The surface he was lying on was cold and rough against his face, his shoulder throbbed in pain yet the arm attached to it was devoid of all feeling, his glasses were pressed firmly into the bridge of his nose and Chuck had no idea what had put him there.
“Charles. Open your eyes.”
In response to this rather abrupt command, Chuck dutifully blinked until he could see. The porch swam into focus along with a young, female face that studied him carefully, warily. Lilith. Dr. Vatore. Vampire.
Chuck pushed himself up, his numb arm struggling to support the weight it was requested to, clamouring to his feet as fast as he could in his panic and immediately feeling himself once again hit the deck.
Lilith sighed and hauled him into a seated position, settling herself beside him.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Chuck.”
Chuck’s head gradually stopped spinning and he watched as Lilith’s fingers wrapped around his arm; her cool touch sending shockwaves through his skin. Deathly cold. Vampire.
He swallowed back the lump in his throat. “You fed from me, before,” he stated, trying to finding logic in the words he was speaking. Fed from him. Vampire.
“Desperation,” she explained. “The girls took my whole supply.”
“Blood bags. From my clinic. I don’t hunt, Chuck. I don’t feed directly from people unless I absolutely need to.”
Chuck shook his head. This was ludicrous. This whole situation was completely bonkers. Maybe he was dreaming. Perhaps he’d hit his head and this was all the resulting hallucination. He shouldn’t believe a word of this; he didn’t believe this and yet… he did? He could see her, Melinda, in Lilith’s house, laughing, smiling and… raging? That wasn’t very Mellybean and yet, it was. He could hear the conversations she’d had with Lilith, could remember the thought processes behind the answers Lilith gave as if he’d lived these moments.
He wasn’t sure what scared him more; the rational assumption that either himself or Lilith were suffering a mental health condition and experiencing delusions, or the innate knowledge that she was exactly what she claimed to be.
Lilith inclined her head, like she was listening to his thoughts. She is listening, he realised.
“I am,” she murmured, squinting at the sun that was breaking through the trees. “I can’t switch it off.”
He had a million questions about a thousand topics punctuated by a hundred different fears, but they all accumulated into one, loaded word. “How?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” Lilith muttered. “Will you come in?”
Chuck could have got up and left. He could have written Lilith off as a con artist, a fraud or a lunatic. At the very least he could have called his wife, told her where he was so they knew where to start looking for his remains.
Babs had always told Chuck that he was too trusting, but never had he believed her until the moment he crossed the threshold, willingly, into a vampire’s lair.
“His name is Thor and he’ll be here at nine,” Sage reiterated to her son in their daily, pre-opening briefing. “Unfortunately, I have been summoned by the High Priestess, so I won’t be able to induct him. If you could please show him the ropes, complete today’s checklist, keep an eye on him, don’t let him get overwhelmed and finally, don’t get too friendly.”
Wyatt had been nodding along, idly, only half-listening until this last point. He cocked his head and grinned. “What? Don’t get too friendly?” he said. “Why? Does he bite?”
Sage didn’t know how to answer that, so she didn’t. “Wyatt, sweetheart. I need you to remain professional—“
“Oh? Why? It’s because he’s hot, isn’t it?” he teased. “Isn’t he, like, seventeen though? Although, in human years, I’m about… nineteen? So not too creepy, right?”
“I wonder if he’ll want to come to Becky’s with me later. We can go in our matching shirts. Be like those cute couples who dress alike.”
“Wyatt!” Sage said crisply, this firmer tone finally snapping her son from his droll daydream. He rolled his eyes towards her in his sardonic way.
“Fine. I won’t flirt with him,” he huffed. “I won’t even talk to him. I won’t have any fun at all. I’ll just go join the monastery, shall I?”
She knew that he was joking, he always was, but it still hurt.
Sage genuinely did try to cut him as much slack as she could but, for witches like Wyatt, the leash had to be short. She was forced into the role of supervisor as he ruefully watched his peers conjure and cast while he was limited to crafting and brewing. Safer forms of magic. Controlled forms of magic.
He was bored. He rebelled. He pushed the boundaries.
Just like his brother had.
