Chapter Two

David leered maniacally at him, teeth bared in a ferocious snarl, eyes wide with inhuman madness. Then he laughed. The sharp staccato of it rang through the wind, which hurled it back with the same intensity. This had to be some hideous dream. But even his nightmares, of which he'd experienced plenty, could never be this gruesome or cruel. If it wasn't a dream, it must be reality, but a reality so horrible Barnabas was having difficulty wrapping his mind around it. Who was the culprit of this heinous crime? Not even in his weakest moments of desperation had he victimized a child. He vowed to find whomever was responsible and put an end to their depraved existence. His first concern was how to deal with David. He couldn't very well stow him in a coffin without considerable difficulty, and questions from the family. Willie, Julia and Quentin would have to be told so they could assist him, but how to go for help without David disappearing in to the night? The laughter ceased as suddenly as it had begun and David mumbled a string of words that emerged in a muffled garble. "what was that, David?"

David raised a hand to his mouth and when he drew it back, the fangs had disappeared! How was that possible? "I really scared you good, didn't I, Barnabas?"

He opened his fist to reveal the plastic teeth he'd just been wearing, grinning widely. "What do you think of them?"

Barnabas stood in speechless astonishment for a full five seconds, trying to assimilate what he'd just learned. The fangs weren't the result of a vampire's bite! They were merely part of a disguise! Questions tumbled pell-mell through his mind, but he tried to remain calm as he addressed the most important one. "Why were you wearing those fangs, David?"

He shrugged. "They're part of my costume for the party. I was testing them out to see how realistic they were."

Still bewildered by the incident Barnabas couldn't so casually put his worries aside. "Are you sure you're all right? You came to know harm while walking through the woods on your way here?"

David gave him a strange look. "Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be? I'm old enough to stay out after dark even if aunt Elizabeth doesn't think so."

Barnabas floundered for an explanation to what he knew David interpreted as his odd behavior. "yes, well, the woods can be dangerous even for a grown man. You really must use more caution when you walk through them. Come, I'll take you back to Collinwood."

David heaved a sigh. "I'm not a baby, Barnabas. I wish everyone would stop treating me like one."

Barnabas propelled David through the woods with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I'm not treating you like a baby, David. I would simply hate to see any harm befall you while you are out here. So the teeth are part of your costume?"

Grateful for the shift in topic david nodded. "I know our costumes are supposed to be a secret but I couldn't wait to see how someone would react to the fangs. I really had you going for a minute, didn't I?"

"Indeed you did." Barnabas admitted, trying to keep the annoyance from his tone. "May I ask what the rest of your outfit consists of?"

As he named them, David ticked them off on his fingers. "Let's see, I have a cape, fangs and makeup."

this didn't provide Barnabas with any clues as to David's disguise and he said as much. "I'm going to be a vampire, barnabas." he announced triumphantly.

Barnabas jerked to a stop, his heart instantly chilled by David's icy words. "A vampire?" he stammered.

"That's right," David said, turning to him, "is something wrong?"

The air in his lungs refused to circulate properly and barnabas found himself struggling for each breath. "Why would you want to be a vampire, David?" he wheezed.

Alarmed by his cousin's pallor he hastened to reassure him. "It's all in fun, barnabas. it's just to scare other people."

He didn't want to hear anymore! "You're almost to Collinwood, David," he gasped, "you'll be able to make it from here."

And without further explanation, he stumbled back the way he had come, needing the safety and sanctuary of the Old House.

The door opened, admitting David and a gust of frigid wind that ruffled the pages of Julia's medical journal, but her concentration was so deep she barely took notice. It was only David perching on the sofa beside her that grabbed her attention. He usually didn't mingle much with adults, preferring the company of Amy. "Where have you been?" she questioned vaguely, still keeping her eyes on the page.

"Outside." he returned just as vaguely.

His response didn't surprise her even if she didn't approve of his nocturnal wanderings. He was constantly going places, or doing things he shouldn't be doing. A lengthy silence passed, in which he fidgeted nervously, before he offered her a full admission. "I went to the Old House."

