Chapter 3.18 – Deep Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

Nothing. Not even a huff.

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

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

“Hey, she dumped me—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ooh! Where? On the nipple?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You done?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

Floppy laughed and splashed him.

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

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

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

“Floppy, listen to me—“

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

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

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

“I used a johnny,” he lied.

Floppy laughed. “So did my dad.”

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

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

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

“Is she a politician?” he asked.

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

Floppy shook her head. “Beats me.”

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

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

Her friends.

“She’s April’s friend!” he announced.

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

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

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

Well, fuck.

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

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

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

“You could come and stay at my place?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh my word, here they come.

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

“I’m 321, Chuck.”

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

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

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

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

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

Lilith didn’t know what she deserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This situation couldn’t get any worse.

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Chapter 3.17 – Fires of Hell

How did this whole thing get worse each time?

Wyatt had suffered this presentation multiple times over the years; every time his mum got a whiff of him having any interest in anyone or hearing through the grapevine that he’d got himself a new squeeze, out came The Chart. He could reel off, verbatim, every single page and most of his mum’s butt-clenchingly embarrassing stories.

But sodding heck, this was a million times worse than any other time, ever. His mum just would not stop talking. Going off on tangents. Reminiscing. Asking questions no one wanted to answer. It was like she was trying to make the ground open up and swallow them all.

Wyatt’s cheeks were burning hotter than the underworld. He was amazed he hadn’t ignited the coffee table.

Sage had run the full gamut of her topics and was -finally- almost at the end of her flipchart. The ‘grand finale’ in all the painful ways possible.

Wyatt had turned off somewhere between neck kissing and erotic massage – a first time for everything – and was abruptly brought back to the room by his mum enacting an explosion.

April, the only occupant of the room who didn’t appear to be dying of embarrassment and who was hooked on every word, mimicked the explosion sound and said incredulously, “Millions of them? And you only need one? What happens to the others? How do you stop them?”

Wyatt went back to his happy place as Sage began stomping around, doing her impression of an aggrieved sperm cell banging its head against the inside of a condom.

He allowed his mind to wander to fantasy.

He imagined standing from the sofa, waving his overcharged hand and burning the board to ash.

He imagined the look of horror on his mum’s face and the cheers that would no doubt erupt from his squirming buddies.

Nah, that was overkill. Besides, knowing his luck he’d probably burn the house down, get his casting rights revoked and she’d make a new flip chart with a hundred extra pages to endure next time.

He could do it, if only for April; she had clearly learned a lot. He wasn’t sure Caleb had learned a lot but during the roleplay section Sage had insisted on – which was mortifying – he had at least tried. He knew what he was doing wrong, retrospectively, even if he didn’t know why or how to fix it.

Wyatt felt pretty bad for the dude but in this case, ‘trying’ wasn’t really good enough. There was no way Sage was gonna allow him to be alone with April.

Wyatt had almost zoned out enough to forget where he was, but became aware that Sage was still talking and, worse, gesturing with sound effects. What the hell was she doing now?

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. He was literally gonna die.

One more page. Just one more page. As long as no one asked any questions, he would soon be hiding in the safety of his room, brewing up something to wash his brain with.

“And that concludes tonight’s lesson! Any questions?”

April appeared to have reached her information fill level and remained mute but beside Wyatt, Melinda, who had been silent since page thirty-five, perked up. Wyatt almost wrestled her to the floor in his haste to silence her.

“Mel,” he hissed between gritted teeth. “I’ll give you ten simoleons and tell you anything you wanna know if you don’t ask her any questions.”

“Deal,” Melinda whispered without hesitation.

“No one has any questions, Mum. We all now know everything and will go back to our chaste lives, keeping our bodily fluids to ourselves… bar the occasional blood sucking, obvs.”

“Very well then,” Sage said smoothly, closing her flipchart. “We shall call it a night. But if anyone does have any questions whatsoever, you know where to find me!



After the sun had fully set, Faith set off to prowl the city streets. Unlike the previous night, the darkness didn’t feel like home, it didn’t feel endless and free and overflowing with opportunity, it only felt threatening and lonely.

She had been flitting all day between rage and worry, waiting for the moment when Seth appeared and laughed at her for pining for him. She’d played out a number of scenarios in her head, things she’d say if he came back, what she’d do if he didn’t. She couldn’t stay in the apartment forever – eventually someone was going to notice the original owner was missing and come and look for him. Where else would she go? What else would she do?

She couldn’t go home, not now, even though she ached in her bones to hold her little sister again. Maybe she could swing by the house and peek through the window or intercept Joy on her way home from school. Like some sort of creep.

Joy was going to be eight soon. Faith would go see her on her birthday even if it killed her. But not now. Now she had to find her footing, again.

What if Seth really had left her? She wouldn’t really blame him – no bloke had ever stuck around this long before, she already felt like she was on borrowed time but… fuck. It hurt.

Faith had no idea where to start looking for Seth. She sort of knew the city by its bars and shadows, mainly, but knew that he wouldn’t hang out in the city if he didn’t have to. He’d have gone out of the concrete jungle and made his way into the surrounding forests and there was no way she was wandering the woods all night, filled as they were with bugs and bugger knows what else.

She could find a bar, blag a few drinks, by herself. Go dancing, by herself. Wander aimlessly… by herself.

Could she go back to the cottage and try and patch things up with Melinda? Did she want to? Faith had always thought it; Mellybean deserved a better friend.

Damn it all. When April had turned up at the cinema that night and offered Faith her wildest dream, she’d never thought she’d end up alone, wandering the streets in a near frantic state, pretending she wasn’t looking for any sign of her mind-fucked vampire lover—

Something white interrupted Faith’s circling thoughts when it darted out from behind a bin and scared the living shit out of her.

But unlike most cats she’d encountered in her time, this one did not carry on running, it didn’t ignore her and head back to wherever it came from. It blocked her path and stared at her, meowing softly.

Faith was not much of an animal lover. Animals were either shedding, stinky, slimy or a combination of all three. They couldn’t hold conversations, they didn’t laugh at jokes, they were all pointless, really.

“Shoo!”

The cat continued to stare at her, to meow at her insistently. Maybe it knew her? Something about it was kind of familiar, she thought scanning through her memories, quickly realising it wasn’t her own memories she needed to scan.

Shit, it was weird remembering the memories Seth dumped on her – in her? – when he had his little meltdown. It was kind of like it didn’t fit in her head, like a hat that was too small, but worn on the inside of her head. That made no fucking sense, but Faith couldn’t explain it any better than that.

She wondered if that’s how Seth saw his prey’s memories, too.

OK, so that’s where she’s seen a cat before. White, fluffy, big green eyes. It was just coincidence but this cat that was giving her the evil eye looked identical.

Although, white cats weren’t uncommon, not in these parts. Some white tom – possibly even this one, he was clearly fearless – had obviously been having a lot of fun with the females of the town. The Fringey of cats, she laughed to herself.

She ignored the thing, turned around to pursue an unblocked path and found herself tripping up over the little shit who had bolted between her legs and was weaving around them, his meowing persistent.

