PART ONE

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in giant lethal marauding creature matters. Thanks to Ruby, Charlie’s Coffeehouse is probably the only place in Old Town where you are safe from the local cockroaches, which are approximately the size of chipmunks. You can hear them clicking when they canter across the cobblestones outside.

We’d begun the tradition of Monday evening movies seven years ago when I started slouching out of bed at four a.m. to get the bread going. Our first customers arrive at six-thirty and they want our Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head and I am the one who makes them.

I put the dough on to rise overnight and it is huge and puffy and waiting when I get there at four-thirty. By the time Charlie arrives at six to brew coffee and open the till (and, most of the year, start dragging the outdoor tables down the alley and out to the front), you can smell them baking. One of Ruby’s lesser minions arrives at about five for the daily sweep- and mop-up. Except on Tuesdays, when the coffeehouse is gleaming and I am giving myself tendonitis trying to persuade stiff, surly, thirty-hour-refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up.

Charlie is one of the big good guys in my universe. He gave me enough of a raise when I finished school (high school diploma by the skin of my teeth and the intercession of my subversive English teacher) and began working for him full time that I could afford my own place, and, even more important, he talked Mom into letting me have it.

But getting up at four a.m. six days a week does put a cramp on your social life (although as Mom pointed out every time she was in a bad mood, if I still lived at home I could get up at four-twenty). At first Monday evening was just us, Mom and Charlie and Billy and Kenny and me, and sometimes one or two of the stalwarts from the coffeehouse. But over the years Monday evenings had evolved, and now it was pretty much any of the coffeehouse staff who wanted to turn up, plus a few of the customers who had become friends. (As Billy and Kenny got older the standard of movies improved too. The first Monday evening that featured a movie that wasn’t rated “suitable for all ages” we opened a bottle of champagne.)

Charlie, who doesn’t know how to sit still and likes do-it-yourselfing at home on his days off, had gradually knocked most of the walls down on the ground floor, so the increasing mob could mill around comfortably. But that was just it—my entire life existed in relation to the coffeehouse. My only friends were staff and regulars. I started seeing Mel because he was single and not bad-looking and the weekday assistant cook at the coffeehouse, with that interesting bad-boy aura from driving a motorcycle and having a few too many tattoos, and no known serious drawbacks. (Baz had been single and not bad-looking too, but there’d always been something a little off about him, which resolved itself when Charlie found him with his hand in the till.) I was happy in the bakery. I just sometimes felt when I got out of it I would like to get a little farther out.

Mom had been in one of her bad moods that particular week, sharp and short with everyone but the customers, not that she saw them much any more, she was in the office doing the paperwork and giving hell to any of our suppliers who didn’t behave. I’d been having car trouble and was complaining about the garage bill to anyone who’d listen. No doubt Mom heard the story more than once, but then I heard her weekly stories about her hairdresser more than once too (she and Mary and Liz all used Lina, I think so they could get together after and discuss her love life, which was pretty fascinating). But Sunday evening she overheard me telling Kyoko, who had been out sick and was catching up after five days away, and Mom lost it. She shouted that if I lived at home I wouldn’t need a car at all, and she was worried about me because I looked tired all the time, and when was I going to stop dreaming my life away and marry Mel and have some kids? Supposing that Mel and I wanted to get married, which hadn’t been discussed. I wondered how Mom would take the appearance at the wedding of the remnants of Mel’s old motorcycle gang—which is to say the ones that were still alive—with their hair and their Rocs and Griffins (even Mel still had an old Griffin for special occasions, although it hemorrhaged oil) and their attitude problems. They never showed up in force at the coffeehouse, but she’d notice them at the kind of wedding she’d expect me to have.

The obvious answer to the question of children was, who was going to look after the baby while I got up at four a.m. to make cinnamon rolls? Mel worked as appalling hours as I did, especially since he’d been promoted to head cook when Charlie had been forced—by a mutiny of all hands—to accept that he could either delegate something or drop dead of exhaustion. So househusbandry wasn’t the answer. But in fact I knew my family would have got round this. When one of our waitresses got pregnant and the boyfriend left town and her own family threw her out, Mom and Charlie took her in and we all babysat in shifts, in and out of the coffeehouse. (We’d only just got rid of Mom’s sister Evie and her four kids, who’d stayed for almost two years, and one mom and one baby seemed like pie in the sky in comparison. Especially after Evie, who is professionally helpless.) Barry was in second grade now, and Emmy was married to Henry. Henry was one of our regulars, and Emmy still waitressed for us. The coffeehouse is like that.

I liked living alone. I liked the silence—and nothing moving but me. I lived upstairs in a big old ex-farmhouse at the edge of a federal park, with my landlady on the ground floor. When I’d gone round to look at the place the old lady—very tall, very straight, and a level stare that went right through you—had looked at me and said she didn’t like renting to Young People (she said this like you might say Dog Vomit) because they kept bad hours and made noise. I liked her immediately. I explained humbly that indeed I did keep bad hours because I had to get up at four a.m. to make cinnamon rolls for Charlie’s Coffeehouse, whereupon she stopped scowling magisterially and invited me in.

It had taken three months after graduation for Mom to begin to consider my moving out, and that was with Charlie working on her. I was still reading the apartments-for-rent ads in the paper surreptitiously and making the phone calls when Mom was out of earshot. Most of them in my price range were dire. This apartment, up on the third floor at the barn end of the long rambling house, was perfect, and the old lady must have seen I meant it when I said so. I could feel my face light up when she opened the door at the top of the second flight of stairs, and the sunshine seemed to pour in from every direction. The living room balcony, cut down from the old hayloft platform but now overlooking the garden, still has no curtains.

By the time we signed the lease my future landlady and I were on our way to becoming fast friends, if you can be fast friends with someone who merely by the way she carries herself makes you feel like a troll. Maybe I was just curious: there was so obviously some mystery about her; even her name was odd. I wrote the check to Miss Yolande. No Smith or Jones or Fitzalan-Howard or anything. Just Miss Yolande. But she was always pleasant to me, and she wasn’t wholly without human weakness: I brought her stuff from the coffeehouse and she ate it. I have that dominant feed-people gene that I think you have to have to survive in the small-restaurant business. You sure aren’t doing it for the money or the hours. At first it was now and then—I didn’t want her to notice I was trying to feed her up—but she was always so pleased it got to be a regular thing. Whereupon she lowered the rent—which I have to admit was a godsend, since by then I’d found out what running a car was going to cost—and told me to lose the “Miss.”

Yolande had said soon after I moved in that I was welcome in the garden any time I liked too, it was just her and me (and the peanut-butter-baited electric deer fence), and occasionally her niece and the niece’s three little girls. The little girls and I got along because they were good eaters and they thought it was the most exciting thing in the world to come in to the coffeehouse and be allowed behind the counter. Well, I could remember what that felt like, when Mom was first working for Charlie. But that’s the coffeehouse in action again: it tends to sweep out and engulf people. I think only Yolande has ever held out against this irresistible force, but then I do bring her white bakery bags almost every day.

Usually I could let Mom’s temper roll off me. But there’d been too much of it lately. Coffeehouse disasters are often hardest on Mom, because she does the money and the admin, and for example actually follows up people’s references when they apply for jobs, which Charlie never bothers with, but she isn’t one for bearing trials quietly. That spring there’d been expensive repairs when it turned out the roof had been leaking for months and a whole corner of the ceiling in the main kitchen fell down one afternoon, one of our baking-goods suppliers went bust and we hadn’t found another one we liked as well, and two of our wait staff and another one of the kitchen staff quit without warning. Plus Kenny had entered high school the previous autumn and he was goofing off and getting high instead of studying. He wasn’t goofing off and getting high any more than I had done, but he had no gift for keeping a low profile. He was also very bright—both my half brothers were—and Mom and Charlie had high hopes for them. I’d always suspected that Charlie had pulled me off waitressing, which had bored me silly, and given me a real function in the kitchen to straighten me out. I had been only sixteen, so I was young for it, but he’d been letting me help him from time to time out back so he knew I could do it, the question was whether I would. Sudden scary responsibility had worked with me. But Kenny wasn’t going to get a law degree by learning to make cinnamon rolls, and he didn’t need to feed people the way Charlie or I did either.

Anyway Kenny hadn’t come home till dawn that Sunday morning—his curfew was midnight on Saturday nights—and there had been hell to pay. There had been hell to pay all that day for all of us, and I went home that night smarting and cranky and my one night a week of twelve hours’ sleep hadn’t worked its usual rehabilitation. I took my tea and toast and Immortal Death, (a favorite comfort book since under-the-covers-with-flashlight reading at the age of eleven or twelve) back to bed when I finally woke up at nearly noon, and even that really spartan scene when the heroine escapes the Dark Other who’s been pursuing her for three hundred pages by calling on her demon heritage (finally) and turning herself into a waterfall didn’t cheer me up. I spent most of the afternoon housecleaning, which is my other standard answer to a bad mood, and that didn’t work either. Maybe I was worried about Kenny too. I’d been lucky during my brief tearaway spell; he might not be. Also I take the quality of my flour very seriously, and I didn’t think much of our latest trial baking-supply company.

When I arrived at Charlie and Mom’s house that evening for Monday movies the tension was so thick it was like walking into a blanket. Charlie was popping corn and trying to pretend everything was fine. Kenny was sulking, which probably meant he was still hung over, because Kenny didn’t sulk, and Billy was being hyper to make up for it, which of course didn’t. Mary and Danny and Liz and Mel were there, and Consuela, Mom’s latest assistant, who was beginning to look like the best piece of luck we’d had all year, and about half a dozen of our local regulars. Emmy and Barry were there too, as they often were when Henry was away, and Mel was playing with Barry, which gave Mom a chance to roll her eyes at me and glare, which I knew meant “see how good he is with children—it’s time he had some of his own.” Yes. And in another fourteen years this hypothetical kid would be starting high school and learning better, more advanced, adolescent ways of how to screw up and make grown-ups crazy.

I loved every one of these people. And I couldn’t take another minute of their company. Popcorn and a movie would make us all feel better, and it was a working day tomorrow, and you have only so much brain left over to worry with if you run a family restaurant. The Kenny crisis would go away like every other crisis had always gone away, worn down and eventually buried by an accumulation of order slips, till receipts, and shared stories of the amazing things the public gets up to.

But the thought of sitting for two hours—even with Mel’s arm around me—and a bottomless supply of excellent popcorn (Charlie couldn’t stop feeding people just because it was his day off) wasn’t enough on that particular Monday. So I said I’d had a headache all day (which was true) and on second thought I would go home to bed, and I was sorry. I was out the door again not five minutes after I’d gone in.

Mel followed me. One of the things we’d had almost from the beginning was an ability not to talk about everything. These people who want to talk about their feelings all the time, and want you to talk about yours, make me nuts. Besides, Mel knows my mother. There’s nothing to discuss. If my mom is the lightning bolt, I’m the tallest tree on the plain. That’s the way it is.

