24.3.20




28.3.19

3- Vampire Escape, Ch 1 and 2





Vampire Escape

Turning Vampire, Book 3
Chapter 1 and 2
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews


First published by Dark Quest

CHAPTER 1

I left him before he could leave me.

I left my car behind our building because where I was going, I wouldn’t need it. Justin might as well use it. I strapped on my backpack, leaned over the bed and kissed his sleeping face goodbye.

Justin murmured something in his sleep.

Outside the night sky shone with stars. After carefully locking the door behind me, I stood in front of our building and touched him with my thoughts. We’d had a busy night at Vampaccino, the business we owned together, the place crowded with customers, the music loud. We’d finally sent everyone home at midnight.  It was an understanding we had with parents. Most of our customers, this time of year, were teens from nearby communities and along with keeping the place booze free and drug free, we shipped the kids home by midnight because tomorrow was a school day.

And then we spent a half hour doing a quick cleanup before going to our apartment on the second floor and falling into bed. I had fed, which left Justin in a deep sleep.

I rose slowly into the cold air and paused outside our bedroom window. To the man asleep in our bed I whispered, "I love you, Justin."

There was nothing else I could say because, truly, any explanation would be useless. And besides, that was my explanation. I loved him with all my heart.

One day he would wake from his dreaming and want a real woman who could kiss him good morning at sunrise and walk the daytime beaches with him and sit across the table and share a pizza with him and, and, and all the other things human lovers do.

As I was once human but never a human lover, I am not exactly sure of all the joys. However, I knew how human he was, always windburned and laughing, my boyfriend. From the night it began, the end of our relationship was inevitable.

I flew low above the top of the firs. The forest edged the peninsula and spread inland, rising up the range of snow topped mountains at the peninsula’s center. My destination was the other direction. I followed the narrow moonlit rivers that started in the mountains and splashed their way to the sea. They were my highways tonight, safe to follow. I could have flown above the real highway with its traffic of headlights, however, someone might look up at the clear night sky and see me, a dark streak crossing the moon.

In any other place they would say, "Oh look! Is that a bird?"

Here they would say, "Oh look! Is that a vampire?"

They’d be joking. They would also be correct. Last September I started college as an excuse to leave home, because what I desperately needed was to find a vampire to turn me. Born with a heart defect, at eighteen I was on death's speed dial. The doctors gave me a year or two more to live and my kind parents gave me a car and an apartment and a chance to enjoy a brief shot at independence, as that is what I had told them I wanted. What I really wanted was a stay of execution. I located a vampire, got turned, and now I am the real thing.

Confirming tourist fantasies was never in my plans. Vampire hunters were organizing themselves into guilds and searching the Olympic Peninsula where business owners had built a good tourist trade based on vampire novels and films set in the area.

Now I was running away again, not from vampires, from Justin. Keeping a boyfriend was a terrible, dangerous thing to do, something I hadn’t known until after we had settled into a relationship. True, the relationship wasn’t quite what Justin thought it was. The sex was all in his mind. But the bloodletting was real and eventually it could kill him.

The map I'd checked on the computer had been clear. I watched for landmarks and then for the shape of the small island in the straits. Yes. There it was, exactly as shown on the website, an island on the far edge of a causeway.

After circling low in the dark sky at the height of treetops until I was sure no one watched, I dropped softly, feet first, to earth and stood in the shadows of a clump of alders and stared out at the island. It wasn’t a true island. Rather, it was a rise of land at the end of a rocky spit at low tide. It became an island at high tide. The spit didn’t offer one of those flat, sandy stretches that could be easily walked across in winter winds. It was rutted and covered with small rocks that turned and slid underfoot, difficult in daylight and treacherous at night.

For me it could be a short flight. The only inconvenience would be the cold night wind cutting through my raincoat. But it was well past the middle of the night and if the sleepless were looking out a window they would continue to watch me carefully, because that’s what people do when they spot strangers where they shouldn’t be at a late hour.

It would be my luck to have a policeman, his car invisible on an unlit street, now training his binoculars in my direction.

I followed the path down to the high tide line and then a bit more until I reached the edge of the causeway. Water slid through the rocks, not yet above them, working its way upward with each rise and backslide of the tide. Tendrils of seaweed clung to the rocks, swirling rhythmically with the saltwater.

