1. Recurring Nightmares
"No! Don't open the gates! Please! Listen to me! He will kill you all! He will not co-exist!"
She sat stiffly, chained to a metal chair, begging for more than just her own life. Charms, wards, and summoning spells were etched all around her, while she was the centerpiece of the carved circle and of the night's show. A crowd of hundreds in the dilapidated cemetery looked at her with various emotions showing in their eyes. Few eyes were filled with fear and sympathy but most were overcome with a mixture of stronger feelings- anger, excitement, determination, and elation were winning over in the mass of people.
She begged and pleaded to be listened to, but her words fell on deaf ears as three large men stepped closer... and closer... with their hunting knives drawn. The young woman knew she was at the end of her life as she glanced at the glinting silver. Symbols of death were etched across the blades, ensuring her blood would be spilled easily. Knowing what would happen next, she bowed her head and let her pitch-black hair fall over her face and finally let a tear slide down her cheek.
"I'm sorry, my loves," she whispered just before she felt the bites of silver on both wrists, letting her blood run freely down to the small awaiting trenches.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep...
Raven groaned and rolled over, bringing her pillow with her to stuff over her ears. She was not ready to be awake, especially with the nightmare that haunted her sleep still fresh on her mind. It was the third time that week it had visited her. And it was not the first week either. When the filtered beeps of her alarm became unbearable, she sat up and slammed the 'off' button a little too hard. It didn't help that along with her mental exhaustion, she was physically run down as well. Sixteen hours total made up her last hunt with no sleep until she collapsed into her own bed at 10 a.m.
She glanced at her clock to read it was 4 p.m. and only an hour and a half until her shift started. Groaning again, she scooted to the edge of the mattress and dangled her feet to the floor. With arms to her sides, she twisted to the left and then to the right to set off a chain reaction of 'pops' up her spine. A few minutes were spent stretching out and twisting various parts of her body to release some of the aches and tension that had been built up over the last day or so.
'I am too fucking young to feel like this,' Raven thought as she felt the last pop in her neck. Pushing herself off the bed, she made her way to her ensuite bathroom. When she got there, she turned on her shower and adjusted the water to a heat that could be reckoned with Hell. She peeled off her white tank top and her blue-plaid sleep shorts to step into her steaming shower and scrub the sleep away. After twenty minutes of lathering and rinsing, she stepped her slender 5'10 frame out and quickly dried off.
Not trying to be the least bit fancy for her bartending job, Raven made fast work of getting ready. She brushed out her long, black hair and braided it down her back; the hair tie rested right at her hips. She then adorned her clothes which included her comfiest black jeans and a deep red v-neck shirt. A belt ran through her jean loops where she threaded on a sheath that sported her favorite buck knife. Her cellphone and wallet were slid into her pockets. Her fingertips smoothed out the wrinkles in her clothes. Once satisfied, Raven half-ran down the stairs. A leather jacket was shrugged on by the door along with her backpack and combat boots, all similar shades of black.
The garage was spacious but still felt small with all of the vehicles parked inside its white concrete walls. There was a hunter green Jeep 4x4, a vintage cherry red Ford Mustang, a new black Dodge Charger, and then her Baby in the corner. Baby was an '07 matte black Honda Blackbird who, tragically, was in an 'incident' two weeks prior and was yet to be fixed back up. Raven sighed looking at Baby and then turned to grab her Charger keys off the wall hook. She missed taking her Baby out and feeling the freedoms that came with it but the Charger was the next best choice. Once the garage door was opened, she was speeding out her long gravel drive and onto her deserted road's asphalt in no time.
It paid to live where Raven lived. She had no neighbors for miles and her house sat on a one-acre clearing of a deeply forested area. Beautiful trees lined the road on both sides and no traffic impeded her need to speed. It was a peaceful drive for her as she sped down the road and drowned all of life out with her rock station blasting. Her drive ended all too soon when she pulled into the old parking lot of 'The Hunt Bar' and parked to the side of the shady-looking building in her designated employee spot. 'The Hunt Bar' was her place of employment and looked like anything but a reputable establishment. It looked more like a large tin storage building that had seen too many seasons. Rust-colored all four sides and the roof in large patches and graffiti littered some spots with too-bright of paints. Large trees loomed over the property where the lot ended and gave the whole place an eerie feel. A producer might look upon it and think it the perfect place for a cheesy horror film.
