The night breeze picked up and sent a shiver down my spine. The clouds covered the sky, not a single star visible. I trekked through the woods. The sound of crunching twigs breaking beneath my feet and the slithering of a corpse sliding as I dragged it behind me. There wasn’t much care taken as it bashed into the branches and ditches that I wouldn’t avoid. Continuing towards my destination I found myself doubting what it means to be human. Tonight, I had killed a monster. A vampire feasting on a young girl, no older than eighteen. My mind could picture her red hair matching the colour of the blood pouring down her throat. There was fear in her blue eyes before she died, witnessing the stake penetrate the vampire’s heart.
The girl had lost a lot of blood. The vampire nearly draining her dry and the unhealed wound bled out until she took her final breath. There wasn’t much I could do for her in her final moments but comfort her and make her comfortable under the oak tree.
We knew that vampires had come back to this town. We didn’t know why or how many there were. What we did know was how to fight them. The Hunters. The secret society to rid the world of the monsters that rip the most precious people from our lives. However, this is my story and fighting through the odds, I somehow managed to find the ability to change who I had become.
Finally arriving at the clearing. The other Hunters were stacking bodies in a pile to burn. I dragged the dead vampire over and dumped him with the other vampires. This was the first time I took notice of his face. It was a young adult, barely older than twenty and his grey face had dark veins. There was the unmistakable smell of death lingering in the air, it was a smell that I had unfortunately come accustom to while hunting. For a very brief moment I pitied him. It seemed hard to imagine such a pretty face to be a monster but that’s all part of how they trap you. I had to remind myself that the young girl wouldn’t have been the first he’s murdered.
Eleanor came over to the pile shortly after my arrival. Eleanor was a tall woman with short cropped blonde hair and always swayed her hips as she walked. You could never tell what mood she would be in when you spoke to her as her personality was a double edge sword. There were times she played the innocent, weak and mild routine but I watched that woman punch a man in the face once.
“Well done, Penelope. We did good tonight. There are seven less vampires out there in the world. They won’t be hurting another poor soul.”
The edge of my lip rose to a half smile. “I know. I’m not sure if this feeling will ever subside, though. How do you get passed the fact we kill people?”
“Penelope, they’re not people, they’re monsters. The feelings you have make you human and different from them. Don’t let this haunt you too much. Without you, all the people you’ve saved would’ve died. We make a difference. There are people alive today because of we saved them.” She patted my back reassuringly. It didn’t stop the image of the girl dying flooding my mind.
“I couldn’t save her, El.” I hugged my stomach. The start of tears welling in my eyes. “The vampire I killed tonight had taken a girl to the woods. It drained her. I wasn’t able to get to her in time. She died. There was nothing I could do for her. She lost too much blood.”
Eleanor wrapped her arms around me, holding me close, rubbing my back to comfort me.
“This isn’t your fault, Penelope. The only thing to blame is the monster who took her life. How far away is she? We can take care of her. I’ll report to the police and track down her family. I’ll make sure they are supported through this terrible time.” She reassured me, again, then let go. “I’ll get Justin to take you home.”
“She’s about half a mile away under an oak tree.” I said. I collected the tears rolling down my face with my sleeve.
Eleanor directed me over to Justin. He was slightly taller than Eleanor with the same shade of blonde hair. He kept it short and neat. They had a quiet word out of earshot before he came over to me.
“Hey, Penelope.” he said with a warm smile. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and lead me to his black pick up truck. While Justin opened the door for me, I checked over my shoulder to witness Eleanor drowning the bodies in lighter fluid. Then lit a match. I looked away, feeling a bit sick.
My lifelong friend, Justin Campbell was a sweet guy. We had known each other since I met Eleanor, who also works as a counsellor. He would be in the waiting area after every session. He would always smile in my direction. Until, one day, Eleanor saw him smiling at me and introduced us. We’ve been friends ever since.