The tide is a moving, living, angry force in the straits, battling with the currents and causing choppy waves that rock the ferries that cross to Vancouver Island to the north. Here its motion was relentless, dragging and sucking, a steady wash that rose slowly. It would eventually hide the causeway but for the next half-hour the rocks would remain above the water.  As the island was less than a half mile from the shore I should be able to walk, slowly and carefully, to the cove below The Lodge in five to twenty minutes. The difference in time would depend only on the slipperiness of the path.

My shoe slid on the first rock. I tried to wedge my feet between rocks on the flatter level of gravel but the rocks were too close together and they were worse than wet, they were slick with dark masses of something between mud and moss. I pinwheeled my arms and leaned forward, then back, and then, stretching my arms out from my shoulders, I bent from side to side to keep my balance.

If there was any way to be sure that no one watched, flight would be the solution. Instead, I continued step by step. When the water hit a rock, it splashed up. My shoes filled with water. The chill wicked up my jeans, halfway to my knees.

The wind turned colder. It blew my hair and pulled at my coat. When I dropped a shoulder to lean into a more balanced stance, the strap of my pack slipped. I wrapped my fingers around the straps. The only clothes I had with me were in that backpack. Returning to the apartment above Vampaccino wasn’t an option. I might never again find the courage to leave.

I took another step and another and watched the water sloshing across my shoes. Each step required concentration. The darkness cast watery shadows that hid the places where I had to put my feet. But it was working.  Step by step I crossed the spit and the island rose higher above me.  My mind ticked off the distance, a quarter of the way, halfway, another step, keep concentrating.

And then my upraised foot came down on a patch of seaweed and it took only a fraction of a second. One foot slid out and up, my other foot skidded toward the water. My fingers caught in the backpack straps. Before I could reach out, I toppled sideways and down. All of me scraped across rock and shells, sharp edges, ice water. Barnacles tore at my hands.

I let out a sob that should have been heard in Canada, except the wind was louder.

Salt and ice washed across the cuts on my hands. My fingers went numb. I doubled my hands into fists and pushed, trying to stand. A wave broke over me. I slipped off the causeway into deeper water. My face went under. Although my eyes snapped shut in time, my mouth didn’t and in case you don’t know, let me assure you that sea water tastes terrible. Plus it is freezing cold.

Grabbing rocks, and wincing as they cut further into my hands, I dragged myself back onto the causeway and lay there for a few seconds trying to remember what to do next. If I sank into the sea, I didn’t know how to swim, and that’s what I thought about, going mindless with terror, letting the sea splash over me. Dead. I would be dead.

That thought brought me back to reality.

I dragged myself upright, muttering, "I am undead. I am not susceptible to death by drowning. Vampires cannot drown to death."

If a vampire sank to the bottom of the ocean because she didn't know how to swim, would she lie there and stare up through the water for eternity? And did I want to find out?

What vampires can do, some better than others, is fly.

If there was anyone watching with binoculars, I no longer cared. Let the snoop spend the next year explaining to his psychiatrist that he had seen a person in a raincoat fly above the sea.

Clearing my mind, I thought of flight and rose slowly. Dripping wet like a cloudburst, I shot over the island, rose higher, and circled it until I spotted The Lodge, a shimmer of dark roof and white siding among the trees above a cove. The cove and the dock looked exactly like the photos on the website.

With rain and wind battering me it took a second for me to realize the next sound was not rain and wind. A blast of sound came from the mainland. Too loud for a snapping tree branch. Too sharp and short for thunder.

A hiss of sound whipped past my ear.

I did a quick drop to the roof of The Lodge, landing below the peak on the side facing the sea, and lay flat against its wet shingles, head down. There wasn't a second shot and there didn't have to be. I'd been shot at before. I knew the sound of gunfire.

There were several possibilities including overeager hunters aiming at what they hoped was a large bird, possibly an eagle. As shooting eagles is illegal, hunters try to hunt them at night, but then what? Did they plan to boat over to the island, which was private property, and tromp around searching for a carcass?

Crawling to the roof's peak, I paused, made sure my dark hood was up over my head, then raised my face just enough to peer toward land. On the road headlights flashed. A door slammed and a car roared away.

