Title: Giving Thanks
Author: Sylvia Bond
Word Count: 18,182
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Gina Lee (# 4)
Summary: It is Thanksgiving time, and Gina Lee, who has extra pies in her kitchen, brings one to Willie at the Old House. Entertaining guests is not within servant’s rights, so Barnabas pitches a fit and then punishes Willie. Only trouble is, now Willie needs to return the pie pan, which he does, and then it gets worse from there.
A/N: I had to call my brother in law to find out what they used to call Thanksgiving back in Barnabas’ day, and of course he knew, because he’s totally cool like that. As for Barnabas, he never could appreciate a nice Pilgrim hat.
Gina stared at the pies on her kitchen counter as they cooled fast in the chill of the coming dusk. It was raining, but she didn’t want to light a fire without the kids in to enjoy it. They were ensconced at the neighbors, two houses down, who, shortly after Ezra’s untimely demise, had knocked on her door and announced their intention to be friends. It was hard to resist the couple, who with two little boys of their own, plied her with company, and food, and charity that was given in such a way as it never seemed like charity and by the time she’d realized it, it had always been too late.
Oh, Gina, Anne would say, my Tom is driving me crazy, he’s fixed all our windows for winter, but he won’t stop. Could I send him over to you? And over Tom would come, measuring in silence, caulking, putting in the extra storm windows he just happened to have, and then it was done. When she’d offered to pay, Anne said, sure, can you watch my kids while I take Tom to this building site? And on it went. Even the idea of the day care had been Anne’s idea, and she passed the word around the neighborhood at what a good caretaker Gina was, and it wasn’t two, maybe three weeks that Gina had to turn away applicants. It almost seemed too good to be true, but there it was.
She thought that maybe it was because she was used to the life she and Ezra used to lead, with hot water heaters that didn’t work, and husbands who either weren’t around to fix them or said that they were too tired. Who, when you asked them about it, knocked you so hard across the face that you came to wedged under the kitchen table. Not husbands that did favors for other people’s wives. Or other people’s widows. She supposed she was a widow now, though she didn’t feel like one. The kids kept her busy, the day care was an extension of that, she made Tom show her how to do things around the house instead of just doing them for her, and then there were the pies.
Naturally with Thanksgiving coming up, Anne and Tom insisted that she come to their house, a bungalow as well, but larger, with more bedrooms, and an enormous living room. She had offered to make pies, her famous apple crumble, and even, on this special occasion, the pouring custard that went with it. Along with the string of firewood she planned to bring, the apple crumble would hopefully go a long way towards making her feel less like a charity case and more like a contributing member of the feast.
And there they sat, four pies, their tops tumbling over with the special flour and sugar crust that was irresistible to small fingers that just wanted just a taste. She usually made twice as much topping as the recipe called for just for that purpose. Ezra used to smack Polly for stealing tastes, but now that she, Gina, was in charge, tastes were going to be encouraged. She supposed she had a lot to be thankful for, though that might be considered odd by some, her a new widow with three fatherless children to raise.
With her arms wrapped around her waist, she looked at the pies. Anne had asked her to bring two, as she was making her own special pumpkin, she and her kids would enjoy one of the apple crumbles tomorrow. And that left one pie.
She looked out the window. Almost full dark now, pouring in a steady curtain that didn’t look like it was going to let up soon. Last year, a rain like this would have left her shivering from gusts of damp beneath the gap in the door frame. This year, though, Tom had showed her how to insert a rubber seal, so now, with the addition of that and the storm windows, the house was as tight as a drum. Warm. Cozy. The last thing she wanted to do was wrap up the pie against the wet, pull on her coat, and drive five miles, shivering, out of town, up the hill to the Collins’ estate. The heater on the car was still chancy, and she was still fighting with Tom over who was going to get it fixed, him or her.
Fixing the car so that it was reliable had never been anything Ezra cared about, and she’d never dared take it farther than the local grocers. And never in bad weather, as the little car would choke up and die on her for no reason she could fathom. But that day in late September, though it had been overcast, it hadn’t been overly cold when she’d started out. Driving over to the baby doctor’s in the next town for Carla’s shots had seemed a reasonable thing to do, but the doctor had been running behind, and the day had grown later, and by the time she’d been driving home on the coastal road towards Collinsport, the storm had set in. Sleet skated off the roaring whitecaps of the ocean only 50 feet from the road, and their little car had shivered and crawled until it had enough and it up and stopped.
And then along had come Willie Loomis. Driving past her on the icy road as she trudged, baby Carla in her arms, and Polly and Daniel hiking through the slush behind her. And then slowing. Then he’d stopped, his truck skidding a little as the tires tried to grip the sheet of ice and failed. When she considered refusing, knowing his reputation in town was less than savory, he’d opened the door anyway and had said something about the kids, let me take you home for their sake.
He’d saved her a long, miserable walk, probably saved them from frostbite, or at the very least a very deep chill. And he’d paid for it. Her hands moved towards the drawer where the tin foil was kept and she wrapped the pie and flung on her coat and wrapped her head with a woolen scarf and was driving towards the Collins’ estate, all the while chastising herself.
Selfish, Gina. I can’t believe you’d even consider not going. What’s a little rain to drive through, after all?
But she knew she’d never considered not going, not really. It was just that after that day, her life had changed. Ezra had been furious, of course, to find out that that “asshole Loomis” had given her a ride home, and he’d marched up and down their little living room, waving his beer and promising her that he’d protect her from scum like that. She’d made the mistake of saying that Loomis wasn’t scum, and Ezra had demonstrated just how protective he was. Polly and Daniel had cowered in the back bedroom with the baby while he’d beaten her up, and she would have endured it a lot better if she’d known it was to have been the last beating that Ezra would ever deliver. Several days later, he and Ernie Nesmith had been lost at sea, and the Gina Lee had been tugged back to shore, captainless and crewless. Mike Parnell had called her from a bus station in town, saying sorry and goodbye, and off to
One act of kindness from Mister Loomis and her life was a series of sun flashes through a rainbow, or a spray of water in the air, all bright and alive and warm. Even on cold, miserable days like this one, well, it was almost work to be blue. Not that she had completely recovered from Ezra, she knew that. Somewhere inside of her were the dark memories of him and her life with him. Not all of it had been bad, but most of it had been. So she would fix up the outside, she’d decided, and deal with the inside later.
The road to the Collins estate was well paved, but there was a dirt track that led off to the left, towards the cliffs of Widows Hill and the residence known as the Old House. No one she knew personally had ever been there, let alone seen the place, so she was guessing as she directed the tires that way, keeping her mental fingers crossed that the new tires on the car were just as good as Tom said they’d be. That they’d track through the mud that layered the top of the road, and that she’d not end up in a ditch and have to march up to Collinwood itself and ask for assistance.
The car dutifully rolled on, up the hill, through the thick banks of bare-armed trees that were so old they crowded the road as if they meant to take it over. She was beginning to wonder if she had indeed gone the wrong direction when she saw the flicker of a light burning in a window, and suddenly the Old House loomed in front of her, and she slammed on the brakes. The house was enormous, if the ragged columns were anything to go by, and she peered through the beam of her headlights as to where she should park. Over to the left, she caught the flash of a bumper, and so she put her foot gently on the gas and coaxed the little car’s wheels over the bumps and dips until her car was just behind Willie Loomis’s truck.
The rain was letting up as she got out of the car, pie carefully balanced in the curve of one elbow, but it still slanted down at her, driven by a seemingly constant wind that whisked its way through the trees. And it was dark. Except for a faint glow from a side door, there was no light whatsoever, and her whole body tightened up as she made her way towards the glow. When she got there, the door was open, sparkles of rain lit by one candle placed in the windowsill, and by another she could see on the table behind the figure in the doorway. She froze.
It was Willie Loomis himself.
She let out a whoosh of air she didn’t know she was holding. “Yes, Mister Loomis, it’s Gina Logan, I’ve come to pay a visit.”
The silhouette jerked suddenly and then was still. “Yes,” he said. “Guess you better come in out of the rain.” He stepped backwards and motioned towards the room behind him with his hand. The two candles did almost nothing to dispel the darkness and as she entered the room, and for a moment she stood there with the pie clasped in both hands.
“Are you having a power outage?”
She watched in the near darkness as Willie moved towards the table and assembled and lit another candle, which seemed to help almost not at all.
“Uh, no, not exactly.” He lit one more candle, and the wattage of three candles on the table and the one in the window now made a faint but perceptible stab at the dark. She could see the pattern in the flannel shirt he was wearing and that the room she was standing in was most likely a kitchen. “Barnabas likes to make like he’s living in the old days,” he explained. “So electricity is out.”
Her eyes adjusted to the dark, and she looked around. There was a fireplace at one end of the room, and a cast iron stove against the wall, and what looked like a pump over a sink. And several things occurred to her all at once. One was the icy stillness of the kitchen and the house around her, that, unlike other houses she’d been in, did not breathe as though it were occupied. Rather, it was like an empty space encased in the frame of wood and stone, and inside there was nothing. Nothing but darkness and the chill and the silence. A shiver started in her shoulders and Willie held out a hand to her while he pulled a chair close to the cast iron stove.
“Here, come sit here, it’s warmer by the fire. I’ll poke up the coals a bit.”
He opened the top of the stove with the ribbed handle and used his fingers to place some dark lumps of coal inside.
“You’ll be alright in a minute,” he said, almost smiling at her.
It was warmer by the stove, but the heat did not reach very far so she was surprised that Willie moved away from it, into the loops of shadows created by the three candles on the table.
“No electricity?” she asked. “And is that a pump I see? Does that mean no hot water either?”
He shrugged, lifting his shoulders slightly. “Nope, this is the way Mr. Collins likes it.”
