The moon bathed the hills in the distance as I stared out the window at the path below. What was going to happen to us now? I heard a coyote cry out in the distance. At least I think it was a coyote. I don’t know what’s real anymore. Loud banging on the stairs interrupted my cloud of self pity.
“Shh! You’ll wake Katrina.” I half whispered, half yelled, glancing at my little sister, asleep in her bed.
Cypress rolled his eyes at me. “She’ll be fine. Listen, I have to go. A friend of mine said there’s a lead at the pub up the way. It may be my only chance to catch a trail on this thing, and then I’ll have to go after it. Promise me you won’t follow or do anything crazy. I can’t afford to have two little girls wrapped up in this mess. And frankly I’m sick of playing babysitter.”
I huffed in his face. “I’m 17, I’m not a child. I look after myself just fine, thank you very much! And those were OUR parents that disappeared, don’t act like we don’t have a right to know what’s going on. I think I should come…”
Cypress’ eyes grew stern as he interrupted my rant. “No. This is too dangerous. We don’t know what this thing is yet and believe you me, there are far scarier things out there than story books have prepared you for, that go bump in the night. You’ll stay here with your sister. Now I have to go before I lose this lead!” He was practically growling.
I stared up at him, trying to make myself seem taller. But my 5’4 body was nothing to that of the 7-foot giant half-breed. He towered over me and his blue eyes softened. “I know you want to get to the bottom of this as much as I do. But you need to let me do my job. I’m a monster hunter, not a friend, not your father, and sure as hell not your babysitter. Please, do as I say.”
I huffed again. “Well what kind of hunter lets the monsters go!” I dug at him.
“The kind who isn’t out to kill, but rehabilitate. They come here from across the veil to have a better life. Most of them don’t mean to hurt anyone. The counsel is supposed to oversee them, but they do a crap job. So, it’s up to people like me.” He corrected.
I sighed, clearly my jabs weren’t working. I reluctantly agreed to stay. Cypress gathered his things, swinging his massive crossbow across his back. “I’ll be back. I promise. Until then, stay here, lock the doors, and don’t come out for anyone or anything.”
“We have to get food somehow.” I half joked.
“I’ll send someone. Only open the door if they know the password.”
I rolled my eyes. “And what’s the password. Potato pancake?” I was kidding, but then I realized the first thing I thought of was dad’s favorite food.
“Fine, potato pancake.” He smiled, patting my sandy brown hair. “Goodbye, Lucy.”
“Goodbye, Cypress.” I waved to him as he started down the path, away from our hilltop hideaway.
“Be safe…” I whispered into the night. Time to wake Katrina, before he gets too far.
To my surprise, when I walked into the pub, there were several suspicious looking characters lurking around. Any one of them could be my culprit. Thankfully I spot my informant sitting at the bar. He looked eager to spill his findings.
“Hey buddy!” He said, attempting to sling his arm around my shoulders. His arm only reached about halfway. His petite stature didn’t stand a chance against my height and broadness. As he got closer, I noticed his breath, wreaking of beer and stale cigars.
“Let’s erm..” I put some distance between us, avoiding his off-putting smell. “Let’s just go over the detailed, shall we? I said with my best attempt at a smile.
“Right-O then boss, here we are!” He hiccupped, pulling a half-torn napkin from his pocket. “Here’s what I know.”
“You have GOT to be kidding.” I growled. I did NOT come all this way for this crap, Harold. You’d better have something good, and you’d better have it now.”
“No, no, Cypress, buddy, you have it all wrong! Right here, look here, I have some good intel. For instance, the disappearances all happen at night!”
“Kind of hard to kidnap someone during the day, Harold. That tells me nothing.” I groaned, rolling my eyes.
“We..well…What about the fact that tracks with the same footprint that was found at another crime scene start nearby a victims house and trail east for several miles. Does that help?” He asked, hopefully.
“Actually, yes it does. Thank you, Harold.” His eyes lit up at the praise. “Now, you wouldn’t happen to know where this victim’s house is, would you?”
