viii. Aubrey

It may have been the longest night of my life. If it wasn't, it was certainly close.

After Dr. Stone and Terry left to go find and exact their revenge on the vampire, I retrieved my old shotgun from the kitchen where I had left it, and set off to follow Dr. Stone's directive: to find a place with only one way in or out and wait. I walked up and down the halls of the old mansion, at a loss for where to go, until I remembered that most of the west wing was closed off, the windows boarded up from the inside. Surely one of the bedrooms there would suffice.

Clutching my gun nervously and periodically admonishing myself to get a grip, I chose one of the bedrooms on the lower floor and sat down in one of the room's musty, sheet-covered chairs after providing illumination with a lamp I had carried in from another part of the house. The room didn't look so eerie with the lights on: it merely looked like an old room, long disused and badly in need of a cleaning and a new coat of paint. I reached down with one hand and felt the reassuring smoothness of the large, battery-operated flashlight I'd brought in as well, in case the vampire decided to do something to the house's power before coming after me.

I knew I was being a silly old man—the vampire wasn't after me, any more than she was after Terry or any of Dr. Stone's students. It was Dr. Stone himself that she wanted. And she wasn't "the vampire"—she was Ann Barton, who used to be engaged to be married to him. But I still could not entirely put aside the thought that if I was not vigilant, Dr. Stone would return home to find me dead and drained of blood, and maybe Ann would even be lying in wait for him here.

The time dragged interminably. I had purposely not brought any distractions, like something to read or a trideo unit, because I was afraid if I got absorbed in such a thing (as I had a tendency to do, especially with old mysteries from the previous century) I would not notice the silent entry of a malevolent intruder. So there I was, sitting upright in an uncomfortable chair that did nothing good for my arthritis, with only my own thoughts for company. That particular night, my thoughts did not make good company.

I must have fallen asleep, even though I was trying desperately not to, because I awoke to what I thought was a sound. I jumped, sending a shooting pain up my back, and then sat stock still, sure I had heard something. I looked down at my old watch: I'd slept for almost an hour. So much for vigilance, I thought disgustedly. The shotgun was still cradled in my lap. I raised it to point at the doorway and waited.

The sound came again.

It was too far away for me to hear exactly what it was, but it was definitely a sound this time, not just my imagination. Quietly, I rose from my chair and crept across the room to the door. For a moment, I debated whether to open it. Dr. Stone would probably not have wanted me to, I knew. Still, though, I could be of more help to him if I knew about the threat. The sound did not sound close, so I didn't think anyone would see me if I just cracked the door a few centimeters and listened. Carefully, moving with extreme slowness, I turned the knob and pushed the door open a bit, hoping it didn't squeak. It did, but not much. I pressed my ear to the crack and listened.

I heard voices.

At least two, both male. They were too far away for me to make out any words, though. I listened further, and heard the front door close. I frowned to myself—were these robbers? Had someone broken into the house? Obviously it wasn't the vampire...was there another vampire? Was there—


That time, I heard the voice loud and clear. It was Dr. Stone! He was back! His voice from here sounded oddly strained, but I didn't care. I threw open the door joyfully and hurried down the hallway and into the main hall, heedless of my pained back and joints.

The two of them were standing there just inside the front door. The boy, Nigel, was with them. I breathed a sigh of relief; maybe Dr. Stone had been wrong about the boy's being a vampire pawn. Then, as I drew closer to them, I gasped. What in God's name had happened to them? Dr. Stone leaned heavily on Terry's shoulder, and even from here I could see the blood drying on his face and in his hair. He seemed to be barely standing. Terry didn't look steady either, and held his arm, the one Dr. Stone wasn't leaning on, to clutch at his side. Nigel stood near them, looking confused and bewildered. "My God!" I cried, hurrying up to them. "What happened?" I grabbed Dr. Stone's arm, searching his face for answers, but there were none there. "What happened?" I repeated.

Dr. Stone shook his head wearily. "It's—not as bad as it looks, Aubrey. We're... fine." He indicated Nigel. "Would you please prepare Nigel's room for him? He's had...a difficult evening. I think he might need some sleep." He disengaged from Terry's shoulder and slumped down into a nearby chair.

