The rain conjured a blurred pattern as the water droplets hit the car windows, the thousand little water globes reflecting the greenery of the nature around the vehicle. It offered Jessamine a welcome sight after having spent the last few weeks back in the suffocating city of London where pavements moved as the great river of humanity and the roads a river of cars. People spoke about the capital as the metropolis of life, the pride of a nation, but all Jessamine could think of when spending those days back in a house one should call a home was how much she missed the rolling hills of Polperro. She had loved the salty air by harbour, and the common breeze that would sweep the scent of peonies up to her bedroom window. Not to mention the freedom she experienced when living outside of London: it was so liberating that staying in the capital felt almost imprisoning – as if she was shackled by past expectations and present scrutiny. Though, she supposed that feeling wasn’t too far from the truth either. It was, after all, her ties to the past that brought her back into the world she’d thought to have left permanently.
(If only the circumstances had been less grim)
Jessamine had to remind herself numerous times that this was no longer about her but something far greater than what her selfishness could allow. It was about legacy. And with the promised one no longer there to bring what the Grays needed to uphold their esteem in hunter society, the hefty weight fell upon the pariah of the family. It had been a fun ride, revolting against the threads that had threatened to bind her to an orthodox life, but Jessamine loved her family too much to abandon them in this time of need. So, while the foundation was rotten and her life withering in the very presence of fate, the youngest Gray accepted the new role without hesitation. A legacy could be negative ripples or positive waves, each taking on a life of their own in the fabric of the universe, and Jessamine promised them, cheeks still wet from the streaming tears and salty taste still in the mouth, that she would become the sea storm. She would turn the tides for them. It’s a promise she hoped to keep without it drowning her – but let’s be honest - who could say what will happen when anxiety had become the only emotion coursing through her the past few weeks? Life was not a fairytale, and even though one expressed the interest in becoming a heroine, the metamorphosis was far more difficult to obtain than with a simple sweep of some magic wand.
Unfortunately, the years outside hunter society had done Jessamine no favours: her strength and stamina had definitely taken a hit and not even the rigorous training schedule was able to salvage her embarrassing combat skills. Her only prowess, it seemed, was agility – which definitely had its uses, but it just wasn’t enough to halt the seedlings of worry from spreading.
While Jessamine didn’t like to show her struggles, especially not in the presence of those who already viewed her as a hopeless case, the sleep-deprived circles under the eyes were enough evidence that something had been plaguing the mind. It was a confidence eroding question, one that commenced inner battles of the soul before. A voice of doubt that maybe never truly left, no matter how much she separated herself from the society that scorned her for who she was and wanted to be.
Was she good enough?
Part of her liked to believe in herself, because being brave enough to do this had to mean something, right? But part of Jessamine was also still that young girl who her mother lamented, the dark nebula in a galaxy fabricated for stars. Determination could only get you so far, and whether its reach was big enough to bridge the gap in knowledge and skills was yet to be determined. Though, she guessed with this mission it was only a matter of time before finding out.
To distract herself from the nerves, Jessamine had turned up the radio to an almost deafening volume. Even the sound of the downpour was barely able to break through the loud harmonies bouncing between the interior walls. And with no one else around to possibly mortify, there was ample enough freedom to hold a solo-concert in the car.
“You are the dancing queen! Young and sweet, only sev-“ a sharp whining noise cut through her voice, grasping her attention. It was then, much to Jessamine’s wide-eyed horror, that the music ceased from playing and her car started to sputter and shake. Oh, no, no, no-she scarcely had the time to steer the vehicle more towards the side of the road before it lurched into a full stop. Jessamine quickly peeked behind to see that there was no one on the road beside hers, before taking a deep breath. Okay keep calm Jessa. It might just be something small. She turned the keys to try and turn the engine back on again, but without avail.
“C’mon buddy, don’t leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere here,” she mumbled with a frown, before trying again. Still no sign of life. Her heart started to flutter with a mild sense of urgency and panic, the thought of being helplessly stuck there for at least a few hours ( if there was even cell-phone reception) not sitting too well with her. She tried again, but it seemed that third time was not the charm today.
Well, guess this was the karmic punishment for stubbornly taking her old (but arguably gold!) car instead of Olivia’s new one.
Letting out a small puff, Jessamine grabbed her coat from the backseat and put it on, before stepping out of the car. Small pellets of water hit her form as she moved towards the front of the car and opened the hood of the car. Immediately, she was greeted by a gust of dark smoke lifting from the engine, causing a coughing fit. Jessamine turned her head away from the hood while waving away the fumes. Now, she was not certainly not a car expert but even she knew that dark smoke equalled bad news. Placing her hands on her hips, she turned her head upwards and glared at the heavens - as if to blame the grey sky for this particular misfortune.
