If she touched it, the skin would feel like a sponge. The fingernails seemed detached. She could pluck them, harvest them, fill a basket with old vampire nails. Althea closed her eyes to block out the sight, and then quickly opened them. It was difficult to breathe evenly in his presence, but she knew that if her breathing were ragged and frightened he would enjoy it; it would give him power over her.
So she regulated her breathing. But she had to know.
What happened? The vampire looked surprised.
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You want details? With a long bony finger, the vampire traced his lips, as if savoring something. How thin his lips were. How bloodless. Although actually he looked somewhat healthier than the last time Althea had encountered him. The air around her thickened. It crawled up her legs and crowded against her spine, and her heart, and her head. You are bad, you are evil, Althea. She straightened her back and stiffened her jaw. I did what I had to, she thought. And Celeste deserved it. So there. But the vampire stood still. The hem of his black cloth blew toward Althea. She stepped back, and the black cloth reached farther, trembling eagerly.
The vampire collected it back and wrapped it around himself like a container. To Althea he said, It was only necessary for Celeste to enter the path of my control. Once you and she circled the house, she was within my light path. It is in fact a dark path, admitted the vampire. I thought you would better understand a comparison to the rays of the sun. He smiled again, his teeth the only bright thing on earth, those notched glittering fangs that—Celeste had known. Had it hurt?
Had Celeste understood?
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Had Celeste talked to the vampire? Did she know who had led her into the dark path? Althea looked off to the side. It was dark this early in the morning. Frost sparkled on the ground. The hemlocks and firs were black as night.
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The moon was still visible. Stars trembled. There was no wind. The world lay quietly in the shadowy circle of the house and the trees.
To migrate. It sounded like swallows and robins. It sounded rather pretty and graceful, an annual event. She was very relieved. She had thought the word would be puncture, or stab, or even gnaw. But migration.
That was peaceful. Perhaps Celeste had not even noticed. Yesterday, Celeste had stayed on to have a Coke. Shivered at the spookiness of the Shuttered Room.
When Althea drove Celeste home, Celeste had chattered about school, about boys and clothes. Celeste had not sounded like a girl caught in a dark path. He reached me pretty well, thought Althea. I gave him Celeste. What if she knows? What if she says so in school? What if she tells people? You opened the shutters, Althea. You and I, we are evenly matched. We are both in control, and both of us may go only so far. But Celeste, I fear, is in a different category. He did not look as if he feared a thing. Or ever had. It was not fear that lined his lips, but hunger. If I were in control, I would have made myself popular the day high school began.
So, after midnight, said the vampire, his voice wafting past like fragrance, the sound of his pleasure like perfume, I visited Celeste. She reached out for something on which to steady herself, but the only object near her was the vampire. Then she spread her feet for a firmer stance. She was glad to be wearing a heavy jacket. Maybe they were evenly matched, but a few extra layers of protection would not hurt.
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She adjusted the collar on the jacket. Tucked it under her hair.
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