Chapter 3.22 – Peachy Blob

“Good afternoon. It’s time for your hourly news round-up with me; Lorna Broad-Castor. Today’s headlines on Tuesday 16th May 2017 – yes, it’s still only halfway through May; I know this year is lasting forever.

“There has been a minor breakthrough in the case of the missing daughter of the late, great Sandy Moss. After a week with no sightings, April’s friend, Faith Splodge aged 19, a cinema attendant from Willow Creek, was spotted at a recent Kaz Traitors gig. According to the band, she was in the company of a mystery man, known only as ‘Seth’.”

Adina gasped, staring in the direction of the television and clutching her friend’s hand firmly. The police had told her this information earlier in the morning, but hearing the news broadcaster say it made it all real to her. Adina may have driven her daughter away but someone else was preventing her from returning.

“He has my baby, Babs,” she whispered. “Is there a photo of him?”

“No,” Babs replied. “But they do have a computer-generated image of his face.”

“Describe him to me. Describe the vile, ugly monster who’s taken my baby girl.”

Babs looked at the image displayed on the television and hesitated; her breath caught in her throat. “Um… well, he has a beard,” she said carefully.

“A beard?” Adina repeated. “Like Father Winter?”

“Yes and no,” Babs said noncommittedly. “He’s a little more sinister-looking than Father Winter and not as beardy.”

“What on earth are you about? Less beardy but more sinister?” Adina blinked, trying to focus on her friend’s peachy blob of a face. “Like Bonkle SacFondle?”

“Well, um, no. Dee, he’s not exactly… ugly.”

Adina’s shoulder dropped as she read between the lines. “He’s bleeding gorgeous isn’t he?”

Babs drew a big breath. “He’s of a type, yes.”

“The mystery man is described as being in his early thirties, about 6 foot tall, muscular, with long, dark hair—“

“’Of a type?!’ That’s everybody’s type!” Adina wailed. “Do you think she ran off with him on purpose? But then what about… what about the other girls?”

“Well according to Chuck, they are holed up with vampires. I think he’s having a mid-life crisis, Dee.”

“Vampires?” Adina repeated, thinking of all of Faith’s posters and books. About the movies she’d liked. About the websites she’d visited and the bars she’d frequented. About the police officer who’d laughed when he’d told her that, had he not known better, he’d have assumed that Faith had been actively looking for a vampire.

Babs was still chatting on, as she did, about how vampires didn’t exist, about how Chuck had lost his mind.

Neither of those points sat well with Adina. The day Chuck lost his mind would be a cold day in hell.

And if vampires didn’t exist, then who or what did Faith find?

AJ was late for work and blustered into the small building that passed as the head office of the Bucketland Bulletin: the region’s least read weekly newspaper. She didn’t even have time to remove her jacket before her work bestie and supervisor, Pete, had pounced on her.

“AJ!”

“My car wouldn’t start!” AJ shouted.

“What?”

“That’s why I was late.”

He frowned at her. “Don’t you get the train here? Regardless. AJ, I need you on the phoneline today; we’ve had at least three calls on the back of this ‘smouldering kidnapper’ story – I can’t keep up!”

“What?” AJ asked turning her attention to the screen that Pete was nodding at.

“Sweet mother of fuck,” she whispered.

“I know! We’re still fanning the flames of the Moss story and now we have a ‘sizzling psychopath’ in the mix? It’s a great day to be journalist!” he announced.

“That’s Seth,” AJ stated.

“That’s what he was calling himself, yeah. So, I know you were working on that super-interesting article about potholes on the M7, but I need you to—”

“No it is Seth,” she repeated. “You remember a few days ago, when I told you about that guy I met in Windenburg? That’s him!”

Pete narrowed his eyes, thinking. “The one who followed you home from the pub?”

“Yes.”

“Huh. I didn’t think he was real. Didn’t you invite him in for ice cream and end up having wild, naked fun time on top of the dryer?”

“…Something like that.”

Pete looked between the image on the screen and his colleague. “Juicy. The plot thickens. I wonder if he’d already got the girls locked up somewhere. Shoot, AJ, you really could have dodged a bullet there, huh?” He tapped his chin, looked at his watch, tapped his chin again. AJ could see the cogs whirring. “This means that there might be further footage of him then, right? Footage no one else will know about. In Windenburg Square? Outside the pub?”

“Maybe. Although it was quite dark. Raining a bit…”

“We might still be able to get a clear shot of you seducing him from that.”

“About that—”

“Footage no one else will have,” Pete continued, lost in his fantasy. “An exclusive scoop! Oh, this is gold. Screw the potholes and the phoneline, AJ! What are you waiting for? Get your butt down to the Square and get that footage!”

Joe had turned the volume up and the whole bar was riveted on the newsreader’s words.

“He also has a distinctive scar on his left cheek and a tattoo of a heart on his bicep, containing a defaced word that began with the letter ‘L’.”

“L?” Fred laughed. “Got yourself a man after all did you, Lily?”

“No,” Lilith said sternly.

“Just as well. A nice girl like you has no place with a criminal.”

“Don’t I know it,” Lilith muttered, glaring at the digitally-created image of Seth that was displayed on the screen and invoking a hundred unwanted memories in her. “I’ve never seen him in my life,” she insisted.

“Who has? These computer doodah images; they’re pointless!” Fred scoffed, cradling his beer. “He probably looks bugger all like that.”

Lilith nodded, sipping her drink that burned so much more than usual. The last few days it felt like her insides were constantly ablaze.

“I mean, look at him,” Fred gestured wildly at the screen, forcing Lilith’s eyes back up. “As if a man who looks like that would need to kidnap anyone. He coulda clicked his fingers and she’d have just followed. Pfft.”