Faith watched in horror as the thing deposited a thousand white cat hairs on her jeans. She hoped he didn’t have fleas. Would fleas bite her now? Probably not, but she didn’t want to risk it. She briefly considered booting the thing into the sky, but it was still pretty early, there were people milling about and in a weird way, it was sort of cute.

The cat had fallen silent, its warm body against her leg, rubbing his face against her calf, purring and never breaking eye contact. Faith felt a pull as she looked at it, a lure…

No, that was ridiculous. It’s just a cat.

Faith nudged it away with her free foot, probably a little too hard, repeating her instruction to shoo. The thing hissed at her and ran off a short way and Faith, relieved that it had gotten the message, watched it go, only to see it stop a few feet away to look back at her. Or rather, it seemed to Faith, to glare at her. Almost to goad her. She could almost hear it singing in her head; I know something you don’t know.  

It was insane but what if… what if this cat did know something? What if it was actually trying to lead her somewhere? What if Seth was right and this thing was following him?

Maybe it was a gut feeling or maybe it was because she had nothing better to do, but Faith heaved a huge sigh and started to follow.


Forty minutes later, the cat had run through alleyways and back streets, eventually coming out onto a track that led away from the city and into the wilderness.

This was insane. This cat was probably gonna make Faith lost and then kill her. Maybe it had some sort of big cat complex and they’d find her mangled corpse knotted in a ball and left on someone’s doorstep.

The cat had run on ahead, down a trail that was thick with mud and horse shit, and Faith decided that enough was enough.

She pivoted on her heel to turn back, before she reached the point of no return and again, her attention was caught by something on the ground.

Faith was never one for picking up litter, but this… she recognised this…

It had been soaked through by the earlier rain showers but there was absolutely no doubt about it. It was a ticket stub for the Kaz Traitors gig.

Faith still clung to this all being coincidence but was quickly losing her grip. There were only a handful of people at that gig. What are the odds that another one of them had walked all the way out here?

Tiny. Miniscule.

Faith had never run so fast in her life. She pursued the cat as it bounded effortlessly through a barely trodden trail while she stumbled along behind it. She was so relieved that she hadn’t worn her ridiculous heels and had put a bra on, but these jeans were so not made for running.

The path eventually reached what looked like a selection of independent shops in the middle of nowhere. Faith followed the cat through a pair of heavily-hung gates into a place that she immediately recognised, despite its modern-day makeover.

Angeline’s farm.

Of course he’d come here, she thought with resentment. Half of her wanted to turn around and storm off down the path, go back to cottage and make amends with Melinda and just forget the bastard. But the other half?

The other half knew that something was wrong.

Seth was lying on the floor and he looked like he’d been there a while. At first she thought he was dead, well, more dead, but on closer inspection, she realised that the heavy compression that surrounded her when she was near him still lingered. She took that as a sign that he was still there.

The cat had settled quietly behind her, observing.

“You bought me here and you’re not going to help?” she joked, but it gave absolutely no response, no acknowledgement that she had even spoken.

Faith didn’t know what to do. What could’ve floored him like that and was it still a danger? She nudged Seth in the side with the toe of her boot, but he didn’t flinch.

“Wake up, asshole,” she whispered, thinking a good insult might rouse him.

Nothing.

Hm. She wondered if she could move him. Dropping to her knees, she managed to get enough leverage to heft him into a sitting position. Fuck, he was heavy, even without pockets full of rocks and knives. She managed to get him as far as the wall and semi-upright before her arms gave out.

“Seth! Wake up!” she tried again, with the same response as before.

There was only one other thing she could think to do.

Well, it worked last time and seemed to do the trick again. As the sound of her palm contacting his cheek echoed around the small alleyway, Seth’s eyes blinked open and for the first time, she realised that he was in dark form.

Those glowing eyes of his caught her off-guard and for moment all words escaped her. Even in dark form he was absolutely gorgeous and added to that the fact that he looked so wounded, so fragile…

She stroked his face, feeling like she’d been gutted.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Faith?” he murmured, it sounded like so much effort. He craned his head to the sky trying to put pieces together. “It’s dark? What day is it?”

“It’s Monday night. Have you been out here all day?” Faith asked, the guilt of not looking for him sooner starting to eat away at her. “What the fuck happened to you?”

“It’s dark,” he whispered.

Faith bit her lip. Was he dying? Was she too late? Fuck, fuck, fuck! “Good job you have a guardian angel, then,” she joked, trying to laugh. “Stay away from the fires of hell, Seth! Come into the light!”

“You’re hardly an angel,” he murmured.

Shit. Did he know? Could he tell? She’d washed and changed – surely she didn’t smell of Caustic now? But what was that he’d said to her before?

“Come now, Violet. I’m a prime apex predator and you four are hardly skilled at covering your tracks.”

“Seth, I—“

He reached his hand up, his eyes trying to focus on her face. For a moment she thought he was going to hit her, but his touch was gentle where it landed. “You’re not a nightmare, Faith,” he said quietly. “It was a joke in poor taste.”

“Ha fucking ha,” She shoved his hand away. She couldn’t deal with that right then; softness. “A joke. I thought you’d left me.”

“By no will would I have left you alone with that pink-haired predator. I could barely read his thoughts, but I could feel his intentions.” He groaned, pressing his gloved fingertips firmly into his forehead. “Holy damn, my head.”

“How much did you drink?”

“Barely anything. Perhaps my age is showing.”

“Perhaps,” Faith thought, a more sinister scenario crossing her mind.

He grabbed her wrist and tried to focus on her again. The laboured tone of his voice did nothing to dampen the force of his words. “Know that if he laid a single finger on you, I’ll hunt him down and gut him, fame be damned.”

Fucking bollocking shit. If Faith had breath, she’d likely be hyperventilating by now. “He didn’t,” she murmured, lying like a pro. “I- I can look after myself.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He nodded, relieved and stroked her hand against the roughness of his face as he laughed. “Twice in one week you have come to my aid. I’m becoming quite the ‘damsel in distress’,” he joked. “Who’d have thought I’d have a saviour and that it’d be you?”

She fought back tears remembering the disappointing fuck she was having while Seth was probably wandering around, possibly drugged, or passed out at the mercy of the sun. She pulled him into an embrace, so he couldn’t see her face.

“How did you find me?” he asked.

“I didn’t,” she admitted, allowing him to rock her in his arms. She inclined her head towards the cat. “He did.”

“Oh?” Seth followed the direction of her nod and in an instant his whole body seized up.

He threw Faith off as he crawled back in fear, stammering as he went, “It’s that one! It’s that cat! It’s following me, I know it!”

“It’s just a cat who seems to like you—”

He ignored her. “No cat can live 300 years.”

“Not this shit again. It’s a different cat. There’s more than one cat in the world, Seth,” Faith pointed out as she approached her fluffy new companion. He jumped up at her attention.

“You’re just a stupid cat, aren’t you?” she cooed, tickling its chin as it pushed its head into her hand. “Yes you are! Just a dumb ball of floof who follows my man around.”

What the—

Was that her weird blast power again? Maybe it was a way of dispelling creatures she hated – first Lilith, now cats. Or perhaps it was just static built up from running in man-made fibres. Whatever it was, the cat appeared unhurt but scarpered like its arse was on fire, ignoring Faith’s calls.

