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Sunsetters

Prologue

 

I have been sentenced to death … twice. I never thought I would die this young, one year shy of my seventeenth birthday. Death row. After my sentencing I ran and went into hiding but death seemed to find me. Thinking I would be able to escape the inevitable, I sought refuge in the unknown, but I was so wrong. In the quiet sequestered borough of Shadowbend Falls I never imagined I would dance with the Grim Reaper once again.

Will it hurt? When you die is it like falling asleep?

As he moves in closer, his glowing eyes are fueled with rage and anger—not for what I did but who I am. I am ready to accept the beauty of death if paradise takes me away from this physical pain. Nervously but patiently, I wait as my executioner glides with grace towards me. His sweet, intoxicating scent mesmerizes me; I am unable to move.

I slowly close my eyes. The last image I see is that of my predator. I am finally ready to embrace what waits for me … eternal rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

I have fought death ever since I was born. Twelve years ago, my parents tried to kill me on the night of my fourth birthday. I eagerly awaited the party guests who would never show. I remember it clearly like it was yesterday. My father had dressed me up in a cute, light pink floral dress and had parted my hair in two long curly pigtails. He was careful to tie a neat pink bow towards the bottom, securing my ends. His blond hair glistened under the kitchen light, which in actuality was from the sweat seeping from his pores. The blond stubble below his nose would normally have been removed by now. It was unlike my father to be unshaven for this long, especially for an event such as my birthday.

My father’s lips twitched nervously as he continued to fluff my thick, ginger hair. My hair was not the fiery kind of red, but a dark, deep, rich red. They were tanned and blond, but I had red hair and was pale. I looked nothing like my parents. Sitting there awaiting my father’s final moves, I blinked up at him with my amber colored eyes. His soft blue eyes held days of mental anguish. He was exhausted. His hands trembled so badly that he fumbled several times dropping my brush.

“Okay, m-m-my sweet darling. Now it’s time to go upstairs and get your party shoes.” My father was so nervous he stuttered several more times.

Glancing around the huge foyer, I anticipated my mother’s appearance at any second. I was privileged, or so I thought. The first four years of my life were spent in the elite North Beverly Hills Peavine Canyon district. Little did I realize my parents rarely—if ever—took me out because I was odd, according to my mother. Runny noses and sore throats were something I never experienced. That was the first sign for my mother. I rarely slept, if ever. My father nonchalantly wrote it off as me being colicky. I never received childhood injuries. It was no secret I was different, and my mother made sure that I knew that every day.

Racing thoughts danced around in my head like butterflies as I began to wonder why no one had rung the doorbell yet and why there were no birthday decorations in the house.

“Where are my friends, Daddy?” I asked in my tiny voice. My father finally stood up and glanced down at me.

“They are on their way, honey,” he lied.

I could hear my mother’s heels clicking on the marbled floor. She had on a long knee-length black lace gown and five-inch stilettos. Her long banana blond hair flowed down her back and hot pink lipstick was smeared across her lips. My eyes fell to her hand where a liquor bottle was almost drained.

“Quit asking so many questions and get up stairs, Jeweliette,” my mother managed to say in a sweet voice. “We need to finish getting you dressed. Your friends will be here any moment now.” She stared down at me with icy blue eyes.

I took my father’s hand as he led me up the spiral staircase. When I glanced back at my mother she had a crazed stare. A slow sneer crept across her mouth; it was like she knew something that I didn’t. I remember getting a little scared. She looked different somehow. Her bone-straight hair, which flowed so freely earlier, was now in a ponytail. My mother kept her right arm behind her back concealing what I figured was an early surprise for my birthday. Her movements were sharp. She looked like an alley cat on the prowl ready to attack its next victim.

More steps towards my doom.

My father walked me down the massive hallway and guided me to one of the guest bathrooms. He stopped short of walking in and then shook his head.

“I cannot do this, Rebecca!” He lowered his head and turned away.

My mother rolled her eyes and snatched me away from him, leading me into the bathroom, where every light was glaring bright. I had an issue with bright lights and tried to shield my eyes with my free arm. Nothing looked out of place except for a large garden tub of soapy water that still had ripples in it. The bubbles seemed fresh, as if the bath was just drawn. I figured my mom was going to catch a quick wash before the party started since I had bathed earlier.

“Let’s make sure your face all is clean and I will touch up your hair.” She produced a phony smile. I noticed her teeth were stained with the bubble gum-colored lipstick.

My mom pulled a clean towel from the vanity cabinet and wiped away at nothing. She spun around to where I faced the bathroom wall and tub.

“Now,” she softly purred, “I am going to touch up—”

The next thing I knew, I felt a sharp pain on my head that caused me to momentarily pass out. My mother had apparently pushed me so hard I hit my head on the pebbled wall and drifted to the bottom. I came to with my lungs burning and filling with hot water. Her petite hand, with nails that were neatly manicured with apple red nail polish, appeared from behind her back brandishing a large, clear object. She hit me one time over the head with liquor bottle that she had been drinking out of earlier. Fresh, hot blood trailed down my head from the gaping wound at the top of my scalp. The viscous fluid momentarily blinded my eyes but the scorching water quickly flushed it out.

“Stay down!” my mother yelled.

“Mommy!” I gasped, trying to fight so desperately for the air I took for granted. “Mommy, PLE-PLEASE!” Everything burned at the moment: the water, my skin, lungs, and eyes … I kicked and swung my hands at my mother wildly. I only wanted her to bring my head to the surface, even for a second. I needed to breathe. I wanted to live. So many things were going through my head. I could not understand why my mother was doing this to me. I continued to fight for my life underneath the scalding hot bath water as more soapy fluid entered my body though my nose, ears, eyes, and mouth.

My mother stopped momentarily and brought her hands to her head like she had a migraine. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

“She is trying to get inside of my head again! Jim!” my mother yelled. “Get over here now!” Her face was deranged as she changed into an entirely different person. I tried to get up from my soon-to-be watery grave, but she backhanded me knocking me down once more. “Die, Jeweliette! Just die! You evil monster!”

I wildly flailed my hands about like a mad man. Small details that I would have never noticed became evident. The pin-sized mole sitting above the corner of her right lip looked like a wart. My mother’s blond strands had slipped from the ponytail that she had thrown together making her appear demonic. She looked a lion devouring her cubs. Her lips were drawn up tightly at the corners of her mouth into a snarl. Saliva pooled at the edges of her mouth like a rabid dog.

“Why won’t you just die? How. Many. Times. Do. I. Have. To. Kill. You!”

This was not the first time your mom wanted you dead … a voice out of nowhere said to me. Your time is not up yet. There is much more that awaits youFight!

“I should have killed you years ago!” my mother growled. The loving woman who looked forward to me being a girl scout or becoming the next Miss America had transformed into some wicked, frenetic woman that I didn’t know. My survival instincts kicked in, and I wanted to survive.

My father hesitated but rushed over. It literally took the two of them to hold me down in the water mother secretly drew for me only moments before. The coldness in her eyes never blinked, the coldness never wavering. My pleas fell on deaf ears. Through the sudsy, rippled water that stung my eyes and burned the inside of my chest, I could see my father’s tear-stained face. The last image I saw was my father mouthing the words “I am sorry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Dear Jewel,

 

Hey I like uoy. Would uoy like to be ym girlfriend?

[* Please check ____yes or ____no *]

Bryce Thompson

 

 

I sat on the toilet in the girl’s bathroom and struggled to read the letter with some jumbled words. Not jumbled, backwards. I absolutely detested school and my life at this moment. The most popular boy at school had a crush on me and all the girls who liked him despised me. When I saw the brown bag sitting on top of my book bag I thought I was receiving a birthday gift, but instead it was a letter I could barely decipher. I crumbled up the letter and flushed it down the toilet. What a wonderful way to spend my sixteenth birthday—closed away in such a smelly place.

The beating against the bathroom door caused me to violently shudder. It was hit with so much force that the tiny cream flakes danced around in the air like pixie dust. The hinges wiggled and creaked underneath the pressure of the tiny fists on the other side of my barrier. The loud clatter of the lunch tray against my knees overshadowed the continuous jostling of the door keeping me enclosed safely within the dingy stall. I strained to peep through the cracks of the door but the constant flow of tears behind my glasses clouded my vision.

BOOM! BOOM!

“Why are you hiding? Get out here, you weirdo!” one shrill female voice yelled.

Asher.

“Come on out, you little four-eyed firecracker, or I will drag you out by your ugly red hair!” another voice angrily demanded.

Maddy.

BOOM! BOOM!

“I don’t care if Bryce likes you. He is mine!” Asher angrily shouted from the other side of the bathroom door.

One, two. One, two…

I tapped my leg, counting. It was a breathing exercise I’d learned from countless hours in therapy, but it wasn’t working now. Years of agonizing emotions struck me in my gut like a clenched fist. My heart rate increased. I had grown tired of eating my lunch in the bathroom to get away from the mean girls. The tiny toilet pained me greatly and the strong smell of urine unpleasant. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich I tried to wolf down melted in my clenched hand. Bryce Thompson had taken a major liking to me. He was the first boy who had showed me interest and was everything any girl dreamed of. He had tried several times to ask me out on a date but there was no attraction to him on my part. The result: I developed enemies.

I had grown tired of fighting.

It is not going to work. Your time is not up, yet, my inward heroine’s voice echoed in the back of my mind.

The scorching tears flooded my cheeks as I plopped down onto the toilet. I pulled out a mini blade that I had made from a shaving razor. I closed my eyes ready to end it all and pressed down deeply making a horizontal move. I tuned out what was going on outside the stall and waited to slip away. After a few minutes, I was upset because I was still alive. Breathing. Opening my eyes, I glanced down to see that the inflicted death move had barely bled. The gaping wound was not superficial and healed almost instantly. I was baffled as to what was going on with my body. I should have bled out by now.

The constant jeering brought my attention to the nagging voice that tried to warn me—my inward heroine, the voice that appeared out of nowhere when my parents tried to drown me. She was more of a safety net, my protector, a guide I was fortunate to have but not appreciative of.

What are you doing? my inward heroine said in a soothing voice. What is going on outside that door will eventually change. All situations change. You might not see that now but all problems will resolve and then it will be over so you can move on with your life. Harming yourself in such way is final decision and can never be undone. I understand that you are trying to escape all of the painful situations you have encountered in the past, that you have had to fight all of your life to survive. Some of the most magnificent creations are born from the worst conditions. Have you ever thought that you might have a purpose? That you could be the sole reason why someone else lives? You never know who will enter your life in the future and the role you will play in their ultimate happiness.

I calmly took the razor and wrapped it in a toilet tissue. The jeering in the background became a faded sound.

But remember, you and only you have the ultimate power in determining and controlling your own destiny. Be patient. The best part of your life is still to come, my inward heroine continued softly.

She instructed me to throw the lunch tray over the bathroom door. Do it now! It will alert someone.

I was hesitant but did not waste time. The vomit green lunch tray went flying over the door.

“Ugh!” Maddy screamed in anger.

The hail of fists upon the battered door came to a complete halt after my lunch tray landed on the floor with a loud thud. I placed my ear close to the stall’s door and waited until I heard the last scatter of feet disappear.

Do not open the door, my inward heroine warned.

Against my better judgment, I quickly adjusted my glasses and slowly opened the bathroom door. My hands shook so badly the door squeaked as if it was swaying back and forth. I did not see any evidence of my tormentors. Taking a leap of faith, I quietly stepped outside of the door.

What followed next remained foggy.

The swift motion of a hand met my upper cheek as if it were swatting at a fly. I fell into the door, which gave way causing me to fall back onto the toilet. The sound of my glasses hitting the floor elicited snickering from the girls who were bystanders. The stinging of the left side of my face came next, followed by the watering of my eyes again. I forced the tears not to fall. I refused to cry.

Laughter erupted as I scanned the room. Without my glasses, my vision was slightly blurry, but I could still make out the faces. Maddy, the 190 pound fifteen-year-old, bared a mouth full of yellow stained teeth at me. She went to football games just to secretly smoke behind the bleachers with her friends. Asher, the frail blonde, stood next to Maddy with her arms folded.

“I told you, stay away from Bryce!” Asher yelled. Her fists clenched at her sides. I knew she wanted to land another blow to the other side of my face making it even. Several girls congregated behind her.

You need to stand up for yourself. Fight back! my inward heroine demanded.

“O-o-one, two-o-o …” I could not get the words to come out.

“Cat got your tongue? Oh, I forgot you talk to yourself and answer back, weirdo!” Asher turned towards the other girls, leaned her head back, and laughed. The bystanders joined in, not by choice but of fear that they would also end up on Asher’s fist list.

A small amount of blood trickled from the inside of my mouth. I must have busted my lip when I fell back onto the toilet. The scent of copper filled my nostrils, and I slowly licked my lip. Even though the bleeding was minute, the blood tasted … sweet.

“I don’t like Bryce,” I whispered. I was not going to fight over some boy. She could have him for all I cared.

The girls became quiet and glanced at Asher then Maddy to see what their reaction would be. Here they were, fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls acting like they were eight and nine. Maddy took a quick glance at the rowdy spectators and walked towards me with a pudgy, clenched fist. She put all of her body weight into her attack as she lunged forward aiming at my head. I braced myself for the attack as she raised her hand.

Birds of a feather, I need you now to storm this weather, my inward heroine said.

Sounds of wings slapping against the only window in the bathroom halted Maddy’s fist mid air. Maddy’s attention, along with others’, turned to the bathroom window. A blackbird had flown into the window and disappeared. The girls started laughing hysterically once again. I focused on the window, somehow summoning more birds to come forth. Then after a few seconds, another blackbird hit the window cracking it, followed by two more blackbirds. In a matter of minutes the once clear window was solid black. The laughter turned into shrieks once the window shattered into pieces. Blackbirds flooded the bathroom, fluttering and flapping their wings. The chirps sounded like a raging storm. I directed my attention back to Maddy, and three birds followed my vision like a highlighted map. The birds swarmed around her pecking and tearing at her hair and clothes.

“Agh!” Maddy’s arms flailed wildly, trying to get the birds away.

One bystander noticed me focusing on Maddy and the birds and immediately accused me.

“Jewel! It’s Jewel!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah!” Another girl chimed in. “She is attacking Maddy with the birds!”

Stop, stop now, my inward heroine advised.

I shifted my eyes and focus away from Maddy. The birds fluttered back out the window from which they flew. The bathroom was as silent as the walls surrounding us, only with occasional deep breathing and whimpering.

“I think you killed her,” one girl with braces whispered, breaking the stillness.

Asher stood in a stupor, too scared to move. A few of the shocked bystanders attempted to rouse Maddy, but she didn’t stir. She was hidden underneath the sink.

I peeped through the corner of my elbow to see Ms. Smith, the assistant principal, walking towards our direction. I quickly tried to regain my composure, even though I felt that I had just seriously injured or accidently murdered a classmate. Where had the inner strength hailed from to command birds to do my bidding? I felt an immediate rebound of dizziness the room was spinning. One of the girls had retrieved some wet paper towels and dabbed Maddy’s forehead. I watched as Maddy motioned for Asher to come to her. The expression on Maddy’s face was that of pure terror as she tried to move her extremities, all limbs mobile except for her right hand.

“She-she paralyzed me,” Maddy whispered to Asher.

Asher took a look at Maddy’s hand and made a sour face. “Oh my God! She can’t mover her hand! It’s numb!” Asher cried, glaring at me. “You freak! Look what you did to her hand!”

Some of the girls gathered around to see what the ruckus was about.

Maddy pointed at me with her good hand. “She made those birds attack me! Because of her, I fell back and hit my hand!”

Even though it was hard to believe that I, of all people, had beckoned birds to strike someone, no one would believe such a thing. It just didn’t happen, not in the real world. All of the girls started laughing at Maddy’s accusations. She looked like a raging psycho telling tall tales.

The assistant principal pushed through the chaotic group. “Madelyn Johnson! You are going to detention and all, not some, of your privileges are gone for two weeks!” Pockets of sweat appeared on Ms. Smith’s forehead. Under the light, her velvety brown-toned skin glistened. Ms. Smith yanked Maddy up by her arm, which squiggled like a worm, but she was no match for the assistant principal twice her size.

“Ms. Smith,” Maddy whined.

Ms. Smith tightened her grip on Maddy. “Are you okay, Jeweliette?”

I blinked my eyes. Besides the name Jeweliette lurking in the deep corners of my mind, I had not heard that name since my parents tried to kill me. The only time I wasn’t uneasy when I heard the name was when my inward heroine used it.

Ms. Smith shook her wobbly neck. “I apologize. I keep forgetting. Jewel, is it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I quietly muttered, staring at the floor.

“Are those your glasses on the floor?” Ms. Smith asked, still looking towards my direction.

I nodded my head. The stinging in my lip had worn off and the tingling sensation of numbness had set in my jaw. I brought my hand to my cheek to caress it and reflect on what had just transpired. I was still in disbelief. Where had the burst of energy come from to summon the birds? This had never happened before.

“What happened to Jewel’s face, Maddy?” Ms. Smith swung her plump body around to face Asher, dragging Maddy, who was still within her grasp, along with her. “Asher?” Ms. Smith continued. Asher quickly turned away and shrugged her shoulders.

“She is evil!” Maddy cried. “I can’t move my hand because of her. Look! Look at the window. It was she who caused those birds to come here!” Maddy held up her visibly injured hand. My eyes grew big. Her hand was indeed swollen and red.

Ms. Smith grabbed Asher with her free hand and shoved her towards my spectacles, which were hidden underneath the bathroom sink. “Jewel is waiting for her glasses.”

“I can’t reach them!” Asher moaned. Her thin cheeks quickly changed to a shade of strawberry red.

“You should have thought about that before you knocked the glasses off her face!” Ms. Smith snapped. “I don’t know what kind of circus you girls think you were operating until I showed up, but bullying will not be tolerated on these grounds under any circumstances!”

Ms. Smith glanced up at the shattered window studying it for a moment. She was baffled but tried her best not to show it. Then her eyes slowly fell on me. I suspected Ms. Smith knew something was not right with me. She tilted her head sideways and opened her mouth slightly to say something, but no words came out. One of the students brought Ms. Smith the lunch tray, which momentarily took all of the attention off me.

Your glasses might be broken but it is okay. I will be your eyes and ears for you as always, my inward heroine said softly.

My hands trembled while I readjusted my damaged glasses. The left temple and bridge were cracked but my lenses were still intact. I would manage. Worse had happened to me before. As I got ready to leave the restroom, a ghastly figure caught my attention in the mirror. My image flickered in and out. I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes slowly. Either my vision was deteriorating or I was going insane. I fervently blinked my eyes. From my reflection in the mirror, it seemed as if I were disappearing.

I stood still and observed the broken soul staring back at me. I saw an abandoned, lonely girl. Looking from the outside in, one would think I was emaciated, abused, and broken. I was frail with sunken eyes and dark circles. I had no life to my pasty skin. However, my thick, ginger tresses flowing over my shoulders told a different story. My strands were vivacious and healthy. I was always told that I was cursed because of my dark red hair. Teased. However, my inward heroine taught me that my hair was a symbol of beauty and wealth and one day I would be proud of who I was.

With a trembling finger, I pinned back a strand of hair behind my ear. Most of the time I kept it in a single goddess braid to prevent myself from catching head lice or any other creepy crawlers because of the different homes I was placed in. Every foster home told a different story. Body louse, bullies, thieves … There was no telling what living situation another child would be arriving from or which home I would be going to. I had to stay prepared.

I moved to exit the bathroom until I felt Ms. Smith’s warm hand on my back. “Jewel, you are so cold. You’re skin,” she said with a look of concern. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Just a little shaken up. I’m fine. Thanks.”

“There’s the school nurse—”

“I’m okay,” I reassured her.

Ms. Smith nodded but her concerned expression did not change. I gathered my things and got ready to head to class, but she stopped me.

“You won’t be going back to class but home. I was on my way to get you since our intercom system is down.”

“Am I moving again?” I croaked.

Ms. Smith nodded.

“Another school?”

“Yes, Jewel.”

A wave of abjection hit me. “Am I going to another group or foster home this time?”

“Neither.”

“What do you mean?” My eyes widened as a dozen prickly needles danced across my forehead.

“I will let your foster mother explain all of that to you. Come on, follow me.”

We walked up to the front office where Melanie Franks, who the foster kids referred to as Mel, was impatiently waiting. Her husband John had unexpectedly died in a car accident three months ago. I figured Mel was having another one of her meltdowns because of the somber expression plastered across her face. She always had mood swings and confessed she was an undiagnosed bipolar but kept it hidden so it would not affect her chances in becoming a foster parent. Unfortunately for me, I always caught the brunt of her mania. She fiddled with the sleeve of her floral Maxi dress.

“Is everything okay, Mel?” I prayed she wouldn’t tell me I was being transferred to another foster home or worse … an orphanage.

“Yes and no,” she muttered, blinking her false eyelashes. “Come on outside and I will explain more. I need my medicine … not a drink.” She sighed heavily. “What happened to your face and your eyes?”

“Nothing,” I mumbled, turning away.

“That wasn’t there yesterday. The redness. Looks like you been crying.” For a moment Mel seemed to be concerned. She fumbled around in her Coach purse that she’d bought at a yard sale and pulled out a Chocolate chip cookie. “Happy Birthday,” she said dryly, passing me the stale cookie.

After giving me my birthday gift, Mel continued to fumble around in her handbag until she found what she was searching for: her medicine. She took her nerve pill, dry without water, and threw back her head. I watched as she rubbed her neck to help ease the medicine down.

“What’s going on?” I wondered.

“You … well we are moving.” Her eyes fluttered and lips twitched while she awaited my response.

At the moment I was Mel’s only foster kid. Last week, she sent five children back to the Texas Department of Human Services. When a transfer to a different home was imminent, I was usually snatched up in the middle of the night without any fair warning. I needed to know what was so different about this time. I wanted to scream. Another home? I thought this was my last. This would be seven foster homes that I had been shipped off to since I was four. Each home was worse than the last. Different scenarios played out in my head of what the next foster home would be like. Unlike most orphans, my history was sketchy. I barely had a background. Nothing of my early childhood years existed. The contortion of my face must have spoke a thousand words.

This might work in your favor, Jeweliette … Be patient, my inward heroine purred.

Nothing ever worked in my favor. Ever.

Mel scratched her head. “It’s not what you thi—”

“I thought I was done moving around.” I interrupted. I pondered over the situation in my head and walked closer to Mel. “Wait a minute. Didn’t you say we?”

“I don’t get what you’re saying exactly,” Mel said. Her voice was shaky. The meds were not in her system yet.

“You said earlier that we were moving.”

“Exactly. We. You, Bobbie, and I.”

Bobbie was Mel’s seventeen-year-old daughter and the only child she could have. She wanted more kids but had to have an emergency hysterectomy after Bobbie was born due to a massive hemorrhage sustained during the delivery.

“So I’m not going to another foster family? Or orphanage?” I asked in disbelief. I dreaded orphanages; they were worse than foster families because you were basically a number and lost in the system. There was never a sense of belonging. No identity.

“No, we’re moving to North Carolina. It’s a small town in the mountains. I figured that would be up your alley considering you’re always talking about mountains.”

I brightened up. Even though I had never been to the East Coast before, hearing the word mountain did it for me. “Where in North Carolina?”

Mel pulled a wrinkled piece of paper from her pocket. “Cashiers to be exact.” She flipped her sandy blond hair over her shoulder. “The reason we’re moving is because I received an awesome job offer in Asheville to work with one of the biggest foster care systems on the East Coast with great pay and benefits.” She took a deep breath and contemplated on whether or not she wanted to explain further. “The deal was you would have to come along.” Mel then quickly changed her tune. “Being that foster kids can’t be taken across state lines, a special exception was made for you.”

“Oh wow. It is great to be wanted for a change,” I mumbled while Mel sighed loudly. “Where is Asheville?” I asked.

“About an hour from Cashiers, where we will be staying in a rent-free house. It all comes along with the job.” Mel’s mood all of a sudden changed. “You seem to have problems everywhere you go. While I was waiting in the office, I heard everything over the walkie-talkie radio, you know.” She continued with a rigid face, “Just realize that you are one of the lucky few and be thankful that I decided to take you with me instead of leaving you to get lost again in the system.”

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“Don’t be. You should be thankful that I didn’t send you off to some nut house or the Texas State Prison to join your parents. Who knows where they are,” Mel barked. She looked at me bug-eyed. “You might actually need the help. You make me wonder sometimes!”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to upset Mel any further so I let up on the questioning.

Mel scratched her head again. “Go on, get in the car. I’m waiting on Bobb—”

“You are withdrawing me out of school because?” Bobbie slowly walked down the steps with her hands on her hips. She had on high-waisted denim jeans that accentuated her tiny waist. Her chestnut brown hair was in a disarray and her shirt was rumpled. She looked like a high fashion model as she gracefully strolled towards us. I longed to have Bobbie’s confidence. Her ocean blue eyes lit up when she saw me. She ran over to give me a hug.

“We’re moving, Bobbie. That is why I withdrew you from school,” Mel snapped. She looked at her watch. “What happened to you? We need to get on the road.”

“Just in case you wanted to know, Mom, Jewel had an altercation with two brats that have been hounding her since she enrolled at this school.” Bobbie turned to me. “I paid a visit to Asher and Maddy before class started. Blackened a few eyes. I got suspended,” she said nonchalantly, winking at me. She handed a pink slip to her mother. “But I guess it doesn’t matter since we are moving. Shall we hit the road?”

The veins on the side of Mel’s temple were now bulging. “You need to stop fighting Jewel’s battles and let her fight her own. I can’t have my own child being a burden as well.”

Bobbie ignored Mel and faced me. “Are you okay, Jewels?”

I nodded my head, but I truly wasn’t. Bobbie added a twist to my name. She thought the extra s was cool. Bobbie softly caressed my face and pushed my busted glasses up onto the bridge of my nose.

“I wanted to go to prom next year with this hot guy that I have been wanting to ask, but I bet there are some other hotties where we are going,” Bobbie chimed.

Mel started walking towards her Nissan Altima, shaking her head at her daughter’s remark. “Let’s go. I wish you would think about school more the way you think about those boys. I will explain the arrangements in the car, Bobbie. Both yours and Jewel’s things are packed. This nice lady has been waiting on us for too long.”

It was then that I noticed a dusty, black station wagon parked along side Mel’s car. Standing beside it was an old lady wearing dark sunglasses and holding a misshapen wooden walking stick that looked like a wiggly snake. The elderly woman never moved once but acknowledged my presence with a nod and smile. Her fire-red hair, which was covered by a large bright red sun hat, was the first thing that I noticed. The hat was huge and tattered with discolored areas of varying shades of red. She had on a faded black house gown with long sleeves and old worn black shoes.

You might think she cannot see you, but she can. This woman will be of major importance to you later, my inward heroine said.

“Come closer, child,” the old woman said in a shaky, hoarse voice.

I did as I was told and walked up to the woman. What did she want with me? I felt like my knees were going to buckle at any moment. The old woman moved her wooden walking stick to the side slightly. Leaning forward, close to my face, she inhaled deeply. She stepped back without so much as a stumble and smiled brightly. Her teeth were jagged and sharp. It looked like someone had taken a file and shaped them like triangles.

“I’m glad you decided to accept the job at one of the leading foster care agencies in Asheville,” the old woman said, smiling at Mel. She turned her attention back to me. “My name is Eris and your name …?”

“Jewel, nice to meet you,” I replied. I had become accustomed to strangers coming and going in my life. I shook her hand, which felt as cold and hard as metal. I figured that life must not have been generous to the old woman’s skin. I’d never felt anyone’s flesh that was so cold and hard. It was a creepy feeling. Goose bumps appeared on my arms. The old lady ignored Mel’s and Bobbie’s spattering going on in the background.

“Come now, dear. Time is of the essence,” the old woman said in a jittery voice as she wobbled back towards her car. In her hand I observed a stack of faded yellow papers, which probably was my entire life history. She stopped walking and tipped her red hat at Mel, who seemed to be in a trance. Her eyes were glossy and she stared straight ahead.

“I guess you will be following me?” Eris asked.

Mel snapped out of her state. “Sure. Let’s go, girls,” she replied robotically. Mel eyeballed me first and then Bobbie. “I have the most perfect job. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I don’t want either one of you messing this up for me. Understand?”

“Yeah, Mom.” Bobbie rolled her eyes and plopped into the front seat of the Altima.

I fiddled with my hands and slowly made my way to the backseat. All of a sudden, I felt as if someone was watching me. The old lady had her tinted windows rolled down and stared in my direction. A devilish grin spread across her face like an infectious plague. She pointed at Mel then towards me.

“Can an old lady have some company to stay awake?” she politely asked.

“Why of course!” Mel said with a cheerleader spirit. She nodded her head towards Eris’s direction, not once acknowledging me. “Eris would like for you to ride with her. Bobbie is riding with me.”

“Can I ride too?” Bobbie asked. She had found some gum and was loudly popping bubbles.

“You’re not riding with a stranger,” Mel hissed.

Figures … I was not Mel’s blood. She couldn’t care less what happened to me, especially when she was in one of her neglectful moods. I gradually made my way out of the car and to Eris’s. There was something peculiar about the entire situation. It flowed too smoothly. Strangely, for the first time, I felt at ease with someone who I’d never met before. Eris. There must have been a connection. As I cautiously gravitated towards her, my anxiety lessened. It was the unknown that I was about to venture into that frightened me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

The drive to Cashiers was quiet and lengthy. The roads changed from four to two lane narrow highways. I woke up several times to find I was still alive and was very grateful, for I’d invested my trust in this woman, which was something that I normally wouldn’t do. Eris was a complete stranger, yet so friendly. Occasionally, I would steal side-glances at her when she wasn’t watching. For some odd reason, I had a remarkable inclination towards her, and I felt she had the same with me. A connection. My heart whispered I’d met her before, but I couldn’t put my finger on where. I groggily watched up ahead as the old woman steered. She had poor vision, worse than mine, according to my inward heroine. My question to myself was how could she see to drive so well when she could barely see to walk and drive?

I pulled down the visor to check on my lip. The sensation to the right side of my face told me the lump had mysteriously disappeared as quickly as I received it. There was no mirror attached to the sun visor, so how would I know? I quickly scanned the inside of the station wagon. The car was immaculate. No paper, empty water bottles, or dust bunnies. I checked the side driver and passenger mirrors. Nothing. There were no mirrors anywhere. There was a black stub where the rearview mirror used to be, which made the car have a spooky feel to it. Where were all the mirrors?

Don’t go looking for answers that you can’t handle, my inward heroine said with a warning.

“Do you have a mirror?” I asked.

Eris focused on the road, avoiding my question.

I pointed to my lip. “Got into a fight at school today and a girl landed a cheap shot on me. Just wanted to make sure the swelling went down.”

“No need for a mirror when your beauty shines as bright as the sun.” Eris stared straight ahead. “Besides, you must heal quickly. I don’t see a bump on your face.”

“Oh, okay,” I said astonished, massaging my face. Maybe Eris was right, but then again she could barely see. I was getting better at healing from the punches and slaps. Or possibly my body had become immune to the inflicted beatings from my peers. I glanced at Eris and then the large hat partially obstructing her face. “I’m nervous about leaving Houston. It’s all I have ever known, considering I have lived in almost every foster home or orphanage out there.”

“Your rightful place is greater beyond your wildest imagination,” Eris said assertively.

I was lost. The old woman spoke in riddles. Eris did not say much more after that short conversation, but I wanted to know what North Carolina was like. Was it hot, humid, and crowded like Houston? Or Desolate and barren like the desert? I sure hope this is the last move I will make were my last thoughts before I drifted off to sleep.

It will be … my Inward Heroine reassured.

I woke a few hours later to crisp, cool air, the smooth strum of tires against the pavement, and the sun slightly grazing the sky as if it wanted to set at any moment.

“Only a couple of more hours to Shadowbend Falls.” Eris turned her head towards me, taking her eyes off of the highway.

I nervously glanced at the road. The old woman steadied the wheel like a professional race car driver. The old, black station wagon picked up speed. We quickly passed the “Now Leaving Tennessee” sign.

Shadowbend Falls? I thought we were moving to … Cashiers?” I blinked my eyes fervently. I had never heard of such a place nor did I study about it in any of my history books.

“Shadowbend Falls is where I live. It is in North Carolina. Located right outside of Cashiers, North Carolina,” the old woman continued as she stared at me through dark sunglasses. She never turned her attention back towards the road.

Eris never took her eyes off me so I focused on the road. “Oh … it sounds like a pretty neat place.”

“It is more, beyond your most wildest dreams.” She displayed all of her razor-sharp teeth.

I felt bumpy ridges signaling we must have ventured into the middle of the road. A loud horn from behind warned of an oncoming vehicle headed our direction. I glanced back and forth between Eris and the road, realizing my life was literally dangling in her hands. I knew it was best that she kept her eyes on the road but for some reason the old woman was able to drive the car without looking at the highway.

“You are going to be so happy that you moved to this side of the country,” Eris said warmly.

She never took her eyes off of me but steadied the station wagon on the road.

“Happy birthday,” she said merrily.

“Um … shouldn’t you be watching the—” I thought for a swift moment. “How did you know my birthday was today?”

“Mel couldn’t keep it a secret,” she cackled.

I studied Eris closely, paying attention to her vivacious red hair. It resembled mine. Her torso appeared frail but her hair was the heartbeat of her body.

“Have I met you somewhere before? You look so familiar,” I blurted.

Her smile vanished. “You should get some sleep. We still have a ways to go.”

I heard a roaring sound coming from a distance. I glanced back at the road and saw a red semi-truck headed in our direction. I should have been fearful but I wasn’t.

“I guess I will be starting a new school,” I mumbled. I dreaded going to new schools. It meant different cliques and bullies.

Eris grinned brightly. “That means new friends.”

“Wish I could be home schooled. I don’t have friends and people don’t want me as their friend. I never needed them in the first place. Shouldn’t shock you, but I have never fit in anywhere. Never have and never will,” I muttered.

There was a pained expression on Eris’s face. Her once steady hands trembled at the steering wheel. I could tell that my comment affected her.

“Do you know anything about your parents?” she asked.

A sense of dread washed over me. There were many conflicting stories about my parents’ whereabouts. One rumor was that they were in the Texas State Prison. Another was that they were confined to state psychiatric facilities on different ends of the country. The most disturbing of all tales was that both had gone missing a week after they tried to drown me, their bodies never found.

“Not really. I don’t know where they are,” I whispered. I looked out the window and counted the number of trees we passed.

“Your mother loved … loves you so much. She never stopped thinking of you.”

I wished what Eris told me was the truth. If only she knew my own mother plotted my death like she was planning a field trip, she would be singing a different melody.

“I am so sorry that you had such a rough childhood. Maybe things happened the way they did for a reason. The life you had before will cease to exist. Things are going to change for you soon,” Eris stated hoarsely. “People are going to treat you like a princess.” She positioned her hat and grumbled slightly. I couldn’t decipher whether she was in pain or exhausted from the road trip. “May I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” I sat up straight in the seat.

“If you had the chance to change for the better. If it was your destiny, would you accept it?”

I guess that meant accepting my new life in North Carolina. I had no choice but to. How bad could that be?

It could be dreadful if you are not willing to accept who you truly are. It will eventually come down between the decision of life or death, my inward heroine said quietly.

“Are you?” Eris licked her lips. I realized for the first time now that I was closer to her, that her lips were bluish in color. “Are you ready for a change, Jeweliette?”

I nodded my head slowly. The voice in my head along with the woman I’d just met were both confusing me.

“I guess so,” I mumbled. “Anything beats living in smelly orphanages and foster homes with tons of other kids. By the way, how did you know my full name was Jeweliette?”

“I overheard Mel mention your name. I thought it was very pretty.” She grinned.

Mel never referred to me by my full name. Never.

“You have your father’s eyes …” Eris turned her attention back to the road.

“Daddy … has blue eyes. Maybe you’re confusing me with someone else?”

“No, I think you are the right one,” Eris insisted. She flashed a large smile.

Maybe Eris was making assumptions because she felt sorry for me. My eyes were amber with golden specks. I opened my mouth to say something else but quickly closed it. I did not want to distract Eris further, taking her attention from the road. It behooved me that the old woman actually held a conversation for fifteen or so minutes, never once looking at the highway. How did she come out of nowhere assuming she knew about my personal life? I just let her babble on. She was tired and probably needed to hear herself talk.

“Great things await you, Jeweliette. But first you must be willing to accept what is coming to you.”

“A new home? To stay with Mel and Bobbie?” I asked. What else could I expect?

“A very special gift … a rare one.” A low growl arose from deep within Eris’s throat.

The sound brought shivers to my skin, causing me to slump down into my seat. I did not know what terrified me most: the look on Eris’s face or the sound of her voice, which to me meant only one thing… impending doom.

 

**********

 

The slowing of the car roused me from my deep sleep. I opened my eyes lazily to find blankets of green, plush mountains, and sky-scraping trees encompassing us. Since there were zero mirrors in the car, I glanced over my shoulder to find that Mel and Bobbie were still trailing us. The palpating of Eris’s thumb on the steering wheel reminded me of the steady rhythm of the counting I would use to soothe my nerves.

One, two… One, two…

“Where do you live again?” I asked.

“Shadowbend Falls,” she replied evenly. “We bypassed it already while you were resting.”

“How far is it from where we are going?”

“Not far at all. You would miss it if you blinked your eyes,” Eris grinned.

I finally said what I had been thinking before I fell asleep. “Oh, I have never heard of Shadowbend Falls before. I don’t remember studying about it in school,” I added.

“You probably never will,” Eris cackled.

The comment caught me off guard, but I ignored it as I continued to stare out the window at the huge mountains and oak and redwood trees. Several sparkling waterfalls were scattered throughout the thicket. I felt drawn to this area like a mockingbird to blackberries. I pressed my face into the window to get a better look of the area. It almost had a magical feel to it—something a kid would read about in fairytales. I continued to stare out the window to sneak a peek at Eris through her reflection. Where was she? I didn’t see her image in the window, and I found myself swiveling in my seat to make sure she was truly there. Then I found her smiling sneakily.

“It is so beautiful, here,” I said dreamily, trying to appear unfazed by what had just occurred. My breath fogged up the window, which was probably why I couldn’t see her reflection. A shiny sign came into view that read: Welcome to Cashiers, Population: 3486.

“We must have left the Shadowbend Falls area,” I said.

“Yes, we have.”

“I would love to go back there to visit,” I said. “Maybe see where you live.”

“Oh, you will have more than enough time to visit,” Eris said. “We are running low on fuel. This car burns a lot of gas.” She tapped the fuel gauge with a crooked finger and pulled into an Exxon.

“Want anything from inside?” Eris asked.

“Bottled water please.”

“Is that it? No chips or candy as you kids call it?” Eris teased. She coughed once to clear her throat. It seemed as if she were catching a cold.

“You don’t eat junk food?” I asked jokingly.

“Nope. On a special healthy diet.” She managed a giggle.

Mel tapped lightly on the driver’s side window. She spoke through the glass. “My tank was scraping the bottom barrel for gasoline.” She smiled. “I blew the horn to get your attention. Seems as if you ladies have become acquainted.” Mel glanced back and forth between Eris and me.

“She is a great kid,” Eris replied warmly, rolling down the creaky window.

Mel ignored Eris’s comment. “This is the most impressive place I have ever been. Wow! This town makes the highlands in Costa Rica look like hogwash…” she perused the area “…even though I have never been to Costa Rica.”

Eris opened the squeaky door. “I am going to get some gas and a bottled water for Jewel. Do you or Bobbie need anything?”

“Oh no, I have it. You have already done too much for us.”

Once Eris adjusted her hat, she closed the door and walked with Mel into the gas station. I counted the various customers that came in and out of the store on two hands. The feel of the residents in the cozy town of Cashiers, North Carolina, was different than Houston. They seemed to be family oriented and safe from worldly harm. Young children were left unattended in unlocked cars. Handbags were left out in the open on front seats. The older citizens congregated outside the store greeting patronizing customers as they entered the gas station.

Suddenly, a young guy with a red baseball cap appeared around the corner of the gas station. He had the look of a hunter but the body of a wrestler. The bright red cap disguised his face so it was hard to get a good look at him. After a few minutes of intensely watching me in the car, he disappeared quickly around the corner. I became a little dizzy and decided to rest. As I slowly dozed off, something deep within my soul woke me, a voice so sweet that I could taste it.

He is here … my inward heroine purred.

I rose so fast in my seat that everything spun around like a merry-go-round. Once my eyes adjusted, I stared out the window.

And that was when I saw him …

A faded blue 1960’s F100 Ford truck slowly pulled up into the gas station and parked slightly across the pump from us. The truck, in my opinion, was hideous but the occupants, mainly the dark-reddish-haired driver was unnaturally beautiful. Two females with light red hair that could have passed for strawberry blondes, sat in the middle and stared straight ahead without blinking once. They reminded me of a set of twins that appeared on one of those Double Mint gum commercials. The girl who was sitting near the passenger door pulled out a piece of paper and placed it on the dashboard. She started to scribble. I watched as the trio, who all seemed to be moving like celestial creatures, simultaneously donning dark sunglasses. Were they models? Celebrities maybe? But why would they be riding in a less than stellar vehicle? I licked my dry lips as the male in the driver’s seat, the one who held my interest, casually hopped out of the truck and fiddled with the pump.

