "Give me a green stone. "

  There were, of course, rules to what I had at first thought was a game. The more dense the material, the harder to shift, so stone or gem is more difficult than flower or feather. Anything that has been altered by human interference is harder than anything that hasn't been, so a polished, faceted stone is more difficult than a rough piece of ore. Worked metal is the worst. It is both heavy and dense and the least decisively itself. Something that is handled and used is harder than something that isn't, so a tool would be harder to shift than a plaque that hung on the wall, and a stone worn in a ring is going to be harder than a decorative bit of rock that stood on a shelf. It is easier to change a thing into something like itself: a feather into another feather, a flower into another flower. A flower into a leaf is easier than a flower into a feather. But worked metal is always hard. Even a safety pin into several straight pins is difficult. Even a 1968 penny into a 1986 penny is difficult.

  She hadn't told me any of the details, that first day, when I turned a flower into a bit of fabric. It showed how good she was, that she could create not just human-made fabric, but smooth yellow fabric with blue dots, instantly, with no fuss, because that's what I was trying to do, and she wanted me to have a taste of what she was going to teach me, without fluster or explanation. But that had been nearly a year ago, and I knew more now.

  The ring was warm from her finger. I closed my hands and concentrated. I didn't have to do anything to the setting, to the worked metal. Changing the stone was going to be big enough. I had only ever tackled lake pebbles before, and they were pretty onerous. I'd never tried a faceted stone. And this was a ring she wore all the time, and she was a practicing magic handler. Objects that have a lot of contact with magic, however peripherally, tend to get a bit steeped. But I should still be able to do it, I thought.

  But I couldn't. I knew before I opened my hands that I hadn't done it. I tried three times
, and all I got was a heavy ache in my neck and shoulders from trying too hard. I felt like crying. It was the first time I had failed to change something: transmuting was the thing I was best at. And she wouldn't have asked me to do something I shouldn't have been able to do.

  We were sitting on the porch again, in the shade of the trees. "Let us try once more," she said. "But not here. Come. " We stood up - I still had the ring in one hand - and went down the steps to the ground, and then down to the shore, and into the sunlight. It was another hot, bright day, and the sky was as blue as a sapphire.

  I wasn't ready for what happened. When I closed my hands around the ring again and put all my frustration into this final attempt, there was a blast of something - I shuddered as it shot through me - and for the merest moment my hands felt so hot it was as if they would burst into flame. Then it was all over and my hands fell apart because I was shaking so badly. My gran put her arm around me. I held up my unsteady hand and we both looked.

  Her ring had a green stone, all right, and the setting, which had been thin plain gold, had erupted into a thick wild mess of curlicues, with several more tiny green stones nested in their centers. I thought it was hideous, and I could feel my eyes filling with tears - I was, after all, only nine years old - because this time I had done so much worse than nothing.

  But she laughed in delight. "It's lovely! Oh my, it's so - drastic, isn't it? No, no, I'm truly pleased. You have done splendidly. I have wondered - listen, child, this is the important thing for you to remember - your element is sunlight. It's a little unusual, which is why I didn't spot it before. But you can probably do almost anything in bright sunshine. "

  She wouldn't let me try to shift it back. I thought she wouldn't let me because she knew I was too tired and shaken, that she'd do it herself after we parted. But she didn't. She was wearing it as I'd changed it the next time I saw her. We'd never left anything changed before, we'd always changed it back. I didn't know the words you said over something you weren't going to change back. Perhaps I should have asked her; but I thought of that ring as a mistake, a blunder, and I didn't want to call her attention to it, even though every time she moved that hand it called my attention to it. I couldn't even beg her to let me try to shift it back because I was afraid I'd only do something even uglier.

  I might have asked her some day. But I only saw her a few more times after I changed her ring. We had been meeting nearly every month, sometimes oftener, through my tenth year. After my tenth birthday I only saw her once more. All the grown-ups knew the Wars were coming, and even us kids had some notion. But I never thought about the Wars coming to our lake, or that I might not see my grandmother again.

  We didn't discuss sunlight again either. I didn't tell her that my nickname at the coffeehouse had been Sunshine since before Mom had married Charlie. I didn't know when I first met him that he said "Hey, Sunshine" to all little kids, and I thought he was making a joke about my name - well, what Mom had made of my name after she left my dad - Rae. Sun's rays, right? By the time I found out, Sunshine was my name. And then, because I was the only kid at that point that hung round the coffeehouse, the regulars started calling me Sunshine too. Pretty soon it was my name. It was so much my name that I didn't think of it when my gran first told me that sunlight was my element. Most people - even my mom - still call me Sunshine.

