I walked out of the room I had been sharing with Richard. Even though the door was closed, I could hear the quiet murmurings as Lily talked with her brother and sister in her room. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Interspersed with the talking was crying. I felt bad for all of them. I didn’t really think Lily or Mackenzie had dealt with the loss of their parents until Tanner showed up. And he just found out that his parents were dead so he wasn’t doing well either. Something similar was happening in the room that Hunter and his sisters had gone in.
I knocked on the room door my mom and Richard’s mom had gone in earlier. My mom opened the door. Her eyes were bloodshot. She quickly wiped away a tear that was on her cheek. “What is it, Darren?” she asked gently.
“I’m looking for Richard. Have you seen him? Is he in there?”
“No,” my mom said. “It’s just me and Nancy.”
“Okay,” I said. My mom shut the door quietly as I moved away.
Little screams and giggles came from the living room. When I reached it, Marcos, Juan and Arthur ran around the room playing tag. Molly ran after them happily joining in on their fun. Monica sat on a chair watching them. She had a sad smile on her face. I wondered if she thought about her own parents or Grant and his dad.
Maria sat on the couch next to Jin. Her hand was open with her palm face up. She stared intensely at the empty space in her palm.
“You must feel the energy,” Jin said, “and call it to you. Form it in your hand. Picturing it in your mind.”
I felt eyes on me. I turned to the corner of the room where Gunnor’s red eyes met mine. The corner of his right lip turned up in a weird smile that showed his elongated canine. I knew he wanted to bite me. Like Jin did with Maria. They said Maria and I were more susceptible to magic and I had a feeling that it had more to do with that than anything else. Maybe our blood tasted better. Maybe it would make them more powerful. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious what it would feel like to have him bite me. I was certain he wouldn’t kill me.
I turned my gaze away from him and scanned the rest of the room. Richard wasn’t here. I was worried about him. He saw his dad as a zombie the previous night. He had seen him dead. At least I hadn’t had to see my stepdad in that state.
I wasn’t sure where the rest of Tanner’s and Grace’s group were. The vampires had given them rooms to share too – even though we didn’t know if they were staying – so they were probably there.
I left the room without saying a word and went to the kitchen. It was empty. There was a lot of the house we hadn’t been in yet and the vampires – that was so weird to say – the vampires hadn’t offered to give us a tour of the rest of the house. Mansion. Whatever it was, it was huge. I doubted Richard would go to the parts of the house we hadn’t gone yet.
I opened the front door. Or maybe it was the back door. It was the door we first came in and the door that Tanner and Grace and their group had come to that morning. There were many footsteps in the snow in front of the door. One set led off to the right and around the house. I followed them.
A couple of inches of snow had accumulated. It wasn’t snowing anymore, but gray clouds covered the sky. A chill was in the air. I pulled my coat tighter around me.
There was a bench by the side of the house. Richard sat on it hunched over. He didn’t seemed bothered that he sat in the snow covered bench. He sniffed loudly and looked up at me. He wiped tears away from his cheeks and sniffed again. I went and sat next to him. I patted his back as he hunched over so his elbows were on his thighs and his head buried in his palms.
I had liked Richard’s dad. He was always kind to me. He would take us to the movies or bowling. Me, Richard and the rest of our friends that died or turned into zombies on Halloween night. There had been five us that always hung out together. We played role playing games together taking turns to who was the game master. Some of the other parents teased us for that or encouraged us to get into sports, but Richard’s dad and my stepdad had always been supportive. Even though my stepdad didn’t know anything about it, he asked me questions and tried to learn.
“I wish Jack had been my real dad,” I said quietly. A painful abyss formed in my stomach. A tear spilled onto my cheek. Painful tingles trailed along my cheek where the tear met the bitter cold.
Richard nodded. “Jack was a good guy,” he said. His voice was thick. He sniffed again.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” I said.
A sob escaped him. He nodded his head against the palm of his hands, but didn’t look at me. I wrapped an arm around his shoulders. His shoulders shook as his sobs grew louder. We stayed that way for several minutes in the cold. Eventually, his crying slowed. He wiped away the tears on his face and groaned as he sat up.
“What about your real dad?” he asked. “Do you think he’s still alive?”
I shrugged. “I don’t even care.” I thought I meant it, but when I said it, it sounded like a lie. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “He lives on the other side of the country. There is no way for me to confirm if he is alive or dead. I’m going to assume he is dead. It would be too unfair for good men like your father and my stepfather to be dead when the man who cheated on my mom, was emotionally abusive and ignored my existence is still alive.” I wondered briefly, and not for the first time, if something happened to change my dad. Maybe if I ever met him again, he would say he was sorry and care about me. I doubted it, but sometimes I wondered. I wondered about that less when Jack was around.