The guy had the perfect … everything. He was tall, maybe around six foot three, give or take an inch, with a lean, toned physique that was visible through his tightly-fitted black long-sleeved shirt. His dark copper-colored hair was shaped in an undercut with his short sides smoothed down and his long top mussed up. He had a flawless roman nose and high cheekbones, which sat above his chiseled jaw.

His skin overshadowed his hair, which was unusually white with the exception of his ruddy cheeks and nose. It looked like he needed a blood transfusion and fast. My eyes flew to the girls whose complexions in contrast were pink and lively.

I leaned forward in my seat to get a closer look but the seat belt snatched me back, almost choking me. With the dark sunglasses hiding his eyes, I could only catch a glimpse of his full, pouty lips. Did he smile at me? Even though I could never forget an angelic face such as his, I had to get a picture. I rapidly reached for my iphone and scrolled through my apps until I found the camera. I snapped a picture of the guy along with the girls that accompanied him in the truck. All of sudden before I knew it, he twisted his head in my direction.

Time froze.

Not only did he stare in my direction but so did the girls riding with him. The sunglasses hid his eyes, but I felt the intensity of his gaze, which instantly melted me. He temporarily lowered his glasses and I saw that his eyes were as black as midnight. I was so stunned that I immediately scooted down in the seat and turned my head the other direction.

An awakening? Instant attraction? You never had sudden feelings for a boy before, my inward heroine cooed. No, this gentleman is no Bryce Thompson, he is your savior.

Breathing heavily, I slowly raised myself to get a better look at the intriguing guy who unexpectedly sparked something inside of me. It was like a forbidden fire that had started in an untamed forest. My eyes wandered back to the handsome stranger’s face. I wanted to investigate every intricate detail of him until …

“They were out of bottle water, will this work?”

Just great… Eris. She’d interrupted my sightseeing session and held up a bottle of red Gatorade for me to see.

“Um, thanks.” I swallowed a large, dry lump down my throat.

Eris must have noticed my abrupt, heightened interest towards the occupants in the truck because she turned to see what had caught my attention. She narrowed her eyes and watched their every move as if she was a hunter stalking its prey.

Before I had the chance to say anything further, the 1960 pale blue Ford F100 pickup truck suddenly sped off onto the highway and out of my sight. With their heads facing in my direction, the two identical girls never took their eyes off me. I had a thousand questions plaguing my brain. Who was that guy? Did they live here? Who were the girls that sat beside him? What relation were they to each other?

A loud explosion brought me back to reality. The Gatorade Eris was holding had exploded in her hands.

“Don’t know my own strength,” Eris said apprehensively. “I guess we will head to the living quarters I have arranged for you.”

I peered out the window, down at the demolished Gatorade bottle. Eris was still staring in the direction of where the beat-up Ford sped off. I also watched as the truck became a tiny speck in the horizon. The connection with him was spontaneous. I was instantly drawn to this alluring guy and couldn’t explain why. Was he the one? He had a dark, mysterious vibe surrounding him and the strange thing was … I liked it. My heart fell to my feet once he became a distant memory and the truck disappeared from my sight. Deep down inside I knew I would see him again. And soon.

Chapter 4

 

The giddiness consumed me. I was not exhausted from the road trip but from something else more complex. I felt as if my body was failing me. I lazily opened my eyes to a brown wooden cottage that looked like a matchbox. I adjusted my glasses to make sure I was seeing clearly. Plush green forests and distant hills with tops like broccoli surrounded the tiny home. There was something about the place that was distinctive. I was so overwhelmed by the ambiance of the dainty house that I could not pinpoint what it was. Nevertheless, it was a far cry from the crowded home that I’d come from before Mel had transferred the other foster kids back to the system.

I followed Eris’s lead once she opened the creaky door to the station wagon and made her way outside. As I stepped out of the car, I closed my eyes and deeply inhaled the brisk, cool air flowing from within the bluffs. Big white hands of mist grabbed the mountains like a bear hug. I tuned out the brewing argument between Mel and Bobbie as I continued to marvel at the nature surrounding us.

“Shadowbend Falls is right over those mountains.” Eris pointed east towards the direction where six huge mountains fought for a space in the clouds. Both peaks were disguised by the sky, which loomed a distance away. Eris noticed how the mystical area captivated me.

“When will I get a chance to visit this place?” I asked.

The pleasant expression on Eris’s face erased when she saw Mel and Bobbie walking our way. Bobbie had her arms firmly folded across her chest while Mel dragged along a couple of duffle bags.

“You really need to become more responsible, Bobbie. You just turned seventeen!” Mel yelled.

“Mom, please take your meds,” Bobbie said rolling her eyes.

As they argued, I studied the house. It was then that I figured out what was amiss with the bungalow. A massive tree, that reached unknown heights, grew in the middle of the cottage. My eyes trailed upwards as I watched the hummingbirds dance in the sky. I brought my head down swiftly as the faintness crept in. I felt like I was going to pass out.

“It looks as if you don’t feel well,” Eris said, turning around on the porch made of oak branches.

“Maybe it was the ride. It has been awhile since I have taken a long road trip,” I lied. I wasn’t going to go into detail with someone I barely knew about the mysterious flu like symptoms that appeared out of nowhere over a month ago.

“Maybe it wasn’t the ride. Maybe you are becoming of age,” Eris said hoarsely.

What did aging have to do with the sudden onset of dizziness and weakness?

Eris leaned in to whisper to me. “You won’t get any better until—”

“Mom has lost her mind again,” Bobbie whispered, walking past Eris and me to join Mel, who was impatiently waiting on the porch.

“That is an understatement,” I mumbled to Bobbie. I turned my attention back to Eris. “What were you saying?”

“Feed …” she replied softly. Her voice was so light the wind carried it away.

“Excuse me?” I squinted my eyes and adjusted my glasses. “I didn’t catch what you said.”

Eat,” Eris replied with a twitch of her mouth. “Your blood must be low. Really low…”

“I don’t understand?”

Bobbie cleared her throat to signal that both she and Mel were waiting impatiently for us. Eris quickly changed her tune.

“Your blood sugar, Jewel. You need to eat,” Eris said tensely. “It might help with your … symptoms.”

“Sure. I will get something to eat,” I replied sluggishly.

Mel put on a phony smile. “After we get settled, we will find our way to the local grocery store,” she reassured.

“Not too hard to find,” Eris said, looking at me. “The town is very small.”

I followed Eris into the modest cottage and was immediately greeted by the invigorating scent of cedar. Once inside I noted, with the exception of the walls and spiral staircase, everything was pristine white, not a spot anywhere. There was white furniture, white décor, and white marbled floors. A wilted white tree sat in the corner. In the place of the leaves were tiny liquid drops that were as red as blood. The cottage was fairly darkened with the exception of tiny white tea lights, which sparkled from the ceiling. Before I knew it, Bobbie had walked over and lifted my lower jaw closing my mouth. I sheepishly stared down at the floor trying my best not to seem amused, but it was difficult since I had never been in such a residence so welcoming and artistic.

“This will be your dwelling for the time being,” Eris said, breaking my concentration. She hobbled towards the wooden spiral steps. From what I could tell, the trunk of the tree was carved into the staircase. I speculated the house must have been constructed around the tree, which seemed to breathe life into the tiny cottage.

“This is the nicest tree house that I have ever seen,” I whispered.

Mel narrowed her eyes at me. “Quit acting like you’re in the third grade, Jewel.” She then concocted a fictitious giggle while looking at Eris.

Eris smiled warmly at me. “I will settle for tree house if that is what you would like to refer to it as.” She coughed a little and adjusted her hat that had now faded to a pale pink. It had all of sudden lost its vibrant pigment.

The hat. Baffling, isn’t it? my inward heroine said.

Could it have been the sun that had faded the hat so quickly? No. We were in the car most of the time. It wasn’t like we were out sunbathing nor was it summer when the sun shone its brightest. I was at a loss for words.

“This indeed is the most intriguing home I have ever seen,” Mel said delightfully, “I am scared to death to sit on the furniture!”

“Make yourself at home,” Eris replied politely.

I moved closer to Eris. “Your hat …” I whispered while Mel and Bobbie ogled and inspected the house.

The crown of the hat lost nearly all of its crimson color. The right side of the brim was jagged with a quarter size hole in it.

“What’s wrong with my hat?” Eris asked, quickly adjusting its position.

“Did you change hats?” The color seemed so much lighter.

“No.”

“Your hat was red earlier. Bright red. It looks pink now.”

Eris stood there licking her teeth as if she were trying to figure me out.

“Never mind, must be these.” I took off my glasses and rapidly adjusted them.

Mel walked up to us and grabbed my shoulders. “I’m sorry she is asking so many questions, Eris. This one here is … special,” she said.

“Oh indeed, special she is.” I could not see Eris’s eyes but above her sunglasses it seemed as if she was winking at me.

“Weird …” Bobbie grumbled under her breath. She plopped down on the couch and began browsing through her new iphone 6. Mel flashed her a wicked “stop it now” look.

A low cackle erupted from Eris as she hobbled past me towards the front door. It did not seem like she was feeling well when I first met her. She coughed violently for a few minutes and then took off her pale hat. Her thick lava red hair fell down her back in loose curls. She swiftly wrapped her strands into a bun and secured it with a small white stick. Her hands trembled while she replaced the faded hat back on her head at a tilt so her sunglasses were not readily visible.

“Mel, I will call you with the directions to the Manchester Group Home later on this evening. I will let you get settled with the girls.”

“Sure thing. Thank you so much for everything, Eris.” Mel brought her hands to her chest. “If it wasn’t for you stepping in, I would have for sure lost everything but at least I have Bobbie and Jewel.”

“Anytime,” Eris replied. She turned to leave but came to me instead. She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Do not stay out too late.”

My puzzled expression prompted a more detailed explanation.

“When you venture out, whether it’s with your friends, after school activities, or even running to town to pick up something from the market, don’t be out in the twilight of the night when the moon is full bellied and shines its brightest.”

“Oh, I am not afraid to be out late, especially in this small town. Houston, Texas, had way more crime,” I said with confidence.

“There is rarely ever any crime here. Asheville is the nearest metropolitan city. A lot of the criminals flow in from there, but it’s not the thugs I am worried about.” For the first time I heard desperation in Eris’s voice.

“If you say so. I totally understand.” Great. Eris was sounding like a mother.

“Just be careful …” Eris paused as if she wanted to say more.

“I will.”

Mel looked puzzled. She tried to figure out what Eris and I were conversing about.

“Hopefully I can visit you in Shadowbend Falls,” I added quietly.

“Oh that time will come sooner than you think.” Eris did something that surprised me.

She slowly took off her sunglasses and raised her head slightly at an angle to where her eyes were visible from underneath her hat. No one else in the room saw this but me. When I tried to get a closer look, her eyes sparkled like a nocturnal animal in the night. They were silvery gray in color and a bit spooky. The slight sneer at the corner of her mouth frightened me. I tried my best to contain myself and stumbled back into a lamp. Either my impaired vision was interfering with what I was seeing or Eris was clearly not human.

 

**********

 

Was I imagining things?

No, my inward heroine chimed in.

While Bobbie was on her cell phone and Mel unpacked the car, I took it upon myself to take a tour of the modest cottage to take my mind off of what I’d seen earlier with Eris. Ivory tea lights decorated the ceiling, which refreshed my spirit. Everything in the bungalow was untarnished and snowy white.

The main tree trunk with tiny branches went through my room, courtesy of Eris. She had designated which room belonged to whom. I arranged my glasses to where I could see more clearly and followed the winding tree trunk with its intricate arms. The ancient, enlarged twigs were petrified and served as a dresser and countertop. All of the furniture in the room was derived from various parts of the tree.

Once I made my way through the remainder of the rooms, there were a few things that I picked up that were odd about the house. There were no mirrors. No beds were in the three-bedroom cottage with the exception of one room … mine.

“Where does everyone sleep?” I asked.

“Guess this couch,” Bobbie said casually. “Thought this place was fully furnished. Guess you lucked out this time and got the room with the only bed, Jewels. But you deserve to catch a break and have some good luck come to you for a change.”

“Thanks, Bobbie. Don’t know what I would do without you.”

Bobbie threw up the peace sign and went back to fiddling with her phone. I was hungry but the weird thing was the sensation I felt was for something else. I turned to walk away but instead bumped into Mel, who was carrying an armful of stuff out of the car.

“Get my inflatable mattress and the two suitcases in the trunk,” she directed at me and made her way into the kitchen. Mel turned around to bark out one more order. “Oh and don’t forget Bobbie’s duffle bag.”

“I can get my own bags, Mom!” Bobbie yelled, never taking her eyes away from her cell phone.

I stomped outside. I was tired of being the slave of the household. Standing on the porch, I held out my arms and let whatever was left of the sun take me. As the sun was setting, the countryside was breathtakingly beautiful. The mountains kissed the sky as the clouds slowly disappeared behind its peaks. The bright green forest, with its hidden waterfalls, seemed to come life as the sun twinkled in between its branches. I stood on my tiptoes to try to get a peek at Shadowbend Falls, almost falling off the porch.

There is more to it than what you think … my inward heroine advised.

I basked on the thought momentarily as I made my way to the car and struggled to pull the bags out of the trunk. There was a rustle along with a slow growl in the thicket that made my heart stand still. I peered over the car to see if it was an animal but saw nothing. When I picked up the bags, I heard the noise again. It was loud enough to get my attention but stilled to the point of me not deciphering what it was. I scanned the thick forest surrounding the cottage but I saw nothing. It felt as if something or someone was watching me as I walked back to the house. Another low growl made me turn around so fast that my glasses fell off my face and hit the ground. Stumbling blindly, I placed my frames back on my face and decided to sweep the area once more before going back into the house.

In the bush not more than two hundred feet from where I stood, I saw a pair of eyes that looked like a pair of sparkling rubies floating four feet in mid air. The gems would disappear and reappear as if it was blinking its eyes. I never recalled an animal or any living thing to have red eyes that glowed at night. Whatever was out there was not just passing through. I had a strange feeling that it was there for something more menacing. The fine hairs on the back of my neck suddenly came to attention. The sound of leaves being trampled on and the ruby red circles moving towards my direction put me into action. I quickly grabbed the bags and mattress and sprinted towards the house.

Mel stood in the doorway with a perplexed expression on her face. Her arms folded across her chest. “What were you doing out there?”

“Getting all the stuff you wanted,” I said, dumping the luggage onto the floor.

Bobbie snickered and gave me thumbs up as I walked through the living room and into the kitchen to get a bite to eat. The refrigerator was bare like an empty well. I slammed the door shut and walked back into the living room where Mel and Bobbie were conversing.

“So I start school tomorrow?” Bobbie asked.

“Yes, you and Jewel both start tomorrow.”

“Why so soon?” Bobbie whined. “Can’t we take a mini vacation? It is not like they are expecting us already!”

“Education is key,” Mel said. “Besides, how would it look if the director of child services allows her own kid to skip school?” She went through some of her luggage pulling out clothes and shoes.

A surge of stomach pains kicked in once again. “Are we going to go get food? There is nothing in the fridge.” I hungrily licked my lips.

Mel dropped what she was doing at the moment and contemplated on whether or not she was going to get groceries. It took Bobbie complaining for her insight to change.

“I can’t believe that old hag didn’t buy any food for the house,” Bobbie said, turning up her nose.

“Watch your language, Bobbie!” Mel ordered. She lazily got up from unpacking the suitcases and grabbed her keys. She went into the kitchen, opened the cabinets and then the fridge. “Well, it looks like you girls are going to have to make a quick run to the market. But hurry back.”

“It’s just now getting dark outside. Do we have to rush back?” Bobbie asked.

“Yes, you do,” Mel said. She pulled out a wad of cash and gave it to Bobbie. “Lets see how responsible you are. Get something to get us through a couple of days.”

“Can I drive?” I asked eagerly.

“No!” Mel yelled with bugged-out eyes. “You have been asking too many questions all day. Furthermore, you’re always complaining of being dizzy! And you think I am going to allow you behind the wheel of the only good running car I have? Give me a break for once. Please!” She dropped the keys into Bobbie’s hand and retrieved the map off of the coffee table. “Bobbie, be sure to keep your eyes out for a pharmacy. I am running low on meds.”

When Mel was out of her medications her mood swings would go from an extreme high to a rock-bottom low. She could fly into a rage or be calm and pleasant one moment and then tearful the next. It was like walking on eggshells during the two years I lived with her, especially, since her husband, Mr. Franks, who was genuinely good to me was killed in that tragic car accident. To date, her foster home was the most stable, and I didn’t want to get shipped off to a group home so I tried my best to not get on her bad side. I watched Mel take a deep breath to calm herself. Bobbie even knew when to keep quiet and not press Mel’s buttons. She went over the map with Bobbie so we wouldn’t get lost.

“I got it, Mom, thanks,” Bobbie said, taking the map and walking out the door. Mel gave Bobbie a quick smack on the head while Bobbie rolled her eyes and motioned for me to follow her.

While walking out into the driveway, I cautiously scanned the bushes to make sure I didn’t see the pair of red eyes I had seen before. I knew if I told Mel she would surely have me locked away, and I didn’t want the same fate as my parents.

The sun kissed the sky goodbye as the moon slowly made its entrance.

“It looks so quiet and peaceful out here,” I maundered. “When the moon lights the sky, I feel … better.” I looked upwards into the earth’s atmosphere.

Looks can be deceiving, Jeweliette. Environments camouflage, my inward heroine said in a hushed tone.

“You mean your dizziness and weakness goes away during the moonlighting hours?” Bobbie stopped walking.

“Yes, it does.” I closed my eyes, inhaled the fresh air deeply, and extended my arms.

“Maybe you’re werewolf,” Bobbie said facetiously, mustering a howl. My eyes flew open. She abruptly walked in front of me and over to the passenger side of the car. I stood there confused until she threw me the keys. “You just turned the big sixteen and got your license. You deserve to drive,” she said, plopping into the front seat. “Make sure your raggedy glasses are on your face. Don’t want our final destination to be in a tree.”

She slammed the car door and motioned with one arm.

“Hurry up and get in!”

“Thanks, Bobbie!” I squealed, looking back to make sure that Mel didn’t hear us. I hopped into the driver’s seat like an eager kid getting into a go-cart. I pulled out of the driveway slowly and floored it down the narrow path.

“I think you are going to like it here, Jewels,” Bobbie said.

“Why do you say that?” I swerved slightly to avoid hitting a rabbit. Bobbie pulled both hands from her eyes and gradually relaxed her muscles.

“Are you sure you can drive?” she asked warily. “I will be cast into the bottomless pit of Hades if you wreck this car.”

“I didn’t want to smash that poor wabbit,” I joked.

“Silly, frilly, wabbit, tricks are for kids,” she countered.

“So why do you think I will fit in here? In Cashiers?”

“There are a lot of redheads for one,” Bobbie teased.

“No. I am the only one here.”

“That old lady has hair that is as red as candy apples,” Bobbie said, smacking her lips. “Forgot her name already, geesh.”

“Eris,” I said, thinking of the old pleasant woman. “So you think this might be the place where I finally make some friends? Maybe fit in?”

“Yeah, I just feel this place is where you will be more comfortable and have the chance to find yourself. You’re not getting any younger you know.”

Even in the dark, Bobbie was absolutely gorgeous. Her bright blue eyes lit up the room anytime she was present. She had the figure that most girls envied and the personality that captured the hearts of many boys. Bobbie tussled her dark brown hair and popped in some Hubba Bubba blue raspberry gum. She plopped her dirty black Vans on the dashboard and fluttered her long eyelashes.

“Try to make some friends for a change. Be different. You might have to look for the friendship first, but that’s okay,” Bobbie said. “I know with your history and all it’s hard to trust people, but you will find your way. We all do but at different paces.”

“Is that why you are so popular?”

“Was … I’ m here now. I have start all over again and in my senior year of all things.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be,” Bobbie replied, smacking her gum loudly. She reached into her Coach handbag and applied some cherry-flavored lip gloss.” Just let me know if you have any trouble with anyone and I will take care of them for you like I’ve always done.” She pummeled her fist into her hand making a loud thumping sound.

“Thanks, Bobbie. I appreciate you looking out for me. You are amazing.”

“Oh, I know,” she snickered.

“How much longer until we get to the store?” I asked. A sharp pang pummeled my stomach and then traveled up into my chest.

“Maybe three or so minutes, according to this map and the landmarks. This place is as small as a pea,” Bobbie said, glancing at the map she had pulled out of the side door. “Are you alright?” She bit her bottom lip. Her brow furrowed.

“Just feeling a little woozy. It happens from time to time. Especially, when I’m hungry.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t know that but … uh … now is not a good time to get queasy behind the wheel.”

You are feeling ill for a reason, my inward heroine said softly. Hunger does play a role in this.

“I know that much. I am hungry. Can you tell me something that I don’t know?” I snapped at my inward heroine.

Bobbie’s neck whipped back and she looked at me like I belonged on a psychiatric ward. “Are you talking to yourself, again?”

I nodded my head. “I’m trying my best not to answer myself in public. I’m getting better don’t you think?”

Bobbie’s eyes were wide. She blew a big blue bubble and popped it loudly, the sound resonating throughout the car. “Now, if you want to make friends…” she pointed her finger at me “…talking to yourself and then answering back has gotta stop.”

I thought of how I could make my transition into my new life a smooth one. My thoughts floundered away back to the intriguing guy that I saw at the gas station. Even though I trusted Bobbie, I was careful in how I asked her for advice. She always had the boys ogling over her, and they were willing to do anything for her at the drop of a hat. I had never even so much as been attracted to someone until earlier today at the gas station. It was more like a calling, like he was meant to be a soul mate.

“Is it okay to have feelings for someone that you have never met before?” I asked. No reply. I glanced over at Bobbie who was dozing off intermittently, her head tapping the window, the gum hanging at the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah, we all do,” she said sleepily, waking from her slumber.

“Do you think the guy would feel the same way about you?”

“Love at first sight?”

“Yeah.”

“Is he hot?” Bobbie yawned and stretched.

“He is more than that. He is like an angel,” I said dreamily.

She perked up. “Where did you meet this, angel that I so happened to not know about?

“Hmm … around…”

Bobbie laughed. “Jewels, no offense, I love you to death, but you are a nerd. Any guy who takes a look at you would want something else, and it’s not love. Maybe become a nun or something. It suits you and it’s better for you in the long run anyway. I’m saving you a lifelong road of heartbreak and disappointment. Leave the guys to me,” she said, falling back into her daze.

Maybe Bobbie was right; I was a dork. Her fatigue was contagious. I removed my glasses to rub my eyes and suddenly out of the middle of nowhere something ran, with the speed of light, in front of the car. From what I could make of the image it was the size of a dwarf and had the red ruby eyes I’d seen back at the cottage. It was so fast it looked like a cloud of smoke. I tried to swerve but was unsuccessful. My brain suddenly connected to my feet and I slammed on brakes stopping so abruptly that my neck jerked back violently. Before I realized it, I had scooted down in my seat. I drowned out Bobbie’s panic attack and her screaming. I rose up slowly to see if I had hit it. My feet were shaking so bad it took a minute before I could calm my nerves and place my foot back on the accelerator. I peered over my shoulder into the backseat to see if I could see it again. Nothing. Bobbie and I finally made eye contact briefly, and she was just as baffled as I was. She exhaled and inhaled deeply. Her chest caving in and out.

“Did you just see that?” I shrieked.

“See what?” Bobbie brought her hand to her head. She looked out the passenger side window. “You almost killed us!”

“I didn’t run us off the road. Something ran in front of the car!”

“Maybe it was a moose!” Bobbie snapped.

“Moose don’t run out in front cars,” I said, fumbling with my glasses. I swallowed hard and tried to start the car. It wouldn’t turn over.

“Oh great! How am I going to explain you tearing up mom’s car?” Bobbie threw her head back into the seat.

A clanging sound, which sounded like a bell, echoed in the car.

“Wh-wh-what is that?” I stuttered, frantically looking around.

“Your leg is shaking and hitting the keys. Calm down and try it again,” Bobbie said flatly, shaking her head.

I tried the ignition again. The car wouldn’t start. My entire body shook. I scanned the area to see if I could find what it was that had apparently followed us from the cottage. After a matter of seconds, a crimson flicker in the middle of the trees caught my attention. It was there. Waiting … watching us …

“Oh God!” I hollered, forcefully turning the ignition once again.

“What?!” Bobbie yelled. “What?!”

“There it is!” I hit the steering wheel and turned the key until my fingers went numb.

Bobbie leaned over and looked into my window, squinting her eyes like she was looking into a microscope. She covered her mouth to suppress a guttural cry. “What on Earth?”

After the fifth kick the car finally started and sputtered off. I brought my attention back to the road and waited for whatever it was to come back again. I was breathing so hard I felt as if my lungs were going to jump out of my shirt at any moment. I had to pull myself together.

One, two … One, two …

“If it makes you feel any better it could have been a deer.” Bobbie looked at me with tired, swollen eyes. Her nose was red from yelling.

“It did not look like a deer a deer will stall then run out. A deer doesn’t run that fast! And a deer does not have red eyes!

“Just calm down, Jewels. It was nothing. I am sure of it,” Bobbie reassured me.

“If it was nothing then why did you scream, huh?”

“Because you did,” Bobbie countered.

“Not good enough, Bobbie. There was something out there, and I saw the same thing at the cottage!”

“Well, why didn’t you say something, Jewels?” Bobbie drilled.

I was at a loss for words. No one would have believed me even if I tried, just like how Bobbie denied what we both saw out in the middle of that forest now—something with red eyes that clearly wasn’t a human or an animal.

“Exactly,” Bobbie confirmed. “It was probably some rabid animal.”

“Animals, rabid or not, don’t have red eyes, Bobbie!”

“How do you know what exists on this side of the country? Anything can be lurking in these deep, undiscovered forests and mountains. Haven’t you read Harry Potter?”

“I don’t believe in magic. There is nothing enchanting about my life.”

“You should,” Bobbie retorted.

Arguing with her was pointless. After a few minutes of riding in complete silence, the lights from the market shone brightly.

“We are here, finally,” Bobbie murmured out of relief.

I wanted to close my eyes to block out the image of what I’d truly seen. Maybe I was delusional because Bobbie carried on as if nothing had happened. The muffler hit the bottom of the pavement, making a loud thump, as I sped into the parking lot of the market.

“Easy on the car. Gosh! It’s the only one we have, Jewels.” Bobbie took a deep breath, as if she wanted the nightmarish ride to end.

The store was quiet with only a few cars parked outside. There was a neighboring gas station that sat adjacent to the store and a few rustic buildings neatly conjoined together. I searched the area with the looming image in the back of my mind. I wanted to make sure there were other cars or witnesses nearby. The sight of the archaic 1960’s Ford truck perked me right up. I almost melted in my seat when I saw it parked at the far end of the lot. Having hopes of running into the guy I’d seen at the gas station temporarily took my mind off of what had transpired earlier. I continued to scan the area and realized it was strangely quiet. There was no activity anywhere. It was as if the town had gone to sleep. I got out of the car and a sudden jolt of caution hit me directly in the gut.

Be careful … my inward heroine softly warned. Maybe tonight is not the night to go venturing for late night snacks.

“You’re not coming?” Bobbie asked, walking ahead.

I shook my head.

“You were the one wanting to come here. Don’t let some tumbleweed or two-headed mutts freak you out. Remember, you need to stop being a big crybaby.” Bobbie pulled the money out of her Coach purse and put it into her pocket. “I am going to grab something quick. Microwavables. Anything special for you?”

“I’m fine with whatever you get,” I said, looking out my window. My eyes studied the truck.

“I will be back in a few.”

Bobbie gave me the keys and I sat back inside the car. I took a deep breath. Maybe she was right. I was overreacting. I watched her disappear in between the double doors of the market. My eyes wandered across the parking lot. Nothing out of the ordinary. After a few minutes of stalking the area, the abandoned truck came back into view. For some reason I had hopes he would appear again.

After awhile I realized that maybe my imagination had gotten the best of me and I had over reacted. I ignored the voice that constantly nagged at me to stay inside the car. When I closed the door, I jumped at the screeching sound and nearly fell.

Get a grip, Jewel, I thought to myself.

There was a disheveled man slowly trudging out of the darkness, towards the front of the store. In one hand he had a cup with “Anything for food” written on it and in the other an old newspaper. I pulled out what change I had, dropped it into the cup, and hurriedly walked into the market.

I searched for Bobbie but could not find her. I figured she might have been in the bathroom and decided not to search each aisle since I was too exhausted from the frenzied ride. I quickly collected a couple of candy bars and then proceeded to the check out lane. A dark-haired clerk eyeballed me curiously as I slowly made my way to her lane. She appeared to be around my age, give or take a few years. She was a natural beauty with defined, Amazonian-type features: long muscular arms and legs, keen nose, and a well-defined jaw line.

“You must not be from around these parts,” she said faintly and glanced out the store’s double doors. She spoke with an accent that I could not place.

“No, from Houston …” I mumbled and plucked a pack of mints from the shelf. I pulled my life savings out of my back pocket, which was a sock that contained a few bills and some coins.

“Seems like you’re a nice girl. Shouldn’t be out by yourself. Especially when it gets dark.” The clerk gaped at me with bright hazel eyes.

She slowly dropped each item into the brown paper bag as she enunciated each of her words. I was not in the mood for talking, so I turned around, my back towards the clerk, to see if maybe the mysterious guy I had seen earlier was picking up something from one of the aisles.

I faced the clerk after deciding to wait for Bobbie in the car. “Thank you for your concern. If you see a brown-haired girl with blue eyes who is about this tall…” I demonstrated raising my hand “…please let her know I’m in the car.” I picked up my bag to exit. When I turned to leave, the clerk said something to me that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“You look like you could be one of them.”

“Excuse me?” I was puzzled. I brought my eyes to her name tag, which was covered by paper tape.

The clerk narrowed her eyes and studied me for a moment. “I said you could have today’s paper. The Citizen Times out of Asheville. It covers Cashiers and the surrounding towns. It’s on the house.” I could sense her apprehensiveness. Her eyes moved right past me and outside of the door. “Pick up today’s paper. There is a wealth of information inside.”

“Where do I find one?”

The clerk pointed outside the sliding glass doors. “There are a couple left in the tray outside.”

“How much? I don’t have loads of change left.”

“Don’t worry about it. Consider it your welcoming gift.”

The clerk reached into her pocket and placed three quarters on the register. She exited her station and busied herself into straightening the aisle. I shrugged off what I thought she had meant and kept moving right on out of the store. I stopped by the newspaper stand on the way out and picked up one of the two newspapers that were left. The headlines were all but the same.

Cashiers Nearly Crime FreeUnexplained Missing on the Rise … Crime Rates in Asheville Decreased by Eighty Percent. Missing Teenagers Never Found …

By the time I had looked up from reading the paper, I had almost made it to the car. Even the vagrant with the rustling newspaper was gone. What was even more bizarre was the Ford pickup truck was no longer in the parking lot. I never saw him in the store and there were no other neighboring stores open that he could have ventured off to. I did notice one thing: It was still eerily quiet. Not so much as a rustle in the wind or the vibrant music of the southern ground crickets could be heard.

Move and move fast! my inward heroine shouted loudly.

The adrenaline picked up setting my heart rate into over drive. I didn’t think twice as I hightailed it back to the car. In route, I heard something that sounded like a scuffle then a muffled scream. The sounds went back and forth for minutes. I eventually made out a growl that didn’t sound human or animalistic. The snarls sounded demonic. Startled, I tried to figure out which direction the noise was coming from. My eyes scoured the parking lot for anyone or anything out of place. Fear overcame me, as the pandemonium grew louder. I groped around with the door handle until I finally managed to get it open and threw my grocery bag into the backseat.

“Agh! HELPPPP—”

A voice from the darkness cried.

Don’t go … my inward heroine warned.

As always, I fought against the voice in my head and stretched my neck over the car to see where the calls of help came from. I couldn’t see anything at first until I saw two images wiggling on the ground. The figures were in the shadows at the edge of a set of buildings connected to the grocery store. As I slowly walked around the corner of the car, it was then that I realized the form on the ground was the transient who was in front of the store moments earlier. The moaning and pleas for help came to a still as the man’s body thrashed about wildly like a snake. It did not appear as if the figure hovering over the man was administering first aid. It looked more like a predator. A diabolical killer.

I felt the beating in my heart stop once I saw it raise its head. It stood in the shadows, but I could see that it was glaring at me with eyes that sparkled red. Instantly, I realized it was the same pair of eyes that I saw in the bushes at the cottage and in the forest. I could not believe my eyes. I stumbled slightly, backing up towards the car. I watched in horror as the creature stood up. In height it was about four feet tall. It’s shiny silver shoes flickered in the dimness of the moon’s light. The monster took a beanie cap off of its head and stood over the man. It immediately began to wipe its cap all over the man’s lifeless body. It then took the saturated, dripping bloody cap and placed it back on its head. The horrid beast gradually stood up as if it was being rejuvenated with some unknown dynamism. It gradually took one step towards me and in the twinkle of the security light, I saw what it was in its true form.

Its skin was slimy and droopy with festering boils all over it. Lengthy arms that were as long as octopus tentacles slithered to the ground. The claws were long and curved like serrated stainless steel knives. Its ears were long and pointed. Hollow sockets cradled the quarter sized red glowing eyes. What frightened me the most was the cap that the creature wore. It was imbued with the victim’s blood. The beast turned its neck to get a closer look at me, but I did not plan on sticking around to be its next victim.

Running for my life, I bolted towards the car. I ran so fast that I slipped and fell over the hood. I scrambled on the ground and fumbled for my keys that had fallen to the ground. Before I could open the door, I felt a brisk cool wind then the uncomfortable sensation of intense heat. The intenseness increased to burning as razor sharp claws drilled into my back and pinned me up against the cold metal of the car. The creature’s touch felt like a hot iron placed on my bare flesh. The more I squirmed, the tighter its grip became. I felt a surge of energy enter my body, but I could not fight back. The touch of the beast weakened me. What I could not fathom was how the creature managed to get to me within the blink of an eye from such a distance away.

The acids in my stomach churned. The smell was overwhelmingly intoxicating once I felt its hot breath against my neck. It reeked of a combination of spoiled rotten fish and sour milk. The creatures scent alone sent waves of severe nausea throughout my system.

I watched in horror when it opened its mouth. Canine teeth that resembled fangs elongated to three inches. A mixture of fluid that was as black as tar dripped from its protruded tongue. I struggled with the strength I had to get away, but the creature had an inhuman death grip on me. It slammed me into the car once more, and I yelped out in fear more so than pain. I had never been so afraid in all the days of my life. It opened its mouth once more, revealing the already sharpened fangs, and went straight for my neck. I defensively positioned my hands to block the attack.

All of a sudden, I felt another brisk wind—this one more vigorous than the first. The wave of air hit me so fast my body jerked like someone had shaken me. I had my eyes closed for a few minutes too scared to open them. I knew I was dead. The sounds of bones crunching and tendons snapping filled the air. I did my usual routine of counting and finally opened my eyes, relieved that death was painless and expected to see Heaven at any moment. However, a tall, lean figure strolled gracefully towards me from out of the shadows. Even though he was a male and human, I moved as fast as I could to get into the passenger side of the car. Before I could slam the door shut, a colorless hand quickly grabbed the edge of it. I couldn’t decipher whether it was the creature or someone else who had pried the door open, and I didn’t care.

“Please! Let me go!” I screamed, trying to slam the pale hand in the door.

The door caught all of his fingers with the exception of his thumb. I pulled the door towards me with all my might. I knew deep down that if I let go, whoever was on the outside of the door would have me meet the same fate as the vagrant.

“I did not come this far to die on my first day here,” I pleaded with myself.

Your time is not now… my inward heroine reassured me.

Confused by the voice in my head, I pulled the door tighter. A familiar face made an appearance in my driver’s window startling me enough to where I let go of the door handle.

It was him

His perfectly shaped jaw tightened as he calmly opened the door. He stepped back, with his hands up in defensive mode, and stood within arms length of the car. He had on a black, tight-fitting long sleeve shirt that blended in with the night and black leather pants. Even in a time of crisis I could see that his face was less than picture perfect. I was drawn to him and I didn’t even know why. When he turned to leave, I stepped out of my car.

“Wait!” I shouted. I brought my hand to my mouth to soften the projection from my throat. He stood with his back to me, prompting me to come closer to him. I had to see his breathtakingly divine face. It was unreal but he had just saved my life.

“Th-thank you …”

He turned around to face me, halting me in the middle of my stride. The beauty he possessed was something I had never seen before. Not even in the most popular of magazines or movie screens had I ever seen anyone as pleasing on the eyes as he was. Even in the darkness, his presence lit up the night. He moved towards me like a hunter and stopped within an arm’s distance.

“Are you okay?” His voice was soothing and melodious.

I stood there mesmerized and dumbfounded. One minute I was getting ripped apart by some demonic-looking troll and in the next the most beautiful man on Earth was standing here asking if I was alright. I could sense he was waiting for an answer. This did not require reading a passage, so I figured I wouldn’t get tongue tied on a reply.

“Jeweliette …” he said smoothly with my name rolling off his tongue like butter. “It is Jeweliette, right? Or do you prefer, Jewel?”

“Jeweliette…. I –I meant Jewel,” was all I could manage to say for the moment.

“Are you hurt?” His voice alone was intoxicating.

“How did you know my… name?”

He ignored my question.

“What is your name?” I asked.

He took a step back.

“Are you injured in any way?” he asked, looking me over from a distance.

I wanted to answer every question this guy asked just to hear the sweet rhythm in his voice. Shaking my head, I tried my best not to stare. I wanted to get a better look at him but think he purposely stayed in the shadows to conceal his identity.

“I am okay. Thanks,” I whispered as if I expected the creature to jump back out at any minute to attack the both of us. The mystifying guy who had captured my undivided attention stood at a distance from me as if I were some infectious animal.

“Wh—what was that?” I asked, looking around aimlessly.

He stood erect as a stone, eyeballing me. He brought his hand up to his face and covered his nose. “Go home. You will be safe there,” he said directly and walked away.

“ Please!” I yelled after him. His stride came to a complete stop. “I-I- I’m scared. I am afraid that thing might come back.” My legs began to shake. I reached down and pinched my arm to make sure I was not dreaming. This is a dream. This is a dream. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up! This isn’t real! This can’t be real!

“You’re safe … for now. Go home.” He backed away slowly as if he were afraid of me.

“I would feel much safer if you maybe followed us out of town at least?” My voiced cracked.

I sounded desperate, but I was truly terrified. Lines of sweat flowed down my face and onto my neck. My shirt was drenched with perspiration and clung to my sticky skin. I mumbled to myself in disbelief at what had just occurred. My eyes continued to dart back and forth from the parking lot to the darkness, expecting the demonic creature with the fangs to jump out at any minute.

“That thing is not something you should be afraid of …” his canorous voice warned.

“Are more of them out there?”

Silence.

“W—w—who should I be afraid of?” I asked in a frenzied voice.

Me …”

Before I could process what he said, I heard a patter of feet and the sounds of wheels clacking against the pavement coming towards me. Something set my mind off in the wrong direction making me think it was the creature who’d attacked me just moments earlier. I immediately panicked and went for the car door.

“Jewels!”

I turned to see Bobbie standing over me with a basket of groceries. We both exchanged worried glances amongst each other. I knew this was the last straw with her. The expression on her face said it all.

“Who were you talking to? I thought you were going to be in the car,” Bobbie said with lips tightly pressed together. Her eyes wildly scanned the parking lot.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I sniffled.

“You can try. I come out here and find you screaming and talking to yourself. If Mom knew this she would have you committed.” Bobbie gawked.

“Exactly …” was all I could say.

“You need to get yourself together, Jewels.”

“I am not imagining this …” I shook my head, walking over to the passenger side of the car.

“Imagining what? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost,” Bobbie said, taking the dangling keys out of my hands.

“I have,” I said, gazing off into the darkness where he had descended.

“Get in. I’ll drive. I know its hard adjusting to a new place, especially after bouncing from house to house like you’ve done in the past, but you will become acclimated to the culture here faster than you know it,” Bobbie preached, loading the groceries into the car. She closed the trunk. “Are you going to be okay? Can you get yourself together before we get home and Mom sees that you are a mess. You know she will ship you off, right?” Bobbie blinked her big blue eyes waiting for an answer.

I didn’t want Mel finding out anything. The last time I told a foster parent that I was having these thoughts to control the minds of people, I was committed to psychiatric ward for six months.

“I am okay,” I lied. “Just ready to go home.”

“You don’t look okay.” Bobbie turned around and scanned our surroundings. “You saw something out here didn’t you?”

“No. It’s a figment of my imagination, Bobbie. Nothing else.” I shuddered at the thought of the creature’s breath, its scorching touch.

Bobbie walked over and ushered me into the car. “You’re soaking wet. It looks like you have been through a carwash! Jewels, if it’s about this so called red-eyed boogey man that you saw in the woo—”

Please,” I urged.

Tell her that she will not remember what she has recently seen, my inward heroine instructed.

Spellbinding.

This was going to take a lot of energy but to prevent a lot of questions that I myself did not know the answers to I knew I had to do it. I didn’t enjoy making people do things that they were unaware of doing. However, it was something that I could not help. I unhurriedly raised my head and stared past Bobbie, hoping she would give in and get in the car, but she didn’t move. She was stubborn and determined to find out what had happened out here. She folded her arms and waited for an explanation. I faced Bobbie directly, waiting for her eyes to meet mine, and captured her gaze holding her pupils along with her undivided attention.

