Authors: Rachel Caine
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Vampire, #Urban Fantasy
Morganville Vampires 7 - Fade Out
Eve Rosser’s high-pitched scream rang out through the entire house, bouncing off every wall, and, like a Taser applied to the spine, it brought Claire out of a pleasant, drowsy cuddle with her boyfriend.
“Oh my God, what?” She half jumped, half fell off the couch. Mortal danger was nothing new around their unofficial four-person frat house. In fact, mortal danger didn’t even merit a full-fledged scream these days. More of a raised eyebrow. “Eve? What?”
The screaming went on, accompanied by thumping that sounded like Eve was kickboxing the floor.
“Damn,” Shane Collins said as he scrambled to his feet, as well. “What the hell is wrong with that girl? Was there a sale at Morbid R Us and nobody told her?”
Claire smacked him on the arm, but only out of reflex; she was already heading for the hallway, where the scream echoed loudest. She would have moved faster, but there wasn’t panic in that scream after all.
It was more like . . . joy?
In the hallway, their roommate Eve was having a total fit—screaming, bouncing in hoppy little circles like a demented Goth bunny. It was made especially strange by her outfit: flouncy black sheer skirt, black tights with neon pink skulls, a complicated-looking corset with buckles, and her clunky Doc Martens boots. She’d worn her hair in pigtails today, and they whipped wildly around as she jumped and spun and did a wiggling victory dance.
Claire and Shane stood without saying a word, and then exchanged a look. Shane silently raised a finger and made a slow circle at his temple.
Claire, eyes wide, nodded.
The screaming dissolved into excited little yips, and Eve stopped randomly bouncing around. Instead, she bounced directly at them, waving a piece of paper with so much enthusiasm that Claire was lucky to be able to tell it was a piece of paper.
“You know,” Shane said in an entirely too-calm voice, “I kind of miss the old Morganville, when it was all scary monsters and dodging death. This would never have happened in the old Morganville. Too silly.”
Claire snorted, reached out, and grabbed Eve’s flailing wrists. “Eve! What?”
Eve stopped bouncing and grabbed Claire’s hands, crushing the paper in the process. From the jittery pulse of her muscles, she still wanted to jump, but she was making a great effort not to. She tried to say something, but she just couldn’t. It came out as a squeal that only a dolphin would have been able to interpret.
Claire sighed and took the paper from Eve’s hand, smoothed it out, and read it aloud. “Dear Eve,” she began. “Thank you for auditioning for our production of A Streetcar Named Desire. We are very pleased to offer you the role of Blanche DuBois—”
She was interrupted by more bouncing and screaming. Defeated, Claire read the rest silently and handed it on to Shane.
“Wow,” he said. “So, that’s the town production, right? The annual?”
“I’ve been auditioning forever,” Eve blurted out, dark eyes as wide as an animé character’s. “I mean, forever. Since I was twelve. Best I ever got was one of the Russian dancers for the Christmas performance of The Nutcracker.”
“You?” Shane said. “You dance?”
Eve looked offended. “You’ve been to parties with me. You know I dance, jackass.”
“Hey, there’s a difference between shaking your ass at a rave and ballet.”
Eve leveled a black-nailed finger in his direction. “I’ll have you know I was good on pointe, and, anyway, that isn’t the issue. I got the part of Blanche. In Streetcar. Do you know how wicked huge that is?”
“Congratulations,” Shane said. He actually sounded like he meant it, to Claire’s ears at least, and she was pretty sure he really did. He and Eve yanked each other’s chains hard enough to leave marks, but they really did care. Of course, Shane was a guy, and he couldn’t leave it at that, so he continued. “Maybe I should go out for it. If they picked you, they’ll love my Marlon Brando impression.”
“Honey, nobody likes your Brando. He sounds like your Adam Sandler. Which is also terrible, by the way.” Eve was calming down, but she was smiling like a lunatic, and Claire could tell she was on the trembling verge of another jumping fit—which was okay, really. Eve excited was quite a show. “Oh my God, I’ve got to find out about rehearsals. . . .”
“Page two,” Claire said, and pointed at the paper. On the back was a neatly printed schedule of what looked like an awful lot of dates and times. “Wow, they’re really working it, aren’t they?”
