Chapter FOURTEEN

 

On the night of the twenty-second of December, Mr. Crepsley made his move.

Evra spotted him. I was taking a short break, resting my eyes - even a half-vampire's eyes get sore after hours of concentration - when Evra made a sudden alarmed jump and grabbed my ankle.

"He's moving!"

I sprang forward, just in time to see the vampire leaping onto the roof of the slaughterhouse. He wrestled open a window and quickly slipped inside.

"This is it!" I moaned, leaping to my feet and taking off.

"Wait a sec," Evra said. "I'm coming with you."

"No!" I snapped. "We discussed this. You promised -?

"I won't come all the way in," Evra said. "But I'm not going to sit over here worrying myself crazy. I'll wait for you inside the slaughterhouse."

There was no time to argue. Nodding quickly, I ran. Evra hurried after me as fast as he could.

I paused at the open window and listened carefully for sounds of the vampire. There were none. Evra pulled up beside me, gasping from the exertion of the run. I climbed in and Evra followed.

We found ourselves in a long room filled with pipes. The floor was covered in dust, in which Mr. Crepsley's footprints were clearly visible. We traced the prints to a door, which opened onto a tiled corridor. The dust that Mr. Crepsley's feet had picked up crossing the room now marked his path across the tiles.

We followed the dusty trail along the corridor and down a flight of stairs. We were in a quiet part of the slaughterhouse - the workers were grouped near the other end - but we moved cautiously anyway: it wouldn't be good to be caught at this delicate stage of the game.

As the dust grew fainter by the step, I worried about losing the vampire. I didn't want to have to search blindly around the slaughterhouse for him, so I quickened my pace. Evra did, too.

As we turned a corner, I saw a familiar red cape and promptly stopped. I stepped back out of sight, dragging Evra with me.

I mouthed the words "Say nothing," then cautiously peered around the corner to see what Mr. Crepsley was up to.

The vampire was tucked behind cardboard boxes that were stacked against one of the walls. I saw nobody else, but I could hear footsteps approaching.

The fat man appeared through a door. He was whistling and looking through some papers attached to a clipboard that he was carrying. He stopped at a large automated door and pressed a button in the wall. With a sharp, grinding noise, it opened.

The fat man hung the clipboard on a hook on the wall, then entered. I heard him press a button on the other side. The door stopped, creaked, and came down at the same slow pace with which it had gone up.

Mr. Crepsley darted forward as the door was closing and slid underneath.

"Go back up to the room with the pipes and hide," I told Evra. He began to complain. "Just do it!" I snapped. "He'd spot you here on his way back if you stayed. Go up and wait. I'll track you down if I'm able to stop him. If not..." I found his hands and squeezed hard. "It's been nice knowing you, Evra Von."

"Be careful, Darren," Evra said, and I could see the fear in his eyes. Not fear for himself. Fear for me. "Good luck."

"I don't need luck," I said bravely and pulled out my knife. "I've got this." Giving his hands another squeeze, I fled down the corridor and threw myself under the closing door, which shut right behind me, locking me in with the fat man and the vampire.

The room was full of animal carcasses, which hung on steel hooks from the ceiling. It was refrigerated, to keep the animals fresh.

The stench of blood was sickening. I knew the bodies were only those of animals, but I kept imagining they were humans.

The overhead lights were incredibly bright, so I had to move very carefully: a stray shadow could mean the end of me. The floor was slippery - water? blood? - so I had to watch where I put my feet.

There was a strange rosy glow around the carcasses, a result of the bright light and blood. You wouldn't want to be a vegetarian in a place like this!

After a few seconds of seeing nothing but dead animals, I spotted Mr. Crepsley and the fat man. I fell in behind the two and kept pace with them.

The fat man stopped and checked one of the carcasses. He must have been feeling cold, because he blew into his hands to warm them up, even though he was wearing gloves. He gave the dead animal a slap when he finished examining it - the hook creaked creepily as the carcass swung back and forth - and began to whistle the same tune he'd been whistling outside.

He started walking again.

I was closing the gap between myself and Mr. Crepsley - I didn't want to get left too far behind - when all of a sudden the fat man bent down to examine something on the ground. I stopped and began to move backward, afraid he'd spot my feet, then noticed Mr. Crepsley creeping up on the crouching human.

I swore underneath my breath and raced forward. If Mr. Crepsley had been paying attention, he would have heard me, but he was concentrating on the man ahead.

I stopped a few feet behind the vampire and drew out my rusty knife. That would have been the perfect time to attack - the vampire was standing still, focused on the human, unaware of my presence, an ideal target - but I couldn't. Mr. Crepsley had to make the first move. I refused to believe the worst about him until he actually attacked. As Evra had said, if I killed him, there could be no bringing him back to life. This was no time to make a mistake.

