Luna remembered the stories her grandmother Agnes used to tell her as child, cautionary fables of the woods and the treacherous evils that lurked within them. The earthy scent of wormwood that always seemed to permeate her home, lingering on Luna’s clothes long after she’d gone home. Memories of soft blankets, worn in over time, being perched upon her grandmother’s lap as she spoke wildly of wolves and bloodshed— a far cry from the naïveté of the gentle fairytales other children heard before bed. Luna always felt there was an air of truth cloaked within her grandmothers words, a warning meant to be heeded and revered. To her it was all part of the mythos, an intriguing fantasy she indulged in only during her extended visits through the years.
The memories invaded her mind like rapid fire, tears streaming down her dampened cheeks as she wandered through the vacant home that once bursted with life. The herbal scent she used to love, slowly fading, as if her grandmother had taken it with her.
She’d left her modest cottage to Luna, her dying wish— for her to make a life for herself in Hawkins, a place steeped in more mystery than even the wildest of her stories. The humble abode was small and buried in the thick of the woods, as reclusive and estranged as her grandmother was to all but her.
The funeral had been dreary, only a few scattered figures, no family or friends, no gathering after in celebration of her life. In some ways it was better that way, the condolences of strangers always felt forced and insincere anyway.
The isolation of the woods was deafening, the distance maddening. The unforgiving phases of grief swept through Luna, unanswered questions and anger bubbling at the surface with no one to help guide her through the sobering process— no one to unleash her emotional fury upon.
The new moon casted an opaque darkness that filtered through the grime-caked windows, reminding Luna that they desperately needed dusting— and she desperately needed the distraction. She spent the night compulsively cleaning, rummaging through drawers and cabinets until she found something that made her dark green eyes well up with a fresh wave of tears.
Buried deep within the drawers of a vintage armoire, she found a long silver chain adorned with an amulet. A single delicate aconite flower suspended in glossy enamel, its vibrant purple petals immortalized and wrapped in silver wire. She clutched the jewelry in her palms, holding it close to her like it were her own grandmother’s spindly hand. Her most prized possession, found by her most cherished child. Luna draped the necklace over her head, the ornate pendant resting beneath her breasts, the weight of the chain comforting against her collar. The effect similar to the safety she felt as a child, swaddled in blankets— a metaphorical shield protecting her from any malevolence seeking to harm her. It gave Luna an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed, a power that was weaved into the very fiber of her genetics, dormant and undiscovered until the precious metal touched her skin.
That night as Luna slept, vivid images of her grandmother’s lore plagued her dreams, like admonition from deep within her subconscious. Splashes of bright viscous blood wetting the thick black coat of the wolf, his prey unrecognizable. She watched the horrific scene unfold, helpless yet unafraid. Her hand reaching out to make contact with the beast, a metaphysical magnetism pulling her toward it, her fingers painfully outstretched, so close she could feel the heat coming off it’s massive body. The curiosity was overwhelming, drawing her closer until it suddenly looked up at her, a snarl dripping blood making its threatening intention known. She was frozen in place by two eyes so icy and blue they pierced through her soul like knives. It was a loaded stare that spoke volumes without words, a telepathic fuse lit from both ends. At last, she was afraid, intrigue and curiosity replaced by sheer terror as the beast rose to stand on its hind legs, a breathy gasp leaving her lips in smokey plumes against the frigid air. When she woke she was drenched in sweat, her lungs gasping for air, both hands clasped tight around the amulet.
It had been an arduous week going through her grandmother’s belongings, those haunting glacial eyes manifesting themselves in her dreams every night without fail. Much like the dreams, her memories were a constant, though less rose-tinted through the eyes of a grown woman. The innocence and whimsy she remembered as a child was replaced by bright lucid versions, as if her mind had concealed reality in generic echoes of the truth.
The deeper Luna delved through her grandmother’s possessions the more layers were revealed to her, crisp and ripe with prophetic purpose. The cottage seemed insignificant compared to the knowledge that was bestowed to her in the margins of old books and journals. Words like potions and hexes, breathing new life to the countless glass apothecary jars filled with crushed herbs and roots. The unworldly things Luna had suspected as a child now presented as truth laid before her very eyes.
After the tenth day Luna sought respite from the confinement, feeling like she was bound to lose her mind to the woods and her unnerving dreams. The startling revelations, the grief, the knowledge that she wasn’t even sure what to do with. Was she meant to find out? Did Agnes want Luna to follow in her path? Had she always been without even realizing it?
She had to get out.
The drive into Hawkins had been scenic and the town itself picturesque, but it’s people were another story entirely. Her presence was met with whispers and belittling half smiles, the typical small town nuances Luna had anticipated. They stung slightly but her focus and priority laid elsewhere. Her eyes flickered to the neon sign across the way— the fluorescent yellow letters luring her in, her impulsive nature leading her strides, that familiar itch within scratching distance.
Luna stepped into Hideaway, curious to see what Hawkins’ watering hole had to offer. It wasn’t much— dive bars were a dime a dozen— but it would have to do. She ordered herself a Jack and Coke, a couple cherry’s floating at the top courtesy of the bartender who was more than willing to oblige the beautiful young face sitting across him. Every fizzy sip delivered her back to the girl who had started to fade away, the vibrant one that used to live for grimy dive bars like this one, a siren in a sea of sin.
