It had been a gruelling day with the police and the journalists and it was gone midnight when Chuck finally opened the door to their home. Babs had made a beeline for the television leaving Chuck to his thoughts.
Melinda was eighteen, an adult who had left by her own volition. There was only so much the police were willing to do to find her. The journalist had lost interest quickly when he had admitted that he’d never even met April Moss, let alone known that his daughter was her friend. He’d had to face a harsh reality; there was a reason the media’s interest in his daughter only went so far.
The garish colours of the room seemed to burn his eyes. Too sunny and too bright. Too Mellybean.
So while Babs sat in stunned silence, watching the news channel, Chuck had settled in the garden, looking up at the cloudy sky. His domain, his sanctuary. Even that was obscured and unwelcoming tonight.
Melinda still wasn’t answering her phone. Chuck thought she always told him everything. Settled back under the stars, she would pour her heart out; every sorrow, every joy, every twist and turn of being an awkward teenage girl. Seeking his guidance, his comfort for every problem she encountered. And yet he didn’t even know that she’d wanted to leave or that she was friends with the daughter of that overrated actress.
What else had he missed?
When she had asked if he’d still love her if she was different, he had assumed it was going to be her admission of something he’d long suspected. She would surely know that he’d accept that, no problem. What else could she have been trying to say?
He couldn’t bear to think of them out there alone, scared? Running from… whatever they were running from. Faith had run away a few times over the years. He had always managed to find her, to bring her back with little more than a listening ear.
As they grew up, Melinda had become Faith’s main confidant. Did Faith simply decide she’d had enough and Melinda had gone along for the ride? Mellybean could never turn her back on someone who needed her, this scenario was the most likely. But then how did April fit?
A reflection of his mood, the rain had started to fall. Chuck slid the heavy door closed and looked at the stricken face of his wife. His heart sank. Babs was always so lively, so chatty. He could barely ever get a word in edgeways. He’d secretly wished for a bit more peace and quiet, but now that he had it, he never wanted to experience a beat of silence again.
He had to do something.
“Where are you going?” Babs asked as Chuck picked up his keys.
“I’m going to find them.”
Babs was beside him in an instant. “I’m coming too.”
Chuck pulled her into his embrace, felt her wilt in his arms. “No. One of us should stay here, in case she comes back.” He hesitated before he continued. “Perhaps visit Adina.”
He felt his wife stiffen against him. “It’s been too long.”
“More reason to try. Joy will need you. Your schoolchildren need you. I’ll find her,” he kissed her forehead, “I promise.”
Babs nodded. His warm voice always soothed her. “Where will you start?”
In the background, the overly chipper reporter chimed in. The three girls were last seen together outside Joe’s Bar in Forgotten Hollow.
“I guess I’ll start at that bar. Forgotten Hollow sounds delightful.”
Babs looked up at him in horror. “Forgotten Hollow was featured in a show I watched recently about serial killers! Apparently lots of hitchhikers and curb-crawlers go missing in that area. And that bar has beer branding in the window! It’ll be full of unsavoury characters such as lumberjacks! Please be careful. I don’t want to hear about you on the news getting a pool cue shattered over your head. Or that you got killed by a lunatic. Or eaten by wolves. Or attacked with an axe. Or fell in a ravine!”
Chuck smiled. There she was, his whirlwind chatterbox. “I’ll be fine. You look exhausted; get yourself to bed, you’re not usually awake at this time.”
“I couldn’t possibly sleep now. At least let me make you some food to take with you; I have a new recipe to try Banana Sausage Surprise.”
He didn’t know which part of that sounded worse, but…
“Thank you. That sounds lovely.”
Faith turned in a circle. She was sure she’d already been here. Already passed this rock a dozen times, that tree stump. Last time she took that path, so this time she’d take this one. Or is that what she did last time? Why did every path in this forest look the same?
Seth could’ve at least offered to walk her home, instead of leaving her to make her own way back from his camp. She thought she’d have ended up back at the main path by now but she only seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into the trees.
She gazed up at the sky. Melinda’s dad could navigate using the stars, but Faith had no idea what she was looking at. Ugh. She knew she should’ve joined the scouts rather than drama club. What good was the ability to cry on demand if she couldn’t navigate her way out of a paper bag?
A mysterious black breeze blew past Faith. It felt oddly familiar.
“Fringey? Is that you?”
The black blur doubled back and stopped. “Not Caleb, just me. Hey. I must have run past you five times tonight. You’re proper lost, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I have no fucking clue where I am. But check you out! I haven’t seen Caleb run past here, so either he’s way faster than you, or you’re winning. Tell me you’re winning.”
“Um. We’re not racing. I’m just running about.”
“Right,” Faith said. “So where’s Caleb?”
“I don’t know.” Melinda looked at her shoes. “Hopefully miles away.”
“I thought you two were buddies. What happened?”
Melinda bit her lip. “We were buddies… until I tried to kiss him.”
“Wow. OK. That surprises me.”
Melinda groaned. “It surprised me. I really don’t know what came over me. He called me Mellybean, we hugged and he was being so sweet. It reminded me of April. Sweet April, you know before all the vampire crazy, and I just… kissed him. A bit. Barely at all.”
“He backed away so fast and then told me that he didn’t fancy me. Oh, but I’m not hideous, apparently. Oh my gosh, it was awkward. I handled it in a super mature way that probably hasn’t confused him at all; I squeaked and legged it. I’ve been running around for ages now trying not to think about it.”
“Say something,” Melinda pleaded.
“You know what I’m going to say. You never had a chance, Mellybean. It is what it is.”
