Last Breath

Chapter Twelve


The portal suddenly swelled out of the wall like a black balloon, and Claire heard Eve's startled cry as she saw it happen.

She felt the door opening like a strange pressure blowing through the house; the whole world seemed to shudder as if it were a pond into which a rock had been dropped, and then there was a sharp, cracking sound, like a bell breaking in half.

And Myrnin came tumbling out of the portal.

He overbalanced and fell flat, landing right next to Old Claire's body. He raised himself up and froze, staring right into that still, silent face. New Claire, floating close by, saw the look that came over him, and realized something she never really, truly had let herself know before.

Myrnin cared about her. Really, really cared. That wasn't the kind of expression someone had for the death of a person who was unimportant, replaceable, just another warm body in a lab coat. That was genuine grief.

It broke her heart, just a little.

Myrnin had just risen to his feet when Shane came crashing through, pale and coated with a layer of frost; he collapsed in a heap, panting and shivering. Eve cried out and went to him.

Michael was busy watching Myrnin, wary and ready for anything. There was a red glow in his eyes, a predatory warning.

"Shane - ?" Michael asked, without taking his gaze off the other vamp. "You okay, bro?"

Shane didn't answer him. Eve reached down to help him up, but he avoided her reaching hands and crawled - crawled - to Old Claire's empty body.

He sat up and carefully, so carefully, lifted her up in his arms. When her head lolled in an awful sort of way, he gasped and braced her, holding her against him.

Rocking slowly back and forth.

No, Claire said. No, don't. I'm here; please don't do that, please don't feel so bad - She tried touching him, but her hands passed straight through. He looked so horribly lost and desperate now, and she didn't know how to help him.

Let me go! She screamed it at the house, and battered ineffectually at the walls. Her fists passed right through them, too. God, please, just let me go to him!

Eve choked and turned away, hands curling into fists. She was struggling not to cry, again.

But Myrnin - Myrnin was staring off into space, not watching Shane at all. He turned in a slow circle, hand outstretched.

Claire drifted closer, and held her own hand out. His passed right through it.

He kept moving. Searching.

He couldn't feel her, either.

Frustrated, Claire moved her incorporeal body forward, right into the middle of Myrnin's. Weird didn't cover that; she could see inside him, the layers of flesh and bone and muscle, the odd pale veins, a heart that looked gray and still....

She was way too creeped out to stay there, and quickly moved away. If she'd been capable of shaking, she would have done it.

But it worked. Myrnin stopped moving and stood very, very still. He closed his eyes. "Claire?"

Michael's mouth opened, then closed, and the red glare disappeared from his eyes. He looked as if someone had sucker punched him in the face - too shocked to react immediately. And then a new expression came over him. A new tension.

"Oh God," he breathed. "I didn't think - but her body's still here. Why would it still be here if she - ?"

"Shhh," Myrnin said. "Claire, if you can hear me, do that again."

She didn't like it, but any chance at communication was better than nothing. She moved forward and stayed there, trying not to think about all of Myrnin's innards she was inhabiting. She managed to hold herself there for almost a full minute before instinct drove her away. Letting go of him was a total relief.

And it didn't work.

Myrnin stayed where he was, waiting tensely, until he finally relaxed. She'd never seen him look so . . . devastated. "I thought - I thought for a moment that she - but she must be here. She must be! Perhaps she's weaker than I'd thought, perhaps if I had some instruments to magnify - "

"Go away," Shane said, his voice muffled and dull. "Get out."

"But it's possible that she's still - "

Shane finally did look up, and oh God, the numb hurt on his face, the loss, the loneliness. "She's dead," he said. "Now go away. Stop pretending you can fix this. You can't."

Myrnin didn't seem to know what to say now. He kept turning, seeking, and it seemed frantic now. "But I know she must be here. She's not one to give up, you see? She would hold on, whatever the cost. You believe that, don't you? She's strong, our Claire. Very strong."

