Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick
“How did you know that?”
Elliott was still fixated on the curtain. His mouth moved several times before any words came out.
“Nobody could get up that high. They'd have to be able to fly to get up that high.”
“Do you want me to have a look?” Kyle asked, stepping between them.
“Would you mind?” Darcy looked relieved, and she started for the stairs, turning again as a thought came into her mind.
“Oh, Elliott, you forgot to turn one of the lights off last night.”
Finally Elliott moved, pulling himself slowly away from the beads to face her.
“No, I didn't.”
“Well â¦” Darcy said uneasily, “I know you probably didn't mean to, but the Dracula exhibit was allâ”
“I didn't forget,” Elliott said. “I never forget that.”
“It's okay.” Kyle held up one hand, using the other to nudge Darcy up the stairs. “Just show me where this window is.”
Darcy led the way up to her bedroom, unsettled by Elliott's behavior. “Is he always this weird?”
“Yes. But he's harmless.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Kyle seemed amused by her suspicions. “Well, I guess you can't ever be a hundred percent sure about anybody, can you?” He examined the window, then stood aside, running one hand back through his hair.
“So what do you think?” Darcy asked nervously.
“Well â¦” He brushed one fingertip along one of the tears. “It's hard to say. This old screen's not in very great shape to begin with. You didn't notice how it looked before?”
She shook her head, gesturing toward the bottom corner. “He â¦ it â¦ was pulling from here. I saw his hands. Fingers. He was working very fast.”
Kyle nodded distractedly and peered out, scanning the ground below. “There's an alley right under you. And no way up that I can see. I guess”âhe shrugged apologeticallyâ“you must have had a bad dream.” As Darcy looked uncertain, he frowned and fanned himself. “It's a wonder you don't have heatstroke, it's so hot up here. Maybe
what caused your dream.”
“Maybe.” Darcy sighed. “But I guess you're right. I guess no one could get up here. Thanks, anyway.”
“No problem.” He led the way back downstairs, pausing in the lobby. “By the way, there's a concert in the park tomorrow night we're all going to. Would you like to come?”
“All of you?” Darcy thought of Liz â¦ and of Brandon.
“I mean, except for Elliott. He has to work.”
“Are you sure I'd be welcome?”
His eyes crinkled up in that contagious smile. “Of course you'd be welcome. We'd really like you to go.”
“Even Liz?” It was supposed to be a joke, but Kyle looked uncomfortable.
“Look â¦ don't pay attention to Liz. I mean, none of us do.”
As if on cue, they heard Liz's strident voice from the Dungeon, and a second later she practically fell into the room, Elliott appearing through the beaded curtain behind her.
“I can't let you in the workroom, Liz,” Elliott said, his voice anxious. “I can't let you. You don't work here anymore.”
“Like your new job, Darcy?” Liz's smile was ice. “Would you mind ordering this imbecile to stop shoving me around?”
“Elliottâ” Darcy began. “LizâIâ” She took a step forward, but it was Kyle who cut her off.
“Come on, Liz, lighten up. You know it's not Darcy's fault.”
“Oh, really?” Liz folded her arms over her chest and looked daggers at him as he started for the door. “You're always for the underdog, aren't you, Kyle? Poor abandoned little Darcy.”
Kyle stopped, but he didn't turn around.
“Let's just drop it, okay?” he said slowly. “It's Jake's place, he can do what he wants.” He slammed the door as he went outside, and Liz stalked off again into the Dungeon.
“Liz!” Darcy called miserably. “Where are you. going?”
“To get my things out of the workshopâ
you don't mindâand
Elliott doesn't mangle me firstâ”
“Please wait! Please let's talk about this!”
“There's nothing I can see that needs talking about.” From the way Liz made her way through the dim tunnels, Darcy could tell she'd done it many times before. “You have a job, and I don't. You're
, and I'm not. That's the breaks. I just want my stuff back, okay?”
“I didn't ask for the job!” Darcy tried to keep up. “I don't even
the job! You can have it back, I'll just tell Jakeâ”
“Hey, Darcy”âLiz spun around, her face mockingâ“don't do me any favors, okay? I can get my own job.”
“That's not what Iâ” Helplessly Darcy watched Liz take off again and vanish down the corridors. “Damn!” She hit her fist against a guardrail and realized that she was at the Dracula exhibit again. “Well, Count,” she said with a sigh, “seems like I always end up with you. We've really got to stop meeting likeâ”
The joke died in her throat.
Narrowing her eyes, she moved closer to the stage, letting her gaze travel slowly over the vampire's long, black cape.
She didn't know, really, how she knewâit just came to her in an odd sort of feeling that the scene was slightly off-balance and incomplete. She stepped closer, inspecting Dracula from his shiny boots up to his glassy eyes.
Feeling a prickle along her scalp, Darcy stared into the Count's lifeless eyes, then at his white teeth â¦ and then at the graceful, ruthless fingers trapping his victim.
Something â¦ something's different
And suddenly she knew, and her eyes riveted on his long, tapered finger where the red stone ring had glittered at her last night.â¦
But he wasn't wearing the ring now.
And again she saw those fingers at her window â¦ the fingers in her nightmare â¦ and the bloodshot eye glimmering in at her â¦
the bloodstone ring
It hadn't been an eye at all.
And the fingers
arcy leaned closer to the tableau, her eyes scanning the floor â¦ the props â¦ the thick shadows.
It must be here somewhere â¦ maybe it fell off â¦ got lost somehow
. She hurried back through the tunnels and met Elliott coming the other way.
“Elliott”âshe stopped himâ“I think something's missing from the Dracula exhibit.”
He stood perfectly still. For a long time he stared at her as if he hadn't comprehended what she'd said.
“Did you hear me?” Darcy tried again. “Something is
. I think it might have been stolen.”
