I always came to the market during the “off” hours. Crowds were never my thing since the first vampire incident. I didn’t trust people as they brushed into me and blocked my exit strategy. I needed to be able to escape at a moment’s notice if I had to. So as soon as the market opened, I was there.

I pulled my frazzled hair into a ponytail and topped it off with a Gloaming Gap Gators hat. I supported my town, I just didn’t like her people so much. I pulled along my trusty, rusty red wagon, and off I went. It was the last gift from my parents, the Christmas before they were attacked.

On the list were fresh blueberries, grapefruit, thick-sliced bacon, eggs, milk, and some special spices from the spice master. He was one of few people I trusted in this town to mix ingredients for me. He created the specialty zest that went into the grapefruit pie.

As I stepped into the cool brick building, I looked left and right to make sure I was mostly alone. If it was too crowded, I would come back another time. I made my way to the spice man first. He already had prepared my special blends so I paid him quickly and went on my way. I rounded the corner and my wagon caught on the edge of the Bacon Beauty stand. “Dammit,” I grunted in a muffled tone, yanking it around.

“Hey, Gwen. How many pounds would ya like this mornin’?” the standholder said from behind the counter, her mascara-plastered eyelashes barely peeking out from above the metal countertop. I never knew her name. Didn’t need to. She was the Bacon Beauty, and that she would remain.

“Eh, let’s go with 15 pounds if ya have it. Word is that the Gators might win tonight, and if they do, it’ll be late-night slam-dunk breakfasts for those boys,” I said with a groan. I hated basketball. But basketball brought business in this town. And basketball meant bacon.

“You betcha. Yinz serve a lotta my pigs when the Gatahs play. My oh my, those boys can eat. Oh, and they can slam-dunk, too,” she said with a wink. I gagged a little. She wrapped up each of the 15 pounds individually so I could freeze them if I didn’t need all of it tonight. “That’ll be $45 with the grocers discount, Miz Gwen.”

Opening my wallet, I plucked out two crisp twenties and a wrinkled ten. As I pulled the tattered ten, it caught on the photo that was kept inside. It fell to the ground as I handed the money to the Bacon Beauty. Before I could bend down to pick it up, a woman grabbed it from the floor. I held my breath.

“Miss, I believe you dropped a ph…” she said as the words trailed off out of her mouth. She stared at the photo intently. I grabbed it from her.

“Yes, I did. You never gave me a chance to pick it up!”

“The woman in that photo. She’s younger in that picture, but I’m sure I know her. Who are you?” the strange woman queried.

I stared at her, feeling a lump grow in my throat and a sweat in my palms. Heat boiled up my neck. I grabbed my change from Bacon Beauty and threw my bacon into the wagon and strutted off.

“Wait,” the woman called after me. “I know her, she’s…well, I can’t tell you exactly how I know her, but how do YOU know her?” I stopped just before the door. If she really knew that photo, it might be worth listening. I turned around and burned my eyes into hers.

“How do you know her? I won’t tell you a damned thing until you do,” I snarled.

“Well, my job, it has a certain privacy law. But I know this woman in the picture. I’m sure it’s her. Please, please tell me how you know her and maybe I can help.” I closed my eyes and sighed. Was it worth telling her? I could risk so much.

“Follow me to the diner, but don’t come in the front door. Meet me out back. We’ll talk there,” I said and rolled away.

– – –

She pulled up in a dark grey sedan. She didn’t get out right away. She was chatting on her cell phone and looking from me to her passenger seat and back at me again. I hated cell phones. Too trackable. I was nearly ready to walk inside and lock her out, but soon she ended her conversation and got out of the car. She stood behind the opened driver’s door.

“You’re Gwen. I didn’t recognize you. I’m Lisa,” she said, and then stood in silence, waiting.

“Okay, so you know who I am. What do you need to know?”

“Well…” she started, hesitantly. “I believe I know the woman in that photograph you dropped today. I can only assume she must be important to you, otherwise you wouldn’t carry around that photo. You even have it laminated, so I’m going to assume you’re related to this person?”

image by Jeff Burkholder

I stared at her, then nodded slowly and moved my eyes to the ground. I felt uneasy giving even the slightest bit of personal history to this stranger. It was too risky. But what if she knew something?

“Okay. I can’t tell you who she is. But I think you should come visit me at work sometime. ICU at Gloaming Gap General. I think room 1 might need a visitor soon…” She trailed off.

My eyes raised up to hers, alerted. “Take me there. Now,” I demanded.

She stood for a moment longer and then nodded back. “Okay, but I’ll drop you off a block away. I can’t risk losing my job.”

“Fine, whatever, just take me as far as you can,” I said as I hopped into the passenger side of her sedan. Was my mother alive? How could she have survived that vampire attack? I never even hoped it was possible. Hope — what an odd feeling.