I stayed glued to the roof until the shaking inside me settled, because whatever else I am, I am not a fighter. Confronting a hunter was way down on my list of things I ever wanted to do.

Five minutes later I worked up the courage to run my fingers along the side of my face. They came away wet with rain. No blood. I slid down the roof toward the gutter, noticed there was some sort of balcony, and decided this was not the time to explore the real estate. Instead I slowly stood, walked to the roof's edge, stepped off and let myself drift outward and downward, sinking past the edge of the house and the rise of land until I was again at sea level and standing on the heaving boards of the dock.

The empty dock was a floater, constructed to rise and fall with the tides. Its only occupant was a small boat bobbing in the water and attached by a rope.

With the tide now covering the spit, my arrival was a problem. I couldn’t explain dropping onto the island out of the sky. I would have to wait in the shadows of a grove of trees below The Lodge and plan my entrance.

Barbara had told me to phone when I arrived. "John will come over in his boat and pick you up."

"I’m not sure when I will be there. I have a few things to do." I let her think I was coming by bus from my parents’ home in Seattle. If she tried to phone back, the only answer would be the answering machine. My parents were in Europe, catching up on travel and sightseeing, and they deserved every moment of happiness they could find. For years they had stayed home with me, their sickly daughter.

"Come whenever you can, Georgia. But listen, dear, don’t try to walk the causeway. It is treacherous," Barbara had warned.

She had been correct about that.

Of course, Barbara presumed I would arrive during daylight hours and I had been unable to tell her otherwise. Now I would have to find an explanation for my nighttime arrival.

Only fishermen braved the choppy water in the dark.

I had not planned to leave Justin this particular night. I had decided I must do it on a windless night when the temperatures remained above freezing. This night had matched all the requirements except that now the wind rose and brought rain with it.

With sunrise due soon, and fishermen preferring to beat the dawn, I hadn’t long to wait. A fishing boat came out across the water between islands with its small lights shining and its engine roaring. I walked out onto the pier below the house and stood in the wind and watched it go by. And then another. And another. They could be heard clearly above the wind by anyone awake, even in the house.

In the short time I stood watching, wind-whipped rain slapped against me. Soaked through, bleeding, aching and freezing, I hunched inside my coat and waited. Crying was pointless, as much as I would have enjoyed doing so.

After the last boat roared away toward the day’s best fishing site, I hurried along the dock and up the stairs and across the lawn to The Lodge. Behind me I heard the little rowboat bang its heaving hull into the padding of old rubber tires nailed to the wooden dock. The surf bubbled and burst in lashing sprays of foam. A crooked arrow of lightning split the sky.

And the island became a true island, with the causeway hidden completely beneath the rising saltwater.

Turning slowly to peer through the raindrops dripping off my eyelashes, I stared up at Barbara’s home.

The Lodge stood on its rocky island, a rambling old mansion with tall narrow windows reflecting the storm-tossed straits. The white paint was gray with age. Half the railing was missing from the sagging porch. From this angle I could see that the balcony near the roof's peak was actually a widow's walk.

The description I’d read on their website described The Lodge as spacious and romantic. Now that I saw it, the place reflected my life, a series of romantic dreams that were not going to make it to reality.

I trudged up the hill against the wind-driven rain, hurried across the old porch and pushed the doorbell. From inside the house chimes rang. Silence. I rang again. This time I heard footsteps hurrying down a hallway.

The door of the house burst open. Barbara saw me, rushed out, shouted, "Georgia!", and enveloped me in a hug.

The wind whipped her hair across her face. Wrapping our arms around each other, we hurried into the house and slammed the door against the weather.

"What on earth? How did you get here? Why didn’t you phone? Oh damn, I suppose that phone is dead again," Barbara exclaimed. She turned toward the back of the house and shouted, "John, is the phone dead?"

A wide entry hall, filled with a coatrack and a basket of colorful umbrellas, looked friendlier than the exterior of the house.

"I lucked out," I told her. "There was some sort of breakdown with the bus. They got me to the marina after midnight and I didn’t want to phone at such an awful hour. There were some fishing boats starting out early this morning. One of the men was nice enough to say he was going right by here and could drop me at your dock."

