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Chapter 4.04 – Puffy

Note: A little gruesome.

When Faith had imagined Britechester, with its stuffy old buildings, fancy architecture and halls full of nerds, she hadn’t imagined that she’d ever go there, not with her terrible grades. Unless she got employed as a cleaner or as a stripper for a frat party, or something. And Blondie was never destined to mingle with the world’s brightest either, being a complete airhead.

Melinda had always planned to go to university, though. In fact, she’d been applying for courses the very week she was seduced into vamp life. Faith had tried to be happy for her as she banged on about scholarships, even though she knew that it meant Melinda would find new, intelligent friends and would leave her behind.

Faith didn’t really have a plan here. She was going to hang out, party, lay kind of low and keep her eyes peeled for any pretty blondes and anyone who might be watching them.

She reached the exit to the subway station and found herself in a space that was too big for no good reason, surrounded with those skinny trees that rich people liked and streets made of stones rather than asphalt. There was a river and quaint little streetlights, some with with bowls of flowers hanging off them in pairs, like leafy bollocks.

A small group of girls were lingering under one of these streetlight, chatting in what might have been a foreign language.

To Faith, who had grown up in a town where every other streetlight was broken and most roads had potholes the size of craters in, it was like another planet. It was even a world away from Del Sol Valley. That place had a glitzy façade, but you were never more than a few steps from a rat or a sleeping bag.

This place was immaculate.

The girls under the streetlight paused in their conversation and glanced at Faith as she emerged from the station, but didn’t say a word to her. They didn’t need to; Faith noticed the slight sneers and raised eyebrows as they took in the sight of her ripped tights and her visible underwear.

Faith wouldn’t usually give a shit if posh birds found her classless, but she needed to try and fit in here, at least a bit, if she wanted to survive and to not be recognised. But ugh, fuck, did that mean she needed to start wearing cardigans?!

“Excuse me, are you alone?”

Faith had been so fixated on the horror of wearing saggy, beige knitwear that she hadn’t noticed the guy sidle up beside her. She pivoted towards him and immediately noticed how cute he was. Underneath the obligatory vest and inch-thick glasses, of course.

“Yes,” she admitted, putting on her poshest voice. “I am alone and utterly lost.”

“Where are you trying to get to? I’d be happy to escort you.”

Escort her. Faith swallowed her scoff and smiled. “I’m looking for…” she racked her brains, kicking herself for not researching anywhere on campus. “Um… the pub.”

“Pepper’s?” he asked and Faith nodded. “Oh,” he sighed. “I hope you haven’t travelled here especially – it’s not open tonight; the police still have that part of the town cordoned off, you see.”

“Oh, right, because of the murders?”

“Disappearances,” he corrected softly. “And yes. Unfortunately, that’s the only bar in town so if you’re here for the nightlife, you’re hot out of luck.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Faith blurted, forgetting her decorum. “There’s only one bar here?”   

“Yes,” cute guy said and he smiled shyly. “But hey now, if it’s a drink you’re after, miss…”

“Violet.”

“Violet? What a coincidence! That’s my grandmama’s name. I’m Clifford. Well, Miss. Violet, there’s an end-of-term party happening over at my dorm, Drake Hall, tonight. I don’t usually go to those kinds of events, a bit raucous for me, but I’d be more than happy to walk with you there. I want to be sure you get there safely, see. But of course I understand if you’d rather I left you alone?”

This time, Faith couldn’t hide her laugh, imagining how little chance this polite little dork would stand against a vampire or a serial killer. But she had no idea where Drake Hall was and a party would be a good place to find a warm body or two to latch onto for the night.

She stepped a little closer and sensed his pulse race in that tell-tale, allure-drenched way. Did allure ‘drench’? Yeah, why not.

“Lead the way, Cliff,” she purred, licking her lips. “Take me back to your dorm room.”

“Oh, g-gosh, not to my room, to my dorm! To t-the communal area!”

“You want to bang me in the communal area?” Faith asked, pretending to misunderstand and thoroughly enjoying his squirming.

“What?” he squeaked. “No! I share it with five other guys!”

“So, you want to share me with five other guys?!” Faith said loudly.

“No! I don’t want to share you… I… oh gosh! How do I get out of this hole?”