She returned to Seth, who was looking far more relaxed with the cat gone, and helped him to his feet.

“See?” she said. “Just a cat. It’s fine.”

Everything is fine.


Sage’s flipchart can be downloaded from here.

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Chapter 3.14 – Useless?

Seth shifted and felt the too-tight fabric strain across his thighs as he moved. His folding pocket knife, the only one that he could fit in the dainty, largely decorative pockets of his jeans, had wedged itself under his hip bone and no amount of subtle repositioning would fix it.

No, he wasn’t comfortable, but he didn’t want to open his eyes, didn’t want to move. He wasn’t ready to wake yet.

He slept so little these days; his overstimulated husk needing to rest so infrequently that this deep slumber, this heavenly nothing he was on the cusp of stirring from was divine.

So often, he would close his eyes and welcome oblivion, only to find himself watching the insides of his eyelids until he quickly bored.

But not this time. He was even dreaming, this time.

Granted, it was a retelling of his night’s events, but the smooth way it played through his consciousness without his interference was rather placating.

He could see the stage, hear the wailing of that woman who, despite her colourful lyrics, was full of thoughts drier than a vampire in the desert.

A small crowd had arrived at the venue but not nearly large enough to lose Faith in. Still, he could take five minutes to rest his ears without her noticing.

Seth paused in the doorway and slowly turned back. Something suddenly didn’t feel right.

Or look right.

He did love it when prey selected itself.

Bloody hell; even in his dreams he could feel the mass of beard between his teeth and the rancid taste of sweat and desperation. But, despite this rather unpleasant replay, Seth clung to his dream, covering his face to the rising sun that threatened to rouse him.

He couldn’t have been missing from the room for more than half an hour but it was long enough to bother Her Majesty.

Faith – undeterred by being in a public place and naturally ungrateful that he had sorted Handsy Jack – was oblivious that he’d decided he would enjoy the way she looked tonight and continue his venture tomorrow. She proceeded to give Seth even more of an earful than he was already experiencing.

He couldn’t really make out her exact words over the dreadful din but keep vanishing and don’t give a shit about me were definitely mentioned in-between all the fucks and bastards.

She really knew how to keep a man.

Fortunately for the raging rookie, Seth had seen enough below her surface to be mostly unbothered by her outburst, to know that her bark was exponentially worse than her bite and that, like most teenagers, she had the attention span of an amnesiac fish.

Are you doing this? she asked him, her jaw on the floor as her idol stopped mid-song and left the stage to compliment Faith on her hair.

Of course I bloody am.

Once Blu was on board, the others followed her lead; metallic moths to their luminescent lyricist. They barely questioned as Blu closed the show, as the fans scattered, as two complete strangers were invited into their circle to have a beer and share stories about the best and worst gigs they’d been to.

Which was just as well, as not all the band members were as receptive to Seth’s attempts to manipulate them as Bluebell was.

Nani was an open book. But neither Floppy or ‘Caustic’ were particularly readable; their thoughts arriving to Seth through a chaotic cloud of white noise.

He’d encountered it before, typically in individuals who were mentally disturbed or who were otherwise lacking a fundamental sense of reality. If they couldn’t structure their own thought processes, Seth found it a most arduous task to follow them.

He’d presumed that the pair’s thoughts were no more interesting than Blu’s and Nani’s and continued pretending to enjoy his beer while he racked up brownie points with his delighted debutante. 

The conversation turned more personal when Faith – or Violet, as she was calling herself – asked if the rumours, about Nani and Caustic dating, were true. Seth wasn’t listening – he had suddenly noticed that Nani had Lilith’s hair – so he didn’t hear the next question coming.

“How serious are you two? Is Violet marriage material?” Caustic asked with a wink, like it was any of his business.

“No,” Seth replied bluntly, unable to answer the direct question with anything other than a direct answer. “She’s a nightmare,” he added, hoping the jovial tone he adopted would save him.

Caustic laughed, but no one else did. How strong was this beer? Perhaps he had trace intoxication from feeding off that bearded bastard earlier and this was simply amplifying it.

“I’m a nightmare?”

“Ah… uh…” Bollocks. He started to formulate a response, a distraction, wondering how he’d win her round before she kicked off, yet again. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he’d have to grovel. He was getting jaw ache just thinking about it.

“You really are an asshole, Seth.” Faith turned to Blu, her voice shaking, “Is there a bathroom in this place?”

“Oh, babe,” Blu sighed, stumbling from her barstool but keeping her beer upright, like a pro, as she beckoned Faith towards her. “C’mon, leave him.”

“Violet—” Seth growled at Faith, a warning and a plea, as she slinked off in the shadow of the superstar, ignoring him.

The thought of leaping from his chair and grabbing her flashed through his mind. He couldn’t decide if he’d grab her by the hand or the throat, whether he’d kiss her or rip her apart and in those seconds of inaction, he lost all desire to act. Let her go and rant about it to her new best friend.

She’d be back.

She hadn’t come back.

Snapped from any semblance of sleep, Seth jolted upright, the thoughts he’d been unable to structure the previous night finally taking shape. He’d left her alone. A fledgling vampire, a wanted woman, a star struck, slighted teenager in a room full of fleshy mortals.

There were so many ways that could have gone wrong.

What in hell’s name was he thinking?!

He hadn’t been thinking.

Why hadn’t he been thinking?

“Y’know, Seth, you ain’t looking so good. Why don’t you go get some air? I’ll look after ‘Violet’.”

Seth fought his way to his feet with no plan other than find her, fix this.

He could do neither.



April hadn’t gone straight to the cauldron room, as she was instructed, but that’s only because she gotten a little bit lost. The house was not really big, but it did have a lot of doors that all looked the same and she was certain that she’d opened the same door twice and it had led to different places.

Eventually, she found her way to a door which definitely led to the cauldron room, as evidenced by the humongous iron pot in it.

April was still a little confused, and wary, about what Sage might talk to her about later in the day. Maybe she was overthinking and it was simply going to be reiteration of house rules and designation of chores or something.

She really hoped so. April had never had chores before. She wondered which ones she’d be tasked with.

What if she was useless? She was pretty much useless at everything.

But whatever she had to do, she’d try super hard. She wasn’t sure she’d forgive herself if she and Melinda got kicked out. Where would they go?

Wyatt was hunched over the cauldron, mumbling something to himself. He hadn’t noticed April bounce in and she didn’t want to startle him. She looked around for something to subtly announce her presence with, but let out an involuntary gasp when she noticed a human skull in the cabinet to her side.

“Oh my goodness! Is that real?”

Wyatt jumped and as he did so, a very naughty word escaped his lips and a small jolt of blue lightning erupted from his fingertips and blasted the nearby wall.

“Ugh…” he groaned, stumbling back from the cauldron, his body glowing and shaking as if each limb had a life of its own.

“Apes, please don’t do that,” he said after all the pretty lights had vanished. He was telling her off, but he said it in a way that didn’t make April feel like she’d been told off. Maybe because he called her ‘Apes’. She liked that a lot better than her other nicknames of Blondie and Stupid.

