Faith had been waiting for bloody ages. She’d had to endure a good thirty minutes of the sounds of Caleb and April making out on the sofa beside her. She loved it when a plan came together, but she really hoped she wouldn’t have to listen to them coming together; she’d not had nearly enough alcohol to block that out. Shitting hell; she was so relieved when Caleb had carried April upstairs that she’d almost cried.
Then, as she was about to make her escape, Lilith had arrived. Faith had tried to stay still and empty-minded until Lilith had disappeared. She’d heard an argument akin to a mother telling off her stubborn child and then, finally, silence. She’d waited a while to see if Lilith would return before she’d gently shrugged off a very, very intoxicated Melinda.
Poor Mellybean; collateral damage. Faith had only intended to knock Caleb out, but the guy could sure drink a lot and April and Melinda definitely couldn’t.
They weren’t the ones who’d spent their free evenings getting rat-arsed in Willow Creek’s shadiest bars, trading sexual favours for drinks and liberating the occasional idiot of his wallet.
She still had a couple of hours until sunrise. She made her way to the main road, to the fish billboard in record time, now she didn’t have to drag April with her. She lingered in the dark, trying to avoid the hooker who was eyeing her suspiciously.
She wondered how to find him. Did he have a lair? Had he driven here from miles away? She couldn’t imagine he had. He didn’t look the kind who’d have any sort of modern conveniences. Maybe he lived in a cave or something. Were there any caves nearby?
Faith didn’t believe Seth was just a passing oddball, but what if he was a psychopath? When she had slipped him into conversation tonight, Caleb had faltered and swiftly changed the subject. Dead guilty. It would stand to reason that Lilith would therefore know him; she controlled him like a puppet. Why would she lie? Had she been trying to protect Faith? Or herself?
Faith was never one to care much about her own wellbeing, even less now she was a foxy undead badass, but she felt suddenly vulnerable being out here on her own. If a vampire like Lilith felt the need to stay away from Seth, what was he capable of? Still, Faith was here now. She walked back into the view of the hooker and waved hello.
“What you wavin’ at, freak?” The woman shouted and teetered off. So much for safety in numbers, but at least now someone had seen her, should Seth kidnap or maul her.
Faith wandered around for a while, trying to remember what had happened the last time he had appeared. It couldn’t be coincidence that he’d turned up right at that moment, could it? Was he drawn to her because he heard Will? The guy was unashamedly loud. But then he hadn’t turned up outside the bar when Will was trying to get her into his truck. Was there another reason?
Could that be it? Had he heard her?
She tried thinking it as loud as she could. Help me, Seth. A rat scurried from a nearby bush, but no dashingly handsome vampire materialised.
She tried saying it out loud, “Help me!”
“Help yourself, freak!” The hooker screeched as she ran away.
She was clearly missing something. She started to replay the evening’s events. April had disappeared and then she’d called Melinda and spoken to Lilith who’d told her to stay calm and go back to the house—
Wait a minute. You need to stay completely calm…
There was an unspoken threat in Lilith’s words. A consequence of not staying calm. Could it be … or he will find you?
She closed her eyes and tried to remember the panic as April was taken, the despair as Will rocked up, the shame of realising how very little she valued herself. She allowed her emotions to manifest and swamp her, scratching at her wrist, sinking. She hoped this worked. There was no Melinda to drag her back, this time.
She felt the air around her grow thick, the sounds around her seemed to fade.
“Did Lilith teach you that?”
She whipped round to see him standing behind her, momentarily stunned by his face.
“So she does know you.”
“She said she didn’t? Unusual. I didn’t think she’d miss a chance to drag me through the mud.”
Faith eyed him, warily. “Why would she lie?”
“To prevent you socialising with the violent reprobate.”
“Are you violent?”
Faith studied him for a second, trying to tell if he was joking. He looked like the kind who would joke a lot. “What happened between you two?”
“What didn’t happen?”
“Answer the damn question.”
