There was blood, a river of it running. There was pain, a sea he was
floating in. Would it never end? A thousand cuts, burns, the taunting
laughter telling him it would go on for all eternity. He could
not believe he was so helpless, could not believe his incredible
power and strength had been drained from him leaving him reduced
to such a pitiful state. He sent mental call after call out into
the night, none of his kind came to help him. The agony continued,
went on relentlessly. Where were they? His kin? His friends? Why
wouldn't they come to him and end this? Had they deliberately
left him to these butchers who wielded their knifes and blowtorches
with such delight? It had been someone he knew, someone who had
betrayed him, but the memory was curiously fading, obscured by
the agony of endless pain. Was it a conspiracy?
tormentors had somehow managed to capture him, paralyze his body
so that he could feel, yet not move, not even his vocal cords.
He was totally helpless, vulnerable to the puny humans tearing
his body apart. He heard their taunts, the endless questions,
felt the rage in them when he refused to acknowledge their presence
or the pain they inflicted on him. He wanted death, welcomed it
and his eyes, cold as ice, never left their faces, never blinked,
the eyes of a predator waiting, watching, promising retaliation.
It maddened them, but they refused to administer the finishing
Time no longer meant anything to him,
his world had become so narrow, but at some point he felt another's
presence in his mind. The touch was far off, female, young. He
had no idea how he had inadvertently connected with her, his mind
melded to hers so that she was sharing his torment, every scorching
burn as they charred his flesh, every slice of the knife, draining
his blood, his life force from him. He tried to remember who she
might be. She had to be close to him if she shared his mind. She
was as helpless as he was, enduring the pain with him, sharing
his agony. He tried to close himself off from her, the need to
protect her paramount in him, yet he was far too weak to block
his mental thoughts. His pain poured out of him, a raging torrent,
flowing straight to the female sharing his mind.
Her anguish hit him like a powerful blow.
He was, after all, a Carpathian male. His first duty was to protect
a woman above his own life at all times. That he was failing added
to his despair and sense of failure. He caught brief images of
her in his mind, a small fragile figure huddled in a ball of pain,
trying desperately to hang onto her sanity. She seemed a stranger
to him, yet he saw her in color, something he had not seen in
centuries. He couldn't send either or them to sleep to save both
of them from this agony. He could only catch fragments of her
thoughts as she desperately tried to call out to someone for help,
tried to figure out what was happening to her.
Droplets of blood began to seep from his
pores. Red blood. He clearly saw his blood was red. It meant something
important, yet he was confused, unable to discern why it was important
and what it meant. His mind was becoming hazy, like a great veil
was being drawn over his brain. He couldn't remember how they
had managed to capture him. He struggled to 'see' the image of
the one of his own kind who had betrayed him, but the picture
would not return to his mind. There was only pain. Terrible, endless
pain. He could not make a sound, even when his mind shattered
into a million fragments and he could no longer remember what,
or whom he was protecting.
O'Halloran lay curled up on her bed, the lamp providing just enough
light to see her medical book. She read fast, page after page
in seconds, committing the text to memory as she had done since
she was a child. Now as she was completing her residency, the
youngest resident on record, she hurried to finish the text, wanting
to get some rest while she could. The pain hit her unexpectedly,
slamming into her body with such virulence she was thrown off
the bed, her body contorting with the force. She tried to cry
out, to crawl blindly toward the phone, but she could only writhe
on the floor helplessly. Sweat beaded on her body, smears of crimson
blood seeped through her pores. The pain was like nothing she
had ever experienced, as if someone was cutting her skin with
a knife, burning her, torturing her endlessly. It went on and
on, hours, days she didn't know. No one came to help her and they
wouldn't, she was alone, so private she had no real friends. At
the end, when the stabbing pain tore through her, ripping her
body as if a hole the size of her fist had opened in her chest,
she lost consciousness.
When he thought his tormentors were through
with him, would end his suffering, give him death, he discovered
what true hell really was. Gut wrenching agony. Evil faces above
him. The sharpened stake poised over the region of his heart.
A beat of time, a second. It would end now. It had to end. He
felt the thick wooden point drive into his flesh, tearing a huge
hole through muscle and sinew. The hammer fell down hard on the
end of the round stake, driving it ever deeper. The pain was beyond
anything he had ever imagined. The female sharing his mind lost
consciousness, a mercy for both of them. He continued to feel
every blow, the huge peg separating his flesh, penetrating his
insides while blood spurted like a geyser, further weakening him.
He felt his life force fading away, his strength so gone now he
was certain he would die. He reached for death. Embraced death.
But it wasn't to be. He was a Carpathian male, an immortal, one
not so easily disposed of. One whose will was strong and determined.
A will that fought death even when his body begged for an end
to his suffering and existence.
His eyes found them, the two humans. They
were covered in his blood, red sprays across their clothes. He
gathered his strength, the last of it, and captured their gazes
with his mesmerizing stare. If he could just hold them long enough
to turn their own evil back on them. One cursed suddenly and jerked
his companion away from him. Quickly, they covered his eyes with
cloth, no longer able to stand the dark promise in the deep dark
pits of suffering, afraid of his power, although he was so helpless
before them. They laughed as they chained him into the coffin
and lifted it upright. He heard himself scream with the pain,
but the sound was only in his mind, echoing sharply, locked away,
mocking him. He forced himself to stop. They couldn't hear him,
but it didn't matter to him. He had a shred of dignity left. Self-respect.
They would not defeat him. He was Carpathian. He heard the dirt
hitting the wood as they buried him in the wall of the cellar.
Each shovel-full. The darkness was complete. The silence took
him like a blow.
He was a creature of the night. The dark
was his home. Yet now, in his agony, it was his enemy. There was
only pain and silence. Always before, he was the one that governed
whether he chose to stay in the darkness, in the healing soil.
Now he was a prisoner, locked away with the soil just out of reach.
Comfort should have been his, was near, yet always the thin layer
of wood prevented his body from touching what would eventually
have healed his wounds. Hunger began to invade his world of agony.
Time passed, meant nothing. Only the terrible, relentless hunger
that grew until it became his entire world. Agony. Hunger. Nothing
else existed for him anymore. He was damned to an imprisonment
of hell for all eternity. He found, after some time, that he could
put himself to sleep. The return of his gift meant nothing anymore.
