Lilith hadn’t felt this good in a long, long time. A completely different woman from the sapped misery who had headed down to breakfast. A hundred worlds better. Lifted. Spirited.
It was amazing how a fresh feed could do that.
Despite being initially controlled by her thirst, Lilith had managed enough restraint to limit her intake; to stop immediately when she’d consumed the bare minimum required to regain control.
Chuck was currently sleeping on her sofa, under the influence of a light trance; it was all she could muster. She had taken the opportunity to fling his untouched dish into the forest, solving two problems at once; hopefully it would stop that damn cat from trying to get in every time she opened the door.
Chuck might not have been in the best health, or the pinnacle of pulmonary perfection, but he was still utterly delectable to her palate. So full of life, so enriching. So very full of humanity.
He’d thought about his wife and his daughter as she’d drank. He thought about them a lot. As she brushed the bloodstains from her teeth, Lilith could still feel the fondness he held for his family; a driving passion to protect, to love, to remedy. Nothing she could say to him would convince him not to pursue Melinda. He would search the Earth.
It reminded her so much of how she used to be.
Her quest had been prompted by a single entry in an old botanic tome; a fruit with blood-like properties, able to successfully sustain hematophages. Lilith had searched for two centuries for the location of this fabled fruit, meeting dead-end after dead-end. Almost like someone didn’t want her to know. Which had only made her more curious. More determined.
The original scientist and his assistant had met a unknown fate shortly after his paper was published. Any additional research or samples they may have had vanished when they did.
Lilith had her suspicions about what may have happened to them.
At the time of this discovery, a group of rogue vampires terrorised the area. Unlike the society vampires, who increased their numbers by selecting and raising infant offspring, these wild ones targeted adult humans from the dregs of society; the more isolated and morally bankrupt, the better. They seduced these forgotten, desolate humans with the promises of eternal life, inclusion and boundless power.
If the rumours were true, that this fruit could not only sustain but could ultimately cure vampirism, it put the gun firmly in the human’s hands. No corrupt, megalomaniacal vampire would be able to entertain the idea that they could be bested by a scientist with a fruit.
The rogue group had, predictably, destroyed itself and as the years had passed, Lilith’s hope had wavered, her desire to find a cure lessened as the world had changed.
Humans didn’t believe in vampires anymore let alone fear them or hunt them. It was easy to hide in plain sight, to bury her head and make her excuses; she wasn’t really that different to the humans. She had her surgery, she had time, finding this fruit could wait.
She didn’t know whether it was because of her invigorating breakfast, her sudden desire to pursue her cause or simply because she’d gotten blood on her other blouse and it wasn’t a good look for a surgeon, but Lilith selected a different outfit this morning, left her fringe down.
Time for a fresh start.
Chuck was still sleeping when Lilith entered the living room. She gently lifted the trance and awoke him from his disturbing dream about trash cans and heart print boxer shorts.
As he gathered his senses and remembered his surroundings, he smiled at her.
“You look lovely,” he said, kindly. “Melinda always has a fringe and getting it to lie flat when her wild hair was determined to fight me was always good fun.”
Try doing it blindfolded, Lilith thought. She’d often considered growing it out, especially when first-time visitors to her practice refused to believe she was the surgeon with her fresh-faced looks. But ultimately, in a glitzy world obsessed with eternal youth, it worked to her benefit. She could fob off any old bullshit treatment as the secret behind her wrinkle-free skin and have her clients falling over themselves to pay for it.
She remembered how Melinda looked the last time she’d seen her, with her fringe braided into the rest of her hair, trying to grow it out. Lilith wondered if Chuck would ever find his daughter; if he would even recognise her.
“Ready?” Lilith asked. She hadn’t changed her original plan; she was still going to be taking Chuck to Joe’s. The odds of this sensible man believing that she was a vampire were slim, believing that his daughter and her friends were vampires even more slim and his chances of finding them before authorities did were almost non-existent.
She felt a pang of guilt but they would have no one to blame but themselves. The wayward vampires had built their pyres and as far as Lilith was concerned, they could all burn until she was ready to save them.
Let them learn their lessons. Nothing would distract her now.
It was a bright, crisp morning and the sun seemed to blind him. Chuck was a creature of the night, his work demanded it. He’d rise as the sun set and be in bed by dawn. That was probably why he felt so groggy today; his body clock was out of whack. After he’d woken in her bed, showered and dressed, he’d ended up falling asleep again on Lilith’s sofa. How very impolite of him.
