The latch on my bedroom window is still broken so it slides open with no resistance. Dad had always said that since my room is on the third floor there was no need to fix it. “Who would be dumb enough to climb up here?” he would say.
It’s me, Hi, I’m the dumb one. It’s me.
My bare feet set gently upon the wood floor of my attic room as I slip inside and quietly close the window behind me. The driveway was empty, so there’s a good chance no one is home: and I highly doubt anyone thought to move the spare key out from under the fake dog poo by the planter, so I could have gone through the front door. But, the front door is in plain view of the street and I didn’t want to risk a neighbor spotting me.
Immediately I notice that my room is not how I left it. First, it’s a whole lot cleaner; and second, the walls are bare and the bed is stripped to just a fitted sheet. All of my posters decrying my love of certain anime characters and bands have been removed, and my shelves of figurines, board games, and TTRPG miniatures have gone missing as well. I check the dresser drawers and sure enough my dice and folders of character sheets are also gone.
I’ve been erased from this room.
I go to my closet fairly certain of what I’m going to find there, so it’s no surprise to me when I pull the door open and discover it’s empty.
They’re not even using this space for storage, it’s just empty.
The door at the bottom of the attic stairs is unlocked; it never had a lock to begin with but I half expected them to nail it closed. I pop open the closet door just outside my room and am happy to find all the family luggage is still there from our last trip, nearly three years ago. My hardcase roller is at the bottom of the stack, tucked under dad’s and next to my sister’s. I pull it free, put in my super secret three digit code, six six six, and flick the latches open. Loh and behold, a miniature museum of my 9th grade style sense. I grab a shirt, some pants, some undergarments, and head for the bathroom.
A shower can solve two of my biggest problems right now; I’m freezing, and I smell like I spent several hours in a trash bin… mainly because it’s freezing outside and I spent several hours in a trash bin with yesterday’s food scraps. I turn the water up as hot as it goes and strip away the thin white cotton pajamas, stained with a number of colors from unknown composting origins.
The shower is exactly what I need; hot and soothing. It feels like it’s washing away the last six months of shame, fear, loneliness, and a thin layer of mashed potatoes and vegetarian meatloaf.
The Positive Pathways Institute of Mindful Grother and Behavioral Balance (got that name is so terrible) is stricly a no meat institution. Meat is “packed with negative emotional energy,” as Dr. Bubbly used to say. I pulled her file while I was snooping through her office and personal documents a few hours ago and found that her name is actually Barbara “Bub” Lee. At the institute she insists on being Dr. Bubbly.
The name thing, not the vegetarian thing. I can kind of get behind that, but who calls themselves Bubbly by choice?
I spend a lot more time in the shower than I really should have, but since it’s the first hot shower I’ve taken in months I figure it’s worth the risk. I dry off and toss the towel on the floor; then decide that isn’t exactly what a stealthy ninja who took a shower in the house they’re technically breaking into would do so I fold the towel and put it back where I found it. I should be surprised that my clothes from 3 years ago still fit me, but really, I’m not. It’s been a rough three years and I haven’t exactly taken care of myself. Bodies don’t grow if you don’t supply them with the building materials.
It feels nice not only to be in real clothes again, but to be back in my clothes again. The shorts seem a bit shorter and have more rips than I remember, but the black leggings ensure I’m not showing too much, and the black on black look, combined with a loose fitting black band shirt, means I am properly color coordinated.
Bet my stuff is boxed in the garage.
I didn’t plan on going any lower than the second floor, but there is a strong chance my belongings are on the ground floor, and I really need shoes if I plan on meeting up with Vampires tonight. Between my own research and my sources… ok, I say sources but I really just mean this one orderly who is really into the paranormal scene and has a big mouth… tell me there is a new vampire nest forming and they are frequently found at Bella Vista’s. Tonight, I’m going to stake them out and… ahem… stake them up.
But, shoes; I’m not fighting vampires barefoot.
I stop in the kitchen to steal a slice of cheese from the fridge and nibble at it while I search the garage, all the while muttering little ‘fuck you’s to Dr. Bubbly who kept me deprived of cheese this whole time.
The boxes I need are in a corner of the garage, right next to the trash can. The implications are pretty clear; they want all signs of me gone… but can’t quite bring themselves to follow through with actually dumping it. I decide to bury that for my next therapy session because if I try to unpack that now I’m going to turn into a blubbering mess and then nothing is getting done tonight.
