Julia sat by the window at the Blue Whale, drumming her fingers on the tabletop. In front of her was her third cup of coffee, as well as a newspaper she made no pretense of reading. Her eyes scanned each face in the restaurant, every passerby on the street outside.
Presently a woman entered and went to the counter to order coffee. She was slender and petite, and her long dark hair hung loose, hiding her profile. She turned to look around, met Julia's gaze, and came over to the table.
She was young—hardly more than a kid!—and, Julia saw with a sinking heart, beautiful. Wide eyes, luminous skin, delicate bones. Not made-up, not stylish in the least, but beautiful. Heartrendingly so.
"Are you Dr. Hoffman?"
"Yes. Hi." Julia extended a hand that was suddenly cold, and Victoria shook it. "Thank you for meeting me here."
"No problem. I was kind of glad to get out of the house." There was an undertone of strain in her voice that was not lost on Julia. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
Victoria blushed suddenly and deeply. That was not lost on Julia, either.
"What about him?"
"I understand you two have been seeing each other?"
"Not for awhile, actually. Why? Has something happened to him?"
"You could say that," said Julia cryptically. "Would you mind telling me just what is the nature of your relationship?"
"Is he all right? Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"Yes … and yes. I'll explain, but first I have to know what your connection is."
The girl's hazel eyes wavered. "I hardly know that myself. I wouldn't say we were dating, but we hung out from time to time, up until a few weeks ago. I haven't seen or heard from him since."
"Since the night Carolyn was attacked?"
The pretty face hardened, almost imperceptibly. She nodded.
"Do you care for him?" That question came out a little more forcefully than she meant it to.
"I don't see how that's relevant."
"All right, look." Julia leaned forward, lowering her voice. "Barnabas Collins is not who he says he is. I mean, he is Barnabas Collins—but not the one you think."
Victoria's eyes narrowed slightly. "I don't follow."
"He told you he had an ancestor by that name, right? That he's the second Barnabas Collins?"
"Well, he's not. There's only ever been one Barnabas Collins. He's it."
"Oh? So what is he, immortal?"
"I'm sure you've heard of the Collinsport vampire."
Victoria abruptly got up, scraping the legs of her chair noisily against the floor. "All right. We're done."
Something in her voice made Victoria freeze. Seeing that a few people were looking in her direction, she reluctantly sat back down.
"I know how it sounds, believe me. But think about it. Have you ever seen him in the daylight? Have you ever seen his reflection? Have you ever seen him eat?"
Victoria was shaking her head in disgust. "I can't believe I'm hearing this."
"Then let me show you something."
Glancing around to make sure no one else could see, Julia tugged her scarf partway down. At the sight of the old wounds, the color fled from Victoria's face.
"You're saying he did that? To Carolyn, too?"
"Yes." Julia calmly rearranged her scarf. "And I have reason to believe that unless you leave town, you'll be next."
Victoria felt very sick. Her hands twisted helplessly in her lap. "Leave town?"
"As soon as possible. Don't tell anyone where you're going, or why. Just go."
"I can't just leave."
"You have to. You won't be safe until you're well away from Collinsport. In the meantime"—she reached into her bag and took out a hematite cross on a silver chain—"keep this on you. It'll be better than nothing."
Victoria took it and stared at it, uncomprehending. Slowly she shook her head again. "This … this is ridiculous. It can't be. It can't—"
"You have to leave." Julia's hand shot out and grabbed Victoria's wrist. "No one at Collinwood will be safe until you're gone. Listen to me, chou-chou—"
Julia stopped suddenly, frowning. Now why did I say that? What does that mean? She looked down at her hand, which still held Victoria's wrist in a vise-like grip, and couldn't remember doing that.
Victoria stared at her for a second. Then she yanked her hand free, stalked out of the restaurant, and broke into a run.
She ran like a hunted creature, terrified to look back lest she see Dr. Hoffman or—something—whatever it was—behind her.
It seemed impossible that the sun was still shining, that all these people on the street were obliviously going about their daily business. It made her present state of mind seem doubly nightmarish and unreal. She didn't know what to do, what to believe, whom to trust. Only one thought was clear in her mind: she had to see Barnabas.
She had to see him in the daylight.
When she reached the Old House, she was struck by the peculiar, ominous stillness about the place. The grounds, so beautifully tended when she had first been here, were starting to look neglected. She lifted the heavy knocker on the door and clanged it several times as hard as she could, but there was no answer—no sound but the dry rustle of weeds in the wind.
A flicker of movement in the window caught her eye. Not quite quickly enough, a face disappeared behind a twitching curtain.