“We’ve all lost people,” Richard said, “Hunter, Lily and their families, Maria, Monica, even the children. I’ve heard them cry in their sleep. Marcos and Juan. Even Arthur although he does it less than Marcos and Juan. They shouldn’t have to live like this. None of us should.”
“There isn’t anything we can do to stop it,” I said. “We just have to come to terms that this is the new reality and make a life where we can be as safe as we can.”
“Do you think that is here?” Richard asked. “Hunter’s family wants to leave right away. But the zombies won’t get close. Look.” He pointed. Off in the distance, zombies lined the treelines. They saw us. They reached out for us with their claws. Their teeth were bared in snarls. But they wouldn’t come any closer. “It’s nice not to have to run.”
“What about food, though?” I asked.
“They don’t bother the vampires,” Richard said. “The vampires could go out on supply runs for us.”
“But why would they?”
“Because we would let them drink from us,” Richard said. “It’s what they want anyway.”
“I would be okay with that if it kept our families safe,” I said.
“I wouldn’t,” Hunter said.
Richard and I both jumped. Hunter stood by the corner of the house watching us.
“How long have you been there?” I asked.
Richard sighed and moved so he stood near the bench. “When Richard asked if you thought your real dad was still alive,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy like Richard’s. He must have been crying too.
“We’re safe here,” I said and pointed at the zombies that wouldn’t come any closer.
Hunter looked at the treeline and the zombies that shifted in and out. “I’m not sure about that.”
“The zombies won’t get close to the vampires,” Richard said. “Now we know you are part dragon and have some powers, but the zombies still would chase you and us with you.”
“At least my siblings and I don’t want to hurt you or drink your blood.”
“Maybe if you told us you were part dragon from the beginning,” Richard said, “we would have been safer. Darren wouldn’t have gone to the RU in? place. And you wouldn’t have had to charm him.” Richard was now on his feet and facing Hunter. His voice grew slightly louder as he confronted Richard, but he wasn’t yelling at him.
“Would you have believed me if I said I was part dragon and had special powers and the RU in? cafes are being run by magical beings that want to control you and probably take your souls?”
“You didn’t even give us the chance to try to understand,” Richard said. “And that information could have helped with our safety and our planning.”
I stood up between them when Richard took an almost threatening step towards Hunter.
“We followed you blindly,” Richard said. “We trusted you and you lied to us and kept information from us that could have kept us safer. The werewolves in the woods might have helped us if you weren’t around. They wanted to kill you and your sister. They weren’t happy you were in their territory.”
“They wouldn’t have taken you in,” Hunter said.
“I just said they might have helped us,” Richard said, “not take us in. If you had told us the venefici could enspell us and make us do what they want, Darren wouldn’t have been in their thrall in the first place. You wouldn’t have had to charm him out of it. Don’t think I’m okay with that.”
“Hey,” I said and put a hand on Richard’s chest as he tried to push his way even closer to Hunter.
Hunter’s eyes dropped to the ground. “I am sorry about that. You’re right. I should have at least warned all of you, taught you how to protect yourselves from being charmed. I didn’t think it was going to come to that, though. I didn’t think any of you would go that place. I grew up all my life being told I had to keep it a secret, that humans wouldn’t understand and would hate me for it. And once it was revealed, other beings would want to kill me or control me for my power. We have powers, but we are mostly human. There are a lot of beings out there we wouldn’t stand a chance against. And I didn’t know how any of you would react to me and my sister being part dragon.”
“Hunter,” I said gently, “I understand. I really don’t mind any of it, but you not telling us meant that you didn’t trust us. That honestly kinda hurts. We might have found it unbelievable before the zombies, but after the zombies, and after technology stopped working, we would have believed you and would have welcomed your added help.”
Hunter’s eyes closed and he sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“So what are we going to do now?” Richard asked in a calmer tone. “At least for the winter, this place seems safe. In the spring, if you still want, we can move on and establish our own place. We can plant our own crops. But we can’t do that in the winter.”
Hunter looked back at the house. “It might seem safe because the zombies aren’t approaching, but it’s not.”
“I don’t mind the vampires drinking from me occasionally if it means shelter and help for the rest of us,” I said, “and I don’t think Maria minds either.”
Hurt was in Hunter’s eyes and I wasn’t sure why. He looked into the sky. When he looked back, there was no trace of the pain I had just seen. “It’s not just that. They left their brood without permission. Some brood leaders let that go. Most don’t. Even if Jin and Gunnor want to help us and protect us, they won’t be able to if their brood comes after us and I’d rather none of us be slaves or food for a brood of vampires.”
I didn’t even know that was a possibility. There was so much of the world I had no clue about. “You’ve got a lot to teach us what is really hidden in this world,” I said.
He nodded. “I will. I won’t keep secrets anymore. And all of you should learn how to ward off charms. Especially you and Maria,” he said to me. “Lily and Tanner are the only exceptions. Charms won’t work on them.”
“Okay,” I said. “The sooner we do that the better.”