While most people he knew all felt differently, he felt comforted by it. He enjoyed getting lost in the sound of droplets hitting the windshield of his car, and he loved the way the Earth smelled once the water fell from the sky. He also took pleasure in enjoying a hot cup of tea or some bourbon and reading a book while it poured cats and dogs outside. It hadn't quite reached that point yet, but Julian was getting closer to home and he imagined the downpour would only get worse by the time he reached.
His weekend away from Raydon hadn't been that much more exciting than the mundane life he led each day. Julian had just popped into Haverhill, a nearby town, to pick up a fresh supply of bread. Bakeries in Raydon were great, but it wasn't what they were known for. Given that Julian's life was by no means hectic, he had no issues driving an hour into another town just to get some bread every week or so. Sometimes he spent the night, if only because there was a karaoke bar that could be quite entertaining once he'd had a few drinks in. Not that he ever participated, but it was amusing to watch tipsy men and women attempt to nail classical rock numbers only for their traditional Sussex accents to butcher it completely.
Last night had gone a little differently though, because one man had gotten a little too drunk and tried to make a scene. Julian, for as much as he tried to keep to himself, couldn't exactly sit by mere inches away and watch someone else be harassed. He'd intervened and woken up this morning with a mild headache and some bruising on his left cheek.
At least I don't have a black eye, he thought to himself dryly as he sped off down the empty roads toward Raydon. Some song by The Eagles he'd heard a million times filled what would have otherwise been silence. He had one hand on the steering wheel while the other fiddled with a cigarette. He itched to smoke it, and normally he would have just kept the window down the entire ride to accommodate his bad habit. Unfortunately, as much as he loved rain, there were some downsides, and one of them was that he couldn't enjoy a smoke till he got home. If anything, that lingering urge made him drive faster. He wasn't worried. There weren't usually people on these roads anyway.
Julian was proved wrong about five minutes later when he spotted a car up ahead. It was stopped along the side of the road, and as he neared it, he could see the hood popped open. It was very clearly car trouble, and he was able to tell that before he even noticed the plume of black smoke that rose high into the air. He flicked his cigarette with his thumb a couple of times while internally battling with himself over whether to stop or not. The last time he tried to help, someone took a swing at him. While he doubted that would be the case now, he was also wary. The car wasn't one he recognised, and it was safe to say that after living years in a town with a population of 507 people, he more or less knew most of the people and all their cars.
Julian slowed down and overtook the car, though one glance in his rearview mirror had him stopping off at the side of the road as well. The face he caught a glimpse of, while pretty, was a new one as well. Raydon certainly wasn't the kind of place people moved in to, so he was curious. And, curiosity aside, the woman looked clueless and Julian knew a thing or two about cars. Not a lot, but hopefully enough to offer some kind of assistance.
After tucking the cigarette behind his ear, Julian put his hazards on before stepping out of the car and walking over to the car that was in seemingly bad shape. "Well, that's never a good sign," Julian muttered, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm. He stepped up beside the striking blonde and peeked underneath the hood, needing to bend quite a bit to do so. "Do you need some help?" He asked, lifting his gaze to meet hers. He didn't want to seem presumptuous, after all.
The rain, desalinated by nature’s own hand and given freely, held no mercy as it bore down upon Jessamine’s ill-equipped figure. Cold water touched her skin in perfect spheres, sitting briefly before forming tiny rivers of their own. Its bite tore through the layers of clothing, stealing the warmth and sending shivers throughout her body. Jessamine, with a small voice of rationality in the back of the head, considered abandoning the open hood and seeking shelter back in the car again. It didn’t take a genius to see that the car’s issues required a specialist’s hand to be solved and not that of someone with bare minimum knowledge about vehicles. Nevertheless, that voice of rationality rarely took the crown when it came to battles of the mind. Perhaps it was because rationale was so strictly associated with the uncompromising logic that hunter society always regarded as something so sacred it felt blasphemous for listening to anything else. Like a mind was only meant to think in shades of black and white -- as if life wasn’t all about exploring the gradients of the world, like the hues of night or iridescence of day. Or maybe Jessamine was simply a slave herself to the emotions that were seldom ruled by logic. Her parents were at least right about one thing: she was too impulsive to safely traverse through the life so easily on the brink of death. But at least she was right about one thing too; it hadn’t killed her just yet.