He remembered nothing. This was his life. Sleep. Wake only when
an inquisitive creature strayed too close. The rush of agony consuming
him when his heart beat. Conserving as much strength as possible
to try to draw food to him. It was few and far between. Even insects
learned to avoid the place of darkness and the malevolent creature
who dwelled there.
In the moments of time that inched passed
during his waking agony, he would whisper his name to himself. Jacques.
He had a name. He was real. He existed. He lived in hell. He lived
in darkness. The hours turned into months, then years. He could
no longer remember any other way of life, no other existence.
There was no hope, no peace, no way out. There was no end. Only
the darkness, the pain, the terrible hunger. Time continued to
pass, meant nothing in his limited world.
His wrists were manacled so that he had
little room to maneuver, but every time a creature came close
enough to waken him, he scratched at the walls and lid of his
coffin in a vain attempt to get out. His strength of mind was
returning so that he eventually could coax his prey to him, yet
it was only enough to barely survive. There was no way to regain
his power and strength without replacing the huge volume of blood
he had lost. There was no creature underground big enough to do
that. Every time he woke, moved, fresh blood would drip steadily
from his wounds. Without the necessary amount of blood to replace
his loss, his body could not heal itself. The circle was endless,
hideous, an ugly cycle that would last for all eternity.
Then the dreams began to intrude. Waking
him when he was starving and there was no way to fill that empty
void. A woman. He recognized her, knew she was out there, alive,
no manacles, not buried beneath the earth but able to move freely
around. She was just out of his mind's reach, yet he could almost
touch her. Why didn't she come to him? There was no face, no past,
only the knowledge that she was out there somewhere. He called
to her. Begged. Pleaded. Raged. Where was she? Why wouldn't she
come to him? Why did she allow his agony to continue when even
her presence in his mind would take away the terrible sense of
isolation? What had he done that was so terrible that he deserved
this? Anger found its way into his world. Hatred even. In the
place of a man a monster grew, deadly, dangerous, grew and thrived
on the pain, became a will impossible to crush. Fifty years, a
hundred, what did it matter if he traveled to the very gates of
hell for revenge, he already resided there, lay imprisoned in
it every waking moment.
She would come to him. He vowed it. He
would bend his will to finding her. Once found he would become
a shadow in her mind until he became familiar enough with her
to force his will on her. She would come to him and he would have
Hunger gripped him each time he came awake,
so that pain and hunger melted together and became the same. His
concentration on finding the path to the woman saved him agony.
His focus was so complete he could actually block the pain for
a short while. First it was only seconds. Then minutes. Each time
he woke, he bent his will toward finding her, there was nothing
else to do. Months. Years. It didn't matter to him. She could
not escape him forever.
The first time he touched her mind, it
was such a shock after all the thousands of fruitless tries he
immediately lost contact. The rush of elation caused a bright
red spray of blood to erupt around the stake buried deep within
his body, draining his remaining strength. He slept for a long
period of time in an attempt to recover. A week perhaps. A month.
There was no need to measure time. He had a direction now, although
she was far away from him. The distance was so great, it took
his full concentration to focus and reach for her across time
Jacques tried again when he woke. This
time he was unprepared for the images in her mind. Blood. A small
human chest ripped wide open. A pulsating heart. Her hands were
immersed inside the chest cavity, covered in blood. There were
others in the room with them and she was directing their movements
with her mind. She seemed unaware that she was doing so. Her focus
was completely on her horrendous task. The ease with which she
directed the others suggested she did so often. The vivid pictures
were horrible, and he knew she had been part of the betrayal,
was part of those torturing him. He nearly lost the contact, but
his indomitable will kicked in. She would suffer for this. Really
suffer for this. The body she was torturing was so small it had
to be a child.
The operating room was dimly lit, just
the way Dr. O'Halloran liked it. Only the body on the table had
a bright light shining down on it. Outside the door, her unusually
acute hearing picked up the nurse consoling the parents. "You're
lucky Dr. O'Halloran is working tonight. She's the best there
is. She has a gift. Really. When there's no chance at all, she
still pulls them out. Your little boy couldn't be in better hands."
"But he's so crushed," that
was the terrified, already grieving mother.
"Dr. O'Halloran has been known to
work miracles. Truly. Have faith. She just never stops until she
saves them. We think she wills them to live."
Shea O'Halloran couldn't have any distractions
right now, certainly not a nurse promising parents she could save
this child with his chest literally crushed and his internal organs
a jigsaw puzzle. Not when she had spent the last forty-eight hours
solid doing research and her body was screaming at her for sleep
and nourishment. She blocked out all noises, all voices, and focused
completely on the task at hand. She would not loose this little
boy. She wouldn't. It was that simple to her. She never gave herself
any other choice, never allowed any other thought into her mind.
She had a good team, knew they worked well with her. They meshed
like a well-oiled machine together. She never had to look to see
if they were reacting to what she wanted or needed, they were
always there for her. If she was able to save her patients, where
others couldn't, it wasn't her alone.
She bent closer to the little boy, pushing
out everything but her desire for this child to live. As she was
reaching to take the instrument her nurse was handing her, something
struck at her. Pain gripped her, consumed her, sweeping through
her body like a terrible fire. She had only felt such agony one
other time, a couple of years earlier. She had never managed to
discover what had been wrong with her. The pain had simply disappeared
after nearly twenty-four hours. Now, with a child's life hanging
by a thread, depending upon her skills, she did not have the luxury
of fainting. Agony gripped her, twisted her insides, and took
the breath from her lungs. Shea struggled to control herself,
years of forcing her mind to remain under a strict disciplined
control stood her in good stead. Like everything else around her,
she forced the pain out of her mind, took a deep breath and concentrated
on the child.
The nurse closest to her regarded the
doctor with complete shock. In all the time she had worked with
O'Halloran, admiring her, almost idolizing her, she had never
seen the doctor loose her focus, not even for a second. This time,
Shea had stood perfectly still, a few heartbeats, that was all,
but the nurse couldn't help noticing because it was so
unusual. It was so subtle. Her hands had trembled, and she had
broken out in a sweat. Automatically the nurse reached up to wipe
the beads from the doctor's forehead. To her horror, the cloth
came away stained with blood. Droplets were beading up, seeping
through her pores. The nurse wiped the doctor's forehead a second
time, attempting to hide the cloth from the others. She had never
seen anything remotely like it. Then Shea was once more herself,
snapping to attention
in the space of a few heartbeats. The nurse swallowed all of her
questions and went back to work, the images of what Dr. O'Halloran
needed coming into her mind so fast, she had no time to think
about the strange phenomenon any more. She had long ago become
use to knowing what the doctor needed before she asked for it.
