Lilith’s eyes were looking in slightly different directions as she propped herself up on the back of the sofa; her words a jumbled mess of slurred syllables. “And then Caleb walks into the cottage, right, stinking of smoke and tells me that he can’t go back to that barber’s again. Oh, and that we need to leave town. And I still don’t quite understand what he did. And I climbed in his head and everything, I did, trying to understand.”
“You climbed into his head?” Chuck asked, slightly amused despite his concern.
“Yesh,” Lilith replied. “I can do that, get in heads. Like right now, you’re thinking that I must be very, very drunk. But -pfft!- I’m not.”
He was thinking that, but that was hardly proof of telepathy. Lilith hadn’t been able to sit upright for the last hour. Her last five drinks had been pure juice and she hadn’t even noticed.
“But, you know, that’s not the worst thing Caleb ever did. Oh devil, no,” she lowered her voice. “There’s the unspeakable event that took place at a bar in Britechester involving six students, three thousand simoleons, a pool table and a lobster—“
“A lobster?” Oh my. Chuck wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more colourful stories about Lilith’s brother. He was still reeling from the one about the wedding. Chuck tried not to be judgemental, but really, what kind of person slept with another’s crying fiancé the night before their wedding? “Let’s keep the lobster one unspoken, shall we? Got into a lot of scrapes in his youth I see. How old is he now?”
“He’s fourteen years younger than me,” she whispered from behind her hand.
“Why are you whispering?” Chuck whispered back.
“I don’t know,” Lilith replied, still whispering.
Chuck was confused for a moment, looking carefully at Lilith’s face. “How can he be fourteen years younger than you? How old are you, Lilith? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She tried to playfully thump him, but completely missed. Her fist landed on the sofa, inches from his arm. “How dare you ask a lady her age!” she said with mock outrage, her outburst ending in a giggle and a hiccup.
“She’s thirty-seven,” came a voice from the bar.
Chuck shook his head, disbelieving. “So Caleb is twenty-three? He’s certainly done a lot in his twenty-three years.”
“And yet nothing at all.” Lilith shrugged. “But it’s not his fault,” she said, leaning back and tapping her head. “His brain is all buggered up because father was an arsehole to him. Ruined him. Oh, Chuck – he was so little. Much too little.” She fell quiet for a while before she continued; staring at nothing, her voice barely above a whisper.
“I’ve spent my whole existence undoing the damage. I tried to make it better, I really did, so how have I made everything worse? They all hate me. And do you know why? I think it’s because I became too much like my father, who was an arsehole,” she clarified, thoughtfully. “I think I’m an arsehole, Chuck.”
“I see,” Chuck said sympathetically. He watched as Lilith stared into space, lost in thought. If she hadn’t consumed so much alcohol he might have pursued the subject, explored what was clearly a heavy weight to bear. But he thought it best to swiftly change the topic, before he had a hopelessly depressed drunk on his hands.
“How long have you had your practice for, Lilith?”
She took a long while to focus, blinking at him as if he was a very bright light. “This one? Three years.”
“So what do you think?” He joked, “I’m nearly sixty; is it time I had a face lift?”
She shook her head vigorously and took his arm, looking in his general direction and drumming his fingertips lightly with her own.
“No! No, no, no! You have a nice face. Soft.”
The touch of her skin sent a shockwave through him along with an aftershock of deja vu. He tried to pull his arm back, but she gripped his wrist, holding firmly.
“Good gracious, Lilith!” he exclaimed. “You’re freezing!”
She nodded and hissed between her teeth, “That’s because I am dead. But you’re not dead, Mister Nice Face.” She held her fingertip against his and he became acutely aware of the intensity of his own pulse. “You are alive. Just me that’s dead. Just me. Dead, dead, dead.”
Something was amiss, but he couldn’t quite establish what it was. “You’re not dead either, Lilith—“
“Correct!” she announced. “Ten points! I am undead. Visible only to people and bobblygraphs.”
“The probey thingies the turkey foil people have.”
