ALL SOUNDS FADED AWAY AS they lowered me down the dark, dank hole. There was a jolt when the coffin hit bottom, then the rainlike sound of the first hand-fuls of soil being tossed upon the lid.

There was a long silence after that, until the grave diggers began shoveling the earth back into the grave.

The first few shovelfuls fell like bricks. The heavy dull thuds shook the coffin. As the grave filled and earth piled up between me and the topside world, the sounds of the living grew softer, until finally they were only faraway muffles.

At the end there were faint pounding noises, as they patted the mound of earth flat.

And then complete silence.

I lay in the quiet darkness, listening to the earth settle, imagining the sound of worms crawling toward me through the dirt. I'd thought it would be scary but it was actually quite peaceful. I felt safe down here, protected from the world.

I spent the time thinking about the last few weeks, the flyer for the freak show, the strange force that had made me close my eyes and reach blindly for the ticket, my first glimpse of the dark theater, the cool balcony where I had watched Steve talking with Mr. Crepsley.

There were so many important moments. If I'd missed the ticket, I wouldn't be here. If I hadn't gone to the show, I wouldn't be here. If I hadn't stuck around to see what Steve was up to, I wouldn't be here. If I hadn't stolen Madam Octa, I wouldn't be here. If I'd said no to Mr. Crepsley's offer, I wouldn't be here.

A world of "ifs," but it made no difference. What was done was done. If I could go back in time...

But I couldn't. The past was behind me. The best thing now would be to stop looking over my shoulder. It was time to forget the past and look to the present and future.

As the hours passed, movement returned. It came to my fingers first, which curled into fists, then slipped from my chest, where they had been crossed by the undertaker. I flexed them several times, slowly, working the itches out of my palms.

My eyes opened next but that wasn't much good. Open or closed, it was all the same down here: perfect darkness.

The feelings brought pain. My back ached from where I'd fallen out of the window. My lungs, and heart having been out of the habit of beating hurt. My legs were cramped, my neck was stiff. The only part of me that escaped the pain was my right big toe!

It was when I started breathing that I began to worry about the air in the coffin. Mr. Crepsley had said I could survive for up to a week in my coma-like state. I didn't need to eat or use the toilet or breathe. But now that my breath was back, I became aware of the small amount of air and how quickly I was using it up.

I didn't panic. Panic would make me gasp and use more air. I remained calm and breathed softly. Lay as still as I could: movement makes you breathe more.

I had no way of knowing the time. I tried counting inside my head but kept losing track of the numbers and having to go back and start over.

I sang silent songs to myself and told stories beneath my breath. I wished they'd buried me with a TV or a radio, but I guess there's not much call for such items among the dead.

Finally, after what seemed like several centuries stacked one on top of the other, the sounds of digging reached my ears.

He dug quicker than any human, so fast it seemed he wasn't digging at all, but rather sucking the soil out. He reached me in what must have been record time, less than fifteen minutes. As far as I was concerned, it wasn't a moment too soon.

He knocked three times on the coffin lid, then started unscrewing it. It took a couple of minutes, then he threw the lid wide open and I found myself staring up at the most beautiful night sky I had ever seen.

I took a deep breath and sat up, coughing. It was a fairly dark night but after spending so much time underground it seemed bright as day to me.

"Are you all right?" Mr. Crepsley asked.

"I feel dead tired." I grinned weakly.

He smiled at the joke. "Stand up so I can examine you," he said. I winced as I stood: I had pins and needles all over. He ran his fingers lightly up my back, then over my front. "You were lucky," he said. "No broken bones. Just a bit of bruising, which will die down after a couple of days."

He pulled himself up out of the grave, then reached down and gave me a hand up. I was still pretty stiff and sore.

"I feel like a pincushion that's been squashed," I complained.

"It will take a few days for the aftereffects to pass," he said. "But do not worry: you are in good shape. We are lucky they buried you today. If they had waited another day to put you under, you would be feeling much worse."

He hopped back into the grave and closed the coffin lid. When he emerged, he picked up his shovel and began tossing the earth back in.

"Do you want me to help?" I asked.

"No," he said. "You would slow me down. Go for a stroll and walk some of the stiffness out of your bones. I will call when I am ready to move on."

"Did you bring my bag?" I asked.

He nodded at a nearby headstone, from which the bag was hanging.

I got the bag and checked to see if he'd searched it. There was no sign of his having invaded my privacy, but I couldn't tell for sure. I'd just have to take him at his word. Anyway, it didn't matter much: there was nothing in my diary he didn't already know.

I went for a walk among the graves, testing my limbs, shaking my legs and arms, enjoying it. Any feeling, even pins and needles, was better than none at all.

My eyes were stronger than ever before. I was able to read names and dates on headstones from several yards away. It was the vampire blood in me. After all, didn't vampires spend their whole lives in the dark? I knew I was only a half-vampire, but all the suddenly, as I was thinking about my new powers, a hand reached out from behind one of the graves, wrapped itself around my mouth, then dragged me down to the ground and out of sight of Mr. Crepsley!

I shook my head and opened my mouth to scream, but then saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. My attacker, whoever he was, had a hammer and a large wooden stake, the tip of which was pointing directly at my heart!