Site icon Almost Eternal

Chapter 3.34 – Prince Charming

Warning: Non-consent. Violence.

The stench of nacho cheese and coke-soaked carpet permeated Faith’s materialising nostrils. As the fog around her solidified into an actual place, she couldn’t decide if she was really excited or bitterly disappointed.

“Why are we here?” she asked, looking around at the silent arcade.

“Money is a little tight, so I was hoping you could pull a shift or two at your old workplace,” Seth joked.

“Ha fucking ha,” Faith said drolly, wandering towards the bowling lanes.

This place was so familiar that she could navigate it with her eyes closed. She and her friends had wasted many hours, and countless amounts of April’s simoleons, on shooting aliens, hitting pins and sneaking into movies they weren’t old enough to watch.

It had seemed like a dream job to Faith, to work here, and she’d applied as soon as she’d turned into a teen. It had seemed too good to be true, ‘working’ at the arcade; having unlimited access to all the bowling and junk food she could ever want. Of course, the reality had been nothing like the dream. Frequently cleaning part-chewed bits of hot dog out of the finger holes in the bowling balls was only one reason why she now hated this place.

Seth was wandering around like he’d just landed from Mars, twiddling with the joysticks and buttons of the machines and muttering, “Ah. Oh. Interesting.”

“Oh my god,” Faith laughed. “You have no idea how any of the stuff in here works, do you?”

He shrugged, sliding the score counter on a foosball table. “I have absorbed a little knowledge in my time. And honestly, Fledgling; if you’re good at it, how hard can it really be?”

Faith almost choked on her outrage. “Is that a challenge?”

“What? Worried a complete novice is going to humiliate you?”

“You pathetic little man,” Faith tutted, elbowing past him as she strutted towards the backroom.

“Where are you off to? Giving up already?” Seth called after her.

“No, you idiot, but we can’t play if the system is off. I’ll be right back as long as…” she pressed a series of digits into a keypad beside a door. It beeped twice and then flashed green to admit her. She paused at the base of the stairs, looking up with that familiar feeling of sinking dread she had before every shift. She had to remind herself that she wasn’t working, that she was here for fun.

“I’m gonna go boot it up,” she shouted over to Seth, who was inspecting the bowling balls. “You wait here. Prepare yourself for an almighty ass-whooping.”

This bar, like the others, was all but empty and, like all the others, there was no sign of Faith. Broof knew that Faith was unlikely to be hanging out at the destination of April’s suggestion – the arcade – at four in the morning, but this was the fifth bar they’d visited and he wasn’t sure Melinda’s suggestion was any more robust.

Broof had occasionally seen Faith in bars he’d frequented around town. The girl could often be found pressed into a booth with a man twice her age, or stealing drinks when she thought no one was looking, but it seemed that, at least for tonight, she was laying low.

Although, in a certain dark part of his mind, Broof couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. He felt that her friends were hiding something, omitting something. He couldn’t help but wonder if Faith really had left due to a teenage squabble, or if it was something more sinister. After all, if Caleb could casually disembowel a man for talking about April, what would he do if her friend turned sour on her, as she often had?

Finding this bar to be relatively hospitable, and with no sign of the wayward vampire, the trio decided to call it a night and order a round of drinks.

Broof was fighting to stifle his yawns in the presence of Lilith, who apparently only needed to ‘sleep’ very occasionally, and Wyatt who was always buzzing, for one reason or another. He was feeling every bit of his seventy-nine years as he allowed their playful conversation to wash over him, only marginally envious that Wyatt could flirt, and make Lilith laugh, with complete ease.

He zoned back in to see what comedic genius his scruffy buddy was bestowing upon her to make her laugh so brightly.

“So, what was all that about earlier, Wyatt? With the plant? Do you shower with that thing, or…?”

Broof scoffed. “I can hazard a guess; Sage caught him with his pants down.”

“Yeah,” Wyatt said with little shyness.

“Seriously?” Broof laughed. “Again?”

“Yeah, again,” Wyatt said, glancing back to Lilith who was now looking a little uncomfortable. “At least this time it was with a person—”

“A person?” Broof interrupted, hoping Wyatt wouldn’t tell the vacuum cleaner story. It still made him feel ill to think anyone could defile a cleaning implement in such a way. He thought back over the earlier evening, the coven meeting; it all seemed so long ago. “With Wartilda?” he asked.

“I don’t kiss and tell, Hoggy.” Wyatt winked. “Especially not when it goes as bum up as tonight did. I mean, talk about bad timing.”

Lilith chuckled. “That’s what you get for living with your mother at seventy-six. Have you considered getting your own place?”

“Now that you mention it, maybe I should,” Wyatt tapped his chin. “It is pretty crowded at Mum’s.”

“Your own place? Ha! You wouldn’t survive a week on your own,” Broof guffawed.

“I so would,” Wyatt insisted. “How hard can it be? I can conjure up food.”

“There’s more to living independently than doing your own cooking, Wyatt,” Broof said, gesturing towards the very human barkeeper who was within hearing distance. “Responsibilities such as paying rent and bills. How would you manage that? You’re perpetually broke.”