And then the other thing occurred to her, marching forward in her mind like a thing to be inspected. Willie Loomis lived in this house of wood and stone like someone in another time. None of the modern trappings existed to wave away the difficulties that kept one from living a life free of struggle. Instead fires had to be built and tended, ashes hauled away, water pumped and heated, candles lit and watched and replaced, and in the midst of all this, Mr. Collins was said to have hired Willie to not only do maintenance on this monstrosity, but to also restore it to its former grandness.
Her mouth dropped open as she thought of it. She’d recently painted the interior of her bedroom. That’s it, just her bedroom. Even with Anne watching the kids, and Tom to help her shift the furniture, what little of it there was, it had taken her the better part of a Saturday. And that was with heat, and several lamps to dispel the gloom away as night had approached. She simply couldn’t imagine what a monumental struggle it all was to work on this house in such conditions, but it went a long way towards explaining why he never had anything to say for himself in town, and why he’d been unable to fight back when her husband had attacked him. He’d been exhausted. Pure and simple.
“You okay, Missus Logan?”
She looked up at him, at the shank of dark blonde hair that almost hid his eyes, and at the worried way he moved his hands together. “Yes,” she said, quickly, “I’m fine, and I brought you something.”
There was a pause and she watched as the half-light played on the paleness of his face. “You brought me something?”
Gina held out the pie, the tails of her coat shifting, the jar of pouring custard in her pocket pulling them down. “Here, take it, it’s that apple crumble you liked so much.”
But he didn’t reach to take it. Instead his hands moved up towards his chest and hung there, and his shoulders stiffened. He shook his head. “I-I couldn’t possibly—”
She stood up and walked over to the kitchen table, feeling the gust of chill against her legs as she left the warm pocket of air near the stove. She placed the pie on the table, pulling off the foil and folded it neatly to be used again later. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out the jar of custard and placed it next to the pie.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to accept it, Mister Loomis,” she said turning to face him. “I made one too many pies for the holidays, and it would be a shame to let this one go to waste.”
Now that her back was to the candles, she could fully see the expressions that warred on his tired face. She didn’t know what the expressions meant, she didn’t know him that well, but something in his eyes flickered like sun coming through a storm cloud. And showed his eyes fully pewter blue as he lifted them to look at her. His lips tightened and then he opened his mouth to speak.
At that moment, the door at the far end of the kitchen opened and Barnabas Collins stood there, the candelabra in his hand sending a fountain of light into the room. It was so bright she had to blink at this, and almost took a step back as he walked into the room. She’d seen him in town once or twice, but never up close, not like this. Not in his own home, where his height and broad shoulders filled the air with their impact. The expression on his face was not one she would like to encounter on her own, but she supposed it was the dank atmosphere of the house that made her feel just a little bit nervous. Yes, that had to be it.
“Good evening,” he said, without any welcome. Gina was beginning to be glad that she hadn’t brought Polly along, even though the little girl would probably pout and stomp her feet at the knowledge that she’d missed out on a visit to Mister Loomis’ house.
“Am I interrupting something?” he asked now, his tone somehow saying that he certainly hoped so.
She looked over at Willie, whose gaze was locked on his boss, his mouth open, still on the verge of speaking. Mr. Collins walked towards them, and laid the candelabra on the table with a sweep of his dark-clad arm and without looking. He had taken in her measure in a single glance, from the old woolen scarf that had slipped from her short, dark hair, to the second-hand coat that Anne had helped her find at the Goodwill, miles better than her old one, and the heavy, winter shoes that Anne had declared she’d found in her closet and had no use for. Gina knew better, but had taken the gift anyway, vowing someday to return the favor if she could. And once her measure had been taken and her status noted as being beneath notice, Mr. Collins flicked his gaze to Willie.
“I believe I asked you a question.” The tone was perfectly polite, but underneath it lurked something else, something with an edge to it that made her want to duck back to the far edge of the table.
Somehow Willie shifted his body so that he was almost standing between her and his boss, and at this close proximity, she could smell the tang of salt and soap beneath the cotton of his shirt. Hear his indrawn breath and see the slight tremor of his jaw.
“Sh-sh—” he began, but it seemed useless, and she couldn’t for the life of him begin to imagine what had shaken him so.
“I guess I should say why I’m here,” said Gina quietly, and was completely unnerved to find Mr. Collins eyes, dark and framed by slightly raised brows, returning to her. “I’ve brought you a pie. I baked it myself. And pouring custard.” She pushed the little jar closer to the pie so they could keep each other company in their insignificance on the huge table. Suddenly it seemed such a small token to a man who could buy and sell the town several times over. “As a thank you,” she finished, swallowing, hating herself for feeling so small in front of this man. It made her feel like she did when Ezra was berating her for letting the soup burn while he sent her out to buy him more booze. Like it was her fault.
“A thank you?” the man asked, looking from her to Willie, who ducked his head and took a deep breath as if to try again.
“For the wood,” she replied, nodding. “We have enough wood for three winters, I think.”
“Wood? Madame, what on earth are you talking about?”
“The wood, Barnabas,” said Willie now, all in a rush before Gina had time to feel startled at the abruptness of the question. “You know, the wood you had me deliver?”
Mr. Collins looked at his servant as if Willie had suggested that he hand over the keys to the Old House to her. Willie in his turn made a gesture with his hand toward the table.
“From the tree, Barnabas,” he said.
Gina put her hand over the knot in her scarf. “I’m Gina Logan,” she said, making it sound almost like a question. “Gina Logan from the village.”
Now he was looking at her again, and she knew in that instant that he did not know who she was. Had probably never heard of her in fact, which gave rise to the very clear awareness that if he didn’t know who she was, with her standing right in front of him, then he’d had nothing whatsoever to do with the pile of wood in her woodshed that would keep her and her children from ever feeling the cold for at least three winters. Why would he give a gift to a woman he didn’t know and had never heard of?
It had been Willie then, and Willie alone who had been responsible for that. Not only had he delivered the wood like a thief in the night, he had taken it upon himself to do this thing. He had stacked the wood on tiptoe, in the utter darkness, giving warmth to a woman whose husband was better gone than here, and for the blessing that would never be his. Barnabas Collins had taken all the credit, and the town was, even now, singing his praises. Her mouth opened, astonishment flooding her like a storm swell, crashing over her in chilly, hateful waves.
She opened her mouth, her eyes narrowing as she felt the heat build inside her brain, and took a sharp breath. And then, as if in slow motion, Willie looked at her and shook his head. All the blood seemed to have left his face, and his hair hung over his eyes, wide and dark and gleaming. His hands clenched in front of him and she looked down at them, they were trembling. And then he was still. Then he looked back at Barnabas.
“You remember, Barnabas?” he said, his voice clear and careful. “Gina Logan, whose husband Ezra Logan died at sea?” But he said it as though prompting his boss, and Gina caught the flicker of confusion that settled on Mr. Collins’ face before it cleared.
“Oh, yes, Ezra Logan.” His composure quickly regained itself and he even made a slight bow in her direction. A very slight bow. “I hope you will accept my consolation on your recent bereavement,” he said in her direction. “And I hope you found the wood suitable. It was the least I could do.”
The words were elegant and polite and as they came from the mouth of a Collins, the most powerful family she knew, she responded in kind.
“Thank you, Mr. Collins.” It was with only the barest of holds that she kept what she really wanted to say locked inside of her. She could be wrong, she could be. Her visit to the Old House may have caught him off guard, and there could have been dozens of families that he’d donated wood to, and she had been the least of them, and so maybe he’d forgotten her particular case. But she knew she’d heard of no one else who’d had wood delivered at all like she had, let alone in the dead of night. No other family had woken to find their woodsheds crammed full to bursting, at least she’d not heard of any. She was not wrong, and yet she could not speak the truth.
And Willie, for some reason, wanted it kept that way.
For him and him alone she would keep her mouth shut. But she didn’t have to like it.
With one hand, she touched the edge of the pie, gone totally cold in the dampness of the kitchen. Her movement made the candlelight dance, and the scent of smoke wafted over her. It might be romantic to dine by candlelight, she supposed, but not to live by it.
“I brought one of my Thanksgiving pies, and I hope you’ll accept it as a gesture of my thanks for your, your. . . .” The word stuck in her throat for a minute but she managed to force it out, “. . . kindness.” Then she took another breath, and folded her hands in front of her. “I’ve already had Willie over to my house for lunch, but it seems so insignificant, really, in light of all you both have done for us.”
There was a startled, frozen little moment as Mr. Collins looked at his servant, and Willie looked back at him. “Lunch?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, untying the scarf from around her neck and adjusting it over her hair, “it was only macaroni and cheese, but it was homemade.”
“Very kind of you, I’m sure,” replied Mr. Collins.
But he didn’t sound like he thought the words he said, he was just saying them. Willie didn’t say anything at all, and Gina began to feel like she’d interrupted a conversation between them.
“And now,” she said, “I must make my way back home.”
He nodded, and Willie walked over and held open the kitchen door for her, and she stepped out into the fresh, stiff rain, and breathed it in, never feeling so glad to be out of anywhere in her life. She still had been unable to ask him about what Ez had done to him earlier that fall, but there was no way she was going back in there. Not now. She would just have to wait until the next time she caught up with him in town, and try feeding him again, and then ask him.
Willie closed the door behind her, and turned back, his shoulders already hunching up and stiff when Barnabas caught up with him and grabbed him by the arm to spin him around.
“And what, pray, were you doing entertaining visitors in my house?” came the question, sharpedged and fast.
Willie kept his eyes on the wall, on the three soft circles of light, though he tipped his head in the vampire’s direction. “She-she, well, I didn’t ask her up to the house, she just came.”
