Bleeder [Blood Magic, Book 1]

What if everything you knew about yourself was a lie? Mildred "Mills" Millhatten had a good life: close-knit family, fantastic friends, decent grades and even a not-totally-annoying kid brother. You might say it was the best kind of ordinary. Nothing could have prepared her for being taken and cast into a strange, vicious world that she didn't know existed and has little hope of understanding. As a Bleeder - one whose lifeblood feeds the Nosferatu - her continued survival hangs ever in the balance. The creatures are keeping her alive because they believe her blood has mystical properties. Mills fears what will happen when they realize they are wrong. If she hopes to survive and discover who she truly is, she needs an ally. She has to befriend the mysterious boy who's been secretly visiting her cell, even though he's destined to become a bloodthirsty monster. Because s

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32. The End of the Beginning

 

Chapter 30: The End of the Beginning

We could never run long enough, hard enough or far enough to sate the primal urges that surged through me. If I’d hungered for blood – instead of only scenting it – I’d never have been able to resist. I was grateful that the bond didn’t transfer Keel’s need to hunt – only the tools by which to do so.

It should have bothered me that my magic was tucked away, so far out of reach. But, like the running, it was a relief. It meant that Keel couldn’t feel my heart twisting and turning inside my chest, threatening to tear itself apart as our last confrontation replayed itself over and over again inside my head every time I stopped moving.

“Always,” I’d said, after I confessed I could never be Nosferatu, not even hypothetically. But what had I meant by that? Always until when? When Keel turned and hunted me? Or turned and enslaved me? Or till death, whether that was sooner or later – turned or unturned?

The end was coming.

Even if we could keep running and managed to outpace both the Nosferatu hunters and my father, that just meant it would happen another way. We couldn’t outrun nature.

The clock kept ticking.

Biology demanded transition. There was no skipping this assignment.

It took Keel and I a long time to find a place that was open, even once we’d reached the town I’d scented earlier, but we eventually came across a 24-hour gas station. Even that looked completely deserted. The only sound, apart from the chirping of some particularly energetic crickets and the occasional howl of a distant dog or wolf, was the semi-frequent low hum of passing cars on a nearby highway. If there was an off-ramp anywhere in the vicinity, no one slowed down to take it.

Keel hastily changed clothes in the bushes, while I ogled him covertly. He had no idea what I’d been considering earlier this evening, as I stood nervously on the other side of the bathroom door trying to work up the courage. What I was still considering now.

Temptation lurked. And beckoned. And wailed.

Keel stuffed his bloodstained pants beneath a dense, thorny shrub, and then took my hand. We strolled across the parking lot to the tiny convenience store attached to the gas bar. It was a mom-and-pop operation that was trying to ape the look and feel of one of the much bigger chains. The bell above the door tinkled flatly as we stepped inside.

The bald man behind the counter must have been asleep, because he nearly fell out of his chair at the sound. I tried not to giggle: even as his arms flailed cartoonishly as he scrambled to grasp onto the counter before he ended up on the floor.

“A little late for you kids to be out, isn’t it?” he said gruffly, once he’d righted himself.

Keel motioned for me to give him the card for Mike’s Motel. “Grab us some food,” he said, after I handed it to him.

As Keel made his way to the counter, I surveyed our culinary options. The pre-made submarine sandwiches looked dry and unappetising; limp lettuce sagged from out between the buns, already browning along the edges. Still, they were the closest to thing to a proper meal that this gas station stocked, so I grabbed an assorted and a turkey breast – I had no idea which Keel would prefer. I also picked up a couple bottles of water, a couple more of juice, and some packets of nuts and dried fruit. All in all, a healthier selection than Keel would have come back with.

The heavy-lidded man behind the counter had just finished giving directions when I walked up with our food. His eyes grazed my selections as he got up to ring them in, but when they reached my scarred arms, they stopped. He didn’t look away from them even when Keel extended his own arm across the counter to pass him the money. Yet he offered no further commentary.

“There’s nothing wrong with me! These things don’t change me,” I wanted to scream at him belligerently. I mean, how dare he? His stare made me feel less than human, as if I was something to be gawked at, and pitied. A walking sideshow attraction.

As we left the store, I snuck a quick glimpse behind me. If the man had been suspicious of my injuries, he dismissed them as soon as we’d completed our transaction. In fact, he’d already slunk back down in his chair, preparing to resume the nap we’d interrupted.

