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A Witch Called Red Sample

Chapter One

August 3rd, Afternoon, the Sacred Heart Hospital, Eugene, Oregon – A Year and a Half Ago

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Blinking sleep-crusted eyes, the heart monitor screen came into focus. Consciousness hit her like a wave of anxiety. She didn’t know what was going on, but she needed to get out of this hospital bed now. Pushing the thin blue blanket down, she winced at a sudden pain in her wrist. Her vision blurred. She studied the unconnected IV ducts on her bruised wrist. It wasn’t the injury that drew her eye. It was the name on her patient bracelet- Jane Doe. That wasn’t right. None of this was right. She sat up in the hospital bed. “What the fuck?”

She didn’t recognize her own raspy voice. It sounded like she hadn’t spoken in a hundred years. Her head snapped up. She wasn’t alone.

Snoring, the man sat sprawled in a chair at the foot of the bed. Head tilted back, he had East Asian features and a shoulder-length mullet with short, spiky black bangs that popped up like a cockatoo’s. A faded Metallica logo on his denim vest peeked out from under his folded arms. The left arm was tanner than the right. His knees poked out of his torn jeans, and his dirty steel toe boots were propped up against the leg of the bed.

He couldn’t have been a well-wisher for another patient. A white curtain clearly divided the shared hospital room. He was definitely at her bedside. She had no clue why or who he was.

“Hey, Mister,” she croaked out, throat dry, before she looked around and saw a small pink plastic mug on the bed stand. She pulled it over and peered at the clear water inside before drinking, then trying again. “Hey!”

“I wasn’t there—” The man jumped in his chair, jerking his head up as his dark eyes flipped open. “Oh, shit, you’re awake.”

“Seems like it. Unless this is one of those weird dreams where you think you wake up but it’s still a dream.” She looked around again. It felt like a dream, sitting in a hospital room with a guy who looked like a roadie for a metal tribute band. But the pain in her wrist and the general ache all over her body were evidence of reality.

She put her hand to her chin, looking down as she struggled to remember. She remembered the blue sky, the plane overhead, and the grass underneath her. Then a shadow loomed over her, features slowly becoming clear.

It was him. The man in the chair.

She remembered him carrying her and settling her on a bean bag chair in a van, then only flashes of the bright lights of the hospital. “You brought me here. Um, where is here? Actually, let’s start with who are you?”

“I’m Vic. I found you off the 126 near Coyote Creek. You’re at the Sacred Heart in Eugene.”

“Eugene, Oregon.” She said the city name slowly as she read the patient bracelet again. She knew of it, but nothing stirred in her beyond a punchline from an old Simpsons episode. “Why?”

“You tell me. I’m just a guy who thought he was going to take a nap in his van after a long drive. Then I found you. Your neck is all marked up, bruises and fang bites… What happened to you?”

Fang bites on the neck?

Like a peek behind a dark veil came the awareness that humans were far from the apex predator. She didn’t have a montage of memories; it was more like his words shook supernatural trivia into her mind.

Fire and stakes killed vampires. Blessed silver could wound or repel them. Crosses were a toss-up. Supernatural speed and strength with fangs equipped with venom to put their victims in thrall. She might not be able to remember a single one, but she knew of them. She might not have known where she was, but she knew what bumped in the night.

“A bite? Like a dog or a, um, vam—” She stopped herself. She didn’t know who Vic was. He could have been a trucker for all she knew.

Vic opened the curtain a crack to glance at the sleeping patient in the other bed in the shared room. He looked back at her, an eyebrow raised. “You were going to say vampire.”

“Would that be crazy if I did?” She held her breath.

“Not to me.” Vic grinned, brows lifting. He gestured to her. “Who are you? The police couldn’t find anything when they ran your prints.”

She opened her mouth, but the words died on her tongue. It wasn’t as if her name was on the tip of her tongue. Her mind just felt blank. She tried to think of where she was from or who her family was, but only found more blanks. She knew concretely that she was a white woman, from America, who had watched the Simpsons at least once, and knew that monsters existed. Everything else was fuzzy. “I don’t know.”

“Where did you come from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How’d you get out there?”

“I don’t know, I…” She couldn’t even remember her name, let alone how she ended up by Coyote Creek.

