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Someone is standing in my bedroom doorway, watching me sleep, then watching my eyes open. In the dim light I can't see who stands there, looking at me.
But a moment later I am with the watcher, closing the door and moving down the corridor, toward my father's room. We don't open the door, but we know he's sleeping inside.
We smell the smoke. As we move toward the kitchen, the smoke becomes a presence, a gray mass spiraling down the corridor. Wan light spills from the kitchen, and now we see the fire -- white flames shooting through gray whorls -- and the shadowy forms of two men. At first they look as if they're embracing, but their embrace is really a struggle. They're fighting for something we can't see.
Then I am myself again.
The watcher leaves, followed by one of the men. They pause outside to lock the front door. I hear the click of the lock and lurch away, trying not to breathe. I'm on my hands and knees, crawling from the fire. I keep my mouth shut, but the smoke is already in me, burning my lungs. Then come words:Help me, trapped and strangled in my throat before they can be spoken.
As I wake from the dream, I hear guttural keening -- a primordial noise that predates language -- rising within me.
My mother's voice comes out of the dark. "Ariella? What's wrong?"
She sits on the edge of my bed, lifts and cradles me in her arms. "Tell me."
Why do we tell our dreams to those we love? Dreams are unintelligible even to the dreamer. The act of telling is a vain attempt to decode the indecipherable, to instill significance where likely there's none.
I tell my mother the dream.
"You were back in Sarasota," she says. Her voice is measured and calm. "On the night of the fire."
"Who were they?" I ask.
She knows I mean the shadow figures. "I don't know."
"Who locked the door?"
"I don't know." My mother holds me closer. "You had a bad dream, Ariella. It's over now."
Was it a dream?I wonder.Is it over?
A few days before my fourteenth birthday, I awoke in a glass coffin, a chamber used for oxygen therapy to treat smoke inhalation. On another floor of the hospital, my father recovered inside a similar device.
The third person rescued by the Sarasota firefighters was Malcolm Lynch, an old friend of my father's. The emergency medical technicians reported finding a driver's license in his wallet. But when their van reached the hospital, the stretcher was empty.
The investigators said the fire had been caused by ethyl ether, a highly flammable liquid. They found an empty canister in the kitchen, but they weren't able to trace its source.
Those are facts that others have told me. When I think about the fire, my recollections come out of order. I remember waking up in the hospital. Then I recall the day before the fire -- Malcolm, a tall blond man in a tailored suit, stood in the living room, telling my father without apology that he'd killed my best friend.
The experience of the fire itself? I don't know if what I recall is a memory, or only a bad dream.
Copyright 2008 by Blue Garage Co.
Excerpted from The Year of Disappearances: An Ethical Vampire Novel by Susan Hubbard
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.