“Bearing gifts, I see.”
Willie nodded at this, several stiff nods because there didn’t seem to be a way to make his vocal cords work. And he wanted that pie, his mouth was watering even now, and if Barnabas knew this, he might take it away. He’d been in that kind of mood lately.
“And you let her in?” asked the vampire. The tone was very smooth.
“I h-had to let her in, B-Barnabas, I had to, it was raining and all?” Sparing the vampire a glance, hoping that the Barnabas would see the logic in this, letting one of the villagers in because it was raining. Not keeping them on the steps outside. Showing them the famous Collins’ hospitality. With a shake, Barnabas let him go, and Willie moved his shoulder once in a half circle to get the blood circulating again. Barnabas walked over to the pie and picked it up with both of his hands, where it seemed to grow smaller. Then he put it back on the table, letting his fingertips brush the top of the mason jar that held the pouring custard.
“This is the same
Willie nodded, eyes never leaving Barnabas’ dark form.
“I beg your pardon?” The face turned to look at him, and Willie hurried to answer out loud.
“And the same Mr. Logan who trounced you so badly that you were unable to work for some time?”
“And whom I had to, shall we say, take care of?”
He didn’t like the way this was going at all, and the memory of Barnabas crunching the bones in his hands in order to divest him of the name of the person who’d beaten him up in the first place rose up through his stomach like spikes.
“I believe I asked you a question.”
“B-Barn—” he began, but Barnabas turned on him, leaving the table with the now insignificant pie and custard, approaching Willie with three quick steps, his shoulders blocking out the candlelight on the table, and casting his face in shadow.
“And now I find you sitting down to lunch with his widow?” This said with asperity, the word lunch hissed out between his teeth as if it were something offensive. Or a betrayal.
“Sh-she, well, she, that is—”
A fierce, quick slap cut off the rest of his words, and for a moment Willie struggled to remember what the question was, but it was obvious that Barnabas already knew the answer and was just asking him to have it confirmed.
“Y-yes, Barnabas,” he answered with his first indrawn breath, trying not to raise his hand to the stinging in his face.
Barnabas was standing close now, blocking out most of the light in the kitchen. All Willie could see was the glimmer in one of Barnabas’ eyes and the hard curve of his cheekbone almost white in the darkness. He made himself look up, up where he imagined the vampire’s eyes might be, and hold himself there while the vampire’s coldness soaked all the warmth from the air and absorbed the light like a black hole.
“I will not have you associating with the
Willie stared at him.
“Do you understand me?” asked Barnabas.
“I do not want any association with the
“But Barnabas, no-one cares about Ez Logan, Missus Logan is better off without him, and she just—”
“Be quiet!” Barnabas hissed at him, sending a cold blast of air across Willie’s face. Willie’s shoulders cringed inward and he tried to turn away, but the vampire’s hands were on him, both of them gripping the cloth of his shirt and pulling him forward into darkness as Barnabas’ form entirely blocked off the light.
“You will not associate with them, is that clear?”
He was going to obey, he knew he was, but even as he nodded his assent, his mind clicked back to Gina Logan’s quiet face as she served him up enough food to fill the far corners of his stomach. The brave settle of her shoulders as she faced down Barnabas, even as he assessed her and she came up wanting in his eyes. And she’d come all this way to bring him a pie. With custard. In the rain. That might not amount to much in Barnabas’ world, where libraries could be filled with about a million dollars worth of books, or antiques bought for more than they were worth, all with the snap of a finger or a movement of pen across paper, but mattered to him.
He moved his mouth to say yes and he was left with the breath knocked out of him as Barnabas thumped him sharply against the wall.
“I have asked you a question, Willie, and I expect it answered. You will not associate with them, is that clear?”
Little Polly with her dolls all in a row and Daniel, running over his toes with matchbox cars,
Gina watching from the window, trying not to let him know she was watching, and the unexpected warmth of an early winter day. The memory of that afternoon had sunk itself deep into his head, creating a little warm spot, and what Barnabas was asking him to do was to rip it out. To pretend it had never happened and to deny himself one of the few moments of comfort he’d known since opening Barnabas’ coffin.
“If you happen to see her on the street, you may exchange greetings,” Barnabas was saying now, as if he thought he had Willie’s full attention and assent. He was even letting Willie down, easing the tension on his shirt collar and allowing his head to rest naturally against the wall. “It would seem odd not to be polite, now wouldn’t it?”
Willie nodded, lowering his chin to ease the tension in his neck.
What Barnabas was asking was impossible.
“I suggest you answer me, Willie.”
“Y-yes,” he said, low, wanting to move away and finding his back still pressed firmly against the wall.
“I beg your pardon, what did you say?”
Willie thrust his hands up to push Barnabas’ larger ones away but they were like bolts of iron. “I said yes, okay?” he found himself almost snarling.
“Hello and goodbye, and that’s it, okay?”
“I do not like your tone, Willie,” came the response, dark and dire in the blackness of the kitchen, and Willie sank back down, letting his hands fall and his chin drop. He was that close to a beating and he knew it.
“I-I’m sorry, I just—”
“Just what? Wanted a friend? I will say when and where you may make someone’s acquaintance.” Another shake. “Is that understood?”
“Yes, Barnabas,” he replied, knowing that any other answer would have him soon over the kitchen table and limping for a week afterwards.
The vampire let him go, stepping back, letting the light stream past his body once more, letting the heat from the stove reach Willie again, and Willie felt his whole body sag. With quick steps, Barnabas was by the table, and with one movement, he lifted up the pie and pitched it, left-handed, into the ice cold fireplace. It landed with a splat and a clang as the tin pie pan slid down the back of the fireplace and landed on the log rack. Then, grabbing the candelabra and without a backward glance, Barnabas opened the door to leave the kitchen.
“You may have my half,” he said. And stepped through into the dark hallway.
Willie could only stare, openmouthed, as the scent of cinnamon mixed with the dust of ash, and the sound of the kitchen door solidly closing echoed in his ears. He sprinted to the fireplace, his hands reached out in rescue, fingers pulling the pie tin upright, but it was too late. Globs of ash mingled with flakes of once warm crust, and the entire of the filling was now slipping through the grate, even as he watched. There was no help for it, none whatsoever, and he struggled with the heat building up inside of him, pounding his heart against his ribcage as he stood up, pie tin dangling in one hand.
“You bastard,” he whispered.
He lifted his hand to stare at the now-dented tin, noting one perfect crust with apple clinging to it, still intact. Mindless of the ash on his hand, he shoved the piece into his mouth, knowing the ecstasy of one bite of perfect sweetness before he swallowed. It was worse than if he’d never had any at all. “You fucking bastard.”
What would it have hurt to let me have the goddamn pie?
Nothing, that’s what.
Just Barnabas being mean. Because he could.
Willie strode over to the table, to where the lone jar of pouring custard stood. What good was custard, no matter how sweet, without pie? As he pitched the pie tin against the wall between the fireplace and the door, barely hearing the echo of metal against brick, something began boiling inside of him. He felt something raging behind his eyes as if he could feel the very beat of his heart through the tiny veins there. He wiped at the hot tears on his face with the back of his arm, and his teeth grit together as if they meant to tear a hole through something, and his lungs filled up, and he knew he had to do something before he exploded.
To the air in the kitchen, to the sky, to hell and back if need be, Barnabas had gone too far.
“You fucking bastard!”
Footsteps in the hall, quick, and coming closer, and Willie, feeling the snarl from his soul work its way to the surface, picked up the pouring custard. And, just as the door opened, pitched it with all his heart in that direction. It landed with a loud crash, only inches from Barnabas’ face, custard and glass shattering out in a spray that would have been comical anywhere else.
Anywhere else but where he was.
No pie, no custard, glass everywhere and Barnabas crunching through it as if it weren’t even there, coming towards him, eyes narrowed, head tipped down in an exceedingly dangerous way, and Willie stood his ground. Tasted the sweetness on his tongue as it worked its way across the back of his teeth, and knew he must have gone mad as some bright energy poured its way through his system.
“What did you say?” asked Barnabas, his voice low, just on the edge of anger, but not held back by anything more than a whim. Or a moment.
“You h-heard me,” said Willie, but it was not like staring down Burke Devlin or anyone else.
Something of that long ago day had seized him for a moment, taken his spirit and made it fly. But now, as the vampire looked at him, dark eyes so totally, deadly serious, Willie felt his heart falter. He had gone mad, yes that was it, and it was more madness that made him think he could turn on his heel and sprint out the door. Head for the hills, and the dark woods above the cliffs, even, but he never even made it past shifting his weight as those cold hands reached out for him, clamping down on his shoulders and throwing him against the wall with enough strength to knock the wind out of him.
But before he could gather himself up, Barnabas was there, right in front of him, looming above him.
“I will not have swearing in this house,” said Barnabas, and Willie’s head went back to hit the wall with a hard knock as he realized that Barnabas, for all his excellent hearing, had not heard exactly what he’d said. A film of sweat spread over his face, a close call, such a close call, and he could have been dead at the end of it.
“I will not have these fits of temper,” Barnabas said now, his palm beneath Willie’s chin, as if for emphasis, “and I will not have you destroying property. Is that clear?”
For a second, the defiance remained, thundering through him. “It was mine,” he said.
The flesh beneath Barnabas’ eyes twitched, and a coldness shot a bolt in Willie’s stomach where once the rage had boiled and he did not even have time to duck as the vampire backhanded him.
“You accept gifts only when I say you may,” said Barnabas, his voice a growl. “Your belt.”
Willie struggled against the wall, looking at the white hand outstretched, waiting, and he lowered his own hands to his belt buckle.
Yes and no. Just yes and no from now on, okay?
