Chapter 3.48 – Flickering Lights

While Jessica’s cohorts figured out how to safely dismount from their precarious people tower, Jessica had subtly checked the house. As well as ensuring that the coast was clear, she was looking for clues; any sign as to the reasoning behind Ralf’s fate, anything he’d left behind.

Her search turned nothing up. Nothing at all. No reason, no rhyme, no clue as to his state of mind. It was like he’d simply been erased.

Jessica re-joined her companions in the dining room, where the trio had been hard at work moving furniture and lighting oodles of creepy-looking candles for their séance. All eyes locked on her as she took the vacant seat at the trussed-up card table and Yibbo switched on the battery-powered plastic ball.

They had discussed how this would work during the drive over; Pixie, as an experienced ghost communicator, would lead the proceedings and Jessica’s role was to ‘attract’ Ralf to the familiar. Jessica didn’t point out that it was his house, it was probably already familiar to him; she had simply played along.

Yibbo and Morag might have been sure of Pixie’s skills, but Jessica knew that Pixie was talking out of her butt long before Paul had mentioned it. She had a strong inkling that Pixie couldn’t speak to ghosts at all. What Jessica hadn’t yet established was if she could actually talk to ghosts or whether she, like her mother before her, was simply losing the plot.

Maybe she was imagining the whole thing. Maybe this entire event was a figment of her imagination, a delusion, a dream and she’d wake up tomorrow back at The Tower, eating steak and spinach.

“Oh, earth-bound spirits! Hear my call!” Pixie announced, waving her arms around. “If you can hear me – give me a sign.”

Morag and Yibbo remained in their polite trances, but Jessica couldn’t resist peeking at the room. Unlike back at Joe’s bar when the GliTS had last held a séance, there were no electrical anomalies, no flickering lights. Nothing happened at all.

Pixie, undeterred, cleared her throat and tried again a little louder, “Spirits! If you can hear me – give me a sign!”

In the stillness and silence that followed, Pixie sighed, drawing the attention of her fellow GliTS.

“Nothing?” Yibbo asked.

“Nothing,” Pixie confirmed.

“What about you, Jessica?” Morag asked. “Are you seeing anyone? Here, I mean. Not are you seeing anyone. Ahem.”

Pixie huffed. “There’s nothing to see. What a waste of candles.”

Jessica looked around the room politely and shook her head. A blend of disappointment and relief washed through her as she battled with the hope of seeing Ralf versus the confirmation at not being delusional.

“No,” she confirmed, lowering her hands as Yibbo reached to turn off the ball. “There’s no one he… oh, shoot.”

Her eyes grew as large as saucers as a colour-washed elderly lady appeared in her field of vision, glowing like moonlight on the edge of a blade. For a moment, the tangible form of Jessica and the ethereal form of this lady locked eyes and a chill ran down Jessica’s spine.

The ghost walked a slow circle around the table, seemingly delighted that Jessica’s gaze followed her every step.

“Heavens above,” the woman whispered, her voice distant and soft and sounding from every direction. “You can see me.”

“Jessica?” Morag whispered. “What is it? Is it Ralf?”

“No, I most definitely am not ‘Ralf’,” the lady tutted. “My name is Dorothy.”

Jessica swallowed hard. “I-I can see a woman. She says her name is Dorothy.”

“Huh,” Morag tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I went through the history of this house before we left, familiarising myself with the spirits that we might encounter, and no one named ‘Dorothy’ has ever lived here.”

“I lived next door,” Dorothy explained. “I popped over with a fruitcake to greet my new neighbour, but my husband had beaten me to it. I’m not sure if it was the shock of seeing him undressed for the first time in twenty years that finished me off, or the ghastly colour of her curtains, but I died on the porch.”

“She lived next door,” Jessica repeated. “She died here.”

“No way!” Pixie gasped. “I knew a lady who lived next door. Dorothy? Dottie?”

“Pixie?” Dorothy sighed and placed a hand to her bosom. “Oh my, look at you! You’re all grown up. And just as… individual as ever.”

“She knows you,” Jessica somehow managed to say, despite not having taken a breath for five minutes.

“I used to babysit her,” Dorothy urged. “Tell her.”

“She says she used to babysit you,” Jessica repeated numbly. She felt like some sort of spiritual translation machine.

“She did! Oh, Dottie!” Pixie cried out, her smile turning to a sob. “I used to go over to her house after school and she’d make me fish fingers and we’d watch cartoons until my parents finished work.” She turned to a place where Dorothy wasn’t standing and blurted through tears, “Dottie! It’s me! It’s Pixie! I’m so sorry I haven’t visited your memorial in the last five years; I’ve just been so busy with work and helping Dad decorate his house—”

Dorothy made a strange face as Pixie continued to ramble. “I have a memorial?”

“Um… she didn’t know that she had a memorial,” Jessica mumbled as reality hit home. There was no doubt about it – Jessica really was talking to a dead woman.

Pixie fell silent, blinking at Jessica through watery eyes. “Of course she has a memorial. Everyone loved Dottie. She was cremated in 2006—”

“Wait,” Morag interjected. “If she died eleven years ago and was cremated, how come she’s still here?”

“Good question,” Pixie mused. “Dottie, what’s keeping you here?”

Dorothy shrugged. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t still be here.”

“She doesn’t know.”

“So paying proper respect to the dead isn’t what makes them cross over?” Morag asked sadly.

“What do you think?” Dorothy said, looking directly at Jessica. “Enough of the existential questions. I don’t know why I’m here and clearly neither do you. Let’s not talk ourselves in circles growing frustrated with the unknown. This is the first contact I’ve had with the living for years and I have some questions of my own.”

“She’s rather bossy,” Jessica whispered, to which Pixie only returned a knowing smile. “What do you want to know about the land of the living, Dorothy?”

“Ask Pixie what happened to Burt.”

“Pixie, what happened to Burt?” Jessica asked.

“Oh, Dottie’s husband? He, um, he moved away with his new wife, not long after… after Dottie passed.”

“So that’s where they went,” Dorothy sighed. “He married her.”

“She’s… she’s not happy about that.”

Quite the understatement,” Dorothy scoffed. “I could have haunted my own lovely house but oh no, the fates are cruel! Tethered to where you die; no ifs, no buts! Nothing to do but wander aimlessly, room to tacky room, watching Burt get his rocks off with that cheap tramp. Then there was that family with the teenagers – my word am I glad I never had children. And finally that shambles of a police officer—”

Jessica perked up at this last one, her breath caught in her throat. “Ralf?”

“Ralf’s here?” Morag gasped.

“Oh, no,” Jessica clarified, “I was responding to Dorothy.”

“No he is not here, thank the Watcher. Yes, him, Widdlefinkle and his robe that was at least two sizes too small.” She shuddered at the thought. “Back in my day the police were reliable, efficient and trustworthy, not moping around in bathrobes making underhand deals with the wealthy elite.”

“Ralf was making underhand deals,” Jessica repeated quietly, not really hearing what she was saying.

A chorus of “He was?” sounded around the tiny table.

“Oh yes, he was as crooked as they came,” Dorothy answered. “Thousands of simoleons of hush money greased his grubby palms.”

Jessica’s heart was racing, pounding in her ears. She couldn’t hear her fellow GliTS and the queries she assumed were spilling from their moving mouths. Her entire focus was on the glowing woman before her, the cusp of the truth.

“What happened to him?” she asked. “When he died, were you here?”

