In the Henford countryside, all was still, all was silent for miles around Moon’s tiny cottage. But inside was another story.
“I definitely look OK?” Melinda asked again, fussing with the shirt she’d tied around her hips. “Do I look like I’ve made an effort? Too much effort?”
“You look lovely, dear,” Moon said soothingly.
Melinda returned her a smile, but continued to tweak the position of her clothing. It had been a long time since these four walls had been home to a teenager and Moon admired the effervescent energy of the little vampire. It was a million stars from how she’d been when Moon had first met her, pale and semi-conscious on the roof of Sage’s shop.
Moon had had a crash course in the ways of the vampire during the days that had followed that momentous night. All of her preconceptions had been dashed. The new information had made her question a lot of things about the coven, her life and the motivations of those around her.
Her whim had invited Melinda to move into her small home, but her fondness was keeping her there. Melinda truly was a very special girl.
The pair had swiftly adapted to the way of life of the other, bonding instantly over their shared love of painting and cats. Each had learned that a set of fangs needn’t make you a monster, if precautions were taken, naturally. Moon had gotten quite used to the apple-flavoured potion that made Melinda keep a safe distance.
A soft ping! caused Melinda to stop fussing and to reach into her pocket to retrieve her new mobile telephone. Because what teenager was complete without one? She smiled as she read the screen.
“Mum has asked if you want the recipe for those cookies she made,” Melinda said, holding back her laugh. “How would you like me to say ‘no’?”
Good grief. Barbara ‘Babs’ Bucket was so terrible at cooking it was almost a talent. Moon could still taste the marmite and icing sugar combination of her latest invention on her tongue. Still, it was a small price to pay.
Moon, a mother herself, had sought to reunite Melinda and Babs the second she learned about the events that had separated them. At first, Babs had been almost aggressive and accused Moon of all manner of things, from being a lunatic to being romantically interested in her husband. Something Moon couldn’t quite deny – Chuck was a darling.
Eventually though, Babs was calm and collected enough to learn the truth.
Moon wasn’t sure if the biggest shock for Babs was learning that vampires really did exist, finding out that her daughter had a world-famous girlfriend or simply realising that she’d been so wrong about something. But what had passed, was past.
As lovely as it had been to reunite Melinda with her family – Babs’ culinary gifts of appreciation notwithstanding – Moon’s heart ached for Adina, Faith’s mother.
Wracked with guilt, she longed for news of her daughter, any news. She prayed for good, but as the days had passed, she had learned more about the one who had tempted Faith away, and why she had so willingly gone.
She clung to hope, but she knew her daughter.
As much as she wished the girl back…
…as much as they all wished it…
Faith had made her choice.
Moon was brought back into the room by the timely sound of the doorbell chiming. Melinda squeaked like a toy under the paw of cat and disappeared from the room in a blur.
By the time Moon had caught up, Melinda had already invited April in, and the two were chatting in her kitchen; giggling and talking over one another in their excitement.
“…the sky is clear, so we should have a perfect view…”
“…and I have a little present for you!”
“A present for me? But I haven’t got you anything.”
“That’s OK, it might be rubbish present anyway.”
April beamed and then clocked Moon’s appearance. “Oh! Hi Moon!” she grabbed Melinda’s hand, tugging her towards the door.
“Bye, Moon!” the pair chimed in unison.
Moon chuckled to herself, not in the least bit offended by their behaviour. She wandered into her living room, flanked by her cats, and idly watched as the girls strolled off down the path, hand-in-hand, oblivious to the world around them.
She remembered how it felt, to be young and in love. How every waking moment was filled with thoughts of your crush, and every dream became a blur of fluttering heartbeats and hitched breaths. She recalled the hormonal rush that the promise of a few moments alone could bring.
She sighed. She was surrounded by so much sorrow, regret and grief. It could have all felt hopeless, yet it didn’t.
Grief did not exist without love. And where there was love, there was always hope.
It always was. It always would be.
“It’s nine p.m. on the 20th July, 2017. I’m Lorna Broad-Castor bringing all the news, as it happens. All day, every day. Forever.
“Today’s top story: another two young women have been reported missing in the university town of Britechester. The pair were last seen leaving a Brainiacs Organisation meeting together on Tuesday evening.
