Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick
Only silence answered her. Darcy stepped back and glanced nervously around at the darkness.
There must be some other way in
She began searching for another entrance, heading in the opposite direction from where she'd gone before. As she moved cautiously along the side of the building, she was almost past the basement window before she even noticed it, hidden there behind months of trash and grime. Kneeling down, she was surprised that it opened so easily, and she held her breath, lowering herself inside.
For an endless moment Darcy hung there, suspended in nothingness, legs groping for a foothold. And then, as her shoes found something solid, she eased herself down, squinting into thick shadows that swirled around her. She could make out walls now, and a door, but when she tried the knob, it wouldn't budge.
“Jake!” Again Darcy began to pound, praying her voice would carry upstairs. “I'm in the basement! Come onâlet me out!”
And then she heard the footsteps.
With a surge of relief Darcy prepared to knock again â¦ and then her hand froze in midair.
The steps weren't coming from the other side of the door.
They were outside the basement window.
Choking off a cry, Darcy dropped to her knees and huddled down in the shadows. From out in the alley the steps came closer â¦ closer â¦ sharp against the pavement â¦ slow â¦ and deliberate.
They were taking their time.
Trembling now, Darcy wrapped her arms about herself and tried to make herself smaller. She sensed a movement beside her and bit down on her fist, as a mouse, and then another, scurried across her ankles.
The footsteps had reached the window now.
In slow-motion horror Darcy saw a shape glide past the opening. Holding her breath, she curled herself into the corner and closed her eyes.
The sounds stopped.
The silence went on and on.
Very slowly Darcy's eyes began to open â¦
Just in time to see the shoes climbing in through the window.
She couldn't even scream. In a haze of paralyzing fear, Darcy saw the feet descending â¦ the long, black folds of a cape billowing down into the darkness.â¦
She saw a glint of silver, razor sharp, as it slid through the shadowsâ
” she shrieked. “
No! Oh, Godânoâ
She flung herself upon the door, beating with her fists, crying at the top of her lungs, and it was a nightmare, a whole horrible dream with no escape, and it went on foreverâ
âuntil the door burst open without warning, and she fell out into a pair of arms that wrestled her to the floor as she fought them.
“Cut it out, Darcy! It's meâit's
As Darcy twisted herself out of reach, she blinked up into a flashlight and Brandon's bewildered face.
“Oh, God â¦ oh, Brandonâis that you?”
“Of course it's me. Who'd you think it was?”
“I don't knowâIâIâ” Her knees buckled, and she sat down hard upon the floor.
“What are you
down here? How'd you get in?” Brandon sounded angry now, and as she gazed up at him, something inside of her snapped.
to see himâhe was right behind meâwe have to call the police, Brandon, weâ”
“What are you talking about? Who was behind you?”
Darcy stared at him stupidly, her mind refusing to function.
“Didn't you see him? Didn't you hear him?”
” Brandon demanded. “The only one I heard was
What are you trying to doâwake the dead?”
“The dead?” Darcy mumbled. “I almost
dead, Brandon, I almost
âI meanâhe was right over thereâ”
Brandon knelt beside her, frowning. “Come on, Darcy, whatever you thought you saw is gone now. Lookâthere's nobody here but us. You must have justâ”
“Don't you dare tell me I imagined this.” Darcy glared at him. “Don't you dare. Someone came in the window after meâyou must have scared him off. He had a â¦ a knifeâor somethingâhe wasâ”
“Come on.” Brandon slid his hands beneath her elbows and lifted her to her feet. “Now, what the hell are you doing down here? Jake never uses this old storeroom anymoreâyou're lucky I even heard you at all.”
“I got locked out, but I saw the lights, and I thought Jake was home, so I found this window.â¦” She studied him, eyes narrowed. “What are
doing here? Where's Jake?”
“How should I know where Jake is?” Brandon drew himself up indignantly. “I came to pick you up, and the front door was unlocked and you were gone. I didn't know what to think!”