You will find me in the car sitting in the passenger’s seat,” I said calmly. Bobbie’s mouth dropped and her eyes watered. “Get into the car and drive us home. You will not remember anything that happened tonight before our arrival in Cashiers.”

Tears fell from Bobbie’s unblinking eyes. I watched as she robotically walked over to the driver’s side of the car and methodically got in. I hopped into the passenger seat of the car and waited for the spell to wear off. For some it took longer than others, meaning I could have someone in a trance for days. I grew to learn that I possessed a gift, as my inward heroine would refer to it, something an ordinary person would not have. I was content knowing that my spellbinding was getting stronger but did not enjoy the fact that I had to utilize it, whether on animals or people that I greatly cared for.

I thought of everything that had transpired tonight. My brain was going into overdrive. What on Earth happened in the grocery store’s parking lot? Was it real? I knew I was not dreaming. My nostrils were still raw from the sickening aroma of the creature. And what did he mean by I was not safe around him? How did he know to find me? What happened to the creature that attacked me? My inward heroine struggled to speak her opinion, but I closed her out. There was something seriously strange going on in this town and I was going to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

I didn’t go to school for the first week. I exaggerated symptoms of the flu to Mel, even though my body ached all over and I suffered from occasional queasiness. With the exception of the first day after using my spellbinding on Bobbie, her actions were no different. It was as if that night had never happened for her. I lay in bed questioning myself over and over. Was I going insane? Did monsters really exist? How did he appear all of a sudden out of nowhere to save me? What I had witnessed the creature doing to the homeless man overwhelmed me. Who or what would dip their hat in blood? And why? The sick card didn’t last long with Mel. I refused to go to the doctor and she, of all people, did not want to get reported to the Department of Human Services. The time had come for me to tackle a different beast: school.

Blue Ridge High School was unique and one of a kind. It was surrounded by plenty of green trees and high olive mountains with white puffy clouds. The front of the school had nice landscaping with various flowers such as dogwoods, violets, and lilies of different colors. I leaned my head out of the window and took a deep breath from the nippy, cool air courtesy of the big mountain sitting at the rear of the school. The backdrop looked like a picture out of a resort magazine. Instantly, I knew I could quickly adapt to the cozy, spacious town of Cashiers. However, I could not shake the idea that the town held dark secrets.

I rolled up the window looking at the flow of traffic leading up to the school. Mel caught the bus that transported workers into Asheville. She complained about the six dollar gas fare but decided it was best that Bobbie had the car so we didn’t have to wait after school into the wee hours of night for her to pick us up.

Makeup was not my friend. I never had anyone to teach me how to apply it, and I didn’t think I was pretty enough to wear it. I watched as Bobbie fiddled with her Lancôme mascara. She had on Body Central high-waisted jeans, a crème-colored shirt with the matching knee high boots. Even though it was late September, Bobbie wanted to get a start on the fall fashion. She always had to be the center of attention.

“You have been acting weird like you’re frazzled or something for the past week or so,” Bobbie said, pulling at one eyelash. “I know we’re not blood related and all, but I do have a connection with you, you know.”

“I’m fine … just nervous about school.”

The thoughts of that night and the horrible creature I encountered brought goose bumps to my skin. If I even breathed a word to Bobbie, about the spellbinding and what happened to me on that night, she would be concerned but Mel would have me committed to a mental institution faster than I could blink my eyes, so I kept all of my suspicions about the unusual activity I had picked up on in this town to myself.

“Do I look okay?” she asked, checking her face with one hand and steering with the other.

“Gorgeous as always.” I smiled.

I looked down at my black Converse sneakers and adjusted my Faded Glory jeans underneath the seatbelt. My check from the state arrived on the first of the month. After Mel took her share for my basic living expenses I had a hundred dollars to treat myself each month, which meant shopping on clearance racks and getting clothing on sale. I had to make my money count and had no problem with that.

Once we got out of the car and made it to the front steps of the building, a group of girls were waiting on Bobbie. I knew she would become acclimated to the school without a problem when she’d started school last week. I watched somberly as a few female students who had on volleyball jerseys and student council T-shirts immediately whisked her away. Bobbie glanced back to make sure I was okay. I gave her the thumbs up and tried to appear as if I was adjusting well even though I was a bit resentful. After seeing how well she fit in, my first thought was to turn around and head back to the parking lot and take my chances out there. Then I thought of spending the day in the bathroom like I had done every year, many years before.

Remember, your move here is for a reason. If you turn back now, it will all be for nothing, my inward heroine advised.

My inner voice was always there when I needed her. I mustered up the courage to enter the schools doors. For some reason, I had a very strong feeling I was here to stay, and for a long time. Little did I know that walking into the school’s front office would set off a chain events that would make me question who I really was. Shortly after walking into the building, the office was not too hard to find. It was the only room with all glass windows. Upon entering, I was greeted with the pleasant fragrance of apple and cinnamon. Fall was near and setting in.

“Is this the office?” I asked meekly.

The only redhead that I had seen in town besides Eris, the mysterious guy, and the two girls that were with him, sat at the front desk pecking away at the computer.

“Changing your schedule?” the young girl with spiky, rust-colored hair asked dryly. Her skin was as white as the paper she wrote on. She must have been an office worker or senior. She never looked up from the computer but upon my entrance sniffed the air as if she smelled something, something invigorating.

“New student.” I stared blankly.

Her head snapped up and she studied me carefully. It looked as if a light switch had been flipped on.

“Oh, you must be Jeweliette Lovelan,” she said in awe.

“Er … yes,” I stated softly. I glanced around the quiet office. Were these people expecting me? The benefits of moving to a small town. Maybe it was true that everyone knew each other’s business and the town’s gossip spreaded like wild fire. I would rather be where no one knew me but it was too late. Mel had already moved and she wasn’t leaving her new high paying job for me.

This is going to be a life-changing experience for you, but you must be patient … my inward heroine chimed in. You must be willing to accept what is to be.

My inner voice was not making sense at the moment. I was about to answer myself until …

“Welcome to Cashiers, North Carolina, and Blue Ridge High. I—I meant we have been waiting for your arrival.” The girl behind the desk politely smiled. I observed two unusual characteristics about her that didn’t sit well with me for a high school student … Her eyes were a dull gray, with the exception of a thick red limbal ring around the iris. I knew when someone was wearing disposable lenses and those were not contacts in her eyes. She had a mouth full of discolored, light beige pointy teeth. Her teeth looked like upside down triangles but were neatly shaped. Was there some new fad going around with teeth, a different style of veneers that I was unaware of?

“Thanks?” I replied, very unsure how to take my grand entrance. For once, I was noticed.

“You are very pretty. A natural beauty,” the girl continued, a statement I was not expecting. “My name is Liza. I work in the office during first period.”

“Thanks … Glad to be here,” I fibbed. “You can just call me, Jewel. It’s easier.”

“A name fit for a princess …” Liza’s eyes twinkled.

Indeed, my inward heroine whispered.

I shifted my backpack to the other arm. My vision was getting blurry again, and I felt dizzy. My symptoms became magnified once I entered the office. I blamed my manifestations on high anxiety and stress, which was something my life was full of—something I vowed not to ever have again. But here was this girl, Liza, referring to me as royalty. I pretty much surmised that she had lost her mind.

“Heard you lived in a lot of places growing up,” Liza pouted.

“Heard?”

“Small town jitters. Everybody passes around gossip like a dinner plate at the table,” Liza muttered. “But you will fit in perfectly here. You will see.” She winked.

“Hope so,” I said, surveying the office.

“Oh you will. You belong here. Not here, exactly …” Liza smiled, fanning her hand around the room.

“I think you lost me,” I said. I could feel my eyebrows rise over my glasses.

Liza looked at me as if she expected me to understand what she was saying. She then thought for a moment, choosing her words carefully.

“We are a small school. Not too many activities here. Only three to be exact. You can try out for volleyball or join Student Council and Beta Club,” she babbled on.

I tried my best to look interested, but I was not a social butterfly or athletic.

“Do you want a flyer?” she asked, pulling a light blue paper from behind the desk.

Even though I had nothing else to do but study, reading in front of others was not my cup of tea. I didn’t want to battle rearranging words in front of someone I’d just met.

“I will pass on the flyer but thanks.”

Liza went on like I volunteered for the information. “Volleyball tryouts are soon. Have to check the calendar. Games don’t start for a couple more weeks being that we are on a six month school session.” She blinked rapidly. “Also, in February is the annual Heart’s Dance. It takes the place of prom. Goblin in the Green is only a few weeks away next month in October. It’s sort of like a costume contest, dance, and fall festival celebration wrapped into one event. Just wanted you to know … in case you were interested.”

“Not trying out for anything here or going to the dan—”

“Heart’s Dance?” she corrected. “Or the Goblin in the Green dance?”

“Neither,” I said swiftly. “I just … want to take it easy and get settled. The only thing I am interested in right now is my studies.”

Liza leaned closer into the desk. “Understandable. The characteristics of a true leader. Well, I jumped to the school activities just to get you warmed up. But there is something I am dying to know …”

She looked as if her life depended upon my answer.

“Don’t know what I could tell you, but okay …” I replied, curious as to what this girl whom I’d just met five minutes ago had to ask me. I nodded my head and widened my eyes to give her the go-ahead with the question.

“So what kind of Redcap are you? A Voldor or Vorcolac?” she whispered. “We were never told. You do have the scent, even though it’s faint, which makes it hard to tell right now.”

Did I hear her correctly? I adjusted my glasses then craned my neck.

“Excuse me?” My lips moved wordlessly and then my jaw dropped.

Liza quickly looked around the office and then peeped out the window. “A Voldor or Vorcolac? There are two different groups. We must be discreet about it. They can’t know. It’s a code thing.” She responded nonchalantly as she glanced back at the computer screen and then at me.

“I’m confused … you lost me again.” I shrugged my shoulders. Maybe she was talking about the drama club.

“Your red hair … Redcap? Rojas? Most of us know which group we belong to as soon as we are Bantlings. No one told you?” Her eyes blinked fervently.

I instantly recalled there were three activities she mentioned and drama club was not one of them. Apparently she was serious. I had never heard of a Redcap, Voldor, Vorcolac, or even a Bantling before. Where on Earth …

“You are not making sense,” I said, the skin crinkling on my forehead. “I never heard of those … words before.”

Liza placed her hand on her head and looked down like she was reading. She then reached towards me. “May, I have your hand?”

I reluctantly gave her my hand and shivered at the touch. Her skin felt like the temperature in the room, which was unusual. I watched as she closed her eyes, brought her left hand to her forehead, and meditated.

“Hmm … it’s hard to tell with you. I can’t feel or see anything.” Her eyes flew open. The red limbal ring around her iris was more prominent. “That has never happened before.”

“I am still lost here?” It came out as a rhetorical question more than a response. I had no earthly idea what this girl was talking about. I snatched my hand from her. Liza lowered her left hand from head. She was acting like a modern day fortuneteller.

“Your mother never told you?”

“For all I know, my mother is locked away in the Texas State Prison. You have me seriously mixed up with someone else.” I turned to walk away, forgetting the schedule I initially came for.

Liza slowly walked around the countertop, never taking her eyes off of me. Her pupils were wide with disbelief. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“I don’t mean to sound rude but I told yo—”

The sound of the door opening halted me mid sentence. Two teachers walked in and fiddled around at the front desk, discussing the soon to be days events. They walked over to a corner and carried on a side conversation about test scores.

Liza immediately appeared as if she regretted her comment and laughed nervously. “It was just a joke. I figured anybody who moved to the area would already understand our lingo.”

My blank expression made Liza skittish.

“Only kidding … You’re forgetting something,” she added, walking back to the computer.

Liza made a few strokes on the keyboard and sprinted towards the printer. She walked up to the desk and handed me a paper.

Most redheads have light-colored eyes … my inward heroine commented.

Suddenly, I glanced up from my schedule and gazed into Liza’s eyes, which were now as black as midnight. I could feel my heart beating inside of my chest like it was trying to escape its containments. No one could put in contacts that fast. I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes with the back of my sleeve. No change. What I saw was real.

“Thanks … er …” I said, quickly taking my schedule.

Liza.” She giggled, brandishing her remarkably shaped, stained teeth. She still held a look of bewilderment on her face but made circular motions with her finger. “The building is shaped like a ring. It shouldn’t be that hard for you to find your teachers or classes at all.”

I nodded and thanked Liza again before wandering off to find my classes. Either I was hallucinating or she was an alien. She made me feel very uncomfortable. I felt her eyes bore into my back as I walked out the door but dared not to turn around and acknowledge it. Once I left the office, I received a lot of looks and stares as I navigated my way through the wide, bright halls.

The atmosphere was unlike any of the schools I had attended or visited. The students were somewhat different and did not communicate with each other like kids in high school normally would. There was no shouting, cursing, or violent behavior in the hallways. I wondered how Bobbie was adjusting to her second week at school. Who was I kidding? She was a senior, attractive, and had an outgoing personality, which captivated people and drew them into her circle. I’d aspired to be like Bobbie and was determined that this would be the school to do just that.

The typical cliques stayed in their corners while I made my way around the curve of the hall. I caught a couple of conversations, which turned into whispers once I walked by. The stares I received made me feel like I had landed from another planet. A flood of questions flowed through my head. Was I that different? Could it be my red hair? Then again my ginger-colored hair was a rare commodity.

The office worker has red hair, my inward heroine hummed. Maybe you should look more into what she said earlier.

“And what was that?” I replied to myself. I waited on her to respond, pulling out my lip-gloss to moisturize my chapped lips. It seemed as if I had been walking in circles for the past five minutes. “What should I look into?” I asked again, cautiously scanning the hallway to make sure no one noticed that I was speaking to my self.

Redcap … my inward heroine replied.

I stopped walking, speechless. For my inward heroine to suggest I delve into the story of Liza meant the early onset of delirium was setting in. Maybe I had imagined the entire eye color change with Liza, the Redcap story, and even so far as the attack I encountered a week ago.

“Are you lost?” A petite girl with light brown hair in a messy ponytail asked. She had on natural makeup with pink rosy cheeks. She sounded like a mouse.

I stood there with my schedule in one hand and lip-gloss in the other, about to respond to my inward heroine.

“Um … yeah.” I smiled, peering at my schedule. “I am trying to find English 1111?”

“Oh wow, we’re both in the same class. Welcome to eleventh grade!” She grinned and held out her hand. “By the way, I’m Danielle and you are?”

“Jewel,” I replied bashfully, shaking her hand. I was surprised I didn’t scare her away with my stuttering or something else ill-mannered.

“You’re not from around here are you?” Her dark brown eyes sparkled. She seemed like a genuine person.

“No, I’m not. Guess you can tell,” I muttered, looking down.

“Well, not really …” She scrunched her nose as if she wanted to tell me a secret.

“You can’t tell that I am not from here?”

I wanted to probe her brain to see what her thoughts were, what everybody else’s thoughts were. I figured that if she was from here, then she was a part of the small town gossip and maybe she would slip up and tell me about the boogeyman lurking in the bushes. I didn’t want to come right out and ask her if mass murderers dressed up like trolls wandered throughout Cashiers at night during our first encounter. Then again, she was actually the first person who I’d met that appeared normal since my arrival.

“Well you don’t look like you’re from around here.”

I stood there expressionless. Did Cashier’s residents have a certain look?

Danielle continued. “I mean your hair. The color, it’s unlike any that I have ever seen before.” She reached out and touched my braid. “And so soft.”

“I am surely not the only one you have seen with red hair?” I asked shyly pushing my braid over my shoulder.

“Well, that thing …” Danielle cleared her throat and cocked a twitchy smile. “The new office worker has red hair but she doesn’t count.” She leaned in closer to me and whispered, “I don’t think that is her real hair color anyway. It looks dyed and fried. But your color is totally hot. Do you use Clairol or something?”

“Or L’Oreal?” A brunette with freckles and bright red lipstick asked. She widened her dark blue eyes and adjusted her Marc-by-Marc Jacobs reading glasses to get a better glimpse of my hair color.

“Neither,” I said, feeling like a dissected lab rat. “All natural.”

“How rude to interrupt, Mary Kaye!” Danielle said, pulling her friend back. “You have to excuse her. We rarely get new students here. Most people relocate to Asheville, which is about a hour’s drive from us. Bigger city, more extracurricular activities, and things to do I guess. But please excuse her, some people don’t know how to conduct themselves properly around the newbies.” Danielle shook her head at Mary Kaye.

Mary Kaye licked her shiny red lips. “Not true. I overheard everything. I was very nice and welcoming to Liza when she arrived a week ago, unlike you. Even though her hair is styled in a very unbecoming way that does not suit a girl. And her teeth. Did you see them?” Mary Kaye gawked.

“Maybe she was a druggie baby or smokes cigarettes,” Danielle said melodramatically. “But it’s nothing that a little Crest Strips can’t fix.”

Mary Kaye licked her bright red lips, rolled her eyes, and brought her attention back to my hair. “I agree with you, Danielle, that this girl here…” she pointed at me “…definitely has the better hair color.” She extended her hand to me. “I’m Mary Kaye. My dad is the principal at Blue Ridge, but don’t worry, we are all close-knit and family friendly here.”

I grasped her hand firmly and attempted to appear amused. “Jewel.”

“Oh wow, a cool name to match the cool hair,” Mary Kaye said cheerfully.

“Yeah, great analogy,” Danielle chuckled.

Mary Kaye shot a side-glance at Danielle as if she figured out something all of a sudden. “Speaking of red hair … now that I think of it the two new kids that started on Friday have red hair too.” Mary Kaye looked at me. “Maybe you and Liza are not the only redheads after all.”

Danielle frowned. “They don’t count. Their hair looks darker. They could almost pass for brunettes.”

“Not the girl,” Mary Kaye countered. “The boy’s hair is so dark you have to look up close to see the red, but the girl’s hair is in your face red. Totally disgusting this new fad going around.” She wrinkled her nose and flipped her dark brown hair over her shoulder.

“True,” Danielle agreed. “Nothing against you, Jewel.” She smiled widely.

“Well, my dad wasn’t too happy about them starting school so late. They were supposed to start in early September like the rest of us normal people on this planet but they just showed up when they wanted to. Out of nowhere too.”

“And your point?” Danielle asked, rapidly crossing her arms.

“Well at least we knew when-what’s-her-face was coming.” Mary Kaye pointed at me like I was knot on a log.

“Jewel … my name is Jewel,” I muttered.

“Why haven’t I seen and processed them yet?” Danielle asked, like she was interviewing for the New York Inquirer.

“The boy is a senior, so of course we might miss him unless he has Trig.” Mary Kaye looked up for a moment, thinking intensely. “No, he doesn’t but the girl is a junior like us. She does have Trig with us.”

“Names?” Danielle asked, tapping her foot. I was beginning to enjoy these two gossiping about the other students. It made me wonder if this was how people spoke of me.

“Can’t remember the dude’s name but the chick’s name is … Nabrina?”

“Never heard of a name like that,” Danielle replied, wrinkling her nose.

“Maybe, Nakita?” Mary Kaye added. Danielle shrugged her shoulders.

I felt less than an imbecile while they carried on a conversation like I wasn’t there. My silence and looking up into the ceiling didn’t bring them back down to Earth. I gazed off and observed some of the students mingling quietly, while other’s made their way to class. It was then that I saw a guy with an unusually russet, dark brown hair standing in the darkest of corners watching me. From what I could see, he was tall with a provocative appearance but yet frightening at the same time. He held my gaze momentarily before I quickly glanced away. When I looked back up he was gone.

“Maybe your mother could join the committee that helps put the dances for the Goblin in the Green and the Heart’s together,” Mary Kaye said to me.

Mel was far from being a foster mother, much less a motherly figure. She never attended any award ceremonies for my good grades and perfect attendance and rarely asked about my school events if anything.

“You are giving Jewel too much information at one time. Let her get assimilated to her schedule and the school’s routines, then we can talk activities.” Danielle flashed her picture-perfect white teeth.

Mary Kaye agreed. “Can I see your schedule?” she asked me. I gave her my paper and then she frowned. “Too bad. I don’t have first period with you dolls, but we have the next few classes together.”

Danielle cleared her throat loudly. “Well, we’re headed to class before we get a tardy,” she said tugging at my arm.

Mary Kaye seemed relieved that Danielle changed the subject. She fiddled with the center of her frames, which made me automatically think of my damaged glasses. I self-consciously arranged my busted spectacles to mirror her designer ones

“Oh…” she leaned in closer to inspect my face “…maybe you should tape that.” She pointed at my glasses. “I’ll see you guys later on.” Mary Kaye turned to leave and then swiveled back to face us. “I hope you like it here, Jewel. If there is anything I can do to help you adjust. Let me know.”

“Sure thing,” I replied, pushing up my worn glasses.

The second bell rang and the students scattered like ants.

“Toodles,” Mary Kaye said cheerfully, walking away in the opposite direction.

English class and the next few hours went by like a breeze. I met a few more of Danielle friends, which most turned out to be her cousins. Call it Little Town Syndrome, but overall nothing as far as tackling eleventh grade was too complicated. I just sort of blended in with the exception of my red hair. Or so I thought, until one of the two new students that Mary Kaye had spoke of earlier appeared in class. It turned out that I was not going to be the second student at school with red hair. I took a deep breath before entering my math class. Unbeknownst to me, moving to Cashiers and coming to Blue Ridge High would set off a chain of events that would eventually unravel the secrets to my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

I had found my way back to the front office and managed to borrow some tape to temporarily fix my glasses. I was thankful that I didn’t run into Liza again. She was creepy. However, I was determined during my free time to go to the library and further research information on Redcaps. For some odd reason, the subject had sparked interest in me. Call it coincidence or divine intervention, but my mind was so occupied with Liza’s enlightenment about Redcaps and how the color of my hair had intrigued the students here that I blindly walked into someone. The girl sighed loudly when her schoolbooks came tumbling out of her hands.

“Oh my gosh!” I yelped. “I am so sorry!” I threw my bookbag down to help her pick up the scattered textbooks and papers.

“It’s okay.” She smiled radiantly and had a sweet sounding voice. Her almond shaped, pearl-gray-colored eyes danced gleefully. “I was trying to get your attention just a minute ago. It was obvious you were lost.”

Her ebony skin glistened underneath the fluorescent hallway lights. She quickly placed her dark red curly hair into one large puffy ponytail and assisted in gathering her books off of the floor. I strained my eyes behind my glasses to make sure I was seeing correctly. This was the first time I’d ever seen someone with a dark skin tone and such unusually red hair. She was indeed an eye-catching beauty, one of the most alluring girls with the total package that I’d ever seen, even better than Bobbie. She had a shapely figure with a small waist and every inch of her body was toned. Her attire was chic as she donned simple black leggings and a black tight corset with red jewels accentuating her waist. She smiled brightly like I was the most magnificent being on Earth and humbly curtsied before me.

“Trying to find my way around even though this does not seem like a big school.” I snickered nervously. “Was actually looking for the library before I head to math class. Do you know where it is?”

“Do you have a schedule? It’s supposed to have the map of the school on the back.” She held out her hand. Her tapered long nails grabbed my attention. They were pointed and as sharp as daggers. I had never seen a manicure on anyone’s hands like that before.

Her nails are like the talons of an eagle, my inward heroine said.

Animal? What kind?” I answered out loud to myself.

The girl shot me a look as if I was certifiably crazy.

“Animal?” She had a puzzled look on her face but then smiled. “I meant the school map? I was going to show you where the library was.”

I fumbled around in my backpack and gave her my crumpled paper.

She scanned over it quickly and then handed it back to me. “Most of our classes are together, including our first period.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but she took the thoughts right out of my mouth transferring them into actual words.

“I was late this morning, which is why you didn’t see me in first period. But it’s not difficult at all to get lost at Blue Ridge, especially if you’re new. I’m new myself actually,” she said with her gray eyes twinkling. Her voice was rhythmic and symphonious. She pointed from the opposite direction from where we were standing. “I think the library is around that corner. It’s the room with the blue door.”

I tried to prevent myself from staring at her eyes. She, Eris, and Liza were the only people that I’d ever seen with such a lifeless eye color.

“I am sorry I didn’t get your name?” I asked.

“Ha! I apologize! That should have been the first thing I mentioned. I’m Naomi Ruari. Nice to meet you,” she replied with a wholehearted laugh.

“Naomi Ru…” I failed to pronounce her name correctly.

“Roo-R-ee,” Naomi enunciated slowly, “Naomi Roo-R-ee. Ruari.”

“Ruari … got it,” I replied, nodding my head.

“That’s right, Ruari. I’m quite sure around in these parts the last name is uncommon, probably unheard of. It hails from Irish and Scottish heritage.”

All at once, I realized that she was the girl that Danielle and Mary Kaye had spoken of earlier. She grasped my hand and shook it firmly. I felt tiny electrical shock waves as her fingernails dug into my skin. It was like her hand had been placed in an icebox and her fingernails felt like daggers. She quickly withdrew her hand from mine and placed it behind her back like she was a soldier at ease.

“Cool name.” I giggled. “Actually, neater than mine.” I brought my hand behind my back and rubbed it against my shirt because her touch had caused my hand to grow icy and numb. I figure she was probably anemic.

“Imagine the slack I caught in grade school for my name,” Naomi chuckled. She adjusted the books in her arms and looked at me sideways as if she knew a secret. “And you are … Jeweliette, from Texas?” She tapped the side of her head. “I already know.”

My reply was a blank expression. “Jewel,” I replied lightly. “I thought you were new? To the school?”

“I am. Small town, little world. Word spreads around here quick,” Naomi said. She peered closer into my face. “I started last week … I thought you were supposed to start as well?”

“I was out sick …” I sniffled for emphasis.

The bell sounded.

“What class do you have next?” Naomi asked.

“Trigonometry.”

“I do too!” she squealed. “I will walk with you.”

Naomi led the way and I shyly walked behind her. She had the perfect figure with model-type long legs, a feature I always dreamt of. Her dark red curly hair in contrast to her coffee-hued skin made her look very exotic. In my eyes she was flawless, picture perfect, with blemish-free, unmarred skin.

“Hey, Naomi! Wait up!” a gentle male voice called.

A tall, attractive boy swiftly made his way towards us. He reminded me of a huntsman. His shoulder length dark auburn hair was pulled back into a ponytail. His edges were neatly trimmed and shaved allowing for loose curls to escape from the ponytail. He had on True Religion fitted jeans and a tailored Rock and Revival white shirt, which rightfully displayed his strong physique. Once he came closer, it was evident that his eyes were almost the same color as Naomi’s—steel-colored but slightly darker. He looked familiar, as if I’d seen him somewhere before.

He playfully put his arm around Naomi’s shoulder. “Who is this beauty that you have with you?” His eyes sparkled, marveling at me.

I felt the warm blood rush to my cheeks and quickly looked at the floor.

“Oh, you haven’t met her yet?” Naomi asked melodiously.

“Will you do the pleasure?” he replied, never taking his eyes off of me. His smile produced pin-sized dimples.

I was starstruck. All of the attention at once was something I was not accustomed to.

“Jewel, Christopher Ruari.” Naomi displayed her hand like she was showcasing items. “Christopher, meet Jewel Lovelan.”

You did not tell her your last name, my inward heroine said quietly. How did she know?

I didn’t have time to address Naomi before Christopher made his introduction.

“You must be as lovely as your name.” Christopher held out his hand. His voice was as mellifluous as Naomi’s, only deeper. He delicately picked up my hand and tickled it with his nose. “Nice to meet you.”

Christopher held my hand and gazed into my eyes for a moment. His thumb smoothly rubbed around the inside of my palm, tickling it for a few seconds. It was then that I realized why he looked so familiar. He was the guy that I’d seen in the shadows of the corner watching me in the hallway.

“Everything okay?” Naomi asked him.

“Yeah, yeah.” he smiled softly.

“I think my name is horrible but thanks anyway.” I glanced back and forth between the two.

Naomi’s skin tone was as dark as chocolate and Christopher’s as light as snow. I didn’t understand why they looked so different physically, with the exception of the red hair, yet had the same last name. Maybe they were adopted.

“Are you brother and sister?”

Christopher looked at Naomi and they both laughed softly.

“We are related, but not in the way you would think,” he said. “We’re of the same co—”

Naomi hastily grabbed Christopher’s arm and widened her eyes at him. She cleared her throat loudly. “How do you like the quiet town of Cashiers so far?”

I immediately remembered the attack that happened a week ago. “I think it’s far from quiet but so far a cool place to live. I never saw mountains until I moved here.”

“What are you doing later on today? After school that is …” Christopher asked, his dove-colored eyes piercing me.

“Going home, I hope?” Naomi answered.

“I know what you are doing.” Christopher happily squeezed Naomi’s shoulder.

I pointed to myself and Christopher nodded.

“I’m catching a ride with Bobbie.”

Christopher leaned his neck in closer. “Who’s Bobbie?”

“My foster sister.”

Naomi raised her eyebrows. Both she and Christopher exchanged puzzled glances.

“What is a foster sister?” Christopher asked.

Strange. My first thought was that everyone knew what foster meant. Borrowed from the government.

“Um …” I looked up at the ceiling. No easy explanation. “The easiest way to explain it is Bobbie’s mother cares for me. She is my legal guardian until I turn eighteen, so therefore it makes us sisters … by governmental standards.”

“Uh huh …” Naomi said, nodding her head.

Christopher appeared baffled. “But how can you have a governmental mother when your real moth—”

Naomi jabbed Christopher sharply in the side. He flashed her a “what did you do that for” look.

Seems as if Christopher is trying to tell you something? my inward heroine muttered.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or be concerned. “Oh my gosh? Am I missing something?” I asked.

“Uh yeah. We’re cool.” Christopher still appeared dumbfounded but tried to shake it off. I could tell he was rough around the edges, but it was strangely attractive. I also observed that he wanted to further press the subject about my personal life but found something else to divert his attention. He walked up closer to me and pointed at my glasses.

“What happened to those?”

“Accident, a little clumsy.” I giggled shyly. “Hopefully I can get a new pair next month.” That was when my check from the state would arrive.

Christopher’s smile brightened the entire hallway. “That is still a week away. Maybe we can … Perhaps I can buy you some?”

“I’ll be okay. Just need some minor repairs.”

Even though I had only known Christopher and Naomi a few minutes, they were extra nice to me. It was a strange feeling. I felt a sense of connection, more so than anyone else I had met earlier in the day. A loud piercing sound, reminiscent of the bell, echoed through the hallway.

“Oops, second tardy bell. We better go,” Naomi said, grabbing at me.

“Shall we?” Christopher waved his arm and bowed graciously like he was a member of some royal court.

Naomi led the way with me following closely behind. Christopher’s first period class was different than ours. He stood, astonished, watching us flee down the hallway. I received a few smiles that made me feel welcomed, even though I had made it up in my mind that I would not be making close friends with anyone with the exception of Naomi and Christopher.

Trigonometry was the class that I dreaded the most. The mumbling and low whispering chatters came to an abrupt halt once Naomi and I entered the small, frigid room. I detested being the new kid. A boy with tussled hair as dark as chocolate got up to make room for Naomi and me.

“You can sit here,” he said politely. His green eyes sparkled like emeralds. “Just in case you want a quick escape route from Trig.”

“Thanks.” I managed to grin back, “Trig is definitely not my best subject.” I looked for Naomi to make sure she found her seat, in which she took her place right across from me. She winked, showcasing her naturally curly eyelashes.

“No problemo,” he coolly replied. “I’m Jax. Jax Smith, and I don’t mind tutoring if you need help. Math is my best subject. Hope you like it here and plan to stay.” Jax was an average looking guy who spoke like a leader with reverence. His build was as stocky as a linebacker. “And your name?”

“Don’t plan on moving any time soon,” I muttered. “I’m Jewel.” Jax smiled widely again, like I was the first female he had seen in months. He quietly slid in a desk behind me.

Mr. Ortega tapped his desk with a long wooden pointer to silence the half-muted conversations and racket. “Quiet class! Quiet!”

Mr. Ortega was a round, balding man whose mustache had more hair than the center of his head. His belly was ready to pop out of the tight green long-sleeved dress shirt as he moved around to the center of the classroom to make his announcement.

“We have a new student. All the way from Houston, Texas!” His voice cracked.

I slid down in my seat. All eyes from different areas of the classroom fell on me.

“Introduce yourself, please!” Mr. Ortega instructed. I opened my mouth to say something, but he hastily cut me off. “No, no!” His wobbly throat shook like a turkey’s neck. “Stand up and tell everyone about yourself.”

Naomi sighed out loudly and brought her hand to cover her eyes. I unhurriedly stood up and adjusted my clothing. After I pushed my defective glasses back onto the bridge of my nose, I fiddled with my goddess braid then tapped my leg.

Count, my inward heroine said softly.

One, two … One, two … One, two

“You can start off by telling us your name, how old you are, and what brought you to our wonderful town of Cashiers?” Mr. Ortega continued.

I took a deep breath, tapping my leg, and swallowed. One, two … One, two …

“I am Jewel—”

“Speak up a little more, please!” Mr. Ortega barked, stroking his long mustache. Snickering erupted from the back of the class.

“My name is Jeweliette Lovelan, but I prefer Jewel,” I stammered. “I’m sixteen.” I moved to sit down but Mr. Ortega held up his plump hand. I shot back up like a spring.

“What brings you to Cashiers?”

“Um …” I didn’t want everyone knowing my life story. “My mother … foster mother got hired for a job in Asheville …” I plopped back down in my seat.

I could feel the sweat forming under my arms. Mr. Ortega had more damage to inflict. He was not done and was going to probe more into my life.

“Who is your foster mother? I didn’t know you could cross states lines with orphaned children.” Mr. Ortega placed the wooden pointer onto his desk. His beady eyes bore into me, searching for an explanation. There were no giggles this time from the students. The class was deathly silent.

Use your spellbinding. Concentrate and look him in the eye … tell him he does not need to ask you anything else, unless it deals with Trigonometry, my inward heroine commanded.

Before making Bobbie forget what happened in the parking lot last night, I had done this once before when the administrator of a group home, Mr. Copperton, tried to coerce me into following him into an abandoned shed. I remembered it like yesterday. He was infatuated with the unique color of my ginger hair, big round amber eyes, and heart-shaped lips. He was twenty years my senior and had always made inappropriate comments.

You have the face and hair of a goddess, his sickly, sweet voice would whisper in my ear. The time had come where he had grown tired of playing with me. My inward heroine had warned me and told me what to do.

Tell him that every time he lays eyes on you, you will resemble his greatest fears and become his worst nightmare, fire and burning alive, my inward heroine had instructed.

I did as my inward heroine had advised. The fear I felt was beyond explainable. I was only eight years old. As Mr. Copperton neared me, his hand grabbed my shoulder. He licked his lips and callously rubbed his hands together like he was ready to devour me, but then something within him clicked. He instantaneously pulled his hand back, as if something had bit him. He blinked his eyes twice. Once Mr. Copperton’s eyes fell upon me, his blood-curling screams sent him over the edge as he dropped to his knees and started thrashing about on the ground. He held his hands close to his chest and whimpered like a wounded dog. The agony of Mr. Copperton’s cries sent the staff from inside the orphanage running outside.

“She tried to burn me with fire!” he hollered, holding up his hands and then shirt. His chest looked like raw hamburger meat.

I was shocked to see third degree burns with rapidly forming blisters and pink skin almost burned to the bone. I did not have fire or anything hot on my person for that matter, but there was Mr. Copperton’s body parts burned beyond the epidermis. I stood there shaking as two big male counselors, who should have been bodyguards, picked Mr. Copperton up off of the ground. One male counselor shot me a hateful look as he sped past me. It was apparent that trouble always followed me, and I was immediately blamed for anything bad that happened.

“She is of the dead! Don’t you see it? Get me away from that devil!” Mr. Copperton yelled as the counselors dragged him away, promising to seek medical attention. He flashed one more look at me and howled out in excruciating pain. I knew then I had to be different. Special.

Say it … NOW, my inward heroine demanded, bringing me back to reality.

I didn’t know why she wanted me to do this, but my inner voice had never failed me. I concentrated and focused in on Mr. Ortega’s dark eyes. He was awaiting my answer and was about to ask me again. Once my gaze captured his, it was like I had him in a trance.

Do not ask me anything else unless it is related to Trigonometry,” I whispered. I never took my eyes off his. Something in Mr. Ortega’s eyes moved. He blinked his eyes twice and went back to lecturing math class as if nothing ever happened.

The class was so quiet you could hear a mouse squeak. All the students in the class were staring at Mr. Ortega like he had lost his mind. Everyone but Naomi, whose mouth was wide open. She was staring at me like she had seen a ghost.

 

**********

 

Halfway through Trigonometry, Mr. Ortega babbled about equations and solving problems that were entirely foreign to me. He immediately stopped speaking once the door slowly opened and closed. An office worker mumbled something inaudible to Mr. Ortega and delivered a note. While the interaction was taking place between the office worker and Mr. Ortega, Jax leaned his head over in the aisle. He waved his hand behind me to get my attention and mouthed some words I could barely decode. In the midst of attempting to comprehend Jax’s charade, Mr. Ortega tapped his wooden pointer on the desk to get my attention.

“Miss Lovelan? Earth to Miss Lovelan.” He stood there with a blank expression.

“Sorry … Can you repeat the question?” I batted my eyelashes and flashed a shaky smile.

“What should be used to find exact values as well as to establish trigonometric identities?”

I glanced from side to side as if someone was going to throw me the answer. “Umm …”

“You can read the paragraph on page two hundred and thirty, Miss Lovelan. It will explain the answer for everyone. Speak loudly when you read,” Mr. Ortega instructed.

Just great. I should have made him not ask me any questions instead of limiting them only to math. Now Mr. Ortega wanted me to read, which was something I wasn’t not good at. I knew once I started the passage I would begin stuttering, or worse unable to pronounce a word. Then everyone would start picking on me here like they did everywhere else.

Have you ever questioned if you truly had Dyslexia? Or is it something else that causes your vision to deteriorate, the problems with your reading? My inward heroine asked. The real truth awaits you.

“Sine, cosine, and tangent,” an answer haled from the back of the room. The voice was musical. It was Naomi.

Everyone turned around in their seats, including me, to see Naomi twirling her reddish curls around her finger, displaying a mischievous grin. She winked at me again, and I mouthed the words “thank you.” Thankfully the bell rang signaling for our period to end and the next to begin.

Mr. Ortega yelled over the growing voices of the loud students. “I want you to complete section one chapter five!” Some of the pupils dashed out of class without acknowledging the homework assignment, while others gossiped as they headed towards their next period. “Homework will be checked for a grade!” he warned as he scratched at his sweaty baldhead.

I gathered my things and bolted for the door with Naomi and Jax on my heels. The two of them acted like they couldn’t stand to be near one another. Naomi narrowed her eyes at Jax while his posture was rigid and tense. If looks could kill then Jax would be dead. Once Jax came near me, Naomi shot him a look that even made my skin crawl. While watching the bizarre interaction between the two, Mr. Ortega stopped me on my way out of the door.

“There’s a note for you.” He handed me a crème-colored envelope that had floral embroidery.

“Did I do something wrong?” I studied the delicate envelope. It had an archaic feel to it and looked like stationary that might have come from an older era.

“No. It came from the front office. A visitor stopped by and dropped it off for you. I don’t think they were on the visitors list, which is why you were not called to the front office,” Mr. Ortega said.

“Okay, thanks.”

I casually walked out of class, studying the envelope. Naomi was waiting for me when I arrived outside of the classroom. Jax had walked up ahead and waited for me at the corner where two boys had congregated. I turned the envelope over to open it and saw my name, Jewel, written on the flap in letters that resembled Old English. I turned my back away from the glare of the lights that bounced off of my lenses. The palpitations in my heart picked up as I slowly pulled the letter out.

One, two … One, two … One, two….

I was determined to get through the letter without any words dancing around in my head. I was amazed by the intricate details of penmanship.

 

Hi Jewel,

I would like to see ouy soon. When the time is right I will find uoy. I will be in an old 60’s blue Ford pickup truck. I apologize for the abrupt departure last week. I would be more than grateful if uoy would allow me the pleasure to speak with uoy.

sruoY truly,

William Knight

 

I was able to get through most of the letter without too many of the words becoming jumbled. I closed my eyes and brought the letter to my chest falling back into the wall. Naomi’s bright eyes widened as she watched me melt. It wasn’t the antique feel of the letter or the way he spoke so gallantly to me. I could now label his captivating, well-defined, angelic face. I finally knew his name … William.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

By the time Trigonometry was over, I was in starvation mode, but not hungry for food. I wanted to know more about William. Why was he so beautiful? How old was he? Did he attend school? If so, where? And the question that plagued me the most was how did he appear out of nowhere to save me? I walked over to the side near some lockers and pulled a map of the school layout from my backpack. After pinpointing where the mess hall was located, I decided to take the alternate, longer route, hoping to avoid Danielle and Mary Kaye but something out of the ordinary made me stop as I passed the front entrance of the school.

