Stefan’s Diaries: Bloodlust Chapter 23

October 9, 1864

Iam not supposed to have a heart.A bullet went through it nearly three weeks ago, and no blood of my own will ever pump through it again.The only blood that now courses through my veins is that of whomever I happen to attack.

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And yet something about Callie causes my dead heart to flutter and the stolen blood to quicken in my body.

Is it real? Or is it a mere memory of something that used to be? Damon once told me that on the battlefield, boys who’d undergone amputations still woke up to agonizing pain in their legs or cried for the hand that ached, though those limbs were no longer part of them. But while those boys had phantom limbs, it seems I have a phantom heart.

In my short time in New Orleans, I’ve learned about my Power. It’s what has driven me, what I’ve thrived on, what makes me a vampire. But that’s not the only power I possess. The other kind isn’t exciting, or thrilling, or dangerous. It’s mundane and tedious–the exercising of control over my Power. I’ve had to learn to suppress my urges to fit in and to remain with Lexi.

Yet when I was with Callie at the show, it was as though my two powers were at cross-purposes, each threatening to destroy the other in a private battle in my brain.

Now she enters my thoughts constantly. The constellation of freckles on her skin. Her long eyelashes. Her vibrant smile. I can’t help but admire the way she wields her own power. How she commands the attention and respect of her father’s employees, but also how she grows soft around me, cuddling close when she thinks no one is looking.

I think of my hand interlaced with hers.

And every time an image of Callie floats to my consciousness, I curse myself. I should be stronger than this. I shouldn’t think of her. I should put her out of my mind, write her off as a silly little girl who is lucky I’m letting her live.

But deep down, despite my Power, I know Callie has control over me–and my phantom heart.

The next morning, I returned to the freak show, with only one thing on my mind: freeing Damon. “Hello, friend!” the strong man, Arnold, greeted me as I walked through the gateway to the fairgrounds.

“Hello,” I muttered.

The tattooed woman came up behind him and gazed at me quizzically. Without her India-inked designs, she was actually quite pretty, with high cheekbones and wide, inquisitive eyes. “What are you doing here?”

I grunted in response.

“Youll want to apologize to Callie.” She pointed at the side of the tent.

So Callie had already told her friends about our disastrous evening. Just as I had feared. I walked around the grounds until I saw Callie kneeling over a piece of birch wood at her feet. Paint splattered her overalls, and her red hair was twisted on top of her head and held in place by a single, slender, long-handled paintbrush. The sign said:

A PENNY A PEEK: A REAL, LIVE, HUNGRY VAMPIRE. ENTER IF YOU DARE!

Underneath was a crude drawing of a vampire: fangs elongated, eyes squinting, blood trickling down both sides of his mouth. The features were Damons, but it was clear Callie had drawn significant artistic inspiration from the burlesque show last night.

Callie looked up, catching me staring. Her mouth made a round O, and she dropped her brush onto the canvas. A large black spot suddenly appeared on Damons face.

“Look what you made me do,” she said angrily.

I stuck my hands in my pockets, subtly sniffing the air for traces of Damon. “Im sorry.”

Callie sighed in annoyance. “I dont need your apologies. I just need you to stop distracting me so I can get some work done.”

“Do you want me to help you fix the painting?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. They hung between us for a long moment, both of us seemingly surprised by my offer.

“Fix the painting?” Callie echoed, putting her hands on her hips. “Am I hearing you correctly? Fix thepainting?”

“Yes?” I fumbled.

“Are you aware that you left me last night to get home alone, with no explanation?” Her chin was jutted out, and her stance was aggressive, but her lower lip wobbled, and I could tell she was hurt.

“Callie,” I began. Excuses flew through my head.I work for your father. We should not sneak around. You’re just a girl, and I’m a vampire Even though part of me was furious at her for allowing her father to parade Damon around like livestock, to let him fight perhaps until death, the other part knew that she had as little sway over her father as Id had with mine. And now all I could think about was making her lip stop wobbling.

“Its better this way,” I said, twisting my ring around my finger.

She shook her head and stabbed the sharp wooden end of the paintbrush into the dirt. It remained there, as if it were a tiny surrender flag after a battle. “No explanation necessary. Weve known each other a week. You dont owe me an explanation. Thats the best thing about strangers: You dont owe them anything,” she said crisply.

I rocked back on my heels. A silence hung between us. The image of Damon glared up at me, seemingly mocking my ineffectiveness.