Wyatt carefully examined the cauldron and breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s good, we’re all good. I missed.” He turned his attention to the cabinet April was looking into. “Yeah, that’s real.”

“Who is it?” she asked, with morbid fascination.

“I dunno. With some of the ancient witch stuff, it’s better to not ask,” he mumbled. Mother hated mumblers and the use of what she called ‘commoner talk’ – that is – not pronouncing each word crisply and fully, but April quite liked the way Wyatt spoke. It felt like a long, lazy Sunday. It was so very much in contrast to the all the crazy sparks that had been shooting out him a moment prior!

“What was all that light, Wy? Was that magic?”

“Uh,” he looked towards the door to the kitchen and replied hesitantly. “Yeah. That’s what magic looks like.”

“Magic,” April repeated, her eyes glittering. “It’s so pretty! Can you do it again?”

“No,” he eyed her warily. “Apes, if anyone asks, you didn’t see that, OK?”

“OK,” April agreed happily. A secret! She liked that they already had a secret, something only they knew. “Is that what all magic looks like? Would mine?” She waved her finger around but predictably, nothing happened. “Guess not.”

Did she imagine it or did he flinch when she talked about ‘her magic’? “Uh, I mean, if you’re actually a witch then it’ll be similar. Maybe.”

“Might I not be a witch even though you’re my father?”

She didn’t imagine it. He squirmed like a worm on a hook. “Gah. Ugh. I dunno. Sometimes it skips generations, so even if your parents are witches, you might not be, like Hoggy’s folks.”

“Broof’s parents weren’t magical?”

“No. Nor was his, um, daughter.” Wyatt looked into the slowly bubbling cauldron, then back at April. “Did… did you want something in here?”

“Not really, although this room is so fun! Grandmother told me to come and talk to you.”

“Right.”

“She said we might both learn a lot. I’m not really very sure what she thought I might teach you, unless you want to learn how to walk with a book on your head? I guess she thought you could teach me about plants? Maybe she’s hoping I’ll take over the family business one day. I do know a little bit about flowers. I read a lot in the mansion and found a few botany books in the dustbin over the years.”

“Really?” Wyatt asked, stifling a laugh. “OK, I can teach you some stuff, if you’re interested. How much do you know? Where shall we start?”

“Hmm,” April pondered tapping her chin and looking at the strings of flowers. “Why don’t you test me?”

“Sure. Pass me a… Christmas rose.”

April studied the blooms on the wall for a few minutes before delicately extracting a single flower.

“This one.”

Wyatt blinked, looking at her hand then back at her face. “Wow, yeah. Lucky guess?”

April shrugged, rolling the stem of the flower between her fingertips. “A little. I’ve never seen one before, but I recognised some of the others, so could rule those out and then saw this one and it felt right. Oh my goodness, that sounds so silly.”

“Not to me it doesn’t,” Wyatt said taking the flower from her and extracting a petal. “You’re a way better assistant than Hoggy, for sure.”

“I am?” April asked, beaming with pride.

“Yeah.” He scanned the recipe on the wall. “Next we need some cloves. They’re in that cabinet next to Skully.”

“Skully,” April giggled as she wandered back to the cabinet and ran her finger over the dusty bottles. “Cloves… cloves… ooh! What do you use frogspawn in?” she asked examining the colourful glass jars.

Wyatt shrugged following April’s gaze. “I don’t. Another relic. Witches of the past used loads of weird stuff we don’t use anymore. Really questionable ingredients.”

“Like children.”

“What?”

“Children. I saw it in a movie once. The witches made bread from the bones of children and eating it made them younger. It was a good bad movie. I watched it when I was nine and it kept me awake for almost a week! I still can’t look at bread the same way.”

“Modern witches aren’t really like the ones in movies, Apes. Some are, some still practice ill-natured magic, but they get the effects back, three-fold and… wait a sec. Bread from kids?” He scratched his head. “I know that movie! I’m surprised you’ve seen it, though. I think the whole production had a budget of ten simoleons and a pizza. Hardly a Del Sol Valley blockbuster.”

“Maybe that’s why I liked it. Those movies were so different to everything else around me. I really like scary movies, Wy. My friends and I would watch them all the time, before.”

“Awesome, same. Hey maybe we should—”

 “Sometimes it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only frightened one,” April added quietly, with a faraway, glazed expression.

Wyatt drummed his fingers against the cauldron, looking anywhere but at April. Her heart sank. She thought they were getting along but maybe she was annoying him, too.

“D-do you want me to go away?” she asked quietly, trying not to cry.

“No.”

“If you do, I’ll understand. Mother never wanted me around unless there were cameras nearby and Father – Travis – he spent most of his time in his office—”

Wyatt looked like he had a knot in his tummy. His knuckles were white where he gripped the cauldron and it seemed to be bubbling a lot more than before. Maybe he’d been taken poorly; this potion did smell quite funny.

April looked down at the floor, fiddling with the button on her skirt. “I’m not doing very well, am I? I very rarely stayed overnight away from the mansion and it appears that I’m not a very good guest. I upset Grandmother this morning, too.”

“Oh? With the crowing thing? Nah. Try waking her up with an errant spell at three A.M. if you really want to see her upset—”

“Not that. She caught me and Caleb… um,” she blushed and whispered, “Touching.”

“Oh,” Wyatt sucked a breath through his teeth and looked away. “Ah.”

“She said we needed to have a little talk about it,” April continued, panicking slightly at Wyatt’s reaction. “Oh, Wyatt! I think she might throw me out!”

Wyatt laughed. “You’ll be absolutely fine. Trust me, if she was gonna throw someone out for having a quick fumble, I’d have been out on my butt decades ago.”

“Really?”

“Really. That talk is gonna suck, though. Prepare to be totally mortified.” Somewhere above them came a call that echoed around the small room: delivery! “That’ll be the esbat water,” Wyatt said. “Time to find out if I did actually spend four hundred simoleons on a litre of sheep’s urine.”

“What will happen if it is, um, not right?”

“The potion will blow up.” Wyatt shrugged.

“Oh! Well, good luck!”

“You’re the one who needs luck, Apes,” he called on a laugh as he ran up the stairs. “I’d rather peel the pieces of my face from the ceiling than listen to Mum talk about love tunnels again.”



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Chapter 2.54 – The Demonic Bitch

Welcome to the end of book two. If you survive this, I swear – it gets better.

Warning: Non-consent, suicidal sim, violence, child abuse, blood, ritual humiliation.

A little while after sunset, I sat under the tree on the hill where we’d first met, and gazed up at the colour-changing clouds as the light began to fade.

Angeline was usually here before me, but no matter. John had perhaps made it difficult for her that night and she would’ve had to sneak out after dark.

Or, more likely, she was simply annoyed with me and wanted me to sweat.

I had picked some flowers for her from various window boxes around town. She wasn’t the kind who would’ve swooned at this gift or even really appreciated the beauty of the delicate blooms, but she would’ve very much enjoyed hitting me with them as she turned the air blue with her reprimands.

I’d have enjoyed grovelling.

I tried to relax by thinking through the forthcoming night in my head. We would lie back, like most nights, and she’d likely ask me questions about my past. It fascinated her, rather than repulsed her, so I’d answer honestly whenever she asked about my childhood, about my father.

