Welcome to the end of book two. If you survive this, I swear – it gets better.
Warning: Non-consent, suicidal sim, violence, blood, ritual humiliation.
A little while after sunset, I sat under the tree on the hill where we’d first met, and gazed up at the colour-changing clouds as the light began to fade.
Angeline was usually here before me, but no matter. John had perhaps made it difficult for her that night and she would’ve had to sneak out after dark.
Or, more likely, she was simply annoyed with me and wanted me to sweat.
I had picked some flowers for her from various window boxes around town. She wasn’t the kind who would’ve swooned at this gift or even really appreciated the beauty of the delicate blooms, but she would’ve very much enjoyed hitting me with them as she turned the air blue with her reprimands.
I’d have enjoyed grovelling.
I tried to relax by thinking through the forthcoming night in my head. We would lie back, like most nights, and she’d likely ask me questions about my past. It fascinated her, rather than repulsed her, so I’d answer honestly whenever she asked about my childhood, about my father.
About how he’d send me out to ‘earn my keep’.
How he’d ‘settle the balance’ because no amount was ever enough.
Until it was enough.
The townsfolk had been unable to decide whether I was a victim or an uncaged lunatic, but ultimately it was my tender age that spared me the gallows. They gave me the lighter punishment; fourteen years of isolation and ‘therapy’ in the Tower, and a lifetime tarred as insane.
Angeline could never stay down for long and she didn’t allow me to. So, after she’d asked any burning questions, we’d likely chat nonsense. We’d joke about turning the dairy farm into a funfair and how many apples I needed to sell to buy a carousel. Or I’d simply listen to her talk about plants and nature some more. I always learned something new.
Maybe tonight she’d revisit that unusual conversation from the previous night about how she could shoot stars from her hands, but she wasn’t allowed to show me.
That was weird even by her kooky standards.
Then, I’d ask her the question that was making my mouth dry.
I watched the pin pricks of light puncture through the velvet black above me, wishing I’d brought that onion along. I was starving. Not enough to take up Noah’s offer though.
Angeline wouldn’t eat anything with a face so, for her, neither did I, however tempting a lamb dinner may have been right then. I used the foraging skills she had taught me to find some blackberries to tide me over.
She had been foraging the day I met her, three weeks after my release. I could never forget the day I finally walked free; how bright the sun was. How overwhelming the hope was and how quickly that died as those I had grown up alongside either avoided me or threatened me, lest my illness be contagious.
I didn’t know much about Angeline when I’d bumped into her near this very tree, and she seemed to know nothing about me.
The kinder villagers described Angeline as being ‘away with the fairies’, but most simply called her strange.
Granted, when she opened the conversation by talking about beetles, then proceeded to argue with me about who would win a fictional fight between a cat and a goose, I did agree with their assessments. But by the time we got on to the topic of social conventions, how she told me that it was fine that I didn’t go to church – the priest once tried to feel her bottom and so she didn’t go either – she started to make perfect sense to me.
The hope started to return.
Until she asked me what the rope I was carrying was for.
She didn’t ask me why or try to talk me out of my plan. In fact, she offered to retie the noose for me as I had made a pig’s ear of it, apparently.
She promised that she would come back at sunset to cut me down and bury me, because someone would have to.
I spent the day willing myself to do it, until night fell, until Angeline returned. With a shovel, as she’d promised.
It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me.
I lay back on the grass, watching the twinkling sky. I threw the blackberries, one by one into the air, catching every one of them in my mouth, listening to my stomach rolling and the wind gently fluttering the leaves of the tree above me.
The night as heavy upon me as Noah’s words and the fear of what I was about to do, I rehearsed what I would say to Angeline as I threw another berry skywards and caught it right between my teeth.
Angeline, will you marry me?
No. Too overdone. Too generic.
Angeline, will you entangle with my soul and rot for eternity with me in hell?
Hmm. Maybe I’d have been better to stick with the first one.
