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By Jamie Manning
“You guys, this is crazy.” I clung to Chance’s arm like a leech as we left the safety of Kayla’s Volvo and headed down the dirt road that cut through the woods.
“Relax, Ava,” Lila said, leading our little group. “You’re already half dead, remember? You’re the last one who should be scared.”
Sometimes I really hated her. “I’m not scared,” I snapped, still cowering against my new boyfriend’s very muscular arm. “I just don’t think we should be doing this. I mean, we had to climb over a gate back there. Doesn’t that mean this place is off-limits?”
“No way,” Erik said, walking tall beside Lila. For twins, they couldn’t be more different. “That just means they don’t want us driving out here, that’s all.”
“Um, yeah. Sure.” One thing about Erik? He could always spin a situation to his favor. It was one of the things I liked about him, actually. Well, that, and he wasn’t bad to look at.
“You guys stop,” Kayla said, her voice tinged with excitement. “This is gonna be so fun.” She adjusted the messenger bag slung over her shoulder, which was no doubt filled with candles, incense, a Ouija board and any other macabre, séance-y things she thought we might need.
Oh, did I forget to mention that part? Yeah, my friends and I are holding a séance.
In an abandoned cemetery buried in the middle of the woods.
“You have one crazy definition of fun, Kayla.” Though I would have chosen to do anything else tonight—I’m not really one for cemeteries, go figure—I was glad I at least got to spend my very first Halloween (well, the first I could remember) with my best friend. And my boyfriend. Okay, and the vampire-hunting twins, too.
The first time I met Erik and Lila in that mall—when they had been so kind to show up and “dispose” of the dead vampire—I was terrified of them. I mean, Hello? I’m half vamp; being around those who hunt down monsters like me isn’t exactly my first choice of social circles. But I’ve gotten to know them since then, and they’re not the scary killers I thought they were. Okay, maybe Lila is—a little.
“Are you kidding?” Kayla said. “Hanging out in a cemetery at night? This is awesome!” The echo of her shout reverberated off the towering forest flanking both sides of our narrow dirt path. The hollow sound sent chills scurrying up and down my back, and I clenched Chance’s arm even tighter.
“You know,” he said, his deep voice soothing my erratic nerves, “as much as I love you, if you don’t let go of my arm, it’s gonna fall off.”
“Oops. Sorry.” I smiled though I knew he couldn’t see me and eased up a bit with my grip. Sometimes I forgot I had super strength. Though Chance was muscular (oh, was he muscular), he was still only human. Well, mostly.
“It’s cool,” he said, pulling his arm from my grabby fingers and sliding it around my waist, cradling me closer to him. I could feel the powerful heat radiating off him. It was mind-numbingly intoxicating—as was the sweet, alluring scent of his blood.
The night Chance pulled me from the coffin where my Creator, Aldric, had buried me, I was overcome with that scent. It was all I could think of, all I had wanted. It took a while before I was able to ignore my cravings and simply enjoy the way it comforted me, made me feel safe. I know it sounds weird, a vampire not wanting to drink someone’s blood, but I didn’t. Not again.
“I’m so glad you two are behind me,” Lila said, her voice faint as a strong wind picked up and carried it into the distance. “I really don’t wanna throw up out here.”
“Jealousy is an ugly color on you, Lila,” I said with a smile. Though she was several feet in front of me, I could feel her body tense, the blood running through her veins quickening its pace. It was no secret Lila and I didn’t much care for each other. She was a firm believer that all vampires were pure evil, me included; I was a firm believer that uppity, stake-wielding snobs should keep their distance, definitely her included. We agreed to disagree, and a natural, hostile relationship formed.
“No color’s ugly on me, vamp.” I could just make out her shadowy figure in the dark. She had pulled a stake from the harness she wore on her back and was twirling it over and over in her hands. I felt all tingly inside knowing that I got under her skin.
“Come on, you two,” Kayla said. “Please chill out, okay? I wanna have fun tonight.”
“Then we should go somewhere else,” I said.