About how he’d send me out to ‘earn my keep’.

How he’d ‘settle the balance’ because no amount was ever enough.

Until it was enough.

The townsfolk had been unable to decide whether I was a victim or an uncaged lunatic, but ultimately it was my tender age that spared me the gallows. They gave me the lighter punishment; fourteen years of isolation and ‘therapy’ in the Tower, and a lifetime tarred as insane.

Angeline could never stay down for long and she didn’t allow me to. So, after she’d asked any burning questions, we’d likely chat nonsense. We’d joke about turning the dairy farm into a funfair and how many apples I needed to sell to buy a carousel. Or I’d simply listen to her talk about plants and nature some more. I always learned something new.

Maybe tonight she’d revisit that unusual conversation from the previous night about how she could shoot stars from her hands, but she wasn’t allowed to show me.

That was weird even by her kooky standards.

Then, I’d ask her the question that was making my mouth dry.

I watched the pin pricks of light puncture through the velvet black above me, wishing I’d brought that onion along. I was starving. Not enough to take up Noah’s offer though.

Angeline wouldn’t eat anything with a face so, for her, neither did I, however tempting a lamb dinner may have been right then. I used the foraging skills she had taught me to find some blackberries to tide me over.

She had been foraging the day I met her, three weeks after my release. I could never forget the day I finally walked free; how bright the sun was. How overwhelming the hope was and how quickly that died as those I had grown up alongside either avoided me or threatened me, lest my illness be contagious.

I didn’t know much about Angeline when I’d bumped into her near this very tree, and she seemed to know nothing about me.

The kinder villagers described Angeline as being ‘away with the fairies’, but most simply called her strange.

Granted, when she opened the conversation by talking about beetles, then proceeded to argue with me about who would win a fictional fight between a cat and a goose, I did agree with their assessments. But by the time we got on to the topic of social conventions, how she told me that it was fine that I didn’t go to church – the priest once tried to feel her bottom and so she didn’t go either – she started to make perfect sense to me.

The hope started to return.

Until she asked me what the rope I was carrying was for.

She didn’t ask me why or try to talk me out of my plan. In fact, she offered to retie the noose for me as I had made a pig’s ear of it, apparently.

She promised that she would come back at sunset to cut me down and bury me, because someone would have to.

I spent the day willing myself to do it, until night fell, until Angeline returned. With a shovel, as she’d promised.

It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me.

I lay back on the grass, watching the twinkling sky. I threw the blackberries, one by one into the air, catching every one of them in my mouth, listening to my stomach rolling and the wind gently fluttering the leaves of the tree above me.

The night as heavy upon me as Noah’s words and the fear of what I was about to do, I rehearsed what I would say to Angeline as I threw another berry skywards and caught it right between my teeth.

Angeline, will you marry me?

No. Too overdone. Too generic.

Angeline, will you entangle with my soul and rot for eternity with me in hell?

Hmm. Maybe I’d have been better to stick with the first one.

Would she laugh in my face? Likely. She’d never given me any indication that she wished to marry me. What if she didn’t? Would she even take me seriously when I asked?

I looked over at the sad bouquet. I should have stolen her something better. No, not stolen; stop defaulting to that. I should have saved up and bought her a fine engagement gift to prove my intentions. A fancy gown that she could’ve worn to ruin while foraging. Perhaps not. A fur cape. No, not fur; minks have faces. Jewels? As if I could’ve ever afforded jewels.

Maybe I should have spent less time tangled around Angeline and more time trying to win John’s favour. Bollocks. Noah was right; I had set myself up for failure.

I threw the last berry up and waited, mouth open.

For the first time ever, it landed on the ground beside me, missing its target completely.



I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew it was the dead of night and there was still no sign of Angeline. Resignedly, I grabbed up the flowers and headed towards the farm. If she wanted me to go to her, I would.

If I had to face John’s shotgun, so be it. 

I pushed open the gate to the farm and boldly walked in, past the milking shed, briefly imagining Angeline, with her pink cheeks and messy braid, coaxing milk with those incredibly skilled hands of hers…

I wouldn’t usually approach the house; I was inviting the muzzle of a gun between my eyes if I tried. As I approached the door, I noticed that it was ajar.

I pushed it open and peered inside. The room beyond seemed undisturbed and the house was quiet.

I tiptoed through, opened the door to Angeline’s room. Her bed was unmade, her window open. I must have just missed her; she must be on her way to the tree.

I paused to look at her soft, hand-knitted bedcovers, the collection of bizarre items on her desk. A white candle, a flower and that bottle I’d seen her pocket earlier. It was full of a pink liquid with some sort of wading bird on the label; a heron perhaps, or a crane.

What on earth could that be for?

As I made to leave, I noticed that the door to John’s bedroom was also ajar. Someone clearly needed the skills of the carpenter; those doors must have all been hung incorrectly. I took a step closer to the door, curiosity getting the better of me; I’d never been in there.

Since the death of Angeline’s mother, John had slept alone. I had never known the woman, but I imagined that if she had been anything at all like her daughter, she was enchanting, impossible to forget.

Risking attack with a round of bullets, I peeped through the gap to the room inside.

Illuminated by a tiny oil lamp, the scene that met my eyes took all the air from me. There was blood pooled on the floor, splattered on the wall, soaked into the weave of the bedcovers and in the middle of all this carnage, was John.

There was no movement, no breath, but I had to know for sure if he was still alive. I felt my stomach flip as I crossed the room to the bed and forced myself to examine him. As I gently rolled him over, my hands slipped on his skin and I retched at the unnatural way his head lolled as he moved.

Clearly dead and almost decapitated.

I clasped my hand to my mouth in an attempt to hold in the vomit that filled it, willed my feet to the courtyard where I emptied my insides into a gulley. I stayed on all fours with my forehead on the floor until every blackberry had evacuated in a burning cocktail of purple acid.

Why had Angeline done this? How had she done this? Had she done this? If she hadn’t, who had?

John was well-liked, well-respected and most amenable to everyone who wasn’t trying to dishonour his darling daughter. I couldn’t think of a single person who would wish him harm—

“There is no way on Watcher’s green earth that John will give you her hand.”

“I’ll find a way.”

Bollocks.

If they’d found me with John, the writing would’ve been on the wall. There wouldn’t have even been a trial; my past would’ve been enough evidence to convict me.

I tried to get to my feet but I seemed to have lost the use of my legs; my knees crashing back to the stone with a crunch. The world grew hazy as a shadow approached from behind me.

I felt the air being pushed out of me as if I was being squeezed by a giant, invisible fist. Panic gripped me and the world around me started to fade.

I felt something soft brush against my neck, followed by something sharp and was blinded by a sudden flash of light.



I always woke at that point and I always woke here.

In the heavy black of the basement, my senses slowly started coming back to me, piecemeal. As my vision adjusted to the darkness I could see the cot. So that meant I was on the chair. I was sure that I was last on the cot, but then I’m fairly sure I was also dressed and now—

Familiar paralysis. Those all-too-familiar glowing, green eyes, almost blindingly bright in the void.

