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Note: This chapter has not been proofread, will proofread later.


Scarlet slid under the blankets sometime after the sun started to come up again.

I picked my head up to see if she'd been successful, but there was only disappointment on her face.

“I'll help you look,” I mumbled sleepily. “Maybe somewhere online…”

Before long I’d fallen back asleep with her in my arms. When I started to wake again, she was silently snoozing. I rubbed my eyes for a moment and stretched to fetch my phone off the nightstand before pulling the black comforter back over me. An awkward session of getting comfortable on the twin while holding Scarlet and also getting my phone into a usable position ensued and once Scarlet whined quietly in her sleep after getting jostled for the tenth time, I settled down.

She yawned and snuggled against me but didn’t wake fully.

I let out a breath and turned my phonescreen on and began searching. Most of what I found was predictably fiction, a lot of roleplay websites, some online stories and fanfics. There wasn’t much of value that I could find. Those sites that pretended to be real still felt too fictitious for me to trust, especially since most of them were in support of either retractable fangs, red eyes or sparkling skin, none of which matched what I had learned of vampires so far. Whatever caused vampirism, I guessed it was a virus or disease of some sort, wasn’t magical. Not strictly at least. Scarlet’s fans didn’t retract and her eyes were definitely unique but they weren’t red. More like a pale brown that reflected the light in a bright pink color. Probably the same way that most cat’s eyes shine was a pale green and deer had that yellowish gray color. Her brother had the same eyeshine, but his eyes were more like… a dark blue? Was it purple? I couldn’t remember clearly, only that they were dark and unique in a different way than hers were.

So they didn’t match the red eyed, retractable toothed vampire lore. And Stephanie Meyer seemed to have never read any vampire lore at all with that sparkly skin thing.

I sighed. Scarlet didn’t budge, exhausted after being out all night.

I tried another approach but trust me, you don’t want to wander into random links after typing in ‘vampire chat room.’ I knew it would be a long shot. Vampire hunters were smart enough to search online too, it’s not like they could broadcast their identities without drawing attention.

If I wanted to find their online community, I’d probably have to look deeper, but it was too early for me to text Sierra to see if she knew how.

I thought a long time about how to filter out the bullshit. There were some specifics I knew that turned my stomach.

So I started searching for their hunting style online.

I blinked a couple pages of search results later.

A forum post described in detail the kind of carcass left behind after a ‘beast attack.’ I clicked on the link and found myself on a site called Hunter’s United. It looked, on the surface, to be another supernatural roleplay forum, but from the perspective of hunters. Primarily, a lot of the posts said a lot of ‘hypothetically’ and ‘if this was real’ and had a pretty liberal use cryptid terminology. From an outsider’s point of view, it looked like a lot of crazy conspiracy theories, and I had a feeling it was intentional.

I scrolled along this particular post and found my blood chill.

‘The Bludges are roaming vampires well known for having a vicious murder streak,’ started the top reply. ‘They’re regarded as being some of the most prolific hunting vampires in the United States and aren’t to be underestimated as they’re currently known to have murdered at least four individual hunters and a small group from Los Angeles lost half its members after an encounter. The best advice I can give is post it on their page as their last known location.’

I swallowed, and clicked the provided link to the ‘Bludge’ page.

There was a kill count that turned my stomach more than I anticipated. The forum post I followed was from nearly a decade ago and since then the number of murdered hunters had gone up. The ‘confirmed civilian kills’ was at thirty-four. This meant they were the second most wanted vampire group on this site.

I scrolled slowly, finding a large quantity of information on their movements and hunting habits, in graphic detail. 

I skipped over the remainder of the ‘carcasses’ section, be it about animals or humans I didn’t enjoy the carnage. Their most recent known location was way over in California, so I could relax a bit about that, at least, but surely it would only be a matter of time before the pursuit began again.

A little bit further down, I found a ‘members’ section that listed ‘Demetrius’ and ‘Blacke.’ Their information was scant and the two provided photos were barely legible blurs taken on early camera-phones, again a decade or so ago. There was a lot for me to absorb from this. It wasn’t much that I hadn’t known before, but still to find it online on a website dedicated to murdering… things that weren’t really that far removed from people.

I laid there for a moment, putting the screen down and letting my brain chew through the information. The hunters were decent at keeping track of different vampire whereabouts.

