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 2.27 – Batshit Crazy

The hotel manager of the Glimmerbrook Grand had confirmed that the mystery man in their sketch was the man she remembered attacking her. Ralf had requested the CCTV and Jessica had been keen to get him back in the patrol car and on their way to Joe’s.

But, Ralf insisted that they needed to swing by the station ‘for five minutes’ which had turned into five hours and before Jessica knew it, her shift was over and she was no closer to finding out if her hunch was correct.

She had convinced Ralf to go to Joe’s first thing; it was so early that the sun had yet to rise and Jessica had giddily run towards the building from the car, sketchbook in hand, before Ralf caught up and gently pried the cheap pad from her grasp.

“Jess, I know you’re keen,” he began, walking towards the tavern. “But perhaps let me lead here.”

Jessica blinked at him in surprise, but was quick to concede to his authority, even if it aggrieved her. “OK. What do you want me to do, Boss?”

“You can— what the heck?!”

It took a few seconds for Jessica’s eyes to adjust to the dark bar, and then a few more to establish what was going on, by which point the lights had flickered to life above them and she saw Joe, giving her a cheeky smile.

“Morning, Joe!” Jessica called. “Check out the new wallpaper! I like what you’ve done with the place.”

“Wallpaper?!” Ralf whispered. “You are seeing the women near the fireplace, right?”

“Them? Oh, yeah. Judging by their head gear they’re GliTS.” At Ralf’s blank look, Jessica explained, “Members of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society. I considered joining once, but then I realised that they’re all—“

“Batshit crazy?” Fred uttered. “You’re telling me! Can’t enjoy a single beer in peace! They’re always freaking out over old Joe here and his naughty tricks.”

“Why Fred!” Joe gasped. “I have no idea what you’re talking about! It’s all paranormal activity of course!”

“Right,” Ralf said, looking uneasy. “Hey Jess, why don’t you go over and talk to those girls while I handle things here? See what you can glean from them.”

“Oh. OK, Boss. Sure, I guess.” Jessica smiled and headed towards the rear of the bar, but she suddenly felt like she’d forgotten to put clothes on. Why would Ralf ask her to chat to the GliTS? What on earth could she glean from them?

Unless…

Maybe this was some sort of test. Oh no, had she missed something? Did Ralf know something that she didn’t? Or was she simply so inept that this was his polite way of excusing her from the case?

“Calm, girls. Calm!” One of the ladies near the fireplace said to her two tinfoil-hatted companions. “It was probably just an electrical fault! It’s OK! Look, the lights are back on! It’s OK! Panic over. It’s OK.”

“Oh my gosh, Morag! I can’t take much more of this!” The one in the brown jumper said as she took a seat at a nearby table. “I’m too young to die!”

“You’re not going to die, Yibbo!” Morag said. “Ghosts don’t want to hurt us. Right, Pixie?”

“I don’t know!” Pixie said. “I just talk to them! They don’t usually respond!”

The women didn’t notice Jessica when she cleared her throat or said hello, so she plonked herself on the vacant seat at their table and inserted herself into their conversation. “It depends on a lot on the ghost. Some of them do intend harm, but one who is messing with electrical equipment is probably just trying to communicate with you, or maybe out to frighten you.” At the silence, Jessica continued. “That’s what it said in your recent newsletter, anyway.”

“I knew that! Of course I knew that, I wrote that article,” Pixie snarled. “Who are you anyway? Bit suspicious of you to turn up just as the lights go out, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes!” Yibbo gasped, her eyes shining. “That reeks of witchcraft!”

“I’m Jessica. And I don’t think I’m a witch, but maybe I am and maybe I did make the lights go out. Or come back on, as I assume they went off before I entered, but they definitely came back on once I was inside.”

“Hmm,” Morag mused. “I’m not convinced you’re a witch, but I do have a theory. Tell me, Jessica; have you ever had anything unexplainable happen to you before? Anything involving electricity?”

Jessica tapped her chin, thinking. “Oh! Yes! When I was a teenager, I was listening to the radio in the shower and it fell off the wall and mildly electrocuted me. Since then, I’ve heard voices. Mother said it was simply coincidence, but I always wondered; was it coincidence? Or was it some kind of awakening?”

The three metallic-headed women looked at each other, four raised eyebrows between them. Morag gave an almost imperceptible nod, which Yibbo reciprocated. Pixie looked between her two companions before she whispered, “Fine, I guess she can know.”

“Know what?” Jessica asked, holding her breath. Was this it? Did Ralf send her over here because he knew that she could infiltrate this group, decipher their codes and find all the answers to every mystery?

“There’s no such thing as coincidence,” Pixie murmured in a sinister fashion. “That’s what they want you to think.”

Jessica was still holding her breath. “What who wants me to think?” she asked, using up her residual oxygen.

Pixie leaned in so the men at the bar wouldn’t hear her. “The government doesn’t want you to know about the ghosts…”

“…the SBI try to cover up the witches…” Morag added in a whisper.

“…and the Wangshafts will take their knowledge of vampires to the grave,” Yibbo concluded.

Jessica sucked in a fresh breath. “You think there’s some sort of witch and vampire cover up?”

“And ghosts,” Pixie added. “Don’t forget the ghosts. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.”

“I can tell you’re sceptical, but think about it,” Yibbo whispered conspiratorially. “If it was coincidental, some events would be different, right? Left to chance, the outcome would, inevitably, vary. Yet, every missing person case is the same. They arrive here and they vanish without a trace. Your predecessors have never found a thing, although we have a theory about that, too.”

“Do you think the missing people cases have been covered up?” Jessica asked, her heart racing, thinking of Rose Smalley’s incomplete file.

“We don’t think it, Jessica,” Morag said, tapping her hat. “We know it. They say there’s a serial killer, that it’s a suicide hotspot or prone to weather anomalies. They say it’s all coincidence. But that’s not what the evidence says.”

“What does the evidence say?” Jessica said, barely louder than a breath.

Yibbo leaned in towards Jessica, as if entrusting her with a huge secret. “Witnesses have shadow memory of a monster who savages his victims. They have described a green-eyed succubus who lures men to madness and a little witch child who can turn into a cat. These woods are alive with supernatural activity, Jessica. Activity that seems to centre on this very bar.”

Jessica stared at Yibbo’s face, looking for any hint of irony. There was none.

“Where do the ghosts fit in?” she asked.

“Everywhere and nowhere,” Pixie said. “They are the souls of the victims of these beasts, doomed to roam the forests of Forgotten Hollow until the truth is brought to light. And we, the Glimmerbrook Truth Society, endeavour to uncover the truth, to free them.”

“Is that was this is about?” Jessica asked, pointing to the large, plastic ball on the table. “Were you holding a séance?”

“Is there a better way of figuring out how someone died other than asking them?” Morag enquired.

“Huh,” Jessica said. “I guess not. You know, I held a séance at college with my roommates. We were convinced that our dorm was haunted by a former student who would sneak into the kitchen at night and eat the cocoa powder straight from the jar. Nothing happened during the séance, but later on that night, my roommate was hanging out in the kitchen when the cocoa-eating fiend appeared.”

