Home > Ghost Town (The Morganville Vampires #9)

Ghost Town (The Morganville Vampires #9)
Author: Rachel Caine

ONE

"Oh, this doesn't sound like a good idea," Claire said, looking down at the paper that had been shoved into her hand by a passing student. She paused in the shade of the Science Building porch to read it. Only idiots stood around in full sun at Texas Prairie University in the middle of the afternoon--well, idiots and football players--so Claire angled herself into a corner where she wouldn't get buffeted by the streams of people pouring out after the end of class. There were a few hardy salmon trying to swim upstream, but she didn't think they'd make it.

People all around her were carrying the same goldenrod sheet of paper she had--stuffed into pockets, crammed into books, held in hands.

She was one of the last ones to get pamphleted, she guessed. She was just a little surprised anybody had bothered at all, given the fact that she, Claire Danvers, was small for her age, looked younger than her mid-seventeen-going-hard-on-eighteen years, and tended to blend into the crowd at the best of times. This even though her ultra-fashion-conscious housemate Eve--with all the best possible intentions--had made her sit down in the bathroom and get her brown hair all highlighted so it glowed red in the sun. Still, she just wasn't . . . noticeable.

She'd learned it the hard way: early admission to college sucked.

Someone stopped next to her in the relative quiet of the shade. It was a tall, good-looking boy, and he dropped his backpack on the tiled floor with a thump as he looked over the same flyer she held. "Huh," he said, and glanced over at her. "You going?"

Once she got over the dazzle of his good looks (truthfully, it didn't take that long; her boyfriend was just as cute), she checked his wrist. He was a Morganville native; he was wearing a bracelet around one wrist made out of copper and leather, with an ornate-looking symbol engraved on the central plate. It meant he was vampire property--property of Ming Cho, who was one of those vampires that Claire had never directly run into. She liked it that way. Really, her circle of vampire acquaintances was way, way too large as it was.

"Hey," he said again, and rattled the paper in front of her face. "Anybody in there? You going?"

Claire looked down at the paper again. It had a bunch of pictures and symbols on it, no words. A musical note, which meant a rave was on the menu. Some pictures of party favors, which meant that mostly illegal stuff was going to be floating around. The address was coded in the form of a riddle, which she solved easily enough; it was an address on South Rackham, among all those decaying warehouses that used to be thriving businesses. The time was pretty obvious: midnight. That was what the graphic of the witch was for--the witching hour. The date was several days away.

"Not interested," she said, and handed him her copy. "Not my thing."

"Too bad. It's going to be out there."

"That's why." He laughed. "You a training-wheels partyer?"

"I'm not much of a partyer at all," Claire said, and couldn't help but smile; he had a really nice laugh, one that made you want to laugh with it. He wasn't laughing at her, at least. That was different. "Hi, by the way. I'm Claire."

"Alex," he said. "You coming from Chem?"

"No, Computational Physics."

"Oh," he said, and blinked. "And I have no idea what that is. Right, carry on, Einstein. Nice to meet you."

He picked up his backpack and moved off before she could even explain about many-body and nonlinear physical systems. Yeah, that would have really impressed him. Instead of walking away, he'd have been running.

She felt a little hurt, but only a little. At least he'd talked to her. That was ninety-nine percent better than her usual score with college guys, except the ones who wanted to do something terrible to her. Those guys were very chatty.

Claire squinted against the bright sunshine and looked out onto the courtyard. The big open brick space was clearing, although there were, as always, a knot of people around the central column where flyers were posted for rides, rooms, parties, and various services and causes. She had time before her next class--about an hour--but hiking all the way to the University Center coffee bar in the unseasonable late-autumn heat didn't sound attractive. She'd get there, have maybe half an hour, and then she'd have to walk another long way to get to her next class.

TPU really needed to look into mass transit.

The Science Building was closer to the edge of campus than most of the other buildings, so it was actually a shorter walk to one of the four exit gates, across the street, and then to Common Grounds, the off-campus coffeehouse. Of course, it was owned by a vampire, and not a nice one, either, but in Morganville, you couldn't be too choosy about those kinds of things if you valued your caffeine. Or your blood.

Besides, Oliver could mostly be trusted. Mostly.

Decision made, Claire grabbed her heavily laden book bag and set off in the withering sunshine for Vampire Central.

It was always funny to her now--walking through town she could tell which people were "in the know" about Morganville, and which weren't. The ones who weren't mostly looked bored and unhappy, stuck in a nothing-doing small town that rolled up the side-walks at dusk.

The ones who did know still looked unhappy, but in that hunted, haunted way. She didn't blame them, not at all; she'd been through the entire adjustment cycle, from shock to disbelief to acceptance to misery. Now she was just . . . comfortable. Surprising, but true. It was a dangerous place, but she knew the rules.

Even if she didn't always obey the rules.

Her cell phone rang as she was crossing the street--the Twilight Zone theme. That meant it was her boss. She looked down at the screen, frowned, and shut it off without answering. She was pissed at Myrnin, again, and she didn't want to hear him go on, again, about why she was wrong about the machine they were building.

 

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