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Authors: Caroline B. Cooney

Fatal Bargain

BOOK: Fatal Bargain
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Fatal Bargain
The Vampire’s Promise Book Three
Caroline B. Cooney

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

A Biography of Caroline B. Cooney

Chapter 1

L
ACEY WAS THE FIRST
to realize that a vampire shared the dark with them.

“What’s that smell?” she said. She already knew. The knowledge seemed to have been born in her centuries ago, waiting for this single moment, this particular evening, this very darkness, to emerge. Somewhere, in another life, in another country, she had smelled this before.

A low-growing mold, like an ancient cellar with a dirt floor.

The smell began beneath Lacey’s feet and rose up around her like swamp gas.

She already knew it was too late to run, and that even if she could run, she could not escape.

Her sneakers were flimsy and light, pretty little summer canvas shoes, bought to last a few weeks and then be discarded. She tried to take a step, but the rubber soles stayed where they were, as if she were caught up to the ankles in sucking mud.

In the queasy darkness of the old building, the sneakers no longer seemed bright pink with white laces. They had taken on a dank and soiled look, as if something had been drained over them.

“Do you smell that?” whispered Lacey.

But nobody else did, because Roxanne, dressing for the evening, had splashed her new perfume on her throat and wrists, and because Zach, always on the verge of starvation, had opened the popcorn. Popcorn and perfume lay on separate levels in the room, and beneath them, the smell of the vampire rose in dirty tendrils.

It was early fall. Still warm out. Lacey was wearing a slip dress silk-screened with golden wildflowers. Lacey felt on display. As if she really were a golden wildflower, and the vampire a honeybee. He would see her colors. And then, a moment later, he would be aware of her scent, as she was aware of his.

The silly teenage laughter and the popcorn munching of the others in the room bounced on the surface of the terrible smell.

Lacey breathed deeply to calm herself, to slow her pounding heart and ease her cramped lungs, but the smell overwhelmed her. She could hardly bear to breathe at all. She could feel the soft pink of the insides of her lungs being contaminated by the vampire’s smell, like miners breathing in coal dust.

Perhaps that’s how it works, she thought. Perhaps you suffocate yourself. You pass out. You don’t feel anything when he stoops over you. You don’t even know what’s happening until it’s too late.

Lacey trembled in the middle of the dark room.

He is here for me, she thought.

How could she have been so foolish as to wear cotton summer clothing? Every inch of her flesh was vulnerable. She needed more. She needed to be wrapped in. something. A long leather coat. High boots. Certainly a thick collar or a tightly wound scarf on her neck.

The electricity had been cut off months ago.

The old mansion had no power. No lights.

Of course, that had been the point: to party in the dark. To frighten themselves. Make the night long and panicky.

It was a time-honored tradition among teenagers.

Randy had almost been embarrassed to suggest it because it was trite. Overdone. The old party-in-the-abandoned-house trick.

But everyone he had invited had come.

And to his shame, they were not the ones who were afraid.

Randy was.

Although the house was darker than anyplace Randy had ever been — no moon, no stars, no streetlights, no headlights, no house lights — Randy saw something even darker.

A piece of the dark darkened more, like gauze becoming velvet, and then it moved toward him.

It was like seeing wind.

Seeing that wind swirl, and turn on itself, and suck up the dust.

It was a cape without a person inside.

Randy’s short hair stood up vertically, like a cat on a fence. He sat on the floor, cross-legged, a handful of popcorn in one hand and a can of Pepsi in the other, while the vampire slowly filled out his cape.

A hand that was more bone than flesh came first. It flexed itself, and fingernails grew from the tips, crinkled and split like torn foil. Its skin was the color of mushrooms. The hand caught the edge of the darkness and tucked it in tighter: It could make a cape out of the very air in the room.

And finally, the teeth were visible. Teeth that hung over thin lips like stakes on a picket fence. The teeth even peeled like fence posts in need of paint.

But it was not paint these teeth needed.

Randy had wanted an adventure.

He had not thought of this one.

Lacey backed away, trying to find the door.

She had been very silly to agree to this dumb adventure. Very, very silly to lie to her parents about where she would be, when she would get home, whom she would be with.

Time to go. Yes, definitely, time to end this party.

“I possess the door,” said the vampire. His voice spread through the room like a groping, rising tide and then just lay there, quivering.

He was correct. Though the door was open, and the stairway to freedom beckoned below it, the air was solid. Lacey was not going anywhere.

The backs of her eyes and her neck grew cold, as if she were being anesthetized.

Perhaps she was.

Perhaps she was to be the first.

She was the only one standing. The rest at least were sitting near one another, could hold hands, could have the strength that only a group can give.

Lacey whimpered and the vampire smiled, courteously covering his teeth.

Roxanne had been thinking that it was time to dump Bobby. It had been fun, running around with a younger boy, but senior year was moving right along, and Roxanne had to think in terms of the prom. She certainly wasn’t going with Bobby. So far, her friends thought it cute and funny that she would dabble in tenth-graders, so to speak. But if it lasted much longer, she would just seem weird, and Roxanne did not wish to cross that line.