There are two very distinct sides to Mel. There’s the wild-boy side, the motorcycle tough. He’s cleaned up his act, but it’s still there. And then there’s this strange vast serenity that seems to come from the fact that he doesn’t feel he has to prove anything. The blend of anarchic thug and tranquil self-possession makes him curiously restful to be around, like walking proof that oil and water can mix. It’s also great on those days that everyone else in the coffeehouse is screaming. It was Monday, so he smelled of gasoline and paint rather than garlic and onions. He was absentmindedly rubbing the oak tree tattoo on his shoulder. He was a tattoo-rubber when he was thinking about something else, which meant that whatever he was cooking or working on could get pretty liberally dispersed about his person on ruminative days.

“She’ll sheer, day or so,” he said. “I was thinking, maybe I’ll talk to Kenny.”

“Do it,” I said. “It would be nice if he lived long enough to find out he doesn’t want to be a lawyer.” Kenny wanted to get into Other law, which is the dancing-on-the-edge-of-the-muttering-volcano branch of law, but a lawyer is still a lawyer.

Mel grunted. He probably had more reason than me to believe that lawyers are large botulism bacteria in three-piece suits.

“Enjoy the movie,” I said.

“I know the real reason you’re blowing, sweetheart,” Mel said.

“Billy’s turn to rent the movie,” I said. “And I hate westerns.”

Mel laughed, kissed me, and went back indoors, closing the door gently behind him.

I stood restlessly on the sidewalk. I might have tried the library’s new-novels shelf, a dependable recourse in times of trouble, but Monday evening was early closing. Alternatively I could go for a walk. I didn’t feel like reading: I didn’t feel like looking at other people’s imaginary lives in flat black and white from out here in my only too unimaginary life. It was getting a little late for solitary walking, even around Old Town, and besides, I didn’t want a walk either. I just didn’t know what I did want.

I wandered down the block and climbed into my fresh-from-the-mechanics car and turned the key. I listened to the nice healthy purr of the engine and out of nowhere decided it might be fun to go for a drive. I wasn’t a going for a drive sort of person usually. But I thought of the lake.

When my mother had still been married to my father we’d had a summer cabin out there, along with hundreds of other people. After my parents split up I used to take the bus out there occasionally to see my gran. I didn’t know where my gran lived—it wasn’t at the cabin—but I would get a note or a phone call now and then suggesting that she hadn’t seen me for a while, and we could meet at the lake. My mother, who would have loved to forbid these visits—when Mom goes off someone, she goes off comprehensively, and when she went off my dad she went off his entire family, excepting me, whom she equally passionately demanded to keep—didn’t, but the result of her not-very-successfully restrained unease and disapproval made those trips out to the lake more of an adventure than they might otherwise have been, at least in the beginning. In the beginning I had kept hoping that my gran would do something really dramatic, which I was sure she was capable of, but she never did. It wasn’t till after I’d stopped hoping…but that was later, and not at all what I had had in mind. And then when I was ten she disappeared.

When I was ten the Voodoo Wars started. They were of course nothing about voodoo, but they were about a lot of bad stuff, and some of the worst of them in our area happened around the lake. A lot of the cabins got burned down or leveled one way or another, and there were a few places around the lake where you still didn’t go if you didn’t want to have bad dreams or worse for months afterward. Mostly because of those bad spots (although also because there simply weren’t as many people to have vacation homes anywhere any more) after the Wars were over and most of the mess cleared up, the lake never really caught on again. The wilderness was taking over— which was a good thing because it meant that it could. There were a lot of places now where nothing was ever going to grow again.

It was pretty funny really, the only people who ever went out there regularly were the Supergreens, to see how the wilderness was getting on, and if as the urban populations of things like raccoons and foxes and rabbits and deer moved back out of town again, they started to look and behave like raccoons and foxes and rabbits and deer had used to look and behave. Supergreens also counted things like osprey and pine marten and some weird marsh grass that was another endangered species although not so interesting to look at, none of which seemed to care about bad human magic, or maybe the bad spots didn’t give ospreys and pine martens and marsh grass bad dreams. I went out there occasionally with Mel—we saw ospreys pretty often and pine martens once or twice, but all marsh grass looks like all other marsh grass to me—but I hadn’t been there after dark since I was a kid.

The road that went to what had been my parents’ cabin was passable, if only just. I got out there and went and sat on the porch and looked at the lake. My parents’ cabin was the only one still standing in this area, possibly because it had belonged to my father, whose name meant something even during the Voodoo Wars. There was a bad spot off to the east, but it was far enough away not to trouble me, though I could feel it was there.

I sat on the sagging porch, swinging my legs and feeling the troubles of the day draining out of me like water. The lake was beautiful: almost flat calm, the gentlest lapping against the shore, and silver with moonlight. I’d had many good times here: first with my parents, when they were still happy together, and later on with my gran. As I sat there I began to feel that if I sat there long enough I could get to the bottom of what was making me so cranky lately, find out if it was anything worse than poor-quality flour and a somewhat errant little brother.

I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.

I had kind of a lot of theoretical knowledge about the Others, from reading what I could pull off the globenet about them—fabulously, I have to say, embellished by my addiction to novels like Immortal Death and Blood Chalice—but I didn’t have much practical ‘fo. After the Voodoo Wars, New Arcadia went from being a parochial backwater to number eight on the national top ten of cities to live in, simply because most of it was still standing. Our new rank brought its own problems. One of these was an increased sucker population. We were still pretty clean. But no place on this planet is truly free of Others, including those Darkest Others, vampires.

It is technically illegal to be a vampire. Every now and then some poor stupid or unlucky person gets made a sucker as part of some kind of warning or revenge, and rather than being taken in by the vampire community (if community is the right word) that created him or her, they are dumped somewhere that they will be found by ordinary humans before the sun gets them the next morning. And then they have to spend the rest of their, so to speak, lives, in a kind of half prison, half asylum, under doctors’ orders—and of course under guard. I’d heard, although I had no idea if it was true, that these miserable ex-people are executed—drugged senseless and then staked, beheaded, and burned—when they reached what would have been their normal life expectancy if they’d been alive in the usual way.

One of the origins of the Voodoo Wars was that the vampires, tired of being the only ones of the Big Three, major-league Other Folk coherently and comprehensively legislated against, created a lot of vampires that they left for us humans to look after, and then organized them—somehow—into a wide-scale breakout. Vampirism doesn’t generally do a lot for your personality—that is, a lot of good—and the vampires had chosen as many really nice people as possible to turn, to emphasize their disenchantment with the present system. Membership in the Supergreens, for example, plummeted by something like forty percent during the Voodoo Wars, and a couple of big national charities had to shut down for a few years.

It’s not that any of the Others are really popular, or that it had only been the vampires against us during the Wars. But a big point about vampires is that they are the only ones that can’t hide what they are: let a little sunlight touch them and they burst into flames. Very final flames. Exposure and destruction in one neat package. Weres are only in danger once a month, and there are drugs that will hold the Change from happening. The drugs are illegal, but then so are coke and horse and hypes and rats’ brains and trippers. If you want the anti-Change drugs you can get them. (And most Weres do. Being a Were isn’t as bad as being a vampire, but it’s bad enough.) And a lot of demons look perfectly normal. Most demons have some funny habit or other but unless you live with one and catch it eating garden fertilizer or old combox components or growing scaly wings and floating six inches above the bed after it falls asleep, you’d never know. And some demons are pretty nice, although it’s not something you want to count on. (I’m talking about the Big Three, which everyone does, but “demon” is a pretty catch-all term really, and it can often turn out to mean what the law enforcement official on the other end of it wants it to mean at the time.)

The rest of the Others don’t cause much trouble, at least not officially. It is pretty cool to be suspected of being a fallen angel, and everyone knows someone with sprite or peri blood. Mary, at the coffeehouse, for example. Everyone wants her to pour their coffee because coffee poured by Mary is always hot. She doesn’t know where this comes from, but she doesn’t deny it’s some kind of Other blood. So long as Mary sticks to being a waitress at a coffeehouse, the government turns a blind eye to this sort of thing.

But if anyone ever manages to distill a drug that lets a vampire go out in daylight they’ll be worth more money in a month than the present total of all bank balances held by everyone on the global council. There are a lot of scientists and backyard bozos out there trying for that jackpot—on both sides of the line. The smart money is on the black-market guys, but it’s conceivable that the guys in the white hats will get there first. It’s a more and more open secret that the suckers in the asylums are being experimented on—for their own good, of course. That’s another result of the Voodoo Wars. The global council claims to want to “cure” vampirism. The legit scientists probably aren’t starting with autopyrocy, however. (At least I don’t think they are. Our June holiday Monday is for Hiroshi Gutterman who managed to destroy a lot of vampires single-handedly, but probably not by being a Naga demon and closing his sun-proof hood at an opportune moment, because aside from not wanting to think about even a full-blood Naga having a hood big enough, there are no plausible rumors that either the suckers or the scientists are raising cobras for experiments with their skins.)

There are a lot of vampires out there. Nobody knows how many, but a lot. And the clever ones—at least the clever and lucky ones—tend to wind up wealthy. Really old suckers are almost always really wealthy suckers. Any time there isn’t any other news for a while you can pretty well count on another big article all over the globenet debating how much of the world’s money is really in sucker hands, and those articles are an automatic pickup for every national and local paper. Maybe we’re all just paranoid. But there’s another peculiarity about vampires. They don’t, you know, breed. Oh, they make new vampires—but they make them out of pre-existing people. Weres and demons and so on can have kids with ordinary humans as well as with each other, and often do. At least some of the time it’s because the parents love each other, and love softens the edges of xenophobia. There are amazing stories about vampire sex and vampire orgies (there would be) but there’s never been even a half-believable myth about the birth of a vampire or half-vampire baby.

(Speaking of sucker sex, the most popular story concerns the fact that since vampires aren’t alive, all their lifelike activities are under their voluntary control. This includes the obvious ones like walking, talking, and biting people, but it also includes the ones that are involuntary in the living: like the flow of their blood. One of the first stories that any teenager just waking up to carnal possibilities hears about male vampires is that they can keep it up indefinitely. I personally stopped blushing after I had my first lover, and discovered that absolutely the last thing I would want in a boyfriend is a permanent hard-on.)

