Secret Vampire (Chapter 11)
First and foremost was his mother. As soon as shewalked in, Phil's priorities changed from wanting herto comfort him to wanting to comfort her. And ofcourse there wasn't any comfort. All he could do was hold on to her.
It's too cruel, he thought dimly. There ought to be a way to tell her. But she would never believe it, andif she did, she'd be in danger,too….
Eventually the paramedics did come, but only afterDr. Franklin had arrived.
"I called him," James said to Phil during one ofthe interludes when Phil's mom was crying on Cliff.
"To keep things simple. In this state, doctors can issue a death certificate if they've seen you withinthe last twenty days and they know the cause ofdeath. We don't want any hospitals or coroners."
Phil shook his head. "Why? What's your problemwith hospitals?"
"My problem," James said in a clipped, distinctvoice. "is that in hospitals they do autopsies."
Phil froze. He opened his mouth but no sound came out.
"And in funeral homes they do embalming. Whichis why I need to be around when they come to pick up the body. I need to influence their minds not toembalm her, or sew her lips shut, or-"
Phil bolted for the bathroom and was sick. Hehated James again.
But nobody took Poppy to the hospital; and Dr.Franklin didn't mention an autopsy. He just heldPhil's mother's hand and spoke quietly about how these things could happen suddenly, and how at leastPoppy had been spared any pain.
"But she was so much better today," Phil's motherwhispered through tears. "Oh, my baby, my baby.She'd been getting worse, but today she was better. "
"It happens like that sometimes," Dr. Franklinsaid. "It's almost as if they rally for a last burst of life."
"But I wasn'ttherefor her," Phil's mom said, andnow there weren't any tears, just the terrible gratingsound of guilt. "She was alone when she died."
Phil said, "She was asleep. She just went to sleepand never woke up. If you look at her, you can seehow peaceful it was."
He kept saying things like that, and so did Cliff andso did the doctor, and eventually the paramedicswent away. And sometime after that, while hismother was sitting on Poppy's bed and stroking herhair, the people from the mortuary came.
"Just give me a few minutes," Phil's mother said, dry-eyed and pale. "I need a few minutes alonewith her."
The mortuary men sat awkwardly in the family room, and James stared at them. Phil knew what wasgoing on. James was fixing in their minds the factthat there was to be no embalming.
"Religious reasons, is that it?" one of the men saidto Cliff, breaking a long silence.
Cliff stared at him, eyebrows coming together."What are you talking about?"
The man nodded. "I understand. It's no problem."
Phil understood, too. Whatever the man was hearing, it wasn't what Cliff was saying.
"The only thing is, you'll want to have the viewingright away," the other man said to Cliff. "Or else a closed casket."
"Yes, it was unexpected," Cliff said, his facestraightening out. "It's been a very short illness."
So nowhewasn't hearing what the men were saying. Phil looked at James and saw sweat trickling down his face. Clearly it was a struggle to controlthree minds at once.
At last Cliff went in and got Phil's mother. He ledher to the master bedroom to keep her from seeing what happened next.
What happened was that the two men went into- Poppy's room with a body bag and a gurney. Whenthey came out, there was a small, delicate hump in the bag.
Phil felt himself losing rationality again. He wantedto knock things down. He wanted to run a marathonto get away.
Instead, his knees started to buckle and his visiongrayed out.
Hard arms held him up, led him to a chair. "Hangon," James said. "Just a few more minutes. It's al most over."
Right then Phil could almost forgive him for being a bloodsucking monster.
It was very late that night when everyone finallywent to bed. To bed, not to sleep. Phil was one solid ache of misery from his throat down to his feet, andhe lay awake with the light on until the sun came up.
The funeral home was like a Victorian mansion,and the room Poppy was in was filled with flowersand people. Poppy herself was in a white casket with gold fittings, and from far away she looked as if shewere sleeping.
Phil didn't like to look at her. He looked insteadat the visitors who kept coming in and filling theviewing room and the dozens of wooden pews. He'd never realized how many people loved Poppy.
"She was so full of life," her English teacher said.
"I can't believe she's gone," a guy from Phil's football team said.
"I'll never forget her," one of her friends said,crying.
Phil wore a dark suit and stood with his motherand Cliff. It was like a receiving line for a wedding.His mother kept saying, "Thank you for coming,"and hugging people. The people went over and touched the casket gently and cried.
And in the process of greeting so many mourners,something strange happened. Phil got drawn in. Thereality of Poppy's death was so real that all the vampire stuff began to seem like a dream. Bit by bit, hestarted to believe the story he was acting out.
After all, everybody else was so sure. Poppy hadgotten cancer, and now she was dead. Vampires were just superstition.
James didn't come to the viewing.-
Poppy was dreaming.
She was walking by the ocean with James. It waswarm and she could smell salt and her feet were wetand sandy. She was wearing a new bathing suit, thekind that changes color when it gets wet. She hoped James would notice the suit, but he didn't say anything about it.
Then she realized he was wearing a mask. That was strange, because he was going to get avery weirdtan with most of his face covered up.
"Shouldn't you take that off?" she said, thinkinghe might need help.