Faith grinned; she could already tell she was going to have a lot of fun here. “You’re not yet in my hole.”

He must have misunderstood her joke because he actually relaxed. Boo.

“Oh, good.”

He glanced nervously at the people nearby who were pretending not to be watching what probably looked like a nerd picking up a hooker.

“S-so, u-um… uh… are you a student here?”

“Yeah.”

“W-what are you m-majoring in, Violet? I’ve not seen you around campus before and I would have definitely r-remembered you.”

“Fashion,” Faith replied, trying to think of a course this dork definitely wouldn’t be on.

He stopped in his tracks. “Fashion? At UBrite or Foxbury?”

Crap. “Uh, UBrite.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that was available as a major here. I’ve never heard of it.”

Shit. “Yeah, I can tell you’ve never heard of fashion.”

It took him a minute, but he laughed. “You’re teasing me! Perhaps a good idea I met you then, Violet? You can teach me a thing or two—”

“Can I now? What are you hoping to learn from me during this gangbang in the Drake Hall communal area?”

“Oh!” He turned scarlet. “Gosh! Stop! No, about fashion! You can teach me about fashion!”

“Fashion, sure,” Faith teased. “Admit it, you’re keen for me to rip that ugly vest off you, ain’t you, Cliffy?”

“Rip it… off? Oh my.”

“Careful; I bite.”

“Oh gee… gosh… golly… I… I think I’m going to faint.”

Jessica waddled – at least she felt like she was waddling – out on to her porch to feed her cats. OK, so they weren’t her cats, they were a random selection of the neighbourhood’s strays and a few of her neighbours cheekiest pets, but Jessica didn’t discriminate. She felt affection for them all, even Boris, the very stinky one.

As the summer nights began getting longer and stickier, Jessica had moved into her second trimester. She was getting quite used to being pregnant now and had started working through the endless list of things she needed to do before her little one arrived in December. To stop the task feeling completely overwhelming, she had broken the list into sub-lists and was tackling one each week.

This week, her primary focus was that her house wasn’t suitable for an infant – it only had one bedroom, floors littered with lots of toys with tiny components, and lots of furniture with sharp corners. She couldn’t afford to move to a bigger place, so she had sold a few things in order to have a small extension built. It was partway there; it didn’t have any windows or wall paint yet, but Jessica was far less bothered by this than she would’ve have been in the previous games.

She only hoped she could get it finished in time; she had a few months until her parental leave began but she was already feeling like the effort of decorating and assembling furniture was getting too much. She felt like she was slowly becoming a helpless, breathless blob. Beth had put Jessica on desk duties and hired two new recruits who had actually been to the police academy. She’d been assured that her job was safe, but Jessica wasn’t convinced. The WBPD barely needed one officer, let alone three.

Jessica shivered unexpectantly as she approached the end of her porch; the temperature here was oddly cooler than everywhere else. Over the past few months she’d learned from her fellow GliTS that dips in temperature could be a sign of a paranormal presence.

Immediately on alert for any of her translucent new companions, her skin prickled and her eyes darted around the dark space. But no ghosts appeared.

She took a deep, calming breath and rubbed some warmth into her arms. There was nothing here. It was just a cold spot. There was nothing to worry about, she reminded herself.  

There was nothing to worry about.

The coldness wasn’t alleviating and neither was Jessica’s sense that something was watching her. She tried to distract herself from the cold, this unusual headache she was now experiencing and everything else she was worrying about as she hurtled towards single-parenthood.

At her pre-natal class that day she had learned that a crib would be automatically provided when the baby arrived, so that was one place to save a few simoleons. And her pregnancy sickness had gone, so that was positive. Plus, she was surprised how stretchy some of her clothing was. She hadn’t even needed to buy anything in a bigger size yet, which was just as well as the maternity wear store didn’t stock anything quite bizarre enough for Jessica to wear to her weekly GliTS meetings.

Jessica checked her watch. She had about thirty minutes before Pixie and co. turned up in their poor man’s Mystery Mobile. As the media’s interest in the haunted, beast-stalked forest had waned and shifted with the emergence of this ‘Britechester Butcher’, the group thought it’d be an opportune time to return to Forgotten Hollow—

Ow. OW.