Since turning vampire, I’d learn to plan my explanations in advance and be ready for questions. The one explanation I could never give was that I am a vampire. The only human who knows that is Justin.

Holding me out at arms’ length, Barbara said, "Your coat is soaking wet! We need to get you out of that coat before you come down with flu. Come on, let’s take your backpack up to your room."

A few years ago Barbara and her widowed mother had lived near my parents in Seattle. As Barbara was older than I, she occasionally babysat me. I’d always liked her and was sorry when her mother died. Sometime later Barbara had dropped by to introduce her fiancé, much to the surprise of my parents.

"I didn’t know Barbara was dating," my mother had said. "I’m glad she’s moving on with her life."

Yes, that’s what happens. Now that I am no longer requiring my parents’ constant care, they have moved on. I get emails from them, but from all over Europe. It feels strange, knowing they are no longer in Seattle. On the other hand, visiting them proved impossible and so I am grateful they are finally able to follow their dreams.

I hadn't heard a word about Barbara since her marriage to John Crawford except that they had bought a business on the Olympic Peninsula named The Lodge.

When I started to think about leaving Justin and wondering where to hide for a while, Barbara came to mind. I had never mentioned her to Justin. All I knew was that The Lodge was in the area. When I checked it out on the computer I discovered it was less than twenty miles from Vampaccino. Twenty miles as the vampire flies. Twice as long by road. It’s seclusion made it an unlikely place for me to meet anyone who knew me. That was all I needed, a temporary hideout until I could think of a more permanent solution.

When I had phoned her she had sounded genuinely pleased. "How wonderful to hear from you, Georgia! How are you doing?"

"Oh, I’m a miracle, Barbara. They discovered that my illness was really a rare allergy to sunlight. So now I sleep days and work nights at a, uh, restaurant."

It’s what I had told my parents with only a slight variation. They thought I was attending college. My odd hours, caused by a rare allergy, were such an enormous improvement over my years in and out of hospital rooms, they had happily accepted my story. It would never occur to them that I am a vampire. They don’t believe in the existence of paranormal beings.

"Truly? And that was all that was wrong?" I had intended to ask if I could rent a room, but before I could, Barbara had said, "I’ve had a wretched winter, flu and now a stupid respiratory infection that won’t clear up."

Trying to sound very casual, I had said, "Barbara, the restaurant where I worked has closed so I'm one of the unemployed masses."

"Really? Georgia, dear, I am desperate for help! Honestly, if you only want to stay a month or two, that would be wonderful! Come whenever you can."

I had pictured a cozy island resort with a comfortable lodge surrounded by guest cottages and wide lawns, someplace where I could heal my breaking heart with hard work.

Instead I was faced with a deteriorating old spook house. It reminded me of the crumbling Victorian house where I had first stayed with the vampire who turned me. The dark forest surrounded the small front lawn. There was no sign of roads leading away from The Lodge, no indication that other buildings existed, and I had seen none in my quick fly around.

At high tide the island was edged with cliffs and jutting rocks and accessible only by boat at the cove. The cove appeared to be little more than an inlet with one long floating dock. If there was a beach it lay beneath the roaring, foam-crested waves of high tide, along with the rocky causeway.

The place was the literal example of one of my dad's favorite sayings: "Any port in a storm."