"Why did you go there?"

He produced the fangs from his pocket and showed them to her. "I wanted to test them out--you know--just to see how scary they would make me?"

"yes," Julia said slowly, "and did you find someone to try them out on?"

Even as she said it, she had a sinking feeling who had been his guinea pig. David went on to recount the way he'd met Barnabas quite by accident near the Old House, of how he had flashed his fangs, and of barnabas's strange reaction to him. "He got all worried," David concluded, "and when I told him what I was going to bee for the party, he freaked out. I don't think he'll be able to come , Dr. Hoffman. I think he's catching a cold."

Julia snapped the book closed and stood, hoping the concern on her face wasn't obvious. "I'd better go check on him." she said by way of explanation.

David pocketed his fangs and trailed her from the room and up the stairs where she retrieved her medical bag. she left him at the door of his room, lost in her worry. There was no way David could have realized the effect the fangs would have on Barnabas, and if she was honest with herself, she wasn't altogether sure what she could do to soothe the pain of memories that spanned over two centuries. But she had always been there for him when he needed her, and this time would prove no different.

She was slipping in to a jacket when Amy intercepted her in the foyer with such an earnest expression on her face, Julia felt obligated to ease her anxiety. "Is something wrong, Amy?"

"no, not really, Dr. Hoffman." Amy mumbled, twisting her fingers around one another.

"Are you sure?" Julia pressed.

"Could I ask you for a favor, Dr. Hoffman?" she blurted out, her cheeks flushing crimson.

Mildly surprised, Julia nodded. "Of course."

Amy took a few shallow breaths, trying to fortify her courage before speaking. "May I borrow your stethoscope?"

This was the last request she had expected. "What in the world do you need my stethoscope for?"

The blush deepened as she answered. "It's for my costume tomorrow night."

Her curiosity peaked, Julia rummaged in her bag until she found the desired item, then passed it to Amy. "I'm interested to see what you're going to be." she said, although she had a pretty clear idea.

Amy leaned over and shyly whispered, "I know you've already figured out what I'm going to be, Dr. Hoffman, but no one else knows, so will you please keep it a secret?"

Smiling, she gave her word and Amy rushed up the stairs to complete her costume as Julia left for the Old House.

Barnabas had no memory of returning to the Old House, one moment the damp wind clung to his skin, and the next, the slightly warmer air of the drawing room enveloped him. his only conscious sensations was the frantic battle to get air in to his burning lungs, and the vertigo that accompanied oxygen deprivation. He collapsed unceremoniously in to his chair, and it was only then the intense panic, anger and anguish began to recede. The spinning room came to a jolting standstill and he began trembling in the aftermath of both the physical and mental stress. David's words reverberated in his mind, "It's all in fun." "It's all in fun.", mocking, taunting him. How could a condition so dreadful, so vile, be considered fun? The question was so ludicrous he might have laughed if not for the tumultuous storm warring within him.

He could still see the fangs protruding from David's mouth, sharp and deadly, truly remarkable in their realism. Is that how he appeared to his victims before the unspeakable deed was done? Was that how Willie and Julia saw him? The thought sickened him. How could Julia abide being in the same room with him? Why would she want to continue their friendship? When he had first enslaved Willie he had cared nothing for the man's revulsion of the tasks he was commanded to perform, hadn't been concerned by Willie's intense dislike of him. The years had passed and Willie had proved time and again his loyalty to Barnabas, even when that loyalty had been undeserved. The unwilling fearful slave had become a trusted friend and it was that friendship that kept him here, not the unnatural control barnabas had once exerted over him. In the beginning Julia's motivations toward him had been for professional recognition, the experiments a stepping stone to prestige. They had each taken from the other what they could get out of the deal, she hoped for fame in the medical community, he the promise of a normal life. He couldn't recall the turning point in their relationship, where their mutual trust had blossomed in to something deeper, but he was grateful for her support, knowing he would have been destroyed long ago if not for it. Their relationship had withstood time, quarrels and the strain of separation, more stronger and enduring than ever. Still he couldn't help wonder what effect those deadly fangs had upon his friends each time they saw them. Did they draw back within themselves each time he was near? Did some part of them fear him?