Once again, I found myself wondering why Ephraim had chosen to keep his scars, why he’d want to be stared at, judged. Then I had a chilling thought: it was because his had changed him.

I looked at Keel, who was striding confidently just a couple of paces ahead of me, sporting yet another iteration of black pants and tee. Wonderful, infuriating, utterly disarming Keel. Was he the only thing that kept me from becoming my father? If so, what would happen when…

“What did you tell him?” I said suddenly, wanting to fill up the unknown with words rather than more thoughts like that one. We weren’t running anymore; the inevitable was bearing down on me again.

“I told him nothing,” Keel said. “Do humans make a habit of explaining themselves to strangers?”

I shook my head. I wanted to qualify it with, “But when you’re a teenager, sometimes it’s expected,” but I didn’t bother. If he wasn’t going to be human, that stuff didn’t matter. “How much further is it?” I asked instead.

“Next town over. You want to eat now or when we get to the motel?”

“When we get there,” I said, delighting at the thought of having something more proper to sit down on than a rock or a stump or a stretch of moist, dewy grass.

And we were off running again.

* * *

The first radiant rays of orange were cresting the horizon as we walked through the door into front office of Mike’s Motel. Entering the lobby was like stepping into a room-sized time capsule. Rock ‘n’ roll records from 1960s and faded Elvis gig posters covered every visible inch of the walls, and all the furniture was loud and colourful and retro-futuristic. There was even an antique jukebox tucked in the corner by the half-full rack of faded, dog-eared tourist brochures. It probably would have looked cool in a kitschy diner, but in the front office of a cheap, backwater motel, it was just weird.

“You must be the supes,” said a deep male voice from behind the counter. It belonged to a sturdy-looking black man in a blue Silver Lanes bowling shirt; I wondered if he actually played or if he’d gotten it in a thrift store lot with the rest of this stuff.

“We’re looking for Bruce’s brother,” I said, uncertain if it was wise to keep admitting what we were. Weren’t there laws against this kind of thing?

“You’re looking at him,” the man said, then paused, waiting to see how we’d react. “I was adopted,” he clarified a moment later.

“I’m Keel and this is Mills,” Keel said, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mike”

Mike looked down at it, but didn’t take it. “I’m gonna put you in the guest house out back,” he said, crouching down behind the counter. “Bruce said you got some kind of trouble followin’ you and I don’t want that business around the other customers, you understand? This isn’t that type of place. This is a human place.”

Keel and I nodded in unison. Like Bruce, Mike didn’t seem particularly impressed by the existence of monsters. If anything, he was put out by it.

“Good,” Mike said, as he stood back up and shoved a set of keys across the counter at us. Then he disappeared into the back room, closing the door heavily behind him.

It was a gesture that said “conversation over.”

“I don’t think he likes us much,” Keel said, as we made our way around the quaint two-storey motel. The building and the yards were immaculately kept; I immediately regretted thinking of the place as “cheap.” Mike obviously put a lot of time, love and devotion into keeping the white siding and trim bright, and the windows spotless. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the guest house.

We spotted it as soon as we rounded the corner. There was only one, and it stood at the very back of the property, near the fence line. As we got closer, its ramshackle condition became more apparent. It wasn’t just dirty – it was leaning from age and the shifting of the soil beneath it. Keel slipped the key into the door and let us inside.

The interior was the same. In fact, it looked as if this was where the old furniture from the motel proper ended up, but we weren’t exactly in a position to be picky and Mike hadn’t charged us anything to stay here.

As Keel tossed the backpack down on the tacky plaid couch and carried the food into the kitchen, I surveyed our accommodations. The guest house reminded me more than a little of cabin in the desert, and I wondered if that was an omen. These lodgings were equally basic; there was a  small apartment-sized kitchenette; a living room with crumbling fireplace, but no TV; bathroom with shower, but no tub, and a single master bedroom, which smelled musty, as if it hadn’t be occupied in quite some time. I used to call it “cottage smell” when I was a kid.

“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t think he likes us much at all.” What I didn’t say was that it was practically a castle compared to my cell back at the compound. But that hadn’t been Keel’s fault.