“Kidnappers are only ugly men, right Fred?” Joe winked. “Careful, you’ll have the police at your door.”

“I’ll have you know I was quite the catch, back in the day. And let me tell you; I don’t buy it. I think she ran off with him willingly. Probably snuffed her pretty little famous friend and the other one, so she could have him to herself.”

Lilith spat her drink over the bar and Joe tutted, reaching for his rag. “I’m with you, Doc. Fred, you can’t say things like that!”

“I can say whatever I want!” he announced in an irate slur. “This is a free country!”

“No, it isn’t,” Joe sighed, mopping up Lilith’s spilt drink. “I’m switching you to the half strength lager.”

Fred shrugged and pushed his glass forward for a refill.

Lilith was beginning to regret coming back here but she was running out of bar options. At least the tinfoil-hatted weirdoes weren’t in here yet. Last thing she needed now was any more occult hysteria.

“Camera footage has been obtained from the venue – the Boudoir Lounge – but it appears to be heavily affected by a lighting anomaly. Although, our more, ahem, open-minded viewers believe that this is no glitch…”

That this mystery man may not, in fact, be human.”

Lilith’s insides did a full somersault as Fred guffawed. “More of this hooey! ‘Not human’ – my pale arse! Sorry Lily,” he apologised again for his cursing, although he could have strung together nothing but a line of expletives and Lilith still wouldn’t have taken it in.

She pushed her stool back and headed towards the door.

“You and your potty mouth, Fred!” Joe reprimanded him, the last thing Lilith heard before the door closed behind her. Her brain abuzz, her sludgy blood curdling and her breakfast from Broof burning her insides.

Seth went to a concert. A concert! He let his guard down and left a whole room full of humans to remember him. Famous humans! What a stupid bloody thing to do! Was she surrounded by goddamn idiots?!

Lilith wanted to scream. She knew that this would happen. She knew that he’d stop at nothing and likely lose his damn head trying to win Faith over, but this was a whole new level of obsession.

She kicked the dirt and pouted. He’d never taken her to a concert.

“I do care about you.”

So he was telling the truth. The idiot.

How long would it be until the witches saw that footage – until Sage saw that footage? Would that alone be enough for them to figure it out?

Was she overreacting? She could be. If Seth really was catering to Faith’s every whim – and he probably was – then no doubt he’d taken her somewhere with every modern convenience under the sun. She’d have a television, for certain. She’d see this news feature and, if he had any sense left in that brain, he’d realise he’d completely screwed up and he’d take them both into hiding; far, far away.

Hopefully the shame of making such a blatant mistake would mean he’d never come back, but that was probably wishful thinking on Lilith’s part.

Then, all the others had to do was lie low until this new wave of supernatural mania died down.

Yes, she could claw her way out of this grave. She could. If Seth had any sense whatsoever, it would all still be fine.

He might even be forever out of her hair! It might actually, finally all work out for the best! How many times had that happened?

Faith had been dozing; replaying a dream she often had where she was forever walking down a long corridor lined with doors, but every one she tried to open remained firmly, stubbornly locked. She closed her hands around each and every handle, testing them as she passed, hoping that one day, one of them would open to permit her, but also dreading what she might find inside.

The dream had bled into reality this time, but it wasn’t a door knob that Faith had in her hand when she awoke.

She tried to remove herself from Seth’s pants without waking him, but she failed. He woke, if he’d even been asleep, with a throaty little laugh; pulling her tight against him and kissing a trail from the exposed back of her neck to her ear.

“Again?” he teased, gliding his hand under her t-shirt. “Can’t give a man a day off after his near-death experience.”

Faith tensed, instantly reminded of the state she’d found him in, of the absolute mess that was her current life. She wriggled from his hold, ignoring his look of confusion.

“I thought you were a door,” she mumbled, sounding as dumb as she felt.

“Ah. Easy mistake to make.” He raised an eyebrow and adjusted himself before practically leaping from the bed.

“Feeling better?” she asked, listening to him sing to himself – oh god, she knew that song. He strutted about the room, stretching, as she watched. Did pushing him away look suspicious? Maybe she’d invite him back; she could just sink her teeth into—

Sink, she thought, absently adjusting her shorts over her still-tender hip bones.

“Much better,” he replied sprightly. “And you?”

“Yeah I’m just… tired. I’m glad you’re OK, Seth,” she whispered. “But why are you singing Childhood? I thought you said that song was like grating your eardrums with a porcupine.”

“The lyrics are interesting,” he smiled wryly, singing a few bars, “‘No rationale can tell me that I was free from blame; to blur the lines of trespass, I’ll cut away the shame’.

“Fuck,” Faith corrected.

“Excuse me?”

“’I’ll fuck away the shame’,” Faith said.

“Ah, that’s it. Poignant.”

That had to be a dig. It must a dig at her, right? But he couldn’t know – could he?

He nodded and headed off towards the bathroom. “I’m going to venture out again today. Anything you’d like bringing back? Another dozen outfits?”

“No… I don’t need anything.”

“Oh?” he stopped. “Nothing? No jewels? A car?”

“I don’t need anything. Well… maybe one thing,” Faith said quietly. “It’s almost Joy’s birthday.”

“Your sister? I see.” He sighed. “Faith—”

“I know I can’t go and see her,” she said watching him disappear behind the dressing screen. “But could I at least send her a present so she knows I’m thinking about her?” he didn’t respond to her question, so she said it louder. “Can you get Joy a present?”

He appeared before her a minute or so later, dressed once again in his tatty leather attire.