So the suckers are right, humans do hate them in a single-mindedly committed way that is unlike our attitude to any of the other major categories of Others. But it’s hardly surprising. Vampires hold maybe one-fifth of the world’s capital and they’re a race incontestably apart. Humans don’t like ghouls and lamias either, but the rest of the undead don’t last long, they’re not very bright, and if one bites you, every city hospital emergency room has the antidote (supposing there’s enough of you left for you to run away with). The global council periodically tries to set up “talks” with vampire leaders in which they offer an end to persecution and legal restriction and an inexhaustible supply of pigs’ blood in exchange for a promise that the vampires will stop preying on people. In the first place this doesn’t work because while vampires tend to hunt in packs, the vampire population as a whole is a series of little fiefdoms, and alliances are brief and rare and usually only exist for the purpose of destroying some mutually intolerable other sucker fiefdom. In the second place the bigger the gang and the more powerful the master vampire, the less he or she moves around, and leaving headquarters to sit on bogus human global council “talks” is just not sheer. And third, pigs’ blood isn’t too popular with vampires. It’s probably like being offered Cava when you’ve been drinking Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin all your life. (The coffeehouse has a beer and wine license, but Charlie has a soft spot for champagne. Charlie’s was once on a globenet survey of restaurants, listed as the only coffeehouse anybody had ever heard of that serves champagne by the glass. You might be surprised how many people like bubbly with their meatloaf or even their cream cheese on pumpernickel.)

Okay, so I’m a little obsessed. Some people adore soap operas. Some people are neurotic about sports. I follow stories about the Others. Also, we know more about the Others at the coffeehouse—if we want to—because several of our regulars work for SOF—Special Other Forces. Also known as sucker cops, since, as I say, it’s chiefly the suckers they worry about. Mom shuts them up when she catches them talking shop on our premises, but they know they always have an audience in me. I wouldn’t trust any cop any farther than I could throw our Prometheus, the shining black monster that dominates the kitchen at Charlie’s and is the apple of Mel’s eye (you understand the connection between motorcycles and cooking when you’ve seen an industrial-strength stove at full blast), but I liked Pat and Jesse.

Our SOFs say that nobody and nothing will ever enable suckers to go out in daylight, and a good thing too, because daylight is the only thing that is preventing them from taking over the other four-fifths of the world economy and starting human ranching as the next hot growth area for venture capitalists. But then SOFs are professionally paranoid, and they don’t have a lot of faith in the guys in lab coats, whether they’re wearing black hats or white ones.

There are stories about “good” vampires like there are stories about the loathly lady who after a hearty meal of raw horse and hunting hound and maybe the odd huntsman or archer, followed by an exciting night in the arms of her chosen knight, turns into the kindest and most beautiful lady the world has ever seen; but according to our SOFs no human has ever met a good vampire, or at least has never returned to say so, which kind of tells its own tale, doesn’t it? And the way I see it, the horse and the hounds and the huntsman are still dead, and you have to wonder about the psychology of the chosen knight who goes along with all the carnage and the fun and frolic in bed on some dubious grounds of “honor.”

Vampires kill people and suck their blood. Or rather the other way around. They like their meat alive and frightened, and they like to play with it a while before they finish it off. Another story about vampires is that the one domestic pet a vampire may keep is a cat, because vampires understand the way cats’ minds work. During the worst of the Voodoo Wars anyone who lived alone with a cat was under suspicion of being a vampire. There were stories that in a few places where the Wars were the worst, solitary people with cats who didn’t burst into flames in daylight were torched. I hoped it wasn’t true, but it might have been. There are always cats around Charlie’s, but they are usually refugees seeking asylum from the local rat population, and rather desperately friendly. There are always more of them at the full moon too, which goes to show that not every Were chooses—or, more likely in Old Town, can afford—to go the drug route.

So when I swam back to consciousness, the fact that I was still alive and in one piece wasn’t reassuring. I was propped against something at the edge of a ring of firelight. Vampires can see in the dark and they don’t cook their food, but they seem to like playing with fire, maybe the way some humans get off on joyriding stolen cars or playing last-across on a busy railtrack.

I came out of it feeling wretchedly sick and shaky, and of course scared out of my mind. They’d put some kind of Breath over me. I knew that vampires don’t have to stoop to blunt instruments or something on a handkerchief clapped over your face. They can just breathe on you and you are out cold. It isn’t something they can all do, but nearly all vampires hunt in packs since the Wars, and being the Breather to a gang had become an important sign of status (according to globenet reports). They can all move utterly silently, however, and, over short distances, faster than anything—well, faster than anything alive—as well. So even if the Breath went wrong somehow they’d catch you anyway, if they wanted to catch you.

“She’s coming out of it,” said a voice.

I’d never met a vampire before, nor heard one speak, except on TV, where they run the voice through some kind of antiglamor technology so no one listening will march out of their house and start looking for the speaker. I can’t imagine that a vampire would want everyone listening to its voice to leap out of their chairs and start seeking it, but I don’t know how vampires (or cats, or loathly ladies) think, and maybe it would want to do this. And there is, of course, a story, because there is always a story, that a master vampire can tune its voice so that maybe only one specific person of all the possibly millions of people who hear a broadcast (and a sucker interview is always a big draw) will jump out of their chair, etc. I don’t think I believe this, but I’m just as glad of the antiglamor tech. But whatever else it does, it makes their voices sound funny. Not human, but not human in a clattery, mechanical, microchip way.

So in theory I suppose I shouldn’t have known these guys were vampires. But I did. If you’ve been kidnapped by the Darkest Others, you know it.

In the first place, there’s the smell. It’s not at all a butcher-shop smell, as you might expect, although it does have that metallic blood tang to it. But meat in a butcher’s shop is dead. I know this is a contradiction in terms, but vampires smell of live blood. And something else. I don’t know what the something else is; it’s not any animal, vegetable, or mineral in my experience. It’s not attractive or disgusting, although it does make your heart race. That’s in the genes, I suppose. Your body knows it’s prey even if your brain is fuddled by the Breath or trying not to pay attention. It’s the smell of vampire, and your fight-or-flight instincts take over.

There aren’t many stories of those instincts actually getting you away though. At that moment I couldn’t think of any.

And vampires don’t move like humans. I’m told that young ones can “pass” (after dark) if they want to, and a popular way of playing chicken among humans is to go somewhere there’s a rumor of vampires and see if you can spot one. I knew Kenny and his buddies had done this a few times. I did it when I was their age. It’s not enormously dangerous if you stay in a group and don’t go into the no-man’s-land around the big cities. We’re a medium-sized city and, as I say, we’re pretty clean. It’s still a dumb and dangerous thing to do—dumber than my driving out to the lake should have been.

The vampires around the bonfire weren’t bothering not to move like vampires.

Also, I said that the antiglam tech makes sucker voices sound funny on TV and radio and the globenet. They sound even funnier in person. Funny peculiar. Funny awful.

Maybe there’s something about the Breath. I woke up, as I say, sick and wretched and scared, but I should have been freaked completely past thought and I wasn’t. I knew this was the end of the road. Suckers don’t snatch people and then decide they’re not very hungry after all and let them go. I was dinner, and when I was finished being dinner, I was dead. But it was like: okay, that’s the way it goes, bad luck, damn. Like the way you might feel if your vacation got canceled at the last minute, or you’d spent all day making a fabulous birthday cake for your boyfriend and tripped over the threshold bringing it in and it landed upside down on the dog. Damn. But that’s all.

I lay there, breathing, listening to my heart race, but feeling this weird numb composure. We were still by the lake. From where I half-lay I could see it through the trees. It was still a beautiful serene moonlit evening.

“Do we take her over immediately?” This was the one who had noticed I was awake. It was a little apart from the others, and was sitting up straight on a tree stump or a rock—I couldn’t see which—as if keeping watch.

“Yeah. Bo says so. But he says we have to dress her up first.” This one sounded as if it was in charge. Maybe it was the Breather.

“Dress her up? What is this, a party?”

“I thought we had the party while…” said a third one. Several of them laughed. Their laughter made the hair on my arms stand on end. I couldn’t distinguish any individual shapes but that of the watcher. I couldn’t see how many of them there were. I thought I was listening to male voices but I wasn’t sure. That’s how weird sucker voices are.

“Bo says our…guest is old-fashioned. Ladies should wear dresses.”

I could feel them looking at me, feel the glint of their eyes in the firelight. I didn’t look back. Even when you already know you’re toast you don’t look in vampires’ eyes.

“She’s a lady, huh.”

“Don’t matter. She’ll look enough like one in a dress.” They all laughed again at this. I may have whimpered. One of the vampires separated itself from the boneless dark slithery blur of vampires and came toward me. My heart was going to lunge out of my mouth but I lay still. I was, strangely, beginning to feel my way into the numbness—as if, if I could, I would find the center of me again. As if being able to think clearly and calmly held any possibility of doing me any good. I wondered if this was how it felt when you woke up in the morning on the day you knew you were going to be executed.

One of the things you need to understand is that I’m not a brave person. I don’t put up with being messed around, and I don’t suffer fools gladly. The short version of that is that I’m a bitch. Trust me, I can produce character references. But that’s something else. I’m not brave. Mel is brave. His oldest friend told me some stories about him once I could barely stand to listen to, about dispatch riding during the Wars, and Mel’d been pissed off when he found out, although he hadn’t denied they happened. Mom is brave: she left my dad with no money, no job, no prospects—her own parents had dumped her when she married my dad, and her younger sisters didn’t find her again till she resurfaced years later at Charlie’s—and a six-year-old daughter. Charlie is brave: he started a coffeehouse by talking his bank into giving him a loan on his house back in the days when you only saw rats, cockroaches, derelicts, and Charlie himself on the streets of Old Town.

I’m not brave. I make cinnamon rolls. I read a lot. My idea of excitement is Mel popping a wheelie driving away from a stoplight with me on pillion.

The vampire was standing right next to me. I didn’t think I’d seen it walk that far. I’d seen it stand up and become one vampire out of a group of vampires. Then it was standing next to me. It. He. I looked at his hand as he held something out to me. “Put it on.” I reluctantly extended my own hand and accepted what it was. He didn’t seem any more eager to touch me than I was to touch him; the thing he was offering glided from his hand to mine. He moved away. I tried to watch, but I couldn’t differentiate him from the shadows. He was just not there.

I stood up slowly and turned my back on all of them. You might not think you could turn your back on a lot of vampires, but do you want to watch while they check the rope for kinks and the security of the noose and the lever on the trap door or do you maybe want to close your eyes? I turned my back. I pulled my T-shirt off over my head and dropped the dress down over me. The shoulder straps barely covered my bra straps and my neck and shoulders and most of my back and breasts were left bare. Buffet dining. Very funny. I took my jeans off underneath the long loose skirt. I still had my back to them. I was hoping that vampires weren’t very interested in a meal that was apparently going to someone else. I didn’t like having my back to them but I kept telling myself it didn’t matter (there are guards to grab you if the lever still jams on the first attempt and you try to dive off the scaffold). I was very carefully clumsy and awkward about taking my jeans off, and in the process tucked my little jackknife up under my bra. It was only something to do to make me feel I hadn’t just given up. What are you going to do with a two-and-a-half-inch folding blade against a lot of vampires?

I’d had to take my sneakers off to get out of my jeans, and I looked at them dubiously. The dress was silky and slinky and it didn’t go with sneakers, but I didn’t like going barefoot either.