The three GliTS were hanging on her every word. “Who was it?” Yibbo asked, her eyes wide and curious. “What did she want?”

“It was me. Turns out that I was sleepwalking,” Jessica replied. “And I guess I just really wanted to eat cocoa powder.”

The women whispered between themselves for a while, exchanging more eyebrow raises and nods.

Pixie smiled. “My fellow GliTS and I would like to hold another séance with you present, Jessica. We feel that it’s likely that you are very receptive to spirits. However, this carries some risks. Morag?”

Morag sat upright, cleared her throat and reeled off her disclaimer. “Participation in communication efforts with the dead may result symptoms that include, but are not limited to, feelings of dread and/or fear, heart palpitations, possession of body, out of body experiences, mind control, insomnia, drowsiness, incontinence, kidney failure and death.”

“I see, ” Jessica replied, pressing her palm to her chest and tilting her chin up with pride. “For the souls of the mispers of Forgotten Hollow, I’ll risk it.”

Pixie nodded solemnly and Yibbo swiftly reached underneath the ‘crystal’ ball to press a button that caused it to light up. Pixie lifted her arms, closed her eyes and began swaying, like those inflatables outside car dealerships, while humming a little ditty that sounded remarkably like the Ghostbusters theme tune.

“Isn’t she amazing?” Yibbo whispered, excitedly.

“Oh, forlorn spirits!” Pixie called. “We seek once again to communicate with your kind! If you can hear me, give me a sign!”

The lights flickered. Jessica cast her eye over at the bar, but Joe had both hands occupied, pouring Fred another beer. He shrugged.

“I sense a disturbance!” Pixie called. “I can see… a young man. No! A young woman! She’s… running. No! Not running! Lying on the floor! She’s scared! No, not scared, she’s… she’s—“

Angry!” Jessica suddenly growled, snapping her head to her shoulder and lifting her arms in disjointed fashion. “Ugh! Ack! What is your reason for summoning me, poorly-knitted-jumper human?”

“What the hell?” Pixie gasped. “I mean, h- hello spirit! I’m Pixie. We wish to learn about you, to help you. Wh- who are you?!”

Jessica snarled and clawed at the air. “I am a powerful witch! I was killed by the one I loved and I am doomed to wander the earth until I find him!”

“Oh my gosh, Pixie!” Yibbo shrieked. “This is freaking me the heck out! Do something!”

“I… I don’t know what to do!” Pixie cried.

“Do anything!” Morag screeched. “Jessica! Can you hear me? Fight her, Jessica!”

Jessica continued to hiss and claw, vaguely aware of the digital beep across the bar that she recognised as Ralf’s phone.

Oops! You know what? I never liked him that much anyway. Always leaving the loo seat up. I’ll be on my way now. Farewell!”

Jessica stuttered dramatically and threw herself on to the table top. As the GliTS watched in frozen horror, Jessica took a sharp intake of breath and pulled herself upright.

“So, shall we start this séance, then?”

Ralf approached her, warily. “Um, Jess? Sorry to break up… whatever this is. A word. Outside?”

Jessica followed Ralf from the bar, keeping a straight face until the door had closed behind her. “Sorry Boss, I know I was making a scene. I couldn’t resist. All that nonsense about—“

“Jessica, they’ve found a body in the river.”

Jessica’s face lit up. “Wow, really? A dead one?”

“Jess—“

“My first dead body,” Jessica said. “What are we thinking? Accident? Homicide?”

Ralf sighed heavily. “They found him near the cinema, Jessica,” he whispered, watching her face as the penny slowly dropped. “They think it’s Chase.”

“Then we need to go straight there!” she pleaded. “Look for clues!”

We can’t do anything, Jessica, but especially not you,” Ralf said with uncharacteristic delicacy. “You may have been the last one to see him alive, you’d had a fight and you’re now doing his job. Look, I know you didn’t do anything but—“

Ralf continued to talk, his words drifting into her ears and merging with the inner voices who were all saying the same thing.

This is bad.



Thanks to the AE Truth Society members – MercuryFoam, Yimiki and ThePlumbob – for donating their simselves!

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Chapter 2.16 – Paranormal Pants

Lilith was never really one for singing, but as she climbed out of the taxi and headed towards Joe’s Bar, she unleashed a few verses of a song that had been chained in her head all day. She was singing in her mind, of course; she was the first to admit that, even after three hundred and twenty-one years, her crooning still somewhat resembled the sound of a banshee being strangled by a cat.

…You’re a mess tangled with your confidence, you think you haven’t sinned…

She remembered hearing this song recently, but couldn’t put her finger on where. Maybe it had been on the radio that morning as Chuck had driven her to work. She didn’t hear it at work; it was not the sort of tune they’d play on the ‘ambient clinic’ soundtrack, very much not the kind of music her clientele were into.

Which is one reason why she liked it so much.

…You can dig so deep for scars, you never knew your mind was dark…

She was thoroughly looking forward to a quiet drink but as she entered through the double doors, she became aware of increased mental interference. Not unusual in a public place and as quiet as Joe’s was, there was usually someone in there. But this sure sounded like a lot of someones.

“Oh my word,” Lilith uttered. The group paused to examine her as she entered before continuing their polite conversation about thermometers, but a bizarre tangle of thoughts from these strange-looking people hit Lilith at full volume.

A police cover up. Serial killer? More like alien abductions. A logical answer. What the boat did he put in my drink to make it glow so green? Ooh blimey, it’s suddenly cold with that door open. ALIENS. I wonder if Edwina knows that her hat is crooked. That chick in the gold top is hot, I should have worn my good shirt. The forests hold many secrets. Definitely aliens. GHOOOOOOOOSTS.

Lilith would have immediately turned around and walked out, if hadn’t been for Joe, who was silently begging her to stay.

Lilith took a tentative seat at the bar and subtly nodded her head towards the odd crowd with an inquisitive expression. Joe shrugged and hissed through his teeth.

“The Glimmerbrook Truth Society, apparently. They were in here last night too. They say they’re investigating ghosts, aliens, possibly werewolf or vampire sightings? They think it might be connected to the disappearance of those girls.”

“A load of balderdash,” Fred muttered into his beer. “Spooks and vampires, I ask you! Bloody nonsense. If I were you Joe, I’d get rid of the lot of them. Nutters.”

“Not so loud, Fred. Can’t be fussy who I’m admitting now the guys from the mill are gone.” Joe looked towards the group before turning back and whispering “I’ve half a mind to rig a few things up in here, keep them interested. A few flickering lights, a bottle moving ‘by itself’ perhaps. Get their paranormal pants in a bit of a twist.”

Fred waved his hand dismissively at the bartender and turned to Lilith. “You don’t believe in all this crap, do you, Lily? Unicorns and little green men?”

“No,” Lilith replied. “I do not believe in either of those things.”

“Sensible girl.” Fred nodded. “Wouldn’t catch you gallivanting in the woods in a tin foil hat.”

“Why are they wearing the tin foil hats?” Lilith enquired. She’d encountered conspiracy theorists, supernatural hunters and paranormal investigators in her time, but this attire was new to her.

Joe leaned in and said, in a voice that wasn’t entirely sincere, “It stops their thoughts being probed.”