“I heard you the first time. A present,” he repeated. “I certainly can although I admit to naïveté about the desires of eight-year-old girls. What kind of gift would she appreciate? A doll?”

Faith almost laughed. “No, not a doll. Something gross or scary. Something she can show off to one-up that little shit, Max Villareal.”

“Something to one-up Max Villareal,” Seth repeated, looking confused. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Faith nodded. She opened her mouth to say something else, but wasn’t even sure what she could say. He tilted his head as if listening to the words she wasn’t speaking.

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” he asked.

Faith scrunched her loose shorts into her fist and inched back slightly. “While you were gone – out of it, I mean, I… well, I did…” she groaned.

“What?” he asked softly. “What did you do?”

She didn’t trust that tone.

“If he laid a single finger on you, I’ll hunt him down and gut him, fame be damned.”

She nibbled her tongue, wanting to change the subject but realising Seth was waiting for an answer. And he wouldn’t let it go, not now he knew there was a secret to unearth. There was only one thing to do.

“I went through your jacket,” she admitted.

“Oh?” He smiled. “Find anything interesting?”

Faith watched him for a moment, still on guard despite his relaxed posture and easy grin. She couldn’t be getting away with everything this easily, could she?

“You’re not mad?” she asked, knowing he’d have to answer.

He bristled, but immediately shrugged it off. “I’m furious,” he said in a way that wasn’t furious at all and was seriously fucking with her head. “More fool me for thinking I could trust you, I suppose. But what do you want me to do about it, hm? Erase your memory of my pebble collection?”

“Why do you carry so much shit around?” she asked. “Keys, ruined books, dead bugs? What the fuck is that about? And I didn’t know you smoked.”

“One man’s trash,” he shrugged, adjusting his belt. “And I don’t smoke. Disgusting habit.”

“Right, because all your other habits are just lovely: murder, torture, mutilation…”

“I wouldn’t call mutilation a habit. More of a casual hobby.”

Faith snorted, once again at ease. “So why do you have cigare—”

“Faith,” he cut in abruptly. “You pry through my most personal artefacts and I’m the one on trial?”

Faith was only aware that she was scratching her wrist when Seth took her hand. He pulled her close, smiling, while she tried not to look like his tender touch was making her want to vomit up last night’s dinner.

“I’ll forgive it, just this once,” he purred, nuzzling her hair.

“Seth, there’s something else.”

He pressed a kiss to her cheek. Yes?

With his body this close against her, she could feel the handle of one of his knives as it pressed against her stomach. She shifted, only to be jabbed sharply in the hip by another one. Seth reached inside his jacket, adjusting the errant blades.

“You did have a good rummage didn’t you?” he laughed, spending a few minutes moving items back to their correct places. “You said there was something else?” he prompted, twirling a small, rusty penknife around his gloves fingers before slipping it into his sleeve.

She swallowed, watching the light glinting off the blade hidden in his cuff. “Um… cookies,” she whispered, chickening out again. “Joy loves cookies. Get a huge box of them. None with fruit or nuts or anything in, though.”

“Ah. Something gloatingly gruesome and a mouth full of cavities,” he affirmed. He kissed her again and turned away to retrieve his hat from the dresser. “Have fun being a lady of leisure, Faith. I’ll be back at nightfall, or thereabouts.”  

Faith watched his back, listening to him sing that fucking song until he disappeared. He was still singing it wrong, but the more he sang it that way, the more right it sounded.

To blur the lines of trespass…

…I’ll cut away the shame.

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‘Childhood’ is something I wrote when I was around Faith’s age and trying to make sense of my headspace.

Chapter 2.21 – Common Ground

Lilith looked around the pub, checking every wall before she entered. The plush, beer-soaked carpets, dated panelled walls and general dinginess of this place were outweighed by the two things it had in its favour. Or rather, didn’t have. No CCTV and not a single foil-headed freak to be seen.

Not a single other patron, actually.

The jukebox was on, playing old rock songs and Lilith could tell as she approached the bar that the bartender was one of those simple types; few words and even fewer thoughts.

Perfect.

It was much further than staggering distance from home, but Lilith was not going back to that empty shell until she’d had a good few absinthes. She seated herself upon a bar stool.

“Absinthe, please,” she requested.

The bartender tilted his head to look at her. “Don’t got that, duck.”

No absinthe and he’d called her duck. She shook her head, politely. “Fine, give me your strongest spirit, double, no mixer, duck.”

The bartender was still staring at her. “Gonna need to see your ID, duck.”

Lilith groaned and reached into her purse, handing the bartender a very convincing, but completely fake, driving licence. He studied it for a while, before he spoke. “Is this fake?”

Lilith tried to keep her face neutral, wondering which bit he was calling out. Probably the photo. She had created it using e-fit software, based on how she looked when she saw herself in Caleb’s memories. “No—” she began.

“Right, ’cause it says you’re thirty-seven and you don’t look thirty-seven.”

Lilith dropped her shoulders in relief. “I’ve had loads of plastic surgery,” she replied. “Loads.”

The bartender narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, before handing her back the card and reaching for a bottle. “Vodka OK, Lilith Vatore aged thirty-seven?” he asked. “Think that’s the strongest thing I got, unless you want turpentine.” He laughed at his own joke.

“Fine.” Lilith shrugged. It really did not matter what he gave her; it would still taste the same.

He settled the glass on the bar, adding an unnecessary slice of lemon and a strawberry to the rim. “Two simoleons,” he said. “The fruit is free.”

Bloody hell, that’s cheap. “Can I set up a tab?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said, taking the credit card she offered. “Planning a good session I see?”

