"Wasps," she said. "It's my nightmare son, isn't it?"



"So you said - last night," agreed Crawford breathlessly. "Can you - look behind?"


She shifted in his arms. "I see men running out of that alley. Some of them are jumping into the river. No sign of ... him, yet."


Crawford's throat ached with panting, and his knees and hip jabbed him at every jolting step; he hoped he would have enough warning before falling to set Christina down first.


"I miscarried," she said. "To me he was born dead. But then his ... soul? ... his insistent soul went on to become the child of Gabriel and Lizzie."


"He - seems to have been - born dead - there too."


"That's true, poor thing."


The tracks curved sharply away inland to the left, and he stepped out from between them. He had reached the shadow of the bridge, and through stinging, watering eyes he saw Johanna and McKee on the deck of a low canal barge moored under the arching span.


"You - can walk, from here," he gasped, lowering Christina to the stone pavement.


Together they hobbled to the wide plank that was laid from the embankment masonry to the boat's gunwale, and McKee helped pull Christina across; when Crawford had limped across too, he lifted the plank and shoved it sideways so that it splashed into the river.


Trelawny's head was visible in the low cabin hatch, and he clumped the rest of the way up onto the deck.


"What," he said irritably, "something chasing you?" Then he squinted beyond them and swore. "Get below, quick," he snapped.


Crawford stole a glance over his shoulder as he hurried Christina to the hatch.


For a moment he nearly jumped into the river along with the dockworkers. Bouncing down the coal-wagon tracks toward the bridge came rushing a figure that at first seemed to be just two very long cartwheeling gray arms, with rippling pennants of white cloth at the wrists; its black-clad torso bumped along behind, with one leg trailing and one twisted up around its neck, the toes of the bare foot holding a parasol over the rolling black head. It seemed to be singing as it flailed and bounced rapidly toward them.


"Get below!" roared Trelawny, and Crawford nodded and hustled Christina to the ladder. "Grab the swords! Do it!"


The cabin belowdecks was nearly as wide as the barge, lit by an open porthole in the starboard bulkhead. Slanted vents at the bow and stern ends of the ceiling were apparently to let fresh air in and stale air out. A stove against the port bulkhead was flanked fore and aft by rows of floor-to-ceiling bunks, and the bow end was blocked by a sleigh so big that Crawford thought two horses must once have been required to pull it.


And a short, stocky man with a drooping mustache stood halfway down the cluttered deck, staring at the newcomers in surprise.


"He's still got the sleigh!" whispered Johanna. "I used to sleep in it."


Christina was just blinking around in evident alarm.


The stocky man looked past them at Trelawny, who had pulled the hatch closed and was now scuffling down the ladder.


The man called, angrily, "One, you said! Not ... four! Not women!"


Crawford noticed the hilts of two slim rapiers standing in an elephant-foot umbrella stand by the ladder, and he snatched one of them up and held the hilt of the other out toward McKee. She took it with a quick nod.


"Shut up, Abbas," said Trelawny tightly, striking a match to a lantern bolted to the wall by the ladder. "I'll - explain."


Crawford reached up to take off his ludicrous beaver hat, but he saw Trelawny draw a pistol from under his coat - and he realized that this man Abbas was the person the old man intended to kill, to fulfill the conditions Maria's ghost had described.


Thumping and sliding sounded from the deck overhead, and then someone was pounding at the hatch and a girl's voice was screaming words Crawford couldn't catch.


"That's Rose!" whispered Johanna. "I know her voice!"


Trelawny took an uncertain step toward the ladder. "She follows that thing," he said; then he shook his head and spat out an obscene monosyllable and turned toward the others, raising the pistol. "Abbas," he said.


Crawford leaped at him, striking the pistol aside with his free left hand and aiming a punch at Trelawny's chest with the sword's basket hilt; but Trelawny tried to block the blow, and the hilt was deflected upward and rebounded at the old man's face.


The flare and hard bang of the pistol shot flung Trelawny and Crawford apart; Crawford slammed against the port bulkhead, and Trelawny tumbled limp to the starboard-side deck.