“Well, arent you going to get to work?” she asked. “Or are we just paying you to stand around?” Before I could turn to leave, Jasper burst out of a small black tent at the edge of the property. “We need some extra hands!”

A lanky man trailed behind him, cradling his forearm close to his chest.

Callie leaped to her feet. “What happened?”

As the man held out his hand, blood flowed down his arm onto the ground. I averted my eyes. Even so, pain rippled along my jaw as I felt my fangs grow.

“The vampires fighting today. We need more men.” Jasper gasped breathlessly, his eyes falling on me.

“Stefan,” Callie said in a tone that wasnt a question.

Jasper and the stocky man stared at me.

“Well then, come on, new guy. Show us youre Gallagher material,” Jasper said, jerking his chin in the direction of the tent.

“Of course,” I said slowly, a plan forming in my mind. I could pick out four separate heartbeats in the tent. There would be copious amounts of vervain, of course, but Id been feeding regularly enough that I might be able to overcome the men. Four I could handle, but five I turned to Jasper. “Why dont you and Callie take care of your man here and Ill join the others in the tent?”

“I’m coming, brother,” I added under my breath.

Callie squinted at me. “Did you say something?”

“No,” I said quickly.

Jasper shifted from foot to foot, sizing me up with his eyes. “Callie will take care of Charley here, and Ill take care of you. Teach you the tricks of monster wrangling,” he said, clapping me on the back, pushing me toward the tent.

With each step the scent of vervain grew stronger, curdling the blood in my veins.

Together, we entered the tent. The interior was hot and dark, the stench of vervain nearly suffocating me. It took every ounce of my strength not to bend at the waist and scream in agony. I forced my eyes open and looked at my brother, who was chained in the corner. Four men yanked on his restraints, trying desperately to keep him in place.

The second Damons eyes landed on me, his face lit up.

“Welcome to hell, brother,” Damon whispered, his lips barely moving as he locked eyes with me. Then he turned to Jasper. “So, Jasp,” he said, in a conversational tone, as if they were just two men engaged in a friendly talk at a tavern, “you found a new sap to do your dirty work. Well, come on, brother. Lets see if you can stake me.”

“His bark is worse than his bite,” Jasper said, holding out a stake to me. From its stench I could tell it had been soaked in vervain.

“Give me your gloves,” I said with an air of authority. Touching the wood would give me away instantly.

“Wont give you much protection. Those fangs can go through anything,” Jasper protested.

“Just give them to me,” I said through clenched teeth. Damon watched the exchange intently, clearly enjoying my predicament.

“Okay, if theyll make you more comfortable. ” Jasper shrugged and handed me his leather gloves. I pulled them over my hands and took the stake from Jasper, my hands trembling slightly. How could something so light be so deadly?

Damon let out a low chuckle. “Is this the best you could rustle up? He looks about ready to keel over.”

I glared at my brother. “I’m trying to save you,” I whispered. Damon just snorted derisively.

“Please,” I added.

“Please what?” he said, wrapping the chains around his hands.

“Please let me save you.”

“Sorry. Can’t help you there,” he said, before yanking on the chains. Two of the guards fell to the ground in surprise.

“Do something!” Jasper said gruffly. “Youve got to stick him, let him know his place.”

“Listen to your boss,” Damon sneered.”Be a man and stab me. A real man isn’t afraid of blood, isn’t that right?”

Jasper bent down and grabbed a stake from the ground.

“Cmon, boy. Earn your keep,” he said, using the side of the stake to nudge me forward. I gasped. Pain shot up and down my skin, as if Id been touched by a hot poker.

Damon laughed again.

The flap opened, and Callie poked her head through the tent.

I looked wildly over at her. “Callie, you shouldnt be here!”

Both she and Damon looked at me quizzically. A sickening feeling spread through my limbs. The vervain, the heat, the stakes

Just then, with a simple twist from his chains, Damon broke free and lunged toward Callie. Callie shrieked, and Jasper dove to shield her.

Time seemed to stop, and without thinking, I hurled my stake through Damons belly. He fell backward, gasping, blood spurting from the wound.

“I said, please!” I hissed wildly, in a voice only Damon could hear. Callie cowered near the flap, her eyes wide as she glanced between me and Damon.

Damon looked up, wheezing as he pulled the stake from his stomach. Then I heard the faintest, hoarse whisper over the shouts of Jasper and the trainers as they moved to re-chain Damon.

“Then please know that your hell hasn’t even yet begun, brother.”

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