He’d brought this on himself, just as surely as if he’d planned it that way. But how? By giving a lift to a woman from the village? By becoming her friend, by accepting a simple gift of food? His fingers gripped the cold metal of buckle, shaking, he saw, so slightly, but it was enough to slow him down, even as he concentrated. Out came the tongue of leather, and pulling it back, he released the metal tab. All that remained was to pull the leather from the buckle and slide it through the loops on his trousers. And then hand it over.
As he tightened his fist around the buckle, his palm was sweating and slipped off. Then Barnabas’ hand came down, and, grasping the buckle, slid the belt out himself, and Willie felt the friction of the belt through the cloth of his pants as it slid around his waist. The final tug as it was freed from the loops. The belt dangled from Barnabas’ hand and he pointed at the table, his face serious and stern, eyes sparkling in the candlelight.
Willie knew why. He didn’t have to ask.
It wasn’t for the unwelcome visitor, it wasn’t, even, for the mess and destruction in the kitchen, not really. It was for the defiance, the single second when anger had flared in Willie’s eyes and he’d allowed Barnabas to see it. So open and naked, that spark of will, his chin jutted out, and feeling the blood boil behind his eyes.
He could barely move his feet, and then Barnabas grabbed him by one arm and shoved him at the table. The candles rocked with the force of his body against it, and he stilled the movement of the table with his hands. Then he looked at Barnabas, the pit of his stomach looping downward as he saw the blackness in the vampire’s eyes that not even the candlelight could quench.
Lips trembling, he pulled them in against his teeth to stop this, tried ducking his head and tightening his shoulders to stop the shudder through his body, but it didn’t work. And closed his eyes as he saw the hand coming for him, blindly felt it grasping the back of his neck and pressing him slowly down over the surface of the table. He ungrasped his hands from the edge of the table and curved them around his head, and his fingers clasped around his upper arms in a death grip.
“Your willful disobedience is entirely out of hand and I will not have it, do you hear?”
Willie nodded, his face brushing against the wood of the table, his hair tickling the flesh of his forearm.
Down came the belt across his back with the heavy force of all of Barnabas’ anger.
“I beg your pardon, I asked you a question!”
The loud voice echoed in Willie’s ears as he struggled to take in a breath.
“Y-yes,” he managed, his chest pressing with effort against the table. The single blow was still tingling through him, vibrating almost, radiating out in dark, nasty waves. “I’m s-sorry.”
“You should have thought of that before your little outburst,” said Barnabas, his voice almost as heavy as the blow of the belt. “You will remember it after I am finished with you.”
With that, Willie heard Barnabas step back, the sound of his shoes against the grit and glass on the floor obscenely loud in the darkness behind his eyes, and he tensed up only seconds before the second blow landed. And then another. It was as if his body could sense each blow before it fell, one heavy, stinging thud followed by another and then another, tensing up, brittle against the heat, and it felt like parts of him were breaking off. Being sliced off, bit by bit as the belt chewed into him, as Barnabas’ arm, tireless and powerful, wielded it through the air, sending it down to wrap around the thin-skinned parts of him, his hips, the backs of his thighs, the backs of his knees. He was sweating, pools of it collecting against his arm, sliding to the table, the scent of salt misting up at him from the wood, and heat, slicking down the back of his neck, sliding down his spine.
He was crying, he knew he was, but it was a soundless cry, just the tears falling from his eyes to the table, and the heavy, collected weight behind his eyes and his nose. In a second he was going to cry out and start begging, just on the other side of another blow, and just as he thought he couldn’t hold out another moment, the beating stopped. The belt was dropped on the table by his head, and it was at that second his body decided it had had enough. One long shudder raced through him, and the breath from his lungs poured out of him in an incoherent stream.
“I’m-m sorry, B-barnabas, won’t d-do it again, promise I won’, didn’ mean to—”
“Be quiet,” snapped Barnabas. “A manservant doesn’t grovel.”
This one does, goddamnit.
He would grovel on his knees if need be, he hated it, hated all of it. Anything not to get whipped again, his resolve never stronger than right at this moment, as he pushed himself up from the table and wiped his eyes on his shirtsleeve, drawing his arm across his face, trembling, grateful for the near darkness of the kitchen.
“Put yourself together, Willie, and clean up this mess.” Barnabas gestured to the broken glass and splattered custard as if something had merely spilled over and broken.
Willie eyed the custard and the dark stain in the fireplace and kept the scowl from his face only by biting on his lower lip. Streaks of heat and twinges of nasty pain walked up and down his backside and the backs of his legs. It could have been worse, he knew it could. Barnabas could have heard exactly what he said, could have used the switch on bare skin if he’d a mind to, or simply killed him outright. He’d been lucky. This time.
“I’m going up to Collinwood, which is where I was headed when I was so rudely interrupted.”
Barnabas picked up one of the candles from the table, leaving Willie in more darkness as he headed for the door. “I expect that all of this will be cleaned up before I return, and the behavior I just witness will never be seen again, is that understood?”
“Yes, Barnabas,” said Willie, his voice as low as before. But behind his eyes raced no fire, and he did not feel the righteous indignation coil inside of him. He only felt tired. Just tired and sore, his brain like an empty stone that rocked back and forth inside his skull.
Just as the vampire opened the door, he paused and turned to look at Willie, the candle held by his face sending his face into stern relief. “Stay away from Gina Logan, Willie, I warn you. Stay away from her or you will regret it.” With that, he closed the door behind him, leaving Willie standing in the kitchen, the vague scent of apples and cinnamon floating up from the ashes in the near darkness.
It was nearing midnight when Willie heard the front door opening and shutting, and he cast a quick look around the kitchen to make sure all was in order. The fireplace had been easy to clean out, he’d basically scraped the ashes and built another fire, but the pouring custard had taken ages, and the glass had imbedded itself into the floorboards with amazing ease, and there would be no getting some of it out. Hopefully the pressure of his footsteps would press the glass shards all the way in and they would soon no longer be a concern. He could just imagine what falling, or being pushed, to the kitchen floor would feel like.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, he scooted back a bit, his hands tightening on the cup of coffee in his hands, eyes locked on the kitchen door like a mouse on other side of a mousehole. The muscles on the backs of his legs throbbed dully even with this small movement and within seconds Barnabas pushed open the door, cape still on, cane in his hand. Willie jerked in alarm, almost spilling the coffee hot on his arm, but the vampire only looked puzzled as he divested himself of the cape, laying it on the back of the chair, and hooking the cane over the top of that.
“Willie,” said Barnabas, “I want you to tell me something.”
“Ah, sure, Barnabas,” he replied, watching as the master of the house went to stand in front of the fireplace in a way that was almost normal. Normal for a man wanting to warm his hands a bit, rubbing them together in a way that Barnabas normally did not, unless he were agitated or worried. Hopefully not worked up enough to decide his most faithful of servants deserved another beating; Willie parked his still simmering traces of injustice far back inside of him where he hoped it would not show.
“My cousins,” began Barnabas, “expect me to attend a holiday dinner tomorrow afternoon.” There was a little pause as Barnabas tucked his head down and appeared to contemplate his locked-together hands, and then his eyes sought the flickering lights of the fireplace. “I, of course, will be unable to attend, and will send you with a note expressing my regrets, saying that I will pay a call on them perhaps in the evening.”
Willie put the now empty coffee cup in the sink and wiped his damp palms on the legs of his trousers. “Sure, Barnabas, I can do that.” Being a deliverer of regretful letters was a hell of a lot easier than most of the things Barnabas had him do, a cake walk by anybody’s standards. Then Barnabas turned those dark eyes on him, and it was a little like the moment when he’d stepped in the way of the candlelight earlier, blocking it off with his body. Willie couldn’t quite see his expression, only the glimmer in those eyes, and the slight sideways tilt of his head.
“What is it, Barnabas?” he asked, keeping his voice from faltering by sheer force of will.
“What is this holiday they speak of?”
For a moment, Willie was speechless, and then a guffaw of laughter bubbled up, as his earlier hope that whatever concerned Barnabas had nothing to do with him was met with dashing success. “You mean Thanksgiving?” he asked now, unable to stop the smile his mouth insisted on making. “Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving.” He said this feeling rather like he was explaining it to an idiot.
Until Barnabas’ frown stopped him. That and the clenching of one of those fists. “I know that,” said Barnabas in carefully measured tones. “I want you to explain it to me.”
“Uh—” began Willie, but his mind couldn’t conjure up anything beyond the faint traces from some early childhood memory, and that only barely. “Um, let’s see now, everybody sits around and eats turkey and stuffing, and uh, watches football on TV.”
“They do?” Barnabas seemed rather amazed at this, as if the idea of the whole country taking the day off to eat and watch TV astounded him. “But what is the significance?”
“I dunno,” Willie replied with a shrug. “Maybe it’s because of those pilgrims.”
“Pilgrims?” asked the vampire, his voice rising as it did when he got very near the end of his patience. “What kind of pilgrims, religious or another kind?”
“I told you, I don’t know.” He wrung his hands trying to remember more, trying to see the pictures in his mind, but it had been so many years since they had meant anything to him that they had almost faded away entirely. “They wore funny black clothes and buckles on their hats, and Benjamin Franklin, he was one, an’ he showed them a turkey, and then they said—”
“Benjamin Franklin was no pilgrim, I assure you,” said Barnabas with authority, “nor would he have had anything to do with them. He was a genius and a philanderer and he would never have worn a buckle on his hat.”
“Well, anyway,” Willie continued, trying not to think about the fact that Barnabas might actually have met Benjamin Franklin, long moldering in his grave, “it was those pilgrim guys and they would have this big feast and everything, and invite the Indians—”
“You mean a Giving Thanks Festival,” said Barnabas, interrupting. “We had that when I was a boy, but the way my cousin Elizabeth described it, it sounded like something completely different.”
