My snow boots chafe against my calves as I trudge through foot deep snow, muttering bitterly beneath my breath the whole way. I should have worn knee socks, but to be fair, I severely underestimated the distance between my crappy rental house and the woods at the edge of the property. I also somehow forgot how miserable snow is, and how much I absolutely hate it. How could I forget that?
I stop to get a bit of relief, glancing behind me towards the house. The lights are on in the kitchen and my sisters room. About a mile beyond our house is our closest neighbor's home, mostly dark except for the porch light that's left on nearly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I haven't met the neighbors, but right now I'm grateful for them, since both their light, and the glow coming from my house give me a little comfort as the darkness of night sets in.
I still have a good half hour until I loose all light, but I’d like to be back inside- basking in the warmth of the heater- long before then. So I turn back towards the woods and trudge on with a new determination, gritting my teeth at the painful rub of the stiff boots against my unprotected skin. Why in the world am I in Wyoming in the middle of winter? It seems like the stupidest idea in the world at the moment, even if it out of necessity that I'm here.
Finally I reach a tree and I pause again to shiver violently before pulling a knife from my back pocket. Luckily the branches of this pine tree are close enough to the ground that I don't have to do any climbing. I don't know if it would be worth it to climb a pine tree for a few branches in twenty degree weather, no matter how desperately I need them. I shiver one more time and reach up to hack away at the closest branch.
Something snaps behind me and I turn quickly, bringing my hands up close to my chest, the knife held defensively in my fist. But there's nothing there, save for a hare that bounds quickly over the snowy landscape and further into the trees. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down and then return to my task. I’m being stupid. It's not even sundown yet. There can't be any nasties out there waiting for me. Not for another half hour.
I tear down the first branch and drop it to the snow to work on the next. If it weren't for my gloves, I'm sure my fingers would be numb. As it is, my nose and ears are already freezing despite the scarf wrapped around my face and the hood pulled up over my dark brown hair. I need to get this done and get back inside. But I still stop and look around every time there's a sudden noise. My pale blue eyes zero in on a bird as it takes off to the south, before I sigh and return to my chore. This is ridiculous.
I need to relax, I need to get a full eight hours of sleep. But I haven't had more than five hours at a time for longer than I can remember. And I doubt things are about to change now.
With one last sharp pull I snap a third branch from the tree and then quickly stoop to collect the other two. Three will suffice for now. If I need more I can come out tomorrow, when I have more time. Already this has taken much longer than I thought it would, and I find myself incredibly anxious to get back to the dingy house a half a mile away. So anxious that I don't even notice how bad the chafing has gotten until I stumble through the kitchen door and into warmth and safety.
I shed my layers after depositing the tree branches on the counter, until finally I'm back down to my soffe shorts, tank top, and stupid ankle socks. I slide up onto the counter next to my harvest and bring my ankle up onto my thigh to get a good look at my calf. It's skinned pretty bad, raw and throbbing lightly, with little beads of blood rising every second.
“Ouch.” I glance up at my younger sister, Kat, as she comes into the kitchen and notices what I'm looking intently at. “What happened to you?” She asks, already crossing the kitchen to the cupboard under the sink where we keep our first aid.
“Didn't wear knee socks.” I shrug, accepting the little box of wipes and band aids she hands me. She makes a face, her soft features screwing up in distaste, and sits down at the table to watch me dress my wounds. She flips her white blond hair over her shoulder so she can play with it while she watches- her baby blue eyes, that are just like our moms, tracking my every movement as I clean the rubbed raw flesh. She's silent for a long moment while I work- until she spots the tree branches.
“What're those for?” She asks curiously, and I scramble to think.
“A class I’m taking later, called None of Your Business.” I say coolly, but she only raises an eyebrow. It's been just the two of us for so long now, that my coarse manner can't scare her off anymore. If anything, it just makes her want to know more.
“We don't have a fireplace.” She states.
“So?” I spread some antiseptic on my calf and bandage it, before switching legs and starting over.
“So it can't be for a fire. I doubt you're going to go around smacking people in the face with tree branches. So what is it?” She really wants to know, her curiosity a perfect reflection of my own when I was younger. But I can't tell her. I promised to never involve her more than absolutely necessary in my private matters. She doesn't even know the reason we move around so much, or where I disappear to every now and then.
“The bark.” I glance at the branches, picking something at random and then running with it. “When prepared correctly, it's good for pain and muscle soreness.” I explain, thinking quickly back to the book of Herb and Plant Uses I used to steal from my older sister. She pretended that she never noticed me reading it, but I think it was mostly because she was proud I had an interest in it. Kat hums in recognition, though I can tell she doesn't believe me. She's smarter than that.
“Do you need help? Preparing them, I mean?” She has this uncanny ability to make a question sound like a challenge. I chuckle and shake my head.
“No thanks. But I would love it if you could do the shopping tonight. It's your turn my darling sister.” She makes another face, this one looking less pained and more fond, but still irritated. I hardly ever use such endearments, and it's usually only when I want something.
“You're lucky I love you Hadley.” She remarks airily as she gets up to throw on some better clothes. We tend to slouch at home, in the privacy of our little oasis, so going out anywhere requires some time to get ready. I wait until the door to her room is closed before I hop down from the counter and take the first aid box back to the sink. On my way back to the counter I grab a water bottle from the fridge, then I pick up the branches and quickly relocate to my room.