Fuck yeah, I celebrate in silence as I pop open the first box and find my old boots, the ones I pain-stakingly custom made by following youtube videos to add springloaded switch blades into the toe like old timey gangster films. I don’t actually know if there are any old timey gangster films with bladed toe shoes, but it feels like something that should be in old timey gangster films. Or maybe Batman… yeah, this feels more like a Batman villain thing.
The only socks I find are black, with little cartoon kitten skulls which I slide on before stuffing my feet into the boots. They’re heavier than I remember, but then I haven’t worn shoes in a few months so anything on my feet is going to feel heavy. I dig through the rest of the boxes, trying to find some of my old tools like the silver blade, or the breakaway stakes, but they’re all missing. All I find is my lighter.
The lighter reminds me of another very important thing that I just realized is missing from my boxes; both mine and my uncle’s journals.
“Fuck!” I yell much louder than I really should, considering I’m not supposed to be here.
My uncle was an outcast of the family. He wasn’t estranged, or anything, he was just weird. Like me, he wore a lot of darker colors and really fell hard into the occult. While my interests usually fell to White Wolf Roleplaying games and alternative religious outlooks, my uncle took things a lot further. He called himself a Sorcerer and believed magic was an ancient forgotten power. Everyone thought he was crazy, but also harmless. Unfortunately, he disappeared about five years ago on an excursion in the Mesopotamian area and no one has heard a thing about him since… aside from the package that came a year after his disappearance, addressed to me, with his personal study journal crammed with notes on ancient languages and-
My heart skips a beat when I hear the shotgun cock behind me.
I freeze in place, and when I’m not immediately shot in the back I slowly raise my hands over head so whoever is behind me knows I’m not a threat.
“Turn around slowly.”
My heart skips a beat when I hear the voice.
What the fuck is my boyfriend doing here?
“Jason?” I do as he says, turning around as I let my arms drop but stop when he repositions the gun for a better grip at his shoulder. “Jason? It’s me, you can put the gun down.”
“I know it’s you.” Jason doesn’t put the gun down. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Me? This is my house, what the fuck are you doing here?”
“You know what I mean, Chan.” Aww, he’s still calling me Chan, how sweet! “You’re supposed to be at the Positive Path-“
“Nope, nope, nope,” I lower my arms and cross my hands in the universal sign for Time-Out. “I don’t want to sit through that whole title again. I’ve heard enough of it to last a life time. Just call it PPIMGBB… wait, no, that’s shit. Just call it the institute, please.”
Jason frowns at me, and still refuses to lower the gun. He asks his question again, slower, and with a firm tone that says he doesn’t want to ask a third time.
“Why are you here? You don’t get a release hearing until next year.”
“What are you talking about? I did a whole six months and got out on good behavi-” I shut up when he steps forward and presses the stock of the gun firmly into his shoulder, bracing it.
“No, stop! I don’t want your stories right now. Tell me now; why, the fuck, are you not at the institute?”
Well, you see, I escaped so I could go kill the vampires I failed to kill the first time; the ones that landed me there in the first place.
“Jason,” maybe it’s because my voice catches and comes out as a pained croak, or maybe it’s the hurt in my eyes as I’ve just realized that the person I care most about has very likely lost all faith in me, but Jason loosens his grip and I can see the tension in his shoulders slacken. I gulp and try again.
“Jason, I’m just,” I can’t seem to get myself to tell him the truth; I’m here to kill more stuff. But, I don’t want to lie to him either, so my voice is caught in a crossroads and just trails off.
“You’re just here to kill more fictional monsters,” the disappointment in his eyes hit me like a punch to the gut. I’m afraid if I keep looking at him I’ll crumble, so I avert my eyes to my shoes, realize that’s super cliche, and look toward the ceiling instead. When tilting my head back results in tears welling in my eyes I settle for staring somewhere over his shoulder, through the door, at the fridge in the kitchen.
“They’re not fic-”
“You killed a kid, Chan. A kid. Not a vampire, just some high-school kid. I don’t know why you’re seeing monsters everywhere but he was just a kid who dressed weird and hung out at abandoned warehouses, just like you.”
“I know!” I can’t stand this. This is the first time I’ve spoken to anyone I knew from before in nearly a year and it’s just going to be me defending myself, again. “I – I know he was a kid. I didn’t mean to kill him. I mean, I did, but I didn’t know he was human. I thought he was a vampire, like the rest of them, I couldn’t differentiate between humans and vampires, I thought they all-“
“There wasn’t an all, Chan. It was just the one kid. There was no one else there.”