Melinda nodded. “So where have you been? I didn’t buy this whole ‘going for a walk’ thing. You never do that. I assume you went to see Seth, right? And judging by the fact that you left the house with both lipstick and tights on and now you have neither, I guess you found him.”
Faith smiled. “I’m sure your birth parents were bloodhounds.”
“Faith, sweetie. You really don’t waste time, do you?”
“Hey, that was our second meeting and he wants to see me again, I call that progress. Besides, I’m not the one trying to eat face with my friend’s boyfriend the first chance I get.”
“I didn’t try to eat his… never mind. So, Seth. Did you go back to his house or…?”
Faith spotted a fine opportunity to break through Melinda’s pout. “Nah, we just did it on the forest floor like animals. I lost a few hair extensions in the brambles and I’m sure there was something with too many legs on me at one point. But bloody hell, Mellybean he really knew what he was doing. It’s taken me ages to get here, wherever I am; I can barely walk.”
“Too much information.” Melinda tutted but finally smiled. “Why did you lie to me?”
Faith pouted. “I wasn’t sure if you’d like him, if I told you about him. Thought you’d talk me out of going to see him.”
“In that case yes, I probably would. Explain.”
“He’s not a bad guy! I think. He’s got mad mind-bending skills and this swagger. OK, his sense of humour is a bit twisted and his hunting methods are, well…” Was there any good way to put this? “Fatal.”
“So he’s smarmy, manipulative and excessively violent?”
“The sex was gentle,” Faith added, pointlessly.
“Was it? Well that certainly redeems him of all the murder,” Melinda said sarcastically as she pulled her phone out of her pocket; it vibrated in her hand, pinging continuously, the screen alight. “Wow, what? I didn’t even know the missed call counter went that high. How did I not get all these until now? How fast was I running?”
“Who is it?” Faith asked, grateful for the change in conversation.
Melinda tried not to cry as she scrolled down the list. “My mum, my dad… even my grandma! Something must be really wrong. Oh gosh, I hope it’s not grandpa.” She tapped to open a text.
“Oh, Mellybean. It’s OK. He was really old.”
“No, it’s not grandpa. We’re all over the news. They’re looking for us, Faith. They know we’re friends with April.”
“We’re not her secret friends anymore? Well it’s about bloody time. But it’s fine, relax, they don’t know where we are—“
“But they do know where we are!” Melinda cried. She turned her phone off and threw it as hard as she could over the treetops.
Lilith had been quiet for far too long. It didn’t take an emotional genius to tell that she was annoyed. Caleb tried not to look at her.
“You drank her dry.”
“Yes,” he admitted quickly.
“And then turned her,” Lilith stated, too calmly. “Even though you knew not to do that.”
Caleb nodded, frantically. If he agreed with everything she said, she would calm down, it would be over sooner.
Lilith was seething. “You monumental fuck-up. You’ve bound her to you.”
“What does that mean? Bound her?”
“Think of it as a vampire marriage…” Lilith started.
“A marriage? That doesn’t sound so bad—“
“…where the bride loses all her autonomy to her groom.”
“Her autonomy. So he controls her? What? Does that mean… me and April?”
“She won’t leave your bed because you told her not to,” Lilith hissed.
“I didn’t know! Why didn’t you tell me what that kind of turning would do?”
Lilith almost laughed. “Oh my! I didn’t think of that! I should have told you all about it! I’m sure that if I’d told you there was a way to create a completely submissive partner, an unbreakable doll, you wouldn’t have gone right out and created an army of them, would you?”
Definitely would have, back in the day, Caleb thought to himself. “I wouldn’t have,” he said.
I’m still in your head, moron.
Caleb groaned and threw his head back, banging it repeatedly against the wall as if he could dislodge her.
“Are you sure she’s not just manifesting?” he asked. “She can project her thoughts now…”
“No, she can’t. You can hear them now because you own her bloody mind.”
“No… I don’t. I can’t! She has been making loads of her own decisions since then. Even tonight, she left here by herself, she went to Marjorie’s…”
“So it all started tonight.” Lilith asked in a way that wasn’t really a question. “What else happened tonight, Caleb?”
He thought for a while.
Lilith was right in his face. He imagined that this is what being in the electric chair felt like. There was so much charge in the air that his hair was standing on end.
“How do you complete a marriage?” Lilith asked with faux innocence. “I know you know the answer to this one.” Her voice now dripping with sarcasm, “I see you made the consummation a romantic, soul-affirming affair for your beloved bride.”
Darn, his walls were still down. “It’s a mind thing, right? Can Seth fix it?”
“Aww, poor little Caleb. Is married life not for you?” Her voice had softened but it was in no way soothing or encouraging. “I’m afraid there’s no amount of encephalon encroachment that can put an end to this, dear brother. A wife is for life.”
“Eternity. That’s what you told her, right? You should be delighted.”
“So there’s no way out? She’s stuck with me forever?”
“There’s one way out,” Lilith purred.
Caleb didn’t like that tone. “Whatever it is, I’ll do it. She deserves to be free.”
Lilith grinned maniacally and began twisting his head, like the cap from a bottle, making a ‘pop’ sound with her mouth.
He understood. “Will it hurt her?”
“No, it won’t hurt her.”
Lilith was stroking his hair in an almost comforting way. He weighed up his options. This would certainly be less dramatic than lying inside Marjorie’s burning house and would attract far less attention. He wondered how long it would take. Would it be a swift break? Would she chew his head off? Pick him apart slowly? He didn’t really want to think about it.
With an image of April held firmly in his mind, he focussed directly on where Lilith’s eyes should be.