Justin got in the drivers side a few moments later. We clicked our seat belts into place. He had put a new air freshener on his rear view mirror. This one smelled like candy. He started the ignition and we drove through the bumpy gravel until finally onto the main road. Justin switched on the radio, humming to every song that came on. He seemed so chirpy after what we had done tonight.
“Are you going to be grumpy the whole way back home?” He grinned over at me. Then focused back on the road.
“I might. I haven’t decided yet.” I mumbled in a miserable tone.
“We used to be able to talk about anything, Poppy.”
The use of my childhood nickname, my brother gave me, made me frown at him. When Jeremy died, it didn’t sound right when anyone else called me Poppy. It brought up old memories and reminded me of how much I missed him. It’s not something I wanted to think about often. Justin knew this but I also knew he only said it when he’s trying to be serious.
“We still talk.”
“Barely. When was the last time you opened up... To anyone?” He asked, “You’re shutting yourself off from everyone... Even me. What’s going on with you?”
I sighed. Staring out the window. Watching the world pass by. Hoping he’d give up and let it go. Which he didn’t and stopped at the next lay-by.
“Talk to me.” He said. He twisted in his seat and glared at me until I acknowledged him.
“Do you ever feel like there is more out there? More than just vampires. What if there are other things that go bump in the night?”
He frowned. The cogs in his mind were turning. He was really pondering the question.
I continued. “And then you’ve got to ask a question, even though we’ve not heard or seen them yet. Are they as evil as we make out? Yes, vampires are evil. We all know that. One killed my brother. Another killed your parents. But these are the cases that we know about. Are there vampires living in society? And if they are, are they all bad? Are there other creatures in society too afraid to be known publicly? We have a secret society. Why should we assume they don’t?”
“I see...” was all he said at first.
He let my words sink in and then answered me. “I think you make some valid points, Penelope. There may very well be other things out there but so far we’ve not seen any evidence. Have you?”
“No but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. That’s just like saying we’re the only living beings in the universe. You can’t blame the aliens for staying away. Why come to planet Earth? All we would do is dissect them or use their technology to advance our own. We’re the monsters, Justin. The human race.”
“Come on, now. Don’t say that. We protect a lot of innocent peop...”
“And we’ve lost a whole lot more!” I cut in. “I couldn’t save this girl tonight... She died.”
“Oh Penelope! I’m sorry.” he squeezed my shoulder.
“There wasn’t anything I could do to save her...” Tears welled up again and I couldn’t stop them falling down my face. “Now her family are going to suffer, just like we did.”
“You know Eleanor will take care of them. The support programme for those left behind helps lots of people with the grieving process. I went to one recently. It doesn’t take the pain away but it’s a way of coping.”
He leant over and hugged me, a long and tight hug. It was comforting even though I didn’t feel any better about the situation. We soon headed back onto the road, keeping quiet for most of the way. The radio still played and Justin’s hums were softer. When we turned the corner onto where I lived, I couldn’t have been more relieved. My bum ached, desperately needing to stretch and move around.
“Thank you, Justin.” I said, jumping out the pick up.
“If you're feeling too overwhelmed with hunting perhaps you should take a step back. Find a new job for a while. You know you will be welcomed back when you’re ready.”
“Taking a break seems like a good idea. Speak to you later.”
Justin waited till I got inside before driving off. It was a sweet thing to do.
Tip toeing around the house, I tried to stay quiet hoping not to wake mum upstairs in bed. At the top of the landing, I grabbed a towel, heading straight to the bathroom. It was good to get the bloody clothes off my body. The blood was dry and it began to give off an odour. The hot water scalded me but I didn’t care, thankful to finally wash the blood off my skin. It took a long time for the water to turn a pinkish colour and even when it turned clear I stayed under the water. It felt good, soothing my aching muscles and relaxing my back.
Once I stepped out, I hurried to get dry as there was a small draft that came into the bathroom. My bed felt more comfortable than usual as I buried myself under the duvet and rested my head on the super soft pillows. The night of hunting was incredibly exhausting, even putting my pyjamas on in the bathroom was a massive effort.
I yawned. Closed my eyes to rest them and fell into a deep sleep almost instantly.