When he had mapped out his future, he could never have imagined the dark creature he would become, never dreamed his brief involvement with one beautiful woman would bring about the destruction of his world, an invincible force that still remained, lying in wait, lulling him in to a false sense of security before striking with deadly precision. Angelique's jealous evil had crossed the centuries, following him to the grave and beyond. She had introduced him to death, had given him the cold emptiness of a dark eternity, and had taught him loneliness and pain.

Two hundred years after it had happened, he could still remember the touch of death, light at first, warning him the end was nearing, then as it moved closer, penetrating his heart, he had begged for help, and everyone was powerless to give it. He had surrendered quietly to the dark void, at last finding peace from the constant anguish of sickness and fevered dreams. His peace was short lived, for upon waking he had found himself in the appropriate place for death, accept death had welcomed him then cast him out. Lying in that coffin, trying to make sense of his reason for existence, he felt cheated. Death hadn't wanted him, life had forsaken him. What kind of an existence was this? Angelique's treachery soon came to light and in rage he'd killed her for it, but not even this dark revenge could ease his suffering.

Pleading with Ben to end his misery, Barnabas had ordered him to plunge a steak through his heart. Ben had reluctantly promised to fulfill his wishes, but the night found him awake and breathing. Angelique had ensured Ben would be unable to carry out his task, she would forever torment him with the curse.

His nights had held nothing but the promise of death, one by one he was forced to kill innocent people in order to survive, and with each death a part of his heart died as well. It was the desperate actions of his father which had hoped to spare him from an eternity of torment by chaining him in his coffin, a last farewell that still haunted him. The helpless anguish in his father's eyes as he had bid his son goodbye, leaving unspoken the words of love he could never bring himself to utter, remained with him as night after night he lay immobile in his prison, staring up at the cross.

Upon waking in this new century, his reign of death and terror had once again begun, events he was helpless to stop. his desire for life hadn't given him the strength to return to that awful confinement in the coffin, and tortured by the alternative, he continued his nightly ritual of a destruction he despised. Now to learn that people actually considered posing as a vampire amusing made him ill. Why would anyone choose the life of a vampire? If only they could experience just one night as one of these dark creatures, and the unceasing guilt that weighed so heavily upon his heart, they might not be so flippant and entertained by the idea. It was true he held considerable power as a vampire, but that power exacted a tremendous price, a debt that never seemed satisfied.

Unsteadily he staggered to the window, pressing his forehead against the cool glass, fixing his gaze on ominous storm clouds hovering in the distance, blown by a cold wind closer and closer, preparing to spill their tears. If only he could weep as easily as those clouds, if only his sadness could be so easily washed away, he might be free to find some contentment in life, limited as it was. But no tears came to soothe his heart. Even an outward show of grief was denied him. A gust of wind rattled the window and somewhere in the distance thunder voiced the storm's arrival. But for Barnabas Collins, the storm had always been raging, a storm that would forever sweep across his desolate heart.

Pinpricks of starlight shown down from a gloomy sky as Julia approached The Old House, a brisk wind stirring the bear branches of trees, lending the night a subtle shiver. Clouds were gathering to form what promised to be a spectacular storm and quickly she slipped inside, the wind slamming the door behind her. All was still in the great house, an unnerving quiet that made her pause, wondering if indeed Barnabas had sought refuge here. She couldn't think where else he might go, certainly not to the family mausoleum, but he might have taken a walk. She shook her head. David's description had made it evident that Barnabas was in no condition for indulging in an evening stroll, so he had to be here. Several time she had the impulse to call out for him, but was held back by the muted silence, as if it had taken her voice so as not to disrupt the unsettled emotions harbored there. Long familiarity with the house led her easily through the dark rooms until she came to the drawing room, her senses attuned to the slightest sound that might hint at Barnabas's whereabouts. The darkness was no less prevalent here, almost a tangible entity that tried to push her back, to keep her away from things it didn't want to reveal. She scoffed at herself for injecting emotions in to one of nature's conditions, instead wishing for a convenient light switch that would dispel the blackness. A flash of lightning streaked the sky, momentarily lighting her surroundings, and in those brief seconds she saw him on the far side of the room, silhouetted against the backdrop of night, supported by the window on which he leaned. Carefully she made her way around furniture until another fragment of light from the storm illuminated her location. She was only feet from him. He didn't acknowledge her presence, and she didn't think he had heard her enter. "Barnabas?" she tried tentatively.

