by Dory Bennett
Kari finds herself surrounded by magic possibly connected to her forgotten past.
|A friend once asked me to put myself in her shoes - to imagine myself in her situation – but that’s easier said than done. Still, I ask that you do the same for me. Don’t judge. Don’t question. Don’t proclaim my every falsehood before you know me.
Just try. After all, that’s all we can really ask of anyone, isn’t it?
The first memory I have, the first time I remember opening my eyes to the world, all I saw were lights and the white paint that covered the ceiling above. There were tubes in my mouth and breathing felt strange, almost strained. There were strange boxes all around, one making strange beeping noises, and I had no idea what was happening to me, where I was, or how I’d gotten there. I couldn’t remember anything before the bright lights and machines. I couldn’t even remember who I was until someone rushed into the room and flashed a small light in my eyes while asking my name.
Kari. I was Kari and twelve-years-old and nothing else.
The funny people in white coats who called themselves “doctors” pestered me for days, poked and prodded me, the works. They tried everything to find out if I would ever remember anything, and it was amazing to watch their reaction when I called a strange object a red cup. There were smiles and laughs, accompanied with a dozen more questions, all around me. But all of these were empty expressions of emotion, because even though my subconscious still remembered names, they meant nothing to me, everything was purposeless.
Until Daniel came.
I was in the process of trying to remind myself about the difference between objects like forks and spoons when a doctor walked into the room followed by a tall man with short brown hair and dark green eyes, golden skin and a firm jaw and firmer muscles about his arms. I knew him instantly, even though I didn’t know how, and I knew his blood wasn’t mine, but nevertheless, he was the first person I had felt an ounce of familiarity with. He told the doctor he was a person called “father” and it puzzled me how the doctor nodded with a smile and quickly left us alone. He pulled up a chair beside my bed and sat down before beginning his explanation. His name was Daniel Rome and mine was Kari Naples. I asked him about the title “father,” and he didn’t lie.
He told me the meaning and that the false title was the only way I could leave the hospital. He was a friend of my parents, Catalina and Mark, and I listened to the story of their murder. I believed every word, but what else was I supposed to do? I still didn’t fully understand the tragedy of a parent’s death, and I never knew them, never knew I had a life before the hospital. Then after a week of visiting every day he repeated the offer and price. I agreed, ready to leave the doctors and machines, and before we left the doctor asked me question after question. I didn’t lie to her, even when she asked if Daniel was my father I admitted that he was very familiar and I trusted him, and of course Daniel had to produce further proof.
I soon discovered the irony however, that within the walls of hospital, Daniel was my father, but the moment we stepped outside, he became my legal guardian, left in charge of me by my dead family’s will.
So I moved into his small apartment on a military base where he worked as a colonel and every private referred to him as the “Old Man.” Life changed for me, but I guess that wasn’t much of a surprise, seeing as the hospital was the only thing I’d ever known. The next year was spent trying to get me to remember everything other than the memories of my life before the hospital. It took days to stop mistaking blue for green, and cats from dogs. For some reason I could solve advanced calculus and comprehend Faulkner and Steinbeck, but the little things threw me off, like forgetting which meals were eaten when and what was usually eaten at those times.
Daniel was extremely supportive though, and our life was, well, happy – not the “every moment filled with laughter” type, but the ordinary day-to-day kind. I didn’t call him father, and he never asked me to, but I still admired him and the amazing things he could do as a Druid. Unbeknownst to everyone around except me, he was an ancient figure who could call upon the magic of the earth, and he used his powers around me freely until magic became just another everyday thing. The greenery around our apartment was always the most lush, and he was helpful when it came to detailed accounts of Alexander’s campaigns. And my amazement never ceased, mostly because I didn’t want to stop feeling excited about all the small things I had forgotten about.
