After a long, cold night in the dank forest of Forgotten Hollow, Sage had finally arrived home. She stretched her aching legs and cracked her stiff back as her old bones groaned and protested back to position. Oh, how she longed for her bed, the soft eiderdown and the plump, duck feather pillows.
She sighed. It would have to wait. Maintaining her one ruse at night did not mean she was free from maintaining her other during the day.
Thankfully, she thought, as she crossed the threshold into her small kitchen, she had a brew or two in the refrigerator that would pep her right up!
“Oh dear sweet Mother Moon!” Sage hissed under her breath, clutching at her chest as she saw what lay in wait for her upon her kitchen counter.
She took a moment to catch her breath, staring into the glazed eyed before her, rocked with revulsion and, simultaneously, huge relief. Finally able to breathe evenly, she reached into the pocket of her skirt, withdrawing the small phone that Wyatt had insisted she take along, in case of emergencies. She stared blankly at the screen, willing it on.
She pressed a few buttons and, she wasn’t sure which did it, but the screen finally came to life. To avoid confusing her further, and ensure she didn’t accidentally call someone she shouldn’t, Wyatt had only programmed in two phone numbers; his own and Broof’s. She called the latter.
The phone rang precisely three times, before Broof’s smooth voice responded. “Broof Hogwash.”
“Hello darling,” Sage trilled, remembering their last encounter and adding an extra layer of sugar to her words. “How are you?”
“Sage? Is everything all right?”
Sage glanced over at the body-less head on her countertop and lied through a smile, “Wonderful. Say, would Lilith happen to be with you?”
A moment’s hesitation then a curt reply. “She is.”
“Can I speak with her?”
Another delay. Muffled voices. Sage wasn’t sure if it was him, or something to do with this new-fangled thing she was holding to her ear. Finally, Lilith’s cool call resounded in her ear. “Sage.”
“I suppose you think this is funny?”
Lilith had an unusual laugh, rather more a snort. And that was all the answer she gave.
Sage didn’t wish to admit that she found any of this amusing, and tutted impatiently.
“Do grow up, Lilith, for goodness sake. So, who have I caught here?” Sage asked with a note of impatience and waited until Lilith finished laughing. “Well?”
“His name was Fallacy Fangstock,” Lilith replied.
“Fallacy Fangstock?” Sage repeated, playing along. “Any relation to Sophistry Fangstock?”
“Offspring, I believe,” Lilith purred. “Since his father’s demise, Fallacy has been in hiding. It’s not clear why he returned to Forgotten Hollow after all this time, but there we go.”
Sage looked towards the ashen face on her counter. “Just as I think I’ve caught them all, another one crawls out of the woodwork. I’ll let the high priestess know immediately that the threat has been removed—”
“Do you think that’s enough time to be compelling?” Lilith interrupted.
Sage clicked her tongue. “I was still talking, Lilith. And yes, I always used to catch them within a day or so—”
“—back when you were a sprightly hundred-something. Don’t forget that you are now geriatric. If you want this to be convincing, you’d be better to wait a few days.”
Sage wanted to defend herself, but the creak in her limbs held no argument.
“Good point,” she conceded. “Darn it. More nights in the forest it is then.”
“Boohoo,” Lilith teased.
Sage looked carefully at her new trophy, taking in every detail. “You’ve done a good job here. He’s rather well finished.”
“If you’re after free surgery, Sage, you’re not getting it.”
Sage bristled. “He’s so young, the poor man. Who was he actually?”
“A vagrant,” Lilith said softly. “A nobody.”
“From the morgue?”
A pause, just a second too long. “Yes.”
“I see. Well thank y—” Sage began.
“I didn’t do it for you.”
Sage’s handset beeped and flashed back to the home screen. Call terminated. How very rude. But then, Lilith had always been rather frosty.
She looked again at the head on the counter. The pale skin, the chiselled cheeks, the neatly filed fangs. The hollowed eyes and haunted expression. ‘Fallacy Fangstock’ looked every bit the former society vampire gone rogue. This poor man.
And poor her! As if having a fridge full of blood vials wasn’t bad enough, now she had to store a severed head for a few days.
The clock in the hallway chimed to denote the hour and Sage groaned. She had no time for a perk-up potion, she had a hair appointment to attend. She didn’t need to have her hair manipulated by a human to keep it so buoyant and fresh, but she did need to keep up appearances.
She swept down her dress and ran her fingers through her hair, causing it to coarsen and texture in her grasp until it resembled that of a regular person. Then she placed the head gingerly into a carrier bag and popped it in to the fridge, leaving a note on the door so as not to alarm her guests when they discovered it.
