“Good afternoon. It’s time for your hourly news round-up with me; Lorna Broad-Castor. Today’s headlines on Tuesday 16th May 2017 – yes, it’s still only halfway through May; I know this year is lasting forever.
“There has been a minor breakthrough in the case of the missing daughter of the late, great Sandy Moss. After a week with no sightings, April’s friend, Faith Splodge aged 19, a cinema attendant from Willow Creek, was spotted at a recent Kaz Traitors gig. According to the band, she was in the company of a mystery man, known only as ‘Seth’.”
Adina gasped, staring in the direction of the television and clutching her friend’s hand firmly. The police had told her this information earlier in the morning, but hearing the news broadcaster say it made it all real to her. Adina may have driven her daughter away but someone else was preventing her from returning.
“He has my baby, Babs,” she whispered. “Is there a photo of him?”
“No,” Babs replied. “But they do have a computer-generated image of his face.”
“Describe him to me. Describe the vile, ugly monster who’s taken my baby girl.”
Babs looked at the image displayed on the television and hesitated; her breath caught in her throat. “Um… well, he has a beard,” she said carefully.
“A beard?” Adina repeated. “Like Father Winter?”
“Yes and no,” Babs said noncommittedly. “He’s a little more sinister-looking than Father Winter and not as beardy.”
“What on earth are you about? Less beardy but more sinister?” Adina blinked, trying to focus on her friend’s peachy blob of a face. “Like Bonkle SacFondle?”
“Well, um, no. Dee, he’s not exactly… ugly.”
Adina’s shoulder dropped as she read between the lines. “He’s bleeding gorgeous isn’t he?”
Babs drew a big breath. “He’s of a type, yes.”
“The mystery man is described as being in his early thirties, about 6 foot tall, muscular, with long, dark hair—“
“’Of a type?!’ That’s everybody’s type!” Adina wailed. “Do you think she ran off with him on purpose? But then what about… what about the other girls?”
“Well according to Chuck, they are holed up with vampires. I think he’s having a mid-life crisis, Dee.”
“Vampires?” Adina repeated, thinking of all of Faith’s posters and books. About the movies she’d liked. About the websites she’d visited and the bars she’d frequented. About the police officer who’d laughed when he’d told her that, had he not known better, he’d have assumed that Faith had been actively looking for a vampire.
Babs was still chatting on, as she did, about how vampires didn’t exist, about how Chuck had lost his mind.
Neither of those points sat well with Adina. The day Chuck lost his mind would be a cold day in hell.
And if vampires didn’t exist, then who or what did Faith find?
AJ was late for work and blustered into the small building that passed as the head office of the Bucketland Bulletin: the region’s least read weekly newspaper. She didn’t even have time to remove her jacket before her work bestie and supervisor, Pete, had pounced on her.
“My car wouldn’t start!” AJ shouted.
“That’s why I was late.”
He frowned at her. “Don’t you get the train here? Regardless. AJ, I need you on the phoneline today; we’ve had at least three calls on the back of this ‘smouldering kidnapper’ story – I can’t keep up!”
“What?” AJ asked turning her attention to the screen that Pete was nodding at.
“Sweet mother of fuck,” she whispered.
“I know! We’re still fanning the flames of the Moss story and now we have a ‘sizzling psychopath’ in the mix? It’s a great day to be journalist!” he announced.
“That’s Seth,” AJ stated.
“That’s what he was calling himself, yeah. So, I know you were working on that super-interesting article about potholes on the M7, but I need you to—”
“No it is Seth,” she repeated. “You remember a few days ago, when I told you about that guy I met in Windenburg? That’s him!”
Pete narrowed his eyes, thinking. “The one who followed you home from the pub?”
“Huh. I didn’t think he was real. Didn’t you invite him in for ice cream and end up having wild, naked fun time on top of the dryer?”
“…Something like that.”
Pete looked between the image on the screen and his colleague. “Juicy. The plot thickens. I wonder if he’d already got the girls locked up somewhere. Shoot, AJ, you really could have dodged a bullet there, huh?” He tapped his chin, looked at his watch, tapped his chin again. AJ could see the cogs whirring. “This means that there might be further footage of him then, right? Footage no one else will know about. In Windenburg Square? Outside the pub?”
“Maybe. Although it was quite dark. Raining a bit…”
“We might still be able to get a clear shot of you seducing him from that.”
“Footage no one else will have,” Pete continued, lost in his fantasy. “An exclusive scoop! Oh, this is gold. Screw the potholes and the phoneline, AJ! What are you waiting for? Get your butt down to the Square and get that footage!”
Joe had turned the volume up and the whole bar was riveted on the newsreader’s words.
“He also has a distinctive scar on his left cheek and a tattoo of a heart on his bicep, containing a defaced word that began with the letter ‘L’.”
“L?” Fred laughed. “Got yourself a man after all did you, Lily?”
“No,” Lilith said sternly.
