Lilith was never really one for singing, but as she climbed out of the taxi and headed towards Joe’s Bar, she unleashed a few verses of a song that had been chained in her head all day. She was singing in her mind, of course; she was the first to admit that, even after three hundred and twenty-one years, her crooning still somewhat resembled the sound of a banshee being strangled by a cat.
…You’re a mess tangled with your confidence, you think you haven’t sinned…
She remembered hearing this song recently, but couldn’t put her finger on where. Maybe it had been on the radio that morning as Chuck had driven her to work. She didn’t hear it at work; it was not the sort of tune they’d play on the ‘ambient clinic’ soundtrack, very much not the kind of music her clientele were into.
Which is one reason why she liked it so much.
…You can dig so deep for scars, you never knew your mind was dark…
She was thoroughly looking forward to a quiet drink but as she entered through the double doors, she became aware of increased mental interference. Not unusual in a public place and as quiet as Joe’s was, there was usually someone in there. But this sure sounded like a lot of someones.
“Oh my word,” Lilith uttered. The group paused to examine her as she entered before continuing their polite conversation about thermometers, but a bizarre tangle of thoughts from these strange-looking people hit Lilith at full volume.
A police cover up. Serial killer? More like alien abductions. A logical answer. What the boat did he put in my drink to make it glow so green? Ooh blimey, it’s suddenly cold with that door open. ALIENS. I wonder if Edwina knows that her hat is crooked. That chick in the gold top is hot, I should have worn my good shirt. The forests hold many secrets. Definitely aliens. GHOOOOOOOOSTS.
Lilith would have immediately turned around and walked out, if hadn’t been for Joe, who was silently begging her to stay.
Lilith took a tentative seat at the bar and subtly nodded her head towards the odd crowd with an inquisitive expression. Joe shrugged and hissed through his teeth.
“The Glimmerbrook Truth Society, apparently. They were in here last night too. They say they’re investigating ghosts, aliens, possibly werewolf or vampire sightings? They think it might be connected to the disappearance of those girls.”
“A load of balderdash,” Fred muttered into his beer. “Spooks and vampires, I ask you! Bloody nonsense. If I were you Joe, I’d get rid of the lot of them. Nutters.”
“Not so loud, Fred. Can’t be fussy who I’m admitting now the guys from the mill are gone.” Joe looked towards the group before turning back and whispering “I’ve half a mind to rig a few things up in here, keep them interested. A few flickering lights, a bottle moving ‘by itself’ perhaps. Get their paranormal pants in a bit of a twist.”
Fred waved his hand dismissively at the bartender and turned to Lilith. “You don’t believe in all this crap, do you, Lily? Unicorns and little green men?”
“No,” Lilith replied. “I do not believe in either of those things.”
“Sensible girl.” Fred nodded. “Wouldn’t catch you gallivanting in the woods in a tin foil hat.”
“Why are they wearing the tin foil hats?” Lilith enquired. She’d encountered conspiracy theorists, supernatural hunters and paranormal investigators in her time, but this attire was new to her.
Joe leaned in and said, in a voice that wasn’t entirely sincere, “It stops their thoughts being probed.”
Lilith glanced over her shoulder.
Vampires would explain a lot. Maybe it’s zombies! The police department is an absolute shambles in this town; they couldn’t solve a crossword. I bet April’s kidnap was staged and that Sandy’s not really dead. Edwina’s hat is still crooked and it has a hole in it. I asked for diet soda and this is not diet – is the barkeeper trying to send me a message?
“It bloody doesn’t,” she mumbled.
Lilith did not enjoy living in the heads of others, especially when they made no sense whatsoever. She could tune in on an individual to ampify their thoughts, but she couldn’t switch off the general hum of musings from everyone else in the room. It made being in any public, populated space a nuisance.
She tried to focus her attention on the sound of Fred’s voice; his drunken, drawling rant about the state of the world, but even then she had to focus to hear his spoken words. He may have been speaking fondly about the ‘good old days before nonsense’, but he was thinking about having to take his bath in the back yard as a child, too and neither topic interested her. Lilith couldn’t help herself from dipping back into Strangerville over in the corner.