The seconds seemed like hours as the fat man crouched, studying whatever it was that had grabbed his attention. Finally he shrugged and stood up straight. I heard Mr. Crepsley hiss and saw his body tense. I raised my knife.

The fat man must have heard something, because he looked up - the wrong way; he should have been looking backward - an instant before Mr. Crepsley leaped.

I'd been anticipating the move, but even so, I was unprepared. If I'd lunged at the same time as the vampire, I would have been able to lash out with the knife and hit where I was aiming: his throat. As it was, I hesitated a split second, which meant I was off target.

I yelled as I bounded after him, screaming loudly, partly to shock him out of his attack, partly because I was so horrified by what I was doing.

The scream caused Mr. Crepsley to whip around. His eyes widened incredulously. Since he wasn't looking ahead any longer, he crashed awkwardly into the fat man and the two went sprawling to the ground.

I fell on Mr. Crepsley and struck with the knife. The blade cut into the top of the vampire's left arm and bit deeply into his flesh. He roared with pain and tried shoving me off. I pushed him down - he was in a difficult position, his extra weight and strength no use to him - and drew back my arm, meaning to bring the knife down with all my force in a long, lethal strike.

I never made the killer cut. Because, as my arm flew back, it connected with somebody. Somebody floating downward. Somebody who'd jumped from above. Somebody who screeched as my arm struck him, and rolled away from me as fast as he could.

Forgetting the vampire for a moment, I looked over my shoulder at the rolling figure. I could tell it was a man, but that was all I could tell until he stopped moving and got to his feet.

When he stood and looked at me, I found myself wishing he'd kept on rolling right out of the room.

He was a fearsome sight. A tall man. Broad and bloated. Dressed in white from head to ankle, an immaculate white suit, spoiled only by smudges of dirt and blood he'd picked up while rolling.

In total contrast to his white suit were his skin, hair, eyes, lips, and nails. The skin was a blotchy purple color. The rest were a dark, vibrant red, as though they'd been soaked in blood.

I didn't know who or what this creature was, but I could tell immediately that he was an agent of evil. It was written all over him, the way he stood, the way he sneered, the way madness danced in his unnatural red eyes, the way his ruby-red lips pulled back over his sharp, snarling teeth.

I heard Mr. Crepsley curse and scramble to his feet. Before he got up, the white-suited man bellowed and ran toward me at a speed no human could have managed. He lowered his head and butted me, almost rupturing the walls of my stomach, driving the wind out of me.

I flew backward into Mr. Crepsley, unwillingly driving him back to the floor.

The creature in white shrieked, hesitated a moment as though contemplating an attack, then grabbed hold of a carcass and dragged himself up. He leaped up high and grabbed hold of a windowsill - for the first time, I realized windows ran around the entire top of the room - smashed the glass, and slithered out.

Mr. Crepsley cursed again and shoved me out of the way. He mounted a carcass and jumped up to the windowsill after the purple-skinned man, wincing from the pain in his injured left arm. He hung there a moment, listening intently. Then his head dropped and his shoulders sagged.

The fat human - who'd been blubbering like a baby - got to his knees and began crawling away. Mr. Crepsley noticed him, and, after one last desperate look through the window, dropped to the ground and hurried over to the man, who was trying to rise.

I watched helplessly as Mr. Crepsley pulled the human up and glared into his face: if he was intent on killing the man, there was nothing I could do to stop him. My ribs felt as though they'd been battered by a ram. Breathing was painful. Moving was out of the question.

But Mr. Crepsley didn't have murder on his mind. All he did was breathe gas into the fat man's face, who stiffened, then slumped to the floor, unconscious.

Then Mr. Crepsley whirled and came toward me, rage in his eyes, the likes of which I'd never seen before. I began to worry about my own life. He picked me up and shook me like a doll. "You idiot!" he roared. "You interfering, mindless fool! Do you realize what you have done? Do you?"

"I was... trying to... stop..." I wheezed. "I thought..."

Mr. Crepsley pressed his face against mine and growled: "He has escaped! Because of your damned meddling, an insane killer has waltzed off scot-free! This was my chance to stop him and you... you..."

He couldn't say any more: rage had seized his tongue. Dumping me to the ground, he spun away and sank to his knees, cursing and groaning - at times he seemed to be almost crying - with undisguised disgust.

I looked from the vampire to the sleeping human to the broken window, and realized (it hardly took a genius to figure it out) that I'd made a horrible - perhaps fatal - mistake.

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