Chapter 3.18 – Deep Trouble

The tour bus hadn’t made it five miles from Windenburg before it had conked out again. Caustic had flat-out refused to spend yet another night on a bus with no electricity and, after the dismal turnout of last night’s gig, he wasn’t about to perform another in this dead-end corner of the world. A guy had to make a living, after all.

Fortunately for the band, the fancy hotels in these parts hadn’t yet had the pleasure of a Kaz Traitors makeover and the Glimmerbrook Grand was more than happy to allow them to stay the night. For free. Which was just as well as Caustic would never let on, but the band was seriously in the hole, money-wise.

“That’s the fifth set of keys you’ve lost this month,” Blu tutted in her ‘Mum’ tone. “We’ll have to get you fitted with a microchip, like those cats who always lose their collars.”

Was that supposed to be funny? Caustic wasn’t sure but made an amused sound, just in case. Didn’t want to upset his prize cow now, did he?

“You have no idea where you lost them?” Nani asked in her irritating voice.

He shrugged. “No, otherwise I’d find them. I probably dropped them in the toilets when I was—” he stopped himself abruptly, taking into account his present company. “When I was shitting,” he finished with a deadpan expression.

Predictably, both women disapproved. “That’s disgusting,” Nani grimaced.

“Why? We all shit. Don’t pretend that you don’t shit, Nani.” Caustic fixed her with a steely stare, trying to hold his tongue. He failed. “Unless you really do have a huge stick up your arse, of course.”

He relished it, that beat of hurt, but not for long as the freckled imp had appeared and hopped into the tub beside her bandmates.

“Woah, did I walk in at a fun moment?” Floppy grinned. “Who has a stick up their bum? Can I have one?”

“No one has a stick anywhere; just your cousin being a jerk, as per usual,” Nani muttered. “I can’t believe I ever dated him.”

“I can’t believe you’re not over it. We broke up days ago.”

“Leave her alone, homewrecker,” Floppy cut in, staring him down with those eyes that always seemed to be looking in slightly different directions. “Some people have feelings. Not everyone is a brainless penis like you.”

Floppy had a great way of saying things without actually saying things. Caustic shot her a look of pure hatred but it was too late.

“What do you mean by that?” Nani asked.

Floppy didn’t even blink. “Penis; it’s an organ most men have. It dangles, pokes you in the eye occasionally—“

“I know what a penis is, Floppy.” Nani sucked in a breath; her patience always tested by her bandmate. “I meant the other thing you said,” she clarified, oblivious to Caustic’s mimicry behind her.

“Brainless?” Floppy asked innocently. “That’s this,” she said and closed her eyes, remaining completely still and silent.

“Homewrecker, you annoying bitch! Why are you a homewrecker, Caustic? Why is he a homewrecker, Floppy?” Nani asked, but Floppy remained ‘brainless’ much to Nani’s chagrin.

Ever the peacekeeper, Blu stepped in before Nani throttled Floppy. “What does she mean by that, Caustic?” she asked carefully. “What relationship did you… oh. Oh no. Tell me you didn’t, not with Violet.”

For most of his life, Caustic had been the ugly, skinny guy that most women wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Also, he was currently sitting next to a woman who had ripped his heart out and chewed it up, so even though he knew he’d get a roasting from Bluebell, he found it incredibly hard not brag about his sexual conquest.

“Why not? She was hot as hell and well up for it.”

Nani had turned away, but he could hear her eyes rolling. She shook her head and rose from the water, the water highlighting all of her pale curves. Caustic tried not to ogle her, even though her perfect tits were right in his face and something else was attempting to rise from the water. He prepared himself for an almighty slap.

But nothing happened; she just climbed out of the tub like he didn’t exist.

Ouch.

He stared at Floppy, a sure way to make any budding erection die, but could still see Nani’s shapely, wet butt from the corner of his eye.

He reminded himself that she had dumped him and that she deserved a little heartache, too. “Woah! Careful where you point that thing! Nearly knocked me out with your arse stick there, Nani.”

Nothing. Not even a huff.

Blu was still staring at him like he was an alien and she regretted getting on his spaceship.

“You can’t keep doing this,” she said.

“Hey, she dumped me—”

“No, not Nani. Well yes, Nani too, but I meant sleeping with our fans. They look up to us; it’s an abuse of your position.”

Now that was funny. Caustic snorted. “What’s the problem?”

“What’s the problem?!” Blu repeated, ‘Mum Mode’ fully switched on again. “Firstly, she was barely an adult.”

“She was barely an adult, Carlos,” Floppy parroted.

Blu’s eye twitched, but she didn’t bite. “And second,” she continued in a low hiss, “what about her fella?”

“Yeah, what about her fella, Carlos?” Floppy asked.

Blu sighed. “Do you have to do that now, Floppy?”

Caustic shrugged. “What about him? He left not long after you did. Looked like death – that guy cannot handle his drink… or his woman.”

Blu balked. “He looked like death and you just let him go?!”

“You just let him go, Carlos?” Floppy asked, with none of the same outrage Blu’s words held.

Blu’s famous patience was finally being tested. She gritted her teeth. “I’ll pinch you, Floppy.”

“Ooh! Where? On the nipple?”

For the second time in as many minutes, Caustic was treated to the sight of another curvaceous backside leaving his hot tub.

“I’ve had enough,” Blu muttered. “You two need to start thinking about other people. I’m gonna see if Nani’s OK then I’m gonna check the venue and hope Violet’s fella is not dead in a gutter somewhere around it.”

Caustic so wanted to say something, but he knew that without Blu, there was no band. Anyone could learn a few chords and mess up riffs on stage, but he’d never met anyone else with those lungs.

“Yeah, you do that,” he said weakly, glaring at Floppy, hoping that she’d apologise. He should have known better than to place any hope on his cousin, though.

“Get me a SacFondles meal while you’re out, Blu,” Floppy said, grinning until the door slammed.

Alone in the hot tub with his cousin, Caustic could finally relax. Floppy was the coolest person he’d ever met and he’d always loved hanging out with her. She wasn’t bothered by anything, as her next question demonstrated.

“The boyfriend looked like death, did he?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. “Warm death, or cold? Any entrails hanging out?”

Caustic chuckled at his manic relative. He knew her well enough to know exactly what she meant by this.

“Why do I get the feeling that his sudden illness was something to do with you, dear cousin?” he played along.

If rockstardom fell through, Floppy would make a great professional poker player, he thought. Or a great assassin.

“Is it because you’re projecting your guilty conscience on to me, Carlos?” she asked. “Sleeping with a willing fan. Oh my golly-gosh. There’s a warm seat in hell for you.”

Caustic roared, his laugh shaking the tub. “I’m devil incarnate, for sure,” he agreed. “For real though, what did you give him? Laxatives or something?”

“Yes. I wanted him to rush in midway to ruin your gents’ room rendezvous with his missus.” She smiled. “You’re into poo games played with angry beaus, right?”

His face fell as he read between her lines. “So what did you give him?” he asked warily. “Shit, Floppy,” he whispered. “Was it a roofie?”

She blinked slowly. “Isn’t that the top of a house? How could I give him that? Silly Carlos!” she said splashing her hands. “The chimney would get lodged in his throat.”

“Floppy, for fuck’s sake. You didn’t need to drug him – she really wanted me.”

Floppy threw her head back and loudly cried out, “Oh yes! Yes, Carlos! Give it to me you scrawny, pink-haired troll! My whole life has led up to this very moment! Yes! Yes! OH YES!”

Caustic watched his cousin as she took the piss out of him. She thrashed about for a while, jerked and then sank back into the tub as if spent.

“You done?” he asked.

“I’ve had better.” Floppy fanned herself, still wearing that impish little grin.

 “So why drug him? Were you trying to bed him?”

“I like my men wriggling and screaming ‘what are you gonna do with that cucumber?!’ but glazed over on the tarmac was a fun change.”

It wasn’t often that Floppy made no sense to him, but Caustic didn’t know where she going with this. “So… what did you do it for then? And was it a tranquiliser? What if he wakes up and goes to the police, Floppy? What the fuck do we do then?”

Floppy laughed and splashed him.

“Then you will be in very deep trouble, won’t you?” she laughed. “You’re a bad, bad man, Carlos! Feeding strange men house parts so you can play weird bum games with their girlfriends! Wait ‘til I tell your Mum!”