Darcy hesitated, letting his words sink in. “Soâso you really didn't see anyone outside?”
“Not a soul.”
“Well”âher voice rose nervouslyâ“you don't think he got inside, do you? You don't think he's hiding somewhere in the building, do you? In the Dungeon?”
“Not unless he has a key.” Brandon sighed. “But, okay, I'll look around.” He pulled her toward him and steadied her shoulders. “Wait in the lobby for me.”
“No, Brandon, please, why can't we just call the police? I don't want you to go in the Dungeonâ”
“You act like they're all going to come to life and come after me.”
Darcy flushed and said nothing as they went upstairs. While she waited beside the phone in Jake's office, Brandon went to investigate the tunnels.
“So?” Darcy was relieved when he came back. “Did you find anything?”
Brandon gave a solemn nod, hesitating at her frightened look. “I guess I should tell you,” he said slowly, averting his eyes. “The Wolfman bit Mr. Hyde on the leg.”
Darcy stared at him, feeling her cheeks redden. Without a word she turned and started up to the apartment.
“Hey, come on!” Brandon laughed, right on her heels. “It was just a joke! Hey! I'm sorryâ”
She tried to close the door, but he blocked it with his shoulder.
“Hey!” Brandon struggled to keep a straight face. “I'm sorry, okay? Reallyâ”
“No, you're not.”
“I swear! Come on, Darcy, I'm just trying to make you feel better!”
“Then go away.”
He caught her shoulders and turned her around to face him. “I shouldn't have made funâI'm sorry, okay? Don't be mad. Now what
want to know is, what were you doing outside tonight in the first place?”
She slipped out of his grasp and moved to the window, staring down into the street, conscious of his body moving closer to her.
“Oh, you'll just think I'm being silly.”
“Maybe not,” he said, considering. “Maybe I'm really just one hell of an understanding guy.”
A smile touched her lips, then faded.
“I think someone tried to break into my room last night.”
His dark eyes held her. She felt the slight pressure of his body as he leaned forward.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “Kyle told me about that.”
“He did?” Darcy didn't know whether to feel relieved or embarrassed. “I'm not making it up, Brandon. I mean, at first I thought maybe I dreamed itâbut then I went outside this evening to look. There's a fire escape behind the building and a ledge below my room. And the way the bricks are staggered in the wall, it'd be easy for someone to climb up.”
“But why would they?” Brandon asked, matter-of-factly. “I mean â¦ why would someone go to all that trouble?”
Darcy hesitated and looked away. After his earlier reaction, her ideas of vampires and bloodshot eyes and stone rings seemed preposterous, if not downright laughable. She shrugged, abruptly changing the subject.
“So why did
come tonight? I thought you had rehearsals.”
Brandon looked surprised, then amused. “Oh, I get itâI'm a suspect.”
Darcy turned away. “I just wondered, that's all.”
“We finished up early. I was informed you needed an escort.” His teasing changed to seriousness. “And about last night â¦ your finding that body, I mean.â¦ God, Darcy, that must have been awful for you. I wanted to stay with you for a while but â¦”
. Darcy closed her eyes. “I'm not supposed to talk about itâthe police don't want a panic on their hands. I guess â¦ no one's heard anything else.”
“Just that they're pretty sure it's the same killer. The Vampire.” He grinned then and made a sweeping bow. “Enough drama for one night. Shall we go?”
“You do that very well,” Darcy said grudgingly, going ahead of him down the stairs.
“Yeah? I keep telling myself, think suave, think charm â¦ think sex.”
“And I'm sure your powers of concentration are amazing.” Darcy gave in to a laugh. “Are we walking or riding?”
“Perhaps I should wrap my cape around you, and we'll just fly.” Brandon stopped on the sidewalk and struck a gallant pose. “I'm getting good at this, don't you think? I'm learning all kinds of interesting things.”