When I turned back around, Keel was standing in the entryway to kitchen holding a pair of plates with our sandwiches and snacks on them.

“Eats!” I exclaimed enthusiastically. He grinned and offered me the one holding the assorted sub.

As soon as I chomped down on my sandwich, I gagged. Half of it fell back out of my mouth onto my plate in front of me, unchewed. It was the single most intense thing I’d ever tasted – a roundhouse to my taste buds. I could make out each spice in the assorted salami and the bitter, sour edge of the mayo just beginning to turn. Not to mention the sledgehammer of staleness that was the bun.

“Ugh. Vampire taste buds,” I complained.

Keel laughed. “If you don’t want the sandwich...”

He was already reaching out for it when I snatched it away. “Fat chance,” I told him, forcing myself to take another bite. “So how long do you think this thing you gave me is going to last?”

Keel shrugged and stuffed a handful of almonds into his mouth. “No idea,” he mumbled while chewing.

I got it. Too hungry to talk.

I set about choking my own meal down. Each slightly rancid bite required pre-emptive fortification. I’d be fine if I never tasted food like this again. For the first time, I thought Keel’s Nosferatu gift might be a little overrated.

Of course, he finished up long before I did, then watched as I cringed and squinted my way through the rest of my sub. The nuts and berries were much more tolerable.

“How come you lied about your family?” Keel asked, blindsiding me.

“I didn’t lie. I omitted. And you know why I did it.”

“Smart,” Keel said. He wasn’t looking at me anymore. He was staring out the window; melancholy deepened the tell-tale signs of exhaustion. His bleak expression tugged at my heart.

“It was the only one,” I said. “My only secret.”

“I know,” Keel replied. “I’ve known for a long time. Every time I prodded, you diverted. Clever, but not undetectable.”

“You were trying to get me to spill?”

“Not really. It was more part of sizing you up. Remember, feelings are new to me. My training isn’t.”

“You did feel things before you met me,” I reminded him.

“Not these things.”

“So what exactly are we going to do about this situation?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if I meant that as a come-on or as more of a general question about our circumstances.

“No idea,” Keel said. If he’d noticed my ambiguity, he’d decided to go with the safety of the latter. “I was hoping that Mike would be a bit more like his brother. Know more.”

The fact that we were no better off, no further ahead than when we’d first broken out of the compound tired me. We were running out of time, but instead of getting anywhere, we were like hamsters on an exercise wheel. It was infuriating, and whenever I thought about it too long I ended up wanting to put my fists through the walls.

I got up, collected our plates and deposited them in the sink.

“I’m going to bed,” I said, stopping to give Keel a long, lingering kiss on my way to the bedroom. That was definitely a come-on. But he still didn’t take the bait.

He was staring out the window again; his mind was someplace else.

I wondered where that place was until my head hit the pillow. Then I wondered nothing at all.

* * *

Waking up felt like coming to from a hundred-year sleep. My limbs were numb and heavy, as if they were stuck in jelly, and my head throbbed dully. I was still super-aware of the starchy scratchiness of the sheets – like sandpaper against my skin – and the bright line of sunlight beaming in from between a slit in the faded blue curtains was a laser beam of ocular torment. Obviously Nosferatu was something you didn’t just sleep off.

I rolled over to make a quip about that to Keel, but he wasn’t there. I panicked for a split second, until I saw a head-shaped indent on the pillow. He had come to bed. He just wasn’t here anymore.

I flopped back down and stared up at the ceiling, waiting for my heart to resume its normal rhythm. I tried to take a sensory sweep and scent out who was in the immediate vicinity, but that part of Keel’s vampire infusion was gone now. It was abating. Just slowly.

Guess I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.

I hauled my butt out of bed and padded into the main room of the guest house. There, on the chipped mahogany coffee table, was a note.

Supply run, it read. Be back soon. Stay out of trouble.

Supplies. More food. Good thing one of us was thinking ahead.

I yawned, stretched and wandered into the bathroom for a shower. Despite our circumstances, this was the most normal morning I’d had in months and I planned on savouring it. Once I was clean, however, I faced the problem of clean clothes. The yoga pants I’d been wearing yesterday were filthy and torn from our flight through the woods, and the T-shirt was smeared with my blood. I stuffed them both into the garbage, then rooted through the backpack for something else. I settled on a forest green knee-length gypsy skirt and a plain brown V-neck T-shirt. I’d run out of options that hid my scars.