“Are you shitting me?” Caustic growled. “You spiked a guy’s drink to get me in trouble? Floppy, he could go to the police – or the press!”

She smiled looking around. “Hey look! There’s a dead dog hanging from the chandelier! Ha! Made you look!” she laughed as he fleetingly glanced upwards, despite knowing it was nonsense.

“Floppy, listen to me—“

“No, Carlos. You listen to me,” she grinned, swishing the water about. “You really didn’t recognise her while you were knobbing her, did you? She had a face; did you know that?”

“Should I have recognised her?” Caustic asked, dread weighing him down. His voice was a low rasp as he tried to fathom exactly how huge his mistake might have been. “Shit… she’s not related to us is she?” Floppy shrugged, that mischievous glint in her eye. “Is she?” Caustic continued; an octave higher. “Fuck, Floppy! You should’ve said something!”

“I did, but it was like you were in a trance or something. Booooooobies…” she groaned like a zombie. “And you’ve porked her now, so it’s too late; prepare for mutant offspring.”

“I used a johnny,” he lied.

Floppy laughed. “So did my dad.”

He breathed a sigh of relief as he interpreted this to mean that whoever Violet, Fanny or whatever her name was, she wasn’t a relative. “Give me a clue.”

“Ooh! OK!” Floppy squealed. “The girl you were slobbering all over last night has been all over the news but she ain’t the logo.”

That helped him approximately 0%. What had been on the news lately? Was there an election going on? There was always an election going on.

“Is she a politician?” he asked.

Not a politician, then. What else had been on the news? “The only other thing on the news has been that Sandy Moss thing.” Floppy continued to stare so Caustic continued to talk. “Sandy was murdered and her daughter went missing, right? What’s that got to do with anything?”

Floppy shook her head. “Beats me.”

He wracked his brain trying to think of any way Violet/Fanny could be involved with that story.

April had been kidnapped, or was missing, along with two of her friends.

Her friends.

“She’s April’s friend!” he announced.

“Or kidnapper,” Floppy said. “Or murderer. But if I murdered April Moss, I’d wear her face.”

Suddenly, it all made sense. Caustic took a huge breath. “You were going to turn them in, weren’t you?”

“Turn them into what? A multi-million simoleon reward? We don’t need that,” she sneered. “Oh well. The streets are full of murderers, what’s another few? Plus, you got your little dickie inside a little chickie! Cluck cluck!”

Well, fuck.

Lilith settled her umpteenth cosmopolitan on the bar and allowed her gaze to once again settle on Chuck’s face. She could stare at him all night.

He’d been staying a hotel – the doghouse he’d called it, with a soft chuckle. Her heart ached for him. Did Babs not realise what she had? How sweet he was? How kind? How warm and soft and—

The words had tumbled out before Lilith had chance to think them through.

“You could come and stay at my place?”

He paused part way through the sentence he was saying; Lilith didn’t even know what that was. He looked… confused.

Lilith cleared her throat. “In Caleb’s room,” she clarified, trying to backtrack up the cliff she’d just dived off.

Chuck pouted and in that instant, Lilith really wanted to kiss him. She bit her lip, waiting for his answer, but of course, she could already hear what it was.

“Lilith, I really appreciate the gesture, but Babs already thinks there’s something going on between us. If I moved in… well I could likely kiss my marriage goodbye,” he explained softly.

Lilith wasn’t sure what was coming over her tonight; perhaps she was still suffering the effects of whatever it was Wyatt gave her, but she blinked shyly and asked in a small voice, “Is she wrong?”

He looked puzzled, naturally. “Wrong to throw me out?”

“Is she wrong to think there’s something between us?” Lilith whispered, watching him take a sharp breath, hearing his heartbeat getting faster. There was no going back up this cliff now. She was broken against the rocks.

He shuffled in his seat, finally finding structure to his thoughts.

Oh my word, here they come.

“Lilith, I’m flattered,” he said softly. “You’re an intelligent, beautiful woman and I’d be lying if I… but I’m happily married. Well, I’m married, I suppose we have been happier, but even if I wasn’t married, you’re young enough to be—”

“I’m 321, Chuck.”

“Yes, well. So you are. In that case, perhaps I’m too young for you? I don’t know where I’m going with this.” He hesitated, looked at the bar. “I’m married,” he finished firmly.

“What if she doesn’t take you back?” Lilith asked.

He moved to comfort her, but quickly changed his mind. “Even if Babs filed for divorce tomorrow – and I very much hope that isn’t the case because I truly love that woman – I would need time alone, I would need to heal before I could even consider another relationship.”

“I could help you,” she sobbed. She sounded so desperate but right now, she’d beg if she had to.

He sighed softly. “And what kind of relationship would that give us? A rebound one. You deserve a fulfilling, mutual love, Lilith.”

Lilith didn’t know what she deserved.

“I just… I… bollocks.” There really were no words to offer a man whose marriage you’d just attempted to destroy. Lilith started a few explanations but it was Chuck’s soft, completely unnecessary apology that finally sent her running out of the door in shame.

She gave it a few minutes, hoping that he’d follow to pull her into his embrace and tell her that he’d changed his mind; that he wanted her, to hell with the consequences.

But Chuck would never do that. He wouldn’t throw away what he had on the off-chance of something better. He didn’t build false expectations.

That was, Lilith realised, exactly why she liked him.

And now she’d completely bloody blown it. Not only did she have to go back to an empty house, alone, but she had, at worst, lost her kin a blood donor and, at best, made it awkward for any future time she was around Chuck. Or Melinda, for that matter.

She rubbed her head, trying to stimulate her fuzzy brain.

This situation couldn’t get any worse.

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Chapter 3.15 – Goblins

The break room at the Woodland Borough Police Department’s station was every bit as uninspiring as the rest of the building and yet Jessica’s imagination was running wild.

The young officer – no, deputy – was sipping her decaffeinated green tea and staring through her sandwich on a break from doing nothing.

In order to survive a potential assassination attempt by the Wangshafts, owing to her potential knowledge about some potentially covered up missing person files, Jessica was about to potentially join a group of conspiracy theorists. They were, she gathered, also investigating the missing person cases, but were clearly so far off the mark with their theories and of such irreputable character that they posed no risk to the Wangshafts.

Joining the GliTS would allow Jessica freedom, of sorts, to investigate. All of that she could get her head around.

The thing she couldn’t get her head around was why a group of people – who thought that the forests of Forgotten Hollow were full of ghouls who sought to harm all who entered – would have spend a night in the forest as their initiation test.

Surely, if they really believed their ideas – and they really seemed to – they wouldn’t dream of doing that? Perhaps this was a test of commitment to the cause or a willingness to question everything she was told, or maybe even a way to show that she had gumption.

But what if this was the test? Was she expected to refuse if she truly believed the forest was dangerous?

Of course there was the more sinister option, that this was a way to get rid of her, but Jessica was not quite jaded enough to give that one much thought, no matter how loudly they shouted at her.

Jessica idly traced a finger over her abdomen. She spent a lot of time doing this lately, like it was being drawn there by her magnetic baby. She wasn’t afraid of spending a night in the forest but she was afraid of getting this decision wrong.

As her mind fluttered back to her silent surroundings and her untouched lunch, the inside sound intensified. She reached for the television remote. Jessica was not a huge television fan, but it was much needed tangible noise right now, a distraction.

As usual, the news channel was the first to display; Reb Porter’s ever-smug face filling the small screen.

“…at Sandy’s understated monument, located in this most modest resting place. Among the people she helped and loved, as she would have wanted and… holy moly! Is that—? It is! Broof Hogwash, former butler to the late Sandy Moss. Mr. Hogwash! Mr. Hogwash! Reb Porter, The News Channel—“

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“What brings you to the resting place of your former employer?”

“Actually I’m not—”

“Is it your guilty conscience?”

“Uh—”

“What do you make of Travis’s confession? Was he the abusive monster we all believe him to be? Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Please, leave me alone. I’m just here to visit—”

Jessica looked quizzically at the suddenly blank screen. She was sure she hadn’t touched the remote. Probably a power cut, she reasoned, looking around to see if anything else had shorted and noticing Beth.

“Why do you watch that crap? Aren’t things depressing enough already?” She pulled up a spare seat and plonked herself into it, eyeing up Jessica’s sandwich. “Is that a BLT?”

