Home > The Vampire's Assistant (Cirque Du Freak #2)

The Vampire's Assistant (Cirque Du Freak #2)
Author: Darren Shan

Chapter One

It was a dry, warm night, and Stanley Collins had decided to walk home after the Boy Scouts meeting. It wasn't a very long walk - less than a mile - and though the night was dark, he knew every step of the way as surely as he knew how to tie a reef knot.

Stanley was a scoutmaster. He loved the Scouts. He'd been one when he was a boy and kept in contact when he grew up. He'd turned his own three sons into first-rate Scouts, and now that they'd grown up and left home, he was helping the local kids.

Stanley walked quickly to keep warm. He was only wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and even though it was a nice night, his arms and legs were soon covered in goosebumps. He didn't mind. His wife would have a delicious cup of hot chocolate and cookies waiting for him when he got home. He'd enjoy them all the more after a good, brisk walk.

Trees grew along both sides of the road home, making it very dark and dangerous for anyone who wasn't used to it. But Stanley had no fears. On the contrary, he loved the night. He enjoyed listening to the sound of his feet crunching through the grass and briars.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

He smiled. When his sons were young, he'd often pretended there were monsters lying in wait up in the trees as they walked home. He'd make scary noises and shake the leaves of low-hanging branches when the boys weren't looking. Sometimes they'd burst into screams and run for home at top speed, and Stanley would follow after them, laughing.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Sometimes, if he was having trouble getting to sleep at night, he would imagine the sounds of his feet as they made their way home, and that always helped him drift off into a happy dream.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

It was the nicest sound in the world, as far as Stanley was concerned. It was a great feeling, to know you were all alone and safe as can be.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Snap.

Stanley stopped and frowned. That had sounded like a stick breaking - but how could it have been? He would have felt it if he'd stepped on a twig. And there were no cows or sheep in the nearby fields.

He stood still for about half a minute, listening curiously. When there were no more sounds, he shook his head and smiled. It had been his imagination playing tricks on him, that was all. He'd tell the wife about it when he got home and they'd have a good old laugh.

He started walking again.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

There. Back to the familiar sounds. There was nobody else around. He would have heard more than a single branch snapping if there was. Nobody could creep up on Stanley J. Collins. He was a trained scoutmaster. His ears were as sharp as a fox's.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Cru -

Snap.

Stanley stopped again and, for the first time, the fingers of fear began to squeeze around his beating heart.

That hadn't been his imagination. He'd heard it, clear as a bell. A twig snapping, somewhere overhead. And before it snapped - had there been the slightest rustling sound, like something moving?

Stanley gazed up at the trees but it was too dark to see. There could have been a monster the size of a car up there and he wouldn't have been able to spot it. Ten monsters! A hundred! A thou-

Oh, that was silly. There were no monsters in the trees. Monsters didn't exist. Everyone knew that. Monsters weren't real. It was a squirrel or an owl up there, something ordinary like that.

Stanley raised a foot and began to bring it down.

Snap.

His foot hung in the air, midstep, and his heart pounded quickly. That was no squirrel! The sound was too sharp. Something big was up there. Something that shouldn't be up there. Something that had never been up there before. Something that -

Snap!

The sound was closer this time, lower down, and suddenly Stanley could stand it no longer.

He began to run.

Stanley was a large man, but pretty fit for his age. Still, it had been a long time since he'd run this fast, and after a hundred yards he was out of breath and had a cramp in his side.

He slowed to a halt and bent over, gasping for air.

Crunch.

His head shot up.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

There were footsteps coming toward him! Slow, heavy footsteps. Stanley listened, terrified, as they came closer and closer. Had the monster leaped ahead of him through the trees? Had it climbed down? Was it coming to finish him off? Was it...?

Crunch. Crunch.

The footsteps stopped and Stanley was able to make out a figure in the darkness. It was smaller than he'd expected, no bigger than a boy. He took a deep breath, straightened up, got his courage up, and stepped forward for a better look.

