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Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick

Vampire

BOOK: Vampire
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Vampire

Richie Tankersley Cusick

Prologue

T
he carnival was about ready to close.

From the doorway of her tent the old gypsy woman stood watching as a boisterous group of young people shoved its way along the path to her entry. She was tired … there had been so many palms and predictions taking her time today—and now she sighed wearily, counting heads as the group waved and jostled one another up to where she waited.

“One young miss … four young gentlemen.…” The gypsy woman sized them up with a practiced glance. Some special drama seemed in order for the occasion … her big climax to a busy day.

“Come.” She motioned them in, one at a time, her eyebrows raised in speculation as each in turn was led back into the gloomy shadows and given a glimpse of the future. “And tell no one,” she finished each fortune with a solemn warning, looking deep into the challenging young eyes, holding them with her older, wiser ones, “or other, unwelcome forces will surely interfere.…”

Each customer seemed genuinely satisfied … if not altogether convinced.

Except for the one she'd chosen for her grand finale.

“My poor child, I see anguish … despair.… I see terrible tragedy”—her voice lowered dramatically, her hand squeezing hard around the fingers that trembled so in her chilly grasp—“for you are not like the others. You—and you alone—walk as the Undead … with no choice of your fate.”

If the other customers had been somewhat skeptical, this one had certainly given her the reaction she'd hoped for—the instant expression of shock and fear, the disbelief and confusion clouding the narrowed eyes.

“You understand,” her client whispered. “I really believe you understand. What can I do?”

“Perhaps …” She thought for a long moment, staring deep into her crystal ball. “Perhaps … if you find your heart's true love … your chosen one …” She gave a mysterious smile. “Yes … your chosen one will bring you peace at last.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Your chosen one. Now go. And may heaven have mercy upon you.”

The gypsy woman chuckled now, watching them all leave—the reckless group of five herding one another off into the blinking neon night.

Only … one of them wasn't laughing anymore.

1

T
he building sat back from the narrow street, dingy and cheap in the gray afternoon light. Its red neon sign blinked on and off, the words
DUNGEON OF HORRORS
reflecting in the puddles, turning the water to blood.

“He's insane,” Mrs. Thomas mumbled, peering gloomily from the cab. “I always knew he was, but I'd hoped by now he'd outgrown it.”

“How could you possibly know anything about Uncle Jake?” Darcy turned accusing eyes on her mother. “You haven't even seen him for years.”

“I know what Alicia tells me, and
she
says he's a disgrace.”

“Aunt Alicia thinks everyone's a disgrace.”

“Darcy, I won't have you talking that way about my sister. She's a
prominent
attorney and
very
highly respected. It's no wonder Jake's a total embarrassment to her—he's
always
been a total embarrassment to both of us.”

“He can't be that bad, Mom. And I'll never understand why you and Aunt Alicia won't have anything to do with Uncle Jake, when he's your only brother.”

“I've told you before, we never
did
have anything to do with Jake. After the divorce he went to live with Father. We didn't even grow up together.” She snorted in disgust. “He's not our kind, Darcy. He never has been, and he never will be.”

“What
is
our kind, Mom?” Darcy said, then at the look on her mother's face, added hurriedly, “Well, I wish you weren't leaving me here. I don't like Aunt Alicia.”

“Of course you do,” Mom said impatiently. “She's just like me.”

Darcy rolled her eyes, but Mrs. Thomas was mumbling again and didn't see.

“Believe me, Darcy, I wasn't planning on seeing Jake this time, but Alicia lives miles from town—you remember me telling you about that gorgeous country home of hers?—and I only have two hours between flights. It was more convenient for her to pick you up here on her way home from work. And quit being so difficult, will you? Think of
my
happiness for a change.”

“We always think of your happiness.” Darcy sighed. “Mom,
please
—I don't want to stay with—”

“Oh, for heaven's sake, just wait here a minute,” Mrs. Thomas returned sharply. “And stop complaining. Surely you can stand it with Alicia for a little while. It's not like I'm abandoning you!”

Darcy watched helplessly as her mother got out and disappeared into the old building. For one crazy instant she actually considered making a break for freedom, but since she didn't know where to run, she took her suitcase from the cab and went inside.

“What do you mean she was called away on business? She can't do this to me!”

Darcy heard her mother's voice bordering on its familiar hysteria, and she looked curiously around the lobby as she closed the door quietly behind her. There were two other doorways—one hung with red beads which seemed to lead off into darkness, and another, closed, but not muffling the raised voices behind it.

“And it's so nice to see
you
, too,” a second voice responded dryly. “After all this time, how can I be so lucky?”

“What kind of a place
is
this, anyway? And look at your
face!
What was it this time? Money again? Some crazy new deal of yours? A jealous boyfriend you had to settle up with? God, Jake, you are so
worthless!
Alicia must be out of her mind—does she really expect me to leave Darcy here with you till she gets back? Why didn't she call me?”

“She did, but you'd already left. And you're absolutely right—we both know how crazy Alicia's always been. Well, it was
great
seeing you. I'll just show you out—”

“But I don't have anyone else to leave Darcy with! And I've got to get back to the airport!”

