Mr. Crepsley checked us out of the hotel as soon as we got back, in case the staff noticed Evra's disappearance, or the vampaneze forced him to reveal our location.

"What if he escapes?" I asked. "How will he know where to find us?"

"I do not believe he will escape," Mr. Crepsley said regretfully.

We checked into a new hotel not far from the old one. If the man behind the desk was surprised to find a solemn-looking man with a scar and a distraught young boy in a pirate costume checking in at such a strange hour, he kept his suspicions to himself.

I begged Mr. Crepsley to tell me more about the vampaneze. He said they never drank from vampires - our blood was poisonous to other vampires and vampaneze. They lived slightly longer than vampires, though the difference was minimal. They ate very little food, preferring to keep going on blood. They only drank from animals as a last resort.

I listened closely. It was easier not to think about Evra if I had something else to focus on. But when dawn came and Mr. Crepsley headed for bed, I was left alone to think about what had happened.

I watched the sunrise. I was tired, but I couldn't sleep. How could I face the nightmares that must be waiting for me? I fixed a huge breakfast, but my appetite was gone after one small mouthful and I ended up tossing it. I turned on the TV and flicked between channels, barely noticing what was on.

Every so often I'd think it must have been a dream. Evra couldn't be dead. I must have fallen asleep on the roof while watching Mr. Crepsley and dreamt it all. Any minute now, Evra would shake me awake. I'd tell him about my dream and we'd both laugh. "You won't get rid of me that easily," he'd say.

But it wasn't a dream. I had come face to face with the vampaneze. He had abducted Evra. He had either killed him or was preparing to. These were facts and had to be faced.

The trouble was, I didn't dare face them. I was afraid I might go crazy if I did. So, rather than accept the truth and deal with it, I buried it deep, where it couldn't bother me - then went to see Debbie. Maybe she could cheer me up.

Debbie was playing in the square when I arrived. It had snowed heavily during the night and she was building a snowman with some of the local kids. She was surprised but happy to see me so early. She introduced me to her friends, who looked at me inquisitively.

"Want to come for a walk?" I asked.

"Can it wait till I finish the snowman?" she replied.

"No," I said. "I'm restless. I need to walk. I can come back later if you want."

"That's all right. I'll come." She looked at me weirdly. "Are you okay? Your face is as white as a sheet, and your eyes... have you been crying?"

"I was peeling onions earlier," I lied.

Debbie turned to her friends. "See you later," she said, and took my arm. "Anywhere special you want to go?"

"Not really," I said. "You lead. I'll tag along."

We didn't say much while we were walking, until Debbie tugged my arm and said, "I've got some good news. I asked Mom and Dad if you could come over on Christmas Eve to help put up the decorations and they said you could."

"Great," I said, forcing a smile.

"They've invited you for dinner, too," she said. "They were going to ask you over for Christmas Day, but I know you've made plans to spend it in the hotel. Besides, I don't think your dad would want to come, would he?"

"No," I said softly.

"But Christmas Eve's okay, isn't it?" she asked. "Evra can come, too. We'll be eating early, at about two or three in the afternoon, so there'll be plenty of time for decorating the trees. You can -?

"Evra won't be able to come," I said shortly.

"Why not?"

I found myself struggling to think up a good lie. Finally, I said, "He's got the flu. He's in bed and can't move."

"He seemed fine yesterday." Debbie frowned. "I saw the two of you going out last night. He looked -?

"How did you see us?" I asked.

"Through the window," she said. "It's not the first time I've noticed you going out after dark. I never said anything about it before, because I thought you would have told me what you were up to if you'd wanted me to know."

"It's not nice to spy on people," I snapped.

"I wasn't spying!" Debbie looked hurt by my accusation and tone. "I just happened to see you. And if that's going to be your attitude, you can forget Christmas Eve." She turned to leave.

"Wait," I said, catching her arm (careful not to grab too hard). "I'm sorry. I'm in a really bad mood. I don't feel so good. Maybe I've picked up something from Evra."

"You do look under the weather," she agreed, her face softening.

"As for where we go at night, it's just to meet our dad," I said. "We join him after work and go out for something to eat, or to see a movie. I would have invited you along, but you know how things stand with my dad."

"You should introduce us," Debbie said. "I bet I'd be able to get him to like me, if I only had the chance."

We started walking again.

"So, how about Christmas Eve?" she asked.

I shook my head. Sitting down to dinner with Debbie and her parents was the last thing I wanted to think about. "I'll have to get back to you on that one." I said. "I'm not sure if we'll be here. We might be moving on."

"But Christmas Eve is tomorrow!" Debbie exclaimed. "Your dad must have told you his plans by now."

"He's strange," I said. "He likes to leave things till the very last minute. I could arrive back after this walk and find him packed and ready to go."

"He can't leave if Evra's sick," she said.

"He can and will, if he wants," I told her.

Debbie frowned and stopped walking. There was a street vent a foot or so away, and warm air was blowing out of it. She moved closer and stood on the bars. "You won't leave without telling me, will you?" she asked.

"Of course not," I said.

"I'd hate it if you disappeared into thin air without a word," she said, and I could see tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

"I promise," I said. "When I know I'm leaving, you'll know, too. Word of honor." I crossed my heart.

"Come here," she said, and pulled close and gave me a big hug.

"What was that for?" I asked.

"Does there have to be a reason?" she smiled, then pointed ahead. "Let's turn at the next corner. That'll lead us back to the square."

I took Debbie's arm, meaning to walk her back, then remembered I'd changed hotels. If I returned to the square, she'd expect me to go in the hotel. She might get suspicious if she spotted me sneaking away.

"I'll keep walking," I said. "I'll call tonight or in the morning to let you know whether I can come over or not."

"If your dad wants to leave, try twisting his arm to get him to stay," she suggested. "I'd really love to have you over."

"I'll try," I vowed, and watched through sad eyes as she walked to the corner and turned out of sight.

It was then that I heard a soft chuckling noise beneath my feet. Glancing down through the bars of the vent I saw nobody and thought I must have been hearing things. But then a voice came up out of the shadows.

"I like your girlfriend, Darren Shan," it said with a giggle, and I knew instantly who was down there. "A very tasty dish. Good enough to eat, wouldn't you say? Much tastier-looking than your other friend. Much tastier than Evra."

It was Murlough- the mad vampaneze!


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