Above and behind Crawford the hatch cracked and blew in splinters down the ladder, and a moment later a cloud of wasps swept buzzing and looping into the cabin, followed by two huge gray hands and a gleaming black head that bobbed in the air. One of the hands was missing a finger.


"Where where where?" sang the thing, twisting the eyeless face back and forth on its snakelike neck and sniffing loudly.


The bullet from Trelawny's deflected gunshot had apparently still whistled very closely past Abbas's head, and now the man had drawn a revolver of his own.


"Call me here to kill me?" he screamed, and, still screaming but without words now, he rushed forward and began firing indiscriminately as wasps fastened on his face and hands.


The noise of the shots was stunning in the close cabin, and Crawford's eyes were dazzled by the fast muzzle flashes. But through the smoke and wasps he saw Johanna step into the man's path, crouching, her knife held low for an upward thrust; Abbas saw her too, and he swung the barrel of his revolver toward her.


Crawford lunged forward, spun her aside with his left hand, and with his right he drove the rapier blade into the man's belly.


He was face-to-face with Abbas now and their eyes met, both squinting with nearly impersonal exertion; Abbas tilted the gun barrel up, and Crawford caught the wrist with his left hand, then shuffled forward to drive the blade farther in. Liver, he thought crazily, peritoneum, superior mesenteric artery, spinal column.


The gun fired into the ceiling, and Abbas folded, his knees knocking on the deck.


Crawford had to brace his boot against Abbas's chest to tug the blade free; he spun to face the others, and immediately he slashed at one of the snakelike gray hands that was groping toward Johanna. It contracted back, and the shiny black head twisted toward him. Suddenly wasps were clinging to Crawford's face, and points of sharp pain flared in his cheek and forehead.


"I take my bride, oh yes, sir!" sang the wide mouth in the coal-black face.


McKee chopped with her own sword at the long gray neck, and the head whipped around toward her. A girl's voice was screaming back by the hatch.


Christina Rossetti pushed past Crawford toward the ladder, and as he slapped at the stinging insects on his face, he glimpsed a young girl standing at the base of the ladder, backlit in the gray daylight slanting down the hatch.


Crawford's sword blocked Christina's path, and he twisted the blade so that she hit the edge with her hand. She gasped and paused, looking down at the blood that was already dripping from her fingers.


Crawford caught her shoulder and turned her around to face him. There were no wasps on her.


"I cut you!" he shouted. "Summon him now!" He pulled her back across the deck with him to Abbas's sprawled body, and he crouched to lift the man's limp hand and then wrap Christina's bloody fingers around it.


"Catch this man's ghost, catch his strength, and call Polidori!"


With her free hand she brushed at the wasps that still clung to his face, and tears were running down her cheeks, but she nodded. For a moment she squeezed the dead man's hand, and then she let it fall and took a deep breath.


The girl, Rose, was rushing across the deck now at Johanna, who raised her knife.


"Uncle John!" Christina called softly.


And the air seemed to twang.


There was another man standing in the bow end of the cabin now, beyond Abbas's body, and Crawford recognized the curly dark hair, and the mustache, and the deep alien eyes; McKee knew him too, and sprang at Polidori, driving her sword toward his chest -


But the blade flexed as it met a barrier a few inches away from Polidori's white shirt, and the torqued blade was twisted out of McKee's hand.


It clattered to the deck as McKee retreated a step, and Polidori stepped back and stood up straight - then paused, flexing his white-gloved hands in front of his face.


He looked at Christina. "Let go of me," he said in a voice like rocks shifting at the bottom of a well.


"Hold him!" said Crawford. He glanced anxiously back at Johanna - she had wrestled the thrashing Rose to the deck and was fending off the gray hands and the black face with kicks and swipes of her knife.


"I will!" wailed Christina. Her fists were clenched and her eyes were shut.


"Et tu, Brute?" said Polidori to her, and then his human body crouched and picked up McKee's dropped sword.


With no more now than a desperate hope to distract him, Crawford sprang forward in a lunge, and Polidori straightened and parried the thrust away.


"My son!" he said in his rumbling voice.


Thumps and curses and musical hooting from behind Crawford let him know that McKee had joined Johanna's fight.