  I dreamed all this - remembered and dreamed - lying on the ballroom floor, with my head on a sack with a loaf of bread in it, and a vampire leaning against the wall twenty feet away. All of it was as clear and vibrant as if I were living it all over again, complete with the strange feeling of being a child again when you know you're an adult.

  Then the real dream began. I seemed to be back on the cottage porch with my grandmother, that first time, when we changed the flower, only this time we didn't sit in the shade but in strong sunlight. The flower was in my hands, and her hands were over mine, but I was the adult I was now, and neither of us spoke. I closed my hands, and opened them, and the flower was now a feather. I closed my hands, and opened them, and the feather was three matchsticks. I closed my hands and opened them, and the matchsticks were a leaf. I closed and opened them again, and now I was holding her plain gold ring with the red stone. The red stone flared in a sudden bright ray of the sun before I closed my hands again. Close, open, and there was the baroque monstrosity twinkling with green. Close open. My jackknife lay between my palms: the little jackknife that usually lived in the pocket of my jeans, that now lay hidden in my bra. Close open. A key. A key. . .

  I woke up. It was still daylight, but the sky was reddening with sunset. I was painfully stiff from sleeping on the floor. It was all still true: I was chained by the ankle, trapped in an empty house with a vampire. What I had dreamed was only a dream, and the sun was setting. I was also still horribly, murderously tired; I couldn't have had more than about four hours' sleep. If I'd had one of those hollow teeth that spies used to have in cheap thrillers, I'd have bitten down on it then. I didn't see how I could face another night. Bo's gang would be back, of course. To see how we were getting on. And my vampire - what a grotesque thought, my vampire - would have to decide all over again whether. . . however the question presented itself to him. Whether he was going to let Bo win or not.

  I rolled over with a groan. He was sitting cross-legged in the precise center of the wall. Watching me. I pulled myself into a sitting position. My mouth tasted beyond foul. I'd left the water bottle within his reach, but he hadn't had any more. I made myself stand up - all my bones hurt - rather than crawl, and went toward him and picked it up. I was getting used to approaching him. It was true, what you've read, about how you can't maintain a pitch of terror for very long: your body just can't do it. I was sick with dread, I at least half wanted to die to get it over with, but I walked to within arm's length of a hungry vampire and picked up my bottle of water and drank out of it with no more hesitation than if he'd been Mel. "Do you want any more?"

  He took it out of my hand, and disposed of half of what was left. Again I didn't see him drink. When he handed it back to me I stood there staring at it. I wanted to finish it - I was assuming Bo's gang would bring more, in the interests of keeping me "attractive" - but I felt curiously reluctant to wipe the top off under his eye.

  He said, "You will contract no infection by sharing water with me. "

  There was a curious new quality in his hitherto expressionless voice. I thought about it for a while. To do with the tone. Something.

  He sounded amused.

  I forgot not to look in his eyes. "What if you've been - like, drinking bad blood?"

  "What happens when you pour water into - alcohol? It mixes, it is no longer water, it is alcohol, and. . . clean of live things. "

  Clean of live things. I liked that. "It is diluted alcohol. "

  "This alcohol is still strong enough. And, as you might say. . . self-regenerating. "

  His eyes were not so murky as they had been last night. Presumably it was the water. Diluting something. . . else. "Please do not look in my eyes. It is coming night again, and. . . I still do not want Bo to win. "

  I jerked my gaze away. Bad sign that he'd had to tell me. Good sign that he still wanted Bo to lose. Good sign for what? Bo still had us. It's not as though this was some kind of trial, challenge, that when we got to the end if we'd survived they'd let us go free. This was it. It was only a question of really soon or slightly less soon. I wondered what Mom and Charlie and Mel and the rest were thinking; if Aimil knew yet. I hadn't not showed up on time to make cinnamon rolls in seven years. I'd never missed a morning till today. I never got around to taking holidays, and I was never ill. (Charlie, who never got sick either, used to say, "Clean living," which infuriated Mom, who had flu every winter. ) Would they have told the police I was missing? Probably. But the police would have said that I was free and over twenty-one and to tell them again in a few days if I still hadn't turned up. Pat or Jesse might be able to make them look
harder once they were looking at all, but I wasn't going to be alive in a few days. And our local cops were nice guys but not exactly rocket scientists. Not that rocket science would help me either.

