Podcast: Vacancy 1.04 – This Should Be A Breeze

Episode 1.04 – This Should Be A Breeze

Vacancy’s Theme is “Planet Bullspit” by Corey Major

Vacancy Episode 1.04 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

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Vacancy – 1.20 – Better Off Not Knowing

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 1.20

Well after the sun had risen the next morning, Lorelei was shocked to see Ziah and her siblings pile in through the front door. They were shouting and laughing, and when the sun filtered in behind them, their golden skin lit up, sparkling like precious stones.

“I just keep remembering the look on his face,” Ziah mocked what she’d seen, jaw dropped, eyes bugged, “Priceless!”

The lot of them devolved into giggles, and then Farrah took a deep breath, “Well, I know how to wrap up my thesis now.”

“Great!” Kamille punched her in the arm, “I think I’m going to go run a quick 10k.”

Altair nodded, “I’ll join you.”

With smiles plastered on their faces, they sprinted off up the stairs, and Malachai set his sights on Lorelei, “Well, good morning!”

“You were out all night,” Lorelei looked from one enthused face to the other, “How are you not exhausted?”

“It was a rather good night,” Ziah smirked, revealing sparkling white teeth, “But I do have some work to do.” She turned to her brother, “And you need to stay out of trouble while I’m at it. Understand?”

“Of course, of course,” he managed a sneaky wink at Lorelei when Ziah turned away, “I’ll just be up in my room, composing, arranging, blah blah blah.”

They parted ways in the foyer, leaving a shocked Lorelei in their wake.

“Who was that?” Britney was standing in the entryway, looking after Malachai. She leaned against the door, twirling a curl around her finger.

“Ziah’s brother,” Lorelei offered, though she hated to do so. She didn’t want Britney to know him, she didn’t want Britney to even look at him.

“Nice,” she licked her lips, then walked past her without another word, taking the hall to the basement stairs.

When lunch time came, Lorelei was greeted with a still peppy and smiling Ziah. The woman regaled her quickly with the tasks she’d completed, some of which were Lorelei’s for later in the day, and even presented her with a sandwich she’d made. To Lorelei’s surprise, she hadn’t slept at all and was planning to keep going right through the day, shooing her away to take her break with a final word, “Lorelei, I truly am sorry about before. I know you’re capable of taking care of yourself and free to make whatever decisions you want.” Confused, Lorelei just nodded, but didn’t really have time for questions as there was something else she wanted to do.

Lorelei found Conrad in his office pouring over a stack of papers. She watched him from the doorway for a long minute as he tapped his pen on the table, shook his head, and marked the page, muttering something to himself with a long sigh. She remembered seeing Britney earlier, but didn’t find her as she glanced around the room. Taking a step inside, she did hear the faint sound of running water coming from the room beyond the office.

“Well, hey,” Conrad put down his pen when he realized she was there.

“Hi,” she gave him a little wave, the spicy smell of the room waking up her senses, “Are you busy?”

“These are just tests,” he pushed the papers to the side, “It’s a slow day: nobody’s getting sick.”

“Bummer,” she chuckled, “but that means you might have a couple minutes to spare?”

“Sure,” he nodded and stood, striding over to her, “What do you want to do?”

Lorelei laughed again, his enthusiasm adorable, then she stopped abruptly at that word in her mind. I’m out of control, she thought, feeling Malachai’s earlier presence had something to do with how she was feeling.

“Look at this,” she pulled the letter from her pocket and went to hand it to him, then hesitated, “I guess I should tell your first. You know the lady who left me the note that opened the safety deposit box? I sent her a letter for more information on the brooch, and she wrote me back.”

“Oh,” his face fell slightly, and he read the note with a furrowed brow, “That’s ominous.”

“Right?” she took the paper when he handed it back, “So this doesn’t mean anything to you?”

“About as much as it means to you, but I am familiar with that acronym,” Conrad tapped his lip in thought a moment, “I went looking through a box of stuff from my parents’ house after we went to the bank.”

“Your parents’ house?” she followed him across the room to a large cabinet with a pair of cranes carved into the doors.

