Secret Vampire (Chapter 10)

Things have to be right," Poppy said. "Things have to be just right for this. Get some candles, Phil."

Phil was looking ashen and haggard. "Candles?"

"As many as you can find. And some pillows. I need lots of pillows." She knelt by the stereo to examine a haphazard pile of CDs. Phil stared at herbriefly, then went out.

" Structures from Silence . . .no. Too repetitious,"Poppy said, rummaging through the pile." Deep Forest-no.Too hyper. I need somethingambient."

"How about this?" James picked a CD up. Poppylooked at the label.

Music to Disappear In.

Of course. It was perfect. Poppy took the CD andmet James's gaze. Usually he referred to the hauntingsoft strains of ambient music as 'New Age mush.'

"You understand," she said quietly.

"Yes. But you're not dying, Poppy. This isn't adeath scene you're setting up."

"But I'm going away. I'm changing." Poppy couldn't explain exactly, but something in her saidshe was doing the right thing. She was dying to her old life. It was a solemn occasion, a Passage.

And of course, although neither of them mentioned it, they both knew shemightdie for good.James had been very frank about that-some peopledidn't make it through the transition.

Phil came back with candles, Christmas candles,emergency candles, scented votive candles. Poppy directed him to place them around the room and lightthem. She herself went to the bathroom to change into her best nightgown. It was flannel, with a pattern of little strawberries.

Just imagine, she thought as she left the bathroom.This is the last time I'll ever walk down this hall, thelast time I'll push open my bedroom door.

The bedroom was beautiful. The soft glow of candlelight gave it an aura of sanctity, of mystery. Themusic was unearthly and sweet, and Poppy felt shecould fall into it forever, the way she fe!l in herdreams.

Poppy opened the closet and used a hanger to bata tawny stuffed lion and a floppy gray Eeyore down from the top shelf. She took them to her bed and put them beside the mounded pillows. Maybe it wasstupid, maybe it was childish, but she wanted themwith her.

She sat on the bed and looked at James and Phillip.

They were both looking at her. Phil was dearly upset,touching his mouth to stop its trembling. James wasupset, too, although only someone who knew him aswell as Poppy did would have been able to tell.

"It's all right," Poppy told them. "Don't you see?I'mall right, so there's no excuse for you not to be."

And the strange thing was, it was the truth. Shewas all right. She felt calm and clear now, as if everything had become very simple. She saw the road ahead of her, and all she had to do was follow it, step by step.

Phil came over to squeeze her hand. "How does this how does this work?" he asked James huskily.

"First we'll exchange blood," James said-speaking to Poppy. Looking only at her. "It doesn't haveto be a lot; you're right on the border ofchangingalready. Then the two kinds of blood fight it outsort of the last battle, if you see what I mean." He

smiled faintly and painfully, and Poppy nodded.

"While that's happening you'll feel weaker andweaker. And then you'll just go to sleep. Thechange happens while you're asleep."

"And when do I wake up?" Poppy asked.

"I'll give you a kind of posthypnotic suggestion

about that. Tell you to wake up whenI come to getyou. Don't worry about it; I've got all the detailsfigured out. All you need to do is rest."

Phil was running nervous hands through his hair,as if he was just now thinking about what kind ofdetails he and James were going to have to deal with.

"Wait a minute," he said in almost a croak. "When—— whenyou say 'sleep'-she's going to look…"

"Dead," Poppy supplied, when his voice ran out.

James gave Phil a cold look. "Yes. We've beenover this."

"And then-we're really going to-what's going tohappento her?"

James glared.

"It's okay," Poppy said softly. "Tell him."

"You know what's going to happen," James saidthrough clenched teeth to Phillip. "She can't just dis appear. We'd have the policeandthe Night peo pleafter us, looking for her. No, it's got to seem that shedied from the cancer, and that means everything's got to happen exactly the way it would if she haddied.

Phil's sick expression said he wasn't at his mostrational. "You're sure there isn't any other way?"

"No,"James said.

Phil wet his lips. "Oh, God."