“Police are ‘dumbfounded’ as to what could have become of Annabella VampFood, 19, a biology student, and her roommate, Lisa Bloodbank, 20, who is studying villainy. Like the others, the women appear to have vanished into thin air. Police are appealing for witnesses to piece together the women’s last movements, and they ask for anyone with information to contact them.
“The disappearances of Annabella and Lisa bring the reported total of missing female students at Foxbury Institute to six.”
“The disappearances have caused panic in the small university town, with a number of residents suggesting a sinister connection between them. They have been dubbed the work of a single culprit, the ‘Britechester Butcher’—
“OK, fine! I’m simply trying to… OK, whatever, although if you just want a face to read an autocue, go hire a robot already. Clarification viewers: there has, to date, been no evidence that any of these women have been ‘butchered’. Any mention of a serial killer is pure speculation and there is no need to panic. I repeat, there is no need to panic.
Faith tuned out as the newsreader continued to drone on. She scanned the floor, searching for her discarded clothing, while her hairy-backed bedfellow snored quietly in the background. She’d heard about this potential serial killer – who hadn’t by now? Half a dozen smart, young women vanishing would be news anywhere. But this was the first time she’d seen pictures of the missing girls and it had certainly piqued Faith’s interest.
Six young women. Vanished without a trace.
She watched as the screen displayed some choppy CCTV footage of the girl’s last known movements. They paused outside the pub to chat, but it almost looked like they were talking to a third person, an invisible person…
Young. Female. Blonde.
Definitely the preference of someone she knew.
And what was that he’d said? About not showing up on cameras?
“Lilith says that ‘we can’t be perceived by anything other than a compensating eye as we contradict all the laws of nature’, being both alive and dead.”
Faith sat up; staring intently at the moving screen.
It couldn’t be Fringey’s doing. It just couldn’t. When Faith had left the cottage with… ugh, that shithead, way back in May, Lilith was there. He’d be back under her thumb for sure. There was no way in a million years Lilith would be letting her brother out to murder all the blondes in Britechester.
No. No way. Caleb, April and Melinda were holed up somewhere with Lilith, drinking medical waste goop and laying low. Really, really low.
So low that Faith couldn’t find them.
And fuck, she’d really tried to. After fleeing the clearing where the cottage used to be, Faith had made her way to Forgotten Hollow, by night and unscrupulous methods.
Once there, she’d set out to find Lilith’s – or Marjorie’s – house in the tangle of trees and identical paths. After wandering the dense forest for about a week, sheltering in a discarded pink tent she’d found, and growing more and more thirsty, she had eventually found both houses.
Both were frustratingly empty.
She’d considered if maybe there was another house nearby that they might be using. But surely if any of her friends were around there, she’d have found something by that point. Caleb and Melinda would’ve raced past to gaze at the stars at the cliffside. She’d have heard April having a tantrum. She’d have seen Lilith stumbling back from the bar.
She’d have seen someone.
But not even that Wangshaft jerk had turned up to bother her. And so, Faith had given up on Forgotten Hollow.
Her next idea had taken her to Del Sol Valley, figuring that maybe Lilith would still have a surgery there, somewhere.
Faith had almost needed plastic surgery after spending half a fucking day wandering potential clinics in the sunlight, turning her skin to sawdust. People had heard of Doctor Vatore, but apparently she had left town one day and no one knew where she’d gone.
By this point, Faith had moved from hope, past the point of desperation and landed hard on her ass in pure dejection.
They clearly didn’t give fuck about her or want her to come back.
Fuck them all.
If they didn’t give a shit, Faith didn’t give a shit. She didn’t need them. She didn’t need anyone.
She had the world at her feet.
The first thing she’d done was to break into the Pinnacles Private Estate, like she had many times since she was a kid, to gain access to the Moss Mansion. It was way too easy. Embarrassingly easy. OK, so she snagged her tights on the one rogue nail on the trellis that always got her, but she could do this in her sleep. She briefly considered being a burglar. Terrorising the rich folks in their fancy houses and robbing them blind.
Maybe she could stay in this mansion – it was abandoned after all with Sandy being dead, Travis being in jail and April being… fuck knows where. By the time Faith had reached April’s balcony, she was giddy with excitement. This place, and all its ridiculously expensive shit, could be hers, all hers.
Unfortunately she couldn’t stay there forever. Fancy as it was, it was fucking dull.
