It hadn't taken me long to pack most of my crap up. Truthfully, I didn't have that much; I wasn't a fashion victim like Eve - hell, even Michael had more clothes than I did - or a collector of stuff. A few well-aged tees, some jeans that had seen the worst of acids and bloodstains and buckshot, and not in that fancy-ass designer way. More the 'I survived that' way.

I decided to ditch the stereo - it was a third-hand ancient thing anyway, and cheap - and that was the biggest thing I owned, besides weapons.

It was the weapons that were going to be tricky. A shotgun weighs a decent amount. Throw in multiple other deadly sharp things, some stakes, a couple of crossbows, and you've got a problem ... particularly if you're planning on having no fixed address for a while. In other words, I had to pick what I could easily carry in the battered camping backpack my dad had once used for the same purpose. Turned out that minus the clothes, my phone, some basic stuff for not smelling gross, the pack weighed about fifty pounds when I finally got it on to test it.

Doable. Soldiers pack that much plus body armour, and I wasn't exactly humping it through the mountains of Afghanistan.

As I shucked the backpack and leant it against the wall, I sensed someone watching me ... and I was right. Michael. 'Can't talk you out of this,' he said. It was a statement, not a question.


'You're sure this is the right thing to do.'

'Yep. You and the missus need some alone time. Last thing you need is me hanging around here like the new house ghost, haunting Claire's room. Besides, man, I don't do emo.'

'I never said you had to go.'

'Never had to,' I said, and checked my phone again. No calls. Every time I checked and I didn't see Claire's name, I felt the dark, jagged ball of anxiety inside get a little bigger, choke me a little more. 'You giving me a ride to the border or what?'


I gave him a long look, and he shut up. 'We've been through a lot, Michael, but I'm not going to collapse into your manly arms and cry about it, okay? I already said I don't blame you. I don't. It's not your fault she left us ... it's mine. I should have trusted her more. I should have believed in you more. I got some things to make up for, not just to her but to you. And it's probably better I do that away, so you and Eve can get to feel actually married without me lurking around in the background.' That still hurt, the idea I was holding them back; I knew that was part of why Claire had decided to go, too. But he and Eve did need alone time. It was just truth, hard as it was.

'I'll give you a ride,' Michael said. He walked over to my backpack and picked it up like I'd loaded it up with feathers. 'You got weapons in here?'

'A few.'

'You know that it'll get your ass arrested out there, right?'

'Only if I've got really bad luck, or I decide to hold up a liquor store with 'em.'

'You are a cocky bastard, did I ever tell you that, bro?'

I flashed him a grin. 'Did you really think you needed to?'

He backslapped me as he passed me. 'Come on, criminal. Eve will kill me if I don't let her say goodbye.'

'Oh man, that means she's gonna cry. Again.'

'Like a river,' he assured me. 'Good thing you wore a black shirt. That mascara never comes out.'

I stopped him at the top of the stairs, and for a moment we just looked at each other. Then he set the backpack down, and hugged me hard. No need for words or speeches or anything like that; he just offered me a fist to bump, I bumped, we were good.

And then we went downstairs to where Eve was pacing the floor, chewing on a neon-coloured thumbnail. Sometime in the past couple of years girls had started painting their nails weird, so the neon thumb didn't match the other four fingers, which were standard Goth black. She'd tied her colour-streaked hair back in a ponytail so tight that I wondered how it didn't give her a migraine, and she looked pale even though she'd gone light on the rice powder today. In fact, she didn't look particularly Gothed out any more - dramatic eye shadow and liner, but not a lot else.

Although she was wearing her combat gear - tight black shirt, cargo pants, heavy boots. Everything but bandoliers.

'So you're going after all,' she said. She didn't sound particularly surprised about it, and I recognised the dangerously flat tone of her voice. 'I'm not sure if you're crazy or just in love.'

'Not much difference right now, Eve. I take a couple of weeks, head up to Boston, stay close in case she needs me ... and if she doesn't, if all's well and she doesn't want to see me, I come home.' I was trying really hard to avoid feeling like a stalker, because something inside me was hard-core bent on seeing her, even at a distance. I wanted her to have her freedom - she wanted it, and needed it. But I also just couldn't shake the idea that letting trouble-magnet Claire go off across the country without backup was ... a very bad idea. 'I just need to make sure she's okay.'

'Me too,' Eve said. She bit her lip, and somehow held back the tears I knew were lurking just under the surface. 'At least you didn't sneak off in the middle of the night without a word.'

'She was trying to make it easier,' I said. 'It isn't that she doesn't love us. You know that.'

