Stefan’s Diaries: Bloodlust Chapter 16-17

Chapter 16

I searched in vain for peaceful sleep but never found it.Instead when I closed my eyes I saw Damon, his legs curled around a hard wooden chair, his arms bound in ropes.His skin bled, the droplets a dark maroon where the vervain-soaked ropes bit into his flesh.

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Next came the images of Callie, her flame-colored hair flowing behind her, her eyes lit with a frightening passion.

She and her father danced around Damon, my brothers form prone on the ground. They threw their hands in the air tauntingly, gripping wooden stakes, the ends so sharpened they reached a fine point. Their movements became more frenzied as they approached, readying their weapons

But worst of all were the visions of Katherine. I would see her, looking beautiful as always, her porcelain face hovering above mine and her glossy mane tickling my shoulders. With a coy, knowing smile she would lean toward me, and then she would open her mouth. Her fangs glinted in the lamp light as they plunged into my neck.

My eyes flew open. Sleep would not afford me any rest. My mind went to memories of Katherine. The human part of me–or what was left of it–hated her with every fiber of my being. My hand curled into a fist involuntarily when I thought of her, and how shed destroyed my family.

But the vampire part of me missed what shed represented–stability and love. And just as that part of my soul would last for eternity, so too would the part of me that longed for her. I wanted her now, beside me, curled up in my sheets. I wanted her to lean against the windowsill and listen as I told her about Damon, and tell me, in her calm, even cold, matter-of-fact way what to do. Being with Katherine had made me fearless, confident. She had made everything seem possible.

Even though I trusted Lexi, I knew she didnt trust me to take care of things she didnt believe that any plan I had would work. That was why Lexi reminded me so often of all the obstacles in my path. I longed for the Katherine I had fallen for, the one who seemed both fearless and to truly care for me. I wanted her by my side right now so I would feel less alone. But I knew that couldnt be. That Katherine had never really existed. Besides, she was gone, and she was never coming back.

The door opened, and Lexi stood there, a goblet of animal blood in her hands. She brought it to my lips. I took a few deep sips, despite the disgust it called up in me.

When I had drained the cup, she put it on the nightstand, then brushed my hair off my forehead. “Are you still going to the fight tonight?”

“Are you going to try to stop me?” “No.” Lexi bit her lip. “Not so long as you simply leave it at saving your brother. Revenge is for humans–and killing Gallagher wont teach humans any lesson.”

I nodded, all the while knowing Id use brute force if it was necessary to free Damon.

“Good.” Lexi turned to leave. Halfway toward the door, she turned back and locked eyes with me, and her expression softened. “Youve cheated death once. I hope youll cheat it a second time.”

After dressing, I walked to Lake Road with human speed. By the time I got there, it was past dusk. Lanterns and torches were set up around the perimeter of the fairgrounds, making the entire area look as if it was bathed in daylight. The circus tent was striped red and white, and surrounded by midway games and individual booths. “Fortunes Told!” a poster above one read. “See the Worlds Ugliest Woman–If You Dare!” proclaimed another. I could hear the chattering of some type of animal coming from a far corner, but I couldnt get a sense of where Damon was.

Just then, Callie walked out of the main tent, trailed by her father and her two henchmen. She was wearing the same pair of overalls shed had on the night before over a mans linen shirt, and her hair fell around her shoulders. There was a smudge of dirt beneath her eye. I had a sudden urge to wipe it away but stuck my hands in my pocket instead.

“Stefan!” she called, her face breaking into a smile. “Youre here. Father, this is the man I told you about.”

Mr. Gallagher looked even more imposing up close. He towered above me, his dark brows knitted together. I kept my expression open, innocent. Lexi said Gallagher was a skilled vampire hunter–would he be able to detect the truth just by staring at me?

“My daughter says youre curious about vampires,” he said. “Prove youre serious and work the ticket counter. Then we can talk.”

“Yes, sir.” I nodded, feeling like Stefan the obedient child.

“And, boy?” Gallagher asked, turning back toward me.

“Yes?”

“You want to place a bet on the fight? Winnerll take a lot. Could make you a fortune.” He raised an eyebrow.

My eyes narrowed, and blood screamed through my veins, fast and hot. How dare this man ask me to bet on my brothers life? How dare he act so self-important when I could rip his throat out in an instant?

“Stefan?” Callie asked warily.

Forcing myself to calm down, I reached into the pockets of my well-worn britches and pulled them inside out. “Im afraid I have no money, sir. Thats why Im so grateful to have this job.”

Gallagher took a step closer to me. “You say youre from Mississippi, boy?” He gazed at me curiously. “Your accent sounds more northern–maybe Virginian.”

“My parents were from Virginia. I suppose their accent rubbed off on me,” I said in as casual a voice as I could muster.

After a long moment, he nodded. “Well, when you rustle up some currency, come find me. In the meantime, Callie will show you the ropes. And son?” he called, turning on his heel.

“Yes, sir?” I asked.

“Ill be watching you.”

Chapter 17

Dont be bothered by him,” Callie said, once her father was a safe distance away.

“Im not,” I lied.

Her green eyes flicked over me, as if she didnt believe my words. But she didnt press the issue.