We lived that way for three years before Daniel retired from the military. I had completed my eighth grade and freshman year of high school at the top of my class, and Daniel thought it was time to move on, although he never really told me why. We packed our bags the day he retired and left the base late December to head to New Hampshire where I would actually get to see snow as compared to a scorching sun. The plane took off from Phoenix and landed in Manchester just before a snowstorm hit.
We grabbed our bags and went outside to pick up the car Daniel had ordered online a few weeks before, but as we stepped outside I froze and looked up into the sky. Everything was white and grey as cold specks floated onto my face, instantly melting when they touched my skin. I had seen snow in Arizona since we had lived in the mountains, but it still amazed me every time I saw it – what Daniel had always called dandruff from the sky. His way of phrasing it was less than impressive, and I didn’t mind just calling it snow.
Daniel came back for me and we went to the car, threw our bags in the trunk, and took off into the storm.
We drove down the highway towards our new house just outside a small town called Galeworth. White streaks flashed past the window and the outside world howled, but Daniel made sure that the front and back windows stayed clear of snow as he drove. I leaned my head against the passenger window letting the vibrations and humming of the engine lull me to sleep. Time whizzed by until I felt the car jerk to a stop and the sound of a garage door closing reached my ears. Keys jingled and a door opened, but I didn’t open my eyes until a leather seat groaned with Daniel’s departure. My eyes slowly opened to see the silver Mercedes’ hood being swept clear of snow by Daniel’s hand.
I got out of the car, popping the trunk just before closing the driver’s door. The room around me was white except for the black driveway. There were stairs leading to a white door that I opened after grabbing my backpack. The house I entered through that door was more beautiful than the pictures on the realtor’s website we had viewed before buying it. The house was actually modeled to be a small castle, not that we needed the extra room. The walls were a familiar white but the floors were wooden adding a classic touch.
Admiring the large windows and the white wonderland outside, I walked down a small hall that included a laundry room, a chef’s kitchen, and a sunroom. French doors separated this section of the house from the front hall, already opened from Daniel’s passing. The hall was as large as our old apartment and in the roofs place was a tall, beautiful skylight, now covered with snow. Another set of French doors lay on the other side leading to the living room, den, and dining room. However, I climbed the wide set of stairs carpeted in red velvet, directly across from the main door.
The second floor actually consisted of four bathrooms, with one connected to the master bedroom, and seven additional bedrooms. There was also a small, enclosed bridge at the top of the stairs leading to the green and star rooms at the separate section of the house. I turned left before stepping on the white bridge, still on carpeted floor and went down the hall to the room farthest from the master bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t anything against Daniel, but what was the point of having such a large house and not using it?
I opened the door and smiled at the queen sized bed pressed up against the left wall already covered with my favorite blue comforter and stuffed dog, the first gift I’d ever received from the doctors and nurses at the hospital. There was an additional mink blanket with a blue dolphin folded half way down the bed, but I didn’t recognize it. Whoever had set up our things for us must have put it there and I thanked them silently.
The room also had two windows, one across from the door and another to the right, another reason why I wanted the room. I liked staring at the stars above during nights I couldn’t sleep from my regular nightmares. I could always look out at the sky and feel better, knowing there was light in the darkness. A dresser filled with the clothes sent with the movers, however, blocked the window to the right, and I figured my other clothes could be put away tomorrow, maybe in the closet to the right of the door.
The contents of my backpack scattered over the bed as I threw it on the comforter, watching my comb and toothbrush holder roll off he bed. I walked over to the mirror hanging over a desk beside the bed and sighed at my wavy hair. My dark locks hung down to my shoulders, untamed but not gnarly at least. Amber eyes looked back, bright against pale skin and a thin face. Pretty, but not gorgeous, not that I was complaining, But I definitely hated being average height and thin because everyone called me names or tried to feed me enough to feed the entire state of California.
A knock on the door startled me and I turned to see Daniel standing at the door. “Do you like it? My special source put everything away so you may want to make sure he didn’t swipe anything.”