“Such as â¦” Brandon's arm curled lazily around her neck, drawing her close, so that they were walking side by side. “If a vampire drinks too much of his victim's blood, the victim dies. But mostly he just drinks enough to satisfy hisâuhâthirst. The victim gets weaker and weaker and more and more under his power.”
It had started to drizzle, a thin gray fog creeping along the streets. In spite of the warm night, Darcy shuddered and felt Brandon's arm tighten, pulling her closer.
“Can you imagine?” he said, with something like wonder in his voice. “Can you imagine having that much power?”
“It's creepy,” Darcy said flatly. “Do you really think about this stuff during rehearsals?”
“Well, an actor has to do whatever it takes to get in the mood, doesn't he?” Brandon grinned down at her. “There's more.”
“Lucky me,” Darcy groaned, but he was off again.
“And you know all those stories about vampires dying in the sun?”
Darcy nodded. “They scream and shrivel up, if I remember my horror movies.”
“Well, not all of them do.” He sounded almost smug. “Some vampires are immune to the sun. Which makes them even scarier, of course.”
“I mean, if none of the standard vampire repellants work, then how do you get rid of the guy, huh?” He chuckled then, squeezing her gently against him, and she glanced up into his face.
“Do you think this Vampireâthe killer, I meanâreally believes he
Another couple passed them on the sidewalkâwithout warning Darcy found herself crushed up against Brandon's chest as the people shoved her aside. Brandon stopped and looked earnestly into her eyes.
“If he does, then that makes him extremely dangerous.”
His tone was so solemn that Darcy felt another chill go through her.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he can be any kind of vampire he wants to be, so that makes him unpredictable. If he were a
vampireâthen they'd know how to catch and destroy him. But if he's making up the rules as he goes along â¦”
This time it was Brandon who shuddered, and he wrapped his arms tight around her, resting his chin on her head.
“No more vampire talk,” he said softly. “Let's do something else. You like flowers?”
Darcy looked surprised. “Yes, but I thought we were going to the Club.”
“They won't miss us for a while.” Brandon checked his watch, nodding. “Kyle's getting ready to go on about nowâhe won't finish up for another half hour. Come on. I want to show you something.”
She had no idea how far they'd gone when Brandon finally stopped and pointed. Ahead of them the buildings thinned out and disappeared, leaving a wide open stretch of bricked street, a city-block long, flanked on either side by wooden stalls and tables. In the hazy glow of streetlights, awnings fluttered and snapped in the wet breeze, and a heavy odor of overripe fruit sweetened the air.
“The Farmer's Market,” Brandon announced, taking a deep breath. “Tomorrow morning this place will be so full you can hardly move through it. Come on.”
“But there's nothing to seeâ” Darcy started to argue, but Brandon grabbed her arm and pulled.
They made their way past rows of deserted stands, their footsteps echoing unevenly on the cobbled pavement. Ethnic signs swung on rusty chains, groaning softly.
“Wait.” Darcy stopped, and Brandon turned to face her. “Where are we going?”
Through the shadows she saw his half smile. “Wow. You really
trust me, do you?”
Before she could answer, he started off again, a distorted silhouette in the mist.
“Wait!” Darcy called. For one second a wild thought stabbed through her mindâ
He's leaving me hereâsomething's going to happenâsomething bad
âand she started running, damp gray fingers of fog clinging to her clothes â¦ her skin â¦ “Brandon!” she cried. “Where are you?”
“Here,” he said, and she stopped abruptly as his hand came out of the shadows.
He held a bouquet of red carnations.
“For you.” He smiled.
In confusion Darcy searched the empty stalls but saw no one.
“Where did you get these?” Her voice was weak, trembling from fear and relief and bewilderment all at once, and he was still smiling at her, lifting one hand to her cheek.
“From the vendor back there â¦ didn't you see her?”
“Noâno, I didn't see anyoneâ” And still she strained her eyes through the fog, and his fingertips traced lightly over her cheekbone.
“Well,” he said quietly. “Well â¦ then, I guess she must have left.”
Darcy looked deep into his eyes and thought she could lose herself in their blackness.