“Where else would I be?” Dorothy said, impatiently. “He was with a woman. She gave him a drink and he collapsed.”

“He… oh my god. A woman? What woman?” Jessica asked, vaguely hearing her words echo around the table in three different voices.

“Oh, I don’t know her name, didn’t recognise her,” Dorothy said. “A striking woman; tall, wild hair and the mouth of a sailor. She stopped by and made him cocktails. Cocktails! A man of the law!” she scoffed. “Added something to them too; I didn’t see what it was, but it came from a tiny vial.”

Striking? Tall? Could have been anyone.

But wild hair? Mouth of a sailor?

She added something to his cocktail?

Dorothy smoothed her outfit and her demeanour. “I apologise. I see that he meant something to you. Enough for you to come here and to do this.” She took a breath. Jessica didn’t try and consider how that was actually possible. “I gather he was in too deep, one deal too many. She said that she was on his side, that she had a plan, a way out for him.”

Jessica shook her head vigorously, trying to comprehend. “She said he was on his side? She had a plan? A way out? Surely not… murder?”

Jessica turned her wild stare to Yibbo who shrank back. “Yibbo, you found him. He was definitely dead, yes?”

“…Ralf?” Yibbo asked uncertainly, making Jessica realise that her companions were only getting part of the story. “Yes. Jess, what’s happening? What is she saying?”

“And you called the police?”

“Yes, of course, I—”

Jessica’s mouth was as dry as the desert. Her head was spinning. She was going to be sick. “Who turned up?”

Yibbo hesitated, looking at the table. “Officer Beth Wangshaft and someone from the coroner’s office. Why? What’s going on?”

“You know, the Wangshafts have one heck of a maid, Officer Spoon. There’s never a speck of dirt to be found…”

“…Anywhere.”

Jessica tried to get to her feet but no part of her would co-operate. She sank back down, melting into her chair like chocolate on hot car bonnet.

“I think Ralf was murdered and I think Beth did it,” she managed in a single breath as the colour faded from her world.

Faith had only been walking for about forty minutes and she was already sore and fed up. She had been following, on foot, the much-travelled bus route through the shitty suburbs of Del Sol Valley and out towards Willow Creek. From there, she planned to join the river and follow it towards Windenburg, hoping that she could remember enough about the blurry journey when she was thrown over Caleb’s shoulder to find her way to the old Vatore cottage.

She had no idea how far it was. She hoped she could make it by sunrise, but if not she’d have to get creative. Maybe break into a house. Perhaps hide out in a subway. She’d think of something.

Dulled by the monotony of placing one foot in front of another on a never-ending path of concrete and darkness, her mind wandered, as it had almost continuously, to Joy. The image of her sister’s tiny, unmoving body on the threadbare rug burned into Faith’s brain, blocking out almost everything else. The first thing Faith had done after leaving Seth the Shithead in the apartment was to call the emergency services to her childhood home. Skilled as she was at mimicry, Faith had disguised her voice as she’d placed the call, claiming, in a tone spookily similar to Chuck’s warm, bear-like one, that she was walking her dog past the house and had simply heard ‘commotion’.

As she hung up, the sickness inside her threatened to take over. She scratched at her wrist, eyeing the receiver, wondering if she should just call back. Hand herself in. Be done with it all.

Lose everything and everyone. Let him win.

“Who are you? If you can’t see all the red flags here, if you’re really considering this, him, there’s something seriously, seriously wrong with you.”

She’d always prided herself on being the savvy one in the group, the one least likely to be scammed or manipulated. She couldn’t believe she’d been so fucking stupid.

She had to do this. She had to go back and face the music. She had to grovel and beg until Melinda accepted her back. She’d take her back eventually; she knew she would. Melinda didn’t give up on anyone – even when she should. And this time, with this chance, Faith would be better. She’d be a better friend and she’d be a better person.

There really was no way she could be worse.

She’d gratefully accept Lilith’s gloopy clinical shit bags. She’d live under the Fun Vacuum’s thumb watching the bizarre Fringey and Blondie and Mellybean triangle play out. She’d live with her guilt and shame until it ate her from the inside.

Fuck, maybe she’d prefer prison after all.

With dogged determination, she carried on walking, holding her broken, stinging arm and feeling it tingle as it slowly knitted itself back together while her feet rubbed themselves apart. She’d finally reached the shopping precinct where a lifetime ago she’d been part of a quartet of teen(ish) vampires on the run, not a care in the world. How things changed.

“What’s wrong with your arm?”

Faith didn’t look round as a stranger approached her from the shadows. “I fought a huge snake.”

“Did you win?”

“You bet I did.”

“Heh,” he snorted. “You look like a girl who can handle a huge snake.”

At this Faith finally stopped and turned to face the creep. “And you look like a guy with a tiny one.”

A beat of silence and then a roar of laughter. The unidentified man walked towards her. He reeked of cigarettes but was otherwise doable, she thought, then immediately hated herself.

He chuckled. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

Faith carried on walking. She wasn’t in the mood for a causal come on, for once.

Undeterred, he followed her. “My name’s Bill. Bill Bangshaft.”

Was this a joke? Faith shook her head and tried to move faster, but Bill caught up quickly.

“Where are you going?”

“Fuck off.”

“’Fuck Off? Is that near ‘Get Lost’? Yeah, it’s nice there this time of night.”

He followed behind her in silence, no doubt noticing that every step she took was in agony.

“Seriously,” he said, sounding suddenly very concerned. “Do you need a ride?”

Faith was about to answer with a sharp retort and then she noticed that Bill was gesturing to something. Looking over, she could see a cab parked up, the side emblazoned with the words ‘BANGSHAFT CABS’.

She hesitated. She wanted to say that the last thing she wanted was to get in a car with this guy, but honestly, the last thing she wanted was to walk any further.

There was just one problem.

“I have no money,” she admitted.

He smiled, a gold tooth glinting under the dingy streetlights. “You don’t need any.”

“Right,” Faith scoffed on the verge of tears. “Just a blowie in the back, yeah? Go fuck yourself, Bill.”

“That thing is broken, isn’t it?” he gasped, pointing to her arm. “What happened? Were you attacked? Do you need me to call the police for you?”

“No, I need you to fuck off and mind your business!”

“An ambulance? You can barely walk, you’re covered in scrapes—”

I’m fine!”

This time he didn’t laugh. “Wait here, please,” he requested, heading back towards the cab office. Faith considered running, but only briefly. Her mind began playing a fantasy of pinning this creep against a wall and draining him dry through his little—

Her thoughts were interrupted as Bill reappeared with a woman beside him. Faith looked between the couple with utter confusion.

“Claire, my wife,” he said by way of introduction. “She’ll take you wherever you need to go.”

“Free of charge,” Claire added, her smile broad and her expression warm. “No questions asked. Come on, love.”

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Chapter 3.44 – Strawberry

Note: drug use/influence

April was full of bubbles and rainbows. She had to admit that she couldn’t really taste the strawberry flavour of her magic tea, but it was a pretty colour and smelled super yummy. And it was definitely magical!

After one sip, everything went a little fuzzy and soft around the edges. After two, the world started glowing and shivering before her eyes; the lamp had started to dance! Now, a bit more later, and the world had become a technicolour kaleidoscope of moving patterns and shapes. As April swayed, the world around her swam and morphed and everything had been so funny!