Willie shrugged. “Yeah, well, people sit around and eat a lot, that’s all I know.”
“Indeed,” said Barnabas, turning back to the fire, Willie’s explanation dismissed with a small movement of his head. “Well, I shall truly regret not being able to attend. You will find the note to deliver on the table in the front hall, and I suggest you do not fail to deliver it in a timely fashion.”
“It was truly a lavish feast my mother would put on, and all the best people from the village were invited.”
“Uh-huh,” Willie replied, feeling his eyes glaze over as he sensed Barnabas launching into another story about the olden days. Watching only vaguely as the vampire paced in front of the fire, talking about the enormous turkey roasted in this very fireplace, and the servants rushing to and fro, and the piles of food in the dining room, the house full of guests, and the laughter and the music.
Servants rushing to and fro, huh? Idiots. Probably thought they had it made.
He was growing tired standing there, the throbbing from the welts on his legs becoming more pronounced with his stillness, and then he shifted, and the wooden floor cracked beneath his feet. Barnabas turned to look at him, arrested mid-sentence, hand rising in the air. The hand dropped.
“Perhaps,” said Barnabas, his voice icy, “the closeness of a family gathering is something you lack the ability to appreciate.”
“I guess not,” Willie said, feeling more tired than nervous at this sudden attention. “Never had much like what you’re talkin’ about.”
“I see,” came the reply. “What a pity.”
But Willie could tell that Barnabas didn’t pity him at all, didn’t care about his lack of family life. Like you didn’t know that already, Loomis. And like he didn’t know that the quickest way to piss off the vampire was to be actively bored when he went on about his former life. Everyone else, from Mrs. Stoddard down to little David, paid rapt attention, their mouths open, hanging on every word.
“Sorry, Barnabas, I’m just tired, it was interesting an’ all, but—”
“Don’t bother, Willie,” Barnabas snapped. “Your hypocrisy offends me only slightly less than your lack of obedience.”
There was nothing he could say to this, nothing at all. Any type of apology would be brushed away, and so Willie could only watch as Barnabas stalked out of the room, leaving door open so the heat could seep out into the hall, unsavored and unappreciated. He heard sounds from the front room where he’d lit another fire and lit the candles earlier, sounds of Barnabas gathering a book and settling himself in a chair. Then he banked the fire in the stove and in the fireplace, blew out all the candles but one, and, carrying that with him, crept down the hall. Almost on tiptoe he moved past the opening to the sitting room, only looking in as he turned to mount the first stair.
Barnabas sat, as Willie’d expected, ensconced in one of the wing-backed chairs, book in his lap, candelabra pulled close. But though the book was open and one of those large hands was upon them, the pages were fluttering up, unattended. With the other hand, Barnabas was supporting his head, fingers to his forehead, elbow braced against the arm of the chair. His eyes were unfocused, Willie could see that, even from this distance, and they seem to have hooked themselves on the moving shadow of candlelight on the sitting room rug.
With the creak of Willie’s foot on the second stair, Barnabas looked up and saw him there. The hand came down and both hands curved around the edges of the book in his lap, and those dark eyes hardened in that white face. But in the second before they did, in that first instant those eyes met his, Willie saw the expression he’d seen only once or twice before. That gentleness, it always discomfited him, and it did so now, as the bleak shine, the desolate loneliness there, eclipsed everything else, and Willie felt the twinges of an unfamiliar pity.
“What are you doing, loitering there?” came the hiss from the sitting room.
The pity he’d been feeling faded away instantly, as Barnabas looked half ready to rise out of his comfortable spot and come after him. “N-nothin’, goin’ to bed.”
“Then do so and quit skulking about the hallway.”
“Okay, Barnabas,” he answered quickly, and sprinted the rest of the way up the stairs.
Once in his room, he shut the door quietly behind him, and listened at it while his heart slowed down. Barnabas always had funny moods that came and went, and most didn’t bother him as long as they didn’t end with the vampire getting upset. Obviously Barnabas was thinking about his family, and that was pretty bad. They were all long gone and, over time, had, apparently, taken on a kind of hallowed existence. And, like now, left the vampire to sink into a heavy, somber state, staring into space, at nothing.
Lighting the smaller candle next to his bed, he blew out the taller one and placed it on the mantle.
Then, getting undressed, he resolved to stay out of Barnabas’ way for a while, to keep his head down extra far while the holidays were in full swing. He slipped into the bed, blowing his warm air beneath the shelter of ice cold blankets, and waited while the pounding of blood through his backside, his thighs, subsided to a reasonable roar, wincing as the pressure of his body against the welts became extremely uncomfortable, and counted the seconds until his body became used to the pain and it died down.
His eyes slid closed and he willed himself to fall asleep quickly.
Don’t think about her, just don’t.
He fell asleep dreaming about apple crumble.
In the morning he delivered the envelope he’d found on the table in the front hall as instructed, leaving it with Mrs. Johnson, and walked back to the Old House, the smell of freshly prepared stuffing trailing after him in the crisp, morning air. When the sun went down, Barnabas went over to Collinwood and returned late, a smug smile on his face that indicated that the celebrations had been up to standards. Willie didn’t dare ask if Barnabas had brought over any leftovers, besides which, Mrs. Johnson had probably boiled the turkey instead of roasting and it probably wouldn’t have been any good anyway. That’s what he told himself as heated up a can of spagettios.
The day after Thanksgiving dawned with that crisp, clear
He had one more errand to do before he headed back up to the Old House, an errand that Barnabas didn’t know about, wasn’t going to find out about. Ever. A quick errand, one where parking was going to be easy, and no money was going to exchange hands. But it was going to be his hardest of the day.
Thick, bouncy flakes danced on his windshield as he turned down the lane where the
“Mister Loomis, Mister Loomis!”
He held the pie pan in his hands as if it had been a hat, and stopped just in front of the two steps that led to the porch. Having none of this, Polly came out, stocking-footed and grabbed his hand and pulled him inside. Into the warm cocoon of the Logan bungalow, where every vertical surface abounded with hand-turkeys and roughly drawn and colored pilgrims and Indians that hung grimly side by side. Their legs were too long, with hands much bigger than their heads, and on each and every black pilgrim hat was a buckle.
At the sink was Gina, apron firmly in place, water running, her hands moving as she washed something under the stream from the tap. She didn’t even turn to see who was standing there.
“Close the door, Polly, you’ll let the heat out, and we don’t want Mister Loomis catching cold, now, do we?”
Obedient, Polly let go of his hand and moved behind him to close the door and he was trapped.
“You’re just in time, Mister Loomis, I’m just heating up leftovers from yesterday, and frankly, if you don’t help us eat them, they’ll just spoil.”
It was then that Willie noticed the table set for an early evening’s meal, glasses already filled with milk. “You will stay, won’t you?” This said with her hands wiping themselves against her apron, and an expectant smile on her face.
Before he could say anything, Gina was reaching into the cupboard for another plate and another glass. She placed them on the table almost at the same time as she reached into a drawer for more silverware, just at the same time that the smell of roasted turkey and hot gravy whapped him in the face.
His stomach lurched in response, loudly. The hamburger from earlier in the day had long since been used up. Holding out the pie pan to her, he tried to think of some response other than yes, but as she took it from him, his mouth opened to say no and nothing came out.
“It’s settled then. Did you and Mr. Collins enjoy the pie?”
He thought he noticed a bit of asperity in her voice as she said this, her eyes falling to the half-moon shaped dent as she took the pan from him, but she was nodding and moving away, confident in her own cooking abilities to know that of course he must have enjoyed it.
Polly was at his side again, tugging on his arm. He looked down at her, and at little Daniel, standing silently by, matchbox car gripped tightly in his two small hands.
“Come see my dolls,” she demanded, but Gina stopped this with a shake of her head.
“Time to eat now, play later. Let Mister Loomis give you his coat to hang up, and then go wash your hands.”
Willie shrugged off his coat, and Polly carted it away, her arms buried in the cloth as she trundled towards the tiny hall closet.
“You can wash up here if you like, Mister Loomis.”
He looked where she was pointing, at the kitchen sink, and holding out a fresh towel. He supposed he was a bit grubby, even if he hadn’t been driving all day, the Old House left a continual layer of dust over him.
“Thank you,” he said, walking over to the sink. Turning on the hot water, he realized that he’d committed himself to eat at the
Gotta go, thanks so much.
With the other half of his mind, he relished the abundance of hot water and the simple bar of soap. Going to the Y allowed him access to hot water for a regular shower, but this was someone’s home, and the towel he was now wiping his hands on had not been used by a thousand strangers before him. Gina waved away his attempts to help carry the food over, and as he sat down at the table, his stomach gave another loud gurgle. Polly and Daniel found this terribly funny, but their manners kept their giggles behind their hands in an attempt to be polite. Gina kept the food piled on his plate at a steady rate, and Willie plowed his way through it. It was his own little Thanksgiving celebration, a day late but delicious for all that, Gina didn’t say much as she watched him eat yet a third helping of stuffing with gravy.
“Save room for pie,” was all she said.
This stopped him up short. “Pie?”
She nodded. “We only ate half of the one we saved for ourselves, I’ve got it heating in the oven now.”
“And custard?” he asked, his voice coming out so shaky that she gave him a funny look, brows lowering.
“Of course.” The confused look was erased by a smile. “Still plenty of that.”
He finished off the last of his third helping and looked up at her.
Nodding, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and took a deep breath as she placed an enormous piece in front of him and tipped the jar of pouring custard over it.
He waited until the custard created a lake all around the edges of the pie.