Lilith nodded, not really wishing to engage this man in conversation. He smiled. “One of those secretive types, hey? No big deal. Enjoy your drink. Lemme know when you want another – oh,” he said looking at her empty glass.

“Same again? Or shall I whip you up something more interesting? Perhaps a mojito. Actually, no, you look more like a cosmopolitan woman.”

“Do I?” Lilith replied, amused. Maybe this could be her new thing. Maybe she could be a cosmopolitan woman. “Sure.” She grinned. “Why not?”



During her twenty-seven year tenure at Willow Creek Academy, rising from a teaching assistant to deputy headmistress, Barbara Bucket had gained many friends among staff, parents and students. Every morning, when she walked into her office, she’d be greeted by an apple on her desk, a crayon drawing of a dragon in her in-tray or sometimes a little face who just wanted to say hello.

She could speak six languages, fluently, allowing her to communicate easily with all of the children and their parents in their mother tongues. She could find a way to talk to anybody, to break down any barrier and find common ground.

She could reconcile with anyone, she reminded herself as she rapped her knuckles on the door, dislodging some of the flaking paint as she did so.

Babs had already pressed the bell twice. Which was twice more than she’d managed every other time she’d been stood on Adina’s doorstep in the last ten years. She had lost count of how many times she’d stood on this porch over that time, gift in hand, watching her former friend through the glass pane of the door and trying to get up the courage to announce her presence. And, ashamedly, this time may not have been any different if Chuck hadn’t been so insistent.

Babs had managed to delay the visit an hour by baking cookies, so Chuck had had to go to work rather than join her for the visit, which made the whole thing marginally less awkward.

Babs fiddled nervously with her bag of home-made cookies. Almond, but she had given them a special twist. She watched through the glass as a tiny figure in hand-me-down clothing padded towards the door, the little girl’s curiosity piqued as she saw who it was.

“Mrs. Bucket?” Joy asked, stepping outside. “Oh poo. Is this about the dye in the swimming pool? Because that was Max Villareal, not me.”

Babs had to try very hard not to smile. Of all the children at the school, Joy Splodge was surely one of the naughtier ones. The class clown, the prankster. Very bright but disinterested in schoolwork and always found in possession of contraband. Just like her sister had been.

And her mother.

“You’re not in trouble, Joy,” Babs reassured her. “I’m here to see your mum.”

Joy sighed as if she was the one dealing with a defiant child. She closed the door, placed her hands on her hips and looked up at Babs. “Why?”

“I’m her friend,” Babs said.

“Liar. Mummy doesn’t have any friends,” Joy insisted.

Babs adopted what Melinda had dubbed her teacher tone, “Can you please let her know that I’m here, Joy?”

Joy had heard that voice many times. She huffed. “OK. Wait here.”

Babs pretended to salute but it was lost on the child who wandered into the house, returning a few minutes later, hand-in-hand with her mother.

“It’s Mrs. Bucket, from school,” Joy stated. “But I’m not in trouble!”

“I know who it is,” Adina murmured. “I would recognise that cheap perfume anywhere.”

Babs took in the dishevelled appearance of Adina. She had always been one to glam up to the nines even if she had nowhere to go. Babs used to tease her for her vain quirks, such as putting fresh makeup on before bed, which she did ‘in case there was a fire and the firefighters were attractive’. She looked into the house, with its bare walls and minimal furnishings.

This was not how she remembered it at all.

“I baked cookies,” Babs said in a small voice, feeling at once both guilty and foolish.

“Cookies,” Adina said incredulously.

“Cookies?” Joy repeated, her eyes lighting up.

Adina laughed, dryly. “What are you, Barbara; a girl scout? I don’t want your pity parcel. What do you want? If you’re here to see Karl, you’re a few years too late. But if you hang around long enough, maybe you can catch him when he drops by at random to take Joy for a burger.”

At the mention of his name, Babs balked. She glanced down at Joy who was looking between the adults with curiosity. “Mrs. Bucket knows Daddy?”

“Intimately,” Adina scoffed.

Joy repeated this new word to herself. “Intidibately. What does that mean? Is it swearing?”

“No.”

“Oh,” Joy replied, clearly not interested in the new word anymore.

“Dee,” Babs said, dusting off a nickname not used for years. “Can we talk? Privately.”

Adina scowled. Her face softened as she tilted her head down towards her daughter. “Go back inside, Joy.”

“Only if I can have the cookies,” Joy bargained, deviously.

“Inside.”

“But Muuuuum!” Joy wailed.

Adina glared in Babs’s direction as Joy continued to whine beside her. “Fine! You can have the cookies.”

Joy did a happy little dance, before grabbing the bag Babs offered and running towards the back room.

“I’m sorry,” Babs whispered.

“You should be; she’ll be bouncing off the walls until sunrise.”

“No, I mean… I’m sorry.”

Adina looked surprised for a second, before she huffed. “Better late than never.” Her tone implied that the apology was not accepted.

Babs’s renowned communication skills were failing her. She glanced over at Joy, who was hungrily tucking into the cookies, seemingly oblivious.

“She’s thin, Dee. So are you—“

Adina rounded on Babs, her features alight with rage. “How dare you wander into my house after a decade of silence and say that!”

“I’m sorry, Dee. I’m just concerned, with Faith missing and… shoot, this is really difficult, I—“

“You think it’s difficult?” Adina scoffed. “Look, I know why you’re here, Barbara and no, I haven’t heard from Faith or Melinda. And more to the point, I don’t care—“

“You don’t mean that—“

“—She’s just another one who left when things got tough,” Adina hissed. “Good riddance.”

Babs was silent for a while. She waited until her former friend had calmed down, until her breath returned to normal, until the tears began to roll down her face.

