Faith had been having such a great time lounging around on the deck of the yacht that Seth had stolen. She’d been sipping champagne she’d found in the cooler – imagining the taste because she’d never actually tried champagne when she was alive – and pretending that she was the wife of a millionaire, cruising in the blistering sun on the sparkling Sulani seas.
She’d been bitterly disappointed when they’d reached the dark, sandy little island off the coast of Windenburg and she’d been snapped back to reality. Faith had seen this island from the mainland, but had never been here. And with good reason.
There was fuck all to do.
Faith had never been so bored. Seth, however, had come alive; he was talkative and animated, pointing out birds and naming plants, like Faith gave a shit. They’d just finished staring at a load of overstuffed sausages with flippers for what felt like forever, and he was still describing, in great detail, the ins and outs of the habits of the seals. It was like watching a documentary she couldn’t turn off.
“They’ve come out to mate,” she said, trying to sound interested but also trying to distract him. “I can see why; it’s secluded. No people, lots of shrubbery. A great place for a cheeky shag.”
Seth sighed and walked away. “You’re about as subtle as a kick in the teeth, Faith.”
Faith pouted. Well, that didn’t work. No hunting and no sex? She could have worn jeans after all. Could have worn Melinda’s penguin bloody onesie. “What else is there to do here?” she asked irritably. “Like, actually do, not just look at.”
“You sound so painfully mortal when you say things like that, Fledgling,” Seth said, but he was smiling again. “Always rushing to the next activity and not stopping to appreciate the detail. You’ll get used to having unlimited time in a century or so.”
“Ugh. If I have to look at plants for eternity just kill me now,” Faith huffed. “I’ll die of boredom by the time I’m twenty, hanging out with you.”
Seth grinned and pointed toward the ocean. “If you’re so keen to get undressed, we could take a swim?”
Hmm. Seeing Seth’s wet, naked body did sound appealing, but it was offset with the knowledge that there would be all manner of slimy things in the water, fish that might touch her and maybe even sharks swimming around. There was also another problem.
“I can’t swim, so you’ll have to hold me,” she purred.
Seth rolled his eyes and carried on walking; hopping playfully over protruding rocks in the sand and picking up and examining seashells. Faith walked along behind, hoping she didn’t tread on any crabs or get any glass embedded in her feet. She’d left her shoes back on the yacht; who knew that vampires could still get blisters?
Seth was now describing a stone he’d picked up and Faith was seriously considering throwing herself into the ocean to find out if vampires could actually drown.
“I never understood the appeal of ‘romantic stroll along the beach’,” she said, interrupting his talk about trace fossils, whatever they were. “Rocks. Sand. Whoop. What can you really do with a load of sand?”
Say ‘make love in it’, she thought, willing him to hear. Say it.
Chuck hadn’t expected that this evening would go quite so pear-shaped. Almost immediately after Lilith had left, Babs had started to vindicate herself. He had listened to her impassioned justification that she was protecting him, protecting them both from the likes of Lilith; the con artists, liars and cheats.
He didn’t need to highlight her hypocrisy; she was well aware of it. What had started as an emotive, yet controlled discussion had turned into a tense exchange and then, eventually, a full-blown argument.
Chuck had raised his voice to his wife for the first time in years and, by the time Babs had recovered from her initial shock, he already had car keys in one hand and the front door handle in the other.
He would take a drive. Calm down. The courtesy car he had been given had heated seats and a great stereo; a little old country rock and a few laps around the block would put him back in the right frame of mind. Then he’d planned to return home, apologise. He and his wife would look at the bigger picture and work together, like the team they always had been. When emotions were under control and motivations clearly identified, they’d visit Lilith together, find out what she knew and go from there.
What actually happened was that he found himself taking a right when he should have gone left. He’d started heading out of town, instead of driving around it. He could have done a U-turn at SacFondles and headed home, but he didn’t stop driving until he spotted a familiar billboard.