She had yet to see an elk, but at one point she could have sworn she’d seen the inside of her own brain. It looked like spaghetti.

Ooh, spaghetti! It had been such a long time since April had eaten spaghetti. Or rather, such a long time since she’d been served up a plate of spaghetti and politely eaten a nibble and then claimed to be full. But she wasn’t full! She’d never ever been full!

Stupid spaghetti.

She tried to remember what strawberries tasted like and took another good swig of her tea. Her taste buds played along; the fruity flavour burst forth, juicy and sweet and… meaty? That wasn’t right.

Oops! No, that was just her biting her own tongue. Her tongue was so squishy and wriggly. She chomped her jaw a few times, trying to catch the slippery eel between her teeth. She succeeded and gave it a gentle little chew. Yum yum!

“April? What are doing?”

Melinda’s voice. Squeaky, like the air being slowly let out of a balloon.

“Um eedin ma dung.”

“What?”

April laughed and released her tongue from her teeth. “I was eating my tongue,” she answered. “It tastes like a meaty, snakey strawberry.”

“Ooooo…K,” Melinda answered slowly. She was smiling. She was so pretty when she smiled. It lit up her face, making her resemble a lamp with eyes. Big, blinking, brown eyes. Big and blinking. Blinky, blinky. And her hair was so thick and bushy. And she was so slim, with her slender bones and little boobies. She was so pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

“Why are you staring at me?”

“You’re so pretty,” April murmured, wetting her lips with her meaty-strawberry tongue. She heard the sound of a throat being cleared and pivoted her head to see Caleb. Oh, he was still here. Well. He was sitting by himself because Wyatt had had some of his pongy apple potion, the one that made Caleb wrinkle his nose and shrink away.

He had a nice nose. Even when it was wrinkly.

He was also pretty. So pretty.

But not as pretty as Melinda. With her little boobies and her lamp eyes.

Caleb frowned and leaned forward in the red chair. The strawberry chair. He was like a black seed amongst red watermelon flesh. Except he looked angry. An angry seed.

He was drinking Wyatt’s tea as Wyatt had only made enough strawberry tea for April. It was her own special drink made just for her. No one ever made things just for her. Wyatt was so nice! His tea was rhubarb flavoured, because that was Broof’s favourite flavour, Wyatt said, and Broof needed to escape reality every once in a while. April didn’t know what rhubarb tasted like, she had never had it, but it also smelled super yummy. And strong, so strong!

Caleb looked so intense, like his tea wasn’t working. Or maybe he was hallucinating when he looked at April. He was gripping his glass tight. April remembered back in the motel room, when Seth had been super nasty to Caleb and Caleb had broken his drinking glass in his fist. She hoped that wasn’t about to happen again. He was so scary when he was in dark form!

“Am I an elk?” she laughed. “Is that what you’re seeing? Do I have antlers!”

His lip twitched and then he frowned. April didn’t know what wrong with him. He was so moody sometimes. She turned back to Wyatt, who was never moody, and he smiled back at her lazily. He smelled bad, very, very bad, but April didn’t really mind. She liked him right beside her. He made her feel so safe, and so smart, and so welcome!

And he was so amazing! He could make potions from plants! He could open doors without touching them! He made her feel so strong and so special. He could do anything! And he thought she could do anything.

Maybe she could…?

April wafted her hand around and was amazed to see a shower of sparks fly from her outstretched fingers.

“I’m doing it!” she squealed. “I’m casting magic!”

Wyatt chuckled and sipped his tea. “What are you casting, Apes?”

“Um, I’m casting, um…” April continued to wave her hand, watching the stars dance across her palm and then fade into the air. “An invisibility spell!”

“Yep,” Wyatt agreed. “That’s invisible, alright!”

She didn’t know what he meant, but the combination of his words and his goofy grin? April found that hilarious. She collapsed into giggles and took another big swig of tea as the conversation swilled around her, stirring itself into the room soup.

“…Above a bar. If I work a few shifts for him, the rent is totally manageable,” Wyatt said.

Melinda nodded; the motion of her pretty head sending colourful waves through the room. “Your own place! That’s exciting.”

“Heh, yeah about time, too. I mean, I love my mum, but she’s always there, y’know?”

“I know that feeling,” April chimed in, thumbing at Caleb, who scowled back.

“And now I’ve got my hat it feels like I should have my independence, too.”

“You’re moving out?!” April gasped, finally grasping what the conversation was about. “Can I come with you?”

Wyatt made a noise that was somewhere between a choke and squeak and took a big, big gulp of his tea. “Uh… maybe. Hey, what spell are you trying next?”

If April hadn’t been so giggly, she might have read into this rejection, but instead she perked up and waved her hand again.

“I’m going to start a fire!” she laughed, waving at the table. “Enflamio! Zap, zap, zap!”

Melinda was laughing. That sound was not like a squeaky balloon, more like a fizzy drink. April tried to copy it, which only made Melinda laugh harder.

She sighed as April continued to drink. “I wish I’d had some tea now; it looks like fun.”

“It is fun!” April agreed, thrusting her glass at her friend. “Try some.”

“I can’t,” Melinda replied.

“You can!”

“No I literally can’t April; your glass is empty.”

“Oh.” April blinked and looked at her glass. It was empty. Except for the goldfish. How did he get in there? Was it a he? Did girl goldfish – goldfishes? –  wear bows?

“Sorry, Mel, I only made a small portion of that. But hey, you could have a bit of mine?”

Caleb opened his mouth, then closed it again, then opened it again. Clearly he could also see the goldfish in her glass. Bonky, she was going to name him Bonky. The goldfish, not Caleb, although he also was quite bonky. She mirrored Caleb’s actions, his face, until he looked at her and licked his fangs.

By now, Wyatt had passed his drink to Melinda who was chewing her lip and looking at it like it was alive.

MAYBE IT WAS?

April watched in amazement as Melinda rolled her brown, lamp, big, lamp, big, um, eyes up to April’s face and smiled. She took a little sip of the wibbly creature in Wyatt’s glass and grimaced.

“Tastes like ash— woah!”

“Yeah,” Wyatt breathed. “Think I steeped it a bit too long. Just a sip or two, yeah? That stuff is potent as fu— fudge.”

“Fuck,” April announced. “Just say it! I’m not a little girl; you can swear around me.”

“Nah, it feels… wrong,” Wyatt admitted.

“It does,” Melinda concurred. “I never really understood why people swear when words like ‘fudge’ and ‘ship’ convey the same message.”

“But they don’t!” April insisted. “Sometimes you just need a ‘fuck’!”

Caleb jolted, almost spilling his drink as Wyatt choked on a laugh.

“Apes,” he wheezed, trying to compose himself. “I mean, I agree, but – oh my god.”

“That stuff is as potent as fuck, fuck, fuck,” April sang, oblivious. “Fuckity fucky fuck.”

“That word sounds so wrong coming from that sweet, little mouth,” Wyatt laughed. “I feel like I should, I dunno, scold you or wash your mouth with soap or something.”

April pouted. “Oh.”

“I won’t,” Wyatt added quickly. “But… should I? Fuck, I don’t know.”

“You said it! Hooray! Your turn, Mel!”

Melinda didn’t respond. She was holding her stomach and looking in Caleb’s direction, but April couldn’t see her expression through the unicorn clouds.

All she could see was Caleb’s, staring back.

“Fuck,” he said quietly and lifted his still full glass to his lips.