I saw a group of five students with their backs turned away from the front door. What was particularly odd was all of the students had red hair. I had never seen so many people with various shades of red hair in one place. I squinted my eyes behind my glasses to make sure I was seeing correctly. One stood out of the bunch. Even though I couldn’t see her face, I recognized her by the spiky red hair. Liza, the office worker. She must have sensed me standing there staring at the group because she instantaneously turned around with an expression that would have scared any other person. But it wasn’t the look on her face that startled me, it was the color of her eyes, which were jet black including the sclera. Odd.

Not odd, trouble. It is reality. A cold, hard reality that you will be forced to face soon. I would advise you to stay far away from them, my inward heroine cautioned.

“Oh, I plan on it. I don’t like the looks they’re giving me,” I replied to myself, “I don’t understand why everyone hates me everywhere I go.”

Liza’s sinister expression immediately disappeared as quickly as a light switch being flicked on and off. She calmly raised her hand and waved like she was in the Ms. America Pageant. I smiled briefly and hurriedly turned away. I thought the entire incident was strange. Why were all of those strange people’s eyes solid black? And who in their right mind would wear contact lens as dark as coal that covered the entire eyeball? I wrote it off as my imagination being fueled by hunger and low blood sugar.

The oval shaped cafeteria was filled with bustling students secluded in their respective groups designated by popularity. Mountains peaks graced the skies and were visible through the huge floor-length windows. In those windows were two double doors that led outside to a spacious patio. If Blue Ridge High School had anything to offer, it was the state-of-the-art cafeteria.

The rowdiness of the students filling the spacious dining hall sounded like an over zealous choir. Crowds always intimidated me. My insides were fighting with each other as to who could sing the loudest. I pushed my tray down the line, not too impressed with the food. Lately, it had been quite the task fulfilling my appetite, and I equated the dizzy spells to my sporadic eating habits. I grabbed a shiny Granny Smith apple and bit into it. The sour, sweet flavor temporarily satisfied my taste buds.

“Hungry much?” a gentle male voice asked softly from behind.

Startled, I jumped and turned around to find the boy who had offered me his seat in first period standing behind me. He was grinning from ear to ear.

I gulped down the half chewed apple. “Oh, hi!” I had already forgotten his name.

Jax, Jewel. My name is Jax.” He chuckled playfully. “I won’t hold that against you with you being new and all. I’m quite sure you’re learning a lot of things all at once today.”

“Thanks, I really do apologize. Today has been kind of hectic.” I giggled nervously.

“You look lost.” His green eyes softened.

“I am, was, lost. I have been lost all day today, now that I think of it. But I think I found where I need to be.” I smiled brightly, holding up my apple and scanning the cafeteria.

“Yeah, it is kind of hard to get lost in this dump,” he said.

“It’s pretty nice here if you ask me,” I said, moving my tray along. “A lot better than what I am used to eating.” His tray was already filled with a vast array of colorful vegetables.

“Our lovely dump slump!” Jax boasted with a wholehearted laugh. He stood at the front of the line to wait on me.

“Are you vegetarian?” I asked.

“Pretty much. My people have eaten only what Mother Earth has produced from her rich soil for centuries,” Jax said, making a muscle arm. “Just in case you were wondering, my proteins come from the mighty legumes.”

“Centuries? How nice to carry on the tradition of your people from so long ago,” I said. “If I knew some of the cultural practices from my predecessors, I’m quite sure I would be doing the same thing.”

“There are ancient practices from some ancestors that I would refrain from that are not good,” Jax said, narrowing his once light eyes.

Whatever that meant.

“Sure.” I mustered a smile.

As soon as I paid for my lunch, I walked over to meet Jax, who had already started for one of the lunch tables. Liza appeared from nowhere. I was amazed with the swiftness of her stride. She walked in front of me and uttered something imperceptible. It sounded like a tribal language. Her solid black eyes glistened as she zoomed past me.

“Jax!” I frantically called. I tried to be as discreet as I could. “Jax!”

Jax immediately stopped walking and hurriedly made his way back towards me.

“What happened?” He apprehensively chuckled. “I turn my head for one minute and poof you are gone.” He made an explosion motion with one of his hands. A bowl of steamed broccoli jiggled along with his rash movements.

“No, no, no!” I shook my head. I met him face-to-face and whispered out of fear someone would hear me. “Did you just see that?”

“See … what?” Jax asked, looking around me. “I don’t see anything.”

My mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. I knew good and well that Liza’s pupils had expanded like black flying saucers.

Jax scratched his head and continued searching the cafeteria. “Actually, I did see something,” he said in a hushed tone.

“I knew you had to! How did she get her eyes to do that?” I searched for Liza, who had mysteriously disappeared from the cafeteria.

“Actually, I see students walking towards the cafeteria, to and from class …” Jax continued as if he had not heard a word that I had just spoken.

“Am I the only one who just saw …” I cracked.

No, you are not the only one who can see what is truly occurring here, my inward heroine said smoothly.

“That girl’s eyes! They turned—”

I halted mid-sentence and took a deep breath. I expected Jax to be puzzled but amazingly he was not. He stared blankly at me, void of any emotion. Maybe my mind was as scrambled as eggs or at least I thought so. I remembered the threats from Mel of a psychiatric lockdown that would be used as a form of punishment if I had shown any signs of a mental disorder. This situation would definitely not help. I refused to be in the same situation as my parents, locked up but not behind bars.

“Where are you going to sit?’ I flashed a half smile at Jax. I would not bring up the subject again.

Jax nodded and led me towards a long table where Danielle, Mary Kaye, and a host of other animated students sat. There was no hope in convincing him or anyone else of what I’d seen. I found my place at the table and solemnly picked at my food.

“Are you on a diet or something?” Mary Kaye asked. My eyes flew to her mouth where bright red lipstick was smeared upwards onto her right cheek.

“No … no diet. I’m hungry but the food is tasteless.” I frowned. Eating had become an obstacle for me.

“I agree, the food here is dull,” Danielle said, drinking a Diet Coke. “Oh, by the way, did you meet Cliff and Amy?”

A sandy-haired boy with freckles and a platinum blond girl with brown eyes waved.

“Cliff is president of Beta Club and Amy is on our undefeated volleyball team,” Danielle added, winking her eye at Amy.

“Neat,” I replied.

I had hoped they were not planning to get me on some team or in a club. I searched for an excuse to flee from the table but hadn’t met anyone else, until I scanned the cafeteria out of boredom and saw Naomi and Christopher walk out towards the patio table. Their mannerisms were different than before. They were quiet, unseeing, and soulless. There was something out of place with those two, or so I thought. They both had put on long sleeve jackets and dark sunglasses. From the looks of the weather outside, the sun glared and shone brightly but hid behind the clouds. Its rays bounced off of their red hair giving it a coppery appearance. Even though it was early fall and their dress was out of season, there was a brisk coolness with the crisp air flowing off of the mountaintops. I thought I was the only one without an appetite. Naomi and Christopher did not touch an ounce of their food. They just stared off into the large hills without movement, mesmerized by the sun.

I had been sitting for almost a hour, picking over my food while listening to Danielle, Mary Kaye, Jax, and the others gossip about the peculiar events occurring in Asheville. They had went on about rumors of a mass of people who had gone missing within the past few months never to be heard from again. The conversation reminded me of the paper I’d picked up at the grocery store last week with several headlines of missing persons.

“There has to be something going on for so many people to turn up missing without a trace!” Danielle gasped.

“Maybe it’s a good thing?” Mary Kaye reiterated.

“How can people disappearing be good?” Jax asked.

“Well they are misfits for one, and they are not benefiting society for two. Even the mayor reported in the Citizen Times that the violence has been at an all-time low and he has no problem with that,” Danielle responded assertively. “Maybe you should ask yourself that question, Jax, after someone burglarizes and victimizes your family.”

“Any reduction in crime is always good,” Mary Kaye added. “But I do admit it’s mighty spooky that these people are disappearing in large numbers without a trace.”

“They are criminals. So who cares?” Danielle said.

The table became quiet for a moment then the conversation moved towards another direction. I contemplated on whether or not I was going to dump my untouched food, with the exception of two bites from my granny smith apple, or take it out to the patio where Christopher and Naomi sat. I wasn’t the one to waste food. I figured Christopher and Naomi might have wanted pizza instead of what they currently had on their trays. I slightly turned to the left to get a better glimpse. I licked my finger and rubbed the right lens of my glasses to clear my vision. It didn’t work. I tried to zoom in on them closer and realized they looked exactly like the guy I had seen driving the truck at the gas station … William and the girls he was with. Underneath the sunlight everything was clearer. Christopher, along with Naomi, had ordinary complexions with the exception of a reddish undertone. If my memory served me correctly, William had bluish-tinged lips that look like he had gone without oxygen for days. They all resembled each other.

“Where are you going?” Danielle asked, sounding like Mel.

Everyone at the table stopped talking and chewing. All eyes fell on me.

“Going to say hi to some people I met today.”

“Who?”

My head turned towards the patio as did everyone else’s.

“Christopher and Naomi. I met them earlier,” I said as I shifted the tray to my other hand. I wanted to get a closer look at Danielle but the tape in the middle of my glasses had unraveled partially obstructing my vision. I sensed an aversion in her voice.

“Hmm. Okay.” She smiled widely.

Mary Kaye, along with the others, was still focused on the duo sitting stoically at the patio table.

“Weren’t those the two freaky redheads we were talking about earlier?” Mary Kaye squawked. Danielle shook her head.

“They are actually cool once you meet them,” I said defensively.

“Oh no, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. But it’s like why come to school? They don’t eat, write, or even go to the bathroom!” Mary Kaye said obnoxiously.

“Ew! You monitor who goes to the bathroom?” Amy, the volleyball player, asked.

Jax and Cliff burst into laughter.

Mary Kaye hit the table with her fist. “Okay, go ahead and laugh! But I tell you, there is something off about those two! Just like that dreadful office worker with the ugly teeth! But don’t say I didn’t warn you when you guys find out they are cannibals!”

“Like the movie the Hills Have Eyes?” Cliff continued chuckling.

Mary Kaye got up in a frenzy and left the table. Danielle threw her head into her hands. I used that moment to escape their temporary madness. They were all so busy trying to apologize to Mary Kaye that they didn’t notice my departure. I juggled my tray in one hand while I opened the doors leading out to the patio in the other.

Christopher and Naomi were still gazing off into the unknown. I stood there dumbfounded, too shy to move. They apparently were not interested in lunch because their food was untouched. Underneath the flare of the sunlight, I saw the purplish blue blemishes underneath their nose and around their fingertips. Their lips were as pale as the tray I held. I wanted to believe that my glasses were malfunctioning. Then I thought I was seeing things, but deep down after what had happened to me last week, I knew that anything was possible. There was no other way to explain it, but Christopher and Naomi exhibited signs of the deceased. I turned to leave but couldn’t.

“Hello, Jewel.” Christopher swiveled around in his seat to face me, followed by Naomi. “I was wondering when you were going to join us for lunch.” He held out his hand, motioning for me to join them.

“It doesn’t seem like you’re hungry either,” I said shyly. Christopher’s gaze intensified. “I mean you didn’t touch your food either,” I continued timidly.

“The food here is hit or miss,” Naomi replied. She must have noticed I was staring at her face. She turned her back completely against the sun. I watched as her normal coloring underneath her eyes slowly transformed back to a vibrant color as dark as cocoa. I could not believe at what I’d just seen.

Believe it, my inward heroine warned.

“We occasionally come out here to enjoy the fresh air and would like for you join us. Whenever time permits, that is,” Christopher said.

“Thanks. I will,” I replied, noticing the coloration gradually returning to Christopher’s lips. “Can never get enough fresh air.”

Christopher moved his backpack over so I could sit down. “Have a seat,” he said politely. He scooted closer to me. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“I would like to show you around town soon. How about after school today?”

And William? The letter? my inward heroine said.

I was about to accept the invitation. “Umm …”

Naomi pursed her lips. Christopher leaned in closely.

“I have plans today. But I don’t mind at all when I do get some free time.”

“That’s fair,” Christopher said, showcasing his dimples. He continued to stare at me until Naomi cleared her throat.

“So, I see we don’t have any classes together,” I said to Christopher.

“Maybe that’s because I’m senior and you’re a junior.” He smiled wickedly.

“Oh don’t let it go to your head,” Naomi said, playfully rolling her eyes.

“I have walked this road a thousand times. No big deal,” Christopher jokingly shot back.

“A thousand times? You sound as if you are one of those immortal creatures that I’ve read about in Lord of the Rings.

There was an awkward moment of silence. I tried to let my comment settle in but it didn’t make sense. There was no denying it; Christopher definitely spoke like a man before his time. After I called him out on his comment, Christopher’s demeanor quickly changed. He looked like someone who had let a big secret slip out. Naomi did not move an inch. She was unemotional and speechless.

“How old are you guys?” I asked.

“I’m sixteen,” Naomi replied. Her dark red curls glistened in the sunbeams.

“Seventeen,” Christopher said.

I moved into investigation mode. “So how long have you guys been living in Cashiers? Or did you just move here?” I didn’t want to sound like I was probing, so I changed my tune. “You both are new and started around the same time as me.”

“We don’t live in Cashiers,” Christopher said in comical tone.

“Oh?” I replied raising my eyebrows. “Asheville?”

“No, not Asheville.” His eyes tightened like he was making a strategizing move during a chess game. “Guess, I will have to show you when you accept my invitation. Well, we …”

“Who is we?”

“Naomi and I,” Christopher said, straightening his posture. “We are going to show you where we live one day.”

I thought about the chances of having Mel’s car to myself. “You can tell me where you live and I meet you there.”

“Nope, that won’t do it justice. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. You have to see where we live for yourself.”

“Gosh, Christopher. You make it sound like you live in a magical palace.” I laughed but Christopher didn’t.

I felt a bump underneath the table because Naomi had kicked Christopher. The jolt was forceful but Christopher was untouched by the blow. Naomi initiated the laughter, prompting Christopher to follow suit. I continued laughing at the comment I had made.

Palace? Seriously? You really see me living in a palace?” Christopher became so amused he rolled over to the side cracking up. In between his bursts of laughter he managed to speak in broken sentences. “I-mean-you-yes … but me? Never!”

The laughter subsided after Naomi tightened her lips and glanced upwards into the sky. I’d let my guard down. I felt comfortable around Christopher and Naomi, unlike the pretentious Danielle and her friends. I stole a glance back inside the cafeteria’s glass double doors and saw Danielle and the other’s staring in our direction with whispers and frowns.

“Just wanted to say that it feels good to have someone around who looks like me for a change.”

“What do you mean by that?” Naomi said in a cherubic voice.

“The red hair,” I replied. “Our hair, of course, is a different shade of red, but I think it’s cool that I am not the only redhead in school for a change.”

“There is much more to your red hair than you can ever imagine,” Christopher said faintly. His finger trailed from the start of my hairline to the end of my braid. “You have the most beautiful shade … of red.” He smiled delightfully.

“Always thought it was a curse.” I closed my eyes. The pain and tortuous memories of the name-calling surfaced. Firecracker, Fireball, Twizzler

Christopher leaned forward like he was going to expose a classified case. Naomi cautiously leaned forward as well. The three of us huddled together over the table like we were football players discussing a play. This time Naomi was going to let Christopher speak. I listened intently, ready to hear what Christopher had to say. The dimples in his cheeks softened as I watched his lips slowly part.

“Our hair holds a sec—”

The bell sounded loudly like a fire truck drowning out Christopher’s voice. I jumped at the clamorous bell, which echoed throughout the cafeteria and out into the patio.

“The bell just rang,” Naomi interrupted, raising her voice.

“Our hair holds a what?” I asked.

Naomi stood up grabbing onto Christopher. “I will see you during seventh period maybe? Or take you home?”

“I have to stop by the library.” There was only one laptop in the house and it was Mel’s.

“We could take you home from the library,” Christopher volunteered.

“Jewel said she had plans after school,” Naomi interjected.

“Plans?” Christopher inquired.

I nodded my head.

“With who? he asked darkly.

“A friend,” I responded quickly. “So … I will see you guys later?”

“Thanks for coming to sit with us.” Christopher took my tray. “Since I’m second in line to this friend, you will have to spend all day with me, which means a Saturday.”

“Agreed,” I said. I pointed towards the trays. “None of us touched our food.” Christopher and Naomi looked down at their trays respectively. “Guess you weren’t hungry either?”

“We are hungry and do eat, but it just depends on what the catch of the day is,” Christopher responded.

“That’s it. It’s time to go,” Naomi said, pulling Christopher by the arm. Naomi faced me. “We will definitely talk to you again and soon, Jewel. You better go now so you don’t get a tardy.”

We said our respective good-byes and went our separate ways. The condensed conversation had left me questioning a few topics Christopher had mentioned. I felt like he was speaking in circles and Naomi was doing whatever she could to keep him from divulging something, but what I could not figure out at this moment. What was he trying to tell me about our hair? That it was red? We all knew that. I made a sharp turn around the corner and ran into Jax. His head was bowed and his eyes were directed at the ground.

“I know what you saw,” he spoke lightly.

“Wh—what did you see?” I asked discreetly.

“Liza … her eyes. They change, they all do,” Jax moved ever-so-close to me, his grassy eyes peering into my soul. “You will probably think I’m crazy when I say this, but there are things happening right here in Cashiers, no this school, that are not seen by the average person. You are not going crazy and if you meet me on the eve of the third moon when the sun will shine its brightest, I will explain some things to you that will make you wish that you never left Houston. Coming here was a big mistake.”

I shivered. “Eve of the third moon? Can you speak in a language that I understand please?”

“In three days I will meet you at The Village Green,” he whispered hurriedly. He swiveled several times, flashing looks in different directions. “Their hearing is acute, magnified. It is not safe for you to speak here.” Jax turned to leave.

“Wait…” I put my hand on his shoulder, halting him “…what is The Village Green and where will I know to find you?”

“You don’t know it yet but fate will have us meet there. It is a public park. It will be safe to talk there and it will be brightly lit.”

“You’re scaring me, Jax.”

He gently relieved himself from the restraint of my touch. “You should have been scared the moment you got in the car with her.”

“Who are you talking about?” My question came out more like a terror stricken plea than a question.

Eris …” he said, walking away.

 

**********

 

The school’s library was closed, or at least that was what the sign said. I found out later that the librarian was out due to a sore throat. The burning desire to use the Internet was more than I could bear. I had to find out what Liza meant by Redcaps and soon. Not to mention, the chilling sound of Jax’s voice when he mentioned the changing of Liza’s eyes, and Eris. Who exactly was Eris and why did Jax warn me about her?

I strolled outside. The parking lot was littered with buses and cars waiting to pick up kids. I watched eagerly as mothers craned their necks waiting to give their children hugs and ask about their day. It was something that I longed for but never had. I shuffled my way towards the student area where the seniors and juniors parked to wait for Bobbie. All at once, I stopped walking. My head was spinning. I felt dizzy. Now, I wished I hadn’t skipped lunch. I continued my walk taking in the strange events of the day.

The answer you seek is not within your food. It lies within a different food source, my inward heroine said softly.

Flustered, I didn’t see the curb I had to cross over and tripped. I didn’t even try to stop my fall. Instead, I embraced for the impact against the concrete and closed my eyes. However, something as hard as steel but a touch as soft as a pillow cushioned my fall. I slowly opened my eyes and the face of an angel looked down over me.

He gently smiled. “I have not properly introduced myself. I have been waiting for the right moment.”

I didn’t move. I stayed in his arms like a knot on a log with my chest in my hands. My feet felt like cement.

I think you already know his name, my inward heroine declared.

I shook my head to agree with myself, all the time never removing my eyes from his.

“I think it is about time. Don’t you?” He puckered his lavender-tinged lips, which stood out in contrast to his pale face. It was as if the sun had hidden from him. He stood me up slowly, cautiously.

“My name, my fair lady, is William … William Knight.”

His voice was deep but soothing in a melodic sort of way. Did he just speak to me? I did not know if I was starstruck or in shock. I moved my lips to say something but nothing came out. William extended his hand to me but immediately pulled it back and lightly scratched his head. He moved a little closer and held out his hand again, as I did mine, but he reached for my backpack. Instantly, I was embarrassed and blushed.

“Let me help you with that,” he stated, gently removing the ton of bricks from my aching shoulders.

William stepped back with a quick movement as if he had violated my personal space. His plum-colored lips formed a frown and his nose wrinkled as if he smelled something putrid. His face hardened in an attractive way. I lowered my head to see if it was me. I didn’t smell anything. He glanced away to collect himself and then centered his focus back on me. It was as if a spell had been cast upon me. I was speechless. He was more enticing than any guy I had ever seen, and more charming than most women, but still had the masculine components of a man. An impish grin formed at the corners of his perfectly shaped mouth.

“He esperado a que te gustan las estrellas y la luna espera de que salga el sol,” he said sweetly, his rhythmic voice resonating like a mellow tune to my ears. “I know you can speak. You spoke to me at the supermarket that night—”

“William?” I squeezed my eyes shut and reopened them to make sure I was not daydreaming. “What did you say?”

“Waited for you like the stars and the moon waiting for sunrise …” He began soothingly.

I took a moment to breathe and process it all.

“Did you get my letter? Miss Jewel Lovelan?”

My words were muted.

He holds the key to it all… My inward heroine appeared out of the blue. Are you ready?

“Y-y-yes. I didn’t expect to see you so soon.” I bit my bottom lip. “H-h-how did you know my name?”

“I know things. Is that okay?” I nodded my head. He smoothly wiped off the debris from my shoulders. “The pavement was about to wear your face. It wouldn’t have been pretty.”

Call it destiny or the forces of instantaneous gravitation. The attraction was instant. I gazed up into his face wanting to see his eyes but he was wearing Raybans. With the exception of his eyes, I felt a strong connection. First it was Naomi, then Christopher, and now William. I was meeting more people that looked like … me.

William is a keeper, my inward heroine whispered.

He was easily six foot three compared to my height of five-four. His umber-hued hair glistened in the sunlight. The sides of his hair were slicked down and his undercut was well defined with messy gelled spikes that went their own separate ways. His hair reminded me of David Beckham but styled with more precision. The violet blemishes around his fingernails and lips were not as noticeable as before. My man crush, Brad Pitt, didn’t even hold a candle to him. How could someone walk the earth and be this perfect?

No one is perfect, not even if they appear to be, my inward heroine said.

“Whatever,” I mumbled. “He is my perfect.”

A scent of lavender along with other herbal spices flowed from his skin. I tried not stare at him and looked away occasionally. He gently touched my face and then walked backwards a couple of steps to give me space. He must have sensed my shyness. I studied him from the top of his head to the salmon pink Converse sneakers he was wearing. He had on a cropped brown leather jacket with a salmon pink American Eagle polo shirt underneath. His distressed dark denim True Religion jeans fit right below his waist. A tuft of chestnut brown reddish hair fell onto his pallid forehead from the freshly shaved, spiky undercut. I took special note of his delicate, porcelain-like features, which were a beautiful mixture of masculinity and exquisiteness all in one. The small dimple in his chiseled chin added the perfect touch to an impeccable face. His appearance was smooth and suave. Only one word could describe him: flawless.

“Seems like you are always saving me … from something,” I muttered.

“Yeah, it does seem that way doesn’t it?” He smiled pleasantly. “Esperado miles de años para este momento.” He leaned his head to the side as if he was trying to figure me out.

“What language are you speaking? Is it French?”

He methodically shook his head. “Spanish … but I can speak it in French if you prefer. Je ai attendu des milliers d’années pour ce moment.” The words flowed out of his mouth like the mellifluous tune of “Weightless” by Marconi Union.

“Wow, what does that mean?” I asked in admiration. I’d always wanted to learn to speak Spanish being that I lived in Houston but never had the chance due to instability.

“If I spoke to you the meaning of those very words, your comprehension would defy all logic.”

“It’s amazing that you speak two different languages.”

“I am fluent in thirty but speak only Spanish from time to time,” William said calmly.

“Do you go to school here?” I asked. I was fascinated with the fact that he was handsome as well as intelligent. I hadn’t seen his truck parked in the parking lot nor did I see the pretty girls that were with him.

“No, I’m home schooled,” he said softly. “I am a senior, and you?”

“Junior this year. Feel like I am getting old.”

He took one step closer, his eyes burning deep into me. “And you, my fair lady, how old are you?”

He sounded like and old Englishman speaking from an era before my time.

“Sixteen. How old are you?”

He took off his sunglasses. I watched as he gazed off into the sun, his eyes unaffected by the harsh rays. Before he faced me he put his Raybans back on. I sensed that he contemplated what to say to me.

“Almost eighteen …” he said quietly. He looked down for a moment, shook his head, and then brought his attention back to me.

“You must have a birthday coming up soon,” I said.

“I do actually. The thirty first of October to be exact, but I don’t celebrate birthdays.” He brought his hand up to his face and began rubbing it. The muscles in his face were tight.

“My birthday was a week ago.” I frowned.

“When was your birthday?”

“The seventh of September.”

“A sweet sixteen for you?”

“Oh no. I never was a stickler for birthday parties,” I fibbed. Knowing that no one would show for my party. “Each year my birthday rolls around means the closer I come to developing stress wrinkles.” I looked up into the skies. “I honestly wish time could stand still.”

“Aging is a beautiful thing, wouldn’t you say?”

“Don’t want the worry warts and saggy skin.” I giggled.

“I see,” he said, moving closer to me. “Are you going to ask of me what happened?’

“I don’t understand?” I scratched at the sides of my hair.

“Are you going to ask of me what happened that night?” I noticed the muscles clenching in his salmon-colored American Eagle shirt. He cocked his head in a different direction and brought his hand to his chin. He rubbed it like he was intensely thinking. “I figured after a proper introduction that it would open the air.”

I shrugged. “Er …”

I was tongue tied again. What was I thinking? A beast attacked me and he, of all people, appeared out of nowhere to save me.

“I hoped that it wasn’t real.” I looked around anxiously. A few students were leaving the school. The first dismissal bell had rung. I stepped closer to him.

Now is the time … You need to hurry before she comes, my inward heroine warned.

My mind was playing tricks on me; too much was going on at one time. What on Earth was she talking about now?

“Thank you for saving my life, but why? How did you know that I was there? That I would be attacked?”

“I guess I was in the right place at the right time.”

Not good enough. Probe him. He knows more, Jeweliette, my inward heroine urged.

“What was that thing? Please tell me what I saw was not real. That I imagined it.”

I watched as he surveyed the parking lot and sniffed the air as if all of a sudden he smelled something. Something foul.

“No. It was real. What you saw was a horrible beast. Too appalling to describe, for you that is,” he replied softly.

“After what I have been through in the past few months? Nothing is too grisly for me.” I bit my bottom lip again as I waited for him to tell me I was on drugs or maybe I hit my head and had a slight concussion. “What I saw that night was a deformed bear or a coyote. Please tell me that. I just need to know that I am not crazy.”

“You are not insane and of sound mind. You are in grave danger. You shouldn’t have come here.”

I sensed a sign of urgency in his voice. He moved closer to touch me but withdrew his sallow hands.

“How do you know that I am in danger? Didn’t you kill it?”

“I terminated it, but there are more. And now that they know we have found each other, it upsets what was meant to be. The prophecies are true.”

I was speechless. I knew this was real. William watched me emotionless, unmoving.

“Who are you?” I asked.

William placed one foot in front of the other. “I am not here to hurt you but help you.” His stance softened. “I will tell you everything you need to know, but at a pace I think you will be able to digest, and right now you are not in that position.”

“I am very much capable of handling anything. I’ve had to do so all of my life,” I said.

“The school’s parking lot is not an appropriate place, Miss Lovelan,” he said soothingly. “The day I saw you at the gas station changed everything.”

“Not unusual where I come from. People have chance encounters at football games, dances, or movie theaters. I think the gas station will be a first.” I smiled. “I couldn’t help but come here. Mel received a job offer in Asheville which pays more, along with free housing, so we up and moved just like that.” I snapped my fingers.

“Who is Mel?”

“My foster mother.” He looked like he had never heard of such before. “I am a foster kid. Part of the system, the government, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t live with my real parents. Long story.”

“That is how you came here? Because of a job offer that your foster mother accepted?”

I nodded my head. He brought his hand up to his nose like there was something occluding his nostrils.

“What are you doing?”

He tapped the side of his nose. “Your scent … it overwhelms me.”

“Excuse me?”

“You are the first one I have come across …” He shook his head. His eyebrows knitted together, showing me he was squeezing his eyes shut behind his sunglasses. The veins easily bulged on his temples, but after a few moments he took a step back in defeat. He stepped closer but then quickly stopped. “We need to get together and talk where it’s a little more private. Just you and I. Would it be okay if I see you again?”

“Can’t you tell me now? I mean this a lot for me to digest at the moment. Mystical beasts attacking me in parking lots and then prince charming jumps out of nowhere to save the day,” I said, my mouth slightly ajar.

“Can you come up with something better than prince charming?” A sly smile crossed his face.

“Okay …” I looked up into the blue skies. “Knight in shining armor?”

“Guess that will have to do for now.” He nodded his head and turned to walk away but then swiveled back to face me. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad that I was there that night. You know, for you … To take care of it.”

I took a few steps towards him. He held up his hand to stop me from coming any closer. “How did you take care of it? I mean … something that evil and gruesome … it was ready to rip my throat out.”

“I used my sword.”

My mouth fell open.

“I am your knight in shining armor? Remember?” He grinned widely, displaying a set of sparkly white straight teeth. “I’m assuming, I will never get a yes or no as to if I can see you again? And soon?”

The noise of students dismissing filled the parking lot. He raised his hand slowly and waved goodbye.

“Wait!” I shouted. He stopped, still turned away from me. “I just wanted to thank you. Truly, I know I might have not shown it that night but I … I just always had to fight for myself and when you showed up like that … I didn’t know if it was some trick or … or what, but thank you, William. Thank you for saving my life from whatever that thing was.” I closed my eyes. It was then things became complicated. “I knew I couldn’t tell anyone. I can’t tell anyone. It’s eating me up inside. No one would believe me. They would have me committed to some psychiatric facility. I knew my life was dangling by a thread. I knew it. The last time I almost died was when my par—”

The next thing I knew, William stood in front of me. His movement was faster than the speed of light, so swift it caused the right lens in his Raybans to crack. His finger soothingly sealed my lips. It was as cold as an icicle but his flesh was amazingly silky. It brushed against my tear-stained cheeks. My eyes bore into his chest as they slowly trailed up his body. The muscles in his well-defined jaw clenched repeatedly as he tried to suppress something but what I didn’t know. His brow was wrinkled, which meant his eyes were firmly closed.

“It is going to be okay, Jewel. I am here now and I promise you will never be in harm’s way again,” he said compassionately.

“But didn’t you say there were more of those things out there?” My brain was rattled. “Like how are you going to protect me? Stay awake around the clock for twenty-four hours? Guarding me with your plastic sword?” I said half crazed, half laughing.

“I didn’t fail you the last time, did I?” he reassured. “There is no need to be afraid as long as I am with you. I will never leave your side.”

“If people knew what we were discussing, they would have us both committed,” I said, not fully believing what was transpiring myself. I tried to look into the right cracked lens to get a view of his eyes.

“Trust me, there is more that exists out there than the human eye cares to acknowledge.”

“What does that mean?”

“I will tell you, if you promise to see me again.”

“I would love to see you again, but why do you keep turning away from me?”

What was he hiding? For the umpteenth time my jaw fell open as I watched William discard the cracked Raybans by crushing it with one squeeze into fine grains as small as sand. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a brand new pair of aviator Raybans. He promptly put them on and then faced me.

“I will find you. Your sister and her two friends are rapidly advancing towards us. You and I shall meet once again … soon.”

I whirled around to see Bobbie quickly approaching me with her mouth wide open like she had discovered a big secret. She had placed her long dark tresses into two messy pigtails. She had a book and spiral tablet in her arms. In the opposite direction, Naomi and Christopher had apparently been watching my interaction with William but stopped walking to talk with each other. I hurriedly spun around to set a date with William but he had vanished. It was as if he was never there. I felt a sharp nudge to my shoulder.

“Who on God’s green Earth was that?” Bobbie said in a daze.

“I don’t see anyone.” I turned around ardently scanning the parking lot.

“Don’t play with me, you little skeezer!” Bobbie nudged me again. “I saw you talking to someone. I couldn’t see everything from that distance, but from what I could see … he was totally hot!” She fanned her self and spun around in a circle. Her skirt flew up and bared more than I cared to see.

“I see your panties, Bobbie,” I said dryly.

“Exactly,” she squealed, skipping to the car. Apparently she had a great day as usual. “Where is your bookbag? You look like you fell into some bushes, clumsy. I keep telling you that you don’t have to wait until the first of the month to get your glasses. I will let you borrow the money,” she called out.

I waved to Christopher and Naomi who stood a distance away watching Bobbie and me. Bobbie twirled around to see who had caught my attention. She waited for me to catch up to her.

“And who are they?” she asked, looking off to where Christopher and Naomi were standing. Bobbie playfully waved to them and Naomi responded with a stiff wave. Bobbie’s deep blue eyes danced in circles. She placed her arm around my shoulders and dragged me towards the car, nodding her head towards Christopher. “Mmm … that one there is spicy looking too. Geesh, Jewels, it seems as if I leave you alone for one minute and you get into all sorts of trouble, don’t you?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Actually, this time I made some friends. On my own for a change.”

Bobbie stopped walking and removed her arm from around my shoulders. “I’m happy you are finally finding your place, Jewels,” she said calmly. Something had captured Bobbie’s attention. She raised her finger and pointed towards the front of the car. “How did that get there?”

“What?” I stood on my tiptoes to see what she had spotted.

“Your backpack …”

A distance away, an old Ford truck sped off into the remoteness between the two mountains that disguised the unknown. William had been watching. A rush of emotions flooded me. It felt scary but reassuring at the same time to finally have someone who seemed to care about me for a change. I didn’t want to classify him as a stalker. My inner heroine would have warned me ahead of time. I was sheepish when it came to admitting my affection, but I wanted to confess how I felt for him. However, I had the feeling there was more to William than he was telling me. There was something strangely peculiar about him, something that made him even more desirable. His demeanor was dark and it fascinated me. William was hiding something, and I was going to find out what it was at all cost.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

After school we headed to the local market, which was buzzing with students and the locals. Bobbie had to get a few personal items, plus she wanted to pick up some extra junk food since Mel wouldn’t be coming home until late. Bobbie ran into a few of her friends that she had met on the volleyball team and literally forgot about me.

“I will be back, Jewels! Juicy gossip about smexy boys is a must!” Bobbie hollered over her shoulder. “Pick up a Seventeen magazine or Vogue!”

“Figures,” I mumbled, walking over to the tiny section that held all of the magazines, tabloids, and newspapers. I half expected to see the dark-haired, green-eyed cashier that I’d seen that night of the attack but she was nowhere to be found. She must have had the day off and I didn’t think anything else of it. I made my way to the reading section and mindlessly rummaged through several magazines, searching for love stories, with nothing capturing my attention.

“Is this what you are looking for?”

A Seventeen magazine stood in front of my face. I whipped around to find William standing behind me. He was more than anything I could wish for, like a male model on the cover of a magazine. Oddly, he had on aviator Raybans inside the store.

“What are you doing here?” I asked out of belief. “How did you kno—”

“Shh.” William brought his finger to his lips. “This makes it more fun. Exciting.”

I shook my head playfully. “Okay, this is getting weird.”

“I say it’s fun. Something, I haven’t had in ages!” He bent down to disguise his towering physique.

I moved in closer and knelt down with him. “You sound like you are an old man who lived a hundred years ago.”

“I would like to see you after school tomorrow. Take you somewhere quiet where we can talk more.”

I calmly raised my hand to remove the Raybans from his eyes. He gently stopped me.

“Not now, please,” he said quietly.

“I want to see your eyes.”

“Tomorrow.”

“How do I know you won’t take me away and kill me?”

“If I wanted to kill you, I would have that night you were under attack or worse, let that creature have its way with you. Don’t you agree?”

I nodded my head.

“Okay, so I will pick you up tomorrow after school?”

“Yes, but one last question.”

“You are full of inquiries, Jewel.” He lightly laughed. “Go ahead.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “Any more inquisitions before your sister gets back?”

“No. No more.” I watched him straighten. “For now,” I added.

William gently grabbed my hand and placed a soft, cool kiss on it. He bit down on his plum-colored bottom lip and hastily made his away around the magazine stand and out of the store. I stood there wilting like a flower in the middle of the reading section with my breath taken away. A couple of older ladies walked past me shaking their heads. As I watched them disappear around the corner, I heard the chatter of Bobbie and her friends a couple of aisles away. I took my Seventeen magazine, grateful that Bobbie was going to purchase it, and made my way towards the front of the store.

While waiting for Bobbie, a flash outside the store’s window, similar to a mirror reflecting the sun, temporarily blinded me. I rose up like a coil. A shiny silver 2014 Bentley Flying Spur dazzled from outside. I thought the flashing would have come from a reflective surface but there were no side view mirrors on the car. I looked around to see if anyone else had observed the high-end car pulling up outside of the store. It parked right beside the newspaper stand. A middle-aged gentleman dressed in an all black tuxedo, with the exception of a red bow tie, stepped out of the driver’s side. His hair was as red as cherries, which was slicked back. His posture was stiff and movements robotic. He opened the back passenger door, which was directly behind him, with composure and precision.

The muscles in my jaw widened drastically as I watched a waxy, long leg spill out of the car. The ground must have shook when her ebony stilettos hit the ground. A jet-black duster coat covered her body, not disguising her ruddy, luminous face. To the average person she would have seemed unreal and eerie, but there was a familiarity about her that drew me closer to the windowpane. The woman appeared graceful like a queen, grand and regal, with a strange air of secretiveness about her. And her beauty could not help but add more mystery to her. The lady’s auburn hair set off her plump ruby red lips. It fell in neat ringlets below her waist. Her naturally rosy cheeks reminded me of a porcelain doll.

I moved in closer to get a better glimpse of her eyes but they were well hidden by her large red hat. It seemed as if she tried to tease me by hiding her identity. But oddly enough there was no denying her beauty. I could see the tip of her keen, pointy nose from a distance when she turned to speak to her driver. Her ruby red lips moved so fast while speaking to her driver that it was inhumanely impossible to decipher the words. She suddenly stopped speaking and must have sensed me ogling because she rapidly turned her head in my direction. Her oversized red hat disguised her entire face, with the exception of her well-defined jaw.

Without warning, it was there … the torn quarter-sized hole on the side of the brim. There was one person who possessed such a hat. Only one thought came to my mind. Eris. But how could it possibly be? Eris was old. This lady had to be in her early twenties. She radiated youth and vitality, unlike the woman who had ushered me into North Carolina that reeked of sickness and death.

“Jewels!” Bobbie yelled directly in my ear.

I turned around stunned, shaken. “Yeah? Wh-what is it, Bobbie?”

Her wild blue eyes danced with glee as she chomped on some Nerds. “I’ve been wanting to introduce you to some friends of mine. Missy and Tina.”

Missy and Tina were both tall, brown-haired, average looking girls with Nike sports attire on. Frustrated, I turned back to the window. Gone. She had vanished. I took off my glasses and cleaned them on my shirt. My vision was getting worse. Bobbie kept right on talking while I continued to search the area for the woman who I believed to possibly be Eris.

“Missy is the right side hitter and Tina the setter. I’m thinking about trying out for volleyball. What do you think?” She blinked her big eyes. I couldn’t help but focus on her clumpy mascara. I continued my search for the strange woman while thinking of what to say.

“Um …” I scratched my head, removing my eyeballs from the window.

All three girls stood there as if their lives depended on my decision.

“Sure. Great. Go for it, Bobbie. You are awesome at everything you do.” I smiled. “You will make the team, no matter what.”

“What would I do without your advice, Jewels?”

Bobbie pinched my cheek. She snatched the Seventeen magazine out of my hand and all three girls formed a single file line at the register. I watched while Bobbie and her friends laughed and played around in line. I couldn’t help but envy my foster sister’s outgoing personality, the way she was not afraid to open up and go for what she wanted. I desired to be as confident as Bobbie, who was like warm honey in a cup of hot tea on a cold winter day. The three images of the girls slowly became hazy. My surroundings twirled around me like a tornado. Before I could call for help, everything went black.

 

**********

 

Confusion and grogginess were one of the first things I felt when I tried to open my eyes. My eyeballs moved behind closed lids as I listened to the voices. At first I couldn’t decipher who it was but I could tell the discussion was about me. I squinted my eyes together and gradually opened them letting the sharp, bright lights stab my pupils. My vision was blurry, but I gradually made out the figures. I awoke in a small cubicle with Mel standing over me, her arms folded, and Bobbie huddled in a corner. An average size bald man with a crisp white lab coat made his way towards the head of my bed.

“Where am I?”

I rapidly sat up but immediately regretted the decision and lay back down. A sharp pain shot straight through my frontal lobe diminishing all of my senses. My hands continued to fumble around for my glasses. My right hand felt like it was on fire. I looked down and saw an IV in my hand with a bag of saline flowing. There was a machine that read Dynamap, which squeezed the life out of my left arm every fifteen minutes taking my blood pressure.

“Take it easy, young lady,” the man said calmly. “You have a nice size lump on your head there.”

“Am I in the hospital?”

“You’re in the ER.” His voice was pleasant and reassuring. It was nothing like I expected from watching those emergency room reality television shows.

“Dr. Townsend is running a full work up since we are new here and don’t have a primary care doctor, yet,” Mel said in a matter-of-fact tone. I sensed she was tired and ready to go home. I already knew she was going to blame me for her exhaustion.

