The key to erebus (the f.., p.21
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       The Key to Erebus (The French Vampire Legend. Book 1), p.21

           Emma V. Leech
Chapter 17

  As the days moved slowly towards the end of June, the bad weather broke and the sun gilded the countryside once again.

  I felt strangely numb, my one consolation being Astro, who had become a constant companion. Surprisingly, after her reaction to Nerva, Gran had taken to him immediately. She fussed and cooed over him, even making extra portions to feed his peculiar eating habits.

  I wandered downstairs out into the garden where the crickets were chirping noisily and sat down on the bench, staring out across the land.

  I was about to pick up my book when I heard a car pulling in the drive. Glancing up, I saw Felix get out of his shiny red Ferrari looking like an advert for something expensive.

  “Hello.” He smiled. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you doing?”

  I put the book down and shrugged. “OK I guess.”

  He knew of course about everything that had happened, but he smiled easily at me and started telling me what he’d been up to. He was extremely charming and made me laugh and I remembered what good company he was. He was very easy to be around.

  “What are you doing here anyway?” I asked, certain there must be a long line of girls waiting for him to call on them.

  “I wanted to ask you out actually,” he said with a cheeky grin.

  I picked the book back up and stared at it, wondering what on earth to say to him. This was the last thing I wanted.

  “Not on a date, not if you don’t want it to be,” he added, waving his hand as if it was a trifling thing but he'd put up with it. “You probably don’t want that, but I thought you might like to go out, as friends - for now at least.” He grinned.

  The prospect of going out sounded great, but somehow scary too. I had hidden away from the world so long I was getting a little stir crazy, but dating was definitely out of the question.

  “What did you have in mind?” I asked cautiously. I wasn't agreeing to anything yet.

  “Well, there’s this club, they have live music at the weekends and some of the bands are really good … well, for round here, so I thought you might like to go.”

  I thought about a night with music, surrounded by people and laughter and part of me actually felt sick at the thought of it. In the end it was this that made my mind up. I told myself off severely and decided not to be so pathetic and get on with it. At this rate I’d end up a mad old lady with only cats for company.

  “Sure, sounds great,” I said, before I could chicken out.

  He beamed at me, all perfect white teeth and tan. “Cool. I’ll come and pick you up.”

  “OK, but Felix, just friends,” I said, narrowing my eyes at him. “You get that right?”

  “Of course, Jéhenne, just friends.” Then he winked at me, which wasn't a bit reassuring.

  He drove off in a cloud of dust and I went back inside.

  I was going over to see Claudette. Gran had driven over to Angoulême to visit an old friend - as old as Gran from what I could gather, and she wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. I’d finally got up the nerve to phone Claudette, wondering if she’d even talk to me. She’d been as friendly as ever though and couldn’t wait to see me again, so I resolved to make an effort to be cheerful whilst I was there. For some reason it was easier to keep up the façade with Gran than it was with my friends.

  The Renault had a flat battery which needed recharging, so I walked over. It was a lovely afternoon and we spent most of it in the garden. Claudette brought out her iPod speakers so we could listen to music and sunbathe. Jean-Pierre was at home as well but Phil had come round so they made themselves scarce by going upstairs to play computer games.

  They reappeared at dinner time which we ate together in the garden. By now though, I was struggling with Claudette’s cheerfulness - it contrasted too sharply with my own mood - so after dinner I said I had to get back.

  I'd already begun the long walk home when Phil pulled up beside me in his car and offered me a lift back to the cottage. The sun had begun to set and walking alone at night had become especially unnerving so I accepted only too happily. He drove us through the gathering darkness, headlights flickering on the eyes of the night creatures that dashed out in front of us.

  I realised that I didn’t actually know that much about Phil, so I asked him about his school, his family, in fact about everything. I was surprised to learn that we had a lot in common. He’d had problems at home when his mum re-married, so he moved from Paris to live with his uncle. I asked him if he missed Paris, since it was so different to this part of France, and he laughed and said of course he did. Nothing remotely exciting ever happened around here and as soon as he could he was off to find some adventure.

  I agreed with him of course but wondered what he’d say if he knew what really went on around here.

  I asked him if he liked anyone from school, and he smiled at me hopelessly, admitting that he’d had a crush on Claudette since he’d first moved to the village. Feeling cynical, I wished that kind of heart ache was all I had to contend with.

  He switched the stereo on and music blared out from the speakers. I’d just begun to relax and enjoy the CD when Phil made a strange gasping noise. I looked across at him to see he had a weird expression on his face, almost glazed.