Lilith glanced over her shoulder.

Vampires would explain a lot. Maybe it’s zombies! The police department is an absolute shambles in this town; they couldn’t solve a crossword. I bet April’s kidnap was staged and that Sandy’s not really dead. Edwina’s hat is still crooked and it has a hole in it. I asked for diet soda and this is not diet – is the barkeeper trying to send me a message?

“It bloody doesn’t,” she mumbled.

Lilith did not enjoy living in the heads of others, especially when they made no sense whatsoever. She could tune in on an individual to ampify their thoughts, but she couldn’t switch off the general hum of musings from everyone else in the room. It made being in any public, populated space a nuisance.

She tried to focus her attention on the sound of Fred’s voice; his drunken, drawling rant about the state of the world, but even then she had to focus to hear his spoken words. He may have been speaking fondly about the ‘good old days before nonsense’, but he was thinking about having to take his bath in the back yard as a child, too and neither topic interested her. Lilith couldn’t help herself from dipping back into Strangerville over in the corner.

There must be some evidence left behind. How can hundreds of people disappear without a trace? Where are the remains?

Most of them are in the crypt, Lilith thought. I should really get round to clearing that out.

The quiet thrum of conversation behind her ended abruptly as the girl in the pink shirt, who appeared to be the leader of the group, gasped.

“Did you guys hear that?”

At the blank looks around the table, the girl waved her arms in an excited fashion. “Guys, I think something’s trying to communicate with me from beyond the grave! I’m sure it just said something about clearing a crypt! And I have the weirdest headache, it’s like… pins of static?”

Shit.

There was a murmur of excitement amongst the metal-hatted weirdoes, before pink shirt spoke again. “Edwina, have you got your EMF meter to hand?”

Lilith wasn’t sure what an EMF meter did. Could it detect her telepathy?

“No, I left it in the van.”

Phew.

“Well, go get it!”

Shit!

Lilith downed her glass and dismounted from her bar stool, bumping straight into one of the oddballs, presumably Edwina heading towards her van. As their bodies inadvertently contacted, Lilith became painfully aware of the woman’s heartbeat and took a step back.

“Oh my gosh!” Edwina shrieked.

Shit, shit, shit. Lilith realised that, one-on-one, the hat seemed to be working; she didn’t know what this woman was thinking at all. She’d have to make one for when Seth inevitably returned.

“It’s in my damn pocket!” Edwina laughed and pulled out a bizarre device from her cardigan. It caught on the yarn of her garment and she cussed, swiftly handing the unusual machine to Lilith. “Hold this a sec? Thanks.”

As the woman hastily wound the loose yarn and tucked it back into the weave of the fabric, Lilith stood awkwardly with this rapidly beeping thing in her hand. She was staring at Edwina’s hat, which was indeed crooked with hole in it, and wondering how she always seemed to end up in these situations.

“Oh, it likes you!” Edwina said, retrieving her chirruping device. Lilith glanced at the other four freaks who were looking at her with interest. “You must have some funky supernatural energies around you!” Edwina mused, waving the thing around Lilith. “Look at these readings!”

“That’ll be my pacemaker. Don’t get too close! Wouldn’t want my heart to stop,” Lilith said, clutching her chest. She had no idea if pacemakers were affected by these devices, but clearly, neither did Edwina.

“Oh, shoot! Sorry! Are you OK?” The woman hastily switched off the beeping device and repocketed it, causing her companions to lose interest and resume their conversation about pink shirt’s apparition. “Hey, are you local?”

Lilith nodded but inched towards the door, implying she didn’t have time to chat. A gesture missed by Edwina who followed, keenly. Clearly she had piqued the interest of this wool-wearing weirdo.

“Can I ask you some questions? I promise, no electro-magnetic probing, or probing of any kind, unless you ask nicely.” The woman laughed at her own joke; it sounded like a donkey braying.

“No, I really must be going—“

“I’m Edwina and I’m a member of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society,” the woman continued, as if Lilith hadn’t spoken. “We’re out here to get to the bottom of all the disappearances in the area. Too long have we lived in fear of the unknown; the people of Woodland Borough demand the truth! Have you ever experienced any bizarre occurrences in these woods? Heard any strange voices? Encountered any unusual creatures?”

Yes, yes and hell yes. “No. Can’t say I have. It’s always dead around here. Quiet. Very quiet. Boring, really. I must be off.”

Lilith had tried to smile but could feel that her face was doing something unusual instead. She noted Edwina’s gaze scanning her eyes, her nose… Lilith hastily turned on her heel and left before the woman could notice her fangs.

Out in the night air, Lilith paused, kicked her boot into the ground. Where would she go to drink overpriced absinthe now that the only bar for miles, that didn’t have CCTV, was overrun with weirdos?

She sighed. She could call those strange people all the derogatory names under the sun, but they weren’t spending their existence in limbo, not quite alive or dead enough for either world. That noisy little device knew that there was only one anomaly in that bar.

“Doctor Lil? You got a sec?”

Lilith snapped round to see Joe standing behind her. Joe would never usually leave his bar unattended, especially when Fred was there. Unless…

“Is Fred OK?”

“What? Oh, yes, he’s probably helping himself to the lager, no matter. I couldn’t talk to you in there, but I thought you should know. The police were in earlier, looking for Caleb.”

“Why?”

“He punched Dale on Saturday night. They were in here on an assault enquiry, but Dale was a mess, probably looking at battery.”

“What, what, what?” Lilith asked, hoping this was a wind-up.

Joe’s face was deadly serious. “Never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t watched the whole thing. Never seen a punch quite like it, Doc. Knocked Dale flying from his barstool, it did, shattered his jaw. Luckily, Fred wasn’t in that night. The only other witness was Will and heaven knows what happened to him, so his word against mine, I guess.”

Lilith winged a silent thought to her absent brother. He wouldn’t hear it, this far away, but it made her feel better. Why not indulge in a spot of GBH before running off to commit a hundred murders? Great.

“You told the police all of this?”

“Oh god, no. You and your brother keep me in business. I lied through my teeth. Fred wasn’t quite so discreet, gave them your name…”

Now I’m involved! Great!

“Why would he punch Dale of all people?”

Joe shrugged. “Dale was talking about knocking boots with that Moss girl then, from nowhere, Caleb wallops him. Personally, I’d have thrown my fist at Wangshaft instead, but I think the message was clear enough, either way.”

And now your bloody name is probably tied to a high-profile murder and missing person case and so is mine! And here I was, thinking you could screw me over no more.

“Thanks Joe. I’ll… I’ll go right home now and,” throw things, “see what Caleb has to say for himself.”

“Are you all right, Doc? Your voice has gone rather high.”

“Oh, yes. I’m absolutely fine. Everything is absolutely fine!” she called, at least an octave higher than usual, as she walked off down the path.

Absolutely fine.

Fine!

“I’M FINE!”



Ralf had been home, had a shower, changed his clothes, eaten a burrito, got salsa down his shirt, got changed again, decided to watch a quick episode of his favourite TV show, then another because the first had ended on a cliff-hanger. Finally, he was ready to go and see what his good-for-nothing nephew was up to.

