Warning: This one deals with the death of a child which readers may find upsetting.
Also, Lilith is wankered (again).
In an effort to both fill her endless time and avoid bumping into anyone she knew, after leaving Joe’s bar, Lilith had wandered. Firstly, she’d wandered around the forest of Forgotten Hollow, then she’d wandered through Glimmerbrook. Finally, she had wandered so far that she’d found herself completely lost in a sleepy little fishing town she didn’t even know existed.
The only licensed premises anywhere nearby was a coastal bar with a pirate theme. The whole place smelled like fish, including most of the patrons, who were an eclectic mix of seemingly random people without a single drink between them.
Lilith had settled at the bar, the furthest seat from the television – the news channel was on, and she did not want to spend her evening looking at Seth’s face – and had ordered a cosmopolitan from the thematically dressed bartender.
“We don’t be servin’ no fancy cosmopolitans ‘ere!” the bartender growled, thinking she sounded like a fearsome pirate, but actually sounding like an idiot. “Would ye like ta try our house spirit?”
Lilith rolled her eyes. “Sure. Why not?”
The bartender began preparing Lilith’s drink with a flourish that belied her toughened character. Lilith couldn’t help but smile as the delicately prepared and fruit-adorned glass was placed into her eager hand.
“One Salty Sea Dog. Five pieces o’ eight.”
“Lovely,” Lilith smiled. “Can I start a tab?” She handed over her credit card while subtly sniffing the colourless liquid but becoming no wiser to what it was.
Not that it mattered. It contained alcohol. Good enough.
Broof had left Melinda and Wyatt to their rooftop stargazing and had headed home, by train, to ‘practice his craft’. Which was actually his code for ‘worship Mother Earth and hope that she’d forgive him’.
He’d spent a few hours trying to draw up and hold enough energy to transportalate just a few feet across the garden of his late-grandmother’s house, but to no avail. As frustration started to get the better of him, he let out a final plea before calling it a night.
“What do I need to do to fix this?” he whispered to the night. “I’ll do anything. Please. Give me a chance.”
Not right on cue, but within a reasonable margin, Broof became aware of a sound behind him. It started quietly, but soon built into a horrible, screeching wail like an animal fighting at the last. He turned shakily towards the source of the noise, expecting to face the glowing, hollowed eyes of the night wraith, come to complete his descent beyond the salvation of pure magic.
“I’m no Barbie doll, I’m not your baby girl,” she sang, at least, that’s what Broof assumed the awful sounds she was making were supposed to be. She swayed from side-to-side completely out of time to her words. “I’ve done ugly things and I have made mistakes.”
Lilith snapped around, almost falling over in the process.
“Oh bloody hell, not you,” she hiccupped, her knees shaking beneath her. “What are you… are you… oh…”
Somewhere between relief and dismay, Broof waited until Lilith had finished ruining his flowerbed. She wiped her mouth, staring at the ashy puddle she’d just created.
“Oh, it was white rum!” she laughed and looked up at Broof who was scratching his head. He’d asked for forgiveness, for a way to find redemption, and he’d been granted a drunken vampire. Was he supposed to draw a conclusion from that? Was this some sort of cruel joke?
“Broompig,” Lilith croaked, a trickle of sick running from her nose. “I knew you were stalking me. You… you knob.”
Broof tensed his jaw; his famous patience surely tested. “If anything you’re stalking me.”
“Then why are you in my garden, huh?” Lilith asked through the bravado of beer goggles. “Answer me that!”
Broof merely blinked. “This is my garden you’re puking in.” He stepped a little closer. Not near enough to be in the line of fire, but plenty close enough to inhale the intoxicating fumes on her and watch her eyes spinning in random directions. “Holy— you’re completely wrecked, aren’t you?”
“I’m not! Just a little… queasy.” She shrugged. “Must be something I ate. Or drank. Maybe I’m allergic to the blood of creepy, bearded, stalker witches,” she snorted; the action causing her hamster cheeks to fill up once more and Broof to swiftly retreat.