"No," Nigel said, softly but firmly. "I can wait. They're both hurt—take care of them first, please, sir."

I nodded gravely to the boy. To Dr. Stone, I said, "With all due respect, sir, I think Nigel is right. Please, both of you, come upstairs and let me call a doctor."

Both of them shook their heads. "No doctor," Terry said. "Not for me, anyway."

"Nor I," Dr. Stone agreed. He looked at Terry. "Come on," he said. "I'll heal that side wound for you."

"It's fine," Terry said. "I took a look at it. It's just a flesh wound. I'll take care of it later." Dr. Stone started to protest, but then shrugged and nodded. Rising with effort, he gently took Nigel's arm and started to lead him off. I moved to follow, but Terry touched my shoulder and shook his head. "I think they need some time together," he said quietly.

"But—" I began, but again he shook his head. I sighed and relented. "What happened over there?" I asked. My exertion and all the time propped up in the uncomfortable chair was catching up with me now; all I wanted to do was lie down, but I wasn't free to do that yet.

"Come on," Terry said, taking my arm in much the same way as Dr. Stone had taken Nigel's and steering me toward the kitchen. "You look like you could use a drink. Let's go, and we'll talk about it. I don't think they ought to be disturbed right now."

I let him lead me into the kitchen. I didn't have any tea ready, which is what I would have preferred, but I took the beer Terry pulled out of the refrigerator as an acceptable substitute. He popped another and sat down heavily in the kitchen chair. Silently, I left the kitchen and returned with a first aid kit. Without asking, I moved over to him, slipped his heavy armored coat down off his shoulders. "You were going to tell me about what happened," I said, seemingly paying no attention to what I was doing. He did not hinder my efforts to get his coat off, but he didn't help, either. I dropped the coat to the floor carefully, hearing the clank of the various items stowed inside. I didn't want to know what they were. I was successful in suppressing any reaction when I saw the large dark stain on his T-shirt.

Terry shrugged, then told me the story of the evening's activities in a dull monotone. While he spoke, I deftly removed his T-shirt to reveal what looked like a knife wound on his side. It wasn't deep or particularly serious, but I knew it could cause trouble if he didn't take care of it. I cleaned the blood off, swabbed the wound with disinfectant (he didn't wince) and then covered it with antibiotic cream and a large white bandage. All the while, he continued talking in that same tone, as if I wasn't even there. I closed my eyes sadly when he got to the part about Dr. Stone's killing Ann; I knew it had to be and I knew that was what they had done, but it still hurt me to hear it. When Terry finished his story, he leaned back in his chair and drank the last of his beer, then placed the can on the table with a precision that suggested that he wasn't even aware of what he was doing.

There was one last thing he hadn't told me, though, and I had to know the answer. "Did you—find out if Dr. Stone was right about—Nigel?" I asked haltingly.

He nodded, but didn't look at me. "Yeah."

"And?" I didn't dare to breathe until he spoke again.

He turned to face me then, his strange reptilian eyes revealing more emotion than I would have thought them possible to do. "Yeah," he said again. "He was right." He bent down to pick up his coat and the ruins of his shirt before I could speak, then stood. "I need to get some sleep." Indicating the bandage, he said, "Thanks." Then he was gone, out through the door to the main hall.

I stood there a long time, watching after him without seeing him, then slowly gathered up the components of the first aid kit and returned them to their case, picked up the beer cans and tossed them in the garbage can, and looked around for something else to do. When I could find nothing, I stood next to the island in the middle of the kitchen, my hands balled into tight fists, my arms shaking with the effort I was expending to force back the tears of frustration and sadness and anger I felt at the injustice of the situation. I knew if I wept, I would be no help to anyone. I knew was going to have to be strong for Dr. Stone; I didn't have the luxury of breaking down right now. I didn't. I—

In the end, I did not weep. I didn't throw anything across the room in frustration. I didn't pound my foot or yell or break anything or do any of the number of other things that crossed my mind at that moment. Instead, I methodically shut off the lights in the kitchen, left the house through the back kitchen door, locked it behind me, and slowly walked to my large apartment over the garage, where I did not sleep.

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