He was trying to think of a way to repay Lilith for her kindness. It took a special type of person to offer refuge and care for a stranger in need. It often felt to Chuck that there was so little goodness in the world; it shouldn’t be overlooked, kind acts shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Blimey, he was so hungry. He had been having a bizarre dream as he’d napped on Lilith’s sofa. In this dream, he’d prepared dinner for her and she wasn’t very happy about his attempt; she’d tried to kill him. He remembered being confused because he didn’t think his cooking was that bad. Granted, he’d caused a few kitchen fires in his time, but who hadn’t?
Lilith chuckled beside him. He turned to her, hoping she’d share the joke, but she didn’t. The pair carried on walking through the forest in silence. Chuck enjoyed silence and Lilith appeared to as well. He wasn’t usually one to fill empty space with meaningless words, or questions he knew the answers to, but he wanted to know more about his good samaritan.
“Will you be heading to work after you leave me?” he asked. She nodded, he nodded back. “Del Sol Valley, yes? How do you get there?”
“Taxi,” Lilith replied.
“Goodness, that must cost you a fortune!” he gasped. She nodded again. He slipped his hand into his pocket, encountering his car keys. “If my car is still here, I’d be happy to give you a lift to work, Lilith. It’d be the least I could do.”
Lilith frowned slightly, but she nodded, yet again. She clearly wasn’t one for idle conversation. It was like drawing blood from a stone.
Chuck could see the trees thinning before them, the path opening up. He glanced up, noticing one lantern that looked different to the others and he stopped abruptly.
“The bar is just this way,” Lilith said, motioning to the right.
Chuck was still looking at the lamp, at the path to the left. “I think I came from that way.”
Lilith turned around and looked towards the path he was referring to, then back at him with a slightly disgusted expression. “Actually, come to think of it, you’re probably right,” she said. She didn’t elaborate, instead guiding him along the left hand path.
It wasn’t long before this route opened up on to the roadside. Chuck was relieved to see his faithful old car waiting for him next to an eerily familiar fish billboard.
“Yes!” he announced. “This is where I got out of my car!”
“Why did you get out here? The bar is a mile that way,” Lilith said, pointing along the road.
Chuck walked past the billboard, remembering. “I was lost. I stopped here because I was looking for a young lady who had tried to assist me. I was hoping she might give me another hand but, when I couldn’t find her, I came round here to relieve myself. Oh my, that sounds inappropriate! That’s not what I meant at all.”
To Chuck’s great surprise, Lilith burst out laughing. Her laugh was not elegant, tuneful or cute but it was still such a sweet sound coming from such an aloof character. As the music of her mirth hit his ears, something flashed before his eyes.
“That man,” Chuck said gravely and Lilith’s smile immediately vanished. “I don’t remember his face but there was a man. He was dressed like a pirate.”
“A man dressed like a pirate?” Lilith repeated. “Oh my word. You actually remember him?”
“Yes, I asked him for directions,” Chuck said, positioning himself on the path. “I asked him twice and he rather abruptly said he’d ‘heard me the first time’.”
Lilith swallowed, her voice quiet. “Then what?”
Chuck scratched his head. “Then I woke up in your bed.”
Lilith looked a strange mixture of relieved and annoyed. Chuck wanted to ask her why but another memory had come back to him.
“Wait a minute!” Chuck dropped to his hands and knees and crawled into the bushes, appearing a few moments later with a phone. “I’m always losing this thing!” He laughed and pressed the power button. He frowned as the screen remained blank. “Oh, it’s dead.”
“You can charge it at my office,” Lilith offered.
Chuck smiled. A few minutes ago, she’d been reluctant to take his offer of a lift and now she was inviting him into her office. On the car journey he hoped to learn something about her; her favourite flowers or chocolates perhaps, so he could say thank you properly.
Ooh, chocolates. His stomach rumbled. He wondered if she had a nice selection of biscuits in her practice like the ones they gave him after he donated blood. Likely not. Del Sol Valley types probably only consumed salad and vitamin tablets. Although he was so hungry that he would probably eat a vitamin tablet salad. He’d probably even eat another banana sausage surprise and that was really saying something.
“We’ll get breakfast on the way, Charles.”
“I don’t have any money—“
“My treat.” Lilith smiled. “I insist,” she added firmly, before he could voice his protest.
“Oh, you angel,” Chuck said. “All right. But you’re making me feel very guilty, here. Please, tell me about yourself; how do I even the score?”
Lilith shook her head, smiling. He could have sworn he heard her voice inside his mind.
You stop counting.