“Gone through all your friends, huh? Down to last, desperate measures?”

“I'm on my way to Europe to get married! I can't take Darcy on my honeymoon!”

“Especially when husband—wait, what is it now? Number four? Five? Gosh, it's so hard to keep up with your and Alicia's weddings! Anyway, especially when
this
husband doesn't particularly like the idea of having a kid around—isn't that what Alicia told me? Hey, Sis, you don't have to explain anything to me. Why should I care if you want to dump her and fly off to your rendezvous?”

“Are you sure Alicia said she'd only be gone a few days?” Mrs. Thomas broke in, as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said. “Well, I suppose if it's just for a
few
days—”

“Hey, please don't consider
me
in all this. After all,
I
don't have plans—my life is
totally
at your beck and call—”

“Don't be sarcastic, Jake, that's so like you. I don't have time to argue. I have a plane to catch.”

“Sure you do. Forgive me for interfering with your
busy
schedule. Where's the kid?”

“Her
name
is Darcy. She's a very sweet, lovable girl.”

“Yeah? Just like her mom and Aunt Piranha, huh?”

In spite of her misery Darcy almost smiled, imagining her mother's livid expression. Walking over to a counter, she studied the brochures scattered there—
WELCOME TO THE DUNGEON
—and turned as the office door burst open.

“Oh, Darcy.” Mrs. Thomas looked flustered. “I thought I told you to wait for me in the cab. This is your Uncle Jake. Jake, this is—for God's sake, Darcy, don't stare, it's impolite.”

Flushing, Darcy dropped her eyes, then cautiously raised them again. Even though she'd been told that Jake wasn't that much older than she, she hadn't expected such a boyish face, the thick brown hair falling stubbornly over the forehead, the faded jeans and dirty red jersey, the ratty-looking high-tops. He was tall, with a deliberate slouch, and insolent green eyes that seemed to be appraising her. One of his eyes was bruised and swollen, and there were several cuts and bruises on his tanned cheeks. He was eating popcorn from a bag, chewing slowly, one piece at a time, totally unbothered by the whole situation.
This can't be my Uncle Jake … this guy's gorgeous
.

“Darcy,” Mrs. Thomas was saying crisply, “there's been a slight change of plans. Your Aunt Alicia had some emergency on a case she's working on, so while she's away on business, you'll be staying here with your uncle. It's only for a few days. The
minute
Alicia gets back, she'll come and get you and—”

“Drag you kicking and screaming to safety,” Jake finished, returning Mrs. Thomas's glare with a sardonic smile.

Darcy hid a smile of her own as her mother handed Jake a slip of paper.

“Here's a list of hotels where we'll be staying. Not that you'll need to get in touch with me for anything.” She glanced at her watch and made an irritated sound in her throat. “I've got to get back to the airport—I've got to make that connecting flight.” As Jake shoved the paper into his pocket, she walked over and looked down at Darcy. “I'll try and send a postcard or something.… It's just that I don't know how busy we'll be.…”

Darcy nodded and looked away, her words squeezing painfully from her throat. “Have a nice time.” She stiffened as her mother planted a kiss on her forehead.

“I love you, Darcy.”

Another nod. Darcy felt her mother hesitate for a moment, waiting, and then the rush of damp air as the door closed.

The room filled with a terrible, empty silence.

“Well …” Jake chewed on his popcorn, slowly crumpled the bag, and tossed it at the door Mrs. Thomas had gone out. “She hasn't forgotten how to do the martyr face.”

Darcy's eyes lifted, shocked, and he shrugged.

“Sorry. She
is
your dear old mom, after all—”

“No,” Darcy said quickly, surprising herself. “You're right. It
is
a martyr face. I know just what you mean, only I never quite knew how to describe it.”

He cocked his head at her. “Well, kid, it looks like we're stuck with each other.”

Suddenly Darcy felt tears threatening. “I'm really sorry.”

“For what? It wasn't your idea, was it?”

“Well … no …”

“Mine, either. Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Don't you want to see where you'll be living?”

Darcy reached for her suitcase. “Oh, are we going to your house now?”

“This
is
my house. And my family.”

Darcy looked confused. “Mom didn't tell me you lived here. Or that you're married—”

“I didn't
tell
her I live here. It's hardly the Ritz, if you know what I mean. And I didn't say I was married. You don't have to be married to have a family, okay?”

“I guess you're right.”

“I am right. Didn't you see the sign? This is an honest to goodness Dungeon of Horrors.” He paused, waiting for her to look at him again. “Think of all the mad, bad characters you've ever heard about—or read about—or shivered at in the movies. Dr. Frankenstein. The Wolfman. Dracula.” He moved toward the beaded curtain and swept it aside. “They're all here. Come on. Have a look.”

Hesitantly Darcy went through, stopping at once as darkness engulfed her. She felt Jake move past and saw his outline materialize ahead of her.

“Track lights in the ceiling.” Jake pointed. “You'll get used to it in a few seconds.”

“It's really black in here.”

“Yeah, I have to keep it low like this. It's the way they like it.”

BOOK: Vampire
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