Secret Vampire (Chapter 8)

When the Jetta turned into the parking lot of a7-Eleven, James smiled. There was a nice isolatedarea behind the store, and it was getting dark.

He drove his own car around back, then got out to watch the store entrance. When Phil came outwith a bag, he sprang on him from behind.

Phil yelled and fought, dropping the bag. It didn'tmatter. The sun had gone down and James's powerwas at full strength.

He dragged Phil to the back of the store and put him facing the wall beside a Dumpster. The classicpolice frisking position.

"I'm going to let go now," he said. "Don't try torun away. That would be a mistake."

Phil went tense and motionless at the sound of hisvoice. "I don'twantto run away. I want to smash your face in, Rasmussen."

"Go ahead and try." James was going to add,Makemy night, but he reconsidered. He let go of Phil, who turned around and regarded him with utter loathing.

"What's the matter? Run out of girls to jump?" hesaid, breathing hard.

James gritted his teeth. Trading insults wasn't going to do any good, but he could already tell it was going to be hard to keep his temper. Phil had that effect on him. "I didn't bring you out here to fight.I brought you to ask you something. Do you care about Poppy?"

Phil said, "I'll take stupid questions for five hundred, Alex," and loosened his shoulder as if gettingready for a punch.

"Because if you do, you'll get her to talk to me.You were the one who convinced her not to see me,and now you've got to convince her that shehastosee me."

Phil looked around the parking lot, as if calling for somebody to witness this insanity.

James spoke slowly and dearly, enunciating eachword. "There is something I can do to help her."

"Because you're Don Juan, right? You're gonna heal her with your love." The words were flippant,but Phil's voice was shaky with sheer hatred. Not just hatred for James, but for a universe that would givePoppy cancer.

"No. You've got it completely wrong. Look, youthink I was making out with her, or trifling with her affections or whatever. That's not what was going onat all. I let you think that because I was tired ofgetting the third degree from you-and because Ididn't want you to know what we weredoing."

"Sure, sure," Phil said in a voice filled with equal measures of sarcasm and contempt. "So whatwereyou doing? Drugs?"

James had learned something from his first encounter with Poppy in the hospital. Show and tellshould be done in that order. This time he didn't sayanything; he just grabbed Phil by the hair and jerked his head back.

There was only a single light behind the store, butit was enough togive Phil a good view of the baredfangs looming over him. And it was more thanenough for James, with his night vision, to see Phillip's green eyesdilate as he stared.

Phillip yelled, then went limp.

Not with fear, James knew. He wasn't a coward.With the shock of disbelief turning to belief.

Phillip swore. "You'rea …"

"Right." James let him go.

Phil almost lost his balance. He grabbed at theDumpster for support. "I don't believe it."

"Yes, you do," James said. He hadn't retracted hisfangs, and he knew that hiseyes were shining silver.Philhadto believe it with James standing right infront of him.

Phil apparently had the same idea. He was staringat James as if he wanted to look away, but couldn't.The color had drained out of his face, and he keptswallowing as if he were going to be sick.

"God," he said finally. "I knew there was something wrong with you. Weird wrong. I could neverfigure out why you gave me the creeps. So this is it."

I disgust him, James realized. It's not just hatred anymore. He thinks I'm less than human.

It didn't augur well for the rest of James's plan.

"Now do you understand how I can help Poppy?"

Phil shook his head slowly. He was leaning againstthe wall, one hand still on the Dumpster.

James felt impatience rise in his chest. "Poppy hasa disease. Vampires don't get diseases. Do you needa road map?"

Phillip's expression said he did.

"If,"James said through his teeth, "I exchangeenough blood with Poppy to turn her into a vampire,she won't have cancer anymore. Every cell in herbody will change and she'll end up a perfect specimen: flawless, disease-free. She'll have powers thathumans don't even dream of. And, incidentally,she'll be immortal."

There was a long, long silence as James watchedthis sink in with Phillip. Phil's thoughts were toojumbled and kaleidoscopic for James to make anything of them, but Phil's eyes got wider and his facemore ashen.

At last Phil said, "You can't do that to her."

It was thewayhe said it. Not as if he were protesting an idea because it was too radical, too new.Not the knee-jerk overreaction that Poppy had had.

He said it with absolute conviction and utmost horror. As if James were threatening to steal Poppy'ssoul.

"It's the only way to save herlife,"James said.

Phil shook his head slowly again, eyes huge andtrancelike. "No. No. She wouldn't want it. Not atthat cost."

