By Rusty Fischer
Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 Rusty Fischer
All right reserved.
I enter the house on cat's feet. No, scratch that. Rewind. Cats don't have feet, do they? Paws, right? So I enter the house on cat's paws. No, that's not right either, because I'm kind of just on my toes, not my whole feet, and who walks on their toes? Okay, I enter the house on ballerina's feet (there, that's better!) and quietly shut the door.
The home is silent and dim, but I don't reach for the lights. I don't have to. My vampire vision illuminates the scene in that old familiar yellow glow, as if candles flicker all around. They don't.
I take my time in the foyer getting my bearings, though I've been here literally hundreds of times before. Still, every time is different. The Academy makes sure of that.
The foyer is easy to inspect. It's about the size of a closet, no windows, just the front door and a neat little end table featuring a potted plant and glazed ceramic bowl with a house key inside.
I check it off mentally and move forward, creeping into the living room on my ballerina toes.
But show me the ballerina who skulks around in thick-soled black sneakers with matching socks, yoga pants, and hoodie, and I'll show you a dancer starring in a really, really off-Broadway Black Belt Swan.
The living room is straight out of the seventies with ugly boxy leather sofas the color of week-old peas and an orange recliner featuring a mushroom throw pillow that's seen better days. The detail is pretty amazing, down to the cheesy cork coasters and outdated, dusty LIFE magazines on the kidney-shaped coffee table.
But I'm not here for the nickel tour.
I'm here to do one thing and one thing only: survive.
The house is still, no signs of ferocious bloodsuckers. Yet.
The living room is bigger, more corners to search, more nooks and crannies to hide in, and of course more potential for bloody booby traps.
I tiptoe, alert for sudden movement or anything out of the ordinary. You know, like roving bands of the undead wearing sideburns and dressed in seventies seersucker suits. All the while my toes feel for tiny pressure changes on the orange shag carpeted floor, which would mean I've tripped a trigger and a shiny, stainless steel stake is now headed for my heart.
Nothing behind the couch, the love seat, or the curtains covering windows shuttered against the fake sun. I clear the living room without incident. That is, if you consider a pounding stress headache crushing my cranium a nonincident.
I stand at the threshold of the dining room. Now, if the living room is a playground of dangerous nooks and crannies designed to trip me up, then the dining room is an obstacle course of potentially deadly booby traps designed to bring me down: big, long dinner table, six straightback chairs, framed clown art on the walls (now that's spooky), more fake windows, more dense, dangling drapes.
You could spend hours in here searching every hidey-hole and cranny-nook, but I have only twenty minutes to clear the entire house, and there are still three rooms plus one particularly nasty staircase left if I'm to complete my assignment on time.
Cue the Mission: Impossible theme.
I take a deep breath (not that my lungs work, but old habits die hard) and enter the dining room, a wooden stake tip-down in each hand as I've been trained.
I edge the perimeter of the table, passing the first chair, the second.
So far so good.
As if attached to a cable, it shoves out and hits me square on the hip. (That's gonna leave a mark!)
The hooded figure arises from beneath the table.
I react immediately, shoving my stake dead center into its chest and recoiling as the hissing, burning, smoking robotic figure quakes before my very eyes.
I yank on my stake, desperate to get it back, but no luck. It's stuck for good.
That's the price you pay in Simulation House: stick a bloodsucker, lose your stake.
Oh well, best to move along.
The close call only makes me more alert. I clear the dining room quickly, decisively, managing to avoid any more surprises or tripped booby traps along the way.
Out in the hall, staring up the fourteen steps to the second story, I sigh and take each one slowly.
They are wood, and each one creaks. I'm halfway up when the first pressure point hisses.
I duck immediately, just missing being impaled by the stake that flies past my raven ponytail.
There's nothing left to do but run straight up, taking the steps two at a time. The stakes shoot out so fast, so often that they create a steady breeze between my legs as they slam into the opposite wall with a pistonlike thump-thwack-splat, spreading drywall chunks and asbestos dust through the air.
I make it to the landing at the top of the stairs, but there's still no relief. I've wasted ten minutes downstairs and still have three rooms to clear up here.
And now it gets really tricky.
First up is the bathroom, another simple room with only one place for the bad, if fake, vampires to hide: behind the powder-blue vinyl shower curtain. But every tile on the way there is a potential stake in my foot. Not quite deadly, but it wouldn't exactly tickle either.
Instead of taking another step inside the room, I carefully open the cabinet under the sink, pull out a plunger (I told you the attention to detail in this place is incredible!), and toss it at the shower curtain.
I duck immediately, and it's a good thing.
One, two, three stakes puff out through the tattered curtain, piercing the wall above and slightly to the left of my head.
I have to waste two precious minutes freeing my ponytail from one of the skewers. (Hey, just because I'm a bloodsucker doesn't mean I don't care about my hair.)