Sage had anticipated Wyatt’s resistance. She walked over to the refrigerator and retrieved from it a green flask which she held up to her son. Under the spotlights, the swirling contents shimmered in a tantalising fashion.
“What’s that?” he asked, transfixed.
“Repellent,” she replied. “Ironically.”
“Mum,” he laughed, still looking at the flask. “Repellent? Is this necessary? What, you think I’m gonna be spilling all our secrets to him if he comes on to me or something?”
“Possibly. He’s a charmer and I’m unsure of his motivations,” she said, smiling. “Please trust me, my darling.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes again, but he took the flask and plonked himself down at the counter. He pulled out the cork and sniffed it. “Appley,” he murmured. “Is this gonna make me so ugly he’ll run away screaming? Or make me stink or something?” he asked, beginning to drink.
“Something like that.”
Yibbo relaxed into her favourite armchair in the headquarters of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society’s Forgotten Hollow Investigation Branch – AKA, Pixie’s dad’s house. Pixie and Morag were conducting their morning séance, leaving Yibbo alone in the living room to do her daily news watch.
She was looking for patterns, unexplainable stories or suspicious activity. She was also a huge Sandy Moss fan and was following the story of the actress’s untimely demise with great interest.
“The world bids a final farewell to beloved actress and philanthropist, Cassandra ‘Sandy’ Moss today. The funeral promises to be a lavish affair attended by A-listers and royalty and we will have live coverage from midday, to ensure you know who everyone is wearing for the occasion.
“You’d think that this would be the end of the Moss Story coverage but oh no! We intend to milk every drop from this cash cow for as long as we can! Head on over to our website where you can buy your commemorative Sandy Moss Funeral t-shirt that Sandy wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing.”
Yibbo nodded approvingly as the t-shirts were displayed on the screen. Stylish, she thought to herself, making a mental note to go on the website afterwards and buy one in each colourway.
“In other news, interesting development in the case of the murdered police officer, Chase Crooks. His colleague and on-off girlfriend, Jessica Spoon, has been confined in The Tower, a psychiatric unit in Windenburg. Chase’s roommate, Marshall Law and Chase’s ex-girlfriend, Penelope Spender have been remanded in custody.
“Up next; a feature about Sandy and her father which you’ve all seen at least five times so you know that it’s as pointless and inconclusive as my whole life is right about now.”
Yibbo stared at her phone in disbelief. Jessica? In the Tower? That reeked of conspiracy!
She ran upstairs as fast as her legs could carry her, which wasn’t very fast because her socked feet slid around in her sandals, threatening to trip her. She burst into the seance room, where Morag and Pixie were about to try out the new crystal ball that Morag had found on Plopsy.
“Guys!” Yibbo gasped, out of breath. She panted, clutching at her chest, wheezing for a while, trying to form words, before she gave up and started gesturing wildly, instead.
“Oh, I love this game!” Pixie said, delighted. “OK. So, it’s a news headline. Five words.”
“Jessica is in The Tower!” Morag announced.
“How do you always get them so fast?!” Pixie demanded. “I smell a rat.”
Morag shrugged, “You can commune with the dead, I can commune with the living— wait a second. Jessica is in The Tower? Jessica Spoon?”
“Yes… she… is!” Yibbo spluttered, her lungs burning with every word.
“No way!” Morag cried out. “She shows signs of witchcraft, is possessed by a witch and then she’s immediately locked up in the asylum? This has got cover up written all over it!”
“They’re on to her,” Pixie whispered in her paranoid fashion. “They’ll make her disappear, like all the others.”
“N-no!” Yibbo managed. “Not… this time! We must… help her!”
Morag and Pixie shot to their feet to join their breathless buddy.
“What can we do?” Pixie asked. “Start a petition?”
“Yes! And we’ll protest!” Morag suggested. “Camp outside and kick up a real fuss; make Jessica as high profile as we can! Make it impossible for her to disappear!”
“We can show the world that she’s not crazy!” Pixie said. “That we’re not crazy! We’ll expose the Wangshafts for who they really are at last!”
“Justice for Jess!” Yibbo shouted, pumping her fist into the air, her t-shirt purchases completely forgotten.
“Justice for Jess!”