“That’ll do,” said the one who had given me the dress. He reappeared from the shadows. “Let’s go.”

And he reached out and took my arm.

Physically I only flinched; internally it was revolution. The numbness faltered and the panic broke through. My head throbbed and swam; if it hadn’t been for those tight, terrifying fingers around my upper arms I would have fallen. A second vampire had me by the other arm. I hadn’t seen it approach, but at that moment I couldn’t see anything, feel anything but panic. It didn’t matter that they had to have touched me before—when they caught me, when they put me under the dark, when they brought me to wherever we were—I hadn’t been conscious for that. I was conscious now.

But the numbness—the weird detached composure, whatever it was—pulled itself together. It was the oddest sensation. The numbness and the panic crashed through my spasming body, and the numbness won. My brain stuttered like a cold engine and reluctantly fired again.

The vampires had dragged me several blind steps while this was going on. The numbness now noted dispassionately that they were wearing gloves. As if this suddenly made it all right the panic subsided. One of my feet hurt; I’d already managed to stub it on something, invisible in the dark.

The material of the gloves felt rather like leather. The skin of what animal, I thought.

“You sure are a quiet one,” the second vampire said to me. “Aren’t you going to beg for your life or anything?” It laughed. He laughed.

“Shut up,” said the first vampire.

I didn’t know why I knew this, since I couldn’t see or hear them, but I knew the other vampires were following, except for one or two who were flitting through the trees ahead of us. Maybe I didn’t know it. Maybe I was imagining things.

We didn’t go far, and we went slowly. For whatever reason the two vampires holding me let me pick my shaky, barefoot, human way across bad ground in the dark. It must have seemed slower than a crawl to them. There was still a moon, but that light through the leaves only confused matters further for me. I didn’t think this was an area I was familiar with, even if I could see it. I thought I could feel a bad spot not too far away, farther into the trees. I wondered if vampires felt bad spots the way humans did. Everyone wondered if vampires had anything to do with the presence of bad spots, but bad spots were mysterious; the Voodoo Wars had produced bad spots, and vampires had been the chief enemy in the Wars, but even the globe-net didn’t seem to know any more. Everyone in the area knew about the presence of bad spots around the lake, whether they went hiking out there or not, but there’s never any gossip about sucker activity. Vampires tend to prefer cities: the higher density of human population, presumably.

The only noises were the ones I made, and a little hush of water, and the stirring of the leaves in the air off the lake. The shoreline was more rock than marsh, and when we crossed a ragged little stream the cold water against my feet was a shock: I’m alive, it said.

The rational numbness now pointed out that vampires could, apparently, cross running water under at least some circumstances. Perhaps the size of the stream was important. I observed that my two guards had stepped across it bank to bank. Perhaps they didn’t want to get their shoes wet, as they had the luxury of shoes. It would be bad business for the electric moat companies if it became known that running water didn’t stop suckers.

I could feel the…what?…increasing. Oppression, tension, suspense, foreboding. I of course was feeling all these things. But we were coming closer to wherever we were going, and my escorts didn’t like the situation either. I told myself I was imagining this, but the impression remained.

We came out of the trees and paused. There was enough moonlight to make me blink; or perhaps it was the surprise of coming to a clear area. Somehow you don’t think of suckers coming out under the sky in a big open space, even at night.

There had been a few really grand houses on the lake. I’d seen pictures of them in magazines but I’d never visited one. They had been abandoned with the rest during the Wars and were presumably either burned or blasted or derelict now. But I was looking up a long, once-landscaped slope to an enormous mansion at the head of it. Even in the moonlight I could see how shabby it was; it was missing some of its shingles and shutters, and I could see at least one broken window. But it was still standing. Where we were would once have been a lawn of smooth perfect green, and I could see scars in the earth near the house that must have been garden paths and flower beds. There was a boathouse whose roof had fallen in near us where we stood at the shore. The bad spot was near here; behind the house, not far. I was surprised there was a building still relatively in one piece this close to a bad spot; there was a lot I didn’t know about the Wars.

I felt I would have been content to go on not knowing.

“Time to get it over with,” said Bo’s lieutenant.

They started walking up the slope toward the house. The others had melted out of the trees (wherever they’d been meanwhile) and were straggling behind the three of us, my two jailers and me. My sense that none of them was happy became stronger. I wondered if their willingness to walk through the woods at fumbling human speed had anything to do with this. I looked up at the sky, wondering, almost calmly, if this was the last time I would see it. I glanced down and to either side. The footing was nearly as bad here as it had been among the trees. There was something odd…I thought about my parents’ old cabin and the cabins and cottages (or rather the remains of them) around it. In the ten years since the Wars had been officially ended saplings and scrub had grown up pretty thoroughly around all of them. They should have done the same around this house. I thought: it’s been cleared. Recently. That’s why the ground is so uneven. I looked again to either side: now that I was looking it was obvious that the forest had been hacked back too. The big house was sitting, all by itself, in the middle of a wide expanse of land that had been roughly but thoroughly stripped of anything that might cause a shadow.

This shouldn’t have made my situation any worse, but I was suddenly shuddering, and I hadn’t been before.

The house was plainly our destination. I stumbled, and stumbled again. I was not doing it deliberately as some kind of hopeless delaying tactic; I was merely losing my ability to hold myself together. Something about that cleared space, about what this meant about…whatever was waiting for me. Something about the reluctance of my escort. About the fact that therefore whatever it was that waited was more terrible than they were.

My jailers merely tightened their hold and frog-marched me when I wobbled. Suckers are very strong; they may not have noticed that they were now bearing nearly all my weight as my knees gave and my feet lost their purchase on the ragged ground.

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 six-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 much 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 stuff. 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.

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 mother 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 wanted 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.

Desperately I tried to think of anything—anything—my grandmother’s ring, which was the color of these eyes. My grandmother. Sunlight is your element. But it was darkness here, darkness barely lessened by candlelight. The candlelight was only there so that my weak human eyes could be more easily drawn by mesmeric vampire eyes. But I remember light, real light, daylight, sunlight. Hey, Sunshine. I am Sunshine. Sunshine is my name. I remembered a song Charlie used to sing:

You are my sunshine

My only sunshine

I heard him singing it. No, I heard me singing it. Thin, wavering, with no discernable tune. But it was my voice.

The light in the green eyes snapped off, and I fell backward as if I’d been dropped. I turned, and scuttled for my corner. I burrowed under my blanket, and I stayed there.

I must have slept again. Silly thing to do. Was there a sensible thing to do? Perhaps I fainted. I woke suddenly, knowing it was four a.m., and time to go make cinnamon rolls. But this time when I woke I knew at once where I was. I was still in that ballroom, still chained to that wall.

I was still alive.

I was so tired.

I sat up. It would be dawn soon. The candles had burned out while I slept, but there was dim gray light coming through the windows. I could see some pink starting on the horizon. I sighed. I didn’t want to turn around and look at him. I knew he was still sitting in the middle of the wall; I knew he hadn’t moved. I knew it as I knew that Bo’s gang had been frightened. The blood from my split lip had stuck my mouth together and when I licked it unstuck and yawned it split again, with a sharp rip of pain that made my eyes water. Damn. I touched my breast dubiously. It was clotted and sticky. The slash had been high, where it was only skin over bone; I hadn’t, after all, lost much blood, although it was a long gash, and messy. I didn’t want to turn around. He had let me go, last night. He had remembered that he didn’t want Bo to win. Perhaps my singing had sounded like the singing of a “rational creature.” But the sight of my blood had almost been too much for him. I didn’t want to show him my front again; maybe the scab would be too much of a come-on. I sucked at my lip.

With my back to him, wrapped in my blanket, I watched the sun rise. It was going to be another brilliant day. Good. I needed sunlight now, but I also needed as many hours as possible before sunset. How long could I afford to wait?

Charlie would be brewing the coffee by now. The sun was bright on the water of the lake. This would have to do.

I stood up and dropped my blanket. If the vampire had been telling the truth, I was safe from him now till sunset. I turned around and looked at the sunlight coming in the two windows I had to choose from. For no explicable reason I preferred the window nearer him. I avoided looking at him. I stepped into the block of friendly sunlight, and knelt down. I pulled my little jackknife from my bra, and held it between my two hands, fingers extended, palms together as if I was praying. I suppose I was.

I hadn’t tried to change anything in fifteen years. I’d only ever done it with my grandmother, and after she’d gone, I stopped. Perhaps I was unsettled by what I had done to her ring. Perhaps I was angry with her for leaving, even though the Wars had started and lots of people were being separated from members of their families as travel and communication became increasing erratic and in some areas broke down completely. The postcards from my father stopped during the Wars. But I knew my gran loved me, knew that she wouldn’t have left me again if she hadn’t had to. I still stopped trying to do the things she taught me.

It was as if our time by the lake was a different life. My life away from the lake, away from my gran, was the life my mother had chosen for me, in which my father’s heritage did not exist. Although I went to school with several kids from important magic-handling families, and some of them liked to show off what they could do, I was never really tempted. I oohed and aahed with the ordinary kids; and my last name, Charlie’s last name, gave nothing away.

By the time the Wars ended, I was a teenager, and perhaps I’d convinced myself that the games by the lake with my gran had only been children’s games, and if I remembered anything else I was dreaming. (Or the hypes or trippers I’d had had been unusually good.) It’s not as though my gran ever came back and reminded me otherwise.

But my gran was right about my heritage not going away because everyone was pretending it didn’t exist. I hadn’t been near that place, that somewhere inside me, for fifteen years, but when I went back there that morning, kneeling in the sunshine, it wasn’t just there, it had changed. Grown. It was as if what my gran had done—what we had done together—was plant a sapling. It didn’t matter to the sapling that we’d then gone away and left it. It went on with becoming a tree. My heritage was the soil it had grown in.

But I had never done anything this difficult, and I hadn’t done anything at all in fifteen years. Did you really never forget how to ride a bicycle? If you could ride a bicycle, could you ride a super-mega-thor-turbo-charged several million something-or-other motorcycle, the kind you can hear from six blocks away that you’d have to stand on tiptoe to straddle, the first time you tried?

I felt the power gathering below the nape of my neck, between my shoulder blades. That place on my back burned, as if the sunlight I knelt in was too strong. There was an unpleasant sense of pressure building, like the worst case of heartburn you can imagine, and then it exploded, and shot down my arms in fiery threads, and there was an almost audible clunk. Or maybe it was audible. I opened my hands. My arms felt as weak as if I’d lifted a boulder. There was a key lying in my right palm.

“You’re a magic handler—a transmuter,” said the vampire in that strange voice I no longer always found expressionless. I heard him being surprised.

“Not much of one,” I said. “A small stuff-changer only.” The kids from the magic-handling families taught the rest of us some of the slang. Calling a transmuter a stuff-changer was pretty insulting. Almost as bad as calling a sorcerer a charm-twister. “I thought you couldn’t look at me in sunlight.”

