MR. CREPSLEY LED THE WAY up the stairs and out of the building. He walked confidently through the darkness. I thought I could see a bit better than I could when coming in, but that might just have been because my eyes were used to the dark, not because of the vampire blood in my veins.
Once outside, he told me to hop up on his back. "Keep your arms wrapped around my neck," he said. "Do not let go or make any sudden movements."
As I was getting up, I looked down and saw he was wearing slippers. I thought it was strange but didn't say anything.
When I was on his back, he started running. I didn't notice anything strange at first, but soon began to realize how fast buildings were zipping by. Mr. Crepsley's legs didn't seem to be moving that quickly.
Instead, it was as if the world was moving faster and we were slipping past it!
We reached the hospital in a couple of minutes. Normally it would have taken twenty minutes, and that was if you sprinted all the way.
"How did you do that?" I asked, sliding down.
"Speed is relative," he said, tugging his red cloak tight around his shoulders, pulling back into the shadows so we could not be seen, and that was all the answer he gave.
"Which room is your friend in?" he asked.
I told him Steve's room number. He looked up, counting windows, then nodded and told me to hop back up on his back. When I was in position, he walked over to the wall, took off his slippers, and laid his fingers and toes against the wall. Then he shoved his nails forward into the brick!
"Hmmm," he muttered. "It is crumbly but it will hold us. Do not panic if we slip. I know how to land on my feet. It takes a very long fall to kill a vampire."
He climbed up the wall, digging his nails in, moving a hand forward, then a foot, then the other hand and foot, one after the other. He moved quickly and within moments we were at Steve's window, crouching on the ledge, gazing in.
I wasn't sure of the time, but it was very late. No-body was in the room except for Steve. Mr. Crepsley tried the window. It was locked. He laid the fingers of one hand beside the glass covering the latch, then clicked the fingers of his other hand.
The latch sprang open! He shoved the window up and stepped inside. I got down from his back. While he checked the door, I examined Steve. His breathing was more ragged than it had been and there were new tubes all over his body, hooked up to menacing-looking machines.
"The poison has worked rapidly," Mr. Crepsley said, gazing down at him over my shoulder. "We might be too late to save him." I felt my insides turn to ice at his words.
Mr. Crepsley bent over and rolled up one of Steve's eyelids. For a few long seconds he stared at the eyeball and held Steve's right wrist. Finally he grunted.
"We are in time," he said, and I felt my heart lifting. "But it is a good thing you did not wait any longer. A few more hours and he would have been a goner."
"Just get on with it and cure him," I snapped, not wanting to know how close to death my best friend had come.
Mr. Crepsley reached into one of his many pockets and produced a small glass vial. He turned on the bedside lamp and held the bottle up to the light to examine the serum. "I must be careful," he told me. "This antidote is almost as lethal as the poison. A couple of drops too many and..." He didn't need to finish.
He tilted Steve's head to one side and told me to hold it that way. He leaned one of his nails against the flesh of Steve's neck and made a small cut. Blood oozed out. He stuck his finger over it, then removed the cork of the bottle with his other hand.
He lifted the vial to his mouth and prepared to drink. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"It must be passed on by mouth," he said. "A doctor could inject it but I do not know about needles and the like."
"Is that safe?" I asked. "Won't you pass on germs?"
Mr. Crepsley grinned. "If you want to call a doctor, feel free," he said. "Otherwise, have some faith in a man who was doing this long before your grandfather was born."
He poured the serum into his mouth, then rolled it from side to side. He leaned forward and covered the cut with his lips. His cheeks bulged out, then in, as he blew the serum into Steve.
He sat back when he was finished and wiped around his mouth. He spat the last of the fluid onto the floor. "I am always afraid of swallowing that stuff by accident," he said. "One of these nights, I am going to take a course and learn how to do this the easy way."
I was about to reply, but then Steve moved. His neck flexed, then his head, then his shoulders. His arms twitched and his legs started to jerk. His face creased up and he began to moan.
"What's happening?" I asked, afraid that something had gone wrong.
"It is all right," Mr. Crepsley said, putting away the bottle. "He was on the brink of death. The journey back is never a pleasant one. He will be in pain for some time, but he will live."
"Will there be any side effects?" I asked. "He won't be paralyzed from the waist down or anything?"
"No," Mr. Crepsley said. "He will be fine. He will feel a bit stiff and will catch colds very easily, but otherwise he will be the same as he was before."
Steve's eyes shot open suddenly and focused on me and Mr. Crepsley. A puzzled look swept across his face and he tried speaking. But his mouth wouldn't work, and then his eyes went blank and closed again.
"Steve?" I called, shaking him. "Steve?"
"That is going to happen a lot," Mr. Crepsley said. "He will be slipping in and out of consciousness all night. By morning he should be awake and by afternoon he will be sitting up and asking for dinner.
"Come," he said. "Let us go."
"I want to stick around a while longer, to make sure he recovers," I replied.
"You mean you want to make sure I have not tricked you." Mr. Crepsley laughed. "We will come back tomorrow and you will see that he is fine. We really must go now. If we stay any..."
All of a sudden, the door opened and a nurse walked in!
"What's going on here?" she shouted, stunned to see us. "Who the hell are..."
Mr. Crepsley reacted quickly, grabbing Steve's bedcovers and throwing them over the nurse. She fell down as she tried to remove the sheets, getting her hands stuck in their folds.
"Come," Mr. Crepsley hissed, rushing to the window. "We have to leave immediately."
I stared at the hand he was holding out, then at Steve, then at the nurse, then at the open door.
Mr. Crepsley lowered his hand. "I see," he said in a bleak voice. "You are going to go back on our deal." I hesitated, opened my mouth to say something, then acting without thinking turned and made a dash for the door!
I thought he would stop me, but he did nothing, only howled after me as I ran: "Very well. Run, Darren Shan! It will do you no good. You are a creature of the night now. You are one of us! You will be back. You will come crawling on your knees, begging for help. Run, fool, run!"
And he began to laugh.
His laughter followed me through the corridor, down the stairs, and out the front door. I kept glancing over my shoulder as I ran, expecting him to swoop down on me, but there was no sign of him on the way home, not a glimpse or a smell or a sound.
All that remained of him was his laughter, which echoed through my brain like a witch's cackling curse.