“Can you only survive on blood?” Chuck asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the red fluid in Lilith’s glass.
“Yes,” Lilith replied, taking a small sip and watching as Chuck’s face turned from green to snow white. There were only a handful of times in her whole existence where she’d confessed her vampirism to someone; Chuck was the first person who hadn’t run away or tried to kill her. The first human, besides Nathaniel, who had ever watched her drink.
It made her uncomfortable.
“How much do you need?”
“That depends on a lot of factors,” Lilith explained. “Activity level plays a part, as do weather conditions, but age is the main one. I believe it’s the atrophy of the vital organs that means that we steadily need more as the years pass. The three girls should be able to survive on the odd pint here or there for a while. But the likes of myself and my brother, we’re talking the equivalent of at least a whole human’s worth, daily, to maintain all faculties.”
“A whole human’s worth?” Chuck repeated, nervously. His fingertips instinctively brushing against the healed seam in his neck. “Oh my goodness. How much do you take from your patients?”
“Not nearly enough,” Lilith replied, in her matter-of-fact way. “For both our sakes, I’ve always had to prioritise feeding Caleb, so I’ve become accustomed to getting by on a lot less. Restriction has limited both our skillsets – mine considerably – but the trade-off was that he maintained some semblance of civility and I… so did I.”
Chuck stared at Lilith. She could hear him catching the fluctuations in her speech but deciding not to push. The guilt began to get to her, especially when he opted to take her words at face value and she could hear him thinking how noble she was, how selfless.
“Nothing about vampires can ever be considered ‘selfless’, Chuck,” she snapped. “We are parasites and monsters by design.”
“Is that why she did it?” Chuck asked. “Is that why Mellybean burst into your house, why she stole from you? It’s so out of character for her to do that. Is it her…” he struggled to say the word, “condition? Can we cure her? Or treat her?”
If it had been anyone other than Chuck asking her that, she could have been blunt; setting him a realistic expectation that finding a cure was a slim chance. Very much an ‘if’ not a ‘when’. But damn him and his optimistic eyes.
“I hope so,” she said, trying to smile. “We need to find them first.”
Chuck finished his water; all she could offer him. He tapped the glass, musing quietly as he did so, “If I was a scared, teenaged vampire, plunged into a new, dark world and hiding from the authorities, where would I go? Where would you go?”
He was asking this question to his absent daughter, but Lilith laughed. “Funnily enough, I was once a scared, teenaged vampire plunged into a new world. I put my full trust in someone who, I thought, understood both worlds and we went to—“
He wouldn’t be so stupid.
No. Wait. He would.
“…Windenburg. They’re in Windenburg.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“Caleb always seeks what’s familiar; returns to what he knows. The moron!”
“Is that so bad?” Chuck asked delicately. “If it’s a familiar place? Windenburg is very rural, it’s safe—“
“It’s a sanctuary; they couldn’t be anywhere worse right now,” Lilith groaned and held her head. “Hopefully Seth will have talked him out of it or they still have some plasma packs, so there’s time. Bollocks; who am I kidding?! I bet Seth has encouraged them to throw the plasma in the river and go wild. He’s probably holed up somewhere, miles away, ‘training’ Faith and laughing his head off, the complete twat!” She started banging her face off the table, repeating, “I’m screwed. We are all utterly screwed.”
“Training Faith to do what? How are you screwed? What do you mean by sanctuary?” Chuck asked, trying to keep up.
Lilith didn’t answer; still ranting to herself as she made a plan, “I knew I’d get forced back into this fucking farce! I’d better go find them. Drag them back here, if I have to. I can convince Caleb to come back, meaning April will have no choice. Faith will be nigh on impossible if Seth has had enough time alone with her, but Melinda…”
She looked up at Chuck who was already on his feet, car keys in hand, mentally mapping his drive to Windenburg. “No,” she said firmly, following him. “You’re going home, Chuck. They’re not the girls you knew. It’s too risky; I need to go alone—”
“So they can attack you and run off again?” he asked, his bluntness knocking her off guard almost as much as the sudden embrace of his warm, soft hand around hers.
Those goddamn eyes; they could melt the ice caps.
“I’m coming with you,” he said. We’re in this together.