“Just as well. A nice girl like you has no place with a criminal.”
“Don’t I know it,” Lilith muttered, glaring at the digitally-created image of Seth that was displayed on the screen and invoking a hundred unwanted memories in her. “I’ve never seen him in my life,” she insisted.
“Who has? These computer doodah images; they’re pointless!” Fred scoffed, cradling his beer. “He probably looks bugger all like that.”
Lilith nodded, sipping her drink that burned so much more than usual. The last few days it felt like her insides were constantly ablaze.
“I mean, look at him,” Fred gestured wildly at the screen, forcing Lilith’s eyes back up. “As if a man who looks like that would need to kidnap anyone. He coulda clicked his fingers and she’d have just followed. Pfft.”
“Kidnappers are only ugly men, right Fred?” Joe winked. “Careful, you’ll have the police at your door.”
“I’ll have you know I was quite the catch, back in the day. And let me tell you; I don’t buy it. I think she ran off with him willingly. Probably snuffed her pretty little famous friend and the other one, so she could have him to herself.”
Lilith spat her drink over the bar and Joe tutted, reaching for his rag. “I’m with you, Doc. Fred, you can’t say things like that!”
“I can say whatever I want!” he announced in an irate slur. “This is a free country!”
“No, it isn’t,” Joe sighed, mopping up Lilith’s spilt drink. “I’m switching you to the half strength lager.”
Fred shrugged and pushed his glass forward for a refill.
Lilith was beginning to regret coming back here but she was running out of bar options. At least the tinfoil-hatted weirdoes weren’t in here yet. Last thing she needed now was any more occult hysteria.
“Camera footage has been obtained from the venue – the Boudoir Lounge – but it appears to be heavily affected by a lighting anomaly. Although, our more, ahem, open-minded viewers believe that this is no glitch…”
“That this mystery man may not, in fact, be human.”
Lilith’s insides did a full somersault as Fred guffawed. “More of this hooey! ‘Not human’ – my pale arse! Sorry Lily,” he apologised again for his cursing, although he could have strung together nothing but a line of expletives and Lilith still wouldn’t have taken it in.
She pushed her stool back and headed towards the door.
“You and your potty mouth, Fred!” Joe reprimanded him, the last thing Lilith heard before the door closed behind her. Her brain abuzz, her sludgy blood curdling and her breakfast from Broof burning her insides.
Seth went to a concert. A concert! He let his guard down and left a whole room full of humans to remember him. Famous humans! What a stupid bloody thing to do! Was she surrounded by goddamn idiots?!
Lilith wanted to scream. She knew that this would happen. She knew that he’d stop at nothing and likely lose his damn head trying to win Faith over, but this was a whole new level of obsession.
She kicked the dirt and pouted. He’d never taken her to a concert.
“I do care about you.”
So he was telling the truth. The idiot.
How long would it be until the witches saw that footage – until Sage saw that footage? Would that alone be enough for them to figure it out?
Was she overreacting? She could be. If Seth really was catering to Faith’s every whim – and he probably was – then no doubt he’d taken her somewhere with every modern convenience under the sun. She’d have a television, for certain. She’d see this news feature and, if he had any sense left in that brain, he’d realise he’d completely screwed up and he’d take them both into hiding; far, far away.
Hopefully the shame of making such a blatant mistake would mean he’d never come back, but that was probably wishful thinking on Lilith’s part.
Then, all the others had to do was lie low until this new wave of supernatural mania died down.
Yes, she could claw her way out of this grave. She could. If Seth had any sense whatsoever, it would all still be fine.
He might even be forever out of her hair! It might actually, finally all work out for the best! How many times had that happened?
Faith had been dozing; replaying a dream she often had where she was forever walking down a long corridor lined with doors, but every one she tried to open remained firmly, stubbornly locked. She closed her hands around each and every handle, testing them as she passed, hoping that one day, one of them would open to permit her, but also dreading what she might find inside.
The dream had bled into reality this time, but it wasn’t a door knob that Faith had in her hand when she awoke.
She tried to remove herself from Seth’s pants without waking him, but she failed. He woke, if he’d even been asleep, with a throaty little laugh; pulling her tight against him and kissing a trail from the exposed back of her neck to her ear.
“Again?” he teased, gliding his hand under her t-shirt. “Can’t give a man a day off after his near-death experience.”
Faith tensed, instantly reminded of the state she’d found him in, of the absolute mess that was her current life. She wriggled from his hold, ignoring his look of confusion.
“I thought you were a door,” she mumbled, sounding as dumb as she felt.
“Ah. Easy mistake to make.” He raised an eyebrow and adjusted himself before practically leaping from the bed.
“Feeling better?” she asked, listening to him sing to himself – oh god, she knew that song. He strutted about the room, stretching, as she watched. Did pushing him away look suspicious? Maybe she’d invite him back; she could just sink her teeth into—
Sink, she thought, absently adjusting her shorts over her still-tender hip bones.