Jessica slowly walked the perimeter of the building, wondering for the umpteenth time if this was such a good idea. She finally became aware that her shiny-headed clan was no longer following her lead and took pause.

In the dead of the night, it wasn’t difficult to hear the hushed whispers that echoed from the stilled trees.

“Your foot is in my face!”

“Maybe your face is on my foot?!”

“Ladies, can we please focus?”

Jessica rounded the corner of Ralf’s house – former house – and looked up at the brightly-coloured tower of bodies before her. She was struck completely dumb for a moment, taking in this marvel of balanced posing.

“Ouch! That was my finger!”

“Yibbo, can you reach yet?”

“Why oh why did I wear heels?!”

“Um, what are you doing?” she asked, finally.

“Well, we’re not cheerleading, Jess!” Pixie snapped. “We’re trying to climb in through this tiny, slightly ajar window!”

“Trying… to… reach… the window!” Yibbo added breathlessly. “Almost there!”

“My face!” Pixie moaned as Yibbo clawed into it to maintain her balance.

“My feet!” Morag groaned, her legs trembling beneath the weight.

Jessica coughed politely into her fist to hide her laugh. She gestured across the garden.

“We could do that, or we could go in through the unlocked back door…”

“Why do we never try the doors?”

Caleb swirled the liquid in his glass. He hadn’t taken a single sip the whole time he’d been sitting here. Only Melinda appeared to have noticed and she hadn’t been able to comprehend it for long. She had taken some of Wyatt’s tainted drink and it had quickly pulled the slight little vampire under.

Caleb couldn’t quite believe that he’d gotten away with this, that his plan was working. His plan was working! And working even better than he’d anticipated. Melinda was gone, asleep after only a few sips – at least he hoped she was asleep – on the couch, and Wyatt was not far behind, judging by his posture.

The witch was slurring and shaking, fighting to keep himself upright against the effects of the two cups he’d drunk, as April wittered on at him about colours and fruits in her cute little way. His skin was clammy, pale. Caleb could hear his pulse racing, see the sweat on his brow, smell the fear emanating from him; the unease, the regret.

He thinks he’s done this, he realised, the idea tickling a little something within Caleb that he had been brutally trained, over centuries, not to acknowledge.

But something that had never quite died.

April was singing, oblivious to the events around her. Waving her arms and dancing in her seat to a tune only she could hear. Every movement she made in those flimsy pyjamas made her pert breasts and soft thighs jiggle in a way that hypnotised Caleb. He longed to sink his teeth into her soft flesh, to rip the fabric from her perfect skin; to own her, possess her, fill her.

Damn to the rules, to hell with being ‘nice’ and obeying the chart. Everything was fine before they came here, before the witches ruined everything with their ridiculous rules. What did they know about anything? If he could just get April alone for one night, he was sure he could fix this. He could show her that he could love her properly, could make her feel good, really good, that she didn’t need to be afraid of him.

As Wyatt dipped like a broken beacon, Caleb broke from his trance and salivated like a dog presented with a bone. Wyatt could barely hold his head up, let alone cast a decent spell, Caleb was sure of it. No one could stop him. Not this time.

He was so close.

Wyatt’s head rose, as if trying to fight the effects of the tea that he brewed. His face was… confused? Yes, that face was definitely confused.

“I deferettly omly used wun da-daturuuh,” he slurred, aghast, grasping for April’s hand. “Apesss,” he hissed, “Apes. Lissen t’me. Call mu… call Bruff.”

“What?” April asked, reaching out to stroke Wyatt’s face. “You silly sausage! Those aren’t words!”

“Apesss,” Wyatt tried again. He paused, shook his head, the sentence lost. “Fug, I um so dead.”

April linked her fingers through his and continued to sing as she enjoyed her waking dreams. She scanned the room and only then did she notice Melinda.

“Oh!” she gasped. “Mel is asleep!”

Caleb nodded, hoping – for April’s sake – that she was.

But then, he didn’t give the tea to Melinda. It wasn’t his fault if she never woke up.

“Can you please put her to bed, Caleb?” April asked, her big, blue eyes locked onto his. “She’ll get a super sore neck slumped like that.”

“Sure,” Caleb answered, swiftly rising to his feet and sweeping Melinda into his arms. He’d take her into the girls’ room – if he physically could. If not, he was sure the plush rug on hallway floor would suffice.

And then he’d be back, and April would be his.

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Chapter 3.40 – Irritant

Jessica’s scalp was so itchy.

When she’d first been presented with her MAD hat she’d felt pretty good in it. She was fully starting to embrace the ‘wear whatever makes you happy’ mantra of her fellow GliTS, almost starting to like her starched, polyester poodle skirt and the little static shocks she got periodically from her faux silk blouse, so having a metallic, reflective head was no big deal, really.

But now she was two hours into being a fully initiated member of Glimmerbrook’s Trust Society and Jessica was becoming desperate to run home and take the thing off.

But she couldn’t. Yet. The GliTS were holding a Very Important Meeting – a ‘post-phenomenon’ de-brief at their headquarters (aka, Pixie’s dad’s house) where they had discussed, in detail, all the gory, impossible events of the previous night and what it could mean. Jessica had, once again, reiterated that no, she’d never spoken to ghosts before, or since, and no, she hadn’t had any near-death experiences or been struck by lightning lately, all while Pixie’s dad delivered refreshments and dusted bric-a-brac around them as if everything was completely normal.

Normal. Jessica almost laughed out loud. What was normal? A few days ago she thought she’d been a normal person, possibly even on the border of boring, living a normal life, despite everyone always thinking that she was a bit ‘kooky’.

And now that she was some loon in a tinfoil hat who spoke to dead people? Even she thought she was strange.

“We should go back to the forest,” Morag said for the umpteenth time. “After they’ve buried Paul, to see if his spirit remains.”

“And to look for others,” Pixie chimed in. “There could be hundreds of them. Just think! The stories they could tell you, Jess. The mysteries you could solve!”

“Isn’t the mystery solved? Surely it’s likely that all the Forgotten Hollow missing people were eaten by a monster,” Jessica sighed. “What can I do with that information? Make people think I’m insane? How would you even catch a man-eating monster?”

Morag and Pixie shrugged.

“I don’t even know if I can actually talk to ghosts, or whether Paul was just a fluke,” Jessica continued. “I mean, I haven’t seen any since, unless he’s a ghost.” She gestured at Pixie’s dad, who had entered the room with a fresh plate of cookies. “And if I can only see fresh ghosts, what do you suggest I do with this ‘talent’? Wait until another person goes missing in the forest and then go say ‘Hi! Sorry you’re dead! Want to chat?’”

“I guess… Maybe we could find out what actually happened to Sandy Moss?” Morag asked.

“No, she was buried already,” Pixie mused. “She has probably passed on, if Paul was right.”

“Oh, right. What about, um, Chase was it?” Morag asked, pointing to Jessica’s abdomen.

“Oh my gosh, Morag!” Pixie gasped. “Sometimes you can be so insensitive!”

“Sorry,” Morag mumbled. “I didn’t mean… I just thought… I’m gonna shut up.”

“I don’t know where he died,” Jessica admitted, feeling rotten, but wanting to ease the embarrassment. “So, unless we wander the whole river, which I’d rather not…”

“No, of course not,” Pixie agreed, scowling at her fellow conspiracy theorist.

