“…and so, it appears that the only thing haunting the Boudoir Lounge is…”
“Apologies, Bob, to interrupt this complete waste of channel funding but we have some breaking news that apparently can’t wait another two minutes!”
“The bodies of heir to the Wangshaft fortune, William Wangshaft and his friend, some ginger guy, have been found in the forest of Forgotten Hollow. One of the men, who had been wanted by police in connection to the disappearance of the daughter of the late, great Sandy was found in a large, pink travelling case believed to have belonged to missing April. The cause of death of the two men has yet to be confirmed, although witnesses at the scene have described it as ‘horrific’. We now cross live to Reb Porter, who is free to pee when and wherever they like. Reb.”
“Um, thanks, Lorna. I’m here near the scene in Forgotten Hollow where the bodies of William Wangshaft and Paul Pants have now been found. This location, not far from Joe’s Bar where April Moss and her friends were last seen, has been a hotbed of criminal activity since April vanished, seemingly leaving a trail of destruction and bodies in her wake. Many people still fear for April’s safety and wellbeing, however there is an undercurrent here, disquiet amongst those who are following the Sandy Moss story. Is this all coincidence? Did April run away? Was she kidnapped by a psychotic killer? Or is she one?”
“Oh my goodness,” April whispered repeatedly, clawing at her face.
“Quite.” Sage pressed a button on the remote with dramatic flair, but nothing happened. A few presses and some mild cursing later, Wyatt took the remote from his mother’s hand and switched the channel for her.
She cleared her throat, regaining her poise. Slowly taking in the faces of the squirming vampires before her, she clicked her tongue. “I think you four should start talking or heads will roll.”
Lilith snorted, looking at the three non-threatening clowns acting as judge and jury against her kind. Broof had been drafted in at short notice and was yawning his head off. Sage was also looking heavy-lidded, it being way past the crone’s bedtime; she was still wearing that stupid hat that witches wore to remind themselves that they were special. And Wyatt was barely dressed at all, wearing only a pair of backwards boxers and a potted plant; Lilith had spent a while staring in his wonder at all his tattoos and his big, ahem, feet.
“Why do you think this had anything to do with us?” Lilith asked. “So Will was murdered, big deal. Everyone hated that jerk.”
“Because that jerk’s wife is the High Priestess of our coven,” Sage hissed. “And she is no fool, Lilith. Anyone with an inkling of vampire-awareness could tell that one of you parasites had had your fill from those men. So, if it wasn’t one of you four, who was it?”
“Oh my goodness,” April repeated to herself. She was rocking and straining, like she was desperate to say something. For once, Lilith was glad of the bind. Caleb remained stoic and still; Lilith knew he’d be repeating the ‘don’t say anything’ mantra. The trembling vampire to Lilith’s right was her only area of uncertainty.
“Maybe it was S—” Melinda began, but Lilith hastily cut her off.
“No, not Splodgey,” she said, hoping Melinda got the hint.
“Splodgey?” Sage repeated.
Lilith could hear Melinda’s racing thoughts – the fear, the panic, the worry for her friend, all of it rolled into a chaotic ball in her cute little head. Lilith waited. It was all she could do. If Melinda chose to confess all now, Lilith wouldn’t stop her again.
Lilith, Melinda thought loudly, I shouldn’t mention Seth?
But people are dying. He’s killing people.
And he’ll kill a lot more if the witches get to them before we do.
Melinda swallowed hard. Why are you trying to protect him?
Because it’s the only way. Trust me, Melinda.
Melinda’s hands were shaking. She nodded almost imperceptibly before she replied to Sage’s lingering query. “That’s my nickname for Faith. She and Will spent the night together. It doesn’t surprise me that he was married,” she muttered, in a way that told Lilith Will probably wasn’t the first married man Faith had been with. “I wonder if she knew that or if she found that out. She has a temper, Splodgey.”
“She’s a hothead but she’s harmless,” Lilith claimed. “You know how fledglings are; they can barely stomach a bellyful let alone drain a fully-grown adult – especially one as big as Will.”
“Hm,” Sage agreed. “And it can’t be you two? Wait, no you told me that you haven’t hunted for years. Just the other day, did you not? Or, when you were offering your head previously, was that a sign of a guilty conscience?”