'I know. Didn't make it any better to wake up and find her gone, did it?' She nailed me with a dark look, and I had to agree. The feeling came back to me: shock, abandonment, my stomach dropping toward the centre of the earth. Before I could deal with that, Eve hugged me, and I hugged her back. She felt as familiar and warm to me as the sister I'd lost so long ago now, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that for any number of reasons, I might not make it back to Morganville once I'd left. Accidents happened. They could happen anywhere. 'You watch your back, Shane. I mean it.' Her voice was muffled against my shoulder, and it sounded unsteady. 'You come back to us or I swear, I'll find you, dig up your stinky corpse and kick its ass until it freaking disintegrates.'

I patted her on the back and kissed her cheek. She smelt like flowers, but not the sweet and innocent kind ... more like the night-blooming ones. 'You watch Michael's back and don't worry about mine, tough girl. And damn sure watch your own.'

She sniffled a little, but the tears didn't quite break free, and she compensated by giving me a hard shot to the shoulder as she stepped back. 'Don't I always? What are you going to do when you get there? If you get there, I mean, because knowing you, you'll end up in a bar fight before you're out of Texas.'

'Not fair. I never go into bars.' I wouldn't be allowed in one at my age, anyway. 'My fights are always in the parking lots. Get it right.'


'That's the best you've got, Gothika? Because I expect quality insults from you, and that's not really measuring up.'

'Look, Steroid Brain-'

'Okay, that's better, but work on it.'

'You are such a tool! I love you, you know, right?'

'Right,' I said softly. 'Scary girl.'

She blew me a kiss and turned away so I wouldn't see her cry. I glanced at Mikey, who was waiting near the door with my bag.

One last look around at the Glass House, my house ... at the couch where I'd played countless hours of video games, at the kitchen where we'd yelled at each other over whose turn it was to do dishes and trash duty, at the carpet we always said we'd steam clean one of these days. At the scars on the walls from battles that had almost cost us our lives.

One last look at home.

'I'll be back,' I promised them, and myself, and then Michael and I walked out the doorway and into the cold, vast world beyond.

On the way down the steps I checked my phone, again. Nothing from Claire. It was late now. Maybe she hadn't seen my video. Maybe she'd seen it, and hadn't cared. Maybe she was angrier than I'd ever thought.

Maybe she was out having fun and had already forgotten all about me. That was the scariest thought of all. Sure, I might be charming by Morganville standards, but she wasn't locked into the shallow end of the pool now, and there were plenty more to choose from. Genuinely smart college boys.

Thinking about that made me stupid. I knew better than to check my phone and forget my surroundings - we lived in Morganville, after all, and one thing you didn't do was get distracted in public, at night.

And as Michael headed for the car with my backpack, and I fumbled with the phone and tried to see if I'd missed a call, it cost me, because a dark shape rushed at me from the darkness, and I was unprepared.

Not a vampire, as it turned out. I could have handled a vampire. This was a dog. A big, scary dog, something like a Rottweiler, maybe, and it wasn't barking; it was intent on biting. I heard the growl coming at me, and next thing I knew jaws had clamped down on my arm, and my phone went flying. I dimly heard the crunch of metal and glass, but that was not the biggest problem I had at the moment. I'd put on my heavy coat, which was helping, but this dog had a seriously painful grip on me, and a lot of weight behind it; he shook his massive head, and I saw a shine of red in his eyes. Not natural.

I surprised him by not trying to pull away, but instead throwing myself into him and over, flipping him clumsily on his side. He let go of me with a surprised yelp, and I rolled up to my feet and spared one glance for my phone.


No time to mourn; I was in serious shit, because this dog wasn't just a dog; the hellhound glare of its eyes was proof enough of that. I'd never seen anything like it before, not even in Morganville; dogs were pretty predictable, but this one was coming after me like I was a steak and he'd been starved for months. All my weapons were in the pack, which was with Michael, and besides I really didn't like the idea of killing a dog, even one that was trying to kill me.

It launched itself at me in a running leap, growling, showing way-too-sharp teeth, and I fell backward to the grass and put one foot up like a soccer player going for a goal. Good timing. My foot caught the dog underneath and changed the trajectory from down to my throat, to up and headed for a hard landing against Michael's car.

Michael caught it as it bounced off. More accurately, he got it in a headlock and held it there as it snarled and fought and ineffectively clawed the air for purchase. I heaved in thick, fast breaths and got to my feet in a post-fight burst of adrenaline. The sleeve of my coat was shredded, and I could feel bruises deep into my arm, but at least I hadn't lost any flesh out of it.


'What the hell?' I said, and Michael shook his head.

'No idea,' he said. 'It's almost as if it's been turned, but you can't do that. Animals can't become vampire. They don't have enough - will, I guess.'

'Tell that to the devil beast, then, because he damn sure looks like he's been turned.'

