Note: Very dark topics and very bright shirts
“Right on time again; you’re certainly precise!” Sage enthused as she welcomed Caleb into the store. “You look just wonderful, Thor!”
Caleb wasn’t so convinced. The shirt he was wearing was easily the brightest garment he’d ever worn in his existence. He had modelled it for April this morning and hadn’t quite understood how to interpret her biting her nails as she’d told him that he looked ‘super nice’.
“Thank you, Ms. Harper.”
“Your manners are simply lovely, Thor. Someone certainly raised you right!” Sage cooed. “You may call me Sage. And this ragamuffin,” she said, gesturing to the young, unkempt-looking guy who was standing beside her in his matching shirt, “is my son, Wyatt. I did so want to induct you myself, darling, but I have important business to attend to this morning. Wyatt will start your training and I will teach you the correct way to do everything when I get back,” she joked.
“Mum thinks she’s funny,” Wyatt said, rolling his eyes. Then under his breath he muttered, “I didn’t need the repellent; he’s as straight as an arrow.”
Caleb didn’t understand what this meant. Must be a plant thing. He continued to smile, politely.
Sage poked her son in the side, still beaming. Her green eyes flickered between the two yellow-wearing males with interest. “That’s no way to greet your new workmate, Wyatt. Extend your hand, there’s a good boy.”
Wyatt made an incredulous face, but dutifully extended his hand towards Caleb for a tentative handshake. “So very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Gore,” Wyatt said in an over-the-top posh voice. “I do hope you find sweeping floors and counting seeds with me today a positively enthralling experience!”
Caleb would only shake hands with a human if he had to; he didn’t like the way they shuddered at his touch if his allure didn’t work and if it did work… well, it didn’t often stay at handshake. But Wyatt wasn’t reacting negatively as their hands met; in fact, if Caleb didn’t know better, he’d assume his allure was actually working on his new colleague. It was he who couldn’t break contact fast enough.
There was something about this scruffy fellow that made Caleb’s skin crawl. He pulled his hand from Wyatt’s grip, as politely as he could, took a step back and stealthily wiped his hand in his pocket. Ugh.
Wyatt seemed a little disappointed, but Sage was grinning. She clapped her hands together. “Marvellous! The checklist is on the counter there. I shall be on my way.” She turned towards the counter as if she was going to head to the back room.
“Where are you going?” Wyatt asked, stopping her. “There’s no exit back there. The door is that way, Mum.”
Sage faltered. “I know where the door is, darling—”
“You need to use a door to get out, remember?” Wyatt explained gently. “You can’t get out if there’s no door, can you? Don’t mind her; she’s senile.”
Sage tutted and headed out of the shop door, the tiny bell tinkling as she left.
Caleb walked over to the counter to check out the task list Sage had left behind, more to keep his distance from Wyatt, than anything, but before he could reach it, Wyatt had yanked it off the surface and thrown it carelessly into a corner.
“Forget that, I’ve got it memorised,” he said, his tone light and playful, his eyes shining. “We won’t have customers for, like, an hour though. So first; grand tour and a drink.”
Chuck pulled in to the car park of SacFondles. Lilith had insisted that they stop en-route to Windenburg and get him something to stop the grumbling in his stomach, but options were limited along the way. He did have to admit that, as questionable as the chain was and even though it wasn’t quite lunch time, the idea of a greasy burger sounded amazing.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Chuck said as he walked towards the restaurant. This was a lie, there were many things he didn’t understand, but one thing had been bothering him more than the others. “If Windenburg is a sanctuary, why did you leave?”
“It’s not a sanctuary for vampires; it’s a safe haven from us,” Lilith explained. “Technically, we’re only supposed to hunt in Forgotten Hollow; anyone who willingly ventures into the forest there is deemed fair game.” She said this so coldly that Chuck shuddered. He had to remind himself that she didn’t hunt, she wasn’t referring to herself.
