CHAPTER 37 - The warning
As I pull the car in front of the school building, I spot Claire sitting on a bench. She promptly walks to the car and opens the front door to sit beside me. Placing the car in park, I make sure the windows are closed, doors are locked and the AC is turned on low. I don’t want anybody to overhear us and Claire gets a stuffy nose with bad air circulation. When all is done, I cross my arms and stare at her.
“Anything you want to tell me?”
“I already told you. It’s not him!”
I let out a sigh and uncross my arms, softening my voice a bit.
“And I must ask you that again. What do you mean ‘it’s not him’? You don’t even know him!” I pause, wondering. “Do you?”
“Dad, as I said before, it’s not important but whatever. I’ve heard quite a lot of rumors about the Forest Ghost. Did you know that he’s been protecting the forest we live in for centuries?”
“How does that even answer my question?”
“Think about it, dad! If he’s been protecting it, why would he start killing all those women all of a sudden? What motives would he have?”
“Good point but the only motives serial killers may have are psychological gratifications. It can include anger, maybe he’s looking for a thrill or attention. Who knows what’s his motives are? For all I know, it can even be financial gain.”
Her face frowns and she looks mad at me. Why is she trying to protect this guy? Does she know the Forest Ghost, as I thought?
“Financial gain, anger?” She shook her head, matching my gaze. “And why would he start killing all around town? In other forests too, nonetheless. Why would he go through the trouble to pick on specific age-ranged women? It sounds too odd to me.”
What are you not telling me, Claire? There is definitely something.
“What?” She visibly tilts her head, the frown gone, totally replaced with curious eyes.
“I gave you many examples of what his psychological gratifications could be and you only reacted to two of them.” Her eyes widened for a second before she went back to her mad face, even pouting a little. “I guess he could be looking for attention or just a good thrill. After all, he must be bored in ‘protecting’ Kodoku’s forest for, what again? Ah, yes! Centuries!”
She sighed heavily, slightly shaking her head.
“No, dad. He doesn’t even come into town. Why would he be looking for attention?”
“I don’t know! That’s one thing we want to ask him but we can only question him once we bring him into custody!” Claire’s expression relaxes a bit and her shoulders drop some. She didn’t say anything against that either. “What if he is just looking for a thrill? He might be bored out of his mind with no friends, family…”
“You don’t even know if he does have a family or friends, how can you say that?” She looked angry again. Why was she defending him so fiercely?
Ignoring her answer, I put my solicitous face on and straighten myself.
“Spill the beans, Claire! What else do you know about him…” She opened her mouth to reply but I raise my voice a little for her to listen. “...that aren’t rumors?” her lips close shut, eyes glancing sideways. Oh, there is something. What are you hiding from me?
Shit! How the hell am I gonna convince my father that they are chasing after the wrong person? Maybe, I should just let it all go and warn Caio instead. I don’t believe I should be revealing certain things to him just yet.
“Dad, look…” I give a little pause to look outside, trying to find the right words that won’t let him on too much. “I’ve talked with him. He may not interact much with people but…” As I thought, I peeked at his interest. One of his eyebrows lifted but as I was about to talk again he says something.
“He may not interact much? That’s a bit of an overstatement. Don’t you think? All I’ve ever heard of him are rumors. I haven’t even seen the damn guy!” I nod, pressing my lips together and closing my eyes for a couple of seconds.
“Yes! Ok! He doesn’t talk at all with people but I have talked with him!” As soon as I finish my sentence, my hands fly up to my mouth to cover it. Shit! I shouldn’t have said that! Twice, for that matter! I see his eyes widen, his body shifts to sit sideways, his mouth barely parted like an ‘o’.
“So, I did hear you right the first time! You’ve talked with him! When? Where?”
“Relax? How can I relax when my daughter just told me that she has talked with a serial killer?” His voice raises an octave.
“He’s NOT a serial killer!”
“He’s the prime suspect, Claire! How can you say for sure that he’s not the killer?”
I shake my head and go silent. I find myself asking that myself. How can I be so sure? He did seem to enjoy the thrill of the ‘hunt’. Images of us passing time together flashes into my mind, erasing those thoughts and replacing them with warm ones. The time when I first saw him bathing in the lake, the time when he saved me from the werebears, the church. All the memories I have of us together flashed by, ending with him kissing me. I feel my cheeks become slightly warm and then I think of when he saw me with Cedrick and the reaction he’s got. He was jealous, wasn’t he? I find myself staring at my father again.