Jessica had only been working with Beth for one morning, but she already had a headache. It felt as if every other word that came out of her new boss’s mouth was a mild curse and the force at which she said everything made Jessica wince like she was being hit. “Faux BLT. Do you want it? Everything is making me vomit lately.”

“Been there,” Beth said. “And no thanks; the thought of fake bacon makes me want to vomit. Crap, I’d better not be up the duff again; having one kid with that womanising twat is enough.”

Jessica wasn’t sure she wanted to sit here and make conversation with Beth about her absent husband; she was still carefully considering how bonkers she could appear to be without being fired, and thought minimising contact with the Wangshafts was probably a good option. She pushed her chair back and Beth eyed her suspiciously.

“Where are you going? You’ve got ten minutes of break time left, Jessica.”

“I thought I’d get back to my desk.”

“And do what? Bugger all ever happens in this district.”

It does, but you make it disappear, Jessica thought, remembering the big pile of missing person files that had apparently been filed and archived while she was away and now were nowhere to be found.

Beth beamed. “Guess I shouldn’t complain that there’s no crime though, right? Great place to bring up a kid, the Woodland Borough. Glimmerbrook, Windenburg…. safest place there is, Windenburg. Well, unless you’re a cop.”

Jessica wanted to bring up the third town in the district that Beth had conveniently left out; Forgotten Hollow, which was anything but safe. She wanted to ask about the mispers, about Chase, about Ralf, about what Beth knew but her senses told her not to take this bait.

“It’s so good that it’s safe!” she gushed, with a powdered sugar coating so thick she almost choked on it. “Only goblins and trolls to worry about. And the government, of course. Those scoundrels in office, pulling all the strings. Hiding the aliens,” she added in a stage whisper. Was that too far?

“Aliens?”

“And, um, fairies.” Definitely too far. It was a fine balance, this mask of madness.

Beth looked bemused. “You’re a weird one, Jess, but I like you. Hey, I was wandering the corridors earlier and found this unused holding cell and you know what I thought that’d be perfect for?”

Jessica’s mind raced. Imprisonment. Imprisoning me? Did I say something wrong? Don’t tell me goblins and fairies actually do exist… her head was spinning. She hadn’t finished knitting that rug yet. She never did get around to trying that peanut cookie recipe. She was too young to die!

“Crapping hell, Jess, you’re even paler than usual,” Beth gasped. “Eat your sandwich; that’s an order.”

Jessica stared at the sandwich in front of her. Was it poisoned?

No, this was madness. She was paranoid. She took a bite.

“A nursery,” Beth nodded, completing a sentence Jessica hadn’t heard the start of.

“A nursery?” Jessica repeated, chewing slowly, hoping that she came across as interested and not confused.

“Yeah,” Beth sighed. “I think this place has been stuck in the seventies long enough. If we’re running the place, we’re running it right. Plus, I don’t like leaving my Little Willy with Gloria and Old Saggy Balls.”

“Your little what?”

“My son, Willy. Gloria looks after him during the day. He can’t talk yet, but I don’t want the pair of them teaching him all their warped ideas about relationships and society. No, I want him here, with me, learning about fly tipping reports and filing and maybe goblins.” She laughed and winked at Jessica. “And if we have a nursery here, when your little one arrives,” she inclined her head towards Jessica’s lower half,” you won’t have to worry about finding a creche or taking time off.”

So you can always keep an eye on me? “No, I guess not.”

“Plus, they’re probably gonna have it in their blood, right? Police genes, I mean. From both you and former deputy Crooks.”

Don’t bite. “I guess so.”

“You guess a lot, don’t ya? Don’t guess, Jess. Make solid decisions and deal with them. Now, eat that damn sandwich.”



Sage very much liked Chuck. It was highly unlikely that anyone with half a heart, even an undead one, wouldn’t warm to the darling teddy bear of a man. She, he and Lilith had enjoyed a civilised drink together in the tavern next door to her store, where he had been fully informed of the situation and the true identity of all actors.

Disclosing oneself to a non-witch was forbidden in all but exceptional circumstances but what did that matter when she was housing vampires?

Chuck had taken it all surprisingly well; Sage had been prepared to demonstrate a small spell if it had been required, but it hadn’t. The sweet man was quite willing to believe what he was told – he had questions, naturally, but had been most content by the time Sage made her leave to head back to the house. Lilith hung back, to keep Chuck company.

That woman. Did she ever learn?

Oh, she wanted to invite Chuck to her home and she wanted to reunite this soft-hearted gentleman with his daughter. But Melinda had explicitly asked Sage not to do that. She was not ready for that. If anything at all had gone wrong with that reunion like it had with their prior one, it would be devastating and not just because poor Chuck had been drunk from a number a times over the past week. She was surprised that he could walk!

Back in the sanctuary of her store, closed as it was now late afternoon, she noted how many blooms were missing and smiled to herself. He may be a promiscuous, clueless monster, but Caleb was a very fine salesman!

The stairs creaked almost as much as her knees as Sage descended into the basement store. When she’d left, April had been whittering excitedly to Wyatt about zombies and he had been uncharacteristically quiet. She had clocked a large plastic bottle of water by his feet and assumed that was the missing ingredient for his potion.

Sage was relieved that it appeared to have not exploded upon addition to the simmering cauldron, of course. Her issues with this whole thing stemmed from the method.

Wyatt was prone to cut corners – his father had been the same.

“I’m streamlining the process, Sage.”

“You’re ruining the sacred nature of witchcraft.”

“I’m optimising time,” Warren would insist. “Time that we can fill with… other endeavours.”

Oh, gracious. She missed him so.

Where was she? Oh, right yes – cutting corners was one thing, but these modern-fangled techniques were polluting the art of magic. Why would anyone bother with the arduous 56-day-long ritual of cleansing water if some factory was producing it for them and shipping it with next day delivery? Witches today. The world today. So instant. Where was the devotion?

“How is potion-making going?” she asked politely, peering into the pot.

“It’s great!” April gushed. “It’s so much fun!”

Sage disagreed. Potion-making was tiring and she was more than happy to let Wyatt do it. “Are you a potion master now, April?” Sage joked.

“She’s not far off,” Wyatt mumbled. “She’s a natural.”

“I am?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course she is; chip off the old block,” Sage said smoothly, ignoring Wyatt’s shaking head.

“Potions are amazing! Wy was just telling me about the potion that temporarily turns you green. That sounds so funny! We’re going to mix that up afterwards and give some to Caleb.”

“No, Apes,” Wyatt said, his voice firmer than usual, but not one Sage could take seriously. “That’s a misuse of potions—”

“I’d allow it,” Sage sang. “Right my dear, are you nearly done here? We need that little talk I mentioned this morning.” The girl’s face instantly fell, taking her shoulders and spirit with it.

“We’re done here. This needs to rest overnight anyway,” Wyatt said, a stifled laugh lifting the ends of his words. “Off you go Apes, have your very important talk.”

Sage turned on her heel towards the kitchen, hearing April’s heels click against the stone floor as she passed Wyatt. She swore she heard him whisper something to her that she answered with a squeak.

In the kitchen, Melinda was at the sink and furiously scrubbing something as Caleb loitered at the counter, glaring at the girl’s back.

“Quit glaring at me,” Melinda hissed. “It’s not my fault that she— Sage!” she exclaimed, dropping her washing. “You’re back! Did you meet dad? Is he OK? Did he mention Mum?

“He’s fine. And so is your mother,” Sage paused here, wondering how much to say. Was it her place to tell the girl that her father and mother were having some difficulty seeing eye to eye? That Chuck had taken residence in a hotel until Babs came round? Sage thought back to Lilith making puppy eyes at the man and knew that any spouse in their right mind would see that as a threat.

Still, she didn’t know the dynamics, she didn’t know the history. It wasn’t her place. “They’re fine.”

Melinda nodded, letting out an empty breath and turned back towards the sink. “Sage, what paint do you use?  I can’t get these brushes clean.”

“Leave them my dear,” Sage insisted. “Melinda, head on through to the sitting room and wait for me, will you? We three need a little talk.”

Melinda and Caleb exchanged a definite and heated glance before Melinda asked, “Is everything OK?”

“Yes,” Sage replied, staring at Caleb who who dutifully took ownership for a potentially incriminating conversation involving his fledglings, as she’d expected him to.

“What do you want to talk to them about?”