“Ill give you a quick tour,” she said, taking me into one of the smaller tents. In a corner, a woman was hunched over a mirror. She turned, and I took a step back. Her face was covered with tattoos, which, upon closer inspection, were courtesy of rapidly drying India ink.

“The tattooed woman,” Callie said. “And the conjoined twins.”

The woman and the twins next to her waved at us. The twins bodies were connected at the hip. They were beautiful, with blond hair and sad expressions. A man with flippers instead of arms whispered something in one of their ears. They glanced at each other, then broke into laughter.

“This is the show.” Callie opened her hands wide, and for the first time I noticed a wooden stake dangling on a silver chain from her wrist. She also had a sprig of vervain tucked behind her ear.

“Miss Callie!” A hulking, seven-foot-tall mountain of a man ducked under the door of the tent and walked toward us. He picked her up by her tiny waist and swung her around.

“Arnold!” she said gleefully. “The worlds strongest man. Married to the bearded lady,” she explained to me before looking back up at Arnold. “How is Caroline feeling?”

The giant shrugged. “Shes doing well. Cant wait to come back and introduce everyone to the babies.”

“They just had twins!” Callie said fondly.

I nodded my greeting to the man and gazed over Callies shoulder. Where were they keeping Damon?

“Are you okay?” Callie asked. She brushed my arm, and I flinched when the vervain touched my skin.

“I just need air,” I said, bursting out of the tent.

Callie ran after me. “Im sorry, Stefan,” she said, her voice cold. “Some people dont like it here. Theyre not comfortable. But somehow I thought youd be different.”

“No, its not that.” Even surrounded by these human curiosities, I was the biggest freak of them all: the vampire who pretended to be human. “Ive just got a lot on my mind. I promise you, I like it here.”

“Okay,” she said, not sounding quite convinced. But she continued to lead me farther into the grounds. We passed a two-headed cat, a sad-looking monkey playing “Old Tom Dooley” on a harmonica, and the skeleton of what a sign declared to be a sea monster. Some freaks milling around were obviously actors, wearing fabric tubes filled with straw to simulate extra limbs, while others had been born that way.

“Come with me,” Callie said as she tugged on my arm. But I stayed. A black iron wagon rolled up to the tent, similar to the one Father had used to round up vampires during the Mystic Falls siege. It stopped, and the driver jumped from the cart. Immediately, five burly men rushed up with stakes. Once they were in place, the driver unlocked the back of the wagon. The scent of vervain wafted in the air, causing my joints to ache.

Damon.

“And theres your vampire,” Callie said, her mouth set in a firm line as all five men dragged Damon from the back of the wagon. One burly man, his sweat-stained shirt rolled at the sleeves, kept a stake positioned firmly over his heart.

“Gentle now, Jasper! We need him alive before the fight!” Callie called, her voice sharp. Damon turned, baring his teeth in our direction. I saw surprise in his eyes, which quickly turned into contempt.

“My little brother, the good Samaritan,” he whispered under his breath, barely moving his jaw. Luckily, he said it low enough that only I heard.

His voice sent a tremor through my body. Callie cocked her head, and I realized how risky it was for Damon and me to be in such close proximity. Would spite cause him to call me out as a fellow demon? “Are you sure I cant help with the vampire?” I asked her.

“You heard my father. Well start you at the ticket counter. And if anyone tries to sneak in, let Buck handle them,” she said, gesturing to the hulking man hovering several paces behind her like a distended shadow.

A commotion sounded in front of the tent. Callie let out a whistle as we approached. The front flap was closed tight, and a mass of people had surrounded a wooden ticket booth. Some, dressed in tattered britches and with dirt-stained hands, were clearly from the shantytown surrounding the lake. But others were dressed in their finest: the men in top hats and silk smoking jackets, the women in feather-adorned hats and silk dresses, fur stoles draped around their bosoms.

Callie turned to me, her eyes shining. “Its never been so busy. Dads going to be so happy!” she said, clapping her hands together. “Now, go help Buck,” she commanded before running back around the tent.

I stood in the wooden booth at the entrance, listening for Damon. But instead my ears filled with snatches of human conversation.

“Ive got a hundred dollars on the lion.”

“No, the vampire. Monsters always win over beasts.”

“Ive told this pretty lady here that she owes me a kiss if the beast wins.” One man hiccupped, obviously drunk.

I ground my teeth, wanting to lash out, to bite each and every one of them, to teach them a lesson. But I remembered Lexis words about revenge. Killing these men would not help Damon.

A hand clapped my shoulder. I whirled around, ready to bare my teeth.

It was Gallagher, his face flushed with excitement. “We have to hustle, son! The fights about to start, and the more we pack em in, the bigger the payday.” He hopped on an overturned apple crate standing just outside the entrance.

“Step right up, folks! Welcome to my Odditorium! See the worlds ugliest woman, marvel at the worlds strongest man! But thats just the warm-up act. Because tonight, we have a battle royale, the likes of which have never been seen. Monster versus Beast. Who will win? And who wants to bet? Because this is one death that will lead to riches for some.” The crowd pressed in more tightly around me, swarming like a mass of hungry insects.

Gallagher grinned at me. “Get em in, and get em bidding.”

And so I held out my hand, collecting their coins and orange stubs of paper, all the while resisting the urge to reach out and snap their necks, as easily as I would a twig branch, and drink the liquid within.

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