Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
See also: http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart
My name: Brian Martin
The next night, while Jack, Brenda, and Miranda scoured the streets and alleys around the spot of the vampires’ battle, a quarter of a mile away, in a small residential area, a young woman by the name of Sara Collingswood said good night to a friend and started walking home on the gas-lit street. Neighbors said later they thought they heard a single shout of surprise, but it had been so short and afterwards the night so quiet that no one thought twice about it. They closed their eyes again and went back to their rest while, outside, Sara drifted off to sleep.
Hours later, Garrett Filburt, who, at 28 years old, thought maybe he was getting a little old and a little fat for milkshakes, nevertheless finished off his nightly strawberry shake, waved goodbye to Mr. Cooper, and left the fountain. He had no idea that at that very moment Jack was squatting in front of some bushes holding his ankh far out in front of him while Brenda and Miranda stood ready behind him with wooden stakes in their hands. Jack had heard crackling sounds beneath the bushes. He couldn’t see anything, though: just two red pinpricks in the inky darkness. Garrett could have told Jack what those pinpricks were; he’d seen them a hundred times on construction sites he’d worked. And he’d have said, Get ready, Jack, but it turned out he wasn’t ready himself. He turned a corner and tripped over a large green rock on the sidewalk. Embarrassed, Garrett started to haul himself back to his feet when he noticed another large rock, this one brown, in front of him. He was surprised to see those same red pinpricks in the rock, and shocked to discover they were the size of pennies. He’d never seen eyes that big on any construction site. He was still wondering what kind of a rock had eyes when it jumped on his back. He went to sleep thinking how strange it was that a rock could move.
Meanwhile, Jack realized the pinpricks were eyes at exactly the moment the thing in the shrubs darted forward. Startled out of his wits, Jack toppled over backward. The sudden movement frightened the creature in the bushes and it bolted. Jack, Brenda, and Miranda shared a nervous chuckle when they saw the mouse skittering across the alley into the bushes on the other side.
“This is crazy,” Jack said, as Brenda and Miranda helped him to his feet. “We’re never going to find it this way.”
“I know,” Brenda replied. She looked at Miranda. “Miranda, I know you don’t want us splitting up, but it’s too easy for it to get past us if we don’t.”
Miranda frowned, then dipped a hand in the pocket of her overcoat. “You’re right,” she said. “On both counts: I don’t want us to split up, but I know it’s the only way we’re likely to find the vampire. So here.” Miranda took her hand out of her pocket and deposited a small tubular nickel-plated whistle into the palms of their hands. “Blow it loud and long if you come in contact with the vampire. And if you hear the whistle, answer with two short blasts and then come running.”
It was nearly midnight.
Duval hadn’t felt so good since leaving Transylvania. What a difference a meal makes, he thought. He could tell Lucian felt better and stronger, too. With so much fresh blood in their systems, their cuts were already beginning to heal.
“Now what?” Lucian asked, flicking his tongue at a leftover drop of blood.
Duval smiled. “Now we take care of our problem.”
Jack’s path took him back through the intersection where he, Brenda, and Miranda had hauled the iron cage Jack had assembled earlier that afternoon at Miranda’s house--well, their house, actually, though he hadn’t yet gotten used to thinking of it that way (he still remembered his house in the Waking world). Glancing at it now, Jack could plainly see that it wasn’t ideal. Ideally, he would have asked the metalsmith they visited this morning to solder the joints together, but they didn’t have the time for that. So instead he picked out a number of iron bars and stopped next door for several long leather straps. The rest of the day he’d spent tying the bars together. At about three feet square, it was just large enough to house whichever vampire had survived last night’s battle. Jack was betting on the toad because he knew it had eaten more recently. Just in case, though, he’d made the cage large enough to accommodate the frog’s longer legs. Either way, he knew the leather straps wouldn’t last long against a vampire’s fangs, but he judged they’d last long enough.
That is, if they ever found the vampire. Jack moved past the cage and entered another alley, sweeping his head from side to side, alert for any movement or anything out of place. He felt badly that he had chosen the canvas from which the frog had so easily escaped. Now he felt even worse. He, Brenda, and Miranda had been tramping around this area for hours without a single sign of the vampire. What if, Jack thought, he was wrong? This whole plan was based on his idea that the winner of last night’s battle would be so beaten up that he wouldn’t have any choice but to come out tonight in search of food and the healing power of fresh blood. But what if he was wrong?
When he got to the end of the alley, finding nothing, Jack bit his lower lip in frustration. He wondered if the others were having better luck.
Brenda didn’t believe in luck. She did, however, believe in her nose, and right now it was twitching. Up ahead, she saw the same rotten fence and twisted shrubbery Jack had told her about, which meant that she was behind the abandoned laboratory supplies building. Jack had told her and Miranda about the mysterious light in the alley, and though she must now be very close to it, she didn’t think that was what had set her nose off. No, she thought, something isn’t right.
Brenda was glad she had taken the time this afternoon at their house to cut several wooden stakes, whittling the tips down to sharp points. They each had one, and now hers felt very reassuring in her hand. Popping the whistle Miranda had given her between her lips, Brenda started slowly forward.
Squinting into the darkness, Brenda could see that something was there, all right, right in the middle of the alley. After one step, it was just a dark lump on the pavement; after two, it gained a little definition; after three, Brenda saw clearly the stubby head, warty body, and telltale short back legs. It was the toad.
It looked awful. Its back was covered in cuts and it was dragging one of its legs, as though it had been broken. This awkward movement forced the toad to lean slightly, exposing its belly, where Brenda saw a nasty gash. Brenda almost felt silly holding the stake: this vampire couldn’t hurt anyone.
Still, she thought, she had better call the others. Just as she took a deep breath in order to blow the whistle, something slapped hard into the pavement behind her. Startled, Brenda turned around. Less than ten feet away stood the frog, grinning widely. Glancing back over her shoulder, she caught the toad, looking spry as ever, springing into attack position.
A trap! Brenda thought. Then she blew the whistle.
Duval cringed. He closed his eyes, but he couldn’t shut his ears to the brain-scrambling shrillness of the whistle. A few seconds after it stopped he shook his head and re-opened his eyes. He saw Lucian doing the same thing. What he didn’t see was the girl who just a moment before had been caught between them.
“Lucian!” he croaked. “Look!”
To Duval’s right, the fence wobbled slightly, then came to rest.
“She’s jumped the fence. Come on!”
Duval and Lucian both leapt high and cleared the fence in a single bound.
Jack heard the whistle and started running. He only remembered to respond when he heard an answer from the opposite direction: two short whistle blasts. By then, he was approaching the shrubbery behind the laboratory supplies building. He glimpsed the strange circle of light on the pavement and quickly shut his eyes, tearing past it as fast as he could.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw Miranda up ahead, looking around wildly.
“What happened?” Jack asked. He couldn’t see anything wrong.
“It’s Brenda. She’s gone!”