Wait, anyone who went there willingly was fair game? His hand went back to his neck. Lilith noticed and licked her fangs, idly. “Luck favours you, Chuck,” she murmured. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”
Lilith hadn’t wanted to join him while he dined, a stance he could now fully appreciate after witnessing her sipping from a glass of part-congealed blood. He ate his enormous burger as fast as he could, tempting indigestion, terrified that she’d change her mind and ditch him and all this would have been for nothing, that he’d be no closer to finding Mellybean.
That little voice of doubt in his head, the one that sounded like Babs, told him he was making a huge mistake, that it was a trap, a con. Logic told him that this situation was impossible, that he was suffering some sort of mental breakdown. But his devotion to his daughter and his desperation to learn the truth was still winning out.
Chuck emerged from the dingy, sticky-floored restaurant, to find his companion seated on a part-shaded bench. She was staring wistfully at some children who were playing nearby and, for a moment, Chuck watched her. She could be a normal woman; this could be a normal day.
If he closed his eyes, he could lose himself with the warm sun on the back of his head and the gentle music of children giggling; their pattering feet as they chased one another.
The static hat he suddenly felt like he was wearing made him realise that nothing was normal. He had learned that this sensation accompanied Lilith’s focus, that it was her ‘probes’ as she called it, her mind-reading. He sat beside her and watched as her eyes flicked away, noticing as the fizzing ebbed when she did so.
“It was different,” Chuck said, wanting to acknowledge that he could feel her trespassing in a way that didn’t sound accusatory, “when Seth read my mind. The initial feeling was similar, that effervescence, but his was accompanied by a blinding compression, a real intensity. Why is that? If you’re both mind-reading, why does it feel different?”
Lilith initially looked guilty, but then she frowned. “Intent,” she muttered.
Chuck nodded, even though this vague response offered no answers. He felt like all he’d done since he left Lilith’s house was ask her questions, and all she’d given him were vague responses and more questions in return. He wanted to shake her, beg her to give him answers; didn’t she realise how much he was putting on the line here? His daughter was ill and missing, his wife was angry, hurt and no longer responding to his messages. He’d skipped work, again. Everything he’d known about the world yesterday, was wrong.
He needed to know that this had purpose, that he wasn’t losing his mind. He needed her to co-operate.
Lilith hung her head and he realised that she was listening to this mental tirade. He started to apologise, but she interrupted.
“It feels different because mine is not a conscious effort,” she muttered. “I try to respect privacy, even though I often can’t. He doesn’t even try; in fact, he sees it as his right to know what everyone around him is thinking at all times. Does that answer your question?”
Chuck flinched at Lilith’s abrupt tone. But this was good, this was progress. He understood how difficult it must be for her to talk about her vampirism, if she’d never shared it with anyone before.
But trust was a two-way street.
“It does. Thank you,” he whispered. She nodded and mellowed a little. Chuck fiddled with a receipt in his pocket, wondering what to say next. “Can all vampires read minds? Can the girls?”
“To some extent,” Lilith replied. “We all develop different skills at different rates, just like humans do.” Lilith let out a little laugh as she remembered something. “Melinda’s reflexes are even better than Caleb’s already, much to his chagrin; his speed has always been something he’s prided himself on. April has the most mind-control ability, currently,” Lilith hesitated, “Faith has allure in spades. The power of seduction,” Lilith clarified surveying Chuck’s face as his expression changed from confusion to embarrassment.
“Oh my,” he said, blushing. “Faith was already quite promiscuous without that.”
“She has something else, too. I’m not sure what, but it was interesting enough for Seth to want to pursue her, to want to train her,” Lilith looked back towards the playground, where the children were now stomping around, pretending to be pirate dinosaurs.
“You mentioned this before, ‘train her’,” Chuck said. “Train her to do what, exactly?”
Lilith shifted, unable to focus on Chuck’s face. “To be all-powerful and yet ever-powerless,” she answered. “To have the strength to end him completely and yet never the knowledge or will to use it.”
Chuck studied Lilith’s evasive body language and clenched his fists, impressing half-moon shaped grooves into his palms as he wondered how it was possible to dislike someone he barely knew so very much.