“Hey! You said you wanted to come here.” Kayla slowed her gait until she fell behind Chance and me, then crossed the narrow path and stepped up beside me. “Remember?”
I sighed. “Yes, I remember.” And I had said that. Not my fault Kayla sucked at recognizing sarcasm.
“Then try to have fun, okay?” Her big doe-like eyes filled with moonlight that filtered down from between the trees.
“Yeah, Ava.” Erik this time, still forging ahead down the path. “It’s Halloween. Anything can happen on Halloween.” I could tell by the movement of shadows that he was looking over his shoulder at us, but he was too far away and there wasn’t enough light from the moon to make out his features. Which was probably a good thing, since Chance was kind of jealous of Erik. No clue why.
“Okay, fine.” I learned a while ago that fighting Kayla on something—especially when she had the support of her friends—was a big waste of time. “But I mean it you guys, no one better try and scare me, you got it?”
Lila laughed. “Cross my heart.”
We walked what felt like five miles deep into the woods before a glowing light appeared in the darkness a couple hundred yards away. At first I couldn’t make out what it was, which allowed said light to still be cool and ethereal. Once we got closer, however, my breath caught in my throat and my skin was suddenly trying to crawl away. “Is that…?”
“Yep,” Kayla said, a bounce in both her step and her voice. “The Virgin Mary. She glows.” She laughed a little and took off ahead of the group—directly for the scary-looking holy image shrouded by night.
“It’s a statue,” Chance whispered, clearly sensing my apprehension. Well, apprehension wasn’t really a strong enough word for what I was feeling. It was like I had been buried alive all over again. I suddenly regretted telling Kayla (sarcastically or not) that I wanted to come here. I mean, what was I thinking, coming to a cemetery again? I hadn’t been in one since the night I climbed from my own grave, the night I swore I’d never be in one again. Self-promise fail, Ava. As the weight of what tonight was actually gonna be fell on me, my lungs constricted, my body struggling for each breath of air. I felt lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous. If this was what Halloween was all about, I was so glad I had no memory.
“I-I knew that,” I stammered, my voice caught in my throat. I swallowed a few times as fear settled over me; something was…off about this night. And I wasn’t just talking about the lit-up Virgin. I had a sense of unease that I couldn’t shake, like we were making a huge mistake by visiting this cemetery and performing a séance. A huge, stupid mistake.
“Did you, really?” Chance asked as we drew closer to the cemetery. A low stone wall appeared through the darkness, encasing the graveyard as it disappeared into the thick black of the forest. I couldn’t help but wonder why a wall that essentially served no purpose would have been erected around a cemetery. Did those who built it think it would keep people out? Or…keep people in?
I shuddered. “No,” I confessed. “I think I’m just on edge, you know? Not thinking straight.”
Chance laughed. “Yeah, Ava. That’s gotta be it.”
“Hey, watch it!” I playfully smacked him on the arm, which only made him laugh harder. “You’re not supposed to make fun of me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said through his laughter. “Really, I’m sorry.” He was smiling wide, the bright white of his teeth glowing like the statue in the moonlight. “You know I wasn’t making fun.” I glared up at him before smiling myself. This was one of those moments I had been hoping we would one day have. Killing vampires and dealing with so much death all the time, I honestly never thought we’d make it to a place where we could just laugh and enjoy each other’s company and be normal. Well, as normal as a vampire hybrid and her supernatural boyfriend could be while sneaking into a God-knows-how-old cemetery in the middle of the night on Halloween to perform some ridiculous séance. Eh, who needs normal.
I once again dug my fingers into the taut skin of Chance’s exposed arm as we topped the tiny hill that led to the entrance in the stone wall.
“Hey,” he said, pulling his arm from my grasp. “I thought we talked about those nails of yours?”
“Sorry,” I stammered. “It’s just…you can’t smell it?” My nose was being invaded by a scent I had become more than accustomed to over the past few months, sending my head reeling and the vampire inside of me into a near frenzy. Without Chance’s arm for release, I moved to gripping and twisting my hands together to help expunge some of my erratic nervousness.
