“What do you want for dinner?” Kat asks me when I appear from my room around two. I finally fell asleep after the sun came up, and I managed a decent six hours for a change before my internal body clock jolted me awake. I rub my eyes, still adjusting to waking life, before shrugging.
“Whatever you want.” I mumble, blinding groping for cereal and then milk, putting them on the table before searching for a bowl.
“I was thinking pizza. There's a place in town, near the grocery store. I saw it last night.” She explains, filling in a word on the crossword puzzle spread in front of her. I take a second to wonder where she got it before I realize it's a newspaper. We didn't get a newspaper in our last few towns. She must be thrilled.
“Sure.” I agree, with an unattractive yawn. “Don't know what time I’ll get home tonight. Before sundown I hope.” She rolls her eyes, because I make it a point to always be home before sundown. I don't even have to tell her when I’ll be home anymore, because she already knows.
“No point in asking where you're going?” She mumbles, but I pretend I don't hear her over the rattle of cereal pouring into my bowl.
“What?” I ask, looking at her. She's smirking into her puzzle.
“Nothing.” She says with false cheeriness. “What's the plural of moose...” She reads off when I open my mouth. “Moose.” She then answers herself and quickly scrawls it down in it's appropriate slot.
“Do you have any plans today?” I ask when the silence has stewed long enough. She shrugs, her usual response. She has a job online, writing reviews, but I think she usually gets them done in the morning before I wake up. I have no idea what she does whenever I'm out of the house, but when I'm home it usually involves reading or video games.
“I met a guy last night.” That makes me freeze, my spoon halfway to my mouth. I can feel her eyes on me so I slowly put the spoon down to look at her. She looks nervous.
“A guy?” I encourage. She nods.
“Yeah, his name is Oliver. He was at the store too. He's really nice.” She explains, blushing slightly. I nod slowly. This is the worst thing that could happen. “I know we'll be leaving soon, you don't have to worry about it evolving...or anything.” She sighs when she sees how conflicted I am about what to say.
“I...I'm sorry Kat.” I don't want to put her life on hold because of my little quest for retribution, but I always thought she'd tell me if she was tired of the constant moving. “Maybe you should stay with our aunt and uncle. Just for a while.” I suggest, a bit firmer than I usually do. She stares at me, lips slowly pressing in against each other until they're white.
“Do you want me to go?” She asks softly, the hurt clear in her voice. I swallow the knot that's suddenly developed in my throat.
“That's the last thing I want.” I promise, but she doesn't look comforted. “This life, what the two of us have been doing, I know it's stressful, and I know it's hard for you. It doesn't effect me because it's what I need, but you could have so much more. You could have an actual life with boys and friends and a real job.” She stops me by standing up and moving over to sit right next to me.
“I don't want that stuff Hadley. Well, maybe I do, but I want to stay with you more. I worry about you, even though I see you everyday. I can't imagine how much worse that worry would be if you went out of my sight for weeks on end.” My eyebrows raise in surprise.
“You're worried about me? I am your older sister you know.” Though sometimes it doesn't feel like it. She manages a short chuckle.
“That doesn't matter. I'll still worry about you when you're eighty years old and in an old folks community scowling at young children who come to visit their grandparents.” This time I laugh, though it's more of a cackle since my voice hasn't quite woken up yet and is a little screechy. It makes Kat laugh too, and it takes a good few minutes for us to calm down.
“You're crazy Kat. Certifiable. Giving up a normal life cuz you're worried about your sister.” I tell her, but she just shrugs.
“I may be crazy, but I get it from you.” She grins, the picture of innocence, and I snort again, nearly dissolving back into giggles.
“Yes you do.” I agree, sliding my half finished cereal to her. “I gotta get dressed.” I call over my shoulder as I stand up and head back to my room. She mutters a little, but when I look back she's eating the cereal, having dragged the newspaper over to her new spot to continue her puzzle.
I lock the door to my room and open my closet, immediately digging out my notes. They're all still there, and I triple check the address I have for Richard Harken before I stuff them back away and then search for clothes. I wind up putting on jeans over my soffe shorts; and layering a blue short sleeved shirt over a black long sleeved shirt and my tank top. I’ve discovered that layers are the best way to go in cold, snowy climates.
