The Awakening (Chapter Seven)

Bonnie was on the dance floor, eyes shut, letting the music flow through her. When she opened her eyes for an instant, Meredith was beckoning from the sidelines. Bonnie thrust her chin out mutinously, but as the gestures became more insistent she rolled her eyes up at Raymond and obeyed. Raymond followed.

Matt and Ed were behind Meredith. Matt was scowling. Ed was looking uncomfortable.

"Elena just left," said Meredith.

"It's a free country," said Bonnie.

"She went with Tyler Smallwood," said Meredith. "Matt, are you sure you didn't hear where they were going?"  

Matt shook his head. "I'd say she deserves whatever happens-but it's my fault, too, in a way," he said bleakly. "I guess we ought to go after her."  

"Leave thedance ?" Bonnie said. She looked at Meredith, who mouthed the wordsyou promised . "I don't believe this," she muttered savagely.

"I don't know how we'll find her," said Meredith, "but we've got to try." Then she added, in a strangely hesitant voice, "Bonnie,you don't happen to know where she is, do you?"  

"What? No, of course not; I've been dancing. You've heard of that, haven't you: what you go to a dance for?"  

"You and Ray stay here," Matt said to Ed. "If she comes back, tell her we're out looking."  

"And if we're going, we'd better go now," Bonnie put in ungraciously. She turned and promptly ran into a dark blazer.

"Well, excuse me," she snapped, looking up and seeing Stefan Salvatore. He said nothing as she and Meredith and Matt headed for the door, leaving an unhappy-looking Raymond and Ed behind.

The stars were distant and ice-bright in the cloudless sky. Elena felt just like them. Part of her was laughing and shouting with Dick and Vickie and Tyler over the roar of the wind, but part of her was watching from far away.

Tyler parked halfway up the hill to the ruined church, leaving his headlights on as they all got out. Although there had been several cars behind them when they left the school, they appeared to be the only ones who'd made it all the way to the cemetery.

Tyler opened the trunk and pulled out a six-pack. "All the more for us." He offered a beer to Elena, who shook her head, trying to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She felt all wrong being here-but there was no way she was going to admit that now.

They climbed the flagstone path, the girls staggering in their high heels and leaning on the boys. When they reached the top, Elena gasped and Vickie gave a little scream.

Something huge and red was hovering just above the horizon. It took Elena a moment to realize it was actually the moon. It was as large and unrealistic as a prop in a science-fiction movie, and its bloated mass glowed dully with an unwholesome light.

"Like a big rotten pumpkin," said Tyler, and lobbed a stone at it. Elena made herself smile brilliantly up at him.

"Why don't we go inside?" Vickie said, pointing a white hand at the empty hole of the church doorway.

Most of the roof had fallen in, although the belfry was still intact, a tower stretching up high above them. Three of the walls were standing; the fourth was only knee-high. There were piles of rubble everywhere.

A light flared by Elena's cheek, and she turned, startled, to see Tyler holding a lighter. He grinned, showing strong white teeth, and said, "Want to flick my Bic?"  

Elena's laughter was the loudest, to cover her uneasiness. She took the lighter, using it to illuminate the tomb in the side of the church. It was like no other tomb in the cemetery, although her father said he'd seen similar things in England. It looked like a large stone box, big enough for two people, with two marble statues lying in repose on the lid.

"Thomas Keeping Fell and Honoria Fell," said Tyler with a grand gesture, as if introducing them. "Old Thomas allegedly founded Fell's Church. Although actually the Smallwoods were also there at the time. My great-grandfather's great-great-grandfather lived in the valley by Drowning Creek-"  

"-until he got eaten by wolves," said Dick, and he threw back his head in a wolf imitation. Then he belched. Vickie giggled. Annoyance crossed Tyler's handsome features, but he forced a smile.

"Thomas and Honoria are looking kind of pale," said Vickie, still giggling. "I think what they need is a little color." She produced a lipstick from her purse and began to coat the white marble mouth of the woman's statue with waxy scarlet. Elena felt another sick twinge. As a child, she'd always been awed by the pale lady and the grave man who lay with their eyes closed, hands folded on their breasts. And, after her parents died, she'd thought of them as lying side by side like this down in the cemetery. But she held the lighter while the other girl put a lipstick mustache and clown's nose on Thomas Fell.