“Well, I guess it’s my house now, I just don’t really stay there.” He removed a cardboard box, open with miscellany sticking out, and set it on the desk with a clang, “I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but there is this.”

Long and metallic, it caught the light as he pulled it from the box and offered it to her.

“Conrad,” she stared at him blankly, “that’s a sword.”

When she didn’t take it, he turned and held it over his head and against the wall, “It used to hang in my father’s office over his desk. I wasn’t sure why Arista brought it here after…the thing, but it’s been in one box or another ever since.”

Lorelei assumed by the thing he meant his parents’ death. She watched him lower the sword and place it beside the ragged cardboard box and atop the stack of crinkled papers. It was particularly good at catching the light, and even the candles’ flames danced in its reflection.

“There’s an inscription here, on the hilt,” he pointed to the handle where in metal the words were etched:

Avail
OoO

Lorelei had certainly never seen a sword in person before, at least never close enough to touch, but Conrad had handled it like it had been an old crock pot. She bit a lip, “So is having a sword normal for you people?”

“Maybe?” he squinted, “I never thought about it before. It’s just, well, my mother always said there would be others.” He was staring down at the hilt still like it was telling him the story. “I remember yelling at my father, saying I didn’t want to be part of his secret society if he wasn’t going to tell me about it beforehand. It was a stupid argument that kid me thought made perfect sense. Anyway, my mom tried to make me feel better about the whole thing. She said there would be others to take my place. She said it would find them.”

“That’s really…cryptic,” Lorelei scrunched up her face. They stared at one another for a moment, then Lorelei heard the water shut off. She wanted desperately to stay, but wanted even more to not see Britney again, at least not while she was alone with her boyfriend. “I gotta get back,” she told him quickly, knowing she was betraying her anxiety with her eyes, and tried to make up an excuse, “Ziah’s family is visiting, and she’s being a little weird.”

“Ziah’s family?” he raised an eyebrow, “Here? At the manor?”

She nodded.

“Did you, uh,” he cleared his throat, “meet them?”

Nodding again, she looked at him sidelong, unsure what he was really asking.

“There actually might be something of interest at the house,” he said, surprising her with the change of subject, “It’s been awhile, but if you want, we could go check out the place.”

“That would be awesome,” Lorelei was instantly drawn to the idea for reasons she wasn’t entirely sure she could place, but then heard shuffling from the other room, “I gotta get back to the desk though, for now.”

“Wait. Are you, uh, doing anything tonight?”

Lorelei stared at him as he awkwardly shuffled from one foot to the other. “Working,” she offered meekly.

“Oh, right, okay,” he shook his head, “It’s a really busy time at the academy right now anyway, and I have a lot to do. We’ll set something up later?”

“Definitely,” Lorelei smiled, slowly backing toward the door. He was still looking after her, so she gave him a thumbs up, “Okay, good talk,” and sprinted out into the hall.

***

She walked with a purpose toward the stairs and surprised herself with the speed she took them. At the room, she paused, holding the tray of covered food. What was she doing?

Somehow Lorelei knew that tray was for Malachai when she spied it on the counter that evening, and when Hotaru confirmed, she told her she’d take it up to him instead. Aggressively. Feeling emboldened, and as if she had Ziah’s blessing, Lorelei had let her feet take her there, not her mind, but now that she stood outside Malachai’s room, the door already ajar, her brain started protesting.

Was this a good time? Could it ever be? For a moment her thoughts meandered, reminding her of others. She wasn’t beholden to anybody, not anymore, so what did it matter? With silent footsteps, and a too loudly beating heart, she crept up to the door until she could just barely see inside. She spied the back of Malachai’s head as he sat, looking out the window, and rapt on the door with her knuckles.

When he didn’t respond, she meant to knock louder, to call his name, but instead she found herself inside the room, placing the tray on the dresser, and creeping up to the chair. Malachai was leaning back, eyes closed, wearing headphones with a laptop balanced on his knee. He really was handsome.

“I’m so glad you came to see me.”

