“So then I guess it’s good you’ve never written a song about me,” I said. Though we were just talking and trying to forget the horrors and dangers that lurked just outside of the moment, it kinda hurt that he had never written a song about me. Okay, that was dumb. It didn’t hurt—I was just disappointed. I think that’s one of the things most girls dream about when they dream about being with a rock star. They want to have a gorgeous song written about them, a hit single, and every time the rocker plays it live, they say “This one goes out to the one I love!”
His eyes sparked feverishly as he stared at me. My skin tingled in response. “You will get your song one day. I have plans,” his voice was low and rich. God, I hoped I’d always be a part of his plans.
I reached for the guitar and took it from him. “No matter,” I said breezily. “You forget that I can play guitar, too. Hmmm. How about a song called Sage?”
I started strumming the easiest chords I could play, trying to find a melody. “Sage Knightly,” I sang, my voice weak but clear, “he’s the man, the man with the magic touch…”
He took the guitar out of my hands. “While that’s all true about my magic touch, you’re also ripping off Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger.”
“Are you two ninnies still flirting with each other?” Jacob asked, suddenly appearing in the doorway. He was wearing his ugly pajamas again and fuzzy slippers that looked like AstroTurf, holding a toothbrush and a leather toiletries bag in his hand. “Shouldn’t you be past that stage already?”
“Are we annoying you?” Sage asked as Jacob walked in the compartment and put his bag away in the closet.
“You, annoy me? Never.” He climbed up on to the top bunk across from us, easing himself as he went. Jacob had to be in his late forties, early fifties, though it must have been annoying for him to deal with aches and pains now that he’d gone “rogue” and wasn’t immortal anymore.
He settled in the bunk, clasping his hands over his chest like he was a vampire catching some shut-eye in a coffin. “However, it is getting late and we all need our sleep and if I awaken feeling cranky tomorrow, you’ll both be the ones to suffer for it. Have you ever heard my rendition of Kumbaya on that guitar? I might just have to show you.”
“Where’s Max?” I asked.
Jacob sighed, keeping his eyes closed. “Bar car. With Tricky. Seems he’s taking your spot for tonight, Sage.”
Sage made a grumbling noise while I got up and started gathering my stuff for the night. I scooped up my T-shirt and boxer shorts for sleeping, plus my soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a towel.
“Want me to come with you?” Sage asked, resting his guitar on the bed and getting up, careful not to whack his head on the upper bunk.
“Nah,” I told him. “Washroom is pretty much right across the aisle anyway. A girl has to have some privacy.” And as much as I was weary of being without my protectors, I still didn’t feel the train would be that much of a problem. Or maybe I was just trying extra hard to pretend the real dangers didn’t exist. Because when I did have a chance to think about them—the demons, the bargain, everything—I felt completely paralyzed with fear.
“All right,” he said, watching me carefully as I opened the door and stepped out. I squeezed against the wall just as a man built like a hippo came waddling past and followed him down the aisle toward the washroom. The train swayed gently as it rolled along, and I wished it were daylight so I could see the scenery out the window instead of the unending blackness. So far, Italy was just a limitless void.
I stopped outside the washroom door and tried it, but it was locked. I was only two doors down from our train car, so I waited a bit for the person to get out, but after a few minutes, I decided I couldn’t wait. I was growing more tired by the moment, and it was nearly eleven o’clock. The train had dimmed the lights in the aisles, and I knew that the lights would be going off soon in the passenger cars.
Unfortunately, if I wanted to get ready for the night, I’d have to make my way through one of the passenger cars to get to the other washrooms. At least it would be full of people.
I walked down the aisle, opened the door, and passed through the accordion-like area between the cars, the ribbed bottom of the train moving beneath my feet. I’d never been on a train before coming to Europe—unless you count the crappy Christmas train in Ellensburg—so it was a bit unnerving to be in the locomotive version of no-man’s land. Luckily I could see through the window at the passenger car and the lights were still on, though dim and giving off a greenish glow.
I opened the door and stepped in. The car was about half-full, with most people slumped over in their seats, sleep masks over their eyes. I would have hated to try and sleep on a train like this, especially since people were walking past you all the time. It made me feel exposed just looking at them.
I tried to avert my eyes from the dozing people and made my way down the aisle, taking careful steps in case the train suddenly jerked around a corner like it had been doing for most of the night. With luck, the bathroom was empty, and I quickly slipped on my sleep gear, glad that most people out there were already asleep so they wouldn’t have to see me in the boxers I had bought in the boys section at JC Penney that had Fat Albert and “Hey hey hey!” all over them.
When I was finished doing my business and felt ready for bed, I stepped back out into the passenger car.