'Whatever he is, we can't leave him running around out here,' Michael said. 'You mind waiting a bit until this is taken care of?'

'Do I have a choice?'

'Not unless you want to share the seat with him, locked in the car.'

'Yeah, I haven't had my shots, better not. Throw me your phone,' I said. 'Mine's trashed. I'll call it in.'

'Let me see your arm.'

'I'm fine, man.'

'Let me see.'

I took off the coat and rolled up the long sleeve of the thermal I was wearing beneath. Red bruises that were going to black-and-blue in a few hours ... and some distinct dark, welling spots of blood. Funny. I hadn't felt the punctures at all.

I wiped the blood off.

No wounds.

'Shane?' Michael sounded worried. Hell, he was right to be. I shook my head, and he pitched his phone to me. I fielded it neatly, dialled 911, and reported devil dog in a vampire headlock. They didn't sound surprised. That's my hometown for you. He repeated the question after I hung up, with a more urgent edge to it.

'I'm fine!' Well, maybe I wasn't, but I knew how this would go ... if nobody knew what was going on, I'd get my ass hauled up in front of the Founder, or worse, Myrnin, who'd siphon blood off of me and hem and haw and make crazy statements and finally say he didn't know what was going on. So I'd prefer to skip the drama and work out my problems on my own. Right now, the idea of letting anybody poke and prod me sounded horrifying. 'They're on the way.'

They were, too, at high speed. The cop car that wailed toward us screeched around the corner, and the two police inside bailed as the doors flew open. One was a vampire, which was nice, since apparently it was taking vampire strength to subdue angry Fido.

The other was the former mayor, now returned to police chief (which was where she belonged, I thought). Chief Hannah Moses looked at each of us in turn, considered the state of my arm and jacket, and then focused in on Michael and the dog. 'Hal, if you'd please wrangle the dog ...?'

Hal, the other cop, nodded and moved in. He and Michael did a complicated little manoeuvre transferring control of the snarling, writhing, snapping Fluffy, whose devil-red eyes continued to haunt me. Hal dumped the dog in the trunk of the police car, where it immediately began attacking the metal with a fury that chilled, and then he returned to us. 'That's the third one,' he told Hannah, who nodded.

'Third one?' I asked. 'Mind if I ask ...'

'You can ask, I'm just not sure I have an answer,' Hannah said. She looked strong, tall, competent, perfectly put together ... she held herself like a woman who wasn't afraid of anything, and that was almost true. She was afraid of failure, and she'd failed at being mayor, because that was a job nobody could win. But give her a weapon, a uniform, and a problem, and I couldn't think of anybody I'd rather get behind. 'I can't tell you what they are, Shane, because I don't know. All I know is that we got a report of a wild dog last night that was attacking people, and it looked just like this one. Had to shoot that one, it was going after a kid. Two more tonight. I'm hoping like hell this is the last one.'

'Experiment gone wrong out of Myrnin's lab?' Michael wasn't afraid to go there. Well, he was only half a step ahead of me, actually.

'I checked,' Hannah said. I'd have paid to hear that conversation. 'He says no. He says he wouldn't. He likes dogs.'

'Probably true,' I said. 'And Claire would never put up with him experimenting on helpless animals. He cares what she thinks, even if he doesn't care about anybody else.'

The sound of the dog in the trunk was like a demon in a tin can, and it was unnerving me. The whole police cruiser was rocking on its tyres. Hannah didn't so much as glance at it. Michael cleared his throat and said, 'What are you going to do with it?'

'Find out what's going on, or try to,' Hannah said. 'So far, nobody's been killed, but I don't like it. Nothing good ever comes of weird things happening in this town.' Before I could comment on how true that was, not that she needed my opinion, she focused in on me. 'How's your arm?'

I showed her. I'd wiped the blood away, and all that showed was bruising. 'Nothing broken. Coat's toast, though.'

'It makes you look tough,' she said, and smiled. 'Going somewhere?'

'Yeah. You know. Out.'

'Of town.'

I was silent. I'd gotten approval from the Founder to bug out of Morganville for a while, but that didn't mean Amelie couldn't change her mind. She did. Often. And I wasn't her favourite person, anyway.

'Well,' Hannah said after a few seconds of whistling wind, 'I suppose you should be on your way, then. Tell Claire we miss her.'

'She's only been gone a day.'

'And yet,' Hannah said. She was still giving me a professional kind of smile, but now it had a softening of warmth to it. 'You'd better do right by that girl, Shane.'

'Thanks, Mom.' I meant it sarcastically, but you know, if Hannah had been my mom, I'd have probably turned out a lot more badass. Not to mention less prone to stupid mistakes. 'Michael's giving me a ride out of town.'