I also hauled out the mirror and scissors, and once I’d finished dressing, I spent some time in front of the mirror working on my hair. It didn’t turn out half bad. Not salon good, but I managed to get rid of that “captive” chic. I considered fixing my scars too, and even idly tried to heal one, but my magic sputtered and flickered and never resolved itself into anything. Still too much Nosferatu.

Damn.

And just like that, my tranquil mood was shattered by thoughts of Keel and I defenceless against another Nosferatu assassin.

Sure, it was still daylight, but for how long? My eyes swept the guest house for a clock that didn’t exist.

Not wanting to spend a second longer alone with my brain – and the way it seemed determined to sabotage my good mood – I laced up my high-tops and left. I idly walked the property line listening to the symphony of day, a sound denied to me for so long. It was cheerful, chorus-like and bursting with life; its effortless ebullience was contagious. Near the motel's curving gravel drive, I ran into Mike, who was weeding one of the many oversized flowerbeds.

“Don’t you have help for this kind of thing?” I asked, as I knelt down opposite him, and started on the other side of the garden. I had no idea how long Keel would be gone and it felt nice – normal – to help.

Mike raised his head so that he could meet my eyes from under the rim of his ball cap. His expression was leery. “What are you?”

So this was it. Say it or go no further. I hesitated, then went with my gut.

“How much do you know?”

“Enough.”

“I’m a sorcerer, I guess, but I was raised by humans, and now I’m bonded to a vampire.” It sounded ridiculous. If Anna or Jenny ever heard me say that they’d be checking me into Bellevue post-haste.

“That’s messed up.”

“Tell me about it.” I said, working out my angst on the soil and weeds. “I have an adopted brother named Mike, too. I miss him.” I don’t know why that just spilled out, but Mikey had been on my mind ever since I discovered the connection between Bruce and his brother. And there hadn’t been anyone I could talk about Mikey with in what felt like forever.

“That so,” Mike said, not particularly receptively.

“Yeah, it is. I never wanted any of this, you know.”

“Familiar story.”

“Bruce, right?”

Mike nodded, keeping his eyes on the plants. “Listen, kid, If you want to help with the beds, I’m not gonna turn down any free labour. But I don’t want to talk. And before you ask: no, it’s not just because you’re a supe.”

I cringed at his unexpected rebuke, but honoured his request all the same, and plucked away at the garden in silence. We’d nearly finished the flowerbed when Keel returned, several shopping bags clutched in each hand. I apologized to Mike for not being able to help with the rest and got up to go.

“Wait,” he said, abruptly, looking incredibly uncomfortable. “Bruce dropped some stuff off for you.”

Mike reached into his pocket of his jeans and removed a small flip-top cellphone. “The number for it is on the back,” he said. “It’s a disposable. Fixed minutes. So don’t go crazy.”

“Thanks,” I said, even though the word didn’t feel big enough. With this, I could call home.

But Mike wasn’t done. “Bruce says you got a thing with that vampire. Beyond the bond.”

I glanced behind me at Keel, who thankfully was standing several metres away; he didn’t appear to have heard.

“It’s complicated,” I mumbled. I didn’t want to go there. Not with Mike anyway.

“Bet it is,” Mike said. “Anyway, Bruce wanted me to give you these. Help you avoid any further complications, he said.” A second later, Mike was shoving something else roughly into my hands. I looked down and blushed. A furious, candy apple red. I was holding condoms. Mike had just handed me a box of condoms.

My head reeled. What? Why? Did he think I couldn’t take care of myself?

I was halfway to indignant when I realized that all this likely meant was that Bruce knew that in Keel’s world, the young ate their mothers. Even if they didn’t have to. And he was being his ever-practical self and wanted to spare me that.

That didn’t make me blush any less though. I didn’t want Bruce or Mike thinking about my sex life. I didn’t even have one yet!

But you’ve been thinking about it, that nagging voice in my head reminded me. Like I needed to be told. Thoughts of Keel clouded up every moment of my life that wasn’t spent worrying about who was after us and how we were both going to survive this.

“Umm, thanks,” I said awkwardly, realizing that I had nowhere to hide them.

“Thank my brother,” Mike said, then squatted back down and returned to his gardening.