It was the best apple pie he’d ever eaten, bar none. He ate it slowly, his mouth rounding every bite, licking every bit from the fork, scraping every bit from the plate. At the last bite, he closed his eyes, and swallowed. When he opened them, the
“Good?” asked Gina, as if she half-expected him to say no.
“It was great,” he told her but his answer felt edged with bitterness. It was great, and it was the last time he’d be able to eat at her table.
“Listen,” he began, wiping his mouth, prepared to tell her he wouldn’t be able to come around any more, but she interrupted him by getting up.
“I know you must have things to do today, but would you build us a fire before you go?” She was standing up, gathering plates together, shooing Polly and Daniel off to play, and tending to the baby, but her eyes were on him. Flickering with little stars.
“B-build a fire?”
“Yes. All that good wood on a chilly day like today. Be a shame not to have one.”
He got up from the table, his hands flexing in front of him. “The wood that Barnabas—”
“The wood that you,” she corrected, turning away, and starting the hot water in the sink. “Nobody in town will hear that from me, but you know and I know, well, we know the truth about that, don’t we.”
There was no answer to this that he could make because trying to convince her that it had been Barnabas would only start an argument. Accepting the credit outright, on the other hand, would be too uncomfortable.
“Well,” he said, finally, moving to the fireplace, “I guess we do.”
He could feel her smiling at him as he knelt down. Unlike the last time he’d been over, the fireplace wasn’t set up to be lit, so he knelt in front of the hearth, the bruises on the backs of his legs throbbing with the pressure of muscle against bone, and built a fire as he would in the Old House. Built it thick, to last all night. Polly brought two of her dolls over to watch, and a stack of papers to draw on as well, two more pilgrims, from what he could see. She’d obviously run out of black crayons as these pilgrims wore bright blue. Danny watched, silently, standing to one side, his eyes enormous. From behind him he could hear Gina cleaning up as she talked to the baby, and the vague faraway patter of snow on the window. The house had a clean scent, dry and warm and still, and Willie took a deep breath. And then a match from the box and lit the fire. True to form, the fire sprang up almost instantly after smoking for only a moment. The smell of burning oak joined that of soap and wood polish and linen, and Willie held his hands out to the flames.
“I should be going,” he said, standing, not looking at her as she walked over to him. “I have things to do, errands and all?”
She nodded at him, her head tipping to one side. “You should sit a spell,” she said. “Here.”
Stepping back, she pulled up a rocking chair that he’d never seen there before. It was old, but well polished, and it had slender, round dowels for the backing instead of flat slats. They bent backward in the shape of a human back, and were topped by a flat, plain piece of wood. “Go ahead,” she said, pointing to it. “Rest a bit before you go.”
It was too much to resist. Willie sat in the rocking chair and leaned back, feeling the creak of the wood as it flexed under his weight. It seemed to spring around him as he settled into it, and he tipped his head back to rest against the headpiece, closing his eyes. The arms of the chair fit under his arms exactly, and he sighed. Ensconced in the wood, he felt the warmth of the fire move through him, and vaguely heard Gina moving away.
“I’ll wake you up in a bit,” she said.
Don’t wake me up at all. Ever.
He heard the flutter of Polly and her papers, and Gina’s movements from far away, and then he felt something stirring by his feet. He opened his eyes. It was Daniel, bending down, putting his matchbox carefully to one side, and, as Willie watched, he began to climb on Willie’s knee. His little hard-shod foot met Willie’s shin, and Willie reached out automatically, arms scooping up under Daniel’s slender arms, and lifted the small form up until his feet were out of harm’s way and Daniel was sitting in Willie’s lap.
“Rock,” said Daniel.
“Rock,” said Willie back, wondering what this meant.
“He wants you to rock him,” supplied Polly from down on the carpet.
“Rock,” repeated Daniel, and he settled himself in Willie’s arms, with all the aplomb of one with the perfect right to be there. His three year old weight wasn’t heavy, but he was solid, and his shoe met with Willie’s thigh, and so Willie reached down and slipped the shoes off. They clunked to the floor. Then Daniel let his head fall down until it was just nestled in the hollow of Willie’s shoulder, and one small arm slipped around the back of Willie’s waist until Willie became nothing more than one giant pillow. And then Willie obediently began to rock.
He’d never rocked a child before, much less held one, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. He found his arms slipping around the child, holding the boy snug, his own head tipping down until his cheek almost rested against the silky, dark hair. And rocking slow, found the heat banking off the boy seeping into him, into places he had not known were cold. It wasn’t just the warmth of a human body, it was something more. He did not know exactly what it was, but he felt the tense muscles in his back and his neck relax one by one. And then his head tipped back. And then he fell asleep.
Gina watched from her spot in the kitchen, holding her breath, hoping that Polly would be in one of her quiet moods, which, after baby Carla had been settled in her crib, was the one roadblock to her having a real conversation with Mister Loomis. Then she’d seen Daniel eyeing the man in the rocking chair, his matchbox car becoming entirely less interesting with every passing second, and knew when he put it down what would happen. And then Mister Loomis had fallen asleep.
She’d been so glad when Willie Loomis had shown up, hearing Polly’s shrieks of pleasure, but when she’d turned around to see him standing there like a supplicant with that pie pan in his hand, she was shocked. There was a fresh bruise on his face, not many hours old, her own experience with Ezra’s fists telling her that much. The colors were too bright, too near the surface of the skin. She could have dismissed that, have explained it away even to herself, could have explained away the purple splotches under his eyes as well, put those and the bruise off to a bad night. But then, as he approached her, holding out the pie pan, he was limping. Trying to hide it, and wincing as he came to a stop in front of her, lips drawn against his teeth, eyes so dark and deep and unsettled, and his hands were shaking. The shake was so slight, he probably didn’t even notice it, and as he bent his head to look down at little Polly, his hair, rumpled and uncombed, fell forward. When he lifted his head to look at her, she’d had the sudden urge to soothe his face, to brush the hair out of his eyes, to take the pain away. But to do any of those things was to bring what had happened to him out in the open. And, knowing what it was like from the other side, if he didn’t bring it up himself, he didn’t want it brought up and that was that.
And so she decided to give him kindness the only way she could, the only way he would accept it, probably. She fed him. He hardly said a word about the pie, even when she asked him about it, and she started to get a funny feeling about it. And the pouring custard. He’d brought the pie pan back, strangely dented on one side, and where was the mason jar? But no, not a word, and she let the moment slip away as she plied him with food and watched a little bit of normal color return to his face. Watched him eat with pleasure and with gusto, keeping the kids occupied with their own plates so that he could eat in relative peace and silence.
Perhaps she’d been too exposed to men like Ezra and Mike Parnell, men who blustered and shouted and made a ruckus wherever they went, but in contrast her Mister Loomis was as quiet as a tomb. And it wasn’t that she wanted him to be like Ezra, far from it, but she wasn’t used to it. It took some getting used to silence and peace after years and years of chaos and sound. If someone had told her that, even Anne, she wouldn’t have believed them. Maybe she was still getting used to it. And how hard could it be? Looking around at her peaceful house, the sight of Carla through the open door in her crib, Polly on her stomach, sprawled out without a care in the world, populating all the walls with the entire force of the first Mayflower colony, and Danny, asleep in a stranger’s arms, she felt the comfortable weight of quiet.
And, up till ten minutes ago, she would have known the certainty that she was the only one Danny wanted to rock him, even though in her busy day care schedule a nap in the rocking chair was an infrequent treat. Danny must have taken advantage of this opportunity, that was it. But as she walked over to look down on the sleeping pair, she knew this was not so. For even after endless acts of kindness and patience, Danny still treated Anne and Tom as strangers. Their sons, Karl and Peter, were somewhat less so, but still she was the only one whose lap he sat on willingly.
Danny lay with his head on Mister Loomis’ shoulder, eyes closed, mouth open in deep relaxed sleep, and the trust that he would never, ever be dropped that is the realm of all small children. Complete trust, as he was rocked back and forth, even as the rocking chair came to a whispering halt, that all would be well. And Willie Loomis. His eyes were closed too, and he was also asleep, but his face was not relaxed. Maybe it was the bruise, or the spray of hair across one eye, or the fact that the skin beneath his eyes was still tight that told her this. But his arms were gently looped around her son’s body, even where Danny’s weight was pressing on Willie’s elbow against the arm of the chair, so even that small discomfort would be his and not Danny’s.
Then, as if he could sense her standing there, even in the depths of sleep, he lifted his head and looked up at her. Blue eyes, like the center of the sea, cast in his pale face, and he looked so tired, so worn, his mouth opened to speak. And then there came a knock on the door. Instantly she turned, years with Ezra making her reflexes to loud knocks on doors somehow sharper than they ought to be. And as she walked to the door, she realized it was dark, outside the day had turned to evening without her knowing it, and as she opened the door, the snow flew in. Someone was standing there in the darkness, and she flipped on the light.
It was Barnabas Collins, in his dark caped coat, dappled with snow that wasn’t melting, and with his cane held in one hand. He wore no hat or scarf or gloves in deference to the weather, and this odd thought flitted through her mind before her good manners, even to Mr. Collins, kicked in. “Yes, Mr. Collins?”
“Good evening, I’m looking for Willie Loomis, is he here?”
For a second she thought it curious that he should know where to look, and then she realized that Willie’s truck was parked on the street, and then she realized that her bungalow was on a back street rather than a main thrououghfare and that Mr. Collins would have had to go out of his way to find it. He knew Willie Loomis was here alright, the question was how.
“Yes,” she said, not sure why she was suddenly a little nervous. “He’s here, won’t you—”
This came from behind her, and she turned to see Willie standing by the rocking chair, fully awake, Daniel in his arms. In the fire’s glow, he was white as a sheet, and Polly was getting up, scattering her papers and dolls and crayons to come to her mother’s side.