She reached for her backpack in the passenger side seat and pulled it onto her lap. After unzipping it and rummaging around the largest compartment, she finally found what she was looking for. A see-through orange medicine bottle with a name she did not know was pulled out and the cap popped off before she shook a couple of pills onto her awaiting palm. They were downed quickly with a bottle of water from her cupholder and the remaining medicine was tossed back in her pack. The rearview mirror was unforgiving when Rae peered into it. Her naturally tanned skin looked a little too white today and her green eyes held no spark. Dark circles seemed to almost fit perfectly with her appearance. Flyaway hairs already framed the edges of her face. She could do nothing but shake her head and mutter lackluster words about needing more sleep.
The car door slammed heavily as Rae stepped out and slung her backpack over her shoulder. Her steps were smooth and calculated as she walked around to the front of the building. The bar's neon-lit name hung above the double doors that Jackson held open for her. At 5'11, the bouncer was about the same height as Raven in her boots but was built with enough muscles to make any heavyweight champion jealous. The two didn't talk much, but she trusted him if shit were to ever hit the fan. Not that she needed much help if anything were to go down. She stepped through the threshold and scanned the area.
The inside of the bar looked nearly as run-down as the outside. Lighting was dim with a few overhead bulbs blown. Beer and liquor signs hung along the walls as advertisement. The walls themselves were a dingy yellow from years of smoking and a lack of fresh paint while the floors were worn wood; the dark stain showed many scuffs and scratches but was clean nonetheless. Mismatched tables and chairs were scattered throughout the front of the layout and pool tables lined most of the back wall with doors leading to bathrooms. The long bar was in the far right corner and hosted a row of well-used barstools in front and shelves of liquor behind. Two doors sat on each side of the bartop, the one to the left led to the office, employee area, and basement while the door to the right hid a small kitchen.
The owners, Mae and Charles, were standing behind the bar and chatting as Rae approached. When she reached a stool and dropped heavily on its torn cushion, their conversation paused. Mae smiled brightly while Charles huffed, irritated as always.
"Wow, a little early today. You finally setting a new standard for your work ethic?" The middle-aged man grunted.
Rae rolled her eyes and propped her elbows on the polished bar top, "Y'know, if my hunts were a little closer to home, or my work schedule a little more flexible, I may be here early more often. Or maybe I wouldn't. It's already unbearable looking at your ugly face so much."
Mae lightly pushed on Charles's shoulder and spoke, trying to diffuse the tension some, "Enough you two. I'm not cleaning up spilled blood today and y'all know secretly you enjoy each other's company anyway. We should get ready for opening."
"I don't know how you've been married to this ass for twenty years, Mae. Truly you are a saint. Besides, Charlie knows he will miss me when I finally work up the courage to quit," Rae smirked.
"Not happening girlie. You may be a thorn in my damn side but you are stuck with us and this bar," Charles let his irritation slip from his face and added, "You are family. Annoying, but still family."
"What's the plan today?" Rae asked, feeling uncomfortable over the word 'family' and hoping to change the subject.
"Normal day. Maybe a little extra traffic. Mae's in the kitchen mostly and I will be in the back. I've got invoices and books and whatever the hell else has piled up. Sam's called in so it'll be mostly just you running the bar and serving with Trey helping when he can. Jackson is at the door as always," Charlie listed off.
"Damn, I was counting on Sam making this shift better. So the usual Thursday, basically?"
Charles nodded, "Basically, but you never know if any surprises will pop up in this line of work. Stay alert and if you need any help, the radios are charged."
Raven nodded and slid off her seat. She made her way to the employee area to deposit her stuff in her locker. There was about thirty minutes before opening and she had some side work to do before then. She thought back to what Charlie had said. 'Surprises,' what a fun way to say it. She hoped for nothing crazy tonight, but Charles was right- this line of business had a lot of unexpected surprises. Rarely were they ever the good kind.