“You don’t mean that,” Babs repeated, softly.

“Don’t tell me what I mean!” Adina’s words became broken as she tried to compose herself. “I have had the month from hell. I lost my job at the post office, you know; the new manager said I was a liability—“

“They can’t do that!”

“Well, they did. And she’s right; they couldn’t make the typeface on that screen any bigger for me and I was already sitting with my nose on the screen—“

“That’s discrimination! You’ve worked there for years, there must have been something they could do. Wait, so if you haven’t been working, how have you—“

“Survived? Faith had to pick up loads of extra shifts at the cinema,” Adina admitted. “I know that she hated it. She would go out after work most nights, get back late, drunk.” Adina shook her head, swiping at her face angrily to clear the tears. “After she left, Joy was snooping through Faith’s things and she found… she found…” Adina gulped, lowering her voice. “She found three wallets belonging to random men and about a dozen condoms. Strawberry flavour,” Adina said, wiping her wet hand on her pyjama bottoms. “Try explaining that to a seven year old. Then this morning, I was talking to the landlord—“

“Oh, Dee—“

“—And he says that the rent we owed had been paid and what’s more, it had also been paid in advance for the next twelve months.”

Babs blinked. She wasn’t expecting to hear that.

Adina clutched at her chest, turning her face slightly to listen for Joy, to ensure she was still out of earshot. “That’s over ten thousand simoleons. Where did she get the money from? What on earth did I push her to do?!”

Babs stared at Adina, truly lost for words. She wanted to reassure her, tell her she hadn’t done anything, but Babs didn’t seem to know which way was up anymore. This theory was horrible, but was it any worse than the others that had been swimming around Babs’s head?

She reached for Adina’s hand, but her old friend yanked it from her grasp and snarled. “I haven’t forgiven you, Barbara.”

“Chuck has,” Babs offered, quietly.

“He always was too kind for his own good.”

“Dee, it was a mistake. I was in a bad place—“

“Like I am now? Is that the solution? I’ll just go bed Chuck then, shall I, and we can call it quits?”

“We didn’t… go that far. What Faith saw… that’s all there was. Karl was—“

“A rat? A coward?” Adina finished. She laughed. “Bedding Chuck. As if. It would be like sleeping with a giant teddy bear. And like Chuck would ever do that to you. Like I would,” she finished, softly.

The two women stood in uncomfortable silence, listening to Joy who was picking green bits out of the cookie she was eating and making over the top gagging noises.

“I’m really sorry,” Babs said again. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Adina sighed heavily, she reached for the door handle, grabbing it on the second try and opening the door, inviting Babs to leave.

“Dee, our babies are missing,” Babs whispered, her voice breaking as she crossed the threshold. “Please. Can we not put this aside?”

Adina unceremoniously slammed the door in Babs’s face. She turned her back on it and made her way to the table where Joy was adding another green bit to the pile.

“These cookies are weird, Mummy.”

Adina tried to take the anger out of her voice, but it lingered in the undertones. “How so, my lovely girl?”

“They’re full of yucky green bits. I think they’re vegetables,” Joy emphasised the last word with disgust as she grimaced and placed a cookie into her mother’s hand. “Here.”

Adina nearly ground the cookie to crumbs. The last thing she wanted was to accept anything from that homewrecking trollop. No, the last thing I want is to drive away anyone else, she thought, looking at Joy’s very blurry, cheeky little face.

She gingerly brought the cookie to her lips, taking a tiny nibble.

“No, Mummy. Take a proper bite or you won’t get any green bits.”

Oh sweet Watcher. Adina obliged. The odd flavour combination on her tongue, somehow pleasant and disgusting at the same time, rocked her to her core.

‘Um… what are these, Babs?’

‘Chicken meringues.’

Adina had lost count of how many times over the years she’d politely eaten her friend’s horrific culinary offerings. A laugh bubbled up from inside her as she picked a green strand from her teeth to add to the pile Joy had made.

“Is Mrs. Bucket still on the porch, sweetheart?” she asked.

Joy looked over and then turned back. “Yes, Mummy.” The girl paused, poking at the green gunk on the plate. “What are the green bits?”

“Sugar snap peas,” Adina replied, the smile curling the corner her mouth. “It’s a type of bean.”

“Gross! Why would you put those in cookies?” Joy gasped, outraged.

“Because it’s a peas offering,” Adina said, roaring with laughter.

It wasn’t even funny. It probably wasn’t even intentional.

It was so very Babs.

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Chapter 2.15 – Bad Influence

Faith closed the motel door behind her and tried to form some words.

She had known from the second that Seth appeared that everything was going to go completely to shit. It was written on the wall that Melinda would hate him and from Caleb and Lilith’s reactions, it would stand to reason that they were not exactly friends.

And Faith could see why he was disliked, she really could. Seth was arrogant and totally unapologetic. He talked about his transgressions like they were nothing, and to him, they probably were nothing. He took delight in winding everyone up, playing mind games.

OK, so she was guilty of that last one, too. But he did it with such reckless abandon, such style and – watcher fucking help her – Faith was into it.

“Well?” Seth prompted.

She hadn’t explicitly answered him yet; she’d opened the door and stepped out, beckoning him towards her. As he’d released his hold on Melinda, she had told them both to go screw themselves before promptly turning her attentions to April. Blondie’s silence was never a good sign, not that Melinda needed a reason to hold her favourite person.

Faith knew this should be a straightforward rejection; she couldn’t just throw everything away with Melinda and she knew why she should bin off Seth and his fucked up date suggestion. When she looked simply at the facts it was a black and white kind of solution. But the more she thought about it, the greyer it became.

And the worse she felt.