Jessamine stayed outside, despite rationale’s best interest to seek refuge from the rain in her own car, and despite risking a cold, or worse, a fever. She wasn’t so stubborn that she falsely believed that the grey clouds above would drop an epiphany alongside the water droplets and that her knowledge about fixing cars would expand enough so to repair the car herself, but there was a slight hope for the open air to do wonders on her phone signal. With one hand shielding the device as much as possible from the rain and one hand raising the phone up in the air, Jessamine glanced at the letters next to the four curved lines for any change. Yet, they remained undeviating and ever-dooming.
Jessamine shoved her phone back in the pockets of her coat with a slight huff, the predestinarian misfortune of the situation not being lost on her. It was as if mischance followed in every step taken towards being a competent huntress, like a blood curse she could not get rid of. May it be a trial of weaponry or a reputation defining mission, something always went wrong. Jessamine idly wondered if this all was just a warped sign from fate itself, telling her that in the lines of the universe and passage of the stars, being a huntress was and never would be her calling. Well, she was fine with that too. Jessamine had long accepted that the passion and skills running in the bloodline for hunting and killing the supernatural had skipped her particular being, had long stopped chasing a legacy destined to paint her as nothing more than the family’s pariah. The soul was aligning with fate in this matter, so how come the strings of the cosmos were pulling her right back into a life happily abandoned? Instead of simplicity, contradiction seemed to weave itself through the fabrics of existence.
Oh, and how contradicting the words written in stars could be.
The sight of another car coming up along the road startled the younger Gray into a straighter position. Hope blossomed within as her only possible savior began to slow down, but only to be trampled in the following moment when the solution passed her. Ha ha real funny, Jessamine bitterly thought. She could just hear taunting laughter coming from somewhere in the dark grey sky, the deific being in charge of toying with her undoubtedly rolling in the clouds at the moment. But just as she resigned to being stranded in the middle of nowhere for god knows how long, a small sliver of mercy broke through the adversity. Her breathe got caught in the throat when the car stopped, eyes slightly widening as a figure of a handsome tall man stepped out of the vehicle. Jessamine had always been one easily captivated by even the most minor details, like the laughter lines around one’s eyes, or the map of tiny specks on one’s nose. His eyes were the first thing that grasped her attention, the dark brown hue holding a depth yet to be unravelled -- a complexity in his gaze that could tell words that might never be spoken. Next were the dark hairs lining his jaw, roughening the exterior and giving his looks an unfaltering strength. If features were an ocean, she was currently drowning in them.
"Do you need some help?"
It was that his gaze met hers, otherwise Jessamine might have completely missed the question he was posing.
“Yes!” she blurted immediately with perhaps greater volume than needed. God, did that sound too desperate? Jessamine cleared her throat. “I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble. I am supposed to be heading to Raydon, ” her lips curved into a friendly smile, “uh, you wouldn’t be passing the town by any chance now, would you?” Yeah, getting in a car with a stranger was arguably one of the first don’ts you would come across when reading about safety, but it was not like there were many options left. And call her gullible, but he didn’t seem like the secret serial killer type who would dump your body in the woods somewhere. If anything was to happen, there was still the secret dagger in the bag.
Here’s just to hoping she wouldn’t need to use it this soon…
While Julian liked to think he knew a thing or two about cars, he couldn't really tell what was wrong with this one. Dark smoke was never a good sign and he was a little out of his depth. He was better off sticking to what he knew, but that didn't mean he couldn't provide the pretty blonde with other solutions to her problem. The mention of Raydon further proved that, and he cracked a crooked smile upon hearing her question. "No, I'm not passing through," he told her at first, pausing for a moment before he followed it up with, "I live there."
Julian was admittedly curious because it was one thing for people to leave Raydon, but rarely did people ever visit unless it was to check in on family. It wasn't exactly the kind of town that people chose for sightseeing. The only thing worth taking a look at was probably the lake that wasn't too far off. Not that there was anything special about it. It just really was the only exciting thing the town had to offer. That alone would give people a decent idea of what they'd be stepping into if they decided to visit, and it was the main reason Julian had rarely seen new people unless they were just passing through.
"I can give you a ride," Julian told her, realising that he'd not officially extended the offer despite revealing that he lived in the very town she needed to get to. After ruffling his hair to rid it of the droplets of water that had collected since he stepped out of his car, Julian reached into his pocket for his phone. "I've got a friend at the auto shop. I'll ask her to send someone to get your car." Julian would have towed it himself if he had the necessary equipment, but since he didn't, this was the best he could do.