Would she laugh in my face? Likely. She’d never given me any indication that she wished to marry me. What if she didn’t? Would she even take me seriously when I asked?
I looked over at the sad bouquet. I should have stolen her something better. No, not stolen; stop defaulting to that. I should have saved up and bought her a fine engagement gift to prove my intentions. A fancy gown that she could’ve worn to ruin while foraging. Perhaps not. A fur cape. No, not fur; minks have faces. Jewels? As if I could’ve ever afforded jewels.
Maybe I should have spent less time tangled around Angeline and more time trying to win John’s favour. Bollocks. Noah was right; I had set myself up for failure.
I threw the last berry up and waited, mouth open.
For the first time ever, it landed on the ground beside me, missing its target completely.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew it was the dead of night and there was still no sign of Angeline. Resignedly, I grabbed up the flowers and headed towards the farm. If she wanted me to go to her, I would.
If I had to face John’s shotgun, so be it.
I pushed open the gate to the farm and boldly walked in, past the milking shed, briefly imagining Angeline, with her pink cheeks and messy braid, coaxing milk with those incredibly skilled hands of hers…
I wouldn’t usually approach the house; I was inviting the muzzle of a gun between my eyes if I tried. As I approached the door, I noticed that it was ajar.
I pushed it open and peered inside. The room beyond seemed undisturbed and the house was quiet.
I tiptoed through, opened the door to Angeline’s room. Her bed was unmade, her window open. I must have just missed her; she must be on her way to the tree.
I paused to look at her soft, hand-knitted bedcovers, the collection of bizarre items on her desk. A white candle, a flower and that bottle I’d seen her pocket earlier. It was full of a pink liquid with some sort of wading bird on the label; a heron perhaps, or a crane.
What on earth could that be for?
As I made to leave, I noticed that the door to John’s bedroom was also ajar. Someone clearly needed the skills of the carpenter; those doors must have all been hung incorrectly. I took a step closer to the door, curiosity getting the better of me; I’d never been in there.
Since the death of Angeline’s mother, John had slept alone. I had never known the woman, but I imagined that if she had been anything at all like her daughter, she was enchanting, impossible to forget.
Risking attack with a round of bullets, I peeped through the gap to the room inside.
Illuminated by a tiny oil lamp, the scene that met my eyes took all the air from me. There was blood pooled on the floor, splattered on the wall, soaked into the weave of the bedcovers and in the middle of all this carnage, was John.
There was no movement, no breath, but I had to know for sure if he was still alive. I felt my stomach flip as I crossed the room to the bed and forced myself to examine him. As I gently rolled him over, my hands slipped on his skin and I retched at the unnatural way his head lolled as he moved.
Clearly dead and almost decapitated.
I clasped my hand to my mouth in an attempt to hold in the vomit that filled it, willed my feet to the courtyard where I emptied my insides into a gulley. I stayed on all fours with my forehead on the floor until every blackberry had evacuated in a burning cocktail of purple acid.
Why had Angeline done this? How had she done this? Had she done this? If she hadn’t, who had?
John was well-liked, well-respected and most amenable to everyone who wasn’t trying to dishonour his darling daughter. I couldn’t think of a single person who would wish him harm—
“There is no way on Watcher’s green earth that John will give you her hand.”
“I’ll find a way.”
If they’d found me with John, the writing would’ve been on the wall. There wouldn’t have even been a trial; my past would’ve been enough evidence to convict me.
I tried to get to my feet but I seemed to have lost the use of my legs; my knees crashing back to the stone with a crunch. The world grew hazy as a shadow approached from behind me.
I felt the air being pushed out of me as if I was being squeezed by a giant, invisible fist. Panic gripped me and the world around me started to fade.
I felt something soft brush against my neck, followed by something sharp and was blinded by a sudden flash of light.
I always woke at that point and I always woke here.
