Caleb had arrived at the billboard with the fish on it. There was definitely no sign of April. Now what?
There was barely a cloud in the sky; the sun would be bright and deadly to fledgling vampires today. He walked to the verge where he assumed April had last been. The grass had been trodden and there were tyre marks on the road, heading east.
It was pointless, surely, to just walk and hope for the best.
But he was compelled to.
Lilith was at the bar. Joe looked up as she walked in.
“Doc! The usual?” He picked up a glass and reached for the absinthe.
“No, Joe,” Lilith said, looking around the empty bar. “You had many in today?”
“Nah, you’re the first. This 24/7 gig isn’t really going too well, truth be told. Well, except for Fred over there, obviously. He’s having a great time.”
“Hi Fred,” Lilith said.
“Lily,” he slurred in response. He didn’t really look like he was having a great time, but everyone had their own idea of fun, she supposed.
Well, she was here now looking at Joe’s expectant face. She might as well have a drink. At sunrise. On a Thursday.
“I’ll take the usual,” she said, hopping on to a bar stool.
Joe filled a glass and passed it over, watching Lilith as she downed it in one, as usual.
“No surgery today then, Doc?”
Lilith shook her head, held out her empty glass.
Joe turned towards the back bar. “I don’t know how you can drink this stuff. 90% proof and you waltz outta here like you’ve had one beer. That’s quite some liver you’re pickling there, Doc.”
Lilith turned her attention towards the television where the news was still rolling.
Joe was watching alongside. “A zombie?! Honestly, that’s not even news! Who’s running this show?”
Lilith shrugged “I guess the network will report any old toss to boost ratings.”
The jingle rang out to announce a new breaking story. The newsreader was rather more chipper than she should have been with such a heavy story. “The ex-wife of Broof Hogwash has told reporters that he was ‘sex-obsessed’ and ‘had a thing for blondes’, leading to speculation that he may have played a sordid part in the disappearance of April Moss.”
“Blimey,” Joe said, letting out the breath he was holding. “This story just gets worse. Poor lass! Did anyone look out for her? I should definitely tell the police she was in here; it might be crucial evidence.”
Lilith nodded, but she wasn’t listening, she was remembering what Caleb had said.
I’ll look after her. It’s about time someone did.
Lilith assumed that April was some rich brat; that she’d manipulated Caleb in pursuit of immortality. It certainly wouldn’t have been difficult for her to win him over. He’d been in such a dark place these last couple of decades; completely shut off from everyone. An attractive face offering to share the misery would have been impossible to resist.
But now she started to think she’d been wrong. She found herself wondering if April had genuinely been seeking to share misery of her own.
It was a nice car, but it smelled like wet dog, or maybe that was just him.
“What’s the deal? By the half hour? I shouldn’t need more than about ten minutes. Is there anything you won’t do?”
April was very confused. “What?”
“Are you cool with me putting it anywhere? Is that extra? I’m happy to pay literally anything, you are stunning.”
“Putting what anywhere?” April asked, looking around.
“Geesh… are you telling me you charge extra for roaming hands, too?”
April thought for a moment. Roaming hands. “Oh my gosh, you think I’m a prostitute.”
“Aren’t you? I mean, you were hanging out on Hook Corner and you said you wanted a ride but you didn’t say where to.”
April looked out of the window. She could see a layby just ahead. “Here.”
He pulled over and switched off the engine, unbuckled his seatbelt and turned towards her.
“So, say I want straight sex. No kissing, nothing weird. What we talking?” He started unbuttoning his jeans.
April was horrified. “I don’t want to have sex with you!”
He groaned, “You don’t have to be so obvious about it. I know you don’t want to. No-one does, that’s why I’m here. Are you hitting me with the ugly tax? It’s totally fine, they usually do.”
“No! I just wanted to drink from you!”
He paused, giving her a strange look. “Drink from me?”
“Yes!” she shouted, exasperated.
“Oh,” he said, nodding. “OK, I think I know what you mean. How much will that cost me?”
“What, you don’t charge for that?”
“Of course not,” April laughed.
He shook his head, daring himself to smile. “You actually want to put your mouth on me? For free?”
April shrugged. “I wouldn’t say I want to, but I need to.”
He thumped the steering wheel in delight. “Oh, yeah! I am down with that!”
“Great!” April smiled, as she lulled him into a trance. See? I don’t need Faith. I don’t need anyone.
Melinda hadn’t intended to watch the news; in fact she didn’t want to be reminded at all of April, but she found herself captivated by it. Found herself drawn to the little image of April in the top right hand corner. Even after all this, even though it was painfully obvious that she was kidding herself, she still couldn’t shake off the what if?
“Oh my gosh, poor Broof. They are dragging you through the mud,” Melinda said to herself. She remembered all the times he’d treated April’s cuts and bruises, the time he’d managed to sneak April to hospital after Sandy broke her arm. He’d comforted her when she cried, he’d taken her to the arcade using his own money, helped her with her homework. He even let her drink his blood. All the things he would have done with his own daughter, had she still been alive.
If he had ulterior motives with April, Melinda was the Queen of Simland.
She heard the front door unlock and turned to see if April had returned. Faith walked in, looking dazed and confused and took a seat beside Melinda.
“It’s not your fault. They’ll find her,” Melinda said immediately, hoping that she sounded more sure than she felt.
“Will turned up. Just after April vanished,” Faith said, quietly.
Melinda stayed silent. She didn’t trust that smile. She didn’t like where this conversation was going.
Faith continued, “So, he’s harassing me again, making me feel like shit and then there’s a man. Behind me.”
“Oh my gosh. What man? Are you OK?”
“I’m fine. This other man, Seth. He got rid of Will and then he…” she shook her head trying to put it into words, “…invaded my brain.”
“Your brain? Like, he was reading your thoughts?”
“Yeah. How come this is so normal to you?”
“Lilith can do that, listen to thoughts. And project them, too.”
“She can? Oh that is so cool!”
“It’s a vampire thing, but you have to lose a lot of your humanity to do it, whatever that means. Was he a vampire?”
“I think so? He had no pulse, for sure. But there was something off about him and it wasn’t just the way he was dressed or that he was fucking gorgeous. Also, it wasn’t like he was listening to my thoughts, more like he was looking for something in them.”
“I don’t know. But whatever it was, I don’t think he found it.”
Caleb spotted the car in the layby and ran up to it. There was a man in the driver’s seat slumped against the wheel, but there was no sign of April. He couldn’t help but notice that the guy’s jeans were unfastened; he could see the lipstick marks around the puncture wounds on his neck.
Caleb didn’t care to check if this lowlife was alive, or not. He followed the disturbed vegetation into the forest, calling her name.
- The car used in the screenshots can be downloaded from here.