"Why don't you grab what you need and lock up?" Julian suggested before nodding to his own car that was stopped just a few feet away. "I'll warm the car up." The drive into Raydon from where they were wasn't very long, and in any case, he didn't mind helping. Meeting someone new was likely going to be the highlight of his entire week, and they weren't even halfway through it yet. That was just how most of his weeks went.
Julian made a quick jog back to his car and slid into the driver's seat before he texted Vera at the auto shop. He got a confirmation text a moment later, so Julian put his phone away and made sure to turn up the heat since he had no idea how long the woman had been standing out in the rain, hoping for some roadside assistance. She was lucky he'd been heading into town. Otherwise, the likelihood of her finding help was pretty low. Not a lot of cars passed through this route on any given day.
Perhaps the heavens had finally sent a hand of fate that wasn’t out to tear apart the tapestry she had weaved from life. It felt like a small blessing had been bestowed upon her as the stranger told her he was from her destination. At last, it seemed having luck was not only belonging to someone else. Jessamine’s smile brightened at his kindness, a light warmth of hope being enkindled inside despite the heavy downpour around them. A ride and a solution to her broken car? This encounter was shaping up to be something miraculously positive --- this stranger a reborn light in this dark abyss.
“Oh, thank you so much! That’s really kind of you.” She responded, before nodding at his suggestion to get her stuff and lock the car.
Jessamine walked to the back of the car to haul her suitcase out of the trunk, but slowed down as her mind began to stray, her focus pulled elsewhere. There were muffled voices in the back of her head, tenets that once were etched in the membranes of the mind climbing their way into conscious thought again. Teachings previously abandoned but not forgotten chimed their grating melodies until morphed into a single voice that awfully resembled that of her carping mother. ‘Don’t be so utterly naïve Jessamine.’ the voice criticized, ‘ To trust a stranger that easily is to write your own end with a fool’s pen.' Jessamine’s gaze wandered back to the stranger’s car, her heart stopping in a jolting motion as the next words seeped into the mind: ‘You don’t want to end up like your sister, do you?’ Her grasp on the suitcase tightened and shivers emerged down her back and alongside her limbs. A flash of frustration – perhaps because she thought to be freed from that voice years ago, or because she could not deny it held some credence. Even under the rainbow of luck, Jessamine could see why trusting a stranger from a town where ghastly murders had been happening was not the smartest thing to do. Nevertheless, there was also a defiance; a soul-deep belief in virtues rather than vices. While her people only had eyes for the depths of winter, she had learned to see the variety of summers among the frost.
Just because her sister trusted the wrong person didn’t mean she would go down the same path.
And just like that, Jessamine took the words of one’s mother into her hands, held them like clouds, before wringing them out like rain. She pulled her suitcase out of the trunk before shutting and locking the car. Jessamine placed her fingers against her lips, only to tap hood of the car afterwards as if to transfer the kiss. Till we meet againbud. Next was transferring her suitcase to the other car and opening the door to get into the vehicle herself. A heavenly warmth encased her figure as she climbed into the passenger’s seat, and once again, Jessamine thanked her savior; “Again, thank you for giving me a ride. I really wasn’t looking forward in having to try and push my car the rest of the way in this weather.” Realizing she had not yet introduced herself nor did she know his name, Jessamine extended her hand with a smile.“Name is Tessa by the way. It's nice to meet you mister...?” It felt partly wrong to lie about her identity, but she knew it was for both their protection. The Grays were unfortunately both too well-known and hated by the supernatural to go around telling her real name. At the very least, she could not bother less with fabricating a whole other personality too. Aside from some details about her life being altered, Jessamine was still Jessamine; eccentric but friendly.
“You said you were from Raydon right? Do you know where the local newspaper is stationed in town? I am supposed to meet up with a certain Maxwell Davis today.”
Julian took a peep into the rearview mirror to see the stranded woman locking her car and tapping the hood of it before she made her way over to the passenger's side of his car. He ruffled his hair a bit more since it was still a little damp from the few minutes he'd spent out in the powdery rain. Julian offered a smile to the stranger as she got into the car, one that widened further when she thanked him yet again for offering to help her out with her car trouble. "It's no problem," he assured her, turning off his hazards and shifting gears so he could continue onward to Raydon.
Warmth filled the car pretty quickly but, unfortunately, it did nothing to save the cigarette tucked behind his ear that had gotten all soggy from the rain. He left it where it was though because at least new company would keep him from feeling the need to smoke. Prior to her arrival, all Julian could do during the drive was fiddle with the cigarette and argue with himself mentally over making a quick stop at the side of the road to just get it over with. He still had made that stop, in all fairness, but for a completely different reason.
