The car was pitch black, but our eyes, now adapted for nocturnal vision, allowed us to pick out a path through the piles of sooty coal in the caboose.Finally we emerged through a doorway into what appeared to be a first-class sleeping car.When no one was looking, we stole a few shirts and pairs of trousers from an unattended trunk and put them on.
They didnt fit perfectly, but they would do.
As we ventured out into the aisle of the seating coach, the train rumbling beneath our feet, a hand grabbed my shoulder. Reflexively, I swung my arm at my attacker and growled. A man in a conductors uniform flew backward and hit the wall of a compartment with athud.
I locked my jaw to keep my fangs from protruding. “Im sorry! You startled me and ” I trailed off. My voice was unfamiliar to my own ears. For the past week, most of my interactions had been in hoarse whispers. I was surprised at how human I sounded. But I was much more powerful than my voice betrayed. I hoisted the man to his feet and straightened his navy cap. “Are you okay?”
“I believe so,” the conductor said in a dazed voice, patting his arms as if to make sure they were still there. He looked to be about twenty, with sallow skin and sandy hair. “Your ticket?”
“Oh, yes, tickets,” Damon said, his voice smooth, not betraying that we had been in a gallop to the death only minutes before. “My brother has those.”
I shot an angry glance toward him, and he smiled back at me, calm, taunting. I took him in. His boots were muddy and unlaced, his linen shirt was untucked from his trousers, but there was something about him–more than his aquiline nose and aristocratic jaw–that made him seem almost regal. In that moment, I barely recognized him: This wasnt the Damon Id grown up with, or even the one Id gotten to know in the past week. Now that we were hurtling out of Mystic Falls toward some invisible, unknowable point on the horizon, Damon had become someone else, someone serene and unpredictable. In these unfamiliar surroundings, I was unsure if we were partners in crime or sworn enemies.
The conductor turned his attention toward me, his lip curling as he took in my disheveled appearance. I hastily tucked my own shirt in.
“We were rushing, and ” I drawled, hoping my Southern accent would make the words sound sincere–and human. His goldfish-like eyes bulged skeptically, and then I remembered a vampire skill Katherine had used on me to great effect: compelling. “. . . And I already showed you my ticket,” I said slowly, willing him to believe me.
The conductor furrowed his brows. “No, you didnt,” he replied just as slowly, taking extra care to enunciate each word, as if I were an especially dull passenger.
I cursed silently, then leaned in ever closer. “But I presented it to you earlier.” I stared into his eyes until my own started to cross.
The conductor took a step back and blinked. “Everyone needs a ticket on their person at all times.”
My shoulders slumped. “Well uh “
Damon stepped in front of me. “Our tickets are in the sleeper car. Our mistake,” he said, his voice low and lulling. He didnt blink once as he gazed at the mans hooded lids.
The ticket takers face went slack, and he took a step back. “My mistake. Go ahead, gentlemen. Im sorry about the confusion.” His voice was distant as he tipped his hat, then stood aside to let us walk into the gentlemens club car.
As soon as the door shut behind us, I grabbed Damons arm.
“How did you do that?” I asked. Had Katherine taught him how to drop his voice, gaze his victim in the eye, and force the poor lad to do his bidding? I clenched my jaw, wondering if shed mentioned how easy it had been for her to compel me. Images flashed into my mind: Katherine widening her eyes, begging me to keep her secret, to stop my father from hunting her. I shook my head, as if to fling the images from my brain.
“Whos in charge now, brother?” Damon drawled, collapsing into an empty leather seat and yawning, his hands stretched above his head as if he were ready to settle down for a long nap.
“Youre going to sleep now? Of all times?” I exclaimed.
“Why not?” I repeated dumbly. I held out my arms, gesturing to our surroundings. We sat among well-dressed men in top hats and waistcoats, who, despite the hour, were busily patronizing the wood-paneled bar in the corner. A group of older men played poker, while young men in captains uniforms whispered over tumblers of whiskey. We went unnoticed in this crowd. There were no vampire compasses revealing our true identities. No one so much as glanced in our direction as we sat down. I perched on the ottoman opposite Damon. “Dont you see?” I said. “No one knows us here. This is our chance.”
“Youre the one who doesnt see.” Damon inhaled deeply. “Smell that?”
The warm, spicy scent of blood filled my nostrils, and the thud of pumping hearts echoed around me like cicadas on a summer evening. Instantly a searing pain ripped through my jaw. I covered my mouth with my hands, looking wildly around to see if anyone had noticed the long canines that had shot out from my gums.
Damon let out a wry chuckle. “Youll never be free, brother. Youre tethered to blood, to humans. They make you desperate and needy–they make you a killer.”
At the wordkiller, a man with a rust-colored beard and sun-dyed cheeks glanced sharply at us from across the aisle. I forced a benign smile.
“You’re going to get us in trouble,” I hissed under my breath.
“Yes, well, youve got only yourself to blame for that,” Damon replied. He closed his eyes, signaling the end of our conversation.
I sighed and glanced out the window. We were probably only thirty miles outside of Mystic Falls, but it felt as though everything Id known before had simply ceased to exist. Even the weather was new–the rain shower had ended, and the autumn sun now poked through wispy clouds, penetrating the glass that separated the train from the outside world. It was curious: While our rings protected us from the sun searing our flesh, the burning orb made me feel slightly drowsy.
Pushing myself to stand, I took refuge in the dark aisles that led from compartment to compartment. I passed from walking between the plush velvet seats of the first-class cars to the wooden benches of second class.
Finally, I made myself comfortable in an empty sleeper cabin, drew the curtains, closed my eyes, and opened my ears.
Hope those Union boys get out of New Orleans and leave it to ourselves
Once you see those beauties on Bourbon Street, your Virginia virgin won’t look the same
You’ve got to be careful. There’s voodoo down there, and some say it’s where demons come out to play
I smiled. New Orleans sounded like the perfect place to call home.
I settled into the makeshift bed, content to relax and let the train rock me into some sort of slumber. I found that I fed much better after I had rested.