“No,” said Willie again, walking towards the door. “I’m going to go now, thank you for the meal.”
He handed Danny over to her, his eyes tightening shut at the last minute when the boy’s full weight became her responsibility, and then reached into the closet to grab his coat. He didn’t look at Mr. Collins as he did any of this, but kept his eyes averted, head down as he slipped his coat on. No gloves or scarf or hat either, she noted, petting Danny’s dark head, feeling Polly hiding behind her, something she never did. Polly wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, but Gina could feel the tug on her skirt where Polly was gripping it.
“Yes,” added Mr. Collins as Willie stepped out onto the front step as the snow pelted down in the bright porch light. “Thank you for your hospitality.” There was something in his manner, the tone of his voice that told her he was only saying this for form’s sake, as, in his opinion, the hospitality of a poor widow woman didn’t amount to much.
“You’re welcome,” she said in return, also for form’s sake, hoping with all her might that her tone told him she didn’t think much of his false courtesy. She looked at Willie, whose head was still down as he looked studiously at his feet. She wanted him to lift his head so that they could at least look each other in the eye and say goodbye that way, but she felt Mr. Collins looking at her, those dark eyes drawn into slits, and she found herself almost taking a step back. Then he turned, his caped coat spinning out a bit, laying over Willie for a second as if it were gathering him into it. Then the two of them turned and walked down the steps.
“Good night, Mister Loomis,” she said to the pair of retreating backs. There was no answer. No sound, no word spoken as they walked away, heads bent in the howling snow, walking to the truck. Then they stopped and she saw Willie look at Mr. Collins and Mr. Collins barked something out, and then Willie walked around the truck and opened the door for boss. As if something were wrong with his arms. There wasn’t of course, she knew that.
She waited on the top step, shivering and watching as Willie scraped the windows of the truck, until she realized that Danny could catch a chill, or any of them, standing with the door open to a storm like this one was. And if that happened, it would be as if Willie had never rescued them that day along the coastal road. She backed up, still watching, hearing the truck’s engine come to life as she closed the door against the night.
The golden glow from the
There was nothing to say either, so he drove in silence, absently noting the drifts which would be up to the sitting room windows by morning, feeling the crunch of snow beneath the tires, hypnotized by the rock-rock of the engine and the sweep of wipers against the windshield. He was almost calm by the time he pulled up to the Old House, because it just didn’t matter. Nothing he said or did at this point would make a difference and it was as if a blanket had settled over him. Was it acceptance or indifference? He did not know. Only that he was entirely numb, and as he got out of the truck and the snow sifted its way instantly into the collar of his coat and he opened the door for Barnabas, he wasn’t the least bit cold. Or hot. He was nothing. He followed Barnabas through the back door leading to the kitchen thinking that perhaps being nothing was a pretty good thing to be at this point. It was certainly easier than being anything else.
Except Barnabas, after taking off his coat and laying it over a chair at the kitchen table, kept going. Willie stood there in amazement as he watched Barnabas lay his coat to dry, then say, “Stoke up the fires, Willie,” and then leave. Willie stood there, listening to the footsteps leading to the sitting room and hurried to shuck his own coat, soaking with melted snow, and lay it across a chair, too. He stoked the fire in the stove quickly, not understanding this, not liking the feelings of confusion that busted in on his comfortable nothingness.
The Old House was icy cold, especially after the warm, cozy
Not now, Loomis.
Barnabas was sitting in his favorite winged back chair, waiting for Willie to light the candles and lay a fire in the fireplace, all with a calm stillness that had every single hair on the back of Willie’s neck standing straight up. He lit the fire and the candles, his hands shaking the entire time, and when this was done, he went to stand in front of Barnabas. His hands came in front of him and he clutched them together to keep them still. Watching as Barnabas picked up the book he’d been reading the night before Thanksgiving, Willie took a deep breath. “Barnabas?”
“What is it, Willie?” asked Barnabas, not looking up.
“About today. . . .”
“Yes?” asked Barnabas, still looking at his book as if he were reading and talking at the same time, and Willie’s intent to have a conversation with him the least of his concerns. “About today. What about it?”
“I want you to understand about today, I was—”
“Understand?” asked Barnabas, his eyes snapping up to lock on Willie’s face. “You want me to understand?”
“Y-yes,” Willie stammered, startled, his heart feeling like it was jerking to a running start from a standstill. “You see—”
“I would like to understand, actually,” replied the vampire, lines of mock concern softening his face not at all. “I would like to understand how you could completely disobey a distinct and uncomplicated command. Could you explain that to me, Willie? For that is something I should truly like to hear.”
It was a lost cause, he could tell that just by the sound of Barnabas’ voice, calm, but somehow dry and tight and angry. But he held his hands out anyway, making himself look at the spear of the vampire’s gaze, feeling the plunge of his stomach as if he were about to take a leap from a tall cliff. “I went to return the pie pan, that was it, and then she—”
“She?” asked Barnabas, sharply. “Am I to believe that this is her fault now?”
“N-no, no, that’s not it at all!” His voice rose in his tightening throat. “She invited me in to eat, and I said, yes, and then I—”
“And then you stayed, didn’t you, Willie? You stayed and made yourself at home.”
Yes, that’s exactly what he’d done, and the memory of the quiet moment when he began building the fire, knowing she knew who’d delivered it, rose in his mind. And then that moment fell into a hundred others like it, all bound by the comfort of warmth, and gentleness, and the trust of a child’s head against his shoulder.
“You made yourself at home and thought to take Ezra Logan’s place. Didn’t you?”
Willie snapped himself back to the present moment, with Barnabas’ glare pinning him into frozen stillness, and the raw truth of the question pounding in his chest. Even if it had only been for a moment, Barnabas was right. But there was no way he was going to admit it. “No,” he said, “that’s not true.”
Barnabas rose up from his chair, book flung behind him to land on the seat, his full height towering over Willie, eyes blazing and cold. “That man trespassed on my property and I removed him, and you, instead of being grateful, took advantage of his absence. You took advantage of me and my kindness.”
Something boiled up inside Willie, and he spoke before he could stop it. “That wasn’t kindness, you didn’t have to kill him.”
And you didn’t have to tear me to pieces to find out who’d done it to me either. But you did.
As if considering Willie’s words, Barnabas nodded, his mouth settling into a thoughtful line. “But you yourself said that she was better off without him, did you not?”
“Did you not? And is she not?”
Barnabas was right, so solidly right, but it didn’t help. Feeling the rush of confusion, Willie turned away, his hands coming up to his face, fingers digging into his scalp. Gina was better off without Ezra than with him, but you couldn’t just kill a man because he’d gotten in your way, could you? Though not too long ago, he’d considered getting rid of Burke Devlin, he’d sworn to Jason that he’d kill Devlin the first chance he got, just because Burke had gotten in his way. Devlin had probably been the only person, besides Jason, who’d not been afraid of him, and it had always been Willie’s way to go up against those opponents where he was least likely to win. But, going in with a bantam rooster’s flair and fire and spit, he had most often come out on top. Devlin had been one of the few to have bested him and had deserved to die, or so Willie had thought at the time. He’d not managed to get around to it before meeting up with Barnabas. But now, if given the chance, he would not kill Devlin, not even if Devlin’s throat were offered up to him and his old switchblade were thrust into his hand. But how was what he wanted to do to Burke Devlin different than what Barnabas had done to Ezra Logan? H did not know.
“I want an answer, Willie.”
Taking a deep breath, he made himself drop his hands at his sides, feeling the tremor in them, feeling the tremor in his face. “You’re right, she is, but—”
“I’m right, and that’s the end of it. You take too much advantage of my better nature, Willie. I would advise you to remember that in future.”
There was something missing here, and Willie knew what it was. It was payment due for having disobeyed a direct order. He turned around. “But what about. . . .”
Barnabas was sitting back in his chair, having taken the book up and was now flipping through it to find the right page. “The
“But what are you going to do?”
Dark eyes flicked up at him, perfectly serious, all mock civility and concern swept away. “I am going to get rid of the distraction. Tonight.”
The last of his feeling of nothingness vanished as a cold, horrible sweat raced through him. “No, no Barnabas, not that, please not that. Don’t hurt them.”
Barnabas looked away, unconcerned as if Willie had not spoken. “Your duty is here, to me, to the Old House. I will not have you traipsing off to play the master in someone else’s house. I believe I told you this quite clearly, in no uncertain terms.” The vampire turned a page in his book casually. “But since you are unable to obey, I will remove that which you are unable to resist.”
“No.” Willie whispered the word, felt it rushing out over his lips with his faint breath. “No, Barnabas.”
A twitch of dark eyebrow and Barnabas appeared to dismiss the entire matter from his mind, his concentration fully on his book.
Lurching down, Willie grabbed the book and ripped it from Barnabas’ hands, flinging it to the ground where the spine broke and the pages spread themselves over the carpet. He felt hot all over, blood boiling in the back of his eyes, and only a faint bell of alarm sounding somewhere deep inside of him. “You leave them ALONE! They’ve done nothing to you!”
There was a sudden image in his mind of little Danny asleep in his arms, sound asleep, trust oozing from his every pore, so that even as Barnabas stormed to his feet, eyes dark slits, Willie jutted out his chin, and faced him down, his hands fists at his sides.
“You have gone too far, Willie,” said Barnabas calmly. “The matter is already settled.”
“You can’t go in their house, they didn’t invite you!”
“Yes,” agreed Barnabas, “that is true, thanks to you, but there are other ways.”
