CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, gore, and a character experiencing PTSD.
Sims InTouch Magazine
She was choking, muscles spasming, eyes fluttering as if her body was not yet ready to give up the ghost. Panic exploded in her veins as the wolf opened its jaw. Her heart gave one last desperate thump and—
With a sharp intake of breath, Penny sat straight up. Not again. She reached for her mug of coffee, only to find it empty, which—of course. Why did she even bother coming into work? At least at home there were soft pillows to roll onto when she woke up screaming.
“Hey,” Billie tapped on her cubicle wall.
It was a light tap, but it still scared the living daylights out of her. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Me? I was just coming by to ask about the Anastasia story. Are you okay?”
“People who are fine don’t usually yell.”
Penny scrubbed a hand over her face. She could say it was the coffee making her jumpy, but that would be an even more apparent lie. “I’m meeting with Anastasia tonight to get a few more quotes. I’ll have it wrapped up by the weekend. And I know it’s late; I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately.”
Billie’s expression softened. “I’m sorry. You’ll let me know if you need anything?”
Real concern? Offers of help? Was this the same woman she broke up with?
“Because this is a big story,” Billie continued, “We already got scooped when everyone else wrote about how she flipped out on you.”
Nope, definitely the same woman. Penny stood and started packing her bag, not trusting herself to say anything more than “noted” before shoving past her ex/boss.
Why were her romantic partners only ever concerned with what she could do for them?
Willow Creek, Goth Household
Mortimer whistled as he waltzed into the kitchen and flipped on the coffeemaker. “Ready to face the demons?”
The bright expression he wore grated on Bella, even though he was clearly joking. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, and she tried hard not to feel resentful. The result of their last argument was that she would fill in more while Mortimer went back to work.
I let you pursue your career, and now I’m asking you to return the favor.
“Glad to do it.” She resisted slamming down her phone before trudging upstairs.
Alexander was the first and easiest to rouse. “Morning, mom! Can I wear my Voidcritters shirt under my uniform?”
“Sure,” Bella ruffled his hair. Smugglesworth Prep probably wouldn’t love it, but then again, she wasn’t the one who wanted the kids in a private school.
Cassandra was next, and the genuine challenge of the morning, but surprisingly the teen was up and ready.
“Have you seen my black boots? Dad said I could go to the cast party after the play, and I want to wear them.”
Shit! The play! Bella forgot that was tonight. “In the laundry room, next to the box with the winter sweaters.”
Thanks? Was this really her kid? “I’m proud of you,” Bella added, enjoying the rare moment of non-angst. “You’re gonna be amazing tonight.” She glanced out the window, “But boots? It’s gonna be hot today.”
“Not to me. And anyways, it’s called fashion,” Cassandra deadpanned. “How does dad know more about it than you?”
Downstairs, Bella stared at her husband, trying to figure it out. Did he really know more about fashion? Cassandra had to be joking.
“You’ll pick up flowers for Cassie before the show?” He phrased it as a question, but it was a reminder.
“Yep, I got it. I’ll swing by the shop this afternoon.”
“Afternoon?” Mortimer’s lips pressed tight. “Why afternoon? I thought you weren’t working today. Bella, we agreed that—”
She held up a hand to silence him while she worked to throttle her temper. “You asked me to get flowers last night, and I said I’d do it. This is my day off, so excuse me if I want to practice a little self-care with a long run before I do errands.”
He flexed his fingers, but gave her a tight smile. “Right, of course, you’ll handle it. I’m sorry I suggested otherwise.”
Her run took her through their neighborhood and down past the trolley station where the suburbs of Willow Creek met up with San Myshuno.
A familiar house came into view, and Bella cut through the garage that she and Penny left unlocked.
It was just a hunch, but she wondered if Penny’s source and the werewolf were one and the same. The tabloid headline made the story sound salacious but what Penny actually wrote was empathetic. The unnamed source gave a series of instructions about how to avoid werewolf altercations which—looking back—she and Penny probably should have heeded. They took great pains to warn everyone about a dangerous black wolf in Oasis Springs. Clearly, they weren’t trying to implicate themselves. So what did they know? Was the black wolf connected to Eliza’s tooth necklace? Was Eliza a wolf?
In the kitchen, Bella started rifling through drawers. She didn’t know jack shit about tracking werewolves, but werewolves weren’t always wolves, right? Sometimes they were sims—
And sims left a record of themselves.