"What cost?" James was more than impatientnow, he was defensive and exasperated. If he'd realized that this was going to turn into a philosophical debate, he would have picked somewhere less public.As it was, he had to keep all his senses on the alertfor possible intruders.

Phil let go of the Dumpster and stood on his owntwo feet. There was fear mixed with the horror in his eyes, but he faced James squarely.

"It's just-there are some things that humansthink are more important than just staying alive," hesaid. "You'll find that out."

I don't believe this, James thought. He sounds likea junior space captain talking to the alien invadersin a B movie.You won'tfind Earth peoplequitethe easymark you imagine.

Aloud, he said, "Are you nuts? Look, Phil, I wasborn in San Francisco. I'm not some bug-eyed monster from Alpha Centauri. I eat Wheaties forbreakfast."

"And what do you eat for a midnight snack?" Phil

asked, his green eyes somber and almost childlike.

"Or are the fangs just for decoration?"

Walked right into that one, James's brain told him.He looked away. "Okay. Touch?. There are somedifferences. I never said I was a human. But I'm notsome kind of-"

"If you're not a monster, then I don't knowwhat is."

Don't kill him, James counseled himself frantically.You have toconvincehim. "Phil, we're not like what you see at the movies. We're not all-powerful. We can't dematerialize through walls or travel through time, and we don't need to kill to feed. We're not evil, at least not all of us. We're not damned."

"You're unnatural," Phillip said softly, and James could feel that he meant it from his heart. "You'rewrong. Youshouldn't exist."

"Because we're higher up on the food chain thanyou?"

"Because people weren't meant to …feed … on other people."

James didn't say that his people didn't think ofPhillip's people as people. He said, "We only do whatwe have to do to survive. And Poppy's already agreed."

Phillip froze. "No. She wouldn't want to becomelike you."

"She wants to stay a!ive—or at least, she did, before she got mad at me. Now she's just irrationalbecause she hasn't got enough of my blood in her tofinish changing her. Thanks to you." He paused, then said deliberately, "Have you ever seen a three-weekold corpse, Phil? Because that'swhat she's going to become if I don't get to her."

Phil's face twisted. He whirled around and slammed a fist into the metal side of the Dumpster."Don't you think I know that?I've been living withthat since Monday night."

James stood still, heart pounding. Feeling the anguish Phil was giving off and the pain of Phil's injured hand. It was several seconds before he was ableto saycalmly,"And you think that's better than whatI can give her?"

"It's lousy. It stinks. But, yes, it's better than turning into something that hunts people. Thatusespeo ple. That's why all the girlfriends, isn't it?"

Once again, James couldn't answer right away.Phil's problem, he was realizing, was that Phil wasfar too smart for his own good. He thought too much."Yeah. That's why all the girlfriends," he said at last,tiredly. Trying not to see this from Phil's point of view.

"Just tell me one thing, Rasmussen."Phillip straightened and looked him dead in the eye. "Didyou"-he stopped and swallowed-"feed on Poppybefore she got sick?"


Phil let out his breath. "That's good. Because if you had,I'd have killed you."

James believed him. He was much stronger than Phil, much faster, and he'd never been afraid of ahuman before. But just at that moment he had nodoubt that Phil would somehow have found a way to do it.

"Look, there's something you don't understand,"he said. "Poppy did want this, and it's something we've already started. She's only just beginning tochange; if she dies now, she won't become a vampire.But she might not die all thee way, either. She couldend up a walking corpse. A zombie, you know?Mindless. Body rotting, but immortal."

Phil's mouth quivered with revulsion. "You're justsaying that to scare me."

James looked away. "I've seen it happen."

"I don't believe you."

"I've seen it firsthand!"Dimly James realized hewas yelling and that he'd grabbed Phil by the shirtfront. He was out of control-and he didn't care."I've seen it happen to somebodyIcared about, allright?"

And then, because Phil was still shaking his head:"I was only four years old and I had a nanny. Allthe rich kids in San Francisco have nannies. Shewas human."

"Let go," Phil muttered, pulling at James's wrist.He was breathing hard-he didn't want to hear this.

"I was crazy about her. She gave me everythingmy mom didn't. Love, attention-she was never too busy. I called her Miss Emma."

"Let go."

"But my parents thought I was too attached to her.So they took me on a little vacation-and they didn'tlet me feed. Not for three days. By the time they brought me back, I was starving. Then they sent MissEmma up to put me to bed."