“Much better,” he replied sprightly. “And you?”
“Yeah I’m just… tired. I’m glad you’re OK, Seth,” she whispered. “But why are you singing Childhood? I thought you said that song was like grating your eardrums with a porcupine.”
“The lyrics are interesting,” he smiled wryly, singing a few bars, “‘No rationale can tell me that I was free from blame; to blur the lines of trespass, I’ll cut away the shame’.”
“Fuck,” Faith corrected.
“’I’ll fuck away the shame’,” Faith said.
“Ah, that’s it. Poignant.”
That had to be a dig. It must a dig at her, right? But he couldn’t know – could he?
He nodded and headed off towards the bathroom. “I’m going to venture out again today. Anything you’d like bringing back? Another dozen outfits?”
“No… I don’t need anything.”
“Oh?” he stopped. “Nothing? No jewels? A car?”
“I don’t need anything. Well… maybe one thing,” Faith said quietly. “It’s almost Joy’s birthday.”
“Your sister? I see.” He sighed. “Faith—”
“I know I can’t go and see her,” she said watching him disappear behind the dressing screen. “But could I at least send her a present so she knows I’m thinking about her?” he didn’t respond to her question, so she said it louder. “Can you get Joy a present?”
He appeared before her a minute or so later, dressed once again in his tatty leather attire.
“I heard you the first time. A present,” he repeated. “I certainly can although I admit to naïveté about the desires of eight-year-old girls. What kind of gift would she appreciate? A doll?”
Faith almost laughed. “No, not a doll. Something gross or scary. Something she can show off to one-up that little shit, Max Villareal.”
“Something to one-up Max Villareal,” Seth repeated, looking confused. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Faith nodded. She opened her mouth to say something else, but wasn’t even sure what she could say. He tilted his head as if listening to the words she wasn’t speaking.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” he asked.
Faith scrunched her loose shorts into her fist and inched back slightly. “While you were gone – out of it, I mean, I… well, I did…” she groaned.
“What?” he asked softly. “What did you do?”
She didn’t trust that tone.
“If he laid a single finger on you, I’ll hunt him down and gut him, fame be damned.”
She nibbled her tongue, wanting to change the subject but realising Seth was waiting for an answer. And he wouldn’t let it go, not now he knew there was a secret to unearth. There was only one thing to do.
“I went through your jacket,” she admitted.
“Oh?” He smiled. “Find anything interesting?”
Faith watched him for a moment, still on guard despite his relaxed posture and easy grin. She couldn’t be getting away with everything this easily, could she?
“You’re not mad?” she asked, knowing he’d have to answer.
He bristled, but immediately shrugged it off. “I’m furious,” he said in a way that wasn’t furious at all and was seriously fucking with her head. “More fool me for thinking I could trust you, I suppose. But what do you want me to do about it, hm? Erase your memory of my pebble collection?”
“Why do you carry so much shit around?” she asked. “Keys, ruined books, dead bugs? What the fuck is that about? And I didn’t know you smoked.”
“One man’s trash,” he shrugged, adjusting his belt. “And I don’t smoke. Disgusting habit.”
“Right, because all your other habits are just lovely: murder, torture, mutilation…”
“I wouldn’t call mutilation a habit. More of a casual hobby.”
Faith snorted, once again at ease. “So why do you have cigare—”
“Faith,” he cut in abruptly. “You pry through my most personal artefacts and I’m the one on trial?”
Faith was only aware that she was scratching her wrist when Seth took her hand. He pulled her close, smiling, while she tried not to look like his tender touch was making her want to vomit up last night’s dinner.
“I’ll forgive it, just this once,” he purred, nuzzling her hair.
“Seth, there’s something else.”
He pressed a kiss to her cheek. Yes?
With his body this close against her, she could feel the handle of one of his knives as it pressed against her stomach. She shifted, only to be jabbed sharply in the hip by another one. Seth reached inside his jacket, adjusting the errant blades.
“You did have a good rummage didn’t you?” he laughed, spending a few minutes moving items back to their correct places. “You said there was something else?” he prompted, twirling a small, rusty penknife around his gloves fingers before slipping it into his sleeve.
She swallowed, watching the light glinting off the blade hidden in his cuff. “Um… cookies,” she whispered, chickening out again. “Joy loves cookies. Get a huge box of them. None with fruit or nuts or anything in, though.”
“Ah. Something gloatingly gruesome and a mouth full of cavities,” he affirmed. He kissed her again and turned away to retrieve his hat from the dresser. “Have fun being a lady of leisure, Faith. I’ll be back at nightfall, or thereabouts.”
Faith watched his back, listening to him sing that fucking song until he disappeared. He was still singing it wrong, but the more he sang it that way, the more right it sounded.
To blur the lines of trespass…
…I’ll cut away the shame.
‘Childhood’ is something I wrote when I was around Faith’s age and trying to make sense of my headspace.