Chaos and Courage (The Vampires of Shadow Hills Book 10)Willow Rose
One Month Before the Halloween Block-Party
They had gathered all of them in the commons where they had put up some kind of stage. Tinfoil Tim was standing on his tiptoes to be better able to watch as a woman stepped up. She looked strange with her round stomach and thin legs in big leather boots. On her round head, she had a thin black Mohawk. On her neck, she had a red birthmark shaped like an hourglass.
"For years, you have all known they were real," she said. "For years, you have known something that the rest of the world refused to see even though you tried to tell them so. Some of you have kept quiet about it, knowing you'd be stigmatized as crazy by society; others have been yelling in the streets, trying to get people to hear you, but with no success. Some of you were drugged and kept away in asylums while desperately trying to tell the truth. Common for you all is that you all have that experience, that time when you realized this world wasn't what you thought it was. You all share the same story, the story of knowing something no one else does. Knowing that among you live creatures that most people didn't believe were real, that they still refuse to believe exist. But they do. As I stand before you as your witness, I can tell you that you were the ones who were right. They told you that you were crazy, but, in fact, you were the ones who knew the truth about this world and who had invaded it. It was all true. And I am here today to show you the proof."
A wave of surprise went through the crowd and murmurs emerged among all the listeners. Tinfoil Tim stared at the scene, holding his breath, unable to believe this was actually happening.
Since he had arrived at the camp, he had talked to the others there about their experiences. They had been divided into groups with similar stories and shared everything with each other, talking endlessly about what they knew or had seen and confirming with each other that they were not crazy, that they were, in fact, the ones who were sane. But up until now, it had been nothing but talk. Empty chatter among the equal-minded.
"Show us, lady!" someone standing in front of Tinfoil Tim yelled. "Show us what you've got."
The crowd went silent, and they all stared in anticipation at the woman as she nodded toward some of her friends, who looked very much like her. They approached the stage, carrying someone between their arms.
"It's just a young girl," the woman standing next to Tim said.
Tim shook his head. What were they up to now? Why was this girl so important?
The woman with the red birthmark faced the girl as she was turned to face the crowd. They all stared at her, unable to see anything different about her.
The woman with the birthmark smiled at the crowd, then threw out her arms.
"This is what you've been seeing. This is how they fool you, trick you into thinking they are nothing but ordinary humans like you are when they are everything but. This girl right here was captured a couple of days ago in a hospital downtown where she was taking up space for sick humans, overwhelming the health care system, and driving up health insurance costs. Not only do they come here and stay in your world, destroying the world you love, bringing with them wars and trouble, but they are ruining your culture and your way of living, trying to make this just like the place they came from. They have infiltrated everything, your government, your media, your health care system, and the stock market. They are the reason there is trouble in your world. If they had never come here, you wouldn't have had wars; there would be no attacks and murders and no fear of walking out after midnight. It's because of creatures like her that the prisons are overfilled. Think of all the schools and nursing homes you could build with the money that is spent on them. It's not fair."
"She's nothing but a young girl!" someone yelled.
Others agreed loudly.
"You think she's just a young girl?" the woman said. "This one? Oh, no, my friend. She's not. This is just a skin. Underneath all this is a vicious monster. A creature so ugly and terrifying it will make your blood freeze."
A small gasp went through the crowd. The woman stepped up in front of the girl, then pulled out a whip from inside of her boot and lifted it in the air before slamming it down on the girl several times, groaning like she was truly enjoying it. The girl screamed in pain, and the crowd all looked appalled.
"Come on, you ugly beast. Show yourself! Show us your disgusting face!" The woman hissed and yelled as she kept whipping the girl.
The girl soon huffed and puffed in anger, and Tinfoil Tim watched, hardly breathing, as he saw first her nostrils grow unnaturally big, then small puffs of smoke emerging from them.
"Oh, dear Lord," a woman standing in front of him exclaimed and turned her head away, while Tim's eyes were fixated on the girl. She spat out a ball of fire from her nostrils the second before she changed completely into a huge creature and was left standing on the stage, two thick chains still wrapped around her neck. The two spider-like men had trouble holding her down as she roared and turned completely into a dragon.
The crowd gasped fearfully and pulled back. Tim couldn't stop staring at the magnificent creature up on the stage, fighting to get loose. It was spewing out fire in big balls, which the spider-like men were busy putting out all over the place. Panic erupted in the crowd as one ball of fire came a little too close, and soon, they started to stampede. Tim was pushed down to the ground, but still stared at the dragon as they fought to keep it down, whipping it, beating it with sticks that gave it electrical shocks. The dragon roared and groaned, but then the woman opened her mouth and spewed out a web that enveloped the dragon completely, and it could no longer move.