“Is Chuck dead?” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow. Clearly he hadn’t expected her to ask that. She hadn’t expected herself to ask that, either. She knew that he’d answer her honestly and she wasn’t sure if she was ready to hear it, if her conscience could take it.

“Unlikely,” he replied with a wry smile and motioned along the path. “Shall we?”

Shit. Faith couldn’t think of anything else to distract him. She had bitten her lip so hard that her fangs had broken her skin. “Your timing fucking sucks.”

“Some would say it was perfect. You were playing charades for Hell’s sake.”

“Hey! I love charades,” Faith lied. “Much more than walking, anyway.”

“Ah, so that’s the part of the night you’re not looking forward to,” Seth joked. “Now your reluctance makes sense.”

Faith almost laughed but turned it into an exasperated-sounding sigh at the last minute. “Look,” she said, suddenly serious, ish. “I don’t know where you got the idea that I’d be into ‘walking’, but I’m really not interested.”

“Really?” His doubt echoed her own. He smiled at her in that way that tied her insides up. “You’re not even curious?”

Of course I’m bloody curious or I’d be back in that room already. “Nope, not a bit. But don’t let me stop you.” She moved to casually flick her hair back, realising too late that she didn’t have any now and wafting the air at her shoulder like an idiot.

“I see,” he said, watching her pretend to fan herself, which was a bloody stupid thing to do because now she looked like she was swooning or something. “Well, then. Good night.”

As he turned to walk away, Faith tried to come up with a sassy quip, the last word but instead found herself running after him, like some sort of pathetic, lovesick bitch.

“Wait. Just because I don’t want to hunt with you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see you again,” she admitted.

“Sounds familiar,” he murmured. “I could hazard a guess what you have in mind.”

“Yeah, well, you know. Watching you ignore me and hit on my friends must really get me going.” You asshole. Faith pulled herself together, glad that he couldn’t hear her thoughts. “Shall we get a room or enjoy the open air? You’ll have to speed things up a bit, leave the brain probing for your next go; this time I don’t have all night.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “I can’t fault your confidence, Fledgling, but if you think your sex is worth chasing, you’re mistaken.”

Excuse me?! “Like you have anything better to do!” Faith scoffed, affronted.

“Other than follow you around like a sad dog? I do. So I’ll pass.”

“Well, fuck you then,” Faith snorted.

As he walked past her again, Faith grabbed his arm.

“No! Wait. I didn’t mean that,” she sputtered around the lump in her throat. Holy fuck, what was happening here? Was she on the brink of tears? “I like that you follow me, I just… ugh. I just don’t understand why you do, OK?”

Shit. Faith never showed vulnerability to anyone, if she could help it. This put her at a huge disadvantage. She tried to backtrack, to think of a scathing one-liner but came up empty.

To her surprise, Seth sighed softly, took her hand. “Of course you don’t, not if you’re this bloody difficult with everyone. Any sane man would run a mile from you. A bajillion have, apparently.”

Faith laughed, blinked back tears. “So why do you follow me? Is my brain really that interesting?”

“You are definitely interesting. And perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment,” he smirked. “I’m willing to take a chance on you, learn about you; as twisted, tainted and toilsome as you are. I only ask you do the same.”

“I want to,” she muttered quietly, immediately kicking herself. “Would you consider changing your hunting methods, maybe?”

“No.”

“But they’re people,” Faith pleaded, remembering Melinda’s earlier words. “Doesn’t that bother you at all?”

“They’re prey,” he corrected. “And it doesn’t.”

“But you were one of them, once—“

“Was I?” Seth asked in a way that did not invite an answer. “Do you think that they would grant us any leniency if they knew what we were?”

“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean—“

“Clinging to humanity is pointless, Faith. Look at the Vatores; slaves to a weaker species, one that would destroy them given half a chance. The sooner you accept what you are, stop caring about humans, stop thinking like them, the better.”

Faith looked at the floor. “How do I do it? Stop caring?”

“You could learn to numb yourself slowly, feed by feed, kill by kill over many desperate, soul-destroying years. Or,” he growled, drawing her closer, “you could simply say the words.

Faith was suddenly reminded of the conversation she’d had with Melinda, back at Marjorie’s. “I would much rather not care about anything and happily go on some sort of killing spree.

She must have zoned out for a second. She became aware of Seth holding her.

“Well?” Seth asked.

“Trying to sway me with your manly charms,” she purred, feeling slightly dazed, “you’re such a bad influence.”

“Terrible,” he agreed, grazing his teeth against her skin. “Is that a yes?”

At the sound of footsteps, Faith glanced over Seth’s shoulder to see a much calmer-looking Caleb walking towards them. He barely acknowledged them, bar a slight flicker of disappointment, before letting himself into the room. Faith heard the tail end of Melinda’s greeting to him before the door closed.

“…People mean nothing to them. Fudge her!”

At Melinda’s words, an image fought its way to the front of Faith’s mind; it was cute, familiar and yet something about it felt so alien…

What am I doing?

“Wait.” Faith pushed back from Seth, gritted her teeth. “I don’t think I want to ‘not care’.”

Seth frowned, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m not going hunting with you, Seth,” Faith said. “And if that means you’re not interested in me then… so be it.”

Seth didn’t look bothered but she became aware of the thudding in her head as he tried to read her.

Wait; why was she only noticing this now?

“Are you sure? Your chances are not unlimited, Faith.”

No. “Yes.” She felt herself slipping back into her crude mask, her old friend. “Guess you’ll have to go jerk it alone from now on. Still, you had Blondie in her wet t-shirt practically undressing you earlier, so lots of new material for your wank bank.”