Julian was about to ask for a name when one was told to him before he even parted his lips. "Tessa," he echoed, as if testing the name on his tongue before nodding and glancing over at her briefly. "I'm Julian," he replied, introducing himself and looking back at the road ahead when he added on with, "but Roadside Saviour is a common nickname, so feel free to use that, if you prefer."
It wasn't really often that Julian had the opportunity to be cheeky. He knew almost everyone in Raydon so the opportunity just didn't present itself anymore. He hardly ventured into nearby towns except for his occasional visits to Haverhill, and even then, he usually just frequented the bakery and this one bar where he was recognised as a regular. The lighter side of his personality only really bubbled up around strangers, especially ones that seemed to be quite light themselves. For that period of time, no matter how short, Julian could forget the traumas of his past and just enjoy getting to know someone new.
When Julian heard Tessa explain part of what she was heading to Raydon for, Julian arched an eyebrow. "Mega Max?" He asked for clarification before realising there was no way for Tessa to know about the nickname his friend Vera had coined for the editor of Raydon's only newspaper. "Sorry. Bit of an inside joke," he explained with a small chuckle before nodding. "But yeah, I know where the office is. Maxwell practically lives there so you shouldn't have any problem finding him."
Julian considered asking if she'd like him to drop her off right at the office, or at the auto shop where her car would be brought, but before he could, another question popped into his mind, solely based on assumptions. "Are you doing a story on the town or something?" He asked her curiously, glancing over at her every so often while they made the trip into town. The empty roadsides were slowly changing, and the fences ahead marked the entrance into some semblance of society. "I don't think I've ever seen a journalist enter Raydon so willingly," Julian continued, offering a bit of a crooked smile. "Sorry, I don't mean to discourage you or anything. Raydon just doesn't have much to offer."
With pleasant warmth circulating through the car and a friendly stranger next to her, Jessamine’s mood had been lifted again. Julian’s presence felt like a soft autumn breeze, soothing but refreshing. While some people’s souls radiated a tempest of emotions or skittered around like sparks, his aura was coloured in a palette of nature. He brought imagery of golden spheres trapped by wrinkled bark; a labyrinth of leaves and branches; a flowing streamlet bright and wild; mossy ways and flowery beds. If down to earth was a person, Jessamine felt like this newly met person would be it. This brought such a sense of fresh air after a week swamped by ancestral smoke, she opened the barred windows -- uncaring what other storms this stranger might bring into her home.
Her mother would have her be wary of every person and as fearsome as possible. Alas, Jessamine was a nomad often wandering between words, emotions and feelings. And she no longer had the desire to bend herself into a frame of photographs where she was unwelcome. So instead of deflecting the question, Jessamine stuck as close to the truth as she could. “I guess so! It’s not one particular story, but more so multiple ones. Anything that might make an interesting news story in town, really.” Whispers of murders seeped into the mind, along with ghastly pictures of the carnage and questions about the nature of the killer. Julian’s words about Raydon’s peace did not hold all truth and Jessamine wondered if he withheld this information so as not to scare her out of town or if he knew more about it than he was willing to give away.. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
“I think that’s what makes journalism so interesting. Especially when it comes to small towns like Raydon. Everything might seem so mundane or uninspiring, but that only pushes you to put on a different point of view. Trying to find the wonder in every day stories, exploring threads in news that make people connect with one another. Unlike in the big cities, news is not ruled by sensation; it’s about the people.” Jessamine spoke, pulled into a state of marvel over her passion. She then blinked, realizing her response was perhaps too winding, and cleared her throat. “Anyway, that is why I am drawn to working for newspapers in smaller towns, like Raydon.”
Jessamine smiled at him while pulling one knee up to her chest. “Besides, I fully believe that every town, no matter how small, has something interesting going on.” Her eyebrows wiggled as she leaned more towards him. “So got any town secrets to share mister roadside saviour? I promise I won’t snitch on who I got it from.” Her jesting tone made it obvious she was not serious -- though Jessamine remained curious how much he knew about Raydon and its grisly occurrences. Her eyes traveled back to the front and caught the nearing edges of the town. Shadows crossed the walls of her heart as the reality of her role knocked on the door. Truth was, she wasn’t here to make friends or to banter with a friendly stranger. Her sole purpose, extracted out of someone else’s ashes, was to follow the lines written in blood and duty. Eliminate the suspected supernatural behind the murders.
Jessamine might not have been ready -- but fate was.
Squinting her eyes, the woman could make up the outlines of people in the distance with most of them standing to the side.
“Is there a public event going on?” she questioned, gaze briefly shifting back to Julian. It was one positive thought to have,, the other scenario popping in her mind being far and far more gruesome....