Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(2)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(2)
Author: L.J. Smith

“That was good thinking,” I said. I hadn’t met a human so comfortable with vampires since … well, since Callie. I shook my head, trying to dispel the image of the girl I’d once loved. Callie was the past, and the only thing I could do now was focus on the present.

“It was necessary. His face is plastered all over the paper. At least we didn’t have to ask for worse.” Cora shuddered, and I knew she was thinking back to her own compulsion, when Samuel had forced her into becoming his blood slave. “Damon, as soon as you get off the train, put those on. No one will look at you twice if they think you’re a railroad man. It’s not foolproof, but it’ll have to do,” Cora said, nodding to herself.

“Thanks,” Damon said begrudgingly as he tried on the hat. Far too big and sliding over his eyes, it was the ideal way to hide his features. “Ladies always do such a good job of finding the most appropriate outfit for the occasion.”

Cora’s mouth twisted as though she was resisting the urge to smile. She had already spent quite a bit of time with Damon, back when she was being compelled by Samuel. I imagined she’d gotten used to his dark, occasionally sarcastic humor.

“I know where we can go,” Cora said. “At least for a bit.”

“Do you? We’d be most obliged if you shared that information with us,” Damon said in an exaggerated show of politeness.

Cora leaned toward us, resting her elbows on her knees. Her arms were spattered with blood from tending to my wounds.

“Once we get off the train, just follow me,” Cora instructed, keeping her voice low and glancing at the cabin door. “I can’t tell you where. I don’t want anyone to hear. We can’t be too careful. Isn’t that right?” Cora asked, her tone challenging Damon to disagree.

“Well said,” Damon muttered acquiescently. I was pleased by Cora’s foresight and her ability to manage my brother. She may have seemed innocent and naïve, but she had a backbone of steel.

Cora nodded tightly and went back to looking out the window. I studied her. In addition to the crusted blood on her arms, she also had red splotches on her blue cotton dress. From a distance, it looked the fabric was patterned with roses.

The train whistle blew three short blasts. We were minutes from the station.

“Grab your coat,” Cora reminded Damon, as though she were a mother speaking to her child on a snowy day.

Damon shrugged his shoulders into the oversize gray jacket, which looked almost like the Confederate uniform he’d worn more than two decades ago.

“Good,” Cora said. “Now, Stefan, take up the rear and make sure no one notices or follows us.”

“Of course,” I said abashedly. I’d thought we’d have to protect Cora, but it seemed Cora was protecting us. Did this dependence on a human to lead us to safety mean we were worse off than we thought? Or was Cora the good luck charm I’d asked for? Either way, I trusted her.


Soon enough, the train chugged into Paddington Station, trailing a cloud of black smoke.

The three of us moved swiftly and stealthily off the train and through the bustle of the platform. As we headed toward the exit, my eye landed on three policemen huddled in the center of the station. One turned toward me, his gaze resting on my face for a moment before moving on to scan the rest of the crowd. My shoulders relaxed. No one was suspicious of us.

The area surrounding the station was a world away from the ornate buildings Damon preferred, all gilt and gleaming marble. These buildings were crowded together and boarded up, and no one seemed to be around. The air felt heavy, as if it held all the city’s dirt suspended around us.

Dark clouds were gathering overhead. “Looks like it’s going to rain,” I said. I shook my head as soon as I said it, disgusted with my attempt at small talk. I sounded like a farmer talking to my neighbor.

Simple Stefan, I imagined a smooth, dulcet voice teasing. I shook away the thought of Katherine.

“I suppose so,” Damon said in his maddening noncommittal drawl, as though he was still in Virginia and had all the time in the world.

“Are you boys just going to stand there, or are you ready to follow me?” Cora asked, putting her tiny hands on her hips.

Damon and I glanced at each other and nodded. “We’re ready if you are,” Damon said.

Cora quickly got her bearings, then took off through the winding, sprawling streets of West London toward the sludgy, slow-moving River Thames. I used to think the Thames was majestic, flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and connecting London to the world. Now, it looked murky and malevolent. I followed a few steps behind Cora, alert to any signs of Samuel, outraged citizens, or the Metropolitan Police. Every so often, I’d see a tumble of chestnut- brown curls cascading down a slim back and would glance quickly away. Even now, when I had so much on my mind, Katherine haunted me.

