MEGAN DECIDED THAT she would let at least half an hour go by before heading back up the hill. She wanted to make sure that Cole was heavily involved in his activities first.
She needed to get back to the church where Father Costello could assist her. Cole just might try to stop her.... As far as Daniel Whitehall went...
She also figured she should go on over to the cemetery afterward, though that could wait. It wasn't often that the dead came back to life in the morning, but the way the priest had spoken, she was certain that he believed that certain "undead" had been abiding in the cemetery for some time. It would be interesting to see what was going on there, though they had not come across anything during the burial detail of the night before.
As far as Daniel Whitehall went, she didn't believe that she could wait. Yes, the young man had been holding his own for a long time. But he was so gaunt and pale, and so tormented. The way he spoke, she knew that he would have rather died in the agony of the flames that had taken so many lives at the Wilderness than face the demons tormenting him now. Perhaps he could wait. But she couldn't, now that she had seen him.
She hurried first to find the bag with the reserves of blood that Cody and Alex had packed up for her; now was the time to make sure that she was at her best, strong. She sat at the table in the parlor area and sipped the contents of one of the canteens. Noting that there were old newspapers lying shoved into a stand by the door, she drew one out. It featured a caricature of Abe Lincoln holding a ship and firing on New York. The headline read, Draft Riots Tear Apart New York City.
The paper was from July, 1863. On one page, it extolled the virtues of the Union army at Gettysburg, but the headline had been written by a Northerner who was against the war. The article went on to read that New York City had given the most men to the Union at the beginning of the war, but with recruitment and fighting numbers down, the increasingly frequent practice of conscription made some question whether laws that permitted such were unconstitutional and should be argued in court.
New York seemed so far away.
The author of the article tried, however, to write without bias. He noted that the riots had not just been caused by the conscription laws, but that overcrowding, decades of corrupt city politics, a lack of sewage and the astounding death toll of civilians living in tenement houses were all part of the problem.
She leaned back, finishing the contents of the canteen. She wondered what the horror would be if the disease were not stopped, and if it began to infect a city as huge, crowded and congested as New York. What would newspapermen write about then?
That thought brought her to swift movement. Daniel Whitehall, at least, could be saved, and she was determined that he be saved immediately. The priest had been keeping him alive, but if he were to pass away in the night, there was no way of knowing what would happen. He'd not killed a human being-she believed him on that-but he had felt the vampiric hunger that ripped into one with such viciousness that they became mad and assaulted the first available human being.
Cole didn't really understand that. He knew that there was salvation, and knew that it was rare, because it was. And she knew that under the circumstances in which they had found themselves, being a good vampire was incredibly difficult. Cole acted like it was a matter of choice, or even chance, possibly. Megan knew it was a matter of struggle. A pressure under which not just everyone could hold out indefinitely. Daniel could start out okay, but the hunger might overtake him, especially in the early weeks following infection.
She glanced at the clock above the mantel. Cole had been with the troops at least thirty minutes. She went into his room and found the medical bag and slipped outside.
The street was uncannily quiet.
She hurried back toward Church Street and headed uphill. When she reached the church, she took a minute to adjust to the dimmer light.
"Father Costello?" she called softly.
He didn't answer her, but she knew the path through the church and schoolroom and outside to the rectory out back. Approaching the small building, she heard a low murmur of voices. She hurried toward the sound.
In a ground-floor bedroom, Daniel was in bed, the priest murmuring prayers at his side.
Hearing Megan's arrival, Father Costello looked up. He crossed himself and rose and spoke softly. "He weakened when you left, so I brought him in here. I didn't want to leave him alone, and he said that he'd never risk your life for his." He paused a moment, seeing the medical bag. "You're not supposed to be here, Miss Fox. It could be dangerous."
She shook her head. "Please, Father, though I respect the opinions of others, I do know myself best. But I'm afraid you're going to have to help me."
Father Costello hesitated, and she knew that he hated going against Cole's warnings, but that as a man and a priest, he had to make a decision.
"I know myself better than anyone, Father. I will be fine."