He leaned forward, elbow on his knee. His eyes narrowed as he cocked his head. “How do you know you were attacked by a vampire then?”

She shrugged. That was a question she could answer. Finally. “I assumed, because you said fang bites. Oh God, what if it was a werewolf?” She lifted trembling fingers to her mouth before staring down at them as if claws would sprout any moment.

“No, it looks like a vampire’s handiwork. You have some old bite scars too.” Vic slumped back in his chair. He rubbed his chin, curiosity twinkling in his gaze. “What color are your eyes?”

“Um, brown?” She guessed, frowning as she realized she didn’t know. She reached up to find her hair in a bun, held back with two hair ties, and let her hair down. Looking at the wavy red hair, she bit her lip. Her hair was so long. The sight didn’t jog her memory, it just made her realize she would have to use a lot of conditioner until she got it cut.

“No, green.” Shaking his head, Vic stood and walked closer. He put his hands on his hips staring at her like she was a two headed calf. “So, you don’t remember anything?”

“Not about me. I think I have some general stuff.” She pursed her lips, the question kickstarting her brain synapses like slapping an old TV on the fritz. “I remember silly things like rhymes- Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Which I have some opinions about, apparently. I know what a molecule is, and that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston dated. Which I also have some opinions about.” She frowned. “Nothing about me.”

“What day is it?” Vic tossed out the question like it was a pop quiz.

She shrugged.

“Okay, that isn’t fair. You’ve been unconscious for a while.” Vic crossed his arms. “Who is the President?”

“Barack Obama.” She said slowly, surprised at the random civics question.

Brow furrowing, Vic tilted his head. “No, it’s Donald Trump.”

“The guy from the reality show?” She laughed. This guy was funny. “Okay, I know that I’m amnesia girl, but don’t mess with me like that. It’s only two years into Obama’s presidency.”

“Two years?” Holding his hands up, Vic gawked at her. Mouth hanging open, it took him a few tries to spit the words out. “It’s 2018.”

Her ears buzzed at the date. She pinched herself. “I’m ready to appear naked in English class reading a book report now.”

“Tough titties on that kitty. You’re awake, alive, and missing the last eight years. And you don’t know where you’ve been, Red?”

Eight years… She didn’t even look out of her twenties. That was nearly a third of her life. She pinched herself again. It still wasn’t a dream. She frowned at him. “Red?”

“I gotta call you something.”

“So, what’s your deal?” She swallowed back her growing alarm. He knew about the supernatural, maybe he could help her find out why she had a black hole where her college years should be. At least she had a nickname now. Red… It was better than Jane Doe.  “Hunter? Vigilante trucker? Kind of the same thing, I guess, but probably not a Bard.”

“What? Why not?” Huffing, Vic looked down at himself. “I am, for your information. From a long line of them.”

“You just look so business in the front and party in the back.” Red grinned. She might not have memories, but her sense of humor still worked.

In addition to Jennifer Aniston’s love life, she knew enough about the supernatural world to remember the players. Hunters were scattered vigilantes, bounty hunters, and people who couldn’t resist the call to fight the darkness. The Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes was an ancient order of scholars who acted as mentors to the supernatural champions who kept demons, vampires, and more dark beings at bay. Vic looked more like a drunk guy at a honky-tonk yelling for someone to play “Freebird” than a Bard.

“I know my badass style makes me stand out from the stuffed shirts, but I have my credentials. I had at least two years at UCLA too before I dropped out.” Vic lifted two fingers for emphasis before crossing his arms. “I’d ask you how you know about the Brotherhood, but I reckon you’d say you don’t know.”

Red nodded. Her brain was too busy remembering the entire lyrics to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song to provide any useful information. “You said my prints didn’t come up in the check?”

“Nope. You were in a bloody white dress, roughed up, without any ID. No phone. Nothing.”

Dipping her head, Red felt suddenly shy. She had no idea what she looked like. “Can you bring me a mirror? Anything to look at myself in.”

Vic nodded and looked around before grabbing a spoon off the rolling tray beside the bed. He handed it to her.

Red looked at herself, distorted in the back of the spoon, and pulled away the bandage on her neck. The mass of purple bruises stood out first, the puncture wounds from vampire fangs nearly lost in the color. Her skin was chalky pale, and dark circles lay under her bright green eyes. She had just woken up but looked and felt like she could sleep for another week. It was her face.