“Hey! Uncle Ralf!” Chase’s roommate – who was not Ralf’s nephew and whose name escaped him, greeted him warmly. “You looking for Chase? He’s not here.”

“He’s not here?” What was this idiot’s name? Martin? Marvin?

“Nah, just me,” the younger man stretched and yawned. “Chase went out with that Gemma last night.”

“Jessica,” Ralf corrected.

“Whatever. Must have gone really well, you get me?” He winked.

“It didn’t.” Marcin? Marcus?

“Yeah, well I haven’t seen him at all today. So, if that’s all you want, I’m gonna kindly ask you to—” he swept Ralf towards the door, but not before Ralf noticed something.

“Aha! Just you, huh? So who’s the second glass of wine for?” Merlin? Milton?

“Marshall?” Penelope called, entering the room. “What’s taking so long? Oh. Hey Ralf. Long time no see.”

“Wine’s on the table there. Take a seat, babe, I won’t be a minute,” Marshall said unperturbed. He turned back to Ralf, lowered his voice. “You know I love hearing all your herbicide stories, but I’m a little busy right about now, Uncle Ralf. Maybe chat later?”

“Homicide, you dimwit.” Ralf narrowed his eyes at Marshall. “Does Chase know you’re sleeping with his ex?”

“Hell no! I only found out today.” Marshall laughed. “And technically, we’re not sleeping, you get me? Besides, they broke up weeks ago and he’s been seeing that Gemma—“

“Jessica.”

“Whatever. And you know how it is when a girl like Penelope comes knocking on your door.” At Ralf’s blank look, Marshall shook his head, laughed. “It don’t matter that she came to get back with Chase, you get me? She starts taking her clothes off and look, I ain’t no genius but I ain’t blind. I ain’t gonna say no to her, am I?”

“No, I guess you’re not.” Ralf sighed, wondering what had happened to common decency. “I’ll see myself out. If you hear from Chase, get him to call me.”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 2.08 – Haute Cuisine

At 9am on a Monday morning Ralf did not expect a run-down bar on the outskirts of Forgotten Hollow to be very busy. As it had been every other time Ralf had set foot in this sad establishment, the place was almost deserted except for two people; Fred Wino, a local drunkard and the owner, Joe Taverner, who offered a friendly greeting.

“Officers! Welcome. Drink? On the house, of course.”

Ralf had hoped it would be a quick in-and-out kind of visit. Hopes dashed as Jessica took a seat at the bar next to Fred and opened her mouth.

“Got any snacks, Joe? I’m famished! The night I’ve had!”

Joe nodded, scanning his stocks under the bar. “We’ve got pork rind, beef jerky…”

“Jessie won’t want any of that,” Fred mumbled, clearly drunk. “Will you? She’s one of them hippy types.”

Jessica smiled. “Got any crackers?” Joe nodded. “Crackers and orange juice for me then Joe, thanks.” She turned to Fred. “How’s life treating you Fred? Mum says she hasn’t seen you at the group for a while.”

“I don’t need no group,” Fred said, his words slurred. “And hey, I can’t complain. How is your mother anyhow, Jessie? Still seeing purple people?”

“Not now she’s back on the wagon and on these new meds. Although she’s still hearing the voices. They think that might be permanent…”

Ralf let Jessica’s voice fade into the background as Joe placed her orange juice on the bar and asked him again. “Drink, Chief? Think we’ve got some of that light beer, somewhere.”

“Beer? I’m on the clock, Joe. Just give me a piña colada.”

Joe clicked his tongue in his disapproving way and reached for the rum. “Are you here about those missing girls?” He nodded towards the television. “Because those goons at the SBI told me not to talk to anyone about them.”

“No, we’re not here about that festering cesspit of a case. We’re looking for someone. Does the name ‘Caleb Vatore’ ring any bells?”

Joe eyed the officer suspiciously before he casually replied, “Can’t say it does.”

Fred scoffed; his attention diverted away from his riveting conversation with Jessica. “You know Caleb, Joe! Lily’s brother. Young fella, funny hair, always in here looking sad, necking that green stuff.” He waved in the general direction of the back bar. “What’s he done?” Fred asked, eyes wide, pleading for gossip.

“It’s an assault allegation,” Jessica replied with a mouth full of crackers.

“Nah,” Fred laughed. “You’ve got that wrong. Caleb? Assault someone? Softest beggar I ever did meet; wouldn’t say boo to a moose.”

“Goose,” Joe corrected. “The phrase is ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’.”

“Why would you say boo to a goose?”

“Why would you say – never mind. He socked Dale on Saturday. Allegedly,” Joe hastened to add, glancing at the officers. He cleared his throat. “I wasn’t watching at the time.”

Fred suddenly sobered up as he registered Joe’s words. “I missed a brawl? Between Caleb and Dale of all people?” He whistled. “Well, shit a brick! Excuse my language, Jessie.”

Joe shrugged. “I didn’t see it. Heard Will and Dale talking crass about that Moss girl, again—”

“I told you! Will’s involved!” Fred said triumphantly, whacking his fist on the bar. “Why else would he do a runner?”

“I slipped out to make a call,” Joe went on, ignoring Fred’s outburst. “Then when I come back in, Dale’s spitting blood all over my clean floor and Caleb’s gone. Might have been Will who punched him, for all I know. He didn’t even check if Dale was OK, he just left.”

“Wangshaft? Nah, only assaults women, that one,” Fred spat, angrily. “The git. Still, more likely to be him than Caleb. Lives with his sister for sod’s sake and takes his drinks in them poncy glasses.” Fred looked at the half coconut that Ralf was drinking from. “No offence, officer.”

“Do you have any CCTV?” Jessica asked, looking around.

“Nah, never got round to installing any,” Joe replied. “We don’t usually get trouble in these parts.”

Ralf snorted.

“It could have been Will who clobbered Dale,” Joe murmured. “Dale wouldn’t admit that; too afraid of the Wangshafts.”

As was everyone. Ralf finished his drink and stepped off his bar stool. “Might as well close the case now then,” he muttered. “Drink up, Jess. Let’s head back to the station.”

Jessica obediently downed her orange juice and shovelled one last handful of crackers into her face before hopping down to follow Ralf from the building. They stood together out front and Ralf took this moment to get his words in before Jessica had finished chewing.

“Nice and easy. Done and done. You alright to drive us back, Jess? Good, let’s go.”

Jessica swallowed her mouthful. “Oh, you are good, Boss!” she gushed.

Ralf turned back, surprised. “I am?”

“Yes! The whole casual, ‘I’m your friend, forget I’m a cop’ approach? Absolute genius! Even going so far as to have a mocktail!”

Ralf wasn’t about to admit anything to the contrary. “Well, you have to know how to handle these things…”

“For sure! I am learning so much! All that information we gleaned about our mystery man.”

Ralf didn’t have a clue what she was on about. “So much information! Let’s test you, what did you pick up?”