“Of course they are,” Eve said absently. “The whole town turns out for—oh, damn, I’m going to have to call my boss. I’m going to have to switch shifts for some of these. . . .”
She hustled off, frowning at the paper, and Claire sighed and leaned her back against one wall of the hallway while Shane took the other. He raised his eyebrows. She did, too.
“Is it really that big a deal?” she asked him.
Shane shrugged. “Depends,” he said. “Everybody does go, even most of the vampires. They like a good play, although they’re usually not so hot on the musicals.”
“Musicals,” she repeated blankly. “Like what? Phantom of the Opera?”
“Last one I saw was Annie Get Your Gun. Hey, if they’d put on Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’d definitely go, but somehow I don’t think they’d have the guts.”
“You don’t like musicals? Unless they involve transvestites and chain saws?”
Shane pointed both thumbs back toward his chest. “Guy? In case you forgot.”
That made Claire smile and tingle in deep, secret places. “I remember,” she said, as indifferently as she could, which was not very. “And I’m changing the subject, because I need to get to work.” A glance at the window told her that it was an ice-cold spring afternoon, with the freezing Texas wind whipping old leaves down the street in miniature tornadoes. “And so do you, soon.”
Shane pushed off and crossed the distance fast, pinning her in place with his hands flat against the wall on either side of her. Then he bent his elbows and leaned in and kissed her. The warmth spread from his lips to hers, then out in a rushing summer heat that moved over her entire body in a wave, and left her feeling as if she were glowing inside.
It went on a long time, that kiss. She finally put her palms flat against his chest with a wordless (and mostly weak) sound of pleading.
Shane backed off. “Sorry. I just needed something to get me through another eight hours of the exciting world of food service.” He was working at Bryan’s Barbecue, which wasn’t a bad gig as jobs in Morganville went. He got all the barbecue he wanted, which meant a lot of free brisket and ham and sausage for the rest of them when he carted home a goody bag. The job also brought decent money, according to Shane, and as a plus, he got to use a sharp knife most of the day, carving meats. Apparently that was cool. He and some of the other guys practiced throwing them at targets in the back when the boss wasn’t looking.
Claire kissed him on the nose. “Bring home some brisket,” she said. “And some of that sauce. I’ve had enough chili dogs this week to last me a lifetime.”
“Hey, my chili dogs are the best in town.”
“It’s a really small town.”
“Harsh,” he said, but he was smiling. The smile faded as he said very seriously, “You be careful.”
“I will,” she promised.
Shane played with knives, but she had the dangerous job.
She worked with vampires.
Claire’s job was lab assistant to a vampire mad scientist, which never made sense when she thought of it that way, but it was still accurate. She hadn’t meant to become Igor to Myrnin’s Frankenstein, but she supposed at least it was a paying, steady job.
Plus, she learned a lot, which meant more to her than the money.
She’d been on job leave, with permission, for a couple of months while the vampires got themselves back together and fixed the damage that had been done—at least the physical damage—by the tornado that ripped through town. Or by the vampire war that had burned down part of it. Or by the rioting by the human population, which had left some scars. Come to think of it, the construction was going pretty well, all things considered. So she hadn’t been to the lab for a while—today was, in Myrnin’s words from his note, the “grand reopening.” Although how you had a grand reopening of a hidden lair beneath a tumbledown shack, Claire had no idea. Was there cake?
The alley next to the Day House—a virtually identical twin to the Glass House where Claire lived, only with different curtains and nicer porch furniture—looked the same. The Day House was a shining white Victorian structure, and the alley was narrow, dark, and seemed to get narrower as you went along, like a funnel.
Or a throat. Ugh. She wished she hadn’t thought of that.
The shack at the end of the alley—a leaning, faded wreck, tired and abandoned—didn’t look any different, although there was a shiny new lock on the door. Claire sighed. Myrnin had forgotten to give her a key, of course. That didn’t present much of a problem, though; she tested a couple of boards and found one that easily slid aside enough for her to crawl through.
Typical Myrnin planning.
Inside, most of the space was taken up by a set of stairs that went down, like a subway station. There was a bright glow coming up from it.
“There’d better be cake,” she said, mostly to herself, and hitched her backpack higher on her shoulder as she headed down into the lab.