She’d pick up some groceries while she was out and perhaps pay Moon a visit, as she had departed so rudely on their last outing.
And then she’d be coming back for a long, long nap.
The box that been delivered was bordering on enormous, but its weight was no problem for Caleb.
He settled it into the corner of the flower shop and gently pried it open to inspect the contents. Even though he had very little interest in plants, he had to admit that the stock deliveries were amusing. He had no idea that there were so many plants in this world, so many different potion ingredients. So many combinations. He ran down the inventory list with his fingertip, speedily checking off everything present and mentally cataloguing it, also.
Caleb couldn’t really explain it, but he did have a knack for anything like this; stockpiling and organising words and trivial information. He only wished that skill extended to more complex data; to instructions that didn’t make sense and to the intangible.
His thoughts wandered, as they often did, to his little vampire wife. He’d been following her most of the last few days, blocked at every chance by Wyatt or his mother. He pictured April as he’d last seen her, from afar, as he’d headed up towards the store for his shift. She’d been bent over the cauldron, carefully stirring the oversized pot with a humongous spoon.
He wondered how exactly she and Wyatt would turn these seemingly random items into potions and whether one of those potions would actually be able to cure them. Lilith had tried lots of things over the years, experimented with all sorts of plants and unusual pursuits. And then, one day, she’d simply given up, and therefore so had he.
But now? Perhaps there was a chance. He rifled through the box, studying each item. Was bloodstone the missing ingredient? Maybe Lilith had only been a daffodil from her cure? Perhaps datura was the answer?
Caleb would never admit this to his sister, but he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be mortal. Unlike Lilith, he didn’t remember ever being mortal. Would he instantly know how to breathe? What if he didn’t? Could he learn fast enough? Or would he be cured and then instantly suffocate?
Worse were the other human inconveniences – would he need to be potty trained?
He was snapped from his morose thoughts by the sound of someone trying the shop door handle. That was unusual; the door barely latched, even the wind could blow it open. Caleb would have been long gone by now, if it wasn’t for that invisible barrier Sage had cast, the same barrier that also meant that he couldn’t simply open the door for this lady.
He peered through the glass, gesturing for the customer to enter.
She had been focused on her efforts to lift the handle but, as he approached, she jumped back, startled and skittish, her eyes snapped up to his own.
Caleb’s heart metaphorically stopped. At least, he imagined that’s what this room-spinning, stomach-plummeting feeling he was suddenly experiencing was. This pale, elegant, cat-eyed woman, who was somehow incapable of opening a door, was the single most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on.
He took a few rapid steps towards the door, mind blank, hand outstretched. He could feel the vibration in his fingertips, in his limbs as he tried to push through Sage’s invisible cage. Cat Eyes watched him eagerly, whispering something under her breath.
Caleb continued to push, his fingertips inches from the door, his skin on fire and just as he thought he would make contact—
The ‘explosion’ that tore through the store was immense, dispersing and resetting every fibre of Caleb’s body. The heavy boom had given way to a tight ringing in his ears that echoed around the town square setting of a series of alarms in waves.
He quickly scoped his surroundings, expecting to see carnage and yet the store was unscathed, not a single flower had moved.
Caleb jerked his head towards the door, seeking the mystery woman. She had gone.
Caleb tried to think although his head was a foggy, rainbow mess. Surely this would not go unnoticed by the witches. Would they think he’d tried to escape? Would there be reprisal? As the temporary tinnitus waned, he slowly became aware of a familiar candy-floss voice emitting a wail.
All thoughts of the green-eyed woman left his brain as Caleb sensed that he might have put his beautiful bind in harm’s way. In a flash he had descended the staircase to the basement, to the cauldron room…
Well, what was left of it.
He swallowed hard. Should he apologise? Play dumb?
“Woah,” Wyatt laughed, rubbing the ash from his eyes. “That was the second biggest explosion I’ve ever seen. And now we know – there’s no bloodstone in this potion.”
“Oh my goodness!” April cried. “That was so scary! We could have died!”
Wyatt only laughed and immediately Caleb knew how to react. He grabbed April’s waist pulling her to him. In her dismay at having been in the path of a volatile potion, she didn’t seem to have noticed that he was standing behind her and she squirmed in his grasp; that cute little ‘eek’ setting all his remaining nerves alight.
“What did you do to her?!” he snarled at Wyatt.
“Nothing,” Wyatt replied. “Are you OK, Apes?”