I noticed that Keel was observing our exchange with interest. Damn his contant curiosity.

I tried muting my blush as I walked towards him, but I could tell from the amused expression on his face that I’d failed miserably.

“What was that all about?”

“Bruce sent us a cellphone,” I said, showing him the hand that held the phone.

“And?”

I gave him an intentionally blank look, as if I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“In your other hand.” he said, refusing to take the hint.

“It's nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. I can see it right there.”

“Keel, please, not now okay?” I hoped my fingers were covering all the words on the box. The condoms themselves didn’t bother me; the extended explanation that would be required did, though. I wasn’t sure I was prepared to give the guy I was crushing on the whole birds-and-the-bees talk, human style. Certainly not one launched by a poorly timed box of condoms.

‘I thought you only had one secret,” Keel said.

“It’s not that kind of secret.” My words were short and clipped. It had started with him poking fun at me, but that last line came off a bit like an accusation.

“What is it then?” he persisted.

“Protection,” I said vaguely, trying to think of some way to distract him from this extremely annoying line of questioning.

“Against what?”

“You,” I snapped, and picked up my pace.

“How so?” Keel said, easily keeping up.

“Does it really matter?”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so weird about this,” he said.

I whirled around to face him. “Because sometimes you have no concept of boundaries,” I shouted, not caring who overheard. Then I scowled and stormed off ahead of him. This time, he didn’t immediately chase after me. I’d left the guest house unlocked, so I was able to get inside and stash the condoms in my night table drawer before Keel arrived. The cellphone I left on the top by the lamp.

“I think you’re overreacting,” Keel said, as he came through the front door, kicking it shut behind him.

“Really?” I asked, returning to the common area. “Has it ever occurred to you that there’s stuff I don’t know how to talk to you about?” I lifted the bags out of his hands and set them down on the coffee table.

“Like what?”

“Like us.”

“Is that what this is about? Us?”

“Of course, it is. Everything’s about us. And it always will be, with this stupid bond.”

“It’s not stupid,” Keel said, rounding the couch and grabbing my hands. “Maybe it was irresponsible, maybe even a mistake, but it is not stupid. The bond is very, very smart.” I felt love flow in, and desire, and peace. Keel didn’t want to fight. He hadn’t meant to get my hackles up. He was talking me down without talking at all.

“Not fair,” I said, and it wasn’t. Still magicless, I had no defense against him or the bond.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet? Nothing’s fair.” That might have sounded sinister, but Keel was chuckling as he said it. Then he was kissing me. And I promptly forgot about his pestering.

I managed to free one of my hands from his. With it, I reached out and clutched his shirt. “Don’t get carried away, okay?” I warned. “I don’t have my magic back yet.”

“Is that so?” Keel teased, biting at my lips with his fangs, but not hard enough to draw blood. “Lucky me. The great sorceress is defenseless and at my mercy.”

“Not funny,” I said, my mood threatening to darken, despite his affections.

“Yes, it is. What’s really not funny is how you’re leaving soil all over my clothes.”

I looked down and saw a smudge of brown extending outwards, away from where my fingers were still grasping onto the fabric. I opened my hand and smeared it the rest of way down his chest. “Too bad. Actions have consequences,” I taunted.

“And what are the consequences to those consequences?” Keel asked mischievously, snatching me up off the floor and carrying me towards the bathroom. I shrieked and kicked and punched at him, imploring him to put me down, but it was useless.

“Let me go!” I yelled.

“No,” Keel said, depositing me in the shower, closing the door, and turning the cold water on both of us. “Not until you’re clean, and you remember how to have fun, without my powers.”

I stopped fighting him once the water warmed up. The moment I did,  the mood changed. I immediately became aware of how close we were. And so did Keel. He stiffened against me. It was such a tiny motion, but it left me lightheaded, slightly dizzy. My borrowed vampire senses tuned me into his body’s every contour, and to how impossibly strong his arms felt clutching me.

“Want” was no longer merely a word. It was a creature which had taken on a life of its own. It snaked its way around us, binding us together with its endless tendrils of temptation, coaxing us ever closer to the point of no return.

Then a sea of conflicting emotions washed into me through our embrace. A torrent of absolute, unfettered honesty. What Keel felt and what he wanted – even those things he had no words for. He was leaving me to decide what to make of it.