'Better get going, then.' She nodded to me, to Michael, and she and Hal got back into the snarling, rocking police cruiser, shut off the flashers, and headed off to wherever you unloaded insane devil dogs.

My arm was starting to ache. Nothing bad, though. Just hot and abused. I'd had lots worse. Lots worse. Michael stuck my bag in the back seat and we went back in the house; he had a nice leather jacket that he let me have for the trip, with the warning that if I got it torn up he'd patch it up with strips of my bleeding flesh, which hey. Brotherly love.

I'd left Morganville a couple of times before - once with my dad and mom, when we'd fled after our house burnt and my sister died. Then again with Michael, Eve and Claire (and the much-loathed vampire Oliver as our chaperone). Still, approaching the town boundary made my heart speed up and my palms clammy; it was a built-in resident reaction. Despite the chill in the air, I rolled down the window to see where we were, and I shivered when Michael's car sped past the ghostly, creaking billboard where we'd said goodbye to Claire in the predawn light. I let out a slow, shaky breath and rolled the heavily tinted window back up. It was like travelling in space, riding around in vampire cars.

'Feels weird, right?' Michael said. In the dashboard's green light, his pale skin looked alien. So did his eyes - wide and dark, pupils gone huge to take in available light. 'No matter how much we tell ourselves it's okay to leave town, our bodies still don't believe it. We're used to liking the cage.'

I admit it, I was a little surprised. 'You feel it, too?'

'Sure.' His smile was bitter around the edges. 'Dude, I grew up here, never left here until I was made a vampire. Still got all the instincts. We're born with them, and trained into them, right?'

I nodded silently. I felt itchy and weird, and the ache in my arm had sunk in deeper. Even with the heavy leather jacket, I felt cold. I also became aware of a weird odour coming from the jacket - the scent of a vampire. I'd never really smelt it before. Michael had, since turning vamp, smelt only like whatever body spray Eve had given him; vamps didn't sweat. Strange, that I could smell something else now.

Something buzzed in the pocket. I pulled out the phone and stared at it for a second, then blinked. 'Oh. Your phone. Sorry.'

'Keep it. Yours is fried, I'll get a new one. That way at least we can keep track of you and know you're safe.'

I wasn't sure how I felt about that, suddenly - about the vampires being able to track my phone. But then again, I supposed if they wanted, they could dispatch Michael or any other vamp to find me. Wouldn't be that hard. They knew where I was going, anyway.

'Thanks,' I said. 'Eve texted you a picture of herself in a nightie.'

'What?' He grabbed for the phone, but I held it out of reach.

'Kidding. She just asked when you'd be home. You know, to rip all her clothes off.'

'Maybe this giving you my phone thing is a bad idea.'

'Depends, what kind of pictures does Eve send you?'

'Good thing I'm not the jealous type-' He stopped himself, but too late, and there was an awkward, thick silence for a few long seconds.

Because I was the jealous type, and we both knew it. I tried not to be, but the green-eyed monster part of me had roared out on a couple of occasions, and Hulk-smashed my trust with Claire the last time.

Hence, me travelling alone.

'I'll ignore any pictures, I swear,' I said. 'I'm texting Eve now.' I pushed buttons and lost myself in the tech world for a few more heartbeats, and when I came out of it, the strangeness between me and my best friend was mostly gone. Mostly. 'Done. If she sexts me now, it's her own lookout.'

He punched me on the arm, lightly. It was the uninjured one, thankfully, but I still felt echoes through to the other side. Ow. Yeah, definitely going to leave a mark. 'You're lucky I love you, man.'

'You're lucky I don't stake your undead Dracula wannabe ass.'

He just shook his head. 'Seriously. You going to be okay out there on your own?'

'Claire's out there,' I said. 'Alone. So yeah. I have to be, right?'

'She really can take care of herself, you know. She's proved it about a hundred times already.'

'I know,' I said. This time, my voice came out softer than I intended. 'That's kind of what scares me. Because what if she doesn't need me any more, man?'

That got me a sideways flash of a look before he turned his attention back to the road. 'She needs you for more than just protection. It's how it works. You want the strong girl, you understand that she's with you because she wants to be. Not because she has to be. You know that, right?'

'I guess. I mean, yeah, but ... hard to break the habit.' I turned toward the window, but all I saw was my blurry reflection in the darkened glass. Michael was looking at me again, I could feel it. 'How long 'til we get to the bus station?'

'Another half hour,' he said. 'Sleep if you want.'

'Yeah,' I said. 'Yeah, I think I will.'

I didn't.

But I pretended.

It didn't occur to me until later, when I was on the bus and headed on a long, exhausting trip across country, that I'd forgotten to text Claire and tell her about my broken phone, and by then ...

By then it was too late.