"I wear it for my health," James said-only itwasn't James's voice.
Poppy was shocked. She reached out and pulledthe mask away.
It wasn't James. It was a boy with ash blond hair,even lighter than Phil's. Why hadn't she noticed hishair earlier? His eyes were green-and then they were blue.
"Who are you?" Poppy demanded. She was afraid.
"That would be telling." He smiled. His eyes wereviolet. Then he lifted his hand, and she saw that hewas holding a poppy. At least, it was shaped like apoppy, but it was black. He caressed hercheek withthe flower.
"Just remember," hesaid, still smiling whimsically."Bad magic happens."
"Bad magic happens," he said and turned andwalked away. She found herself holding the poppy.He didn't 'leave any footprints in the sand.
Poppy was alone and the ocean was roaring. Clouds were gathering overhead. She wanted towake up now, but she couldn't, and she was aloneand scared. She dropped the flower as anguish surged through her.
Phil sat up in bed, heart pounding.
God, what had that been? Something like ashout in Poppy's voice.
Which wasn't surprising. It was Monday, the dayof Poppy's funeral. In-Phil glanced at the clockabout four hours he had to be at the church. Nowonder he was dreaming about her.
But she had sounded so scared….
Phil put the thought out of his mind. It wasn'teven hard. He'd convinced himself that Poppy wasdead, and dead people didn't shout.
At the funeral, though, Phil got a shock. His fatherwas there. He was even wearing something resembling a suit, although the jacket didn't match thetrousers and his tie was askew.
"I came as soon as I heard…."
"Well, wherewere you?" Phil's mother said, thefine lines of strain showing around her eyes, the way they always did when she had to deal with Phil's father.
"Backpacking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nexttime, I swear, I'll leave an address. I'll check my messages….He began to cry. Phil's mom didn't sayanything else. She just reached for him, and Phil'sheart twisted at the way they clung to each other.
He knew his dad was irresponsible and hopelesslybehind in child support and flaky and a failure. But nobody had ever loved Poppy more. Right then, Philcouldn't disapprove of him, not even with Cliff standing there for comparison.
The shock came when his dad turned to Phil beforethe service. "You know, she came to me last night,"
he said in a low voice. "Her spirit, I mean. She visited me."
Phil looked at him. This was the kind of weird statement that had brought on the divorce. His fatherhad always talked about peculiar dreams and seeingthings that weren't there. Not to mention collecting articles about astrology, numerology, and UFOs.
"I didn't see her, but I heard her calling. I just wishshe hadn't sounded so frightened. Don't tell yourmother, but I got the feeling she's not at rest." Heput his hands over his face.
Phil felt every hair on the back of his neck standup.
But the spooky feeling was drowned almost immediately in the sheer grief of the funeral. In hearingthings like "Poppy will live on forever in our heartsand memories." A silver hearse led the way to ForestPark cemetery, and everyone stood in the June sunshine as the minister said some last words overPoppy's casket. By the time Phil had to put a rose on the casket, he was shaking.
It was a terrible time. Two of Poppy's girlfriendscollapsed in near-hysterical sobs. Phillip's motherdoubled over and had to be led away from the casket.There was no time to think-then or at the potluckat Phil's house afterward.
But it was at the house that Phil's two worlds collided. In the middle of all the milling confusion, hesaw James.
He didn't know what to do. James didn't fit intowhat was going on here. Phil had half a mind togo over and tell him to get out, that the sick jokewas over.
Before he could do anything, James walked up and said under his breath, "Be ready at eleven o'clock tonight."
Phil was jolted. "For what?"
"Just be ready, okay? And have some of Poppy'sclothes with you. Whatever won't be missed." Phil didn't say anything, and James gave him an exasperated sideways look.
"We have to get her out,stupid. Or did you wantto leave her there?"
Crash. That was the sound of worlds colliding. For a moment Phil was spinning in space with his feeton neither one.
Then with the normal world in shards around him, he leaned against a wall and whispered, "I can't. Ican't do it. You're crazy."
"You're the one who's crazy. You're acting like itnever happened. And you have to help, because I can't do it alone. She's going to be disoriented at first, like a sleepwalker. She'llneed you."
That galvanized Phil. He jerked to stand up straightand whispered, "Did you hear her last night?"
James looked away. "She wasn't awake. She was just dreaming."
"How could we hear her from so far away? Evenmy dadheard it. Listen." He grabbed James by thelapel of his jacket. "Are you sure she's okay?"
"A minute ago you were convinced she was dead and gone. Now you want guarantees that she's fine.
Well, I can't give you any." He stared Phil down with eyes as cold as gray ice. "I've never done this before, all right? I'm just going by the book. And there are
always things that can go wrong.But,"he said terselywhen Phil opened his mouth, "the one thing I doknow is that if we leave her where she is, she's goingto have a very unpleasant awakening. Get it?"
Phil's hand unclenched slowly and he let go of thejacket. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I just can't believe any ofthis." He looked up to see that James's expressionhad softened slightly. "But if she was yelling last night, then she was alive then, right?"
"And strong," James said. "I've never known a stronger telepath. She's really going to be something."