“No, everything is fine, and the room is perfect.” I noticed the car keys jingling in his hand. “Are you going somewhere?”
He looked down at the watch on his wrist. “Yeah, I figured I’d go check out the café tonight to see if my source missed anything. You want to come?”
“Sure,” I said, and I followed him back to car.
We got back into the snow and headed back down to a town I had slept through, which I figured was Galeworth. Daniel leaned over the steering wheel, trying to find the place that would be his café while we lived there. It was far from being a colonel but Daniel said that after studying the culinary arts in Europe when he was younger, opening a café was something he’d always wanted to do. I figured it would be a great experience, since I knew first hand what a master chef he was, and I was looking forward to learning a few things from him.
“There it is.”
I looked where he pointed to see a small building sitting beside a K-Mart, perfect for the place Daniel had talked about. The location wasn’t ideal, I noted as we parked near it. The snow had come to a halt and we ran to the store before the snow could get us. Daniel reached into his coat pocket and pulled out two silver keys.
“Someone left these on my pillow and I can only imagine what they’re for.”
He took one and inserted it into the door’s keyhole. There was a soft click as he turned it and the door swung open. Daniel walked in and found the light switch. Then he turned and tossed the other key to me, and I caught it in my gloves as he disappeared into the back. I placed the key into my pocket and began to walk around the small tables and black chairs. There was a marble counter at the window to the left of the door and another counter made of glass with a view into the kitchen where I could see Daniel opening cabinets and examining his new ovens. Rose red curtains hung around the counter, one tied back that would hide the kitchen door when loosened. Pictures I remembered from Daniel’s photo album of all the places he’d been were blown up and framed on the walls.
Sitting at the counter before the kitchen, I watched Daniel scurry around, and my eyes spotted a framed picture on the door that led out back. The background was a palace in Seoul we had visited during my spring break the year before. Cherry blossoms swirled around a girl wearing light blue jeans and a black hoodie with pink petals caught in her hair. I smiled at the picture, proud that of all his pictures, Daniel had chosen one of me to hang in his dream kitchen.
Daniel’s green eyes looked up at me and I smiled at him until I saw his eyes flicker to my side. I turned to see a young man, certainly mid-twenties, looking only slightly younger than Daniel, with short hair and a tight jaw standing behind me. A thick coat was folded over his arms and arm muscles bulged in the black sleeves of his t-shirt, looking displaced with his glasses and otherwise erudite appearance. His thin pink lips smiled as Daniel walked out of the kitchen and shook his hand, while I wondered why the bell on the door didn’t ring when he walked in.
“Steven, it’s great to see you.”
The man’s white teeth flashed. “It’s great to see you, too, Daniel. What’s it been, five years since you last visited?”
Daniel laughed. “You keep good time.”
Steven nodded as he stepped past Daniel and looked around the café. “I learned from the best. But I hope everything fits your specifications, including the house.” His brown eyes stopped when they fell on me. “Ah. And you must be Kari.”
I gave him a warm smile and put out my hand. “Sure hope so.”
He reached out to take my hand, but I couldn’t help but notice when his smile faltered. “It’s an honor to finally meet someone who’s captivated Daniel’s heart. He’s spent most of his life alone.”
Daniel sighed and rolled his eyes, as Steven quickly dropped my hand. “You make me sound like an old pervert.”
“We are what we are.”
There was a brief moment of silence as they watched each other and I wondered what I was missing. There was definitely something about his aura that was unnatural like Daniel, but also unlike him. Maybe I was just being the suspicious foster daughter. Of course if I was, I wouldn’t’ really know since I had no prior experience. I was actually relieved to see Daniel talking so openly with someone else. He had a tendency to keep his emotions locked away around other people. Around me however, he was his wacky, eccentric self, and he would answer all my questions while keeping his secrets to himself if I didn’t ask about them. But I never actually asked. I trusted Daniel with my life.