Chuck had no idea what she meant. He watched her as she repeated the word undead to herself over and over, quietly, sadly as she continued to stroke his fingertip.
Yes, she was officially talking nonsense. “Come now, let’s get you home,” he said, gently.
“I want to tell you a secret,” she whispered, looking up at him, shyly. “Will you run away and summon a mob with pitchforks if I do?”
“That’s unlikely,” he answered, trying and failing to remove himself from her iron grip. “But perhaps now is not the best time to—“
“Oh good, because I’d hate to have to chase you down and kill you.”
“…Kill me?” Chuck asked, not sure what she was on about or where this was heading.
“I am a vampire,” she stated, the words all jumbling together. “I am three hundred and twenty-one years old. And I don’t want to go home to my house full of bones. I want to walk amongst the living. Please don’t make me go home, Charlie Warlie Soft Face. Please. Pretty please.”
Chuck sighed. He really wanted to help, but whatever Lilith was running from, whatever haunted her was clearly deeply buried under these weird, fantastical confessions and neither of them were in the right frame of mind to interpret them. He thought about where her house was; so remote that it was a good taxi ride away and a trek through acres of dense forest. It would take her ages to get back. If she got back.
“Bobblygraph,” she said again. She laughed and rested her face on the wall, falling still.
Even without the threat of her being mugged or falling into a ditch, sending her back to her empty house like this – and he didn’t just mean in her intoxicated state – felt irresponsible.
But that left only one option and something told him that Babs was probably not going to appreciate it.
It had been many years since Seth had visited Windenburg Square and if it wasn’t for the stone fountain, he wouldn’t have been sure he was in the right place.
The old wattle and daub housing that had made up the close-clustered town had been lost to the great Barber Shop Fire of 1813, which had nothing to do with a certain calamitous creature of the night, of course, but had coincidentally meant that they’d finally had to flee the area. Only the tavern remained intact; the Wangshafts had spared no expensive to save their beloved brewery.
The last time Seth remembered being here, it was shortly after his release from The Tower. He wasn’t sure what year that was, but he remembered climbing the steps to buy his first beer, a freedom beer, naively thinking that a sentence spent would mean a clean slate.
He’d been asked to leave before he’d even set foot inside.
We don’t want your kind around here.
Story of his life. At least what he could remember of it.
The town square was now little more than a hamlet, made up of those modern, soulless red brick houses with their plastic windows and cream-coloured walls. The only businesses remaining were the tavern and a small flower shop. Hardly the hive of activity it once was.
Seth wasn’t sure he’d even find any prey in these deserted streets, but fate always seemed to favour him. The tavern door opened and out wandered a woman; alone, sober, short hair for easier neck access, she even flashed him a smile as she passed on her way towards a secluded-looking alleyway.
Well, could that be any more perfect?
Swiftly, silently, he followed her, listening to her stream of thoughts. She was heading to her house, which was just around the corner, where she planned to order pizza and consume a whole tub of ice cream as a reward for not punching anyone at work that day.
Casual overt violence. He liked her more and more by the second. He wondered if her vicious streak would prevail when he attacked her; whether she’d actually try and fight him or if she’d—
“Shit! Forgot my bag!”
The woman stopped abruptly, pivoted on her heel and Seth, who was two paces behind and unusually distracted, almost ploughed straight into her. She stepped back, eyes wide; her body language suggesting fear, defence, but with a slight curve of a smile that suggested quite the contrary.
“Are you following me?” she asked. There it was. Nestled among her apprehension and her shock was that unmistakeable tinge of excitement.
Seth took a step closer; the woman’s thoughts filling his own head as he teased open her mind, perusing for purchase.
“Do you want me to follow you?”
The woman opened her mouth, no doubt to shout something socially acceptable like ‘No! Get away from me! Help!’ before thinking better of it, pressing her lips together into a wary smile.
“Then maybe I am.” He extended his gloved hand; may as well be polite before he decimated her thyroid. “Seth.”
“AJ,” she whispered, taking his hand and staring at his face; her bag once again forgotten.
