After casually strolling through the Windenburg countryside in a post-robbery daze, Broof and Lilith had stopped to pick up supplies at a petrol station on the route to Willow Creek. Lilith required very little to survive a week in the wilderness, so she went to freshen up while Broof bought whatever he thought he needed.
As she changed into an outfit that looked suitable for the heatwave the area was experiencing, Lilith reflected on the evening’s events.
It had been much easier than she’d anticipated. She wasn’t sure how responsive Beth would be to mind manipulation, but as it had turned out, the answer was ‘very’. She’d walked the perimeter, listening for a weak spot, and had found the open window. Inside, she located Beth in a state; asleep on a sofa in a puddle of drool, her make up smudged, surrounded by wet wipes and discarded toys. Her tiny, sleeping son was lying on her chest, but her hold on him was limp.
She was completely out of it.
Lilith had managed to mesmerise the witch without resistance, and had kept her in suspension long enough to find what she was looking for. She would have carried on searching, but the infant grew restless; his content burbling becoming the start of a whine that threatened to wake the household. Lilith couldn’t mesmerise him, he was far too small, so she quietly slipped from Beth’s mind and back out of the open window.
Lilith had seen, via Beth, that as a non-witch, she would not be welcomed at the swamp, although she would be tolerated. If she chose to stay, it was likely that she’d face some kind of restriction. Perhaps her powers would be muted and she would have to feed off cattle. Perhaps she’d be restrained. She didn’t know for sure, but she did know that they would not share information with her, without very good reason.
She hoped that Broof was a good enough reason. After all, as well as being a witch, he was a grieving father who’d pursued dark magic as a last resort to spare his only child. He had lost his magic, his faith and standing in his coven, his wife, his child, his livelihood. If anyone would be welcomed at the Village of Magical Outcasts, he would be.
All Lilith had to do have a chance at finding out the secrets of the swamp was to try not to be too frosty in her effort to rein in her flutters. To keep Broof happily by her side.
Lilith halted in her tracks as she exited the surprisingly clean public toilets and saw Broof standing by his car. She fought to restrain her laughter. She was used to him overdressing for every occasion, but what the heck was he wearing this time?!
Pretending to send a message on her phone in a bid to distract her from falling about laughing, she was vaguely aware of Broof hastily stuffing something into his pocket as she approached.
“What’s that?” she asked, only to show that she noticed.
His cheeks flushed a little before he chose the ‘play dumb’ card. “It’s Ma’s old pith helmet. Thought it could see the light of day once more.”
“Not your stupid hat,” Lilith tutted. “The box you just shoved into your pocket? Looked like a pack of cigarettes, or something.”
“Oh, those.” Broof shifted his weight to the other foot and shrugged. “Sometimes I need a little something to soothe the itch.”
“Huh. I didn’t know you smoked. You don’t smell like a smoker.”
Lilith eyed him suspiciously. This guy was full of surprises. She never imagined Broof having a habit that might stain his teeth or fingertips, though. The man was as squeaky clean as his stark white shorts.
Speaking of which.
“Why are you wearing that? You know those shorts are going to be covered in grass stains and mud and everything else by the time we’re done.”
Broof glanced down at his attire, across at Lilith’s, and grinned.
“This outfit is far more practical for venturing through the wilderness than yours, Lilith. Tight leather shorts in forty-degree heat? That’ll chafe.”
“Chafing is an affliction of the weak and of the sweaty, and I am neither.”
“You don’t sweat?”
“Oh. Well, I guess that deodorant I bought for you is pointless then.”
Lilith rolled her eyes. “I told you I didn’t need any supplies. I’m sure you’ll use it.” She looked towards the car. “Looks full. What else did you buy?”
“Only the essentials, really; a supply of food, toilet roll.”
“Water purification tablets. I bought a lot of those.”
“Good, good. If you don’t shrivel up, I won’t shrivel up.”
“Hand sanitiser with a touchless dispenser.”
“Sort of pointless as you sanitise your hands after touching it, but sure.”
“Fuel for Hattie here,” he said and patted his car. “Oh, I also bought some fibre bars with extra prunes. Just in case; I’m never sure how my gut will react when I’m on holiday.”
“We’re not going on holiday, Broof. This is strictly a fact-finding mission. We want to see what they know about vampires, if they have cured any, who this explorer was—”
“I know, I know. I guess I should unpack the sun lounger then. And the pool inflatable. Oh, and the…”
“Pack whatever you like,” Lilith interrupted, the first twinge of irritation making her eye twitch. “But you’re carrying it in your inventory. Do you have a tent?”
“Of course I have a tent, one of those fancy ones with a self-inflating base. It’s a bit snug—”
“Sure, as long as you don’t stink too much of stale smoke. I doubt we’ll be sleeping much anyway.”