Phil tried not to picture what. Of course, Jameswas a vampire, and he looked perfectly normalmost of the time. But Phil's mind kept throwing outpictures of Poppy as a Hollywood monster. Red eyes,chalky skin, and dripping teeth.
If she came out like that, he'd try to love her. Butpart of him might want to get a stake.
Forest Park cemetery was completely.different at night. The darkness seemed very thick. There was a sign on the iron gate that said, "No visitors after sunset," but the gate itself was open.
I don't want to be here, Phil thought.
James drove down the single lane road that curvedaround the cemetery and parked underneath a hugeand ancient gingko tree.
"What if somebody sees us? Don't they have aguard or something?"
"They have a night watchman. He's asleep. I tookcare of it before I picked you up." James got out andbegan unloading an amazing amount of equipmentfrom the backseat of the Integra.
Two heavy duty flashlights. A crowbar. Some old boards. A couple of tarps. And two brand-new shovels.
"Help me carry this stuff."
"What's it allfor?"But Phil helped. Gravelcrunched under his feet as he followed James on oneof the little winding paths. They went up some weathered wooden stairs and down the other sideand then they were in Toyland.
That was what somebody at the funeral had calledit. Phil had overheard two business friends of Cliff'stalking about it. It was a section of the cemetery where mostly kids were buried. You could tell without even looking at the headstones because therewere teddy bears and things on the graves.
Poppy's grave was right on the edge of Toyland. Itdidn't have a headstone yet, of course. There was only a green plastic marker.
James dumped his armload on the grass and thenknelt to examine the ground with a flashlight.
Phil stood silently, looking around the cemetery.He was still scared, partly with the normal fear that they'd get caught before they got finished, and partlywith the supernatural fear that they wouldn't.Theonly sounds were crickets and distant traffic. Treebranches and bushes moved gently in the wind.
"Okay," James said. "First we've got to peel this sod off."
"Huh?" Phil hadn't even thought about why therewas already grass on the new grave. But of course itwas sod. James had found the edge of one strip and was rolling it up like a carpet.
Phil found another edge. The strips were about sixfeet long by one and a half feet wide. They wereheavy, but it wasn't too hard to roll them up and off the foot of the grave.
"Leave 'em there. We've got to put them on againafterward," James grunted. "We don't want it to lookas if this place has been disturbed."
A light went on for Phil."That'swhy the tarpsand stuff."
"Yeah. A little mess won't be suspicious. But if weleave dirt scattered everywhere, somebody's going towonder." James laid the boards around the perimeterof the grave, then spread the tarps on either side.Phil helped him straighten them.
What was left where the sod had been was fresh,loamy soil. Phil positioned aflashlight and picked upa shovel.
I don't believe I'm doing this, he thought.
But he was doing it. And as long as all he thoughtabout was the physical work, the job of digging a hole in the ground, he was okay. He concentrated on that and stepped on the shovel.
It went straight into the dirt, with no resistance. It was easy to spade up one shovelful of dirt and drop it onto the tarp. But by about the thirtieth shovelful,he was getting tired.
"This is insane. We need a backhoe," he said, wiping his forehead.
"You can rest if you want," James said coolly.
Phil understood. James was the backhoe. He wasstronger than anyone Phil had ever seen. He pitchedup shovelful after shovelful of dirt without even straining. He made it look like fun.
"Whydon't we have you on any. of the teams atschool?" Phil said, leaning heavily on his shovel.
"I prefer individual sports. Like wrestling," Jamessaid and grinned, just for a moment, up at Phil. It was the kind of locker-room remark that couldn't be misunderstood from one guy to another. He meantwrestling with, for instance, Jacklyn and Michaela.
And, just at that particular moment, Phil couldn't help grinning back. He couldn't summon up anyrighteous disapproval.
Even with James, it took a long time to dig thehole. It was wider than Phil would have thought necessary. When his shovel finallychunkedon somethingsolid, he found out why.
"It's the vault," James said.
"The burial vault. They put the coffin inside it so it doesn't get crushed if the ground collapses. Get outand hand me the crowbar."
Phil climbed out of the hole and gave him thecrowbar. He could see the vault now. It was made ofunfinished concrete and he guessed that it was just a rectangular box with a lid. James was prying thelid off with the crowbar.
"There," James said, with an explosive grunt as he lifted the lid and slid it, by degrees, behind the concrete box. That was why the hole was so wide, toaccommodate the lid on one side and James on theother.
And now, looking straight down into the hole, Philcould see the casket. A huge spray of slightly crushedyellow roses was on top.
James was breathing hard, but Phil didn't think itwas with exertion. His own lungs felt as if they werebeing squeezed flat, and his heart was thudding hardenough to shake his body.
"Oh, God," he said quietly and with no particular emphasis.
James looked up. "Yeah. This is it." He pushed theroses down toward the foot of the casket. Then, inwhat seemed like slow motion to Phillip, he began unfastening latches on the casket's side.
When they were unfastened, he paused for just aninstant, both hands flat on the smooth surface of thecasket. Then he lifted the upper panel, and Phillip could see what was inside.