She couldn’t let anyone know she was there. She couldn’t boast about it. She couldn’t put on any lights, couldn’t use any electricity. Not to mention that she had to dodge the crazy fans who still visited the house every day, pressing their phones against the glass or stealing handfuls of dirt from the garden.
She was pretty much a prisoner inside these four marbled walls. And it was empty. So fucking empty.
Faith had never understood why April had whined so much; she had her own bloody hot tub for fuck’s sake! But she got it now.
What was the point of having your own hot tub with no friends to share it with? The mansion sucked with no one in it.
Life sucked with no one in it.
No one to tease.
No one to laugh with.
No, laugh with.
No one to fight with.
Ugh! She needed to stop thinking about that saggy twat, about any of them – they clearly weren’t thinking of her! The only one looking out for Faith, as always, was Faith.
Flipped into rage, she’d stolen a few things that wouldn’t be missed, abandoned the mansion and set off to prowl the streets of Del Sol Valley. Celeb town was packed full of upscale bars and rich men, desperate to share her metaphorical bed. Faith need never be alone again.
Everywhere she went, every street, every bar – most men, and the odd woman, were on her like flies the second she walked in. Offering to buy her drinks, meals, cars… sometimes even fighting each other for her attention. She’d gone from being almost invisible to being the hottest catch with a snatch this side of Windenburg.
Who needed friends when she had allure?
She’d always been good at getting free stuff, but now she was legendary. Hair extensions made of actual hair? Free. Real gold jewellery instead of that nickel crap she used to wear? Free.
Everything about Faith was free. Wild. Unburdened.
The guy she’d spent the day shagging and draining – she had no idea what his name was – groaned from his position on the bed, reminding Faith that she needed to stop dwelling on the past and head out.
She reached for her boots – another freebie – and started to yank them on, as the news channel jingle announced a new story.
“Following the death of his only son and heir, Wilbur Wangshaft has finalised his divorce to Gloria Ersatz, a former pageant queen and renowned socialite. The settlement, rumoured to be in the millions, was made final this morning.
“With no heir and now no wife, there has been great interest in what the fragile octogenarian intends to do with his vast fortune upon his demise. He currently has one infant grandson, who stands to inherit the lot. But rumour has it, there may be a bump in the road. Or a pair of them.
“Wangshaft and adult film star, Gertrude Bapflap, 27 (allegedly) were caught on covert footage at a local beauty spot over the weekend.
“Bapflap, is most recently famous for her cover shoot in the December 2016 issue of BOOBS magazine. She tragically lost her third husband, successful businessman Nigel Bobwaffle, back in May after a brief marriage.
“None of the parties involved wanted to comment, so earlier today we sent Reb to visit Ermintrude Bapflap, Gertrude’s twin sister, at her home in Brindleton Bay. This is what she had to say on the matter.”
“I’ve got nothing to say on this matter.”
“Very suspicious. Is Gertrude Bapflap looking to move in on the Wangshaft fortune? We’ll have more on this story in the bulletin at ten.”
Faith turned off the TV and rifled through the sleeping human’s pockets. She’d had no idea that Will, who worked in a mill, drove a beaten-up truck and drank beer in a divey bar, was heir to a huge fortune. The news that he’d been murdered had been absolutely no surprise to her though. Faith hoped that his wife had found out about all her husband’s affairs and ended his sorry ass.
Faith pocketed the money she found in the nameless human’s jeans with a sigh. Ten measly simoleons. She imagined being a gold-digger, like that Bapflap woman. Inheriting thousands, perhaps millions of simoleons just for marrying a fogey and letting him cop a feel for a few months. She wondered how you landed a deal like that – where did old, rich guys hang out? Golf clubs? Viagra shops? Cemeteries?
Perhaps her next mission would be hunting for an eligible coffin-dodger, but for now the sun was setting on another day in paradise and Faith had to go find a bus that would that would take her Britechester. Because even if the Britechester Butcher wasn’t Caleb, even if it was just a regular old serial killer, Faith was intrigued.
Maybe she’d find this guy, see what a psychopath tasted like. Maybe she’d drink him dry and be a hero to the campus, a mysterious saviour, an urban legend.
And failing all that, there’d be hundreds of cute college guys, suckered on her allure.
Hope filled her heart for first time in a long time. She had a good feeling about this.