“It’s a gut feeling.”
“A gut feeling? Claire, I can’t solve a case solely on gut feelings. I need proof! He’s the prime suspect and right now we need to bring him into custody to question him and figure out if it’s really him or not.”
My hands reach for my father’s arms and I hold them giving a light squeeze.
“The time when I spoke with him, he was at the church, talking with Father Ronah.” Dad shifts uncomfortably in his seat, ready to talk over me but I push on. “He was INSIDE the church. If he is a vampire, how could he be inside talking with a priest?” Well, that’s something that even I wanted to know but the fact was, I knew he was a vampire and neither the church nor the sunlight scared him away. Could that also be true for the other vampires attacking people?
“Our… my boss’ belief is that he’s got vampiric tendencies and that he is not a real vampire. In that case, he wouldn’t have any problems in entering the church, would he?” I nodded. That was indeed true but I knew that he was a real vampire.
“True, but that’s the sheriff’s belief. What do YOU believe, dad?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. I still need to bring him into custody. Even if it’s just to clear him out of the suspect list.”
“Ok, I understand that. Just… keep an open mind.”
“Honey, It’s my job not to get ‘tunnel vision’. I will keep on investigating the case even if the rest of my department are dead set in condemning him. Now, tell me what you know. I can’t help if you don’t trust me.”
“I don’t really know much more. I spoke with him for a brief moment only. He seemed like a nice guy. I remember the priest scolding him for entering the church without a shirt.” I chuckled, remembering the scene but quickly swallowed my laughter when I noticed my father’s face. I turned away blushing a little, still feeling his inquisitive eyes on me. “I don’t know anything else! Can you please stop interrogating me?!” I shouted. Too embarrassed to continue talking with him.
Soon enough, I hear a heavy sigh and a shuffling before the car is put into gear. I tempt a peek at him and find him staring at the street instead of me. Finally, we were heading home. Grabbing my hairband from my pocket, I gather my hair into a messy bun before checking my phone. It’s already 6 pm. Good! I need to find a way to contact Caio and warn him. It might be a good thing for him to turn himself in. He might get a few good points for doing that but on the other hand, he might be framed too. With my phone still in my hands, I look at the view outside my window. What should I do? Will he decide to turn himself in or will he go into hiding? My mind seems to run a mile per hour just for me to realize a second later that the car had just turned off. I look at my father. He takes a deep breath, placing a hand on his door.
“Make sure you stay away from this Forest Ghost guy and follow the curfew times. I’m worried about you, Claire. I don’t want to be called into yet another homicide just to find out that the victim is you.” He gives me a last glance full of pain in his sky blue eyes before exiting the car and leaving me behind.
It’s painful to see him so concerned about me. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him worry about me but this is definitely the first time that he’s showing so much pain.
As soon as I step out of the garage, I come face first with my granny. She was holding a stone with weird-looking carved runes.
“Deary! I didn’t know you came home with your father.” She tilts her head, lightly knitting her brows. “Are you alright?”
Again, I can feel the concern in one more person’s voice today.
“Hey, granny. Yeahh… dad picked me up after the… hmm..”
“The press conference bullshit that sheriff Le’Blanc gave out? Yeahh, I saw that too, deary.” Granny’s blue eyes looked like bright blue flames dancing. It was both mesmerizing and enigmatic. “How can they think that our forest protector would have anything to do with those horrendous crimes?” She hit her walking cane a few times on the ground, expressing her anger.
I chucked a little, too happy that she agreed with me.
“Anyways, let’s go back inside. Dinner is almost ready.”
She rushed me in but took a few extra seconds outside. I wondered why but quickly put that aside and ran up the stair to my room.
>>>A few hours later…<<<
I waited until everybody had gone to bed before dressing myself in black jeans, a pink tank top, and a navy blue hoody. I had also rearranged my pillows so to give the impression that I was sleeping while I went outside to try and contact Caio. He needed to know what was going on. Slowly, I left my room, gingerly closing the door behind me and silently moving down the hall and down the stairs, praying that the floor wouldn’t creek too much and alert my family. Once on the bottom of the stairs, I gave a rapid peek towards the living room and kitchen before proceeding toward the front door. After I managed to step outside, I carefully closed the door, locking it with my key before dashing in the direction of the lake.