“The sound and smell of magic were too strong to ignore, and your body is shading your hands,” he said.

I extended the foot with the shackle on it. This was the real moment. My heart was beating as if…there was a vampire in the room. Ha ha ha. My hand was shaking badly, but I found the odd little keyhole, fumbled my new key in it, and turned it.

Click.

“Well done,” he whispered.

I looked out the window. It was maybe seven o’clock. I had about twelve hours. I was already exhausted, but I would be running for my life. How far could adrenaline get me? I had a vague but practical idea where I was; the lake itself was a great orienter. All I had to do was keep it on my right, and I would come to where I’d left my car eventually…probably twenty miles, if I remembered the shape of the shore correctly. If I stayed close to the lake I could avoid the bad spot behind the house, and I would have to hope there weren’t any other bad spots between me and my car that I couldn’t get around. Would I be able to change my shackle key into a car key? I doubted the vampires would have folded up my discarded clothing with the key in the jeans pocket and left it for me on the driver’s seat.

Surely I could do twenty-odd miles in twelve hours, even after the two nights and a day I’d just had.

I turned to the vampire. I looked at him for the first time that day. For the first time since I’d bled on him. He had shut his eyes again. I stepped out of the sunlight and his eyes opened. I stepped toward him, knelt down beside him. I felt his eyes drop to my bloody breast. My blood on his chest had crusted; he hadn’t tried to wipe it off. Or lick it up.

“Give me your ankle,” I said.

There was a long pause.

“Why?” he said at last.

“I don’t like bullies,” I said. “Honor among thieves. Take your pick.”

He shook his head, slowly. “It is—” There was an even longer pause. “It is a kind thought.” I wondered what depths he’d had to plumb to come up with the word kind. “But it is no use. Bo’s folk encircle this place. The size of the clear area around this house is precisely the size of the area Bo thinks can be kept close-guarded. He will not be wrong about this. You will be able to pass that ring now, in daylight, while all sane vampires are shielded and in repose, but the moment I can move out of this place, so will my guards be moving.”

And you aren’t, of course, at your best and brightest, I added silently.

I stood up and stepped back into the sunlight and felt it on my skin, and thought about the big tree where a tiny sapling used to be. There are a lot of trees and tree symbolism in the magic done to ward or contain the Others, because trees are impervious to dark magic. And then I thought about traps, and trapped things, and about when the evil of the dark was clearly evil, and when it was not quite so clearly evil.

There was a very long pause, while I felt the sunlight soaking through my skin, soaking into the tree that up till a few minutes ago I hadn’t known was there, felt the leaves of my tree unfurl, stretch like tiny hands, to take it in. I was tired, I was scared, I was stupefied, I’d just done an important piece of magic, I was tranced out. I thought I heard a wind in the leaves of my tree, and the wind had a voice, and it said yesssssssssss.

“Then you’ll have to come with me,” I said.

There was another silence, but when he spoke his voice struck at me as if it might itself draw blood. “Do not torment me,” he said. “As I have been merciful to you—as merciful as I can be—do not tease me now. Go and live. Go.”

I looked down at him. He was not looking at me, but then I was standing in the sunlight again. I stepped out of the sunlight but he still did not look at me. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I am not teasing you. If you will not let me try the shackle on your ankle, give me your hand instead.” I held my hand out—down—toward him, still sitting cross-legged on the floor.

More priceless sunlit moments passed.

“Would you rather die—er—whatever—like a rat in a trap?” I said, more harshly than I meant. “I haven’t noticed you getting any better offers.”

I didn’t see him move, of course. He was just standing there, standing beside me, his hand in my hand. It was the first time I had seen him standing. His hand felt as inhuman as the rest of him looked: the right shape and everything, but all wrong. Wrong in some fathomless, indefinable, turning-the-world-on-its-end way. Also there was the smell. Standing beside him it was almost overwhelming. Mind you, he smelled a lot better than I did, I needed a bath like you don’t want to imagine—there isn’t much that stinks worse than fear—but he didn’t smell human. He didn’t smell animal or vegetable or mineral. He smelled vampire.

I took a deep breath anyway. Then I stepped back into the sunlight, still holding his hand, drawing it after me. His arm unbent and let me do it.

The sunlight struck his hand, halfway up the wealed forearm. Some subtle change occurred—subtle but profound. The feeling of his hand in mine was no longer a—a threat to everything that made me human. The hand became a—an undertaking, an enterprise, a piece of work. Maybe not that much different from flour and water and yeast and a rapidly approaching deadline of hungry, focused customers.

I felt the power moving through me. It did not come in fiery threads this time, but in slow, fat, curly ripples. The ripples made me feel a little peculiar, as if there was an actual thing, or things, moving around in my insides, shouldering my liver and stomach aside, twisting among my bowels. I tried to relax and let the ripples wiggle and squirm as they wished. I had to know if I could do this, do what I was offering to do, for a long time. Possibly till sunset. Possibly twelve hours or more. Could I bear this invasion that long, even though I was inviting it? What if I overestimated my strength, like a diver overestimating how long she could hold her breath?

I was demented. The most impressive thing I had ever done before today was turn a very pretty ring into an ugly botch. And I would have this vampire’s…er…life totally in my hands.

I was trying to save the life of a vampire.

The ripples spread through me, first balancing themselves cautiously like kids standing on a teeter-totter, then slowly, gently, finding spaces where they could settle themselves down on various bits of my inner anatomy, like the last customers during the early breakfast rush finding the last available seats. Most of me was already full of things like heart and spleen and kidneys, but there were gaps where the power could fit itself in, attach itself to its surroundings. Tap into me. I felt very…full. As the connections were made—as the power made itself at home—the ripples began to change. Now they felt like the straps of a harness being settled in place, buckles let out a little here, taken in a little there. When they were done, it felt like a good fit.

I thought I could do it.

I sighed. I could no longer see my tree, because I had become it, embodied it, it grew in me, its sap my blood, its branches my limbs. The power wrapped round it like ropes and cables, flew from its boughs like banners and streamers. Perhaps the next time there was wind in my hair, it would rustle like leaves. Yessssssss. I held out my right hand, and he put his left hand into it. I drew him—all the rest of him—into the bright rectangle in front of the window.

Vampire skin looks like hell in sunlight, by the way. Maybe bursting into flames is to be preferred.

Anyway.

I felt my harness take its load. The pull was steady and even, the weight heavy but bearable. I hoped. “Okay,” I said. “Back up again. I want both hands free to get that shackle off, and—um—we’ll need to stay in contact while we—um—do this sunlight thing.”

I didn’t know vampires were ever clumsy. I thought grace came with the territory, like fangs and a complexion that looks really bad in daylight. They’re always oilily supple in the books. But he staggered back into the shadow, leaned against the wall with a thump, dropped my hands, dropped his own hands to thud against the wall next to him. “What in creation are you?” he said. “That is no small stuff-changer trick. It is not possible. It is not possible. I have been standing in sunlight and I know it is not possible.”

It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one of us feeling demented. I knelt to get at his shackle. I was relieved when the key worked for his cuff too; I guessed I was going to have to be pretty careful of my strength to be a successful sun-parasol for the undead for the next twelve hours. I was not thinking about any more of the implications of my offer than I had to. The main thing—the only thing—was: I couldn’t leave him behind. I didn’t care who or what he was. I couldn’t walk out of this cage and leave some caged thing behind me. If I could help it. And, for better or worse, I could. Apparently.

The skin of his ankle looked terrible. I couldn’t tell if the…peeling…was anything more than just chafing. I was careful not to touch it. My ankle didn’t seem any the worse for wear, but there hadn’t been any antihuman wards on my shackle that I’d noticed. Oh yes: they exist. They’re not a lot talked about among humans, but they exist.

“What are you? Who are you?” he repeated. “What family are you from?”

I broke the cuff open. “My name is Rae Seddon, but what you’re looking for is Raven Blaise. Seddon is Charlie’s name—my stepfather’s name—but my mother stopped me using Raven or Blaise as soon as we left my dad.”

“You’re a Blaise,” he said, still leaning against the wall, but staring down at me as I knelt at his feet. “Which Blaise?”

“My father is Onyx Blaise,” I said.

“Onyx Blaise had no children,” barked the vampire.

Had?” I said, just as sharply. “Do you know he is dead?”

The vampire shook his head, impatiently, but then went on shaking it again and again, as if bothered by gnats. Gnats might like vampires: they go for blood. But I didn’t think that was the problem here. “I don’t know. I don’t know. He disappeared—”

“Fifteen years ago,” I said.

The vampire looked at me. “Onyx Blaise had—has—no children.”

How do you know? I wanted to say. Is my dad another of your old enemies? Or…your old friends? No. No. I hadn’t seen him since I was six, but I couldn’t believe that of my gran’s son. “He has at least one,” I said.

The vampire slid slowly down the wall to sit on the floor next to me. He started to laugh. Vampires don’t laugh very well, or at least this one didn’t. He half looked—sounded—like something out of a bad horror film—the sort of horror film that isn’t scary because you don’t believe it, it’s so crude, where was their special effects budget?—and half didn’t. The second half was like the worst horror film you’d ever seen, the one that made you think about things you’d never imagined, the one that scared you so much you threw up. This was worse than the goblin giggler, my second guard, from Bo’s gang. I clamped my hands around the empty shackle and waited for him to stop.

“A Blaise,” he said. “Bo’s lot brought me a Blaise. And not just a third cousin who can do card tricks and maybe write a ward sign that almost works, but Onyx Blaise’s daughter.” He stopped laughing. Then I decided maybe silence was worse after all, at least when it followed that laughter.

“Your father didn’t educate you very well. If I had killed you and had your blood, the blood of Onyx Blaise’s daughter, the blood of someone who can do what you just did, I could have snapped that shackle as if the steel were paper and the marks on it no more than a—a recipe for cinnamon rolls, and taken the odds against me with Bo’s gang, even after the weeks I’ve been here, even against all the others you haven’t seen, silent in the woods, watching. And I would have won. That’s what the blood of someone from one of the families can do, and a Blaise…The effect doesn’t last—a week at the most—but a lot can be done in a few nights.” He sounded almost dreamy. “On Onyx Blaise’s daughter’s blood I could get rid of Bo for good. I still could. All I would have to do is keep you here one more day, and wait till sunset. I’m weak and sick and I see double in this damned daylight, but I’m still stronger than a human. All I would have to do is keep you here…” His voice trailed off.

I didn’t move. There was a small wispy thought in the back of my mind. It seemed to be something like: oh, well. A little closer to consciousness there was a slightly more definite thought, and it said, well, we’ve been here before, several times, in the last couple of days. We’re either going to lose for good now, or we aren’t.

I sat very still, as if I were trying to discourage a cobra from striking.

More minutes of sunlight streamed past us toward nightfall.