(Fair warning, I seem to have nothing useful to say about this chapter beside yelling about people’s outfits.)
PENNY: Ooh, werewolfery as learning to live with the lasting impacts of trauma.
**PENNY’S JEANS APPRECIATION ESSAY**
oh god you put her in a little ponytail don’t do this to me
BELLA: Sorry, Bella: regardless of gender, I throw my hat in with the partner who gives off stronger vibes of J. Lo’s “Ain’t Your Mama,” and that’s Mortimer. Few controlling men have the emotional bandwidth to remember—especially the night before—that a school play is coming up and that the child participating in the school play might want flowers, and no healthy parent has that level of contempt toward her kids.
She’s 90% of the way toward forgetting those flowers.
ANASTASIA: I can feel that a side goal of this chapter is to mix up which characters the readers empathize with and why and it’s working. It’s a challenge with her. Especially in Miss Hell mode, she probably has next to nothing in common with SimLit readers—so of course she gets the most universally relatable motivation, the desire to put one’s face on Penny Pizzazz (not a dirty thing, I swear; this is just how my spouse cuddles. Put face on shoulder. Put face on back. Put face in bunny fluff. Sit on floor next to Dolly who is clearly focusing on writing a comment and put face on leg. Put face in bunny fluff x2).
I am whacking my head against the wall at the suitability of a supernatural treadmill test.
Oh. My god.
Are you setting it up for Deacon and all other himbos to have natural resistance against witches? PLEASE
Witch tries to get into Deacon’s brain and all she gets is a little cymbal monkey going in a circle playing “March of the Gladiators” PLEASE
CALEB: The white memory vignettes are tasty, but I disagree with him. There is a rank after Grand Master, obviously. It’s Norman from GBBO. Back in their day they didn’t have exotic things like pesto and all the kids got together after school to pick berries.
THE LIBRARIAN: I can’t tell the difference between “the RNG is on its shit again, making eyeball-ring townies” and “at least one of my readers is kinda faceblind, so let’s give this guy a bonkers bananastown outfit; now she has a fighting chance of recognizing him later on.” I legitimately can’t.
LIBERTY: Can we talk about her bangs? What is this??? Chinese period drama meets the Hunger Games?
NINA: THIS IS MY FAVORITE ITERATION OF HER. Boxer with on-the-nose animal-print workout gear? Making redonk faces? Yes.
GOODLY MATHERS and REYNARD HOLYBOLES: Tie for “best name.” Plus I usually don’t go for the “asking for it” talk but if Reynard doesn’t want people guessing whether he’s a werewolf, he shouldn’t wear those shoes.
We’ve discussed Penny appreciation on Discord but truly, there is never enough. I honestly don’t know how to stop creating Penny thirst traps! Anastasia is me! Anastasia is all of us!
Hahaha, but yeah, my goal is always to try and get you to empathize with different characters and make it such a complicated mess of feelings you don’t know which side to choose (JK THERE ARE NO GOOD SIDES).
Bella – oof, you are hitting the nail on the head right there. I don’t want to give too much away, but the relationship dynamic between the Goths has been a fun, toxic challenge. I feel like Bella is caught between the roles she’s been “assigned” and the role she wants to occupy and as a result, lives at an extreme. I think it’s fair to say she is selfish, has contempt for her kids, and is also getting her ass kicked by a patriarchal unhealthy relationship dynamic.
Which weirdly, brings us to Anastasia. She is objectively a monster and not a “good” person…okay fine, yeah, she’s a literal sociopath. But when it comes to her kids, she has this sort of clear-eyed parental love that you would not expect. Caleb assumes he is a disappointment but Anastasia is very clearly like: I can’t imagine being disappointed in my kids, even if they drive me crazy. I mean, you know from my Vlad/Gwendolyn dynamic I like to play with the idea of what “good” parenting looks like.
Haha. You know I had to make a treadmill test joke. I don’t know how it helps diagnose Gas n Giggles in-game either.
Caleb: Yeah, like the only person who doesn’t think there’s something after Grand Master Vampire is his beautiful dumb ass. The Vlad as Norman scenes I have written in this story….whew…be still my heart. Caleb acts on instinct to empty his mind to protect himself from witches which obviously he learned from Anastasia and yes, the logic holds: hot dummies are safe from mind control.
How will that come into play? Oh just you wait (chants “Deacon! Deacon! Deacon!” in the background quietly).
LOLOL THAT LIBRARIAN WAS AUTO-GENERATED BY CAS AND I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE.
