Stargazer Page 26

At the top of the spiral staircase sat the records room. I pushed the door open, ducking a fall of spiderwebs and dust. The gargoyle outside the window peered at me suspiciously. Stacks of boxes and trunks loomed in every corner, many of them lettered or labeled with old-fashioned handwriting or stiff, unfamiliar fonts nobody used anymore. Inside those boxes lay facts about countless students who had attended Evernight—most of them vampires.

Think. They want to know why the human students are here, not the vampires. But if you figure out something about the vampires here, maybe it could tell you something about the humans.

An idea occurred to me: What if the humans here had some connection to the vampires? What if these were their family members, or even their descendants?

Energized, I started to open the nearest trunk—then paused. The last time I’d been in this room, we’d found the remains of a dead vampire in one of these trunks. Surely Mrs. Bethany wouldn’t have just left Erich’s skull up here to rot. Right?

I carefully pried the lid open a couple of inches and peered inside. Skull free. Breathing a sigh of relief, I opened it all the way and picked up some sheets of paper, pretty much at random. I’d have to read a whole lot of material to figure out if my theory was correct, and no place was better to start than any other.

Then, in the corner of the trunk, I saw a scurry of movement. My eyes caught a glimpse of a tiny dark tail: a mouse, burrowing for cover.

Before thinking about it, almost without even knowing I was doing it, I snatched the mouse up and bit in.

It only squeaked once. If it twitched, I didn’t know. All I knew was that blood was filling my mouth—real blood, living blood, blossoming outward against my tongue. It was like biting into juicy grapes on a blazing summer day, except hot, sweeter, and even better than that. The mouse’s last heartbeats fluttered against my lips as I took two sips, three, and then I was done.

I pulled the mouse away, looked down at its dead body, and gagged.

Gross, oh, gross! I spat a couple of times, trying to get any fur or mites or mouse cooties off my lips. The little mouse’s corpse I hurled into the corner, where it fell limply. Even as I wiped my mouth repeatedly with my sleeve, I couldn’t forget the aftertaste of blood—

—and it still tasted great.

At least I didn’t do this in front of Lucas, I thought. From now on, I’m going to have a lot more blood at lunchtime. Like, a gallon, if that’s what it takes to keep me from doing this again.

My loss of control upset me enough that I sort of wanted to go back to my room and hide under the covers. But I didn’t; it had been hard enough sneaking up here, and I wasn’t going to waste the trip. Doing my best to forget about what I’d just done, I started to read: Maxine O’Connor, late of Philadelphia—

My breath fogged the air in front of me, so thick for a moment I could hardly see.

I didn’t think it was that cold. Shivering, I hugged myself with both hands, feeling the chill even through my robe. The dry, yellowed paper rattled in my trembling fingers. No, I know it wasn’t this cold a few seconds ago.

Frost began creeping up the walls.

Transfixed, I watched lines of frost lace their way across the stone, eerie blue crackling streaks that spread and wove and split a thousand times over. The pattern swept up from the floor, covering the wall, even icing the ceiling with something flaky and white. A few small, silvery crystals of snow hung suspended in the air.

I was terrified but in a numb kind of way—I couldn’t scream or run or do anything but shiver and try to believe what was happening. I held out my hands, barely noticing that my fingers were red and clumsy with cold; I wanted to touch the snow crystals in the air to convince myself that this was real.

I wish Lucas were here—Mom—Balthazar—somebody, anybody. Oh, God, what’s happening? My breath was coming in thin, quick gasps, and I felt almost dizzy.

Despite my fright, I couldn’t help noticing that the scene was beautiful—delicate and ethereal, like finding myself inside the crystal castle at the center of a snowglobe.

The ice cracked so loudly that it made me jump. As I watched, eyes wide, the frost etching its way across the window obscured the view outside, blocking the gargoyle and even the moonlight, but somehow I could still see. The room possessed its own light, now. All the many lines of frost on the window broke this way and that, not at random but in a pattern, creating a shape that I could recognize.

A face.

The frost man was as perfectly illustrated as any picture in a book. His hair flowed long and dark, surrounding his face like a cloud. He reminded me of old pictures I’d seen of sea captains in the eighteenth century. His face carved in the ice was so detailed that it seemed as though he were looking back at me. It was the most vivid image I’d ever seen.

Then the cold stabbed into my heart as I realized: He really was looking back at me.

His lips moved, the lines of frost drawing and redrawing his mouth to pronounce something, but I couldn’t make it out, and there was no sound. Mute with shock, I shook my head.

He closed his eyes. The air around me instantly became even colder—so cold it hurt—

The ice on the window exploded outward, shards flying toward me in the shape of his face, three-dimensional now, coming closer and crying in a voice made of the sound of breaking glass, “Stop!”

Then the pieces of ice fell to the floor, scattering around me like confetti. It hardly made a sound: The shards were so thin that they melted almost instantly. As the frost lines vanished from the walls and windows, and the room swiftly warmed to its normal temperature, droplets of water began to fall on me from the thawing ice above.

I sat in the middle of it all, so stunned I couldn’t move. I’d been too scared even to scream. The only thought my dazed mind could form was, What the hell was that?

As soon as I could move again, I scrambled out of the records room, hurried downstairs, and dashed out of the north tower almost without caring if I were caught. I didn’t stop running until I got back to my room and dived beneath my covers. There I lay with damp hair and pounding heart, all thought of sleep forgotten, clutching my quilt to my chest as I tried to understand what had just happened.

Could I have been hallucinating? I’d never hallucinated before, so I couldn’t be sure what it felt like. But given that I wasn’t running a fever or on drugs, I doubted the explanation was that simple.

Had I somehow fallen asleep and started dreaming? No way. As vivid as my dreams had become lately, I’d never dreamed anything like what had happened upstairs. My chilly feet still felt damp from the ice that had melted all around me.

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