I blinked, they might know other vampire groups in the area. I opened my phone again and began surfing the site. It had the style of a late nineties forum site, which meant user friendliness came second to practicality. There were links everywhere, not always super clear about what they led to and there was no banner at the top for easy navigation to frequent pages.

I rubbed my eyes about twenty minutes later, then thought to go back to the Bludge page, and clicked on their last known location. Bingo. A map of the US with southern california highlighted popped up. Each state was divided into subregions. I looked up at the top search bar and deleted bits of the link until it was recognized and brought me to a page with just a map. Mousing over the regions highlighted them and I clicked on western massachusets.

Bingo.

I scrolled down, looking for recent posts. The website was old but it was still in use, and there were a few listings for this area.

I clicked on the closest just to find big red text at the top of the vampire group’s page that they’d been ‘exterminated.’

My stomach twisted, knowing what that meant. Surely, the police would not be pleased about this kind of site existing… then again, vampires weren’t real, and I was pretty sure Scarlet lacked documentation about existing in this country. If they tried to find the people listed here, they probably wouldn’t be able to. So… it looked like a fictitious site.

The next group down didn’t have that exterminated banner plastered on it.

Four towns over. That was the best information that I had. It wasn’t specific and knowing that vampires tended to roam, there was a decent chance they’d already moved on.

This was my dead end. But it was something. I took a screenshot so I had the information later, then wiped my browser history, just in case.

Scarlet stirred next to me, and I resisted the urge to wake her. It was daylight out. There wasn’t much she could do with the information while the sun was up. And me finding a vampire group in an entire town on my own wasn’t likely.

It was best to let her sleep for now. I got out of the bed, and got ready for the day, dressed, hair brushed, meds taken. Mike was still asleep and mom rarely got up before noon. I had the house to myself for a little bit, and elected to grab my camera, and gave Scarlet’s sleeping form a gentle kiss and made sure the blankets were tucked in around her before heading out into the early day. 

I hiked just a little ways into the woods, keeping my distance from the asylum, not eager to have any run-ins with Scarlet’s serial killer brother. I took to photographing the leaves and gathered a bunch of acorns together to get a photo that just had acorns filling every inch of the frame.

It had been a while since I had this quiet alone time to decompress and perhaps find some photos for future album covers. If we were going to use A Tad Unhinged as our band name, the album covers could be more diverse.

I crouched, seeing a cockroach struggling to move in the cold. I snapped a few photos of it, before covering it with some leaves, out of sight of birds when they finally got moving too. The cold was definitely keeping nature moving slowly. 

Which was why the gentle rustle of twigs and leaves made me pick my head up and look in its direction.

A leaf floated to the ground, probably knocked down by a squirrel. Or so I thought.

I turned back to my photos and approached a couple frost coated mushrooms, keeping myself uncomfortably low as I did so. My lens struggled to focus on the texture as I tried to convince it I wasn’t as close as I really was, but the aperture couldn’t adjust enough for my selected f-stop.

With a sigh I turned my attention to the digital screen, and slowly worked through its sluggish menus to make some adjustments. I couldn’t adjust the shutter speed to fix this problem, since it wouldn’t do anything to help the auto-focus. If I really wanted to I could try my hand at manually focusing, but I was shivering so unless I could get it just right, the picture would be blurry regardless.

But the mushrooms wouldn’t be covered in frozen dew in a very short period of time and golden hour was rapidly crawling by.

I got in to set the photo size to RAW, and took a step back, doing my best to maintain the angle I wanted, even if the photo was getting modified later.

The shutter clicked, a sound I could feel under my finger. My still bruised, no-longer-hurting finger that had been dislocated what felt like forever ago now. Life seemed to be crawling by at a strange pace. My dad’s death still felt raw and recent while getting kidnapped had turned into a numb indifference. Maybe it was a matter of magnitude. My life hadn’t meant nearly as much to me as my dad’s had. And on top of that, I hadn’t lost it.

I rubbed away some of the stress-tears as my breath shuddered. I looked at the photo on my camera, zooming in as much as i could on the tiny screen and approved of the detail captured. A cropping later wouldn’t mess up the resolution I wanted.

I stood, my knees protesting from the cold.

And then, a hand grabbed my mouth. My entire body braced for the fight but there was a sharp pain in the back of my neck and everything went black.

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