Damn. That all too familiar sensation, amplified ten-fold in the abyss.

I was sure that she’d only visited me yesterday and I was still light-headed. Was it yesterday? I had no real concept of time in there.

I tried to think of something else, put myself somewhere else, but with her barbs in my head there was nothing else. I couldn’t distract myself from her and what she was doing to me.

Kitty purred into my ear. Her hold tightened and her pace quickened as she realised I was awake.

Damn.

The coldness of her skin, her iron grip. The way she nibbled on my earlobe with those needle-sharp teeth. Watcher, help me. The derogatory things she was calling me…

I shuddered. I was still drained from her last visit; I could feel the chilled air of the basement on the still-raw wound on my neck. But despite this, despite everything…

She purred, running her tongue from my collar bone to my ear before finally releasing her grip. This was no reprieve. Instead, she hiked up her skirt and climbed on to my lap; the broken chair groaned beneath the weight of us.

She nibbled me; a threat.

Drowning in the swamp between thrill and fear, pleasure and pain, desperately trying not to give her the satisfaction of my losing control, I was only vaguely aware of the lantern approaching, the figure that had appeared in the shadows. His eyes shining yellow in the low light of the basement.

“Layne wants you,” Patrick said to Kitty, his face and voice both impassive.

She growled in frustration; the vibrations painful against the exposed inners of my neck. She grabbed me by the hair, yanking my head from her bite, never vice versa. I felt the sharp tips of her ragged teeth tear my flesh as we broke apart.

“I’m busy, Patsy.”

“Eat some other time,” Patrick waved his hand, knocking Kitty from my lap. She stumbled, but swiftly regained composure.

Patrick glanced over at me and swore. “Seriously? Is that why you’re always down here? You’re one messed-up broad, Kathryn.”

Her voice was a sinister purr. “There’s envy if I ever did see it. Kindly advise Layne that I’m busy and get lost.”

The room fell silent except for the sounds of my breathing but some sort of discussion was taking place between the undead duo; I could tell by the heavy, prickly feeling in the air.

Kitty suddenly laughed. “Why would I bother with that when he’s so happy to oblige?”

“Happy?” Patrick repeated. “Your brain really is buggered if you think he’s happy with this.”

She sauntered over, wedging her knee firmly between my thighs as she grabbed me by the hair. She pulled back, cradled my face, forced me to look directly into those cat-like green eyes of hers. Her voice condescending, like she was talking to a small child.

“You would do anything to please me, wouldn’t you, boy? And I know you like our playtime, don’t you? I’m sure Patrick can see how much you enjoy it,” she ground her knee into my groin, “but as he’s clearly as blind as he is impotent, perhaps you should tell him.”

I bit my lip to try and prevent myself replying. But Kitty always got her honest answer when she had her mental manacles on me. Her instruction like a cleaver to the cranium, forcing out all reason.

Tell him you enjoy it, boy.

I justified that her visits were preferable to the abject loneliness. That this mistreatment was at least something in the endless nothing. But as time had passed, I had begun to long for her touch, to ache for her attention.

And the pain from her pressing her knee was making my head spin.

“I enjoy it,” I admitted; my cheeks burning with the shame.

“Fuck’s sake,” Patrick hissed.

Kitty cooed, stroking my cheek gently and uttering sweet nothings. She gave me a swift lip nibble and stood up, triumphantly tossing her silver curls back over her shoulder.

“I’ll be right back,” she informed me; half promise, half threat. She blew Patrick a raspberry and slinked off up the stairs.

Kitty’s hold on me broke as she ascended, leaving me alone with Patrick. Wordlessly, he threw my clothes at me and I pulled the garments on while he remained behind me, watching. Silently.

There were three male vampires and none of them had ever taken a drink from me, never even tried and yet they terrified me just as much as Kitty did. Patrick’s gaze lingered hungrily on my throat and I instinctively wiped the wound with my hand; it came away slick and red.

I clamped my hand over my neck and pressed down. It would stop, eventually. Always did.

“She won’t keep you down here forever,” he murmured, licking his fangs absently. He tore his gaze from the blood that was seeping slowly through my fingers and turned towards the stairs.

“What will she do with me?” I dared to ask. His heavy boots stopped in their tracks.

Did I really want to know? I’d heard the screams of others they’d captured. They were always silenced within hours. I had no idea how long I’d been down here. Months? Was being Kitty’s plaything the only thing keeping me alive?

Was that better than the alternative?

I clung to a thread of hope that it meant that, one day, I would have freedom. I tried not to think of what Angeline must be doing, whether she’d moved on, how she’d coped as an unmarried woman without a father, but she was always in my dreams and on my mind as I desperately tried not to lose it.

I wondered if I’d ever see her again.

Patrick lingered at the base of the stairs, no doubt listening to my thoughts. He was the quietest of the vampire group, reserved and measured in his responses. His visits were brief and he didn’t usually respond to my conversation attempts, my questions or my pleas for freedom.

That day, he surprised me.

“She’s going to make you one of us,” he muttered, clearly disapproving of the idea.

I wanted to ask how but I couldn’t get past the ludicrous thought of me, as a vampire. I wondered what Angeline would think when I eventually escaped from these monsters. I laughed, imagining what she would say when I told her about my new diet.

“People have faces, Seth. You can’t eat them!”

Patrick snarled showing his teeth. Two, long sharp fangs, very different to Kitty’s snare and tear gnashers, but just as menacing.

“It’s not a joke, Seth.” I almost looked up as he used my name. They never, ever used my name. “Everything has a price and freedom doesn’t come cheaply. If you think her controlling your human urges is bad, wait until she controls your fucking thirst. Although you’ll probably enjoy that too, you sick wimp. Oh, if your fate was up to me—“

He wrenched my hand from my neck, watching the trickle of blood I felt soaking into my shirt.

In a movement so swift that I didn’t even see it, he brought his lips to my broken skin, pressed his fangs into the wound. His draw deeper and far stronger than Kitty’s; the rapidity of the blood loss causing me to panic.

As suddenly as he began his attack, he stopped, pulled back, looked at the puddle that was appearing on the floor at my feet.

“Pathetic,” he uttered, shoving me. “To think that you will be immortal. It cheapens everything. It sickens me.”

I leant against the wall, as far as I could get from him, trying to catch my breath and calm my racing heart; every beat making his eyes glow brighter.

Patrick snuffed the lantern, leaving me the in the pitch dark once more. I waited to hear him ascending the stairs and the latch on the heavy door being lifted but instead I heard his voice echoing inside my head and a fluttering sensation like the pages of a book in the wind.

You want freedom? Step one: forget her.

I wondered what this meant as I let my thoughts linger on those green eyes, those flushed cheeks, breathing in the soap and soil scent of Angeline. I could never forget her. I would never forget her. Let them torture me, turn me, whatever the hell they wanted.

I was going to escape this nightmare. I was going to find her if it killed me.

“Did you miss me baby?”

So lost was I in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Kitty behind me, until she was right behind me. The compression in my temples made me see stars.

“You’re thinking of that witch again.”

“I’m not!” I insisted, spinning around.

Those words; I immediately regretted them. I should have admitted it. ‘Cheating’ would earn me a day without food, but I’d done the other thing. The thing she couldn’t stand.