Kat and I don't have much experience with snow and cold, usually we high tail it to warmer states when winter hits. But I need to talk to Richard Harken, even if I'm not sure where my sense of urgency came from. Maybe it's because finding him came together a little too easily, giving me a sense of discomfort that won't be placated until I’ve seen the man in person. But until then, everything is coming along just a little too well for my taste.
I grab my messenger bag, my phone, and a pair of socks- specifically knee socks. Before I leave my room I double check that I have two stakes and a lighter in my messenger bag. No vampire has ever actually gotten close enough for me to light them on fire, but I can dream. When I'm satisfied that I have everything, I turn off my lights and leave my room. Kat is still at the table when I come back into the kitchen, but she's put the crossword puzzle to the side. She has the newspaper open in front of her, but she doesn't look horribly interested in it.
“Going out?” She asks without looking up from whatever she's so uninterested in.
“Yep.” I answer, sitting on the counter to pull my boots on.
“Be careful, yeah?” She tries to keep her voice monotone, but if there's one thing neither of us can keep hidden, it's our concern for the other. I hide my smile in my arm while I put my hair up, winding my scarf around my neck when I'm done.
“Yeah.” I agree, and then I'm out the door, still pulling on my jacket while I close the door behind me. It's hideously bright outside, with the sun shining full blast down on the snow. The crystalline powder acts like a giant mirror and reflects the light right back into my eyes. I blink a few times, willing my eyes to get used to it, before I start wading through the snow towards the street.
Our house is about a mile away from the shops and stores that qualify as “the town”, but the company that clears the streets will still come out here about twice a week, so we- and the handful of other suckers who live out yonder- can at least find the road to drive into town. It's been two days now since they came shoveling, so the road is more like a muddy, sludge river cutting through the pristine landscape.
I stay to the edge of the road as I walk, my right leg brushing against the two feet of ice that boarder the street. I like to walk, so I usually leave Kat with the car, in case she needs it. Plus, if I'm ever killed someday, I don't like the idea of her chancing upon me because she found the car and decided to investigate in the area around it.
I pass our nearest neighbor's house, the porch light still on even in the middle of the day, and pause to see if I can spy anything inside. I’ve never met the neighbors. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any signs of life in that house at all, ever. But after a few moments of stillness I shrug and walk on. What goes on in my neighbor's house is the least of my worries. As long as they don't try to kill me or my sister, they're fine.
I walk another half a mile before the next house appears in the distance, about a mile away. According to my map of the town, Mr. Harken's home is the one after that, another three miles based on my judgment of distances. I sigh through my nose and kick up my pace. I like walking. But once again I seem to have forgotten how much I hate cold and snow. It takes almost all the joy out of a nice stroll.
“Afternoon!” And there goes the rest of the joy. I stop to look at the guy who's yelled out to me. He's just emerged from his home, the one I'm currently walking towards, that's still a half a mile away. He waves in a big arch, and I make myself return the wave, though with significantly less enthusiasm. He locks up his house behind him and then practically skips down the porch stairs and onto the road, where he starts to head towards me.
I can't see much about him from this distance, and the fact that's he's bundled up from head to toe with barely any discernible features shown doesn't help. I point my eyes at my feet the closer he gets, hoping he'll just walk by without stopping me. Of course, my luck only extends so far these days. He pulls the scarf that's covering his nose and mouth down to his neck so he can smile nice and wide at me, his cheeks dimpling on both sides.
“Hey! You're the other girl who lives in that old house a few miles down the road!” He says it like a statement, but I nod anyway. “I met your sister last night, Kat.” That gets my attention. I stop and actually look at him. He's still smiling, so wide it has to hurt his cheeks, but he looks nice enough I suppose. I can only see a fringe of dirty blond hair beneath his beanie and hoodie, but a bit sticks out just over his dark brown eyes. He tries to brush it away, but with his hands stuffed into huge mittens, it's about zero percent effective. He's also so tall and thin that it's like watching a tree branch try to swat away a bird.