She felt electric, alive, her steady buzz breaking through the scandal laden haze that had almost swallowed her whole. With no one to talk to, her mind began to wander. Tangents and memories replaying like old records, the sights and sounds of her past flashing before her with brilliant realism.
Luna danced on table tops to The Rolling Stones, the bar crowded and humid, her favorite drink sloshing in her belly with every sway of her hips. A pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist, his breath heavy against her pulse, just how she liked it.
The sound of a breaking news report on the bar’s tv broke through Luna’s nostalgic reverie, reality proving itself to be more arid than the fantasy her brain had curated for her.
“Tonight, a Hawkins family is pleading for help in the search for their loved one who has been missing since Friday. Reports state that the man, known as Henry Miller, was last heard to have gone hunting...”
Luna watched tensely, gripping her glass with enough force to shatter it, the condensation slippery against her palm. Vanishings were more common in Hawkins than in most places, the layers of weathered “lost” signs plastered all over town a morbid reminder that people who entered the woods risked never being seen again— the fear was enough to keep most away.
Lost in the news coverage, she failed to notice the tall figure that walked into the bar and took a seat right next to her. His eyes danced between the familiar woman and his drink, hoping for even the smallest opportunity to will her attention his way.
The first time he’d laid eyes on her was marred in dreary circumstance, the wrong place and time. Her quaking body dressed in black, standing alone at the foot of the grave, strong and vulnerable all at once. He had known Agnes well, or at least he thought he did— the mysterious granddaughter that appeared out of nowhere challenging his perception of the truth. He was inexplicably drawn to her— a broken soul like himself. It almost seemed fated he would find her here of all places, his place.
He studied her carefully, admiring the graceful slope of her nose, her full rosy pout, the buxom swells of her body leaving his mouth dry. The cutoff denim shorts she wore left little to the imagination, her long dark tresses teased and wild. She looked like trouble and he was just the man to give it to her. He could bet anything she smelled like heaven and tasted even better, the kind of woman to leave him desperate and insatiable.
He abruptly cleared his throat causing Luna to turn toward him, fully aware of the faux innocence in her surprised response. He steadied himself to speak as her lips wrapped around the straw of her drink, a devious look in her eyes.
“You’re Agnes’ granddaughter right?”
She arched her brow, suddenly recognizing the rugged man before her. He’d been present at the funeral, a dark figure stood at the very back, head bowed beneath his wide brimmed hat, gone before she got the chance to approach him.
“That would be correct, but you can just call me Luna,” a wry smile tugged at her lips, her hand reaching out to shake his, red polished nails reflecting against the neon glow of the room.
He smirked, relishing the silky feel of her hand in his, leaning in close enough to catch a whiff of her alluring scent— woodsy and sweet, purely feminine. Heavenly.
“You sticking around town for a while?”
“Define a while,” Luna simpered, slowly taking her hand back, his fingers dancing over her knuckles as they slipped from his grasp.
“Long enough for me to buy you another drink.”
He seemed like the kind of man she’d like to drown her sorrows in, the handsome kind with strong arms and a voice like velvet, with intentions darker than the liquor in his glass.
“Real smooth,” she teased with a breathy laugh, lifting a cherry to her lips and rolling the stem between her fingers. “And yes, I’m sticking around. Gran left me the house so I guess you’re looking at Hawkins newest transplant.”
“Good to know,” his thick fingers tapped on the worn surface of the bar to order another round, his eyes glued to her tongue as it seductively circled the round fruit into her mouth.
“So,” she spoke between chews, “you got a name?”
It happened so fast, a blur of torn clothing and desperation, the sleazy motel serving as the perfect backdrop to the raunchy scenes unfolding within their room.
Luna delighted in his roughness, the way he kissed her hard, hand possessively clasped around her throat, his massive body pining her against the wall. He was burying his pain with every drive of his hips, leaving the rawest parts of himself exposed as he lost himself to her. Her body welcomed every brutal thrust, her own catharsis dependent on it.
She tasted like sweet cherries and virtue, her promiscuous nature well masked behind her angelic face. It was all the same to him when they were chasing the same end, to feel anything but the cavernous void that plagued them both.
The way Luna’s curls cascaded down her face as she straddled him made her look like a goddess, he couldn’t help but thread his fingers through her mane, pulling her down to taste her lips again— unable to get enough. He swallowed her moans as she came undone in his arms, his own release following closely, the moment everlasting and surprising intimate.
Like a creature of habit, Luna sat at the edge of the bed, feeling the stretch in her achy limbs as she rose to stand.
“You leaving?” He groaned, trying his damndest to disguise how much the thought her going bothered him.
She looked over her shoulder with a soft smile, her Bambi eyes instantly placating him.
“I am not that kind of girl,” she feigned hurt, stepping into the bathroom.
He let out a sigh of relief, the insidious paranoia dissipating from his body.
Noting his chaotic surroundings and her impending return, he quickly fixed the sheets and pillows, running a hand through his untamed hair for good measure as the bathroom door opened.
“Plus,” she began, sauntering back to the bed, ethereal as ever. “I never did get your name.”
The normally distant man pulled her into his arms, his hand idly stroking up and down the curve of her spine.
“Hopper, Jim Hopper.”