Steven suddenly cleared his throat and motioned towards the door. “There’s a bar down the street we can go to and talk over drinks.”
Daniel’s eyes glanced in my direction thoughtfully and I sighed while sliding off the stool I was sitting on. “Come on, I know the way home and I highly doubt any troopers are going to stop us in this weather just to check on my lack of license.”
I led the way to the door and switched the lights off. Steven threw on his coat before following us out the door and Daniel locked it once everyone was out. A red sports car was parked beside the Mercedes in excellent condition, waiting for Steven. What was it with these guys and nice cars? I smiled as I climbed into the passenger seat of Daniel’s car, waiting for only a few seconds before their owners started both cars. The sports car took off, leading the way out of the parking lot and down the street.
We came across a long wooden bar with a blinking, neon “open” sign just above the door. Light shined through the windows and I watched a few men playing a round of pool as both cars pulled into the parking lot. Daniel took the key out of the ignition and sank into his seat with a loud sigh.
“Wow. Traveling really knocks it out of you.”
There was a knock on the front window and Steven waved to us. Daniel leaned towards me. “How good do you think his reflexes are?”
I choked back a laugh and shook my head as I opened the door. “You can’t run over him after five years.”
Another sigh. “You’re right. I’d rather torture him first.”
This time I couldn’t help but laugh as we left the car and followed after Steven. A little bell on the door rang as we entered the bar and several people looked up. We went to a table just ahead of us and took off our coats. Steven tossed his coat on a chair and walked to the bar off to the right. I placed my coat over the back of my chair and took a seat, trying my best to ignore the guys at the pool tables who were staring.
Steven placed an order with the barman at the counter and turned back towards our table. “Hey, Kari, you want a water bottle?”
I nodded and smiled in gratitude before going back to ignoring everyone else. The sound of groaning caught my ear and I looked down a few tables to see a man resting on the tabletop, empty bottles scattered around him. There was another man seated at the counter with cropped pale hair and skin to match. He glanced back at me with dark eyes and I quickly looked away, my eyes falling on the man sitting in the shadows at the far end of the counter, who I would have otherwise missed. He wore a long leather coat, the hood pulled over his head, but I figured he couldn’t be too old since his drink was the same as mine.
“Don’t worry about him,” said Steven, making me jump at his sudden appearance. He set down a mug before Daniel and another before his seat, then handed me a water bottle. Daniel glanced over his shoulder to see the hooded man and turned back towards Steven.
“Is that –
“No. But I’m sure he’s running around somewhere.”
“Who is?” I asked, while opening my water bottle.
Steven took a drink from his mug before answering. “My brother, Mitt. He’s about your age, maybe older, but I’m sure twice as hard to control. He’s not a trouble maker, though, just…active.”
“Doesn’t sound like he’s changed much,” commented Daniel.
“Does he go to Galeworth High? I’d love to meet him now that I’ve met you,” I asked.
Steven feigned offense. “Bored with me already?”
“No, no, not at all. Daniel’s always talking about his secret source and I’d love to know more about you, but I also want to meet plenty of other people since I know so few.”
An awkward moment followed suit and Daniel was first to change the subject. “So how has business been lately?”
The other shrugged. “The usual suspects, but we’ve had a few new additions to the group since Chloe vanished. Poor Sella and her father took it pretty hard, but they’re both pretty tough.”
“How long ago did she disappear?”
“Almost two years to the date.”
Their conversation continued but I began to tune it out, especially when they began talking about the “old days.” I’m sure the conversation was interesting but I couldn’t help noticing that the pale man kept glancing at me. Perhaps I was being paranoid and just imagining that his every movement was aimed towards me. I was probably just nervous about being in a bar so late at night despite being with Daniel and his closest friend. But I still couldn’t explain the strange feeling in my stomach that something was about to happen.
