A day later, the train screeched to a stop.“Baton Rouge!” a conductor called in the distance.
We were getting closer to New Orleans, but the time was creeping by far too slowly for my liking.I flattened my back against the wall of the car, noticing passengers hastily packing up their belonging as they prepared to vacate their quarters, when my eye fell upon a green ticket, emblazoned with a large boot print.
I knelt down and picked it up.Mr. Remy Picard, Richmond to New Orleans.
I tucked it into my pocket and jauntily walked back through the train, until I felt someone gazing at me curiously. I turned around. Two sisters were smiling at me through the window of a private compartment, their expressions bemused. One was working on a piece of needlepoint, the other writing in a leather-bound diary. They were being watched with hawk-like intensity by a short, plump woman in her sixties, clad in all black, most likely their aunt or guardian.
I opened the door.
“Sir?” the woman said, turning toward me. I locked my gaze onto her watery blue eyes.
“I believe you left something in the dining car,” I said. “Something you need.” I continued, copying Damons low, steady voice. Her eyes shifted, but I sensed that this was different from the way the conductor had responded to my words. When Id tried to compel the conductor, it was as if my thoughts had collided with steel; here, it was as though my thoughts were breaking through fog. She cocked her head, clearly listening.
“I left something ” She trailed off, sounding confused. But I could sense something in my brain, a sort of melding of our minds, and I knew she wouldnt fight me.
Immediately, the woman shifted her bulk and stood up from her seat.
“Why, ah, I believe I did,” she said, turning on her heel and walking back down the hall without a backward glance. The metallic door of the car closed with a click, and I pulled the heavy navy curtains over the little window to the aisle.
“Nice to make your acquaintance,” I said as I bowed to the two girls. “My name is Remy Picard,” I said, surreptitiously gazing down at the ticket poking out of my breast pocket.
“Remy,” the taller girl repeated quietly, as if committing my name to memory. I felt my fangs throb against my gums. I was so hungry, and she was so exquisite I mashed my lips together and forced myself to stand still.Not yet.
“Finally! Aunt Minnies never left us alone!” the older girl said. She looked to be about sixteen. “She thinks we arent to be trusted.”
“Arent you now?” I teased, easing into the flirtation as the compliments and responses volleyed back and forth. As a human, I would have hoped such an exchange would end with a squeeze of the hand or a brush of lips against a cheek. Now, all I could think of was the blood coursing through the girls veins.
I sat down next to the older girl, the younger ones eyes searching me curiously. She smelled like gardenias and bread just out of the oven. Her sister–they must have been sisters, with the same tawny brown hair and darting blue eyes–smelled richer, like nutmeg and freshly fallen leaves. “Im Lavinia, and this is Sarah Jane. Were going to move to New Orleans,” the one girl said, putting her needlepoint down on her lap. “Do you know it? Im worried Ill miss Richmond horribly,” she said plaintively.
“Our papa died,” Sarah Jane added, her lower lip trembling.
I nodded, running my tongue along my teeth, feeling my fangs. Lavinias heart was beating far faster than her sisters.
“Aunt Minnie wants to marry me off. Will you tell me whats it like, Remy?” Lavinia pointed to the ring on my fourth finger. Little did she know that the ring had nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with being able to hunt girls like her in broad daylight.
“Being married is lovely, if you meet the right man. Do you think youll meet the right man?” I asked, staring into her eyes.
“I I dont know. I suppose if hes anything like you, then I should count myself lucky.” Her breath was hot on my cheek, and I knew that I couldnt control myself for much longer.
“Sarah Jane, I bet your auntie needs some help,” I said, glancing into Sarah Janes blue eyes. She paused for a moment, then excused herself and went to find her aunt. I had no idea if I was compelling her or if she was simply following my orders, because she was a child and I was an adult.
“Oh, youre wicked, arent you?” Lavinia asked, her eyes flashing as she smiled at me.
