Warning: Disturbing imagery, very dark
This was the second time in as many days that Caleb had been unable to buy the items he was tasked to. This store mainly sold packaged convenience foods, newspapers and other bits and pieces that its likely customers – dock workers – would require. He had found playing cards but they didn’t sell paddling pools. The assistant had laughed at him when he’d asked.
He had a inkling what a bikini wax kit might involve, though, and hadn’t asked for that. He wasn’t a complete idiot.
However, he was now convinced that he did indeed look much, much younger than he was. The girls would have to cope without their alcohol; he was trying not to break any laws today.
Caleb stood in the car park for a while, trying to work up the courage to go back. Faith was a bit scary when she was angry, even more so now she could do… whatever it was she did. Caleb lingered, feeling the cool, crisp ocean wind against his skin, listening to the sounds of a ship loading in the distance and the squawks of seagulls in the background. Slowly, gradually these sounds started to fade, his thoughts amplified as a familiar sense of compression arrived in his temples.
“He’s unleashed again! Notify the pound!” Seth announced, to the empty dock.
“What do you want?” Caleb asked impatiently.
“How rude to assume I want something. I’m merely checking in with my fellow vagabond,” Seth said breezily. “A little birdie tells me you went hunting last night. I don’t think your sister would approve.”
“With good reason. It was a disaster, I—“
“Killed a man. Sounds all right to me.” Seth shrugged. “So! What are your plans? Ah, OK. I’m sure you have your reasons and I shalln’t interfere. You’re a free man now. Well, as free as a bound man can be, anyway.”
“What? You know about binding too? Why didn’t anyone tell me?! Look at what I’ve done!”
“Of course I know. I did tell you. But you know Saint Lilith; always meddling.” Seth waved his hand in a mocking fashion. “Let’s be honest here; you’d have created catastrophe whether you knew what you were doing or not. You are a maker of misery, an architect of adversity, a—“
“I get it, Seth. I’m a sodding mess.”
“Your alliteration requires work, but yes. View it this way; the constant calamity you cultivate will keep your coupling captivating! Although I must admit that I find your brainless bride a rather peculiar choice. I feel that if it were I who was stuck with her forever I’d likely go mad.”
“April is wonderful. Perfect. Far too good for me.”
Seth rolled his eyes. “Definitely the binds talking.”
“She’s beautiful, sweet, thoughtful…” Caleb went on, sadly.
“Bad business, binding,” Seth said. “I’d rather take the equilibrium. Remain unchained and seek to vanquish any occasional, pesky flaws.”
“Wait. Now I’m bound to April I’ll be unaffected by equilibrium? Does that mean my weaknesses… holy hell! I might finally learn to control myself, right?” Caleb asked, hopefully.
“I wouldn’t say unaffected. I suppose, if you consider such a beautifully vampiric trait to be a weakness, you could try and offload it,” Seth replied. “I see you’ve already started trading. Interesting. Very interesting…”
“I’m not following.”
“That’s because you’re absorbing her softness and stupidity and giving her your… ah. Best get a handle on this, Caleb. April is your weakness; your counterpoise. The two of you in equilibrium. If you get better, she will get worse. The fun part is that, as the sire, whether you strike harmonious balance or pulverise her to paste in your pursuit of power is completely up to you.”
“Quite. I see that you’ve already been suffering her thoughts; your brain is littered with her worthless, teenaged musings. Ah no, fear not; she can’t hear yours unless you allow her to. I see you’ve already learned that she’ll attempt to do anything you ask of her, even to her own detriment. Careful with that. You wouldn’t want her becoming disillusioned, like so many before her. You might both lose your heads…”
Caleb groaned. “This is awful! Can you do anything to fix it?”
“I’m flattered that you think so highly of me but alas, no. This is a blood bind, not the mind kind.”
“But I don’t know how to strike a balance! I’m a shambles! What am I going to do?”
“Probably ruin everything even more,” Seth joked, but it had a indignant undertone. He turned his face away, took a minute to compose himself before he turned back, his demeanour jaunty once more. “So, how are your fledglings doing?”
“They’re not my fledglings,” Caleb protested.
“Well, I thought calling them your ‘children’ was a bit disturbing as you’re planning to have your way with them all. Simultaneously, no less.”
“For hell’s sake! I’m not! Faith put that idea there; she likes to wind me up.”
“She is quite the tease,” Seth agreed. “So, why are you out here rather than hiding in a room with three young women? Ah, I see. You have to look twenty-five these days to procure spirits? Perhaps grow a beard?”
“Perhaps,” Caleb said, thinking for a moment. “Hey, you look over twenty-five! Can you—“
“Buy alcohol for you? Caleb, seriously? Lilith might have convinced you otherwise, but you’re not a child and you have allure dripping from you. Use it. Simply seduce the assistant.”
“No,” Caleb said firmly. “I’m committed to April now, however screwed up it is.”