Who knew that we would have to make space in hearts for Nina Caliente!?!?!?!
Thank you, I’m glad you appreciate both of those bonkerstown names. Oh…did someone say shoes?
And once again Penny is relatable. People seeing her as a service rather than a human being ;-; I really hope she’ll get the time at some point to process what’s going on on her mind or find someone who can help her.
The magic fight effects look so so gooood! I like your vampire lore 💖 I can imagine years of immortality those their flair after a while. You’d get emotionless enough to do almost anything just to feel something. I like the touch with the tome being something made up and written by a mortal just to further and excuse oppressive viewpoints. I love Morgyn in their old school outfit. They just look so good in everything < 3
Caleb is still trying to be the level-headed one even after so many years of being the odd one out in his family for that reason. Takes a lot of nerve to try and be the most comparatively civil one for that long. I feel like one day all those years’ worth of holding back will come out in some kind of big terrifying show of catharsis somehow. Might just be me on this, but I feel like nothingness is somehow less worrying than wondering if there is an actual afterlife. I guess less so if you're a vampire for long enough that living is nothingness in itself, if that makes sense.
I love that Anastasia thinks it’s hot that Penny doesn’t take shit. Then again someone who is comparatively to most, honest, like Penny is probably a breath of fresh air to a celebrity who’s used to falseness. I like that she tells Penny that she’s capable given what her parents are like- she needed that. I feel like her ‘interviewing celebrities’ was an intentional act of sounding slightly smug, purposely not wanting to sound too flirty or clingy. Like when you go to far with a heart to heart with someone you don’t normally do that with so you make a joke about something after.
Oh funsies, another murder! 🥳🥳 Wondering if it was the wolves again this time or someone else….Every time I'm sure of something in this story there turns out to be a twist, so I'm gonna say it's definitely wolves just yet : P
Penny is the breakout star of BBD AU!!!! Seriously though, she really does need some time with a therapist and a chance to unpack everything that’s going on with her. Will she get that time?
Moving on, thank you for the compliment! I give all credit to Pixlr and their dope overlays which more than make up for the fact that all magic in-game is just like…sparkles. One thing I’ll say about Caleb and his knowledge is just to pay attention to what he thinks is true versus what is actually true. He isn’t an elder vampire and he’s spent a lot of time with witches who aren’t the biggest fans of vampires. That’s not to say he’s lying he just…lacks perspective. But you are right about immortality and emotions. I don’t think you can be around for hundreds of years, or say, a thousand years, and have a healthy emotional reaction to things.
“I feel like one day all those years’ worth of holding back will come out in some kind of big terrifying show of catharsis somehow.” – I’m just going to bypass this because spoilers but gahhhhhhh I want to tell you all about it so bad.
Yeah, I mean, Anastasia clearly has a type lol! I love that you picked up on Anastasia trying to play off her emotions. I mean, yes, she’s a self-absorbed psycho who will tear your throat out. But she’s also trying not to appear vulnerable so she’s good at throwing on that “I’m smug and I don’t care” armor.
I would really love for “oh funsies, another murder” to become the tagline of this story <3
I nearly spat out my LaCroix when I came across “Big Vladislaus Energy,” …………. Mostly b/c I’ve been playing the eff outta Lotto’s song, Big Dick Energy, and now I am just DEADER than the entire Strauss family.
Caleb certainly wants to be IN Bella’s “Jurisdiction.” Okay, got that outta my system.
That first photo of Penny getting chomped by a werewolf is FRIGHTENING. The look of sheer terror, its jaws sinking into her, the way it GRIPS her like corn on the cob. Goodness.
I let you pursue your career, and now I’m asking you to return the favor.
^^ wtf, Mort!?
I had assumed that Caleb and Lilith were the bio-kids of Vlad and Ana, but they adopted them. Would be interested in THAT backstory. Does it have something to do with the woman that Ana loved (that was the reason she quit theater)?
I feel stupid for not putting together that William, Vlad’s brother, is the same William who is coupled with Morgyn. I love that Morgyn is dressed like a dandy. I don’t know if you have ever read The Parasol Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger, but seeing Morgyn gives me some vibes from that story-series.
WTF IS THAT LIBRARIAN WEARING? WHO dressed him???? WHO???? CALL THE FASHION POLICE. Not since Goopy GilsCarbo have I seen such a fashionable abomination. MY EYES! WHY ISN’T THERE A WARNING FOR THIS?!?!?!?! now I’m gonna have some Penny-level-PTSD.
