It had happened again. He had lost control of his meddling with a human. Only this time, it mattered. She was still out there, walking around, with a head full of his own memories.
At first, he’d cursed himself for allowing her to slip away. But then, once composed, he could justify his decision.
He would have made a swift meal out of one Jessica Spoon, had it not been for three valid reasons.
First, she was pregnant and he knew better than to drink from a pregnant human. The nausea it induced paled in comparison to the hormonal fluctuations it caused. He could still hear Lilith’s sneering laugh – her mocking him as he wept uncontrollably over every tiny thing for four goddamn days. The first, and last, time he had ever made that mistake.
Second, he couldn’t shake the familiarity. Despite her not having any features that reminded him explicitly of Angeline, Jessica did remind him of someone, or something. The compulsion to connect those dots far exceeded his compulsion to end her life.
The third reason, and perhaps the most compelling, was that he found her unceasingly fascinating. She appeared to have been able to talk to Paul post-mortem, and therefore she knew how the barely-dressed man had died and that Seth existed, something very few could claim.
What else might she know? Who else could she speak to?
If Jessica Spoon truly could commune with the dead, the potential was endless. What one could learn. What havoc one could cause. What mysteries once could solve.
And, if he could learn how to exploit that, to exploit her…
His preference was, naturally, to take this ability from her, but with all his current, ah, misfires he had deemed this too risky.
Plan B, and one he couldn’t quite believe he’d been pushed to, was far less his style, but he was sure he could pull it off. At least in the short term.
He was going to have to earn her trust.
He was in no doubt whatsoever that if Jessica Spoon could talk to the spirits of the deceased, she would find some here. The sealed crypt in the Vatore’s garden must’ve held a hundred souls, if not more. A century of drained corpses and an endless mound of evidence that Lilith’s one mission, to wean her rogue brother from the taste of fresh blood, was just as fruitless as her other.
Almost every soul in that crypt would tell Jessica that it was the fanged phallus who had ended them. Seth could paint himself as turning over a new leaf, pursuing the path of good and simply wishing for Jessica’s assistance to return these unfortunate humans to their rightful kin. She seemed like exactly the kind who’d want to believe that.
Of course, should all else fail – should Jessica prove to be difficult, nothing but a fraud or a trickster – the dense woodland of Forgotten Hollow was the perfect place to gut her. The harmony of frantic pleas and choked screams sounded all the more melodic echoing around the dense grove encompassing the Vatore house.
The crypt would be the perfect place to stow what remained. Poetic.
The media had indeed lost interest in Forgotten Hollow, and the forest around Seth was once again the still and silent space he had stalked throughout his existence. A vacuum devoid of breeze and all life. The Vatore house stood in darkness, seemingly abandoned, judging by the rancid entrails remaining in the pantry and Lilith’s absent undergarments.
Seth had briefly pondered where she may have gone; he doubted that she would wish to reside in the old cottage in Windenburg, with all its reminders of her glory days or – as she referred to them – her failures.
He scoffed. He could picture her, carting Caleb around like a workhorse, preaching her bland, joyless and ultimately pointless lifestyle to her new followers; the moral motherless, the brain-dead blonde and his fickle fledgling.
No. He corrected himself. The.
The fickle fledgling.
He left the porch and hopped up on to the cold, stone slab atop the crypt, deliberately diverting his spiralling thoughts from the abyss they were so drawn to, and focusing on his latest pursuit.
Befriending Jessica Spoon.
He knew that it was only a matter time until Jessica and her cohorts arrived, following the route that he had inadvertently given her.
Her thirst for answers would bring her here as it had brought him.
He only had to wait.
Wyatt was eternally grateful that April had chosen to stick with him through everything, sincerely, he was. But, bless her unbeating little heart, she was as terrible at domestic duties as he was. Possibly even worse.
Wearing a shirt that smelled like various types of cheese, Wyatt had taken a diversion via the local store on his way to work. The pizza rolls April had warmed up for him had been as hot as the sun on the outside, but frozen in the middle. He really couldn’t risk forcing them down to spare her feelings and having the craps for a week, again.
Plus, the rolls had also contained raisins – what was she thinking buying those? Raisins in pizza? That was just plain wrong.
He’d think carefully about how to raise that with her. At some point. It seemed like a tiny thing, but they really couldn’t afford for her to be spending money they didn’t have on novel foods he couldn’t eat. Plus, he didn’t wanna be giving his hard-earned cash to a company that thought putting shrivelled grapes in their pizza rolls was acceptable.
The store worker had eyed him with suspicion as he’d skulked up and down the aisles, fondling the loose change in his pocket as he ruled out all the things he couldn’t afford. In the end, she’d recommended a sandwich that had reached the end of its shelf life.
It was stale, and tasteless, but it was only §1 and contained no sneaky fruit.