“It’s okay. I am fine. I get dizzy all of the time,” I said.

“Well you never told me,” Mel snapped.

“I did but …”

“But what, Jewel?” Mel challenged. She placed her hands on her hips. “I tell you, between you and Bobbie, you are both going to be the death of me! At least let my own child kill me!” she shouted.

Dr. Townsend picked up the clipboard from the foot of my bed and waved his hand at Mel. “Ms. Lovelan, pleas—”

Franks, and she is not my child!” Mel yelled.

“Geesh, Mom,” Bobbie grumbled. “Jewels might be a victim of the system, but I still consider her my sister.” She smacked her lips in disgust at Mel.

“Ms. Franks, if you don’t mind lowering your voice. This is a hospital. We have sick patients here, including your dau— Including this bright young lady …” Dr. Townsend glanced down at the clipboard. “Jewel,” he said sweetly.

Mel snatched up her purse and combed through it until she found her bottle of Lithium and quickly took one.

“Where are my glasses?” I asked, squeezing my eyes closed and then reopening them. The doctor gave my glasses to me.

“I don’t think your glasses are going to help solve the problems you are experiencing.”

Don’t be afraid. There is nothing they can do for you here, my inward heroine said tenderly. Her voice was comforting for a change, but I had to ask the doctor for myself.

“What do you mean?” I asked. The doctor was right. My vision was not improving. It was getting worse. “I can barely see. Even with my glasses. Am I going blind?”

Dr. Townsend shook his head. “You have the classic symptoms of MODS.”

I sat up in bed but winced at the sharp pains in my head. I felt a migraine coming. “What is that?”

“Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome. It can involve one or two organs in your body. Heart … liver … kidneys. Homeostasis needs to be maintained in our bodies in order for us to survive.”

“In words we can understand, Doc.” Bobbie rolled her eyes.

“In other words … your body needs stability in order to function. Right now it’s unstable.” Dr. Townsend looked at his clipboard again. “There are many things that can cause MODS. One of them stands out in your particular situation.”

“What is that?” I wasn’t too sure I wanted to know the answer.

“Hypoperfusion.”

Mel, Bobbie, and I exchanged confused glances amongst each other. All of this terminology was like a foreign language.

“Hypoperfusion is where there is not enough fluid … blood circulating in your body. This can lead to shock, MODS, and then ultimately death.”

There was a loud gasp in the room. I didn’t know if it came from me or from Mel or Bobbie.

“The typical early signs off shock can be low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, low urine output, and confusion.” Dr. Townsend glanced at the clipboard again and flipped through a couple of pages. “From what I can tell from your vital signs, your blood pressure is abnormally low and heart rate extremely elevated.”

Bobbie was teary eyed. Mel slumped over near the cabinet and looked like she was about to fall asleep. Her meds were finally beginning to work. I stared at the doctor. Maybe this explained why I felt dizzy all the time.

“How low is my blood pressure?”

“Seventy-six over forty-two …” Dr. Townsend had a grim expression on his face.

“That doesn’t sound like a bad number,” Bobbie said optimistically.

“It needs to be at least one hundred over sixty or even ninety over fifty. I would be okay with that for a young lady with your BMI, body mass index.” My eyes widened, confused yet again. “Your weight or size for your body frame,” the doctor reiterated. He pointed towards the pole where the bag of saline hung. “That is why I have ordered for you to get two bags of saline to replace some of the fluid in your body. It’s the last effort before we initiate a blood transfusion, which is why I am awaiting your lab results.”

I took a deep breath. This was too much for me to digest all at once.

“From the nasty fall you had, in addition to everything else that is going on, you should be in a coma right now.” He glanced at his clipboard again. “I’m going to ask you a few questions. Is that okay?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have a history of Menorrhagia ? Heavy menstrual cycles?”

“No.”

“Heart palpitations?”

I was lost. My eyebrows knitted tightly together and I leaned my head closer.

“Sort of like when you feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest?”

“No. Well, sometimes.” I thought about William.

“How long has this been happening to you? Or do you remember when it first started?”

I closed my eyes and couldn’t remember the date but recalled when the symptoms of light headiness and dizziness occurred.

“It happened a couple of months before I turned sixteen and hasn’t stopped since.”

Dr. Townsend flipped through the clipboard again. “Oh yes! You celebrated a birthday almost a week and a half ago.

A petite blond-haired nurse came in and handed the doctor a paper. “Dr. Townsend, can I see you outside for one minute please?” she asked sweetly.

“I will be back with you in a moment,” Dr. Townsend said. On his way out the door he stopped momentarily and stared at Mel who was nodding off in the corner before exiting the room.

Bobbie watched as the doctor closed the door and set the timer on her watch. “I am seriously counting that minute.”

Dr. Townsend reentered the room with more papers in his hand. Two dark-haired females that were dressed in light green hospital scrubs and white lab coats entered behind him. The expression on the doctor’s face made me very nervous and apprehensive. I fiddled nonstop with my hands.

“Any good news?” Mel had perked up.

“I would like to keep Jewel over night. If possible, that is.”

“What’s wrong with me?” I shrieked.

“Your lab work. Your CBC which shows the levels of your red blood cell count, are critical,” Dr. Townsend said slowly.

“Can she come back for a follow-up appointment?” Mel asked. “We are new to the area and have one car at the moment. I can’t afford to miss work or my daughter school.”

“Well of course. I only suggested that Jewel stay over night because you don’t have a primary care physician as of yet, but in my professional opinion Jewel needs to stay overnight until she is stabilized. I can discharge her to you tomorrow, provided she is stable, when you get off work. I can admit her tonight. We have an empty bed on the Pediatric floor.” Dr. Townsend looked to his colleagues for support. The women nodded their heads in agreement. I felt like a charity case.

“And you’re telling me that whatever is going on with Jewel is that serious?” Mel asked.

Dr. Townsend took a step closer to Mel and stooped down like he was about to give simple instructions to a three year old. “It’s very serious and what is baffling is she does not have a significant medical history. Most importantly, her vital signs and lab work are literally incompatible with life. If she continues down this trail, then death is imminent. She will surely die.”

“Die?!” both Bobbie and I yelled out.

The doctor nodded his head. “I will leave and let you discuss the options. Either stay and be admitted or sign out AMA, against medical advice.” Dr. Townsend held up his finger. “But let me remind you, if you do sign out AMA and anything happens to Jewel, you will be held accountable and I will have to report it to Child Protective Services.”

“I am with the system,” Mel snapped. “You don’t have to remind me how it works.”

“I will be in touch.” Dr. Townsend flashed me a quick smile. “We will get you taken care of and find out what is going on.”

“Thank you,” I replied, wanting to break down.

Just hours earlier I thought things in my life were finally coming together. William was going to divulge his big secret. I was going to spend time with Christopher. Unfortunately, that was not going to happen anytime soon. As soon as Dr. Townsend left the room, everything came tumbling down. Mel decided to follow the doctor’s orders and leave me overnight until further testing was done. Bobbie gave me a quick hug reassuring me that everything was going to be fine and that I only needed my Wheaties to whip me back into shape. Once everyone cleared my cubicle, the flood of tears was no match for the extreme anxiety that overwhelmed me. I finally broke down and cried myself to sleep.

I stayed in the hospital for the next five days. I was admitted to the Pediatric floor where the voices of the innocent graced the hallways. The rooms were large enough to allow space for families to stay and the children to play. Even though I didn’t consider myself a child but a blossoming teenager, I found the room comforting and peaceful. With today’s modern conventional medicine, I knew my health would improve. But instead of getting better like most of the children on my ward, I only became worse. However, the doctors managed to treat my symptoms. Bobbie came to visit every day after school to sneak me junk food. She also let me borrow some of her allowance to purchase a Franklin hand held English Spanish translator. I knew in time it would come handy for my conversations with William. On the other hand, Mel never showed. Her excuse was exhaustion from working late and the hour-long bus ride from Asheville. She would phone in conferences at the nurse’s station with the charge nurse to check up on my progression. Figures …

Every night that I slept in the hospital my dreams were plagued with nightmares and high fevers. I woke every night to find him there—William—in a haze of a fog, his image parting like smoke. He did not represent the ghoulish creature, which had saturated its hat with blood.

On my last night in the hospital, I heard sounds of giggling and flirtatious laughter outside my door. It was as if Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise had walked by. I pushed aside the entire ruckus and lazily made my way to bed. During the middle of the night when the stars twinkled their brightest, I felt the cool touch of his hand. I woke to find him standing over me as if he were on guard. I reached up to touch his face, disappointed that it passed through. That was the first night I was able to sleep without fear of being attacked.

I awoke to the cool breeze shuffling through my slightly ajar window. I idly made my way to the window where I found eleven lavender thorn-less roses. I had never received anything so appealing, so beautiful. I bent down and took a big whiff. I inhaled the invigorating scents of myrrh, musk, and strawberry, which brought a sense of calm throughout my body. I rewound yesterday’s events. I did not have any visitors last night, with the exception of Bobbie, who’d brought me a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a pack of Snickers bars. I pressed my face against the window. The people moving about in the parking lot looked like tiny insects navigating in and out of the hospitals doors. No ladder or rail was outside my room. There was no way anyone could have possibly climbed up into my window. I tackled the window trying to close it but I couldn’t muster the strength. I spun about searching the room for clues but there was none. Who’d brought eleven lavender roses without me noticing it, in the middle of the night?

Roses in hand, I grabbed my stomach tasting the hunger pains as I pushed my IV pole back to the bed. Still, there was no answer as to what caused me to faint and worse yet my organs to fail. My appetite dwindled. The doctors had spoke of inserting a feeding tube to help boost my nutrition intake. I pitched a fit and promised I would eat more, even if it meant eating the junk food Bobbie snuck in. Dr. Townsend, along with the attending pediatrician, Dr. Musgrave, was at a loss for words as to what was causing my mysterious illness. They both had made the mutual decision to treat my symptoms.

The door opened and then closed. An older nurse in her mid fifties, dressed in light pink scrubs with a SpongeBob lab coat, shuffled her way in. She had her wavy hair pulled up into high braided bun. The nurses mahogany complexion beamed of vitality and lustiness. Her genuine spirit and pleasant demeanor radiated throughout the room as she approached me.

“Good morning, honey. Looks like you feel better today.” She sat a cup of water down on my end table and handed me a tiny plastic medicine cup.

“I do feel better somewhat. Great to have my energy back,” I fibbed. I detested deceiving people that were nice to me, but I knew if I told the truth I would be held in the hospital longer. “I’m not as dizzy as I was before.” I glanced down into the medicine cup. “That’s a huge horse pill! Do I have to take it?”

The nurse nodded, smiling brightly.

“Ugh … there are two pills.”

The nurse shook her finger at me. “Honey, no sense in fighting it. You must take that. Doctor’s orders. It’s your multi-vitamin and B-12. Those medications will assist in keeping your energy levels up.” She tapped her foot loudly signaling for me to take the medicine.

“When will I get this thing out of my hand?” I waved the hand that felt like a ton of bricks with the IV. “It hurts.”

I threw my head back and tried to force down the monstrous pills. I almost choked when they got stuck in my neck. The nurse forcefully patted me on the back.

“Careful, sugar, it’s not good to speak and take pills as huge as those at the same time,” she playfully scolded. The nurse studied the IV pump. “That will come down around noon or so. Definitely before you are discharged today.”

“Do you know when I will be able to go home?” I thought of my chances of meeting up with William.

The nurse grinned widely, busying herself tidying up the room. “This evening probably.”

I lowered my head. “You have been coming in here taking care of me and I don’t even remember your name.” Embarrassment drenched my voice.

“It’s okay, darling. You’re in a hospital because you are not feeling well. Didn’t think you were going to make it those first couple of days but you pulled on through. We don’t require you to remember our names but remember the care we provide.” Her dark brown eyes twinkled. “I’m Nurse Mabel.”

“Nurse Mabel … Thank yo—”

She held up her hand to quiet me. “You can thank me by fighting. Helping yourself to get better and in return giving that same kindness to others.”

“Okay, how do I start?” I smiled meekly.

“At some point during the next couple of hours get up and walk around. It’s good for your lungs and it will prevent you for developing DVTs and pneumonia.”

“What are DVTs?”

“Deep Vein Thrombosis. A fancy word for blood clots, thick clumps of blood, which can be very dangerous. After you eat, walk. Breakfast will be rolling around shortly.”

“I’m not hungry,” I said weakly.

The nurse reached into her lab coat and pulled out a wrapped cinnamon bun. “You need to eat something, even though it’s full of sugar.” She laughed. She stopped giggling and focused in on the window. “How. On. Earth. Did. You. Manage. To. Open. This. Window?” She grunted in between breaths.

“I didn’t,” I responded quietly. The room was silent. Nurse Mabel faced me and put her hands on her hips. “Someone, must have opened it last night when they came to visit me.”

Nurse Mabel shook her head. “Honey, you had no visitors last night or this morning for that matter.” She glanced back at the window. “I can’t close it.”

“I tried to. It’s jammed.”

Nurse Mabel appeared stunned. She brought her hand to her forehead, shaking her head back and forth. “I just don’t see how that is possible. The employees here know that these windows are inaccessible.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Whoever opened that window must have had the strength of a thousand Hercules,” she said, studying the window. “Inhumanly impossible without breaking the thing.”

“Why would you say that, Nurse Mabel?”

“Because, honey, patients’ windows are designed not to open,” she said slowly out of disbelief. Something else captured her attention. Nurse Mable quickly picked up the bouquet of roses examining them. “Wow, sugar! You have a boyfriend?”

“No.” I blushed. “Maybe it was from my sister, Bobbie.” I doubted Bobbie was that artistic.

“Well, somebody has the hots for you! And it’s not your sister,” she said, taking the roses and moving quickly to the other end of the room. She placed them in the water pitcher. “I will bring you another pitcher for your water. You can’t let these pretty flowers dry out.”

“You don’t think those came from my sister?” I hadn’t developed any close relationships with anyone from school, and I knew Mel would never buy me anything. She hadn’t showed her face since I was admitted.

A sneaky smile grew on Nurse Mabel’s face. “I see you don’t understand what these roses mean, do you, honey?”

“No, I don’t. I’ve never received a gift or candy, not to mention flowers,” I said, “roses.”

Nurse Mabel touched the bouquet of roses ever so tenderly counting each one. “Eleven … roses. That means that you are truly and deeply loved by someone. The fact that these roses here don’t have thorns and that they are lavender means that you have a secret admirer who is enchanted by you. It was love at first sight.”

My heart fluttered. I had an inkling of a feeling of who it might be …

“No, idea huh?” Nurse Mabel asked. She looked up from the roses and playfully squinted her eyes at me. “Uh huh … you know.”

I flushed. “Maybe …”

“Whoever he is, he’s a keeper, especially if he could sneak in here undetected from Nurse Mabel who sees everything!” Her eyes flew to my head. “Just wanted to let you know that you have the most beautiful hair. What color did you use?”

“My hair is naturally this color, and it’s ginger or dark red.” I chuckled.

“Amazing! You are such a pretty young lady. Keep that lovely attitude and manners. It will take you far. I will be back soon, honey. Gotta finish passing out these medications.” She tapped her pocket. Nurse Mabel turned to leave.

“Wait!”

“Yes, honey?”

“Is there anyway I can use a computer?’

The nurse pointed towards a corner that was adjacent to the bathroom. A laptop sat hidden in a cherry oak case that was built into the wall.

“The laptop over there is available for the patients and their guests. Feel free to use it at anytime. The passwords are on the labels, which are located on the computer’s monitor. But …”

“But?”

“There are stipulations.”

“Okay …”

“You can use the laptop as long as you get up and walk around the room twice. The Internet based Wi-Fi is free so there is no limit on how long you can browse. You must practice your walking though. Agreed?”

“Sure, I will get up and walk. Thank you so much for the info and the cinnamon roll,” I said, hungrily biting down into the sweet pastry.

Nurse Mabel smiled and hastily exited the room. I waited a few minutes to make sure no one else would enter the room. I had to get to that laptop. It held the information that I so desperately sought. I tripped a couple of times over the IV pole, but I was not going to let it or anything else get in my way.

Are you sure you want to do this? You might not like what you find … my inward heroine said.

“Sure, I’m sure …” I mumbled back.

I finally made it to the tiny cubicle that seemed five miles away and went on to plug in the passwords. Finally, I was going to research what I wanted the answers to the Redcaps. I immediately went to the Google search engine and typed in Redcaps. A list of sites came up, and I went to the first site that was listed. Wikipedia.

A Redcap, also known as a powrie or hunter, is also a type of malevolent murderous dwarf, goblin, elf, or fairy found in Border folklore.

I scrolled down and skipped a few paragraphs.

Redcaps are said to murder travelers and dye their hats with their victim’s blood. Redcaps must kill regularly, for if the blood staining their hats dries out, they die. Usually they carry pikestaffs in their hands and their boots are made of metal. Outrunning a Redcap is supposedly impossible.

I moved away from the computer screen and collected myself. This couldn’t be true. Was the girl in the office, Liza, pulling my chain that day? Why would she have asked me a question like that? Which Redcap are you?

I pressed the back button on the keyboard and went back to the Google search engine that contained Redcaps. Another website that was listed as “Vampires and Other Vampiric Ghouls” stated that Redcaps were a small human-like creature with blazing red eyes, weeping, sickly pale skin, taloned hands, and large pointed teeth. He is so called Redcap because he stains his hat with the blood of his victims. A Redcap originated from Ireland and Scotland. The hat he wears is made of human dried blood. If the hat dries out then the Redcap will die. No human can outrun or escape the Redcap.

My cheeks were as red as tomatoes. I had seen enough. I was in shock. According to the website, a Redcap had attacked me in the parking lot. It fit the description perfectly. The horrid scene brought back memories of the creature killing the old man, the vagrant, and soaking its hat up with his blood. There was no way around it. The Redcap creature was real. The sensation of its hot breath down my neck and burning grasp made my stomach muscles clench. But why would Liza ask me which Redcap I was? I didn’t see any information regarding Voldors or Vorcolacs. Or was that a figment of her imagination? There were so many unanswered questions.

Terrified, I backed away from the laptop. A vampiric creature such as a Redcap, which dipped its hat in blood to survive, could not exist … but what logical explanation could elucidate what I had encountered a week ago? I saw with my own two eyes that monster dip its hat in the homeless man’s blood and then place that bloody hat back on its head. After committing such a horrid act the beast was rejuvenated.

I decided to clear my head and wash my face. I found myself standing in front of a floor-length mirror decorated with Nickelodeon characters. I pointed out a few dazzling characters that were my favorites such as SpongeBob and Timmy Turner. However, the image that I expected to see in the looking glass did not respond back to me. It was hazy, like a thick, dense fog.

I forgot my glasses … I thought to myself.

Your glasses are not the problem, Jeweliette. It is something much more dire, my inward heroine said.

“What could be so urgent?” I responded to myself.

Take a closer look, the answer you seek lies within the looking glass, my inward heroine whispered.

The sickly stick-thin person who glared back at me was barely there. I didn’t recognize who she was. My reflection fluctuated back and forth like a flickering screen. Either I was about to be sightless or madly confused. I was scared to death. I moved away from the mirror and hobbled back into bed. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I’d always imagined humans were not alone on the earth. The realization was that something as complex and evil was indeed real and it lived right under our noses. A soft knock at the door followed by a flood of voices sliced through my thinking like a butter knife.

Dr. Townsend entered my room along with Mel. I was happy that he had made the decision to oversee my care even though he managed a team of doctors in the emergency room. I glanced at the clock, which registered noon, and realized Bobbie was still in school. I straightened up in bed and adjusted the sheets. I wasn’t expecting the doctor so soon. I wasn’t supposed to be discharged until later this evening.

Mel walked up to my bed and sat down. This was out of character for her to be so close to me. It also wasn’t unusual that she wasn’t smiling but held a somber expression. Her eyes were watery and red like she’d been crying. That bothered me.

The door opened slightly. In walked a small-statured man with dark skin and snow-white hair. He pulled a paper out of his long white lab coat. Something about the man’s appearance, his demeanor, frightened me. Dr. Townsend quickly walked over to him and they conversed silently in a huddle near the door.

Count, it helps, my inward heroine advised.

“Is everything okay?” I asked slowly. My eyes darted back and forth between Dr. Townsend and Mel.

I paid attention to the fine detail of the tiny cracks that lined Mel’s hands. She gently placed her hand on top of mine. She didn’t look at me but at the doctor who stood near the door. Her mouth opened. Only invisible air flowed from her thin lips.

“Wh-what are you doing here so early, Mel? I’m not supposed to be discharged until later on today. Shouldn’t you be over at the school picking up Bobbie?” I asked.

I could see the thick lump move down Mel’s throat. Her voice was slightly harsh. “Don’t tell me how to run things in my own …” She brought her head to her hands.

“Sorry,” I muttered, looking away. I focused on the lavender roses.

Mel looked up at me with tear filled eyes. “We are going home now, Jewel.”

I flashed a quick look at the doctor who held a blank expression. I could only guess the numerous times he stood in that same position and heard duplicate stories repeated over and over again.

“But I thought tha—”

“The doctor here has something that he needs to tell you,” Mel blurted out. “Can you just … please listen to what he—they have to say, okay?” She sniffled and stood up.

Dr. Townsend walked up to the foot of my bed. He gently patted my shoulder. “We think we might know more about what is going on with you.”

I frowned. “Think? Does that mean you are going to poke me with more needles?”

Dr. Townsend turned towards the smaller man who smiled softly and stepped forward. “This is Doctor Gupta. He is the lead pediatric oncologist from Asheville who consults with us on a case to case basis.”

Oncologist?

“After consulting with Dr. Gupta here, he discovered that you have some rare but aggressive form of Leukemia..”

“Leuuu….chime?”

I shook my head from side to side. I’d never heard of such a funny sounding word.

“Loo-Cheem-e-ah,” Dr. Gupta pronounced slowly in a thick European accent.

I followed the movement of his lips and repeated the word.

“Loo-Cheem-e-ah?”

Both doctors nodded their head.

“What is Loo-Cheem-e-ah?”

The sound of the name reminded me of cereal. Mel blindly walked over to the window and stared outside. Dr. Gupta folded his arms across his tiny bird chest and leaned down. “Have you ever heard of the game Pac-man?”

“The little yellow face that eats up goblins?” I asked.

“Interesting concept…” he smiled “…but yes. The little yellow face that eats up the goblins is similar to what we refer to as white blood cells. The white blood cell, which is Pac-man, eats up the goblins. Goblins represent infections in the body and foreign invaders. We need a healthy amount of white blood cells to protect our immune system. Without the white blood cells in our body, we will die.” Dr. Gupta stopped and raised his thick, bushy white eyebrows. “Are you following me?”

“I am … I think,” I responded, licking my lips. He was making me nervous.

“Well Leukemia is a cancer of th—”

“CANCER?!”

A sudden sharp pang hit me directly in the center of my gut as if someone had reached back with their fist and pummeled it right into my stomach. I tried to catch my breath but the flow of air escaped too quickly. The spacious room closed in on me. Kids didn’t get cancer. It was impossible. Dr. Townsend pulled a small paper bag out of his pocket and calmly instructed me to breathe into it. He placed his hand on my shoulder and looked back at Mel, who had crumbled in the corner near the window in shock. She turned away, unable to look to me in the eye. I turned my attention back to Dr. Townsend’s smooth, rhythmic flow of his hand while he guided my breathing into the bag. The warm, moist air escaping my body was inhaled back into my lungs, soothing my soul.

“Are we okay to go on?” Dr. Townsend asked gently after I calmed down. He glanced back at Mel for support, but she kept her back turned away from us.

I nodded my head. Dr. Gupta continued.

“Leukemia is a common childhood cancer but in your case from what lab work and tests have shown so far …” he placed his warm hand on top of mine “…is that you have a different form of Leukemia.”

I felt the wrinkling in my forehead as I raised my eyebrows.

Dr. Gupta squeezed my hand. “You have an aggressive form. Chronic Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is an overproduction of immature white blood cells. If you don’t have mature white blood cells, then your body cannot fight off the infections that you need them to and it interferes with your bone marrow production. Bone marrow produces red blood cells and platelets. If those stores are depleted, then it could lead to anemia, loss of blood, easy bruising, and the such.”

Both doctors awaited my response. It seemed like an eternity.

“Is there medicine or anything else that can cure it? I knew a girl at a group home that received treatment twice a week for her cancer. She had diarrhea and lost all of her hair though.” I twiddled my thumbs to keep from counting out loud. “ I can do that, right?”

“Chemotherapy is not an option in your case, I’m afraid,” Dr. Gupta whispered. “This particular cancer has reached your brain leaving three tumors which explains the syncope and fatigue you have been experiencing.”

Dr. Gupta along with everyone else’s voice in the room faded out like a distant sound. I only saw the slow motion movements of their lower jawbones as they tried to rouse me from my daze.

“I just turned sixteen! There’s nothing you can do? You’re the cancer doctor!” I weakly belted out. “It’s like you are giving me up for dead! You’re not even trying!”

“We have explored options. The cancer is so far advanced that any rigorous intervention will more than likely weaken you and eventually speed up the process … sooner than expected,” Dr. Townsend added softly.

What process?” I whined. This could not be happening to me.

“Death,” Dr. Gupta added quietly. “I wish there was more I could do.”

“How much … time?” A monotone voice hailed from the corner.

Dr. Gupta turned sideways and addressed Mel. “Six months at most to a few weeks minimum.”

Both doctors stood grimly above me after delivering the worst news I’d ever received. I was terminal. I slid down in my bed and hid underneath the thin covers. I could not believe this was happening. Finally, I’d met a guy who had sparked something inside me that I could not explain. He held the answer to a mystery that lurked deep within the depths of my soul. I could feel it now. As the bitter coldness of reality set in deep, an awakening of a voracious entity surfaced, one that needed to be satiated and soon. As I slipped away into the blissful darkness, I promised myself that I would not die until I knew what secrets William held.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

I was discharged from the hospital two days after I had received my death sentence. The saline fluid dripping slowly from the tiny plastic bag hanging over my bed fell rhythmically like the minutes of time. The home health nurse had just left ten minutes ago after demonstrating to me for the umpteenth time how to flush and disconnect my PICC line. I was also given prescriptions to manage the vertigo and nausea so I could back to school. I was advised to continue with my education as long as I could tolerate it. Getting me to eat was a joke. I had no appetite. However, Bobbie loaded up my wooden nightstand carved out the tree trunk with tons of Snickers bars, M&M’s, Cool Ranch Doritos, and Strawberry Kiwi Capri Suns.

I stared at the pasty white walls of my room for hours. While I was away, Mel had purchased furniture with her first check. I was delighted that Mel purchased a floor length mirror and comforter set for my room. As I slid down further into the thick covers, I glanced sadly at my lavender roses. They stood firm like they were ready to bloom, unlike myself who wanted to wither away like a wilted weed. I didn’t want to live. What was the purpose? The muscles in my face tightened. The warm tears moistened my cheeks.

Things are not as you perceive, my inward heroine said sweetly. You can’t give up. I won’t let you.

“Get over it,” I said bitterly, wiping my nose. “When I die, you die!” I had become numb.

My iphone vibrated rattling the makeshift nightstand that was made out of carved wood. I aimlessly reached for it.

I will b home soon. Smooches … Bobbie.

I placed the iphone face down on the bed and closed my eyes. I counted down the minutes to when Bobbie would arrive. I had grown lonely since being admitted to the hospital with no one to converse with, so quite naturally I was eager to hear anyone come through the door. I decided to browse through Facebook to pick up the most recent gossip but somehow ended up on the photos application.

How about looking at the picture you took of William? my inward heroine suggested.

Good idea. I scrolled through my countless pictures. After passing three photos I had recently snapped, I found the one that I’d taken at the gas station. There in plain view was the pale Blue 1960’s Ford parked at the gas station. Oddly, enough there were no people in the photo. I squeezed my eyes shut and then reopened them. Still nothing. William nor the two angelic girls that were with him were nowhere to be found in the picture. I was utterly confused. It was as if William and his companions had vanished into thin air.

A distant beating sound that came from the anterior of the house jostled me out of an internal struggle with myself. Snacking on my fingernails, I realized it was too early in the day for it to be Mel who was still at work and Bobbie who was at school. I quickly threw on Bobbie’s Victoria’s Secret robe that she lent me and slowly made my way to the living room where the knocking hailed from the front door.

He is here … my inward heroine chimed delightfully.

“What?”

I hastily pulled my tangled, fiery locks into a side ponytail and brushed away at the remnants of sleep on my face. I blindly searched for my mangled glasses on the way to the door, but they were nowhere to be found. I shuffled towards the door forgetting that the tubing to my PICC line was still hanging over my bed and instantly felt a sharp burning sensation, which yanked me back into place.

“Ugh!”

Even though the PICC line was placed with the tip of the catheter into my superior vena cava, it was as if I’d ripped the catheter right out of my arm. Quickly shuffling through my top drawer, I grabbed a handful of gauze and blotted the small spot of blood that pooled beneath the sticky clear bandage. As I headed towards the door, the soiled gauze fell to the floor as I grabbed the half-empty bag of fluids and stuffed it in my pocket.

“Can this day get any worse?” I moaned.

No, it is going to get better, my inward heroine cooed.

“Jewel, are you in there?” a soothing male voice said from beyond the door. There was no peephole so I peered through the blinds. No one was there.

“Jewel?” The angelic voice repeated.

Was it him? Did he really come to see me? It couldn’t be. How on Earth did he know where I lived? At this rate my nailbeds would be stumps. I chewed away at my fingers, contemplating on whether or not I would answer the door. I’d watched too many episodes of Investigative Discoveries where teenage girls were abducted or murdered in their homes. Even though I was tainted now, with a death warrant looming around the corner, I still valued what life I had left. I saw a colorless hand wave at the window.

“William?” I perked up but cautiously opened the door.

His presence was like the boost of caffeine that I needed. He had on a high-collared black leather jacket with a form fitting white tee underneath and black Vans. Then there were the sunglasses. This time a different brand. The type that made your eyes look like a bug of sorts. Oakley’s. I often wondered if he always wore the sunglasses to disguise the broken blood vessels around his eyes. Even though his eyes were concealed, I sensed he was genuinely concerned about me.

School? I didn’t see you. The hospital. What were you doing there?” he asked softly.

My voice was hoarse. I coughed to clear my throat. “How did you know that I was in the hospital?”

He tapped his nose. “I followed your scent …”

I stood there speechless. His stare unnerved me. My knees were about to crumple at any minute.

His demeanor changed as if to be comical. “Something a hunter would say. You know … when they’re tracking deer, wild boar?” He recoiled.

I stammered, changing the subject. “I lost track of how long I was in there. I’m glad to be home and not experimented on for a change.”

“You’ve lost weight. You need to eat,” he said calmly.

“I don’t have an appetite. Even the junk food is making me sick now,” I scowled. An impish grin crossed my face. “How did you know where I lived?”

“I have my ways.” He produced a genuine smile. “Is that acceptable with you?”

I nodded and then stopped wincing at that sharp pain flooding my brain.

My eyes followed the movement of William’s head. I sensed he was gawking at me. I had a bandage wrapped around my noggin, my eyes were sunken in, and I had lost more weight. I must have looked horrible.

He moved in closer. “I became worried. I waited for you at school and …” He looked away and then lowered his head.

“What?” I moved towards him slowly.

“You are going to probably think I am insane,” he muttered through bluish-tinged lips.

“No, I won’t. I have seen some deranged people and trust me you are not one of them.” A quick image of my parents flashed through my mind. “You can tell me anything.”

“I thought something terrible had happened to you. At first, I thought you might have been attacked but my sensibility told me otherwise. I could feel you were hurting.”

It was at that point that I wished he did not have on his sunglasses so I could have seen his eyes.

“There’s nothing wrong with you being concerned. It feels great to actually see someone cares about me for a change.”

“This is not my first time stopping by your place …”

“Y-y-you have been to my house before? I thought today was your first time.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I apologize ahead of time if I intruded, but I felt something was seriously wrong and just had to know you were okay.”

“Were they here? My foster family?” My voice cracked. I was horrified at thought of Mel possibly being in one of her manic moods.

“Yes.”

“Okay …” I squinted my eyes waiting for a detailed explanation.

“I met Mel and—”

“Bobbie?” I croaked.

He nodded his head.

“How were they?” I closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable.

A cool laugh echoed through the house. “They were very appropriate and civil might I add. “

“What did you say? What did they say?”

“I told them that I was a concerned friend who hadn’t heard from you. Your foster mother … Mel is it?”

“Yes.” I swallowed trying not to stroke out. This was the first guy that I had a huge crush on and I didn’t want Mel ruining it.

“Mel was a very pleasant lady indeed. Quite the host might I add.”

“And Bobbie?”

“She didn’t say much.”

I pictured Bobbie being in a stupor over how deliciously decadent William was. How he had the feminine characteristics of beauty that did not overshadow his masculine features, which made him insanely attractive. I could see her now: mouth wide open, eyes bulging, tongue wagging …

“You can come in if you like. I don’t bite.” I smiled.

William paused for a moment then slowly glided towards me. I took a big whiff of the sweet pine scent that flowed from his skin. His ruddy hair emitted exuberance and pizzazz. He struggled internally against something once he drifted past me. Eventually, the tenseness from his body escaped. His immense, muscular shoulders relaxed. The tightness in his well-defined jawline softened.

“Why were you in the hospital?” he asked.

“No one really knows. I passed out in the store a few days ago. Shortly after you saw me. I ended up with a nasty goose egg…” I pointed at my head “…and woke up in the ER, unaware of what happened.”

“You fainted?”

“Yep,” I said, locking the door. William narrowed his eyes at the door as if locking it was not necessary. He followed me to the couch where I plopped down.

“Did you have any other precipitating symptoms before hand that would have led to this?”

“No,” I said quickly.

“Are you sure?” He stood over me.

I made and effort to recall the last plaguing symptoms I had previously experienced. My mind replayed a thousand of images. The one that lingered around in particular was the woman with the bright red hat, the strange woman who’d triggered all of this. She resembled Eris, the older woman, who had found Mel the job in Asheville, but how could it be? The woman I’d seen outside of the store that day was fifty years younger and richer. Nevertheless, it was the hat that had captured my attention. Not the intricate details of the design or the way it danced to the vibes of the wind, it was the vibrancy of that hat which breathed life within itself. The torn hole in one area was so discreet it stood apart from the other hats. What were the chances that someone else would have a large red sunhat with a quarter-sized puncture in the same area? The intriguing woman was the last image that I saw before I’d passed out. But what did seeing her out of the blue have to do with anything? I thought for a minute.

“Now that I think of it, I didn’t start getting sick until this year. Shortly before I turned sixteen.”

“What symptoms were you experiencing?”

“Well, at first it started with the tiny tornados.”

William cocked his head to the side. It was hard to read his expression with the sunglasses hiding his eyes. Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to hold a conversation with the hottest guy on the planet in my living room. It was as if my heart would jump out of my chest at any moment, but I was not going to let him know that.

“May you enlightened me on tiny tornados?” he asked.

“My way of saying dizziness and …” A sparkle caught my attention. I reached for my spectacles that were on the far end table. “My eyes. You know, my vision. It’s been getting worse, along with everything else. But what does it matter about my eyes if the rest of my body is failing me?” The tape that had been holding my glasses together was now dangling towards the end of my nose. He stood there momentarily and then looked away. I tried my best to fight the flood of emotion but tears stung the corners of my eyes. I rubbed my leg in a circular motion with my fingers and closed my eyes briefly.

One, two … One, two … One, two …

It was not working this time. I bolted up like spring.

“You know I’ve wondered before all of this…” I waved my hand in the air like I was fanning myself “…if I had cancer or something. It had crossed my mind, but I was afraid to say something. I think mainly because I was terrified of finding out the truth that I might be sick. Things were going great all of sudden for Mel and Bobbie. I didn’t want to burden anyone with any of my problems. I felt that they had done enough taking me in.” I closed my eyes. “And then I blacked out. Couldn’t help it but it changed everything. In the beginning, the only thing that the doctors, or shall I say Dr. Townsend, could come up with was that my organs were failing but with no explanation.”

“You are going to be okay,” William said softly. “I promise.”

My eyes flew open. “How can you be so sure?” I sniffled. “Do you know what the doctors told me yesterday?”

“What did they say?”

“I have CANCER!”

He stood there silently, never changing his posture or making any movement.

“What type of cancer did the doctor say you had?” he asked quietly.

I waited for a few moments to collect myself.

“Some rare form of blood cancer. The name is too big to remember. And to top it off, it can’t be treated and it’s spread to my brain, which is probably why I am having trouble seeing! Now, I am some experimental case that has been referred to the Mayo Clinic in Asheville to treat and manage my symptoms.” I laughed hysterically then felt the warm tears hit my cheeks as they fell onto my housecoat. “How can this be happening to me? I am only sixteen! I will never go to prom or graduate. To top it off I was given the worst set of parents on this earth! I have been dealt the worst hand ever. I am so tired of suffering. Why stay here and suffer? Huh?” I asked him like he knew the answer to my sorrows. I snatched the thin decorative pillow from off of the sofa and brought it to my face as I fell backwards into the couch.

He kneeled down in front of me and took me firmly but gently by the shoulders. “This is not the end of the road for you. Only the beginning.”

“How can this be the beginning when it has already ended?” I choked in the pillow. “I just wish … Why didn’t God let my parents kill me? At least it wouldn’t have hurt so badly when I was four. Why did He let me live to see sixteen, only to die young?”

The counting and my inward heroine went right out the window with my sobs. A dark cloud gathered over my head. I screamed into the pillow and flooded the sofa with punches. I brought the pillow back to my face and continued to cry into it. My glasses were smashed into my already throbbing head, but I didn’t care. I cried for what seemed like hours, my chest heaving, until I had no more energy to do so.

Finally, I felt his hand touch mine. It was as cool and tranquilizing as Icy-Hot ointment. His touch was initially cold then eventually warmed up. My sobs came to an abrupt stop once I felt his soothing touch. He gradually moved his finger up my arm sending tingling chills throughout my body and then softly massaged my shoulder in a comforting way. I slowly placed the pillow back on the sofa and was taken back when I saw his face in its entirety.

His sunglasses were off.

I removed my glasses as slow as molasses. Without any assistance from an optical device, I blinked my eyes to expel the remainder of my tears making sure my vision was revealing what I thought I was really seeing.

His eyes were of something that I’d never seen or read about before. Not in my fairytale bedtime stories or even my Stephen King novels did I ever witness anything like it. It was very unusual. His eyes were a very light, smoky gray with specks of shiny silver. The limbal ring around his iris was as thick and dark as coal. I couldn’t help but stare, mesmerized, wondering if they were genuine or colored lens. His eyes were amazingly unusual in appearance as they were breathtakingly beautiful. Without his sunglasses, his silvery eyes against his pale skin made him look inhuman. Not once did he blink his eyes nor did I see a movement of breath. He calmly extended his hand to me. I paid no attention to his gesture but was captivated by the total package, his face … hair … those eyes.

“Your eyes … when I last saw you they were … were …” My heart hammered in my chest. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut and then reopened them again. “Are you wearing contacts?”

He stood there emotionless with the exception of the tight muscles clenching in his jaw.

“Did you go … blind?” I asked out of wonderment, rapidly blinking my eyes.

He shook his head and stood up so fast that my eyes could not match his movements. “Nothing like that, Jewel. Come, take my hand. There is something I want to show you.” His voice was deeper, eyes unmoving.

“Show me what?”

“Do you not trust the one who saved your life?” He re-extended his hand towards me. “Come, I want to show you something. It won’t take long.”

He gently pulled me to the edge of the plush sofa and stooped over. I felt the frigid coolness of his hands as he placed the polka-dotted slippers that Bobbie bought for me on my feet. I took his hand and slowly removed myself from the grappling confinements of the sofa. I followed his lead as he led me across the spacious living room. The stinging chill of his hand grew stronger once he tightened his grip. He glanced back at me as we continued towards the hallway.

“The lavatory … is it the last door on the right?” he asked, continuing to lead me down the hallway.

“Huh?”

“The bathroom?” he explained softly.

“Why are we going to the bathroom of all places?”

There was a shimmer of light that halted him in his tracks. He stopped once we passed the floor-length mirror, which sat adjacent to the bathroom. He stood motionless, staring straight ahead. Fine lines formed along his jaw, his muscles tightly clenching and then releasing like he was in deep thought. I noticed a sudden shift in room temperature and shuddered. It was eerily quiet in the enclosed spaced. Sounds that I had ignored earlier became more prominent. I suddenly realized it was the intensified resonance that had captured my attention. The chirping of the birds and movement of forest animals heightened my senses. But something stood askew. Was it the painting on the wall that Mel purchased recently? Or the floor-length mirror that Bobbie had nailed to the wall? It leaned slightly to the side.

No, there is something else, my inward heroine whispered.

I followed William’s gaze, who was staring straight ahead into the white minuscule space. His eyes did not blink, nor did his chest rise or fall. It was as if he held his breath waiting for me to discover some hidden dark secret … in the bathroom. He softly but firmly grasped the right side of my shoulder, and with his left hand grabbed my hand. His arctic lips brushed up against the tip of my ear.

“Look ahead. Tell me what you see,” he coolly whispered. His breath was as cold as ice. I shivered again.