Once by the lake, I turned to make sure nobody was watching me. Confirming that nobody was in sight and all lights were off, I sprinted to the forest. After ten minutes or so walking through the forest, I decided it was time to try and contact him. Taking a deep breath, I’m about to shout out for him when a hand comes from behind me. With my mouth muffled shut, I feel my body being pressed against a firm, muscular chest.
“Shiiii. There are things living in this forest that wouldn’t mind an appetizer like you, little fury.” My eyes widen as every single hair in my body goes up with his warm breath in my neck. Butterflies take off flying in my stomach fluttering energetically, causing my poor little heart to spring in a wild race as my cheeks start to burn up. I lightly pull on his hand to let go of my mouth and he immediately relents, freeing me so I could turn to face him.
“What are you doing over here at this time at night?”
“I was looking for you!”
Oh, God! Those emerald eyes seem to dig in all the way down to my very soul. How I have missed them. I see one of his brows lift in an inquisitive way so I press on.
“They are looking for you!” He frowns but before he could question me, I take the initiative to answer for him. “The cops! They think you’re the one killing all those women around town!” He kept on staring at me like I haven’t said anything important. I find myself not knowing if I want to stiffen in worry or relax by his lack of reaction. “Why… do you not look surprised?”
“Because I already know that.” He shrugs and turns away from me, walking onto a side trail that went towards the lake. I follow him in silence, waiting for him to add more to his explanation.
When we get to the lake, he simply goes to sit on a boulder, watching over it. I look around. There are a few trees that have stubbornly grown in between the several boulders where Caio went to. It made it look cozy. Sitting on the nearby bolder, I study his diamond-shaped face, waiting. My curiosity grows tenfold and I could no longer wait for him to answer me.
“How did you find out about that? Did you see the press conference too?” Now, that was one possibility, right?! His eyes move to glance at me but his face doesn’t move at all.
“So… how?” I ask.
“I may not like to socialize with the townsfolk but I do have contacts, Claire.” Now, he turns his head to better look at me. I believe he can see just how many questions are popping up in my brain right at this second because he begins talking again. “It really wasn’t me if that’s what you’re wondering.” I just stare at him.
In a blink of an eye, I find myself laying down on the boulder I was sitting on a second ago with Caio hovering protectively over on top of me. I blink, eyes widening in total surprise. Caio is visibly wincing, his eyes barely open, looking at me.
At the sound of his voice, I look beyond his mesmerizing emerald orbits, finding a pretty heavy tree branch broken in half on top of his back. I gasp. He threw himself on top of me to protect me from being hit. That branch was big enough to either kill me or put me in the hospital.
“A… are you alright? Oh, my God!” I try to move to check on him but his body is pressed against mine so instead, I take his face in between my hands. His eyes open up completely as we lock eyes.
“I’m fine. Are you ok?” He asks back. I find myself nodding, still holding his face.
I can feel my anxiety level triple with his closeness. His amazing sandalwood smell tickles my nostrils, awakening the internal fire sleeping inside of me. Our faces draw near, lips brushing one another. My eyelids start to close as does his but then… then his face turns, dropping over my neck, where he takes a deep breath. It’s almost like he can’t breathe anything else but me. We stay like that for a moment. He smelling me while I run my fingers through his long raven hair. Caio groans before pulling his body off of me and I can’t help but let out a sigh. He stands and moves both pieces of the broken branch away from me before offering me a hand to get up. I accept it and soon find myself standing in front of him. One of his hands rubs the back of his neck. Is he embarrassed? I take his other hand in mine and he promptly looks at me.
“Thank you!” He tilts his head a little, seemingly confused for a second. “For sparing me the pain of a concussion or death itself!” I flash him a shy smile as he nods a bit, a subtle smile on his lips.
“I will walk you back home.” He turns, getting down from the boulder and pulling me along with him. Unfortunately, once we are back on the ground, he lets go of my hand and places his mask back on. The invisible mask that doesn’t convey any emotion.
We walk side by side all the way to the edge of my house and the forest. That’s when I turn to him to say my goodbyes.
“Are you gonna turn yourself in? They just want to question you. The longer they take to find you, the more they will believe that it’s you.”
His eyes are riveted on my house when he answers back.
“I’m gonna keep that in mind but for now, no. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
“... but…” His emerald eyes seem to pin me down when he steps into my private space to hug me.
“Thank you for the warning, little fury. Be careful out there!” His words come out as a faint whisper. Pulling away from me, he gives me a slight nod before disappearing back into the forest.
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