She held her snide smirk as he once again fruitlessly wrung her brain, before finally conceding and letting go of her hand.

“As you wish,” he said. “I shalln’t bother you again.”

She clenched her fists, bit her tongue, fought every fibre of her being that was telling her to stop him leaving. To take her. To teach her. Willed him to turn round as he walked away. If he so much as glanced back, would she reconsider?

Fight for me.

Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment.

“I’m willing to take a chance on you.”

So why aren’t you fucking fighting for me?!

Fight for me!

Don’t believe their pretty words and their promises. They’ll always take the easy option, Faith.

Lost in the mire of her memories, Faith opened the motel room door and slammed it shut behind her. The thud of the heavy door in its frame was like a full stop on everything, knocking her mask clean off her face and her knees out from beneath her.

…Fight for me.

Melinda materialised in an instant. She was far colder than Faith remembered, but the soft sounds of her voice, the familiar pattern of her soothing strokes and the placement of her arms as she rocked her was exactly the same.

Like every time, her forgiving embrace felt so undeserved that it just made Faith cry harder.

“I’m a fucking idiot,” she sobbed.

“You are,” Melinda agreed. “But I love you anyway.”

“I’ve fucked up everything and he doesn’t even really want me. Oh my god, your dad—“

“—Will be fine. Trust me; if he’s anywhere near as kind as Melinda is, he’ll be fine, Faith.” Caleb said assuredly, running his fingers idly through April’s hair as she clung to his shirt.

“How can you be so sure?” Melinda asked. “Lilith was thirsty, angry at us…”

“Yes. But if I know anything about Lil, it’s this; she’s an absolute fool for a soft-hearted man.”



Chuck had driven home on autopilot; he had almost run a red light and had ignored the blinking, gravy boat shaped one on his dashboard. A problem for another day.

Before Chuck had even set both feet in the house, he’d noticed that something was amiss. The lights were on, so Babs would be home, but the house was suspiciously quiet. He realised, with surprise, that the television – a constant hum of background noise in the house – was off. The only sounds he could hear were coming from the dining table.

Chuck gently closed the door. The sound of the latch snapping back caused Babs to sit upright. her shock at seeing him return didn’t even waver as he sat beside her.

“You’re back? Did you find her?”

Watcher. Babs’ big doe eyes didn’t seem to age. That look she gave him, hope tinged with woe… he was reminded of every attempt, every test, every loss.

He’d hoped they’d never be here again, contending with failure. “No. I’ve…”

Given up.

We won’t give up. We’ll find a way.

“You’ve what?” she prompted.

“I’ve had a voicemail message from Mellybean.” He pulled his phone from his pocket, dusted off a few biscuit crumbs and handed it to her.

Babs made a confused face as she listened.

“Oh no, wait. Not the first one. That’s my mother.”

“We need to talk about your parents. I went round earlier; your dad hadn’t had his dressings changed, again. With Melinda gone, we have room now—“

“She’ll be back.”

Babs sighed and nodded, lifting the phone to her ear again.

She pressed one, twice more to listen again, before lowering the phone. Chuck could hear the robotic voice ringing out.

To listen to the message again, press one. To save it, press two. To delete it, press three.

Babs hesitated, her finger hovering over the screen. “How many times have you listened to this?” she asked.

“About a hundred,” he replied, without exaggeration.

Babs nodded and pressed the screen.

Message deleted.

Chuck blinked at her in surprise. “Why would you—“

“I don’t know what’s going on but I do know one thing. They don’t want to be found, Chuck.”

Babs pushed away from the table and Chuck was beside her like a shot.

“She could be in danger, Barbara. The police could have used that, traced the call.”

“You think that tracing the call would have found her? That she’s hanging around by the phone box, waiting for you to show up? Chuck, listen to me. I don’t know what the girls are up to, but one thing is certain; if Melinda was in trouble she’d find a way to tell you.”

“Maybe she did though and I just missed it, or misheard it or—“

Babs tutted and pulled him into her arms.

“Chuck; you’re going to drive yourself insane. Trust me; to leave us, to leave you, she must have a very good reason. She’ll contact you again. I know it.” She paused, sniffing him. “Why do you smell like disinfectant?”

“That would be from Lilith’s surgery,” he said.

“Lilith? Dr. Vatore is a she?” Babs asked. “You neglected to mention that.”

“Is her gender important? I’ll go and take a shower, grab a change of clothes,” he said as he made his way towards the stairs. Babs listened to him go, heard him stumbling around as he discarded his jeans.

Is it important?

He called down to her. “Did you go and see Adina?”

Babs winced. “Yes. She wasn’t home.” A lie. She’d spent forty minutes on the doorstep, watching her old friend inside, through the window, trying to get up enough courage to knock.

More heavy footsteps and stumbling before he spoke again. “We’ll visit together, if that’s all right? Maybe she’ll be able to shed some light from Faith’s perspective.”

“Maybe.”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 1.11 – Nothing Scares Me

“It’s Slasher Saturday!” Joy squealed as she hugged her big sister.

“Sure kiddo.” Faith beamed back. “I got most of Strangetown Massacre recorded on my phone yesterday. It was a quiet showing too so hopefully not too many heads popping up to obscure the picture – if you think you can handle it?”

Joy puffed out her little chest. “Pfft! Nothing scares me, sis!”

“That’s my girl.”

“Faith, can I have a word?” Her mother’s voice was soft from across the room. “Joy, please go to your room.”

“Oh but mum!” Joy huffed making a big show of stomping off down the hallway and slamming the door.

“Sit with me Faith.”

Faith crossed the room and took a seat across the table from her mother. “I’m sitting mum.”