“Oh, I sure do. Here you go!” He said, handing me the napkin.
I sighed. “Harold. The house number is smudged.”
“Oh no! Sorry about that boss, I had some fries while I was waiting and must have grabbed the wrong…”
“Nevermind. I’ll find it.” I moaned, getting up from my seat. I just barely heard Harold, calling behind me, “Can I come too?” Company was the last thing I needed right now.
Cypress was quick, but Katrina and I were quicker. At least we would be if she would move her boney behind.
“Kat, come ON! Let’s go before we lose him!” I shouted at her. She was dragging a stuffed bear behind her. “Lose the bear! You’re 10 years old now, you shouldn’t be dependent on stuffies to keep you safe.”
“That’s my job” I thought.
“My feet hurt, I don’t want to do this anymore, I want Mama and Papa.” Katrina muffled.
“I know you do. Hell, I do too. But we have to be brave. Can you be brave for me, Kat?” I gave her a warm smile.
“I guess so.” She groaned.
As we approached the pub, I knew we couldn’t be spotted. The woods to the left were close by enough we could see the door without being seen ourselves. Two girls hanging out outside a bar was sure to raise some red flags. I pulled Katrina with me behind some trees and waited for Cypress.
We sat there for what seemed like hours. I thought Katrina would be leaning against a tree, halfway to dream land by now, but she was skipping around, dancing through the trees.
“Stay by me, please. You don’t know what’s in these woods. There could be bears, or…” Cypress’ words echoed in the back of my mind. “There are far scarier things out there than story books have prepared you for, that go bump in the night.” I shuttered as I shifted focused to the door of the bar once again. He had to be coming out soon.
“Lulu what’s this?” I heard from behind me.
“What’s what, Kat?” I half mumbled, not paying attention.
“It’s small, and brown, and fuzzy, and it has wings and a smushy face” she said with wonder in her voice
Her words processed slowly in my head before I cried “Katrina don’t touch that, it’s a…” the creature let out a shriek and flew up toward the trees. I sighed in relief. “A bat. It was just a bat. Please, don’t touch anything. You don’t know what might be out here.”
“That’s true, you have no idea what’s out here.” Sounded a voice. I didn’t see anyone, but suddenly a rustle came from the trees. Out of nowhere a boy appeared. He looked a little older than Kat, about 12 maybe. His skin looked pale, almost blue, and he wore a black cloak over his clothes. As he stepped closer, the moon illuminated his beady red eyes.
I pushed Katrina behind me, holding on to her tightly. “Who are you?” I said firmly. “What are you?” I thought.
“My name is Fredrick. What’s yours?” He asked politely. I didn’t understand. Was he being…friendly?
“I stepped back as he stepped forward, and sadness washed over his face. Katrina peaked out from behind me and wriggled free from my grasp. “Kat, no, stop!” But she got closer to the boy.
“I’m Katrina. This is my sister, Lucy.” She said with a smile. My mind was racing as I searched for a plan. But I was coming up short. All I could do was race up behind her and hope for the best.
“You’re going to want to back away, slowly.” Another voice rang from the trees. I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest as I clung to my littler sister.
“Aw mom please don’t, these are my friends!” Fredrick shouted.
“Say goodbye to your friends, Fredrick.” She called back.
As I started on the path toward the wood, a terrible scream stopped me in my tracks. I raced toward it, hoping the creature didn’t claim its next victim. As I approached the edge of the wood, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I explicitly told them to stay home! But now wasn’t the time. Looming over them stood a 6 foot tall vampiress, and what I can only assume to be her young. So that’s what’s been kidnapping people. They’re hoarding food.
I pulled my crossbow off my back. “Step away. Now. I don’t want to have to do this but I will.” She laughed and launched at me with her claws, cutting into my face. The crossbow took most of the blow as it guarded my chest. I stayed calm, there was no need to escalate the situation before knowing her intentions. “I won’t say it again. Let them go.”
