Warning: violent, harrowing, horrific
Everything about the tiny house was exactly as Faith remembered it, except for one detail.
Oh my god, she willed to Seth, who had followed her a pace behind, scoping the darkness.
What? Seth projected back. Suddenly on alert, she could sense him tense at her shoulder. He was making her nervous. He never did seem to be at ease in any dark, enclosed space, which she understood, but tonight was a whole other level. She could feel the anxiety bleeding from him, felt him move closer, his gloved palm on the small of her back, trying to find the ‘threat’ she had identified.
Faith swallowed hard. She’s in my bed.
She felt the man beside her relax slightly, returning to his default slightly-on-edge self as he followed her gaze. Cute.
She is cute, Faith thought back. She’s adorable.
Seth made a noise that wasn’t an agreement and gently took Faith’s arm; his fingertips lingered on her wrist and traced a short line down her palm before he released her.
Do you wish to wake her? he asked.
What if she hates me for leaving her?
Faith nodded slightly and Seth turned on his heel, his heavy boots unbelievably loud on the threadbare rug beneath his feet as he strode towards the door.
Wait! Faith called, almost forgetting herself and crying out verbally. Wait, she thought, quieter. Where are you going? You can’t go! What if I… if I—
I’m going to subdue your mother, he replied. Her sleep is restless. Unless you wish to talk to her too?
I-I don’t, not this time, Faith answered, wondering if she was the reason her mum wasn’t sleeping.
All right then. Seth smiled. Wait here; try not to wake your sister.
I doubt I could, Faith smiled back. She sleeps like a log. She once slept through a small fire and only woke up when we’d already carried her out onto the lawn.
Interesting. I’ll only be a minute.
Faith fiddled with the knot on the hip of her dress, suddenly feeling very exposed. Again, she rued not wearing the blue dress, or jeans, or—
Faith paused as something in the air around her changed. The slow, deep breaths and rested heart rate behind her had quickened and become ragged. She didn’t need to turn around to know that her sister had woken up.
“Who’s there?” the girl whispered.
Faith’s heart sank. That little voice was not the one she remembered; the one that was cheeky and self-assured, afraid of nothing. Nothing scares me, sis!
No. This voice was scared. It suddenly struck Faith that she had walked into this house, into the bedroom in the pitch darkness as if it were the light of day, that Joy would not be able to see a thing. Faith could sense her little sister trembling beneath the sheets, wondering who – or what – was at the foot of her bed.
“It’s me, Kiddo,” Faith whispered.
“Fay?” Joy gasped, clambering out of bed. “Fay! You came back!” The girl tripped over her sheets in her effort to locate to sister in the dark, drawn to her like a homing beacon, arms wide and waiting.
It took all Faith’s willpower to step back from the embrace.
“Fay?” Joy asked in a small voice, her eyes scanning the darkness.
“Shh, shush,” Faith whispered. “We can’t wake Mum and you can’t touch me, OK?”
“Why not?” Joy whispered back. “Can I put the light on?”
Faith chewed her lip. “Kiddo, I can’t stay. I just wanted to come and say hi real quick. And give you this.” She thrust the envelope into the tiny, outstretched hand and waited.
Joy loved gifts and she wasn’t usually shy about ripping the paper off anything that was presented to her, but this time she only sighed, holding the thick envelope of photos at her side limply, with disinterest.
“I-it’s blackmail m-material,” Faith stammered, unnerved. “On Max. But you can’t say I gave it to you, OK?”
Faith didn’t really know what she had expected to come from this visit, but what she didn’t expect was for Joy to throw the unopened envelope to the floor and to burst into tears.
“Why did you ignore me the other night?”
“What?” Faith asked with genuine confusion. “Which night?”
“At the arcade, last Friday,” Joy sniffed. “I went with Alyssa and I saw you, you were by yourself near the hot dog stand. I ran over and you saw me and you ignored me. Why did you ignore me?”
“Last Friday?” Faith shook her head, trying to remember where she’d been that day. It felt so long ago. “I wasn’t at the arcade last Friday. I was, um—”
“We didn’t go to the arcade.”
‘We’ didn’t, Faith thought bitterly, looking at Joy’s wet face. But clearly Faith had been there.
Faith could’ve screamed. That stinking fucking bastard with his tricky fucking truths. No wonder she couldn’t remember anything about that night, if he’d somehow managed to get inside her head.