As we continued to walk along the river toward the pedestrian bridge across the Thames, familiar sights of London loomed before us. I could see the domed chapel of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and farther down, Big Ben. Beyond that were warehouses that abutted the river. The warehouses where Samuel had held Cora under compulsion and where Violet had been turned into a vampire. London was a study in contrasts, with the church spires that reached toward the heavens masking the hellish underbelly that we were steeped in.

Soon, we found ourselves on the Strand, the street closest to the Thames and one of the city’s commercial epicenters. I caught a few people staring at us suspiciously. I wasn’t surprised. In our bloodstained, dirt-caked clothes, we looked worse than the beggars who often hung about the city squares.

“We’re almost there,” Cora said, also sensing the sideways glances of passersby. She smoothed her dress, put back her shoulders, and marched across the bridge without a backward glance.

“She’s a good one to have around,” Damon observed as he fell into step beside me.

“She is,” I agreed. For once, my brother and I were on the same page.

On the opposite bank, Cora neatly turned down a set of winding stone steps leading to the edge of the river. The area under the bridge housed nothing apart from a giant hole in the ground, covered over with wooden planks and iron beams. This must have been a construction site for an Underground station. I remembered George Abbott telling me about these trains. The plan was to connect all of London via a web of underground train tunnels. The city’s goal was to have a functional line by the turn of the century. But judging by the state of the hole, the crew wasn’t in any hurry. The area looked abandoned.

I trailed behind Cora like an obedient puppy as she picked her way through the site. A KEEP OUT sign was tacked on a nearby post and a low post and wire fence surrounded the hole. Some worker had made a halfhearted attempt to cover the opening with a sheet of canvas, but I could see the top of a thin wooden ladder poking out. Cora stopped nearby.

“It’s not exactly the Cumberland Hotel, is it, brother?” Damon asked wryly.

She ignored Damon’s quip, focused on the task at hand. “We can get down this way,” she said, climbing over the makeshift fence.

“But is it safe?” I asked skeptically. How did Cora know how to sneak into the Underground?

“Of course. Violet and I slept here once, so if it’s safe enough for two women, it should be safe for any vampire,” Cora said. Her voice had a teasing edge to it.

“You slept down here by yourselves?”

Cora shrugged. “We didn’t have any money. We promised to pay the boardinghouse as soon as we had jobs, but they kicked us out. I knew we shouldn’t sleep on the streets, so we used to walk all night. We’d start by the Ten Bells and then make our way over to here. We’d follow the river and tell each other stories to pass the time. We’d let ourselves rest as soon as it got to be light. But then one night, Violet was near delusional with exhaustion, and we found this,” she explained, gesturing to the tunnel. “It’s shelter, and when you’re friendless and surrounded by enemies, there’s no place better,” she said, arching an eyebrow at Damon as she yanked the canvas back and swung one leg, then the other, onto the ladder. She clambered down into the darkness, quickly trailed by Damon.

“Wait!” I called, but there was no answer. Just as I stepped onto the first shaky rung of the ladder, I heard a sickening thud from below.

“Cora?” I called out desperately as I quickly climbed deeper into the pit. “Damon?”

“Here!” Cora said. “I’m all right. Just mind—”

I took a step, expecting to feel a rung below my feet. Instead, my foot fell through air, and I landed with a thud on my back.

“—the drop.” Cora’s voice cut through the darkness.

“I’m fine!” I said, quickly standing and brushing myself off. I let my eyes adjust to the light. We were in a cavernous tunnel that sprawled out in all directions. I could hear water dripping from an unseen source. I could also hear the faint sound of breathing, far off in the distance, although I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t merely my overactive, paranoid imagination.

Damon’s eyes glittered in the darkness. “Well, you’ve told me often to go to hell. I believe we’ve arrived, haven’t we, brother?”

