It wasn’t like the movies. There wasn’t a satisfying rip of cloth as I whisked the curtains down like a stage magician with a table cloth. The curtains didn’t tear at all.
The cheap aluminum curtain rod did bend, though. It popped out of its mounting brackets and the whole thing came tumbling down. The morning sunlight slashed through the glass patio doors, illuminating the length of my apartment.
Mr. Tophat winced and threw his hand over his eyes. Mr. Salvatore scrambled around the corner of the kitchen counter, hiding from view behind it. I felt a burst of exhilaration. I had Mr. Salvatore on the run – on the run and trapped!
I have never felt more badass.
Mr. Tophat rolled over and pried Mr. Salvatore’s knife out of his wrist. Then he yelled in surprise as he was yanked backward. He dropped the knife and grabbed the edge of the shelves on the living room side of the counter. One of his legs had disappeared on Mr. Salvatore’s side; the other flailed and kicked madly. I could see the strain on his face as he struggled not to be dragged into the kitchen. Strain that abruptly gave way to horror.
Mr. Tophat’s struggles weakened. He still clutched the shelves for dear life, but his kicking stopped. His wounds stopped bleeding into air. My horror mirrored his, but for different reasons. Mr. Tophat was being drained by Mr. Salvatore. He was afraid of dying an eternal death. I was afraid Mr. Salvatore would slake his thirst enough to withstand the sun.
I ran forward to save Mr. Tophat, but I didn’t know how. Was I strong enough to win a tug of war with a starving vampire? If I was, what if Mr. Tophat was enthralled? I didn’t know how long it had taken me to shrug off Mr. Salvatore’s control when he’d drank from me, but if he had Mr. Tophat as a minion for even a minute, I was screwed. Could I take that chance?
I grabbed Mr. Tophat’s sword off the living room floor. I could see the conflict behind his eyes – and his grip starting to slip.
Megan was on the bed behind me. I couldn’t risk Mr. Tophat turning on me. I couldn’t risk attacking Mr. Salvatore – he was too strong and too fast, and if he grabbed me to drain it would be just as bad for Megan as if he drained Mr. Tophat.
But I had to do something, or we were all screwed anyway.
There was only one thing I could do. Mr. Tophat’s eyes met mine as I moved into position. He was charged with protecting Megan from all harm. The terms of my request made him honor bound to fulfill that oath in the spirit I intended, which meant he had to be willing to do anything I was to protect her.
I’d been willing to risk my life – no, to knowingly throw it away – to protect Megan. And so was Mr. Tophat, or he wouldn’t have challenged a vampire he knew he couldn’t beat. A vampire he knew could permanently destroy him.
Mr. Tophat grinned up at me. It was his smile: sardonic, sacrine, frivolous and mocking. But his eyes betrayed a mix of fear and the encroachment of Mr. Salvatore’s madness.
“You know,” Mr. Tophat jested in a voice that cracked with strain, “I’m not yours.”
I laughed. I felt like I should cry. “Bullshit,” I countered – and prayed I was right about what I was about to do. “Now go home,” I said, and then I took Mr. Tophat’s sword in a two-handed grip and stabbed its point down into his back as hard as I could.
Mr. Tophat’s body provided no resistance to the blade. Neither did my kitchen counter. My hands slammed into his back as the blade buried itself to the hilt. Mr. Tophat spasmed once in pain – and then deflated. His body melted away in rivulets of shadow. I fell forward and my hands struck the counter – Mr. Tophat’s sword was gone, too. The only evidence that it had ever existed was a quarter-inch slit through the countertop under my fingers.
Mr. Salvatore shrieked in fury and lunged up after me. I yelled and threw myself backward, toward the bed. Mr. Salvatore’s face and hands blistered and cracked where the sun hit them, but he’d drank enough that he didn’t combust spontaneously. He howled and threw himself down into the semi-shadows beside the counter.
