“Well?” Faith asked as April hopped off the stairs and rounded the corner to the kitchen. “Did it work?”
April rocked on her heels and nodded, smiling. “Yes, I managed to smudge some of the gloopy stuff from my wrist on the stick. It’s so much more gross-looking than it was when you guys had some; I could hardly get any out.”
“And?” Faith prompted. “Did you get a result?”
“Yes. I’m not pregnant!” April announced gleefully, clapping her hands.
“Oh thank goodness,” Melinda said at the same time as Faith muttered “Thank fuck for that!”
April took a seat at the table smiling at her friends. “So I guess that means we are infertile after all.” She looked at the table. “Sorry about that. You’ll never have babies now because of me. Unless we adopt, but I’m not sure they let vampires adopt babies.” She ran her nail along the grain of the wood.
“It might not be detectable or the timing might just be off, but if not, there’s always kidnapping,” Faith joked.
Melinda huffed. “That’s what vampires used to do, apparently. Although that knowledge comes from Caleb, so might not be the most accurate source.”
“Understatement of the year,” Faith laughed. “He’s been a vampire for fucking centuries and he knows absolutely nothing. You think Lilith would have told him these things, unless she doesn’t know either. I’ve never really thought about it, but do they have parents? Are they vampires too? Why didn’t they teach them anything?”
Melinda shrugged. “Again, I only have Caleb’s version, but they did have vampire parents who were beheaded. When I tried to talk to him about it previously, he got all upset.”
“I bet he doesn’t know,” Faith scoffed. “Probably just making up random shit as per usual. You know, the more I get to know him, the more I can say with complete certainty; the dude is fucking clueless. I mean, you asked him to get a range of groceries and he comes back with fifteen tins of soup and a box of paracetamol? What’s that all about?”
“At least Danny won’t have any headaches,” April giggled. “I hope he likes tomato soup.”
“Danny?” Melinda asked.
“The boy in the basement,” April smiled.
“Is that… is that what you’ve called him?” Melinda asked.
“No. That’s his real name.”
“How do you know his name, Blondie? He hasn’t even woken up yet.”
April looked between the pair, confused. “I don’t know. I just… I just know, somehow.”
“You’re a bloody mind-reader too, ain’t you?” Faith groaned. “Ugh! It’s so unfair! Other than knocking Lilith out – and I’m not even sure how I did that so for all I fucking know she did it to herself – I haven’t managed to do anything yet. Where are all my powers? What do you two have that I don’t?”
“His name is Danny,” Melinda said, ignoring Faith. “I wonder if anyone is missing him? If he had a family?”
“Don’t think about it. And don’t call him Danny, call him ‘human’ or something,” Faith said, still pouting. “We went over this earlier; he’s food, Mel. I know you don’t like it and for some reason I like the idea less today than yesterday, but it is what it is.”
“Don’t want to cram twenty of them into the basement today, then?” Melinda asked.
“Nah, only nineteen,” Faith joked. “I’m sort of rethinking the whole basement humans thing to be honest. I was completely brain-fucked yesterday; don’t know what I was thinking.”
“What will you do instead?” April asked. “Hunt with me and Caleb?”
“God no. I’ll hunt by myself. Or I might just send my little doggy out to hunt and just feed off him forever; he didn’t even fight me when I bit him. I think he liked it.”
“You have a dog?” April asked, her eyes lighting up. “Since when?”
“Last night,” Faith grinned. “He followed me home and I felt sorry for him.”
“Oh that’s so sweet!” April gushed. “Is he in your room? What breed is he? Is he super cute?”
“I’ve let him outside; he’s just a mutt but he’s gorgeous,” Faith quipped.
“Oh! Yay! I’ve always wanted a pet but Mother said that having to look after me was enough work.” April beamed, then her face fell. “Wait – you fed off him? I thought we couldn’t do that? The book said we need to feed off humans. Where is the book, anyway—“
“It’s not an actual dog,” Melinda explained over Faith’s laughter. “She means Seth.”
April blinked a few times as it took a while for the pieces to fit together. “You drank from Seth?” she asked, with a mixture of curiosity and horror. “What was his blood like? Is it like treacle, like mine? Did it stop you being thirsty?”
“It was definitely satisfying,” Faith smirked. “You should try sinking your fangs into Fringey at some point, Blondie. Don’t let him have all the fun.”
April ran her fingers down her neck and shoulder, but the puncture holes Caleb had left her had completely gone.
She tried to imagine biting Caleb’s neck but the thought made her stomach flip. She wasn’t sure what was worse; the idea of actually biting him and get a mouthful of that nasty black stuff, or that to do so would mean being super close to him again.
“Caleb’s been gone a long time. Do you think he found a job?” she asked.