Shea felt an unfamiliar presence in her
mind for one more heartbeat before she closed it out, felt the
dark malevolence beating at her, then her mind was completely
taken up with the child and the shredded jumble that was his chest.
He would not die. She would not allow it. 'You hear me, child?
I'm here with you and I will not let you die.' She meant it. She
always meant it. It was as if part of her merged with her patient
and somehow managed to keep them alive until modern medicine could
Jacques slept for some time. It didn't
matter to him how long it had been. Hunger was waiting. Pain was
waiting. The treacherous heart and soul of a woman was waiting.
He had an eternity to gather what strength he could and she could
never escape him now he knew the mental path to her mind. He slept
the sleep of immortals, his lungs and heart stopped as he lay
in the earth, his body close to the soil it so desperately needed
to aid healing, yet a thin layer of wood away. When he awakened
he scratched at the walls of his coffin patiently. He would reach
the healing soil some day. He had managed to make a hole to coax
his prey to him. He could wait. She would never escape him. She
was his single-minded purpose.
He haunted her. It didn't matter to him.
Day or night. He no longer knew the difference when it had mattered
so much before. He lived to try to appease his ever-present hunger.
He lived for revenge. For retribution. He lived to make her life
a living hell during his waking hours. He became good at it. Taking
possession of her mind for moments at a time. It was impossible
to figure her out. She was so complex. There were things in her
brain that made little sense to him and the few minutes he could
stay awake without losing his precious remaining blood, did not
give himself sufficient time.
There was the time she was frightened.
He could taste her fear. Feel her heart pounding so that his own
matched the terrible rhythm. Her mind remained calm in the center
of the storm, a quick, brilliant flash of data she processed so
quickly he nearly missed it. Two strangers were hunting her. Taunting
her. He saw an image of himself, his thick hair hanging in strands
around his ravaged face, his body savaged by brutal hands. He
clearly saw the stake driven through his own skin deep within
the tissue and sinews of his body. It flashed for a moment in
her mind, there was the impression of grief, and then he lost
Shea would never forget their faces, their
eyes, and the smell of their sweat. One of them, the taller of
the two couldn't take his eyes from her. "Who are you?"
she looked at them wide-eyed, innocently, totally harmless. Shea
knew she looked young and helpless, too small to give them trouble.
"Jeff Smith," the tall one said
gruffly. His eyes devoured her. "This is my partner, Don
Wallace. We need you to come with us and answer a few questions."
"Am I wanted for something? I'm a
doctor, gentleman, I can't just pick up and go. I'm due in surgery
in an hour. Perhaps you could arrange to ask your questions when
my shift is over."
grinned at her. He thought he looked charming. Shea thought he
a shark. "We can't do that, Doc. It isn't our questions,
there's an entire committee looking to talk with you." He
laughed softly, a film of perspiration of his forehead. He enjoyed
inflicting pain and Shea was altogether too cool, too haughty.
Shea made certain her desk was solidly
between them. Taking great care to move slowly and appear unconcerned,
she typed in the command to destroy her data, hit the enter key,
picked up her mother's diary and slipped it into her purse. "Are
you certain you have the right person?" She accomplished
everything easily, naturally
"Shea O'Halloran, your mother was
Margaret, 'Maggie' O'Halloran from Ireland?" Jeff Smith asked.
"You were born in Romania, your father is unknown?"
There was a taunting note in his voice.
She turned the full power of her emerald
eyes on the man, watched coolly as he squirmed uneasily, as he
became consumed with desire for her. Smith was far more susceptible
than his partner was. "Is that supposed to upset me, Mr.
Smith? I am who I am, my father has nothing to do with it."
"No?" Wallace stepped closer
to the desk. "Don't you need blood? Crave it? Don't you drink
it?" His eyes glowed with hatred.
Shea burst out laughing. Her laughter
was soft, sexy, a melody to listen to forever. "Drink blood?
Is this some kind of joke? I don't have time for this nonsense."
Smith licked his lips. "You don't
drink blood?" His voice held a hopeful note.
Wallace looked at him sharply. "Don't
look into her eyes," he snarled. "You should know that
Shea's eyebrow shot up. She laughed again
softly, inviting Smith to join her. "I occasionally require
a transfusion. It isn't uncommon. Haven't you ever heard of a
hemophiliac? Gentlemen, you are wasting my time." Her voice
dropped even lower, a soft seduction of musical notes. "You
really should leave."
Smith scratched his head. "Maybe
we've got the wrong woman. Look at her. She's a doctor. She's
nothing like the others. They're tall and strong and have dark
hair. She's delicate, petite and she goes out in the sunlight."
"Shut up," Wallace snapped.
"She's one of them. We should have gagged her - She's turning
you with her voice." His eyes slid over her, making her flesh
talk." He grinned evilly. "Now, I've scared you. It's
about time. You'll cooperate O'Halloran, the hard way or the easy
way. I prefer the hard way."
"I'll bet you do. Just what do you
want from me?"
"Proof that you're a vampire,"
Wallace hissed it like an accusation.
"You've got to be kidding. Are you insane? Vampires do not
exist. There is no such thing." She needed information and
she was willing to acquire knowledge from any source, even someone
as sick as the two of them were.
"No? I've met several," Wallace
grinned his evil grin again. "Perhaps a friend or two of
yours." He threw several photographs on the desk, his eyes
daring her to look at them. His excitement was a palatable thing.
Keeping her face a blank mask, Shea picked
up the pictures. Her stomach lurched, bile rose, but her training
didn't let her down. The photographs were numbered, eight
of them in all. Each of the victims was blindfolded, gagged, heavily manacled,
all in various stages of torment. Don Wallace was a butcher. She
touched the one tagged with a number two with her fingertip, experiencing
a sudden, unexpected wrench. A young boy no more than eighteen.
Quickly, before tears could well up, she flipped through the rest
of the photographs. Number seven was a man with a mane of dark,
jet-black hair, the man haunting her dreams. There was no denying
it. No mistake. She knew every angle and plane of his face, the
well-cut mouth, the dark expressive eyes, the
long hair falling around his head. Anguish welled up. For a moment
she felt his pain, a sharp agony of mind and body driving out
all sane thoughts until there was
only room for
pain, hatred and hunger. She brushed the pad of her thumb over
the tormented face
lightly, almost lovingly. A caress. The pain and hatred only grew
stronger. Hunger became all consuming. The emotions were so strong,
so alien to her nature, she had a strange feeling something or
someone was sharing her mind. Disoriented for a moment, Shea contemptuously
tossed the photographs on the desk.