“Let me guess. Oliver.” Kat hasn't mentioned any other guys that she's met in this town, so if this isn't Oliver things are about to get very awkward. If it's possible, his grin gets bigger.
“She mentioned me?” He sounds flattered, and I guess he should be. It's not like Kat to mention people, unless they've really caught her interest. I guess, seeing this guy and his unfortunately adorable smile, I can understand it. It's a begrudging understanding, but still.
“Yeah.” I admit, and he flushes just the tiniest bit, glancing down at his feet before back at me. He can't really be this precious. There's just no way.
“So, your name is Hadley right?” I nod. “You don't look old enough to be Kat's older sister.” He blurts out, apparently right off the top of his head. It's something that I’ve heard many times, so many times that I’ve stopped getting annoyed by it.
“I've heard that.” I say dryly, and he makes a sympathetic face that somehow manages to be genuine, despite the fact that he doesn't know me and it's a stupid, simple topic of conversation. Looking at him, you'd think we were talking about the death of my family members or something dramatic. “Well, I’ve got to go.” I say awkwardly.
“Do you need someone to walk with?” He perks up like a puppy being promised a treat. I find myself just that much more creeped out.
“No.” I say bluntly, and he literally deflates. I sigh. “Thank you for the offer, but I have stuff to work through on my own. Sorta why I'm out here.” I lie, simply because no human should possess the ability to look like a kicked dog. I haven't felt this guilty in years.
“Oh, yeah, I get that. Maybe some other time though?” Kat really knows how to pick them. This time she found herself a golden retriever on two legs. All things considered, a step up from the biker she brought up a few towns ago.
“Sure.” I don't know why I'm giving him hope, it's just hard not to. His big ass grin is back, and he sticks his paw of a mitten out for me to shake.
“It was great meeting you Hadley.” He sounds so earnest.
“Yeah, you too.” By comparison, I sound like the cat the golden retriever woke up in the hopes of having someone to play with. It doesn't seem to faze him one bit though.
“Say hi to Kat for me?” He proposes as he starts walking away- backwards so he can keep addressing me as he goes.
“Sure.” I nod, standing there until he turns his back to trudge forward. Once he does I turn as well and walk on towards Mr. Harken's home. I really have no reason to feel more irritable as I go, but I do. Against my better judgment I begin to analyze my sudden spike of temper, and it only takes me a few minutes to get to the root of it.
Oliver is nice. Ridiculously nice. Almost perfect nice. The kind of guy who- if he's genuinely that nice and it's not a front- I would be ecstatic to see dating my sister. But, unless she suddenly has a change of heart after nearly ten years on the road with me and decides to stay here, she'll never be able to be with him. And the same goes for any other man in any other town, city, state, or country.
My sister means more to me than anything else. I want her to be happy, and being with Oliver would most likely make her happier than ever. But because of me, she'll never get that opportunity. Because she has a big heart that worries about me, she'll never settle down in one place while I go on to others. Yet, even though I know all this, I also know I can't settle down for Kat's benefit. I’ve spent so much of my life looking for answers, and searching for revenge, that I don't think I could live any other way now. Certainly not until I’ve gotten what I'm looking for.
Mr. Harken's home finally appears just around a group of trees, and I force myself to stop thinking about Kat and Oliver and anything else. I'm here for answers about Rosemont. I just hope Mr. Harken has those answers.
His house is big; probably three times the size of the little house Kat and I are renting. But it's also smaller than some of the other houses out here. Nice and inconspicuous. I look it over carefully before walking up to the door and knocking. There's a Prius in the driveway, and there's a light on in the living room, all signs pointing to him being home. But he doesn't come to answer my knock. I ring the doorbell and knock again, but there's no whisper of activity from inside.
I glance around behind me, just to make sure there's no one else in eyesight, before trying the doorknob. It's open. It's not terribly surprising, because supposedly no one locks their doors in a small town. Just a bit disconcerting. I glance around one more time and push the door open to creep inside.