Yibbo, who had been unusually quiet for most of the meeting, reached forward for a cookie. “Gee, Morag. Next you’ll be suggesting we go do a séance at the dead police chief’s house—”

“…that’s a great idea!”

“No! It’s not!” Yibbo wailed. “It’s sarcasm! No more dead people this week, please!”

“Technically, you’ve already seen him, so he doesn’t count, right?” Pixie asked. “Plus, he’s freshly dead under mysterious circumstances and not yet buried! He might be perfect! Um, if that’s OK with you, Jessica?”

“Uh…” Jessica pouted; her heart pounding, her palms sweating, her hat becoming a major irritant. What if she did find Ralf’s ghost? What if she could speak to him? What would he say? Would she want to hear it? Would it be safe for her to hear it?

Could she afford not to?

She shot to her feet; decision made. It was completely crazy, but everything was completely crazy.

“Let’s go break into Ralf’s house and hold a séance!”

“Woo! Casual trespass!” Morag squealed, running towards the back room. “Pixie, Jess – let’s go draw up a plan for tomorrow night!”

“And what about me?”

“‘Join the GliTS,’ they said,” Yibbo muttered to herself. “‘It’s all cocoa and spooky stories!’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun!’ they said. Fun? Fun?! My bum! This sucks!”

Seth ascended the stairs of the Orange Box nightclub, freshly fed and carrying about his person a keyring that was, by weight, 90% freezer bunny charms and 10% actual keys. He didn’t have to look far to find his fussy fledgling.

Even in a pulsing room of bodies, even here of all places in this day-glo daymare, she stood out, and it wasn’t simply for the fact that she danced like half of her limbs weren’t correctly attached.

He watched her for a while from the shadows as she flaunted herself for the crowd who all but ignored her, with the natural exception of a few caught men. These smitten souls were watching every swerve and undulation of her shapely figure with that distant, glassy-eyed stare. The tell-tale sign of allure at work.

Thank the devil he was naturally immune to the pink fog. Although he did appear to be leering. Seth licked his lips to break the trance; a subtle action but enough for Faith to lock eyes on to him. She sneered.

“Oh, you’re back,” she scoffed. “Did you enjoy Rochelle?”

As much as he loathed her tiresome childishness, the way she kept asking him questions despite his requests not to, and the mocking way she slurred ‘Rochelle’, he had to admit that having someone who cared about who he’d had his mouth on did hold a certain charm. That, and the slithering shape of her, was sending his senses into overdrive.

Once again, he reminded himself that none of these feelings were real. However intense they felt, they were nothing but a cruel effect of her, questionably subconscious, attempts at using his own manipulation against him.

“I did.”

“I bet you did, you…” Faith scrunched her face up, clearly looking for the right insult. “You fucker.”

Not what he thought she’d call him. Barely an insult at all, by definition. He extended his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

She pulled her arm back, sending herself into a spin that she only just about regained poise in.

“No. I’m not ‘ready to go’. I’m having a great fucking time here.”

“We’ll come back another time,” he said without thinking, briefly wondering why he was trying to please her, and silently cursing himself for committing to another night in this ear-bashing hellhole. “Come.”

“No!” Faith whined, pulling back. “Why do we always have to do what you want to do?”

“Because your taste in everything is atrocious,” Seth muttered, casually distracting a human who was thinking of intervening in what he thought was a lover’s tiff. “Come on, Fa— Vi— you.”

“I’m not… going!” Faith managed, stumbling into a fellow dancer and apologising to her, but while facing the wrong direction.

Seth straightened up and looked at Faith with bemusement as the explanation for her more-irritating-than-usual behaviour became clear. “Oh sweet Lucifer; how are you drunk?”

“What? I’m not drunk!”

Seth took a step closer and peered into her unfocused, grey eyes.

“Fuck off, you weirdo!” she snarled, trying – ineffectively – to shove him.

“You’re inebriated!” he exclaimed, in disbelief. “Bloody hell! I’ve been gone for half an hour, at most.”

“I’m not ineb… inbred… abbreviated!”

“And tonight of all nights,” he growled. “Is this a bloody joke?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she hiccupped, tossing her hair. “I haven’t even had anything to drink!” She gestured to a human nearby. “Hey! You! Have you seen me have a drink?”

“Nope.”

“You clearly have.”

“I haven’t! Well not, y’know any booze just… y’know…” she waved her hand, smacking aforementioned human beside her in the face, but he didn’t seem to notice as he was also three-sheets-in-the-wind, as most of the humans in here were.

Ah.

“I see,” he looked around at the wriggling crowd, trying to gauge who was missing. “Who was it?”

“Um,” Faith pondered, but it became a choked gargle. “That guy. Fat sarong man. And yeah… he was. He was… he was not good. Nope. He tasted like shit.”

“Yes, probably loaded on devil-knows-what,” Seth sighed. “As you are now.”

“He cried when I bit him.”

“Right.”

“And then,” Faith paused for dramatic effect, swaying in her heels. “Then! He threw up on me.”  She gestured to her feet and the remnants of her spoils that clung to her expensive shoes.

“Wonderful,” Seth muttered, rubbing his temples.

He wasn’t an expert on the types of intoxicants that humans ingested, but he knew enough to understand that Faith was likely a write-off tonight. On the one hand, he couldn’t blame her for not knowing how to determine the suitability of her supper. On the other, it put his night’s plan on hold and ground his gears. As he glared at her, carefully deliberating his course of action, she pouted at him, stubbornly.

“I’m not drunk. I’m not.”

“Not hardly.”

“I’m not! I’ll prove it!” she looked around for a method to prove her sobriety but, perhaps tellingly, came up short.

Seth sighed. “Touch the tip of your nose.”

Faith made a face and looked down at her finger. “What?”

“It’s not brain surgery,” he growled and tapped his fingertip to his own nose.

She squinted at him a bit longer before she finally understood. After muttering about how stupid this was, how sober she was, how much of a bastard he was, she followed his example.

“Fuck!” she gasped. “Fuck! What did you do that for?!”

Seth would have laughed if he wasn’t so annoyed by the whole turn of events. “Come here, we’re leaving.”

“No!” Faith screamed, backing away. “You made me poke myself in the eye!”

By now a few people on the dancefloor had stopped cavorting and were watching the scene. A number were advancing, once again, to intervene.

Seth had had enough. The carefully amassed power he had obtained from his evening’s quarry would not be seeing its intended use, anyway. With irritation, he gestured around at the crowd in turn, draining himself as he dropped each worthless body into slumber, in turn. The club fell silent as its occupants succumbed.

Exhausted and frustrated, Seth glared at Faith until she finally realised what had just happened around her.

“Overreaction, much?”

“Here. Now.”

Faith sighed in that over-dramatic, teenaged way and stomped over, glaring at him the whole time.

“I hate you,” she hissed.

“You wound me.”

“I will wound you,” she muttered. “Maybe I’ll poke you in the fucking eye.”

“Finally, something to look forward to in our shared eternity of misery,” he snarled, pulling her to him and half-hoping that she didn’t have the mental capacity to keep her focus as he misted with her.

“Eternity?” she whispered. “Aww, baby. I love you too.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Faith made cutesy noises as she clumsily stroked his face and moved against him in the silent club. This, combined with her unusually doe-eyed and docile demeanour, knocked him completely off-kilter again.

How did she keep doing this?

He groaned, pulling her firmly into his embrace. It was going to be a long night now his plans were shot to hell and so was his fledgling. Tonight, he’d play along with her game. He’d wait.