Chuck needed to find Lilith. He didn’t know whether she’d be home, or drowning her sorrows in some bar, but he needed to know what she knew. He wasn’t sure if he’d remember the way to her house, or not, but he boldly strode through the darkness and rounded the corner on to the path.
He remembered the last time he’d done this, desperate for answers – and the toilet. He strolled briskly through the wavering doubt he experienced as he passed the area where he was attacked. Something flickered in the corner of his peripheral vision but, before he could register what it was, Chuck collided with all of his missing memory.
“Charles Bucket. Fifty-eight. Astronomer. Apt; the planets are certainly aligned for me this evening.”
Chuck beat his fists to his head, the pressure immense, his ears ringing. “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t; you’re a man of logic, of science and strong moral fibre. Driven here by a desire to save your daughter; Melinda, eighteen, adopted… interesting.”
“How do you—? Who—” Chuck stammered. Rooted to the spot, he could do nothing but watch as the face of the man before him changed. An ashen pallor washed across his skin, his eyes bleached of all their colour. Were those teeth there before? “What are you?” he gasped.
“I suppose the best definition would be ‘vampire’, Charlie. I know, I know – in your world of fact and calculation, vampires don’t exist. You’ll be more than ready to believe me, however, the second time we have this conversation…”
Faith didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Do you do this often?” she asked. “Steal boats and come out here to build sandcastles?”
“Yes and no. I commandeer vessels frequently, do visit the isle regularly, but this activity is rather novel.”
Faith couldn’t tell if he was being serious. Was this whole date just his way of winding her up? “Is that why you dress like a pirate?” she quipped. “So you feel the part when you steal ships?”
Seth laughed. He was definitely winding her up, she determined. “Not intentionally, but now that you mention it, there is a certain similarity.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to join the modern world and buy new clothes,” she said, scooping up a handful of damp sand and patting it on to the sculpture. “If you rob every human you kill, you should be loaded by now. Do you have a load of cash stashed somewhere, or do you blow it all on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll? Are you a gambler? Do you bury it in chests in the sand? It’s the last one, isn’t it? I’m gonna get you a parrot and an eye patch for your birthday. When is your birthday, anyway?”
“Some time in the autumn, none of the above and I’ve warned you about asking questions,” he growled. “I don’t take from every human I kill and most of the ones who roam the streets at night are hardly ‘loaded’.”
Faith bit her lip. When he got all serious like that, it made her shiver and not all in a bad way. At least he wasn’t talking about bloody seals or fossils any more. “So you waste it, then,” she stated, making sure it did not sound like a question. “You could have your own yacht instead of stealing them, or maybe buy a mansion instead of living on a log in the woods.”
“The ‘log in the woods’ was a temporary camp while I visited Forgotten Hollow,” he explained, still sounding irritated. “I do have somewhere a tad more permanent.”
“So, what’s your ‘more permanent’ dwelling? Got an apartment in Del Sol Valley? A villa in Sulani?” she realised, too late, that she’d bombarded with questions again, but this time, Seth merely smiled.
“No and hell no. A vampire in Sulani?” he laughed. “I have incredible sun resistance, but that’s simply asking for trouble. It’s not far. I would take you, but it’s definitely a ‘see’ rather than ‘do’ activity…”
“What? No way!” Faith gushed. “Here I was, thinking you were some leather-clad forest Tarzan. You can’t tell me you have a home and then not invite me over.”
“As you wish.” Seth dusted the sand from his gloves and extended his hand towards Faith. “Will you accompany me to my humble abode, Miss. Splodge?”
“What are you doing here?” Lilith asked, looking equally surprised and wary.
“I remember,” Chuck said. “All of it.”
He stood bravely before her; his determination to get to the truth overpowering his judgement, his sense of danger. Lilith backed up against the door; her reflexes too quick, her aura too cold, that now-familiar darkness in her eyes.
He may have been past the point of fear and of rationale, but Chuck was never past the point of manners.
“Please, Lilith. I’m begging you. Tell me everything you know.”