“I’m not broke…”

“Oh? Can you buy the next round of drinks?” Broof asked.

“Uh…” Wyatt made a show of patting down his pockets. “Damn, I’d love to, but I left my wallet at home.”

“Sure,” Broof said, unconvinced. “Even if you were loaded, you’d never move out of your Mum’s; you have it way too easy there.”

“Easy? Hoggy, did you miss what I just told you? My life is literal hell!”

“Yeah right. Rent free, all meals made, laundry done… that’s hell, that is.”

“Hey!” Wyatt protested. “It’s not rent free! I work, like, full-time in the store.”

“You ‘work’ about 3 hours a day, Wy. Probably even less now that Caleb’s on the shop floor. Face it – you can’t afford your own place. Heck, if I don’t find work soon I might not even be able to afford my place.”

This was something of an exaggeration as Broof had always been careful with his money and had quite a lot in savings and inheritance to ensure that bills would be paid for a while, but his jest had missed the mark for Lilith. She chimed in with the worst possible comment she could’ve made.

“Broof, you have a spare room. Why don’t you move Wyatt in? Charge him a little rent, get him started?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt whispered, clearly in a daydream. “I could move in with you, Hoggy. Imagine that! It’d be awesome! Staying up all night, getting loaded, mentoring…”

Imagine that.

Broof thought about his pristine house being slowly turned into a hovel of depravity, one coffee stain at a time, and shuddered.

“Move in with me and have me be your surrogate mother? No thanks,” he said, as casually as he could muster.

The barkeeper, who had been pretending not to listen to the whole conversation, set down the rag he was holding and smiled at Wyatt. “If you’re looking for a place to stay and a way to pay for it, the flat above here is available. I could really use a hand on the bar; it gets busy in here,” he claimed.

Nobody said a word as the metaphorical tumbleweed blew by.

“OK, not at 4:00am on Thursday it doesn’t,” he conceded. “But we’ve got a sweet spot between 5:00-10:00pm now that the station’s open again. We catch all the commuters on their way home. Pouring quick pints is easy, but mixing up the fancy cocktails all the city folk want is knackering as heck. Think you’d be any good at that?”

 “I am pretty good at knocking up concoctions, yeah.”

“Sweet,” the barkeep said, inspecting his tumbler with a face that made Broof no longer want his drink. “Well, think about it and let me know, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt grinned from ear to ear. “I will.”

The hidden belly of the entertainment complex was a labyrinth of corridors punctuated with store cupboards and projection rooms. There were loads of places to hide from customers, with a sneaky bottle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes. And loads of dark corners to get hands-on with your co-workers, Faith recalled with a grimace.

She headed to a dusty room at the very end of the corridor, which was something of a graveyard for old equipment that no-one wanted but that no-one could be bothered to get rid of.

A few presses of various buttons on the console and the dated system stirred slowly to life. It took a while and it was noisy; the arcade didn’t have the latest machines, but even they barely ran on the dated technology of Simdows ’98.

She tapped a rhythm on the table as she waited, impatiently. Sometimes, the system had a habit of closing itself down or restarting a couple of times before it really got going, and she wanted to be sure it was actually on so she didn’t have to hike all the way up here again; she’d done enough walking for one night—

“Faith?”

Faith almost hit the ceiling in shock. She growled and whipped round. “Fuck’s sake, Murderbear. Do you have to follow me everywhere? I told you to wait— oh.”

“Murderbear?”

Faith’s heart sank as Johnny, her former supervisor and level ten obnoxious creep, appeared behind her, leering at her in that unsettling way he always had, since the first day she started working in this dump.

“What are you doing here?” she snarled. “Don’t you have a home to go to?”

“I could ask you the same question, babes,” he said, licking his lips and eyeing her chest without any shame.

Faith shook her hair back; reminding herself that she was the one in charge now and thinking fast, as she did so. “I’m collecting my last paycheck—”

“That’s in the office, like it always was. You, babes, are full of bull,” Johnny said. “So, what you really up to? Stealing kit to fund your life on the run?”

“Like I’d get anything for any of this shit.”

“So you broke in to play Blicblock?” He shrugged. “C’mon, babes; you can talk to me. What’s going on? Got yourself in a hole? Maybe I can help…”

“Piss off, Johnny,” Faith spat.

That tiny action, of Johnny gently pushing the door, triggered something in Faith. She froze, watching as the heavy door shut neatly with a whisper, blocking her escape.

“Don’t be like that, babes,” he murmured, advancing on her. Still fixated on the closed door, she slowly became aware of the stench of alcohol on his breath and his token stale sweat fragrance as he invaded her space. His pulse was pounding in her temples and his blood called to her like a siren. “We can work something out,” he purred. “I can let you take a few things, turn a blind eye…”

And I could rip your face off, she thought.

She only realised as her ass bumped into the table behind her that he had literally backed her into a corner. His breath was hot in her face and her whole body had frozen in place.

This is ridiculous! She screamed to herself. You can fight him! Bite him!

So why did she feel like she could do nothing?