Seth did not have Caleb’s boundless allure; the ability to rose-tint the judgement of his prey to a level where any nonsense he said became provocative persuasion. Most of Seth’s prey tried to run when they realised he meant harm – heck, most ran when they saw him – and he would pursue them, chasing them in circles, tormenting them with their own dark thoughts and deep fears until they begged him for respite.
And there was thrill in that, for certain. But nothing quite compared to the shiver he felt when his prey’s pulse raced out of pure lust. Especially now, when he hadn’t even toyed with this one’s mind, yet.
Huh. Why hadn’t he toyed with her yet? He stared back, half-listening as she talked about the rain, as if that bothered or even interested him, while he addled her thought process. She was already captivated of her own devices, she just needed a little push towards courage; why did she lack courage? Aha! He could make her forget the last time she tried it on with a complete stranger and failed, that should help.
She stopped talking, abruptly. Her general demeanour became bold and undeniably flirtatious. Bingo.
“Mad suggestion,” AJ said. “But as we are standing right next to a pub, do you fancy a drink?”
“You have no idea,” Seth growled. “But I was actually on my way home to order pizza, I’ve had a rubbish day at work—“
Wait a second. Was that… did he just lie? He couldn’t have. He waited for the forced truth to erupt from his lips.
But it didn’t.
He did it! Finally he—
He’d carefully studied the newly recovered memories of his pet cat and this silver-haired woman since his bizarre encounter on the bridge, but this was the first time since that she’d flashed up, unprompted. Interesting.
“Seriously?” AJ gasped. “Where do you work?”
“Ah, in journalism,” he tried, hesitantly. Nothing happened.
“Me too!” the woman gushed. “Freaky. Next you’ll be telling me you were going to wash your pizza down with half a bottle of wine and a whole tub of—“
“—five-berry-whirl ice-cream while watching The Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show?” he finished for her, with his trademark smirk. Ha! What weakness? “I was.”
What the—? Holy hell. She has a voice.
AJ was still talking but now Seth was unable to hear anything other than the hiss of the silver-haired woman echoing in his head. Lies! Lies!
“…come back to mine?”
Who the hell was this glowing eyed demon woman? Was this a buried memory or something else entirely? There was something about her that Seth found achingly appealing; parts of his anatomy were responding in ways that he wasn’t looking forward to analysing, yet his overall feeling at her sudden appearance could be easily summed up as thus; he was terrified of her.
He hadn’t realised quite how much this had shaken him, until AJ huffed.
“… unless you’re all talk?”
Seth ran his gloved hand down his cheek as he forced himself to focus on the human before him. The image of the silver-haired woman faded, the alleyway swam back into his vision.
“No, I… um… I—“
He hadn’t even spoken, but Silver’s sharp scream, like the crack of a whip, shattered through his thoughts, stripping all the bravado from him.
“Oh my god, are you OK?”
Was he OK? Was he going insane?
Seth wavered on his feet, his brain swimming. Every cell of his body was on fire; he tried to focus on AJ, on anything to see through the face of the pale, fanged demon who was now taunting him.
Did you miss me, baby?
To hell with this hunt; he’d completely lost his appetite. Space, that’s what he needed. He needed to be alone. To think.
Carelessly, he gestured in front of AJ; he’d wipe her memory of him, abandon her, regroup. Yes, that’s what he’d do. He watched the vacant expression cross her face, followed immediately by confusion.
“Seth? Are you OK?”
Seth backed away. His hand was in his pocket; on his knife, as if this human posed any threat to him. Or did she pose a threat to him? Who is she? Is she connected to silver-haired lady? Is she the silver-haired lady? he thought to himself, the glowing green eyes manifesting again before him. He felt a sharp pain in his side, yelped and leapt back before he realised that he’d accidentally stabbed himself.
Lies! Lies! Lies!
“What lies?!” he shouted. “What bloody lies?!”
Had he accidentally stabbed himself? Holy hell, he had no idea anymore.
Wounded, confused and afraid, like a coward, like prey, he ran.
Thanks to Ferosh for donating AJ!