He made his decision quickly, and once he did, he was all business, demanding that she describe the entire procedure first, and then take him step by step again as they went through it. Megan arranged the supplies and explained the tourniquets and that the process used gravity to keep the blood flow moving in the proper direction. They moved Daniel down to the floor for expediency's sake-he was already unconscious and his face was deadly pale. Megan situated herself against a wall, using pillows as a prop for her arm.
Father Costello was concerned about the needles, but he had apparently dealt with enough war injured not to be squeamish at the sight of blood. He was an intelligent and adept man, and once they began, there was little instruction Megan needed to give him. He was concerned that he set the tubes properly-concerned not to stab her or Daniel needlessly-but, once he concentrated, the entire thing went smoothly.
Megan leaned back, feeling the flow of blood. She wondered if it was something that she really felt, or just something that she knew, and it was a feeling by way of imagination only. It didn't matter, she assured herself, as long as the blood flowed from her into Daniel.
As she watched Daniel's face, to her vast relief, she began to see color slowly return to it.
"It's been some time now," Father Costello stated.
"A little longer," she murmured.
He looked at her and then shook his head. "No. Now, tell me, what do I do to stop it?"
He was firm, so she gave him the directions he requested, and he pressed the small towel he had given her against the puncture wound in her arm, then tended to Daniel.
She closed her eyes and waited for several long minutes, aware that she was weaker than she had expected. Looking at Daniel, though, she saw that his eyes were open and he was looking at her.
His lips formed two words. "Thank you."
But she wasn't able to reply.
Father Costello stood, frowning. "Did you hear that?" he asked quietly.
She hadn't been listening, but at his soft warning she focused her attention to any outside sounds.
Something was prowling around the rectory.
The father looked down at Megan. "We've got to get into the church itself. The church is consecrated, it's truly God's house, and we'll be safe from those creatures there."
She nodded, and nearly passed out trying to get to her feet. She had to find strength. They had to get Daniel up and into the church. Whatever was out there, she couldn't fight it now.
Father Costello steadied her. "Daniel, drag Daniel in!" she told him in response.
It was broad daylight; the night had been quiet. She shouldn't have to be afraid now. Only a vampire of some experience could easily be about and on the prowl in the strong sunlight of the morning. This was no new being.
Father Costello did as she directed him, setting an arm around Daniel. Daniel tried to help, but he didn't have much strength. They made it through the rectory to the schoolroom. Something was prying at one of the windows.
"Take Daniel in, please, go!" Megan begged. "Bring back holy water, Father, in your hands...any way that you can!"
There wasn't time for the priest to reply. He rushed through as best he could, dragging Daniel along.
The first of the creatures burst through the window.
It was a man dressed in the suit of a businessman or banker, though the suit was ragged. He was covered in dirt, mud from the cemetery, she presumed. He may have been an accountant once; he was a being thirstily bent on survival now.
She rifled through her pockets, but she hadn't come armed. She watched him come at her until, finally, she drew back her lips and displayed her fangs, hissing in warning.
That gave him pause, but another muddy creature-a woman with ferocious features-crawled through the window behind him. She had been middle-aged in life, and her graying hair was in tangled skeins around her pinched face. Her calico dress seemed at once too festive and sufficiently morbid for her actions. Behind her came a soldier in the remnants of a Confederate uniform-Louisiana militia-though with pants replaced at some time with those probably stolen off a clothesline.
There were so many of them. She tried to hiss out another warning that would give them all pause, but they knew they outnumbered her and that she was the one in danger.
She had managed to buy herself a little time, though. Father Costello came rushing back in, his hands cradled with a scoop of water. He raised his voice in prayer, and again the creatures gave momentary pause. But then they came forward.
Father Costello aimed the water in his hands the best he could, catching the first man in the face, which elicited howls of agony. The others fell back, but then, as Father Costello stared at them-empty-handed-they started forward again.
Megan found the strength to reach for a child's wooden chair and slam it against the wall at her back, breaking off one of the legs to use as a bat and praying she might manage to make it work as a stake.