“Smell what?” he asked, pulling me to a stop. “You don’t mean…?” He began spinning in circles, searching the surrounding woods—another thing I had become more than accustomed to. Why he had decided to help me on my quest for humanity by killing vampires was beyond me, but I was so glad he had.
“No, no, not that.” I took him by the arm, careful not to dig into his skin with my nails. “No vampires. Just…death.” The putrid odors of rot and decay flooded my senses with each step we made toward the cemetery. I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to last through whatever Halloween tradition Kayla had planned for us.
“Uh, it’s a cemetery,” Chance said, dropping his shoulders and relaxing. “It’s nothing but death.”
“I know,” I said, trying to hold back on the sarcasm. “It’s just a lot to deal with. I’ve never been around this much of it before. Well, not since…you know.” Chance nodded, remembering the night we first met. Sure, I had been around death—both the dead and the undead—but never in the capacity at which I was currently facing. It was basically like walking into a flower shop where every beautifully-scented petal had withered and died.
“I guess that would be kinda overwhelming, huh?” I just smiled as he slid his arm back around my waist. “Don’t worry, Ava. I’ll try and keep your mind busy.” He brought his free hand to my face, warm fingers caressing my cheek before sliding down my jaw and turning my lips up to meet his. Each time Chance kissed me, no matter the situation or dilemma we were in, it was magical. And this time was no exception. I was instantly able to drown out the nasty smell of death and focus solely on the euphoric taste of his lips, the warmth of his heat, the scent of his blood. I could’ve stayed like that forever.
Which meant, naturally, that something—or someone—was about to interrupt.
“Hey, if you two are done giving each other a tonsil exam, we’d like to get this party started.” Lila’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard, screeching into my head and completely shattering the moment. With reluctance, I pulled away from Chance and glared at her.
“Tonsil exam?” I said. “Really, Lila?” She didn’t respond, only shrugged her shoulders and looked away. “You know, you can be so gross sometimes.”
“Says the girl sucking face in a cemetery.” Lila spun on her heels and joined Kayla and Erik on the other side of the stone wall. I bit my tongue to keep from tackling her linebacker-style.
“She’s jealous,” Chance whispered in my ear, which was dancing wildly beneath the nibbling he was doing. My eyes were rolling like boulders inside their sockets as tiny shockwaves skittered up and down my neck. It was official: Hot-boyfriend kisses were the best medicine for nerves.
“Uh huh,” I muttered, sliding a hand to his firm chest and reluctantly pushing him away. Though I wanted nothing more than to have a full-on make-out session right there in the woods, I needed to stay focused. Though I wasn’t anticipating anything going wrong tonight, I couldn’t let any of my friends get hurt because I was “sucking face” with my boyfriend. “Sorry,” I whispered, pleading with my eyes for forgiveness. Chance smiled and pulled back, but kept his arm tightly wound around my waist. “I just have to pay attention,” I added, guilt clawing at my skin. It wasn’t like he and I had a lot of free time to do…things. Most of my time was taken up by training with Aldric and trying to kill vampires; boyfriend time kept being pushed back.
“It’s cool,” he said, and I could tell he meant it. “You can make up for it later.” A devilish smile slid across his face when he looked down at me, and as we crossed the threshold into the cemetery, it slid across my face, too.
The super-old cemetery looked as I imagined it would. Decrepit, broken headstones worn down by decades of weather and age were littered haphazardly around the area in no discernible pattern. As we wound our way among them, things like “Bless Our Child” and “Loving Mother Lost” jumped out at me, as did some of the dates—there wasn’t a grave younger than a hundred years. Large sinkholes offered glimpses at the actual tops of the graves themselves, which was so twisted and macabre I almost high-tailed it back to the car. My nerves blasted through the protective barrier built by Chance’s ear kisses and scurried up my back like rabid rats. I shuddered and wrapped my arms around my chest even though I couldn’t really feel the bitter wind swirling through the graveyard.
“You all right?” Chance asked, his grip on my waist tightening.