He raised his head from where it had been resting against the window but he didn't turn to face her. "Forgive me for appearing inhospitable, Julia, but I really don't feel like entertaining company at the moment."

Unruffled by his curt response she proceeded to light a candle, and would have continued to light more but barnabas shook his head. "Barnabas, what's wrong?"

He had exhibited strange behavior to situations before, but this was unusual even for him. "I used to enjoy the sunlight," he mused, almost to himself, "taking it for granted day after day, knowing in the foolish arrogance of youth that it would always be there to warm my skin, to light the world around me with vibrant color. When it would rain I used to sit beside the window for hours at a time, wishing for the sun to reappear, and when it did, I would rush outside to revel in its nourishment."

Captivated by his melodious voice, the gentle inflection she had grown so familiar with, and the sad conclusion to his tale she knew was coming, drew her closer to him, her heart aching for him. "Vanity made me believe in happy endings. I should have realized my ending was eminent, but not the end I had planned. Now I am forced to live in a world of eternal darkness, of cold rain and gloomy skies. The sun still shines, but it is a sun that I am cursed never to see."

A painful silence hung between them as Julia struggled to find words that might ease his sorrow. She laid a hand on his shoulder, feeling the tense muscles that spoke of an agony Barnabas fought to keep in check. "What brought this on?" she asked softly.

If she could get him to open up to her, it might help to alleviate some of his anguish. "I suspect you know the answer to that, Julia." he said wearily.

She squeezed his shoulder, gently turning him toward her, but he averted his face, refusing to look at her. "Talk to me, Barnabas." she whispered earnestly, placing a hand on his cheek.

His skin held the faintest hint of a fever, doubtless brought on by the night's ordeal and when he didn't respond to her plea, she gently tilted his face until she could look in to his tortured eyes. He jerked sharply when their eyes met, pulling away so violently it caused him to stumble backward in to the wall. Confused by his reaction she stepped forward to offer comfort but he whirled away from her. "How can you stand the sight of me, Julia? How can you remain in the same room with me? You have been foolish to befriend me and to endure my company for so many years! Aren't you afraid of me? If not, then you should be. Think of all the people I have harmed in the name of survival! How I wish my father had had the courage to shoot those silver bullets in to my heart. If he had, none of these terrible things would have occurred, and my worthless existence would be over."

Rain was at last pouring from the clouds, wind hurling it violently against the house, a perfect reflection of the mood within. Julia placed the candle on a nearby table then stepped in front of barnabas,, hoping he wouldn't turn away from her. "If your father had been courageous enough to end your life, I would never have found such a good friend. I am not afraid of you, barnabas, because I have seen the many good qualities you possess. Countless times you have risked your life to keep your family safe. Survival is an instinct inherrant in the human race and I can't fault you for the means by which that existence is achieved. You are cursed with a terrible affliction, but it is an affliction you have not allowed to defeat you. Your heart is good, and not even an eternal curse can change that. I can never hope to comprehend the life you have been forced to live, but I can try to help. Please, barnabas, let me help you."

The silence was charged with lightning and rain, and with pent up emotions that could never be fully expressed. Finally Barnabas began speaking, his voice filled with a dreary melancholy that tugged at her heart. "when I saw David tonight with those horrible fangs, my first thought was how it had happened. Who on earth would do such a gruesome thing to a child? My next thought was of revenge, whomever had done this would pay dearly. And then he removed them, simply took them out, and he was once again david, safe happy David. I'm afraid I didn't handle it at all well. Doubtless he told you of my strange behavior?"