The woman came at her. Megan picked up her weapon and prayed. She was aware of a whoosh of the air...and the creature didn't reach her. It fell, just inches before her. She stared in disbelief, then looked up to see Cole at the window. He was armed with a bow and notched another arrow from his quiver.
Another swift movement, another and another. Not thirty seconds had passed, and Cole had killed the entire horde, so quick with the weapon was he, and so accurate with his aim in the close quarters.
Finally he crawled through the window...staring at her with his features hardened in anger.
Father Costello sank to the floor, his prayers of thanksgiving mere whispers.
Megan stared back at him. "Thank God," she said simply herself.
The words didn't appease Cole.
He walked from corpse to corpse, rolling each over, impaling it with a stake from the supply inside his coat. "We'll need to finish up here quickly," he said curtly.
"Of course," she said, and moving forward, wavered. He came to her and grabbed her roughly, with little tenderness in his touch.
"You just won't listen to me, will you?" he demanded. She didn't remember the blue in his eyes as being so much like cold steel as when he looked at her then.
"Daniel was dying," she said. "Ask the father."
"You couldn't have known that, and you ignored me anyway."
"But he would have died or been taken. Cole, it's a good thing that I didn't listen to you this time!" she pleaded.
Whatever her logic, he wasn't interested.
"Father, get her into the church for now, please," Cole said. "Dickens will be here in a minute and can help me manage in here." He ruffled through the pocketed lining of his coat again, producing another of the canteens. "Make her drink this," he said to the man, ignoring her completely. "Please, get her into the church now. Who knows? There might be a grand old tea party rising from the graveyard."
Father Costello didn't argue. He set a supporting arm around Megan and led her into the consecrated area of the church. He sat her down on a bench and handed her the canteen.
Megan held the canteen and looked at the altar. She was tempted to weep. Something felt so wrong.
"Drink it, please!" the father urged her.
"Ah, well, the Great Almighty supplies what we need, and there is nothing wrong in your efforts to save your fellow man. Drink, child, and with His blessing, I am sure!" the Father told her.
She did so. She felt strength seep back into her body and limbs. The world still seemed to be so-vague. Spinning before her.
Father Costello eased her down to lie on the pew.
She was vaguely aware of Daniel Whitehall's face before her.
Against it all, she was gratified to hear his words.
"Thank you. You have saved my soul," he whispered.
She allowed blackness to engulf her.
COLE TRIED HIS HARDEST to tamp down the fury he felt. He knew that it had to do with fear. It had been terrifying to see Megan and the father facing down the ravenous vampires that had boldly broken in by daylight.
He was shaking.
"Heads off, sir?" Dickens asked quietly.
Cole managed to nod. "Drag them out to the cemetery first, Dickens."
The church and the cemetery were close enough that it wasn't a major project. Even though they had been staked, Cole wasn't comfortable with leaving the dead unattended. He and Dickens took turns dragging the bodies back to the cemetery where their graves-looking as if the sod had burst open-were easy enough to find. Dickens was a fast learner; as soon as they were both at the graveyard together, he got busy sawing away at the necks of the creatures and decapitating them. Within thirty minutes, they had completed the task of assuring that the dead stayed dead and weren't going to return to the realm of the living.
Hot, dusty and worn, Cole returned to the church where Father Costello informed him that both Daniel and Megan were resting peacefully in the church itself.
"I've wondered," the holy man said. "I've seen the graves disturbed, and I thought at first that it was some sick joke by Confederate soldiers or Union soldiers or even the few adolescents who remain in the area. Once Daniel came to me, I stayed in at night. But I have seen things that..." He shuddered, stiffened and asked briskly, "What do we do now?"
"None of this was happening at Harpers Ferry until the war began, is that right?" Cole asked him.
"No. In fact, not until rather recently." He looked at Cole and shook his head. "And don't think that Daniel caused any of this-because he did not," he said firmly.
"Daniel was actually with you several days-weeks?-before it began, is that right?" Cole asked him.
"I'm telling you. It wasn't Daniel."
"Father, I'm not trying to blame Daniel. I need a time frame because it's important that we save time. We're going to dig up every grave from the last several weeks-the period of infection that we can determine, at least-and I want to be thorough, but I don't want to waste time," Cole explained.