Broof nodded. He had a coy little smile she’d not seen before. “I see. As we’ll be in close quarters for a while, do you think there is anything else we might need, maybe…?”
Lilith returned him a cheeky grin. “Yes, I can think of a little something. I’ll be right back.”
She strolled over to the little service window of the forecourt. It was a good indicator of how ‘safe’ the neighbourhood was, if the stores were too afraid to open their doors after dark.
The small, dimly-lit kiosk might not have what Lilith wanted, but it was worth a shot. If she was going to spends days, possibly even weeks stuck in a tiny tent with the bearded weirdo, she needed a way to take the edge off.
“Can I help you?” the kid in the window asked.
“Yes, I’ll take six bottles of absinthe.”
The spotty teen gave Lilith a once over and sighed laboriously. “No can do, I’m afraid.”
“You don’t sell it?”
“We do, but…” he looked around conspiratorially and lowered his voice. “I’m not old enough to sell it to you.”
“My parents are usually here to authorise the sale of age-restricted products, but my sister went into labour a few weeks early so they’re over at the hospital with her and, well, I’m not quite old enough to sell alcohol. I’m not even really supposed to be running the station alone. Selling you absinthe is totally out of the question. Sorry.”
Lilith tried to reach this kid, mentally, through the window but failed. Maybe it was really thick glass, maybe she was just knackered. Either way, it left her fighting against her rapidly rising irritation.
“I won’t tell anyone. Come on… I’ll give you an extra simoleon for your trouble.”
“Are you trying to bribe me?”
“Lady, you’ve got a problem. And clearly you’ve clearly never met my old man. If he heard I was selling alcohol and taking bribes, he’d send me to work in the chippy with my cousin. The chippy,” he repeated with disgust. “I smell of axle grease, diesel and expensive cars on a day-to-day basis and still can’t get lucky. Can you imagine how much worse my life would be if I smelled of fish?”
“I can imagine how much worse your life would be if you—“
“…Is everything all right here?” Broof asked, gently intervening.
“Fine. Go back to the car.”
“It’s not fine. She’s kicking off because I can’t sell her any alcohol,” the kid said.
Broof sucked a breath through his teeth. “Lilith,” he began carefully. “I don’t want to tell you what to do…”
“Good,” Lilith snarled. “Then don’t. Let’s just go. We can stop at the supermarket over near Conifer Station where they actually employ cashiers who are old enough to sell their stock.”
Broof gently took her wrist as she passed, forcing her to stop. He looked her square in the eye and said firmly, “Lilith. Do you need to buy alcohol?”
She shrugged him off. “No, I don’t need to, I want to. I haven’t had a drink for weeks. Thought it would help pass some long nights— you know what? I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“Right, only it’s never ‘a drink’, is it?”
“Oh, bloody hell. Is this an intervention? Are you seriously doing this here? Now?” Lilith hissed. “So you’re allowed a vice, but I’m not?”
“What vices do I…? Oh. Um…”
“Aha!” Lilith grinned and pivoted back to the window. “I’ve found a hole in your little plan, Broof. Cigarettes!”
The kid groaned. “I can’t sell you those, either.”
“So, you can sell cigarettes to him, but not booze to me? This is a set-up, isn’t it? He’s paid you to not sell me any drink, hasn’t he?”
The kid looked at Broof with a desperate expression. “I don’t know what’s going on here. I didn’t sell any cigarettes to him.”
“Give it up, I know about his dirty habits. I saw the box!”
“Look, crazy lady,” the kid said as much authority as he could muster. “I can show you the transaction receipt, show you everything he bought—“
“That’s not necessary.”
“Show me the receipt.”
The kid took a large intake of breath as he unfurled the most recent receipt in his register. “OK. Here we go transaction two-nine-two.” He held it against the glass and Lilith began to read.
“Toilet roll, granola bars, water purification tablets, skipping rope… why the hell did you buy a skipping rope?”
“It has ice cream cone-shaped handles.”
“Unbelievable,” Lilith muttered and carried on reading. “Deodorant, personal, hand sanitiser, bread, ten packs of instant noodles, and thirty litres of diesel. Hm.”
“See?” the kid said triumphantly. “No tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, magazines… nothing.”
Lilith scanned the list again. “What’s ‘personal’? Is that code for something?”
“Yes. We don’t print some things in full on the receipts as some people get embarrassed by them.”
“What sorts of things?”
“Oh, uh, y’know…” the kid said uneasily, looking at Broof. “Things that you use… below the waist, mostly.”
“What did you buy for ‘below the waist’, Broof?”
“I don’t believe this. You pig. You bought condoms, didn’t you?” Lilith asked with disgust. “Why in hell would you buy condoms?”
“To make slippery balloon animals with?”
She ignored the kid laughing behind her as her ire finally bubbled up and out of her mouth. “Could you be any more presumptuous? You creep! We barely know each other; we haven’t even kissed yet—”
“—and you think we’ll be bonking in the tent within a week? What is wrong with you?!”
