The sound of crunching twigs and leaves filled my ears as I walked along the vast river that led to Willow Lake.
The crystal clear water flowed calmly as it weaved itself around the grass and trees, while the surrounding air was filled with birds chirping, waking from a peaceful night’s sleep.
Black feathers of a crow flew above me, carrying a worm to his nest in a nearby tree, and I admired how his wings shimmered in the dawn’s light as if someone had coated them diamonds.
A family of rabbits hopped out of their dens, twitching their noses as they looked around before scattering off. Squirrels hurled down tree trunks on the hunt for the nuts and food they loved so much.
A cool breeze whistled in the atmosphere, cooling my warm, rosy cheeks. I’d been walking for at least an hour, maybe longer since I left the safe house, so I welcomed the cooling breeze.
I paused for a moment as my eyes scanned the array of bushes, trees, and plants until my eyes found a small wooden sign.
Willow Lake Village, three miles.
I was almost home, and nerves reared their claws and gripped at me. I had no idea what to expect once I’d gotten there, and I was afraid of what I might find. Yet, I knew I needed to see what had become of the place that had been my home.
I needed to know so I could put it all behind me and start my new life. If I didn’t, I would always wonder what had happened and had become of the fight the Vampires had started.
As I walked further, my heart began galloping against my chest, and I noticed signs of the fight. Bushes and trees were charred and fallen, no sign of their past green’s, only ash and black soot.
My feet stopped as I reached the edge, and my heart sank. Where once five homes, a small chalet, and one larger building stood, was now nothing more than barren land.
There was no sign of life, no indication of wildlife, or any members of my coven, dead or alive. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them survived or what had become of the young ones who’d escaped. Had they’d made a new village elsewhere, or where they like me, out here alone?
If you hadn’t known what had happened, you’d have thought this area of the woodland had succumbed to a forest fire, nothing more.
As I stepped into the burned down village further, the smell of the burning wood, plastics, and flesh took over. The scent of the memories of that day overtaking me as I looked to the area my home once stood tall.
Bile rose as the scent grew more potent — the visions of the burning trees and building coming to the forefront of my mind. My mind grew hazy, and the world suddenly spun at a rapid speed as I became weary and faint.
I couldn’t stay here, I saw what had become of my home; it was nothing but a burned, barren wasteland coated in soot and ash, and I knew it was time for me to move on.
I said a quiet goodbye to my home, a small tear falling down my cheeks.
My parents were gone, along with my brother, Thomas, and all of my other friends. I was alone.
Three days had passed since I walked away from Willow Lake for the last time. I walked by daylight and found shelter under trees and in small caves at night. I wasn’t sure how far away I was from Willow Lake now, but my feet paused outside a small, busy town.
There was a multitude of buildings, homes, and small shops scattered neatly and strategically. A handful of cars drove on the roads that weaved between them while they parked another couple outside shops and homes.
People walked around, talked to their friends or family members as they went about their business, and ran their errands. Men in suits, Women in smart dresses, some alone, some with pushchairs and toddlers in tow. Older children played with their friends, laughing and singing. It was a sight to behold.
A large green area with an eloquent stone fountain with a statue of a man on a horse took place in the middle of the town. It looked modern with all the latest technology and materials, worlds away from my village that looked like it still belonged in the previous century.
“Can I help you?” A young woman who could not have been much older than thirty smiled sweetly. Her voice came out smooth, like the most beautiful silk, “You look a little lost and in need of a bath.”
I looked down at my arms to see they were covered in muck and dirt. I’d taken a bath in the lake two days ago; however, since the lake’s path ended, I’d not found a body of water large enough to wash in.
“I got lost in the forest,” I mumbled as I peeked up at the woman through the silver hair that had fallen over my face.
“Are you alone?” The woman’s thin lips screwed up in concern as she studied me with her kind gray eyes.
“Yes. My...my family died.” Once more, I felt my heart shatter; a physical pain came into my chest as my eyes cast down, and I felt tears form in my ducts.
“Oh my love, you poor thing.” The woman gasped in horror, “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
She lowered herself down onto my level, and a look of pure sympathy filled her face as I dared to look at her again.
“Hallie,” I replied quietly.
“My name is Mary.” She paused for a moment, her lips pursing in thought, “Here, I can’t leave a young thing alone. You can come to stay with me for a little while. I live alone and have a spare room.”
“No, that’s okay-”
“Nonsense, I insist, I cannot in good faith leave you out here alone, please let me help. Let’s get you a bath and something to eat, shall we?”
I hesitated for a moment, remembering my parent’s warnings about strangers, but I didn’t have many other options so I gave the kind woman a small smile as she held out her hand to me.
They always taught me to be wary of strangers, but she seemed kind, and my stomach growled at the mention of eating. I had been alone for so long; I craved company, so I took her more substantial, soft hand in my small one in acceptance of her offer.
She looked at me with a smile, much like my mother’s smile, full, warm, and brilliant, as she led me to her home.
“So, Hallie, where are you from?” Mary inquired after she’d allowed me to bathe and cooked a meal of ham, served with boiled carrots and peas.
“Just a small village near Willow Lake. How come you live alone? If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
“Oh, my husband passed away six months ago from a nasty infection he’d gotten from a cut.” She sounded wistful as she cleared the plates from the small handmade oak dining table we sat around, “Sadly, we never got around to having children before such a tragedy befell us, so, please, Hallie, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need.”
The story saddened my heart; she seemed lovely. She lost her family, much like I had, we were kindred spirits. Perhaps that’s why I felt myself at ease with her.
“I’m sorry about your husband.”
“Unfortunately, my dear, such things happen. What happened to your family?”
“Fire. My family got me to safety, but they didn’t survive. I had a twin brother, too.”
My heart declined at the mention of Zachariah. I missed my parents deeply, but losing Zachariah was the hardest.
For all my years, he wasn’t just my brother; he was my best friend, and I knew he was gone. He’d made me a promise, a broken promise, and he’d have never broken it if he were alive.
“Oh, you poor thing. Well, we can keep each other company now, can’t we? How old are you, sweetheart?”
“Sixteen, in eight days, I think. June twenty-first.”
“Seven days, it’s June fourteenth today, love. Well, we shall have to make sure there is a cake for you for your special day. Now, eat your food, tomorrow we’ll take you to buy some new clothes and see about getting you a small job, shall we? Women around here work a little, so we can find a small cleaning job or something of the sort to give you a little money.”
I nodded and gave her a small smile, “Thank you, Mary.”
“It’s not a problem at all. Now eat up, and I’ll show you where you can sleep.”