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18.47% Blood & Juniper (A Vampire Tale) / Chapter 17: Exploration (Part 1)

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Chapter 17: Exploration (Part 1)

Accounts of Ashlen, nearing dawn.

The gust from the motorcycle blasting off fans my hair in a whirlwind. I watch Sam zoom away on his death trap. A death trap that I, apparently, am immune to.

I can't believe that. There are many things I find unbelievable, and they all happened in a single night.

All alone I give my lips a smack. That funny aftertaste has finally left my mouth. That lasting taste had a rather familiar flavor, a food I used to eat but it just isn't coming to mind.

My pallet has drastically changed. I haven't been told for certain but I have a feeling solid food no longer holds any nourishment. I wonder if regular food tastes gross now, too.

The last of the rumbling motor begins to disappear. Sam's bike is really far away but to my amazement the sound is clear as a bell.

I hate to admit this growing vulnerability. As soon as Sam left, I could feel it creeping like a fog. It's bewildering that he's like a reliable safety net. At this point I feel safer with Sam than I do with Juniper. Now that is absolutely bizarre!

His gesture was unexpected, too. I run my fingers over the details of an engraved ship carved into the outer surface of the gold pocket watch he entrusted me with. This small clock looks incredibly valuable. Why would he let a stranger hold on to it?

I blink, all the forced hatred and subtle irritation I held for Sam has quickly dissolved leaving a fascination in its place.

I'm actually glad he offered to help me out some more, surprised and relieved. I shouldn't let my guard down though, he obviously has the ability to be manipulative from what I observed in the alleyway. Would he try that on me, would I even realize it? He better *not* try that crap on me!

I make it down the last step of the stairwell, unlocking and twisting the knob to the apartment I'd likely never see again.

I don't have a whole lot of time to dawdle. Being told twice about sunrise is enough for me to know that I really *don't* want to know!

My gaze rolls over the room once more, making sure I'm not leaving any necessities and at the same time resisting the urge to take unnecessary but sentimental junk.

I pan over to my fridge and stroll over to the door. What can I say, the opportunity is here and I'm intrigued. What's the worst that can happen?

The light streams out of the refrigerator like a beam from a flying saucer. Still impressed with my heightened sense of smell, I find I am able to separately detect every single fragrance in this box and match it to boot!

The sweet fragrance of a yellow golden delicious apple stands above the rest.

'Feels like an apple' I think to myself while sliding my fingers over the waxy sphere and giving it a toss. It's light like styrofoam. 'Smells like an apple', I press it up to my nose and top lip, a powerful appley scent fills the space.

The crunch echos in my ears as I take a decent bite. 'Tastes like an apple?' It does, but also doesn't. The flavor is there but it doesn't taste like food, it just sits lifelessly on my tongue.

I don't crave it, it doesn't tickle my taste buds with delight and I have no desire to swallow the piece of fruit. It was like being a kid chewing on paper or a blade of grass. Not offensive but you know there's no value or pleasure in digesting it.

I spit the fruit into the trash, chucking the apple in after it. Another odd experience to add to the collection of today's events.

I suddenly realize I won't miss even the most delicious of solid foods. Food has been replaced by something infinitely better. Though, I wish the cost of my new sustenance was still a simple currency like paper money.

A Christmas card catches my eye when closing my fridge. My Family Christmas card. I slide it from the magnet and hold it out, looking at each family member in the photograph. A true sadness embraces me from behind, crashing unexpectedly like an unstoppable wave in the ocean.

I'm a danger to them now, I may never be able to see them again. A tear taps the picture as it falls, I gently brush it off. I let myself cry this time, because I'm alone.

In every regard, I am *Alone*.

I find a blank page in the sketch book I'm planning to take with and tuck the photo between two white pages, zipping it back into the fat duffle.

I wipe the wetness from under my eyes before heaving the massive bag over my shoulder with unintentional aggression. I anticipated it to be much heavier and awkward to carry but it's almost like the bag is filled with helium. I would have found that fact incredibly fascinating if I weren't feeling so glum.

I look around one last time before stepping out onto the cement and take Sam's advice to stage a break in. I close the door then, with surprisingly minimal strength, push the door in by the knob without twisting. The wood splinters and gives way when the latch breaks through its confined slot. Again, too bitter to actually marvel in my uncanny new strength, I head for the streets.

I feel sick. This will destroy my parents thinking I'm lost or dead. I hate how I can't do anything to shield them from that, because I have to physically protect them from this unpredictable version of myself.

My siblings might take it a little better, we are on good terms but they are involved in their own lives. I pray they can all get through it.

Oh, Maggie. We were such close friends, staying in touch even when I moved all the way out here. Undoubtedly, Madeline will be able to manage. She's more outgoing than me, she's tough. She'll recover, I try to assure myself.

I miss them all so terribly, what was the last thing I said to each of them? I hope it was the words, 'I love you'.

