A bit longer than normal chapters, but this isn’t your normal chapter.
I shift my weight on the bed. Oh, the soft blankets, they call to me, ask me to crawl under and recharge, but I can’t, not just yet. I am fixing April’s golden tresses – cut with garden shears, apparently! – while the girls chatter sweetly with one another.
It is heaven for me.
The morning gradually became afternoon and both girls, fed, adequately groomed and back to their new normal, had naturally begun to ask questions. Broof, bless him, had already jumped the gun and told Melinda our little secret. Gracious, a lifetime of being paid to keep button-lipped – you’d think he’d be more discreet!
Still, I can hardly blame him for that, or for foolishly offering his throat to Melinda. The doe-eyed darling; when she turns to me with her inquisitive little face, baited on a promise of an explanation, I almost give her my heart. She feels familiar to me. She reminds me of Curious Little Cabbage.
Broof’s only child and a child forever more she’ll be.
I’ll have to take some time alone with Melinda to explore her past and her identifying markers – perhaps she is a distant cousin – but for now, she is just as welcome here as April is. And they are welcome. Am I concerned about them attacking me or my kin? No. I have it on good authority that they cannot taste a few drops of ‘liquid restraint’ in a freshly-drawn drink and that’s a fairly simple potion for me.
I have had centuries of practicing it, after all.
I remember fiddling with some fluff in the pocket of my dress. It was getting late and Mother would’ve surely been worried about me. As soon as the sun set on the horizon, the fear rose on her face. If she could’ve, she’d have kept me indoors with her from dusk ‘til dawn.
But according to Uncle Egbert, High Priest of our coven, that day, July 12th 1729, I was deemed old enough to learn how to cast so, therefore, I was old enough to defy my mother’s orders and stay out until sunrise.
I think that’s how it works.
I knew what my mother feared in the night and I hoped that she never found out that she was right to do so. That if she’d allowed me out after dark I would indeed end up being dinner for a hungry vampire.
Ten years prior to this, I had been wandering around, not long after sunset, alone and thinking of excuses not to go home, and had encountered a girl about my age who’d asked me if I was lost. She had tried to mesmerise me and failed, and in return I had let out an involuntary burst of magic but somehow managed to singe only my own hair.
After this spectacular show of mutual failure – once we’d both stopped laughing – we started talking.
Her name was Lilith and she and her little brother were runaways who didn’t agree with either the society or the rogue vampires. She didn’t think she was a superior species and she didn’t drink to kill. She lived with a human for reasons other than feeding on him! She was, for all intents and purposes, a good vampire.
I didn’t know such a thing existed. I wanted to keep her existing.
Lilith made a peculiar little sound when she fed; it was somewhere between a pained whine and a satisfied moan. The vibrations from this noise travelled down the needles of her fangs and carried throughout my whole body via my bloodstream, an odd, cold, queasy sensation. I bit my lip and reminded myself, like I did every time, that she would be done soon.
When I reached the part where my fingers felt cold and I was unable to control my shakes, I knew it was almost over. I clenched my fist and gritted my teeth, willing myself through the last seconds. Occasionally, this type of action would result in a slight tremor, but it appeared that as I was officially a bona fide witch, open to receive all the wonder that Mother Nature could bestow upon me, she was eager to try me out.
The ground beneath my feet began to tremble. At first, it was a low rumble, barely detectable, but eventually we were both struggling to even stand as the earth shimmied and rolled beneath us.
A part of me wanted Lilith to continue a little while longer, so I could see how far I could push this power.
‘I can definitely create an earthquake,’ I thought with excitement. ‘Can I create a volcano?’
April’s sweet little voice brings me back from the past where, more and more lately, my mind seems to be residing.
I do wish I could have had daughters. The modern witches say that gender doesn’t matter but it does to me. Wyatt used to tolerate me fixing his hair, but nowadays is quite content to look like he’s been dragged through a hedge.
I almost want to cry as I tie April the cutest little bow and watch her hop happily off the bed to ‘admire’ it in the empty mirror.
