Authors: Allison van Diepen
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Social Issues, #Dating & Sex
Alexander wrenched his arm away. “That is totally unnecessary, I assure you.” He turned back to Elizabeth Howard. “You are in danger, Ms. Howard. Vigo has crossed over, too.”
The security guards grabbed Alexander’s arms and yanked him away. With incredible strength, Alexander broke free and jumped in front of her. “Here is your proof!” He stuck out his tongue.
Her eyes bulged. Security grabbed him again, this time dragging him toward a side entrance. He didn’t resist. In fact, he shot me a triumphant look.
Elizabeth Howard was pale and clearly shaken. A woman in her entourage had come up beside her and was talking with her quietly. Elizabeth kept shaking her head.
The crowd of people in the store — and the group of frenzied fans outside — were hooting and hollering, riled up by the scene Alexander had made. Ms. P. tried to inch closer to the table, but an employee stood in her way.
Elizabeth Howard got up and hurried toward the back of the store without even waiting for her entourage. Ms. P. climbed over a velvet rope and ran up to her, thrusting a note into her hand and saying something. Elizabeth seemed taken aback, but she accepted the note. By that time, her people were around her, and she soon disappeared out a back door.
About two minutes later, an announcement came on the PA, telling us that the signing had been cut short, and that Elizabeth Howard would reschedule soon. The crowd went ballistic, and it was all I could do to extract myself from the mass and claw my way out of the store.
I found a spot across the street and called Alexander’s cell. He told me that he and Ms. P. were half a block away in front of a deli.
I darted down the street, meeting up with them a minute later. “Is it just me, or was that a total disaster?” I asked, out of breath.
“It might have appeared that way, but I know I struck a nerve,” Alexander replied.
“You threw her off, all right,” Ms. P. said. “Let’s just hope it’s because she believed you. I slipped her the note.”
“I saw that.” I managed a smile. “You were quick, Ms. P. I can’t believe how fast you jumped over the rope.”
“I used to run track and field. Did I never tell you that?”
Alexander wasn’t listening. He stared off at the downtown New York skyline, eyes fixed on some distant point. “Elizabeth Howard is in imminent danger. I know it.”
No one in Otherworld questioned two things: Alexander Banks’s determination, or his intuition. I hoped Elizabeth Howard would read Ms. P.’s note and contact us … before it was too late.
HAT WOULD YOU SAY
is the probability that Elizabeth Howard will call us?” Alexander asked.
It was early the following morning, and the highway stretched before us. We’d been driving all night, but Alexander, of course, didn’t need to rest. Ms. P. and I had taken turns sleeping in the backseat. Now, Alexander was driving and I sat beside him nursing an iced coffee while Ms. P. snored softly in the backseat.
I noticed that Alexander had used the term “probability.” It wasn’t a coincidence. To catch Vigo, he would have to think like him.
“You definitely had an impact on her,” I replied, remembering the scene in the bookstore. “But you might have just scared her.”
“I detect a note of disapproval in your voice, Amy. You believe I took the wrong approach, don’t you?”
Usually I found it easier to keep quiet about things that bothered me, but I wanted to be straight with Alexander. “You should have taken a gentler approach. Ms. P. and I would have done the
rest.” I turned to him. “Has anyone ever told you that your behavior can be a little extreme?”
“I’ve heard it a time or two.” A grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. “But I’m not perturbed by your criticism, since you are already in love with me, Mrs. Alexander Banks eight thousand and twenty-one.”
I felt my temper flare. Of all the arrogant things to say!
“In love with you?” I exclaimed, trying to keep my voice down so not to wake Ms. P. “Give me a break! You’re the most aggravating guy I’ve ever met. I’m not in love with you … and I never was.” I spoke the words forcefully, as if that would make them true. But I knew it was far too late to guard my heart against Alexander Banks.
He was silent for several moments, watching the road. “I know. I was attempting to tease you. Perhaps it was a roundabout way of apologizing, if I did, in fact, go to an extreme. It’s easy to call oneself in love with a character in a book because he is just a fantasy.” His mouth curved without humor. “The real person is harder to accept.”
I wanted to backpedal. Had I gone too far? I wasn’t trying to say he was unlovable.
“You’re not that bad,” I said.
“I am inclined to believe you, except that even my dear cousin James calls me insufferable. He thinks I don’t want to see him happy.” He glanced at me. “What do you think?”
“He’s wrong. It’s obvious how loyal you are to him. I think James wonders if you want to see
He frowned. “Who says I’m not happy?”
“Hunting vampires can’t be very fulfilling.”
“Can’t it? You don’t know how satisfying it is to put a stake through the heart of a vampire who preys on innocent people. The truth is, killing vampires is the only thing that makes me feel anything close to joy. Grotesque, isn’t it?”
grotesque, but it was also understandable. “After what happened to your family, maybe you can’t feel happy unless you’re preventing others from meeting the same fate.”