Tim breathed in ragged puffs as the dragon fell to the ground and the men kept beating at it, even though there was no danger anymore. It reminded him of the torturing of an elephant he had once witnessed. This mighty creature, unable to defend itself, beaten, broken on the ground. There was the same look in the dragon's eyes as there had been in the elephant's and it filled Tinfoil Tim with the same deep disgust now as it had then.
"My dad is missing. Amy is gone, taken by the spider-men, according to Kipp. Jazmine is in a coma and will have her life support turned off next week, and my cousins are all gone too. My mom, grandma, and Veronika are in hiding after the raid. I don't know what to do. I feel so alone. "
Jayden's mom reached out her hand and grabbed mine in hers. She was the one who had stopped by my house to check in on me on her way back from her run. Since the vampires were massacred, I had been alone in the house. On the news, they had covered the entire thing up, telling people that what they had heard that night was just a flock of bats running amok and the police had to kill them because they had rabies. They even had an expert on bats in the studio to talk about how they could attack in flocks when they became rabid.
How they managed to pull it off and people actually believed them was beyond me. Maybe it was easier for us humans to believe in rabid bats than vampires.
I lifted my eyes and met hers. "What am I going to do?"
"I didn't know you were here all alone," she said. "Why didn't Jayden tell me this?"
My eyes met hers across the table. "I…I haven't exactly spoken to him in the last couple of days."
"Really?" she said. "He talks a lot about you. I thought you two were hanging out again."
"We were," I said. "But then…well, we don't really know what happened with Ruelle and whether she really was responsible for what happened to Jazmine and Jayden, not to mention Alyssa Heckler. I think he needed time to think. I think we all did."
She nodded pensively. I was surprised to see that
she didn't flinch when I mentioned that Ruelle might be innocent. Had she come to the same conclusion? At least had the thought? It seemed like it. The more I wondered about everything, the more I realized Ruelle couldn't have done all this. I simply didn't believe it anymore. The question was, who had then? And what was with that disgusting skin of Ruelle in my trunk? How did that fit into the picture?
Jayden's mom cleared her throat. "I see."
I forced a smile, feeling how tired I was. I kept worrying about them all, especially my dad and Amy. Kipp had told me she had been taken at the hospital, but to his surprise, they hadn't sucked her soul out with those things, but they had put chains around her neck and given her an injection to make her go to sleep before carrying her away. Luckily, they hadn't even looked at Kipp or wondered if he was a super. They had only focused on getting the dragon.
Now, I had no idea where she was or if she was still alive.
"So, have you spoken to your mom?" Claire asked. "Are they all right?"
I nodded. "Duncan stopped by this morning and told me they were good. Thousands of…their kind…were killed in the raid, though."
Jayden's mom gave me a sad look. "I am sorry. I know I am not always fond of your family or their…kind, but a massacre like this was uncalled for. We have been living peacefully side-by-side for centuries. There was no reason for all this to happen."
I sighed, thinking about Mr. Aran in the Yeti-cup and wondered if any of this would have happened if we hadn't trapped him. Probably. He was onto us. He saw Amy and tried to kill her. He saw my brother and Jazmine. He knew what they were, and it had only been a matter of time before everything exploded.
"So…any news of how they're going to react to all this?" Jayden's mom asked cautiously.
"They're licking their wounds for now," I said. "At least that's what I think. They don't really tell me much."
"Of course not. You shouldn't be involved in all this. You're all so young still. All we ever wanted was for you kids to have a carefree childhood and upbringing. That's why we never told you about any of it. We wanted you to have a life like everyone else. Maybe we were wrong."
I squeezed her hand. "I am glad I didn't know about any of this till now," I said. "I did have a carefree childhood. As carefree as it can be when growing up with a compulsive health freak like my mother."
That made Claire chuckle.
"She sure is something."
I thought about my mother for a few seconds, secretly wishing everything could go back to the way it was just ten months ago. I would never have thought I'd look back at that and call it the good old days, but that was how I felt now. This was a nightmare, and I just wanted to wake up.
As Jayden's mom left my house, kissed me on the cheek and told me to promise to come across the street if I needed anything, I returned to my laptop, where I had spent the past twenty-four hours researching, determined to solve this mystery of the strange killer roaming in our neighborhood and hopefully find my dad.
It didn't take many seconds after Claire left before the doorbell rang and Jayden stood outside my door.
"Jayden?" I asked surprised, then sighed. "Did your mom send you here?"
He shrugged. "I kind of wanted to see you too. She said now was a good time. And that you might need a friend right about now."
"You don't have to do me any favors. I’m fine."
He tilted his head. "I wanted to see you. I haven't talked to you in days. Can I come in?"
"Of course," I said and stepped aside. I felt all kinds of turmoil inside of me seeing him again. I had no idea where we stood or what was going to happen to us. I didn't even know if he still wanted me like he had told me he did just a few days ago. It was all very confusing.
We sat in the kitchen, and I made us some of my grandmother's secret coffee that she hid in her room. Since they had all left, I had pulled it out and was basically living off it.