Father Costello nodded. "I believe that Harpers Ferry was free of this scourge until recently, but I can't give an exact date."
"We'll go to May seventh, to be safe. That was the last day of the Battle of the Wilderness," Cole said. He charged Costello to find all the burial records from that date forward, and left with Dickens to return to the makeshift archery range. He would have to let Megan rest where she was. He was too angry to deal with her anyway.
Upon returning to the field, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the troops were enthused with the new challenge of the bows and arrows, and that many of the soldiers, though not adept at first, were able to grasp the trajectory of the arrows and learn to string a bow and shoot with damned decent aim.
When they finished up, the light was waning, and he knew that he had to get back to the graveyard quickly. He brought Dickens and his four-man crew from Washington.
At the church he was annoyed to discover that Megan had returned to the house, but he couldn't afford the time to engage in a renewed battle with her. Daniel Whitehall was standing on his own. He looked like an altogether different man. He had bathed and groomed his beard and mustache, and even trimmed his hair. He intended to help them that night, even if it all he had the strength for was carrying the picks and the shovels.
In the cemetery, Father Costello, armed with an incense burner and receptacles of holy water, led them to every recent grave. The dead were disinterred. Some were in coffins. Some had been lowered into the ground with only shrouds around them.
It didn't matter how they had been buried, nor their dress, sex or age. Coffins were burst open with the pick. And though it pained every man there, even the heads of children were separated from their bodies. Each body taken from the grave, beheaded and returned, received a prayer from Father Costello for their souls. The sun sank as they neared the end of their task, and it wasn't until they came to the last of the graves that its occupant burst out of the earth, lunging for the closest man.
That was Dickens. But he had learned well and stepped back, letting Cole slide by him with mallet and stake. The vampiric dead had been a Rebel soldier, returned here perhaps from a faraway battlefield. He went down with an expulsion of dust and earth, and, like the others, the men decapitated him and he was laid back to rest.
"There's just one more," Father Costello said, reading from his book of records. "Twenty feet or so to your left. You should see that the grass hasn't grown over it. Betsy Jennings. She died a few weeks ago of tuberculosis. Poor thing-she was only eight years old. How young to have acquired such a devastating illness!"
Cole followed the priest's directions but when he came to the plot indicated, he discovered that the earth was greatly disturbed.
The grave's occupant was long gone.
He took his shovel and dug furiously around the area, to no avail. There was no corpse in the grave.
And all he could think was that Megan was alone at the house.
MEGAN FELT FINE. She had indulged in another of the canteens, which worried her some, but then, they wouldn't keep forever anyway. She had allowed herself the luxury of a long and relaxing hot bath with the help of Mary-Anne Weatherly-easy enough! They had a lovely supply of fresh water, thanks to the rivers, and she had even sipped at a sherry. But none of it made her feel any better about the way that Cole had looked at her that afternoon.
She had been right: Daniel might have died if she hadn't come. And beyond that, the infected dead had risen to attack the church. If she hadn't been there-if Cole hadn't guessed that she might be there and arrived-truly horrible things might have happened. The good father would have died trying to protect Daniel.
She had been right to do what she had done.
And she continued to have a hollow feeling at her core.
She was still sipping the sherry, waiting for darkness and the men to return, when she heard sobbing outside the window.
Looking down, she saw a child sitting on the sidewalk. A little girl with long dark hair, a doll clutched in her arms. The sobbing was heart-breaking, and she wanted to run right out to the child.
Something however, stopped her, when she leaped up to do just that. There was something incredibly sad and poignant about the scene, and very disturbing. She hadn't seen any children in the streets of Harpers Ferry before. She had hardly seen any civilians for a town this size.
But then the sobbing seemed to strike something in her heart, and she moved about preparing to get the girl with an unnatural haste. There was danger inherent here, no matter what, and so she quickly filled her pockets with vials of holy water before heading down to the sidewalk.
Trudy Malcolm, notepad in hand, had apparently heard the sobbing as well and was already heading toward the child. "You poor little thing!" Megan heard Trudy crooning in a gentle voice. She reached for the girl.
