Note: drug use, description of medical procedures
In his pink, plastic, shell-shaped seat at the gurgling bubble machine in the technicolour basement, Caleb awaited further instruction. Wyatt – who was starting to smell a little less offensive – had decided to join him and Roxie, but Caleb had no idea who the bearded man sitting beside him was. He looked to be in deep thought, eyes cast down, possibly contemplating the pattern of the carpet.
Caleb could understand that; the carpet tiles were placed around seemingly randomly and didn’t match anything else. Why? Did it have a hidden meaning? As he, too, gazed down, allowed his vision to grow hazy and the colours to blur, an image materialised before his eyes.
What the hell?
Roxie’s sugar cane voice broke through his confusing… hallucination?
“OK, so you take the nozzle,” she said, demonstrating expertly. “Inhale gently and then blow.” She drew up through the mouthpiece and pouted, pushing a stream of bubbles from those glossy lips of hers.
“Like so.” She smiled, watching the bubbles as they floated and popped in the air. She blinked lazily and rolled her head towards Caleb. “Everyone reacts to this a little differently. For me, it makes me a little light-headed, but also makes everything amplified at the same time. I get all my best ideas on this stuff.”
She reached up to replace the hose and settled back into her squeaky chair. “It makes Saul here fascinated with flooring,” she explained, giggling and gesturing at the mute, bearded fellow, who didn’t respond. “It makes Wyatt think he’s a magician, but most things do, hey Wy?”
Wyatt only blew a cloud of bubbles in response.
“And, well, you can see what it does to Billy ‘Libre’ behind me,” Roxie whispered. “He definitely had clothes on when he arrived. So, fancy giving it a go? It’s OK if you don’t.”
Caleb nodded, shrugged off his intrusive thoughts of April – who in his mind was now sitting on the floor, screaming – and lifted the hose nearest to him.
He was very much hoping that he’d be the kind to get good ideas or to feel magical, but had a feeling that he, too, would end up stripping to his underwear at some point. However, the way no one batted an eyelid at the strange, almost nude guy dancing around in the wrestler mask told him that, whatever the outcome, he was in good company.
Inhale gently and blow.
His body had no need to breathe so it didn’t happen naturally, but Caleb could move air through himself if he tried. It would look a little peculiar and laboured if anyone paid a great deal of attention, but nobody was. Roxie was tainted by allure, Wyatt was staring at the ceiling, the mouth tip pinned between his gritted teeth and an almost constant stream of bubbles emitting from around it and Saul was still fixated on random things.
Caleb took a forceful breath, a practice one, feeling his withered lungs burn with the effort of trying to expand. He held his breath for a count of three and then pushed it back out, his torso convulsing with the effort.
Holy hell. It had been a long time since he’d moved more than the air required to talk; a full chest was such a strange sensation. The cavity behind his ribs felt warm, damp and tingly. Is that how it felt to be alive? He wondered, if he started breathing often enough, would it stop feeling so strange? Would it become habit?
He psyched himself up to go again.
“Gently,” Roxie instructed although Wyatt was blatantly ignoring this advice.
Here goes nothing.
“It worked!” he gushed, his voice unusually breathy-sounding. The bubbles danced before him, drifting skywards.
“It worked,” he repeated quietly, watching the orbs vanish and the multi-coloured lights play across the ceiling.
Roxie cheered. “Yeah! Well done you for not choking on the stuff, like most newbies do. Oh no, Thor. No,” she said softly, as Caleb went to take another draw. “Let that one kick in properly, yeah? See how you find it.”
Caleb pointed to Wyatt and Roxie shook her head, clicking her fingers in time to the music. “Don’t follow his bad example. One way ticket to a bad trip.”
“Yeah, I’ll only lead you astray,” Wyatt grinned. “But I never have bad trips.”
“That’s totally tempting fate,” Roxie tutted, her head now moving in time to the music, too. “I’m gonna go dance. Do you like dancing, Thor?”
Caleb usually hated dancing, but right now he seemed to like everything. He nodded frantically. Roxie smiled at his enthusiasm and held out her soft hand. He took it without any hesitation; right at that moment, he’d have followed her to the belly of hell.