"It was you in Europe a few years
back, the vampire killings, wasn't it? You murdered all those
innocent people." Shea
made the accusation calmly
"And now I've got you." Don
Wallace didn't deny it
"If vampires are such powerful creatures,
how did you manage to kill so many of them?" Sarcasm dripped
deliberately to egg him on.
"Males are very competitive,"
Wallace laughed harshly. "They don't like one another. They
need women and they don't like to share. No matter how they suffer,
they never talk, but you will, Doc, I'll have all the time in
the world with you. Did you know when a vampire's in agony they
"Surely I would know that if I was
a vampire. I've never sweat blood in my life. Let's see if I have
this straight. Vampires stalk everyone, including each other.
The males torture and betray one another to human butchers. And
they need females. I thought they just bit women and turned them
into vampires." Sarcastically she was ticking off each item
on her fingers. "You want me to believe I'm one of these
fictitious creatures, so powerful, my voice alone can enslave
this strong man here." Deliberately she gestured toward Jeff
Smith, flashing him a gentle smile. "Tell me something, gentlemen.
I'm a doctor, I save lives every day, human lives. I sleep in
a bed, not in a coffin, I work at a very demanding job, I am not
in the least bit strong and I have never sucked
anyone's blood in my life. You admittedly have tortured and mutilated
men and even murdered them. Evidently you derive great pleasure
from this. I don't believe you are cops, I think you are monsters."
She turned her emerald eyes on Jeff Smith, her voice low, seductive.
"Do you really think I'm a danger to you?"
He seemed to be falling forward into her
beckoning eyes. He had never wanted a woman for his own more.
He blinked, cleared his throat, and stole a slow, calculating
look at Wallace. Smith had never noticed that greedy, cold look
on his partner's face before. "No, no, of course you're not
a danger to me or anyone else."
"Damn it, Jeff, let's get her and
get the hell out of here," Wallace snarled, the need to teach
her who was in charge riding him hard.
Emerald eyes slid over Smith, fastened
on his mesmerized gaze. She could feel his desire and she fed
it, fed his fantasies of her welcoming his attentions. She had
learned at a very young age she could get into people's minds,
manipulate their thoughts. It had terrified her to wield that
kind of power, but it was a useful tool when threatened.
"Don, why don't they just turn a
human woman? That would make sense. Why did he stop helping us?
The vampire just quit helping us. We left the area in a big hurry.
You never did tell me what went wrong," Smith said suspiciously.
"Are you trying to say one of these
male vampires helped you kill others and that's how you were so
successful?" Shea asked, a little sneer of disbelief in her
"He was a nasty, vengeful man. He
hated the kid, but particularly despised this one here,"
Smith tapped the photograph of the man with the black hair. "He
wanted him tortured, burned, to feel it," Smith offered.
"Shut up," Wallace snapped.
"Let's get it over. She's worth a hundred thousand dollars
to the society. They want to study her."
Shea laughed softly. "If I truly
was one of your mythical vampires, I should be worth far more
than that. I think your partner is holding out on you, Mr. Smith."
The truth was there to read on Wallace's
face. Smith turned to confront him, his body between Wallace and
Shea. Shea simply leapt out of the second story window, landed
on her feet like a cat and ran for her life. She had no personal
items she was concerned about, no momento or favorite china. Even
her clothes didn't matter and she had never invested in jewelry.
Her one regret was the loss of her books.
When he felt her fear, Jacques experienced the need to protect
her. The urge was as strong as his desire to revenge himself.
Whatever he had done, and he was the first to admit he couldn't
remember, he could never possibly deserve such a horrendous punishment.
Once again sleep overtook him, but it was the first time in months
he had not filled her body with his pain, and possessed her mind
for a few seconds, insuring she felt his dark anger and promise
of retribution. This time he hadn't punished her. Only he had
the right to put fear into her mind, into her fragile trembling
body. She had looked upon his image with a mixture of puzzlement
and regret. Did she think he was dead and it was his damned soul
haunting her? What went on in the head of a treacherous woman?
Time continued endlessly. Wake when a
creature strayed near. Scratch and claw at the rotting wood. Eventually
the cloth over his eyes rotted until it fell away from him. He
had no idea how long he had been there. It made no difference
to him. Dark was dark. Isolation, isolation. His only companion
was a woman who had betrayed him, forsaken him. At times he called
to her, ordered her to come to him. Threatened her. Pleaded. He
needed to touch her mind. He was already insane, he accepted that,
but his total isolation was making him completely mad. Without
her touch, he would be lost to the world, not even his will keeping
him going and he had a need to live. Retribution. He needed her
as much as he loathed and despised her. He needed the moments
of companionship as perverted and twisted as their relationship
She was physically closer to him now,
not an ocean away. She had been so far away from him he could
barely make it across the distance. But now she was much closer.
He renewed his efforts, calling her at all hours, striving to
keep her from sleep.
When he could manage to get passed the
pain and hunger and simply remain quiet, a shadow in her mind,
she intrigued him. She was obviously intelligent, brilliant even.
Her method of thinking was like that of a machine, processing
information at fast rates of speed. She seemed to be able to push
aside all emotion, perhaps she wasn't capable of feeling emotion.
He found himself admiring her brain, her thinking patterns, the
way she focused wholly on her work. She was researching a disease,
seemed obsessed with finding a cure. Perhaps that was why he often
found her in the dimly lit room, covered in blood, her hands buried
deep within a body. She was conducting experiments. It didn't
excuse the abomination of what she was, but he could admire her
single-minded purpose. She was able to put aside her need for
sleep, for sustenance for long periods of time. He felt her need,
but she concentrated so wholly on what she was doing, she didn't
seem to recognize her body's cries for normal care.
There seemed to be no laughter in her
life, no real closeness to anyone. That was odd to him. Jacques
was unsure when that began to bother him, but he found it did.
There was no one. She concentrated only on what she was doing.
He would not have tolerated another male's presence in her life,
he knew he would have sought to destroy any other that came near
her. He told himself it was because whatever male came near her
must be in on the conspiracy to make him suffer. He had no idea
why sometimes he found himself wanting to talk to her. She had
an interesting mind. She was everything to him. His savior. His
tormentor. Without her he would have been completely insane and
he knew it. She shared her strange life with him, gave him something
to concentrate on, a companionship of sorts. In a way it was ironic.