When Wyatt eventually arrived at work, at the bar beneath his apartment, he found his boss, Xavier, pacing the room with a worried expression.
“Wyatt? Holy heck, I thought you were dead. Do you know what time it is?”
Wyatt didn’t. He didn’t own a watch, and he’d pawned his phone. He shrugged.
“It’s almost eleven.”
Crap. He was two hours late? Two hours? That was pretty late, even for him.
“Sorry, Xavier. I, uh, overslept.”
The noise Xavier made was somewhere between a squeak and a sigh. He looked like he was going to puke which Wyatt had learned meant that he about to get a ticking off.
“OK, look Wyatt, I saw you heading out earlier, I know that you weren’t sleeping…”
Busted. “Sorry, I’ll be on time tomorrow, I swear.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been swearing that every day since you started here. Look, I hate to do this – I do – but… I’ve got a business to run and a family to look after. I’ve already had to call the babysitter and pay her extra and, well, look, um, I’ve got no choice. I need to dock your pay.”
Wyatt lowered his voice. “Xavier, please don’t do that. Things are tight—”
“I know, but you’ve left me no choice.” Xavier sucked in a breath and said in one hasty breath, “I’m going to dock your pay this time, but if you’re going to keep being late, I’ll need to… to… hire someone else.”
Wyatt’s stomach plummeted and not just because his bargain bin sandwich was repeating on him. “You’re firing me?”
“No. But, don’t make me have to. Please, you’re a good bartender, the customers like you but… Wyatt, man, please. I need you to be reliable.” Xavier shuffled past Wyatt towards the door, unable to look at him. “Look, I’ve got to go relieve the ‘sitter before she charges me another forty bucks. Please, tomorrow, be on time. Please.”
Wyatt watched him go and a wave of relief washed over him. Decades of working in his mum’s store had sort of numbed him to the possibility that he could actually be fired. That had been way too close. He couldn’t afford to be docked two hours pay, but he really couldn’t afford to lose this job and the apartment.
He only realised that he’d been holding his breath when his fingertips began to tingle. He looked down to catch a shimmer of his magic as it bubbled to the surface, spurred on by his adrenaline, ready to burst forth at his command. He quickly ducked below the counter, before anyone could see that he had weird rainbow-coloured lights coming out of his arm.
The liquid in all the bottles on the bar began to boil as he coiled the light around his fingers, remembering—
“Well, well, well. So you’re Wyatt.”
Wyatt clenched his fist against the temptation of his rebellious magic and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned his attention to the customer seated at the bar.
“Guilty as charged.”
“So I hear,” the customer said. “I was expecting more.”
“Just… more.” He took a long sip of his drink and placed it back on to the bar. “I couldn’t help overhearing your little dressing down there. Short on funds, are we?”
Wyatt felt the heat rush to his cheeks. It wasn’t unusual for the patrons to pour their most private issues out to him, but it had never happened the other way around. “I- I don’t wanna talk about it.”
The man nodded and emitted a heavy sigh. “I know that feeling.”
Wyatt relaxed little. Clearly that was just this guy’s opener to lament his own perceived money worries. A certain type of person ended up in this bar, the washed-up, struggling alcoholic types, mostly, although a quick glance at this man’s tailored shirt, manicured fingernails and silk tie seemed at odds with that.
“Working in a dead-end job, struggling to find the money to feed yourself and the motivation to get out of bed each day. I was once like that. Until I met her… my little, freckled peach.”
The man continued to ramble for a while as Wyatt nodded along. His head was thumping. Turned out that nothing was more instantly sobering than the thought of being jobless and homeless. Why did he always get the chatty ones when he just needed a moment to feel like death?
“…and she changed my life. Gave me that impetus. That oomph.” He sighed. “But nothing lasts forever, does it?”
Aha, a heartbroken sot. Wyatt had seen plenty of these. “I guess not.”
“I gave her everything. Safety, security, money – all the things she said she wanted. And things were going well, really well. Until she started hanging out with that broke, unkempt punk.” He sighed. “Now I’ve lost her.”
“That’s terrible,” Wyatt muttered. The guy appeared to have finished his less-than-heart-warming story and was staring into his drink.
The silence was heavy and awkward.
“So, are you new to the area?” Wyatt asked. “I’ve not seen you before.”
At this, the manicured man looked up, fixing Wyatt with a determined stare. “I’ve not been here before. I’m only here because of Kaylynn.”
For the second time that evening, Wyatt’s stomach dropped. “Um, Kaylynn?”
“Yes. Cute, petite, freckled brunette – you must know her, she’s here daily.”
Wyatt’s mouth was so dry he couldn’t even swallow. “Oh, yeah, that Kaylynn. You-you know her?”
“’That Kaylynn’,” the man mimicked. “Yes, I know her well. I’m Omar.”
Omar? Wyatt wracked his brain trying to recall Kaylynn mentioning an ‘Omar’, but came up with nothing.
