Anna pulled her hand loose from Jared and started down.
“Stop right there,” Carla commanded the teenager.
Joe reached his niece and took her hand. “No, honey, not yet.”
But Anna would have none of it. “But he’s fine, Uncle Joe! Listen to him!”
Jack Carter was indeed coherent. He was feeling better, they all could see that. Except for the eyes. His retinas were streaked with a deep, glowing red.
“You’re better, right?” Anna asked him hopefully.
“I feel better. I feel stronger. Don’t worry, angel, I’m okay now.” Jack smiled, but he was very aware that Carla wasn’t smiling. He was very aware that he was being tested. “I’m really thirsty,” he added. He was thirsty, too, but mostly he was hungry.
So very hungry.
Someone was lingering at the top of the stairs. A man. Jack could sense him, smell him.
“Who else is here?” he asked warily.
“It’s Mi—” started Anna, but her uncle put a finger to her lips, shushing her.
“But Uncle Joe,” Anna whispered. She didn’t think her dad could hear them, although she knew his senses were heightened. “Why can’t we tell him about—”
“Not now, Anna. Trust me.”
“No buts. Listen, we’ve seen he’s okay. But you’re going to have to trust me on this. Let’s go back upstairs.”
Jack knew something was going down. There was something they weren’t telling him. He also knew he’d better play nice if he was going to get the hell out of the cellar.
Carla was in control now, it seemed.
What a bitch, thought Jack. What did I ever see in her? He fought down rage. No, Carla is good. She’s the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.
“Go on, Anna,” Jack smiled at his daughter again. “I understand. Hell, I had to do the same with your uncle, right? I had to leave him, too. It’ll be okay.”
Joe marched her up the stairs.
“I love you, Dad!” She gave Jack one last glance and then she was in the kitchen with Joe and...another man...Who was that, anyway?
“I love you too, angel.”
Jared remained halfway down the stairs. He was relieved that someone else could handle Anna. He was glad he hadn’t said anything, glad that no one had told Jack what he would have to face.
Jared was tired too—they all were. Except for Jack, apparently. Jared attempted a poker face while wondering who was going to do it. How they would do it. He’d never seen anyone drown, except in the movies. He had a feeling it wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Look, Jack,” said Carla, “we’ll get you some water, okay?”
“Thank you,” Jack answered as calmly as he could. “Carla, you look tired. Thank you for taking care of Anna.”
Carla almost broke down. It was all she could do not to cry right now, because she had been thinking pretty much the same thoughts as Jared. “Of course,” was all she could say. She couldn’t take it anymore.
She turned her back on him and left.
My fake smile faded as soon as Jared followed Carla up and closed the door.
I didn’t know what the fuck they were planning, but I had a bad feeling about all of it. They wanted to stop me. Cure me. Except I didn;t want to be cured. I wanted to be free. And to feed, goddammit.
Joe was different, too. My own flesh and blood. He was no brother to me anymore. He’d somehow become normal again, which was interesting. I had heard Joe calmly keep Anna silent. They were hiding something from me. No, someone. Either way, I was sure of one thing: they were gearing up to “save” me.
The last thing I remembered was pawing my daughter, with the intent of eating her alive. I did feel bad about that. Maybe I should feel worse than bad, but I didn’t. Just bad. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, Anna was off limits as food. Of course. Probably my brother, too.
And how did Joe become normal again? Had he done it willingly? I tried to remember the conversation when I’d almost attacked Anna. I’d been sick and not thinking clearly. They’d been talking about a possible cure. For who? What had happened to make them think there was one?
Suddenly, it came to me.
I’d been sick—
But still holding onto protecting Anna when Mike had attacked me—
And I’d killed Mike—
Shit. There was a way to transform back. Joe had done it. I’m going to have to be very, very careful. Now that I felt strong, I couldn’t imagine life any other way. And if they’d done it to Joe, they would do it to me.
Just a few minutes ago, I’d recognized the scent of the man I couldn’t quite see. Although I felt strong, I realized I was seriously outnumbered by Joe, Carla, and—my lips curled into a snarl—and Mike.
Jared followed Carla into the kitchen to find that Joe, Mike and Anna were sitting on the grass out back, away from the house. The two joined the rest of the group.
“We were waiting for you,” Joe said. “My brother can hear quite well right now. Even out here, perhaps. Either way, we’ll speak quietly.”
They were all thinking the same thing—drowning Jack—but no one knew how to begin.
Jared wished for better times. He wished he could cheer Anna up—and he really wished he could kiss her. He looked down and wished he could pluck a blade of grass and hold it between his thumbs and whistle through it to impress her, but that wouldn’t be appropriate. So, he pulled his knees up and put his arms around them and waited for them to figure out the best way to kill Anna’s father. He almost smiled at the craziness of it all. Almost.
“So,” Carla finally began. “Any ideas?”
“First of all, we can’t let him out of there,” Joe declared. Everyone nodded agreement except Anna. “Anna, you know we can’t. Look what Mike did. Hell, I was on my way to infect or kill a couple of others when Mike cured me.”
“Cured,” Anna repeated bitterly. “Tell me how it felt, Uncle Joey. How was it, drowning? I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can do it.”
“You won’t have to, honey. Maybe you should just let the grownups decide. I know this is hard on you. Why don’t you and Jared go to the park or the zoo for a few hours?”
“Let the grownups decide?” Anna shot back loudly. “This is my dad’s life we’re talking about here!”