  There would be no reason to think SOF should get involved. Who else would Mom or Mel ask? Yolande. But she wouldn't know anything either. They'd figure out that my car was missing. Would anyone think to go out to the lake and look at the old cabin? Not likely. Nobody else went out there but me, and I hadn't been there in years. I'd never even taken Mel there when we went hiking. I didn't think there were any regular patrols out there either; there wasn't any known reason the lake needed patrolling. And there were the bad spots. But if someone had gone out to the cabin and found my car, then what? I wasn't there, and I doubted vampires left clues. You heard about vampire trouble on the news when people started finding bloodless bodies with fang marks. And this house was very well guarded by the bad spot behind us.

  I drank the rest of the water. I didn't wipe the mouth first. I thought, is my arm or my dress likely to be any more sanitary?

  I turned toward the window. I felt the vampire watching me. "I have to pee," I said irritably. "I'm going to do it out the window. Will you please not watch? I will tell you when I'm done. " Since I'd never heard him move before, he must have made a noise so I could hear it. I looked, and he'd turned his back. I had my pee, feeling ridiculous. "Okay," I said. He turned around and returned to watching me, his face as expressionless as before.

  As he had seemed to grow smaller as the sun rose he seemed to grow larger as the sun set.

  The last light waned and so did I. I was cold as well as sick and frightened, and my headache felt bigger than my head. I wrapped myself in the blanket and huddled as near to the corner as my chain would let me. I remembered the other loaf of bread, and pulled it out and began to eat it, thinking it might help, but it sat in my stomach like a lump of stone, and I didn't eat very much. Then I hunched down and curled up. And waited.

  It was full dark. The moon would be up later but at the moment I could see almost nothing. On a clear night it is never quite dark outside, but we were inside. The windows left gray rectangles on the floor, but I could not see beyond them. I knew he could see in the dark; I knew vampires can smell live blood. . . No, I thought. That hardly matters. He isn't going to forget about me any more than I am going to forget about him, even if I can't see or hear him - even if I've got so used to the vampire smell I'm not noticing it any more. Which just made it worse. I thought I would have to see him cross the gray rectangle between him and me - I was pretty sure his chain wasn't long enough to let him go round - I knew I wouldn't hear him. But. . . I hadn't seen him drink either. I bit down on my lips. I wasn't going to cry, and I wasn't going to scream. . .

  I almost screamed when I heard his voice out of the darkness. "They are coming now. Listen. Stand up. Fold your blanket and lay it neatly down. Shake your dress out. Comb your hair with your fingers. Sit again if you wish, but sit a little distance from the corner - yes, nearer me. Remember that three feet more or less makes no difference to me: you might as well. Sit up straight. Perhaps cross your ankles. Do you understand?"

  "Yes," I croaked, or squeaked. I folded the blanket and laid it down. I wrapped the sack tidily around the remains of the bread. I put the empty water bottle with it. I shook my dress out. It was probably a mess, but there was nothing I could do about it. My hair actually looks a bit better if it doesn't get combed too often, so I tried to pull my fingers through it the way I would have if I were in front of the mirror at home. I wiped my face on my hem again. I felt unspeakably grubby and grimy - ironically perhaps, since I was still whole, I felt denied. I certainly did not feel attractive. But I smoothed my skirt before I sat down again, just inside the darkness on my side of the gray rectangle, a good six feet from my corner. My chain lay slack, lazily curved.

  "Good," he said from the darkness.

  A for effort, I thought. June Yanovsky would be proud of me.

  "They are coming" is perhaps a relative term. It seemed to me, my nerves shrieking with strain, that it was a very long time before the chandelier suddenly rattled ferociously - and then burst into light. The candles were all new and tall again. My gran had told me that setting fire to things from a distance was a comparatively easy trick, which helped explain why so many houses got burned down during the Wars; but the houses were already there, you didn't build them first. That two-second rattle had given me enough warning to swallow any cry, to force myself to remain as I was, ankles crossed, hands lying loosely one in the other, palms upturned and open. I doubted I was fooling anyone, but at least I was trying.