In the heavy black of the basement, my senses slowly started coming back to me, piecemeal. As my vision adjusted to the darkness I could see the cot. So that meant I was on the chair. I was sure that I was last on the cot, but then I’m fairly sure I was also dressed and now—
Familiar paralysis. Those all-too-familiar glowing, green eyes, almost blindingly bright in the void.
Damn. That all too familiar sensation, amplified ten-fold in the abyss.
I was sure that she’d only visited me yesterday and I was still light-headed. Was it yesterday? I had no real concept of time in there.
I tried to think of something else, put myself somewhere else, but with her barbs in my head there was nothing else. I couldn’t distract myself.
Kitty purred into my ear. The coldness of her skin, her iron grip. The way she nibbled on my earlobe with those needle-sharp teeth. Watcher, help me. The derogatory things she was calling me…
I shuddered. I was still drained from her last visit; I could feel the chilled air of the basement on the still-raw wound on my neck. But despite this, despite everything…
She purred, running her tongue from my collar bone to my ear before finally releasing her grip. This was no reprieve. Instead, she hiked up her skirt and climbed on to my lap; the broken chair groaned beneath the weight of us.
She nibbled me; a threat.
Drowning in the swamp between thrill and fear, I was only vaguely aware of the lantern approaching, the figure that had appeared in the shadows. His eyes shining yellow in the low light of the basement.
“Layne wants you,” Patrick said to Kitty, his face and voice both impassive.
She growled in frustration; the vibrations painful against the exposed inners of my neck. She grabbed me by the hair, yanking my head from her bite, never vice versa. I felt the sharp tips of her ragged teeth tear my flesh as we broke apart.
“I’m busy, Patsy.”
“Eat some other time,” Patrick waved his hand, knocking Kitty from my lap. She stumbled, but swiftly regained composure.
Patrick glanced over at me and swore. “Seriously? Is that why you’re always down here? You’re one messed-up broad, Kathryn.”
Her voice was a sinister purr. “There’s envy if I ever did see it. Kindly advise Layne that I’m busy and get lost.”
The room fell silent except for the sounds of my breathing but some sort of discussion was taking place between the undead duo; I could tell by the heavy, prickly feeling in the air.
Kitty suddenly laughed. “Why would I bother with that when he’s so happy to oblige?”
“Happy?” Patrick repeated. “Your brain really is buggered if you think he’s happy with this.”
She sauntered over, wedging her knee firmly between my thighs as she grabbed me by the hair. She pulled back, cradled my face, forced me to look directly into those cat-like green eyes of hers. Her voice condescending, like she was talking to a small child.
“You would do anything to please me, wouldn’t you, boy? And I know you like our playtime, don’t you? I’m sure Patrick can see how much you enjoy it,” she ground her knee into my groin, “but as he’s clearly as blind as he is impotent, perhaps you should tell him.”
I bit my lip to try and prevent myself replying. But Kitty always got her honest answer when she had her mental manacles on me. Her instruction like a cleaver to the cranium, forcing out all reason.
Tell him you enjoy it, boy.
I justified that her visits were preferable to the abject loneliness. That this mistreatment was at least something in the endless nothing. But as time had passed, I had begun to long for her touch, to ache for her attention.
And the pain from her pressing her knee was making my head spin.
“I enjoy it,” I admitted; my cheeks burning with the shame.
“Fuck’s sake,” Patrick hissed.
Kitty cooed, stroking my cheek gently and uttering sweet nothings. She gave me a swift lip nibble and stood up, triumphantly tossing her silver curls back over her shoulder.
“I’ll be right back,” she informed me; half promise, half threat. She blew Patrick a raspberry and slinked off up the stairs.
Kitty’s hold on me broke as she ascended, leaving me alone with Patrick. Wordlessly, he threw my clothes at me and I pulled the garments on while he remained behind me, watching. Silently.
There were three male vampires and none of them had ever taken a drink from me, never even tried and yet they terrified me just as much as Kitty did. Patrick’s gaze lingered hungrily on my throat and I instinctively wiped the wound with my hand; it came away slick and red.