“That is as reasonable an explanation as any I could have hoped for. Unfortunately, some would say that makes me misguided. A lost soul. Troubled. Tortured.”
“Those are all words Elizabeth Howard used to describe you.”
He grunted. “Indeed.”
“You must want more out of your life than vampire hunting,” I said gently. “Say you kill Vigo and return to your dimension, and James succeeds in having the vampires sign a peace treaty with the humans. Then what?”
“Would that it were so. But it sounds like a work of fiction.”
“You must have interests other than vampire hunting. You said yourself that you have an incurable curiosity.”
He paused. “The science of the body. I have always been
fascinated by the play of tendon and muscle, the way the body adapts and strengthens due to a delicate balance of stress and rest. I think it would be a useful course of study.”
“So that’s why Helen said you should become a doctor. I always wondered where that came from.”
“She had lofty hopes for me.”
“You’re only eighteen. Who knows what you’ll be doing a few years from now?”
“Hunter to healer. Now
would make an interesting epilogue.” But I could tell that he thought it was pure fantasy. “What about you, Amy? You, in this world of plenty, have countless options available. But I think you have already decided.”
I stared at him. “Why would you say that?”
“I saw a stack of pages by the computer. I picked them up, thinking I was reading an excerpt of
but then I saw your name attached to them. You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
Good thing he was looking at the road, because I felt myself blush. He’d
my stuff? I didn’t talk about my writing aspirations a lot, not even to my friends. They knew I wrote fan fiction, but not that I had big dreams of being a published author one day.
“A lot of people write stories,” I murmured. “It doesn’t usually go anywhere.”
“You will be different. Your work is vivid.”
“That’s because I write about your world.”
“I disagree. It was the way you painted the scene that was vivid. The words you chose. Your dialogue, especially, is razor-sharp. I think you should let the world see more of your writing.”
Alexander’s praise filled me with joy, but I pushed it aside. “Well, the world shouldn’t hold its breath. I’m having writer’s block.”
“Perhaps it is a sign that you should write about something else — a world that is uniquely your own.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”
He smiled as we exited the highway, nearing home at last. “I, for one, will be holding my breath.”
When I got to school Monday morning, something was different. People stared at me, whispered when I walked by. I realized that this was about Alexander’s performance at Brian Kowalski’s party. Given our eventful trip to New York City, I’d forgotten about it.
But no one else would let me forget.
Luisa and I weren’t at our lockers a full minute when two senior girls, Britney Palchek and Melissa Bennett, came up.
“So I hear your boyfriend beat up Reuben.” Britney twisted her lips. “He should be careful because Reuben’s really mad. So’s Brian. When someone crashes his party and assaults his guests, he takes it personally.”
“Reuben deserved what he got,” I snapped back, startling myself. I was usually all about
conflict. “He was going after my sister, who’s in eighth grade.”
“Oh, yeah? I heard she went after him.” Britney smirked and walked away, Melissa in tow.
Luisa looked at me with a new respect. “Whoa, Ames. That was awesome. Tell me what happened Friday night! I can’t believe you didn’t say anything!”
“I didn’t think it was a big deal.” Which was true. Compared to everything else that was going on, the incident at the party was nothing.
I told her the story, and she cheered at the point where Alexander pushed Reuben.
“I’m so glad he put Reuben in his place. That guy is such a jerk. So, are you and Alexander official yet?”
“No. It’s not that type of thing.”
“Isn’t it? Come on. He is a total hottie and you know it! Have you guys kissed?”
The thought of kissing Alexander sent a wave of heat through me.
“Well, have you?”
“No. We haven’t.”
“Darn. Don’t let him get away. He’s perfect for you.”
I didn’t say anything. We parted to go to our classes. I said hi to Ms. Chau and walked up to my lab station. Katie
was my lab partner. When she saw me, her face lit with excitement.
“I heard you and Alexander crashed Brian’s party and he beat up Reuben!”
Wonderful. I had a feeling this was just the beginning.
As the morning wore on, I tried to ignore the talk swirling around me, but it was impossible. Kids who’d never spoken to me before demanded to know who my supposed boyfriend was and what school he went to and what exactly he’d done to Reuben.
But there were more pressing issues on my mind. We hadn’t heard from Elizabeth Howard. If she’d believed Alexander, she probably would have contacted us right away, especially since he’d warned her that Vigo was in our world.
I wondered if the rumors I’d heard about her having writer’s block were true, or if she was already working on the third book. If she was, maybe she could tell us what was going on in Otherworld right now, and if Vigo had managed to find a way back there. There was a possibility that Vigo had left this dimension, since no bodies had been discovered lately.