"This is very good," Jayden said as he tasted it.
I nodded. "Grams brought it from her trip to somewhere down in South America."
He looked into my eyes with an exhale. "So…how are you? My mom said your family was hit by the raid downtown the other night?"
I nodded. "We lost our cousins, the triplets. My dad is missing too, but I don't think that was the spiders."
"Then what do you think it was?"
He wrinkled his forehead.
"The same one that kidnapped you and put Jazmine in a coma," I continued. "He is still out there. He attacked Amy and Kipp by the lake and ran toward our neighborhood. I heard my dad scream, and then he was gone."
Jayden sipped his cup with a confused expression. "Are you certain? How do you know that he wasn't taken by the spider-men like most other vampires that night?"
I shrugged. "I don't. I guess you're right about that. But Amy and Kipp saw the killer. He is still out there, and I intend to find him no matter what. I feel certain he has my dad. I need to do what I can at least."
Jayden stared at me. It made me blush and look away.
"What?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing. I was just…well, amazed at how you manage to look this beautiful with everything you've been through. I mean I can't imagine you've slept much the past twenty-four hours since it happened."
I blushed again and looked down at my cup, feeling all kinds of mushy. I enjoyed being with Jayden like this and wished I could pull myself together and simply ask him what he wanted, if he was going back to be with Ruelle again or what, but of course I didn't dare to. I didn't want to be disappointed.
"So, do you have any leads?" he asked.
"On your big case? Your mystery?"
I nodded. "Actually, I do. There's a woman I am trying to find."
I nodded. "Yes. I think the case runs back to Timmy Reynolds, the kid that disappeared from the abandoned house twenty-five years ago. He was found by a police officer who suffered amnesia right after meeting him and later found the boy's dead body in his backyard but couldn't remember anything. The police officer never told anyone, not till I showed up. Instead, he just pretended like nothing had happened because he was scared. But there was a woman that he was seeing back then who was also gone once he got his memory back. He never knew what happened to her. She just vanished. I’ve found her sister. She lives in the next town. I’m going to pay her a visit tomorrow."
"And you think she might know something? It sounds a little far-fetched, Robyn, don't you think? Why don't you focus on yourself right now and our neighborhood and your family? Isn't that what matters right now? Your family and friends?"
I bit my lip. "That is what I’m doing. Well…I hope it is."
Jayden sighed. "At least let me go with you then. I don't like that you're out there all alone, trying to find some murderer."
Our eyes locked across the counter and I felt a deep sense of relief. I wasn't happy about going all alone either, and I was moved that he still felt like he had to protect me. It almost felt like back in the old days between us. Almost.
Amy was crying. Her body was in severe pain but not as much as she was mentally. She was broken, completely destroyed. Sitting in the cell they had put her in on the cold stone floor, she looked at her many bruises, sobbing and crying.
I just want to go home.
She missed her parents so terribly, and Melanie and Robyn, of course, not to mention Kipp. Would she ever see any of them again?
In the cells next to hers, other creatures were kept. Mostly vampires whom the guards came to get every now and then, dragging them across the floor, before they returned, beaten. Amy could hear the screams coming from down the hallway, where she could only assume they were torturing them into revealing where their relatives and friends were hiding. Probably threatening to suck out their souls if they didn't.
Across the hallway from her cell was a young girl, A
lice. She was crying and hiding her face between her hands. Amy didn't know what she was since she had looked the same for all the time she had been there.
"It'll be okay," Amy whispered across the hallway. "Don't cry. Please."
Amy couldn't stand listening to her crying; it was unbearable, and she wanted so terribly to fix everything for Alice, so she didn't have to cry anymore, but there really wasn't much she could do at this point. They were all trapped there and at the mercy of these strange spider-creatures who didn't care much if they lived or died.
"Alice?" she said, trying to get the girl's attention onto something other than her situation.
The girl stopped crying and sniffled.
"What's your power?"
"You're a super, right? That's why you're down here, but what is it? You're not a vampire, are you?"
She shook her head with another sniffle, then wiped her nose. Amy studied her face from a distance and realized she couldn't be much more than seven or eight years old.
Alice shrugged, and Amy realized maybe the girl didn't even know.
"Why are they keeping you here?" Amy asked.
Alice exhaled. "They want to find my dad. They came for him, but he wasn't home. Only my brother and I were home. They took me and my brother…they…"
I nodded. "I see. And now they're trying to get to him through you."
Alice sniffled again. "I just want my mommy."
Tears broke out again and soon she was crying even more than earlier. Amy felt stirred up. She never could take hearing someone cry. It made everything inside of her want to scream.
"It'll be okay," Amy said, trying her hardest to sound reassuring. "I’m sure your mom will come and get you."
"I hope so," she said, "but that's not why I’m crying."
"Then why are you crying, sweetheart?"
"I have to use a restroom so terribly. It hurts."