“The vampire’s all turned to-“
“Turned to dust, yeah. All the others that you somehow managed to kill on your own turned to dust and floated away on the breeze. We all heard your story, we all saw the photos. Me, your mom, your dad, we saw the pictures of that kid lying there with a stake in his chest, which, by the way, you claim doesn’t even kill vampires!”
“It paralyzes them until you can cut off their heads,” I mutter quietly. He freezes at my words, like he’s trying to decide if he’s shocked or horrified. That wasn’t information he had before; that I intended to cut his head off. He lowers the shotgun, catches it in the crook of his arm to free his hands, and presses his hands to his face.
“FUCK!” Jason yells, turns and walks a few steps away. He runs his hands through his hair, turns, and walks back toward me. He’s pacing. “Fuck, Claire. What the fuck? Was it that damned Vampire game game you always played? I know you lost it when your sister went missing and threw yourself into it, but how could you fall that deep?”
I don’t know what to say here, or what to do to make things better. If I could just get him to see the truth then maybe everything would be better. He would see I’m not crazy, I’m not making things up, and maybe he could trust me again. Of everything so far, losing him has hurt the most.
“It wasn’t the games, Jason. Vampires are real, and they killed-“
“No,” Jason covers his face again. He can’t bear to hear me say this again. “No, Chan. Vampire’s didn’t kill Jules. That was just humans. Humans murdered Juliette because humans are shit. Maybe believing in this fantasy stuff has helped you cope with that, I don’t know, but humans did that, Chan. Humans killed your sister.”
There is no way to talk my way out of this. I could argue all day but until he sees something for himself there is no way to prove to him that any of this is real. Vampires have been hiding from humanity for centuries, having convinced the world that they didn’t exist; that they’re just fairy tales made up to scare the kids and give people costumes ideas for one day a year. As much as I want his trust, and as much as I want him to hold me right now, I know there is another vampire nest out there that’s been collecting new people.
“There’s another nest,” I say. “I need my gear.”
“Another nest?” He throws his hands up in exasperation. “Of course there’ another nest, and you just know this how?”
“One of the night orderlies is into the paranormal. He kept asking me questions about vampires and wanted to know if some disappearances could be connected. Turns out they are.”
Jason shakes his head, I can tell he’s not really angry, more disappointed.
“Your stuff was taken by the police and no one has seen it since,” his tone softens. He’s speaking to me now like he’s just accepting that I have no grasp on reality and indulging me is the safest route out.
“Jason, why are you here?”
He stares at me for a long time before he walks a few paces away and sits on the hood of the car.
“I’m taking care of your mom. She’s been like a mom to me since mine passed away, you know that. She’s not doing well. Since you-” he trails off, he doesn’t need to finish because I know I broke her heart. She was still recovering from the loss of one kid when she went and lost me too.
“Where’s my dad?”
“He left. A few months ago, not long after they put you away. Your mom and him were fighting all the time, they kept talking about you and Jules and how everything was just… I don’t know, fucked up, and so he just… left. Took the car and most of the money. Your mom kind of stopped doing anything. She just sat down and that was that.”
It’s my turn to pace. I run my hands through my hair and clasp my fingers behind my head as I walk back and forth. I knew everyone was hit hard by Juliette’s disappearance. Her body was never found, and Dad always held out hope while Mom wanted to be more realistic and accept that she was dead and gone. You can’t move on until you accept the loss, she would say.
“Just stop hunting, Claire,” Jason pats the hood of the car beside him. I want to go sit beside him so badly and let him hold me, but if I do that then the vampires will win and keep taking more victims. Maybe I can’t end their reign of terror in this world but I can certainly make their life in Baycrest less pleasant, and get some vengeance for my sister. Maybe I can finish off the local nest before they get too powerful again. I only got them last time because they weren’t expecting me. Right now I have the element of surprise since they think I’m still at the institute, but once the news of my escape spreads I won’t get another chance. I need to take action now.
I stop pacing and just start walking toward the kitchen door.
“Claire,” I hear his voice break. He’s on the verge of tears. “Please, just stop. Stay here.”
I don’t turn back to look at him, I don’t say goodbye because I know if I try to speak right now my voice is going to crack and I’m going to break down. I don’t stop, I just head through the kitchen and out the front door.