I turn from the room, clear the guest bedroom in less than a minute, and step tentatively toward the next obstacle.
Ah, the master bedroom, where I lose it every.
The door is already open, and I stride through purposefully. The big digital clock over the gold lame curtains tells me I have only three minutes and forty-six seconds to complete my mission.
I shake my head, putting sneakers to the turquoise shag rug, and quickly secure the bed, over and under, even the closet with twelve hangers full of dusty Goodwill suits nobody will ever wear again.
I pivot and realize I never cleared the front door.
A simple hiss kills me in my tracks.
The stake hits the thin black titanium breastplate covering my chest, bouncing off harmlessly but triggering a hidden sensor that instantly floods the bedroom in light, sets off a blinking, rotating siren on the bedroom ceiling (the kind you used to see on old cop cars), and quickly ends my quest to become Afterlife Academy's next Savior.
The curtains on both sides of me pull back immediately: one to reveal the school's sexy headmistress, Dr. Haskins, the other to display her large but simple and well-lit office.
Dr. Haskins doesn't look like a regular doctor but more like a soap opera doctor, with her long blonde hair in an updo, black chopsticks holding it in place, her rectangular glasses black and sleek in front of her deep blue eyes, her lips red and thick, and her shimmering silver jacket open and just barely covering a likewise revealing white silk blouse.
Her short gray skirt whispers as she crosses the room on long legs, her black heels clunky but fashionable. In her hand is her ever present clipboard, which she is currently ticking off fast and furious.
"Lily, Lily, Lily," she says, voice officious and clipped. She stops to stand in front of me. She's about five feet eight but still has to look up to school me (okay, only an inch or two, but still). "What did I tell you about clearing the front door first, not last?"
"I know, I know." I'm aware my whiny voice is pitiful but can't stop myself. "I guess I saw how little time I had left and just panicked."
She hears me out, then scribbles something incriminating (probably) on her Lucite clipboard. "The best way to add more time on the back end of your Simulation is to take less time at the front."
I nod, biting my lip helplessly.
She takes a step out of the simulated bedroom and the clear door to her office slides open automatically.
I follow her inside.
The guts of her office are all shimmery and shiny and absolutely see-through, like something Willy Wonka might design for his chocolate factory. She has clear furnishings: desk, chair, and filing cabinets. I wonder for the first time if her employee bathroom has a clear toilet. I'll have to ask the other Sisters when my evaluation is over.
"I'm sorry." She extends a hand across the desk.
I unstrap the light but awkward Simulation Shield from around my chest and hand it over.
"I can't pass you this time. I'm certain you understand."
I make a clicking sound with my tongue. "No, frankly I don't understand. How many times can I run the Simulation before we both say enough is enough? I mean, how can I be good enough to be a Sister but not good enough to be a Savior? I just don't understand."
"No," she says, sounding severe. "You don't understand. Being a Sister is about preventing infestations. Being a Savior is about stopping them once they've started. It's an entirely different psychology, and mastering this Simulation is your first step toward mastering the psychology."
Oh great. Now in addition to kicking butt and taking names, I have to be a psychologist. I slump in my clear plastic seat, wondering what my butt looks like from beneath. Stop, Lily. Focus. "This bites."
She finally sighs, licking the thick lips that hide her veteran fangs. "Metaphorically speaking, of course." She smiles.
I almost smile, to be polite, but it stops halfway to my lips.
She sets down the clipboard, pushes herself back just a smidge from her big, intimidating desk, and crosses those long, luxurious legs. "You know I have nothing but respect for you and the other Sisters. But I'm sensing a certain, shall we say, reluctance to pass this Simulation. It's like, I don't know, all three of you are afraid to take the next step. As you know, there is no place for fear as a Savior."
"How can you say that?" I whine. "Every month we get dropped into some new high school and have to sniff out some dirty, sneaky, dangerous Vamplayer. Once he finds out our true identity, we have to battle him and anyone he may have turned. It's exactly like being a Savior."
She shakes her head firmly. "That's where you're wrong, Lily. It's but a taste of being a Savior. That's all this Simulation is as well: a small taste."
I let her words sink in.
Could she be right?
Are Cara, Alice, and I too comfortable as Sisters to ever be Saviors? But how can that be when all we want is to wear those hip-hugging leather jumpsuits and carry around personal-sized crossbows?
Dr. Haskins stands, signaling the abrupt end of our meeting.
"I'm sorry." I sigh, just like I have after failing the Simulation countless times before. "I'll try harder next time. I promise."
"I have no doubt you will. But Saviors don't try, Lily. They do. They don't promise. They achieve. Think about that as you train this week, and you'll be better prepared when next we meet."
Excerpted from Vamplayers by Rusty Fischer Copyright © 2011 by Rusty Fischer. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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