“Yeah,” I said, ignoring those nerves as we followed Erik, Lila and Kayla to a patch of towering trees that had broken through the stone wall in the far back of the cemetery. “Just chilly.” Total lie; judging by Chance’s look of concern, he knew it.
“This is too cool,” Kayla said as she pulled the bag from her shoulder and began digging out its contents. “I’ve wanted to do this since forever.” She opened the store-bought Ouija board and mashed it into the thick, dry grass, surrounding it with thick round candles. “You guys move in closer so I can light these.” She used one hand to guide us into a tight circle while her other dug in the pocket of her coat for a lighter. After a couple of tries with no success (thanks, New England wind), Chance slid from my side and crouched down near her.
“Let me help,” he said, using his large hands to create a cone around the candle.
“Thanks,” Kayla said with a smile, dipping the lighter beneath Chance’s hands and striking it. A bright flame soared above his fingers instantly. I didn’t have to ask if he had some supernatural help; intense heat scalded my skin when his hand curled back around my waist.
“Ow,”I said and pulled away.
“What?” he asked, looking down at me.
I slithered away from his grip and threw a hand to my side. “Um, I love you,” I whispered, hoping the wind kept my voice from nearby ears, “but third degree burns aren’t exactly on my bucket list, thanks.”
Realization filled his eyes. He quickly snatched his hand away and rubbed it against his jeans, most likely to try and dispel some of the heat his whole Healer-light thing had produced. “Sorry.”
I smiled, feeling like a total douche for making him feel guilty, and nervously slid back against him. “It’s cool.” He wasted no time wrapping me in his arms again, that intense heat a bit softer than before.
“Okay,” Kayla said once her candles were lit. “Everybody take a seat, form a circle, okay?” I glanced to Erik and Lila, who seemed just as reluctant to do this. I’m sure for different reasons, though. I was terrified that, given everything “otherworldly” that had already happened in my short new life, ghosts would rise from the ground and scare the bejeezus out of us; Erik and Lila were probably worried about being considered lame or cliché for having a séance in a cemetery on Halloween. I tried to ignore the gnawing at the back of my mind and took a seat on the ground between Chance and Erik (of course).
“What now?” I asked timidly.
“Now, we call on somebody.” Kayla’s legs were crossed Indian-style, and she was feverishly rubbing her hands together, her excitement palpable.
“Uh, what?” I looked from Kayla to Chance and back, totally confused.
“Duh,” my best friend said, almost rolling her eyes. “How else are we gonna talk to a spirit if we don’t ask it to come?”
Cue the nerves.
“You can’t be serious?” I had been stressing enough over just being here; finding out we were gonna try and conjure a ghost was almost too much. Yes, I know that’s the point of a séance, but I honestly didn’t think we were gonna actually do it.
“Did you leave some of your brain cells in that coffin? What do you think a séance is?” Ugh. Lila.
“I know what a séance is, doofus.” I didn’t know exactly what one was, but no way in Hades was I gonna tell her that. “I just don’t know if this is such a good idea.”
Chance leaned in and nuzzled my neck. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, “it’s not real.”
“It is real,” Kayla said. Did she have super-hearing or something? I mean, I barely heard him, and I was right next to him. Of course, that could’ve had something to do with his warm breath on my ear. “You have to believe it’s real, or it won’t work,” she added, looking more at me than anyone.
I didn’t wanna admit that I did believe—probably even more than she did—so I just nodded and smiled.
“Don’t let Lover Boy get you down, K,” Erik said, his eyes cutting to Chance before turning to his friend. “We believe, that’s enough.” He had thrown an arm around his sister’s shoulders and something oddly similar to jealousy crawled up my back. Um, what the…?
“Keep those ‘Lover Boy’ comments coming,” Chance said with a not-even-close-to-funny laugh, “and I’ll make sure we see a ghost tonight.” I felt the muscles in his arm still around my waist tighten and coil.
Erik laughed back. “Oh yeah?” he said, taking his arm from around Lila. He leaned over me (dear Lord) and his voice was much lower and more intense than I’d ever heard it before when he said, “Rain check.” Chance’s entire body tensed as he watched Erik straighten himself; I threw a hand to his thigh and squeezed.