“Nice diversion,” Faith winked. “He’s probably been distracted by something shiny.” She turned to Melinda. “You’ve gone quiet. What’s going on in that big brain? Hey Blondie, fun game. Let’s see if you can do mind-reading; what’s Mel thinking about?”
April stared hard at Melinda. She could feel something funny happening, like her own brain was trying to connect dots, but she wasn’t hearing any of Melinda’s thoughts.
“Cats playing drums?” she guessed.
“No, not cats. I’m just thinking about what Caleb said. About our insides being all dried up and wondering how we actually function. Like, how is it even possible to get a pregnancy test result? What hormones do we have?” Melinda paused, tapped her chin. “April, on the test, you definitely got a line in the control window, right?”
“Yes. It’s upstairs in the bathroom bin if you want to see it. I didn’t really want to bring it down here because it’s icky. It came up almost instantly so there must be something floating around in me. I guess I’m not completely dead inside, yet.”
“OK. And you definitely got nothing in the other window?”
April looked suddenly wary. “I… I got a line in the other window.”
“Wait, what the fuck?!” Faith gasped. “You got a fucking line in the result window?!”
“Yes, it looked like a negative symbol, so not pregnant, right? Because otherwise it would have been a plus sign, yes? …No?” April asked in a small voice, looking between her friends.
Melinda held up a hand to silence Faith, who was rasping a series of nonsensical words, before she explained softly, “That’s not how it works. Anything in the second window is a positive result, April.”
April seemed to be spending so long lately staring at table tops that she was surprised she couldn’t see through them yet. She whispered, “Oh dear. So I guess I am pregnant, then.”
“Oh my gosh, April.”
Even Faith wasn’t smiling now. “Shit; so it is possible. And Fringey really doesn’t know anything. Shit.”
Right on cue, the front door opened and Caleb strutted in. “Guess who’s got two job interviews tomorrow? I was hoping one of you might help me run through some interview questions; I’ve never had an interview before, but I do have some pamphlets to look through, saying what sort of things they might ask me—” He looked at the three girls; his smile withering and fading until his face matched theirs.
“What’s happened?” he asked, immediately looking to April who couldn’t meet his eyes. She didn’t have to answer; he seemed to know what she was thinking. “No. Don’t tell me you’re pregnant. You’re not; you can’t be.”
April opened her mouth but all that came out was a hollow noise. She tried to form words but found that she was unable to.
So he wanted to know what had happened, but she couldn’t tell him she was pregnant? Um… and he said that she can’t be pregnant, so was she not? She didn’t understand. This kept happening; it was like her brain went off and his words just echoed around in the nothingness that remained inside her head, getting louder and louder. Why couldn’t she speak?
“Looks like she is, Fringey. Um, congratulations? So… is there any point asking you what you know about vampire babies?”
“You know,” Broof said teasingly. “I’ve seen your dad’s eyes on someone else…”
Wyatt sighed. “Not this again. Pass me the Datura.”
“Um, right. Datura… Datura…” Broof muttered, scanning the bottles on the shelf.
“They’re on the wall, Hoggy.”
“Ah, yes…” Broof mumbled, shifting his focus to the hanging blooms.
“You don’t have a clue, do you? They’re the white, trumpet-shaped flowers.”
Broof carefully started to tug a small bunch of blooms free from their string. “What are you making anyway? Smells too good to be plant feed.”
Wyatt glanced towards the stairs before responding quietly. “Nothing illegal. And it’ll feed plants but not as well as it feeds minds.”
“Sage is going to kill you,” Broof muttered. Still studying the photographs, he absent-mindedly passed the requested flora behind him towards his friend, but the small splash told him that he’d missed.
“Ah,” Wyatt said, looking into the excessively large cauldron. “That’s… that’s not good.”
“I thought you’d catch them,” Broof said guiltily, looking into the pot. “Looks alright to me. It was only a few flowers, how much damage can that do?”
“You really need to read a herbalism book, Hoggy,” Wyatt whistled, looking at the fizzing contents of the cauldron.
“So… what now?”
“It might be OK, but I’ve never added that much, so it might not be. Do I risk it?” Wyatt drummed his fingers against the rim of the cauldron; Broof watched with a twinge of envy as even this small, idle action caused the potion near his friend’s hands to agitate.
“If it was just for me, yeah sure,” Wyatt went on. “But ol’ Mrs. Davison will probably have a coronary. Hmm. Nope.” Wyatt waved his hands and Broof felt the air in the cellar grow heavy and damp as the liquid in the cauldron began to drain at speed. “I’d better start over—“
“Why?” came the honeyed drawl from behind them. “Don’t tell me you’ve ruined another batch.”