Chuck couldn’t wait in the car. Anxious and restless he’d been wandering around in the overgrown garden wondering what was taking Lilith so long. What if they’d attacked her too? How long should he leave it before he… before he did what? Stormed in to be swiftly murdered by Seth, or his own daughter? Called the police to no doubt have them be murdered instead?
He wrung his hands and clenched his jaw, causing pain to shoot down his neck. Gently, he pressed his fingertips to his throat and hastily pulled them away, but he still registered his new branding; the tiny, raw, raised bumps where he’d been bitten.
Where Mellybean had bitten him.
Despite everything Lilith had said to him, despite everything he’d thought or wanted to believe, these two little bumps made it real, made it terrifying. He couldn’t pretend now that vampires were simply sharp-teethed people. She was not Mellybean anymore. She had been taken by something dark, something sinister.
“She’s still Mellybean,” Lilith said, appearing beside him.
He nodded, but her words did nothing to soothe him. “Mellybean wouldn’t… she couldn’t…” he gestured to his neck, unable to speak the words.
“I’m so sorry,” Lilith whispered. “I shouldn’t have brought you here. I didn’t realise that she’d already… it doesn’t matter. They’ll be ready to see you one day. They’ll be controlled enough to be around you, eventually. They will,” she assured him. “Because they want to. But for now, I think it’s best that you leave.”
Chuck looked frantically towards the house. “But Seth—”
“He’s already gone. He took Faith, as expected,” she murmured, angrily. “I’ll get her back; it’s not too late. I’ll get Melinda under control. I’ll… I’ll do something with April, hell knows what, but I’ll fix this whole thing. The very second Caleb returns, I’ll move them all somewhere safe and then I’ll contact you.”
“You can’t do all of that on your own—”
Lilith bristled, clearly offended by his insinuation. Her eyes flashed black and he balked. Stop provoking vampires, he rebuked himself. She looks as cute as a button, but she could probably butcher you barehanded.
“I could,” she said sternly. There was the briefest flicker of amusement over her features before her cold frown returned. “I’ll be in touch. Shush!” She held up her hand to silence him before he’d even opened his mouth. “This is not up for discussion, Chuck.”
Chuck wanted to stay, he wanted to fight, he wanted to help. But he knew it, she knew it. He couldn’t do anything. “You’ll call me?”
He nodded back, scuffed his shoe in to the floor. “Thank y—”
Nothing April was saying was making Melinda feel any better, but the sound of her voice was its own kind of soothing, she supposed.
“I did accidentally kill Mother,” April offered; her own brand of helpful. “And I’ve seen how Caleb can lose control in an instant. It is super easy to mess up, Mel. I think it’s just the way we are and we just have to try extra hard not to murder everyone. Don’t feel bad.”
Melinda pressed her thumb into her temple and pressed down. Yes, she definitely still had a brain, so why was she constantly feeling like she didn’t? She carried on nodding at appropriate intervals as April wittered on about how it was easier to not kill everyone if you mesmerised them first.
“I didn’t know how to mesmerise when I drank from you or Faith or Broof. You were tasty but then you freaked out so I only got a little sip and that sort of put paid to that. And Faith didn’t taste very yummy at all. She tasted all bitter and we were in an alleyway next to a smelly dumpster, so the whole thing was unpleasant. Broof tasted good too, a bit like you, I wonder if that’s because you’re both nice people.”
Melinda groaned. She felt the complete opposite of a ‘nice person’.
“But Broof didn’t freak out, like you did. He was super calm. Oh my goodness, I could have killed him, couldn’t I? Luckily, he managed to stop me. And then I mesmerised Mother by accident, but still killed her.” She paused, thinking. “OK. Maybe it doesn’t work every time then. But every time since then I’ve mesmerised and it’s easy to stop. Like it neutralises them somehow—”
“It does,” Lilith said, slipping into a vacant seat at the table. “It takes away their fear, calms their hearts, prevents their bloodstream being flooded with hormones. Epinephrine, endorphins, heck, even dopamine and serotonin if you have allure or find the right prey. It’s the hormonal spike that makes it hard to stop drinking. We don’t produce many of our own, so feeling those emotional highs again, second-hand… it can be intense.”
“We don’t produce many hormones?” Melinda asked.