“Ugh. Bollocks. Bollocks.” Lilith stayed down, spluttering, until nothing else came out. “I think that’s the lot. You’ll enjoy mopping that up, won’t you, Broompig?” She tried to get to her feet while continuing her song. “I am not as pretty as those girls in magazines -hiccup- I am rotten… rotten… urgh.”
He should have let her go. Left her to sleep it off in a puddle of puke. But on the slightest off-chance that this was some sort of sign from a higher power, he extended his hospitality towards her, instead.
“Come on in,” he insisted softly, momentarily shrugging off his concern for his eardrums and the state of his soft furnishings. “You’re in no fit state to be wandering drunk and alone in the dark—“
Lilith guffawed, waving him away. “I’m the thing to be afraid of in the dark. I could kill you like that,” she clicked her fingers. At least she tried to, they didn’t quite connect. “And I’m not drunk,” she insisted, finally managing to stand and looking him fast in the eye.
Broof only nodded and gestured at the ground. “Lilith, you aren’t wearing any shoes.”
“Can you cross the threshold without permission?” Broof asked as Lilith approached his front door, stumbling slightly but refusing any help from him.
“You already gave me permission.”
“I suppose I did,” Broof said, taking a quick scan of his surroundings for anything breakable or sharp. “Can I offer you a drink?”
Lilith snorted. “I’m not an animal, Broompig. I can control myself, you know.”
“I was only being polite.” Broof seated himself at his altar, to record the night’s findings in his journal, while Lilith bumbled around making snide observations.
“Why have you got all these birdy feathery thingies?” she asked, gesturing at the wall.
“Ma’s cat used to catch a lot of birds. Ma made a habit of identifying the remains,” he replied, reminding himself to take them down so he’d never have to tell this story again.
“You witches are nuts,” the barefoot, intoxicated vampire proclaimed, heading towards the kitchen and flicking on the lights. She ran her fingernails over the countertop. “There’s a shadow of a coffee stain on this counter, you know.”
Broof’s eye twitched. “I know.”
Lilith fell quiet for a while. So quiet in fact that Broof stopped writing to see what had happened. She was standing before the fire, staring up at the small frame on the mantlepiece.
“This is the kid from your memory,” she stated. “Your daughter, right?”
Broof abandoned his journal and joined Lilith at the fireplace. This was the last photo he had, and he wanted her nowhere near it.
“Yes,” he replied. “That’s Cabbage.”
Lilith guffawed. “Cabbage?! What kind of name is that? What, were you eating coleslaw at the time? Did you plan to name her siblings Carrot and Mayonnaise?”
Broof made a non-committal noise. “Her mother named her.”
“Does she live with her mother?” Lilith asked, her interest waning.
“She doesn’t.” He paused for a second. “She’s passed.”
“Her mother? So where does Cabbage live? Or is she all grown-up now? I can’t bloody tell with you witches.”
Broof grimaced. “No. Her mother, Claudia, is very much alive. Cabbage passed. About a month after this photo was taken, in fact.”
It took a minute, but the effect of his words was like a cold bucket of water over Lilith’s head, bringing her swiftly closer to sobriety and the wave of shame it always brought.
“I am so bloody sorry. Cabbage is a lovely name, unique—“
“It’s fine,” he said quietly, gently caressing the photo. “You don’t name your child after a cruciferous vegetable unless you can handle the flack.”
“She died,” Lilith managed, her throat almost fully blocked with her metaphorical foot.
“Yes, we’ve established that,” he murmured, heading back towards the altar.
What happened? Lilith blurted, stopping Broof in his tracks.
He turned to face her, wearing a look of pure horror, but it wasn’t until his brain opened itself up to her, like a book, that Lilith realised she’d unwittingly addressed her insensitive question to his mind, rather than to his ears.
And thus, he was compelled to answer.
“There aren’t any here, Cabbage.” Broof had sighed, making another half-hearted peek into the nearest shrubbery. “Time to go home.”