At last he said: “But I am not going to. I suppose I am not going to for some reason similar to whatever insane reason has made you decide to free me and take me with you. What happens when your power comes to its end, in five minutes or five hours? Well, I know that the fire is swift.”

I moved. Slowly. Distracted, in spite of everything, by that I know. Not I believe or I guess but I know. Something else not to think about. I continued to move very slowly. Took my hands off the empty shackle. Slid the key into my bra again. It could stay a shackle key for now.

I was not, perhaps, fully convinced that the cobra had lowered its hood. I felt his eyes on me again.

“I did warn you that names have power,” he said. “Even human names, although this was not what I was thinking of when I said it.”

“I’ll remember not to tell any vampires my father’s name in the future,” I said. I glanced out the window. We’d lost about half an hour since I’d made the key. I shivered. My glance fell on my corner; the sack looked plumper than it had when I last looked—before Bo’s gang had come the second time. More supplies, presumably. I would need feeding to get me through this day, although I didn’t at all feel like eating now, and neither of us had pockets to carry anything in. I went over to the sack and picked it up. Another loaf of bread, another bottle of water, and something heavy in a plastic bag. I pulled the heavy thing out…heavy and squishy. A big lump of red, bleeding meat.

I gave a squeak and dropped it on the floor, where it obligingly went splat.

The vampire said, “It is beast. Cow. Beef. I believe they have forgotten to cook it for you.”

“I don’t like cooked meat either,” I said, backing away from it. “I—I—no thanks. Er—would it do you any good?”

Another of his pauses. “Yes,” he said.

“It’s all yours,” I said. “I’ll stick to bread.”

I saw him, this time. Did he mean for me to be able to see him, was it hard for him to move in daylight even early in the morning and in shade, or was he merely luxuriating in being free from the chain? Or had he moved so little in the last…however many days and nights that even he felt a little stiff? He walked as slowly as a weary human might walk around the big rectangle of light on the floor, around it to my corner, although he still walked with a sinuousness no human had. He bent and picked up the drippy parcel. I thought, is he going to suck it dry or what?

I didn’t see. It was like when he drank water. One moment there was water, the next moment there was not. One moment there was a big piece of bloody meat in a white plastic bag, and the next moment the white plastic bag, ripped open, was drifting toward the floor, and the meat had disappeared. Vampires sometimes like their blood with a few solids, I guess. Maybe it was like having rice with your curry or pasta with your sauce.

I decided against trying to tie the sack round me somehow, and ate most of the new loaf instead, although it tasted like dust and ashes, not wholly because it was more store bread. (I spared a brief thought about how vampires might go shopping for human groceries. Groceries for humans, that is.) Then I picked up the water bottle. It would come with us.

We had to get going.

We were leaving. We were on our way. We were going now. And I was scared out of my mind. What had I let myself in for? The mere thought of remaining in constant physical contact with a vampire was abhorrent, and he was right, what about when whatever-it-was ran out? But I couldn’t force him to come with me. He had decided it was worth the risk. So how fast was the fire, anyway? Supposing it came to that. I didn’t need an answer to that: not fast enough. Nothing like as fast as a nice clean beheading.

And if you’re touching a vampire when he catches fire…

Okay, okay, wait, said a little voice in my head. How did you get here? You got here by making the best of a whole Carthaginian hell of a series of bad choices. And remember he doesn’t feel horrible when you’re doing your sun-parasol trick. He feels more like…helping Charlie do the books when Mom’s sick. Or dealing with Mr. Cagney.

Mr. Cagney was one of our regulars at the coffeehouse, and he was convinced that the rest of the world existed to give him a bad time. He was the only one of our regulars who couldn’t manage to say anything nice about my cinnamon rolls. That didn’t stop him from eating them, however, and listening to him complain on a day he had arrived too late and they were sold out had resulted in our always having one set aside for him. Dealing with Mr. Cagney was an effort. A big, tiring, thankless effort. On the whole I thought I preferred the vampire.

He was watching me. “You can change your mind.” Then he said something that sounded almost human for the first time: “I half wish you would.”

I shook my head mournfully. “No. I can’t.”

“Then there is one more thing,” he said.

I was beginning to learn that I probably wouldn’t like anything he said after one of his pauses. I waited.

“You will have to let me carry you till we are well away from here.”

“What?”

“Blood spoor. Your feet will be bleeding again before we are halfway across the open area.” Was there the faintest tremor in his oddly echo-y voice when he said that? “Mine will not. And Bo’s folk will not be at all happy about our escape, tonight, when they discover it. They will find the trail at once if they have blood spoor to follow.”

I laid on a pause of my own. “Are you telling me that if I had decided to leave you behind, I wouldn’t have made it anyway?”

“I do not know. There might conceivably have been some reason you were able to escape—a faulty lock on the shackle, for example. Bo would have someone’s…someone would pay severely for this, but it might end there. That we are both gone will mean that something truly extraordinary has happened. And it almost certainly has something to do with you—as it does, does it not?—and that therefore something important about you was overlooked. And Bo will like that even less than he would have liked the straightforward escape of an ordinary human prisoner. He will order his folk to follow. We must not make it easy for them.”

This was the longest speech I had heard from him. It edged out his description of the supersucker he would have become on the blood of Onyx Blaise’s daughter. “For a ma—a creature who is driven mad by daylight, you are making very good sense.”

“Having an accomplice is…reviving. Any hope after no hope. Even in these somewhat daunting circumstances.”

Daunting. I liked that too. That was as good as “clean of live things.”

He moved toward me and held out his arms, slowly, as if trying not to scare me. There was a sudden, ghastly rush of adrenaline— my body was having some trouble keeping up with my mind’s mercurial decisions—and I twitched myself sideways like I was moving a puppet. I put one arm round his neck—carefully, so I didn’t stretch the dubiously clotted scab on my breast—and held the water bottle in my other hand. He bent and picked me up more easily than I pick up a tray of cinnamon rolls.

It was not going to be a comfortable ride. It was rather like sitting on the stripped frame of a chair that has had all the chair bits taken away—there are just a few nasty pieces of iron railing left, and they start digging railing-shaped holes into you at once. Also, if this was a chair, it was made for some other species to sit in. Vampires do breathe, by the way, but their chests don’t move like humans‘. Have you ever lain in the arms of your sweetheart and tried to match your breathing to his, or hers? You do it automatically. Your brain only gets involved if your body is having trouble. Fortunately there was nothing about this situation that was like being in the arms of a sweetheart except that I was leaning against someone’s naked chest. I could no more have breathed with him than I could have ignited gasoline and shot exhaust out my butt because I was sitting in the passenger seat of a car.

I also had the weird sensation that he’d been several degrees cooler when he picked me up, and he’d matched his body temperature to mine. Speaking of matching.

We left by the door Bo’s gang had brought me through, across the ghostly hall, and out through the front door, which had been conveniently left ajar. What did I know about vampire deliberateness? I could barely recognize my vampire’s breathing as breathing. But I had a notion that he walked not merely without hesitation but very deliberately into the blast of sunshine at the foot of the porch, and turned left, toward the trees on that side. I felt my harness take the strain. If there had been real straps involved, they would have creaked. It was a long way to the edge of the wood. It was perhaps just as well he was carrying me; the heat of the sun seemed to be making me woozy.

Heat doesn’t usually trouble me. One of the reasons Charlie had first let me help him with the baking when I was still small was because I was the only one of any of us who could stand the heat of it in the summer, including the rest of the staff. That was when Charlie’s was still fairly small itself, and Charlie was doing most of the cooking, before he opened up the front so we could have tables as well as the counter and the booths along the wall, and before he built my bakery. The bakery now is its own room next to the main kitchen, and there are windows and an outside door and industrial-strength fans, but in July and August pretty much everyone but me has to get out of there and splash water on themselves and have a sit-down.

But this was something else. The big curly ripples of power I’d felt when we stood in front of the window seemed bigger and curlier than ever, and were slowing the rest of me down, taking up too much space themselves, squeezing the usual bits of me into corners, till I felt squashed, like someone in a commuter train at six p.m. Even my brain felt compressed. That sense of wearing some kind of harness that had also managed to nail itself into my major organ systems was still there, but I began to feel that it wasn’t so much carrying the burden as holding me together, so that the power ripples knew where the edges—the edges of we—were, and didn’t break anything. I didn’t feel frightened, although I wondered if I should.

We reached the edge of the trees at last, and it was better at once in their shadow. I felt more alert, and lighter somehow, although I wouldn’t have described the effect of the ripples as heavy. But that feeling of having all my gaps filled a little too full eased somewhat. I remembered what he’d said about daylight: I feel as if the rays of your sun are prizing me apart. The tree-shadow wasn’t thick or reliable enough to protect us from the sun so the power was still moving through me, but I didn’t feel I was about to overflow, or crack. I thought: okay. I can guard one vampire from the effects of bright direct daylight. I wouldn’t be able to guard two. Not that this was a piece of information I was planning on needing often in the future.

“We’ve crossed their line,” said the vampire. “The guard ring is behind us.”

“They’ll know we have, won’t they?”

“They’ll know tonight. We—do not pay attention to the daylit world.”

“Will they know where?”

“Perhaps. But I am following the traces from when they brought me here—and, so far, it is the same way they brought you—and without fresh blood they will have trouble deciding what is old and what is new.”

“Uh…” This wasn’t a topic I was looking forward to bringing up. “You know you and I are both, uh, wearing quite a lot of my, uh, blood already. Uh. Crusted. From last night.”

“That matters very little,” said the vampire. “It is only blood hot from a live body when it touches the earth that leaves a clear sign.”

I reminded myself this was good news.

He was silent for a while, and then he said, dispassionately as ever, “I had feared that even if you could, as you claimed, protect my body from the fire as we crossed the open space, that the sun would blind me. This did not happen. I am relieved.”

“Oh, gods,” I said.

“As you say. But as you said earlier, I did not see myself receiving any better offers either. It seemed to me worth even that price against the almost certain likelihood of annihilation at Bo’s hands.”

I said, fascinated against my better judgment, “You thought I could navigate you through the trees somehow?”

“Yes. I would not have been totally helpless. I can—detect the presence of solid objects. But it would not have been easy.”

I laughed. It was the first time I had laughed since I had driven out to the lake alone. “No. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been.”

We went on some time then in silence. We had to stop once for me to have another pee. Gods. Vampires didn’t seem to have bodily functions. I squatted behind him, holding one of his legs. While I was on the spot, so to speak, I had a look at his sore ankle. It still looked disgusting but I didn’t think it looked any worse.

It occurred to me several times that we were making much better speed than we would have with me walking barefoot. And while the iron-railing effect was pretty painful I have ridden in cars with worse suspension than being carried by a striding vampire. That liquid motion thing they do is no joke, and one-hundred-twenty (give or take) pound burdens don’t dent it either. If the ankle was troubling him it didn’t show.