He sighed, wistfully. “A man on a quest met a woman on a mission. I gave her everything she asked for, fulfilled every unspoken desire…”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad…”
“It was wonderful. Until I learned enough to hear that she didn’t love me; I was a means to an end. Then she attempted to destroy all three of us.”
“Is Fringey the other one?”
“Ah, Caleb. Yes. He had the makings of a great vampire. Powerful and utterly heartless.”
“Wow, really? Are we talking about the same guy? He spent an hour tonight trying to build up enough courage just to kiss Blondie and then when he finally got his dick wet, he let Lilith kick him in the balls. What did she do to him? Why doesn’t he stand up for himself?”
“Your language is really colourful.”
“Answer the question!”
“He has tried. Countless times. Even I tried. But…” Seth picked a flower from a tree and ground it in his gloved hand. Faith watched as the petal fragments fell from his fingers, lost forever on the breeze. “Eventually, he stopped fighting.”
“There was nothing left. For all of Lilith’s protests to the contrary, she is surely the least humane of us all.”
“And you? What did she do to you?”
“Absolutely nothing at all.” He walked over to her and she felt that crushing sensation again, the pressure in her head increasing. “Her desertion was the best thing that ever happened to me. It has freed me up to find someone far more interesting…”
Did he mean her? She was not used to hearing that she was interesting, but then men only seemed to be interested in her once she’d removed a few clothes. Compared to Blondie with her big blue eyes and doll-like features she must have appeared rather dull.
“No, compared to April you are anything but dull.”
“Can you hear everything I think?”
“I can. However I can usually read everything someone’s ever thought, view every memory.” She felt again the flickering through her brain. His words an afterthought, “But not yours.”
“You tell me.”
She couldn’t seem to stop staring at his face. She wondered how he got that scar.
“I barely dodged a guillotine. But you didn’t come all the way out here to ask me that.” He smiled. “You just wanted to see me. I’m charmed.”
“You don’t mind me coming here?”
He grinned at her. “Not at all. I can’t say I ever get visitors unless Caleb needs a proper meal or Lilith has found something I’ve done particularly distasteful. Ah, oops. One second.” He waved his hand in front of her face. She saw a flash of something red. “Repeat that last sentence back to me, as you heard it?”
“Not at all. I can’t say I ever get visitors unless Lilith has found something I’ve done particularly distasteful,” she repeated, verbatim. “Are you senile or something?”
“I must be going that way.”
“What sort of thing pisses Lilith off?”
“A heart on her porch usually does the trick. There’s a certain poetry in giving her those, don’t you think?”
“Why would you… a heart? A real heart? Where do you get hearts from?”
He laughed in a laid-back way that sent a coldness through her. “From the humans I kill. Although I don’t disembowel them all, that would be tiring.”
“What the fuck?!” Instinctively she started backing off. “Are you winding me up? Tell me you’re winding me up.”
“Why would I do that?”
Oh my god. He genuinely is a psychopath.
He smiled at her and with the ease of a shadow passing across his face, he slipped his form, bared his teeth.
“I’m not designed to puncture neatly and drain. I’m designed to tear prey open and there’s not much can be done for them once I have. I have had to develop a certain detachment in order to survive.” He melted back to his human form.
“There are other ways!”
“I used to agree with that.”
“OK, but why mutilate them?”
“Much easier to dispose of the evidence than, say, dumping them in a ravine inside a large, pink travelling trunk.”
“You saw that? Have you been watching me?”
“How could I not? You ladies have really livened up this area.”
“Wait! The guy inside! Paul. Was that you?”
“Paul? Ah, the man inexplicably wandering around in his undergarments. Yes, that was me.”
“Why would you kill him? He was a nice guy! If you have to kill, at least go for jerks like Will!”
“I don’t tend to discriminate. But if you would like some justification; Paul did not have a family, he had a dead-end job. No life to lose.”
“He still mattered!”
“What’s wrong with you? How can you be so cold?”
“Am I not in the running for Sim Samaritan of the year? I’m crushed.”
“You’re fucking sick. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
“I’m hearing otherwise.”