“She used to talk about you,” Omar continued. His voice wavered, “‘Wyatt’s got a tattoo of a dolphin!’, ‘Wyatt said the funniest thing today!’. But for the last few weeks… nothing. I ask about you? Nothing. I ask about her day? Silence.”
“Oh, really? I guess my novelty wore off.”
“Yours and mine both.” He chuckled. “Man to man? Kaylynn and I haven’t… y’know for ages now. God, I miss it. Used to be a daily thing. Sometimes a few times a day.” He sighed. “Perhaps our marriage is growing stale.”
Wait, what? Their marriage? Marriage?!
Wyatt tried to make a sympathetic noise, but it was more of a small wail.
“It’s funny because I trusted her, so when she stopped talking about you I just thought you two had fallen out, or you’d moved on elsewhere. I was partly relieved because to be honest, you sounded like an immature lowlife,” Omar said quietly and he gazed solemnly at his dwindling drink. “But now I see that you’re still working here. Barely, but still. And Kaylynn still comes here daily, according to the tracker on her phone. So, something doesn’t add up, does it, Wyatt?”
Wyatt remained silent. Omar tapped his glass, deep in thought. “I was chatting to Xavier before you got here. He says he rarely sees her in here these days. Isn’t that peculiar? She’s on the premises every day, I know this for a fact, but she’s never seen in the bar. Hm. Wherever could she be?” He looked up. “You live and work on this lot, so you must know; what does she do here all day?”
Wyatt sucked in a breath. “She visits my apartment sometimes. To chat and play games.” Did that sound convincing?
Omar sat back in his chair. “Funny, because I could’ve sworn by the blank look on your face when I introduced myself that during all of these ‘chats’ you’ve had, she hasn’t even told you her husband’s name.” Omar’s eyes darkened. “Then again, must be hard for you to hear her when you’ve got your cock jammed down her throat.”
“I.. I d-don’t… we h-haven’t…”
“Don’t insult me,” Omar growled. “I finally caved and went through her phone last night. I’ve seen the video. You’re dead meat, punk.”
He went through her phone? Who did that— Wait, video? What video?
From the technicolour depths of what Wyatt hadn’t previously been sure was dream or reality, came a glimmer of something awfully familiar.
Balls. Wyatt really needed to cut back on the fun stuff – he must’ve been completely toasted to let her film that.
Without breaking eye contact, Omar downed what remained in his glass and slammed it back on the bar. He rose from his stool to his full height and stature which, as Wyatt had expected, well exceeded his own.
“Look, Omar. This has been a huge misjudgement and I’m really sorry.”
“Like hell you are.”
“See, my mum died recently, and I’m not coping well – I’m as high as heaven most of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing—”
“You think that’s making this better? Knowing that she’s thrown everything she had with me away for likes of you?”
Wyatt felt his knees give up beneath him as he realised he couldn’t talk his way out of this; he was about to taste the fist of Kaylynn’s disgruntled husband.
The poorly-designed bar they were in broke numerous building regulations. But the lack of fire exits had never bothered Wyatt before this moment, when he realised that the only exit was behind this huge, angry man. Defying his size and sobriety, the beast of a fellow had Wyatt cornered and was covering what little space remained between them.
“Please, I know you’re angry and you need an outlet, but we can talk about this—”
“My beloved wife, my sweet peach, the very reason for my being has been fucking some skinny punk junkie behind my back. I don’t want to talk to you, I want to wring your scrawny neck.”
Wyatt backed into the shelf behind him, unsettling the huge jar of pickled eggs that no one ever bought. He felt around for anything to defend himself with but came up empty. Except for his hand, which throbbed with the energy pulsating through it, begging to be used, but he ignored that. He clenched his fist so hard that his fingernails left grooves in his palm, but he doubted he could throw much of a punch.
“I’m sorry, OK? I didn’t realise she was married, she honestly never told me—”
“Did you ask?”
“Huh? Well… uh, no…”
Kaylynn’s husband let out a cry of pure pain that would’ve stopped anyone in their tracks. “I knew it. I knew it!” He grabbed the nearest bottle and threw it against the nearest wall. “I bloody knew it!”
“Woah! Calm down!” Wyatt pleaded, dodging a second bottle. “Dude! It takes two to tango! I flirted with her; she flirted back – or maybe she flirted first, I can’t remember. But whatever, I genuinely thought we were just two single people having some fun.”
“Fun?! You’ve ruined my marriage and that’s fun to you?!”
Wyatt dodged a third bottle that was hurtling towards his head. “Would you stop?! Why are you even pissed with me? I. DID. NOT. KNOW. SHE. WAS. MARRIED. You should be taking this up with her!”
“Oh, I will. I’m going to bloody kill her,” he hissed, backing Wyatt against the wall with a thud. “You’re just my warm-up, punk.”