My mind turned over and over with questions, but I couldn’t answer them without speaking to Elizabeth Howard. And I doubted we’d have another chance.
Lunchtime came, and I joined Luisa and Katie in the caf.
Today’s two-dollar feast was a hamburger and soggy fries. As I was about to start eating, I felt a sudden hush around me as Reuben and Brian approached our table.
My stomach sank.
Brian looked like a wrestler, muscular and compact, with a buzz cut. “I don’t like it when people crash my parties,” he said, loud enough for everyone around to hear.
I didn’t answer. I looked at my friends, warning them silently not to say anything.
Reuben, who tried to look cool with his spiky black hair and a soul patch beneath his lip, spoke next. “I shouldn’t have bothered with your sister. She’s such a cow.”
I kept my eyes on my food, trying to resist the temptation to stand up and dump my ketchup-covered fries on his head. This would be over soon if I didn’t give them any reaction.
“What’s your boyfriend’s name, huh?” Brian asked. “I want to know what makes him think he can come into my house uninvited. Unless you think he’d be too scared to talk to me.”
I pictured a confrontation between Alexander and Brian. It wouldn’t last long. I choked on a laugh.
“I should’ve messed him up when I had the chance,” Reuben said.
He’d been too dazed to get up after Alexander had pushed him.
“I hope your guy drops by the school soon,” Brian added. “If he does, we’ll be waiting for him. Tell him, okay?”
I could hear the anger in Brian’s voice, and glanced over my shoulder, just to make sure he hadn’t gotten any closer.
One thing was certain. Wherever Alexander Banks went, drama followed.
When I got home from school, Chrissy was alone for once. The upside of her being grounded was a blessed two weeks without Madison at our place. As soon as Chrissy saw me, she grabbed her bowl of popcorn and marched to her room, slamming the door.
I felt a knot in my stomach. Chrissy and I had spent most of our lives walking on eggshells during Mom and Dad’s arguments. I thought the divorce would, at least, end the fighting and give us some peace, but it hadn’t worked out that way. Chrissy persisted in getting angry about, well,
She had left the TV on, and when I heard the introductory music of a special news bulletin, the knot in my stomach tightened. For a second I was even tempted to turn away.
“A young Irving Park couple was reported missing this morning. Though their names have yet to be released, it was revealed that they were last seen at a popular downtown club….”
An icy feeling gripped me. There was no doubt in my mind that Vigo had struck again.
“Hey,” Alexander said as I got into the car. He smiled at his own use of slang, which made me smile back.
We hadn’t seen each other since Sunday — only two days, but too long for me. I was glad he’d texted me this morning to ask if I’d have an early dinner with him. Although I knew he got along well with Ms. P., I figured he liked having a friend his own age. Maybe it put a bit of normalcy into his crazy life.
“I saw a small restaurant around the corner.” He maneuvered the car into traffic.
Uh-oh: He meant Mac’s Diner. People from school hung out there, and that was the last thing we needed.
“I know a better place,” I said. “It’s just a few blocks farther. I should warn you not to drop by my school again unless it’s an emergency. A couple of the jocks from the party are looking for you.”
His eyes lit with mischief. “I’m flattered.”
“Well, I like to stay out of trouble as much as possible.” I gave him a serious look. “It’s better if you stay away.”
“Are you concerned for my safety?” There was a twinkle in his eye.
“No. In an ideal world, I’d love to see a smackdown between you and those guys. But I know you don’t want more attention, and everybody at school is already wondering who you are after what happened Friday night.”
“I take your point. Let me know if you change your mind.”
The Burger Barn was quiet at this time of day. We chose a booth and slid onto the cushioned seats. As the waitress approached to take our order, I saw the flush in her cheeks when she looked at Alexander. Even in his casual clothes, he was striking to look at. It wasn’t just that he was uncommonly handsome; his presence altered the atmosphere of any room he entered.
When the waitress left, Alexander grew solemn. “You heard about the couple,” he said.
I nodded. The latest news report was that the bodies had been found — with the distinctive neck wounds.
“Are you sure it’s Vigo who did it?” I asked. “Not some other vampire who might have crossed over?” I hated vocalizing the thought.
“There is no one but him. I am quite certain of that. His methods are distinctive. He usually takes two victims at once, and he prefers young blood. Most vampires are more random. Most vampires, I would have caught already.”
“Do you think he’ll start changing people here into vampires?” It was another horrible thought, but I had to ask. The process of changing a human into a vampire — by having a human drink the vampire’s blood — was described in detail in
“Vampires believe they are bestowing a great gift when they
change someone into their kind. It is to give them eternal life, after all. I do not think Vigo will change anyone unless he has some greater plan to populate your world with vampires.”
Seeing my horrified expression, he put up a calming hand. “I doubt Vigo is ready to share this mortal playground with anyone just yet.”