I clamped my hand over my neck and pressed down. It would stop, eventually. Always did.
“She won’t keep you down here forever,” he murmured, licking his fangs absently. He tore his gaze from the blood that was seeping slowly through my fingers and turned towards the stairs.
“What will she do with me?” I dared to ask. His heavy boots stopped in their tracks.
Did I really want to know? I’d heard the screams of others they’d captured. They were always silenced within hours. I had no idea how long I’d been down here. Months? Was being Kitty’s plaything the only thing keeping me alive?
Was that better than the alternative?
I clung to a thread of hope that it meant that, one day, I would have freedom. I tried not to think of what Angeline must be doing, whether she’d moved on, how she’d coped as an unmarried woman without a father, but she was always in my dreams and on my mind as I desperately tried not to lose it.
I wondered if I’d ever see her again.
Patrick lingered at the base of the stairs, no doubt listening to my thoughts. He was the quietest of the vampire group, reserved and measured in his responses. His visits were brief and he didn’t usually respond to my conversation attempts, my questions or my pleas for freedom.
That day, he surprised me.
“She’s going to make you one of us,” he muttered, clearly disapproving of the idea.
I wanted to ask how but I couldn’t get past the ludicrous thought of me, as a vampire. I wondered what Angeline would think when I eventually escaped from these monsters. I laughed, imagining what she would say when I told her about my new diet.
“People have faces, Seth. You can’t eat them!”
Patrick snarled showing his teeth. Two, long sharp fangs, very different to Kitty’s snare and tear gnashers, but just as menacing.
“It’s not a joke, Seth.” I almost looked up as he used my name. They never, ever used my name. “Everything has a price and freedom doesn’t come cheaply. If you think her controlling your human urges is bad, wait until she controls your fucking thirst. Although you’ll probably enjoy that too, you sick wimp. Oh, if your fate was up to me—“
He wrenched my hand from my neck, watching the trickle of blood I felt soaking into my shirt.
In a movement so swift that I didn’t even see it, he brought his lips to my broken skin, pressed his fangs into the wound. His draw deeper and far stronger than Kitty’s; the rapidity of the blood loss causing me to panic.
As suddenly as he began his attack, he stopped, pulled back, looked at the puddle that was appearing on the floor at my feet.
“Pathetic,” he uttered, shoving me. “To think that you will be immortal. It cheapens everything. It sickens me.”
I leant against the wall, as far as I could get from him, trying to catch my breath and calm my racing heart; every beat making his eyes glow brighter.
Patrick snuffed the lantern, leaving me the in the pitch dark once more. I waited to hear him ascending the stairs and the latch on the heavy door being lifted but instead I heard his voice echoing inside my head and a fluttering sensation like the pages of a book in the wind.
You want freedom? Step one: forget her.
I wondered what this meant as I let my thoughts linger on those green eyes, those flushed cheeks, breathing in the soap and soil scent of Angeline. I could never forget her. I would never forget her. Let them torture me, turn me, whatever the hell they wanted.
I was going to escape this nightmare. I was going to find her if it killed me.
“Did you miss me baby?”
So lost was I in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Kitty behind me, until she was right behind me. The compression in my temples made me see stars.
“You’re thinking of that witch again.”
“I’m not!” I insisted, spinning around.
Those words; I immediately regretted them. I should have admitted it. ‘Cheating’ would earn me a day without food, but I’d done the other thing. The thing she couldn’t stand.
And the demonic bitch knew. Of course she knew. She always knew.
Kitty pinned me against the wall with nothing but the power of her mind and I hung, limp, like a ragdoll, defenceless, yet again, to the will of this diminutive woman.
Her screaming amplified in my head as she approached, my throat tightening in her invisible hold as she lifted me from the floor. Those glowing green orbs the last thing I always saw before I felt the tearing of my flesh, the loss of my breath and the heavy fall into the temporary embrace of unconsciousness.