I sat a little ways away from the others. I faced towards the middle of the main camp. It was still difficult to process everything that had happened since Halloween night. My friends and I had decided to go to a big Halloween party. Normally we just stayed on our own, but since we were in high school, we had decided to be adventurous. I wasn’t sure if that had been a mistake or not. Richard and I had survived but everyone else had died. But if I had been home alone, there was a good chance I never would have run into Lily and Hunter. I wouldn’t have been able to go to that parent party to be reunited with my mom. I wouldn’t be with Richard now. I’d probably still be back in that city surrounded by zombies. I doubted I could have survived on my own. And I now knew there was magic in the world. I could even use it a little bit myself. I also wouldn’t have known there were werewolves or vampires.
My neck ached where the vampire had bit me the day before. He had reached in through my barrier, past Hunter’s lightning like they were nothing and plucked me from where I thought I was relatively safe. And now as I stared at Alvina and the vampires around her, I was reminded even more that there were greater dangers than zombies. The snow crunched behind me as someone approached. I looked over my shoulder to see Hunter. He sat next to me. He didn’t say anything, just stared into the middle of the camp much like I was doing.
Finally, I said, “I thought Lily would be back by now.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s going to be dark soon.”
“Do you think the werewolves will help?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “I hope so.”
I caught Grant scowling at something beyond me. I turned to look over my shoulder. Richard and Monica sat close together, smiling holding hands as they talked with each other. I looked back at Grant, but the vampire that had bit him – the same one that had bit me – now had his attention again. When Grant looked at him, his eyes were glazed over. His face was relaxed, dazed and enthralled.
“I’m glad I learned about charms and how to ward them off,” I said. “Even though I don’t think I quite warded off Alvina.”
Hunter’s gaze followed mine. “Yeah,” he said. “Alvina is different from the others. She is their leader for a reason. I don’t like teaming up with them or the idea of going back to our high school to rout out any venefici that might be in the building.”
“Me neither,” I said.
“It is the next step though if we want to reclaim some semblance of our world,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
We let the conversation drop as we watched the charmed humans follow vampires around like little lost puppies or tilt their necks back to let the vampires drink from them. It left me feeling slightly sick to my stomach.
“I think I’m getting over you,” he said without looking at me.
“I never understood what you saw in me in the first place,” I said. “You have weird taste.”
He smiled slightly. “I guess so,” he said. “I think Lily is getting over me.”
I tried to bury the excitement that rose up inside me at that, but I couldn’t help it. Maybe if she was getting over him, I might have a chance.
“That just leaves you,” he said.
I looked at him confused. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. His eyes met mine briefly before he looked back over the vampires and the men that had been with the tricksters. “You need to get over her too,” he said. “She looks at you like she looks at her brother. Like how I look at my sisters.” His eyes met mine again. “That isn’t going to change no matter how much you want it to.”
He put a comforting hand on my shoulder and then got up and walked back to his sisters. I sighed and pulled my knees up to my chest. The hope that I had felt moments before was completely gone. Hunter was right. Lily saw me as a brother and I couldn’t force her to change her mind. Fine, instead of holding out hope, I would accept it and try to change my thought process. It wasn’t going to be easy. I got up and joined our group by a fire. I sat next to my mom.
I wasn’t the only one to look in the direction Lily had left in. Her siblings looked often. Arthur looked a lot too. Molly sat by his feet with her head resting on his knees. He absently patted the top of her head. Hunter and Maria also often looked in that direction. The sky darkened and still she had not returned.
Alvina didn’t seem worried nor did she seem in a hurry to leave if Lily didn’t come back. But I knew Lily would come back. She would never stay away from her family by choice. But maybe something had happened to her in the woods. It had been indicated several times by several different people that the werewolves knew what was happening in their woods. I didn’t think they would let anything happen to Lily. Unless they were the ones to hurt her. But why would they do that?
The sky turned to night. Stars twinkled in the clear heavens. The air was crisp and cold and we all drew closer to the fire except for the vampires. I didn’t think Alex needed the fire either, but he drew closer too.
“She’s okay,” Alex announced.
“How do you know,” Mackenzie asked. “Did you hear something?”
He shook his head. “I can’t contact the pack anymore, but I know they won’t hurt her or allow anything else to hurt her. Especially since the children were with her. It’s more likely, they want her to stay the night with them. Take that as a good sign though. That probably means Erik gave permission and it is giving the werewolves that are joining us time to pack.”
Mackenzie nodded and seemed satisfied with that. I decided to be as well. What Alex said made sense and it meant Lily was safe for the night. The women who were waiting nearby for their children relaxed slightly at Alex’s words as well.
“Are you alright?” my mom asked me quietly as she wrapped an arm around my shoulders.
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s going to be weird going back to that city,” she said still quietly. Our friends around us were engaged in their own small groups of conversation. No one was paying attention to us. “I miss your step dad,” she said sadly.
“Me too,” I said. I missed a lot of things. Most of all I missed living a blissful, ignorant life without zombies, venefici, vampires and werewolves. I just wanted to go back to worrying about not catching the school bully’s attention, what college I was going to get into, my grades and my friends.
“Do you think if we can manage to somehow defeat the venefici that things can go back to how they used to be?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. She patted my shoulder. “It’s nice to think that’s a possibility, but even if we can so many people will already be dead. We can’t just forget that magic exists or that there are creatures in this world that can easily destroy us. I don’t think it can go back to being the same. I think we need to prepare ourselves for a new reality. A better one than we are living now, but we are going to have to readjust to the truths we now know.”
I nodded. That was true. Life couldn’t just go back to normal even if we didn’t have to contend with zombies. The sooner I accepted that the better. Just like the sooner I accepted Lily couldn’t love me back the way I wanted her to, the better.