“That’s what he did to you, isn’t it?”
Lilith was still staring in the general direction of the playground, even though the children had gone and the area was silent. “I was already powerless when I met him,” she laughed drily. “Seth had been abandoned by his Mistress, was missing half of his memory and was so pitiful. I took him in, like a fool. He was everything I’d dreamed of: intelligent, witty and willing. I wrote his aggression off as vulnerability, took Caleb’s wariness as him simply being overprotective, overlooked Seth’s obvious flaws as he did mine. Finally, I thought in my stupidity, someone who understands. Someone who is accepting me, unequivocally, for what I am.”
Chuck blinked, surprised. Lilith was always so closed off, so stilted. This emotive response was completely unexpected. He watched as her gaze lingered on the empty playground, like she was seeing something he couldn’t.
“Seth was so good to me, at the start. He helped me with Caleb, helped us to survive, he trained me to use my powers and, in response, it reawakened his own. Watcher, Chuck, the things we could do. I’ve seen the way you can communicate, wordlessly, with Babs. Imagine if, instead of just conveying words, you could invoke memory, fantasy, incite sensation without touch…” A coyness slipped across Lilith’s features, but her eyes sparkled as she remembered.
Chuck cleared his throat, uncomfortably. Lilith shook her head and continued.
“It was all so easy, so perfect. With hindsight, too easy. Too perfect. I was content with what I had but he always said that there was so much untapped potential, so much we could learn if we just drank a little bit more, slipped a little bit further, embraced our nature a little more readily. Before I knew it, a little became a lot and a lot became… everything.” She paused, staring directly at the sun. “Why is it that the more you get of something, the more you want?” she asked rhetorically.
Chuck tilted his head. “I’ve never been one to buy into that concept,” he said. “Nothing good ever comes from greed.”
“It doesn’t,” she agreed, her eyes glazed over. “It really doesn’t.”
He was back in two frames of mind; part of him wanting to press her, while she was pliable, for more answers about the girls, and part of him wanting to simply help her. This was clearly a massive burden for her to carry and he had to wonder; had she even told anyone these things before?
Did he want to hear them?
“At what point did you realise you’d had enough?” Chuck asked softly.
Lilith shuddered, shrugging off her daydream. “Rock bottom. And even then, I carried on. I couldn’t climb out of the pit I was in, no matter how much I fought. Seth knew exactly what to say to help me rationalise what we were doing. To make me stay. To make me want to stay, even.”
Chuck was appalled. “And you think this is what he wants to do to Faith? Use her as a pawn in some twisted power game?”
“Yes. I’ve tried to warn her, but everything I said had the opposite effect, of course. I’ve been where she is; basking in the fantasy. Stubbornly refusing to believe that I could be so wrong about someone who seemed so right.”
Chuck’s blood was boiling. He tried to calm his racing thoughts with memories of Melinda’s feisty best friend; her aggression, her fight. Soothed himself with the knowledge that she really wasn’t the kind to comply, that there was time.
Lilith got to her feet and followed him towards the car. “I hope you’re right.”
After a gruelling morning that had involved giving samples of every bodily fluid she had, an aggressive chat with a ‘therapist’ and a breakfast that consisted mostly of steak and spinach, that she had eaten without fuss despite the fact that she was vegan, Jessica was finally allowed to return to her room in the Tower.
The rooms had certainly been improved since the days when her mother was holed up in here. Jessica settled on to the very comfortable bed, wincing slightly at the cramping in her abdomen – would this period ever end? – and turned on the television.
Jessica had to have faith. She knew how this system worked. She just had to keep her head down, not cause any fuss, not do anything that could be interpreted as loopy and she’d be out of here in no time with a prescription for pills or a clean bill of mental health.
“… and that is why we, the Glimmerbrook Truth Society have launched our ‘Justice for Jess’ campaign. Jessica Spoon is not crazy; she is the victim of a corrupt system and we are in her corner!”