He stared down at me imploringly, wet hair ringing his face. It was the road all over again, but the question was different now, more important.

“Understand?” he asked, quietly, leaning forward. His lips dripped water onto my neck near my ear. I don’t know how I could tell that water apart from the stuff that was gushing out of the spout but I could. Were those the vampire senses, or was I just that tuned into Keel right now? “I want this,” he said, pausing to brush his lips lightly over my ear lobe. I shivered against him. When he continued, his voice was barely audible over the drumming patter of the water. “I want it until I can’t want it any more. And when that day comes, if I attack you, you have my permission to kill me.”

“And if I can’t?”

“There is no can’t,” Keel insisted, pulling back so that he could look me in the eyes. He was not going to be swayed. “You have to promise me.”

I shook my head. “I’ll only kill you if I have no other choice.”

“That’s good enough,” Keel said, and he plunged his head down to kiss me. It wasn’t particularly gentle, but it was electric, and that had nothing to do with the bond.

When his hands began to tug at my clothes, freeing me from their soggy, clinging embrace, I helped him. Soon we were both standing in our underwear, getting clean abandoned to the urgent, clumsy exploration of hands and lips. It was overwhelming: my heightened senses made Keel’s every touch, every caress vibrate through my body, as if I was a tuning fork being struck over and over again. “Wait,” I gasped, no longer sure of where I ended and he began.

Keel groaned, and resisted my attempts to push him away for a moment or two. “What?” he asked finally, his hands still encircling my waist, heat radiating off of them.

“Do you think you could drink from me without vamping out?”

Keel’s eyes went wide. “Why?”

“Because I want to feel this – feel you – like Mills would. I want to be me.” I also wanted to make sure this was what I wanted, and that it wasn’t just something I’d decided to do because I was all hopped up on Keel, supernaturally speaking.

“But what about what happened on the rooftop?” Keel asked. He was talking to me but he said the words to my lips.

“You were injured. Desperate,” I said. “How do you feel now?”

“Not injured,” Keel joked. There was another more serious question in his eyes, but he didn’t ask it. “I won’t lose control,” he promised.

“I know,” I said, and tilted my head. I’d done this for the King many times, but never for anyone willingly.

Keel hesitated, and that surprised me a little. It also exploded my heart. “You don’t have to, Mills, not like this.”

“Yes, I do,” I said, happy he didn’t ask me to explain why, because I’m not sure I could have.

Keel leaned forward and kissed my forehead, the action tender and reverent, then he lowered his mouth further, and slowly dragged his fangs up my collar bone, prolonging the moment. For him or me? Maybe I should have accused him of playing with his food, but instead I inhaled a wobbly, nervous, anticipatory breath, and as if that were the cue he’d been waiting for, Keel bit down. There should have been flash fire of pain, like when the King drank, but Keel had something else planned and I wondered how long he’d been thinking about trying it. As he gulped down my blood, he shared what he felt: the hot, sensual rush of a food more decadent then any human imagining, sweetened by the bond, and the roaring lust of our unconsummated attraction.

“You’re delicious,” he moaned into my skin, as his hands slid down my torso and tightened around my hips.

“Guess so,” I said, feeling queasy. “Not sure I needed the play-by-play.”

“No secrets,” Keel drawled contentedly, half-drunk. Then he kissed me again. I could taste my blood on his lips, but only through my human senses. Thank god.

I was just ordinary sorcerer me again. Yet his caresses didn’t feel any less knee-weakening, any less like an invitation I’d be crazy to turn down.

You’re made for each other. The words came unbidden into my head, and while they didn’t make any sense, I liked how they sounded. If only…

But there were too many “if onlys.”

Right now, only this moment mattered. Our one shot at a perfect afternoon, before the storm returned.

I thumped the button on the wall and killed the shower’s jets, which had long run lukewarm then cold again. I left our soaking clothes in a heap on the floor of the stall and led Keel out of the bathroom.

“Where are we going?” he asked, snagging a pair of towels on his way past the rack.

“To the bedroom.” Maybe I really could be as bold as I’d always been in that fantasy.

“Why?” Keel said, with an innocence that wasn’t entirely genuine. He was naïve, not dead, after all.

“To do something human,” I declared, smiling.

The rest of what I had to say was conveyed without words.

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