As of the morning he’d driven her to work, he was sure that her voice sounded from somewhere inside him, that her lips didn’t move.
Her big, brown eyes stared at him, into him, through him, slowly fading to inky puddles of black so dark that no light reflected. His knees were knocking, he shook all over but he stood resolute. He’d expected her, at best, not to comply with his request, to turn him away, at worst to simply kill him.
But she’d had plenty of chance to kill him, if that was her goal.
Maybe that would be her goal now he was asking too many questions. Fiddlesticks.
The corner of Lilith’s lips lifted, just a smidge and she nodded as if she’d made a decision. Chuck fought the urge to run screaming into the forest as she advanced on him, placed her ice-cold fingertips to his temple and to her own, filling his mind’s eye with a hundred images that didn’t belong.
It was like watching a movie, but also, it wasn’t. It was more like… absorbing a movie? He could play back these events, these conversations she was showing him as if he’d lived them, felt them, understood them implicitly.
Understood everything implicitly.
“So you are… and the mugger is… and Melinda is… and her friends are…”
Lilith nodded slowly. “We all are. Vampires.”
Chuck returned Lilith’s nod. “Vampires,” he repeated, far too calmly. “That makes sense. “
“Chuck are you—“
“You are shitting kidding me,” Faith said, aghast and unimpressed as she stumbled along through endless tunnels of pitch black; her bare feet slipping and sliding on the damp rock as the walls began to close in around her. “You live in a mine?”
“Not quite,” Seth replied. He took her hand, his night-vision clearly much better than hers as he guided her around a protrusion she’d nearly impaled herself on, and helped her up on to a ledge where the narrow tunnel opened out into a vast, cavernous space.
Faith looked around, allowing her eyes to adjust to slightly increased light level.
“You live in a cave,” she stated. “Like a troll. Right, well I’ve seen it now so—” She made to head back into the tunnel, but felt herself being compelled back.
She glared at Seth. “Don’t control me.”
“You can’t leave,” he insisted. “Not only do you not know the way back, but you haven’t seen the whole place. Come on.”
“Meh. What’s there to see?” Faith asked, unmoving. “It’s a stinky cave. I think I preferred looking at the blubber bags on the beach—” she was cut off as Seth grabbed her wrist and yanked her into his arms. She wriggled, half-heartedly as he lifted her; her protests empty. “Seth! Let me go!”
“All right,” he said, throwing her up and catching her a few times as he walked down the path, laughing as she swore and clung to him, begging him to stop. “Let me go, stop letting me go, go away, come back, stick this up your jacksie,” he whined; a much better impression of her than anyone usually managed. “Just shut up for once and come with me.”
“Fine,” Faith conceded, making herself as floppy and awkward as she could in his arms. “But I’d never say ‘jacksie’.” She fell silent as he continued to carry her and she wondered just how big this place was. “This isn’t where you store all the dead bodies is it?” she asked.
“Smells like it,” she muttered.
“Trust me; it doesn’t.”
“So where are you taking me? Are you going to lay me down upon a glistening bed of sludge and have your wicked way, Mr… what is your last name, anyway?”
“Grimm,” he replied. “And I’m not.”
Something in his voice sounded very final. “Not tonight, or…?”
He raised an eyebrow in response. At her look of horror, he laughed. “You really need to learn how to enjoy being rather than doing or forever is certainly going to feel like it.”
The thought of being near this man and not being allowed to wrap her limbs around him for an undetermined length of time was physically painful, yet Faith’s undead heart fluttered.
Forever as in together forever?
Fuck; I’m turning into Blondie.
“I know how to be present,” she insisted. “We’re in a stinky cave. There are brown rocks, grey rocks. There’s some mildew. The whole place smells of rot and damp and there is fuck all to see or do.”
Seth sighed, set her down without a word and began to walk away.
“Ugh, you’re such a drama queen,” Faith huffed. “Your home is lovely, Seth. I hear dank and featureless is really in this season.”
“Turn around, Fledgling.”