She thought him locked underground. She thought herself safe from
his vengeance, but she had created the monster and now she was
keeping him going, his strength growing with his every touch to
He found her again a month later, perhaps
a year later, he didn't know, didn't care. Her heart was pounding
in fear. So was his. Perhaps the overwhelming intensity of her
emotion awoke him. The pain was excruciating, the hunger engulfing
him, yet his heartbeat was frantically matching hers and he could
not find enough lungpower to breathe. She feared for her life.
Someone was hunting her. Perhaps the others who had helped betray
him had now turned on her. He gathered himself, waited, blocking
out pain and hunger as he learned over the years to do. No one
would harm her. She belonged to him. Only he could decide whether
she lived or died no one else. If he could manage to 'see' the
enemy through her eyes, he could destroy them. He felt his power
swelling in him, his rage so intense, so potent, at the idea that
someone might take her from him, that it astonished him.
The picture was clear. She was in a shelter
of some kind, clothing and furniture overturned all around her
as if there had been a fight or someone had searched her belongings.
She was running through the rooms, grabbing a few things along
the way. He caught glimpses of wild red hair, silky soft, vibrant.
Hair he wanted to touch. To sink his fingers in the thickness.
To wrap around her neck and strangle her with. Hair to bury his
face in. Then it was gone, his strength drained and he lay impotently
in his prison unable to reach her, to help her, to see that she
was safe. That added to his torment of agony and hunger. That
added to the debt she already owed him.
lay quietly and slowed his heart until it barely beat, only enough
to allow him to think, to gather himself for one last try. If
she survived, he was going to bring her to him. He would not allow
any more attempts on her life. If she lived or died it was his
decision alone. 'Come
to me, come here to me. The Carpathian Mountains. The remote,
wild regions where you should be, where your home is, your people
are. Come to me.' He sent the call, filled her mind with the compulsion. It was
strong. The strongest he had been able to accomplish. It was done.
It was all he could do without furthering endangering his own
life. So close to his goal, he would not take any foolish risks.
They had found her again. Shea O'Halloran
ran for her life. She had been more careful this time, now that
she was aware she was being hunted. She had plenty of cash hidden
in various locations, her truck was a four wheel drive, had a
camper shell so she could live in it if necessary. She kept essentials
packed so all she had to do was grab a bag and run. Where, this
time? Where could she go that she could loose them for a time?
She was driving fast, skillfully, racing away from those who would
dissect her like an insect, those who looked upon her as something
less than human.
She had so little time to live. Her strength
was already wearing down. The terrible disease was taking its
toll and she was no closer to finding a cure than when she started.
She had most likely inherited it from her father. The father she
had never met, never knew, the father who had abandoned her mother
before she was even born. She had read her mother's diary so many
times. The father who had stolen her mother's love, her very life
so that she was a mere shadow, not a real person anymore. The
father who didn't care in the least for her mother or herself.
She was already driving in the general
direction of the Carpathian Mountains, her father's birthplace.
The land of superstition and myth. The rare blood disorder she
suffered from could very well have originated there. Suddenly
she was excited, focusing her mind completely on the data so that
she pushed aside fear. This had to be the origin. So many vampire
myths began there. She easily recalled every detail of every story
she had ever read or heard. She could be on the right trail at
last. The evidence had been in her mother's diary all along. Shea
was disgusted with herself. She had developed such an aversion
to the idea of her father or any of his family, she hadn't stopped
to consider she should track her own roots to find the answers
she was seeking. Her mother's diary. She knew every tragic word
met him tonight. The moment I saw him I knew he was the one.
Tall, handsome, mesmerizing eyes. His voice is the most beautiful
thing I have ever heard. He feels the same way about me. I know
he does. It is wrong, of course, he is a married man, but there
is no way out for us. We cannot be apart. Rand. That is his
name, foreign, like him, like his accent. The Carpathian Mountains
are his home. How could I have ever existed without him?
wife, Noelle, gave birth two months ago to a boy. I know he
was bitterly disappointed at having a son. For some reason,
it is important he have a female child. He is with me all the
time, even though I am often alone. He is in my mind talking
to me, whispering how much he loves me. He has a strange blood
disorder and cannot go out into the sun.
has such strange habits. When we make love, and you can't imagine
how glorious it is, he is in my mind as well as my heart and
body. He says it is because I am psychic and so is he, but I
know it is more. It has something to do with his need to drink
my blood. There I wrote it where I could not say it aloud. It
sounds awful, terrible, but it is so erotic, the feel of his
mouth on me, my blood in his body. How I love him. There is
rarely a mark unless he wishes to brand me as his. His tongue
heals wounds quickly. I have seen it, like a miracle. He is
His wife, Noelle, knows of me, he has told me she will not allow
him to leave her, that she is dangerous. I know this is true because
she threatened me, threatened to kill me. I was so afraid. Her
eyes glowed red and her teeth gleamed at me like an animal's,
but Rand arrived before she could hurt me. He was furious, so
protective of me. I know that he tells the truth when he says
he loves me, I could tell by the way he spoke to her, commanding
her to leave. How she hates me!
I am so happy! I am pregnant. He doesn't
know yet. I haven't seen him in two nights, but I'm certain he
would never leave me. His wife must be protesting his leaving
her. I hope the child is female. I know he wants a daughter desperately.
I will give him the one thing he has always wished for and Noelle
will be in his past. I know I should feel guilt, but I cannot
when it is obvious to both of us that he belongs with me. Where
is he? Why doesn't he come to me when I need him so desperately?
Why has he gone from my mind?
She cries constantly. The doctors are
excited over her strange blood results. She needs transfusions
daily. God, I hate her, she keeps me tied to this empty world.
I know he is dead. The day Noelle came to see me, he returned
alone for a few wonderful hours. He told me he was going to leave
her. I believe he tried. He simply vanished, out of my mind, out
of my life. My parents thought he left me because I was pregnant,
that he used me, but I know he is dead. I felt his terrible agony,
his grief. He would come to me if he could. And he never knew
of the child. I would have joined him, but I had to give his daughter
life. If his wife murdered him, and I am certain she is capable,
he will live on through me, through our child.
have taken her to Ireland. My parents are dead and I have inherited
their properties. I would have given her to them, but it's too
late now. I cannot join him. I can't possibly leave her when so
many ask questions about her. I'm afraid they will try to kill
her. She is like him. The sun burns her easily. She needs blood
as he did. The doctors whispered so much about her and stared
at me in such a way I was afraid. I knew I had to disappear with
her. I won't allow anyone to harm your daughter, Rand. God help
me, I cannot feel anything. I am dead inside without you. Where
are you? Did Nicole murder you as she swore she would? How can
I live without you? Only your daughter keeps me from joining you.