Phil had stopped fighting now. He stood with hishead bowed and turned to one side so he wouldn'thave to look at James. James threw his words at theaverted face.

"I was only four. I couldn't stop myself. And the thing is, I wanted to. If you'd asked me who I'd rather have die, me or Miss Emma, I'd've said me. But when you're starving, you lose control. So I fed on her, and all the time I was crying and trying to stop. And when I finally could stop, I knew it wastoo late."

There was a pause. James suddenly realized that his fingers were locked in anagonizingcramp. He letgo of Phil's shirt slowly. Phil said nothing.

"She was just lying there on the floor. I thought,wait, if I give her my own blood she'll be a vampire, and everything will be okay." He wasn't yelling anymore. He wasn't even really speaking to Phillip, butstaring out into the dark parking lot. "So I cut myselfand let the blood run into her mouth. She swallowedsome of it before my parents came up and stoppedme. But not enough."

A longer pause-and James remembered why hewas telling the story. He looked at Phillip.

"She died that night but not all the way. The twodifferent kinds of blood were fighting inside her. Soby morning she was walking around again-but shewasn't Miss Emma anymore. She drooled and her skin was gray and her eyes were flat like a corpse's.And when she started to-rot-my dad took her out to Inverness and buried her. He killed her first." Bilerose in James's throat and he added almost in a whisper, "I hope he killed her first."

Phil slowly turned around to look at him. For thefirst time that evening, there was something otherthan horror and fear in his face. Something like pity, James thought.

James took a deep breath. After thirteen years of silence he'd finally told the storyto Phillip North,of all people. But it was no good wondering aboutthe absurdity. He had a point to drive home.

"So take my advice. If you don't convince Poppyto see me, make sure they don't do an autopsy onher. You don't want her walking around without herinternal organs. And have a wooden stake ready forthe time when you can't stand to look at heranymore."

The pity was gone from Phil's eyes. His mouth wasa hard, trembling line.

"We won't let her turn into… some kind of halfalive abomination," he said. "Or a vampire, either. I'm sorry about what happened to your Miss Emma,but it doesn't change anything."

"Poppyshould be the one to decide-"

But Phillip had reached his limit, and now he was simply shaking his head. "Just keep away from my sister," he said. "That's all I want. If you do, I'll leaveyou alone. And if you don't-"


"I'm going to tell everybody in El Camino what you are. I'm going to call the police and the mayorand I'm going to stand in the middle of the streetand yell it."

James felt his hands go icy cold. What Phil didn't

realize was that he'd just made it James's duty to killhim. It wasn't just that any human who stumbled onNight World secrets had to die, but that one activelythreatening to tellabout the Night World had to die immediately, no questions asked, no mercy given.

Suddenly James was so tired he couldn't seestraight.

"Get out of here, Phil," he said in a voice drainedof emotion and vitality both. "Now. And if you reallywant to protect Poppy, you won't tell anybody anything. Because they'll trace it back and find out thatPoppy knows the secrets, too. And then they'll killher-after bringing her in for questioning. It won'tbe fun."

"Who're 'they'? Your parents?"

"The Night People. We're all around you, Phil.Anybody you know could be one-including themayor. So keep your mouth shut."

Phillip looked at him through narrowed eyes. Thenhe turned and walked to the front of the store.

James couldn't remember when he'd felt so empty. Everything he'd done had turned out wrong. Poppywas now in more kinds of danger than he couldcount.

And Phillip North thought he was unnatural andevil. What Phil didn't know was that most of thetime James thought the same thing.

Phillip got halfway home before he rememberedthat he'd dropped the bag with Poppy's cranberryjuice and wild cherry Popsicles. Poppy had hardly

eaten in the last two days, and when she did get hungry, it was for something weird.

No-somethingred,he realized as he paid for a second time at the 7-Eleven. He felt a sick lurch in his stomach. Everything she wanted lately was redand at least semiliquid.

Did Poppy realize that herself?

He studied her when he went into her bedroom togive her a Popsicle. Poppy spent most of the time inbed now.

And she was so pale and still.. Her green eyes werethe only alive thing about her. They dominated herface, glittering with an almost savage awareness.

Cliff and Phil's mother were talking about gettinground-the-clock nurses to be with her.

"Don't like the Popsicle?" Phil asked, dragging achair to sit beside her bed.

Poppy was eyeing the thing with distaste. She tooka tiny lick and grimaced.

Phillip watched her.