  “Phil? What’s wrong?” I asked, worried he was having some kind of seizure. He really didn’t look very well, and if he was planning on throwing up, I wanted some kind of warning.

  “Can’t you hear it?” he said in hushed tones.

  I frowned, wondering what he was on about. “Hear what?”

  “The singing!”

  “You mean the CD?” I asked and felt really freaked when he shook his head and irritably switched the stereo off.

  “No, not that, listen… you really can’t hear it? It’s amazing.”

  A chill went down my spine as the car swerved suddenly to the other side of the road. I shrieked and looked over at Phil again. His eyes had a glassy look and he was smiling blissfully, I was pretty sure that he no longer knew where he was. The car jerked as we went over a pothole and veered towards a steep hill which dropped away sharply from the edge of the road. I threw myself across the car and tried to grab the steering wheel.

  “Phil!” I screamed. But it was too late. The car groaned as it reached the edge and shot right over, tilting to one side for a moment before gravity took over and we rolled down the hillside. My head was thrown against the door and I felt a shattering impact with the window as a shriek of metal and glass almost burst my eardrums. With a surrendering wail, the car flipped over and over before settling upside down just before the bottom of the hill. Everything was silent again, with only the sound of falling glass to reassure me I was still alive.

  I felt hazy and knew I was losing consciousness. Fumbling in the dark I reached around to undo my seatbelt with shaking hands. It snapped back and I was suddenly released, falling on my back with a thud that knocked the air from my lungs. I crawled out through the window, cutting myself on the broken glass and scrambled up the grass slope, trembling so badly I could hardly stand. I tried to walk around to the driver’s seat to help Phil, but my head span and my legs gave way and I collapsed again.

  As the clouds shifted to reveal the crescent moon, someone else moved. My heart raced as the figure walked slowly towards me, before stopping a little way off and just staring at the carnage. Feeling delirious, I thought I was seeing an angel until the figure laughed. The sound was far from angelic, rising into a high, keening scream that hurt my ears until I passed out.

  I became aware of someone saying my name, they sounded desperate and I struggled to wake. As I tried to focus a strong pair of arms encircled me. The familiarity of the sensation was soothing until I began to come to. As my vision cleared, a pair of piercing blue eyes stared back at me, filled with anxiety.

  “Jéhenne, can you hear me? Please tell me you’re OK.”

  As he spoke, I felt again the grief in my heart. I tried to push him away but my strength had des
erted me.

  “Where’s Phil?” I mumbled.

  As I spoke I realised I could hear a roaring sound coming from behind me and feel a fierce, burning heat on my skin. With a sickening feeling I tried to twist my head round and look at the car, but Corvus pulled me up quickly so that my face was buried in the soft material of his shirt.

  “I’m so sorry, Jéhenne, there was nothing I could do for him,” he whispered.

  I refused to believe him and struggled bitterly, attempting to break away from his grip. The movements made me feel dizzy and I almost hit the ground, but he caught me and scooped me up into his arms.

  Corvus turned and I caught sight of the car. It was on fire, blazing fiercely and sending red-hot sparks and thick grey smoke into the dark sky. A stench of scorched metal and burning rubber filled the air, making me feel sick.

  “Phil!” I screamed, and then the pain overwhelmed me.

  Corvus woke me up briefly outside Gran’s cottage. He couldn’t get in unless I invited him. I mumbled an invitation, not really knowing what was happening before passing out again, my head throbbing furiously.

  I woke later with the terrible certainty that something dreadful had happened although I was struggling to remember as I looked around the familiar sight of my room. How did I even get here? I glanced to my right, and had my suspicions confirmed. Corvus was sitting in a chair by the side of the bed. Everything that had happened rushed back to me and he stood up, alarmed, as I cried out with horror and scrambled to get away from him. Corvus put his hands firmly on my shoulders, forcing me to stay still. I didn’t make it easy for him though, struggling and kicking as much as I could until I felt a wave of dizziness wash over me. I sank back to the bed with great, heaving sobs, closing my eyes and trying to turn away from him as he spoke. His voice tore through me, the pain in my body nothing compared to the pain in my heart.

  “Jéhenne, you need to listen to me. I have to know if you’re alright. I’ve dealt with the wound on your head, it won’t scar, but are you hurt anywhere else?”

  “Where’s Phil?” I wept.

  Corvus stared at me in despair as I waited for an answer.

  “He’s dead, Jéhenne. I’m so sorry, he was dead when I found you, but I couldn’t leave you there.”