“It’s weird. I’m familiar, but I wouldn’t…” How could she explain the feeling of seeing a face that she barely recognized, yet instinctively knew, reflected at her? “What happened to me?”

“I’d hoped you’d tell me.” Vic shrugged, gesturing to her. “My simplest theory is that you’re a hunter who crossed the wrong vamps. There are some with the gift to mesmerize their victims. But I’ve never seen anyone with their brain scrubbed so hard. You looked thrashed.”

“Yeah, maybe the other guy looks worse.” Swallowing thickly, her chin wobbled as she stared at the reflected neck wound. She put the spoon down on the bed.

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Maybe that’s why you can’t remember. The vampire opened the amnesia door, and your brain said, ‘don’t mind if I do.’”

Red looked down at her pale bandaged wrist, wondering what could be so bad that she forgot not just eight years, but her whole life.

“Or maybe it was dark fairies.” He raised his hands, shoulders lifting. His voice pitching higher as he tried, and failed, to sound comforting. “And you escaped from their realm, and this is just interdimensional jet lag?”

Her lips twisted. “Is that supposed to be the bright side? Because that’s not any better.”

A male nurse wearing blue scrubs and a bright white smile on his dark face pushed a cart into the room. “Hey, hey, you’re awake!”

Vic slipped out of the room while the nurse fussed over her.

Red let herself sink into the pillows. Sleep claimed her in a fitful wave as she visualized her face and found a stranger staring back. She woke to a parade of baffled social workers, curious nurses, and finally a detective.

In a suit rumpled from too much sitting, mustard stain on the lapel, the bald detective took quick notes in his notepad between brisk questions. The pen stopped moving while he studied the bite marks on her neck. His beady blue eyes blinked in recognition behind his glasses.

Familiar like a sunset, Red recognized this old pattern from law enforcement. Strange crimes with witnesses spouting fantastic tales ended up as cold cases. The supernatural might have been a secret to most humans, but she didn’t need to know her real name to know this cop had seen his fair share of the weird. He would believe her, even if he denied it, but he was just too close to retirement to chase shadows.

“Before you go, could you give me Vic’s number? The man who helped me. I’d like to thank him,” Red said.

The detective looked through his notes before jotting down a number and handing it to her. “Thank you for your cooperation, ma’am.”

The nurse tried to convince her to stay in bed, but Red felt a weight pressing on her chest the longer she stayed in the hospital. Something about hospitals gave her the creeps.

In donated baggy jeans and a T-shirt that read North Dakota: Best for Last Club, Red tied up the laces on her leather boots. She had been found wearing them. They were the only thing that she could claim. Her bloody dress and underwear had been taken somewhere as evidence. She hadn’t even seen them. She had to wonder what dress went with vintage black boots.

Walking to the nurses’ station, she dialed the number, scanning the detective’s even scrawl, wondering what she was even doing. Even when she asked for the number, she knew she was going to say more than a thank you.

Vic picked up after two rings. “Vic. Talk.”

“Hey, it’s me. Red.” She sighed, realizing she hadn’t exactly practiced what she was going to stay beyond that she was going crazy in this hospital. “I know this is weird, but I don’t know, you’re more useful than the cops. Can you come get me?”

“I’m always more useful than the fuzz.” Vic said dryly. “Okay, Red, let’s be real. You’ve got no name and nothing more than the memory that something bumps in the night. I know how this ends. I’ve been there, just with more memories attached. I can help you, but you gotta choose. Those social workers at the hospital can get you into housing, maybe work, something. I’m running after jobs from the Brotherhood like a hunter. I’m not the kind of Bard you’re thinking of. You roll with me, you’ll find yourself living out of motels, hanging out in a van, always on the highway. You’ll earn a cut of whatever bounties we can claim until you’re ready to run loose. In the meantime, I control the radio.”

Red looked around the nurses’ station. She knew what he was saying was true. No specific memories came to mind, but her left hand curled as if around an invisible stake. “That works for me. I’ll meet you out front.”

Vic sighed. “Alright, kid. Keep in mind that this is temporary. I’m a lone wolf. You can stick around, but you’ll need to be useful. You’ll be my…” He snapped his fingers. “Intern. Prepare for danger, research, and beer runs, Red.”

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