Soon my darling, very soon I will be with you.
let her breath out slowly. Of course. It was there in front of
needs blood as he did. She had inherited the blood disorder from her father. Her mother
had written that Rand actually took her blood when they were making
love. How many people had been persecuted and had a stake driven
through their heart just because no one had found the cure for
their terrible disease? She knew what it was like to suffer such
a thing, to loathe oneself and fear discovery. She had to find
the cure, even if it was too late for her, she had to find the
Jacques slept for a long time, determined
to renew his strength. He woke only to feed briefly, to insure
she was alive and nearby. He contained his elation so that he
had no chance to loose more blood. He needed his strength now.
She was so close he could feel her. She was within a few miles
of him. Twice he 'saw' her cabin through her eyes. She was fixing
it up, doing the things women did to make a run down shelter a
home. Later, Jacques began to awaken at regular intervals, testing
his strength, drawing animals to him to give him much needed blood.
He haunted her dreams, called her continually, kept her awake
when her body desperately needed sleep. She was already fragile,
half-starved, weak from lack of feeding. She worked day and night,
her mind filled with problems and solutions. He ignored all that
to keep at her so that she would be so tired he could easily hold
her under compulsion to do his bidding.
He was patient. He had learned patience.
He knew he was closing in on her. He had time now. There was no
need to hurry this. He could afford to grow in strength. From
his dark grave he stalked her, every touch of his mind to hers
making the connection between them that much stronger. He had
no real idea of what he was going to do to her once she was in
his hands. He wouldn't kill her right away, he had spent so long
in her mind, it seemed as if they were one sometimes. But she
would surely suffer. Once again he sent himself to sleep to conserve
the remaining blood in his veins.
She was asleep at her computer, her head
resting on a stack of papers. Even in her sleep her mind was active.
Jacques had learned many things about her. She had a photographic
memory. He learned many things from her mind he had either forgotten,
or perhaps he had never known. He often spent time studying before
he subjected her to his harassment. It was a source of knowledge
for him, knowledge of the outside world. She was always alone.
Even the flashes of childhood memories he caught were of a small
child isolated from others. He felt as if he knew her intimately,
yet he really knew nothing about her. Her mind was filled with
formulas and data, with instruments and chemistry. She never thought
about her appearance or anything he would expect a woman to think
about. Only her work. Anything else was quickly banished.
Jacques focused and aimed. 'You
will come to me now. You will not allow anything to stop you.
Awaken, and come to me while I am resting and waiting.' He used every ounce of strength he possessed to embed the compulsion
deep within her. He had forced her several times over the last
two months or so to walk towards him, to be drawn through the
darkened forest in the vicinity of his prison. Each time she had
come his way as he had bid her, but her need to complete her work
had been so strong in her, she had eventually turned back. This
time he was certain he had enough strength to force her compliance.
She felt his presence within her, recognized his touch, but she
had no real idea that they were linked. She thought of him as
a dream, or rather a nightmare.
Jacques smiled at that. There was no amusement
in the strong white flash of his teeth, only the promises of savagery,
the promise of a predator stalking it prey.
Shea O'Halloran jerked awake, blinked
to bring the room in focus. Her work was scattered everywhere,
the computer on, the documents she had been studying a bit crumpled
where her head had rested on them. The dream again. Would it never
stop, leave her in peace? She was familiar with the man in the
dream now, the thick mane of jet-black hair, and the touch of
cruelty around his sensuous mouth. In the first three years, she
had been unable to see his eyes in that nightmare dream, as if
perhaps they were covered, but the last couple of years, he had
stared at her with black menace.
Shea shoved at her hair, felt the little
beads of perspiration gathered on her forehead. For a moment she
experienced the strange disorientation she always did after the
dream, as if something held her mind for just a heartbeat of time,
then slowly, with great reluctance, released her.
Shea knew she was being hunted. Where
the dream was not reality, the fact that someone was stalking
her was true. She could never lose sight of that, never forget.
She would never be safe again, not unless she found a cure for
herself and the handful of others that shared the same rare disease.
She was being hunted as if she was an animal with no emotions
or intelligence. It didn't matter to the hunters that she spoke
six languages fluently, that she was a skilled surgeon, that she
had saved countless lives.
The words on the paper in front of her
blurred, ran together. How long had it been since she had really
slept? She sighed, swept a hand through her thick, silky hair,
shoved it away from her face. Dark, wine red hair, thick and luxurious
it fell to her slender waist. As always, Shea pulled it back rather
haphazardly and secured it with whatever happened to be handy.
She was small and very delicate, frail
almost. She looked young, like a teenager, a symptom of her strange
blood disease. Shea aged at a much slower rate than a normal human.
Her eyes were enormous, vividly green, mesmerizing. Her voice
was soft velvet, beautiful. When she lectured, most of the students
were so enthralled by her voice, they remembered every word she
spoke. Shea's senses were far superior to others of the human
race. Her hearing and sense of smell were extremely acute. She
saw colors more vividly, details most humans missed. She could
communicate with animals, jump higher, and run faster than the
trained athletes. She learned at an early age to hide her talents.
She stood up, stretched. She was dying
slowly. Every minute that ticked by was a heartbeat less in time
she had to find the cure. Somewhere in all these boxes and reams
of paper, there had to be a solution. Even if she found the answer
too late for herself, she could prevent those like her from the
terrible isolation she had felt all of her life.
She might age slowly and have exceptional
abilities, but she paid a high price for them. The sun burned
her skin. Although she could see clearly on the darkest night,
her eyes couldn't stand the light of day. Her body rejected most
foods, and worst of all, she had to have blood every day. Any
blood. There was no blood incompatible with hers. Animal blood
kept her alive--just barely. She desperately needed human blood
and only when she was close to collapse did she allow herself
to use it, and then only by transfusion. Unfortunately, her particular
disease required an oral transfusion.
Shea flung open the door, inhaled the night,
listened to the breeze whispering of fox and marmots, of rabbits
and deer. The cry of an owl missing its prey and the squeak of
a bat sent blood rushing through her veins. She belonged here.