  There were a dozen of them. I hadn't counted last night, so I didn't know if there had been more or less. I recognized Bo's lieutenant, and the one who had been my other guard. There are some people who say that all vampires look alike, but they don't, any more than all humans look alike. How many live people outside the staff in those asylums have seen a lot of vampires anyway? These twelve were all thin and whippy-looking and that was about the only clear similarity among them. And of course that they were vampires, and they moved like vampires, and smelled like vampires, and were motionless like vampires when they weren't moving.

  "Bo said you'd hold out just to be annoying," said Bo's lieutenant. "Bo understands you. "

  I thought, he's frightened. That was supposed to be an insult, Bo's understanding, and he can't pull it off. And then I thought, I must be imagining things. Vampire voices are as weird as vampire motion and as unreadable as vampire faces. Hell, I can't even tell the boy vampires from the girl vampires. How do I know what vampire fear sounds like? If vampires feel fear. But the thought repeated: he's frightened. I remembered how reluctant they'd seemed last night, bringing me here. "Let's get it over with," Bo's lieutenant had said. I remembered how they didn't want to get too close to their "guest," and how they did most of their talking from near the door, farther than his chain would stretch; how the vampire who'd held me had dropped me and run, when he realized his friends were leaving him behind.

  "Is she still sane, though, Connie? It's harder if you keep them till they've gone mad, you know, and the blood's not as sweet. Bo finds this very disappointing as I'm sure you do, but that's the way humans are. You wouldn't want to waste what we brought you, would you?"

  They were all standing just beyond the chandelier, so not quite halfway across the room. They had fanned out into a ragged semicircle. As Bo's lieutenant spoke, he took an ambling step toward us. The others fanned out a little more. My poor weary heart was beating desperately, hopelessly, in my throat again. This reminded me of any human gang cornering its victim; and however wary they were of Bo's "guest," they were still twelve to one, and the one was chained to the wall with ward signs stamped all over the shackle. I couldn't help myself. I curled my stretched-out legs under me. I wanted to cross my arms in front of my breast, but I reminded myself that this was useless - just as curling my legs up was useless - so I compromised, and leaned on one hand, and left the other one in my lap. I managed not to squeeze it into a fist, although this wasn't easy. The vampires - all except the one sitting against the wall next to me - took another slow, floating, apparently aimless step forward. I was pressing my back so hard against the wall my spine hurt.

  I wished I knew what was going on - why were Bo and his guest old enemies? But then, even if I did know what was going on, how would that help me? What I wanted - to get out alive - didn't seem one of the options. So I might as well distract myself with wanting to know what was going on.

  They didn't want to get too close, but they were still moving closer. I couldn't think of any reason this could be good news.

  I never saw it coming this time either. They were vampires. I heard Bo's lieutenant saying, as if his words were coming from some other universe, "Perhaps you just need a little encouragement, Connie. " The words happened - seemed to happen - at human speed. Presumably that was because he wan
ted me to hear them. In the universe where my body was, I was picked up, and something sharp sliced high across my breast, just below the collarbones, above the neckline of my dress, and I was then thrown down, and my face banged into something hard, and I felt my lip split.

  I heard: "Since you don't seem to like feet," and the goblin giggle from last night.

  And then they were gone.

  And I was lying across my fellow captive's lap. The cut in my breast had been so quick that it was only starting to hurt. The cut. . . I was bleeding, bleeding, fresh warm red blood, all over a half-starved vampire. I felt his hands on my bare shoulders. . .

  I snatched myself away, at what was no doubt good speed for a human. He let me go. I slid backward on my knees, skidding on my slippery red skirt, clutching at my front, feeling the blood sliding through my fingers, dripping on the floor, leaving a blood trail, a pool; more blood oozing from my lip, leaking down my chin.

  He still hadn't moved. But this time, when I felt him looking at me, I had to look back. I had to look into his eyes, into eyes green as emeralds, as green as the stones in my grandmother's awful ring. . .

  You can stop me or any vampire if your will is strong enough.

  I felt my hands fall - tumble - from my breast. I leaned forward. I was going to crawl toward him. I was kneeling in my own blood, smearing it across the floor as I crept toward him. My blood was spattered on his naked chest, across one arm, the arm with the weal on it. Don't look. Look. Look into his eyes. Vampire eyes.

  . . . if your will is strong enough.

 
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