“No,” Lilith replied, anticipating Melinda’s next question. She turned to April who had clearly lost track of the conversation. “You’re not pregnant, April. You don’t make enough of any hormone required to ovulate or maintain pregnancy. It’s completely impossible.”
“But we did a test,” April said. “It was positive.”
“Then you drank from a pregnant human,” Lilith explained. “It happens; I’ve done it myself a few times. The sickness is a bitch, isn’t it?” She laughed, eyes sparkling with a memory. “You know, pregnancy hormones have a weird effect on male vampires. There’s a reason nature left the childbearing to females; half a day of sickness and breast tenderness and even undead men think they’re dying.”
“So, there’s no baby?” April asked in a small voice. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely certain. I can cut you open and show you, if you’d like? I’ll bet you’ve never seen a butterflied uterus, especially not your own.” Lilith brightened as an idea came to her. “We should do a live dissection. I’ve never cut open such a freshly-made vampire; it’ll be fascinating! We could repeat the procedure every few years, document the changes as you age. Imagine; a medical journal on the physiology of vampires. Melinda, you could draw the anatomy charts.”
“…Or not,” Lilith said. “I’d make it painless and you’d heal quickly. No? All right. Maybe some other time.”
April looked down at her abdomen and whispered, “Shoo!”
“Are you OK?” Melinda asked. April thought for a moment, then nodded.
“Yes. Thank goodness I don’t have to knit anymore!” she laughed. “But Caleb will be sad. He wanted to buy a fancy mansion, get servants to dine on and raise some beautiful babies.”
“Like father, like son,” Lilith muttered. “Where is he, anyway?”
“He’s at work,” April replied.
“He’s got a job?!” Lilith asked, looking a mixture of concerned and impressed. “Where?”
“A flower shop in the village square,” Melinda answered. “He finishes his shift at four, so I imagine he will be back soon.”
“A flower shop in the village?” Lilith repeated quietly, concern flashed across her face as she looked at her phone. “He should have been back hours ago; its half past six.”
“Oh no!” April gasped. “He said he was going to bring a present home for me. What if it’s someone else for the basement?”
“He’d better not be,” Lilith hissed. “How is your prisoner? Danny, is it? Let me guess; that was Caleb’s idea? The damn idiot! You have to remind him of things constantly or he thinks they’re not relevant anymore.”
“Danny is OK,” Melinda answered quietly. “We wanted to release him but he recognised April.”
“I see,” Lilith grumbled. “That complicates the situation. Seth could have erased his memory, but of course he wasn’t going to tell you that, the swine.”
“Seth can erase memory?” April gushed. “Wow! He’s super talented.”
“Oh, he’s just amazing,” Lilith sneered sarcastically. “Thank goodness he was here to save the bloody day.”
“Yes, thank goodness!” April beamed, missing the sarcasm. “He’s not very nice sometimes, but that was good of him. Can’t he do so much handy stuff? Like teleport!”
“…and lie,” Lilith muttered bitterly.
“…and control minds,” Melinda mused, the puzzle pieces slotting together, proving that she did in fact still have a brain. “Was Seth actually here the whole time? Because when I hugged my dad, I was actively trying not to, but I couldn’t fight it. Was he controlling me? Would he do that?”
“Probably. Neither April or I could get off the floor, you felt compelled to attack and then, on cue, that twat turned up to save the day. I doubt it’s coincidence.”
“But why?” Melinda asked. “He made Dad leave so he clearly didn’t want him to die.”
“Mind games,” Lilith huffed. “A way to simultaneously erode your opinion of yourself, make me look bad and make himself look like the only sensible choice. Add in that he got to play the hero in front of Faith. And it worked like a damn charm; she quite literally fell over herself to be whisked away by that rat bastard.”
Melinda was deeply saddened but not surprised by the news that Faith had left, she was only surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. Melinda only hoped that her friend would come to her senses one day, that she’d remember wanting to get herself under control for Joy’s sake.
One day, she would find her way back to where Melinda would always be waiting and they could go home.
“Poor Dad,” Melinda said sadly. “He- he’s OK, isn’t he? He understood why he had to leave?”
“He’s fine,” Lilith assured her. “You can use my phone to call him and your mother whenever you want. But next time you meet, it’ll be through a window with a phone, prison style.”