“NO!” The shout burst from him as he lunged at the vampire, one of his fists coming up for a jab that he knew would not work but which his body insisted on trying. “No, God DAMN it, NO!”
Barnabas grabbed his forearms easily, with hard, cold hands, his fingers digging in, bending Willie’s wrists back until he was forced down, his knees meeting the thin carpet with a hard thunk. There on his knees, pushed back until his heels met with the long muscles of his thighs. Looking up at the dark mountain above him, cast into shadow by the racks of candles near the fire. He struggled, jerking his arms upward, but the vampire held him fast, resisting the pull with silent ease, the steel clasp of his fingers tightening until Willie’s hands began to buzz and go numb.
He pulled on his arms, though somewhere inside of him he realized he could continue to resist, and then Barnabas could break his arms and leave him there and then plow his way out into the snow to wait outside the
“If you are quite through,” said Barnabas, not letting go.
“No, I’m not through,” he said, his voice breaking only a little.
Willie opened his eyes and looked at the floor and forced himself to concentrate. His thighs were starting to cramp up, and his head felt inexplicably heavy, and he was too close to the vampire. But moving away was impossible, and so he shifted his weight and tried not to wince as Barnabas’ hands tightened even more on his wrists.
“It’s my fault, Barnabas,” he began.
“Yes, it is,” came the agreement from above him.
“It’s my fault because I went to her house to return the pie pan and she invited me to eat, and so I stayed. I was gon-na—” He stopped to take a deeper breath, and also to calm himself at the sudden nervous awareness that Barnabas was seemingly listening to him. This had happened before, and might mean nothing, or Barnabas might by only toying with him, but if he didn’t try, then Gina and Polly and Daniel and Carla were going to be gone from this world in the blink of an eye. “I was gonna just eat and go, and you’d never know I was there, and I was gonna tell her—”
His voice broke, and he found his eyes growing hot, and at that moment, Barnabas let go of his hands. His arms fell against his bent thighs and, head still bowed, he sank back on his heels.
“I was gonna tell her g-goodbye.”
Two large blobs of tears fell from his eyes to land on the legs of his pants. Roughly, he wiped them away with the back of a clenched fist, and tried to swallow. The lump in his throat felt like a balloon all blown up.
“Were you now.”
“I was, Barnabas, honest I was, but then I lit a fire and fell asleep in the rocking chair.”
“With a child not yours in your arms.”
“Yes.” He almost whispered his answer.
“But Barnabas, I mean, I had that thought, about makin’ myself a place but it was only for a second, because—”
“B-because—” but the words would not come, no matter how much he willed them to. His throat closed up at the mere thought of them, even though his heart had spoken them to him a thousand times a day.
“Because this is where you belong, isn’t that what you were going to say?” Barnabas asked in slow, measured tones, as if he wanted every word he said to be perfectly understood.
That was it. That was it exactly. The Old House was where he belonged. He wouldn’t fit in anyplace else. Not anymore. He nodded his assent.
“Get up, Willie.”
The barked command would patience no delay, and so Willie struggled to do as he was told, bent thighs straining against their frozen state, his legs shaky beneath him as he made himself stand next to the vampire and not move away.
“What then do you suggest I do?”
It had probably been the vampire’s plan all along to get him to this state, but Willie didn’t care. Barnabas was as capable of killing an entire family, no matter how innocent, as he was of removing one abusive and alcoholic husband. Or even a disobedient servant.
“P-punish me, Barnabas,” he said, hating his own eagerness, grabbing at this chance to save Gina, one of the few people in Collinsport to show him any kindness. “B-because it’s my f-fault, I was the one who went down there, I was the one who didn’t say no, it was me, an’ so—”
He looked up. Into the vampire’s eyes, gleaming dark, and Barnabas looked back at him, absolutely still. It wasn’t a sure thing then, it could go either way, and the fear that had been slightly dying away kicked into new life inside of him.
“Please,” he said, not caring if he were begging. “Please, Barnabas, you c’n punish me any way you see fit, I won’t plead with you, I won’ try to get away, you can beat me every day for a week an’ I won’ care, if you just—”
“If I just forget about the
“Yes,” said Willie with one huge exhalation of air.
“How insistent you are, Willie,” said Barnabas, tilting his head back to examine him. “So many things you wish me to forget.”
“Please, Barnabas.” Willie was so close to tears it almost wasn’t worth the effort to hold them back. He could feel them building, feel his jaw lock up in an effort to hold them back, and his body was so tense and tight and focused on trying not to collapse in a puddle at the vampire’s feet that he almost didn’t see the small, questioning smile pass across Barnabas’ face.
“And if I forget about the
There it was, another word he did not know, but something sprang inside of him just the same, and he knew the correct answer to this question.
“Yes, Barnabas.” And shaking, he was shaking from head to foot, his whole body, it felt, begging the vampire to agree. No matter what the cost.
“Alright then, we’ll do it your way. Give me your belt.”
For a second, he thought he’d heard wrong, but then he looked down and Barnabas was holding out his white hand, and Willie whipped his belt off faster than he ever had in his life, placing it in that hand with only a slight quiver.
Then he looked up. “Thank you,” he said, and felt the tears finally slip down his face.
Barnabas folded the belt around his hand, shortening the leather, and looked at him. There was a long, disquieting pause as the dark eyes examined him. And then, at length, he asked, as if to the air itself, “Where does this lion’s heart come from, I wonder?”
Willie blinked, the tears still clouding his vision, not understanding this, only knowing that the
Speech was impossible, he could barely breathe, and so he waited, silent, waited to do whatever Barnabas asked of him. Eyes on the floor, seeing the dark form out of the corner of his eye, feeling the coldness grow as Barnabas moved toward him.
“Take down your trousers and your undergarment,” Barnabas said, unfolding the belt so that it was a little longer in his hand.
Willie didn’t hesitate, his hands obeying, undoing and pushing down his pants and his underwear, his body gathering together, tightening itself as he bent over the table. All willingly, he’d signed himself up for it. Didn’t matter anyway, could have been a lot worse, he knew that, even as he felt the twitch of his shirttails as they were lifted high on his back. Even as he heard Barnabas step back, and heard the whoosh of air as the belt came tearing through the air to land on the softest part of the back of his legs. And then again. And again.
He kept his feet solidly braced on the floor as long as he could, kept his hands flat on the table as the leather of his own belt took sharp, angry bites out of his skin. Skin that was so recently seared by the belt that it remembered each blow before it fell.
Barnabas might be showing him a great mercy, but he wasn’t holding back either, and the heat built up quickly, and the red slice of pain layered itself just underneath his skin. The vampire was clocking his arm all the way back, it felt like, and the belt came down wickedly, wrapping around the edge of his thigh, his hip, snapping the skin into red half-circles that Willie could already trace in his mind. He grunted as the belt slammed into him, and the grunts turned into an unintelligible stream as the beating continued. But he hadn’t promised to be brave, had he? No, just to submit, submit as often and as long as Barnabas saw fit. Sweat ran into his eyes, heat laced the back of his neck, and the blows were coming on the same spots now, doubling the black pain as it lurched up his spine.
His head was buried in his arms now, his feet were creeping forward as his legs buckled to get away from the belt. No, that wasn’t right, that was like trying to get away, wasn’t it. And so he unbent his legs, bracing them straight for the belt’s impact, and somewhere in his mind he thought he felt Barnabas pause. But it must have been his imagination, because the whipping started up again, more intense, and Willie felt himself slipping towards darkness, a blanket of grey coming over his head, blocking off part of the pain, and with a last, final, intense blow, the beating stopped. The grey blanket lingered as he dimly heard the belt land beside his head, and Barnabas was saying something, only he didn’t know what.
Something about his room, and sleep, and doing as he was told. All he could do was nod, and that only barely, as he pulled up his underwear and his pants and tried to listen. Stumbling forward, Barnabas caught him and stood him upright again, and Willie’s head fell back and he saw Barnabas looking at him oddly.
A bright heat lingered at the top of his head, and Willie knew he had to get to his room and lay down before he passed out. He didn’t want to slip from Barnabas’ arms to fall at his feet and have the vampire carry him up the stairs. It wouldn’t be the first time, but somehow, with the reason for this particular beating, he didn’t want it to be that way, no matter how welcome passing out would be. Pushing his hands against Barnabas’ chest, he made himself stand up on his own. Made himself walk through the kitchen door and start down the hall. An ooze of darkness wavered behind his eyes, slipping down the back of his neck like oil and he braced his hand against the wood-paneled hallway and made himself take a deep breath. From behind him he heard a slight noise, and, knowing it was Barnabas, he pushed himself upright. Took his hand away from the wall and began walking. Walked down the hall, up the stairs, and down the passage to his room. All with the vampire only feet from him. This was such a mockery of concern that Willie almost wanted to laugh, which of course, would be the wrongest thing to do at this point. So he swallowed the laughter, grit his teeth, and opened the door to his room. Stepping inside, he turned.
Barnabas was there, candelabra in hand, his face deadly serious, the darkness all round him.
“G’night, Barnabas,” Willie said.
He barely heard the returning “Goodnight,” from the vampire as he moved toward his bed, his legs feeling like they were plowing through heavy water. Just as he tumbled face down on the bed, he remembered the candle on the nightstand.
But I can’t move. The darkness is coming and I can’t move.
The darkness would get him, he knew it would, and in a struggle of panic, he tried to raise himself on his elbows. Only to find a hand pressing him down, and a dark form by the bed. It was Barnabas, taking one of the candles from the candelabra in his hand and tipping it inside of the courting candle. Lighting it without a word. And, also without a word, he turned and walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. Willie’s neck relaxed and his head sunk into the pillow. He didn’t know if it was over forever, but it was over for now and that was enough. It would have to be.
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