Poppy herself didn't want to dwell on it too much.She said fiercely,"Dealwith it, Phil. You've got to. And remember, if it doesn't happen now it's goingto happen in a few weeks-for real."

Phil was holding on to one of the brass bedpostsso hard that his knuckles were pale. But he'd gottenthe point, and there was no one better than Phil atbracing himself. "You're right," he saidthinly, with the ghost of his old efficient manner. "Okay, I'm dealing with it."

'Then let's get started," Poppy said, making hervoice calm and steady. As if she were dealing witheverything effortlessly herself.

James said to Phil, "You don't want to see thispart. Go out and watch TV for a few minutes."

Phil hesitated, then nodded and left.

"One thing," Poppy said to James as she scootedto the middle_ of the bed. She was still trying desperately to sound casual. "After the funeral-well, I'll be asleep, won't I? I won't wake up … you know.In my nice little coffin." She looked up at him. "It's just that I'm claustrophobic, a little."

"You won't wake up there," James said. "Poppy,I wouldn't let that happen to you. Trust me; I've thought of everything."

Poppy nodded. I do trust you, she thought.

Then she held her arms out to him.

He touched her neck, so she tilted her chin back.As the blood was drawn from her, she felt her mind drawn into his.

Don't worry, Poppy. Don't be afraid. Allhis thoughtswere ferociously protective. And even though it onlyconfirmed that there was something to be afraidof,that this could go wrong, Poppy felt peaceful. Thedirect sense of his love made her calm, flooded her with light.

She suddenly felt distance and height and depthspaciousness. As if her horizons had expanded almostto infinity in an instant. As if she'd discovered a new dimension.Asif there were no limits or obstacles to what she and James could do together.

She felt … free.

I'm getting light-headed, she realized. She couldfeel herself going limp in James's arms. Swooninglike a wilting flower.

I'vetaken enough,James said in her mind.Thewarmanimalmouth on her throat pulled back."Now it's your turn."

This time, though, he didn't make the cut at hiswrist. He took off his T-shirt and, with a quick, impulsive gesture, ran a fingernail along the base of his throat.

Oh, Poppy thought. Slowly, almost reverently, she leaned forward. James's hand supported the back ofher head. Poppy put her arms around him, feelinghis bare skin under the flannel of her nightgown.

It was better this way. But if James was right, itwas another last time. She and James could neverexchange blood again.

I can't accept that, Poppythought, but she couldn'tconcentrate on anything for very long. This time, instead of clearing her brain, the wild, intoxicatingvampire blood was making her more confused. Moreheavy and sleepy.


It's all right. It's the beginning of the change.

Heavy…sleepy…warm. Lapped in salty oceanwaves. She could almost picture the vampire bloodtrickling through her veins, conquering everything inits path. It was ancient blood, primeval. It was changing her into something old, something that had been around since the dawn of time. Something primitive and basic.

Every molecule in her body, changing…

Poppy, can you hear me?James was shaking herslightly. Poppy had been so engrossed in the sensations that she hadn't even realized she wasn't drinking any longer. James was cradling her.


It was an effort to open her eyes. "I'm all right. Just… sleepy."

His arms tightened around her, then he laid hergently on the mounded pillows. "You can rest now. I'll get Phil."

But before he went, he kissed her on the forehead.

My first kiss, Poppy thought, her eyes drifting shutagain. And I'm comatose. Great.

She felt the bed give under weight and looked upto see Phil. Phil looked very nervous, sitting gingerly,staring at Poppy. "So what's happening now?" heasked.

"The vampire blood's taking over," James said.

Poppy said, "I'm really sleepy."

There was no pain. Just a feeling of wanting toglide away. Her body now felt warm and numb, asif she were insulated by a soft, thick aura.

"Phil? I forgot to say-thank you. For helping out.And everything. You're a good brother, Phil."

"You don't have to say that now," Phil said tersely. "You can say it later. I'm still going to be here later,you know."

But I might not be, Poppy thought. This is all a gamble. And I'd never take it, except that the only alternative was to give up without even trying to fight.

I fought, didn't I? At least I fought.

"Yes, you did," Phil said, his voice trembling.Poppy hadn't been aware she was speaking aloud."You've always been a fighter," Phil said. "I'velearned so much from you."