I scrambled onto the bed. Megan had hit her head – could I move her safely? I had to. I’d seen Mr. Salvatore hold his blistered hand up for Hans to examine – I knew Mr. Salvatore could withstand the pain of the sun long enough to get to Megan if he had to. And with Mr. Tophat gone, Mr. Salvatore’s only options were to get to Megan, get to me, or stay trapped in the kitchen – maybe hide in the bathroom until nightfall.
I hoped he would choose to stay in the kitchen until I could get Megan safely away. If Mr. Salvatore opted to let himself be trapped like that then as soon as I got Megan out I was going to go to the corner store, buy a fuck-ton of alcohol, a lighter, something I could tear up for rags – and then I was going to Moltov the hell out of his creepy ass.
Sure, I’d lose all my worldly possessions and go to jail for arson and maybe murder, but you know what? Deal. I’d make that trade.
Unfortunately, since Mr. Salvatore had lived as long as he had he probably already knew that getting trapped by someone who knew what he was would be a losing play. I tried to keep one eye on him where he was slumped in the entrance to the kitchen while I tried to figure out how to move Megan without leaving us vulnerable to being jumped.
I’ve often been afraid that people secretly wanted to kill me. In Mr. Salvatore’s eyes I found out what it was like to really be on the receiving end of someone regarding me with murderous intent.
“You fucking bitch,” he hissed. “You’re dead. You’re fucking dead.”
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t pick up Megan without giving Mr. Salvatore an opening to grab us. Even with my arms free I wasn’t sure I could fend him off – he’d kicked my ass the last time I’d tried, and now he was hungrier, stronger, faster and meaner. As soon as he came to that conclusion too, I was screwed. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t jumped me already. All he had to do was get a bite in on me while we grappled and Megan and I would be done for.
“I am going to kill you again, you fucking bitch. This is your fault,” Mr. Salvatore snarled. I did my best to tune out his raving and check on Megan. I couldn’t really tell much more than that she was breathing. Why hadn’t I paid more attention to first aid in health class?
Megan had a huge bruise on her cheek where she’d been smacked. Mr. Salvatore’s nails had cut her, leaving smears of dried blood and half-scabbed scratches in a line down her cheek.
I felt a surge of… I don’t know. Rage? Rage made sense. I turned back to Mr. Salvatore.
“…tear your fucking head off,” he was ranting. I felt… violent. Furious. Possessive. I wanted Mr. Salvatore dead. Megan wasn’t his. She was mine. My friend. My… I didn’t recognize the desire. I shied away from it, refocusing on what I was going to do to Mr. Salvatore. To the remains of Mr. Salvatore. Maybe it was just the intensity of my hate, but I felt like I was burning up. Why was it so fucking hot in here?
“…and spread your ashes so far and wide no one will ever be able to bring you back,” Mr. Salvatore snarled.
“Oh, big talker,” my mouth shot off of its own volition. “But you’re the one who’s gonna burn, jackass.” I could smell cooked flesh. Hans had said that the older a vampire was, the more vulnerable he would be to the sun – and Mr. Salvatore was old. Even in the limited shadows he’d found, and even with what life he’d stolen from Mr. Tophat, the sun’s diffuse light was making Mr. Salvatore’s skin blister and crack. His lips split as they twisted in a feral grin.
“You first, bitch,” Mr. Salvatore spat.
I flipped him the bird. It seemed to be the most appropriate response.
It also hurt like fucking hell.
I cried out in surprise. My skin pulled tight and split over my curled knuckles; my arm was red like I’d gone out to the beach without lotion. I jerked it back into the shadow of my body – blisters had already started to bubble over my palm where it had been exposed to the light. I stared at it in horror.
That was why it was so hot, I realized. I didn’t feel like I was burning up – I literally was.
Mr. Salvatore cackled from the shadows. He had started to smolder. Smoke was wafting up from his jacket sleeves. “You first,” he taunted again. “You first, you stupid bitch.”