Roxanne had been sitting on the floor playing with her hair. She had been growing it out forever and ever, and it was finally below her shoulders, but now that she had it, she couldn’t stand it. Long hair was such a pain. She was ready to cut it short again. Maybe really short. She wanted a new persona: sharp, bright, vivid, demanding. No more of this sweet romantic stuff.

Roxanne wanted to make waves. Astonish people. Set trends.

She flipped up her hair, making a pretend ponytail, and then twisting the handful of hair tightly on top of her head.

On her bare neck, a queer cold finger pressed down.

But whose finger? She could see all the others. Old ditzy Lacey, standing alone. Silly cheerleader Sherree, doing what she did best, giggling between Randy and Bobby. Zachary, lip curled in an above-it-all sneer, attracting Roxanne so much she could hardly stand it. There was nobody whose hand could touch her neck. But the hand remained.

And a terrible voice, slimy with mud or entrails, said, “I possess the door.”

Randy had promised everybody that this would be a night to end all nights. The six teenagers were motionless, unbreathing, unwilling to show fear. They were waiting for Randy to show them this was a trick, an event: staged for their amusement.

The pressure on Roxanne’s neck ceased.

The cape, empty, circled the six.

Within it, the hands, the feet, and the face came and went.

When the vampire spoke again, they knew it was not a staged event. “I was asleep,” said the vampire reproachfully.

“I’m sorry we came,” said Randy. He found that he had crushed some popcorn in his fist. Salty, buttered crumbs covered his palm. “It’s my fault,” he said quickly, hoping to make peace. “We’ll leave.”

The vampire shook his head. “Now that I’m up,” said the vampire, “I am quite hungry, you see.”

They could see. It was very dark in the tower of the old house, and yet the vampire reflected his own light, just as he swirled in his own wind and stank with his own odor.

“We’re trespassing,” said Bobby, as if acknowledging the crime made it okay. His was the bright confident voice of the jock, the emerging and coddled school star, the one who could get away with anything. “We’ll leave you in peace.”

The vampire smiled and this time did not bother to cover his teeth. “I’ve had enough peace for this decade,” said the vampire. “I don’t believe I am interested in peace tonight.”

Lacey wondered how long her knees would continue to hold her up.

The teeth seemed to grow even as she watched, white fangs over which a sort of moss hung.

The six teenagers looked down at their own skin, largely bare in their skimpy summer clothing. How precious their skin seemed. Luminous. Phosphorescent, almost, as if they had dunked themselves in some neon mixture prior to the party.

“You were showing off,” the vampire said to Randy, shaking his head regretfully.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Randy. “I won’t do it again.”

The cloak rasped like dried leaves, and it shed, like a scattering of evil herbs. “That is true,” agreed the vampire. He smiled immensely, a politician, perhaps, who knew nobody could vote against him.

“Boys,” said the vampire meditatively. “Boys have to press the accelerator to the floor. They have to drink harder and kick footballs farther. It is never enough for a boy to
know
that he is quicker than the rest. A boy has to prove it, and he has to prove it over and over and over again.”

The cloak fell back, and they could see more of him now, musty and unused. Undercooked.

“Nothing is more dangerous than a boy aged sixteen,” said the vampire. It seemed to be a favorite subject of his. “Their parents know it. The insurance companies know it. A sixteen-year-old boy is a pulsating envelope of the desire to show off. The only ones who don’t know it are the boys. They think what they’re doing is perfectly reasonable.”

Good, thought Roxanne, the rest of us are all right. It’s Randy he wants. Randy brought us here, and the vampire is going to make him pay for that. Relief flooded Roxanne.

“You were showing off,” said the vampire to Randy. He shook a long, thin index finger at Randy. The fingernail glittered like crushed aluminum.

Randy said he was sorry. Randy said he would never show off again. Randy said they would clean up and get out.

Parents were always on your case to clean up. It was a plan with which they were all well acquainted: cleaning up their act. The six began reaching around, grabbing soda cans and popcorn bags, trying to leave the house with no trace of themselves.

“I’m awake now,” said the vampire. “And I’m not sorry at all, Randy. I believe I’m quite happy about it.”

He did not look happy. He was smiling, of course, but with those teeth, it was not a pleasant smile.

“Suppose,” said the vampire, “that I leave you for a while.” He looked deep into the eyes of each of them.

Roxanne let go of her ponytail and massaged the back of her neck.

Sherree and Zachary flinched.

Even Bobby shivered.

Tears crawled down Lacey’s cheeks.

Randy found that he had crushed the soda can in his hand.

“While I am gone,” said the vampire, “you will have an important discussion.”

We will run, thought Bobby, who was in splendid physical condition. No zombie fresh out of the grave was a match for him. Bobby eyeballed the distance to the stairs. He’d make it. He didn’t know about the others. He didn’t care about the others.

Only Lacey, still standing, knew that they could not go anywhere. The open door was solid with the vampire’s atmosphere.

“I will let five of you go in safety,” said the vampire. He was beginning to laugh. He was not simply hungry for blood. He was hungry for entertainment.

“You will choose who among you is to satisfy my hunger,” said the vampire. “That person will stay with me. Here. In the dark. In the quiet of this tower.”

BOOK: Fatal Bargain
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