  I closed my eyes and cried out, crumpling the duvet in my fists and wrenching my head away from him. I didn’t want to listen anymore. I curled my legs up and shifted on to my side, wrapping my arms across my stomach. I flinched as the mattress dipped under the weight of someone else moving on top of it. Corvus slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me against him, but I twisted around so I was facing him and shoved him furiously in the chest.

  “Get away from me - this is your fault! Phil is dead because Celeste tried to kill me. She wanted me dead so she could have you to herself and we’re not even together anymore … and now he’s dead instead of me.”

  Anguished sobs shook my body and I couldn’t speak.

  He bowed his head, unable to look at me. “I know it, Jéhenne. I’m so sorry, my heart.”

  “I’m not your heart!” I screamed, pounding him with my fists. He closed his eyes and let me hit him until I collapsed with exhaustion. Then he leaned over me and when he spoke, his voice was a command.

  “Look at me, Jéhenne.”

  If I hadn’t been so emotionally wrecked and worn down I might have been able to resist him. As it was, my eyes flew to his and I couldn’t tear them away.

  “You will forget everything that has hurt you, you will forget it all - just for one night,” he added, and I could hear the regret in his voice.

  As he spoke, I had the strangest feeling that a weight I didn’t know I carried was falling away from me. I struggled to understand what was happening and blinked hazily until his face came back into focus.

  “Corvus?” I said, confused. What had happened?

  “Hello, Jéhenne.” He smiled, but it seemed a desperately sad expression.

  “Oh.” I sighed and threw my arms around him, burying my face in his neck and breathing in the familiar scent of him. “I’ve missed you so much,” I said, and then sat up abruptly as I considered that fact. “Why have I missed you, Corvus?”

  I looked up at him and saw the bleak look in his eyes.

  “What? What’s happened?” I demanded, fear spiking in my chest, I couldn't shake the feeling it was something I really didn't want to know.

  He reached out, the movement tentative and unsure as his fingers touched my hair. “You … you’re angry at me, Jéhenne. You haven’t wanted to see me,” he explained.

  I frowned, shaking my head. “I’m not angry though.” I watched him, feeling confused and he sighed.

  “You’ve had a bad day, my hea … Jéhenne. You need to rest and I need to know that you are safe until Inés returns. I made you forget your anger so that you would let me stay.”

  I looked at him, feeling utterly lost … what the hell was going on? In the end I decided I was too tired to care, all I knew was that he was here and I was glad - so glad. I snuggled against him and he lay quietly beside me but didn’t move.

  “Hold me?” I asked, my voice quiet. I wondered why he hadn’t already and he hesitated for a moment before enfolding me in his arms. I wriggled up until our faces were level and brushed his lips gently with mine.

  “Kiss me,” I murmured.

  He brushed his lips against mine, barely a touch and then shook his head as I pressed closer, seeking more.

  “No. I can’t, I’m sorry.”

  I looked up at him, perplexed. “What do you mean? Why not?”

  He looked back at me and my chest ached with the need to take that hurt from his eyes. “Because I have to be patient. I need you to work it out, Jéhenne, I need you to trust me. I cannot force this. In the morning you will remember everything. If I take advantage of the situation, you will hate me even more and … And I can’t bear it, Jéhenne.” There was such sorrow in his voice, I didn't understand it.

  “But I don’t hate you!” I said, feeling frustrated and confused. “I could never hate you.” I laid my head on his chest and held him tightly. “I love you.”

  I felt his breathing hitch and heard him swallow.

  “I love you too, Jéhenne,” he said. “I always have.” His voice was barely more than a whisper and I was startled to hear the tremor in it. I sat up slightly, trying to see his face, but there was only a little weak moonlight filtering in through the half open curtains. I could see his profile, but nothing more. So I put my hand to his cheek to turn his head towards me and found it was wet with tears.

  “Corvus, what is it, tell me?”

  Something must be terribly wrong for him to be so upset. He wouldn’t answer me at first but I kept asking until he replied.

  “I’m scared,” he admitted, holding my face in his big hands.

  “Why?” I whispered, feeling terribly afraid and wondering what on earth could possibly scare him.

  “I’m scared I’ll never hear you say that again, and I've waited such a long time.” The admission broke my heart and I put my hands to his face, willing him to believe me.

  “Of course you will. I love you, I love you! There you see,” I said, feeling helpless and more lost than ever.

  He smiled and kissed me gently on the forehead. The expression on his face was so beautiful, so sincere, that it broke me and I started to sob. He pulled me closer and fitted his body around mine.