The smell is the first thing that greets me. It's pungent and supremely unpleasant, like someone left meat out in the sun with just a sprinkle of cheap perfume on it to try and mask the scent. I cough and step back outside to wrap my scarf over my face before I can go back in. I leave the door open behind me, hopeful that the smell will waft out and dilute a bit. It's noxious even through my scarf, but at least bearable. However, the worst part is, I’ve smelled it before- and I know exactly what it is.
I find his body in his study, up the stairs and down the hall from his bedroom. From the look of him, and the smell, I have to guess he's been dead nearly a week. Dead and rotting all over the papers scattered across his desk.
Mr. Harken isn't a fat man, but he's not exactly skinny, and with rigor mortis set in, it's a bit difficult to get him to sit back in his chair. As soon as I get him back I take off my gloves and fold them inside out. I can't leave them here, but I will never be wearing them again. I shudder a bit, looking him over for a minute.
His skin is grey and pallid, turning black around his mouth and eyes. He's bloated with decomposing body fluids, his eyes nearly popped out of his head, and his nails sunken back into his fingers. His head has flopped back against the chair, giving me a full view of his butchered neck- nearly half of it missing. Torn out like he was mauled by a jungle cat or something. I've seen it happen before, when a vampire gets a little too enthusiastic, but usually they can contain themselves better than this. 'This' being more along the lines of mutilation.
I feel my stomach turning, the cereal I ate at home threatening to make a reappearance, but I will it down. I can't leave any trace that I was here, especially not a puddle of vomit. I open the window and take a few deep breaths of cold, fresh air before I turn back to his desk and start to look at the papers.
Most of them are beyond saving, drenched in blood and bile. However there are a few that were knocked off the front of the desk, away from the taint of a decomposing body. Even these prove to be unhelpful, only containing payroll information for local families that probably hired Mr. Harken to do their taxes for them. There's also a newspaper dated back ten years ago, from a town in Kansas- near where I was born actually.
The main article is about a new complex that was built for nuclear experimentation, out in the middle of nowhere- miles from civilization- but still too close for certain members of the public. The article is mostly one sided, stating all the risks that could come from keeping the complex operational. Other than that, it's mostly insignificant filler about a county fair and the marriage of some high school sweethearts after the young man returned from duty in Iraq.
I don't see the significance of the newspaper, but there must be some, if Mr. Harken kept it all these years. I fold it up and stick it in my messenger bag before moving on to some other papers lying about. There's nothing here about Rosemont, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. A place that can exist and function completely in the shadows must know how to cover its tracks. Once Mr. Harken stopped working for them, I'm sure they scrubbed him so clean he felt like a newborn baby again.
Damn disappointing though. I mutter a few curses and rub at my forehead, where a little stress headache is brewing. I do one last sweep of the room, making sure I didn't leave anything or touch anything that I didn't proceed to wipe clean.
My eyes are drawn back to Mr. Harken's body, and I wonder briefly if I should slump him back over onto his desk. I take a hesitant step forward before something draws my attention. He's holding a paper in his hand, but it doesn't look like it belongs there. It's folded up very neatly, with no other creases or stains. If he was holding it when he died, it wouldn't look so nice.
I pull on my gloves again and pry his fingers apart to retrieve the paper from his palm. It's just a plain piece of lined paper, probably ripped out of a notebook. There's dozens of college ruled notebooks around the room, all of them filled with math and accountant scribbles. This probably came from one of them that wasn't filled up all the way.
I unfold it with likely an unnecessary amount of care, stopping immediately when it becomes evident it's a letter. My stomach is already turning by the time I glance to the top of the page- at the name written hastily in black pen. Hadley. It's addressed to me. I look up and around the room suspiciously before back down at the letter.
I don't take in a single word the first time I read it, or maybe I do. Either way, it all seems insignificant once my eyes focus on the very last word. I don't know how long I stand there staring at the four letters scrawled down- in a hurried but still unfairly beautiful handwriting. The beauty of the writing does nothing to dampen my horror however. The combination of those four little letters has been the source of my nightmares for years now, and to see them arranged so innocently on this harmless piece of paper gives me shivers.