I drop the branches at the end of my bed and the bottle on my nightstand before flopping down to close my eyes for a few minutes. I can't fall asleep, I have way too much to do before I can fall asleep, but just a brief rest would be nice. I must doze off just slightly because I literally jump awake when Kat knocks on my door.
“I'm heading out. Be back soon.” She calls through the door, respectful of my privacy, and then her footsteps retreat and I can hear the front door open and close. Soon after that the car turns over and there's a flash of headlights across my window before stillness falls again.
The siren call of sleep claws at my brain, telling me just how close I got to really dropping off, and I nearly have to roll out of bed to get my body to obey. I have things to do, I can't fall asleep. It's pretty much the mantra that governs my life.
I grab my phone from it's charger to turn on some music, then pull out a thick manilla file from the bottom of my closet beneath my clothes. I settle at the end of my bed with it in my lap, tossing my phone behind me so I don't get distracted by it. The music soon fades to just background noise as I flip through the file, scanning the pages until I find the one I want. The only reason Kat and I are here in this rental house in this tiny town in the first place.
At the top of the page I’ve scrawled the word Rosemont, and beneath it lies a web of information regarding the word. So far that's not much, definitely not as much as some of the other things I’ve researched through the years. But I do know it's a community of some sort, and that it has twisted little fingers in practically everything else I’ve researched. After seeing it appear so often, I decided to make it my main focus. Ironically it was after I turned my attention towards it that I stopped finding things about it.
But mainly, and most importantly, I know that its existence is contingent on the existence of another community. Rosemont would not exist without vampires. And so far, I don't know if that's a good thing or a very, very bad thing. Generally I’ve found anything revolving around vampires have been bad things, but I don't know for certain and that bothers me.
I don't know where Rosemont is, or if it even has a physical headquarters. I don't know what kind of people are included within it's ranks, or why. I don't know what it's goals are, and what Rosemont has to do with vampires. I only know that it revolves around the subject, sometimes impossibly close, and sometimes gapingly far.
At the bottom of the page is a name, Richard Harken, the only name I’ve ever been able to trace back to Rosemont. He's a retired financial consultant, who lives here in this tiny town, and he must know something. Even if it's just Rosemont's tax information. I intend to pay him a visit tomorrow, to find out what I can, and then to leave this town in the rear view mirror. I’m so over snow.
I put the Rosemont paper down and grab one of the tree branches and my knife. I don't know what to expect when I go to Mr. Harken's home, but I like to be prepared for anything. And I used my last stake in our last town, so it's time to make more. I hack the branch in half and then pull over my trash can to start whittling away shards of wood. It's an arduous process, but one I’m familiar with at this point. I made my first stake when I was sixteen, nearly nine years ago.
As I whittle, I glance over my notes from the corner of my eye. I’ve memorized pretty much everything I’ve collected through the years, but I'm also paranoid that I’ll somehow lose my notes, and then forget everything. I stop whittling to turn a page and freeze at the face that's revealed. It's the face of a murderer, and a face I will never forget.
Sometimes I need to pull out my photo album to remember the exact shade of my moms hair, or the dimples in my dads cheeks, and the matching smiles of my older brother and sister. But I'm convinced I’ll see this mans face in my mind as clearly as day, until the day I die. He'll never stop haunting me.
I turn the page and continue reading, but now I'm tense as a rock, and no amount of consciously trying to make myself relax seems to work. I almost slice off my finger with an especially vigorous swipe of my knife, and at that point I force myself to stop and take a few deep breaths. I can still remember that night, like it was yesterday instead of fourteen years ago.
I'm still for longer than I realize, because there's a flash of car lights across my window again to signal Kat's return. I hurry to stuff the branches under my bed and my notes back in my closet before I take a few calming breaths and walk out to the kitchen. She's just bringing in an armful of bags, which she dumps on the counter with a huff.
“It's really cold out there.” She tells me, like I don't know.
“Don't worry, just a day or two longer and then we're out of here.” I promise, putting away the milk while she lines up two boxes of cereal next to each other in the pantry.
“Where are we going this time?” She asks curiously. When she was younger she used to ask me why we moved around so much, and why I wouldn't tell her where I was going all the time. I think eventually she got tired of hearing me lie, because she never asks anymore. I think she must know it's because of what happened to our family, but she never brings it up and I'm thankful for it.
“Not sure yet. It depends on what happens tomorrow.” She raises an eyebrow, staying silent in case I feel like sharing, but I don't. Instead I bring up something else. “Sure you don't want to move back in with Aunt Aleks and Uncle Robert?” I give her the option of settling down like a normal person every so often, just so I don't feel so guilty for dragging her across the country repeatedly. She always refuses.
“And leave you alone? What kind of a sister would I be?” She pretends to be offended, and it draws a smile out of me. She smiles back, and returns to unpacking with a little spring in her step. We may not always show it, but we do love each other, very dearly. Kat is all I have left of my immediate family; she's the one thing I need to protect more than anything- even myself. I don't know what I’d do if I lost her too.
I unpack the last bag and she drifts away to her room to do who knows what. Kat respects my privacy, so I respect hers. As long as she's not doing drugs or something equally horrific, I figure I really don't need to know. I return to my room to continue working on my stakes, but I leave my research in the closet. I have it all memorized, everything I’ve found out about vampires, about him. I just hope, when the time comes, everything I’ve found will be enough.