He permitted himself a wan smile before continuing. "I made the mistake of inquiring as to what he was coming to the party disguised as, and he told me. by this point I was in shock."

He stopped, trying to contain the shudder that passed through him, but Julia didn't miss it as it fleeted across his face. "Your reaction is quite understandable," she assured him, "anyone else might have behaved the same way."

A brief nod was the only indication he had heard her. "He told me it was all in fun, the costume was merely a means of frightening people."

He sounded so bewildered and lost Julia had the oddest desire to hug him. "why, Julia?" he asked, "why would anyone think being a vampire fun? Why would they wish to willingly wield such horrific power?"

She could see how badly he wanted to understand the motives of the innocent people who lived in a world without the knowledge of darker things, and she hoped she would be equal to the task of explaining it to him. "Not everyone believes in the supernatural, Barnabas. Most people think vampires and witches only exist in folklore and books. It provides a way for them to indulge in a bit of fear that can't truly hurt them. Most people like to be afraid up to a certain degree, as long as that fear can't reach out and effect them. The trouble with you, and indeed everyone who has experienced a portion of what we have, can appreciate that folklore isn't simply harmless legend or stories told around campfires. It has effected you in a way no one could imagine. You have been forced in to a reluctant belief of these things, a world most people think doesn't exist."

She could see the words had impacted him, logically he could make sense of her explanation, but his heart rebelled. "It isn't fun, Julia!" he burst out, desperation and fury mingled in his voice, "it is a loathsome existence, a terrible extension of death! For the briefest of moments when I saw David, I was so certain he had been changed in to a vampire, that at that moment I would have sacrificed anything to save him!"

She reached out, and this time he didn't withdraw as she placed her hand over his. "I know you would have, barnabas. That's what makes you different from other vampires. You have risen above your nature, and when the time presents itself, you don't shrink from what has to be done. I'm sorry David brought back all these painful memories. I know it hasn't been easy reliving them."

This time the sad smile reached his eyes and he colored slightly. "Why did I react so violently to David's appearance, Julia? Am I losing my mind?"

"Of course not," she assured, "you experienced an acute panic attack brought on by fear. It isn't anything to be ashamed of."

The fight slowly seeped away, leaving him limp and wilted. Taking his hand she led him to his chair and gently pushed him in to it. "You've had a severe shock, Barnabas. A little rest should help."

He raised a hand to his forehead, and taking note of the gesture Julia searched through her medical bag until she found the desired medication. Eyeing it suspiciously he asked, "What is that for?"

It's a simple pain reliever," she told him, "it will help with that headache."

"But I don't have a headache." he lied.

She poured the pills in to his hand. "Barnabas, you might be able to fool everyone else, but not me. Now sit there quietly while I get you some water."

His protests fell on deaf ears as she left the room, then returned minutes later glass in hand. Passing it to him she ordered him to take the pills. Frowning, he obeyed then closed his eyes. Willie's arrival put a halt to any further discussion, but one look at his friend made him turn to Julia. "Has somethin' happened, Julia? He don't look too good."

"I see nothing amiss with my appearance, Willie." Barnabas grumbled.

Ignoring him, Julia motioned Willie to follow her from the room. She recounted the night's harrowing events, eliciting sympathy from him. "Poor Barnabas," Willie lamented, "no wonder he's sick."

"It won't last long," Julia promised, "it's only a headache. He really needs to be in bed."

Willie grinned. "He don't like restin', much less in bed."

She sighed, knowing the truth of his words all to well. Returning to the room, she was about to recite the many benefits of sleep to restore health, when she realized he had made no complaints about unnecessary fussing. "It looks like he won't be goin' to bed after all." came Willie's wry observation from behind her.

Moving closer, she peered anxiously in to Barnabas's face, and sure enough, he had succumbed to sleep, just not in the place she would have chosen. But then again, she wasn't known for making use of beds, so she didn't feel right in lecturing him about it. She took up a chair beside him, and told Willie to go to bed himself. "You stayin' down here, Julia?" he asked.