Tyler was watching them. "Hey, they're all dressed up with no place to go." He put his hands on the edge of the stone lid and leaned on it, trying to shift it sideways. "What do you say, Dick-want to give them a night out on the town? Like maybe right in the center of town?"  

No, thought Elena, appalled, as Dick guffawed and Vickie shrieked with laughter. But Dick was already beside Tyler, getting braced and ready, the heels of his hands on the stone lid.

"On three," said Tyler, and counted, "One, two,three ."  

Elena's eyes were fixed on the horrible clown-like face of Thomas Fell as the boys strained forward and grunted, muscles bunching under cloth. They couldn't budge the lid an inch.

"Damn thing must be attached somehow," said Tyler angrily, turning away.

Elena felt weak with relief. Trying to seem casual, she leaned against the stone lid of the tomb for support-and that was when it happened.

She heard the grinding of stone and felt the lid shift under her left hand all at once. It was moving away from her, making her lose her balance. The lighter went flying, and she screamed and screamed again, trying to keep her feet. She was falling into the open tomb, and an icy wind roared all around her. Screams rang in her ears.

And then she was outside and the moonlight was bright enough that she could see the others. Tyler had hold of her. She stared around her wildly.

"Are you crazy? What happened?" Tyler was shaking her.

"It moved! The lid moved! It slid open and-I don't know-I almost fell in. It was cold…"  

The boys were laughing. "Poor baby's got the jitters," Tyler said. "C'mon, Dicky-boy, we'll check it out." "Tyler, no-"

But they went inside anyway. Vickie hung in the doorway, watching, while Elena shivered. Presently, Tyler beckoned her from the door.

"Look," he said when she reluctantly stepped back inside. He'd retrieved the lighter, and he held it above Thomas Fell's marble chest. "It still fits, snug as a bug in a rug. See?"  

Elena stared down at the perfect alignment of lid and tomb. "It did move. I nearly fell into it…"  

"Sure, whatever you say, baby." Tyler wound his arms around her, clasping her to him backwards. She looked over to see Dick and Vickie in much the same position, except that Vickie, eyes shut, was looking as if she enjoyed it. Tyler rubbed a strong chin over her hair.

"I'd like to go back to the dance now," she said flatly.

There was a pause in the rubbing. Then Tyler sighed and said, "Sure, baby." He looked at Dick and Vickie. "What about you two?"  

Dick grinned. "We'll just stay here a while." Vickie giggled, her eyes still shut.

"Okay." Elena wondered how they were going to get back, but she allowed Tyler to lead her out. Once outside, however, he paused.

"I can't let you go without one look at my grandfather's headstone," he said. "Aw, c'mon, Elena," he said as she started to protest, "don't hurt my feelings. You've got to see it; it's the family pride and joy."  

Elena made herself smile, although her stomach felt like ice. Maybe if she humored him, he would get her out of here. "All right," she said, and started toward the cemetery.

"Not that way. This way." And the next moment, he was leading her down toward the old graveyard. "It's okay, honest, it's not far off the path. Look, there, you see?" He pointed to something that shone in the moonlight.

Elena gasped, muscles tightening around her heart. It looked like a person standing there, a giant with a round hairless head. And she didn't like being here at all, among the worn and leaning granite stones of centuries past. The bright moonlight cast strange shadows, and there were pools of impenetrable darkness everywhere.

"It's just the ball on top. Nothing to be scared of," said Tyler, pulling her with him off the path and up to the shining headstone. It was made of red marble, and the huge ball that surmounted it reminded her of the bloated moon on the horizon. Now that same moon shone down on them, as white as Thomas Fell's white hands. Elena couldn't contain her shivering.

"Poor baby, she's cold. Got to get her warned up," said Tyler. Elena tried to push him away, but he was too strong, wrapping her in his arms, pulling her against him.

"Tyler, I want to go; I want to go rightnow . …"  

"Sure, baby, we'll go," he said. "But we've got to get you warm first. Gosh, you're cold."  

" Tyler, stop," she said. His arms around her had merely been annoying, restricting, but now with a sense of shock she felt his hands on her body, groping for bare skin.