It was only a boy! A small, frightened-looking boy, dressed in a dirty suit.

Stanley smiled and shook his head. What a fool he'd been! The wife would have a field day when he told her about this.

"Are you okay, son?"Stanley asked him.

The boy didn't answer.

Stanley didn't recognize the youngster, but there were a lot of new families around these days. He no longer knew every child in the neighborhood.

"Can I help you?"he asked. "Are you lost?"

The boy shook his head slowly. There was something strange about him. Something that suddenly made Stanley feel uneasy. It might have been the effect of the darkness and the shadows...but the boy looked very pale, very thin, very...hungry.

"Are you all right?"Stanley asked again, stepping closer. "Can I-"

Snap!

The sound came from directly overhead, loud and menacing. The boy leaped back quickly, out of the way.

Stanley just had time to glance up and see a huge red shape, which might have been some sort of bat, falling through the branches of the trees, almost faster than his eyes could follow.

And then the red thing was on him. Stanley opened his mouth to scream, but before he could, the monster's hands - claws? - clamped over his mouth. There was a brief struggle, then Stanley was sliding onto the ground, unconscious, unseeing, unknowing.

Above him, the two creatures of the night moved in for the feed.

Chapter two

"Imagine a man his age wearing a Scout's uniform," Mr. Crepsley snorted as he turned our victim over.

"Were you ever in the Scouts?" I asked.

"They did not have them in my day," he replied. He patted the man's meaty legs and grunted. "Plenty of blood in this one, "he said.

I watched as Mr. Crepsley searched the leg for a vein, then cut it open---a small slice-using one of his fingernails. As soon as blood oozed out, he clamped his mouth around the cut and sucked. He didn't believe in wasting any of the "precious red mercury," as he sometimes called it. I stood uncertainly by his side as he drank. This was the third time I'd taken part in attack, but I still wasn't used to the sight of the vampire sucking blood from a helpless human being. It had been almost two months since my "death" but I was having a tough time adjusting to the change. It was hard to believe my old way of life was finished, that I was a half-vampire and could never go back. I knew I had to eventually leave my human side behind. But it was easier said than done. Mr. Crepsley lifted his head and licked his lips.

"A good vintage," he joked, shuffling back from the body."Your turn," he said. I took a step forward, then stopped and shook my head.

"I can't," I said.

"Do not be stupid," he growled. " You have shied away twice already. It is time you drank."

"I can't" I cried.

"You have drunk animal blood," he said.

"That's different. This a human."

"So what?" Mr. Crepsley snapped. "We are not. You have to start treating humans the same as animals, Darren. Vampires cannot live on animal blood alone. If you do not start drinking human blood, you will grow weak. If you continue to avoid it, you will die."

"I know," I said miserably."You've explained it to me. And I know we don't hurt those we drink from, not unless we drink too much. But..."I shrugged unhappily. He sighed."Very well. It is hard, especially when you are only a half-vampire and the hunger is not so great. I will let you abstain this time. But you must feed soon. For your own sake."

He returned to the cut and cleaned away the blood-which had been leaking out while we were talking-from around the man's leg. Then he worked up a mouthful of spit and slowly let it dribble over the cut. He rubbed it in with a finger, then sat back and watched. The wound closed and healed. Within a minute there was

nothing left besides a small scar that the man probably wouldn't notice when he awoke.

That's how vampires protect themselves. Unlike in the movies, they don't kill people when they drink, not unless they are starving or get carried away and go too far. They drink in small doses, a little here, a little there. Sometimes they attack people out in the open, as we had just done. Other times, they creep into bedrooms late at night or into hospital wards or police cells.

The people they drink from hardly ever know they've been fed on by a vampire. When this man woke, he would remember only a falling red shape. He wouldn't be able to explain why'd passed out or what had happened to him while he was unconscious. If he found the scar, he'd be more likely to think it was the mark of aliens than a vampire.