“Oh! Put me on the spot, why don’t ya? Well, Joe’s first response was that Caleb socked Dale, then he backtracked, so I’m not buying that Will did it. Also, we know that Caleb Vatore is either this guy’s real name, or at least his main alias, that he lives with his sister Lily, I presume that must be the same Lilith Vatore we previously identified, right? Sounds like Caleb’s a regular here, necking ‘green stuff’ which must be absinthe. That’s strong; there’s no way he’s going to trek all the way back to Del Sol Valley night after night on that. No, they have a place around here, for sure. So now I guess we’ll be heading back to the station to compile a map of possible residences to check out, yes? Ooh, although if he punched him after they were talking about the Moss girl, maybe he knows April. But then if he did, this case wouldn’t have landed on our desks, right? SBI would be all over this Vatore guy.”

They would. Even less work for him to do. Might even make a 3pm clock off today. “Yes,” Ralf said. “Well done, Jess. You didn’t catch everything I did, but most things. As you’ve shown yourself so capable, how about I leave you to log all the details?”

“Boss, really?” Jessica’s eyes glittered, full of the hope and promise that Ralf had long lost. Or may have never had. He couldn’t recall.

“Sure, whatever. Consider yourself deputy for the day, why not?”

“I’m honoured! I’ll be the best stand-in deputy you’ve ever had! You’d better watch out, bad guys of the world! ‘Cause Deputy Jessica Spoon is here and she’s gonna take you down.



Lilith was still fuming. Chuck hadn’t accepted any excuses, any explanation of why he shouldn’t cook and prepare that wretched gift. She didn’t have the energy to mesmerise him or to argue and she could hardly tell him that it was a human organ. That the sick man who tormented her thought this sort of prank was hilarious.

Lilith had to leave the room to stew and to try not to pass out. She had reached a point where even she, with her deadened senses, could detect Chuck’s heartbeat from across the room. Her control was wavering; she needed him to hurry up and leave already and if that meant him eating that thing, so be it.

When she returned to the kitchen, Chuck was patiently waiting to tuck into his grim fare across the table from a place that been laid for her.

“I’m starving. It’s not haute cuisine, but I’m sure I’ll have had worse!” Chuck motioned for her to join him. “Please.”

“I’m not hungry,” Lilith huffed.

Chuck looked affronted and Lilith instantly felt bad as she took in his downcast features, listened to his hurt thoughts. She gingerly took a seat across the table from him, trying not to look at the dish he had served.

“Thank you. I appreciate what you’ve done, but I’m vegetarian,” she muttered.

Chuck laughed. “You could have told me that before! Can you still eat it if you pick off the kidney bits or is it a moral barrier?”

“Definitely the latter.”

If Lilith had a functioning stomach and she wasn’t made of ice and steel, she might have vomited. Instead, she closed her eyes against yet another wave of dizziness. She reminded herself that she only had to survive a few more hours. She’d take Chuck to Joe’s. She would somehow make it to work. She would grab one of the emergency O-negatives from the chiller to tide her over – to hell with the paperwork – and she wouldn’t pass out or turn feral while operating.

Then she’d carry on as before. Better than before. Free, at last.

Only a few more hours… I can do it.

She could sense Chuck watching her; he was in a house with a hungry vampire and he was worried about her.

He’s so kind. What a shame he’ll be prey. Probably Melinda’s; that’s how things always seem to go.

“When did you last eat something, Lilith?” Chuck asked. “You look pale.”

Of course I’m pale. I am a three hundred and twenty-one year old walking corpse. Lilith shrugged. “Couple of days ago? I don’t know. I’ll grab something at work. I’m fine, Charles.”

“You don’t look fine, you look like death.”

I am death and yet I am fine. I’m always fine. Go and find your ungrateful vampire daughter before she loses herself.

Shit. Did I say that, think it or project it? I can’t even tell.

“I should go and get ready for work.”

Lilith pushed her chair back and rose from the table, her head spinning in circles as she spiralled to the floor.

She sensed him moving, knocking over his chair in his effort to get to her as quickly as possible like a huge, clumsy dog clamouring to its owner. She felt him lifting her. Holding her.

His hands are like fire. Thumping fire.

He must have a death wish.

He’s too close.

“Don’t touch me,” Lilith hissed.

Chuck immediately let go of her waist but as he did she wavered again. He stood with his arms outstretched, his hands poised inches to either side of her, ready to catch her.

“I’m truly sorry but I couldn’t just let you fall.” His voice was so solid, so warm, so calm. The absolute opposite of what she was feeling. “Lilith, you can’t go to work and perform surgery like this. You’re not fine. You’re talking nonsense.”

He reached for her hand and she let him take it. He turned it over in his own. “You’re absolutely freezing,” he muttered.

He pressed his fingertips gently against her wrist in a few locations, growing more and more confused. She watched him without emotion, wondering how long it would be before she attacked him. Not long.

His touch seemed to burn her. She watched him trace her still veins, almost expecting him to leave blisters in his wake, her restraining threads slowly snapping. She heard him ruling out each logical explanation in turn until finally he had nothing left.

And neither did she.

“How?” he asked. “How is this possible?”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 1.48 – Self-Destruct

Violence, suicidal thoughts, Will (collective groan)

Joe looked up, expecting Caleb to take his usual chair by the fire, surprised when he took a seat at the bar.

“Bad day?”

“Just give me the bottle, Joe.”

Joe clicked his tongue. “That would be irresponsible of me,” he said, pouring one glass.

Caleb threw back his drink and Joe topped him up. “Trying to compete with your sister I see?” he joked. “I’m sure the pair of you are set to self-destruct.”

Caleb had chucked back his third and his forth. He could still see her.

He had left April staring into space in his bedroom. She had barely reacted when he’d broken up with her and had tried to follow him as he left; he’d had to beg her to not to. Somehow, he knew she was still there, by herself. He hoped that someone went home to her soon. Anyone. They could snap her out of this strange mood; convince her that she was better off without him.

He still couldn’t think of anything else. His mind had been pre-occupied with April Moss since he’d first laid eyes on her. He wondered if April would be his final thought.

“Get out. You’re barred,” Joe snarled at the patrons who entered.

Will casually crossed the room and dropped on to his regular chair as if Joe hadn’t spoken. “Gonna throw me out? No, didn’t think so. The usual, Joe.” Dale had followed his vulgar friend, like a shadow. Slipping in place beside him.

Joe mumbled to himself angrily as he poured two beers and set the glasses down in front of them. “Thirty simoleons,” he said. “Each.”

“I’m sure you just make up these fucking prices on a whim, Joe. No matter, gonna be buying this place in a few days.” He reached into his pocket and tossed the money carelessly on the bar, looking around for entertainment, noticing Caleb. “Hey, look who it is! Almost didn’t recognise you without your queer haircut, Vatore.”

Will nodded, amused by Caleb’s silence. “How’s your fit sister? You know she finally persuaded me to let her blow me, right? She’s crap at it, though. All teeth.”

Caleb clenched his jaw. He was used to Will throwing his weight around. He knocked back his sixth. April’s beautiful face still stubbornly clear in his mind.

“Hey, here we go,” Will said, nodding at the television.

Caleb looked up at the screen, where the news was rolling.

“They were all in here. The day before she went missing,” Joe said to Caleb “On the run? Shoot, do you think she actually killed her own mother? Do you think that’s what she’s running from?”