The cut on my breast hurt quite a lot but I had more important things to worry about. He carried me so smoothly that it didn’t crack open anyway. Thankful for small favors. I felt that even our present momentous alliance might have been put under strain if I started bleeding on him again.

I was keeping a vague watch on the sun through the trees over the lake, and also, with the power alive and working, I seemed able to sense it in some way other than seeing or feeling the touch of its light, and I knew when noon had come and gone. I had had a drink out of the water bottle a couple of times, and had offered it to my chauffeur, but he said, “No, thank you, it is not necessary.” He sure was polite after he’d decided not to have you for dinner.

It was much farther back to my car than I’d guessed. Thirty miles, probably more. Maybe I still could have made it by myself before sunset, even barefoot. Maybe.

But I wouldn’t have made it much farther, and the car wasn’t there.

I’d explained where we were going when we had started out. The vampire had said nothing, but then he often said nothing, and he hadn’t disagreed. I had the knife-key in my bra; we’d either find him a nice deep patch of shadow while I did my trick again, or he could keep his hands on my shoulders to maintain the Sun Screen Factor: Absolute Plus. I hadn’t thought a lot beyond that. I guess what I was thinking was that a car equaled normal life. Once I got in my car and stuck the key in the little hole and the ignition caught, everything that had happened would be over like it had never happened, and I could just go back to my life again. I wasn’t thinking clearly, of course, but who would be? I was still alive, and that was pretty amazing under the circumstances.

I hadn’t thought about what I would do with the vampire after we got to the car either. As much as had occurred to me was that he could keep one hand on my knee while I drove, or something. Nobody put his hand on my knee except Mel, but just how “somebody” was a vampire? I didn’t think I could shut even a vampire in the trunk, although the shade in there ought to be pretty total, and I wasn’t sure what the parameters were anyway. I knew that a heavy coat and a broad-brimmed hat weren’t fireproof enough and historians had long ago declared that the famous stories of knights in heavy armor turning out to be vampires weren’t true either, so probably one layer of plastic car wasn’t enough. But then what? Where do you drop off a vampire whom you’ve given a lift? The nearest mausoleum? Ha ha. The whole business of vampires hanging out in graveyards is bogus—vampires don’t want anything to do with dead people, and the people they turn don’t get buried in the first place. But old nursery tales die hard. (So much for Bram Stoker et al., Miss Yablonsky’s point exactly.)

So I hadn’t made any contingency plans. When we got to the old cottage I said, “Okay, here we are,” and the vampire set me down, and I was standing on my own feet, and trying not to step on anything that would make me bleed. He was hovering, however, and it wasn’t only because of the sun; I’m sure he would have picked me up again faster than blood could drip if it had come to that. He had one hand tactfully on my elbow. The light was no more than dappled where we stood. Funny how the claustrophobic regrowth of wilderness scrub can suddenly seem treacherously open and sporadic when you’re thinking in terms of your companion’s fatal allergy to sunlight.

I knew where I’d left the car. It was a small cabin and the place you parked was right behind it. “It’s not here,” I said stupidly. For the first time I felt the ripples of power lurch, as if they might knock me over, as if they might…spill over the lip of me somehow, and be lost. I couldn’t risk, no, I wouldn’t risk…I turned round and seized him, wrapped my arms around him, as if he were a seawall and could turn back any vagrant tide, contain any unexpected breaker. His arms, hesitantly, slid behind me, and it occurred to me that our prolonged physical contact was probably no more pleasant for him than it was for me, if perhaps for different reasons.

I took a few deep breaths, and the ripples steadied. I steadied. He was a good wall. Really very wall-like in some ways. Solid. Immobile. I realized I had my face pressed against what I knew from experience was an ambulatory body…that had no heart beating. Funny. And yet there was a buzz of…something going on in there. Life, you might call it, for want of a better term. I had never met a wall that buzzed.

I let go. He let go, except for one hand on my shoulder. “Sorry,” I said. “I thought I was losing it.”

“Yes,” he said.

“If I had lost it, you’d have die—fried, you know,” I said, to see what he would say. “Yes,” he said. I shook my head.

“My kind does not surprise easily,” he said. “You surprised me, this morning. I have thus used up my full quota of shock and consternation for some interval.”

I stared at him. “You made a joke.”

“I have heard this kind of thing may happen, to vampires who linger in the company of humans,” he said, looking and sounding particularly vampirish. “It is not a situation that has provoked much interest. And…I am not myself after a day spent in daylight.”

I’m not feeling a whole lot like myself either, I thought. I was carefully not thinking about the instinct that had thrown me at him just now. Wouldn’t grabbing a tree have steadied me at least as well? So what if maybe he fried? “So you are not surprised by the disappearance of my car. That makes one of us.”

“I had thought it unlikely that Bo would allow so obvious a loose end to remain dangling.”

“I’m sorry. Yes. That is—sense. But I don’t know what to do now.”

“We go on,” said the vampire. “We must be well away from the lake before dark.”

I was trying to bring my brain back into balance. Settling the ripples down seemed to have cost me a lot, and my brain didn’t want to produce coherent thoughts. I was also, of course, so far beyond tired that I didn’t dare look in that direction at all. “The lake?” I said.

He paused again, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like what followed. “Vampire senses are different from human in a number of ways. The one that is relevant in this case is that landscape which is all one sort of thing is…more penetrable to our awareness to the extent of its homogeneity. It is not the distance that is crucial, but the uniformity. Bo will be able to find us too easily within any of the woods of the lake because they are all the woods of the lake, even without blood spoor to follow. Once we are out of those woods…in some ways Bo will have more difficulty in tracing us than a human might.”

A tiny piece of good news, if we lived long enough. Okay. The nearest way out of the woods was still the way we had been going— which must have been why the vampire agreed to it in the first place. The woods around the lake spilled into more woods and smaller lakes and some mostly deserted farmland before it came to any more towns. New Arcadia was the only city for some distance, and then there were a lot of smaller towns and villages spreading out from us, eventually themselves getting larger and closer together again till they became another city. But that was a hundred miles away.

“Where are you going?” I said.

“I am going where you are going till sunset,” said the vampire. “Then you are going where you are going, and I am going where I am going.”

I sighed. “Yes. No. I didn’t mean to pry. Look, it is all very well that we have to get away from the woods, but that means going into at least the outskirts of the town. And while I can keep the sun off you, I can’t make you look human. And let me tell you your skin color is strictly incredible, and you’re not even wearing a shirt. And we don’t have a car.”

The vampire took this without a tremor. “What do you suggest?”

“The only thing I can think of is to plaster ourselves with mud— especially you—stagger a little, and hit town at the tip of the north end, where the druggies hang out. You do look a little like a junkie, or you look a little more like a junkie than you look like anything else. Human. With any luck any junkies that have eyes left to see you with will be so creeped out by how much worse it can get than they realized that nobody will say anything to us.” I paused. “Then there’s the poor but fairly respectable area, and they won’t like us, but if we keep moving they probably won’t call the suck—the cops. What worries me most is that some bright spark might guess you’re a demon. You manifestly can’t be a vampire because you’re out in daylight. But you aren’t, as I say, at all persuasive as human. You could be a rather dim demon who doesn’t realize how bad your passing for human is— and since we have to keep hold of each other someone might think you were kidnapping me—hell. And there’s at least one highway we have to cross too. Double Carthaginian hell. I don’t suppose you know that part of town at all?”

“No.”

“No. I don’t either, much. Well, if they don’t call SOF, we should be able to find the nature preserve my landlady’s house is on the other side of…I have no idea how far all of this is though. A ways. We could have gone directly through town in my car.” I looked apprehensively at the sun, which was nearing midafternoon, and there were still a lot of trees between us and pavement.

“Indeed you would not have been best advised to go directly through town in your car, not with me in it with you. Your family will have given the—the identification number to the police.”

“What? License plate. Oh. Oh. I’m sorry. I hadn’t thought of that either.”

“I had not supposed you had brought me all this way to betray me at the last,” he said.

No. “But…it’s likely to be well past sunset before we get to my apartment,” I said, trying not to sound desolate. I am not too tired to go on, I was telling myself. Not finding the car is only a setback. It’s not the end of the story.

“I will see you home,” said the vampire courteously, like a nice, well-brought-up boy seeing his date back to her house after dinner at the local pizza place.

There was no reason that this should make my eyes fill with tears. I was just tired. “I didn’t mean—oh—thanks,” I said. I should have wanted him gone as soon as possible. I should have been longing for the sight of the sun touching the horizon—at least once we got out of the trees. But I wasn’t. I was grateful that he was going to see me to my front door. Standing by the cabin and looking at the place my car should have been and wasn’t, I didn’t think I could do it without him.

I was glad he hadn’t fried.

We went down to the lake in our little connected duo. I had grown sort of used to being carried, and because it was such an odd thing to be doing at all, the crucial, fundamental oddness of our necessary proximity was less noticeable. Walking side by side with my hand tucked under his arm was much odder and more uncomfortable. I also found that it made me feel more lopsided. It was probably only a function of being so tired, but having the power exchange, or whatever it was, only going on through one hand made me feel dizzy. I leaned on him not very voluntarily.

The ground here was mostly dirt and moss with a little struggling grass or grasslike weeds, so my bare feet were not in much danger. When we got to the shore I chose the marshiest place I could find—I knew where to look, there was a little inlet just east of the cabin— and made him sit down in it, and then rubbed bog slime and mud all over him, including his hair. He was so skinny my hands went thump thump thump down his ribs. He put up with all of this with perfect stoicism. He put one hand round my ankle—so I would have both hands free—but I told him to use both ankles for balance. My balance.

I was a little more artistic about my own ornamentation. I only had to look like someone who might be jiving with this freak in a nonmandatory way. So I rubbed mud into my hair and let it drip down one side of my face and over that shoulder. I primly kept the mud away from the cut on my breast. My mother’s rules of hygiene were very clear about preventing dirt from entering an open wound, and I didn’t have a Band-Aid to hand. It would have had to be several very large Band-Aids anyway. (I hoped mud on the vampire’s injured ankle wasn’t going to cause him any problems: that the clean-of-live-things trick was a general defense.) Besides, the slash was probably good added verisimilitude and we could use all the help we could get. Verisimilitude of what? My lip was still swollen but it had stopped bleeding hours ago, and the metal tang of blood was no longer in my mouth. Hooray. I wanted to feel as little like a vampire as possible. I didn’t like the sensation that the boundaries were getting a little blurry.

I had spent a lot of time sitting by this same inlet with my grandmother. In the fifteen years since then it had changed its course and silted up. When we had sat here you could hear the small pattering stream that had created the inlet, but it was silent now. All I could hear was my own breathing, and the splat of my handiwork. There weren’t even any birds.