“Relax,” I said, praying he wouldn’t start an actual fight. Kayla wanted all of us to hang out and have fun, and I wanted her to get what she wanted for once. Chance finally settled down, though he kept glancing at Erik with an intensity that could cut through steel.
“Everybody put a finger on the pointer,” Kayla said, one of hers already there. “We all have to be touching it for it to work.” Lila and Erik wasted no time, followed by a still-fuming Chance. Naturally, I was the last one to join in, mainly because something deep inside of me was telling me that if I touched that thing, all hell was gonna break loose.
“Um, today, brainless,” Lila said. Wind lifted and tossed her long black hair, making her appear much more ethereal and beautiful than normal. One more reason I didn’t like her that much; I mean, it should be a sin to look as good as she and Erik.
“Ha,” I snapped, pulling my eyes from her perfect face.
“It’s okay, Ava,” Kayla said. “Just relax and take your time.” Though her words—and her sweet face—said it was cool that I was chicken, the tap tap tap of her anxious finger against the plastic pointer thingy said I needed to get over myself and stop being a party pooper.
But I just couldn’t. For some reason, something was keeping me from touching that thing. An unknown force was preventing me from opening whatever door existed to the other side and letting God knows what out. Vampires were bad enough to deal with; I couldn’t handle ghosts, too.
At the same time, I didn’t want to ruin Kayla’s Halloween. Since waking up in that coffin, I felt as though I’d destroyed their lives, turned them upside down and left them all broken and exposed to imminent death. If by some strange chance this whole séance thing was real, I couldn’t live with myself if I brought even more danger to them.
“Screw that,” Lila snapped. Before I even realized what was happening, she was on me, yanking my hand from the safety of my lap and forcing my finger onto the cool plastic triangle in the center of the board. “See,” she said, her own finger next to mine, “Your Highness is still alive.”
The voice caused all of us to jump. Well, hopefully all of us; otherwise, cue embarrassment.
“What the hell?” Erik was on his feet in a flash, followed quickly by Lila and Kayla. Chance helped me up, and the five of us stood in a row shoulder-to-shoulder; it felt very “superhero movie,” which was kinda cool.
“Mmm,” the vampire said, turning his nose into the wind and closing his eyes. “Nice.” I didn’t have to guess what he smelled; I had been trying to ignore the scents of my friends’ blood all night.
“You picked the wrong group to screw around with, buddy,” Erik growled. He and Lila pulled stakes from the sheaths strapped to their backs—twins all the way—and took a couple steps toward our “guest.”
“Did I?” the vampire said with a smile. He was large, much wider and taller than any of the vampires I had already encountered, and I knew this one would be a challenge. But no way was I letting my friends (or Lila) take him down.
“Yeah,” I answered, my fangs slicing through my gums and falling into place. “You did.” I stepped in front of Erik and Lila, half expecting them to get all pissy and trip me or something. But neither of them did, flanking me instead, the three of us forming a kick-ass triangle ready to get our kill on.
The vampire laughed, the sound eerie and out of place. “I’ve heard about you,” he said, his golden eyes slicing through me. “The vampire killer, right? Well, I must say it truly is an honor to be the one to end your little tirade.”
I laughed back. “A bit over confident, don’t you think? Five against one isn’t really a fair fight.” Kayla and Chance joined us, and for the first time since waking up to this new life of mine, I felt like I wasn’t alone. It was nice.
One corner of the vampire’s mouth lifted into a sly, crooked grin. “Oh, I think you should be the one worried about fair.” As if on cue, several more black-clad figures emerged from the darkness surrounding the cemetery, leaping over the stone wall and dropping down from the trees. Within seconds, our five-to-one lead drastically changed.
“Aw,” Lila said, her voice both sweet and venomous, “you brought friends.” I looked to her just as she and Erik stepped around me, their stake-filled hands by their sides. “Now it’s a party.”
Without thinking, I leapt behind them and stormed ahead, the three of us instantly swamped by the horde of vampires hell-bent on killing us all.Happy Halloween to me.