CHAPTER 2
Although the exterior of the house was depressing, the interior was warm and charming.
Barbara hurried ahead, laughing and talking, as she led the way up the winding staircase past a second floor landing with a window bench overlooking the cove. I followed, deliberately banging my feet on the wooden treads of the staircase to give myself footsteps she could hear. Vampires are by nature silent.
 "We have five guest rooms on the second floor. They're all booked," she gushed, as she continued toward the third level. "Up here are four more rooms, but three are empty. The fourth is yours. I hope you won't mind being at the top of the house. At least this way you have a bathroom to yourself. There are two baths on second and John and I have our rooms on first, behind the kitchen."
 Opening the last door, she waved me inside. In the small room a dormer window faced the night. The faded flower wallpaper was water-stained in several places but the narrow bed, with its tall headboard of carved oak, was covered with a cheerful patchwork quilt. A chintz cushion brightened a chair by the window.
 "What a lovely view," I said, wanting to say something nice. Barbara was being so kind. I could barely see through the rain.
She was much thinner than I remembered her. "You can hardly see anything now. It’s a lot nicer in daytime." She swung toward me and in the room’s bright light she had a good look at me. "Georgia! What on earth?"
For a terrible moment I was afraid my fangs were showing. At all times I take great care to keep them drawn up into my gums, but had I let them slip? Had my fall on the causeway knocked something loose, the way a dental plate might come loose?
Before I could think what to say she grabbed my hands and held them up. "You’re bleeding! What happened?"
"Oh! Just clumsy. I slipped off the edge of the dock and landed on some rocks."
"And your jeans! Besides being soaking wet, they are ripped!"
She was right. They certainly were. I had one other pair of jeans plus slacks in my pack, and that was all.
"I'd better change before I drip water all over your house."
"Oh, that dock! The boards are treacherous. Oh, heavens, listen, dear, you wash up and get into something dry and I’m going down to the kitchen right now to fix you a hot meal.  How about cocoa and do you like scrambled eggs?"
That’s when reality hit. Time to make my excuses.
"Barbara, I am sorry to arrive and crash but honestly, I’ve been missing buses and standing around all night trying to make connections and I am exhausted. Now I need to sleep, if that’s okay. Just forget I’m up here."
She presumed I had come by bus from Seattle. In her wildest imaginings she wouldn’t guess I had flown from a nearby town and fallen on the causeway and waited in the rain for the fishing boats to go out. And someone had shot at me.
Usually dawn put me to sleep whether I was tired or not. This morning I wouldn’t need dawn. I’d sleep as soon as I could make it into that bed.
"Sleep? You didn’t get any sleep? Well, of course, you do that. I’ll call you for lunch."
"Would you mind if I slept through? They serve breakfast for the fishermen at one of those all night diners and they served way too much for me to finish. I’ll be down before five to help you with supper."
"Oh." She stood there looking puzzled, her brows drawn. "If you’re sure. Well, if you wake up hungry, come down and fix yourself whatever you want. Dinner is at seven. When you come downstairs, the dining room is on the left. I'll introduce everyone then."
After she left, I had the third floor to myself. The bedroom window was an oblong of gray. Predawn light. The sun would clear the horizon soon. I didn’t need a watch to know. I could feel the sun approaching. What I needed now was Justin. He always took care of my sleeping arrangements.
Rushing, I pushed the dresser in front of the door to seal it from the inside. And then I grabbed my backpack, found my rolled up blackout sheet and arranged it at the window, looping one end over the curtain rod.
If the weather cleared and the guests went wandering during the day, one might glance up and wonder why a black cloth was draped over my window. Desperate, because dawn was only minutes away, I moved cloth and curtains and tried to see how everything was hung. Was there a way to tuck the corners in?
I’d been careless. I should have felt dawn’s approach earlier. Justin constantly scolded me for sliding into bed seconds before the sun rose and I died. That is what I do at each sunrise, die, and then at sunset, I wake.
I have no idea what might actually happen to me if the sun caught me. There are so many different rumors and most of them are in books of fiction. If there is a nonfiction guide to vampire existence, it has never shown up in any of my constant internet searches.
Justin’s greatest fear was that some morning he would find a pile of ashes that once were me outside our front door.
With my face pressed against the glass, peering up behind the curtain ruffles, I spotted an old-fashioned paper pull-down shade, light brown, nothing that would keep out sunlight. But it was between the glass and the curtain rod and would hide the black cloth tossed over the rod.