I’m also OBSESSED with the face Caleb gives in that librarian picture. It’s like his vampy senses KNOW that horrible creature is lurking behind him. Seriously, he makes the same “this smells bad” face my cat used to make. BABY CALEB WE KNOW THAT NASTY MAN IS BEHIND YOU! RUN!
DO YOU SEE THAT CUTE POUT Caleb makes??? It’s because his poor eyes have been violated by that librarian. Caleb may need to go back to the coffin to recover. Send Bella with him. Hasten the healing.
Penny’s hairstyle at the gym has me questioning my sexuality lol. Ummmm.
The fact that Ana has all this patience and restraint is admirable at this point. 1) She hasn’t forced herself onto Penny. I mean, obvi Penny is equally into Ana, but the trauma is really killing that desire for Penny; and 2) Ana is CALM that Penny is transforming into SOMETHING she hasn’t pinpointed.
PENNY SHOW ME YOUR BITE. Just be blunt, Ana. We KNOW you are.
That dentist was such a tool. Hahaha Him and Mort should hook up. Two white men tools playing with their tools.
VAMPIRE ANA … that photo was hella hot. Had some serious Underworld vibes, and I am WONDERING what *rules* are for vampires and werewolves to get together. Is it acceptable? Taboo? Romeo & Juliet level?
Cuz I mean…. Penny and Anastasia might not happen depending…
* Vampire Assassin Anastasia, I meant. The Hunter.
[Why were her romantic partners only ever concerned with what she could do for them?] Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you only seem to fall for those exact types? I get it, though. If you’ve been raised with the mindset of “I’m only loved if I’m useful/valuable and my parents can brag about me” then you’ll gravitate towards people that think the same way and use you for all they can get.
Taking turns supporting each other in their dreams is all good and well, but why does Bella’s turn to support Mortimer have to come paired with giving up her own things? Mortimer could wait until the kids are older to go back to work, too. Maybe I’m biased towards Bella. Something about this doesn’t feel good, though. Oh geez, and she’s gone right back to the scene of the crime. So much for taking a day off. She just can’t seem to turn her ambitions off. And she doesn’t seem to want to, either.
Oh gods is Penny turning into a werewolf, herself? That can’t be good.
The Heatbringer. Now that’s a title. Are her trophies hanging in the dentist’s office because Nina has turned the secret art of drill-torture into an Olympic sport, or is that dentist related to her? Ah, seems like it’s the second one. Thank the gods. 🤣
Hard limits 😂 easy there, Ana. Though that just seems to have gotten Penny more into her, lol. Dear lord this is such a volatile pairing. I don’t like Ana at all but I really like Penny and GAH. You’ll probably make me fawn over both of them together real quick.
Samuel’s fiancé, Cordelia, was it? Is that the one that Vlad killed and got Ana so incredibly angry about? Wait, but if he knew she was important to her, why did he oh wait it’s Vlad, they were already on terrible terms then weren’t they?
Oh my gods Akira, that hat 😂🤣 that is all. I had a proper bit analysing him and Caleb but I just cannot in that hat. 😆
WHY AM I TEN THOUSAND YEARS BEHIND IN LIFE?!?!?!?!?! Okay, I’m sorry this took me so long. Life just decided to get very insane and then not let my brain have any time for the things I love lol.
Uh, yes, you have Penny’s number for sure. Honestly, I think you might want to talk to her because she is gonna end up making some…er…bold decisions soon.
Ooohhh now we are into the Bella/Mortimer drama! I’ve always wanted to do something with this couple because the lore on Bella being missing and working as a government agent always led me to believe that their domestic life what a hot mess. I think you’re right about that squicky feeling, but is it because of Bella or because of Mortimer? She definitely doesn’t have healthy boundaries when it comes to work.
You know, it’s a good thing that werewolves are likely to be the next pack. For Penny’s sake.
Hahahaha NINA is a queen. I now feel bad I have not done more with the Calientes.
I know you’re worried about an Ana/Penny pairing but I think it’ll be fine. I mean, we know Ana already has a really great track record with her past lovers and look at her, she’s just doe-eyed over Penny!
Yep, nothing to worry about at all.
Cordelia was Samuel’s…uh…”fiance” and I cannot wait for you to unpack that drama.
Akira is going to be wearing that hat in more scenes just because it makes me happy lol