"Just for a little while." she said.

With a knowing expression on his face, Willie shot her a smirk before leaving her alone with Barnabas. She should stay with him, just to make sure he would be all right. Her motives didn't stray beyond a doctor's concern and a friend's worry, and if she kept reminding herself of that, she might just come to believe it herself. The night passed, the lone candle burning itself in to a puddle of wax, and still Julia sat beside him, lost in thought as she kept her vigil. Happiness had been a fleeting dream for both of them, offering promising glimpses before being snuffed out by tragedy. The years she had known Barnabas were the best years of her life, and although they were often faced with insurmountable odds most times, she found her greatest joy simply being with him. Perhaps she would stay just a little longer, in case he should wake and need something. After all, what were friends for?

Barnabas wasn't at all certain he was prepared for the evening ahead, but he had promised David and Amy he would come to their party, and being a man of his word, he located his eighteenth century attire, deciding it would serve well as a period costume without being too obvious. It felt comforting to slip in to the familiar ensemble, almost like coming home. Julia had been mysterious about her costume, refusing to give him any clue as to what it might be, and Willie had claimed that to reveal his identity at the party would ruin Quentin's disguise. barnabas had given in with good grace, and now here he was entering the house. the previous night's events were still fresh in his mind, but he pushed them away, not allowing them to cast a dreary cloud over his mood. "Hello, my lord. Don't you look dashing."

Surprised by the greeting, he saw Carolyn floating down the stairs, fully clothed in an arthurian outfit. "Lady Guenavier," he said with an elaborate bow, taking her hand and brushing his lips across it, "you are more lovely than the flowers in yonder garden."

She laughed. "You look very handsome in those clothes, Barnabas."

"Why thank you, Carolyn," he said modestly, "and may I say you truly are the portrait of beauty tonight."

Blushing prettily, she allowed him to escort her in to the drawing room, where they were greeted by Elizabeth, clad in a stunning gown of royal blue, smiling when she saw them. "You two have chosen the perfect costumes." she praised.

"May I return the compliment?" Barnabas said, sweeping her a grand bow, "Queen Elizabeth, I am Barnabas Collins at your service."

His theatrics won him smiles from both women, which of course brought Quentin to investigate. "See here, Barnabas," he teased, "you can't monopolize all the beautiful women for the entire evening."

So saying, he grinned roguishly at Carolyn. "I'll be givin' ye a tour of my ship if that would be agreeable ta ye."

"I don't know," she simpered, playing along with the game, "my reputation might be ruined were I to be seen with a pirate."

"Well then we'll just have ta kidnap ye until ye see reason." Willie added, dressed in a similar outfit.

Quentin gestured to Willie. "Permit me ta introduce my first mate, Will Loomis. Don't worry yerself none, missy. I won't be kidnappin' ye. I'm above such threats. my talents are much more subtle. I'll properly wine and dine ye until ye sail away with me."

From across the room David's voice reached them, and although Barnabas had braced himself physically and mentally for the sight of David's appearance, he flinched upon his first glimpse of him. The fangs aren't real, he reminded himself, David is in no danger. He strode up to the group, displaying his teeth in a menacing grin. "Who will be my first victim!" he moaned dramatically.

His words were barely intelligible, the fangs muffling his voice, but the message was clear. Quentin leaned over and whispered, "If you're feeling faint, Carolyn, my arms are available to catch you."

"I'll keep that in mind." she said in mock gratitude.

David lunged at Carolyn who pretended to scream in terror, and unable to watch the scene even in jest, barnabas went to greet Amy, Chris and Sabrina. amy stood proudly between the couple, who were clothed in bright colors, leis draped about their necks. for her part Amy's ensemble lightened Barnabas's spirits considerably. She extended her stethoscope for his examination, blushing shyly. "What do you think, Barnabas?" she wanted to know.

"I think you're a genuine likeness to Dr. Hofman." he said truthfully, "a very pretty doctor indeed."