Which was funny, because she'd learned so muchfrom him,even if most of it was in the last twenty four hours. She wanted to tell him that, but therewas so much to say, and she was so tired. Her tongue felt thick; her whole body weak and languorous.

"Just…hold my hand," she said, and she couldhear that her voice was no louder than a breath.Phillip took one of her hands and James the other.

That was good. This was the way to do it, withEeyore and her lion on the pillows beside her andPhil and James holding her hands, keeping her safe and anchored.

One of the candles was scented with vanilla, awarm and homey smell. A smell that reminded herof being a kid. Nilla wafers and naptime. That waswhat this was like. Just a nap in Miss Spurgeon's kindergarten, with the sun slanting across the floorand James on a mat beside her.

So safe, so serene…

"Oh, Poppy," Phil whispered.

James said, "You're doing great, kiddo. Everything's just right."

That was what Poppy needed to hear. She let herself fall backward into the music, and it waslike falling in a dream, without fear. It was like being a raindrop falling into the ocean that had started you.

At the last moment she thought, I'm not ready. But she already knew the answer to that. Nobodywas ever ready.

But she'd been stupid-she'd forgotten the mostimportant thing. She'd never told James she lovedhim. Not even when he'd said he loved her.

She tried to get enough air, enough strength to sayit. But it was too late. The outside world was goneand she couldn't feel her body any longer. She was floating in the darkness and the music, and all she could do now was sleep.

"Sleep," James said, leaning dose to Poppy. "Don'twake up until I call you. Just sleep."

Every muscle in Phil's body was rigid. Poppylooked so peaceful-pale, with her hair spread out incoppery curls on the pillow, and her eyelashes blackon her cheeks and her lips parted as she breathedgently. She looked like a porcelain baby doll. But the more peaceful she got, the more terrified Phil felt.

I can deal with this, he told himself.I haveto.

Poppy gave a soft exhalation, and then suddenlyshe was moving. Her chest heaved once, twice. Herhand tightened on Phil's and her eyes flew openbut she didn't seem to be seeing anything. She simply looked astonished.

"Poppyl" Phil grabbed at her, getting a handful offlannel nightgown. She was so small and fragile in side it. "Poppyl"

The heaving gasps stopped. For one moment Poppywas suspended in air, then her eyes closed and shefell back on the pillows. Her hand was limp in Phil's.

Phil lost all rationality.

"Poppy," he said, hearing the dangerous, unbalanced tone in his own voice. "Poppy, come on.Poppy, wake up!"-on a rising note. His hands were shaking violently, scrabbling at Poppy's shoulders.

Other hands pushed his away. "What the hell areyou doing?" James said quietly.

"Poppy? Poppy?" Phil kept staring at her. Herchest wasn't moving. Her face had a look of-innocent release. The kind of newness you only see inbabies.

And it was-changing. Taking on a white, transparent look. It was uncanny, ghostlike, and even though Phil had never seen a corpse, he knew instinctively that this was the death pallor.

Poppy's essence had left her. Her body was flat andtoneless, no longer inflated by the vital spirit. Herhand in Phil's was slack, not like the hand of a sleeping person. Her skin had lost its shine, as if somebodyhad breathed on it softly.

Phil threw back his head and let out an animalsound. It wasn't human. It was a howl.

"You killed her!" He tumbled off the bed andlurched toward James. "You said she was just goingto sleep, but you killed herl She's dead!"

James didn't back away from the attack. Instead,he grabbed Phil and dragged him out intothe hallway.

"Hearing is the last sense to go," he snarled inPhillip's ear. "She may be able tohear you."

Phil wrenched free and ran toward the living room. He didn't know what he was doing, he only knew that he needed to destroy things. Poppy wasdead. She was gone. He grabbed the couch andflipped it over, then kicked the coffee table over, too. He snatched up a lamp, yanked its cord out of thesocket, and threw it toward the fireplace.

"Stop it!" James shouted over the crash. Phil sawhim and ran at him. The sheer force of his charge knocked James backward into the wall. They fell tothe floor together in a heap.