Michael's head slowly bent, and he took a deep breath, then walked away as he pulled out his cell phone. Claire followed, drifting in his wake, as he moved to stand in the middle of the parlor. He dialed and waited as he stared blankly out the window at the falling rain. "Amelie," he said. "It's Michael. Something - something bad has happened. To Claire." His voice failed, and for a moment, he held the phone against his chest. Then he raised it again and continued. "She's dead," he said. "Shane's - I don't know, he's pretty bad off." He listened, then sank down on the sofa. "What do you mean, leave? I can't leave. Did you hear what I said? Claire is dead! She's dead on our floor!"

Silence. Michael listened and finally said, "No." It was simple, and final, and then he hung up the call and sat there, still staring at the blank screen.

Then he called 911. "There's been a murder," he said. "At 716 Lot Street. The Glass House. Please send somebody. We need - we need help."

Then he dropped his phone to the carpet, put his face in his hands, and sat in bitter silence.

Hannah Moses came herself, with a police detective Claire didn't recognize; an ambulance came, too, but the paramedics waited outside in their truck while the police took photos, measurements, talked with Michael and Eve and Shane. Shane wouldn't let go until Hannah herself crouched down and talked to him in a low, soothing voice. She knew what that horror felt like, Claire realized. She'd been through it, maybe during the war, or even here in Morganville.

Anyway, she got Shane to lay Claire's body down again, and took him to the parlor to sit down. Someone made coffee, and she pressed a warm mug into Shane's hand. He didn't drink. He didn't seem to notice it was there.

"I should go back," he said. "I shouldn't leave her alone." He tried to get up, but Hannah managed to settle him down again. "It wasn't Myrnin who did it. I thought it was him, but it wasn't. Someone else came in here, in our house."

Myrnin, Claire realized, was being taken away, under protest, by two black-suited men in sunglasses. Amelie's guards. She must have sent them. "Wait!" He was shouting it, digging in his heels as he shouted at Shane. "Wait - listen - she's here. I know she must be. I can help - Claire, if you can hear me, don't despair. I'll help! I'll find a way!"

"Get him out of here!" Hannah said sharply, and the bodyguards physically picked Myrnin up and carried him, still shouting and struggling. The noise faded, and the house seemed appallingly quiet now. Michael and Eve were somewhere else - kitchen, Claire realized; she could sense where people were in the house, just as if it was a part of herself. Wow. I'm like Frank, only instead of being a brain in a jar, I'm a soul in a house. Floating and trapped.

Just as Michael had been. Only Michael couldn't seem to sense her, and neither could any of the others. As trapped as he'd been, her prison sentence was much, much worse.

Hannah was talking to Shane in a low, soothing voice, but he wasn't responding. He seemed to be trapped again in that dark, lightless place without any hope or help, and there was nothing Claire could do to make him understand.

She couldn't just watch him suffer; it was too awful. She drifted away, through the kitchen door, and found Michael and Eve sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over steaming mugs of some kind of hot drink. Without color to shade things, and - she realized - without a sense of smell, she couldn't really tell whether it was coffee or a really dark tea.

Come on, Michael, she thought, and stretched out her hand to pass it through his body, again and again. Come on, you know I'm here; you have to know! This was you once!

As if she'd heard Claire's thoughts, Eve said, "You don't think - what Myrnin said, you don't think that the house could have, you know, saved her? Like it saved you?"

Michael didn't look up. "I'm a Glass," he said. "She's not. I don't think it could do that for her, but even if it could, do you feel anything? Any sign that she's really still here?"

"Like what?"

"Cold spots," he said. "We'd feel cold spots where she was standing. And you know Claire; she wouldn't be just standing around. She'd be in our faces, telling us she's here."

He was right. Claire was, in fact, jumping in and out of his body, screaming at the top of her lungs, all through that speech. Michael didn't feel it.

Not at all.

"Maybe she's just not, you know, as strong as you were," Eve said. "But if she's really still here - "

He stretched out his hand across the table and took hers. He squeezed. "Sweetheart, she's gone. I'm sorry."

Eve sucked in a deep, uncontrolled breath in a gasp, and said miserably, "But I was here. I was upstairs, getting towels. I used the bathroom and I dried my hair and I - Michael, I was here when it happened!" She grabbed her mug and took a gulping drink; liquid slopped over messily on the table as she set it down. "This can't be how it ends. I can't deal. I really can't."

Michael looked up at her and said softly, "If you can't, how do you think Shane feels?"