Frantic to beat the sun, I pulled down the shade. Then I straightened the blackout cloth over rods and curtain and hoped they would stay there and why hadn’t I thought to bring safety pins? If I lived through this day, perhaps I would have to rethink staying at The Lodge.
Where else could I go? What could I do? And how much time did I have to figure it out? Do vampires have guardian angels? If so, I had two that dawn, because one held back the sunrise while the other pushed me onto the bed.
When I woke at sunset, that was my last memory, falling onto the bed seconds before sunrise.
When I woke, I woke crying. If I had dreamed, I had no memory of it. I didn’t need dreaming to remind me of Justin. Normally, when I woke he would be sitting in the chair by the bed, smiling at me. For some reason, he liked to watch me wake up.
For a thousand reasons, I loved waking and seeing his smiling face, laugh lines fanning out from his warm brown eyes.
The only way to stop thinking of him was to keep busy with other thoughts.
First and most important, I'd forgotten to kick off my shoes. Or maybe I'd run out of time. A belly flop on the bed was as much as I'd managed before dawn dropped me into my death sleep. Now my feet felt permanently swollen inside the damp canvas. And have you ever tried to untie wet laces? Ugh. My fingers hated me. A fair amount of suffering later, I stood up on icy cold and aching bare feet. Grabbing my backpack I stumbled down the hall to the bathroom and peeled off the rest of my wet clothes and dropped them on the floor. Whatever else The Lodge lacked, there was plenty of hot water, exactly what I needed to unthaw my body and brain.
My unthawed brain returned to the sound of a gun and the whisper of a bullet mere inches from my ear. One gun sounds like any other gun to me. All I know about guns is what gets explained on TV cop shows.
Oh. Long distance. That would be a shotgun or a rifle. I had felt the bullet. No scattering of shot. One bullet so close my inhuman senses felt it rush by me. That would be a rifle. I was not sure, but I didn't think hunters used rifles to shoot birds. Way too difficult. So whoever was shooting the rifle hadn't been trying to bring down an eagle. The shooter had been trying to bring down prey that could only be injured with a bullet. Even I knew that no one used silver shot. But silver coated bullets? Those were the specialty of a weird group of misfits who actually believed vampires existed and it was their personal mission in life to hunt them down. They had shown up at Vampaccino once and tried to make trouble. They had not guessed that one of us was a real vampire. Their complaint centered on Vampaccino's vampire theme and they had told us how much they hated it. They were men who spent their lives looking for things to hate.
They were too depressing to think about. I tried to get my mind back to immediate problems.
What would Barbara want me to wear for helping with dinner? Should I wear jeans or did people at The Lodge dress up for dinner? I had with me the black slacks and white shirt I’d once worn for a waitressing job at a restaurant.
After pulling on my only other jeans and sweatshirt, which at least had managed to stay dry inside my backpack, I walked into the hallway and looked down the stairs. Leaning with my crossed arms on the bannister, I watched for at least five minutes but didn’t spot a soul. From my vantage point I could see the outer edge of the two flights of stairs and the second floor landing.
The main floor was visible, the front entry with its umbrella stand and coat rack to the right and the edge of the sitting room directly below me. The fireplace was on the far wall out of sight. Light flickered across walls and carpets and I could smell wood burning. However, there was no one in sight and no sound of voices. Rather than go downstairs and discover I was a total misfit in jeans, I decided to wait until someone appeared. I could explore the third floor in a start at familiarizing myself with The Lodge.
  The room next to mine was furnished in similar fashion with a single bed and flowered wallpaper that looked almost as old as the house. Like my room, it faced the cove. The two rooms across the hall were large enough for double beds. Their dormer windows looked out on the black shadow-shapes of towering firs. Past the bathroom was one other door. Thinking it was a linen closet I opened it.
The musty smell of attic hung above the dust-covered narrow staircase. At the top of the stairs vague etchings of light backlit a large trunk as though the moon shone through an attic window.
When I was a child several of my favorite story books featured old trunks in attics. They were always filled with exciting secrets. As a semi-invalid, confined to bed much of the time, I lived in my own imaginary world. The story book trunks became doorways to adventures.
Besides being an imaginative child, I was a well-read child. Unfortunately, the only attics I had ever actually seen were on the sets in TV shows. My heart condition had kept me confined to books and television and even if my parents’ Seattle home had contained an attic, which it hadn’t, I would never have been allowed to climb the stairs.