“Yes,” I said brusquely. “Yes, I am wicked, my dear.” I bared my teeth, watching with great satisfaction as her eyes widened with horror. The best part of feeding was the anticipation, seeing my victim trembling, helpless,mine. I slowly leaned in, savoring the moment. My lips grazed her soft skin.
“No!” she gasped.
“Shhh,” I whispered, pulling her closer and allowing my teeth to touch her skin, subtly at first, then more insistently, until I sank my teeth into her neck. Her moans became screams, and I held my hand over her mouth to silence her as I sucked the sweet liquid into my mouth. She groaned slightly, but soon her sighs turned into kittenish mews.
“New Orleans, next stop!” the conductor yelled, breaking my reverie.
I glanced out the window. The sun was sinking low into the sky, and Lavinias nearly dead body felt heavy in my arms. Outside the window, New Orleans rose up as if in a dream, and I could see the ocean continuing on and on forever. It was like my life was destined to be: never-ending years, never-ending feedings, never-ending pretty girls with sweet sighs and sweeter blood.
“Forever panting, and forever young,” I whispered, pleased at how well the lines from the poet Keats suited my new life.
“Sir!” The conductor knocked on the door. I strode out of the compartment, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. He was the same conductor whod stopped Damon and me just outside Mystic Falls, and I saw suspicion flash across his face.
“Were in New Orleans, then?” I asked, the taste of Lavinias blood in the back of my throat.
The ginger-haired conductor nodded. “And the ladies? Theyre aware?”
“Oh yes, theyre aware,” I said, not breaking my gaze as I slipped my ticket out of my pocket. “But they asked not to be disturbed. And I ask not to be disturbed, too. Youve never seen me. Youve never been by this compartment. Later, if anyone asks, you say there may have been some thieves who got on the train outside Richmond. They looked suspicious. Union soldiers,” I invented.
“Union soldiers?” the conductor repeated, clearly confused.
I sighed. Until I had compelling under control, Id have to resort to a more permanent style of memory erasing. In a flash I grabbed the conductor by the neck and snapped it as easily as if it were a sweet pea. Then I threw him into the compartment with Lavinia and shut the door behind me.
“Yes, Union soldiers always do make a bloody mess of things, dont they?” I asked rhetorically. Then, whistling the whole way, I went to collect Damon from the gentlemens club car.
Damon was slumped right where Id left him, an untouched whiskey glass sweating on the oak table in front of him.
“Come on,” I said roughly, yanking Damon up by the arm.
The train was slowing, and all around us passengers were gathering their belongings and lining up behind a conductor who stood in front of the black iron doors to the outside world. But since we were unencumbered by possessions and blessed with strength, I knew our best bet was to exit the train the same way wed entered: by jumping off the back of the caboose. I wanted us both to be long gone before anyone noticed anything was amiss.
“You look well,brother.” His tone was light, but the chalkiness of his skin and the purpling beneath his eyes gave away just how truly tired and hungry he was. For an instant, I wished Id left some of Lavinia for him, but quickly brushed aside the thought. I had to take a firm hand. That was how Father used to train the horses. Denying them food until they finally stopped yanking on the reins and submitted to being ridden. It was the same with Damon. He needed to be broken.
“One of us has to maintain our strength,” I told Damon, my back to him as I led the way to the last car of the train.
The train was still creeping along, the wheels scraping against the iron lengths of track. We didnt have much time. We scrambled back through the sooty coal to the door, which I pulled open easily.
“On three! One Two ” I grabbed his wrist and jumped. Both of our knees hit the hard dirt below with a thud.
“Always have to show off, dont you, brother?” Damon said, wincing. I noticed his trousers had been torn at the knees from the fall, and his hands were pockmarked with gravel. I was untouched, except for a scrape on my elbow.
“You should have fed.” I shrugged.
The whistle of the train shrieked, and I took in the sights. We were on the edge of New Orleans, a bustling city filled with smoke and an aroma like a combination of butter and firewood and murky water. It was far bigger than Richmond, which had been the largest city Id ever known. But there was something else, a sense of danger that filled the air. I grinned. Here was a city we could disappear in.