Tomorrow night.

She could lose her mind tomorrow.

Orange Box Nightclub is by Snowbnuuy

Slow dancing (used for some Seth & Faith poses and a million times better than that bouncy crap EA gave us) is part of MercuryFoam’s awesome ballroom mod

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Chapter 3.12 – Distraction

Jessica took a deep, centring breath and approached the house. She took out the shiny business card Morag had given her. It had a picture of an alien on one side and simply the address on the back. Like it was some edgy, highly secretive society she was joining and not the local oddballs. She double-checked the card in her hand against the number on the door.

From her time with the WBPD, she knew this street and she knew this house belonged to a fairly sensible man in his late-adulthood. She’d have never associated that unassuming man with running the so-called head-quarters of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society’s Forgotten Hollow Investigation Branch, but maybe that was the idea.

And it was definitely the right place. She could see the three society members seated within, their headgear glistening in the light of the room.

Jessica wondered if she’d be leaving here tonight with her own tin-foil hat. Whether they had a tin-foil hat supplier or if they made them by themselves. Whether there was a base hat, what was inside that ball on the end, whether the foil was new or recycled from turkey leftovers—

“Jessica!” someone called. She was standing inside the house now; how did that happen? Had she just wandered in? “You’re early! The cookies aren’t ready yet!”

“Cookies?” Jessica repeated, feeling her stomach rumble. Oh, goodness. When had she last eaten?

“Oh. My. God. Jessica,” Morag said quietly. The three of them had risen from their seats and were surrounding her, like technicolour flies. “Your… your outfit.”

Ah. Jessica looked down at her poodle skirt and wellington boots and hastily compared it to the attire of her companions. In her head she looked the part but… oh no. What if they thought she was mocking them? What if she was too colour co-ordinated? What if, by some cruel twist of fate, she was too wacky-looking? You could have heard a pin drop. Jessica’s heart pounded, the palms of her hands were inexplicably slick and wiping them on this polyester monstrosity of a skirt was only making it worse. There was only one thing to do.

Own it.

She swept her arms dramatically and cocked her hip. “You like?”

If enthusiasm had tangible force, Jessica would’ve been knocked outside by the power of it as all three girls began squealing at the same time.

“Your boots!”

“Your skirt!”

“OMG, are those llama earrings?”

She was ushered to the sofa in this flurry of excitable conversation and praise for an outfit that had literally made her barf. Yibbo placed a glass of water before her and the GliTS took seats around her, thrumming with joy and looking to her expectantly.

“So,” Jessica began, subtly sniffing her water. “Do I get my hat now, or…?”

“Hat?” Morag asked. She scratched her head and seemed to suddenly register the crinkly metallic cap she was adorned with. “Oh! This? Oh no, only initiated members get these.”

“Oh, is that what this is? An initiation?”

“No… Oh, oh frick!” Pixie exclaimed, non-too-convincingly. “How embarrassing! Jessica, I think there’s been a misunderstanding. You can’t just join us. We are an elite, highly-educated and respected society with hierarchy and rank and procedures—”

“Just kidding! You’re in, Jessica!” Morag gushed.

“Morag! For Gnome’s sake, not again! We had a whole to-and-fro and suspenseful build-up practiced!” Yibbo sighed.

“I can’t help it. I’m too excited. Will you join us, Jess? Will you?”

Jessica looked between the three who were grinning like maniacs.

Do you really want to be part of this? She asked herself, not for the first time that day. Heck, not for the first time that hour.

Did she have a choice?

“Of course I will! I have dreamed of this moment!” Not a complete lie; she had once had a weird dream where she had gained membership to a group of It girls, who dressed in monochrome and drank bubble tea, so this was… somewhat similar. “So, what happens now? Do I get to learn all about witches and vampires?”

“And ghosts,” Pixie murmured.

“And ghosts. Do I get a hat?”

“You do. You receive all that and more when you’re a fully-fledged member.” Morag smiled; a blush washed over her cheeks as she caught Jessica’s eye and hastily turned away.

“And all you have to do to become a fully-fledged member,” Pixie said. “Is survive one night alone in the Forgotten Hollow Forest. Does Wednesday work for you?”

“Um… what?”



Seth gazed out of the oversized window, over the tangled mass of concrete and blinking lights that he just could not find appeal in, up at the rapidly darkening sky. After three centuries of guiding his existence by the changing light, he knew it was about two hours later than they had agreed to leave.

It brought to mind a question that men had been asking since time immemorial; why did women always take so long to get ready?

He’d spent the majority of the day perusing the stores, and minds, of assistants who would never recall him, obtaining everything he and his mutable miscreation desired. At first reticent to accept his offerings, she’d quickly shrugged off her sham empathy for those from which he would take, caring only about her own dreams. Without her friends, without their worried glances and hesitations that she’d mimicked to fit into a society she loathed, Faith’s true colours readily bled to the surface.

It never ceased to bemuse Seth, the murky depths of human nature. How low the average person could sink – with very little persuasion – if they were even slightly detached from the ones suffering. How they could all justify the most heinous acts committed in their stead by simply turning a blind eye—

Not all of us.

“What if I wring his neck; will that ease your conscience?”

“No, Seth. That will make it worse.”

Seth faltered; this sudden memory of Angeline fluttering, unsettled, inside him. For a man previously so in control, so stringent and strict with his thoughts, these new, impromptu snippets were both bothersome and disconcerting.

She would hate what you’d become.

“She’s dead,” he muttered.

“I prefer undead.” The click of her heels on the slate tile had announced Faith’s presence before her words did. “You look good.”

Ah, an inadvertent invitation, asking him to reciprocate this comment. Because of course she wouldn’t ask him directly to turn around and tell her how she looked. She feared it; his judgement. She still could not believe that she was allowed to be herself; that someone seemed willing to accept her for the complicated calamity that she was.

Maybe because she knew it was a farce. Maybe she could see right through him.

Seth steeled himself against the urge to face her, to reassure her as he sensed her unease growing with every second of his silence. He had to keep her at a simmer, always fretting, always unsure, but always interested enough to stay. However, since his little episode the other night, doing so was exponentially harder than before. Hurting her to get what he needed was pricking a conscience long buried.

This nineteen-year-old, clueless new vampire – who was slowly messing up everything in his carefully constructed existence with her grey eyes, potty mouth and the dangerous unknown of her power – was breathing life into parts of him that he thought had died with Lilith. He was developing a fondness and it had to be quashed.

Or you could try embracing it?

Oh, yes, because that had gone so bloody well in the past.

“Aren’t you going to—“

“I look like every ‘bad bloke’ in SimLit,” he snarled, cutting off her question. “I look ridiculous.”

Faith hummed as if she was agreeing. “Only from the waist up. Your ass looks amazing.”

A smile began to creep on to his face and of its own volition, his body began to turn to her, like a flower seeking the sun. “If these jeans were any tighter, my bollocks would be permanent residents in my— oh.”

“Oh?” she whispered, as he finally looked at her. Or, perhaps a more apt description, as he drank in every divine feature of her. Had she always been this… striking?

“Oh,” he repeated. At a loss for words. He opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.

Misinterpreting this, no doubt from her previous experience of watching him try to form a lie, she wilted and damn him – it felt like a punch in the gut.