And the demonic bitch knew. Of course she knew. She always knew.

Kitty pinned me against the wall with nothing but the power of her mind and I hung, limp, like a ragdoll, defenceless, yet again, to the will of this diminutive woman.

Her screaming amplified in my head as she approached, my throat tightening in her invisible hold as she lifted me from the floor. Those glowing green orbs the last thing I always saw before I felt the tearing of my flesh, the loss of my breath and the heavy fall into the temporary embrace of unconsciousness.

Lies.



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Chapter 2.53 – The Devil Himself

Note: NSFW-ish, briefly.

At the sound of her father’s voice across the courtyard, we both jumped like we’d been burned, but as I made to pull back, Angeline clamped her thighs tighter around me, locked her ankles behind my back. Her fingers tangled in my hair, she held me firmly in place.

“I didn’t say you could stop, Seth,” she whispered headily. “Don’t you dare stop.”

I could hear John calling again for his dog. His heavy footfall, against the stone pavement outside the building, was getting closer and closer to us.

“He’ll catch us,” I murmured.

She groaned, impassioned. “Let him.”

“He’ll beat me,” I tried to reason with her, with myself, even as I held her tighter, moved into her deeper, catching her breathless sighs in my mouth.

She suddenly whispered, frantically, against my lips, “Remember that I love you, yes?”

Angeline shoved me off her and I rolled on to my side, stunned for a second and wondering what I’d done, before I realised that her father had appeared blessedly, without his gun. He did not look amused to be greeted by the sight of me, on the floor, trousers down, with his pink-cheeked daughter beside me, but then his face was usually unamused.

“Hi Daddy,” Angeline chirped in that sweet voice she never used on me. “You’re awake early.”

“It’s four-thirty, Angeline,” John said and then he turned to look at me as one might survey the contents of an outhouse. “What in Watcher’s name do you think you’re doing, delinquent?!”

I really did try not to be so insouciant where her father was concerned, tried to let the insults slide and portray myself as a suitable partner for his precious princess, but what kind of question was that? “I’m trying to screw your daughter, John. Give us a minute?”

Angeline turned her laugh into an almost convincing gasp of horror and covered her smile with her hand, gazing up at her father with those puppy-dog eyes she’d perfected. She yanked me to my feet.

“Get dressed, Seth,” she snapped. “I’ve told you; the rash’ll go away on its own.”

John did not see the funny side, he never did, but he melted as he looked at her; she could do no wrong.

“Get out of here, Angel. I don’t want you to see this.”

“Please don’t hurt him, Daddy,” she said in her most innocent voice, her lip quivering and her eyes glassy with crocodile tears. “I invited him in. I just feel so very sorry for the lonely wretch. Look at his pitiful face! Even the whores don’t want him!”

“We should’ve let the lunatic hang,” he muttered. “Angeline, leave. Now.”

She ducked out of view, rolling her eyes and mocking her father as soon as she was out of his sight.

John, oblivious to this show behind him, cursed under his breath eyeing me with disgust as I fastened my belt and wondered if I could fit through the tiny window behind me.

“She is too kind for her own good, allowing scum like you a chance. Give me one good reason not to riddle you with bullets,” he snarled.

“You’d have to fetch your gun and that would give me time to run away,” I suggested, helpfully.

John growled at me, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. “Have you no shame, Seth?! She’s a good girl! A sweet girl! She does not enjoy your attentions; she pities you! She deserves an honourable man! An honest man!”

“She has one,” I insisted, trying not to laugh at John’s terribly inaccurate description of his own daughter.

“Nothing about you is honourable! Pray, if you make her with child, I will—“

“Allow us to marry?”

I don’t know who those words surprised more. Probably John, who was turning purple in his rage; his hands balled into tight fists at his sides and his head high, looking every inch of his 6 foot 5 frame.

“She will marry the devil himself before I permit her to marry you, you good-for-nothing cur!” he hissed through gritted teeth, showering me with spit. “Get off my land before I beat the living daylights out of you!”

I doubted he’d follow through on this threat, if only for Angeline’s sake. Regardless, I held up my hands in surrender and backed off. I could still hear John’s heavy boots stomping around on the flagstone floor of the workshop and kicking things even when I was outside.

As I passed the milking shed, I smiled at Angeline, gave her a short nod to let her know that I could meet her tonight. She tutted as if irritated by the idea, but I caught the smile that lifted the very corner of her mouth.

I knew she’d be waiting for me at our tree, at sunset.



The sun had not quite risen and Windenburg town centre was deserted. I climbed the rickety steps to the room in the ramshackle house that I called home. I spent so little time indoors these days that I may as well have not had an abode at all, but appearances mattered when you were trying to rebuild your life.

The landlord charged me twice the going rate for this dump.

I barely had any furniture, there was no fuel for the fire. Some might’ve called it poverty, but compared to what I’d had a year ago – a bucket and a mattress on the floor of my cell – it was a palace.

My stomach growled, prompting me to the pantry. Scanning the shelves for sustenance, I selected the apple that had seen better days over the raw onion and took my breakfast outside to watch the sun breaking over the horizon.

After spending more than half of my life incarcerated, I enjoyed the morning breeze through my hair, even on the days where the rain lashed against my skin and soaked my shirt.

Out among the leaves and the trees; that was where I belonged and where, this time, I intended to stay.

Since I had moved back here, a white cat had joined me daily for breakfast and today was no exception. He would usually circle around my ankles, sometimes hop on to my lap for a fuss. Today he eyed me almost suspiciously before climbing up.

I petted his soft head and he flinched, sniffed at my hand, my face. Perhaps he could pick up traces of Angeline’s scent on me.

I didn’t usually visit her in the mornings but last night I couldn’t stop thinking about her, I couldn’t sleep. I had wandered around the town walls, restlessly, finding myself heading down the path towards her farm. I had thought she would be sleeping, but I saw her outside, barefoot, studying her saplings.

She had rolled her eyes when she’d spotted me, leaning on the wall, watching her. She sighed, “Do you not have anything better to do?”

Was there anything better to do?

The sound of the squeaky cart barely even registered to me anymore, but it always startled my furry companion who scarpered into the bushes.

“A bad apple?” Noah asked, seating himself beside me. “Don’t tell me that’s all you’ve eaten.”

I grinned at him. “All right, I won’t tell you.”

Noah shook his head. “You need a decent meal, Seth. You cannot survive on fruit alone—“

Ah, this familiar play. I usually ignored him, but my morning activity had me fired up. “You’re right, I cannot survive on fruit alone,” I replied.

“You’ll get triple threat and gout and… what?” Noah stopped; stunned as I stepped off-script. “You’re agreeing with me? You never agree with me. About anything. Am I finally getting through to you?” he rejoiced.

I tried to stifle my laugh. “Yes, sir. I’ll have vegetables tonight, for a change,” I joked, amused as Noah’s confusion turned to outrage.

“You cad! You got me! But this is not funny; you’re wasting away!” he insisted. “Please, come by the house this evening; Betty is preparing a fine lamb.”

Now I ignored him. Noah offered this daily; only the meat ever changed. I took a final bite of my apple and threw the core into the nearby bushes.