I take a ragged breath, losing composure again. I lean onto a nearby lamp post sobbing into my arm, burying my face in it. I'm thankful no one is around to see me break down. Maybe, someday I won't be such a risk to their health. Maybe, I will see them all again. I genuinely hope so.

I slide off the lamp post after a few minutes continuing to meander pitifully down the street. I dry my red eyes, inhaling shuddered breaths to calm myself.

Nearing the wooded area fills me with a strange comfort. The trees beckon me like a mother outstretched to console their child.

Clouds gather overhead in sympathy. It might rain today, it rains a lot here. I actually love that about this place. I love falling asleep under the patter of rain.

I step through the border of town and onto the nature trail. The change in the air is tangible like stepping through a force field. The forest is more energetic than it was earlier in the night. Birds are starting to sing their morning tunes and the trees appear to visibly stretch from a long slumber, leafs chatter in the light breeze.

Once again, I'm taken by the otherworldly experience of everything being so alive, the sounds being rich with such depth but I also feel something I hadn't when the night was young. A rapid growing anxiety expanding and radiating like a time bomb.

I catch myself looking toward the eastern mountain over and over. The hue of the sky is turning from a dark shade of blue to a significantly brighter tone.

It occurs to me that the threat of dawn is causing this apprehension, eating at my insides. I pick up the pace, panic is setting in. What if I can't find my way back to the cabin?

Though, to my relief, I recognize the visible markers I had made a mental note of. Amazing, not only visual markers help to guide but the memory of certain smells, as well.

I'm like a hurricane tearing through the brush. I have ample time before the sun will peek over the cliff tops, but I don't want to chance it. It's as if I am being chased by a giant monster. A Cthulhu like God looming just around the mountain side. The birds' songs seem to warp into terrifying screams as I feel the atmosphere heat up.

The sight of the cabin is the most beautiful thing. The butterflies subside in my stomach, fluttering less erratically.

I reach the hefty door situated under the luxurious arch overhead. I really hadn't taken much time to notice the craftsmanship of the cabin, it's bigger than I initially discerned and quite tall.

I stop at the front step with a gulp, staring up at the towering door. An uneasiness floats about as I wonder if coming back here was really a good idea.

I don't have much of a choice now.

My doubts are unmatched to the thought of that cursed flaming ball and the evil it wishes for me. I can feel the sun's hatred in my bones.

I grip the metal handle, pushing open the large door. The house seems to moan as the large slab of wood swings slowly on its hinges revealing more of the once extravagant living room. Now, it lay dusty, filled with cobwebs and disembodied whispers.

Is Juniper here? Anxiety strikes as my eyes dart around the eerily quiet room, listening for any signs of life and listening for that weird connection we seem to have. I'm still deeply uncomfortable with that almost intimate sensation.

She doesn't appear to be here, only the cabin itself makes a ghostly creak like an old man dying from disease.

I eagerly seal the door, examining the cracks as it seals. No light streaming through, an audible sigh of alleviation flitters through my teeth.

I notice a letter presenting itself on the small table near the entryway. I can see just fine though the thick curtains are drawn, but the place is rather spooky, so I search the wall for a light.

I'm happy to locate a switch almost thinking I'd have to burn candles in this ancient looking place. I snap on the light which flickers from a lack of use. Three orange, cobweb infested bulbs buzz, giving the room a more desired tone, much less haunting.

I step closer to the letter written on high quality parchment. It looks like a note meant for royalty with it's swirling calligraphy, but it's addressed to me and the ink looks fairly fresh.

'Wow, fancy. Now I just need a butler to offer me a cup of tea.' I muse reaching for the paper cautiously as if it were plotting to jump out and bite me.

The paper crinkles with a satisfying sound when my fingers wrap around the edge. I read;

'Dear Ms. Ashlen,

If by this time you have received this letter, I have likely journeyed out and shall return by following nightfall. I have prepared a room for you on the first floor. You will find the key for your room on the side table.'

I glance down seeing a fancy bronze key sitting on the table next to a feather quill.

'Head down the nearest corridor and to the second room on your right. I hope it is arranged to your liking.

Make yourself at home. You may explore the cabin freely if you feel so inclined. Only a handful of doors are locked but you may roam the rest of the residence without restraint.'

I'm already trying to imagine what could possibly be behind the locked doors. A part of me considering an attempt to pick some of the locks but the other part scolds for such a reckless and impolite idea. I'm also a little frightened at the prospect of what I might find.

'Sincerely, Juniper'

I place the letter back on the table as I examine the classy signature, her handwriting put everyone else's on the planet to shame.

I reach for the gaudy key, slender with a finely detailed handle. This place is too quaint to be considered a mansion but in some ways had the presence of one.

I venture toward the first hall, peeking over the corner before tip toeing down.

Wow, there's more rooms than I expected. The cabin appears to have upstairs rooms and maybe even a cellar. I believe I spied a small attic perched at the top when outside.

My curiosity and fear battle it out as I stroll, meeting the door to my new room. I try the key in lock before entering to make sure it really is the room intended for me. It's a perfect fit.