“…I didn’t see you,” Faith hissed through gritted teeth.
“You looked right at me!”
“Yeah, well I’m flipping blind, like Mum, aren’t I?” Faith snarled. She hesitated as she watched the tears well up again in Joy’s eyes and instinctively reached out to wipe them, pausing just short and softening her tone instead. “I didn’t see you, OK? I wouldn’t ignore you. I wouldn’t ever ignore you.”
“OK,” Joy said, so quietly Faith may have imagined it. They both remained with their arms outstretched, lingering at the invisible wall that had been placed between them. Faith longed to reach through, to cup that crying little face, to pull her little sister into an embrace so tight that would make her toes numb.
But she wouldn’t dare. Not until Seth was there, at least.
Where was he?
“When are you coming home?” Joy asked. “Look! I made the bed! I tidied things up!”
“I can see that! I didn’t tread on any Lego—”
“I’ll be super good if you come back,” she hiccupped. “I promise. You won’t have to look after me so much or buy me things anymore. Mummy said that if you came back, you wouldn’t have to work so much. She’d suck it up and talk to Daddy, whatever that means.”
“I didn’t leave because of that—“
“So why did you leave?!” Joy wailed, stomping her foot; snot and tears running down her face. “Tell me!”
Because I made a huge mistake, the voice inside Faith, the one that sounded like Melinda, piped up. She swallowed hard.
“Are you ever coming home?” Joy sniffed.
“D-did I do something wrong?”
“No,” Faith sighed. “Never.”
“So why can’t I hug you? I’m not smelly!” Joy cried. “I had a bath tonight; I’m all clean!”
“Don’t you love me anymore?”
Fuck it all.
“Of course I love you,” Faith gushed, falling to her knees and pulling the small child into her arms so fast that she felt all the breath leave her little body. “I love you to bits. None of this is your fault, OK? I did something really, really flipping stupid – actually I did a few really stupid things and… oh my god, you do smell clean. Is that the candy floss soap I bought you for Winterfest?”
Joy nodded against Faith’s shoulder, holding on for dear life.
“I thought you said it was too girly?”
“It is,” she mumbled. “But it reminds me of you.”
Joy snuggled up closer, fiddling with the hole on Faith’s dress. She was talking quietly about stinky soap and how many kettles of hot water they’d needed to warm the tub, but there was only one sound Faith could really hear, slowly drowning out the others.
“I really need to go now, baby,” Faith said, gently pressing Joy away.
Joy held on like a limpet and dug her feet into the rug. “Please don’t leave yet,” she begged. “Get in bed with me and tell me a bedtime story. You never finished that one you started before.”
“The one about the charming monster. How does it end?”
Badly. “Yeah, I really need to go. Let go of me, Kiddo.”
“No! I-I can’t because, um, ‘cause you’re super-duper cold!” Joy protested, clinging tighter and rubbing her arms quickly along Faith’s back, generating some warming friction.
“Yes. I’m a big idiot, I should have put a jumper on,” Faith joked, wondering just how cold ‘cold’ was. She recalled April being fucking freezing when she’d lapped at her arm, not dissimilar to licking a frozen lamppost. Faith yielded to the soft, warm body in her arms, idly scratching her nails on Joy’s scalp as she rocked her softly.
“No jumper and you’ve got a great big hole in your dress,” Joy laughed and she allowed herself to be swayed. “You are a big idiot!”
“You look different too,” Joy said, chopping her hand across Faith’s shoulder blades. Every time their skin brushed it made Faith more and more aware of the absence of life inside her and the fiery heat inside this wriggling, laughing creature. “Your hair is gone. And you smell funny.”
“Oh? I do?”
“Yeah,” Joy guffawed. “Like a monkey butt!”
“You’ve been sniffing monkey’s butts?” Faith asked, distracted.
“Nu-uh!” Joy protested, kicking her feet. “But you smell like one!”
“Well, you smell like cotton candy—“
With an undercurrent of blood.
Faith abruptly pushed back as she felt the first cool shimmer wash over her skin. “Let me go, Kiddo.”
“NO!” Joy shouted, clinging on as Faith tried to rise. “I-I… I haven’t told you about… about… Mrs. Bucket! She’s friends with Mummy!”
Faith thought nothing would shock her more than the desire to bite her own sister, but there it was. “S-she is?”
“Yeah!” Joy shouted, taking advantage of Faith’s moment of hesitation to latch herself back on and nuzzling her face into Faith’s neck. “She makes me cookies. Super weird cookies though. They have peas in.”