Noah sighed and handed me another apple from his cart. “Fine. But if you must insist on doing this, going along with her strangeness, at least eat fresh crops.”



The market was quiet today, but Noah’s stall always had customers. His fresh produce was certainly attractive, but the main draw for one young woman was definitely not the exotic new fruits he’d grown.

“Back again?” I teased. “We’re out of potatoes, as you know.”

Harriet’s cheeks flushed pink. “I forgot a different ingredient for my pie! The… um…” she scanned the table. “The strawberries!” she gushed. “I forgot the strawberries! Can’t make the recipe without strawberries. Silly me!”

“Strawberries and potatoes? That’s an interesting pie.”

“It’s, um, a foreign recipe,” she murmured. “From, um, Sulani.”

“Exotic,” I said and placed the fruits inside her basket on top of the twenty-eight potatoes she’d already purchased in four different transactions that morning. “Anything else?”

“No, I—” She glanced over at her friends, who were watching with interest. Her gaze fluttered down to her full basket and empty coin purse, then back to me. “Actually… actually… yes.” She smiled at me with what she likely thought was coquettishness, but was more a shyness that was almost painful to observe. “I can think of one other thing I would like, yes.”

“A cabbage?”

Harriet looked at me for a second before she laughed in a brainless, frothy way that probably should have made me warm to her, but only served to annoy me.

“You’re so funny! There’s no cabbage in this recipe! Oh, you! You do make me laugh!” she laughed again, to demonstrate. “Perhaps… perhaps if you’re not so busy this afternoon, you’d like to keep me company, Seth?” She glanced back over at her friends again, her cheeks burning red. “Only because I need someone to help me eat this pie. I will not possibly be able to eat a whole pie by myself.”

“Then perhaps don’t make one,” I suggested.

Harriet wilted and blinked back tears, her voice small, “Of course… yes that would make sense, wouldn’t it?” She looked back over to her friends who were still giving their encouragement.

“I can do this,” she said quietly, shifting the weight of her basket on her arm and looking like she wanted the ground to swallow her. “Forget the pie. Father has a wedding to officiate today so I will be lonely. Oh! Not that I’m offering anything untoward – I’m certainly not – oh my goodness! Unless you want to, then I might permit you to hold my hand.”

She rambled on, looking like she might pass out. I could feel the heat from her face from where I was standing. “Not that I want you to hold my hand! Well, I do, of course I do, you’re handsome and you’re charming, but – oh my goodness! I am making such a mess of this! Do you want to come over?” she blurted.

“No,” I replied. I didn’t offer a reason and she didn’t ask for one. She nodded and as her eyes overflowed with tears I almost felt a twinge of guilt. She hurried away to her girlfriends without another word.

“You are cruel sometimes, Seth. You could do far worse than Harriet,” Noah uttered. “Her cooking skills and those hips? Watcher. She would be a fine wife and would bear you children.”

“I’m taken,” I replied as a familiar face with green eyes and a messy braid wandered into the square and headed straight for Ma’s curio store, as always.

Noah followed my gaze and sighed. “You are a law unto yourself. What do you see in Angeline?”

“She accepts me.”

“I’m sure she does,” Noah scoffed. “Which is precisely why you should forget her and find a wife who will keep you in line.”

I had to fight to keep the smirk from my face. “She keeps me in line.”

“In a line of two, on the fringe of society,” Noah muttered. “Besides, even if she was a viable option, there is no way on Watcher’s green earth that John would give you her hand, Seth.”

“I disagree.”

“Of course you do.”

I turned to my friend, determined. “I’ll find a way. Perhaps you can write me a reference; tell John what a hard worker and all-round wonderful human being I am.”

Noah scoffed. “A monkey could pick fruit faster than you. Would probably eat less of it as well,” his stance was firm but there was warmth in his voice. “I’ve already put my neck on the line for you. Make a good decision for once; court Harriet. She’s too young to remember your misdeed and too sweet for prejudice. She might be your only chance.”

I glanced at Harriet, who perked up at my unexpected attention.

“I simply need more time,” I said. “If I can just convince John I’m a changed man—“

Noah rolled his eyes at this. “You freed all of his chickens last Tuesday.”

That had been Angeline but of course I’d been blamed for it. I laughed. “I’m not going to be slipping back into a life of crime because of a few chickens. Although it was hilarious watching John chasing them around the meadow. A perfect distraction while I fornicated with Angeline in the barn.”

Noah apologised to an elderly lady who had overheard that snippet of conversation and hissed at me, “Freeing chickens. Fornicating in a barn. Do you hear yourself when you talk? You need to grow up, Seth. You won’t live forever, you know. You are already twenty-seven, not that you act like it! If you truly wish to reintegrate into the community, you need to stop chasing fantasy. Forget about Angeline and go and talk to Harriet.”

I cast my eye over the young lady Noah was referring to, who was pretending to browse the book stand, no doubt so she could eavesdrop.

Granted, she was pleasant to look at and she was mild-mannered, innocent, uncomplicated. Very keen to find a husband; her friends all recently married. She could be mine in a heartbeat.

I would have instant good-standing in the community, marrying the priest’s daughter, and the satisfaction of seeing whether her father truly had forgiven me as he’d claimed. I could have a brood of beautiful children, a wife who would dote on me, bake me strange pies and call me sweet names.

The whole idea bored me to tears.

Angeline had left the store, slipping a small bottle into her pocket as she crossed the square towards me. She smiled as she approached, giddy with something to say… until she clocked the proximity of myself and Harriet.

I pretended I hadn’t seen her and my attention lingered on the blonde a lot longer than my interest held, until Harriet blushed crimson under my sultry gaze and Angeline’s green eyes glowed with envy.

She stormed out of the square, elbowing Harriet as she did so and giving me a look that told me I’d surely be in for quite a scolding from her later.

The charge that went through me was like nothing else.

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want Harriet. It must be Angeline.”

Noah shook his head. “Why? She is on the shelf for good reason; besides her evident promiscuity and her aberrant opinions, she has a bad temper and she is unremarkable, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you,” I replied. “Perhaps I enjoy my women rebellious, bad-tempered and unremarkable.”

“Then marry Harriet,” Noah looked around, cursed as if he couldn’t believe what he was about to say and lowered his voice, “but utilise other services.”

I gasped and said very, very loudly, “Noah Bucket! Are you implying that I would, nay, should cheat on my wife with prostitutes?!”

Noah’s cheeks were almost as red as his hair as he stammered at this accusation, which had once again startled that poor old lady, causing her to abandon her shopping.

“N- no! I… I would never—“

“To think I’d settle for a quick bonk with a dirty stranger – who I had to pay for the privilege – over a woman who’s all mine! Scandalous! Besides, I prefer to take my time,” I flashed Harriet a grin as I purred, “to satisfy. To savour.”

The silly girl actually swooned; falling into the book stand, her friends rushed to her aid.

“Of course you do,” Noah muttered, even his ears were red now. “You live in your own time zone while the rest of us simply get on with it.” He placed the abandoned items back into their bowls while hissing at me through gritted teeth, “You’re one word from unemployment, Seth.”