April writhed in Caleb’s grasp, gently removing his hands from herself. “Yes, I’m OK,” she said in a small voice. She glanced at Wyatt and stood a little taller, lifted her chin. “Caleb – no.”
“Let me go.”
Caleb could sense something in Wyatt and could tell from April’s face that something was wrong. He didn’t understand why he suddenly felt like he was being accused of something when, for once, he’d done nothing wrong.
He glared at Wyatt, but backed off with a mumbled apology.
Was it his imagination, or did April shuffle a little closer to Wyatt? He’d just caused a massive explosion and she’d still rather stand near him. What in hell what that about?
“Look at this mess, Wy,” she whispered. “Oh my goodness, Grandma Sage will disown us!”
“Nah,” Wyatt said dismissively. “She’s got errands all day and then she’s out vampire hunting again all night. We’ve got loads of time to fix this. She’ll never know.”
“We can fix this?” April asked, with awe.
“Sure. At least the walls are intact this time, mostly. Totally fixable. Unless…” he tapped his chin and raised an eyebrow at Caleb. “Was there anyone in the store? ‘Cause if there was, I’d better go find them and spin them a tale or my butt will be on literal fire.”
Caleb’s mind wandered back to the mysterious green-eyed woman, and he almost replied with a ‘yes’. But then, technically, she hadn’t actually been in the store…
“No,” he replied. “We had a delivery, but the driver had left.”
“Oh! That’s a relief! Ooh a delivery?” April replied giddily. “Is it more ingredients?”
“Not afraid of another explosion then?” Wyatt teased.
April looked up through her lashes. “It was quite fun.”
“That’s my girl,” Wyatt laughed for a second before his face fell and he looked away. He cleared this throat. “I ordered loads of new plants for us to play with – I mean, experiment very seriously with – in this stock.”
“Ooh yay! That sounds fun!” April clapped. “What did you get?”
Caleb interrupted, to reel off the inventory he’d read a few moments earlier. April’s eyes grew wider with every item. Now who had her awe? Caleb thought, smugly. She must be so impressed.
“Aren’t some of those plants poisonous?” she asked, looking back towards Wyatt. “I’m sure I’ve read about datura.”
“Yeah, that’s poisonous.”
“Oh… but we can eat them? Vampires?”
Wyatt shrugged. “No idea. A wise man once told me; ‘you can eat everything, son, but some things might kill you’.”
“That doesn’t sound very wise.”
“Datura is poisonous, but don’t worry,” he soothed. “In tiny doses, it’s fine – I use it in the tea. Too much and you’ll probably pass out. But, like everything else it’s totally safe when handled properly. I won’t let you handle it though, ha!”
April huffed. “I didn’t know that a ‘thumbful’ meant ‘a big pinch’ rather than, well, the equivalent volume of my thumb! You could have told me that adding too much would make it explode!”
“Total honesty; I had no idea.”
“But you know everything!”
Wyatt visibly faltered. He glanced up at April almost shyly. “I don’t know everything or we’d have a cure by now,” he laughed, but there was definite tenseness in it. “Uh… hey, Caleb, can you stick the box of goodies in my room? There are a few things in there I wanna take out before Mum sees. Oh, and make sure you close the door behind you, yeah? I’ve got the tea brewer set up in there. Last thing I need is her asking questions.”
“Tea brewer?” April and Caleb said together. April let out a squeal, “Ooh! For the strawberry tea?”
“Yeah, strawberry for you and Mel. I’m blending it with some vein juice; hopefully that’ll make it less ashy.”
“Yummy!” April giggled. “Oh, wait, won’t you be joining in then?”
“I will,” Wyatt confirmed, poking his finger into the remains of the potion in the cauldron. “I’m making a slightly different batch for me though, obvs.”
“I’m so excited!”
Almost as if to punctuate the trill of her glee, the shop bell rang. Wyatt made to move and then glanced down at himself and over at Caleb.
“Wait, nope, Caleb’s in the shirt today – off you go, Vatore.”
Caleb went back upstairs slower than he’d come down. He could hear the pair behind him, whispering, but he was too far from April to hear what she was thinking. Although, if he had to guess, he’d wager it was probably more of the same thing she’d been thinking the whole time he’d been standing next to her.
Wyatt is so smart.
Pfft. Wyatt couldn’t memorise a whole inventory list in a minute, like Caleb could.
Caleb arrived in the store to see the door rocking itself ajar in a strong gust.
Wyatt looks after me.
Caleb could look after her – if he could get anywhere nearby. But he couldn’t, thanks to Wyatt. Always there, always watching.