Elliott moved his head slowly from side to side. “That can't happen. I watch.”
“I know you do, but I remember seeing a ring there yesterday, and now it's gone.”
Darcy's mouth dropped open. “Don't play games with me, Elliottâthe ring Dracula was wearing.”
Elliott was still shaking his head in that maddening way. “Ring?”
“The ring that's not there,” she said impatiently. “The ring that was there yesterday but isn't there now. Please, Elliott, I know I didn't imagine it. A stone, about this bigâredâvery pretty.”
In answer he shrugged and went past her, then suddenly turned around again.
“Maybe you dreamed about the ring,” he said quietly.
Darcy felt herself bristling. “I didn't dream it! Why would you even say that?”
Again Elliot shook his head. “I don't know about any ring,” he said and disappeared into the darkness of the tunnels.
There was little time to think about the ring after thatâwith a constant stream of visitors throughout the day, Darcy had her hands full and didn't see Elliott again until he mumbled goodbye and ducked out the door at closing time.
“Wait, Elliott, what about theâ” Before Darcy could catch him, he was gone. She hurried outside and peered down the empty sidewalk, frowning.
How can anyone disappear so fast?
Locking up, she went upstairs just in time to catch the phone before it stopped ringing.
“Darcy?” a familiar voice greeted her. “This is Kyle. We're all going to meet here at the Club in a couple hoursâwhy don't you come?”
“Well â¦” She was so tired, but the thought of companionship overcame her aching body. “That sounds like fun,” she agreed. “Thanks for asking me.”
“Well, don't try to walk over here alone,” Kyle added. “One of us will come get you.”
Darcy felt a surge of relief that she hadn't expected. “I'll be here,” she promised.
“Great. See you.”
Up in her room Darcy flipped on the light and stared across at the window. It was all coming back to her againâher horrible dream-fantasy â¦ the hand clawing at the screen â¦ that eyeâ
no, that ring
Going closer, she reached out and touched the screen, her fingers sliding from top to bottom.
I didn't dream it, did I? There was a hand here, and Dracula's ring is missing, isn't it?
She leaned close to the window and looked down.
Just an alley, like Kyle said. A sheer drop to the ground. So how could anyone have possibly been at my window?
On a sudden impulse Darcy turned and hurried downstairs. Clicking back the latch on the lobby door, she made sure she couldn't lock herself out, then stood out on the sidewalk and stared up at the old building. Blank walls and black windows stared back at her.
The side street was deserted and still. At the corner of the building she stopped and looked into the cramped little alley that crouched below her attic room. It was so dark in there
â¦ too dark
â¦ and as she carefully moved forward, shadows pressed in from all sides, as if trying to suffocate her. She stopped directly below her window and gazed up the straight brick walls, shaking her head in bewilderment.
must have dreamed it
.â¦ And then she spotted something.
About three feet ahead of her a tall fence rose up, dead-ending the alleyway, but between the fence and the building lay a dark, narrow space and something else that jutted out from the lower corner of the building.
It looked like a step.
Cautiously Darcy approached it, holding her breath as she peeked around the corner.
a step. The bottom step of a fire escape that crawled up the back wall.
Heart pounding, she took hold of the railing and began to climb the metal stairs, but when she reached the small landing, the door she found there was locked. Remembering back, her mind sketched a quick floor plan of the apartment, and her grip slowly tightened on the railing.
The door had to open to Jake's bedroom.
Darcy leaned against the wall and tried to think.
When Jake showed me around the apartment, he never showed me his own room â¦ was it because of this door?
Frowning, she stared down at the fire escape again.
But this still doesn't explain how someone could climb up to my window
She tilted her head back and carefully scanned the side of the building. Then slowly her eyes widened.
She hadn't noticed the ledge before. Because of its design and identical color of the building, it had merely seemed like part of the wall as she'd stared up at it from the alley. But now â¦ now she could see that it was just wide enough for feet to stand on â¦ positioned so that someone standing there could easily reach her window if they stretched â¦ if they were tall.â¦
A cold lump formed in her chest, and her gaze swept up again.
. There right in front of herâ
that's how he got up to that ledge
. And she ran her hands over the uneven bricks in the corner section of the wall â¦ bricks uneven enough to be footholds and handholds
so that someone could boost himself up and work his way along the ledge and pry open my window
Swallowing a cry, Darcy scrambled back down the fire escape telling herself she was being stupid, that it was impossibleâ
âand why would
want to get inside her room, why would
want to hurt herâand
What's the matter with you, you're getting hysterical, starting to imagine all sorts of crazy things, stop it right now, so you found some stepsâa ledgeâit doesn't mean anything, not anything at allâ
She reached the front door and rammed her shoulder against it, suddenly desperate to get inside. She turned the handle and pushed, and then with a gasp of disbelief, she twisted and pushed again.
The door was locked.
his can't be happeningâI was so carefulâI know I checked to make sure it was openâ
Darcy pounded with her fists, but the sound echoed down the street, mocking her. Taking a deep breath, she stepped back and scanned the sidewalk with worried eyes. The wind?
But there's hardly a breeze, and that couldn't have affected the latch
.â¦ She thought about finding a pay phone â¦ trying to walk to the Club â¦ but the twilight seemed full of hidden dangers, and without warning the face of the dead girl in the alley floated into her mind.
I've got to do somethingâI can't just stay here all night
As Darcy stood there in frustration, trying to decide what to do, the lights in the lobby flickered and went off. Startled, she knocked again, straining her ears for some answer to her shouts.
“Jake! Is that you? It's me, Darcy! I've locked myself out!”
The lights came back on.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Darcy waited for the door to open.
“Jake?” Again she knocked, a knot of fear twisting in her stomach. “Come on, it's scary out here!”