There must be some evidence left behind. How can hundreds of people disappear without a trace? Where are the remains?
Most of them are in the crypt, Lilith thought. I should really get round to clearing that out.
The quiet thrum of conversation behind her ended abruptly as the girl in the pink shirt, who appeared to be the leader of the group, gasped.
“Did you guys hear that?”
At the blank looks around the table, the girl waved her arms in an excited fashion. “Guys, I think something’s trying to communicate with me from beyond the grave! I’m sure it just said something about clearing a crypt! And I have the weirdest headache, it’s like… pins of static?”
There was a murmur of excitement amongst the metal-hatted weirdoes, before pink shirt spoke again. “Edwina, have you got your EMF meter to hand?”
Lilith wasn’t sure what an EMF meter did. Could it detect her telepathy?
“No, I left it in the van.”
“Well, go get it!”
Lilith downed her glass and dismounted from her bar stool, bumping straight into one of the oddballs, presumably Edwina heading towards her van. As their bodies inadvertently contacted, Lilith became painfully aware of the woman’s heartbeat and took a step back.
“Oh my gosh!” Edwina shrieked.
Shit, shit, shit. Lilith realised that, one-on-one, the hat seemed to be working; she didn’t know what this woman was thinking at all. She’d have to make one for when Seth inevitably returned.
“It’s in my damn pocket!” Edwina laughed and pulled out a bizarre device from her cardigan. It caught on the yarn of her garment and she cussed, swiftly handing the unusual machine to Lilith. “Hold this a sec? Thanks.”
As the woman hastily wound the loose yarn and tucked it back into the weave of the fabric, Lilith stood awkwardly with this rapidly beeping thing in her hand. She was staring at Edwina’s hat, which was indeed crooked with hole in it, and wondering how she always seemed to end up in these situations.
“Oh, it likes you!” Edwina said, retrieving her chirruping device. Lilith glanced at the other four freaks who were looking at her with interest. “You must have some funky supernatural energies around you!” Edwina mused, waving the thing around Lilith. “Look at these readings!”
“That’ll be my pacemaker. Don’t get too close! Wouldn’t want my heart to stop,” Lilith said, clutching her chest. She had no idea if pacemakers were affected by these devices, but clearly, neither did Edwina.
“Oh, shoot! Sorry! Are you OK?” The woman hastily switched off the beeping device and repocketed it, causing her companions to lose interest and resume their conversation about pink shirt’s apparition. “Hey, are you local?”
Lilith nodded but inched towards the door, implying she didn’t have time to chat. A gesture missed by Edwina who followed, keenly. Clearly she had piqued the interest of this wool-wearing weirdo.
“Can I ask you some questions? I promise, no electro-magnetic probing, or probing of any kind, unless you ask nicely.” The woman laughed at her own joke; it sounded like a donkey braying.
“No, I really must be going—“
“I’m Edwina and I’m a member of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society,” the woman continued, as if Lilith hadn’t spoken. “We’re out here to get to the bottom of all the disappearances in the area. Too long have we lived in fear of the unknown; the people of Woodland Borough demand the truth! Have you ever experienced any bizarre occurrences in these woods? Heard any strange voices? Encountered any unusual creatures?”
Yes, yes and hell yes. “No. Can’t say I have. It’s always dead around here. Quiet. Very quiet. Boring, really. I must be off.”
Lilith had tried to smile but could feel that her face was doing something unusual instead. She noted Edwina’s gaze scanning her eyes, her nose… Lilith hastily turned on her heel and left before the woman could notice her fangs.
Out in the night air, Lilith paused, kicked her boot into the ground. Where would she go to drink overpriced absinthe now that the only bar for miles, that didn’t have CCTV, was overrun with weirdos?
She sighed. She could call those strange people all the derogatory names under the sun, but they weren’t spending their existence in limbo, not quite alive or dead enough for either world. That noisy little device knew that there was only one anomaly in that bar.
“Doctor Lil? You got a sec?”
