Once I got the all clear, I returned to my bedroom and spent the next couple of days bringing my diary up to date. I'd soon filled out the most recent notepad, so Debbie brought me fresh writing material. I wrote all about my adventures with Harkat in the barren wasteland which seemed to be the world of the future. I described my fears, that the world might face destruction regardless of who won the War of the Scars, and that I might be in some way linked to the fall of mankind. I told about discovering Harkat's true identity and returning home. A quick rundown of our recent travels with the Cirque Du Freak. Then the latest cruel chapter, in which Tommy died and I learnt that Steve had a son.
I hadn't thought much about Tommy since that night. I knew the police were scouring the city in search of his killers, and that R.V. and Morgan James had killed eight others and wounded many more in the stadium. But I didn't know what the general public made of the murders, or if I'd been identified as a suspect - maybe Steve was setting me up to take the blame for this.
I asked Debbie to bring me all the local papers from the last few days. There were poor pictures of R.V. (full-vampaneze couldn't be photographed, but R.V.'s molecular system must not have changed yet) and Morgan James, but none of me. There was a brief mention of the incident outside the ground, when I'd been attacked, but the police didn't seem to place much importance on it or link it with the stadium murders.
"Were you close to him?" Debbie asked, tapping a photo of a smiling Tommy Jones. She was sitting on the end of my bed, watching me while I read the papers. She'd been spending a lot of time with me during my recovery, nursing me, chatting with me, telling me about her life.
"We were good friends when we were kids," I sighed.
"Do you think he knew about Steve or the vampaneze?" Debbie asked.
"No. He was an innocent victim. I'm sure of it."
"But didn't he say he had something important to tell you?"
I shook my head. "He said there were things we had to discuss about Steve, but he wasn't specific. I don't think it had anything to do with this."
"It scares me," Debbie said, taking the paper from me and folding it over.
"You're scared because they killed Tommy?" I frowned.
"No - because they did it in front of tens of thousands of people. They must be full of confidence, afraid of nothing. They wouldn't have dared pull a stunt like this a few years ago. They're growing more powerful all the time."
"Over-confidence may prove to be their undoing," I grunted. "They were safer when nobody knew about them. Confidence has brought them out into the light, but they seem to have forgotten - light's no good for creatures of the night."
Debbie put the paper aside. "How's your shoulder?" she asked.
"Not too bad," I said. "But Alices stitch work leaves a lot to be desired - I'm going to have a terrible scar when the wound heals."
"Another one for the collection," Debbie laughed. Her smile faded. "I noticed a new scar on your back, long and deep. Did you get it when you went away with Harkat?"
I nodded, remembering the monstrous Grotesque, how one of its fangs had caught between my shoulder blades and ripped downwards sharply.
"You still haven't told me what happened, or where you went," Debbie said.
I sighed. "It's not something we need to talk about right now."
"But you found out who Harkat was?"
"Yes," I said and let the matter drop. I didn't like concealing secrets from Debbie, but if that wasteworld really was the future, I saw no reason to burden Debbie with foreknowledge of it.
I woke early the next morning with a terrible headache. There was a small crack between the curtains, and although only a thin shaft of light was visible, I felt as if a strong torch was being shone directly into my eyes. Groaning, I stumbled out of bed and pulled the curtains closed. That helped, but my headache didn't improve. I lay as still as I could, hoping it would go away. When it didn't, I got out of bed again, meaning to go downstairs and get some aspirin. I passed Harkat on my way. He was leaning against a wall, asleep, although his lidless eyes were - as always - wide open.
I had taken a few steps down the stairs when a wave of giddiness overcame me and I fell. I grabbed for the banister, managed to catch it before I toppled over, and slid to a bruising halt halfway down the stairs. Head ringing, I sat up and looked around, dazed, wondering if this was an after-effect of my wounded shoulder. I tried shouting for help but I could only work up a croak.
A short while later, as I lay on the stairs, gathering my strength in an effort to crawl back to my room, Debbie walked by the top of the staircase. She caught sight of me and stopped. I raised my head to call her name, but again I could only form a choked croak.