"You-killed her!" Phil gasped, trying to get hishands around James's throat.

Silver.James's eyes blazed like the molten metal.He grabbed Phil's wrists in a painful grip.

"Stop itnow,Phillip," he hissed.

Something about the way he said it made Phil stop.Almost sobbing, he struggled to get air into his lungs.

"I'll killyouif I have to, to keep Poppy safe," James said, his voice still savage and menacing. "And she'sonly safe if you stop this and do exactly what I tell youto.Exactlywhat I tell you. Understand?" He shook Philhard, nearly banging Phil's head into the wall.

Strangely enough, it was the right thing to say.James was saying he cared about Poppy. And weird as it might sound, Phil had come to trust James to

tell the truth.

The raging red insanity in Phil's brain died away.

He took a long breath.

"Okay. I understand," he said hoarsely. He was used to being in charge-both of himself and of otherpeople. He didn't like James giving him orders. Butin this case there was no help for it. "But-she isdead, isn't she?"

"It depends on your definition," James said, lettinggo and slowly pushing himself off the floor. Hescanned the living room, his mouth grim. "Nothingwent wrong, Phil. Everything went just the way itwas supposed to-except for this. I was going to letyour parents come back and find her, but we don'thave that option now. There isn't any way to explain this mess, except the.truth."

"The truth being?"

"That you went in there and found her dead andwent berserk. And then I called your parents-you know what restaurant they're at, don't you?"

"It's Valentino's. My mom said they were lucky toget in."

"Okay. That'll work. But first we have to clean upthe bedroom. Get all the candles and stuff out. It'sgot to look as if she just went to sleep, like anyother night."

Phil glanced at the sliding glass door. It was justgetting dark. But then Poppy had been sleeping a lotthese last few days. "We'll say she got tired and toldus to go watch TV," he said slowly, trying to conquer his dazed feeling and be clearheaded. "And then Iwent in after a while and checked on her."

"Right," James said, with a faint smile that didn'treach his eyes.

It didn't take long to clear out the bedroom. Thehardest thing was that Phil had to keep looking atPoppy, and every time he looked, his heart lurched.She looked so tiny, so delicate-limbed. A Christmas angel in June.

He hated to take the stuffed animals away fromher.

"She is going to wake up, isn't she?" he said, without looking at James.

"God, I hope so," James said, and his voice wasvery tired. It sounded more like a prayer than a wish."If she doesn't you won't have to come after me witha stake, Phil. I'll take care of it myself."

Phil was shocked-and angry. "Don't be stupid,"he said brutally. "If Poppy stood for anything-if she standsfor anything-it's for life. Throwing your life away would be like a slap in her face. Besides, evenif it goes wrong now, you did your best. Blaming yourself is just stupid."

James looked at him blankly, and Phil realizedthey'd managed to surprise each other. Then Jamesnodded slowly. "Thanks."

It was a milestone, the first time they'd ever beenon precisely the same wavelength. Phillip felt an oddconnection between them.

He looked away and said briskly, "Is it time to callthe restaurant?"

James glanced at his watch. "In just a fewminutes."

"If we wait too long they're going to have left bythe time we call."

"That doesn'tmatter.What matters is that we don't have any paramedics trying to resuscitate her, or taking her to the hospital. Which means she's gotto be cold by the time anybody gets here."

Phil felt a wave of dizzy horror. "You're a coldblooded snake after all."

"I'm just practical," James said wearily, as if speaking to a child. He touched one of Poppy's marblewhite hands where it lay on the bedspread. "Allright. It's time. I'm going to call. You can go berserkagain if you want to."

Phil shook his head. He didn't have the energyanymore. But he did feel like crying, which was al most as good. Crying and crying like a kid who was lost and hurt.

"Get my mom," he said thickly.

He knelt on the floor beside Poppy's bed andwaited. Poppy's music was off and he could hear theTV in the family room. He had no sense of time passing until he also heard a car in the driveway.

Then he leaned his forehead against Poppy's mattress. His tears were absolutely genuine. At that moment he was sure he'd lost her forever.

"Brace yourself," James said from behind him."They're here."