Now I could fly up those stairs. Or not. The lure of the attic didn’t totally override caution. I did not fly. Instead I ran up the stairs to glance quickly around. Either the room was a boring collection of stacked junk or it was a place filled with boxes and trunks to be explored slowly when I had more time.
What I discovered at the top of the stairs was the source of light. The night pressed against the dust-streaked panes of French doors that opened onto the widow's walk I had seen last night from outside. Rain brushed the outside of the glass and pattered loudly on the roof. Through the darkness, the sky and sea reflected each other, gleaming silvery gray.  Opening the doors, I leaned out into the wind. Give it a chance and the rain would again have me soaked and it wasn't as though I had a third pair of jeans.
I stepped back and shut the doors. With the rain closed out but the storm still beating at the house, the eaves continued to creak above my head. A short blast of wind had set the ceiling light swinging on its cord. Stacked beneath the eaves were cardboard boxes and decaying suitcases and even an old chair with a missing arm.
I glanced down the staircase and then went vampire still to listen in case Barbara was calling me.
When I heard nothing other than the creaks of the old house, the temptation of the trunk won. A minute? Two minutes? That's all I wanted, one quick peek into that magical doorway to story land. I knelt beside the trunk and brushed away, with the palm of my hand, the layer of dust that obscured the initials above the latch.
 A. L. L.
Rust flaked from the lock at my touch. The latch wouldn't lift. I searched my pockets and finally found a comb. Wedging its edge beneath the latch, I pried it open. Just when I thought I’d succeeded the comb broke with the sound of a small explosion and the latch disintegrated, its metal bits dropping to the floor.
Guilt fought with curiosity. There wasn’t any way to repair the lock. I could offer to do what? Pay for it? Well, yes, of course, but putting a new lock on an old trunk would hardly restore its antique value. If the trunk held anything of value it would need some sort of lock and I should check and tell Barbara about it.
Slowly I lifted the lid. It swung back and banged against the slanted rafters. Inside were layers of clothing wrapped in tissue paper.
Voices rose from the lower levels of the house. Footsteps echoed from below. I quietly lowered the lid of the trunk and hurried down the stairs to the third floor hallway. Leaning over the bannister, I watched a man with a bald spot on the top of his head, a brown-haired woman, and a white-haired couple descend the staircase from the second floor to entry level.
The men wore slacks and sport coats. The elderly woman wore a crushed silk pantsuit. The other woman wore velvet and large pearl jewelry. Apparently guests dressed up for dinner.
As jeans didn't seem appropriate and I had managed to get dust streaks on mine, anyway, I did a quick wash and brush, then put on my black slacks and white shirt. As I went down the back stairs to the kitchen I could smell food cooking and hear pans clatter. The rest of the house might be vintage. The kitchen wasn't. The cabinets were IKEA white, sturdy and practical with stainless steel countertops. The appliances were oversize, six burners on the stove top and built-in double ovens.
Barbara's husband, John, stood at the far end of a long work island, his features blurred by the glare from the overhead lights. I had met him shortly before they married. He was as good looking as I remembered but he seemed much older and more serious than I remembered. He gave me a worried sort of glance.
"Georgia. Hello! You’re a Godsend. We’re understaffed. That’s a polite way of saying we have no help but ourselves and Barbara’s had a rough winter. She’s having a lie down right now." He looked at his hands, covered with flour, and then smiled at me. "You look good enough to hug. And that would wreck your clothes. Grab an apron. They’re in the pantry."
He was rolling pie crusts. Behind him the sink overflowed with dishes and pans.
"I’m not much good at cooking." I tied on an apron. The smell of cooking food tended to nauseate me, a typical vampire reaction.
"I have that under control, I hope."
"Then I’ll start clean up." Soap suds smelled much better than food. "By the way, do people hunt on this island?"
"Hunt? Hunt what?"
"Or target practice? Is there a rifle range near here?"
"Not that I know of. Why? Is that your secret flaw? An overwhelming desire to shoot things? Darn. And here I thought you were perfect."
"Oh, I am," I told him. "As long as you don't let me near the stove."
He gave me a quick glance. "So why the question about guns?"
Did I know him well enough to tell him someone had shot at me as I flew around his house? No. The only person I knew that well was out of my life for good. "I thought I heard gun shots last night. Near by."
"Umm." He leaned over the open door of the oven to put in a pie. "Gun shots? Around here? Not on the island, but sound carries over water. It could have been some idiot in town shooting at tin cans."
Or shooting at vampires.