“You tell me, oh great vampire hunter.” Lilith had to stifle a laugh. There was only one great vampire hunter in this room, and it definitely wasn’t Sage.
“She offered her head?” Caleb asked. “Why?”
“Oh, did I neglect to mention that?” Sage said sweetly. “It’s a long tradition in the coven, that the head of the vampire be presented to the family of his victim, to do with it as they see fit.”
“Oh my goodness,” April was still repeating and Melinda quietly whimpered in her corner.
Riding on the anguish she was causing, no doubt sensing that sooner or later, one of these girls would break, Sage drew a fingernail across her throat. “The High Priestess is owed a head – one way or another, she will have it, and it shalln’t be mine!”
Lilith couldn’t take it. She could hear Melinda’s thoughts reaching crescendo and knew that she was a beat away from confessing everything. Then Sage would know that Seth definitely still existed, that Faith had run off with him, that they’d all been lying to her. She’d want to know why and Lilith would be forced to confess, or come up with more lies, or just kill the old mare like she should have done centuries ago, and—
“It was me.”
Lilith whipped around to the source of the voice. “What?”
Melinda shifted on her chair, looking at the floor. “When we were staying in Forgotten Hollow, Paul, he was at our house, and I got angry with him and threw him out and, well I don’t really know what happened, but—”
“We found him,” April whispered, staring blankly. “He was in the woods, already dead. We… we put him in my trunk and we… we slid the trunk into the ravine.”
“So what happened to Paul between leaving your house and being found?” Lilith asked Melinda.
Lilith whipped her head to her other side, like she watching a particularly aggressive tennis match. “Caleb?”
“I found him,” he repeated solemnly. “And killed him. I killed them both.”
“I’m sorry Lil,” he said. “I know we were trying to be good and I tried to restrain myself, I did, but I… I still fed from prey, Lilith.”
Lilith glared at her brother as he allowed his walls to come down giving her the rare chance to read his thoughts.
“No one need ever know. And I mean no one.”
“So I see,” Lilith growled. “You utter twat.”
Caleb groaned and sank his head into his hands. “I’m sorry, all right? I tried! But those blood bags you made were simply awful.”
“Awful?! You ungrateful, selfish, stinking pile of—”
“Interesting,” Sage muttered. “For clarification’s sake, Caleb; what did you do to Will?”
Caleb cleared his throat, looking at Sage with some confusion. “I drank from him, I suppose.”
“You suppose,” Sage clicked her tongue again. That noise went through Lilith like a little stake. “Of course you drank from him, you nincompoop or I wouldn’t be here. Gracious! Is your memory that poor? What did you do to him after you had partaken of his unwilling neck?”
“Oh, right,” Caleb said quietly. Lilith could hear him reaching out to her for the right thing to say, for anything. And it suddenly dawned on her. He genuinely didn’t know.
Now, admittedly, Caleb didn’t know a lot, his brain being buggered by all and sundry, but if this was recent he should know. Unless…
She reached gently into his open, waiting mind. She waded through the flashing filth and the toothpaste commercial jingles that played on loop, and reached a portion that he was trying to access, that had been addled in a very familiar way.
“We cannot be tamed, Caleb.”
Caleb swallowed as this memory was unearthed from the mire; as what Seth had buried once again became reachable, tangible – memorable. Lilith could read it and, therefore, redeposit it in a way Caleb could comprehend.
She was like a translation machine, with teeth.
“Hell, we’d be doing everyone a favour draining this one.”
“Is that any way to talk to your wife, Will?”
So he was scanning memories about Will disrespecting his wife? Lilith pondered. And that’s… that’s it? You don’t remember even drinking from Will, you idiot! Why did you confess?
I don’t know! I panicked! I can’t lose you, Lil.
Why do you realise that now of all times! Fucking hell! Lilith fought to keep her face neutral as she mentally berated her brother. Look, something interesting must have happened to Will and Will only if Sage is asking this. Something other than the standard drain and dump…
“Well?” Sage demanded.
Caleb, buy some time.
Just talk about anything!