“That’s the problem with you people. You think you can just waltz in here and threaten us, threaten our way of living. After the counsel withdrew our food supply we were left with no choice, and they wander in here so willingly like the wood is theirs. My son and I are the only ones left in this area. Yes, we’ve been hording the humans. We have to, we have to survive somehow.” She sighed, looking defeated.
I lowered my crossbow, puzzled. “The counsel cut off your food supply? I didn’t know…I’m sorry. Believe me, I’ll have words with them about this. But for now, you need to let these people go. We’ll figure something out for your food. I promise. Can you take us to the rest of the people you’ve trapped?”
I was hopeful we could work out an agreement. Something was up on the other side of the veil. So many creatures were coming to this side, and now they’re revoking their promises to support them? This wasn’t right. The vampiress sulked and waved her hand for us to follow. Fredrick skipped ahead of her and I grabbed on to the girls and kept them at my side.
After a short while we approached a towering white house, with black roofing and a solid oak door. There were no windows to prevent the sun from shining in. It was definitely odd, that’s for sure. Inside it looked relatively normal though. They lived just like normal humans did. But once they lead us to the basement it was clear they were not of this world.
The walls were panted black, and thick, long padded boxes sat against the wall.
“Those are our beds!” Fredrick volunteered. I nodded. I could never be sure which pieces of lore about vampires were true. They had always been mysterious to me. Not creatures I wanted to pay around with, that’s for sure. As we approached a second room, the vampiress turned to us.
“Please don’t judge me. I was only trying to keep my family safe.” She sighed, opening the door. The walls were lined with crates containing at least a dozen people, paralyzed with fear.
All through the vampiress’ house, I wouldn’t let go of my sister or Cypress. I tried not to show it, I tried to be the big sister, but I couldn’t hide it, I was terrified. The basement was damp and creepy, and it felt like there were eyes everywhere, staring at me, waiting to strike. As she opened the second door, the fear only grew more. So many people, trapped in cages. People we knew, friends, neighbors, and suddenly I saw them. Katrina must have seen them too because she ripped from my hand and bolted toward the cage on the far left.
“Mama! Papa!” She shouted.
“Girls! Mama cried. “What are you doing here? Who is this man? Why isn’t this monster locking you up?
“This is Cypress, Mama. He came to help us when you guys disappeared.” Katrina said smiling. She was so happy to have found them, I don’t think the utter terror of this place really set in.
I got my footing and approached the cage. “Cypress deals with monsters from another world. He came to us and said only someone like him could help with this, so I trusted him to find you. Apparently, this…woman…has been experiencing some kind of…international…issue…Anyway it doesn’t matter, we’re safe and she’s gonna let you out now. Right?” I demanded.
The vampiress hesitated.
“In fact she’s letting all these people out and we’ll find a solution so she doesn’t have to take or hurt anyone ever again. Right?” Cypress growled, repeating my solidity.
She let out a sigh again. “Right.”
We hugged Mama and Papa and watched as she unlocked each cage one by one.
I nodded as the vampiress let all her prey free. This could have ended very differently and I’m glad no one else had to get hurt.
“Miss…I’m sorry, I realize I never got your name.” I questioned.
“Vanessa.” The vampiress smiled.
“Well Vanessa, I’m going to escort these folks home, then we’re going to head straight through the veil and get this sorted. Okay?” I said, trying to relieve her.
“Yes. Thank you Mr. Cypress. You have no idea how much that means to me.” She cried, shaking my hand.
I turned to the little family, newly reunited. “Are you ready to head home?”
“Yes PLEASE.” Yelled Papa in relief.
I never thought I’d get my parents back after they disappeared. Then this strange man wanders into our lives, makes all these promises, and actually managed to keep them.
I don’t think our family will ever ben back to normal, but one thing is for certain, we’ll always remember this night and all this man had done for us. We said our tearful goodbyes, and Katrina handed Cypress her bear.
“To keep you safe” she said. He took it happily, and waved goodbye. I ran up the steps, and stared out the window as the monster hunter walked back down the path, into the sunrise. “Goodbye Cypress” I whispered.