By the time Barbara joined us, John had pies in one oven, potatoes and a roast in a second oven, and I’d scrubbed pans, loaded plates and cups into the dishwasher, and washed off the counters.
All Barbara said was, "Amazing! You are a true miracle."
Once, when we were running back and forth to the dining room carrying cutlery and dishes, John paused in the swinging doorway and gave me a close study.
"You’re looking good, Georgia. I remember you were very ill."
"Yes, well, a childhood condition. Linked to a severe allergy."
"Barbara mentioned something about that. I don’t quite understand. She said you would be working nights."
I flashed what I hoped was a sassy grin. "Turns out I have an allergy condition triggered by sunlight. Easiest way to control it is to keep vampire hours. Sorry. I’ll be checking in with you by five every afternoon, which means you'll have to change the beds without me. On the other hand, as soon as dinner is finished you can quit for the day and I’ll do all the kitchen cleanup. Where’s your laundry?"
"It’s the room off the back porch."
"Can the machines be heard in the guest rooms?"
He shook his head.
"Then leave the dirty linens and I’ll have them washed and folded by morning."
He leaned back into the kitchen and said, "Barbara, we’re keeping this girl permanently. We’ll adopt her or kidnap her or whatever it takes."
After removing his apron he brushed bits of flour off his shirt, took his jacket from a wall hook and put it on. "And now I do my magician act and transform from kitchen help to gracious host."
He wasn’t joking. While he seated guests and then stood at the end of the table to serve the roast, Barbara and I carried in the platters of side dishes.
Glancing up from the roast he was carving, John smiled and introduced me to the other guests.
"Our amazing young friend, Georgia, has joined our staff and will be working a night shift. Georgia, this is Colonel and Mrs. Cameron and their son Daniel. And this is Mrs. Brownell." He nodded to the elderly couple seated by a blond young man and then to a heavily made up woman, seated on his right. He introduced the man on his left as Dr. Harry Calder. The couple beyond the doctor were the Trents.
It was the Camerons and the Trents I’d seen on the stairs. Mrs. Cameron peered at me through bright, narrowed eyes. Above her crushed silk jacket her face was crushed silk, finely lined, fragile, hinting of past beauty, and framed by waves of thinning white hair.
"The shadow of death hovers over you," she said in a clear voice.
The colonel interrupted. "Now, Vera, don't start. You'll make everyone nervous."
Hovering shadow of death? Was that another name for a vampire? I forced a smile.
The colonel leaned toward me to add, "Don't pay any attention, my dear. My wife likes to have her little jokes."
I was more than willing to believe him but I noticed Mrs. Brownell chewing the lipstick off her lower lip and Mrs. Trent nervously fingering her heavy rope of pearls.
Shadow of death is definitely one of those daily occurrences in the life of a vampire. If I said so, would they stop being nervous and rush right into hysteria?
John loaded the slices of roast onto the plates and the plates were then passed down the table family style.
"Where do your parents live, dear?" Mrs. Trent asked, which gave me a good excuse to continue circling the table, holding a serving bowl while they helped themselves to the vegetables.
"They used to live in Seattle but now are full-time travelers for my dad's job."
"The colonel and I did that for almost forty years," Mrs. Cameron said. "Is your father in the military?"
"He works for a civilian firm. He’s been with them a long time. The traveling is new. Their first assignment is London," I explained, "and then they are off to someplace else. Sweden, maybe."
"How exciting. I’m surprised you didn’t go with them."
"I started college this year. Some parents use that as an excuse to turn the extra bedroom into a den and others pack their bags and run away."
I received a few nods but no one laughed. Unlike the teens at Vampaccino, this was a hard crowd to entertain.
Barbara pulled out a chair and joined the guests. It was obvious why she had to do this. The guests all looked so bored with each other the room would have gone silent without interjected comments from the staff. She and John did a fast dance, serving, eating a few bites, starting fresh topics of conversation, then jumping up to refill wine glasses. I continued carrying platters around.
As I passed Barbara, she whispered, "Join us. Pull up a chair."
I whispered back, "I'll keep serving and fix myself a plate in the kitchen." When she gave me a slightly desperate look, I tried to remember the last post card from my parents. "My folks went through the Tower of London. Have you been there?" I asked Mrs. Cameron.
Of course she had during all those years abroad with the colonel. She did what I had hoped, described the Tower and the crown jewels in great detail. When she ran down, I admired Mrs. Trent's pearl necklace which led to another few minutes of chatter while she explained its history. Family heirloom or something.
When Barbara ducked behind me to go to the kitchen, she patted my arm and whispered, "Bless you!"
 
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