“I think this is the ideal place to hide. But if you don’t like it, you can leave. I can find my sister by myself. I’m used to doing things on my own,” Cora said stonily.

“You don’t have to,” I said. I wasn’t going to abandon Cora. I owed it to her to keep her safe. I may have failed her sister, but I wouldn’t fail her.

“Stefan’s thrilled to help you,” Damon said sarcastically. “Now, I’m going to excuse myself. It’s been a terribly exciting day, and I must rest,” he said as he sauntered deeper into the tunnel.

“Don’t you want to go, too? I’m fine by myself,” Cora said, stepping toward me.

“No, I’m staying with you,” I said firmly.

“Well, then, fair warning, I’m not the best company right now.” She walked a few paces away, where a man- made ledge was carved into the dirt wall. She climbed up and swung her legs back and forth. She looked more like a girl sitting on a porch swing at a summer barbecue than a woman surrounded by vampires, hiding out fifteen feet below sea level.

“Cora…” I began. I wanted to let her know how much her sister had meant to me. “Even though I only knew her for a few days, I thought of Violet as a sister and…”

Cora sighed. “I’m tired, and I’m sure you are, too. Please, can we just not talk?”

“Of course,” I said quickly. I settled on the hard dirt floor. Not talking was probably for the best. Whenever I got too close to humans, something terrible happened. It had happened with Callie. It had happened with Violet. It had even happened with little Oliver. And I couldn’t let it happen anymore. And yet, I couldn’t help but want to comfort Cora in any way possible. After all, she must be terrified. If she kept all her emotions locked inside, they’d end up overwhelming her. I knew that all too well.

I squeezed my eyes shut so tightly I could see stars on the insides of my eyelids. If Lexi were here, she’d have suggested a cup of goat’s blood tea to feel better. If Lexi were here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into this situation in the first place.

Stop it, I said to myself. Feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t help matters. I needed to sleep. But lately, every time my eyes closed, my mind drifted to the root of my problems. How I’d become who I was now. I’d close my eyes, eager to untangle a complicated web of thoughts and emotions, only to be interrupted by the image of her porcelain face. Katherine. Her large, doelike eyes. Her lips, parting, ready to . . .

Sc-ratch, sc-ratch. My eyes shot open. A rat was burrowing next to me, its beady eyes practically glowing in the darkness. Instinctively, I reached out, snapped its neck, and drank its blood in large, quick gulps.

It was as foul as a pool of standing water, but it was something. Blood of any kind still had an intoxicating effect on me, tapping into a primal part of my being that I’d tried to suppress.

It was only once the blood was rushing down my throat that I became aware of my surroundings again, and remembered Cora was only a few feet away. Pulling the dead animal from my lips, I leaned closer to her. Her breathing was as steady as ever. She must be asleep. Relieved she hadn’t witnessed my true nature, I laid back down, trying to find a comfortable position on the ground.

And then a voice cut through the darkness like the light from a candle.

“I hope you enjoyed your dinner.” Cora. But she didn’t sound frightened. Instead, she was equal parts curious and concerned.

I felt shame rising like bile in the back of my throat, mingling with the acrid taste of blood from the rat. I wanted to tell her I was sorry, that I hadn’t meant for her to see that. “Good night,” Cora said, as if my midnight snack had been nothing but a glass of warm milk.

I listened to the echo of her voice in the empty tunnel. “Good night,” I finally whispered back.

But she didn’t answer.


Throughout the night, I could hear the clawing of rodents and the endless dripping of water. London seemed miles away, when, in reality, it was only a hundred or so feet above me. But despite the distractions, I somehow fell into a deep, dark sleep.

…Until I felt that familiar paranoid tenseness—someone was watching me. I opened one eye, then another. A pale blue eye looked back. Scrambling backward and instantly fully awake, I realized I was mere inches from Cora.

“What are you doing?” I asked roughly, running my tongue over my teeth, relieved to find that they were short and straight. As I stood, I heard the sickening crack of my joints. I may not have aged in two decades, but a year of living on the Abbott farm had softened me; I was no longer used to sleeping on the hard ground.

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