Caleb threw back his seventh.

“Oh, there she is, The Hole Of Forgotten Hollow. You know she’s turned to the game now? No self-respect.” Will smirked as Faith appeared on the screen. Caleb tried to remain in control, clenched his fist. How he’d love to throw it through Will’s face.

Will whacked Dale on the back as the channel displayed April, again. “Can you believe that this lucky bugger got April Moss in the sack! Look at her. Spoiled little princess must’ve been desperate for a bit of rough, am I right?”

“Well…”

“Come on man! Don’t hold back; give us all the details.”



Roxie was nowhere to be seen and the forest was deserted. Seth’s thirst was causing him issue however his main aggravation was a young woman with pale grey eyes.

Tonight had made it obvious; Faith needed change. Craved it. Seth could show her so much, teach her everything, gently lure her down the path of darkness. And if he got to enjoy the physical side of her, well, that was a bonus.

There were bonds to break in this endeavour, but he couldn’t just erase the memories of her family. Well, he could, but he wanted her to feel like it was her choice. It would take time, but they had it.

Alas, he knew himself well; time would cause his desire to manifest into yet another unhealthy obsession. It was somewhere he’d promised himself to never be again. But she was so tempting. He had always had a weakness for aggressive women, but one with so many secrets? What was a poor, mind-raping cretin like him to do?

Hanging around Hook Corner was fruitless tonight. He’d travelled instead towards the bar. It wasn’t his first choice to dine on the intoxicated, brawny men of Forgotten Hollow, but the night’s events had taken quite a toll and he could only hold out for so long.

It looked like he wasn’t the only one.

Seth sensed that Caleb wasn’t out here for his usual reason. Suspicion confirmed when that Wangshaft idiot headed down the path towards him.

“You’re a nut job, Vatore.” Will laughed. Caleb started to walk away, but Will followed. “What’s it matter to you if he fucked some rich bird? What’s she to you, anyway?”

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit,” Will said, blocking his path. “You don’t throw a punch like that for no reason; they’ll be finding his teeth for weeks. You know her, don’t you? April. You know where she is.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Really?” Will swaggered up. “Doesn’t matter that the cops are on their way to yours as we speak then, does it?”

Caleb was clenching his fists. “You didn’t.”

“Oh I fucking did.” Will feigned concern. “Couldn’t leave the poor girl trapped forever in your dungeon, could I?”

“I’ll… I’ll…”

“You’ll what?” Will was right in his face now. “Gonna suck me dry, vamp boy?”

When Seth hunted he would terrorise his prey and wouldn’t mesmerise them; their fear provided a most stimulating dining experience. But Will was the foolhardy type and Seth had been aroused enough for one night. He didn’t have to lift a finger to render Will mute and immobile. Seth smiled at Caleb and waved an inviting hand towards the helpless man.

“You first. Let the end be on my conscience.”

Caleb looked between Will and Seth. His rage turned to laughter. “What the heck Seth? You know I don’t do that.”

“Of course you don’t,” Seth humoured him, like he had all the other times. “But if you were to want to this time, do go ahead. No one need ever know. And I mean no one.”

Realisation dawned on Caleb. “I’ve done this before.”

“You have.”

Caleb shook his head. “I need to get back. The police know April is at mine, they’ll be there any minute.”

“They won’t. He was lying to you.” Seth smiled as he rifled through Will’s memories. “He doesn’t know where you live. Barely remembers where he lives.”

“Is that any way to speak to your wife, Will?” Seth tutted as he read. “Hell, we’d be doing everyone a favour draining this one.”

“I can’t…”

“Last chance.” Will’s racing pulse was starting to overwhelm them both. Seth watched Caleb fight with himself. He pitied the poor man, his tone far more gentle than usual. “We cannot be tamed, Caleb.”

“I need to keep trying,” Caleb vowed, walking away down the path.

“Well, that makes one of us.”



Before she had arrived home that evening, Lilith had been enjoying her day. Her new therapy was proving to be a hit. It was based on the flimsiest of research that said that losing a measured amount of blood was beneficial for the body. It was all a sham; the only bodies it would be benefitting were that of her vampire family, but it hadn’t stopped thirty senseless celebrities booking themselves in for ‘treatment’. She knew that Melinda would probably question the morality of it, but Lilith wished she’d thought of it years ago.

Now, after her unfavourable behaviour this evening in front of Melinda, her confrontation with Faith and her inability to reach Seth she was back to wondering what the hell her existence was becoming. There was not a thought to be heard in the dark house, so she assumed that April had joined Melinda and Caleb, after all. She found herself alone in her living room, staring at that plastic box. If she stared at it hard enough, maybe it would explode.

Lilith heard the front door bang shut and it startled her. She waited a while to see if her visitor would come in, but they didn’t. Cautiously, she wandered into the hallway to see Caleb, slumped against the wall looking like he’d had a long night.

“Caleb?” She took in his haunted expression. “Are you OK? What happened? Where are the girls?”

“Did you tend to April?”

“April?” she asked, a coldness taking over. “Why? What have you done?”

“What do you think?” he said quietly, sinking to the floor. “She’s in my room.”

Lilith glared at him. “Different,” she spat as she headed upstairs. “And you wonder why I don’t trust you?!”

April was sitting in the dark, staring blankly at the wall as Lilith entered. Lilith switched on the light and sat beside her on the bed. She looked mostly OK, physically; there was only limited damage that a vampire could sustain, after all. But that vacant, docile expression was a concern. From the little Lilith knew of April, calm was not one of her traits.

Lilith sighed. The touchy-feely side of this was always the bit she struggled with. And now that she had lost her ability to change memories, she’d have to do it the old-fashioned way.

Talking.

“How are you feeling, April?”

April rolled her head to look at Lilith, as if she was noticing her for the first time. “I’m fine. Is Caleb back yet?”

“You’re fine?”

“Yes. A bit bored.”

“Bored?” As Lilith thought about what the heck to say next, the room fell silent.

That’s when it hit her. She couldn’t hear any of April’s thoughts. Not one. She tried to probe but got heavy resistance. Familiar resistance. Almost… walls.

April smiled. “I’d really like to watch TV now.”

Lilith was hardly about to deny her that. “Go ahead.”

“Can you bring it up to me? Caleb told me to stay here,” April said, coolly. “So I must.”

“Right. I’ll go fetch that for you then.”

April nodded. “Thanks.”

Lilith closed the door behind her and stood on the landing trying to compose herself.

The blind, senseless infatuation between them. His sudden care for someone besides himself. Why hadn’t she seen it before? She managed to get down the stairs without screaming; an urge that became ten times stronger when she laid eyes on her pitiful excuse for a brother.

“Get up,” she ordered.

He knew better than to argue with that tone. Lilith watched as he scrambled to his feet.

“When you turned April, what exactly did that entail?”

He stared at her. “I already told you.”

“What you told me was a load of bullshit. What did you actually do, Caleb?”

Three hundred and twenty-one years of numbness and focus meant that very few things caused Lilith to shift form but this was certainly one of them. She tried to restrain the static that threatened to rip through her defences.

“I’m out of here,” he said, pushing past her towards the door.