Into complete darkness.
I squinted, thinking I’d see at least a few individual lights on or emergency lights along the aisle, but it was black. I couldn’t even see through the window into the next car. It was black, black, black.
I swallowed hard, suddenly cursing myself for straying so far from Sage and Jacob. The lights were probably out for the night, but there was something odd about this, unsettling. So…final. It made my chest clamp up, my heart best faster.
I took a careful step forward, and the train jostled to the left. I blindly thrust my hand out for the nearest chair and luckily I hit one, leaning against it before I toppled over.
“Sorry,” I whispered in case I shook anyone awake. I straightened up, though still holding on to the top of the chair, and reached across the aisle for the top of the opposite chair. I walked forward slowly, keeping my balance from chair to chair. Nothing like trying to walk through a moving car of sleeping people in the complete dark.
Suddenly we turned a corner, a large one that threw me into the seat to my right. My knee jammed against the armrest with a burst of pain and I let out an “oof!”. Thankfully the seat was empty, otherwise I would have been in some stranger’s lap.
I struggled to get up, the train still going around a long bend, and saw the lights up ahead flicker on. They were coming from the accordion-like vestibule, and though I couldn’t see straight into it because of the angle of the train’s bend and the window, it meant now I had a point of reference to walk toward.
My knee stung, so I rubbed at it for a minute, ready to walk forward again once the train straightened out. I stood up in the middle of the aisle, my grip hard on the top of the seat, and felt the train’s curve dissipating. I took two awkward steps forward.
And then stopped.
I almost crushed a seat rest in pure fright.
Now, through the glass window to the other car, I could see the sallow light flickering, and below it was a man facing me, standing absolutely, deathly still.
A man in black with a tall hood around his face, almost obscuring it in shadow.
Almost. When the light stopped flickering here and there, I could see glints of stark white where his jaw was. And then teeth. White teeth. No lips.
Suddenly the man snapped his head up, looking straight at me, and I only saw two large gaping holes for eyes—holes that seemed to steal my soul and lead it straight into the pits of Hell—before the train went black again.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I found myself whimpering out loud, my heart exploding, my legs threatening to collapse, my nails digging into the seat.
Then the lights came back on.
The man was not in the partition anymore.
He was on the other side of the door.
He was in the passenger car with me.
And then we were plunged into darkness once more. Ice-cold darkness.
“Go away!” I screamed, holding on to the seat for dear life, hoping someone would do something. “Someone, please help me!”
The lights came back on, flickering almost like a strobe now.
The man had gotten closer.
Now just a few feet away.
The man in black. A white skull for a face. The rotten stench of death.
And now the train car was completely empty.
Not a sleeping soul in sight.
The lights went out again.
I screamed and screamed, my chest seizing up at the fact that I was alone, that no one was here, that I was going to die at the hands of this demon. I turned and tried to run but bashed myself into a seat. I fumbled to my feet and staggered back the way I came, trying to run to the train car beyond the washroom.
I could hear the man walking behind me, his footsteps, his long robe as it brushed against the ground, as I tried to find the door handle in the blackness. My hands were clumsy in my panic, numb in my terror.
“Dawn before the darkness,” came the voice behind me, the one that held utter depravity in its raspy, guttural origins. “The darkness is now.”
“No!” I screamed and tried the door again. I finally found the handle and gave it a jerk.
It was stuck.
Oh God, no, no, no, no.
I wasn’t going to die here, not on this train, not with the love of my life waiting for me in our room.
I tried it again.
The creature was right behind me.
I could feel it there, feel the evil, feel its presence.
It could reach out and touch the back of my neck.
Tear out my spine.
Do anything it wanted.
The door was stuck, and there was no escape.
The lights flickered back on in the opposite car, shining through the window.
On the other side of the door stood Max, staring at me in surprise.
Then his eyes went past my shoulder, to where I knew it was.
Max’s brows lowered, a malevolence swarming through his green eyes, a focus I’d never seen before.
And I felt the weight behind me leave. The air shifted.
The lights in my car came back on.
And the door handle turned.
Max quickly stepped in, and I grabbed at his shirt with desperate fists. I would have fallen over otherwise.
“Dawn,” he growled, his arm coming around me and holding me up. “What are you doing out here?”
I looked up at him, unable to form words, then glanced behind me. The car was full of sleeping people again. One person was reading a book. No one took any notice of me.
But I was screaming, wasn’t I? The man was here, wasn’t he?
“You saw it,” I managed to say.
“I did,” he said, lowering his voice. “It’s gone now. Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy. Though you may wish you were. This is between you and the demons now. You’re going to see a lot of things that other people won’t see.”
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