Pleased by his genuine warmth, she thanked him before going in search of David. He glanced around, searching for Julia, but couldn't see her anywhere. "You lookin' for the good doctor?" came a familiar voice from behind him, "well she ain't here."

He spun around and was aghast to see a woman standing before him in full gypsy regalia. She bore an uncanny resemblance to Magda, and he had to look closely to see hints of Julia beneath the disguise. "Hello, gypsy," he said, "you look like someone I was once acquainted with."

She gave a bark of laughter and playfully punched his arm. "I do have a name, mr. Collins. Magda. magda the gypsy, who will read your fortune if the price is right."

She took his proffered hand, making a great show of studying it before announcing, "You will be happy for many years to come."

He raised a brow. "That's it? Don't you have anything more original? I'm rather disappointed."

She laughed again, dropping her accent. "You look very nice in those clothes, barnabas. They suit you very well."

Her compliment lifted his spirits even more, until he felt more like celebrating, rather than sequestering himself behind a closed door. "And I must say, your costume is quite unique, Julia."

The outfit merged easily with her own personality, fiery and wild, gentle and kind. It was then he realized he still had hold of her hand, and she was making no effort to pull it away. Disconcerted by the warmth that emanated from somewhere in the region of his heart, he gently disengaged his fingers from hers. A look passed between them. "Perhaps I should have my fortune read more often." he suggested quietly.

They were interrupted by Quentin's boisterous arrival as he stepped in between them. "I hear we have a gypsy in the house. Try your fortune telling on me. I'm always a willing subject."

The spell broken, Julia shifted her eyes to Quentin, the mischief glinting in them. "Do you got money?" she demanded, effecting her accent once again.

His customary charming smile beamed full force. "My heart is the only thing of value." he admitted in a hushed tone.

She gave a derisive shake of her head. "Your heart ain't got any value, Quentin, it can't buy me what I want."

"And what do you want?" he asked, enjoying the banter.

"money." she declared, "that's what every gypsy wants. But never mind. I will read your fortune because I take pity on you."

Examining his palm she said, "Your future is as it has always been, carefree and transient as the wind. You will be drawn to many women, then break their hearts."

"You're making me sound like a scoundrel." he protested good-naturedly.

Her accent disappearing she said, "If the shoe fits..."

The star studded sky and half moon painted the heavens with light, all traces of the previous night's storm blown away by the gentle breeze of a cold Collinsport night. Carefully, Barnabas set the jack-o-lantern beside the front door of the Old House, then stepped back to admire its placement. yes, it looked fine there, its eyes glittering dangerously as a warning for unsuspecting mischievous spirits. Amy and David had suggested he take the pumpkin with him, something that would festoon the Old House with a bit of the season, and he had accepted graciously. when asked who had carved this particular pumpkin, Amy told him professor Stokes and hallie had made it before leaving on their trip to Europe and had given it to them as a gift of farewell.

The party was a resounding success, with plenty of scary stories shared, not around a campfire, but within the warmth of family and friends, the mournful wind an accompaniment to the ghostly tales. Once again the cider was employed to take away the chill of night and imagined apparitions, and Mrs. Johnson supplied them with the baked pumpkin seeds, a treat which was enjoyed by all. He had left Collinwood feeling happy and pleasantly weary from the evening's entertainment, the candlelit pumpkin lighting his way back home.

He looked in to the pumpkin's glowing face and decided he rather liked this holiday, even if his father thought it pagan. Barnabas couldn't speak ill of a holiday that had taught him to laugh, and drawn him closer to his family and friends and given him a better understanding of his own immortality. He couldn't escape the curse, but he could rise above it and live his life to the fullest, even if it was a life spent in moonlit hours. He would always have family who loved him, and friends who would help him through the challenges.

Resting a hand on the jack-o-lantern, he whispered in to the night, "Goodnight, mother, father, Jeremiah and little Sarah. Rest in peace where ever you might be."

Was it the wind that returned his heartfelt words? Or could it be the answer of loved ones watching over him? It didn't matter. All that mattered was the flawless peace he felt at this very moment, a peace he would hold close until the next moonrise, where a new adventure waited.