Suddenly, the situation seemed wrong to Megan. This was the first child she had seen. And even a child, a sobbing child, might have been a victim...
Might have been turned!
"Trudy, wait!" Megan cried, and ran toward her, but Trudy had already picked the little girl up and held her in her arms, staring at Megan as if she had lost her mind.
"Megan, she's just a little thing, so skinny and lost!"
The girl was dirty. With her keen vision, Megan could see that even though the light on the street was poor. Megan did slow as she came forward, wanting a good look at the child, not wishing to startle Trudy further. The little girl had her head leaned against Trudy's. She stared at Megan with giant blue eyes. No signs of fangs, no movements to take a bite out of Trudy's neck.
"Honey, what's your name?" Megan asked. The child continued to stare at her.
"I'm going to take her up to the general's quarters," Trudy said with a joyfully matronly sense of purpose. "Maybe one of the men will have an idea of who she is. I believe some of the officers do have their wives and family staying here."
"No," Megan said. "Let's take her up to my apartments, and see if we can get her to talk to us." She reached for the child.
"Miss Fox-I have her! Oh, I know I look like the wind could blow me away, but I'm stronger than I look."
"Trudy, I don't doubt your strength, but you know that people can be very sick. She might be infected.... Trudy, you've seen what can happen."
"But she's just a little slip of a thing!" Trudy said.
Trudy set her jaw at a stubborn angle. Megan slipped an arm around Trudy, leading the way as they headed back to the house and then up the stairs to the parlor area she shared with Cole.
"All right, set her on the sofa, please, Trudy?" Megan begged.
Trudy did so, kneeling down before the child and smiling. "Honey, we really need to know your name."
The little girl wiped at her face. She shuddered, staring at Trudy.
"She's filthy," Trudy said. "Oh, the poor little thing! She must have been wandering around lost forever. Megan, do you have a washcloth? Maybe we could clean up her face?"
"I'll stay here with her. You can find a washcloth in my room," Megan said.
The little girl sniffled. "Betsy," she said. "I want my mommy."
"Oh, poor child. We just have to find out who your mommy is, Betsy, and then we can get you to her," Trudy said. She glanced up at Megan. "Oh, Megan, I can't just leave her. Please, you can see that she's all right. The-the-things turn into rabid beasts and attack. She's just a lost little girl."
Megan headed toward the bedroom backward, wanting to keep her eyes on Trudy and the child. She understood that poor Trudy seemed to be living a lonely life. She had work to keep her living well enough, but that work was at the beck and call of Lisette Annalise, who treated her with absolute disdain.
"Trudy, move away from her for a minute," Megan said firmly.
Trudy looked at her and frowned, but sighed and stood and took a step away. The child burst into tears and Trudy moved back to her, cradling her into her arms. "It's all right, little one. It's all right. Um, Aunt Trudy is here!"
Megan decided to make a quick run for the washcloth and water. She turned her back for one second.
And in that time, she knew.
She turned back around, to see that the child was behind her. The blue eyes had been filled with a glitter of evil laughter and cunning, and she stared at Megan, ready to fly at her. Trudy was lying at a skewed angle.
Megan vaguely heard the downstairs door burst open and Cole shouting her name while the child lifted from the floor as a black-winged shadow to come flying at her. She was prepared. She had the holy water out of her pocket in seconds, and flung it while the creature was still two feet away.
The scream that resulted was wild and shrill as the thing died in a thrashing pile of agony before her. She stared at it, detesting her own failure to read the truth-to insist on her instinct no matter what Trudy implored.
Cole saw the writhing mass and rushed to her, taking her into his arms. She allowed herself a split second of trembling gratitude that he still cared enough to hold her, but then she pushed away in fear.
"Trudy!" she said, pushing past him to where Trudy was being held up by Dickens.
"She's passing out!" Dickens cried, the sound of his voice helpless.
"Get her to the sofa," Megan ordered. "Quickly, I have to see her throat!"
She fell to her knees next to the woman as Dickens laid her out. Cole hovered behind her and his Union troop came bursting through the door to their parlor.