“No, you’re not.” Lilith grabbed his arm, got a firm grip. She hadn’t had a hold on him for years; a sure sign that she was slipping form, that something was very, very wrong.

“Show me how you turned her. Let me in.”

“No.”

She twisted his arm up his back until the bone threatened to snap and shoved him against the wall. “This is not a request.”

He winced as the pain registered. He’d forgotten how strong she was; how she used to take down men twice her size with no effort. The static was emanating from her, penetrating his skull, hitting those god damn walls.

Caleb rested his head against the wall, spewing apologies that Lilith had no more patience for.

“Let me in,” she hissed into his ear, feeling him tremble. “You’re going to show me how you bound her before I rip your fucking head off.”

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Chapter 1.42 – Take the TV

Melinda had asked to have brandy at Winterfest. Her parents had argued in that playful way they did whenever they differed in their approach to parenting. Her mum had told her dad that he was corrupting her; her dad had told her mum that Melinda needed something strong to wash away the taste of dinner. They had reached an agreement; Melinda had been allowed one small brandy. She didn’t really enjoy it, but she had felt fine. She didn’t understand what the big deal was.

She finally understood. Ugh! Could the sun be any brighter?

She got to her feet, unsteadily. There were two absinthe bottles on the table; looking at it, she could taste it again, remember Faith giggling and trying to stop her having another. She didn’t really remember much of anything else, really. Gosh, she was parched. A thirst water surely wouldn’t quench.

“You OK?” Melinda asked, meeting Faith in the kitchen.

Faith’s face showed a flash of her true emotion before she switched back to her typical resting one. “Are you OK, Mellybean? Sore head? You look like death.”

Melinda would have delved deeper into Faith’s psyche but no, she was not OK. “I’m thirsty.”

“Yeah, I figured we’d all be pretty dried up this morning. We’ve only got two plasma packs left, so one for you, one for Blondie. Here.”

“Where’s April?” Melinda asked, taking her glass. She wondered if a cup of blood was usually a good hangover cure.

“Caleb took her to bed,” Faith said. Was there anger in her voice? Melinda couldn’t quite tell.

“Did he? Really?” She hoped that sounded sort of interested. Oh dear Watcher, was she going to be sick?

“I don’t think they did anything. Lilith pissed on their bonfire.”

“Faith, do you have to be so loud?”

Faith lowered her voice to a whisper. “We need to talk, Mel. I think Lilith’s done much, much worse to him, that she’s been mistreating him for ages, that—“

A heavy cloud of static caused Faith to snap her mouth shut.

Lilith smiled, brightly. “How are you both?”

The girls looked at each other. “Fine,” they answered, together.

“Good to hear it. I’d love to hang around and discuss the evening’s events with you.” She glanced at Faith. “However, your position has been compromised, so you’ll all be moving in with me, for a while. Go and pack what you need,” Lilith instructed.

“Compromised?” Melinda asked, rubbing her temples.

“Yes. Those guys you drank from, from the bar? They remembered where you reside and plan to turn April in for the reward money. Imminently. Clearly, I won’t be allowing that. I didn’t save her to have her drag us all down into hell. You’ll be much safer at mine. Let them see an empty house; they’ll think you’ve moved on.”

“But it’s day time? How are we supposed to get to yours?” Faith asked.

“Caleb can take you. He’s fast enough to get you there without too much damage. Provided he’s sobered up enough.” Lilith looked to Melinda, a question on her lips. She paused, changed her mind, turned to Faith. “Faith, can you please go and wake him? Seeing my face first thing in the morning always puts him in a bad mood. He’s in the smaller bedroom. You might have to give him a really good shake.”

“Um, OK, I guess.” Faith said and headed towards the door.

Lilith grabbed her arm as she passed. Her voice was silky. “Do be gentle with him, though, won’t you? I wouldn’t want him to claim that he had been mistreated.”



Will awoke with a jolt when the cold water hit his face. “Fucking hell, you nutter! I’m soaked!”

“Beth finally chucked you out then?” Joe joked. “About time.”

Will did not see the funny side. He eyed the elderly barman with disdain. “You want to be careful, Joe. I’d hate for anything to happen to you.”

“I’m not afraid of you, Will. What are you gonna do? Get Daddy to lock me in The Tower?”

Will smirked. “The Tower is nice this time of year. No air-con and no windows. It’ll suffocate you slowly.”

“Threaten me all you like. Watching you break down Doctor Lil last night was the last straw…”

At the mention of Lilith, Will was reminded of his plan. He turned his attention away from the old half-wit who was still wittering on about some nonsense.

“…I’ve stood by long enough and watched you insult and intimidate my customers. You’re barred.”

“Sure I am.” Will stretched. “Keep my seat warm, you old fart, I’ll be back later. Got a bounty to hunt.” He patted Joe on the back and headed off down the path into the forest.



Melinda was helping April to fold up her excessive amount of clothing. Even being alone with April had no lustre today. She was never drinking again. “I’ll start loading up your trunk. Wait, where is your trunk?”

April looked up, took a minute to focus. “In a ravine.”

This probably made sense, but Melinda couldn’t really tell. “Why?”

“Paul’s inside it.”

Melinda set down the top she was holding. She wanted to scream, What the plum would you do that for? Are you insane? It has your monogram on! But that seemed like a lot of effort for something that was already done, so she just nodded. “I think there’s a suitcase under the bed in our room, it’s not very big though, you might have to leave some things behind.”

April didn’t even argue. Her brain must have been thumping as much as Melinda’s. She took a few folded items and chucked them carelessly under the bed. “Done.”

Melinda entered the smaller bedroom just in time to see Faith slap Caleb around the face.

“Um… I think your idea of gentle is somewhat skewed…”

“He won’t wake up, Mel!” Faith shouted, shaking him.

“Oh my gosh!” Melinda gasped. “Is he dead?”

At this, Caleb burst into laughter and propped himself up. “I prefer undead.”

“What are you playing at? You scared the shit out of Mel!” Faith hit him again. He fell back, laughing as she continued to thump him, eventually catching her fists mid-air.

“I couldn’t very well turn down a chance to wind you up.” He grinned, swinging his legs round and sitting up. It looked like it took a beat for his head to catch up, but then he looked much better than Melinda felt.

“There’s a difference between teasing someone and making them think that you’ve died,” Faith said. “You’ve really hurt my feelings.”

Caleb studied her face for a while, until his mirrored hers. “Oh. I… I misunderstood… I’m sorry…”

Now it was Faith’s turn to laugh. “Too easy! Chin up, Wild Boy.”

“You were winding me up, again? I thought I had you!”

“Get up before Lilith comes and drags you downstairs.”

Caleb groaned, “Is she still mad at me?”

“I don’t think so,” Melinda said. “Why would she be?”

“For getting you drunk, firstly. That was irresponsible of me. Then she caught me with April—“

At this, Faith checked that the landing was clear before closing the door. She turned back to Caleb, her tone unusually serious. “It’s none of her business what you do with April.”

Melinda nodded her agreement. “And we are adults, we can drink if we want. Not that I think I ever will again. Caleb,” she asked gently, “Are you OK?”