"Declan?" Debbie asked, taking a step forward. "What are you doing? You haven't been drinking again, have you?"
I frowned. Why had she confused me with Declan? We looked nothing alike.
As Debbie climbed down to help, she realized I wasn't the tramp. She stopped, coming on guard. "Who are you?" she snapped. "What are you doing here?"
"It's? me," I gasped, but she didn't hear.
"Alice!" Debbie shouted. "Harkat!"
At her cry, Alice and Harkat came running and joined her at the top of the stairs. "Is it one of Declan or Little Kenny's friends?" Alice asked.
"I don't think so," Debbie said.
"Who are you?" Alice challenged me. "Tell us, quick, or?"
"Wait," Harkat interrupted. He stepped past the women and stared hard at me, then grimaced. "As if we haven't enough? problems!" He hurried down the steps. "It's OK," he told Alice and Debbie as he picked me up. "It's Darren."
"Darren?" Debbie exclaimed. "But he's covered in hair!"
And I realized why she hadn't recognized me.
Overnight, my hair had sprouted and I'd grown a beard. "The purge!" I wheezed.
"The second phase," Harkat nodded. "You know what? this means?"
Yes - it meant my time as a half-vampire was almost at an end. Within a few weeks the vampire blood within my veins would transform all of the human cells and I'd become a true, night-hugging, sunlight-fearing creature of the dark.
I explained the purge to Debbie and Alice. My vampire cells were attacking my human cells, converting them. Within weeks I'd be a full-vampire. In the meantime my body would mature rapidly and undergo all kinds of inconveniences. Apart from the hair, my senses would go haywire. I'd suffer headaches. I'd have to cover my eyes and plug up my nose and ears. My sense of taste would desert me. I'd experience sudden bursts of energy then loss of strength.
"It's terrible timing," I complained to Debbie later in the day. Harkat and Alice were busy elsewhere in the house while Debbie helped me cut my hair and shave.
"What's so bad about it?" she asked.
"I'm vulnerable," I said. "My head's pounding. I can't see, hear or smell right. I don't know what my body's going to do from one minute to the next. If we get into a fight with the vampaneze any time soon, I can't be depended upon."
"But you're stronger than normal during the purge, aren't you?"
"Sometimes. But that strength can dwindle away suddenly, leaving me weak and defenceless. And there's no way of predicting when that will happen."
"What about afterwards?" Debbie asked, trimming my fringe. "You'll be a full-vampire?"
"You'll be able to flit and communicate telepathically with other vampires?"
"Not straightaway," I told her. "The ability will be there, but I'll have to develop it. I've got a lot of learning to do over the next few years."
"You don't sound too happy about it," Debbie noted.
I pulled a face. "In many ways I'm glad - I'll finally be a true vampire, as a Prince should be. I've always felt awkward, being a half-vampire and having so much power. On the other hand I'm facing the end of a way of life. No more sunlight or being able to pass for human. I've enjoyed the best of both worlds since I was blooded. Now I have to leave one of them - the human world - behind for ever." I sighed moodily.
Debbie thought about that in silence, cutting my hair back. Then she said quietly, "You'll be an adult at the end, won't you?"
"Yes," I snorted. "That's another change I'm not sure about. I've been a child or teenager for the better part of thirty years. To leave that behind in the space of a few weeks? It's weird!"
"But wonderful," Debbie said. She stopped cutting and stepped in front of me. "Do you remember when you tried to kiss me a few years ago?"
"Yes," I grimaced. "That's when I was pretending to be a student, and you were my teacher. You hit the roof and ordered me out of your apartment."
"Rightly so," Debbie grinned. "As a teacher - an adult - it would be wrong of me to get involved with a child. I couldn't kiss you then, and I can't kiss you now. It'd feel terribly wrong kissing a boy." Her grin changed subtly, mysteriously. "But in a few weeks, you won't be a boy. You'll be a man."
"Oh," I said, thinking about that. Then my expression changed. I gazed up at Debbie with new understanding and hope, then gently took her hand.