This can't be happening. After all this time, I was supposed to be the one to find him. When I was good and ready, I would find him and there would be some dramatic high noon showdown in which I would accuse him of his crimes and he would sneer at me in the way all villains seem to perfect. This is nothing like what I imagined. This is reality, and it's terrifying.
I stare blankly at the letter for what feels like forever, and then I choke around a large inhale because I forgot how to breathe for a minute. Finally I scan through the letter, actually taking it in this time, and my stomach clenches in horror. Without another second of hesitation I turn and hurry out of Mr. Harken's house, breaking into a run when I reach the street. I have to get to Kat.
“Kat!” I shout as soon as I step inside the house. She doesn't immediately respond, and an irrational spike of fear stabs me through the chest. “Kat!” I yell again, even though it's only been a few seconds.
“What?!” She yells from the kitchen, and moments later she's standing in the hallway leading to the front door. A huge weight slips effortlessly from my shoulders the second I see her- whole and healthy and alive. She looks confused, and worried, but mostly confused. She also glances over her shoulder towards the kitchen, but I have no time to think about what she might have in the kitchen to distract her from her screaming sister.
“We need to leave. Right now.” It isn't the first time I’ve swept into the house at an odd time of the day and demanded we pack up and move. But this time, instead of just agreeing and going to her room to begin stuffing what little she has into a bag, she remains still and raises her eyebrows in shock.
“Right now? Why?” It's been years since she's asked this question, and there she goes again looking over her shoulder. I take a few steps towards her to try and see what she's peeking at, but she moves to block my view. “Hadley what happened?” She asks, more worried then confused. I swallow thickly, a shudder going through me as my body tries to hurry and adjust to the sudden shifts of temperature.
I ran all the way home, with no gloves on, and with a freezing wind whipping at my face. I can't feel my nose or fingers, though the pins and needles are already starting to set in because we keep the house toasty. It makes it difficult for me to unfold the note I still have clenched in my hand.
“I-I went to see someone about what happened to our family.” I say quickly, and just like that her face goes blank.
I don't talk about what happened to them, and she stopped asking a long time ago. The only people she ever got answers from were our aunt and uncle, before we went out on our own. Even then, all she knows is that our mother, father, sister, and brother went to sleep one night and in the early hours of the morning were murdered in a horrific show of brutality. She knows that I carried her to our neighbor's house and disappeared, not to reappear for hours. She knows I changed after that night.
“Hadley-” She starts, and I’ve never heard her say my name like that. Like it's a stone she just wants to put down and never pick up again.
“Kat please- this is important. I promise. The man was dead, murdered the same way mom, dad, Ann, and Will were. He's been dead for days, maybe a week. And the killer put this in his hand.” I finally hold up the note and with shaking hands push it at her. She doesn't take it. “Kat please, this is serious, we have to go. The man who killed them- he's here.” I stop trying to give her the note, instead holding it to my chest so my hands will maybe stop shaking so noticeably. Kat bites her lips, looks behind her, then back at me.
“Oliver is here.” My stomach drops all the way to my shoes, and I'm sure my face has cleared to blank in a very similar way to how Kat's did moments ago. “He...stopped by on his way into town.” Kat goes on, sounding like she's tiptoeing over eggshells. I don’t quite know how to react to this. On one hand, it's important I gather Kat and my things and get the hell out of dodge. On the other, there's a boy in my house who my sister obviously likes a lot and now she's never going to see him again. Great.
“He has to go.” I finally whisper, and Kat looks like I've just slapped her in the face. “I'm so sorry Kat, but he has to leave. We have to leave.” I can't take the look on her face for even a second longer. I turn away from her and hurry down the hall towards my room. Most of my stuff is still in the duffel bag I take everywhere, there's just a small pile of clothes in the closet and my research that needs to be packed.
Kat cautiously knocks on my door as I'm stuffing the huge file of papers into my bag beneath everything else. I don't respond to her but she slowly opens the door anyway, looking concerned as she watches me violently stuff a pair of jeans into my bag. Neither of us say anything, I don’t know if either of us can. Instead she sits on my bed and carefully picks up the note I had been trying to show her minutes ago.