The last time she’d been here, it had been totally destroyed, with hardly a stick of furniture or a piece of glass left intact. Someone—most likely Myrnin himself—had gotten busy with a broom and maybe a dump truck to sweep out the mounds of shattered glass, scrapped lab equipment, broken furniture, and (worst of all, to Claire’s mind) ravaged books. The place had always had a mad scientist-meets-Jules Verne flair to it, but now it really did—in a totally good way. There were new worktables, many of them wood and marble, and a few shiny metal ones. New electric lights had been installed to replace the odd collection of oil lamps, candles, and bulbs that Thomas Edison might have wired together; now they had indirect lighting behind elegant fan-shaped shields. Modern, but retro-cool.
The floor was still old flagstone, but the hole Myrnin had punched in it the last time she’d been here had also been repaired, or at least covered with a rug. She hoped there was something under the rug, but with Myrnin, you really could never tell. She made a mental note to poke it before she stepped on it.
Myrnin himself was shelving things in a new bookcase that must have been ten feet tall, at least. It came with its own little rolling ladder—no, as Claire looked around, she realized that the entire room was surrounded by the same tall bookcases, and the ladder was on a metal rail so it could slide all around. Neat. “Ah,” her boss said, and looked down at her through the little square antique glasses perched on the end of his long, straight nose. “You’re late.” He was five feet up in the air, on the top step of the ladder, but he hopped off as if it were pretty much nothing, landed light as a cat on his feet, and straightened his vest with an absentminded little tug.
Myrnin wasn’t especially tall, but he was just . . . strangely cool. Long, curling, lush black hair that fell to his shoulders. His face was vampire-pale, but it suited him, somehow, and he had the kind of sharp features that would have made him a star if he’d wanted to be in the movies. Big, expressive dark eyes and full lips. Definitely cover-model material.
If the lab was neater, so was Myrnin. He was still favoring old-timey clothes, so the coat was black velvet, and flared out and down to his knees. The ensemble also included a white shirt, bright blue vest, a pocket watch chain gleaming against the tight black satin pants, and . . .
Claire found herself staring at his feet, which were in bunny slippers.
Myrnin looked down. “What?” he asked. “They’re quite comfortable.” He lifted one to look at it, and the ears wobbled in the air.
“Of course they are,” she said. Just when she thought Myrnin was getting his mental act together, he’d do something like that. Or maybe he was just messing with her. He liked to do that, and his dark eyes were fixed on her now, assessing just how weirded-out she was.
Which, on the grand scale of zero to Myrnin, wasn’t much.
“I like a good bunny slipper. I’m surprised you didn’t get the ones with fangs,” she said, and scanned the room. “Wow, the place looks fantastic.”
Myrnin’s eyes brightened. “They have some with fangs? Excellent.” He got a faraway look for a moment, then snapped back to the here and now. “Thank you. I’ve had quite a time ordering all the instruments and alembics I need, but did you know that you can find almost anything on the new computer network, the Inter-web? I was quite amazed.”
Myrnin hadn’t paid much attention to the past hundred years or so. Claire wasn’t too surprised he’d discovered the Internet, though. Wait until he finds the porn. That would be a very uncomfortable conversation. “Yeah, it’s great; we like it a lot,” she said. “So, you said you needed me today . . .”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he said, and walked over to one of the tidy lab tables, one laden with boxes and wooden chests. “I need you to go through these, please, and see what we can use here.”
“What’s in them?”
“No idea,” he said as he sorted through a stack of ancient-looking envelopes. “They’re mine. Well, I think they are. They might have once belonged to someone named Klaus, but that’s another story, and one you don’t need to worry about just now. Go through them and see if there’s anything useful. If not, you can throw it all away.”
He didn’t seem to care one way or another, which was another odd mood swing from him. Claire almost preferred the old Myrnin, when the illness he (and the other vampires) suffered from had made him genuinely loony, and desperate to regain control of himself. This version of Myrnin was both more in control, and less predictable. Not violent or angry, just—never quite where she expected him to be. For instance, Myrnin had always struck her as a keeper, not a tosser. He was sentimental, mostly—more than a lot of the other vamps—and he seemed to really enjoy having his things around him.
So what was this sudden impulse for spring cleaning?