“No! Not yet!” The little girl’s voice was squeaky, like a dog toy, and full of the undammable energy only a child could hold as she bounded around her father, blocking his path, and grinning up at him eagerly. “We haven’t checked the lake!”
“We’re not checking the lake. It’s getting late.”
“But we haven’t seen any whirlyflower frogs!” Cabbage complained. “You promised we would!”
Broof sighed. He should have known after the whole turtle hatching saga in the summer that viewing natural phenomena was not something he could promise to his child. He briefly considered conjuring up the image of a whirlyflower frog to appease his daughter, but a whole day of crawling around in the mud and mulch of the riverbed had somewhat dampened his energy.
And he needed to keep at least a little to face his ex-wife. Speaking of which. Or should that be witch? “Sweetheart,” he began, naturally shifting the blame for his shortcomings to his recently estranged wife. “If I don’t get you home to your mother soon—“
Cabbage placed her hands on her hips and frowned up at him. “Are you blaming Mommy for breaking your promise?”
“So you’re afraid of Mommy? Is that it?”
Broof faltered at this challenge. Reminding himself he was still the parent, to avoid answering her question, he switched to a sterner tone. “Enough of that attitude, young lady. It’s too dangerous to look for frogs right now. It’s dark, it’s cold and the banks of the lake will be slippery.”
“But whirlyfrogs!” she whined.
“No buts, Cabbage. If nature doesn’t wish it so, it will not be so,” he reminded her. She looked at the floor and shrugged sadly, breaking his heart. His voice softened. “We’ll find the frogs another time, all right?”
“They only come out once a year,” she mumbled.
“Then we’ll look next year. And every year until we find them.”
Cabbage wiped her damp cheeks with her dirty hands and looked up at him. “Promise?”
Darn. He’d probably be promising the impossible again, but he’d figure it out. He’d make it happen.
He nodded. “I promise.”
With all the effort in the world, Lilith managed to pull herself from Broof’s memories, staggering back a few paces towards the sink and taking her tendrils with her.
“I’m so sorry,” she muttered. “I’m so damn sorry. I didn’t mean to— I can’t stop that. I can’t turn it off—“
“It’s all right,” Broof said softly. “You’d have found out sooner or later.” He sighed. “I should have taken her to the lake, but I took her home. That was the last time I ever saw her.”
Lilith had never been great at the touchy-feely side of life. Broof wasn’t offering anything further – staring at the photo, seemingly elsewhere. It took a few minutes for her addled brain to put together the pieces he had given her.
“Oh my word,” she gasped. “She went to the lake by herself, didn’t she?”
He responded quietly with a mirthless little laugh. “My promises lost all meaning to her, it seems. She climbed out of her bedroom window not five minutes after Claudia put her to bed, we think.”
He turned towards Lilith, but his gaze didn’t meet her eyes. “She never came back.”
Lilith wanted to tear her brain out as she felt her intrusive little needles continue to probe him, unrestrained by the sheer volume of alcohol in her system.
“I’d better go,” she slurred, rising from a stool she didn’t realise she’d sat down on.
Broof was instantly snapped from his reverie. He reached for her arm and missed. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to upset you—“
“You haven’t,” Lilith insisted. “I mean, I’m upset, obviously, but… but you don’t need my probes in your head right now—”
“—or to deal with me stumbling around here, cracking jokes like some sort of drunken funeral clown,” Lilith groaned. “No, I mean, oh balls. I’ll just go.”
Broof’s smile was genuine as Lilith mumbled and slurred her way into a net of awkwardness she couldn’t get out of.
“You don’t have to dance around me. It was a long time ago, Lilith,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say I was completely healed – I’m not sure one ever can be after losing a child – but a large portion of that is because I find it so painful to talk about. So, in a way, your prying is helpful.”
“Yeah right,” Lilith muttered, finding her feet. “I should still go, though. I’m not good at this stuff even when I’m sober and by the time I get back to my house it’ll be time to set back off to check in with the green goblin.”