“Peas?” Faith repeated, absently nuzzling back. “Mmm. That’s good, they’ll make you big and strong…”
Peas and blood. Blood and cookies.
“But peas taste like farts!” Joy insisted and blew a raspberry against Faith’s shoulder. “I’d rather be small and wimpy forever than eat peas! Bleurgh!”
“Ow!” Joy gasped, pushing her small hands against her sister. “Something just pricked me! I think your earring is poking my neck.”
Joy continued to push; her hot palm like a heated poker against Faith’s ashy skin. “Fay?” she whimpered, pushing harder. “What are you doing? Fay…? It feels really… weird… I…”
It didn’t usually take Seth three attempts to subdue a human, but Adina Splodge, like her eldest daughter, was stubborn. He’d finally managed to break through the woman’s defences and lock her temporarily into a state of suspended catatonia that would hopefully hold her for at least a few minutes. Long enough for Joy to squeal in delight and for Faith to wail in despair when she was once again confronted with the sacrifice she had made for eternal youth.
And this time, in private, he could take full advantage.
Now, all he had to do was go and wake the child who had slept through a god damn fire – this family really was a force of will – and then he could—
It took Seth a clear moment to understand what he was seeing and even then he wasn’t quite sure he believed it. Granted, this was not the first time he had seen a vampire take from someone close to them, not even the first time he’d seen one take from a child, but it was the first time he’d seen either of those things without… input.
Acting entirely on his impulse, and thus forgetting everything he had learned about his fickle fledgling, he reached out to her psyche to force her to halt. He was rewarded with an almighty mental clout. It threw him brutally into the bedroom wall, restructuring his spine in the process and embedding one of his stowed blades firmly into his posterior.
Faith dropped the child, who fell with all the grace of a sack of spuds. She lingered, staring at the unmoving little body before her and twitching in her direction. Fixated, fighting herself.
She wasn’t done.
“Faith,” Seth growled, a warning, reaching again to the inner workings of her mind and, once again, being violently rebuffed. She reached down, transfixed, salivating.
With a knife now in each cheek and his twisted game gone awry there was nothing else for it.
The sickening thwack as Faith hit the deck broke her instantly from her trance. Her eyes, glowing almost translucent, never left her little sister’s face. She was snarling, hissing, rabid as a sick dog.
“Let go!” she snapped. “I need to check that she’s OK!”
He wasn’t falling for that. He held fast against the deceptive might of her, trying to force her to focus on him. He could feel his hold on Adina waning as his attentions were absorbed by his struggling student and her ardent attempts at escape.
“My baby!” she hissed. “Is she OK?”
Does she look OK?
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Joy!” Faith screeched. “Kiddo! Wake up! Baby! She’s not moving! Why is she not moving…?” she asked, the fog fading and the panic finally flooding in; her thoughts fluttering like a butterfly in a bell jar. “Holy fuck. I’ve… did I…?”
Yes. We need to leave.
The noise that escaped Faith was more animal than human. Hollow and hurt, it reverberated through Seth’s senses, invoking a hundred memories he’d rather forget.
With force beyond his initial anticipation, Seth pinned Faith to the floor. He heard the snap and crack of her limbs as she fought to escape. Any part she fought free, she flung in his direction. She elbowed him in the jaw, clawed at his face with an arm that was clearly broken and attempted to kick him in regions very few men wished to be kicked.
“Look at me,” he hissed, stifling a groan as she landed a particularly vicious knee into his groin, finally subduing her enough to force her face in his direction.
Finally stilled, she held her hands up in surrender.
“Wait,” she whispered. “I can’t live with myself if I’ve… if she’s…”
And, lo, there it was.
He titled her face to and fro, listening with intent as her mind, beaten as firmly, if not more so, into submission as her body was, opened up for him like a flower in the sunlight.
He could see – reach – everything. From the darkened depths of her depravity, her deepest fears, her causation and her despair, right up to her true thoughts about him…
That stinking fucking bastard with his tricky fucking truths.
Seth could sense the other occupants of house stirring and knew that if he wanted to stand a chance of finally siphoning from Faith, of turning this writhing mess of a situation to his advantage, he’d have to be tactful and speedy.
Before she could see that her sister was merely unconscious, before she could be soothed by any ease of her conscience and close herself off from him once more, he willed them both gone.