The vampire insisted, if you could call it insisting, that he would carry me the last stretch of woods to the first streets of the town. Homogeneity, he reminded me, and blood spoor. And I remembered how much faster we went when it was only him walking—and that it was another twelve or fifteen miles to the edge of town—and made no protest.

He carried me right up to the crumbling cement of the end of the last street, and let my legs drop down gently on the disintegrating curb. I didn’t have to pretend to lean on him to keep contact; I needed him to keep me upright. I put my arm through his and my hand on his wrist. We bumped gently at shoulder and hip. The power ripples sloshed a little as I adjusted to walking on my own feet again, but there was none of the sudden danger of losing my balance that there had been when I’d discovered the disappearance of my car. In fact the ripples now seemed to be slightly altering their shape and pattern to help me. The dizziness I’d felt when we walked down the inlet subsided.

I had just enough sense left to put the now-empty bottle of water in a city litter bin.

I don’t ever want to have another journey like those last fifteen or so miles across town. I know I keep going on about how tired I was, but that last exhaustion was like a mortal illness, and I felt I could see my death a few hundred feet down the street ahead of us. I’m a pretty good walker, but I’m talking about normal life: Mel and I might hike fifteen miles around the lake looking for animals and trying to stay out of the way of Supergreens, but we would take all day at it, have several rest stops and a long halt for lunch, and go home tired and pleased with ourselves. We would also be wearing shoes. This was fifteen miles on top of all that had gone before, and I’d been running on empty for a long time already. It wasn’t only my death I was seeing; I was beginning to hallucinate pretty badly. Lots of people get sort of gray, ferny, cobwebby mirages around the edges of their vision when they get overtired—and I’d had them before occasionally when we were shorthanded at the coffeehouse because everyone was sick but Charlie and me, and we were working sixteen-, eighteen-hour days day after day—but this was the first time the ferns and cobwebs had things moving around in them, not to mention the new, full-color palette. It was not an enjoyable experience. I did recognize what was going on, and went on peering through the fringes of my private picture show, and making out which way we should be going out there in the real world. I knew the layout of my city pretty well even if I didn’t know all its details, and even at this final personal frontier I kept my sense of direction. It was, however, just as well that I was so numb I was barely aware of my poor feet. And it was a good thing that blood spoor was no longer an issue.

The sun was by now moving quickly toward setting, which should have been a good thing; the pair of us were going to be less grisly-looking in twilight. No one accosted us. We saw a few people, but either they were already totally lit and away and having much better private screenings than mine (which several of them were animatedly discussing with themselves) and couldn’t care less about us, or they took one look and crossed to the other side of whichever street we were on, and kept their eyes averted. I thought of asking the vampire if he was doing anything—if vampires can persuade, can they repel too?—but it was still daylight, if barely, so this didn’t seem likely. Maybe my power-ripples were doing something. Maybe that was part of the adjustment they’d made at the edge of town. Maybe we were just lucky.

In the middle of all this I had a fierce implausible longing for my grandmother, who could have explained to me what I was doing—I was sure—and how I was doing it. As I started to slip over some kind of definitive last line, as I began to feel that the power-ripples were soon going to be all there was left of me, that my own personality was weakening, thinning, would blow away like the spidery gray stuff over my eyes, I suddenly, passionately, wanted to know what I was doing.

It wasn’t the vampire the people were avoiding, though. It was me. I was the one reeling and mumbling and off my head and probably dangerous.

I was fading with the daylight. I had stretched myself too far.

I got us to the edge of the park at about the moment that twilight turned into darkness, and he picked me up again without so much as a break in his stride, and plunged under the trees, into the night that was his element. I could feel the power-ripples moving faintly through me even though I no longer needed them for a sun-parasol. I thought, mistily, maybe they’re trying to keep me alive. Nice of them. He must be trying too. Funny sort of thing for a vampire to do…

It was all darkness around us, darkness and trees, and the vampire speeding through it. Feebly I murmured, “I have no idea where we are any more.”

“I do,” he said. “I can smell your house.”

Perhaps I fell asleep. That would explain the dreams: that I was flying, that I was dead, that I was a vampire, that I was standing by the lake with my grandmother, and I had just opened my closed hands, but instead of a flower or a feather or a ring, blood welled up and spilled over the edges of my hands, and welled up and welled up, as if my hands were a fountain. But a fountain of blood.

The vampire came to a halt. I blinked my eyes open and saw lights twinkling through a few trees, and made out the shape of my house. My house. We were on the far side of the garden. I could see the pale lavender of the lilacs by Yolande’s sitting-room window. She was the sort of old lady who had a sitting room instead of a living room. And the lights on in it meant she was still awake, although usually she went to bed as early as a person who gets up at four a.m. to go make cinnamon rolls does. I wondered what time it was.

The vampire said, “You will need a key to open your door.”

He could leave me here. I could ask him to let me down, and then he could go. I could knock on Yolande’s door, and, once the fright of having a derelict on her doorstep had worn off, after she had recognized me, she would let me in with her spare key. She would be appalled and sympathetic. She would call the coffeehouse and the doctor and the police. She would run me a hot bath and help me into it, and cluck over my wounds. She would not ask me any questions; she would know I was too tired, and she would recognize the signs of shock. She would give me hot sweet tea and orange juice, and human warmth and company and understanding.

I couldn’t face her.

Slowly I moved, to pull the knife-key out of my bra. The vampire knelt, holding me in his lap. I leaned against him, closed my hands round the small heavy bit of worked metal. I called on the power of daylight. It came from a lifetime away, but it came. I felt something snap, as if my stomach had parted company with my small intestine, or my liver from my spleen; but when I opened my hands again, there was the key to my front door.

The vampire picked me up again, gently. He walked round the garden. He went silently up the porch steps, which I could not have done. The steps all creaked and the porch itself creaked worse. He drifted, dark and silent as any shadow, to my door, and, still in his arms, I twisted the key in the lock, turned the handle, pushed the door a tiny way open, and whispered, “Yes.”

He carried me upstairs and through the door at the top and into my front room, and laid me on the sofa. I didn’t hear him stand up or move away, but I heard my refrigerator door open and close, and then he was kneeling beside me again. He slid an arm under my head and shoulders and raised me and stuffed pillows under me till I was half sitting, and said, “Open your mouth.”

He dribbled a little of the milk into my mouth and made sure I could swallow it before he held the carton up steadily for me to drink. He cupped the back of my head with his other hand. What did he think he was, a nurse? I would have asked him but I was too tired. He got most of the carton of milk down me, eased my head back onto the pile of pillows and then started feeding me something in small scraps. After the first few, more of my senses came back from nowhere and I recognized one of my own muffins, left over at the end of that last day at the coffeehouse, several centuries ago. He was tearing off small bits and feeding them to me slowly, so I wouldn’t choke. The muffin was still pretty good but three days old to a baker counts as over. I think he may have fed me a second one, still scrap by scrap. Then he held up the carton of milk again till I finished it. Then he pulled the pillows back out, except for one, and laid me down with my head on it.

I don’t remember anything more.

I woke up I don’t know how many hours later with the light streaming through the windows. It had finally reached the sofa where I was lying, and touched my face. I couldn’t remember where I was— no I was at home—no, not my old childhood bedroom, this had been my apartment for nearly seven years—then why wasn’t I in my own bed—why did I remember sleeping on a floor—no, that had been a dream—no, a nightmare—don’t think about it—don’t think about it— and at the same time I knew I had overslept and should have been down at the coffeehouse hours ago and Charlie would kill me—no he wouldn’t—why hadn’t one of them called to find out where I was?

I tried to sit up and nearly screamed. Every muscle in my body seemed to have seized up, and I didn’t think there was a single nerve end that hadn’t shouted NO when I moved. I ached all over, inside and out. And furthermore I felt…I felt as if all my insides, the organs, the organ systems, all that stuff you studied in biology class and promptly forgot again, all those murky, semiknown bits and pieces, no longer had the same relationship to each other that they had before…before…silly sort of thing to feel, I must be delirious. My mind would keep drifting back—don’t think about it—but how was I to make sense of where I was, at home, sleeping on the sofa, in broad daylight? And so sore I couldn’t move. If—all that—was a nightmare, what had happened to me?

I tried to sit up again and eventually succeeded. There was a blanket laid over me, and it fell off, and onto the floor.

I was wearing a filthy, stained, dark cranberry-red dress that clung round me at the top and swirled out into yards and yards of hem at my ankles. I was barefoot, and my feet were in shreds, scratched and abraded and bruised and swollen. I had mud all over me (and now all over the sofa and the floor as well) and a long, curved ugly slash across my breast that had obviously bled and then clotted. Its edges ground against each other and throbbed when I tried to move. My lower lip was split and that side of my face felt puffy.

I started to shiver uncontrollably.

Painfully I picked up the blanket again, and wrapped it round me, and made my way into the bathroom by feeling along the walls, and turned the hot water on in the bath. The hot water was going to hurt, but it was going to be worth it. I poured in about four times as much bubble bath as I usually use, and breathed the sweet lily-of-the-valley-scented steam. Even my lungs hurt, and my breathing seemed funny, there was something about the way I breathed that was different from…While I waited for the bath to fill, I groped my way into the kitchen. I ate an apple, because that was the first thing I saw. There was an empty carton of milk on the counter by the sink. I didn’t think about this. I ate another apple. Then I ate a pear. I moved into the light pouring through the kitchen window and let it soak into me while I stood staring out at the garden. In the welcoming, restorative sunlight, trying to keep my mind from thinking anything at all, I felt the tiny, laborious stirring of a sense of well-being: the convalescent’s rejoicing at the first hint of a possible return to health. I would have a bath, and then I would call the coffeehouse. I didn’t have to tell anyone anything. I could be too traumatized. I could have forgotten everything. I had forgotten everything. I was forgetting everything right now. My feet and my face and the gash on my breast would stop anyone from pressing me too hard to remember something so obviously terrible. Yolande must be out; otherwise she would have heard the bathwater running, and have come upstairs to find out if I was all right. She would have known that I’ve been missing, that on a normal day I would have been at the coffeehouse hours ago, not up here running bathwater.

That I’ve been missing.

That I’ve been…

I didn’t have to remember or think about anything. I could just stand here and let the sun heal me. I was relieved that Yolande wasn’t here, asking questions, being appalled and sickened. Reminding me by her distress. I was relieved that no one would disturb me till I had finished forgetting.

The bath should be full by now. Now that the sunlight had begun to do its work I wanted to be clean. I might have to use every bar of soap I had, and bring the scouring pads in from the kitchen. I was going to burn this dress, wherever it came from. It was nothing I’d have ever chosen. I couldn’t imagine why I was wearing it. When I was completely clean again, and wearing my own clothes, I would call the coffeehouse, tell them I was home again. Home and safe. Safe.

As I turned away from the window a square of white lying on the kitchen table caught my eye. It was my notepad, which usually lived beside the phone. On it was written:

Good-bye my Sunshine.

Constantine

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