Perhaps I genuinely am too soft and old-fashioned to head today’s coven.
We move to the sitting room where we join Lilith, Caleb, Wyatt and Broof.
I settle myself on my favourite sofa cushion, softened and shaped to the curves of my derriere. The old chair groans as much as my bones do and I almost tell it to Hush! This is your job!
Naturally, when I chuckle at my personification of my very much inanimate furniture, no one understands. They just think I’m doolally.
I have now explained to the girls and Caleb, who we are, how witches are regular people who simply have the ability to understand the songs that nature sings and I have explained what we plan to do for them, specifically, keep them hidden and well-nourished both in mind and body while we search for a cure.
April trusted my words without question, but Melinda, naturally sharp, wanted to know why we’d want to do these things. With no reason now to doubt it, I explained how April was connected to us because Wyatt, sure as sugar, wasn’t offering to explain.
I was willing to give the three of them time to think and talk it through, but both girls immediately agreed to stay upon finding out this information. It appears they were both tired of constantly looking over their shoulders and neither enjoyed preying on others. Even Caleb was happy to remain here when he saw April’s eyes light up, giddy with curiosity about her witch roots and clapping her hands with excitement at getting to know her new ‘father’ and ‘grandmother’.
She really is a very sweet girl, but Wyatt wasn’t the only one who cringed at that moment – I think we both aged a few years during that conversation. I am content for her to name me however she sees fit but, for now at least, Wyatt’s insisted that she simply call him ‘Wy’.
I hate it when people call him that. It sounds like a loaded question.
A heavy gap in the conversation is filled by another flutter of April’s questions, “Have you and Lilith have been friends for a long time, Grandmother?”
I never did get to try out my volcano-creating ability that evening. Lilith, ever disproving everything I’d ever been taught about vampires, was far too controlled to continue even a second more than she needed to. She heaved a huge sigh and pushed me back; both of us struggled to stay upright on the jumpy floor.
“All right, I’m done,” she said in her cool way. “Calm down, Sage.”
“Did you feel that?!” I gushed, dizzy from blood loss and high on the energy I felt radiating from my skin. “That was a big one!”
She shrugged. “I’ve felt bigger.”
“Oh, do shut up!” I knew she was teasing me. We didn’t naturally get detectable earthquakes in that part of the world and even though I wasn’t the only witch Lilith knew, the others didn’t know that she knew so never did any magic around her.
As the world regained its stillness, I saw Lilith staring at me in her moody way.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I owe you.”
She said that every time, but there was nothing I wanted from her. She had nothing.
I adjusted my hair on my shoulder and shrugged. “Any time. Well, perhaps not any time as the erythrocyte elixir takes twenty-four hours to regenerate the blood loss but… you know what I mean.” She nodded and looked off into the distance. Trapped in her own head, as per usual. I tried to read her expression and guess what she was thinking. “Has Caleb come back yet?”
She shook her head and I sucked in a big breath. He’d been gone for two weeks; I think that was a record.
Him vanishing was nothing new; he had been drifting in and out of the picture for the last eighteen months, beating himself up since the night Nathaniel accidentally died at his hands. In that time I’d watched my friend slowly closing herself down, shutting herself off as much as she could to a world that had dealt her a really bad hand.
I didn’t know what to do about Caleb. Well, I did, but it was still a while off. I reminded Lilith of this lifeline, perhaps the only hope she had.
“Mother says this latest sapling is showing real promise. You’ll have a plasma fruit by Winter.” I had told her this many times before, but Mother really did say those words, the last time I could be bothered to listen to her. “And then, once we have the fruit, we’re only one step away, Lilith. One step.”
Lilith briefly looked pained before she nodded and repeated blankly, “One step.”
I drag my eyes away from the stained mug on the table that I have been staring through and they land on Caleb, who has been attached to April like a limpet since she arrived.
Caleb has always been keen on young ladies, but I admit that I was incredibly shocked to hear that he had turned one.