Lilith snapped round to see Joe standing behind her. Joe would never usually leave his bar unattended, especially when Fred was there. Unless…
“Is Fred OK?”
“What? Oh, yes, he’s probably helping himself to the lager, no matter. I couldn’t talk to you in there, but I thought you should know. The police were in earlier, looking for Caleb.”
“He punched Dale on Saturday night. They were in here on an assault enquiry, but Dale was a mess, probably looking at battery.”
“What, what, what?” Lilith asked, hoping this was a wind-up.
Joe’s face was deadly serious. “Never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t watched the whole thing. Never seen a punch quite like it, Doc. Knocked Dale flying from his barstool, it did, shattered his jaw. Luckily, Fred wasn’t in that night. The only other witness was Will and heaven knows what happened to him, so his word against mine, I guess.”
Lilith winged a silent thought to her absent brother. He wouldn’t hear it, this far away, but it made her feel better. Why not indulge in a spot of GBH before running off to commit a hundred murders? Great.
“You told the police all of this?”
“Oh god, no. You and your brother keep me in business. I lied through my teeth. Fred wasn’t quite so discreet, gave them your name…”
Now I’m involved! Great!
“Why would he punch Dale of all people?”
Joe shrugged. “Dale was talking about knocking boots with that Moss girl then, from nowhere, Caleb wallops him. Personally, I’d have thrown my fist at Wangshaft instead, but I think the message was clear enough, either way.”
And now your bloody name is probably tied to a high-profile murder and missing person case and so is mine! And here I was, thinking you could screw me over no more.
“Thanks Joe. I’ll… I’ll go right home now and,” throw things, “see what Caleb has to say for himself.”
“Are you all right, Doc? Your voice has gone rather high.”
“Oh, yes. I’m absolutely fine. Everything is absolutely fine!” she called, at least an octave higher than usual, as she walked off down the path.
Ralf had been home, had a shower, changed his clothes, eaten a burrito, got salsa down his shirt, got changed again, decided to watch a quick episode of his favourite TV show, then another because the first had ended on a cliff-hanger. Finally, he was ready to go and see what his good-for-nothing nephew was up to.
“Hey! Uncle Ralf!” Chase’s roommate – who was not Ralf’s nephew and whose name escaped him, greeted him warmly. “You looking for Chase? He’s not here.”
“He’s not here?” What was this idiot’s name? Martin? Marvin?
“Nah, just me,” the younger man stretched and yawned. “Chase went out with that Gemma last night.”
“Jessica,” Ralf corrected.
“Whatever. Must have gone really well, you get me?” He winked.
“It didn’t.” Marcin? Marcus?
“Yeah, well I haven’t seen him at all today. So, if that’s all you want, I’m gonna kindly ask you to—” he swept Ralf towards the door, but not before Ralf noticed something.
“Aha! Just you, huh? So who’s the second glass of wine for?” Merlin? Milton?
“Marshall?” Penelope called, entering the room. “What’s taking so long? Oh. Hey Ralf. Long time no see.”
“Wine’s on the table there. Take a seat, babe, I won’t be a minute,” Marshall said unperturbed. He turned back to Ralf, lowered his voice. “You know I love hearing all your herbicide stories, but I’m a little busy right about now, Uncle Ralf. Maybe chat later?”
“Homicide, you dimwit.” Ralf narrowed his eyes at Marshall. “Does Chase know you’re sleeping with his ex?”
“Hell no! I only found out today.” Marshall laughed. “And technically, we’re not sleeping, you get me? Besides, they broke up weeks ago and he’s been seeing that Gemma—“
“Whatever. And you know how it is when a girl like Penelope comes knocking on your door.” At Ralf’s blank look, Marshall shook his head, laughed. “It don’t matter that she came to get back with Chase, you get me? She starts taking her clothes off and look, I ain’t no genius but I ain’t blind. I ain’t gonna say no to her, am I?”
“No, I guess you’re not.” Ralf sighed, wondering what had happened to common decency. “I’ll see myself out. If you hear from Chase, get him to call me.”