I immediately obeyed and searched the bathroom. “Toilet, shower, sink …” I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. “Wastebasket?”

“You are forgetting something,” he continued smoothly, quietly.

I widened my eyes.

“Dust bunnies? The slime in the tub?” I shook my head in defeat. I was not up to guessing games, even if the hottest guy on Earth was officiating it.

“What is above the sink?”

My eyes slowly moved to the dull, plain mirror hanging over the washbowl. I didn’t know where he was going with this.

“Mirror?”

“Yes a mirror.” He walked up beside me to where he was standing partially in front of me. The sweet, spicy scent of forest pine lingered in my nostrils as he leaned down to make eye contact with me. “Do you trust me?”

I nodded my head.

“I am going to show you something but don’t be afraid. I would never let anything harm you. Okay?”

I licked my lips and nodded my head once again. “Okay.”

He raised his arm and pointed towards the mirror. “What do you see?”

I slowly followed his direction until I was looking into the mirror. It was then that my vision was as clear as the blue sky. The looking glass, which held our images, was as barren as the desert or at least for him it was. My image flickered like a smoldering flame, my silhouette barely visible. To reassure myself that my mind was not playing tricks on me, I quickly stole a glance from the floor-length mirror, which only muttered the same voice. Desolate. There was nothing there. It was as if he didn’t exist and my fate was nearly the same as his. Before I could question William any further everything went dark. The last thought on my mind was death.

 

**********

 

I woke up in my bed. The IV tubing had been neatly disconnected and placed away in the medical box that Bobbie had set aside for my supplies. The blood-stained cotton ball that I had dropped on the floor was in the wastebasket. I searched the room for William. I found him standing near my closet watching me. It looked like he was standing inside a puff of smoke. His frame appearing clearer by the second. He calmly pushed back a tuft of reddish brown hair that fell messily onto his entrancing face.

“What happened?” My blurred vision cleared like a fog and brought his form into focus.

“You fainted.” His voice was filled with worry.

“No, I mean …” I brought my hands to my head as if to clear my thoughts. “I was told by the nurse that the medication in the fluids would make me weak and not to get up for thirty minutes afterwards … I forgot to mention that to you.” I looked around the room and swung my legs over the side of the bed to get up. He rushed towards me in a flash.

“Whoa there. I literally peeled you off of the wall. You need to take it easy.”

He grabbed my arm and assisted me to my feet.

I pointed towards the bathroom. “Y-y-you were not there.” My voice was shaky. Each word came out like a rushed whisper. He didn’t respond.

Ask him again. The truth lies within the oculus, my inward heroine hummed.

I walked over to my wooden nightstand and picked up a handheld mirror that was carved out of the same wood. Slowly walking towards William, I gave him the mirror. I almost tripped when I rushed to stand behind him. He easily towered over me. I stood as high as I could on the tips of my toes, my upper lip brushing up against the rim of his shoulder.

“Show me again,” I muttered from behind him.

No response or movement.

Please,” I pleaded.

Before I could say another word, the twinkle of the mirror’s rim flashed. Once I peered into the looking glass, the bone-white wall appeared big and bright behind me in the place of what should have been William’s image. The muscles in my face relaxed. I didn’t realize it but my mouth was wide open.

“You have no reflection!” I shrieked.

William calmly faced me. Apparently, my comment did not faze him. He extended the handheld mirror to me. I watched as he walked behind me and took my hand and held it up. The mirror faced us both. After my eyes adjusted it was as plain as day. It was not my vision that obstructed everything. It was me. I was fading away. My reflection threatened to disappear at any given moment.

“What is happening to me?” I cried.

I didn’t give William a chance to respond. I threw the mirror down on the bed and hustled into the bathroom to verify what I’d just seen. I stood in front of the small bathroom mirror catty-cornered to the floor-length mirror nailed to the wall to see if I could see myself more clearly. I swiveled around to see William looking the house over. It seemed as if he was searching for something.

“Is it me? Or am I going crazy?” I asked.

The eyes … no reflection is not human, don’t you think? my inward heroine asked.

“No,” William replied softly. He drifted towards me until he was staring down at me with his shimmering eyes. He sadly looked into the mirror. “It’s true that I don’t have a reflection …”

“What?”

He glanced away momentarily. “And in a matter of months, weeks, even days maybe … you won’t either.”

“William …” My brain, or what was left of it, was rattled. I instantly recalled the absence of images on the photo that I had taken at the gas station. It was as if he never existed. “What are you saying? What do you mean I won’t have a reflection? What are you?”

He momentarily looked down at the floor like he was contemplating on whether or not speak any further.

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” His whispers resonated through the room giving me goose bumps.

“If you try, maybe I would. There is no story floating around out here that is too farfetched for me. One minute you’re rescuing me from some hideous creature that you’d see in a horror flick and then your eyes change color like the weather! Please explain to me why you have no reflection and I barely have one. Either you are the Devil himself, a ghost, or there is something seriously wrong with my eyes and head!”

The sounds of voices and the pitter-patter of feet shushed us momentarily. My eyes flew towards the front of the house. Mel and Bobbie.

“I must go now,” William said, walking towards my bedroom window. He stopped, picked a lavender rose, and placed it in my hand. “Ou han insuflado una nueva luz a los ojos sin alma.”

“Wait,” I said, stammering to the wooden nightstand. I picked up the translator and pressed down the incoming button. “Can you um … say that again?”

“Say what again?” He smiled mischievously.

“The French or Spanish or whatever you just said? Say it again, please?” I firmly held the button down to the translator.

“Ou han insuflado una nueva luz a los ojos sin alma,” he repeated calmly and walked back to the window. I watched the thick muscles of his back flinch as he lifted up the windowpane.

“What about your truck?”

“I walked. I’ll see you in a bit. I’m going to go get my truck and come back. I’d like to see you one more time before you go to school tomorrow.”

“Don’t you have school?”

“I am homeschooled, remember?”

“But what about the mirror thing?” I pressed. I enjoyed his company and didn’t want him to leave. “There was a reason you showed me that in the first place, right?”

“Tomorrow. I will explain everything to you tomorrow.”

William eased out of the window like an experienced burglar. He gently closed the squeaky windowpane behind him. I watched as he disappeared out of sight, around the house. I glanced down at the Franklin translator.

You have breathed a new light into my soulless eyes.

My heart skipped a beat. Did he really mean that? And me of all people? What made me so different from everyone else? I was almost in full-blown panic mode and immediately fanned my face. I bowed my head, absorbing everything that had just taken place. I felt a cool draft and the sound of my bedroom door opening.

“Who were you talking to?” a high-pitched voice sounded from behind.

I whirled around to see Bobbie standing in the door wide eyed.

“Myself, as usual,” I laughed nervously.

Bobbie didn’t seem convinced. She closed the door behind her, eyeing me suspiciously. “Listen, I’ve snuck plenty of boys through my bedroom window to know when someone other than you has been in here.” A sneaky grin crossed Bobbie’s face. Her blue eyes lit up like the clear blue sky. “C’mon, you little sweet thang. He was in here wasn’t he?”

Who are you talking about?”

“The one who gave you those eleven lavender roses which means you are all his and he is all yours? Love at first sight?” Bobbie placed her hands on her bare midriff. “Who else would I be talking about, you turd? William!”

“Shh!” I spat, looking around crazily. “I am already half dead. Can’t you cut me a break? You must want Mel to finish me off!” I whispered loudly.

Bobbie had on a baby blue crop top with baby blue striped Vans and high-waisted jeans. She plopped down on the bed, exposing her belly, and patted the empty space beside her. “C’mon. I won’t say anything. Since your dying you need to live your life dangerously. I want you tell me about it. Tell me about him.”

I rolled my eyes and paused for a moment. “He came to check up on me.”

“Okay, and?”

“And what?”

Bobbie narrowed her eyes. “Did he kiss you?”

“No, of course not!” I yelled.

Bobbie giggled. “Calm down, he is probably the perfect gentleman. Something any girl would love to have.” She frowned squinting her eyes. “Is that all? Any touching or I love yous?”

“No, none of that. He told me that he went by the hospital today and saw that I wasn’t there and came here.”

“How sweet,” Bobbie said dreamily. “He literally blew Mom off her feet when he came by to check on you. It was like she knew he had to have the wrong house.”

“How did Mel—”

Bobbie waved her hand in the air nonchalantly. “Mom was fine. She was beginning to think you had some sort of socialization issues because you had never shown interest in anyone before. And then all of a sudden out of the blue the finest specimen of a human being on planet Earth shows up on her doorstep and he is asking for you.” Bobbie looked away from me. Her dancing blue eyes seemed troubled.

“I’m going to be okay, Bobbie. I am going to do like you said and live my life.”

“It just isn’t real.” Bobbie shook her head in disbelief. “I told Mom to spare me all of the details.” Her eyes went up to my hair. She beckoned for me to sit down beside her again.

“I am not going to lose it.” I pointed to my head. “The hair you know. I’m not getting chemotherapy.” I plopped down beside her.

“Why not?”

“According to the doctors, it would do more harm than good for me at this point.” A sharp twinge hit my stomach. The all too familiar feel of burning tears welled up in my eyes.

“And the brain tumors they found?” Bobbie asked unwillingly.

“Inoperable …” I said quietly.

Bobbie and I sat there for a while and let time pass without saying anything to one another. We heard Mel in the living room getting things settled for the evening and ready for the next days work.

“I have enjoyed having a little sister. I enjoyed you, Jewels. I want you to have a blast going out. Live whatever’s left of your life to its maximum potential. Even if that means getting kissed by one of the hottest boys I’ve ever seen!“ Bobbie stood up and motioned with her hands as if she was auditioning for a part in a play. She picked up a cotton ball that lay nearby on top of the wooden nightstand in the room and playfully threw it at me hitting me on the top of my head. “Quit being such a goody two-shoes and holding everything in. Take some daring chances for once. What do you have to lose, Jewels?”

“Nothing, I guess,” I whimpered.

Bobbie wiped the remainder of my tears away with the back of her sleeve. “Don’t you let that firecracker get away,” she said devilishly. “There are girls out there that would kill to have a dime like that, including me.” She playfully giggled.

The echo of the doorbell vibrated throughout the house.

“Who would be coming here to visit?” Bobbie said automatically standing up.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe one of your volleyball friends?”

“They never asked where I lived, so it can’t be any of them.” Bobbie pouted.

The doorbell rang again.

“Guess I’ll go see who it is. Apparently Mom doesn’t want to answer the door.” Bobbie bounced from the bed and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Throw on something besides my Vickie Secret robe. I’ll put some pizza pockets in the microwave.”

Bobbie’s robe was fine. I scanned the room inhaling whatever scent was left of William. I couldn’t help but ponder about the young man who had been in my room only moments before. There were so many unanswered questions that plagued me. Did he really have feelings for me? And why didn’t he have a reflection? Were there humans that existed who didn’t have reflections or shadows? But yet strange enough was the discovery that I had made on the Internet a couple of days ago. Redcaps. Did they really exist?

A familiar voice sounded throughout the tiny cottage. I smoothed the edges of my hair without so much as looking at myself in the mirror and made my way into the living room. I was pleasantly surprised to see William standing in the kitchen talking to Mel, who appeared to be the happiest I had seen in a long time. Bobbie stood near the kitchen wall in a daze. She had the expression of shock on her face. Her mouth was wide open, eyes unblinking.

William ceased the conversation when he saw me standing there. His face immediately lit up like the sun rising from beneath the mountains. Mel stopped chattering once she saw that something had captured William’s undivided attention. She followed William’s gaze and casually turned around.

“Oh, you must be feeling a little better today?” Mel asked.

“Yes, I guess …” I muttered like she really cared.

“Well, how about you and um …” Mel pursed her lips together as if she were in deep thought.

William,” William lightly reminded her.

“That’s right, William.” Mel cackled loudly. “Who could forget such and old spirited name such as yours?”

Mom,” Bobbie scolded. Disapproval gleamed in her eyes.

I hoped Mel had taken her medicine because at times she could be eccentric.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it,” Mel snapped back. She brought her attention back to William. “You have the most beautiful eye color. Dark, mysterious. Reminds me of someone— my husband’s.” Mel cleared her throat while Bobbie narrowed her eyes.

My eyes flew to Williams. His color was the same jet black that I’d initially seen when I saw him at the gas station.

Mel smiled widely at William and glanced back and forth between the two of us. “Why don’t you two go sit on the couch for a bit?”

“I must go,” William said quickly. “I just came by to check on Jewel’s progress. That’s all.”

“Well, you see that she is doing fine. Even though the doctors have pretty much written her off for dea—”

“Mom, please don’t,” Bobbie said.

“I’m going to prepare dinner, William. Please stay,” Mel said, ignoring Bobbie’s pleas.

“Mom, you never make dinner,” Bobbie said with agitation in her voice.

“Maybe next time. Thank you for inviting me,” William said, never taking his eyes off of me.

“Are you sure?” Mel insisted.

“There will be a next time.” William nodded his head. “Can I see Jewel for a moment outside?” he asked without looking back at Mel.

“Why sure,” Mel replied, defeated.

A devious grin appeared on Bobbie’s face. William held out his hand as if he were a butler. I placed my hand in his and allowed him to the lead the way. The frigidness of his touch shot tiny electrical waves up my arm and soothed the growing aches in my belly. As we made our way outside, the earliest of evening had ushered in the brisk, coolness of night. I observed as William strolled with the grace of a tiger. He finally turned to face me.

His eyes were soft but dark.

“What happened to the color of your eyes?”

He made a step closer to me. Our bodies were literally touching.

“My eyes change color with my mood.”

“That is a drastic change.”

He opened his mouth to respond but closed it quickly.

I peered into his eyes once more. “I am scared.”

“There is no need to be scared as long as I am with you,” he responded in a husky voice.

“They’re so many unanswered questions. The things I’ve seen since I’ve been here … it’s not right. Something is not right about the thing that attacked me, the girl at school … nothing makes sense. Then again, it might be the cancerous tumors crowding my brain. My clock is ticking. My time is almost up, I can feel it,” I grumbled.

“Not just yet. Life is a journey in which you will stumble and fall. I will be there to catch you through it all, no matter what.”

“You just met me. How do you know you will be there for me? Through thick and thin?”

“Jewel, when I first met you at the gas station, I knew you were the one. It was like fate—”

“The gas station?” I thought back to when I saw him with the light red-haired girls. I never thought in a million years he even noticed me.

“There are things that I am going to explain to you that will be beyond anything you could ever possibly imagine.”

I stood there fixated on the smoothness of his chalky but flawless skin. William strangely possessed all the gifts a person could only dream of: eyes, which oddly changed colors, a face that could have been sculpted by an angel, broad shoulders that made me feel protected, lean, long fingers with clean trimmed nails, plush, full lips that were enticing.  He was like a harp–deep, strong, melodic.

“The roses …”

“Shh…” He placed his finger to my lips. “That is only the beginning of how we will write our story together.”

“Can we talk now?” I asked.

“I have arranged to pick you up after school tomorrow. I will explain everything to you then,” he replied softly.

“Bobbie knows not to wait for me after school?”

“That’s right.” He flashed a look at the door. “You better go in. I told Mel I would keep you only for a moment.”

The look on my face proved otherwise. “I’m not ready to go. I want to talk to you a little more.”

“Tomorrow, I promise,” he replied in his musical voice.

William picked up my hand and brought it to his mouth. The brush of his cool lips felt exhilarating. He opened the door and ushered me in.

“Tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” he smiled.

The last thing I saw was the softness of his picturesque face. William was a romantic at heart. He surprisingly reminded me of the poets that I’d studied during the Romanticism era. The words that flowed out of his mouth were rhythmic and soothing. After seeing William, I was determined to have the best sleep, void of hunger, nightmares, and generalized pain. Tomorrow, I was going to find out more about the cryptic, mystifying William, the guy who I had fallen in love with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Classes flew by like a blissful breeze. I received a lot of well wishes once I arrived back at school. I was surprised to find that my peers cared but later found out that Bobbie took it upon herself to enlighten everyone as to why I was out … terminal cancer. Mary Kaye and Danielle had gathered up a pity party to assist me in carrying my books from class to class. They even went so far as to pledge their locks if I decided to receive chemotherapy treatments.

During lunch I willingly joined Naomi and Christopher in the hunger strike category. I was literally starving but oddly not for food. The three of us sat quietly on the patio. Naomi twirled her thick red curls with a pencil, staring off into the mountains while Christopher dreamily gazed at me. He decided to wear his hair without a ponytail today. It rested on his shoulders; the light wind blew through his thick, loose auburn curls. I leaned to the side and let the sun’s rays continue its task of heating my face as I thought of William.

“I wish I could have been able to see you,” Christopher said softly. “The visiting policies at the local hospital in this town are absurd.”

“I know …” I replied lazily. “Only family. I didn’t know you came to visit.”

“Well, we both did … among others,” Christopher said, looking down at his untouched food.

“But I did have some company after I was released.”

“Who?” Christopher and Naomi asked together.

“William.”

William?” Christopher spat like his name was a disease.

“Yes, William,” I said, glancing back and forth between Christopher and Naomi.

Naomi rolled her shoulders like she were trying to soothe a muscle cramp. “Let it go, Christopher, now is not the time.”

“I think it’s a good time,” Christopher shot back. His tone was icy and his cherubic face distorted. I had never seen him upset before. “I am tired of the games. She needs to know.”

“That is not wh—”

“What do I need to know?” I asked, cutting Naomi off.

“We were … we were going to give you a surprise … that’s all,” Naomi replied quickly to prevent Christopher, who had opened his mouth to respond, from answering.

“Surprise?”

“Yes, a surprise,” Naomi answered in her pixie voice.

“Okay, what is it?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you, now would it?” Naomi blinked her catlike eyes.

Christopher let out a loud sigh and turned towards the cafeteria. He pretended that he was interested in the activity occurring inside.

“No, I guess it wouldn’t be a surprise,” I murmured. I pushed aside my untouched lunch tray. Their trays were in the same condition as mine. I got up to empty my tray. “You know, if I didn’t know any better I would think that you two were diagnosed with a terminal illness as well. Not to put that burden on anyone, but none of us have had an appetite today.”

Christopher stood and took my tray and placed it on top of his. He made a pouty face as if the trays were toxic. “The food here sucks raw oyster eggs.”

I laughed. “I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

Christopher playfully winked his eye. He was warming up to his old whimsical self. “There isn’t such a thing. Well, maybe on Mars.”

“Only you, Christopher.” I giggled. “Only you.”

“I had to get one smile out of you. You have been frowning all day.”

“Had a lot on my mind lately.” I exhaled.

Naomi stood up and walked over to me, her smoldering eyes glistening. “You have been through a lot in the past month. Relocating to a new school, environment, and then getting sick. Whatever we can do to help.” I got a whiff of Naomi’s scent when she embraced me. The aroma was all too familiar. It reminded me of someone but at the moment I could not decipher whom.

“Thanks, Naomi.”

Christopher moved closer, revealing his toothy smile. “I would get my hug too, but I don’t want to drop our lunch trays or—”

“Get a black eye?” I enthusiastically replied making my way back into the cafeteria.

“Violent aren’t we?” Christopher joked, “I like it.”

“Where are you headed?” Naomi asked.

“Library. You guys want to come along?”

Naomi looked at her watch and then at Christopher. “We have a meeting with the guidance counselor after lunch. Maybe we’ll catch you later?”

“The both of you?”

“It won’t take long. We will find you afterwards.” Naomi nudged Christopher who forced a smile.

“I will walk you to the library if that’s okay?” Christopher asked.

“Sure.”

“I will catch up with you in a few,” Christopher said to Naomi, prompting her to move on.

I followed behind Christopher and Naomi as they emptied our trays. The stares we received from the other students could have made time stand still. They looked at us as if we were green aliens that had landed from another planet. As we were leaving the cafeteria, I heard my name called from a distance.

“Hey,” Danielle said loudly over the commotion of the cafeteria. She had on bright pink lipstick and heavy mascara. “I wanted to invite you to the annual Goblin in the Green next week.”

“Goblin in the Green?”

“Sort of like a Fall Festival event,” Danielle said, fluttering her eyes. “We don’t celebrate Halloween here, but everyone dresses up in costumes, goes on hayrides, attends the bonfire, and listens to spooky stories about ghoulish monsters. That sort of thing.”

“Oh.” I flashed a quick look at Christopher and Naomi.

“Everyone is invited. Why do you think we would leave out your little friends?” Mary Kaye interrupted in a squeaky voice from behind. She had on her large black frame glasses and apple red lipstick. Her hair was pulled to the side in a braided ponytail.

Neither Christopher nor Naomi responded to the invitation. Instead, they backed away and talked amongst themselves. Christopher held a smirk on his face like he was insulted.

“That’s if you are up to it. It must be horrible having something like cancer eating away at your tiny body,” Danielle said with pity. “It might do you some good to get out of the house.”

“Don’t have to worry about someone snatching your purse either. Events here are nothing compared to those big cities like Houston,” Mary Kaye exaggerated. “At least in Cashiers you don’t have to worry about all of that crime.”

“Yes, our crime rates are low in this area for some reason,” Danielle added. Christopher coughed, bringing our focus on him and Naomi. The expression they held was blank and void of emotion. Danielle shivered and brought her attention back to Mary Kaye and me. “Anyway, as I was saying, you should feel comfortable enough to come out. Our Green in the Goblin event will be safe.”

“It is a cover up for Halloween,” Mary Kaye whispered. “I know because my father sits on the board. Anyway, definitely have your sister, er … what’s her name?” she said, rapidly blinking her eyes.

“Bobbie.”

“Yes! Bobbie. Please invite Bobbie. She is so cool. Rumor has it she is trying out for the volleyball team.” Mary Kaye smiled brightly. My eyes flew to the blotch of red lipstick that had stained her front teeth.

“Let’s not overwhelm her,” Danielle hissed at Mary Kaye. She turned her attention back to me. “Well, we will let you go but just wanted you to know that you are more than welcome to attend.”

“Thanks, guys, I just might take you up on that offer.” I smiled as they walked away.

I strolled over to Christopher, who was in a secretive huddle with Naomi. He greeted me with a Colgate smile as I removed a strand of loose curls that had fallen to the side of his brow. I mistakenly touched his cheek, which felt as cool as the frigid air rolling off the mountaintops.

“So is my chauffeur ready to drop me off at the library?” I teased.

“At your service.” Christopher bowed, rolling out his hand.

Naomi chuckled, shaking her head as she made her way out of the cafeteria. Christopher politely grabbed my backpack and walked me to the library. Once we made it to the big blue oval door, he pushed it open and proceeded to walk in.

“No.” I grabbed his shirt, brushing up against his brawny torso.

“What’s wrong?”

“I needed some quiet time.”

“I will keep my lips zipped,” Christopher whispered.

“No, what I mean is, I need some time to reflect.” I widened my eyes.

“O … kay, I will go make the loop and then come back to check on you?”

“I thought you had a conference?”

Christopher bit his bottom lip and scratched his head.

“With the guidance counselor?” I continued.

A light bulb went off. “Ding, ding, ding! I totally forgot. Just that fast too. See what you do to me, Jewel?” he said jokingly.

“Shh!” someone said from behind the desk.

Christopher walked back into the hallway and closed the door. He gave me my backpack. “I will see you in a bit. Don’t reflect too much.”

“Trust me I won’t.” I smiled.

His gaze was deep and intense. He slowly raised his hand and lightly touched my cheek. He closed his eyes like he were in a dream. In a matter of seconds, his eyes flew open. He jerked back his hand and clenched it bringing it down to his side. I couldn’t help but think that Christopher was developing feelings for me. I exhaled slowly, watching his silhouette disappear around the corner.

I stepped into Blue Ridge High’s library with my throat tightening at the thick dust floating around in the air. With the state-of-the-art modernized school building, the library was set inside a world of its own with its antiquated bookshelves and furniture. There were ten Apple desktops computers that lined the concrete wall consisting of small river rocks.

The enemy arrives, my inward heroine warned.

It was like watching a scary movie and the Boogeyman was about to attack. The fine hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. The sensation of a malicious entity heightened my awareness. Someone or something was watching me. I hastily spun around only to find a girl pulling books down from the shelves. Her waist length cherry red hair swayed as she dropped books into a backpack. She was dressed in dark clothing. The girl had on a black turtleneck with the sleeves covering half of her pale hands, black jeans, and black boots. A shiny silver belt dangled from her small waist. I slowly backed up to get a better glimpse of her face but couldn’t because her back was turned away from me.

“Can I help you?” an older petite woman with smoky gray hair asked, startling me.

“Uh yes.” I fumbled pulling out my hall pass. “I need to use the computer, please.”

The librarian took the hall pass and walked me to the only vacant computer at the end. “You have forty-five minutes.”

“Thanks.”

I extended my neck to see if I could see the girl who’d been dropping books into her backpack, but she had vanished. I slowly walked over to another row to see if she were there. Nothing.

“Computer usage is timed. I would get on the ball if I were you.”

I looked at my empty seat and saw Jax, the boy who I’d met in Trigonometry grinning widely.

“Hi, Jax,” I said, hesitantly taking my place beside him.

“Hiya, yourself,” he whispered.

I logged in and went straight to Google.

“Before you leave, I want to ask you something,” Jax whispered softly.

“Alright,” I glanced back at the librarian who gave us stern looks.

I hurriedly typed in No Reflection or No Shadow Means… and pressed enter. The first word that popped up was Vampire. The next thing I knew my hands were no longer in front of the computer but in my lap. I rolled my chair back out of complete surprise. This was all beginning to make sense. There was neither reflection nor shadow when William and I stood together in the mirror. Then there was the imageless picture at the gas station, which left only one plaguing resolution. William had to be a vampire. But then another nagging conclusion clouded my thoughts. Why did it appear as if my reflection was about to disappear at any moment?

“Are you okay?” Jax asked in a hushed voice.

“Y-y-yes …” A cool chill washed over me. I brought my attention back to Jax who was now standing over me.

“You don’t look, okay.” His watery emerald eyes were filled with concern.

“I’m fine.” I stood up to leave. The librarian, by this time, had walked over to our section.

“If you two don’t keep it down, I will have to ask you to leave and your computer privileges will be revoked!” She had a stern expression on her face.

“Don’t worry, I won’t be back,” I said, walking past the librarian whose mouth was wide open and Jax who looked puzzled with his mouth forming a wide O.

On my way out of the library, I ran as fast as I could—mainly out of fear and confusion. A flood of emotions fell over me, not to mention the dizziness and nausea that followed. I blindly bumped into Christopher who tried to grab a hold of me, but despite my debilitated body I was able to dodge his grasp. By the time I made it into the parking lot, I didn’t realize that the second dismal bell had rung. A burst of laughter shrouded my panic. Bobbie stood near Mel’s car laughing loudly. She was gathering items for volleyball tryouts. Two of her future teammates stood alongside her. I knew Bobbie would make the team; she excelled at everything. I decided to ask her if she wouldn’t mind if I took the car and came back to pick her up.

“Bobbie!” I yelled over the commotion of the students assembling in their respective lines for departure.

She didn’t hear me. The distant voice of Christopher grew louder in the background. I needed air and more answers. I was beginning to wonder if every person I had met in this town was some sort of supernatural being. William, Eris … were only a few of the names that lingered around in my brain.

I headed towards Bobbie to address her but a group of twelve students congregating against the side of the building stopped me with their unusual activity. They were all assembled in an area of school that was dark and concealed. Everyone in the group had red hair and jet black eyes. Liza stood in the middle of the teenagers who huddled around her. A devilish grin crept across her face as she watched me. The other occupants in the group deliberately turned around in unison with her. I shuddered at the thought of their company. And since when did all of the redheads decide to enroll at Blue Ridge High School while I was absent?

There is more to this red hair than you care to know. The truth is there. Accept it, Jeweliette, my inward heroine said sternly.

“I’m trying,” I replied to myself, wondering all along if William was truly what I thought he was: the walking dead. A vampire. The more I thought of it, the more I became repulsed about the idea.

“Talking to yourself, again?”

I spun around to see Christopher beaming from ear to ear. His loose curls swayed in the wind. His hair resembled the actor who portrayed Tristan in Tristan and Isolde.

“I was worried about you. You bailed on me when I waited around at the library.” He ran his fingers through his curly hair. “Are you alright?”

“Not exactly, but I will be,” I said, walking again towards Bobbie and her friends. “Just need some fresh air and time to think.”

“Need time to think of what?” He stopped walking.

“Life, my illness. Everything.” I threw my free hand up into the air.

Christopher reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “May I?” He flashed a dazzling smile.

I hesitated momentarily as Bobbie trailed off with her soon-to-be teammates in another direction. I stopped walking and nodded my head. Christopher commenced to reading. His delivery was like that of a gallant knight.

 

A special bond for you and me

A special connection for the world to see

The fingers of my love spread like gold

Gently caressing your lips as our story will be told

Although it might be hard for you at first

Just remember you have my heart and will never get hurt

 

 

Christopher’s poem left me speechless. It was sweet sounding and rhythmic. He folded the letter and placed it into my hand. His soft eyes and perfect teeth voiced its approval for my understanding of the feelings that he’d developed for me. I couldn’t help but fantasize how rugged but yet handsome he appeared with his distressed Rock and Republic denim jeans and red muscle shirt. Christopher slowly raised his finger and pointed at my mouth.

“You, um, better close that before something flies inside.”

“Oops.” I giggled. “Your poem, the words flowed so smoothly. You know like water out of a faucet. You are very creative, Christopher. How thoughtful.”

“How do you feel about what I said?”

My heart doubled its pace under his fervid gaze; I reopened the poem and skimmed through it. I was at a loss for words. “Descriptive wording …” I hesitated trying to find the right words to say.

“I take it you never been in love before?” Christopher searched my eyes for an answer.

“Not exactly …” My eyes drifted to the ground. Listening to different adults discuss love stories, I believed in soul mates. I had love at first sight and it was not Christopher, even though I was strangely attracted to him.

Maybe it is the attention Christopher is giving you? my inward heroine asked, I know where your heart truly lies.

Christopher tapped his lip with his finger. “What do you mean by not exactly? Have you ever been in love before?” He pressed.

“Not until I moved here.”

The whispers of the wind flowed as a moment of silence passed between us. Christopher raised his eyebrows and then squinted his eyes before looking away.

“Who is it?” he asked barely above a growl. “Your love interest?”

The sound of the pale blue Ford came roaring into existence. Christopher followed my eyes into the mountains while I watched William’s truck sail like a torpedo into sight. Once William noticed me, he rushed towards the parking lot. He was oblivious to the oncoming traffic, including the school buses. Then all of a sudden the perception that something sinister and maleficent was near. A feeling of eeriness engulfed me.

“Where are you going?” Christopher asked. There was worry mixed with a bit of resentment in his tone.

I glanced down at my watch. “I apologize, but I’m meeting someone. I’ll talk to you later.”

Christopher opened his mouth to say more. I didn’t give him the chance. I brushed past a couple of students and the same malevolent feeling came back again but this time stronger than before. As I passed Liza and her group of friends, a strange young girl who appeared to be no more than sixteen forcefully pushed Liza aside. The shove was so forceful that Liza fell into the girls she stood with. There was a mysterious aura that surrounded the girl’s impeccable beauty, to the point that it was captivating. Her ruby red hair fell in huge ringlets to her waist. Her large oval eyes were as dark and glossy as ebony marbles. Her high cheekbones were rosy and her colorless, translucent skin was even pastier in the sunlight. Everything about the girl’s alluring presence radiated throughout the parking lot.

I finally made eye contact with the intriguing girl. Instantly, my mind became flooded with sounds of pain, agony, and tortuous groans. I shook my head, knocking the horrid auditory hallucinations out of my head and sped past the group as fast as I could. I happily picked up my pace, heading towards William, who was now waiting for me outside his truck. I looked over my shoulder … my eyes focused in on a shiny silver belt, which was the only source of light in the midst of the darkness projected by the group of girls.

She is the girl from the library, my inward heroine warned.

My quick stroll turned into a trot until I reached William. I do not know what I was running away from: the truth waiting to be revealed or the growling that had erupted from the group of girls staring daggers into my back. The only time I’d experienced this much hatred was when my parents wanted me dead. If I’d known any better I would say they wanted me for their next meal.

 

**********

 

The light, melodic sound of a piano played from William’s phone through bluetooth. The narrow road leading into the mountains was lined with massive oak and hickory trees. We passed several waterfalls and lakes that were as clear as bottled water. The air was cool and crisp. The slight hum of the truck’s engine blended with the piano melody that serenaded us.

“Where are we going?”

“I would like to show you a special place. It’s near my place of residence. It will be the prelude to what I have to tell you.” A slight smile formed at the corner of William’s mouth.

“Sure.”

I closed my eyes. The scent of granny smith apples and frankincense escaped the leather seats and engulfed me. The vintage truck was unlike any other I’d seen. It was immaculate with no gashes or stains. Just like Eris’s station wagon, there were no mirrors in William’s truck—not the rearview, driver’s, or on the passenger’s side. Odd.

I stole glances of William, savoring every moment, longing to cuddle against his cottony skin and gawking at his charming face. How could a near-perfect man such as him possibly be a blood-sucking leech? Along the drive, I thought of ways to break the nagging questions that I had on reserve for him. My lips parted slightly to ask him, but he reached over and turned up the music. The music playing was definitely not of my generation. I had never heard the sweet sounding piece, but there were a lot of things about William that seemed archaic even though he dressed and spoke in a modern fashion.

“What is that?” I asked pointing towards the radio.

“Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor. Quasi una fantasia.”

“Are we speaking different languages again?” I smirked. “English, please?”

“Moonlight Sonata. It is a classical piece by Ludwig Van Beethoven.”

I listened to the melodic tune of the piano keys. It grabbed at my soul with its gentle hands and eased the tight anxiety that squeezed my heart. The chords tackled my brain, overpowering my senses, and sent shock waves throughout my body. It provided a somber solace, taking me away from all the anguish and pain that I had suffered my entire life. I was on the edge of tears.

“It’s beautiful …” I breathed softly.

“No es tan hermosa como tú.”

“One of these days,” I replied, pointing my finger, “I am going to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and whatever else you speak to understand what you are saying.”

“Not as beautiful as you.” He smiled. My knees knocked together. “That would be a wise thing to learn a different language,” he advised, focusing on the road. He turned down the radio. “We are almost there.” He flashed me a look. “Are you relaxed?”

“Yes, the music … it takes my breath away. I am not familiar with Beethoven’s pieces. The places I’ve lived never played this sort of music before. Thinking back, they needed to. ”

“He was before your time. This is my favorite piece of all my classical collections.”

“Any particular reason?”

“It was playing when I was redeemed. That is, my family and I.”

I was confused. “When did Moonlight Sonata hit the airwaves?”

He glanced at me as the truck picked up speed.

“Around the year of 1801, give or take,” he said quietly. “If there was such a thing as airwaves.”

I shuddered. My speculations were right. He was not of this era. William raised his finger and pointed at the sign that read Leaving Cashiers. As we descended deeper into the thickness of the forests, the mountains came closer within view. No other roadway signs appeared. This was the same area that Eris had taken us through when we moved to Cashiers.

“William?”

“Yes, dear?” he answered blissfully.

“Where are we going?”

“Near my residence. I know this might be a little to fast for you, which is why I decided to hold off on introducing you to my family until the next time.”

“So—”

“I am going to answer all of your questions. I am aware that you have some prepared for me. Once you see how I live, things will make sense to you. Until then, you will always be plagued with second guessing yourself as you are doing now,” he said calmly.

“You know what I am going to ask?”

He nodded his head.

“The mirror?” I whispered.

“Yes … I want you to trust me okay?” His gray eyes sparkled as the look on his face hardened.

“Okay.”

William veered off from the highway onto a side road that was pebbled with rocks. It was phenomenal being that I’d never seen a road designed like this before. It was as if it magically appeared. Big trees with long branches reached over the road intertwining with a tree on the other side. Small bodies of water resembling crystal clear lakes were scattered throughout the land. Over the sound of “Moonlight Sonata,” a swooshing noise that sounded like rushing water grew louder as we descended further into the thicket. Several miniature sea green waterfalls flowed over large boulders that broke away from mountains. As we descended deeper into the forest, the pebbled road became narrower.

I stared out of the window in amazement at the picturesque place of the man that belonged on the pages of a book. I observed serrated mountains, which were guarded by a ghost white mist looming in the distance as we neared our final destination. The moss-covered mountains, my favorite part of nature, stabbed at the top of the sky, looking like bunches of broccoli. I continued to gaze in awe at the astonishing scenery like a child at the carnival. I could not put my finger on it, but this area was quite distinctive with its unnaturally green, lush rain forests and mossy rocks.

According to William, this place that he called home, sat hidden in between some of the oldest mountains in the world. We pulled up to a sparkling waterfall that flowed over a partially hidden mountain surrounded by trees too many to count. The truck pulled onto a grass pathway that led to the huge falls. I leaned closer to the dash to study the amazing water that fell literally three hundred feet from the sky. I had never seen anything so magnificent before.

“How on Earth does something as miraculous as this exist?” I asked.

“There’s more.”

I took pleasure out of seeing the amused expression on William’s face. He stopped and pointed towards the waterfall.

“That, Jeweliette, is Silver Run Falls.” He grinned widely, displaying picture-perfect straight teeth. He looked over his shoulder and surroundings to make sure no one was around. “You might want to make sure your seatbelt is fastened.”

After his verbal warning, William floored the accelerator to the floorboard of the 1960’s Ford and headed directly towards Silver Run Falls and the waterfall. I gripped the door handle with one hand, my seatbelt with other, and held on for dear life. It was then that I had concluded William was crazy. Why did everyone I meet try to kill me? I wanted so desperately to close my eyes and brace for the impact, but my inward heroine kept my eyes wide open like buttons.

You are going to want to see this, she cooed.

Silver Run Falls was a Caribbean blue waterfall. It spilled over the edges of the gigantic rocks gracefully. The deliciously sweet aroma from the flowers that surrounded the base of the mountains near the waterfall filled my nostrils. For a moment, I was calm until I realized William was going to drive straight through the falls. I put my arms up in defensive mode, but before I knew it he had made it through the water as quick as the speed of lightning. I screamed until the movement of the truck came to a complete still.

“Jewel? Jeweliette?” There was an edge of concern in William’s voice. “You can open your eyes now.”

I peeled myself off the passenger seat and slowly opened my eyes. We were parked underneath an enormous oak tree with branches that stretched for miles in each direction. Some of the enchanting spider like branches reached as far as the clouds. The tree sat in the middle of six mountains with an undetermined height. Several redwood trees were scattered throughout the bases of the mountains.

The opening of the passenger door snapped me back into reality. William had made it out of the truck and to my side in a flash. My heart pounded once my gaze fell onto his smoky eyes. He gently took my hand and guided me out of the truck. He pulled a red and white blanket from underneath the seat and placed it in a woven basket that he had managed to snag during my initial stage of shock. William led me to the magical tree near another waterfall that was as tall as the sky. It sat adjacent near one of the two mountains on the left. The sounds of the raging water brought a sense of calm around us. We stopped a distance away from the waterfall but were close enough to see the rainbow sparkles dance off the velvety rocks.

“What is this place?” I asked in awe.

“Shadowbend Falls,” William said, laying out the checkered blanket. He pulled out some cheese, crackers, and deli meat. Before setting up the food, he stopped and faced me.

“Shadow… Shadowbend Falls?” I repeated.

“Are you surprised? Is there something I should know?”

“No,” I lied quickly. Eris had mentioned Shadowbend Falls being her place of residence upon my arrival to Cashiers. What was her connection to this place?

William studied me for a moment. He tried to get inside of my mind. He shook his head and rubbed the side of his temples. William brushed it off and pointed towards the mountain that sat to the right of us.

The answers you so desperately seek lie beneath those mountains. But you may not be ready for the truth, my inward heroine warned.

William reached towards my face. “You won’t need those here,” he said, removing my glasses.

“Why?” I blinked my eyes.

William waited patiently while my vision adjusted. I rubbed my eyes twice to make sure what I was seeing was actually true. It was like looking through the eyes of a healthy child. The clarity was as pure as glass. I couldn’t believe it. I could see.

I waved my hand through the air. “I don’t see dancing spots.” I brought my hand to my right eye to stretch the eyelid. “Nope, nothing is blurred.”

“Everything is different here, even the air quality. You will feel better. It’s a safe haven protected from the outside world.”

“It’s magical,” I said out of admiration.

“My everlasting …” William pointed to the right. “Beyond that mountain, the one that sits two away from the first, is my home. One day, very soon, I will take you there to meet my family,” he said hoarsely. He spoke like a brave king with the stance of a warrior.

My heart fluttered like a butterfly. “I like the sound of family. I would love that. I wonder if your family is as secretive as you,” I playfully added.

I swallowed hard. I wanted to know more about him. I felt William knew more abut me than he was letting on. He went back to the task of arranging the cheese, deli meat, and crackers. His movements were a blur. He was moving so fast I lost sight of him. His motions came to a slower pace one he pulled out a shiny dark bottle from the woven basket. My eye’s widened in delight at the sparkling Welch’s red grape juice. It was my favorite.

“William?”

“Yes?”

“I need some explanations.”

He continued pulling out silverware. He must have read my mind.

“I’m listening. I would never intentionally ignore you.” He stood up and faced me.

I pointed at the entrance of Silver Run Falls. “What is this place?” William was about to answer, but I raised my hand to stop him. “I know it’s Shadowbend Falls.”

