The eyes watched me, eerily still. I took a step back, watching them back until I had to blink. When I did so, they were gone again.
“W-who?” I turned, looking for them. My heart was beating too fast. My breath was beginning to speed up, getting shallower.
The eyes blinked once and then were gone with a rustle of leaves that went off into the distance. I sighed, stressedly. Did they leave? Was that–
“Hey,” a voice said from behind. I almost screamed but instead gasped and whirled around again, feeling completely lost in the darkness.
There were the pink reflections again, but they were closer, and I lifted my phone up to see more clearly.
Scarlet’s brother stood there, looking quizzically at me.
“Oh, h-hi,” I said.
He folded his arms and looked me up and down. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Huh?” The question confused me for a moment before I got my thoughts together again. “Y-yeah. Just… startled.” I gave him a nervous smile, which he returned and I regretted my decision. His pointed teeth were more pronounced than Scarlet’s. Or maybe he was just more comfortable flashing them at me in the blue light from my phone.
“I-I was just looking for Scarlet,” I explained. “I thought I saw her… eyes…”
He didn’t say anything right away, just looked down at me as he licked at his front teeth.
“We should have a chat,” he said.
A cold shudder ran down my spine.
“If you wouldn’t mind terribly,” he followed up.
“It’s okay,” I said a bit too quickly. I didn’t want him to ever think I disliked him and his family. I didn’t want him to ever consider me a threat for fear of what he might do to me. I hadn’t forgotten the way Scarlet had described him taking apart a human body. Or how she had seemed proud of how he made it so they only had to discard of bones. “Yeah, we can do that,” I mumbled.
This time when he smiled, he kept his teeth hidden and made a gesture I couldn’t quite make out fully in the pitiful phone-screen light.
He walked off, deeper into the pitch blackness of the woods. My human instincts screamed at me not to follow a predator blindly into the wilderness where no one would stumble across my body.
After a while, I pulled free of the underbrush again and recognized the clearing immediately. The asylum loomed, silhouetted against the sky probably thirty feet away but he made no move to enter it. Instead he gestured at a fallen log while he took his place on a wayward boulder.
I pulled at my hair, twirling it into tight coils around my finger before letting it loose and repeating the gesture.
“Scarlet and I haven’t seen each other in a while,” he explained.
“I heard,” I said. “A few years.”
He nodded. “It was less than ideal, and I’m glad to see she had somebody to take care of her.”
I gave him a confused look.
“One of the conditions of her staying in this asylum is that she couldn’t hunt anything other than small animals. And that leads to malnourishment over time.” He crossed his legs and ran a hand through his hair with quite a bit of confidence. “And that wasn’t a problem until we had hunters on our tail constantly, since before I could always stop by and drop food off to her.”
“Oh,” I said in realization. That made a lot of things make sense.
“We’re tough creatures, but time gets us all eventually,” he sighed. “I heard that you were there when she had her first human blood for a while.”
“H-have you seen her?” I asked.
“Of course.” There was almost offense in his tone. “But it’s important that you understand the repercussions of her actions,” he explained. “I chased some hunters off, but they will be back, and they will be coming after her in that building. It's no longer safe for her there.”
“Oh, but she can stay with me,” I explained.
He shook his head. “It’s not that simple.”
My heart sank. Scarlet leave? What was the point of going to so much effort of keeping her secret if she was just gonna run off anyway?
“So… you guys will be leaving then?” I asked.
“Soon,” he agreed. “But I know you care about her, so I wanted to make sure the two of you had some time together before that happened.”
I wanted to cry again. This wasn’t fair. I had just met her just weeks ago. I couldn’t even say months, and she was the only person I’d ever felt so attached to. How did this happen?
“I want her to be happy,” he said. “It’s the most important thing to me, so I want to let her stay here, but… well… we don’t have much choice at this point.”
“It’s not really fair, is it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No.”
I took a deep breath and rubbed my face briefly to hide the feelings again. “What can I do?” I asked him. “I want her to be happy more than anything. I want to be with her but I know it’s complicated. So what can I do to make sure she can come back here after things cool off?”
Scarlet’s brother blinked at me like this was an absurd question. “You just need to be yourself,” he said, as if that was all there was to it.
“I know but–” I buried my face again. She couldn’t stay here, but for me to travel with them, that would be hell. Because I’d have to become a monster too, and that wasn’t a decision I wanted to make. I couldn’t go around murdering people's fathers and acting like nothing was wrong with it. And if I wasn’t a monster, I had a feeling the dynamics of that would be too skewed to function properly. I’d just be a burden. “I just– I don’t want to lose her,” I explained. “But I want her to be safe so if I have to stay behind while she goes off…” I trailed off.
“I’ll make sure she’s okay,” he reassured. “And maybe we’ll be back someday.” The look on his face made me doubt it, and not knowing, but hoping might destroy my remaining mental stability.
“Okay,” I agreed. “Do you know where Scarlet is right now?” I asked.
“I think she went back to your place,” he told me. He looked in the direction of my house, which was concerning because I really wished he didn’t know where I lived. So far, he seemed nice enough, but he had a dark side, I knew.
“Thanks,” I told him. I got off the log. My eyes had adjusted enough I could see more detail in the black shapes around me, but I’d still be using my phone flashlight to find my way home.
“You know how to get back?” he asked.
I nodded, then instinctively said ‘yes’ thinking he might not be able to see me.
“Okay, I’ll see you around,” he said and sauntered off toward the asylum, shoving his hands in his pockets. His silhouette looked a lot like an adult that had never grown out of their emo phase. I guessed when you dealt with the stuff they did, being emo was pretty true to heart.
I fought my way home, eager to see Scarlet again, but my heart felt heavy knowing that she might have to leave again at any time