“Lil and I were once invited to a wedding—“
Not about that.
“But that’s not important! You asked; what did I do after I’d drained Will? And it’s a good question; what did I do? After I drained him, I… well, I… it’s rather hazy…” Caleb mumbled and bumbled like a fool. “Oh, wait I remember why it’s hazy; Will and his friend were bragging about Dale’s night with April, in the bar, while I attempted to drown myself in absinthe—”
Wait, when did this happen? Lilith asked.
The night we left, Caleb thought back.
Lilith lost her fight to keep her face neutral as all the grisly pieces she had finally fell into place. She remembered standing on her staircase, the morning after Caleb had left, trying to drag Chuck up to her bedroom. She remembered Seth strutting in, uninvited as always.
“Why are you back?”
“Forgot my kidney.”
Caleb was still stalling. “I couldn’t abide them talking about April like that, she’s mine,” he explained, continuing on regardless through the various sounds of scorn around the room. “So I… uh… I socked Dale.”
“You did?” April asked. “For me?”
“Yes,” Caleb said, with a hint of pride. “I did shatter his jaw though; I probably shouldn’t have hit him so hard. And with Will I, uh, I…”
Lilith had been chewing over whether to let Caleb take the fall for this – what if it had been some other poor bugger’s kidney that Seth left in her fridge? What if this was another trap? Another way for Sage to make them out to be savages?
She decided that it was a gamble she was willing to make. Caleb already sounded like an unhinged madman – what was one more indiscretion?
Seth removed his kidney, she thought to him.
Holy hell. Really?
I think so, yes. I think that’s what Sage needs to hear. I hope that’s all he removed.
I can’t admit to that! They’ll lynch me!
They might anyway; you already sound like a psychopath. Try to sound apologetic.
“…I removed Will’s kidney,” Caleb said quietly. “And I’m very sorry.”
You could have heard a pin drop as shock rolled around the room.
“You killed one man, punched another and removed a third’s kidney?” Broof asked, somewhere between horror and awe. “Because they were talking about April?”
“See? He’s not so bad! He did it for my honour!” April said brightly. “And we don’t know what he did with the kidney. That’s important, right? Maybe he took it from that nasty man and donated it to a hospital to save a poorly child!”
He didn’t. Lilith projected. He left it in my fridge and Chuck ate it.
“I didn’t,” Caleb repeated. “Ch—“
Don’t tell her that!
Caleb bit his lip. “I, uh, fed it to Robert. My cat.”
Broof sucked a breath through his teeth – the only one in the room who seemed to have any. “You really are a monster, Vatore.”
“So I’m told,” Caleb mumbled.
“Why did you feed it to your cat?” Wyatt asked.
“He fed the poor creature on medical waste,” Melinda mumbled. “Who would even think to do that, right? Product of a warped mind.”
“Totally. Is there no tinned tuna in the Forgotten Hollow general store?”
“Actually, no. The owner is a vegetarian and—“
“I’ve heard enough!” Sage called tersely. “That story checks out.”
“It does?” Lilith asked, forgetting herself. She thumped her brother with what she hoped he knew was affection and growled. “It does?! How could you? I’ll kill you myself!”
“You can’t! Not while he’s bound to April, right Mum?” Wyatt asked. “We can’t turn in Caleb without April and we’re not turning in April.”
“You’re not?” April asked warily.
“No, Apes, we’re not,” Wyatt insisted. “We’re not, Mum.”
Sage only continued with her tongue clicking; the ground beneath them began to tremble. “No, Mum, come on. That practice of beheading needs to end like all the other archaic practices. We can cure these guys; I know we can. And Caleb, well, maybe he won’t be so, um Caleby when he’s cured…”
“I’m a vampire hunter, Wyatt,” Sage said smoothly. “This is what I do.”
“Then do something else!” Wyatt wailed. “Be the change, Mum.”
“It’s not me who needs to change, Wyatt. I need to present a head—”
“I can get you a head,” Lilith shrugged.
Sage sighed heavily, staring at a tear in the wallpaper to Lilith’s left. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but – fine,” she muttered. “But I’m not taking any more chances. We need to find Faith and bring her here. Now, wherever could she be…?”