“Sex.”

The two girls, April less so, immediately seized up, looking anywhere but at her while Caleb guffawed.

“That’s not necessary,” he managed after he was laughed out. “I know about sex.”

“No, Caleb, you do not. Sitting room, now.”

The girls had already left, eager to get their burning cheeks out of the room but Caleb stood firm, still grinning. He cocked his head and Sage could feel it – the tug of his allure. “Is this a hands-on sex lesson, Sage?”

“I… I, uh,” came a stammer from behind her that most definitely belonged to Wyatt and thankfully pulled her from the daze she almost slipped into. “It’s not is it?”

“Of course it’s not,” Sage tutted. “But this whole attitude,” she waggled her finger in the face of the yellow-shirted corpse before her, “is exactly the reason why we need this talk. Your sister might’ve let you get away with this abhorrent behaviour, Caleb, but in my house you live by my rules and I do not tolerate this attitude. Into the sitting room. Now.”

Caleb swirled his tongue around his fangs, his eyes glowed blue at the challenge. She could tell that he was thinking twice about snapping her like a twig, but ultimately sense won out and he skulked from the room after the girls.

“Woah,” Wyatt sighed, fanning himself. “Is there, like, a potion to stop the effects of that thing he does?”

“No, or I’d put it in the water supply,” Sage muttered, still staring at the closed door Caleb had exited through.

“Awesome. Right well, I’m gonna go hang out in my room for a while. Call me when dinner’s ready.”

“Actually,” Sage said, turning towards him as the rose tint faded from her vision. “I think it might be best if you sit in this chat. For back up.” She smiled.

The colour drained from Wyatt’s face as he realised what she was asking. “But Mum, I’ve heard this talk a hundred times and every time I still want to curl up and die.”

“Is this the birds and the bees presentation?” Broof said, entering the room. “Sage, forgive my intrusion. I would have rung the bell, but the shop door was open.”

“Quite alright and yes. Maybe you can sit in, Broof? Moral support and a second caster should things go awry.”

“Oh, I… um,” Broof said looking hopelessly to Wyatt who whined and kicked the bar stool.

“Ugh! Oh my god! I’m gonna have to sit and listen to it again! My life is hell!” he stomped off to the closet to retrieve the well-used flipchart before Sage could even ask him to.

“It’s not that bad—”

“It’s literal hell!”

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Chapter 3.10 – Hanky-Panky

On the bus ride home, Jessica had tried to think of a valid excuse for not honouring her invitation to the so-called GliTS HQ, aka, Pixie’s dad’s house. She understood, and was appreciative of, the offer of company and friendship – for someone so generally cheerful and chatty, Jessica couldn’t say that she had many friends – but were three conspiracy theorists really the kind of associates she needed right now?

She changed into regular clothes and flopped on to her bed.

Jessica heavily suspected that both Chase and Ralf had stumbled upon something, learned something they shouldn’t have ever known and that silencing them was the only way to keep it unknown.

She wondered, not for the first time, what on earth it could be. What sort of secret was worth killing two good men over?

Once again, like she’d done so many times over the last few days, Jessica replayed her last ever conversation with Ralf.

He had driven her home from Joe’s and she’d told him about the GliTS’s theories of vampires and witches. Oh and ghosts, don’t forget the ghosts.

He had been very kind, but had ultimately scoffed at her theories and then, suddenly, she was locked up and Ralf was… was…

Wilbur just had to visit him that morning, the blithering idiot.

Wait. Had Ralf… had Ralf told Wilbur Jessica’s theories? Did that mean that there was some truth in them? And if so, why had Ralf met his fate and Jessica met a different one? Why had Ralf been silenced and Jessica been set, relatively, free?

Perhaps because she wasn’t free. Anyone who did any research on Jessica would know that her mother was a recovering alcoholic with a list of medical issues as long as her arm, that they had very little in the way of family, that she had no one to turn to except a handful of stray cats and a few loopy women who had been campaigning for her sanity in tinfoil hats.

Jessica heaved a sigh and rolled over again. No position was comfortable with the knot in her stomach. Perhaps she’d change into pyjamas and stay home after all. She needed to wash and iron her work uniform and get ready to return to the station tomorrow. She could use that as an excuse. Right?

Yes, she decided with a wave of guilt. They had helped her and wanted to continue to do so, but she couldn’t be associated with the GliTS. Morag had even said it herself; they campaigned all the time and it never usually worked. Jessica didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was because they were simply not a credible association—

Wait a second. They’re not a credible association.

Jessica’s insides fluttered as the answer she’d been looking for stood up from the crowd of ideas in her head, turned around and slapped her straight across the face.

Of course the Wangshafts would let her go. Of course they’d spare her and not Ralf.

“We can’t be seen to be getting soft on your kind, there’s certainly capacity to reduce the situation to something less… media intensive shall we say.”

Her kind. They thought she was one of them. They thought she was part of the Truth Society and thus, they thought she wasn’t credible.

She ran to her closet and starting throwing on random things. That top she’d been gifted by a hostel owner on her travels. That skirt that she’d found in a dumpster. Those yellow welly boots that still smelled a bit like the mink farm she’d infiltrated.

This was a such a risk. It was crazy.

But if she investigated any of her theories in any way that was deemed serious, she could kiss her life or her freedom goodbye, she was sure of it. If she wanted to solve this mystery and get out alive, perhaps she had to be entirely the opposite of credible.

Perhaps she had to ensure that nobody would believe a word she said.



Seth had left Faith sulking in the penthouse as he’d set out to seize the day. He never told her where he was going when he left her, never even gave her a clue, allowing her to fill in the blanks with her own inadequacies. In these uncertain times, having her question herself was far preferable to having her question him.

The Devil only knew he was questioning himself enough. He had been swinging like a pendulum between extremes of mental acuity since the floodgates had opened. And yet for everything he’d learned, for the damage it was causing to his finely balanced psyche and the apprehension of what else lay beneath the surface, he couldn’t stop digging. He could not simply give up. He had to know everything.

He had started his day by retracing his steps, the last he remembered of his life before capture, by heading over to the farm he remembered as Angeline’s home.

It had changed an awful lot from his recollections.

It was a hamlet of tiny independent stores selling overpriced handicrafts and unidentifiable foodstuffs. Angeline would’ve probably been delighted with the modern reimagining, however, Seth felt nothing but frustration.

There was nothing here to go on, no clues to collect, no hint as to what might have happened three centuries prior. Just bright colours, strange people and some sort of eardrum-bashing racket bleeding from a set-up in the centre of the courtyard.

A woman was hollering over the top of this din in a strained rasp, “Tickets! Get your tickets here! Hey you! Pirate!” she choked out, pushing her clearly collapsing lungs to their limit as Seth strolled past, “You look like you’re into Kaz Traitors! Want to buy a ticket?”

Seth had absolutely no idea what she was offering, but if it had anything to do with that godawful noise, he wasn’t interested. He walked past without acknowledging her, causing her to tut loudly.

“Yeah, you keep walking, Long John Silver. Go listen to your sea shanties.”

It was so petty, so uncalled for. He rounded on her, intending to save the health service a chunk of change by performing the laryngectomy that she clearly needed, but as he did, he noticed something.

That logo, that tattoo. He’d seen that somewhere before. He’d seen it that morning in the bedroom, in fact… and later that morning, in the hot tub.

Faith had a matching one, he was certain of it.

“Your branding,” he stated, pointing at the woman’s arm. “What is that?”

The woman glanced at her tattoo, then back at him. She rolled her eyes like he was the stupidest man on the planet asking a completely ridiculous question. “That’s the logo for Kaz Traitors.”

Seth looked at the poster and listened carefully to the woman’s thoughts. “Ah, we’re talking about a band.”

“What the fuck. A ‘band’,” she repeated, insulted. “They’re more than just a band. They are a way of life. Listen,” she whispered, fading out on a hoarse breath, allowing the ‘music’ to violate his ears for a few moments, uninterrupted. Some woman, with a lung capacity far exceeding that of the miserable ticket vendor before him, assaulted his aural faculty from the speakers with words he could barely distinguish.

“Aggressive poetry,” raspy woman sighed adoringly as the song ended. “God, I’d fucking marry Blu if I could. A band. Seriously. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, too – they usually play stadiums, arenas. They don’t ever play such intimate, secret little gigs. But our tour bus broke down and we’re stranded here tonight. Might as well thrash it out, yeah?”