“You’re only visiting her to be fed, yes?”
“And I’m only visiting her to feed you, so why don’t you just stay here?”
“Stay here?” Lilith asked, taken aback. “With you?”
“I’m not Satan,” he laughed. “And I don’t mean forever, just for tonight.”
Lilith glanced through the archway at the tidy bedroom with its solitary bed. “Oh, right, I see what you’re after,” Lilith scoffed. “I feel sorry for you, but not that sorry for you.”
“Darn it,” Broof uttered. “Pity sex is my favourite kind, too.”
Broof’s face was completely deadpan, so it took Lilith a while to figure out what he’d said. “Was that…? Did you just make a joke?”
“Was it funny?”
“Then I guess I didn’t,” Broof replied, his lips curling into a smile. The action appeared to be infectious as Lilith’s face quickly mirrored it.
“You’re a very strange person.”
“Where did you leave your shoes again?”
Touché. Lilith rolled her eyes. “If I stay – if! How do I know you won’t try and maul me in the middle of the night?”
“Because one, you’re a sleepless mind-reader, two, I value my manhood and three, you stink,” he answered. “Although should you wish to shower and change, I can find you something clean. How do I know you won’t maul me?”
Lilith looked down at her bare feet, scratched and filthy from her wandering in the forests. She couldn’t remember what she’d done with her boots or why she took them off. Her head was still spinning. The idea of lying on a soft bed and embracing catatonia for a few hours, even next to this weird witch, sounded much more preferable than roaming the forest all night and picking thorns out of her feet all day while Sage moaned at her. But would she be giving Broof the wrong idea?
“Would you prefer to have this room or the one upstairs?” he asked.
“What? This place has an upstairs?” She’d only been here a few times prior to tonight, but she didn’t recall there being another bedroom, let alone another floor. “Since when?”
“Since I divorced Claudia and needed a place to stay,” Broof replied, holding open a nearby door to Lilith to pass through. “I was close to Ma but even I realised that sharing a bed with your grandma as a fully-grown man was odd. Of course, once I got the job at the Moss mansion, I moved in there for the most part.”
Lilith nodded, reaching the upper landing and taking in the powdery space that greeted her. “This is far more delicate-looking than I thought Ma’s bedroom would be,” she admitted, surprised.
“This is my room,” Broof said.
Lilith didn’t respond; she was far less surprised at this.
Not willing to put her foot into her mouth any further that night, she planned to ignore making any further comment on the décor, but her eyes were drawn to something out of place; a suitcase on the floor that was piled high with old books.
“What are all these?”
Broof walked over. “The coven’s old grimoires. I was supposed to study them to see if there was any information about a vampire cure, but it’s quite hard to get past the bloodcurdling hexes and gruesome drawings of their victims.”
“Sounds interesting. Mind if I take a look?”
“Be my guest. I guess you’re staying, then?” He looked around awkwardly, probably waiting for Lilith to respond but she didn’t. “All right, well, I’ll take the downstairs room then. Good night, Lilith.”
“Night Broom—” Lilith faltered. For some reason, insulting the man who had offered her a room after she’d invaded his brain and thrown up in his flowerbeds didn’t seem like the right thing to do. She still wasn’t sure that she trusted him – there was something very off about him – but she might as well be civil, if only to get access to these books. “Night, Broof.”
She waited until he’d descended the stairs and closed the door at the bottom before she reached towards the stack of tomes.
She doubted she’d find anything in here she didn’t already know, but if nothing else, it would pass the empty hours until morning.
And distract her from another day’s worth of thoughts that she simply didn’t want to have seen.
The poor kid. Her poor parents. Tragic.
Settling on the soft bed, Lilith tried to focus on the tiny scrawl etched across the pages, but it jumped and danced into an inky, nonsensical blob. Although, Broof was right; the pictures, the only things she could make out with any clarity, were grim.
He was right about another thing too.
Lilith really did need a shower.