  “Thank you,” he said, with that same sad smile pulling at my heart. “I will wait for you. I always have. Now go to sleep … my heart.” His voice was a command again and even as I fought it, my limbs melted into the mattress and I slept peacefully.

  When I woke up, the sun was streaming through the curtains, burning a thin golden line across the wooden floor, and Corvus was gone.

  I lay on the bed remembering everything just as he had promised and I wept for Phil, and for Corvus, all over again. I tried to feel angry with him for making me forg
et what had happened but, all I could feel was gratitude. He had given me one night of peace, a few hours away from the nightmare in which I’d been living. I couldn’t regret it.

  I remembered how he had reacted when I told him I loved him and submitted to another wave of misery, clutching my pillow and weeping bitterly. The problem was that I did love him, no matter what he had done … so what did that mean? I was a bad person, I decided, there must be a streak of wickedness running through me. Christ, most of my family had been killers. OK, so they only killed evil creatures, but they killed things none the less. Maybe that’s why my feelings for him hadn’t changed. Any normal girl would have run screaming, surely? What kind of person could love a killer, for that was what he was. Even Cyd had illustrated that fact for me. Despite all the soft words and gentleness he showed with me, it didn’t change anything. But I knew that if I kept seeing him, sooner or later I would weaken and run to him. If I did that, Gran would hate me and Mum too if she found out. And I would hate myself. There was only one thing I could do and that was to make sure I never saw him again. It was only hurting us both.

  I was about to indulge in another bout of weeping when my mobile buzzed. Fishing it out, my heart sank further when I saw who was calling. Claudette’s number flashed up, and I took a deep breath before pressing the accept button. My hands were shaking as I raised the phone to my ear,


  “Jéhenne? Thank God you got home alright.” Claudette sobbed down the phone, her voice muffled.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I despised myself for being so dishonest with her but I knew I could never admit to being at the scene.

  “It’s Phil,” she wept. “He was in a car accident.”

  I swallowed hard. “Oh God, is he alright?”

  Though I already knew what she would say. There was a pause, and I heard Claudette sniff and breathe out in a sigh before she answered.

  “No!” she said, dissolving into sobs once more. “He died, Jéhenne, Oh God, he died!” She wept piteously down the phone. “The gendarmes said it would have been very quick. He went over the edge of a hill a couple of miles from our house.”

  I stifled a sob. “Are you OK?”

  “I’m fine, I guess, but oh, Jéhenne, it’s so awful, I just can’t believe it.”

  I could hear the ache in her voice, and I closed my eyes, remembering what Phil had told me about her.

  “Will you come to the funeral with me?” she asked through her sobs.

  “Of course I’ll come.”

  I was always surprised at how quickly funerals happened in France - people died and were buried in a matter of a few days. It seemed too quick somehow.

  “Just look after yourself, alright?” I said, gripping the phone too hard as I tried not to cry.

  “I will, and you do the same,” she managed between the tears.

  “I’ll see you soon,” I promised, and listened as she hung up.

  Gran got back at lunchtime and I told her about the accident. I told her all of it, about Celeste and about Corvus bringing me home, but I didn’t mention that he had stayed the night. I’d been very careful to shower and wash my hair and strip the bed, putting the sheets on a hot wash. I didn’t know how Gran had got such an amazing sense of smell, maybe it came with age. But I didn’t want her to smell him either on me or the bed. I could never have explained it.

  She didn’t say much, except to rant against Corvus, saying it was all his fault and I winced as I remembered saying the exact same words last night. She didn’t once ask how I was, or if I was hurt, upset by the death of my friend. She was too consumed by her hatred for Corvus to notice that I was in pain. I thought about how both Corvus and Rodney had warned me Gran was like this. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, she was just always wrapped up in her own affairs. The word ‘selfish’ floated into my mind and I realized, quite unemotionally that this was true.

  It did, at least mean that she left me to myself as I lay in my room, staring up at the ceiling. Her easy acceptance of the car-crash was further tainted by the fact that her mind was somewhere else. I was sure she was up to something. I was troubled more and more by a growing sense of unease whenever she was around, and I wondered what the next few weeks had in store.

  On Friday, Claudette and I went to Phil’s funeral, along with practically the whole of his school - I hadn’t realized how popular he was, though he had always been a clown, ready to laugh at himself. The sun blazed brightly in a cloudless sky all through the service, but somehow the beauty of the landscape was obscene at such a moment. The flowers were in full bloom and the bees muttered softly among the petals. In the neighbouring fields swallows dipped and wheeled and while the world was full of life - my friend’s ashes were scattered on the same soft breeze they flew on.

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