Hah.Aliens ! Not many people know that vampires started the UFO stories. It was the perfect cover. People all over the world were waking up to find strange scars on their bodies and were blaming it on imaginary aliens. Mr. Crepsley had knocked the scoutmaster out with his breath. Vampires can breathe out a special kind of gas, which makes people faint. When Mr. Crepsley wanted to put someone to sleep, he breathed into a cupped fist, then held his hand over the person's nose and mouth. Seconds later they were down for the count, and wouldn't wake for at least twenty or thirty minutes.

Mr. Crepsley examined the scar and made sure it had healed correctly. He took good care of his victims. He seemed to be a nice guy, from what I'd seen of him- a part from the fact that he was a vampire!

"Come," he said, standing. "The night is young. We will go find a rabbit or a fox for for you."

"You don't mind me not drinking from him" I asked.

Mr. Crepsley shook his head. "You will drink eventually," he said."When you are hungry enough."

"No," I said silently behind him, as he turned to walk away."I won't. Not from a human. I'll never drink from a human.N ever!"

CHAPTER THREE

I woke up early in the afternoon, as usual. I'd gone to bed shortly before dawn, the same time as Mr. Crepsley. But while he had to stay asleep until night came again, I was free to rise and move around in the daylight world. It was one of the advantages of being only a half-vampire.

I made a late breakfast of butter on a bagel - even vampires have to eat normal food; blood alone won't keep us going - and plopped down in front of the hotel TV. Mr. Crepsley didn't like hotels. He usually slept out in the open, in an old barn or a ruined building or a large crypt, but I was having no part of that. I told him point blank after a week of sleeping in the cold that I'd had enough of it. He grumbled a bit, but finally gave in.

The last two months had passed pretty quickly, because I'd been so busy learning about being a vampire's assistant. Mr. Crepsley wasn't a good teacher and didn't like repeating himself, so I had to pay attention and learn fast.

I was really strong now. I could lift huge weights and crush marbles to pieces with my fingers. If I shook hands with a human I had to be careful not to break the bones in his fingers. I could do chin-ups all night long and throw a baseball farther than any grown-up. (I measured my throw one day, then checked in a book and discovered I'd set a new world record! I was excited at first, but then realized I couldn't tell anybody about it. Still, it was nice to know I was a world champion.)

My fingernails were really thick, and the only way I could cut them was with my teeth; clippers and scissors were no good on my new, tough nails. They were a pain: I kept ripping my clothes when I was putting them on or taking them off and digging holes in my pockets when I stuck my hands in.

We'd covered a lot of distance since that night in the cemetery. First we'd fled at top vampire speed, me on Mr. Crepsley's back, invisible to human eyes, gliding across the land like a couple of high-speed ghosts. That's called flitting. But flitting is tiring work, so after a couple of nights we began taking trains and buses.

I don't know where Mr. Crepsley got the money for our travel and hotels and food. He had no wallet that I could see and no bank cards, but every time he had to pay for something, out came the cash.

I hadn't grown fangs. I'd been expecting them to sprout and had been checking my teeth in the mirror every night for three weeks before Mr. Crepsley caught me.

"What are you doing?"he asked.

"Looking for fangs,"I told him.

He stared at me for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. "We do not grow fangs, you idiot!"he roared.

"But... how do we bite people?"I asked, confused.

"We do not,"he told me, still laughing. "We cut them with our nails and suck the blood out. We only use our teeth in emergencies."

"So I won't grow fangs?"

"No. Your teeth will be harder than any human's, and you will be able to bite through skin and bone if you wish, but it is messy. Only stupid vampires use their teeth. And stupid vampires tend not to last very long. They get hunted down and killed."

I was a little disappointed to hear that. It was one of the things I liked most about those old vampire movies: The vampires looked so cool when they bared their fangs.

But after some thought, I decided I was better off without the fangs. The fingernails making holes in my clothes were bad enough. I would have been in real trouble if my teeth had grown and I'd started cutting chunks out of my cheeks as well!

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