Never in her life had Elena been in a situation like this, far away from any help. She aimed a spiked heel for his patent-leather instep, but he evaded her. "Tyler,take your hands off me ."  

"C'mon, Elena, don't be like that, I just want to warm you up all over…"  

"Tyler, let go," she choked out. She tried to wrench herself away from him. Tyler stumbled, and then his full weight was on her, crushing her into the tangle of ivy and weeds on the ground. Elena spoke desperately. "I'll kill you, Tyler. I mean it.Get off me ."  

Tyler tried to roll off, giggling suddenly, his limbs heavy and uncoordinated, almost useless. "Aw, c'mon, Elena, don' be mad. I was jus' warmin' you up. Elena the Ice Princess, warmin' up… You're gettin' warm now, aren' you?" Then Elena felt his mouth hot andwet on her face. She was still pinned beneath him, and his sloppy kisses were moving down her throat. She heard cloth tear.

"Oops," Tyler mumbled. "Sorry 'bout that."  

Elena twisted her head, and her mouth met Tyler's hand, clumsily caressing her cheek. She bit it, sinking her teeth into the fleshy palm. She bithard , tasting blood, hearing Tyler's agonized yowl. The hand jerked away.

"Hey! I said I was sorry!" Tyler looked aggrievedly at his maimed hand. Then his face darkened, as, still staring at it, he clenched the hand into a fist.

This is it, Elena thought with nightmare calmness. He's either going to knock me out or kill me. She braced herself for the blow.

Stefan had resisted coming into the cemetery; everything within him had cried out against it. The last time he'd been here had been the night of the old man.

Horror shifted through his gut again at the memory. He would have sworn that he had not drained the man under the bridge, that he had not taken enough blood to do harm. But everything that night after the surge of Power was muddled, confused. If therehad been a surge of Power at all. Perhaps that had been his own imagination, or even his own doing. Strange things could happen when the need got out of control.

He shut his eyes. When he'd heard that the old man was hospitalized, near death, his shock had been beyond words. Howcould he have let himself get so far out of hand? To kill, almost, when he had not killed since…

He wouldn't let himself think about that.

Now, standing in front of the cemetery gate in the midnight darkness, he wanted nothing so much as to turn around and go away. Go back to the dance where he'd left Caroline, that supple, sun-bronzed creature who was absolutely safe because she meant absolutely nothing to him.

But he couldn't go back, because Elena was in the cemetery. He could sense her, and sense her rising distress. Elena was in the cemetery and in trouble, and he had to find her.

He was halfway up the hill when the dizziness hit. It sent him reeling, struggling on toward the church because it was the only thing he could keep in focus. Gray waves of fog swept through his brain, and he fought to keep moving. Weak, he felt so weak. And helpless against the sheer power of this vertigo.

He needed… to go to Elena. But he was weak. He couldn't be… weak… if he were to help Elena. He needed… to…

The church door yawned before him.

Elena saw the moon over Tyler's left shoulder. It was strangely fitting that it would be the last thing she ever saw, she thought. The scream had caught in her throat, choked off by fear.

And then something picked Tyler up and threw him against his grandfather's headstone.

That was what it looked like to Elena. She rolled to the side, gasping, one hand clutching her torn dress, the other groping for a weapon.

She didn't need one. Something moved in the darkness, and she saw the person who had plucked Tyler off her. Stefan Salvatore. But it was a Stefan she had never seen before: that fine-featured face was white and cold with fury, and there was a killing light in those green eyes. Without even moving, Stefan emanated such anger and menace that Elena found herself more frightened of him than she had been of Tyler.

"When I first met you, I knew you'd never learned any manners," said Stefan. His voice was soft and cold and light, and somehow it made Elena dizzy. She couldn't take her eyes off him as he moved toward Tyler, who was shaking his head dazedly and starting to get up. Stefan moved like a dancer, every movement easy and precisely controlled. "But I had no idea that your character was quite so underdeveloped."  

He hit Tyler. The larger boy had been reaching out one beefy hand, and Stefan hit him almost negligently on the side of the face, before the hand made contact.

Tyler flew against another headstone. He scrambled up and stood panting, his eyes showing white. Elena saw a trickle of blood from his nose. Then he charged.