“She wouldn’t know,” Seth coaxed.
“…She wouldn’t, would she?” Caleb thought for a minute. “Damn it! No. I have stolen her life, ruined her whole existence and I have literally nothing to offer her; I can at least be faithful. I can. I will.”
Seth leafed through Caleb’s head like an open book for while; Caleb didn’t even try to prevent it; his defences were almost useless against Seth anyway. Eventually, without a word, Seth went into the store, returning a short time later with enough hard liquor to sink a ship.
“This is on me; I had a lucrative night. Am I invited to the party in room 5?” Seth asked. “Ah, I’m not. Harsh.”
“I’m grateful but I don’t think it’s a good idea you being around them,” Caleb said feebly.
“I will be on my very best behaviour.”
Caleb sighed. “That doesn’t really fill me with confidence. Look, I’m not sure how—“
“Melinda will take me?” Seth laughed. “Oh, she’ll absolutely despise me, even before I tell her that I killed her mother. Hopefully she’ll chastise me thoroughly; I’m in the mood for a really good telling off.”
“Right. The room is pretty cramped though. Quite small.”
Seth looked suddenly unsure. “How small?”
“Sorry to interrupt.”
Both men turned towards the woman who had spoken; the store assistant. She stood a few paces from Seth, looking at him like deer in headlights.
“You’re not interrupting. What can I do for you?” Seth said in a voice that oozed charm. The woman blushed, lapping it up. She took a deep breath.
“This is going to sound insane because I have only just met you, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about you. So I was just wondering – it’s ridiculous – but I finish my shift in an hour, if you’re still going to be around. And if you’re interested, which you probably aren’t, maybe you and I could…” She sighed. “You know what, never mind. Of course you’re not interested; look at you. Forget I said anything.”
“I would be delighted to go for coffee with you, Tabitha,” Seth said.
“I understand—” The woman began before she registered his words. Her jaw dropped. “Wait. Oh – my – gosh!” she wheezed. “Breathe, Tabby. Breathe,” she whispered to herself, taking a calming breath. “How did you know that’s what I was going to ask? How do you know my name?”
“I can read your mind, of course,” Seth replied.
Tabitha tilted her head to the side, then laughed. “Yeah, of course you can! I’ve never met anyone like you! We’re gonna have so much fun, um—“
“Seth. We certainly are,” he murmured. Caleb watched as Seth lifted this woman’s chin, witnessed her wilt at his touch, could almost hear him manipulating her thoughts.
“You know you’re right!” She agreed to something Caleb hadn’t heard. “I do shedloads of overtime and they never thank me! Blow them! I’ll get my things and we’ll go now!”
Seth growled in delight as Tabitha walked away. He turned to Caleb. “Don’t you love it when food delivers itself on a silver platter? Quite delectable.”
“Food,” Caleb repeated with a sinking feeling. “You’re not taking her for coffee, are you?”
“Of course I am,” Seth said. “She’ll want to go to the lounge on the rail line and she’ll order her usual; a large cappuccino, no chocolate sprinkles, two shots of caramel syrup and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. I’ll even permit her to consume them before I slaughter her. I’m not a complete monster.”
“Seth. Holy hell.”
“It’s us or them. Ah, Tabitha. Ready?”
“Yes!” Tabitha enthused. “Oh my gosh, Seth! I’m so excited! My psychic told me that today would be terrible, but I knew it would be a good day! I thought we could go to a little place over by the rail lines. The views aren’t much, but their cakes are to die for!”
“I don’t doubt it.” Seth smiled, his irises flashed white. “We’ll get them to take out; I hope to conclude our date somewhere more secluded.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I prefer privacy when my trysts become carnal.”
“Oh my freaking gosh. So forward. This perfume was worth every penny,” Tabitha whispered, breathless, fanning herself. “Are you trying to make me flatline?”
“Yes, that’s the idea.”
Caleb knew that if Seth didn’t dine on this woman he would simply pick someone else. That there was no way he could stop him altogether. But he couldn’t allow this. Standing up to his fellow vampires had never gone well for Caleb in the past but what had?
Seth, please don’t do this.
A flicker of irritation passed across Seth’s face as he heard Caleb’s thought. “One moment, Tabitha. Let me just say goodbye to my companion here.”
Seth waited until the young woman was out of earshot before turning back to Caleb. “Why not? I’ve as good as told her what I’m going to do and she seems quite pleased with the idea, wouldn’t you say?”
“But she’s trusting you. It’s so cruel.”
Caleb knew he had made a huge mistake the second Seth stopped smiling.
A chasm opened in his mind, allowing the demons to claw their way out from the darkness. Caleb could do nothing but watch as his worst memories were dragged from the depths and shoved in his mind’s eye. The faces of hundreds of women who had put their trust in him, shuffled before him like flashcards of shame.
Tell me, Caleb…
…do you have…
…to judge me?
“No,” Caleb managed, falling to his knees. “I really don’t.”