“Only one small thing, really…”
“I can’t believe you would be so… so… impudent! Ugh! Let me tell you something, you hairy-faced safari troll, if you put that revolting thing anywhere near me you’ll have nothing left to put a condom on, do you understand that?”
The kid was laughing so hard now that he could barely breathe. Broof hesitated only a moment, before he took the offending box from his pocket and handed it to her.
“Look at the box, Lilith.”
“I don’t want to look at the fucking box!” She was so angry that she wanted to slap it from his hand, and could barely make out the words on it as he held it right before her eyes, her vision becoming inky in her rage.
“Bummol,” she read aloud. “Haemorrhoid relief suppositories…”
“Yes,” Broof responded, with a wry smile. “I’m not a pig, just a ‘hairy troll’ with… with piles.”
Lilith looked at the box again, and blinked a few times, but it didn’t change. She huffed. “You said they were cigarettes, so even if you’re not planning anything disgusting, you still lied to me.”
“Actually, I didn’t. I said they were something to soothe the itch and, quite literally, they are.”
Behind them, the kid finally laughed himself to the floor as Lilith begged the ground beneath her to open up and swallow her whole.
“Oh my word. I’m so sorry,” she said quietly.
Broof shrugged and slid the box back into his pocket. “It’s fine. It’s a relief, actually. Now I don’t have to start smoking to keep up the charade and I no longer have to guess if my feelings for you are reciprocated.”
Lilith wanted to say something, but her voice didn’t seem to work any longer. She watched Broof stroll to the car, humming to himself.
This journey was going to be a long one.
On the other side of town, Faith had been walking around with Debbie for a while and the pair had ended up on the canal. It hadn’t been hard for Faith to convince Debbie that she knew where she was going, but with every step, the blonde grew more and more suspicious.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” she asked for the dozenth time, looking around. “I definitely didn’t walk along the canal on the way here.”
“Yeah, it’s just down the next alleyway,” Faith lied.
Debbie nodded slowly, but she didn’t carry on walking. “So, what do you do, Violet? Are you a student?”
“Yeah, I’m studying fashion,” Faith fibbed. “Going have my own designer line one day.”
“Oh, that’s awesome,” Debbie said. “You do have great style. I’d love to dress like you do, especially when I go when gigs, but I’m never quite brave enough to let my underwear be outerwear.”
“What gigs do you go to?” Faith asked, purely to keep Debbie distracted as she’d realised there wasn’t another alleyway and she wondered where to walk next.
“Oh, all sorts,” Debbie laughed. “Went to see Ned Sheeman with my mum, that was… interesting. I wanted to go and see Kaz Traitors back in May, but no one would go with me.”
Faith whipped around, looking at the boho blonde through fascinated new eyes.
“You listen to Kaz Traitors?”
“Hell yeah! Can’t beat a bit of Blu when I’ve had a rubbish day at work.” Debbie nodded her head to an imaginary beat as she sang, “Newsflash! Blu is dead. She found a gun—”
“—and lost her head,” Faith finished. “Oh my god, I love that song! Fuck! Hearing that live was, like, the best moment of my life.”
“You’ve seen them live? What I wouldn’t give!” Debbie squealed. “Oh my god, Violet, this is fate, right? Us being in the same place at the same time? I think we’re destined to be concert buddies or something. Hey, I’ve got a mad suggestion…”
Faith nodded as she watched Debbie’s mouth moving but was distracted. She wondered why, on this balmy, summer’s night, she felt so cold and why Debbie’s breath was visible in the air. Air that seemed to be getting thicker and more condensed around her, closing in like a coffin.
Debbie grimaced and sucked a sharp breath through her teeth. “…but maybe another night because I think I’m getting a migraine. Oh my god! I feel like my head is going to explode! What is happening?”
Faith let out a frustrated sigh as she too began to feel the tell-tale compression in her temples. There were only two creatures she knew whose approach felt like that, and neither of them was Caleb.
She was suddenly so preoccupied with how her tits looked and what smart-assed quip she’d greet Seth with, that it took her a moment to notice that Debbie had fallen silent. She was staring, glassy-eyed, at something Faith couldn’t see before softly falling to her knees.
Faith could hear someone approaching from behind her, but it wasn’t the weighty clunk of Seth’s boots as she’d expected. These footsteps were lighter, quieter and definitely wearing heels.
Faith felt a pang of annoyance that Seth still hadn’t come looking for her, followed by a rush of joy. She never thought she’d be relieved to see Lilith, but she really was. Lilith would definitely know where April and Melinda were. Faith’s days of wandering the world alone were over.
“Holy fuck,” she gushed, spinning around. “I am so glad to finally find… you?!”
“Aww,” Kitty cooed and performed a little curtesy. “The feeling is mutual, Faith.”