“Shadowbend Falls is located south of Cashiers,” he began.

“I have never heard of it. It doesn’t exist.”

“It has to exist. Look around at its beauty. Everything you see here is real. You and me. We are real, no?”

“I trust that we are real, but you can’t expect me to believe that driving a truck through a raging waterfall is supposed to make sense. This is not Alice in Wonderland.”

I was going to ask William if he slipped anything into my drink or food, but I hadn’t had anything to eat at school, so I changed my tune. I needed a reasonable justification. Maybe I could eventually find out how Eris was tied into all of this.

“You heard of Google, right?”

“Of course I have.” He leaned in towards me. I sensed he was ready to tell me the truth about the questions that had been plaguing me.

“I could not find anything about Shadowbend Falls and it doesn’t exist on the map. Can you explain that?”

He was defeated. He could no longer keep me in the dark. For the first time his soft dusky eyes held a look of regret.

I continued with my interrogation. “Or better yet, can you tell me why you don’t have a reflection in the mirror? And why there are no mirrors in your truck?” My voice cracked. “No … why don’t you explain to me what that creature was that attacked me that night? And how you just so happened to magically appear to save my life?”

I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. The minutes of nature became more prominent. The glare from the sun danced at the tip of the mountainside. The swooshing of the water that fell onto the rocks and into the crystal clear lake bounced sparkles into a reflection of shiny, misty beams.

“What is a Redcap, William?”

He closed his eyes and then gradually reopened them displaying fierce, silvery gray eyes that had a hint of glow behind them. I nervously stepped back watching his body tense, like he was stretching, the muscles flexing in his chest and arms. His flesh held no signs of life. A ghost of sorts. There were no blue veins or pink skin signifying liveliness. I wanted to believe I was dreaming but in reality I knew this was as real as the sunbeams hitting my face. My lips gently parted. The words percolated out of my mouth like a drip.

“What is a Redcap, William? Is it what I think it is? Is it what I think you are?”

The palpitations in my heart picked up. The flutter was as loud as a dinging bell. A mixture of anxiety and uncertainty simmered in my gut like a festering ulcer.

“I’m not scared,” I choked. “I have dealt with much, much worse in my life.” I swallowed, relieved once William lowered his head.

William went towards the woven basket this time pulling out another bottle that looked similar to the Welch’s grape juice bottle. The only difference, it was unlabeled. His eyes changed again. He stared at me for a moment with eyes darker than coal. William closed his eyes as he popped the cork with ease leaning his head back and taking a sip. The bright red fluid coated his tongue as he hungrily bit down on his bottom lip. Suddenly, he took the opened bottle and positioned it over his head. Out came a thick red fluid that saturated his hair to thick to be wine or grape juice. My lips slightly parted, trembling once I realized what it was.

Blood.

The blood did not drip onto his shoulders or clothing. It was as if the blood rushed to his head. The hair quickly soaked the blood up like a sponge. Right before my eyes, his hair took on a life of its own as so the rest of his body. The lavender colored lips and fingernails changed. His cheeks were rosy and lips fire red. William’s pale color gradually became pinker taking on a ruddy appearance. It was as if he were alive; his eyes flew open.

“A Redcap?” William answered darkly, raising his head, this time the glow in his light gray eyes fading becoming dangerous and predatory. A thick limbal ring as red as blood surrounded his light gray pupils. “A Redcap is a Sunsetter. It is what I am. What you are destined to become …”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

We both sat on the blanket in the middle of a plethora of wild tulips, bleeding hearts, and dahlias. The aroma of the flowers whisked me away into paradise as we listened to the waterfall and watched the arms of the sunset grab at the shapely clouds. A small sea green brook, which led into a crystal clear lake, gurgled its way from underneath the waterfall nurturing the mossy rocks along the way. Beyond its grasp grew grass greener than I’d ever seen, unscathed by a human’s touch. The sky-high redwood trees cast sheets of olive leaves that shielded us from the remainder of the sun’s rays. I looked as far as my eyes would allow, witnessing an utopia not created by man. I gazed into the setting sun, which bathed everything in its golden light. It was as if it was waving goodbye. I felt a burst of energy, power, more so an awakening redemption.

William stared ahead into the sunset, his voice melodic but direct and firm. “Are you going to continue asking me questions?” He watched me vehemently. “You appear traumatized.”

“I’m in shock but was prepared.” I gulped, maintaining my composure. The guy who I’d fallen in love with instantly had just taken a swig of blood from a wine bottle and then dumped it onto his head. “I have done my research on the Internet already, but what I would like to know is what this has to do with me?”

Silence.

My face twisted with confusion. “You said a few moments ago that I was destined to become a Redcap? A Sunsetter?”

William amazingly rose to his feet with one swift move from his seated position.

“There is an entire world of beings that you didn’t know existed.” William’s eyes pierced my soul. The limbal ring around his iris was as red as blood. “Redcaps have been in existence since history was first recorded by man.”

I blinked my eyes. “So Redcaps are real?”

“Yes, just as real as you and me. Redcaps are a more barbaric term. Rojas is preferred,” William replied, nodding his head. “It began with Lilith. Humans referred to her as Jezarene. She was definitely the most beautiful woman of her time with a long flowing crown that was as red as the earth’s magma. When her human body perished, her soul didn’t until…” He looked at me despairingly.

“Until what?” I asked, sounding more like a child who was eager for a piece of candy rather than someone for a slice of history.

“Until she consumed the élan vital of the living and became reanimated. That was how the first Redcaps came about.”

“What is an élan vital?”

“Blood.”

In any other instance a full panic attack would have been imminent, but there was a tranquil aura that surrounded me. “I am still confused. What is a Redcap? A Sunsetter? And what does this have to do with me?”

“I am going to get to that in a moment, but how you fit in this intriguing puzzle still bewilders me,” William said softly, rubbing his chin. “I was instantly drawn to you since the first day you arrived. It was like a connection, an instant attraction. You’re different than other human women. Your smell was so strong that I could literally taste it.”

“You sound as if I were something on a buffet line,” I retorted.

“You were but just didn’t know it.” A smirk crossed his face. The corners of his lips raised into a snarl. He looked like a wolf cornering an injured rabbit.

I bit my lip and decided not to test him. “I can grasp the idea that humans are not alone on this earth. I have an open mind, I do, but why don’t you start off first by telling me who … what you are?”

The muscles in his face relaxed. He was quiet. Before I knew it, I was blabbering away, unknowingly answering my own questions.

“I will say it for you and I can’t believe that I am about to say this because anyone else would think that I had gone mad so here goes …” I closed my eyes. Reopened them. Inhaled and then exhaled. “The dramatic change in your eye color. Whenever your eyes turn to that jet black instead of the silvery gray, you seem cold, distant, wicked, and I feel something much more worse than what I just mentioned. No mirrors are around because you don’t have a reflection or a shadow. You appeared out of nowhere to save me from a random attack by some evil beast. Then out of nowhere, you pull out a bottle… a bottle of blood. You drink it and then of all things pour it on your head and become restored like the energizer bunny. What you did in front of me… the hair. It was the same thing that creature did in the alley way with its hat, soaking up the blood and becoming rejuvenated.” I stood up dramatically, even though it wasn’t with one swift move. William reached out his hand to steady me, but I wasn’t stopping now. No way.

“I know what you are,” I half whispered.

“What am I?” William challenged.

“You’re a vampire! A Redcap— no Rojas vampire!”

William gazed off into the sunset. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because you don’t have a reflection. You literally ripped that monster to shreds, you seem to know where I always am, and …”

“And what?” he asked calmly.

“And you sleep in a wooden casket and turn into a bat at night. That’s why I never see you at school!” I was excited and was getting somewhere.

William’s symphonious laughter filled my ears. “All Superstition. If those fables were correct, then how could I walk in the daylight? Contrary to the belief, I don’t breathe nor do I sleep. Never. Those are human bodily functions. Besides your ideas are all over the place. Are you done interrogating me?” He wistfully smiled.

My eyes flew to the basket. “What type of foods do you eat? Anything from the food pyramid?” I noticed he hadn’t touched a morsel, besides the bottle of blood, from the wooden picnic basket.

“I knew that one was coming. I don’t eat. Which reminds me…” he pointed towards the basket “…you need to eat something. Next question.”

I hurriedly approached the basket and snagged a cracker. It didn’t satiate my hunger but gave me something to focus on to take away my growing jitters.

“Er … if you don’t eat cheese and crackers…” I pointed towards the basket “…then what do you eat? How do you survive? Is it the only thing that is keeping me alive but is diseased? Blood?” I swallowed hard. “The blood you drank and poured in your hair?”

Unbeknownst to William, I’d already searched on the Internet about the Redcap vampires thanks to Liza, even though the term Sunsetters was not mentioned anywhere. I wanted to hear him say it. How he survived. Confirm it. He converged on me in an imperceptibly manner.

“I am like a Venus fly trap. The artistry of my appearance pulls the insect of my choice in until I capture and devour it. I am a predator that feeds off of other predators.” He didn’t say it. The word I was waiting for.

“How long?” I asked.

He tilted his head to the side. “I am not quite sure what you are asking, Jewel.”

I wanted to count. My nerves were on edge. Here I was standing face to face with a killer who probably had already moved me up on the food chain, but yet I was so desirably attracted to him. I wanted to run but couldn’t. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered.

I pushed on. He refused to admit to me what he truly was. “What’s your story? All vampires have one from what I have read. When did you die? How did you die?”

William took another step closer towards me. The light wind pleasantly carried his aroma along with it. He had an earthy, herbal scent that danced around him which was sweet and exhilarating.

“The vampires that you have read about in your fairy-tale books don’t give the true race justice,” William said.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I pressed. I wanted him to keep talking, fearful he would stop. I needed to know what role I played in all of this and why all of a sudden I had developed strong feelings for this inhuman man.

“Will you promise that I won’t scare you away?” His flaming eyes widened.

I nodded my head.

“I need you to promise me,” he said softly.

“Okay, I promise.”

He stared at me intensely for a few moments, his gaze unmoving, and then looked off into the mountains

“I am a Voldor. In modern day terms a Sunsetter, the direct descendant of the Redcap race. Sunsetter Redcaps are the first and most powerful breed of vampires to ever walk the earth. My coven migrated to North America from Scotland during the early 1800’s.” He stopped speaking. He studied me briefly to make sure I was digesting everything.

There is no turning back now, my inward heroine declared.

“The lake monster,” I said.

“Are you referring to me as a slimy sea creature?” William amusingly pointed towards the basket motioning for me to eat more. I immediately complied. It was the first time today that I’d seen him lighten up.

“Not exactly,” I smirked. “I’m not calling you a sticky sea beast. You had mentioned that Redcaps were from Scotland. The tall tales of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, originated out of Scotland as well.”

“Who is to say that the myth is actually a myth regarding the ancient sea creature?” William challenged.

I thought for a moment. “Maybe it is true that the Loch Ness monster exists. Since you are a vampire.”

“I’m not the vampire you think I am,” he replied darkly

“A vampire is a vampire right? What could be so different?”

“There are more ways to feed than severing a jugular vein …”

There was an awkward moment of silence. I squeezed my hands, my knuckles turning white.

“That means people are at the top of your food pyramid[_?_]” I shrieked.

“Dissatisfactory and law breaking humans. Pedophiles, rapists, and serial killers are at the top of my food pyramid. These people can never be rehabilitated. Time tells all. Many centuries have proven this. From time to time we hunt other vampires, deer, wild boar, and of course there are blood banks …”

William stopped speaking once he realized my face had matched his in color before he’d saturated his hair in blood. Colorless. He placed his hand underneath my chin. “Calm down, Jewel. Your heart is about to escape your chest. Shall I stop until another time?”

“No!” I choked. “No … please. I’m fine.” My lips trembled. “The newspaper … The Citizen Times … It all makes sense now. The unexplained killings. People missing. The town of Cashiers crime free with the exception of the missing people?” My voice increased an octave.

William’s gaze intensified, his face hardened. He took my hand casually massaging it. “Do you care to know who I am? Why the attraction I have for you has been strong since the first day I laid eyes on you?”

He will be your reparation, my inward heroine said.

I nodded my head slowly. “Yes.”

William caressed my chin, gently holding it securely between his thumb and forefinger. He quickly let go, bringing his hand behind his back. “Voldors flourished before the first human made vampire was ever created. A witch, Typheria, forged the first human made vampire in France. She did this with her sister’s corpse back in 1275 with dark magic. Typheria’s sister was blamed for openly practicing witchcraft when in all actuality it was her. The people burned the witch’s sister alive at the stake forcing her to watch. Typheria then attempted to replicate what Jezarene, the first vampire, had done so many centuries before, creating the most powerful breed of vampires but it didn’t work. Typheria’s sister, whom she brought back from the dead, burst into flames immediately once the sun’s rays made contact with her skin. This didn’t help matters at all, for the witch went on to create more vampires from random corpses. However, Typheria’s vampires were defective succumbing to many weaknesses such as fire, beheadings, holy water, garlic, daylight, and the list goes on … Needless to say, Typheria was captured and eventually burned alive, meeting the same fate as her sister.”

It was quiet for a moment. I scratched my head.

“What does Typheria, a witch, have to do with all of this?” I asked blindly.

“Her story dispels the myth of vampires, which once existed but died out because of the flaws I mentioned earlier. Human-contrived stories of vampires do not exist.”

William stood his ground calmly. If there was no such thing as human-made vampires, then what kind of vampire was he?

I continued with my open-minded interrogations. I was destined to find an answer. “But you said that you were a vampire. How do vampires hunt their own kind? It’s like humans eating each other. Cannibalism.”

His tone was deadly. “I am vampire, but not the friendly ones you read about in story books. Those stories have been invented to ease man’s greatest fears. That he is the hunted. We don’t hunt for pleasure but for survival. There are other vampires, Redcap vampires, also known as the Varcolacs that exist outside my coven. We hunt and terminate the Varcolacs who are fallacious and break the code. It’s been done for thousands of years. It ensures our existence.”

I took a deep breath for the next question.

“Jezarene was the first name that rolled out of your mouth when you mentioned vampires. What does she have to do with all of this?” I blinked my eyes feverishly.

“Before there were human-turned vampires, there were Redcaps created by Lilith, a human woman turned demon … or shall we say Jezarene. Jezarene was Lilith’s Earthly name. The first breed of Redcaps constructed by Jezarene was the Varcolacs, the second race were the Voldors. Before Jezarene succumbed to the grasps of the demonic spirits, she thrived as the most beautiful mortal woman in a sovereign land. The Kingdom of Azra. Jezarene was the sole heir to the throne, being her mother died giving birth to her. When she was born, her flaming red hair was her curse. Immediately, upon seeing the child, the high priest who counseled King Azra advised that Jezarene be taken to the highest mountain and killed. The high priest advised that Abaddon, the Dark One, chose Jezarene because her red hair represented death.

However, upon sight of the baby, King Azra could do not do away with Jezarene, the only memory of his late wife … He hid her in a cave until she turned seven. Once the King saw that Jezarene was wholesome and not a threat as the high priest had advised, he reintroduced her into the kingdom. As Jezarene grew older, she became more infatuated with youth and immortality. Why? Because the princess was fearful of aging. There were rumors that she frolicked with witchcraft, an implication she adamantly denied because this was a practice not tolerated amongst the Azranians. However, King Azra, at the beckoning of the high priest and council, ended up betraying Jezarene when he found out that she indeed practiced witchcraft. Back in those days, dancing with darkness would cause a woman to unknowingly become barren. This of course meant that Jezarene would not be able to sustain the bloodline. This brought great shame on the royal family. Jezarene was thrown fifteen stories to her doom from the castle, only to be eaten by the beasts of the earth.

The next day, little was found of her body. Only a skull, palm, and the femur. The remains were burned then buried by the servants. Needless to say, the Azranians were unaware that Jezarene was redeemed by a pact that she had made previously with the most ultimate of all evils.”

“Who?” I inquired, like we were sitting beside a campfire roasting marshmallows.

“Abaddon.”

“The Dark One?” I asked wide eyed.

William slowly nodded his head as he continued. “The agreement was, if Jezarene died, she would be given immortality, but in return she must take life and in doing so be discreet as to not alert the humans.”

I raised my finger to halt him. “That means killing someone … feeding.”

His eyes were smoke hued the red limbal ring still prominent. “Yes, feeding. Jezarene’s unyielding thirst for blood overcame her. It initially commenced with the laboring women in the kingdom. Jezarene, with her long, fiery hair flowing to her waist, would sit up high in the trees. Hiding. Waiting for the child to be born. She would steal the neonate in the night emptying it of its blood then devouring its flesh. Jezarene committed these acts against her people until she dissipated all of the Azranian infants and young children. She then migrated to Ireland where multiples of unsolved killings began and then on into the mountains where she settled, hidden. Mutilated bodies were found all over the countryside, drained of its life force. But some didn’t perish. She needed followers and soldiers to feed and execute on her command. Jezarene had not completed the horrid acts against the father and Azranians who betrayed her.”

“How horrible …” I muttered, reminiscing about how my own parents attempted to murder me.

“To seek revenge, those who were bitten by her were transformed into a hideous army of beasts who would become to be known as the Varcolacs.”

“You make it sound as if these were horrible looking monsters,” I added quietly.

“They were. Jezarene was not discreet with her murderous rage and the constitution of her monstrosities. This alerted King Azra to seek out and destroy this so-called demon witch as they referred to her and the monsters she had created. The group of Azranians that banned together were known as the Sixx, which comprised of six members from each corner of the kingdom. The Sixx’s, including the women, physical characteristics were exceptionally immense in stature. The females were excellent warriors, while the males were great trackers and held the endurance of an immortal. Meaning they could stay awake for up to twenty four hours and hold their breath under water for twenty minutes at a time. Their dark colored hair, olive skin, and bright green eyes set them apart from other races. They slaughtered many of the Varcolacs that were created by Jezarene, but she went into hiding taking the few that survived with her and left Ireland.”

“How were they killed? By garlic? A cross? Holy water?” I asked.

“There is only one way a Varcolac can be defeated, that is if you can catch them for they are very fast.”

“What is the way they can be killed?” I pushed forward.

“By the bite of a Voldor,” William said in an even tone. “The bite temporarily immobilizes a Varcolac for a period of time to where it can die by starvation. Or if a Varcolac’s food source is removed they can be starved to a state of weakness, which eventually results in an agonizing death.”

“Voldor … a Sunsetter,” I said, slowly comprehending the difference between the two. I chose my words carefully before asking the next question. “How can a Sunsetter be—”

“The same way,” he said. “A Sunsetter, Voldor, can die only by starvation. No bites, beheadings, fire, or any other media made rumors.”

“Well, if a Sunsetter can’t be bitten by a Vorcolac … Then how does it starve?”

“That will be explained later,” he said. A chilly expression crossed his face. The muscles in his jaws tightened.

This was fascinating as much as it was overwhelming. I was curious to know more about his history and if he hailed from that particular era. According to my research every vampire had a beginning from the death it sustained while on Earth. But after hearing William’s story about the true history of vampires that research was null and void. But what was plaguing me even more was that Liza, the office worker, had asked what kind of Redcap I was, a Varcolac or Voldor. I needed to know more.

“When Jezarene went into hiding. Wouldn’t that be the end of the Redcap Varcolacs?” I asked.

“Maybe or so the Sixx assumed. The Varcolacs that were left went into hiding with Jezarene. They were weak because their supply of food, humans, was low and well hidden. They needed to recuperate. It was in Scotland where she delivered her army of Redcap Voldors, Sunsetters, as a retaliation against the Sixx.”

“Delivered?” I inquired anxiously. “I thought she could not have children.”

“She summoned The Dark One, one last time and he granted her the wish that she so desperately wanted.”

“What was that?” I asked, bugged eyed.

“To conceive,” William answered quietly. “Once the sun set, Jezarene gave birth to six hundred undead over the course of three days. Some matured in a matter of days whereas others it took months. Each were ranked in order of nascence. It was when the sun hid behind the moon that the undead was at its strongest, when they couldn’t be wounded. The setting sun gave them power. It was when the humans never suspected that death awaited them. Hence, the Sunsetters were different physically than their counterparts, the Varcolacs, with the exception that they all had one quality—”

“What was that?” I interrupted.

“Red hair.”

My mouth widened like I was going to yawn. My hands instantly went up to my head. Red hair? My hair with its ginger, vivacious strands were red. Could it be? But that would mean every person in the world that had red hair was … I skimmed over William’s reddish-brown tresses. My hand fell down to my heart. I felt a sharp pain shoot through my chest like a bolt. I closed my eyes momentarily to drown out the agony.

One, two … One, two … my inward heroine said soothingly.

“Jewel? Are you okay?” William had me by the shoulders gazing down at me. His velvety eyes had transformed back into a soft pearly gray.

“I-I-I’m fine. I think.”

It was not the fact that I realized how William’s hair and mine could tie into the Redcap history. It made sense. No matter which way I looked at this, I was different. What astonished me even more were the people who I had met since my arrival in Cashiers. Christopher, Naomi, Liza, the mysterious girl who I had no name to place with the face. Then there was the woman who enigmatically appeared one day out of the blue … Eris.

“We can go over this another day, another time. It pains me to see you feel this way,” William said calmly.

I removed my hand from my chest and held it up.

“No, I need to know.” My voice cracked. “I am not leaving until I know. Everything.”

William shook his head. His finger brushed up against my cheek, caressing it. “You are already debilitated. I don’t care to worsen your condition. Are you sure you want to hear more? Is this what you wish?”

“Please,” I whispered.

William stepped back to where he was able to make eye contact with me. I’d never seen such distress in his near-perfect features before.

I moved forward invading his personal space. Strangely, I felt safe there. “You were saying that the one characteristic that the Redcap Vorcolacs and Voldors had in common was red hair? So what was the trait that set the two apart?” I questioned.

Traits would be the better term. As decades melted into centuries, which eventually flowed into a millennia, the Redcap race was distinguishable by two groups. The Vorcolacs were the mutated version of the Voldors.”

“How did that happen?”

“No one really knows.”

“How do the Voldors and the Vorcolacs differ?”

“Sunsetters differ vastly than our counterparts. The beast within is hidden. We have mortal features and therefore can assimilate into the human way of life. Adapt to their norms in a non-threatening way. Our countenance is what brings our prey to us, even though we have immortal capabilities to take what we desire. Our vision and sense of smell is heightened allowing us to see and smell for miles.” William’s gaze moved towards the mountains.

“Something happened when Jezarene forged from the bowels of Hell, the first set of Redcaps. Somehow, they transformed into something more sinister, evil. They were smaller and thinner in stature with blazing eyes of fire. Their eagle claws replaced human-like hands and the arms were long and droopy. They had little to no body hair. The slimy, clear substance that covered their bodies was used to paralyze their victims. No human could outrun a Vorcolac, for they wore iron boots, which assisted them in running like the speed light. They are very agile and fast, jumping from rock to rock like fleas.”

“Rocks?” I asked, following William’s gaze into the mountains.

Were they, the Vorcolacs, actually here? Hiding amongst these rocks? The mountains?

Yes, my inward heroine whispered.

Is this why I had a love for the mountains? Was there a connection?

Yes, she repeated.

A sudden chill crossed me. I shivered, folding my arms across my chest. “They are here aren’t they?”

“Yes,” William said. He glanced back and forth between the two mountains. Several other mountains loomed in the background. “Rocks, mountains…are how we prefer to live. It assists in disguising our identities. These two mountains separate our worlds. Wars amongst ourselves pretty much eradicated most of the atrocious Vorcolacs but some were kept alive as soldiers or guards. After the Voldors—Sunsetters—and Vorcolacs settled on a truce, we migrated from one end of the earth to the next for thousands of years always keeping our distance once we settled. We eventually ended up here.”

“Why were you at war? Aren’t the Sunsetters and Vorcolacs pretty much like family?”

“Yes and no. Yes because we were created by Jezarene and no because the Vorcolacs broke the code.”

“Code?”

“Revealing yourself to humans by feeding and killing in the open. This brought attention to our covens, exposing our way of life. Remember, the Sixx has been hunting the remainder of what’s left of the Redcaps for thousands of years.”

“Are The Sixx immortal as well?” I anxiously inquired.

William sighed deeply. “Unfortunately, no. Their tradition of tracking Redcaps has been passed down through each generation.”

“It’s difficult to imagine that the two breeds were so much alike, yet so very different,” I added. “I can’t imagine being killed by a Vorcolac.”

“You almost were,” William said cautiously. “This is why I must keep you safe until I find out what is going on.”

“You mean to tell me that …” I could not finish the sentence once the realization hit close to home. Very close.

“Yes, Jewel. A Vorcolac attacked you that night in the grocery store parking lot. Why? I don’t know, but I am determined to find out because it broke the code and it almost came close to completing its task.”

I was scared again. “I thought you killed it.”

“I did, which might be motive for more to come after you.”

I gulped and swallowed the thick bile forcing its way up my narrow esophagus. “It was about to bite my neck. It had long sharp fangs,” I whimpered.

William’s facial expression became as hard as stone. “A Redcaps feeding methods are not what you think.”

William glanced at the sun lowering at a steady rate. I sensed his apprehension as well as my own. I knew time was of the essence and maybe the sun setting was not a good idea, at least for me, but there were still unanswered questions.

“All vampires feed by biting. Right? Two puncture wounds in the neck, preferably, but wherever they can find a blood source, correct?”

William was strangely quiet. He looked as if he contemplated answering my last question. “How do Sunsetters and Vorcolacs feed? By sucking blood from their host?”

“Sometimes, but not exactly,” William said.

“William, you are not answering my question,” I pleaded. “How do the Redcap vampires eat? It’s okay. I can answer it myself. You kill by biting the neck or wherever your fangs land but the preferred method is by dipping your hat or hair in blood. Right?” I squeaked.

He ignored my question and then pointed towards my cell phone that was in my front pants pocket.

“Are you going to answer that?”

Then, as if on cue, my cell phone rang, startling me. He knew my phone was going to ring before it actually did. I glanced down at the screen. Bobbie. Just as I was pressing the end button, a flashy reflection caught my eye from the top of the mountain. It was two pearl colored Range Rovers. William moved so fast to collect the picnic items that his movements were not visible. I felt horrible as I watched him gather the barely eaten food.

“William, I apologize.” I looked down at the picnic spread. “We didn’t get a chance to really eat—” I paused. What was I thinking? Vampires didn’t eat mortal food. “Maybe we can make a date to do this again? I will make it up to you somehow.”

The movement in William’s upper body ceased. He stood up like a bedspring. His back was turned. The high-end SUVs had caught his attention. He sluggishly turned to face me, his face filled with sorrow and regret. He moved towards me and coolly extricated the remaining strands of hair from my braid. Williams voice softened to the point to where it was almost inaudible.

“I don’t have a soul, shadow, or even a reflection. I don’t have emotions…”

I bit my bottom lip. “You don’t feel what I feel.” I shook my head and placed my face into my hands. “Who am I kidding?”

Silence.

I continued raising my head. “I don’t believe you, because if you didn’t have any emotions, then you would have let that Redcap, Vorcolac, Voldor, or whatever kill me.”

He touched my arm. A sense of calm washed over me. “I can not help that I was designed to not empathize with humans. It would be a weakness, but I do know this: I have never loved anyone until I saw you that day. It was like something inside of me clicked, mi corazon,” William said sweetly.

I blushed. I didn’t know how to translate the last part of his statement but knew it had something to do with love.

“I wish I could say the same. I mean I don’t know what love is supposed to feel like.” How was I supposed to understand love when it was something I never received?

William brought his hand to his chest. “You will know. Your yearning will be fierce like a lioness protecting her cub. It will be something that will claim and consume you. The passion is instant, immediate. I do know this: I want to be where the sun loves the sky.” His finger grazed my cheek. “You are my sky.”

My cheeks grew hot from the sudden rush of blood flow. Looking down, I grazed my foot across the plush carpet of grass. “I do get the wiggles …”

Whenever you see him? my inward heroine asked.

“Since that day at the gas station,” I continued.

“Wiggles?” William laughed.

“I get nervous, if that’s better.” I looked down at the ground again. I brought my attention to the beautiful nature surrounding us. “You mentioned that I was somehow related to a Sunsetter. How could that be possible?”

If a dark cloud could have floated over my head and rained down thunderous showers, it would have been then. The mood quickly changed.

“I have been trying to figure out exactly the purpose of you moving here. I have always summated perplex situations, but this one is a first. You are human but have the characteristics of one of us.”

I gradually backed away and then stopped. William matched my movement and was up against me before I could I blink.

“Jewel, you have the features of a Sunsetter, from the hair to your glowing eyes. But I can’t decipher your smell, which is supposed to tell me everything about you since your birth. It’s a mix of something else. Your scent is intoxicating, sweet like an untouched nectar that is ripe and waiting to be suckled by a mockingbird.”

William stood so close I could have felt his heart beat if he had one. I thought of the near-absent reflection that winked at me when William and I stood in the mirror. The pieces to the puzzle were starting to fit. Why was my reflection almost barely there? Could it be? But how? According to the websites, I had browsed you had to be bitten and transformed by another vampire. I had yet to discover where the undead could reproduce. More so, I wanted to know what relation I had with this mythical creature and if that explained why I was different from the other children growing up. How I could entice other people to bid my will? Where did the sudden burst of energy come from when I felt threatened? Was that why my parents tried to drown me in the bathtub all those years ago? Vampires survived from live hosts. A human’s blood. I ate vegetables, fruits, and meat. I tried to make sense of it all.

“So … what are you saying?” My voice was shaky. “That I am one of those Redcaps?”

He nodded his head making the gastric contents in my stomach churn.

I ran my hand over my hair. “I had two productive hard working parents once. I had a family. Just because I have red hair doesn’t mean I’m a Redcap. I have cancer! That is what the doctor told me. Do vampires get cancer? No!”

I brought my hands to my head. I was dizzy, nauseated, not from my illness but from the unknowing. William was holding me faster than I could release the next breath. I gazed up into his eyes, his lips brushing the tips of my hair. The spicy scent that surrounded him was appealing. It subsided my lightheadedness along with the nausea. I felt the cool, soothing mist from the whisper of his words flow from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. I looked up at William. The muscles in his body were constricted. His gaze was soft. I could tell that he agonized over my pain.

He whHe “The blood that courses through your veins … I can smell it, feel it, and almost taste it.” He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply from my hair. The primal beast in his voice threatened to escape. The original melodic sound that once accompanied his pitch was replaced by a primordial, hoarse, brute tone. “I feel connected to you now more than ever. We will figure this out together and why you have the scent of one of us. There is a reason why you are here …” I stiffened in his arms. He calmly spoke in my ear. “What happened to your family?”

“They tried to kill me when I was younger,” I continued. “Said something about me being the Devil and being different. I relive it everyday. It’s hard. For awhile I questioned my existence, but I’m here for a reason apparently. I will find out soon enough.”

William narrowed his eyes, his pouty lips were tight. .

“What did they do to you?”

“Tried to drown me on the night of my birthday party. I was four. My mom hit me over the head with something hard. I fell into the bathtub. The water was so hot and it burned my throat and chest. The last thing I remember was my father holding me down, telling me that he was sorry.” I brought my hand to my head. “Since that incident I have developed dyslexia, which has been a challenge. Then I bounced from foster care homes to group homes. Pretty much a rough life.”

“Where are you parents now?”

“I really don’t know. The stories were sketchy. There were rumors that both my mom and dad went to prison and then another one of them leaving the country. But I was told when I was older that they had been sentenced to life without parole at the Texas State Prison. I haven’t been able to confirm that to date.” I hurriedly brushed away a tear. “I started to inquire about their whereabouts when I turned thirteen. All I wanted to ask was why? It seems as if no one knows of their whereabouts. I have never been able to locate them.” My voice faded away.

“Have you thought just maybe they were right?” he asked quietly.

“My parents?”

“Yes.”

“About me being the Devil?”

“About you not being wholly human …”

If I could disappear now was the time. “I knew that I was different. That I could make people or animals do things that I wanted them to do and make them forget that I did it.”

“That is a gift, an ability. Something an ordinary human would not possess. Your spellbinding is stronger than I thought.”

“You know about spellbinding?” I asked.

“Yes, but yours is the strongest I’ve seen. Amongst the Redcaps, that is. Having the ability to command animals is amazing. Who knows what else you can do with the proper guidance,” William replied.

“Earlier, you mentioned something about my scent. Do you smell people to read them?” I inquired.

“It’s more complicated. My keen sense of smell can pick up everything about a person’s life from the time they were born until the exact hour they will expire I can also sense when someone possesses a special ability such as yourself.”

“Is that how you were able to find me?”

William raised his eyebrow.

“That night at the grocery store.”

“My olfactory senses are keener than the average Sunsetter, but my ability to project my body where I will at any instant is how I am able to appear in places least expected. Astral traveling or projection.”

My memory rolled back a couple of weeks. The lavender roses … my hospital room being thirteen stories high … the window being inhumanly impossible to open.

“What are you thinking?” William cocked his head to the side.

“You can’t smell my thoughts?” I smiled.

“No.” William tapped his nose grinning. “I can’t smell your thoughts but I do sense there is something inside of you.”

My inward heroine …

“You make it sound as if there is some alien living inside of me,” I replied.

“So are you going to tell me what you are thinking?” he persisted.

“How did you get up into my window if you can be anywhere you want to be?” I asked. “It was left slightly open.”

“Exercise is good for the body. I enjoy scaling high buildings from time to time,” he said. “I will show you soon.”

“Not if one of those monsters gets to me first,” I scowled.

William squinted his eyes and then shook his head from side to side. “I will never allow anyone to hurt you again.”

“How chivalrous of you.” I blushed, fiddling with the grass beneath my feet. I’d never had someone show an ounce of concern besides Bobbie. A few minutes of silence passed between us, which cleared the air some. I thought of the countless parties that my peers had over the years never inviting me. “I haven’t celebrated a birthday since that night.”

William’s eyes bore into me as if he were trying to search my soul. His eyes were lighter in color—a powdery gray. “I have never commemorated such an occasion.”

“What? A birthday?” I focused on the food, rummaging through the packed picnic basket. I snagged a piece of aged cheddar cheese.

“No, never.”

I stopped chewing. “Why not? Everybody celebrates birthdays.”

“Not Redcaps. We mature at different ages depending on our feeding cycles. The more you feed, then of course the more youth will grace you.”

“So … are there babies? Vampire babies?”

“No. There is no reproduction, unfortunately.”

I scratched my head. “How do you survive if you can’t reproduce?”

“Reproduction is not a factor when you are immortal with no imperfections which means you’re indestructible. Redcaps don’t possess the ordinary functions of the human body.”

“How old are you?”

“We don’t use the human method of birth years. Hypothetically speaking…” he grinned “…dating back to the 9th century BC, I would guesstimate 2,960 in Sunsetter years.”

I could not believe what I was hearing, but yet there he stood. William was ageless yet beautiful. A tingling sensation engulfed my body as I came to the realization that a piece of history was standing right before me.

“In human years, I would guesstimate seventeen and a half. Three months shy of eighteen …” he quietly added.

A door closing a distance away brought our attention to the mountains facing the east. William carried the remainder of the picnic paraphernalia towards the truck.

“You must go now. Mel? Is it?”

I nodded my head and rolled my eyes.

“My wishes are for Mel to allow you to go with me on an outing again. Being tardy will not suit her.”

“Okay,” I mumbled, quietly following William to the truck.

“I feel for what you must have gone through as a child. I can sense the hurt in your voice, even though you portray differently to me otherwise,” William said gently.

“My life is like scattered chapters in a book. Sometimes, I have to restart at the beginning just to understand what the theme or plot is. I’ve had it hard since I knew what breathing was. There were many times that I wished for death. For me it always hides its pretty face,” I said reluctantly.

William stopped walking. “There is nothing pretty about death, Jewel, and once you find that one thing that makes your heart swelter, you will understand what I mean.” William took my hand and placed it on his rigid chest. “If I could feel what it’s like to have a heart beat inside of me. I would give anything for that experience, but I would settle for protecting yours.”

“You will? I mean would?” I’d never had anyone speak to me this way before. I didn’t want to feel helpless or hopeless at least in his eyes.

The deepness of William’s stone-colored eyes searched for the soul within me. “Life is like an odyssey. You will stagger and fall, but no matter what, I will be there to transport you through it all. You must believe that.” He hesitated for a moment to let it sink in. “Are you afraid of me after I divulged a few things about my life to you?”

“No.” I paused for a moment. “I know I am safer with you than anyone else.”

My phone rang once more. I immediately sent the call to voicemail. Before the call could even clear, Bobbie sent me a text message.

Where are you? You haven’t called or texted. Mom is worried out of her mind.

“Think it’s best we get you back home,” William said, looking at the two glistening Ranger Rovers that were still parked in the mountains. A tinted window rolled down slightly. Light red hair flowed out the window, flapping in the wind. I knew it was them, the pretty girls. William started to walk again towards the truck. I trailed behind him.

“I didn’t think that those mountains were accessible by car,” I said cautiously, watching the vehicles.

“It isn’t, not by the human eye that is,” William said, picking up his speed as he walked back to the truck. Before I knew it, I was jogging to catch up with him.

“Do you know who that is?” I asked, following him. He motioned for me to get in once he secured the picnic items onto the back of the truck.

“Family. I’ll explain later,” he said, opening the door for me to get into the pale blue Ford. He zipped to the other side and started the engine.

Very unusual, my inward heroine added.

Yes, it is, I thought to myself, but why do I find myself falling in love with this strangely alluring, ancient man?

Destiny, perhaps? she said sweetly.

I’d definitely learned a tremendous amount of information regarding William and his heritage, but it still did not answer the question as to what my relationship to the Sunsetters and Vorcolacs were. We were out of time. The Redcaps’ way of life was terrifying and gruesome, but it was their only method of survival. I pondered over the attack that happened to me in the parking lot and wondered what the connection was. I glanced over at William, who grabbed my hand and gently squeezed it, the coolness from his skin sending tiny shocks up my arm. I felt another wave of nausea hit me as I suddenly came to the conclusion I had feared all along: My coming to this town was not by chance but fate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Today was the day that I would follow up with Dr. Gupta, the pediatric oncologist, to begin taking the oral medication, Iressa, to see if it would help shrink the tumors on my brain. However, I was going on another date, a quick one of sorts, to meet William’s immediate family. He didn’t explain much about his father with the exception that he wouldn’t be there, but he promised that everyone had fed the night before. I made the joke about the victim being some pedophile walking the streets of Asheville, but he never confirmed nor denied it. Before William drove through the waterfall, which led into Shadowbend Falls, I had him stop so that I could roll down my side of the window. I wanted to feel the enchanted water against my skin. I was living the last days of my life, and I wanted to go out with a bang. William did as I instructed and slowly drove through the falls. I savored every moment, letting the crisp, cool water splash my face, hands, and arms. We drove on through the Silver Run Falls until we came to the base of another waterfall that flowed from heights unknown. It sat in between two massive mountains with six smaller mountains surrounding it on each side. William turned off the truck and zipped like lightning over to my side. He opened the door and lifted me out like I was royalty.

Come to her, my inward heroine whispered.

Once my feet touched the ground, six dragonflies of various colors danced around my head and kissed my face, greeting me. Moments later, I was swarmed by a group of multicolored dragonflies. I giggled and swirled my hands in the air making odd shapes such as heart or a smile in the middle of them. More dragonflies, in the hundreds, encircled the ones that already congregated around me causing a whirlwind. I stood in the middle of the colorful tornado as the dragonflies swirled around me.

“The most beautiful sight for one to see…” William’s rhythmic voice hailed. “You are indeed very talented with nature. You command them with such presence.”

I waved my hand and the dragonflies scattered like parting clouds. William handed me a brown paper bag.

“What’s this?” I asked, opening the bag. Sliced granny smith apples, ripe strawberries, and toffee dip were inside. I took a big whiff, inhaling the scent of my favorite fruit.

“Eat,” William demanded. I’m worried about your weight.”

“Unfortunately, having cancer wipes out your appetite but since you insist.” I hungrily gobbled down two slices of granny smith apples and a strawberry. I closed my eyes to savor the flavor. “How did you know what my favorite fruit was?” I asked, opening my eyes.

“I did my research,” he answered.

I gazed upwards towards my favorite part of nature’s beauty. “Those mountains are the most beautiful part of Mother Earth. One day when I get better I am going to make it my mission to climb one,” I said.

“Why wait? Lets do it now,” William challenged, taking the bag of fruit out of my hands.

“I would rather you drive. Can you drive?” I asked.

“You will enjoy it this way,” he smiled.

William stopped walking and swooped me up into his arms. He leaped from one spot to another like a grasshopper. Once we came upon the mountain, he carried me through a plush web of leaves where a finger of light parted the sea of green leading the way.

“Are you ready?” William asked. His eyes trailed towards the mountain sitting adjacent to the waterfall.

“Yes,” I squealed, anxiously eyeballing the rugged mountain. It was always my dream to see one. I never thought in a million years I would be carried up one.

In a flash, we were traveling up the mountain. His movement was so fast at first that everything around me was a blur. I buried my face into William’s shirt to prevent the wind from stinging my eyes. William finally slowed enough to where I could capture things that I thought would never exist on a mountainside such as trees, animals, undiscovered caves, and miniature waterfalls. The light wind grazing my face was so smooth it was like we were floating on clouds. After we made it midway up the mountain, William stopped so that I could take in my surroundings.