"I'm not," panted Crawford. "I'm Michael Crawford's son." And he lunged again, this time disengaging his blade around Polidori's parry.


But Polidori easily countered and parried it again and drove his left fist hard into Crawford's chest.


The force of the blow punched the air out of Crawford's lungs and flung him backward across the cabin; he hit the deck and slid on his back until his head collided with the aft bulkhead.


Colors spun in his vision, but he dimly saw Trelawny snatch up his hat, and then the old man had rolled him over and yanked the Inverness cape off his shoulders.


Struggling to pull air into his stunned lungs, Crawford managed to get to his hands and knees. And he saw Trelawny, wearing the beaver hat and the cape now, snatch up Crawford's sword and advance quickly on Polidori.


The light from the porthole and the lantern were at Trelawny's back - Polidori would see only Trelawny's backlit silhouette in the hat and cape and must suppose it was Crawford.


"I threw you aside," said Polidori, crouching again into an en garde, "to live, if you cared to."


Crawford saw Trelawny lunge.


Polidori parried the thrust and riposted with a lunge of his own -


- and Trelawny caught the vampire's darting blade on his, but instead of parrying it away, he simply nudged it upward and canted his head to the side.


And Trelawny's head jerked as the vampire's blade tip snagged his throat.


Then the old man had toppled backward onto the deck, and Crawford was crawling toward him, still not able to breathe.


Trelawny was breathing, though, in great gasps, and each time he exhaled, the air in the cabin rippled like heat waves over noonday pavement.


Several wasps pattered dead to the deck by Crawford's sliding hands.


The upright figure that was Polidori was flickering in and out of visibility, and his great voice was audible only in chopped fragments: " - Trelawny - him up! - stone must not - bridge - "


Crawford glanced to the side and saw that the spidery figure of the dead boy was appearing and disappearing too - he saw Johanna drive her knife into the thing's forehead in a moment when it was present, and when it reappeared again two seconds later, it was hunching backward away from her with dust shaking out of a hole above its gaping left eye.


McKee was kneeling on Rose, holding her wrists.


Crawford had reached Trelawny, who rolled his eyes up at him.


"Get it all the way out," the old man whispered through bloodstained teeth, and his opened throat hissed with his words. "His protection - you see - didn't protect me - from himself."


Fresh blood was puddling under Trelawny's ear and shoulder and soaking into his tumbled white hair, but it wasn't spurting as if from a major vessel, and Crawford peered at the wound. The gash in the old man's throat had exposed part of the trachea - air was blowing a narrow bloody spray out of a cut in it as he breathed - and a walnut-sized cyst hung between the thyroid cartilage and the jugular vein. The cyst was partly cut free, flapping back and forth with each breath.


"Johanna!" Crawford managed to gasp, and when his daughter looked up he beckoned.


She scrambled up on the other side of Trelawny, and her eyebrows went up nearly to the sweat-spiky fringe of her hair when she saw the cut.


"Give me your knife, quick."


He forced out of his mind the otherwise disabling comprehension that this was a man, not an injured horse.


The intermittent figure of Polidori was flashing closer, and before its flickering, groping hands could reach him, he took Johanna's knife and held his breath - and with the point he carefully cut along the narrow strip of scar tissue between the pulsing jugular vein and the cyst.


The cyst was lying bloodily across his fingers now, and he traced the knifepoint around the far side of it, freeing it from the thyroid cartilage.


The thing fell into his palm, and he could feel the heavy, nearly round stone inside it.


Polidori collapsed in a thumping swirl of dust that did not flicker away. The dead boy squeaked shrilly and then was just a puff of smoke, slowly dissipating as it drifted under the ceiling toward the stale-air vent.


"Not even anything to cremate," said Johanna in an awed voice.


Crawford pushed the knifepoint into the cyst, and the steel grated against the fired clay.


AND THROUGH THE KNIFE'S tang in his palm, Crawford was drawn into a vision of the woman in fragments in the green-lit chamber, and he saw the separate hands and arm and wide-eyed face collapse as siftings and spillings of black sand, and the green light faded to darkness, and for a moment he saw bare trees shaking in a gust on the distant Cotswold Hills;

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