He leaned in to take a long sniff of her hair, making her shudder as his nose brushed her neck.

“I like your hair like this,” he breathed, pulling back to scan her from head to toe. “Damn Splodge – when did you get so hot? Tell you what; I’ll not let the police know I saw you, maybe I’ll even let you empty the cash register.”

“Don’t make me hurt you.”

He blocked her knee as she brought it to his crotch and pinned her against the table, mauling her chest like she was a stress ball.

“I-I’ll s-s-scream,” Faith stammered in a voice she barely recognised.

“Go ahead. Hey, I’ll join you.” He hollered loudly; the mocking sound echoing around the tiny room, then he laughed. “Well, what d’ya know? There’s no-one—“

Johnny froze mid-sentence; his hand tore from under her top to instead clutch wildly at his throat. It was only then that she noticed what he was fighting against.

A black, gloved hand held Johnny by the neck and slowly, steadily lifted him from the ground.

Faith gripped the table behind her so firmly her nails left crevices in the scratched wood. Unable to look away, she watched, for what felt like hours, as Johnny clawed at this relentless threat; kicking and hitting the unyielding attacker and pleading to her, with his eyes, to help.

As sense caught up with her, as she was on the cusp of calling for it to stop, Johnny fell limp. He briefly stayed suspended, like a fisherman’s prize catch, before his head snapped sideways with a sickening crack.

A heavy fall left him a lifeless pile on the carpet at her feet, and it was over.

Seth looked at Faith for only a moment, his face completely unreadable, before he left without a word.

“Seth!” Faith called, stepping gingerly over Johnny and sprinting from the room. “Seth! Oof!”

He caught her as she barrelled into him.

“Yes?” he asked casually, as if he hadn’t just slowly strangled a man and wrung his neck like a chicken.  

As if nothing had happened at all.

Faith stared at her boyfriend, completely at a loss of what to say or do. How had he interpreted that situation? Did he think she’d instigated it? Had she?

“I didn’t… we weren’t… I’m not attracted to him,” she stammered. “He’s always been a complete creep, hitting on all the girls who work here and… Seth, why the fuck are you smiling?”

“A man you weren’t attracted to,” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day. As for why I might smile; you forget that, at their final breath, I am in their minds, Faith. And at the last, that is the moment all the secrets are revealed. They profess every transgression, confess every sin as they purge their godforsaken souls, preparing to meet their maker.”

“They do?”

“They do,” Seth said softly, taking her hand. “Ah, the things I’ve witnessed in that most hopeless place; the desperation of the dying man to justify, to repent, to have a chance to undo. Yet, Johnny has – as I’m sure have I – rightfully earned that place in hell and forever may he rot there.” Seth ran his thumb over her knuckles, his head tilted as if waiting.

Encouraged by the comfort of his gentle caress and his imploring gaze, to Faith’s horror, she found herself dancing on the edges of her own confession.

She shook her head vigorously, shaking all the shame back into the dusty box inside her and fighting it shut as, once again, she slipped into her well-worn mask.

“What, do you think you’re a god or something?” she scoffed. “And I didn’t need you swooping in playing the hero. Seriously, you give a guy a pet name and suddenly he thinks he’s fucking Prince Charming, here to save the fucking day.”

Seth didn’t say anything, but Faith could tell he was analysing her carefully and it pissed her right off.

“Quit analysing me! I don’t need you to save me. And you really need to get over this jealous streak you’ve got.”

“Jealous streak,” he repeated in a deadpan fashion.

“Yeah, I know you did away with that guy who was dancing with me at the Kaz Traitors gig. You can’t kill every man who hits on me, Seth. Not when I’m this damn fine.” She expertly turned her sob into a laugh.

“Faith,” he sighed. She felt the thumping increase in her temples but after a moment’s more hesitation, he conceded. “Have it your way. Next time I’ll leave you in the cold clutches of the picturehouse pervert.”

“Thanks.”

“And I shall try to refrain from murdering all my competition,” he said sarcastically.

“Good,” Faith said. “Or there’d be no men left.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “So, everything sounds like it’s whirring and beeping in suitably frustrating fashion. Shall we head back down?”

“W-what?” Faith sputtered. “You want to play games? Now?”

“As much as I ever did. I am ready for, as you so delicately put it, my ‘ass-whooping’.”

“But what about…?” Faith dropped her voice to a whisper as she thumbed back towards the store room.

“What about him?”

“We need to clean up.”

“Clean up what?” he laughed. “That could have been anyone. Unless you’re hinting that you’d like a nibble?”

“No! No,” Faith insisted, falling into stride beside him as they walked back towards the arcade. “I don’t want to put my mouth anywhere near him. But it’ll look suspicious, won’t it? Him being dead for no reason? Won’t they suspect it’s us?”

“Ah, yes, ‘pity for the prey’ – a fine delay tactic.”

“What?”

“You can postpone it all you please, Fledgling, but before we depart this place I will hand your posterior to you on a platter.”

“Oho! I was gonna take it easy on you—”

“—But now? Fuck that. You’re going down, MurderBear.”

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