I watched as the barman came out from behind the counter and walked over to the table with the unconscious man. He began gathering the bottles into his arms and suddenly I had the strangest urge to leave the room.
I turned to Steven interrupting his and Daniel’s conversation. “Do you know where the restroom is?”
He pointed back towards the door where a passage against the wall was. I pushed back my chair to get up and immediately heard a grunt and glass shattering on the floor. I turned to see that I had accidentally hit the barman and I dropped to my knees to help clean up the broken bottle pieces, apologizing profusely. The barman laughed it off as I continually said how sorry I was. Then I reached for a shard and flinched as my finger nicked a sharp corner.
I looked down at my finger to see a line of red velvet emerge from underneath a thin cut. The blood thickened at the edge of the line and slid down my finger.
Suddenly, I heard a low growl and I looked up to see the pale man at the counter move from the stool to my side in lightning time. My pulse quickened and blood pounded in my ears as he reached down and grabbed the front of my jacket. He yanked me off the floor with brute force, knocking the wind out of me. The dark eyes I had caught repeatedly glancing at me were filled with blood lust, and his mouth curled back in a snarl, revealing long canines.
My first thought was that I was dreaming, and that I would wake up any moment to find I had fallen asleep back in the house, or maybe had never even left my old house.
My second thought was that I was going to die. I had seen movies with creatures like this one, and I knew what they could do. I was going to die without ever finding out about my past or getting to say goodbye to Daniel. I doubted that even he had the power to save me in this moment.
But someone else did.
Another flash brought me back to reality, and my eyes widened as a hand appeared on top of the one grasping my shirt. A strange young man stood before me and it took me a moment to recognize his leather coat as the one worn by the man from the corner.
His other hand swung out and struck my captor’s head, just below the chin. The pale man’s body went flying backwards and I heard the shattering of a window, but my eyes were glued to the man who had saved me. My blood ran cold as his icy black eyes met mine, and the first thing I could think of was how beautiful he was. Black, shaggy hair clung to his lightly skinned face and his black eyes paled to a light blue. In that moment I memorized his face – thin, long nose, thin face, pointed chin, perfectly distanced eyes. He looked so young for a hero even though he couldn’t be any younger than me.
A frown met his pale lips. “You can see me?”
His voice was like velvet and all I could say was, “You saved me.”
Then just as quickly as he had entered my life, he left it, flashing past me after the other, with inhuman speed. The beating of my heart reached my ears, and I looked down to see the drop of blood that had fallen from my finger just hit the floor.
Time returned to normal and I looked around to see the barman fall back with shock and Steven and Daniel jump to their feet. Daniel looked from me to the broken window and back again. “What happened?”
I looked over at the stool where the pale man had been sitting, and then down at the blood on the floor.
Was it really possible for two people to move so fast?
Daniel put his hand on my shoulder. “Kari, are you okay?”
My eyes met his and I could see the worry.
“I’m fine, Daniel. I cut my finger and the man sitting there grabbed me. But I couldn’t do anything. He was so strong.”
Steven glanced towards the window and cursed. I looked back at the stool in the far corner. “But the hooded man sitting over there pushed him through the window and went after him. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.”
Both Steven and Daniel’s eyes widened as they asked in unison, “You saw him?”
“That’s not possible,” added Steven, looking as confused as I felt.
“Maybe I just imagined it all.”
Daniel shook his head as he pulled me under his arm. “That’s not what we meant.” Then he looked around the bar to see everyone staring at us. “We should go and I’ll explain on the way home.”
Steven grabbed our coats and looked down at the shaken barman. “Do you need help cleaning up?”
The man looked from him to the broken window. “N-no. J-just make sure she’s okay, would you? Stupid blood-suckers cause nothing but trouble.”
I felt Daniel’s hand lead me to the door but my eyes didn’t leave the blood dripping down my finger. I didn’t even notice when my coat was wrapped around my shoulders or when I sat in the Mercedes’ passenger seat.