Lorelei jumped back and covered her mouth to keep from screaming, and Malachai stood up with a smirk. She didn’t bother asking him how he knew she was there, it would be the same reason she was compelled to be there are all, and she knew there was no explanation. “I’m sorry,” she breathed, “I didn’t mean to–”

He slipped a hand around her wrist and pulled her to him. She took a heavy breath and smelled the subtle spices he wore, eerily familiar, felt the heat off of his body against her own, felt his breath on her face, “I’d just like to look on you a second longer, if I might.”

Lorelei lingered there, feeling her eyelids flutter down, his hand slid up her arm and around her waist, then she pressed her hands against his chest, “Ziah says you’re dangerous,” she almost giggled as she spoke, realizing how silly it sounded, “What should I be afraid of?”

“Everything.” His mouth was on hers, and she kissed him greedily back.

Then, she felt weak. If not for his arms around her, she would have fallen on the spot. Fighting to open her eyes, she let her own lip go slack until she mustered the strength to push at his chest and mumble against his mouth, “Stop.”

He immediately pulled back and released her, but quickly grabbed at her again so she did not fall to the floor. Lorelei’s head was swimming and she felt faint. “I apologize,” he looked pained, “I thought you wanted…” His voice became muffled and her vision tunneled.

Lorelei opened her eyes to find herself in her own bed, in the employee quarters. Blinking, she pushed herself up and saw Ziah sitting in the window, her figure poised against a black night sky. “You’re awake!” The woman rushed over to her and grabbed her head, pulling up her eyelids and peering into her pupils, “Do you feel alright? Can you understand what I’m saying? What’s my name? What’s your name?”

She knew the answers, but they were inconsequential. She looked down at herself, still fully clothed, then searched the room for signs of anyone else.

“He’s not here,” Ziah told her with a sigh, “but he did bring you here.”

Lorelei wiped at her face, as if she were removing the remnants of Malachai’s kiss. That kiss. She sighed, it had been so good, if only for an instant, but she remembered now. He’d carried her down the stairs and to Ziah the moment she was unable to respond to him. “I think I’m okay.”

“I should have told you right away,” Ziah began carefully, sounding out the words, “but I hoped I could keep it a secret from you.”

“I already know the big one,” Lorelei still felt foggy and leaned back, “how much worse could it get?”

“Well,” Ziah stood from the bed, wringing her hands, “It’s just, I don’t often have this conversation, not with humans anyway. And when I do they usually try to kill me.”

Her words cleared the haze from Lorelei’s mind and she sat up straight again.

Ziah began to pace, “Thing is, I’ve never been clear with you about what I am because humans tend to think I’m a…a demon or something, and I didn’t want you to think that. I wanted you to like me, you know?”

When she looked up, Lorelei could see her skin had sallowed. Drastically different from the morning, she looked like she had wiped off all of her makeup, her lips pale and cheeks pockmarked. Her hair had fallen flat and even her body seemed thinner, almost sick. “I do like you,” she told her earnestly, “You’re the closest friend I have.”

“I just need to say it,” she mumbled to herself, staring at the ground. She looked like she was trembling.

Then it hit Lorelei. “No, you don’t,” she pointed at her, “I already know.”

Ziah’s eyes went wide, her lips parted but no words came. She froze.

“Your family, with your one parent in common and your, like, freakish good looks, and your hunting, and the vibes,” she wiggled her fingers in the air, “You come back from staying out all night, and you’re totally pumped. I get it.” Lorelei nodded to herself, smiling, “You’re a vampire.”

Before Lorelei’s eyes, Ziah transformed. The color came back to her skin, her lips darkened to a wet ruby hue, her lashes even seemed to grow into heavy fans, and to her greatest surprise, the woman doubled over into laughter. Holding her stomach, she stumbled to the edge of the bed and flopped down.

“What’s going on?” Lorelei pulled her knees up to her chest, “Why is that funny?”

“Oh, it’s just that,” Ziah wiped a tear from her eye, “I never thought about it before, but yeah I can see how a human, with your movies and books, would think that.”

A bit annoyed, Lorelei slapped the bed, “Are you kidding with me right now?”

Ziah recovered, fanning her face, “I’m a succubus.”

Lorelei was sure she had heard wrong, “A suck-your-what?”