“Once-in-a-lifetime,” Seth mused.

“For one night only. You interested, Blackbeard?”

Seth couldn’t think of anything he’d like less than spending an evening listening to this clangour… except perhaps for spending yet another few hours toiling between Faith’s insatiable thighs. Perhaps he could ditch Faith in the crowd and collect her afterwards, buy himself a few blissful hours of solitude after dark and simultaneously have her eating from the palm of his hand.

He straightened his hat. “I am interested. I’ll take two tickets.”

“Ace,” the woman said and erupted into a coughing fit, muffled by her fist. She opened her hand to examine the output, still convulsing. “Ugh, fuck.”

Seth raised a single eyebrow. “You should see a doctor.”

“You should mind your own business.” Without a care, she wiped her palm on her trousers and fished two tickets from her pocket. “Three hundred simoleons,” she managed, with her shredded vocal cords.

Seth had this much money. He had plenty more than this but he was hardly going to fork over cold, hard cash for such trivial things. He gently pried open the receptive mind of his target and purred at her, “I’ve already paid, Mandeep.”

This moment never got old. He watched Mandeep accept this altered reality without question, adjusting herself to accommodate his meddling. “Yeah, you have. Duh.” She handed over the tickets and Seth swiftly pocketed them, before anyone around could notice anything amiss.

Seth had had no real prior intention of sapping her, but trapped in her swaying daze as he freely perused her mind, Mandeep became something other than an aggressive ticket machine with a hacking cough. She knew some interesting facts about this band, about the metal subculture in general, things that perhaps could help Seth win further easy favour with his fickle fledgling.

“Quit staring at me – I ain’t interested.”

He was positive that Mandeep would taste absolutely disgusting, but he’d likely had worse.

He didn’t even bother to offer her any of his unrivalled charm or a reason. He simply ordered her to follow him, and she did.



After being bombarded with information about their new housemates and with the weight of the day heavy upon them, April and Melinda needed to rest. Sage had offered them the guest room announcing, in no uncertain terms, that it was a ‘girls only’ zone, their private space.

Caleb gave April a brief kiss on the cheek and watched her follow Melinda to this forbidden realm.

He itched to go after her. Now he’d seen how it affected April, being away from him, he never wanted to let her out of his sight again.

He watched the pair cross the hallway, drinking in the divine vision that was his beautiful little vampire wife. She threw him a shy little glance over her shoulder before disappearing behind the painted, wooden door.

How the hell was he going to cope with Sage’s rule of ‘no hanky-panky under my roof’ when he was trapped under her roof with such a temptress? How was he supposed to function now that April’s hair was once again as soft as silk, just waiting for him to glide his fingers through it? Those little socks she was wearing; he’d rip those off with his teeth.

And that skirt. Holy hell. That thing was begging to be bunched up around her tiny waist…

He sighed and went back into the sitting room to join the others, trying desperately to ignore the throbbing in his… head.

“Can binding be undone?” Wyatt asked, piquing Caleb’s interest. Sage’s watery, green eyes scanned Caleb, like they could see through him before she replied.

“Not amicably, I don’t think. The death of one party will undo it, but all the energy that remains, both good and bad, must go somewhere. And with April being naturally attuned, the remaining party would likely overcharge.”

That certainly did the trick to deflate his ego. “Great,” Caleb muttered. “So either way, we’re doomed.”

Sage clicked her tongue, an annoying habit she had. “Hopefully it won’t have to come to that; we can help you manage your commands and your power balance. We will make the best of everything until we can synthesise the cure, however long that may take.”

“Have you already started it?” Lilith asked. “I saw something in the cauldron.”

“That’s the eythrocyte elixir,” Broof explained. “Erythocytes are red blood cells—”

“I know what they are, Broompig,” Lilith spat. “I’m a doctor.”

Even Caleb clocked this hostility; he flinched as Broof opened and closed his mouth a few times, like a goldfish. “I apologise,” he said eventually.

Lilith ignored him and turned to Sage. “Do you still need to add a bucketful of blood at the end?” she smiled cruelly, no doubt watching the spellcaster men squirm out of the corner of her eye.

“Woah! What?! The recipe states ‘an offering’,” Wyatt gasped, turning white. “A bucketful?!”

“The bigger the serving, the better the result,” Sage smiled sweetly, as if she were discussing a cake simple recipe. “Yes, that’s the one. We should have a viable batch by July—”

“We’ll have one by Friday at the latest,” Wyatt corrected, still ashen.

Sage clicked her tongue again and turned slowly towards her son. “How did you get the twice esbat-cleansed spring water already?”

“The what now?” Lilith asked.

“Freshwater that has been blessed at two full moons.”

“Oh.”

“Internet,” Wyatt said.

“The internet!?” Sage repeated in horror. “It’ll probably be sheep’s urine or something!”

Wyatt huffed, the colour finally returning to his cheeks. “Nah, it’s totally legit. The store’s run by a coven in Sulani. I buy all sorts from there and only rarely grow extra limbs,” he joked.

Sage tutted and tossed her curls back. She seemed irritated by this knowledge, but Caleb must have been interpreting her face incorrectly. “I see,” she said smoothly. “In that case, we should have enough elixir by Friday to last for a few months—”

“So then we can start on the vampire cure,” Wyatt interrupted. “I’ve checked all the books and there’s no recipe for it—”

“No, there isn’t,” Sage agreed. “It will be difficult to—”

“—but I’ve done some thinking and Hoggy’s done some research and we think we can modify the plant feed potion,” Wyatt carried on as if his mother hadn’t spoken.

“The plant feed potion,” Sage repeated quietly, scrunching her skirt in her fist.

“Yeah, y’know, the one that revives dead plants? With modifications, obvs. Probably need to throw in an offering to appease death or something.”

“And an ingredient to satisfy the curse,” Broof jumped in. “So, more blood, I guess.”

“No,” Wyatt said, thinking aloud. “You can’t use bodily fluids in a spirit-based potion; it’ll corrupt it. Remember when Ma sneezed into her affirmation brew and turned herself inside-out? Plants and minerals only, dude.”

“Maybe there’s a rock that might work then. Bloodstone maybe?”

“It’s worth a try,” Wyatt agreed. “I just hope by that point that we have enough brain power to figure it out. Even with the elixir, there’s still four vampires and only three of us. Maybe we should get another donor.”

Sage sighed. “And who under the moon do we know who we can trust with the knowledge of who we all are, what we’re doing and who would be willing to donate daily?”

Lilith smiled. “I might know someone.”



“Hello?”

“Lilith!”

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Chapter 2.43 – And Blow

Note: drug use, description of medical procedures

In his pink, plastic, shell-shaped seat at the gurgling bubble machine in the technicolour basement, Caleb awaited further instruction. Wyatt – who was starting to smell a little less offensive – had decided to join him and Roxie, but Caleb had no idea who the bearded man sitting beside him was. He looked to be in deep thought, eyes cast down, possibly contemplating the pattern of the carpet.

Caleb could understand that; the carpet tiles were placed around seemingly randomly and didn’t match anything else. Why? Did it have a hidden meaning? As he, too, gazed down, allowed his vision to grow hazy and the colours to blur, an image materialised before his eyes.

What the hell?

Roxie’s sugar cane voice broke through his confusing… hallucination?

“OK, so you take the nozzle,” she said, demonstrating expertly. “Inhale gently and then blow.” She drew up through the mouthpiece and pouted, pushing a stream of bubbles from those glossy lips of hers.

“Like so.” She smiled, watching the bubbles as they floated and popped in the air. She blinked lazily and rolled her head towards Caleb. “Everyone reacts to this a little differently. For me, it makes me a little light-headed, but also makes everything amplified at the same time. I get all my best ideas on this stuff.”

She reached up to replace the hose and settled back into her squeaky chair. “It makes Saul here fascinated with flooring,” she explained, giggling and gesturing at the mute, bearded fellow, who didn’t respond. “It makes Wyatt think he’s a magician, but most things do, hey Wy?”

Wyatt only blew a cloud of bubbles in response.

“And, well, you can see what it does to Billy ‘Libre’ behind me,” Roxie whispered. “He definitely had clothes on when he arrived. So, fancy giving it a go? It’s OK if you don’t.”