“Broof did it!” Wyatt said automatically, muttering under his breath, “You owe me; I busted you out of jail.”
“I didn’t ask you to bust me out of jail,” Broof muttered back.
“What did you do, Broof?” Sage asked, sweetly.
“Um, I added Dakota,” Broof confessed, wondering why Wyatt was shaking his head and swearing through his teeth.
“Dakota? Do you mean Datura? There aren’t any Datura in the plant feed concoction,” Sage explained, smoothly.
“Yeah Hoggy, you deviant,” Wyatt said. “What were you trying to make?”
Sage looked between the pair, suspiciously. “Broof, darling. Tell me; what properties do Datura have?”
Broof fiddled with his fringe. He had no idea; leafy things were not his speciality, he was much more a rocks kind of man. Wyatt was still hissing at him but he couldn’t make out the words.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“So irresponsible!” Wyatt gasped. “You can’t just throw in random things!”
“Exactly!” Sage said. “It’s extremely irresponsible! Datura has hallucinogenic and poisonous properties, Broof.”
“Um, I’m sorry,” Broof said. “I didn’t know—“
“No, you didn’t,” Sage said, studying him. “And it’s very unlike you to be so flippant. Which can only mean one thing—“
“That jail has corrupted him?” Wyatt offered, hopefully.
Sage’s voice took on that edge that made Broof’s skin crawl, reminding him of all the other times over the years that the pair had been caught in various acts of mischief. “Wyatt! Go to your room!”
“Are you serious? Why?! I didn’t even do anything!” Wyatt protested.
“Do you think I’m an idiot?!”
Wyatt opened his mouth to answer, but clearly thought better of it. “I’m not going to my room,” he huffed. “And quit embarrassing me in front of my friends; I’m seventy-six years old.”
“You know what? You’re right.” Sage smiled but her voice had that mischievous, oversweet undertone.
“No! Wait! I take it back! I’ll go to my room! Please, Mum,” Wyatt whimpered as Sage lifted her arm to point in his direction. “No, not—“
“Shop floor!” Sage snapped. “Mrs. Greaves will be in this morning for her table piece—“
“—and she’s fresh from her bunion surgery. I expect you to listen intently to her for however long she wishes to talk to you about it! We have a delivery of mixed seeds at noon, they’ll want sorting into bags, the tweezers are under the counter. Plus, I want every plant watered and every speck of dirt cleaned. And I want it all done the mortal way.”
“Flowers not powers until—“
“—A million hours. I know, but Mum, I know what I’m doing now—“
“Up!” Sage ordered. “And less of that language, young man!” she barked as Wyatt stormed off up the stairs, muttering to himself.
Sage shook her head as she watched him go. “I swear to the moon; that boy will be the death of me. Did he think I wouldn’t be able to sense his magic? Really! The air in here is so wet it’s making my curls drop! He should be grateful I’m not reporting him to the High Priestess,” she muttered, finally turning her attention back to Broof, her tone softened, “You really shouldn’t cover for him, dear; you’ll get yourself into trouble. Anyway, I had a thought.”
Broof remained quiet, allowing Sage to continue. “After Warren died, I had a huge clear-out and there were a number of reference books that I sent to auction. Mostly out-dated geology guides, but I’m fairly sure that amongst them was a very old vampire tome. I’m not completely certain, but I believe they were purchased by Windenburg Library. Whether they still have them remains to be seen, but may be worth a visit?”
“Thanks, I’ll check that out.”
“Good boy. You’ve got the books you need from here, yes? Are you coming along to the coven meet tonight? The Globrot twins are attending and I know Toadella would love to see you.”
The feeling wasn’t mutual. Broof shook his head. “It’s been quite a week, so I’ll do my rituals at home, I think. Maybe next time.”
Sage nodded. “I understand. I guess I’d better clean up this huge mess and get started on yet another batch of plant feed. Why under the sun did he ask you to add Datura of all things? Any ideas what was he trying to make?”
Broof had an inkling but he shook his head.
“Interesting,” she whispered, running her finger around the rim of the cast iron pot. Before he could stop her, Sage had lifted her finger to her lips. His cue to leave. Swiftly.
“Wyatt Ranunculus Harper!“
Broof rounded the corner into the relative safety of the store, to see Wyatt freaking out in his ugly shirt. “Why is she shouting me?”
“She licked the bowl,” Broof replied. “It was nice knowing you, Wy.”
Wyatt groaned. “I’m so gonna be strung up by HP at the meet tonight.”
“Shame I won’t be there to see it. Oh, but it sounds like Wartilda and her sister will be there, so something to look forward to, yes?”
“See? I told you; my life is hell, Hoggy!” Wyatt whined over the screeching from the cellar. “Literal hell!”