“Yes. I can drink a lot before I—“

“No, I mean… everything else that happened last night. Are you… and your sister? Um… I know she’s a bit of a control-freak…”

“Does Lilith always treat you like shit?” Faith asked, impatiently.

Caleb looked between the two girls. “She… I’m fine.”

Melinda studied him carefully before she spoke. Watched as he knotted his hands in his lap, avoided her gaze and the question. “OK. Well, if you’re ever not fine, will you tell us?”

“Did you find the suitcase?” April asked, pushing the door open. She paused, looking around the space that seemed too small for so many bodies, noticing the sombre expressions on everyone’s faces. “What’s going on in here? Is everything OK?”

Caleb crossed the room and pulled April in for a kiss. “Everything is absolutely fine.”



“So much for our cool vampire lair and independence,” Faith said looking around the room one last time. Lilith had already left and Caleb had dashed off in a black blur with April. “Can’t we two stay here? They aren’t looking for us. Let Blondie go move in with Fringey and the Fun Vacuum.”

“She’s a bit serious but she’s not that bad, Faith. Why the sudden hatred of her?”

“I’ll tell you later when you can actually focus on me properly. What’s the Vatore house like?”

“Kind of boring,” Melinda said. And even more remote than this, if that’s possible.”

“Is there anything to do there?”

“They have a chess table. They also have an organ. There’s a crypt in the garden.”

“Who’s crypt?”

Melinda looked at Faith, puzzled. “You know I never actually asked. It says ‘Vatore’ on it. Maybe their parents?”

“Creepy. Do they have a big TV?”

“Every good crypt has a TV,” Melinda laughed. “No I don’t think they have a TV at all.”

“We don’t,” Caleb said making them both jump.

“Shit! Are you trying to do me in, Fringey? How did you get so fast?”

Caleb shrugged, “I’ve always been fast. I don’t run that often any more though. It isn’t really like I’m short on time to fill, might as well walk.”

“Aw man! Lilith’s got her mind-reading, you can become a blur, Blondie’s got her green trance wiggles. Are we ever going to be able to do anything?” Faith asked Melinda.

“April can mesmerise already?” Caleb asked. “Wow. You know that’s a pre-cursor to mind control, right? Isn’t she amazing?” He looked proud. “And Melinda’s reflexes are even better than mine.”

“Are they?” Faith and Melinda asked together.

“Sure! I can always tell when someone’s about to touch me, even Lilith, but you slipped past my awareness completely the other night. I’d bet that if you wanted to run at superspeed, you could probably learn. We should race each other through the forest, later.”

“So it’s just me that can’t do anything?” Faith pouted.

“You’ll have something. It might just take a while to manifest,” Caleb said, confidently. “And if it does, it’ll be something really good. Like shapeshifting! Clearly I’ve given you three some powerful stuff.”

“Don’t get cocky,” Melinda said. “Come on, we’d better get going.”

Caleb nodded and swept her into his arms before vanishing.

Faith lingered at the window. Her mind wandering…

We’ll figure something out.

She must have lost herself for a while wondering what that something might entail because once again, Caleb had materialised behind her.

“Ready?”

“Fucking hell, Fringey! I’m gonna get you a bell. Yeah, I think that’s everything. Oh, wait, take the TV.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Caleb said.

“Why not? Will we not get any signal or something?” Faith looked suspiciously at Caleb. “It’s got something to do with Lilith hasn’t it?” When he didn’t answer, she threw her hands up, exasperated. “She won’t even let us have a TV? I’m not living under her thumb, Fringey. We’re definitely taking the fucking thing.”

“I guess we can hide it in my room.”

“Oh, so you at least have your own room? She allows that? Will she let Blondie share your bed?”

“No.” He sighed. “I’m making her sound bad. I shouldn’t. She helps me a lot.”

“By controlling everything about you? Sit with me a minute.”

“She has her reasons.” He sat beside Faith, looked at the floor. “I make a lot of mistakes. I cause problems. Like last night, with April—“

“Making out with your girlfriend is not a mistake. What problem would that have caused?”

“I could have lost control.”

“And done what? Screwed her? Oh, she’d have been just gutted.”

He carried on looking at the floor, silently.

“Look, we all do things we shouldn’t, we all make mistakes,” Faith said.

“Lilith doesn’t.”

“She bloody does! Caleb,” Faith said, he looked up as she used his real name. “You can tell me. Do you need help?”

“I’m fine…”

“You’re not fine, though. You’re terrified of her. It’s not normal.”

“It’s for the best. I’m not normal. When I don’t listen, things go wrong, I make mistakes, I mess up…”

“And when you do listen? Same outcome, correct?”

She watched as he folded into himself.

Was he… crying? It wasn’t the first time she’d reduced a grown man to tears, but it was the first time it hadn’t involved any violence. Faith bit her lip, changed tactics. “OK. We’ll leave it.”

Caleb sighed his relief, took a moment to compose himself. “So, ready?” he said, his voice empty.

Faith nodded, but she wasn’t done yet. She sighed, sadly. “Drain Me Gently is showing on the horror channel tonight; it’s a vampire flick, a bit sappy but it’s Blondie’s favourite film.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Even though she spends half the movie with her face buried in the chest of the nearest person because the vampire scares her, bless. She really wanted to watch it with you.”

“She did?”

“Sure,” I’m going to hell, “She’ll cry her heart out when she finds out that Lilith robbed you of that moment.”

“Let’s take the TV.”



You can run but you can’t hide…

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Chapter 1.38 – Ten Thousand Lovers

April was fussing with her dress. “Do I look OK? Is it too much?”

Melinda’s eyes were taking up most of her face. “You look… very um…”

“Hot.”

April wasn’t so sure. It had been her idea to do this; present herself like this. But the second she put the dress on all she could hear in her head was you’re ugly, you’re fat, you look desperate.

“So, we’ll get inside his head,” Faith said. “Blondie, all you have to do is act like an adult, be a bit flirty but above all; be mature, don’t get jealous, no tantrums. He’ll be snogging your face off by the time the credits roll, I guarantee it.”

“Be mature, don’t get jealous, no tantrums,” April repeated, nodding. “You won’t be too obvious, will you? I don’t want to look desperate.”

“I can do subtle you know. Now come on; Bloodbath Bakery starts in ten minutes.”

The girls headed downstairs where they were greeted by an empty room.

“He’s gone? All this was for nothing?!”

“What was for nothing?” Caleb asked, entering the room from the kitchen. He smiled as he saw April… and then he saw April.

“Damn me to hell,” he muttered, cleared his throat. “You look… better.”

“Just ‘better’?”

He emptied the glass he was holding. “Anyone for a drink? Marjorie had quite the selection.”

“Any whiskey?” Faith asked, but Caleb had already disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Well, so much for that plan! He couldn’t get away from me fast enough!” April wailed, throwing herself on to the sofa. “At least now I know that I disgust him…”

That’s what you got from that exchange?” Faith asked, astounded. “You’re completely deluded. Oh, he’s coming back. Stop pouting like a child and start sizzling like the unleashed sex goddess you are.”

“Let’s just give up and watch the movie, Faith.” April pleaded. “I’m already really embarrassed and this dress is so uncomfortable.”