The car started and I turned towards the window to see several men watching us from inside the bar, while the owner hung a blanket over the broken window. The bar disappeared from my view as we pulled onto the road, trees blanketed in white passing us by.
Daniel’s movement caught my attention and I turned to see him watching me, his face still full of worry. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
My gaze fell to my feet, hating how I had worried him. “I’m sure, but it was so strange. That man was like one of those creatures from an old horror movie.”
“Vampires – that’s what they’re called, and you’re right. That man was definitely a night-walker.” I gave him a look of confusion, wondering how something I had been taught to believe was fantasy, could be real. Daniel turned his eyes back to the road wearing an unusually serious expression. “My friend, Steven, is a Druid like myself, but unlike me, he works to protect the border from dark creatures like vampires by monitoring their danger level and eliminating them if they pose a threat to the mortals in this country.”
I looked at him, intrigued. “How do you monitor their power level?”
“Well, the one you met probably reaches a three out of five.”
“You mean…he’s average?”
Daniel frowned, still looking ahead. “Above average actually. Capable of being stopped by Steven’s group unless he makes a friend, like a fellow vampire- then he’s a level two.”
I shivered at the memory of the blood lust in my earlier attacker’s eyes. “So how strong is a level one?”
“I’ve only managed to kill one, and that was with the help of a stronger Druid. We’re lucky Steven had tagged him.”
“You mean the hooded man who saved me?” A bright blue replaced the blood lust red in my mind as I pondered the possibilities.
“Exactly. He’s a member of Steven’s team and was ordered to watch the other vampire,” replied Daniel.
“Is he one, too? Is that how he could move so fast?”
Daniel’s eyes glassed over as he sighed. “Sort of, but Kari, the thing is that you shouldn’t have been able to see them so clearly at those speeds. Even Steven and I were slow to react and we both have powers.”
I suddenly felt like he was accusing me of something, even though I had no idea what it was. I didn’t have any secrets from Daniel but he seemed to be suggesting that I did. Just what was he aiming at? “Maybe there’s a clue in my past. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I saw them if I wasn’t supposed to.”
The worry returned to Daniel’s face. “Oh, kiddo, I wasn’t implying anything and I’m sorry for bringing up the memory thing. I’m just a little on edge, that’s all.”
I could sense that there was something else he wanted to say but he stopped talking as we pulled up to the house. He pushed a button on a small black remote attached to his visor and the garage door opened. The exhaustion he had been hiding became visible as his excitement to be out around a place where he had friends faded.
I knew that look – the face he made when he regretted doing something. Guilt made my stomach tighten as I hoped that my stupidity hadn’t led him to regret moving where his closest friend was. He always acted lonely and I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of any unhappiness for him.
Daniel stopped the car and closed the garage door with another press of the red button. Then he flashed me a warm, exhaustion-filled smile, and in that moment I made a promise to do anything I could to protect Daniel’s happiness. Even though I didn’t have super powers like him or Steven, I could at least offer a home with someone who would love him like family.
We got out of the car and went into the house, neither saying a word until we reached the second floor and parted ways.
Daniel stopped halfway down his hall and turned towards me. “This is your last chance to tell me if anything is wrong.”
I smiled at him before walking to my room, calling out, “I’m fine!”
I heard him laugh before I went into my room and shut my door. The room was dark and tree branches outside the center window beat against the double panes. Not bothering to turn on the light, I changed into sweat pants and an old t-shirt, barely noticing the smoke my breath made when I exhaled. Daniel could buy oil for the heaters later, but in that moment all I cared about was clearing the bed and climbing under my new mink blanket to sleep the night away.
But before falling into the abyss of my subconscious, I looked one last time at the cut on my finger – a reminder of the nights events, and proof they ere real. Maybe I would have the opportunity to thank the man who had saved my life, and I looked forward to that moment.
And thinking about that, I fell asleep, called by the comfort of dreams.