I began walking toward town at the superhuman speed I still hadnt gotten used to, Damon trailing behind me, his footfalls loud and clumsy, but steady. We made our way down Garden Street, clearly a main artery of the city. Surrounding us were rows of homes, as neat and colorful as dollhouses. The air was soupy and humid, and voices speaking French, English, and languages Id never heard created a patchwork of sound.
Left and right, I could see alleyways leading down to the water, and rows of vendors were set up on the sidewalks, selling everything from freshly caught turtles to precious stones imported from Africa. Even the presence of blue-coated Union soldiers on every street corner, their muskets at their hips, seemed somehow festive. It was a carnival in every sense of the word, the type of scene Damon would have loved when we were human. I turned to look over my shoulder. Sure enough, Damons lips were curved in a slight smile, his eyes glowing in a way I hadnt seen in what felt like ages. We were in this adventure together, and now, away from memories of Katherine and Fathers remains and Veritas, maybe Damon could finally accept and embrace who he was.
“Remember when we said wed travel the world?” I asked, turning toward him. “This is our world now.”
Damon nodded slightly. “Katherine told me about New Orleans. She once lived here.”
“And if she were here, shed want you to make this town your own–to live here, be here, to take your fill and make your place in the world.”
“Always the poet.” Damon smirked, but he continued to follow me.
“Perhaps, but its true. All of this is ours,” I said encouragingly, spreading my hands wide.
Damon took a moment to consider my words and simply said, “All right, then.”
“All right?” I repeated, hardly hoping to believe it. It was the first time hed glanced into my eyes since our fight at the quarry.
“Yes. Im following you.” He turned in a citcle, pointing to the various buildings. “So, where do we stay? What do we do? Show me this brave new world.” Damons lips twisted into a smile, and I couldnt tell whether he was mocking me or was speaking in earnest. I chose to believe the latter.
I sniffed the air and immediately caught a whiff of lemon and ginger.Katherine.Damons shoulders stiffened; he must have smelled it, too. Wordlessly, both of us spun on our heels and walked down an unmarked alleyway, following a woman wearing a satin lilac dress, a large sunbonnet on top of her dark curls.
“Maam!” I called.
She turned around. Her white cheeks were heavily rouged and her eyes ringed with kohl. She looked to be in her thirties, and already worry lines creased her fair forehead. Her hair fell in tendrils around her face, and her dress was cut low, revealing far too much of her freckled bosom than was strictly decorous. I knew instantly she was a scarlet woman, one wed whisper about as boys and point to when we were in the tavern in Mystic Falls.
“You boys lookin for a good time?” she said languidly, her gaze flicking from me to Damon, then back again. She wasnt Katherine, not even close, but I could see a flicker in Damons eyes.
“I don’t think finding a place to stay will be a problem,” I whispered under my breath.
“Don’t kill her,” Damon whispered back, his jaw barely moving.
“Come with me. I have some gals whod love to meet you. You seem like the type of boys who need adventure. That right?” She winked.
A storm was brewing, and I could vaguely hear thunderclaps in the far distance.
“Were always looking for an adventure with a pretty lady,” I said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Damon tighten his jaw, and I knew he was fighting the urge to feed.Don’t fight it, I thought, fervently hoping Damon would drink as we followed her along the cobblestone streets.
“Were right here,” she said, using a large key to unlock the wrought-iron door of a periwinkle blue mansion at the end of a cul-de-sac. The house was well kept, but the buildings on either side seemed abandoned, with chipping paint and gardens overflowing with weeds. I could hear the jaunty sound of a piano playing within. “Its my boardinghouse, Miss Mollys. Except, of course, at this boardinghouse we show you sometruehospitality, if thats what youre in the mood for,” she said, batting her long eyelashes. “Coming?”
“Yes, maam.” I pushed Damon through the doorway, then locked the door behind us.