She reads it to herself, but I can remember what it said. I read the few small lines over and over again on my desperate sprint home. 'Hadley, I know your first instinct will be to run, but don't. Please believe me when I say it won't do any good. It's time to stop running and face what's happening. Don't worry about finding me, I’ll come to you. I'll see you soon.' I shiver to myself and stuff the next article of clothing in with a little extra force.
I know he knows my name. I’ve heard it leave his lips before. My parents seemed absolutely enthralled when he repeated our names as he was being introduced. At the time, so was I. But to see it written so innocently by his hand now...it makes me sick to my stomach. I swallow to wet my dry throat and look at my sister.
I thought she might look confused, or maybe angry. It's a note from the man who killed our family. But she doesn't look anything at all. She runs her fingers over the last line and murmurs something to herself. She looks at me and repeats it, louder.
“John.” I almost flinch, but contain myself. “That's his name? The one who killed them?” The last word of the note, his name. Just to make sure I knew it was him I guess, like it could be anyone else.
“Yes.” I finally answer, and she nods.
“I always thought it would be something sinister. Like Vladimir or Stefan.” She murmurs and folds the note back up.
“Well reality is rarely as glamorous as fiction.” I huff, trying to make myself believe that the stinging in my eyes is just from the cold to warm transition of coming inside. Kat stands from my bed and grabs my arm as I go to stuff a shirt into my bag. I stop, which I think is her intent, but I can't look at her. Not just yet.
“Why is he doing this? Why now?” Her voice cracks just slightly, the only sign that she's even the least bit shaken.
“I don't know.” I say honestly, clenching my fists. “But I'm not sticking around to find out. I'm not letting him hurt you like he hurt them.” Even though he could no doubt catch up to us no matter where we go, I can't just sit around and wait. Kat nods to herself and without a word starts towards the door.
I can vaguely hear some conversation coming from the kitchen, but it's not loud enough to catch any words. The sink gets turned on briefly and then a trail of footsteps brings Kat back to my doorway with a glass of water and a determined look on her face. She sits on my bed and pats the space next to her, inviting me to sit as well. I sigh through my nose, a little perturbed, but I sit and take the glass as she passes it to me. She watches me carefully as I take a few sips.
“Nothing is going to happen to me Hadley. I know you're worried, and you have every right to be after what you've been through. But you don't need to be.” She begins in a soft tone.
“You don't understand Kat. You don't know...what he's like. At the very least, you don't remember.” She was so young when it happened. Unable to comprehend what she saw, if she saw anything at all. Kat shakes her head and sighs.
“You're right, I don't remember that night. But I can't believe you think I'm so naïve.” I snap my head up to look at her, and the look on her face is something foreign and hard. “I know exactly what he's like. And that's why we can't leave.” She stands up, and I try to do the same, but my legs don't get the memo. She grabs the cup from my hands just before I can lose my grip and send the remaining water to the ground.
“Kat?” I try to stand up again, but my sister guides me back to my bed and I'm powerless to resist her gentle coaxing.
“You're exhausted Hadley. You need to sleep.” Kat speaks patiently, like I'm a child, and pushes on my shoulders. I'm not proud of how fast I fall when she does. What is wrong with me?
“Kat?” I whisper, a little scared.
“It's okay Hadley. The effects will only last for a few hours, you'll be fine when you wake up.” My eyes narrow as I piece together what she's saying. No. She wouldn't. Would she?
“You drugged me?” I hiss, though it's not as intimidating as I wish it was.
“It's just a little sleeping medicine. So sleep, and when you wake up everything will be okay and we can leave if you still want to.” She sounds so calm, and I feel so stupid. How could I have missed this? Whatever this is?
“But...Kat he's...he's here...” I can't seem to even finish my sentences now. Oh Kat is so gonna get it for this. When I can actually move my limbs again.
“Shh...don't worry about John. I’ll take care of everything. Goodnight Hadley.” She pulls the sheets of my bed up around my chin, like I used to do for her and then she disappears from my sight. My brain readily surrenders to much needed rest soon after. But even as I descend into darkness, one thing tries to nudge me back towards consciousness. Through the window I can just barely see that the light at our nearest neighbor’s house is off.