Home > Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(4)

Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(4)
Author: Cassie Alexander

“Meow.”

“That’s about what I thought.” But it was still daylight, and there was always the train.

* * *

The train ride gave me just enough time to feel foolish. My coat was bulky but not worth stealing, my boots had steel toes, and my money was in my bra along with a credit card. I hoped my best “don’t f**k with me” look would do the rest—that and Mr. November’s bottles, which I carried in my pockets like guns in hip holsters, one to each side.

The train shuddered to a stop and I was the only one to exit. Outside the station the buildings were tall, and the snow had an oily sheen. I passed a few tenements, ignored a few offers, and waited until Seventh before turning onto Glade.

Glade has not been a glade since forever. Mr. November’s address was a single shorter building, surrounded by giants on both sides. I rang the bell.

A woman who might have predated World War I appeared on the far side of the door. She squinted at me through a broken windowpane, a cigarette lolling from her mouth. “Yeah? What?”

I hadn’t realized until that very moment that I didn’t have much of a plan. Hopefully someone lived here who remembered him, and I could hand off the watch. I wouldn’t assume a daytimer had relatives, but I’d take anyone, from that Anna person to an affectionate neighbor down the hall. Maybe the kids next door looked up to him.

Funny how much life you could wedge into someone else when you didn’t know anything about them at all.

“I, um … That is, an older tenant here—his condition is grave.” Which was understating the situation quite a bit. “Does he have a next of kin? Someone named Anna?” She squinted at the name.

“Not that I know of.” Her eyes narrowed even further. “You from the hospital?”

I nodded, even though I didn’t have anything on me to prove that I was from the hospital, other than a set of plastic gloves in my chest pocket. Nurses and chipmunks.

I held a limp glove up. “I need to get emergency contact information for him. If you could—” I suggested, hoping she’d fill in the rest.

“Yeah, yeah. I seen House before. If I don’t let you in, you’ll just break in later.”

Metal creaked and clicked while she undid the locks. I pulled on the blue latex gloves.

“I appreciate your cooperation,” I said.

“His rent’s good through the fifteenth. Any longer than that, and I’ll evict him. And tell him I won’t store his stuff.”

“Will do.”

She took my measure again. “Hang on.” She left me waiting in the doorway until she came back with three brown paper envelopes, addressed to this address. One said Andrei Tarkovsky, the other Novaya Zemlya, the third Trofim Lysenko, each with different handwriting.

“I know there’s not three people living up there. But I’m not snoopy. That’s why people like to pay me rent.”

I suspected if there were three people living up there, and the lease had only room for one, she was the type who wouldn’t let it slide. I put the envelopes into my pocket and she let me in.

“If you find some weird fungus, I don’t wanna know.” She paused and reconsidered. “Maybe I want to know, but don’t tell the other tenants.” I nodded, and she stepped away from the door. “That guy’s on time with the rent, but there’s something wrong about him, you know?”

I nodded again. After all, she was right.

* * *

As I walked up the slumping stairs, past apartment doors with loud children and louder TVs behind them, I supposed I should be grateful to House M.D. I’d only been able to watch it until I’d started nursing school and actually hung around a hospital. After that, the idea of a doctor doing lab draws and hanging IV bags was preposterous. They didn’t even know how the pumps worked.

I reached Mr. November’s apartment and knocked on the door. “Hello?” I tried the handle; it wasn’t locked. Would a vampire ever bother to lock their door? Wouldn’t they encourage Jehovah’s Witnesses? Unlikely in this neighborhood, but a vampire could dream, right?

I reached inside the door and flipped on the light switch. The few working lights illuminated dirt created from the kind of privacy that only consistently on-time rent could guarantee. A low table crowded the entryway, surface cluttered with knickknacks. Cobwebs stretched out from these like lonely neurons seeking company, and I knew one thing Mr. November hadn’t had—a dust allergy.

“Hello?” I repeated, making a right turn off the hallway. I found a small kitchen with an old refrigerator. I pulled the lever-action handle and peeked inside.

Unwise. Bags upon bags of cats in various states of decomposition were neatly stacked and labeled, like an honors bio class had recently vacated the room. My stomach didn’t turn, but I was extremely grateful for my gloves as I slammed the door shut.

That … was a lot of cats for just one daytimer. And on Y4, I’d never seen a cat on a dinner tray.

