Origins (Chapter 9)

It's difficult for me to describe the moments that followed.

I remember footfalls and shrieking and the servants praying outside their quarters. I remember staying on my knees, yelling out of horror and pity and fear. I remember Mr. Cartwright pulling me back as Mrs. Cartwright sank to her knees and keened loudly, like a wounded animal.

I remember seeing the police carriage. I remember Father and Damon wringing their hands and whispering about me, allies in trying to develop the best course for my care. I tried to talk, to tell them I was fine–I was, after all, alive. But I couldn't form the words.

At one point, Dr. Janes hooked his arms under my armpits and dragged me to my feet. Slowly, men I didn't know surrounded me and dragged me to the porch of the servants' quarters. There, words were mumbled, and Cordelia was called for. "I'm … I'm fine," I said finally, embarrassed that so much attention was being paid to me when Rosalyn was the one who'd been killed.

"Shhh, now, Stefan," Cordelia said, her leathery face creased with worry. She pressed her hands to my chest and muttered a prayer under her breath, then pulled a tiny vial from the voluminous folds of her skirt. She uncapped it and pressed it to my lips. "Drink," she urged as a liquid that tasted like licorice ran down my throat.

"Katherine!" I whimpered. Then I clapped my hand over my own mouth, but not before a startled expression crossed Cordelia's face. Quickly, she dosed me with more of the licorice-scented liquid. I dropped back to the hard steps of the porch, too tired to think anymore.

"His brother is here somewhere," Cordelia said, sounding as if she were speaking underwater. "Fetch him."

I heard the sound of footfalls and opened my eyes an instant later to see Damon standing above me. His face was white with shock.

"Will he be okay?" Damon asked, turning to Cordelia.

"I think …," Dr. Janes began.

"He needs rest. Quiet. A dark room," Cordelia said authoritatively.

Damon nodded.

"I'm … Rosalyn … I should have …," I began, even though I didn't know how to finish the sentence. Should have what? Should have gone looking for her far earlier, instead of spending my time kissing Katherine? Should have insisted on escorting her to the party?

"Shhh," Damon whispered, hoisting me up. I managed to stand, shakily, beside him. From out of nowhere, Father appeared and held my other arm, and I haltingly managed to step off the porch and back to the house. Revelers stood on the grass, holding each other, and Sheriff Forbes called out for the militia to search in the woods. I felt Damon guiding me through the back door of the house and up the stairs before allowing me to collapse on my bed. I fell into the cotton sheets, and then I remember nothing but darkness.

The next morning, I awoke to beams of sunlight scattered on the cherrywood floorboards of my bedroom.

"Good morning, brother." Damon was sitting in the corner in the rocking chair, the one that used to belong to Great-grandfather. Our mother had rocked us in it when we were infants, singing songs to us as we went to sleep. Damon's eyes were red and bloodshot, and I wondered if he'd been sitting like that, watching me, all night.

"Rosalyn's dead?" I voiced it as a question, even though the answer was obvious.

"Yes." Damon stood up, turning to the crystal pitcher on the walnut dresser. He poured water into a tumbler and held it toward me. I struggled to sit upright.

"No, stay," Damon commanded with the authority of an army officer. I'd never heard him speak like that before. I fell back against the goose-down pillows and allowed Damon to bring the glass to my lips as if I were an infant. The cool, clear liquid slipped down my throat, and once again, I thought back to last night.

"Did she suffer?" I asked, a painful series of images marching through my brain. While I'd been reciting Shakespeare, Rosalyn must have been planning her grand entrance. She must have been so excited to show off her dress, to have the younger girls gape at her ring, to have the older women take her off to a corner to discuss the particulars of her wedding night. I imagined her dashing across the lawn, then hearing footsteps behind her, only to turn and see flashing white teeth glistening in the moonlight. I shuddered.

Damon crossed over to the bed and put his hand on my shoulder. Suddenly the rush of terrifying images stopped. "Death usually happens in less than a second. That was the case in the war, and I'm sure it was the same for your Rosalyn." He settled back in his chair and rubbed his temple. "They think it was a coyote. The war is bringing people east for battle, and they think the animals are following the blood trail."

"Coyotes," I said, my voice tripping on the second syllable. I hadn't heard the word before. It was just one more example of new phrases like killed and a widower that were about to be added to my vocabulary.

"Of course, there are those people, including Father, who think it was the work of demons." Damon rolled his dark eyes. "Just what our town Damon rolled his dark eyes. "Just what our town needs. An epidemic of mass hysteria. And what kills me about that little rumor is that when people are convinced their town is under siege by some demonic force, they're not focusing on the fact that war is ripping apart our country. It's this head-in- the-sand mentality that I simply cannot understand. "

I nodded, not really listening, not able to view Rosalyn's death as part of some sort of argument against the war. As Damon continued to ramble, I lay back and closed my eyes. I visualized Rosalyn's face at the moment I found her. There, in the darkness, she'd looked different. Her eyes had been large and luminescent. As though she'd seen something terrible. As though she'd suffered horribly.