For the first time in her lonely existence she felt a semblance
Shea wandered outside to her porch. Snug-fitting
blue jeans and hiking boots were fine, but her thin T-shirt could
not stave off the cold of the mountains. Snagging her sweatshirt
and hiking bag, Shea hurried out to the beckoning land. If only
she had known of this place. She had wasted so much time. A month
earlier she had discovered the healing properties in the soil.
She had known, of the healing agent in her saliva. Shea had planted
a garden, vegetable and herb. She loved working in the soil. Quite
by accident she had cut herself, a rather deep and nasty gash.
The earth seemed to soothe, ease the pain. The cut was nearly
closed by the time she finished working.
She began to wander aimlessly along the
trail wishing her mother could have seen this place of peace.
Poor Maggie. Young. Irish. On vacation for the first time in her
life. She had met a dark, brooding stranger, one who had used
her and discarded her. Shea shook her head, tears welling up,
she refused to shed them. Her mother had made her choice. One
man. He had become her life to the exclusion of everything else.
To the exclusion of her own flesh and blood, her daughter. Shea
had not been worth the effort of trying, of living. Only Rand.
A man who had deserted her without thought, without warning. A
man who passed on a disease so vile his daughter had to hide it
from the rest of the world. And Maggie had known. Maggie hadn't
bother to research or even ask questions of Rand to find out just
what her daughter would be facing.
let the soil trail through her fingers. Had Noelle, the woman
her mother had named as his wife been as obsessed with Rand as
Maggie had been? It sounded very much as if she had. Shea had
no intentions of ever taking a chance that she shared her mother's
failings. She would never need a man so much that she would neglect
a child and eventually kill herself. Her mother's life had been
a senseless tragedy and she had abandoned Shea to a cold, cruel
life without guidance. Maggie had known she needed blood, it was
all there in the diary, every damning word. Shea's fist clenched
until her knuckles turned white. Maggie knew Rand's saliva carried
a healing agent. She had known that, yet she had left it to her
child to find out on her own.
Shea had healed herself countless times
as a child while her mother stared dully out of a window, half-alive,
never once hearing a toddler's cries of pain when she fell learning
to walk and run, learning everything alone. She had discovered
the ability to heal small cuts and bruises with her tongue. It
had taken awhile before she realized she was unique in such a
thing. Maggie had been an emotionless robot, caring for the barest
minimum of Shea's physical needs, and none of her emotional ones.
Maggie had killed herself the day Shea had turned eighteen. A
low sound of sorrow escaped Shea's throat. It had been terrible
enough to know she had to have blood to exist, but to grow up
knowing her mother couldn't love her had been devastating.
Seven years ago a kind of madness had
swept Europe. It had seemed so laughable at first. Fanatics, a
faction of uneducated people, superstitious people for years had
whispered of the existence of vampires. Shea, like everyone else,
had thought it due to the popularity of vampire novels and movies.
She had been clinically curious, of course, her mind worked that
way. The legends always included the Carpathian Mountains and,
of course, her father had come from that region.
It was probable the blood disorder had
been the basis of the vampire legends. If the disease was indigenous
only in the region of the mountains, wasn't it possible, those
persecuted down through time suffered from this disease? Excitement
had set in. If it was genetic, and it must be, and the origin
was the Carpathian Mountains then there was a good chance she
could study others like her.
The killings had swept through Europe
like a plague. Men mostly, murdered in the ritual vampire style,
stakes through the heart, garlic, and beheadings. It was sickening,
repugnant, frightening. Shea had been terrified, certain those
murdering in Europe might really try to find her. A group of respected
scientists had begun to discuss the possibility of such a thing
as vampires as being real. Evidence from some earlier source combined
with samples of a female child's blood, hers, she was certain,
had raised questions of possibility.
How could anyone in these educated times
believe such nonsense? She identified with those murdered people,
certain she shared the same blood disorder. She was a doctor,
a researcher, yet she had failed all of them, fearful of the discovery
of what she thought of as her loathsome little secret. It angered
her. She was gifted, brilliant even, she should have unlocked
the secrets of this thing long ago. How many others had died because
she hadn't been aggressive enough in her search for data?
Her guilt and fear fed her wild, exhaustive
sessions of study. She accumulated everything she could find on
the area, the people, and the legends. Rumors, supposed evidence,
old translations and the latest newspaper articles. She rarely
ate, rarely remembered to give herself transfusions, rarely slept,
always searching for that one piece of the puzzle that would give
her a trail to follow. She studied her blood endlessly, her saliva,
her blood after animal intake, after human transfusions.
Shea reluctantly had burned her mother's
diary, she would never forget a single word, but she still felt
the loss of it deeply. Her bank account was substantial. She inherited
from her mother and she made good money in her profession. She
still owned property in Ireland that rented out for a good amount.
She lived frugally and invested wisely. It was easy enough to
move her money to Switzerland and lay a few false trails throughout
From the moment she had entered the range
of Carpathian Mountains, Shea felt different. More alive. More
at peace. The unrest, the sense of urgency in her grew, but she
felt as if she had a home for the first time in her life. All
of it. Everything. The plants, the trees, the wildlife, the very
earth itself felt a part of her. Like somehow she was related.
She loved breathing the air, wading in the water, touching the
Shea caught the scent of a rabbit and
her body stilled. She could hear its heartbeat, feel its fear.
The animal sensed danger, a predator stalking it. A fox, she caught
the whisper of fur sliding through the underbrush. It was wonderful
to hear, to feel things, to not be afraid of hearing things others
couldn't. Bats wheeled and dipped, diving at insects and Shea
raised her face to the heavens, watching their antics, taking
pleasure in the simple show. Climbing to her feet she began to
walk aimlessly, needing the exercise, needing to put the weight
of responsibility from her shoulders for a time.
She had found her cottage, the barest
bones of a home, and over the last few months had turned it into
a sanctuary. Shutters blocked out the sunlight during the day.
A generator provided the lights and necessary power for her computer.
A modern bathroom and kitchen had been the next priority. Slowly
Shea had acquired books, supplies and everything needed for the
emergency care of patients. First and always she was a doctor.
As isolated as she was, Shea hoped never to have to use her skills.
The fewer people who knew of her existence, the better off she
was, and more time she could devote to her valuable research.