I swing the door open, peering in. My eyebrows shoot up taking in the site. It's a generous sized room with a vintage canopy style bed, silk fabric cascading down the posts. A cherry wood headboard and frame match the rest of the furniture in the room. It must have been recently tidied, too. It isn't as dusty and untouched as the living room.

I throw my bag on the bed, running my fingers along the elaborate carvings in the waxy wood furniture. I take a seat on the mattress, leaning over to click on the lamp perched on the nightstand and scan the spectacular bedroom.

The curtains are drawn on both tall windows, swallowing the light completely. The curtains may be doubled or even tripled and look quite heavy. Something odd about this room abruptly catches my attention. What is likely a vanity mirror attached to the dresser had been covered and tied by a sheet yellowed with age.

I stare at the sheet, wide eyed and unsettled as if a monster were lurking just behind it.

I attempt to ignore the mirror, glad it's hidden away and begin to pull out a few items of clothing from the bag, not intent on completely emptying it. I'm not certain how permanent this living situation will be.

I slip some clothes into the empty drawers, opening one to find a small silver key. 'Hello, what's this?'

I hold it up to my face, balancing the ends between my two index fingers. It looks too small for a door, I wonder what it might unlock. I pinch the loop at the handle and hold it swinging in front of my face to further examine it. The exit to the bedroom comes into focus behind the dangling key as if ushering me to explore.

I set the key on the table while I pick out some comfy clothes to throw on, happy to get out of the shirt with the bloodied neck line.

I drop the dirty top on the floor, looking down at my bare stomach and purple bra. 'I should shower.'

I snag the change of clothes, not bothering to put on a shirt while peeking my head out into the hallway, double checking if I'm truly by myself.

I grab some toiletries from my bag before leaving the room in search of a bathroom.

I try the door next to mine. Nope, another bedroom. What about the next one? A study. Ok, how about the room across the hall? Bingo!

I turn on the lights, out of preference rather than a need, eyeing the clawfoot tub, it's massive. The toilet and the fancy vanity next. Again, I'm met with wonderment as the mirror in the room is covered as well. Physically painted over with off-white acrylic in large strokes.

I place my hand on the large mirror, investigating it like some kind of time portal to the past.

Lifting my index finger, I scratch away a little bit of the plasticity paint.

I stare at the now reflective hole, intently examining at an angle, waiting for something to move behind the area.

Nothing, just like I should expect.

I titter at my silly behavior and go to prepare a hot shower. I twist the knob, hearing the water flow up the skinny pipe leading to the spout.

Water pours forward, a little discolored before running clear. I hold my hand out to test it before getting in. More weirdness, I swear!

The incredible feeling of each droplet hitting my skin and rolling down is a sensation with no direct comparison, like being kissed by a thousand stars. I let the cool water run off before the heating starts to kick in. I can tell the difference between the temperatures fine, just like before. No, it's the sensation that had changed.

I abruptly turn the knob to cold, keeping my hand under. It gradually becomes freezing but I don't shiver or yank away my hand that should have gone numb. I don't react to the bitter coolness of it at all, even though I can definitely feel how cold it is.

I lean in, sticking my entire head under. The wonderful drops leave tiny tingles as they hit. It's freezing and I should be convulsing with chills, but my body doesn't react with discomfort. Weirder and weirder.

Pulling my head out, I turn it up as hot as it can go and wait for the steam to fill the room. I hover a hand over the running stream, feeling the heat flow from it. I stick a hand in before retracting it almost immediately.

Interesting, I react more to heat. I mean it's tolerable though sweltering, I wouldn't have been able to take this kind of heat the other day. Still, it's uncomfortably hot on my skin. I have a morbid question in my mind of how hot I can handle before it truly starts to hurt.

I turn it down a bit, undressing and getting in, pulling the curtain closed.

I always craved a hot shower to wash all my stress away but this isn't quite hitting the spot the way it used to. The way the water bounces is awesome and invigorating but it's the warmth I desire. I know I crave a particular warmth that is infinitely better. The warmth of a living person, their skin, their beating heart and thick, wonderful…blood.

I scowl, opening my eyes to clear the gory envisionment. The thought is *so* desirable it's tainting this perfectly nice shower. Not a living soul anywhere near me and all I can think about is blood.

I push the fantasies away instead replacing it with how a shower used to feel, trying to trick myself into loving it like I did before. It kind of works, but not really.

I let my mind wander to things other than blood while the steady flow of water beats down on my head. As unlucky as I was, I am seemingly fortunate to have two people looking out for me in their own way.

The whys still bother me, though. Juniper has been extremely hospitable although not so easy about giving information. Does she have something to gain from this?

I put my arms out leaning against the shower wall as the trickle continuously flows over.

I think back to Sam's explanation about a maker. Did Juniper make me or was it someone else? And the strengths and weaknesses, what kind of power or shortcomings am I now stuck with?

I stare down at my palm like it possesses some kind of magic power as water runs through my fingers. Are my hunches being enhanced to premonitions a part of this change? I have a strange suspicion that may be the case.

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