Caleb nodded, shrugged off his intrusive thoughts of April – who in his mind was now sitting on the floor, screaming – and lifted the hose nearest to him.

He was very much hoping that he’d be the kind to get good ideas or to feel magical, but had a feeling that he, too, would end up stripping to his underwear at some point. However, the way no one batted an eyelid at the strange, almost nude guy dancing around in the wrestler mask told him that, whatever the outcome, he was in good company.

Inhale gently and blow.

His body had no need to breathe so it didn’t happen naturally, but Caleb could move air through himself if he tried. It would look a little peculiar and laboured if anyone paid a great deal of attention, but nobody was. Roxie was tainted by allure, Wyatt was staring at the ceiling, the mouth tip pinned between his gritted teeth and an almost constant stream of bubbles emitting from around it and Saul was still fixated on random things.

Caleb took a forceful breath, a practice one, feeling his withered lungs burn with the effort of trying to expand. He held his breath for a count of three and then pushed it back out, his torso convulsing with the effort.

Holy hell. It had been a long time since he’d moved more than the air required to talk; a full chest was such a strange sensation. The cavity behind his ribs felt warm, damp and tingly. Is that how it felt to be alive? He wondered, if he started breathing often enough, would it stop feeling so strange? Would it become habit?

He psyched himself up to go again.

“Gently,” Roxie instructed although Wyatt was blatantly ignoring this advice.

Here goes nothing.

“It worked!” he gushed, his voice unusually breathy-sounding. The bubbles danced before him, drifting skywards.

“It worked,” he repeated quietly, watching the orbs vanish and the multi-coloured lights play across the ceiling.

Roxie cheered. “Yeah! Well done you for not choking on the stuff, like most newbies do. Oh no, Thor. No,” she said softly, as Caleb went to take another draw. “Let that one kick in properly, yeah? See how you find it.”

Caleb pointed to Wyatt and Roxie shook her head, clicking her fingers in time to the music. “Don’t follow his bad example. One way ticket to a bad trip.”

“Yeah, I’ll only lead you astray,” Wyatt grinned. “But I never have bad trips.”

“That’s totally tempting fate,” Roxie tutted, her head now moving in time to the music, too. “I’m gonna go dance. Do you like dancing, Thor?”

Caleb usually hated dancing, but right now he seemed to like everything. He nodded frantically. Roxie smiled at his enthusiasm and held out her soft hand. He took it without any hesitation; right at that moment, he’d have followed her to the belly of hell.



Chuck couldn’t wait in the car. Anxious and restless he’d been wandering around in the overgrown garden wondering what was taking Lilith so long. What if they’d attacked her too? How long should he leave it before he… before he did what? Stormed in to be swiftly murdered by Seth, or his own daughter? Called the police to no doubt have them be murdered instead?

He wrung his hands and clenched his jaw, causing pain to shoot down his neck. Gently, he pressed his fingertips to his throat and hastily pulled them away, but he still registered his new branding; the tiny, raw, raised bumps where he’d been bitten.

Where Mellybean had bitten him.

Despite everything Lilith had said to him, despite everything he’d thought or wanted to believe, these two little bumps made it real, made it terrifying. He couldn’t pretend now that vampires were simply sharp-teethed people. She was not Mellybean anymore. She had been taken by something dark, something sinister.

“She’s still Mellybean,” Lilith said, appearing beside him.

He nodded, but her words did nothing to soothe him. “Mellybean wouldn’t… she couldn’t…” he gestured to his neck, unable to speak the words.

“I’m so sorry,” Lilith whispered. “I shouldn’t have brought you here. I didn’t realise that she’d already… it doesn’t matter. They’ll be ready to see you one day. They’ll be controlled enough to be around you, eventually. They will,” she assured him. “Because they want to. But for now, I think it’s best that you leave.”

Chuck looked frantically towards the house. “But Seth—”

“He’s already gone. He took Faith, as expected,” she murmured, angrily. “I’ll get her back; it’s not too late. I’ll get Melinda under control. I’ll… I’ll do something with April, hell knows what, but I’ll fix this whole thing. The very second Caleb returns, I’ll move them all somewhere safe and then I’ll contact you.”

“You can’t do all of that on your own—”

Lilith bristled, clearly offended by his insinuation. Her eyes flashed black and he balked. Stop provoking vampires, he rebuked himself. She looks as cute as a button, but she could probably butcher you barehanded.

“I could,” she said sternly. There was the briefest flicker of amusement over her features before her cold frown returned. “I’ll be in touch. Shush!” She held up her hand to silence him before he’d even opened his mouth. “This is not up for discussion, Chuck.”

Chuck wanted to stay, he wanted to fight, he wanted to help. But he knew it, she knew it. He couldn’t do anything. “You’ll call me?”

Lilith nodded.

He nodded back, scuffed his shoe in to the floor. “Thank y—”

Don’t.





Nothing April was saying was making Melinda feel any better, but the sound of her voice was its own kind of soothing, she supposed.

“I did accidentally kill Mother,” April offered; her own brand of helpful. “And I’ve seen how Caleb can lose control in an instant. It is super easy to mess up, Mel. I think it’s just the way we are and we just have to try extra hard not to murder everyone. Don’t feel bad.”

Melinda pressed her thumb into her temple and pressed down. Yes, she definitely still had a brain, so why was she constantly feeling like she didn’t? She carried on nodding at appropriate intervals as April wittered on about how it was easier to not kill everyone if you mesmerised them first.

“I didn’t know how to mesmerise when I drank from you or Faith or Broof. You were tasty but then you freaked out so I only got a little sip and that sort of put paid to that. And Faith didn’t taste very yummy at all. She tasted all bitter and we were in an alleyway next to a smelly dumpster, so the whole thing was unpleasant. Broof tasted good too, a bit like you, I wonder if that’s because you’re both nice people.”

Melinda groaned. She felt the complete opposite of a ‘nice person’.

“But Broof didn’t freak out, like you did. He was super calm. Oh my goodness, I could have killed him, couldn’t I?  Luckily, he managed to stop me. And then I mesmerised Mother by accident, but still killed her.” She paused, thinking. “OK. Maybe it doesn’t work every time then. But every time since then I’ve mesmerised and it’s easy to stop. Like it neutralises them somehow—”

“It does,” Lilith said, slipping into a vacant seat at the table. “It takes away their fear, calms their hearts, prevents their bloodstream being flooded with hormones. Epinephrine, endorphins, heck, even dopamine and serotonin if you have allure or find the right prey. It’s the hormonal spike that makes it hard to stop drinking. We don’t produce many of our own, so feeling those emotional highs again, second-hand… it can be intense.”

“We don’t produce many hormones?” Melinda asked.

“No,” Lilith replied, anticipating Melinda’s next question. She turned to April who had clearly lost track of the conversation. “You’re not pregnant, April. You don’t make enough of any hormone required to ovulate or maintain pregnancy. It’s completely impossible.”

“But we did a test,” April said. “It was positive.”

“Then you drank from a pregnant human,” Lilith explained. “It happens; I’ve done it myself a few times. The sickness is a bitch, isn’t it?” She laughed, eyes sparkling with a memory. “You know, pregnancy hormones have a weird effect on male vampires. There’s a reason nature left the childbearing to females; half a day of sickness and breast tenderness and even undead men think they’re dying.”

“So, there’s no baby?” April asked in a small voice. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely certain. I can cut you open and show you, if you’d like? I’ll bet you’ve never seen a butterflied uterus, especially not your own.” Lilith brightened as an idea came to her. “We should do a live dissection. I’ve never cut open such a freshly-made vampire; it’ll be fascinating! We could repeat the procedure every few years, document the changes as you age. Imagine; a medical journal on the physiology of vampires. Melinda, you could draw the anatomy charts.”

“…Or not,” Lilith said. “I’d make it painless and you’d heal quickly. No? All right. Maybe some other time.”

April looked down at her abdomen and whispered, “Shoo!”

“Are you OK?” Melinda asked. April thought for a moment, then nodded.

“Yes. Thank goodness I don’t have to knit anymore!” she laughed. “But Caleb will be sad. He wanted to buy a fancy mansion, get servants to dine on and raise some beautiful babies.”

“Like father, like son,” Lilith muttered. “Where is he, anyway?”

“He’s at work,” April replied.

“He’s got a job?!” Lilith asked, looking a mixture of concerned and impressed. “Where?”