“Hello?” I tried again. “Anna?”

I could leave now. No one would know I’d been here. It wasn’t like some other vampire was going to go to the police and report me. “She just walked in and looked at my dead cat collection, Officer.” I was, so far, still safe.

And it was still daylight, wasn’t it? Y4 was underground to protect its patient population. So if there was another vampire here, they’d be asleep. Unless it was a daytimer with a two-cat-a-day habit.

“Hello?” I tried again. “I’m from the hospital—” I announced, walking farther in. There was an open closet in the hallway, taped shut around the edges of its sliding doors, with an empty sleeping bag upon its floor. That was a relief—unless it was his spare bedroom. I turned a corner, trying to be prepared for anything.

Of course, that didn’t work. Because sometimes, nothing can prepare you.

CHAPTER FIVE

The bedroom, if that’s what it was, was full of photographs. At first, they appeared undifferentiated, like multicolored static, but then they resolved to pictures of girls. Little girls. Their eyes. They were layered so they covered one another, leaving mostly eyes peering out. And their eyes, well—the look in them was clear terror. Some were being molested. Others bitten. Some both.

Bile rose in my throat, bitter and angry. I doubled over. I’d have put out a hand to steady myself, but I didn’t want to touch them. They’d already been touched enough.

I swallowed hard a few times and took a deep breath. In a rush, I pulled the envelopes out of my pockets and tore them open. I didn’t think I’d ever been so glad to have gloves on in my life as when I saw the contents inside, the same kind of photos as were on the walls. I let them fall to the ground and put my hands to my face in horror.

“Mr. November—how could you?”

The only place safe to look was the floor, until I realized there were rows of boxes on the far side of the room. I walked over to these, saw they were labeled with names in alphabetical order. Marion. Sascha. Veronica.

I steeled myself and opened a lid. Neat hanging files full of photographs dangled inside, tabbed with what seemed like improbable dates. Melinda 1976–1981. Melinda 1985–2002. I checked at the beginning of these photos, and at the end of them. While the men, women, and backgrounds differed, the girl looked exactly the same. If the dates were right Melinda hadn’t aged in twenty-six years.

“Oh, God,” I whispered.

At the end of the file was a note. “Saved.”

What did that mean? Was it true? I looked around the room. The terror in their eyes seemed plaintive now. Seeking.

Was Anna one of these girls? And if she was, where would she be?

The EMTs had found Mr. November lying out in the street in the middle of the night in another bad neighborhood. They estimated he’d been there for about two hours before anyone local had thought to call. They were amazed he still had his wallet and shoes. After being his nurse, I wasn’t. He’d been a fighter. And there was something strange about vampires, even merely partial ones, that seemed to naturally bend human attention away.

But why would a daytimer care about little girls? I looked around the room. Why did I care? I could still leave right now, pretend I hadn’t seen all this. But—I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t know what “saved” meant—but I thought maybe I knew why he was saving them. To get to her. Anna. Only he hadn’t made it, this last time.

Because of me.

I knelt and dug through the other boxes, the ones not marked “Saved,” and scattered the images around me on the floor until I found her.

Anna. The girl in his picture, the one I still had in my pocket. Almost a century of pictures, they started off as family portraits, the family of five, until the other members disappeared and they withered into pornographic acts. From sepia tones, to black-and-white postcards, to color Polaroids, and finally prints of digital stills.

I couldn’t imagine how horrific it must be to have the only record of someone you loved be photos of others degrading them—while you hoped and prayed that you could match a blanket to a wall, a wall to a place, a place to a person, until they were finally free.

“So where is she?” I asked the room at large. My coming here, Mr. November’s death—this had to have a point. I needed it to. “He knew and you’ve seen her. Hell, you are her. Where is she?”

Their eyes silently stared, accusing, sad. This couldn’t be the end.

“Dammit, Edie,” I whispered, banging my fists on the carpet. My left hand’s nerves stung. Tears sprang to my eyes and I blinked them back as I took off my glove. The bruise was far past the Sharpied outline, encompassing my whole thumb, flowing with dark streaks into my palm.

And then—there was an industrious rustling behind me, ripping and tearing. I froze with fear, my back to the wall, and stared down at the worn carpet, my hands curled into its thin pile, one growing bruise-black, the other one with knuckles corpse-white, until my sense of sharing the room ended.

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