"A gentleman doesn't force his company on anyone," said Stefan, and knocked him aside. Tyler went sprawling again, facedown in the weeds and briars. This time he was slower in getting up, and blood flowed from both nostrils and from his mouth. He was blowing like a frightened horse as he threw himself at Stefan.

Stefan grabbed the front of Tyler's jacket, whirling them both around and absorbing the impact of the murderous rush. He shook Tyler twice, hard, while those big beefy fists windmilled around him, unable to connect. Then he let Tyler drop.

"He doesn't insult a woman," he said. Tyler's face was contorted, his eyes rolling, but he grabbed for Stefan's leg. Stefan jerked him to his feet and shook him again, and Tyler went limp as a rag doll, his eyes rolling up. Stefan went on speaking, holding the heavy body upright and punctuating every word with a bone-wrenching shake. "And, above all, he doesnot hurt her…"  

"Stefan!" Elena cried. Tyler's head was snapping back and forth with every shake. She was frightened of what she was seeing; frightened of what Stefan might do. And frightened above all else of Stefan's voice, that cold voice that was like a rapier dancing, beautiful and deadly and utterly merciless. "Stefan,stop ."  

His head jerked toward her, startled, as if he had forgotten her presence. For a moment he looked at her without recognition, his eyes black in the moonlight, and she thought of some predator, some great bird or sleek carnivore incapable of human emotion. Then understanding came to his face and some of the darkness faded from his gaze.

He looked down at Tyler's lolling head, then set him gently against the red marble tombstone. Tyler's knees buckled and he slid down the face of it, but to Elena's relief his eyes opened-or at least the left one did. The right was swelling to a slit.

"He'll be all right," said Stefan emptily.

As her fear ebbed, Elena felt empty herself. Shock, she thought. I'm in shock. I'll probably start screaming hysterically any minute now.

"Is there someone to take you home?" said Stefan, still in that chillingly deadened voice.

Elena thought of Dick and Vickie, doing God knew what beside Thomas Fell's statue. "No," she said. Her mind was beginning to work again, to take notice of things around her. The violet dress was ripped all the way down the front; it was ruined. Mechanically, she pulled it together over her slip.

"I'll drive you," said Stefan.

Even through the numbness, Elena felt a quick thrill of fear. She looked at him, a strangely elegant figure among the tombstones, his face pale in the moonlight. He had never looked so… sobeautiful to her before, but that beauty was almost alien. Not just foreign, but inhuman, because no human could project that aura of power, or of distance.

"Thank you. That would be very kind," she said slowly. There was nothing else to do.

They left Tyler painfully getting to his feet by his ancestor's headstone. Elena felt another chill as they reached the path and Stefan turned toward Wickery Bridge.

"I left my car at the boarding house," he said. "This is the fastest way for us to get back."  

"Is this the way you came?"  

"No. I didn't cross the bridge. But it'll be safe."  

Elena believed him. Pale and silent, he walked beside her without touching, except when he took off his blazer to put it around her bare shoulders. She felt oddly sure he would kill anything that tried to get at her.

Wickery Bridge was white in the moonlight, and under it the icy waters swirled over ancient rocks. The whole world was still and beautiful and cold as they walked through the oak trees to the narrow country road.

They passed fenced pastures and dark fields until they reached a long winding drive. The boarding house was a vast building of rust-red brick made from the native clay, and it was flanked with age-old cedars and maples. All but one of the windows were dark.

Stefan unlocked one of the double doors and they stepped into a small hallway, with a flight of stairs directly in front of them. The banister, like the doors, was natural light oak so polished that it seemed to glow.

They went up the stairs to a second-story landing that was poorly lit. To Elena's surprise,  

Stefan led her into one of the bedrooms and opened what looked like a closet door. Through it she could see a very steep, very narrow stairway.

What a strange place, she thought. This hidden stairway buried deep in the heart of the house, where no sound from outside could penetrate. She reached the top of the stairs and stepped out into a large room that made up the whole third story of the house.

It was almost as dimly lit as the stairway, but Elena could see the stained wood floor and the exposed beams in the slanting ceiling. There were tall windows on all sides, and many trunks scattered among a few pieces of massive furniture.

She realized he was watching her. "Is there a bathroom where I-?"  

He nodded toward a door. She took off the blazer, held it toward him without looking at him, and went inside.