With a deep breath, the woman fully composed herself. She smoothed out her dress and tossed her tresses over a shoulder, “A succubus. And Malachai is an incubus, but same difference.”

Lorelei was quiet for a moment. She knew she had heard the term, but it had never been anything she thought she’d encounter, but then that was kind of the theme of her life lately. Then she thought back to when she first met Ziah, how the woman was enchanting and attractive, and how even she felt dangerous. “So you are a demon?”

“No! I mean, well, our ancestors originated from a hell-like dimension, but that’s besides the point. All my brothers and sisters have the ability to bring out people’s desires, embrace them, and act on them. We give people the warm fuzzies.”

“So that’s why you’re so pretty,” Lorelei was squinting at her, hard.

Ziah looked relieved, and a bit embarrassed. “We get our energy and inspiration from other beings, and one of the best ways to do that is, well, sex. We look a little different to everyone, but basically whatever features you find most attractive are going to be what you see when you look at us. It’s kind of an illusion, I guess, to fulfill that purpose.”

“I wish I could do that.”

Ziah snorted, “Well, most people think we’re just tricking them, so I appreciate that.”

“So when you say you can bring out people’s desires…”

“We can reach into you and figure out what you’re feeling, and we can intensify those feelings,” she admitted coyly, “but only if you’re already feeling that way. If you had no interest at all in Malachai, then you wouldn’t have been so drawn to him. I was really worried about you though because you’re human. You’ve got less energy to give and sometimes that ends up disastrous. Like coma or death disastrous.”

The word caught in Lorelei’s throat, “Death?”

“Malachai’s never killed anybody that I know of,” she looked a bit concerned, “but I certainly didn’t tell him you were human, and there’s a first time for everything.”

Lorelei brushed her bangs out of her face, not sure if she preferred not knowing just how much danger she was in to being acutely aware like when the werewolves had threatened her life.

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t die,” Ziah told her, patting her knee, “I would have really missed you.” Lorelei let out a huff and nodded. She would have probably missed herself as well. “Wait,” Ziah narrowed her eyes and leaned forward so that her nose was close to Lorelei’s, “How long did you think we were all vampires? Before you went to see Malachai? Weren’t you worried he might, like, you know…rip open your throat with his teeth and drain you of all your blood like a stuck pig? That he might kill you?”

Lorelei felt queasy.

“Ya know what, no, don’t answer that,” Ziah shook her head, “I feel like I’m better off not knowing.”

***

The next morning, Ziah hugged her family as they gathered in the foyer to leave. Malachai winked at Lorelei, and she nodded back at him, his charm a little less effective now. As they said their goodbyes, Farrah came thundering down the stairs with her bag slung over her shoulder. She gave Ziah a quick hug and tried to rush out the door, but was stopped by a voice on the stairs.

Grier was leaning on the railing as he slumped down to the foyer, exhaustion all over his face, but wearing a big, dopey grin nonetheless. Ziah’s jaw dropped open as she looked from the boy to her sister and back again.

Finally, Farrah could no longer contain her smirk, “He’s eighteen, he told me himself.”

As they left, Grier tried to follow in a daze, but the girl shoved him back inside. With a peck on the cheek she quickly shut the door between them, and he slid down the wall to the ground, promptly falling asleep.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment – Monday 5/28/18

Podcast: Vacancy 1.03 – What It’s Thinking

Episode 1.03 – What It’s Thinking

So here’s the third episode of my podcast/audio drama/audio-book-serial-thingy. I’m pretty pleased with the project as a whole so far, and aside from having to listen to my own voice, it’s been great fun putting it together. I’d suggest it to anyone writing a serial, especially one spanning over a long time, because it’s reminding me of the early plot and the voice in that writing, and I think it will help me develop the characters better as time goes on.

It’s not perfect, and it’s kinda terrifying to put something new out into the world that I know I’m a novice at, but I’m getting a really weird sense of satisfaction from the whole thing. While writing is and I suspect always will be my first love, working on this has made me really excited about world building and completing projects again.