Eve shook her head. Her eyes were full of tears, again. "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know." He stared at her for a second, then seemed to come to a decision. "Eve, Amelie told me to report to Founder's Square tomorrow night, and to bring you all with me. It was an order, not a request."

"But - "

"The vampires are going to leave," he said. "All of them. She's handing over control of Morganville to the humans."

"Wait - what?" Eve wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "What are you talking about? She can't - The vampires can't just leave. That's insane!"

"I'm telling you what she said. The vampires are leaving, and they're not coming back."


He shook his head. "I don't know, but whatever it is, it's worse than Bishop, and that's - about as bad as it gets."

Eve finally connected the dots. "And - if the vampires are leaving - what about you?"

He waited for a breath, then shook his head. "They won't let me take you with us," he said. "So I'm staying."

"But you'll be alone if you stay - I mean, all of them are going?"

"All but me. That means no blood bank, no help, and nothing but a town full of pissed-off humans. I'll be the one vampire left they can take it out on." Michael tried to smile. "But I'm not leaving you, Eve. Whatever happens. Especially not after - I can't lose you."

She slid out of her chair and into his lap, and he cradled her close, and it was really sweet and sad and private, and Claire felt like a voyeur, suddenly.

She drifted away. Looking at her own body was horrifying; it seemed only more and more empty while the minutes passed and the cops took more pictures. They were getting ready to take her out, she saw; there were paramedics waiting with a stretcher. Good, she thought. Maybe once the body's gone, I can make them feel that I'm here.

"You can't," a voice said. It was a faint voice, soft and featureless, and it seemed to come out of the air around her. Claire looked around the room. The police detective was there, and the bored and waiting paramedics. Her own corpse. Nobody else. "You can't make them feel you. You're too weak, and however fond of you it may be, the house is not connected to you by blood."

"And who are you?" Claire asked.

She saw a ripple out of the corner of her eye, like heat off a summer pavement, and turned that direction as a body formed out of thin air.

He was a nondescript little man, only a bit taller than she was, with thinning light-colored hair and a round face. He was wearing an old-fashioned vest and a high-collared white shirt, just like out of old Western movies. Some kind of banker or something.

"I'm Hiram Glass," he said. "And this is my house."

"Your house."

He shrugged and crossed his arms. "Well, my bones are buried in the foundation, and my blood was mixed with the mortar. Yes, my house. And the house of my family. You were never meant to be here. It's Claire, isn't it?"

"I . . . Yes." She was still unable to process the whole idea that there was a dead man in the basement. "What do you mean, I'm too weak?"

He smiled faintly. "You've got grit, but you're not a Glass. Michael brought you in, and that makes you part of the family, but not of the blood. The house likes you, and it tried to save you, but it can only do so much. It won't be like Michael. He had a chance at life, even after death, because he could draw on his connection with me. You don't have one."

"He never said anything about you," Claire said. She would have remembered that, if Michael had actually mentioned an ancestral ghost showing up during his off-hours.

"Well, he couldn't." The ghost shrugged. "Seeing as how I never spoke to him. There was no need. He was getting along just fine. Not like you, screaming and waking the dead, if you'll pardon the expression. Now, you just settle. You won't be able to get their attention, only mine, and I assure you, you don't want more of mine. You're an intruder here."

There was a slight dark edge to that last part. The edges of his image rippled, and Claire realized he was about to leave. "Wait!" She drifted closer to him. "Wait, please - what about at night? Michael said he was weaker in the day, stronger at night. Strong enough to actually have a real body. Can I - "

He was shaking his head now. "See that flesh and bone over there?" He pointed at her body, which was being lifted and put onto the stretcher. Claire had tried not to notice that. She felt a little sick, at least mentally - she couldn't be nauseated without having a stomach. "You're not a Glass. The house might have saved you, but that's all it can do, without my cooperation. You have no way to manifest yourself, night or day. This is what you have, or will ever have. Be grateful I allow you to stay. Quietly."

And even though she yelled at him to wait, again, Hiram Glass shivered like vibrating glass, and vanished in a grayscale ripple.

I'm trapped, Claire realized with dawning horror. Trapped alone. Just . . . observing.

A real, genuine ghost.

She couldn't imagine how it could get any worse, really.

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