"Ladies and gentlemen, please note that at no time do my fingers leave my hand!"
Not yet, thought Larry.
Blood, murder, and death; surprising what the human mind can cope with when necessary. Of course, Larry Bumpolowski wasn't human.
Not any more.
Months with this freakshow family, twelve children with more than 1,000 years between them, and their Mistress Erica, and Larry had seen terrible things, had horrible experiences, and through it all he'd clung to sanity.
It was, honestly, so hard to tell.
"Three rings, solid, all 'round! Here, check them yourself!"
Larry desperately slapped at the steel hoops in the man's fingers, but to no avail.
There they were again, Mistress guarding the door, twelve smaller forms surrounding a long table, their eyes far too jaded to have ever belonged to children, waiting for the entertainment to end so the fun could begin. Larry had become jaded himself after his death at the hands of the dozen little monsters now politely applauding as they offered the man on stage cool, appraising gazes.
The man who was the problem.
"As you can see, nothing in the hat."
Larry flailed, crying out in silent frustration, fingers passing through the black silk top hat, feeling nothing.
This vampire family had murdered hundreds of people since the night they'd feasted upon Larry, and he was drawn irresistibly to every Feed, haunting their meals. He'd tried many times to stop them, to help the victims, lashed out at his tormentors, but ghosts were unable to affect the physical world. They never even knew he was there.
Just like now.
He'd devolved into a vampire of the spirit, consuming the energy of the newly dead they generated, fueling himself, fighting off the Fade that had claimed all the other ghosts they'd made, and that had assaulted his sanity as well; consumed by guilt, unable to help himself, as addicted to this shadowy survival as any crackhead to his pipe.
"I'll need a volunteer. Birthday girl, how about you? Come on, don't be afraid, step right up here! What's your name, again? Can we have a round of applause for my assistant, Alexandria!"
All that he'd done and seen, and this was the first time this had ever happened.
This was the first time he'd known their victim.
Bill "Alakazam" Shulter had worked birthday parties just like this one with Larry back when he had been Uncle Bumpo the clown.
Back when he'd been alive.
It was too much! Months spent watching horrific murders, helpless to stop it, accidentally becoming part of it, subsisting on death himself, now watching a friend perform his way toward his own death, unable to do a damn thing about it.
Larry gathered his rage, his hate, every bit of strength he had collected devouring new spirits, focused his will in the middle of Alexandria's back as she stepped toward Bill, and with all of his being he pushed!
Alexandria stumbled, crying out in surprise.
Bill saw the girl's mouth open wide; his eyes bulged at her bared fangs.
Run, Billy! Larry howled without words. Now's your chance! Run!
But Bill did not leap into action, as Larry had envisioned. He froze, staring from child to child, the strangeness of the children making an odd sense now. The children, their charade penetrated, launched from their chairs with preternatural speed, catching hold of arms and legs, bearing Bill to the floor under an avalanche of undead flesh. The children struck like snakes, the scent of copper rising as fangs savaged his limbs, his torso, the birthday girl herself sinking a fang into his eye, tearing the orb from its socket, snapping the orbital muscles with a jerk of her head and spitting it, glistening, across the floor before sinking down to feed.
Larry reeled, having unintentionally precipitated the most savage attack he'd ever seen. He grabbed and groped, trying to stop them, but it was no use. Whatever focus he'd used to affect William was gone, eradicated by the speed and horror of the attack, and he fought madness as his friend screamed . . . screamed . . . stopped.
Larry knew what came next, from a whole year's experience. There was a chance that? yes, there it was! Larry saw it in slow motion, the kaleidoscopic ball of light that was Alakazam's spirit beginning to lift from his dying body, preparing to fly free though still tethered to his corporeal form sprawled broken on the floor. Larry felt that strangely animal part of himself, his addiction to Life, already urging him to attack and devour the Life within that rising Light.
He thrust aside the instinct, thrust aside the hunger, and rather than devouring the Light he gathered himself once more and pushed it, forcing it back down toward its earthly host. It was like pushing water; it flowed around him, past him. Unable to stop the flow, he still felt some sort of resistance, something pushing back. He pushed hard. Harder. Focusing his energy, his will, until there was nothing else in his world but himself and the escaping Light, he threw himself into the contest.
Something gave way. The resistance broke before him, and like a man pushing a door that suddenly opens he felt himself falling forward, into the Light, through the Light.
Larry opened his eye and sat up, crying out, like a man waking from a terrible nightmare. He felt strangely heavy as he swiveled his head, seeing the surprised faces of the children gathered about him as he sat in the middle of the floor. The children parted revealing their Mistress.
"Well, Alakazam, you truly are a magic man," she said, staring at Larry, her expression odd. "Five hundred years, and this will be the first time I've ever killed a man twice."
She bared her fangs.
Larry screamed as, just like the first time they'd killed him, the children closed around him.