“A flower shop in the village square,” Melinda answered. “He finishes his shift at four, so I imagine he will be back soon.”

“A flower shop in the village?” Lilith repeated quietly, concern flashed across her face as she looked at her phone. “He should have been back hours ago; its half past six.”

“Oh no!” April gasped. “He said he was going to bring a present home for me. What if it’s someone else for the basement?”

“He’d better not be,” Lilith hissed. “How is your prisoner? Danny, is it? Let me guess; that was Caleb’s idea? The damn idiot! You have to remind him of things constantly or he thinks they’re not relevant anymore.”

“Danny is OK,” Melinda answered quietly. “We wanted to release him but he recognised April.”

“I see,” Lilith grumbled. “That complicates the situation. Seth could have erased his memory, but of course he wasn’t going to tell you that, the swine.”

“Seth can erase memory?” April gushed. “Wow! He’s super talented.”

“Oh, he’s just amazing,” Lilith sneered sarcastically. “Thank goodness he was here to save the bloody day.”

“Yes, thank goodness!” April beamed, missing the sarcasm. “He’s not very nice sometimes, but that was good of him. Can’t he do so much handy stuff? Like teleport!”

“…and lie,” Lilith muttered bitterly.

“…and control minds,” Melinda mused, the puzzle pieces slotting together, proving that she did in fact still have a brain. “Was Seth actually here the whole time? Because when I hugged my dad, I was actively trying not to, but I couldn’t fight it. Was he controlling me? Would he do that?”

“Probably. Neither April or I could get off the floor, you felt compelled to attack and then, on cue, that twat turned up to save the day. I doubt it’s coincidence.”

“But why?” Melinda asked. “He made Dad leave so he clearly didn’t want him to die.”

“Mind games,” Lilith huffed. “A way to simultaneously erode your opinion of yourself, make me look bad and make himself look like the only sensible choice. Add in that he got to play the hero in front of Faith. And it worked like a damn charm; she quite literally fell over herself to be whisked away by that rat bastard.”

Melinda was deeply saddened but not surprised by the news that Faith had left, she was only surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. Melinda only hoped that her friend would come to her senses one day, that she’d remember wanting to get herself under control for Joy’s sake.

One day, she would find her way back to where Melinda would always be waiting and they could go home.

Home.

“Poor Dad,” Melinda said sadly. “He- he’s OK, isn’t he? He understood why he had to leave?”

“He’s fine,” Lilith assured her. “You can use my phone to call him and your mother whenever you want. But next time you meet, it’ll be through a window with a phone, prison style.”



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Chapter 2.42 – Daughter

So this was ‘Chuck’.  Mother would’ve hated his name. She would have insisted on calling him ‘Charles’. But he was not posh enough to be a ‘Charles’. He’d tripped over the doormat as he’d entered and then said ‘fiddlesticks’, which made me laugh. Melinda says some funny words when she’s trying not to swear, but what are fiddlesticks? Why would you fiddle with a stick? It was such a goofy, old man thing to say.

“You must be April,” Chuck said to me. I waited for him to finish his sentence …Sandy Moss’s daughter. I stayed silent, politely, so he could ask me about her. “I must admit I was quite surprised…” that Melinda knew Sandy Moss’s daughter, “that Melinda had a friend I didn’t know about. It’s lovely to meet you. I can’t wait to learn all about you.” …r mother.

No?

I wasn’t really sure what was going on here. Was it a trap?

“I’m Sandy Moss’s daughter,” I blurted out.

He nodded. “I’m sure you’re more than that.”

Chuck turned his attention back to Melinda and I realised that I was just staring at him and I hadn’t even greeted him properly or anything.

“Hello Chuck! Do you need the bathroom? How was your journey? Would you like some soup?” I babbled. Oh my god. Again with the soup? What the hell? I thought vampires were supposed to be all dark and aloof and edgy. Why am I still this awkward thing? Admittedly, I never greeted guests at home; that was Broof’s job and I never paid attention.

Maybe he offered soup, too.

Chuck smiled at me and I could tell that he thought I was weird. “Hello. Just water is fine. Thank you, April.”

I headed to the kitchen area to fetch him a glass of water, cringing and listening to his conversation with Melinda. Within three sentences they’d both said ‘I love you’.

No one had ever said that to me. I’d said it to Caleb because he was my boyfriend, so it was right to, but even he hadn’t said it back yet. Literally all he’d done in the last couple of days was to take me up to his room and hold me for hours, while he talked about the future and I felt sick.

Was that love?

I stood and watched Melinda interacting with Chuck for a while. It looked so effortless and playful. It was so different to anything I’d ever experienced with my parents. It was almost like how Melinda and I talked.

Did that mean she loved me? Did I love her? Not romantically, obviously, because she was a girl, and girls can’t love girls. Thinking about it was making me sad, but I couldn’t stop watching them, because it also made me… happy?

Chuck looked nothing like I’d expected from Melinda’s and Faith’s descriptions. He looked very ordinary and nothing at all like Melinda, but I guessed that was because Melinda was adopted.

He was a soft-looking man, wrinkled with nice eyes. Friendly eyes. He looked like he’d be smiling even if he wasn’t really smiling. A bit like Mother used to, but not in a fake way; in a natural way, like his soul was happy. It was hard to explain, but I liked him very much.

He’d made Melinda smile for the first time in ages. Properly smile, not that sad little smile she does. I don’t know why I expected any differently, but physically, Melinda and her Father looked nothing alike. But I could tell they were bonded.

They stood alike, they smiled alike. When they talked, they even somehow sounded alike, even though Chuck’s voice was warm and boomy and Melinda’s could have probably been best described as ‘squeaky’. Sometimes, when she’d get super excited or angry, she’d get so squeaky that it was almost impossible to discern her words.

She was so funny.

Then again, no one ever said I looked like my parents, except that guy with the nice eyes back at that club who said I looked like Mother. Maybe I was adopted, too.

When I first found out Melinda was adopted, way back when, I didn’t even know that was a thing; that children could be taken from one family and put with another one. I sometimes wished that had happened to me, but maybe it did. I never felt like I belonged in that family.

I made myself a promise, then, that my baby would feel like she belonged. That I would tell her that I loved her and I would track her down if she ran off with a vampire because, looking at Melinda and Chuck, right at that moment, I understood that parents should do those things.

The two of them were having a little casual catch up after the whole ‘OMG you’re really a vampire!’ bomb had been dropped; standing apart just inside the doorway. Lilith had told Melinda not to touch her father, and he looked like he’d received the same instruction, but both were twitching in the direction of the other, like magnets fighting to connect. Like, not touching was weird, which knowing Melinda it probably was, as she always hugged everyone.

I felt so bad that she couldn’t hug him because of me. I really wished that she could. I really, really wanted her to just be able to hold him, just for a minute.

That was another thing I would do with my baby, then. I would hug her all the time and then she’d turn out as good as Melinda.

I was so preoccupied in this daydream about being a non-shit mother, that I only superficially registered that Melinda had her arms around her father. Oh no! Lilith explicitly told her not to touch him! Should I say something?

Lilith was thoughtfully looking at some wood carvings on the fireplace. Maybe I had missed some conversation, a clearance while I was daydreaming; that happened a lot. Maybe Lilith had decided that actually it was safe. Melinda was super controlled, after all. She was hardly going to bite him.

Chuck was rocking Melinda in his arms, cooing soft words to her about how special she was and how he’d missed her and joking that she was ‘popsicle cold’.

And then he went quiet.

It took a minute for me to register what was happening, and I only really knew because Chuck was gargling in that way that humans do when being drunk from, like they’re trying to tell us to go away, but can’t.

But Melinda couldn’t have been drinking from him. She wasn’t even in dark form, she’d never drunk from Danny’s neck and Lilith was standing just there.

Surely she’d be intervening if Melinda was attacking Chuck. Wouldn’t she? I must’ve been misunderstanding something, I must have.

“What’s happening?” I asked, but no one answered me. “Melinda? What are you doing?” I muttered, reaching for her arm.

Her skinny arm swung out, making contact with my torso. At least I think it did. It all happened so fast. The force that she struck me with and the speed at which she hit me sent me literally flying.

“Melinda!” I cried out, from shock, from horror, rubbing my ribs which hurt so badly I wondered if they were actually broken. She had hit me; she had actually hit me.