From a distance away, looking up into the mountains, one would think that it was inaccessible. There were immaculate well-made mini mansions with floor-length windows all around that sat on stilts overlooking bluffs. The part of the mountain that was made of rock was constructed into pebbled roads made for driving. Tiny, crystal clear brooks that flowed in from the waterfalls provided the freshest water on Earth. What appeared to be a school and a few stores were scattered throughout the mountain. It looked like a small community within itself. William gently swept me up again and continued on towards the peak of the mountain.

Upon arriving at the top, a home that looked more like a castle was integrated into the mountain. We were so high up that we could touch the clouds that floated by. The massive home was approximately 40,000 square feet in size and sheltered by redwood, oak, and pine trees. My eyes flew to the left at the sound of another waterfall that trickled from some boulders and poured into an underground pool. Two pearl Range Rovers and a cherry red Audi R8 LMX was parked outside three of the ten carport doors. William took my hand and led me towards the entrance of the home. I was in such shock at the opulent mansion that I could barely think of what to say.

“Is this … where you live?” I asked wide eyed, reminding myself of the archaic 1960’s Ford truck that William drove. His vehicle didn’t match the home.

“Yes, it is,” William replied softly.

“What kind of work does your mother do for a living?” I said more so out of fascination than in surprise.

“I will divulge all the information you need to know as soon as we enter the compound.” William turned me in the opposite direction of his home. He brought my attention to another mountain looming in the distance. “There is another compound nearly the same as this one. The only difference is their home is made of cedar and stone. We have ten car garages and they have fifteen.”

“The other compound?” It came out more as a statement than a question. “The Vorcolacs?”

“Exactly,” William confirmed, turning back around to face his compound, “and here lies the Voldors, the Sunsetters. Well, most. Others are scattered throughout the mountain in the homes that you saw on our way up. The main family lives here.”

A door slowly opened and a woman with hair so red it looked like it could have been dripping blood walked out. She smiled politely as she gracefully walked towards us in an all white chiffon gown that swayed at her ankles. Rosy cheeks and bright peppery eyes highlighted her skin tone, which had a slight reddish tint to it. The ruby necklace around her neck and ruby bracelet probably cost more than the two Range Rovers parked outside the ten-car garage. She extended her hand to me like she was of nobility.

“Hello, I am Morgwen Knight, William’s mother. We have been waiting to meet you. We have heard so much about you, Jewel,” she said sweetly but her rigid posture said otherwise. Her eyes softened as she watched William shuffle uneasily.

“Wow.” I breathed, still fascinated by her beauty. She looked like an angel. “I never thought I would see a home that was as beautiful as the person who owned it.”

Morgwen let out angelic laughter, her hand still extended.

“Oh, sorry,” I muttered, taking her hand to shake it.

Upon grasping my hand, Morgwen’s eyes widened. Her mouth fell slightly ajar. She dropped her hand and stared at William, her eyes beckoning for something that I could not understand. William shifted uneasily again and was about to say something until two girls exited the giant double doors. They were the same identical girls that I had seen at the gas station. They glided towards us looking like celestial goddesses. The only thing missing was their wings. Both girls had light red hair, almost to where they could pass for strawberry blondes. The girl to the left, and who was an inch taller, had big loose curls that rested at her waist. The shorter of the two had hair styled in a short edgy haircut with the back swept forward. She held a tablet with a pencil in her hand.

They were both model perfect with tiny Barbie doll waists and long, slender legs. They showcased their fashion sense with crème-colored Burberry long sleeve shirts and matching khaki skirts that fell right above the knee. Their faces were flawless with Kate Middleton shaped noses and high cheekbones. They had natural strawberry-colored cheeks, light gray eyes, and bright red lips. They were cherubic and graceful in their stride. The duo was almost angelic in appearance.

“These are my sisters; Olivia is the eldest, and Liliana, the one with notebook, is the youngest of the two.” William smiled.

Olivia watched me for a moment before introducing herself. She stood in a daze, frozen like she was in an intense train of thought. Liliana went to work on the pad scribbling. After about thirty seconds, Liliana’s pencil stopped moving and they made their way towards us.

“You’re prettier than I imagined,” Liliana, the youngest, chimed, her voice sounding like bells. She flipped open her tablet a few pages back, bypassing the picture she’d just drawn. She showed me a picture that she drew of me a few weeks back. It was of me sitting in Eris’s car at the gas station.

“Oh my! This is a masterpiece!” I exclaimed, taking in note of the intricate details of my face that she managed to draw on paper. She had everything perfect, even down to the strands of my hair. Liliana nodded her head in acceptance. I took an immediate liking to her.

“Finally, my brother found someone to cheer him up,” Olivia said, tightening her lips. There was a hint of irritation in her voice. She didn’t seem as friendly as her sister but welcomed me with open arms just the same.

“Olivia,” Morgwen scolded. She turned to me with a twitchy smile. “We are not accustomed to having many guests over, but you are more than welcome to come inside and the girls can give you a tour of the grounds.”

Olivia scooted close to Liliana to where she could whisper in her ear. The corners of her mouth tightened as she watched me. “Mother, must mean human guests? Or … I still can’t decide what she truly is,” she mumbled to Liliana who fidgeted with her pad.

Liliana’s hand moved so fast on the pad that I could not keep up with the movements.

William narrowed his eyes at his sisters and held up his hand. “Jewel, won’t be staying, Mother. She has prior obligations today.”

Morgwen’s bottom lip drooped making a pouty face, but her alluring beauty wouldn’t allow anything else.

“I can come back tomorrow or whenever you guys will have me,” I said, eagerly looking at William. He nodded his head in approval.

Olivia cocked her jaw to the side and shook her head at me. “There won’t be a tomorrow.”

“Olivia!” Both William and Morgwen cried out in their harmonious voices.

“Tell him, Liliana. Tell William what you see,” Olivia demanded, never removing her eyes from me.

Liliana flipped open the tablet once again with it landing on the page she needed to show. “I don’t think this is a good idea,” she said in a soft rhythmic voice. She cradled the tablet like a baby.

“I don’t have the time for this, Olivia,” William warned, his tone deadly.

Olivia bowed her head, her long loose curls swaying back and forth. “I don’t mean to intrude or over step my bounds, Brother. If you will just take a look at Liliana’s drawing maybe you will see for yourself. Liliana has never been wrong.”

“This is not the way to conduct yourselves in front of a guest,” Morgwen said, taking the tablet from Liliana.

Upon looking at the drawing, Morgwen dropped the tablet, the pages flapping over from the briskness of the wind. William zipped right up to the tablet to see the drawing for himself. He slowly picked up the picture and studied it for a minute. His eyes were filled with sorrow as they slowly met mine. His arm dropped to his side, the tablet literally dangling from his fingers.

“You’re scaring me, William.” My eyes erratically scanned the family who held the same expression as he did. “What is on that paper?”

William sluggishly held up the picture; it held elaborate, complex drawings. It consisted of two opposing sides filled with a mixture of people and beasts. It looked like they were about to go to war, but what was striking was the drawing of William and me in the middle of it all. Furthermore, the most astonishing of all was my face being half beast, half human.

“Why are our faces in the middle of a … Why does my face look like that?” I cried, looking at Liliana then Olivia. They both stared at William, heads bowed, waiting for him to give me answers. Morgwen appeared by me in an instant, her hand softly caressing my shoulder.

“Because,” William said with anguish, “from what this drawing shows … you are one of them. Half Vorcolac, half human. I knew there was something about your scent, but I just couldn’t say until I knew for sure.”

“How could I be? A monster?” I shrieked.

This is a part of who you are. You have been given a gift, my inward heroine said, a dark gift.

William grasped my hand gently. “You are no where near a monster, Jewel. The young lady that I see is human. She has the heart and morals of a human. That is all you will ever be.”

“There was a reason why I couldn’t read you. It’s because there is a force inside you preventing it from happening,” Olivia said quietly. Her left hand rested on her forehead.

Me, my inward heroine confirmed. She can’t read you because of me.

I brought my hands to my face, my cheeks suddenly drained of its blood. “Why are our faces in the center of people and monsters that look like they are about to go to battle?” I inquired.

“What I feel for you is forbidden. I was never supposed to leave my compound…” William motioned with one hand at his surroundings “…I wasn’t supposed to leave this kingdom during daylight hours. Only as the sunset was I supposed to leave and that was to hunt. I am a prince, destined to be crowned King soon, but the day that I decided to evacuate my compound against my mother’s beckoning was the day I met you. Don’t you see?” William gently took my hand into his. “Our meeting was by fate, not chance. Al instante me enamoré de ti en ese momento. I instantly fell in love with you at that moment.”

“So… so this doesn’t change the way you feel about me?”

“No.”

“Because my feelings for you …” I stopped, choking back a cry. Morgwen massaged my shoulders, the expression on her face grave.

“I have fallen for you and hard. I love you, William,” I continued.

“That’s the issue,” William replied softly, holding up the drawing, “I never speculated that it would come to this, but Liliana’s illustrations are always accurate. Her gift of foresight depicts everything. The love that we hold for one another will spark a war.”

“A war? What does how I feel for you and the way you feel for me have to do with anyone else?” My head throbbed. The blood pressure in my body was rising.

“I have been paired at the turn of the fifth moon … to bring a truce between the Voldors and Vorcolacs.”

Paired?” I cried.

William pointed towards the mountain where the Vorcolac compound was stationed. “An arranged marriage … within the next year.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Quiero estar donde el sol siempre amará el cielo.

Esto es lo que siento por ti…..

I want to be where the sun will always love the sky. This is how I feel about you …

Every since our first outing together, my feelings grew like wild tumbleweeds for William, my Sunsetter. I was in love. Each day for the next few days he would leave me a different colored rose with a love note written in Spanish attached to it. There was no doubt he cared about me. I tried to comprehend, the pairing that William spoke of, and each time I thought of such a thing occurring I became sick to my stomach. I pushed the thoughts aside. I would see him soon.

Today was no different than any other day. Mel decided to use her Saturday to sightsee and shop rather than take care of me. My strength had dwindled and my attendance in class was literally non-existent, yet I decided to get out of the house and bask in the fresh sunshine, at the beckoning of Bobbie before she went hiking with her friends. Bobbie had expressed how horrified she was at my ghastly legs, which were steadily losing their color, and how she should take me to a tanning salon. I dismissed the offer and opted for the natural and free rays from sunlight. As I stretched out on the porch planning my day, Mel poked her head out of the door.

“Those girls called again. Have you decided whether you are going to the park today or not?” Mel said with pushiness in her voice. “I need to know and soon. I have things to do today.”

The lovely month of October was here. The Goblin in the Green Festival was only a couple of weeks or so away. Danielle and Mary Kaye had elected me to be on the dance committee to assist with decorations and ideas for music. I peeled myself off of the porch.

“I’m going. I need to get out anyway,” I mumbled.

“Well, put some clothes on,” Mel snapped, walking onto the porch. “If you lose anymore color, you’re going to be a ghost! Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

No, she hasn’t! my inward heroine fired back.

“It’s the anemia from the cancer, Mel, “ I said dryly.

“Right,” Mel muttered, scratching her head. “Right.” She turned to walk back into the house, but I tapped her shoulder stopping her.

“Mel?”

She swung around with bulging eyes. “Don’t back out of this. You need to get out of the house. Breathe some fresh air for a change. It’s good for your sickness. Besides, I have a lunch date with a friend today.” Mel scratched her head again. I sensed it was time for her to take a pill soon, maybe four.

“I am going. I am going,” I said anxiously, grabbing a handful of papers.

“Well, what do you want? You kids always want something,” Mel said with quivering lips.

“Eris? Have you seen her since we moved here?” I asked.

Mel shook her head. “No, I haven’t seen Eris … at all. Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering that’s all.”

Mel scrunched her lips together puzzled. “It’s strange actually. The entire set up. Eris sort of … disappeared.” For a moment, Mel looked like she wanted to say more. She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and motioned for me to get dressed.

Mel dropped me off at The Village Green, the public park in Cashiers. She floored the accelerator and did not look back once.

First of the month, your check is in. You probably won’t see Mel all day, my inward heroine said evenly.

I stood underneath a tree near the pavilions listening to Danielle, Mary Kaye, and Amy bicker back and forth about the decorations for the annual Goblin in the Green dance. The event was less than a few weeks away. Jax eagerly watched me from the side as Cliff and the vice president of the student council, Javier, spoke aimlessly about the need of a mariachi band during the Goblin in Green festival.

The park was filled with rustic pavilions, dahlia and azalea gardens, trails that led up into thick, mystical forests, and a boardwalk navigating through the wetlands. I’d planned to make my way through the trails of the wetlands once I browsed through a few printouts regarding the history of Redcap vampires, trying to understand my possible connection with them. A slim shadow darkened half of my paper prompting me to look up.

“What you got there?” Jax asked warmly. His tussled dark hair was flipped to the right side. He fiddled with his hands in his pockets. His eyes settled on the papers in my hand.

“Nothing much,” I said, quickly folding the papers. “You guys were in an intense conversation over there.”

Jax flashed a look at Cliff and Javier, who had joined the girls in marking spots on the grass. “Javier has a lot of plans for the Goblin in the Green dance. He wants a Mariachi band. Trying to bring a new flavor to town, but he waited to late for his suggestions.”

Growing up in Texas I knew a lot about Mexican music. “Wow, didn’t know that sort of music was here.”

“It’s not actually,” Javier chimed in. “We are trying to get it here, but I missed the deadline.” He extended his hand to me. “I am Javier Torres by the way.”

“Jewel Lovelan. Nice to meet you.” I crumpled the printout papers into my back pocket while Jax eyed me suspiciously.

“Any ideas from newbies are greatly appreciated, and I’m hoping to see you there …” Javier’s brown eyes gleamed. “That is if you’re feeling up to it. I heard about the … diagnosis and all.”

Jax flashed Javier a wicked look. Javier immediately regretted his comment and looked down at the ground.

“Wouldn’t miss it for thing, and I’m feeling better than ever,” I said weakly.

Javier turned to leave but then stopped. “Don’t you have an older sister?”

“Bobbie Franks,” I nodded.

Javier shook his finger. “Yeah, she speaks about you a lot at school. How smart you are and how she wishes she could be like you.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, you both are beautiful girls in my book, and thanks for volunteering. It means a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” I muttered. “Anytime.”

“You are very short on words,” Jax said, watching Javier walk away.

“Um … not really much to say these days. Trying to save my breath for when I really need it.”

“Do you have a date for the Goblin in the Green dance?” Jax smiled widely, but his emerald green eyes were absent of any emotion.

“Still undecided on whether or not I’m coming.” Jax’s facial expression was blank. His eyes searched mine for a more reasonable explanation. I shrugged my shoulders. “If I feel up to it. I really don’t want you to be waiting on me and I don’t show.”

“You know, I’ve been wanting to speak to you when you were alone,” Jax spoke lowly. His eyes cautiously darted around our surroundings. I figured he found a way to get over being turned down for the dance.

“I really don’t want to discu—”

“No…” he held his hand up “…it’s not about the dance, even though I respect your decision contemplating on whether or not to attend, considering you’ve fallen ill.” Jax ran his fingers through his messily tussled hair and studied me closely. “The eve of the third moon? Remember?”

I glanced down at the ground for a moment. At school, Jax said that he was going to reveal a secret to me about the strange events that were taking place around town. My eyes quickly met his steady gaze.

Jax leaned towards me. “Your coming here has possibly disrupted the balance of things.”

I was at a loss for words and when they did pop into my brain, I spoke each one carefully. “I. Didn’t. Have. A. Choice.”

Jax looked over his shoulder to see the group still arguing over decorations. He then brought his attention back to me. “Back in school, you asked me one day, did I see her eyes. Liza’s eyes. Remember that?” He continued in a whisper. “At that point, you must have thought you were seeing things, maybe even going crazy, but in actuality you weren’t.”

I stood there speechless, not knowing whether to agree with Jax or confide in him. After the information that William divulged and what I’d witnessed, anything was possible, including my speculations about Liza. Movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. A tall, dark-haired woman with a muscular build appeared from underneath the pavilion. Her head was turned towards our direction watching us.

Jax took a step closer to me and I moved back one. He held up his hands defensively. His eyes were wide with no expression. Jax’s playful demeanor had changed in an instant. “What you saw that day was real and that girl Liza is not who you think she is. None of them are.”

“Who is Liza? What is Liza?” I corrected.

“A blood bathing, blood sucker.” The words rolled off his tongue in disgust.

I nodded my head, acknowledging his findings. “I figured as much.”

“I see someone has enlightened you.” Jax narrowed his eyes. “Be careful. Liza and the others are not the undead leeches that you read about in novels. None of them are. The way they kill their victims and cover themselves with their blood is beyond any human’s imagination. It’s a ruthless way to exist!”

“Huh?” I leaned my neck in closer, stunned. “Am I hearing you correctly? Did you just say they cover themselves in blood?” The vivid scene of William pouring blood over his hair flooded my memory.

He ignored my question. “You look just like them from your light colored eyes to your red hair. You all look alike but you, you’re different. Something within you prevented us from finding you.”

He speaks of me. I am your amour, your protector, your sheath, my inward heroine said.

The woman, with her Amazonian-like features, moved again but this time towards where Jax and I were standing. She stopped walking and observed our interaction. Even from a distance away, her dark hair and piercing green eyes were noticeable. As I leaned my neck in closer, her identity came to light. She was the clerk at the grocery store who’d bought me a newspaper. What was she doing here? My eyes slowly trailed back to Jax. He continued speaking as a general uneasiness surrounded me.

“We, The Sixx, have sat silent for centuries, hidden in the darkness, watching to make sure the codes were not broken,” he spoke in a hushed voice. “You really shouldn’t have come here, but yet here you stand. Your presence has apparently upset the balance of what was once stable amongst the Redcap covens. Hmmm… let’s rephrase that. They are no longer referred to by such a brute word. Rojas, shall we?” Jax spat with disgust with the corner of lips turned up into a snarl.

He moved closer to move. His stance almost crouching. “Why your own kind would turn on you amazes me. Maybe it’s because you are a half-breed. I know what happened that night in the parking lot and how he saved you. William. The prophecy is coming true about you and him. Your forbidden love is going to spark a war.”

“What?” I asked, wide eyed and in shock.

Half-breed? The thought of Olivia’s drawing with my face as half human, half beast came to mind. Not to mention that Jax was apart of The Sixx? But that would only make sense being that The Sixx were mortal enemies of the Rojas. The pieces of this intriguing puzzle were finally coming together.

“You’re not making sense.” My skin crawled with goose bumps. The once sincere, calm Jax I knew was no longer standing in front of me. A deadly tracker replaced him. A tracker that wanted anything associated with the Rojas covens dead and here I was supposedly one of them.

Jax opened his mouth to say something else, but Mary Kaye flamboyantly draped her arms around his neck.

“There is my sweet friend!” she said in a high-pitched voice, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder. Mary Kaye had doubled her application of apple red lipstick to make her lips appear fuller. “What are you doing in that position? Are you entertaining our fragile girlie, keeping her company?” she asked.

Jax nonchalantly removed Mary Kaye’s arms from around his neck, never taking his eyes off of me. He quickly straightened his posture. “Trying my best,” he said with a tinge of irritation in his voice.

“Aww, how sweet of you,” Mary Kaye purred, “but unfortunately I need my date for the dance’s opinion on where we should drape the paper goblins.”

Date?” Jax turned up his lips.

Danielle appeared out of nowhere and propped her elbow on Mary Kaye’s shoulder. “Oh, we have already decided who is going with who.” Danielle then addressed me. “We haven’t quite figured out yet whom you would fit with.”

“We have seen you hanging around town with that gorgeous, smexy guy,” Mary Kaye sniggered, “maybe you should go with your new boyfriend!”

“Some guy stopped by looking for you earlier,” Danielle said.

“You’re just now telling me?” My eyes widened. I just knew it was William.

“Oh, don’t fret…” Danielle waved her hand “…he said he would be back later on. What was his name?” she asked, looking at Mary Kaye.

“Er … Chris? Christopher, maybe?” Mary Kaye replied absentmindedly.

I opened my mouth to answer but before any words rolled out, Danielle interrupted what I was going to say.

“Back to the Goblin in the Green Festival. There were quite a few guys wanting to ask you to the dance before you got sick—”

“Me being one,” Jax interrupted, still eyeballing me strangely.

“But you are my date,” Mary Kaye insisted, “and Jewel just told you she might not feel up to coming.”

“It’s okay, honestly,” I added, rushing away. “I’m not going. You two would make a great couple.” I pointed towards a part of the forest that led to the wetlands. The wetlands derived its name from the water that would trickle in from the waterfalls. “Going for walk. Be back soon.”

I left everyone standing there dumbfounded and clueless. Except for Jax. He watched me carefully, ignoring the advances of Mary Kaye and the others until I disappeared out of sight. What on Earth had just happened with Jax and how did he know that a member of the Rojas tried to kill me? What did my feelings for William have to do with anything? How did Jax even know William’s name? I knew there was something odd about the friendliness Jax exhibited. His behavior was bizarre since the first day I met him. Always popping up in places least expected and unannounced. However, based on what he’d said, I questioned why I really came to Cashiers. Then there was the old woman … Eris. Mel mysteriously receives and accepts a job offer by some woman she had never met before. What were the odds of that? Could my foster family be in danger? I needed to find Eris but didn’t know how to look or where to start.

As I neared closer to the wetlands, a looming figure leaning up against a tree underneath the boardwalk gradually appeared. Adjusting my glasses, I could tell it was a female by the curvaceous but fit figure. She changed positions and broadened her chest like she was a royal messenger.

“Naomi!?” I inquired, moving closer

I picked up speed once I noticed it was her. It had been a few days since we had last seen each other. While I’d been shut in, sick from severe nausea and general fatigue, Naomi and I kept in contact via texting and occasional phone calls. She would often express how much Christopher thought of me and wanted to visit.

Naomi smiled brightly, happy to see me. Her dark red hair had a wild curl to it and was pulled back with a ruby-studded headband. She looked like Catwoman with an all black spandex suit on. I cringed at the sight of her five-inch stilettos, which was something I would definitely break my neck in. Naomi was ravishing. She bent her knees to curtsy before me but stopped midway.

“We have missed having you around so much!” Naomi said in her angelic voice.

“I’ve missed you guys too!” I replied, giving her a hug. “I apologize that I turned down all the dinner dates. Just haven’t been feeling my best lately.”

“I know you’re very ill right now, which is why I am here.”

“To have someone show concern about me before I die, is great. Never thought anyone really cared.”

“More people care about you than you know,” Naomi said softly, closing her eyes. She bowed her head modestly before me and curtsied again. Naomi had lost her mind.

I laughed, nervously looking around. “Er … Naomi. What are you doing?”

Still bowed in her curtsied position, Naomi said, “Ma’am, I here to take you home.”

“I am home. What are you talking about, Naomi?” I asked, my eyes bugged out.

“No, ma’am, you are not home. I am here to take you to your real home,” she continued in her bowed position.

“Naomi …” I laughed again but stopped shortly once I saw that she was not reciprocating the same gesture. Naomi was serious. Dead serious. “Okay, this isn’t funny anymore. Please, please stand up and stop calling me ma’am.

Naomi rose gracefully, her tone even. “This is not a game. I have been sent to retrieve you before it’s too late.”

“Too late?” I croaked. “You are beginning to sound like most of these people around here.” I wave my hand.

“Do you really know about your sickness, the cancer?” Naomi asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No one can help me. It’s too late for me and I’ve come to live with that, finally,” I stammered, still confused as to why Naomi was speaking to me this way.

“I am going to take you to a place where you will be cured. Once that happens, you will be able to sit at your rightful place at home, where you belong. It’s why I am here, “ Naomi said.

“Why we are here,” Christopher said walking out of a hidden part of the bush.

“Christopher, sir! You are not supposed to be here!” Naomi shrieked. It was the first time I had ever seen her become flustered and address Christopher that way.

His coppery curly hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail, which was tucked underneath a solid red baseball cap. I had never seen him wear a cap before. “Jewel,” he continued with delight. It was then that I remembered. He was the guy that I’d seen at the gas station, lurking behind the corner, when I first arrived in Cashiers.

Christopher’s eyes approved as he walked towards me with his arms held out. He looked like a linebacker in a crouched position with powerful, muscular arms wide open. I felt relieved to see someone, a friend, that I knew wasn’t insane for a change. I matched his posture extending my arms, ready to give him a friendly embrace. Unexpectedly, he swooped me up with one big bear hug. The small amount of air inside of my lungs escaped like a deflated balloon.

“Ahh, Chris!” I yelped as he put me down.

“Oh, so now you have a pet name for me?” A devilish grin swept across his face. “It’s okay. I like it.”

I inhaled deeply to increase the blood flow to my already tumor-infested brain.

“You squeezed whatever breath I had out. Chris-to-pher,” I gasped, realizing that he had on all black clothing and shoes.

The outfit was flattering. It brought out his well defined rugged, but alluring features. However, the red cap stood out like a bright flashing sign. Naomi cleared her throat loudly, watching Christopher.

“Your cap,” I said bringing attention to his red baseball hat, “I have seen you before.”

The smile on Christopher’s face suddenly vanished. “Where?”

“I think you know.”

“The day at the gas station?”

I nodded. “Yes. You were watching me.”

“Who wouldn’t, Jewel. You are everything a guy could hope for. I didn’t mean to scare you, and if I did, I’m sorry. It was not my intention. I’m not supposed to be here but …” He was apprehensive, his eyes floated to the sky.

“But?” I said, regaining my composure. Naomi’s eyes darted back and forth between the two of us.

Christopher’s face was serious. “I just had to see you. It’s been awhile, ” his tenor based voice chimed.

“Yeah, been sick off and on. I haven’t been playing hooky from school if that’s what you are getting at,” I said.

He reached towards my face. I held up my hand to stop him. “What are you doing?”

“Sir,” Naomi interjected.

I glanced at Naomi. “Why are you referring to him as sir?”

“I want to see you. Just you.” Christopher ignored Naomi and removed my glasses. I’d forgotten I had them on. “My time is of the essence, but I wanted to see you alone. Just you,” Christopher whispered. His cool minty breath tickled my nose.

I softly rubbed my eyes. It was like looking through a tunnel. Everything around me, with the exception of Christopher and Naomi, was blurry. The view of them was unscathed. Christopher puckered his lips showcasing his baby-face dimples as he studied me intensely. It brought back the pleasant memories that I’d spent with William in Shadowbend Falls. It was during that time, besides now, that I didn’t need my glasses to see.

Christopher marveled at me like I was a treasured gem. “You’re more beautiful than she said you were going to be …” he whispered, lightly touching my cheek.

“Who?” I asked.

Naomi appeared like lighting behind me. It was so fast the wind from her movements almost knocked me over. A beautiful day in a matter of seconds turned cloudy and gray. The winds gradually picked up and began to swirl all around me. The air was smooth and soothing. I suddenly felt at ease. In a daze I saw Naomi conversing with Christopher. It seemed as if she was pleading with him and eventually won. He walked up to me once more and gently touched my face then disappeared so fast it was as if he was never there. Naomi walked up to me and then the winds progressively died down. The tranquility of the winds vanished along with it.

“What … just happened?” I brought my hand to my head to stabilize the wooziness.

“I calmed you,” Naomi said. “Through the winds and my voice. Both have sedative effects. I don’t expect you to understand right now but soon you will.” She held her out hand. “Come, there is someone waiting to meet you.”

I hesitated, I still felt like I was floating. “Who? Who wants to meet me?”

“Your … mother …”

Nose scrunched, I looked at her questioningly. “You mean Mel?”

“No, your real mother,” she repeated, but this time with conviction. Naomi’s eyes searched mine carefully. “You really don’t know … do you?”

I shifted uneasily, reaching for my glasses. “Know what, Naomi? Just tell me. It won’t be the first time I heard interesting news today.”

I thought of Jax and then raised my eyebrows at Naomi.

Naomi took my hand and led me deeper into the forest. It was cool and misty with plenty of leafy green trees. She backed me up against a tree with branches that looked like cauliflower and placed my arms directly by my side so that my limbs could dangle freely.

“I want you to be as relaxed as possible,” Naomi said, watching me carefully. “Have you noticed anything strange? Around here?” She swiveled her head. Her silky Hershey chocolate skin glistened from the smoothness.

“Here?” I waved my hand around the shady area where we stood. The smell of compost and moss was strong.

“Not here,” Naomi said gently, “but Cashiers?”

I thought for a moment. The attack by a mutated vampire, William’s history of the Rojas coven and the Sunsetters, Liza and the mysterious girl that I saw in the library, and not to mention Jax’s story today … still no connection to how I was tied into all of this.

Naomi continued. “Your mother is a very powerful woma—”

“But my mom is in jail …” I said. I wanted to yell at her but couldn’t. I was so sleepy.

“Listen to me, please,” Naomi insisted, her eyes wildly scanning the forest. “I don’t have much time.”

“Go ahead,” I said, impatiently tapping my foot. At this point nothing would surprise me. The winds died down. The calming effect slowly dwindled away.

“I am not who you think I am. Neither is Christopher. You are not who you think you are. I am sorry to tell you this, but the parents who raised you until you were four were not your real parents.”

“How could this be?”

Naomi handed me a stack of yellow faded papers. “It’s all there. You were adopted as a newborn.”

You have recently seen these papers before, my inward heroine said.

Trembling, I fumbled through the documents. A flashback reminded me that only a few weeks earlier Eris had these same documents. I studied the papers. Only two pages stood out. Jim and Rebecca Lovelan’s names were signed on the Consent for Adoption and Certificate of Adoption papers. My name Jeweliette Lovelan was at the bottom. It was there in black and white. Grief washed over me. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. If Mom and Dad were not my real mom and dad, then who was? And why did they give me away?

Maybe that was why it was easy for my parents to do what they did to me, I thought bitterly.

Naomi pointed towards the papers. “I gave those to you because it seemed as if I was going to have a difficult time convincing you.” She blinked her almond shaped eyes. “It’s is not my duty to divulge all of this information to you. There is only one woman who can offer that explanation.”

“And who is that?” I asked still in a daze.

“Your birth mother,” Naomi said in a matter-of-fact tone.

She is right, my inward heroine said casually.

Naomi must have seen that maybe a light bulb went off in my brain. Who was I kidding? Even I didn’t know what my real history was, Jim and Rebecca Lovelan were not my real parents.

“Christopher was advised not to see you until …” Naomi paused and shook her head. “But I saw you and him. Together. You were getting close. I know he told you what he was … where he came from.”

“Who are you talking about?” I wondered.

“William,” Naomi said evenly.

“Have you been following me?” Suddenly, I thought of how both Naomi and Christopher enrolled in school the same time I did. How they took a special interest in me. Everything was not as it seemed.

“Yes, it is my duty, and right now you don’t understand but it was to protect you,” Naomi said calmly.

“Protect me from what? William?” I asked, my lips trembling.

“Yes and no. William is forbidden. He is not your suitor. Not the one chosen for you. You two were never supposed to meet but something happened. Something upset the balance. The plan. Your mother can never know. If she found out, there would be grave consequences.”

My voice trembled. This was too much information at once. I slowly walked backwards. “I’m sorry Naomi but my business with William has nothing to do with you or anyone else for that fact.” I felt faint and nauseous. I couldn’t tell if my sudden onset of symptoms was from the symptoms of cancer or if it was the overwhelming information I’d just received.

Naomi zipped to me at the speed of light and caught me before I fell. “You see,” she said, her voice sounding like an angel, “you don’t have much time. I need to take you home, where you will be taken care of, where you will heal, become powerful. The leader you are destined to be.”

My legs were wobbly and felt like jelly. I positioned myself on Naomi using her as a crutch. Her skin was as soft as cotton but as hard as steel. A slight wind flew past my nose bringing Naomi’s scent along with it—an herbal, pine aroma. It was all too familiar. I’d smelled this same invigorating scent before. They knew each other.

William … my inward heroine said.

The next thing I knew, my feet were lifted off the ground. Naomi was carrying me in her arms. Her strength was not that of a human. She was amazingly strong. I finally came to the realization. She was one of them. A Sunsetter.

“Don’t worry, I won’t carry you the entire way. I drove my car,” Naomi’s voice echoed in the wind.

I looked up at her iron-colored eyes that were highlighted by her chocolate skin. “Leader? You said I am destined to become a leader. Where are you taking me?” I asked feebly.

Naomi’s eyes softened. “Yes, a leader. I am taking you to your mother who is Queen. Queen of the Vorcolac Rojas. You are part of an ancient race of vampires. The oldest and most powerful on Earth.”

How could this be? I squeezed my eyes closed. My tears flew away with the wind. I finally discovered who I was, why my history was sketchy, and why I possessed the abilities that I had. I was weak at this point, too debilitated to fight back. I didn’t want to accept this way of life. I was content with who and what I was. I decided I would be the one to change the destiny of the Sunsetters but first I was going to confess my love for William at all costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Naomi navigated her black Jaguar XK up the mountainside with ease. The Kingdom of the Vorcolacs in Shadowbend Falls was just as equally breathtaking as the Voldor’s Dynasty. The massive dark gray dwelling was integrated into the mountain and consisted of four large towers that faced the north, south, east, and west. The palace looked like it would fall off the edge with the push of a small breeze. A moat encircled the fortress and spilled off the rocks from both sides producing shimmering light blue waterfalls.

My eyes widened as Naomi pulled in front of one out of fifteen platinum carport garages. Before I could open my door, she was at my side assisting me out of the car. The walkway to the front of the massive palace reminded me of the yellow brick road. The only exception was the color, a dark crimson. After entering the dominion, I saw two hideous looking old men who were no more than four feet tall standing guard at the front door. Their festered skin dripped a toxic slime. Long, pointed ears that could hear from miles away and tentacle-like arms drooped to the ground. Red glowing eyes sat in hollow sockets. They had on silver shiny boots that looked like steel and held long iron pikes. The only thing that appeared lively were the bright red caps that sat on their heads.

The Rojas, The Redcaps … my inward heroine advised.

Naomi led the way in, while I followed closely behind. It didn’t sit well with me that I was almost killed by one of those things. I still didn’t know why I was attacked. Looking into the face of a Rojas sent shivers down my spine. They were scarier than any man-made monsters. My initial impression of the beasts was coldness, pain, darkness, and death. I had never been so scared before. On the way into the fortress I stopped. There were empty large holes that looked like swimming pools surrounding the kingdom that should have been white but instead had a shade of light red to them.

You have seen these large holes before, at William’s compound, my inward heroine said quietly.

Once we entered the corridor, people that looked like humans met us. They all had fiery red hair. The males were dressed in black tuxedos and red bow ties. Two younger women who passed us wore long, black chiffon dresses accented by ruby jewels and silver necklaces. Their five-inch high heels didn’t make a sound on the marbled floors as they glided about in the immaculate palace. They all bowed holding that position until Naomi and I passed.

Naomi led me past a room that was huge and decadent in design. I guessed it to be the Great Hall of the palace. Chandeliers made of pure crystal accented by canary diamonds hung from the vaulted ceilings. The sparkling floor was designed like a checkerboard made of rubies and sapphires. However, that was not what captured my attention. At the very end of the Great Hall was a large table that was approximately thirteen feet long. In front of the table were seven golden chairs. The largest of the seven was in the middle. Sitting to the left of the middle golden chair was Christopher. On the opposite side of Christopher and two chairs down from him sat the strangely attractive girl who I’d seen in the library at Blue Ridge High. Before Naomi gently pulled me away, Liza appeared standing behind the mysterious girl, her light gray eyes glistening from a distance away.

What were they doing here? Did Christopher know these people as well? Was he one of them?

No, this is not a dream and yes these people are all connected, my inward heroine whispered.

“Whatever you say or do… Please do not mention William’s name,” Naomi whispered in a frightened voice.

I barely processed all of the information before Naomi whisked me to another area of the palace. We continued down another marbled floor hall until we came upon two big brass doors. It would have taken ten strong human men to open those massive doors. However, Naomi, with one slight push, swung the gigantic doors open. She bowed her head and raised her arm signaling for me to go in. I turned to ask her a question but before I could, she quickly closed the doors behind me. I swiveled around and took sight of the most extravagant place I’d ever set foot in. The area was the size of a ballroom with twenty-two ton canary diamond chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. There were floor-length windows on each side of the two thrones, which had a backdrop of a pristine waterfall. To the left of the window was another empty in-ground pool. This pool was different in color, a darker shade of red. There was a flight of stairs that led to the two large burgundy thrones.

An older woman sat calmly in the throne to the right. Her skin appeared cold and pale against the form fitting black evening gown she wore. It was made of silk and accented in red triangular diamond chips around the bodice. Around her neck rested a huge triangular Mousaieff red diamond. I recognized this rare expensive diamond by its shape and color from a prior Geology class. I moved closer to the woman thinking she would reveal her identity. I could not get a good look at her face but the big flashy red hat told it all. She motioned for me to come closer.

“Eris?” My voice trembled.

“That is right, Jeweliette.” Eris’s voice resonated throughout the ballroom, sounding like thunder. She stood up and floated towards me so fast I never saw her feet touch the stairs.

“It was you? You set all of this up?” I asked. Her face was the same as it was when I’d first met her. Aged and wrinkled.

“Yes. You were only a Bantling.”

“What is that?”

“A tender baby. A young Sunsetter. You didn’t mature as fast as the other’s because … I did what I had to do because it was the only way I knew how,” Eris said softly.

“Knew?”

“To give you away without killing you.”

“Don’t worry, my fake mom tried to kill me too,” I said bitterly.

Eris went to touch my hand but I snatched it away. Her smoky eyes pleaded for me to reason with her. “I am so sorry that you had such a rough life, but the thirst was too great. I could not maintain self-control back then when you were a baby. Your blood flowed as ripe as a human’s. I thought you would take after me initially but your father’s genetics were stronger.”

“So where is my father?” I asked.

“That is a long story,” Eris continued.

“And what about my so-called adopted parents? Where are they?” I continued with my drilling questions.

“That information will be given to you as well, once you are adjusted,” Eris replied generously.

“So what am I? One of those frightful Redcaps out there?” I asked in horror, my lips quivering.

“You are my daughter, half Rojas, half human. Redcaps is an outdated term as is Vorcolac. The more suitable, modern term is Sunsetter. The only way you will appear like one of my Rojas … guards … is if you don’t feed the appropriate way, which is why you’ve been sick.”

“What does my cancer have to do with all of this?”

“Have you ever looked in the mirror?” I didn’t say anything. I recalled my reflection flickering in and out. Eris continued. “It’s because that image you have is almost gone, just like mine. You’re half human until you feed, soaking up the blood that awaits you. It is your time to join me and become what you are destined to be. You are ripe and ready. Your sixteenth birthday has marked this.”

“Feed? I am not going to kill people and suck their blood like some parasite!” I shouted. I turned to leave but Eris zoomed in front of me with one move.

“You have been reading too many fables, Jeweliette. The feedings you have read about does not occur the way you think it does. Only occasionally do we supple from the neck.”

I thought about William being evasive to my question about the Sunsetters feedings then out of nowhere he drenched his hair with blood.

“Come, there is something I need to show you. Follow me.” Eris motioned with one hand.

I followed her to the empty in-ground pool. Once she touched the brass button, the pool filled up with a thick dark red viscous liquid. Her gray eyes immediately turned jet black.

“Please … Please don’t tell me what I think that is,” I mumbled weakly, shaking my head. I slowly backed up.

“This fresh human blood is what’s going to be your salvation,” Eris said, taking off her hat. Her thick ginger tresses fell neatly around her shoulders.

I watched in horror as Eris dipped her hat in the pool of vital fluid. The hat became lively, taking on a brighter shade of red. She then flung her hair over her head into the pool of blood like she was about to shampoo it. The hair quickly soaked up the blood almost to the roots. Eris then got up and turned to face me her strands dripping with thick drops of dark red fluid. She threw her head back and reveled in the blood, massaging her scalp then licking her fingers. A thick, red limbal ring appeared around her iris. Her colorless skin took on a healthier color. All of a sudden, her old, broken body transformed into the young, jaw dropping, gorgeous woman that I’d had seen that day outside of the market.

One, two … One, two

Counting was not going to work this time.

“This,” Eris said, shaking her beautiful hair, her perfect face smeared with a new energy, “is the way that we feed. What gives our hair its vivacious color. This is who we are, Jeweliette. Embrace your dark gift. Welcome to the World of the Rojas.”


Sunsetters

On the night of Jeweliette Lovelan’s fourth birthday, her parent’s tried to murder her. They were convinced that she was not of this world. Lost in the foster care system, her life continues to spiral downhill until a visit from a strange woman one day. Jeweliette is instantly drawn to the woman and feels as if she has met her before but has she? Jeweliette relocates to the small mountainous town of Cashier’s, North Carolina where she meets the bewitching and enigmatic William Knight. Each encounter leaves Jeweliette yearning to know more about the mysterious William until one day he reveals to her a dark secret about them both. Jeweliette is about to venture into an enchanting world that is magically hidden, a place that it is both alluring and dangerous. She will soon discover who she is and leave her old life behind. However, death is lurking around the corner once again for Jeweliette and her time is running out…

  • Author: Sylver Belle Garcia
  • Published: 2016-02-18 04:50:13
  • Words: 72620
Sunsetters Sunsetters