“You’re… you’re repulsive.”
“And yet you’re still standing here.” He seemed to be enjoying her insults. “My, my. For all that I ‘repulse’ you, your thoughts about me have certainly become indecent. Do you enjoy sex, Faith?”
She was caught completely off-guard. First he was telling her he murdered people and now, what? Was he trying to bed her?
“I’m not. Aha,” He smirked. “Thank you for mentally undressing me, I’m flattered.” He was visibly enjoying her fluster. “I’m not quite as tattooed as you imagine, but no, that’s not why I asked.”
She blushed, furiously. Or should that be she was blushing and she was furious? “I don’t understand…”
…what you’re saying, why I’m still listening to you.
“I don’t expect you to, yet. The last time our paths crossed, you asked for help. Maybe we can figure out why you do this,” he rubbed his thumb across Faith’s wrist, “why you’re so keen to put yourself in harm’s way and why you so eagerly lay yourself bare when, despite what you tell everyone, you get no fulfilment from any of it, whatsoever.”
“Even if any of that was true, why the fuck would I trust you?”
“Have I given you a reason not to?”
Faith snorted. “Oh, maybe the whole murdering, dismembering thing?”
“Would you prefer I lie? Tell you I’m a good vampire, that I eat grass? Would that have made you trust me more?”
“I don’t need your help.”
“But you do want it. You may as well admit it. I can hear you, you know.”
“Even if I do. Big if! Nothing’s free. What do you want from me?”
“Shrewd. I like it. Some people have repressed thoughts, certainly. Most of the ladies along this road have a certain amount of trauma that they compartmentalise, that helps to bring them to here. But you… you are a whole other level.”
“I’m not hiding anything.”
“You’re hiding everything. I can feel what’s buried within you, but I can’t read it, can’t hear it. It’s a language I don’t speak. Yet. You can consider me thoroughly enthralled by you Miss… Splodge? Is that really your name? What I want in return, as the Master of Minds, is yours.”
She scoffed, “Master of Minds? Is that what you call yourself? So, what, you want to pick my brain? Add me to your collection then leave my heart on your ex-girlfriend’s doorstep? I’m out of here.”
I want to know. Make me stay.
In a blink, Seth had pulled her back. She fought against his hold. “Don’t touch me, you asshole.” Please touch me.
He ran his gloved fingers down her throat. “You are conflicted, aren’t you?” He paused, reading. “How… graphic. You misunderstand my intentions.”
She struggled, but it was half-hearted.
Her limbs became heavy, limp. She tried to twist away, lift her arms, anything.
“Don’t hurt me,” she pleaded. Please hurt me.
“You’re playing a dangerous game,” he whispered.
There was so much pressure in her head that she could see stars. She could sense his irritation. “This is so very unusual. What’s in there?” he asked, softly cradling her head. “What are you hiding under all this vulgarity and why?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered, hating herself. She was enjoying being this close to him. His mouth inches from her neck. He was a cold-blooded killer, a complete lunatic taking a can-opener to her skull. What was wrong with her?
“Clearly this endeavour is only serving to frustrate us both, tonight. Come back to me when night falls; calmer. We’ll try again. It would be most beneficial if you return sated.”
“And if I don’t?”
He traced the curve of her waist, purred into her ear, “We’ll figure something out.”
He let go and stepped back. She stumbled. Her senses and rage returned with a vengeance. “You ask me to trust you then you paralyse me?!”
“I didn’t do that. You did. You really are an interesting one.”
“Well, either way, I’m not coming back! I want nothing to do with you.”
“As you wish.”
She should run and not look back. She should sprint back to the house. Now.
“Go ahead,” he said.
She started to back off down the path. She kept telling herself to keep moving, keep going. Don’t think, just move. He watched her until she was hidden by trees, until he could no longer hear her asking him to stop her, to follow her.
He could still see her pale grey eyes burned into his. Her salacious, superficial thoughts had entangled with his own memories, bringing them up from the darkness. He could almost see one…