"Willie!" she called. "Willie, I know you're in there. Let me in!"
After a brief silence, he opened the door a crack. "What do you want?"
"I need to see Barnabas."
"He ain't here."
"Where is he?"
"I dunno." The door started to close.
Quite without meaning to, Victoria burst into tears. She couldn't go back to Collinwood without seeing Barnabas—couldn't face the horrible suspicion that he was what Dr. Hoffman said he was. But she couldn't trust Dr. Hoffman either. She felt as if her world would collapse entirely if she wasn't allowed to see Barnabas now.
"Please, Willie, I need to see him. I just need to see him. Please help me."
Poor Willie's face contorted as if he were on the verge of tears, too. Torn between his fear of Barnabas and his distress at making Miss Winters cry, he muttered, "Now, don't—don't do that. Please, Miss Winters, stop. … All right, you can see him. But then you gotta go. And don't tell no one."
He pulled her into the house and shut the door behind her. "Be real quiet," he whispered as he lit a lamp. "He's sleeping."
She followed him down the stairs to the cellar. It was surprisingly cold; the chill seeped up from the flagstone floor and made her shiver. For a moment she just stood there, wondering dully where Barnabas was. All she could see in the smoky lamplight was an oblong trunk that looked disturbingly like—
"Go on," hissed Willie. "Hurry up."
Shaking with deep dread as well as cold, Victoria crept forward and lifted the lid.
Barnabas was in there, and he was dead. The grayish skin, the sunken eyes, the pinched look around the nose and mouth—all were unmistakable even by lamplight. A hot surge of acid rushed up from her stomach, and she pressed her hand against her mouth.
"How long has he been like this?"
"Shh!" Willie motioned wildly for her to keep her voice down. "He's always like this in the daytime. He's sleeping. He don't like folks to see him while he's sleeping."
She looked at Willie, then back at the lifeless face in the coffin. Overwhelmed with the full horror of comprehension, she fled past Willie, up the stairs, and out the front door.
The moon was full and preternaturally bright when Julia slipped outside. She had not been sleeping well—had hardly slept at all, in fact, since the night she received that call from Barnabas—and tonight she had wakened suddenly out of a vivid, troubling dream.
It was so odd. She was a little girl again, and she was in the woods near Collinsport—though she never had been there as a little girl. But the location was as clear and familiar in her mind as if she went there every day. She was gathering herbs and roots in her apron to bring to her friend, an older girl named Angélique. …
Now, as she made her way to that spot in the woods—one hand carrying her flashlight, the other resting on the crucifix in her bag—she was fully aware that this was quite possibly the stupidest thing she'd ever done. But if that dream was genuine, if she did indeed have some personal connection to Angélique from the long-distant past, she might be able to use it to help Barnabas in some way. At the very least, she might learn something from visiting (revisiting?) the site.
She was not alone in the woods. Ahead of her, David Collins was squatting on his heels in front of a fire and stirring the contents of a small cooking pot, the kind used for camping. Beside him on the ground was his pencil box. As Julia approached, he looked up and smiled.
"Bienvenue," he said in a voice not his own, a voice not quite human. Julia knew she was in the presence of Angélique. "I knew you would come."
Julia swallowed hard. She had not expected a welcome from this creature. A display of demonic violence would have frightened her less.
"I know who you are," she said.
"As I know you," he (she? it?) replied. "I recognized you when you first came to the house. Blood is your element, as it is mine. In another life, you were my pupil."
A chill started at the base of Julia's spine and traveled up to her scalp. Part of her wanted to run away; part of her, haunted by the memory of her dream and oddly fascinated by the scene at hand, wanted to stay and see how it would play out.
"I know what is in your mind." As he spoke, David took out a pocketknife and casually sliced into his own palm. Julia watched, stunned and revolted, as he squeezed a trickle of blood into the simmering pot. "You care for him; you would help him if you could. But he cares nothing for you. Your love, your pain, your good intentions, are nothing to him. He has given his heart to someone prettier … younger …"
With an effort, Julia swallowed something bitter and corrosive and managed to speak calmly.
"And why must his family suffer? Why do you hate them so?"
"Because they are part of him. And because he loves them above all things, except her. … But the tree is rotten at its core. One more strong wind, et voilà!—down it goes. Now watch, my dear. Witness the end of the Collins family, sealed with the blood of a Collins man."
Julia stared at him—at the countenance of implacable, inhuman hatred that darkened his young face—and, for the first time in her life, felt completely powerless.
"When will it end?"
"When Barnabas Collins is destroyed." David opened his pencil box, took out what looked like a folded-up piece of paper, and dropped it into the pot. "And it will start with the girl he loves."