The boy is not how I remember him at all; oh, he’s still just as foolish, still tripping over his own feet to embed himself in any unfortunate female who crosses his path, but he is also gentler, warmer.
There’s no doubt in my mind where he’s getting that from.
April – not-worthy-of-a-middle-name – Moss. It’s incredibly difficult for me to accept that my precious boy once, ahem, ground corn with that awful Cassandra Moss, let alone that such a brief encounter resulted in a child and, oh my Goddess, do not get me started on him shirking his responsibilities – my heart has had enough for one day! He has all but avoided looking at the blonde since we sat down and I wonder if he sees what I do.
April does resemble her mother; I see very little of Wyatt in her features, but it dances throughout all of her expressions. Looking at April there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she is a Harper. The shape of her face and those huge blue-grey eyes remind me so much of my late-husband, Warren.
And even more painfully, she reminds me of my Tarragon.
They do say time is a healer. They never do say how much time.
Perhaps the girl is simply an eye magnet as Melinda looks over at April almost constantly, also. Her expression is torn between woe and longing and I wonder why – oh. Oh my, it’s clicked. Oh, what a crying shame. I wonder if April ever felt the same before her heart was forced to be Caleb’s. Perhaps we may never know.
‘Now, now, Negative Nancy! That’s not the attitude! After all, there may very well be a viable cure out there,’ I think.
But do I want to give up everything to find it?
My mother, Angeline, did not know that Lilith was a vampire. Hiding in our tiny house, fearing the night and spending her days researching a vampire cure was based purely in fantasy.
A place she’d been trapped since my father left her.
I’ve never met my father. The only things I knew about him were the snippets my mother would recall of him in those rare moments when she could bring him up without breaking down.
His name was Seth. He was twenty-eight when he disappeared. He had dark brown eyes, boundless charm and a smart mouth that always got him in trouble. He was, according to Mother, forcibly taken by a group of rogue vampires in 1691 and hadn’t been heard from since.
Mother would not explain her reasoning but, despite the strong opposition from the rest of the coven, she was adamant that Seth was not taken as food. She was convinced that he had been turned, against his will.
She also insisted that even though the man was a thief, a convicted murderer, mentally unhinged, had repeatedly seduced her without ever considering marriage and then conveniently vanished when she fell pregnant, he was apparently not some scoundrel who deserved to rot, but a wonderful, misunderstood man who was worth saving.
Her blinkered endeavours and pro-vampire rhetoric led to her being shunned by the majority of witch society and held at arm’s length by the rest. Which is exactly where I would’ve also been, if it wasn’t for my mentor, Ma Hogwash.
Almost as if my thoughts had conjured her, I heard Ma calling me.
“Sage! I know you’re out here!”
I was alarmed by Ma’s appearance. How did she know I was here? Lilith and I exchanged a glance, each sensing trouble, and stepped out from our sheltered spot amongst the trees.
Ma was in her ritual dress but she didn’t seem worried about Lilith seeing it. She looked to Lilith first and then back to me. Did I imagine it, or did she scan my neck before meeting my eyes? I subtly repositioned my hair, just in case the teeth marks were visible. If she noticed anything, she didn’t say it.
Her voice was fractured and breathy as she said. “Sage, you need to come with me.”
I huffed. Seriously? I half wanted to test my volcano-making ability to show her that I wasn’t a child who could be ordered home on a whim, but it’s not like she could do anything in front of Lilith, a non-witch. She couldn’t make me go anywhere.
“I’ll head home soon,” I sighed. “Tell Mother I’m fine, I’m not a child—”
“Do I look your messenger? We’re going back to my place. Now,” Ma said sternly. I’d not heard that tone since I was a little girl and it still made my heart freefall into my stomach.
“Why? What’s so important?” I asked, my throat beginning to dry up. Beside me, I saw Lilith stiffen. I once more registered Ma’s attire and the sinking feeling deepened. “Did something happen at the… um… the costume party?” I managed; my throat so constricted that I could hardly draw the air in to form words at all.