Another lick. Then she put the Popsicle into anempty plastic cup on her nightstand. "I don't know … I just don't feel hungry," she said, leaning backagainst the pillows. "Sorry you had to go out fornothing."

"No problem." God, she looks sick, Phil thought."Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Eyes shut, Poppy shook her head. A very smallmotion. "You're a good brother," she said distantly.

She used to be so alive, Phil thought. Dad calledher Kilowatt or Eveready. She used to radiateenergy.

Without in the least meaning to, he found himself saying, "I saw James Rasmussen today."

Poppy stiffened. Her hands on the bedspreadformed not fists, but claws. "He'd better keep awayfrom here!"

There was something subtly wrong about her reaction. Something not-Poppy. Poppy could get fierce,sure, but Phil had never heard that animal tone inher voice before.

A picture flashed through Phil's mind. A creaturefromNight of the Living Dead,walking even though its intestines were spilling out. A living corpse likeJames's Miss Emma.

Was that really what would happen if Poppy diedright now? Was she that much changed already?

"I'll scratch his eyes out if he comes around here,"Poppy said, her fingers working on the spread like acat kneading.

"Poppy-he told me the truth about what hereally is."

Strangely, Poppy had no reaction. "He's scum,"she said. "He's a reptile."

Something about her voice made Phillip's fleshcreep. "And I told him you would never want to become something like that."

"I wouldn't," Poppy said shortly. "Not if it meanthanging around withhimfor eternity. I don't want to see him ever again."

Phil stared at her for a long moment. Then heleaned back and shut his eyes, one thumb jammedagainst his temple where the ache was worst.

Not just subtly wrong. He didn't want to believe it, but Poppy wasstrange.Irrational. And now thathe thought about it, she'd been getting stranger everyhour since James had been thrown out.

So maybe she was in some eerie in-between state. Not a human and not a vampire. And not able tothink dearly. Just as James had said.

Poppy should be the one to decide.

There was something he had to ask her.

"Poppy?" He waited until she looked at him, her green eyes large and unblinking. "When we talked,James said that you'd agreed to let him-change you.Before you got mad at him. Is that right?"

Poppy's eyebrows lifted. "I'm mad at him," sheconfirmed, as if this was the only part of the questionshe'd processed. "And you know why I like you?Because you've always hated him. Now we bothhate him."

Phil thought for a moment, then spoke carefully. "Okay. But when youweren'tmad at him, back then,did you want to turn into-what he is?"

Suddenly a gleam of rationality showed in Poppy's eyes. "I just didn't want to die, "she said. "I was so scared-and I wanted to live. If the doctors could doanything for me, I'd try that. But they can't." Shewas sitting up now, staring into space as if she saw something terrible there. "You don't know what itfeels like to know you're going to die," shewhispered.

Waves of chills washed over Phillip. No, he didn'tknow that, but he did know-he could suddenly picture vividly-what it was going to be like forhimafter Poppy died. How empty the world was going tobe without her.

For a long time they both sat in silence.

Then Poppy fell back onto the pillows again. Phillipcould see pastel blue smudges under her eyes, as ifthe conversation had exhausted her. "I don'tthinkitmatters," she said in a faint but frighteningly cheerfulvoice. "I'm not going to die anyway. Doctors don't know everything."

So that's how she's dealing with it,Phillipthought.Total denial.

He had all the information he needed, though. He had a clear view of the situation. And he knew whathe had to do now.

"I'll leave so you can get some rest," he said to Poppy, and patted her hand. It felt very cool andfragile, full of tiny bones like a bird's wing. "Seeyou later."

He slipped out of the house without telling anyone where he was going. Once on the road, he drovevery fast. It only took ten minutes to reach the apart ment building.

He'd never been to James's apartment before.

James answered the door with a cold, "What areyou doing here?"

"Can I come in? I've got something to say."

James stood back expressionlessly to let him in.

The "place was roomy and bare. There was a singlechairbeside a very cluttered table, an equally clut tered desk, and a square unbeautiful couch. Cardboard boxes full of books and CDs were stacked inthe corners. A door led to a spartan bedroom.

"What do you want?"

"First of all, I have to explain something. I knowyou can't help being what you are-but I can't helphow I feel about it, either. You can't change, andneither can I. I need you to understand that from the beginning."

James crossed his arms over his chest, wary anddefiant. "You can skip the lecture."

"I just need to make sure you understand, okay?""What do youwant,Phil?"

Phil swallowed. It took two or three tries before he could get the words out past the blockage of hispride.

"I want you to help my sister."