Her mother turned towards her. Faith wondered which conversation was coming. Joy is too young to watch that kind of movie! or Don’t make pirate copies of movies at work!

Faith took a slow breath. One… two…

“I got a call from the landlord yesterday…”

Oh? Faith stopped counting.

“…He says he’s given us enough time to make the missed payments. We have until Thursday to find the remaining funds or we face eviction.”

“Thursday?” Faith’s eyes were wide, “how much do we owe?”

Her mother lowered her voice. “About fourteen hundred.”

Faith shook her head. “How will we get fourteen hundred simoleons by Thursday?”

“I don’t know Faith. He said if we can get five hundred to him by then, he’ll consider postponing the eviction, again.” She hesitated. “Could you take any extra shifts at the cinema? Or perhaps we can sell something?”

Faith silently fumed. She could work every single shift before Thursday and wouldn’t earn five hundred simoleons. She looked around the sparse room with its bare walls. What did her mother think they could sell? The windows?

“I’ll see what I can do,” she mumbled.

Her mother smiled, her blank gaze settled somewhere to the left of Faith’s actual face.

“Thank you Faith. I hate having to ask you to do this.”

Faith silently mouthed some words that would have earned her a clip around the ear but she responded gently, “It’s OK. I’ll call work, I might be able to get an earlier shift in this evening.”

Adina reached across the table to her daughter. Faith leaned awkwardly over, laying her hand so her mother could find it and pat it softly. “Thank you, my lovely girl.” She rose from her seat and felt around for her stick. “Could you please give me a hand with breakfast?”

“Of course.” Faith got to her feet and followed her mother to the kitchen. She wasn’t smiling but her voice sounded like she was. It was all that really mattered.

Didn’t anyone at the cinema ever answer the phone? She’d tried a dozen times. Then again, Johnny was the manager on shift today. He was such a creep and he’d surely put Zoe on today’s rota. The two of them were probably half-naked in the store room already, far too busy to answer any calls. She’d just have to turn up a few hours early for her shift and hope that he would agree to pay her.

Oh, her stomach was giving her grief today, but April had told her it would. She had expected it to be much worse, based on April’s description. The nausea however was something else entirely. She didn’t know how she was going to take eight hours of watching fat kids stuffing sticky popcorn into their faces. She had only managed to eat her ashtray of a breakfast because she knew how hard she’d had to work to earn it.

Faith wandered back in to the living room. Her sister was watching some age-appropriate television – much to Joy’s disappointment – and her mum was wrestling with the bin, trying to get the bag out.

“Allow me.” Faith intervened.

“I can do it.” Her mother insisted, oblivious to the banana skin that had slipped out of the hole she had made in the bag.

“Please mum. I don’t want you going out there anyway. It’s icy.”

The last thing she needed was for her mother to have a fall and be even more incapable of looking after Joy.

It was cold this morning. A light snowfall, unusual for April, had dusted the run-down houses in her neighbourhood. It sparkled in the sunlight and looked almost magical.
As she took in the sugar-coated scenery she felt her insides flip.

Her knees buckled beneath her as pain rolled through her torso. OK, now this hurt.

She gripped the fence for support, waiting for the sensation to subside. Powerless, she felt her body crumple to the floor, the breath taken from her. She felt so full; felt something swell up inside her like a balloon, filling every cell before it reached her skin and pushed its way through. A heavy void was all that remained. Then, with the ease of drawing in air, she felt something else fill her. Something cold. Something dark. She clamped her teeth around her scream.

Adina was starting lunch when Faith entered the kitchen again. She shivered as her daughter approached her. “Who’s there?”

Faith startled. Her mother hadn’t seen her face for many years, but she always knew when Faith entered the room – or tried to sneak out of it.

“How do you know?” Faith had asked of her mother one time as she was half in and half out of her bedroom window after curfew. “A mother always knows,” Adina had chuckled, “and my ears still work.”

Now her grey eyes narrowed in Faith’s general direction.

“It’s… it’s me mum.”

Adina reached out her fingers. This time, Faith didn’t have to position herself for her mother to find her. She stroked her fingertips gently down Faith’s face, then pulled her hand away, clutched at her chest.

“Faith,” she whispered. “What have you done?”

Faith backed away and felt her phone vibrate at her hip. Shaken and welcome for the distraction, she left her mother unanswered and ran down the hallway to her bedroom to answer it.

“Hey babes, it’s Johnny.”

Faith bit her tongue. She disliked Johnny at the best of times, but even more so when he called her babes.

“Hi Johnny. Thanks for calling back. I was just wondering. Can I get any overtime today?”

Johnny sucked in his breath. “You called me?” She could hear him tapping on his phone. “Oh shoot, you did call me. Ten times! Sorry about that babes, I’m a busy man. Anyway, I was just calling you to let you know that the cinema’s closed, so no need to come in tonight.”

“Closed?”

“Yeah, burst water pipe. Whole place is flooded. Looks like it’ll be a good couple of weeks before we’re open for business.”

Faith shook her head, disbelieving. “But I need to work.”

“We all need to work, babes. But hey, if you’re really struggling for something to do tonight, come round to mine later; maybe we can even reach some sort of agreement.”

She couldn’t hang up fast enough.

Faith brought her fingertips to her cheek, still feeling where her mother’s had burned into her. She was staring at her phone wondering if she should call April when a message popped up on the screen.

Ugh, it was probably Johnny sending her his address. She hoped he wasn’t sending her an accompanying image.

She ran her tongue over her teeth and felt a surge through her body.
Maybe she would go round to his tonight. She opened the message.

My place. Urgent.

It wasn’t Johnny.

On the way, she replied.

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