Shea entered the thick forest of trees,
touched their trunks reverently. She always kept a supply of blood
hand, easy enough tapping into the blood banks with her hacker
skills, but that required monthly trips. There were three villages
within a night's travel and she could scatter her trips between
them. Lately she had grown so much weaker, fatigue was a major
problem and bruises were refusing to heal. A craving in her was
growing, an emptiness, begging to be filled. Her life was drawing
to a close.
Shea yawned. She needed to go back and
sleep. Normally she never slept at night, but saved those dead
hours for afternoon when the sun took the heaviest toll on her
body. She was miles from her house, in deep forest, high in the
remotest part of the mountains. She came this way often, drawn
inexplicably to the area. She felt restless, an overwhelming sense
of urgency. She needed to be somewhere, but she had no idea where.
When she analyzed how she felt, she realized the force urging
her onward was almost a compulsion.
She had every intention of turning around
and going home, but her feet continued along the uphill path.
There were wolves in these mountains, she often heard them singing
at night. There was such joy in their voices, beauty in their
song. She could touch the mind of animals when she chose. She
had never attempted such a thing with a creature as wild and unpredictable
as a wolf. Their nightly songs almost made her wish she might
She continued to move forward, pulled
toward an unknown destination. Nothing seemed to matter but that
she continue moving upward, always higher into the wildest, most
isolated area she had ever been in. She should have been afraid,
but the further she got from her cabin, the more important it
seemed for her to go on.
Her hand went up absently, rubbed at her
temples, her forehead. There was a curious buzzing in her head.
Strange how hunger gnawed at her insides. It wasn't normal hunger,
it was different. Again she had the strange feeling she was sharing
her mind with another being and the hunger was not really hers.
Part of the time it seemed as though she was walking in a dream
world. Tails of fog wound around the trees, hovered above the
ground. The fog was beginning to thicken a bit, the air temperature
dropping several degrees.
Shea shivered, ran her hands up and down
her arms. Her feet picked a path, missing rotting logs. She was
always astonished how silently she could move through the forest,
instinctively avoiding fresh twigs and loose rocks. Something
rippled in her mind. Where
are you? Why do you refuse to come to me? That
voice was a venomous hiss of fury. She stopped, horrified, and
pressed both hands to her head. It was her nightmare, the same
voice calling to her, echoing in her head. The nightmares were
coming more often, haunting her sleep, disturbing her waking hours,
creeping into her mind at all hours. Sometimes she thought she
might go mad.
Shea picked her way over a rippling stream.
The rocks, vibrant splashes of color, were flat and welcoming.
She used them to cross the crystal clear water. It was icy cold
when she bent to idly trail her fingers in it. The feel of the
stream was soothing to her.
Something compelled her forward. First
one foot, than the other. It was madness to go so far from her
cabin. She was too many hours without sleep. She even considered
she was sleepwalking she felt so strange. Shea paused near a small
clearing and stared up at the star lit sky. She didn't even realize
she was moving until she had crossed the clearing and was in a
thick grove of trees. A branch snagged in her hair forcing her
to stop again. Her head felt heavy, her mind clouded. She needed
to be somewhere desperately, but she didn't know where. Listening
didn't help. With her acute hearing, she would have heard if any
person or any creature was hurt or in trouble. Shea sniffed the
night air. She would probably get lost and get caught out in the
open and the sun would fry her. She would deserve it for this
Although she laughed at herself, the feeling
was so powerful that Shea walked on, allowing her body to ramble
where it wanted to go. An almost non-existent path, heavily grown
over, wove in and out of brambles and trees. She followed it faithfully,
intrigued now, wondering what could draw her away from her research.
Woods gave way to a higher meadow. She crossed the open field,
her pace began to pick up as if she had a purpose. At the far
end of the meadow, a few scattered trees looked down on the remains
of an old building. It had been no small cabin, but a good-sized
home, blackened and crumbling, the forest creeping back to take
what had once belonged to it.
She walked along the perimeters, certain
something had brought her to this place, but unable to identify
what or the reason. It was a place of power, she could feel that,
but for what or how to use it, she had no idea. She paced, her
body restless, a relentless pressure in her mind, like she was
on the verge of a great discovery. Squatting low, her hands let
the soil run idly through her fingers. Once. Twice. Her hand found
timber beneath the dirt. Shea's breath caught in her throat and
her pulse jumped with excitement. Something. She was certain of
it. Carefully brushing away the topsoil, she found a large single
door, six feet by four with a solid metal pull. It took all of
her strength to lift it and she had to sit for a few minutes to
catch her breath and get the nerve to look into the hole. Rickety
steps, rotted and cracking with age, led downward into the large
room. A moment of hesitation and Shea went, her body and mind
pulling her when her brain wanted to be more cautious.
The walls of the cellar were constructed
out of dirt and crumbling stone. No one, nothing had disturbed
the place in years. Shea's head went up alertly, eyes scanning
the area quickly, senses flaring out looking for danger. There
was nothing. That was the trouble. It was totally silent. Eerily
so. No night creatures, no insects. She could not detect so much
as a rat scurrying or the shine of a spider's web.
Her hand of its own accord began to skim
along the wall. There were no animal tracks in the dirt. Nothing.
Shea wanted out of there. Some sense of self-preservation urged
her to get out. She shook her head, unable to leave even though
the place distressed her. For one horrible moment her imagination
caught up with her and she felt something watching her, lying
in wait, dark and deadly. It was so real she nearly ran, but just
as she turned, determined to go while she had the chance, her
fingers found more wood beneath the dirt of the wall.
Curious, Shea examined the surface. Whatever
lay on the other side had been deliberately covered. Age had not
done it. Unable to stop herself, she dug away handfuls of soil
and loose rock until she uncovered a strip of rotting wood. Another
door? It was at least six feet high, maybe more. She dug in earnest
now, carelessly throwing handfuls of dirt behind her. Her hand
brushed something ghastly.
She recoiled, leaping back as dried little
carcasses fell to the ground. Dead rats. Hundreds of withered
bodies. Horrified she stared at the rotting box she had uncovered.
The dirt holding it in place shifted and the box fell forward,
part of the lid on one side giving way. Shea backed all the way
to the stairs, alarmed at her find. The pressure in her head increased
until she cried out with the pain, falling to one knee before
she could climb the steep rickety stairs leading out into the
Surely it wasn't a coffin. Who would bury
a body upright in the wall that way? Something, morbid curiosity,
some compulsion she couldn't overcome, forced her feet back to
it. She actually tried to stop herself from moving forward, but
she couldn't stop. Her hand trembled as she reached out gingerly
to shove off the rotting lid.