“If I could tell you here, I would tell you,” Ma huffed. “Am I speaking Swahili? Get your backside over here, sasa.”
Overwhelmed with floods of teenage stubbornness, fringed with panic and a woozy feeling like I might faint at any second, I stamped my foot and felt the earth once more respond beneath my feet. “No! Tell me!” I screamed, like the very child I’d professed not to be. “What happened at the ritual?”
Ma didn’t redirect the energy; she didn’t do anything to cover it up or to deny what I’d just yelled out, except allow her gaze to flutter briefly over Lilith. She muttered a string of swear words under her breath and then said, “There wasn’t a ritual, Sage. I’m under strict instructions from the High Priest to find you and take you to safety. You have exactly three seconds to comply before I invert you and transportalate you by force. One…”
I pretended to submit and took a step towards her, then pivoted on my heel to swiftly run in a zig-zag in the direction of the meeting clearing, dodging Ma’s attempt to catch me.
Lilith is eyeing me suspiciously, but she has never been able to read what I’m thinking and this time is no exception. Which is just as well. As I wearily drag myself back into the present from what I gather by the expressions of my companions was a longer-than-usual memory slip, I consider sharing it with the girls, but I’m not sure what it will achieve.
I’m curious to know what they do about my father or any other potential parasites, but – more fool me for allowing Lilith a moment alone with Melinda. The girl insists that Faith has left due to a difference of opinion and becomes flustered when I push her to elaborate.
And it doesn’t take a telepathist to hear that Lilith is mentally pulling Caleb’s strings as he in turn pulls on April’s.
I’m certain that Lilith has encountered Seth over the years, or at least a vampire who knew him – how could she not? I refuse to believe that she could never find anything. I’m sure there’s something she doesn’t tell me.
Knowing her as I do, it’s likely not a secret she’s keeping for my benefit.
The clearing was about a mile away, but I was so angry and determined that maybe I’d inadvertently cast something, as I arrived in seconds.
The clearing had not even been set up. There should’ve been a hundred witches here, but there were only a handful. The lights were dimmed, the only illumination came from the fire that tonight burned purple; the colour of mourning.
“Mother!” I screamed, rushing towards her only for a strong, targeted gust of wind to push me back into Ma, who had materialised behind me.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the barefooted, brown-haired woman curled up in the dirt. It was so jarring, seeing her out in the dark. I thought she was sleeping, perhaps she’d been sleepwalking. But as I’d gotten closer I’d noticed that the messy braid snaked around her neck was doing little to hide the frayed flesh underneath. If Ma had not been holding me so firmly, I definitely would’ve collapsed. I felt like I was made of jelly.
“Marigold,” the High Priest hissed, noticing me and addressing Ma by her full name. “Safety, I said! How could you bring the child here—?”
Aha. There was my spine.
“She didn’t!” I cried out. “And I’m not a child! What happened?! Tell me what happened to her!”
“She found him,” Ma murmured against the shell of my ear, silencing me immediately.
“Vampires, Sage,” the High Priest said gravely after scrutinising me for a moment. He walked a slow circle of the meeting space. “This,” he waved his hand over my poor, foolish mother, “This is what becomes of those who sympathise with those monsters.”
The High Priest continued to talk; they would find the ones responsible. I should let the dream of finding my father die with my mother. But Ma’s words rang louder.
She found him.
He exists. Mother was right.
He’s done this. Mother couldn’t have been more wrong.
The rage was hot in my throat and I knew Ma could sense it even before I screamed. She held me tighter and I felt the edges of the world begin to dissolve as she apologised to the High Priest for bringing me there. Disintegrating in the void, I heard her tell me to let the senior witches handle it. That there was nothing I could do.
Oh, but there was.
As my mind surrendered all its thoughts, a final one lingered ‘til the last.
I owe you.
It is all rather frustrating, I do admit, having centuries pass with no progress, but fate always finds a way.
Lilith may be a closed book, but one of these three will cave. A little trust and a little more time – that is all it will take.
I just hope I have enough of both those things remaining.