She searched Trudy's neck for any sign of violence, but none had been done to her. "Cole, there must be smelling salts in the medical bag." She looked back at him. He arched his brows at her, and she flushed. "I brought it back from the church. It's where you keep it-at the foot of your bed."
He returned quickly and she found what she needed, wafting the little pellet beneath Trudy's nose. The woman began to cough and sputter, waving a hand in the air. Her eyelids fluttered and then she opened her eyes fully and stared at the group blankly.
"What happened?" she asked weakly.
"Sweet little Betsy was a monster," Megan said. "You tell me what happened. You were holding her, and then she was attacking me."
Trudy shook her head, giant tears forming in her eyes. "I don't know! She just burst out of my arms and I-I don't remember anything else!"
"She didn't touch you, didn't scratch you, didn't hurt you in any way?" Cole demanded, his tone harsh.
Trudy cringed, bringing her hand to her throat. "No...no. She just burst out of my arms with such strength that I fell back, stunned. I was on the sofa...getting up, and then I felt as if the world was rushing all around me and I was...oh, goodness. I fainted. Please! Don't tell Miss Annalise! She'll think me a worse fool than she already does. Please! Please!"
Trudy clutched Megan's arm, her eyes filled with such misery that Megan couldn't help but be touched, despite her anger. In truth, she was angrier with herself than she was with Trudy. She should have tossed some holy water on the girl immediately. Had she been but a mortal, it wouldn't have hurt her; otherwise it would have clearly notified them that she was a monster.
"We'll see to the remains," Sergeant Newcomb said, his tone that of the practical soldier. He paused, though, to put a gentle hand on Trudy's head. "None of us will tell Miss Annalise a thing, you can be sure."
The men headed into the bedroom to collect whatever remained of the child. Cole walked over to the liquor stand and poured out a portion of straight whiskey. He paused, drank the first one down himself, and then poured a second for Trudy.
As she eased herself up to a sitting position, Cole handed her the whiskey. "Here," he said, "drink this."
"Oh, sir! Good heavens, I don't drink whiskey!" she protested.
"You do now," Cole said.
Trudy looked at Cole with pure adoration. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you all so much." She clutched Megan's arm again, her expression one of horror then. "My dear God, I am so sorry, Megan, you tried to tell me. But she was a child. A child! How could I possibly believe that such a pathetic little thing could be such a monster?"
"It's all right, Trudy. She didn't get to you," Megan said. "I'm fine. It's all right."
She was afraid that Trudy was going to start crying in gratitude, so she rose quickly.
"Oh, Lord," she heard Cole murmur, and she quickly knew why.
"What in God's name is going on?" Lisette demanded angrily. "Where are you all?"
Dickens seemed to hear the voice of authority in her cry, and he quickly answered by rote-the soldier accustomed to command. "Come on up, Miss Annalise. We're all here, ma'am."
Cole glared at Dickens, who went white. But it was too late. Lisette Annalise was already stomping up the stairs.
She looked around and seemed to quickly assess the situation. "One of them got in here," she said flatly, and she stared at her assistant.
"It wasn't her fault. It was mine," Megan said. "And we've handled the situation."
"Were you near the diseased?" she demanded, staring at her assistant.
"Um, um-" Trudy stuttered.
"You were!" Lisette said.
The woman might have been working with the archers on the field all day, but now she was dressed elegantly in a silk gown, and her hair was perfectly coiffed in an up-sweep. She looked as ladylike and poised as a plantation wife greeting her husband's guests, but there remained that unmistakable air of steel about her.
"Did you see everything that happened?" Lisette demanded.
Cole said, "Lisette, it's over."
"So, no, you didn't. And I believe there was a time when Trudy must have been alone with-whatever creature made its way into this house! Megan, accompany me, if you will. I'm afraid we'll have to have a complete inspection of my assistant, and don't you dare start blubbering, Trudy, that's the way it needs to be and every one of you knows that I'm right!"
"Oh!" Trudy cried out, and she swayed on the sofa, crashing down into a dead faint once again.