“Oh,” she said again, her eyes glassy in the corners. She threw her head up, defiantly, but it was fooling no-one. “You hate it. Well, fuck you, what do you know about fashion? Clearly nothing. It’s supposed to be three colours. I was trying for an ombre look but do you have any idea how fucking hard it is to do stuff when you have no reflection? And I never usually wear red, I know, but it felt vampy. And these nails; the left hand looks great, but the right is a little wonky. I suppose.” Her spirit left under his gaze and her lip began to tremble. “I look like shit, don’t I?”

“No,” he replied, not even trying to dodge the question. “You look… different.”

Different. He could’ve strangled himself.

“Different,” she repeated. “Right. Six fucking hours this took and I look ‘different’?”

“Faith—“

She screeched, flipping from melancholy to mania in the way that only she could. “Thanks for nothing, you complete arsehole. Fuck it! Fuck you!”

She carried on raging and he let her. If she was angry at him she’d likely not go and instead spend the night stewing, regretting her outburst and what it had cost her. He could head out to the village, retrace a few more steps, just as he’d planned to anyway, and he’d probably arrive back to her apologising to him, to boot.

But for reasons he didn’t want to acknowledge, that felt… unacceptable. Against his better judgement, he took her hand, pulling her to him the mortal way and causing her to pause.

“Beautiful,” he said quietly. “You look beautiful, Faith.”

“Beautiful. Really,” she huffed, not believing him. “If that’s true then why all the—?” she impersonated his earlier goldfish actions.

“Because you…” he hesitated, rolling the words around his tongue, trying not to answer, but like a broken tap, his response gushed out anyway. “You took my breath away, all right?”

She squinted at him suspiciously, chewed her lip, analysed him until she was satisfied. “Pfft, some compliment. You don’t have any breath. And we both know who actually took it away,” she mumbled with irritation, but it was followed by a shy little smile that made her even more captivating, if that was possible.

Damn. What was happening here?

He scanned her outfit – it would have cost him hundreds had he procured it all legally, which of course, he hadn’t – for a distraction. “Are those Megan’s jeans?”

“Well, the fit is good and they smell good, no point them going to waste… OK, fine. I admit it, I like the jeans.” Faith shrugged and tucked her hands into the pockets, pulling out a folded piece of paper that she proceeded to open. “A receipt for bubble-gum. Why would anyone keep that?” she scoffed, discarding it on the floor. “So, how are we getting to the gig?”

“How do you think?” he replied.

“Ugh, fine. I thought you’d have arranged a car or something. Never mind. I’d better arrive with all ten nails intact, Seth, or I’ll kick your ass.”

“Not if I lose your legs along the way, you won’t.”

“Fuck off,” she uttered, but she smiled, fully this time, and allowed him to pull her closer.



Bluebell Balls, or ‘Blu’ as she was more commonly known these days, had performed many a gig in her thirty years. The Kaz Traitors’ frontwoman had started by singing to a handful of regulars in her dad’s pub. He would pay her a tenner for her harmonic covers of classic rock songs, and dock her half every time she threw in ‘any of them screamy sounds’.

She’d met Carlos ‘Caustic’ Evans during her time at university, a whole other life ago when singing for a living was just a dream and she was studying to be a vet. Caustic was in no way, shape or form an academic; he cleaned toilets at SacFondles and on the day they’d met, he had broken into – and was trashing – the lab for ‘shits and giggles’.

He was so impressed that she could yell at him for two minutes without taking a breath, that he’d invited her to join his band and hounded her until she’d agreed. There, he’d encouraged her to growl, grunt, scream and wail her own lyrics all she’d liked, while he and his cousin, Floppy Funbags – her actual name – thrashed about on their guitars, breaking limbs and furniture.

Success hadn’t come overnight. It took many gruelling years and many line-up changes before Blu first stepped out on stage in front of thousands of writhing bodies, who sang her words back at her, each taking different meanings, but all with every bit of emotion she’d written into them.

She was so accustomed to the crowds, to the adoration, that she’d almost forgotten how it felt to perform to an empty room, to doubt herself. Those days when she’d wonder if she should go to back university or if success would come faster if she lost twenty pounds and put out a pop album.

This was definitely fate’s way of keeping her grounded.

“Are you ready for more?!” she called to the solitary fan; her words ten times amplified in the empty space.

“I think he’s ready,” Nani laughed from behind her.

“What is going on?” Blu asked, subtly switching her mic off. “I know this is a bit last-minute and all, but did Mandeep really only sell one ticket? What was she doing all day?”

“I dunno, but whatever she was doing, she’s still off doing it,” Nani replied.

“She probably hacked up a lung and is dying in a ditch somewhere,” Floppy said casually, her expression taking on that dazed, faraway look that it did when exposed to extremely gruesome thoughts. “Shall I send one of the other roadies to go look for her?”

“Nah, she’ll be all right. Maybe no one can find this place?” Caustic suggested. “We are three storeys underground. Or maybe this guy here is the only fan in this shithole town.”

“No… he can’t be. Can he?”

“Nope,” Nani nodded towards the door, diverting Blu’s attention. “We’ve got two more! Shit, they are gorgeous!”

Blu watched the young couple, who had appeared as if from nowhere, make their way towards the stage. They were gorgeous but there was something else about them too. A chill that entered the room when they did, something almost otherworldly.

The girl was definitely a fan; if the crazed glee on her face didn’t give it away, her proudly displayed tattoo did. But the guy? He looked like he’d rather be squatting in hell, sticking hot pins under his eyelids. He was definitely only here for his girl; his glum expression immediately changed the second she faced him.

“Thank you so much!” she squealed, throwing her arms around him. “Oh my god! I can’t believe I’m here and she’s there! Are we late? I hope we haven’t missed Childhood.”

One of Kaz Traitors’ earliest songs. It had been thoroughly shitted on by the critics, but remained the anthem of their hardcore fanbase. The guy rolled his eyes, as the girl pivoted back towards the stage but his groan of despair was drowned out by her fangirling cries of ‘I love you, Blu!’

Blu had been about to call it a night and go hit the bar, but not now. She might’ve only had one real fan in this ‘crowd’, but dammit, that fan was gonna have her night made.

She slid back into her sultry stage persona. “Hey, you,” she purred, trying not to grin as the girl’s eyes shot open, amazed at being addressed directly. “Got any requests?”

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Chapter 3.04 – Plastic Genie

Note: includes discussion of suicide and mental illness

Lilith was not sure at what point of the night she’d slipped completely into ‘don’t give a damn’ mode. She suspected it was somewhere between using a crystal ball to bowl over some sacred ritual candles and painting ‘Sage smells’ on the florist’s workbench, but she well and truly did not give a damn now.

She swept a few things off the store counter and climbed up, supported by Caleb’s uncharacteristic cheering, and began shaking and shimmying to an upbeat rhythm that Wyatt had manipulated the ambient speakers in the shop to play.

Wyatt was a blast; he was so relaxed and down to earth that she had to wonder if he was aware of what he was capable of. She guessed that he wasn’t and when he finally was, he’d be as much of a dick as all the others.

Broof, or Broompig as Lilith had taken to calling him, knew though. Caleb was oblivious to everything going on around him, as usual, but Lilith noticed the envious little glances Broof threw Wyatt’s way and the smoky ones he threw her way. Ugh. These supernatural men were all the same; obsessed with power and thinking they were Watcher’s gift to women when all he was, was a bearded git who couldn’t teleport his way out of a paper bag.