I tried to fight against the overwhelming sadness and my brain’s default to ‘stay down’ because something was super wrong here. Chuck was pale and looking at me with pleading eyes. What was Melinda doing? Why wasn’t she stopping? Why wasn’t Lilith doing anything?

Had she noticed?

“Lilith! Do something!”

Lilith snapped round as if waking from a dream, focusing on the scene before her with an expression of pure horror. Immediately, she ran over and tried to pry Melinda from Chuck, but to no avail.

Melinda blocked and thwarted her every attempt; slippery and super-fast as she was now. Lilith was swearing and trying to place her fingers on Melinda’s temple, for some reason, but one swift swing from Melinda and Lilith, too was sent crashing to the ground.

I tried to get up, tried to help, but my body was not cooperating with my commands to get off the floor. Stay down, stay down, stay down! My brain shouted at it. It’s safer! Another thing I would do with my baby. Or rather, not do! I would never, ever hit her.

Lilith was trying to get up with the aid of a chair. But the stuffing had clearly been knocked out of her; the guttural noise she was making was terrifying, like she was fighting her own demon.  

So I did the only thing I could think to do, even though it never usually helped.

I screamed my bloody head off and prayed that someone would hear me.

I might have been screaming for seconds or hours, I have no idea. But as I watched Chuck wilting like a flower in front of me and Lilith make it to her feet, I heard heavy footfalls coming rapidly down the stairs behind me.

It sounds super stupid now, but seeing big, black boots arriving from a level that I thought was unoccupied, made me think of Father Winter. I imagined that he’d parked his sleigh and his reindeer on the roof and was coming to give Melinda a big lump of coal for not obeying Lilith’s instructions.

But it was not Father Winter. Obviously, because that would have been silly, it only being May.

Seth stopped abruptly in his tracks, looking as shocked as I felt, Faith clattering down the stairs behind him. Ever since the party, where he was super nasty to my friends, I have tried to avoid him when he’s visiting. But, oh my goodness, I’d never been so happy to see anyone as I was to see him right then.

With merely an aggressive-looking wave of his hand he had Melinda’s wrists pressed together behind her back, as if she were wearing invisible handcuffs, her head yanked back like someone had pulled her ponytail and then she dropped forward, and both she and Chuck sank heavily to the floor.

Close, but crucially, apart.

For a moment there was silence, punctuated by Chuck’s laboured breathing, Faith saying ‘fuck’ quietly, over and over and Melinda’s whimpers as she slowly seemed to lose consciousness. Then Seth’s voice roared out so loudly that the glasses on the wall shelf shook.

“Have you lost your damn mind?!”

I thought that he was shouting at me, or perhaps Melinda, but when I forced myself to glance up at his seething face, he was focused entirely on Lilith, who had finally managed to stand and looked to be in pain.

“Don’t shout at her; it was an accident,” I heard myself whimper, surprising myself at my audacity. If I’d spoken back to Mother like that, she’d have beaten me with the heel end of her shoe.

Seth shot me a look that stripped me of my newly found bravery. I folded into myself and fell quiet as he stormed to the door, dragging Chuck to his feet.

“You all right?” he asked. The edge was unmistakable in his voice but there was also almost a softness. Chuck nodded, clearly in shock, his eyes still locked on Melinda’s unmoving form.

“Is she all right?”

“She is, I’ve only immobilised her,” Seth assured him. “This is no place for you.” He motioned to the door, but Chuck didn’t move. Seth growled, pushing him outside, niceties gone, “Get out, Charles,” he muttered. “Before I tear out your trachea myself.”

“W-wait for me in the car, Chuck,” Lilith managed just before the door closed behind the human man, who couldn’t flee fast enough at Seth’s warning; she was clutching her side but remained stoic and upright as Seth shook his head, laughing at her.

“’Wait for me’?”

“I don’t know what happened,” Lilith hissed. “But I certainly could hazard a guess.” She glared at Seth, an accusation.

“You’d be wrong.” He sneered, looking first at Melinda, then straight at me. “What do you have to say for yourself?” he asked.

“I couldn’t stop her,” I whispered. “I tried.”

He stared at me a while longer, then turned his attention back to Lilith. “You bring him to death’s door and you’re surprised by the outcome?” Seth scoffed. “And, oho! You still expect him to wait for you. Will you ever change?”

“Will I change?” Lilith sputtered, aghast, gesturing at Faith. “Says you, with your new obsession. Faith, isn’t he just everything you dreamed of? Doesn’t he make you feel so damn good about yourself?”

Seth waved his hand dismissively. “Envy is not becoming, Lilith. Faith, I’ll be back for you at nightfall. I can’t stay in this house a moment longer with these goddamn hypocrites.”

Faith ran to him so fast that she stumbled and likely didn’t realise that she’d trodden on my fingers as she’d passed me.

Don’t leave me here with her. I don’t trust her.

Seth glanced both at myself and at Lilith as Faith spoke. “Faith—”

“Please,” she whispered. Take me with you. We don’t have to come back.

I tilted my head to my shoulder. Faith’s voice sounded different, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I couldn’t see her mouth from my position on the floor, so I wasn’t sure if she was just mumbling or something.

“Don’t go, Faith,” Lilith said, it almost sounded like a plea but she was smirking. “Trust me, he’s not what he says he is. He only cares about himself, about becoming more powerful. He doesn’t even want you, he only wants what he can take from you. Ask him! He can’t lie. Ask him if he even cares.”

Faith hadn’t even looked at Lilith when she’d spoken; she was rude like that. She continued to stare at Seth as she asked her question, but not the one she was instructed to. “Should I trust Lilith?”

Seth inclined his head, holding her gaze and replied, “No.”

“Seth… what?” Lilith began, her mouth hung open.

“She’s hiding something from me. She’s buried part of me. She is lying to you, to everyone around you. It’s all she does,” he went on.

“I have to!” Lilith screeched.

He waved his hand in a see? kind of way. “And, pray, why is that?” he snarled. At Lilith’s silence he shook his head, and dramatically groaned.

“A century of this bullshit. Is it any wonder I’m fed up? It’s always to ‘protect’ me, to prevent ‘corrupting’ me with this imagined threat of hers. It’s a lie; everything is,” he hissed, motioning to me again. I blinked, confused.

What did he mean by that?

“Ask me,” he said to Faith. “Go ahead. Ask me if I care.”

Faith spoke, her voice small and wavering, uncharacteristically unsure. “Do you care about me?”

Lilith laughed. Proper guffawed. “This should be good! Which deflection tactic are you going to go for this time? Or are you actually about to out yourself for the heartless twat you are?”

“I do care about you,” Seth replied softly and without hesitation, offering his hands to Faith.

“W-what?” Lilith stammered. “No! He’s lying! He must be!”

“You just said he can’t lie,” I pointed out, causing Lilith to turn her death stare on me. I cowered. “Oh! I don’t know who to believe,” I groaned, rubbing my head.

“I do,” Faith murmured.

“If you meant that,” Seth said, quietly. “Know that if you leave me with now, we won’t come back.”

Faith swept her gaze over Melinda, who was still slumped on the floor, and briefly over me. She turned back to Seth, slipped her hands into his, chin defiantly up, and nodded.

“Look nowhere else, right?”

Before I could ask what this meant, before I could say anything, a dark mist had risen from the ground, enveloping the pair and dissipating to reveal the spot that they had occupied now empty, save for the faintest wisp of black.

After staring at an empty space for ages, like a moron, I finally managed to work some words together as I crawled towards Melinda who was regaining consciousness.

“Melinda? Are you OK?” I asked, scooting my hands over the dirty stone floor as I crawled, allowing the abrasive surface to slough off the skin on my palms. A brief reminder that something was tangible in this huge, complicated mess. “Why did you do it?”

Lilith sank to the floor beside us, fixing me with another wilting stare as she gently stroked Melinda’s arm, coaxing her back to life.

I don’t think she had a choice, April.

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Chapter 2.39 – Fair Game

Note: Very dark topics and very bright shirts

“Right on time again; you’re certainly precise!” Sage enthused as she welcomed Caleb into the store. “You look just wonderful, Thor!”

Caleb wasn’t so convinced. The shirt he was wearing was easily the brightest garment he’d ever worn in his existence. He had modelled it for April this morning and hadn’t quite understood how to interpret her biting her nails as she’d told him that he looked ‘super nice’.