Jessica sucked a breath through her teeth as a sudden, heavy compression arrived in her head. Pregnancy sucked – it was one pain after another.

As she calmed her breathing, her thoughts began to wander the paths of the forest, to finding Paul where they lingered.

Jessica could recall Paul’s monochrome face, his heart print boxer shorts, his jokes about power tools. She began to recall details that she’d previously forgotten and snippets of their conversation that had barely registered in the shock of hearing them live.

“If older ghosts are her deal, you can test that by heading on over to the vampire’s house… Packed with ghosts, that place is. A whole crypt full of dead ‘uns.”

At the memory of Paul’s words, a house flashed before Jessica’s eyes. One she’d never seen before, she was certain of it.

As the memory faded and she retreated through the forest in her mind, she passed a monument with a gargoyle on top of it.

Was that the crypt?

What was happening?

Jessica tried to gain control of these racing… thought? Hallucinations?

She was once again back at the clearing, walking towards the ravine and towards the memory she tried so desperately not to think about. She braced herself to see the image that still woke her at night in a cold sweat; the bend of the creaking bough and the dangling boots crusted with blood, the bearded face forever frozen in terror as three tin-foil hatted women freaked out around her.

But this was different. She was walking towards the ravine, but calmly. Twigs were snapping beneath the weight of her heavy, black boots.

She could see the tree but its branches were empty.

She felt an odd sensation in her head, almost like this thought was being pulled away but, ever-curious, Jessica held on.

She was in the clearing, under the empty tree, dragging something behind her. It was large and heavy, like a big bag of potatoes. But unlike a big bag of potatoes, it was struggling and emitting a desperate, gargled noise into the ground its face was being dragged along. She glanced down behind herself and could see a tartan shirt. Long, strewn hair. A beard that was sweeping up forest floor debris.

She could see Will.

“Well, this proves you’re not crazy, Jessica. Unless you did this… and if you did, how did you tie such a tight knot using intestines?”

Had she done it?!

She could hear laughter. Laughter. Mocking laughter rolling from her own throat. The gargled noises became desperate, pleading, reaching a crescendo in a frantic scream. Then silence.

She looked down at her shaking hands to see them encased in black leather and coated with fresh blood. She brought one slick finger to her lips as if it was the most natural thing in the world…

Jessica had been wrong. Her sickness had not gone at all. It rolled back up through her puffy body; a hot tidal wave of acid as her head pounded.

She’d just watched Will’s murder, but how was that possible? Unless… she had killed Will. For some reason. Or possibly no reason.

Oh no. It had happened. Her deepest fear had come true. She was just as unstable as her mum.

Or was she?

She replayed these unearthed ‘memories’, quickly establishing that she couldn’t have actually done it. Aside from the fact that Jessica wouldn’t buy leather gloves, Will must have weighed twice what she did; there was no way she would have been able to drag him so easily through the tangle of thorns and roots on the forest floor, or to hang him in a tree like blood-covered bauble.

But if these weren’t her memories, who did they belong to?

As she searched for sense in the noise, Jessica could feel someone standing beside her; goosebumps rose on her skin as she saw herself, and a sense of hopelessness washed over her.

And with it, a realisation.

“He’s like a vampire but with beast teeth… he makes you live your worst nightmares… and then, when you feel most helpless and alone, that’s when he strikes.”

She sucked in a breath, cradled her blooming belly and bravely turned to face her fate, to look him the eye, the creature she was sure was behind her…

Her mind had fallen blank, the headache completely dissipated and the air around her, that held an unfamiliar, musty scent, had warmed. The evening became as still and silent as it had started.

Jessica jumped as something brushed her foot, but it was only the cats who were looking at her with their hungry little faces, nudging her with impatience.

He’d been behind her. She was certain of it. But why?

Jessica could see clear as day the mysterious house and the crypt. She could remember the route ‘she’ had taken to get there through the dense thicket and thorns. She traced the path through the forest in her mind, over and over, as her fingertip idly traced a groove of the route into the round of her abdomen.

Was this a trap? Were they too close to the answers? Was this a way to lure her and her fellow GliTS to certain death?

There was only one way to find out for sure.

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