Lilith had almost forgotten where she was as the room swayed in a wash of crazy colour and the music vibrated through her bones, becoming her. She was a goddess, high in the heavens looking down on her loyal worshippers. She was a queen, reigning untouchable above her peasants. She was—

“—going to fall if you’re not careful,” sang a voice from behind her.

“Sage!” Lilith squeaked, whipping around and losing her balance. Fortunately, Caleb wasn’t too out of it to catch her before she even realised she was falling. He was good at that.

Sage tutted and waved her hand to mellow the music back to its soft, ambient forest sounds as Lilith ruffled Caleb’s hair.

Thanks, Thor.

The room had sobered up and fallen silent in an instant and Lilith wriggled from her brother’s hold She looked around at the sombre faces knowing that they all felt like she did under Sage’s unforgiving gaze; like a naughty child who’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She shrugged, trying to focus through the bubble-induced haze.

“Sleep well?”

Sage nodded. “I always do. My conscience is clear.” She passed her gaze over the three men, pausing on Broof. “Still here?” she asked, sweetly.

“He’s literally just ‘ported in,” Wyatt interjected as Broof opened his mouth. The hairy-faced goon didn’t even stand up for himself; he promptly snapped his jaws shut and nodded his agreement.

“Oh, what excellent timing,” Sage chirped, in that fake way she always did. Three centuries hadn’t changed her a day, beyond the jowls. “Would you two boys sort out breakfast for our guests here, as you agreed, and then prepare the guest room for the arrival of the girls? Lilith, after breakfast you and I will head down the old cottage and collect them.”

Lilith sighed. “April is—”

“Stuck in the house, I know,” Sage said dismissively. “You have a mobile telephone, don’t you Lilith, dear? Good,” she smiled as Lilith nodded, “when we get to the cottage, we’ll call Wyatt and then, Caleb darling, you can simply undo your command! And while the two girls are here, we’ll see to it that you learn not to be so frivolous with your instructions. April is not a toy.”

“Three girls,” Caleb said. “There are three; April, Faith and Melinda.”

He said the last name with a hint of distaste that wasn’t missed by anyone in the room, leaving Lilith to guess at what had happened between Caleb and his stargazing buddy. But she did have to smile at her gormless brother glossing over the threat and reprimands from this prickly witch to focus solely on the facts. And as for this plan of hers? Sage must be getting soft in her old age; there were so many holes in that plan she was surprised Caleb wasn’t trying to screw it.

Lilith could work with this.

“No, darling. There are two girls. Faith’s whereabouts are currently unknown,” Sage clarified, clicking her tongue at the challenge and smiling around at the three men who wore various expressions at this news.

“Unknown?” Wyatt asked. “That’s… that’s not good, right?”

“Shoot,” Broof said. “Perhaps they had a falling out? Faith and April were always falling out but she always came back. Unless something prevented that…”

He looked to Lilith. Probably for answers, but it felt like an accusation.

Fuck off, Broompig.

Sage leaned in towards Lilith and whispered. “Oh my. Did you push her away? Did you push them all away? Tut tut. All these secrets and crossed wires. We do have a long day ahead of us and lots to explain and untangle, don’t we Lilith, dear?”

Lilith glared at her brother; rueing his senseless outbursts, his flippant vampire creation and his grumpy face.

What part of ‘keep your bloody mouth shut’ don’t you understand?!



Even when there was another soul in the dining room, no one spoke other than to themselves. Jessica waved at everyone who walked past, but aside from Dorian, no one waved back. Dorian had been at the Tower for over twenty years and was part of the furniture; his insistence that demons spoke and acted through him which was why he kept setting fire to things, never subsided in that whole time, even with the strongest of medications and the full array of therapies.

Jessica found him fascinating. Hearing voices when there weren’t any moving faces nearby was something she’d been experiencing since her teens, but mostly hers was a buzz of background noise. It was akin to being in a crowded pub, where she could hear the hum of conversations going on around her, but unless she really focused, she could not discern any meaningful words. Occasionally, one would shout up over the others, but it was generally nonsense. They certainly never told her to do anything and she’d never given it much thought.

There was probably a medication she could take for it, but Jessica was not an idiot. She knew that the second she admitted anything that even bordered on being out of the ordinary, she could kiss her freedom goodbye for at least a year. And she needed to be out of here as soon as possible, there was so much to do. She needed to investigate Chase’s and Ralf’s deaths, attend their funerals and pay her respects. She needed to meet and apologise to the family they’d left behind for not noticing, for not doing the very things she was paid for; to keep others safe.

She also needed to find a new job and a bigger place so she could raise her baby—

Her baby. She idly drew a circle on the front of her gown and thought back to the conversation she’d had before breakfast. The doctor offered no reaction when Jessica told him she would be continuing her pregnancy, but something told her that her decision was inconvenient.

She looked down again at the plate of food that was taunting her, willing herself to comply and just eat it. She’d barely eaten since she’d gotten here and she was starving, but each forkful that passed her lips caused Jessica’s stomach to lurch. She hadn’t even taken a bite yet; she just been tapping the mushy dome of unidentifiable meat with her fork and watched as it oozed blood…

Jessica abruptly pushed her seat back from the dining table and ran towards the main door. Dorian watched her go, but was preoccupied with his own thoughts. The orderly buzzed the door open as Jessica approached, a knowing look on her face, allowing Jessica to sprint up the stairs to her bedroom.

She stumbled into the tiny shower room just in time to heave a burning stream, comprised entirely of the walls of her empty stomach, into the toilet.

Maybe she’d be in the mood for lunch.

Jessica washed, changed into a clean gown and settled on her bed to watch the news. Barring Pixie’s daily visit, it was her only contact with the outside world – as biased and sensationalised as it was.

“Thanks, Bob. So there you go folks, if you will be attending Sandy Moss’s monument, please keep vigils to a maximum of eight people and remember that the graveside is not a poolside and clothing must remain on.

“In other news, the suspected suicide of local police chief, Ralf Widdlefinkle, 54, a week after the unexplained death of his nephew and deputy, Chase Crooks, 29, has left the Woodland Borough Police Department severely understaffed and conspiracy theorists in a spin. We now cross live to Reb Porter in Willow Creek, who is at the scene where the police chief was found. Reb.”

“Thanks, Lorna. I’m actually here at the Glimmerbrook Truth Society Headquarters in Willow Creek, a couple of streets away, where I’m hoping to speak to Zibbo, a GliTS member and the one who found the ill-fated police chief’s body.

“Oh, someone has arrived, let’s see who they are… Oh! That’s her! Tibbo! Tibbo! Over here! Reb Porter, News Channel. I understand that you were the one who found Ralf Widdlefinkle’s body, is that correct?”

“It’s Yibbo, and I did but—”

“Tell me about the body? What wounds did it have? Were the circumstances suspicious? Whereabout was he, Libbo?”

“Yibbo, and he was on the floor, but I didn’t see—”

“You must know, Yobbo! Was it poisoning? Bleeding? Did he shoot himself?”

Jessica’s heart ached as the news feature played on above her. She willed that vile reporter to get her microphone out of poor Yibbo’s face, but she couldn’t seem to stop watching, willing Yibbo to answer because Jessica needed to know. What did happen? If Ralf decided to end it all, why? Could she have stopped him? Jessica twisted the hem of her gown as the background noise inside her head got louder, angrier. Demanding answers. Demanding to know how she’d failed so badly to notice the signs—