MR. CREPSLEY WAS SMOOTHING OVER the mound of earth when I returned. I watched him work. The shovel was large and heavy but he handled it as if it were made out of paper. I wondered how strong he was and how strong I would one day be.
I considered telling him about Steve but was afraid he'd go after him. Steve had suffered enough. Besides, his threat was an idle one. He'd forget about me and Mr. Crepsley in a few weeks, when something new grabbed his attention.
Mr. Crepsley looked up and frowned. "Are you sure you are all right?" he asked. "You seem very uptight."
"So would you if you'd spent the day in a coffin," I replied.
He laughed out loud. "Master Shan, I have spent more time in coffins than many of the truly dead!" He gave the grave one last hard whack, then broke the shovel into little pieces and tossed them away. "Is the stiffness wearing off?" he asked.
"It's better than it was," I said, twisting my arms and waist. "I wouldn't like to fake my death too often, though."
"No," he mused. "Well, hopefully it will not be necessary again. It is a dangerous stunt. Many things can go wrong."
I stared at him. "You told me I'd be safe," I said.
"I lied. The potion sometimes drives its patients too far toward death and they never recover. And I could not be sure they would not perform an autopsy on you. And...Do you want to hear all this?" he asked.
"No," I said sickly. "I don't." I took an angry swing at him. He ducked out of the way easily, laughing as he did.
"You told me it was safe!" I shouted. "You lied!"
"I had to," he said. "There was no other way."
"What if I'd died?" I snapped.
He shrugged. "I would be down one assistant. No great loss. I am sure I could have found another."
"You...you...Oh!" I kicked the ground angrily. There were lots of things I could have called him but I didn't like using bad language in the presence of the dead. I'd tell him what I thought about his trickery later.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked.
"Give me a minute," I said. I jumped up on one of the taller headstones and gazed around at the town. I couldn't see much from here but this would be my last glimpse of the place where I had been born and lived, so I took my time and treated every dark alley as a posh cul-de-sac, every crumbling house as a sheik's palace, every two-story building as a skyscraper.
"You will grow used to leaving after a time," Mr. Crepsley said. He was standing on the stone behind me, perched on little more than thin air. His face was gloomy. "Vampires are always saying good-bye. We never stop anywhere very long. We are forever picking up our roots and moving on to new pastures. It is our way."
"Is the first time the hardest?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, nodding. "But it never gets easy."
"How long before I get used to it?" I wanted to know.
"Maybe a few decades," he said. "Maybe longer."
Decades. He said it as though he was talking of months.
"Can't we ever make friends?" I asked. "Can't we ever have homes or wives or families?"
"No," he sighed. "Never."
"Does it get lonely?" I asked.
"Terribly so," he admitted.
I nodded sadly. At least he was being truthful. As I've said before, I'd always rather the truth however unpleasant it might be than a lie. You know where you stand with the truth.
"Okay," I said, hopping down. "I'm ready." I picked up my bag and dusted some graveyard dirt from it.
"You may ride on my back if you wish," Mr. Crepsley offered.
"No, thank you," I replied politely. "Maybe later, but I'd rather walk the stiffness out of my legs first."
"Very well," he said.
I rubbed my belly and listened to it growl. "I haven't eaten since Sunday," I told him. "I'm hungry."
"Me too," he said. Then he took my hand in his and grinned bloodthirstily. "Let us go eat."
I took a deep breath and tried not to think about what would be on the menu. I nodded nervously and squeezed his hand. We turned and faced away from the graves. Then, side by side, the vampire and his assistant, we began walking... into the night.
TO BE CONTINUED in book 2.