Vacancy’s Theme is “Planet Bullspit” by Corey Major

Vacancy Episode 1.03 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

This Is My 99th Post

I was really productive yesterday and for the last two days I have been in what I would almost call a manic state: happy, excited, productive. And I’m scared to admit it, but I’m fairly certain this may be due to the very recent, and very tragic death of my cellular telephone.

To be clear I certainly DO NOT believe modern technology is the downfall of civilization. If you think, Dear Reader, that people have not always been completely self-centered, vapid, distracted assholes, you haven’t been paying attention, but there are things about modern technology that certainly make being some of these things easier.

So I dropped my phone. First, I just want to say that the fact that we are sold hand-held computers the likes of which could not even be imagined 30 years ago for upwards of ONE THOUSAND REAL US DOLLARS but aren’t manufactured to survive slipping out of one’s hand SHOULD BE CRIMINAL. Now, I’ve never have a phone that cost me more than $200 (until the one coming in the mail tomorrow ringing in at an incredibly upsetting $250), and I have dropped every single one I’ve ever owned hundreds of times, onto tile, in parking lots, bouncing off of granite countertops to then fall onto some other hard surface, and none have ever broken because I HAVE BEEN LUCKY. But on Sunday I carelessly bumped my thigh with the corner of my phone as I held it by its Popsocket (my grip was poor because I’d just been hiking, Popsockets are otherwise a godsend) and it fell only about two feet onto some gravel where the corner cracked and spiderwebbed out causing not only aesthetic issues (which I could definitely have lived with), but basically rendered the touch screen unusable.

Another of my complaints along with the fragility that seems to be purposefully built into these magic rectangles is that they are all touch based. I’m pretty impressed with how accurate they are for the most part, but I am still an awful texter due to constantly hitting the “wrong” letters and hate browsing sites as I’m always accidentally clicking links I never meant to. But when the use of your very expensive device relies on such an easily corruptible input method, it seems inevitable your phone will “go bad” or break much sooner than it really should. Even though this has, again, never been my actual experience until now.

Basically what I’m getting at is this shit is made to be disposable in every way except its price point. And except for all the materials and labor put into them. Actually, they’re only made to be disposable in that you, the consumer, are supposed to use, abuse, and dispose of them to keep feeding Apple ridiculous amounts of money.

But that’s not the point. What I’m really getting at is, without the thing that I call a phone but absolutely HATE when it actually rings (especially now that spam calls and those robo calls from “local” numbers that are untraceable exist), I’ve gotten a lot more done. Correlation =/= causation, I know, but there might be something to it. I have almost the same access to the internet without my phone except there are some apps I can’t really do anything with on a desktop (which is another really weird concept to me–the inability to post original content to Instagram without a phone or some hacky software is WILD), and yet I’m getting more done.

I think having the option of picking up a separate device while working on something else is probably the crux of this. Now, I am typing. If I had my phone, I might write out a sentence and then scroll on some social platform, then come back, but I’m less likely to navigate away to another tab on the same device, and if I do, my writing tab or document is always there, staring at me and calling me back. It’s a small, stupid brain trick, but I think for me, at least, it works.

Again, I want to reiterate, I’m not demonizing any of these things (but maybe some companies), I’m just realizing something about myself. Because regardless of what any of us have access to, we are responsible for ourselves, aren’t we?

The new phone comes tomorrow. It’s got a shit load of memory and a rockin camera. I’ve ordered a screen protector and a protective case. IT WILL NEVER BREAK AND I’LL BE DISTRACTED TIL THE END OF MY POINTLESS LIFE MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Vacancy – 1.19 – More Fun In Packs

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

V - 1.19

Manning the front desk had been easy, almost boring, that morning, and for that, Lorelei was thankful. She’d checked in a pair of dwarves on their honeymoon who she recognized from the convention, and twin vilas with white-blonde curls and thick eastern European accents. They were all still on high alert since the break-in of mysterious motive, but without a single hiccup all week, Lorelei was feeling particularly pleased with herself, and though the past month had been the strangest of her life, it had also been the most rewarding. Habian, the black-haired, dreary-faced fairy that was under permanent employ at the manor, had just brought her a ring to add to the lost and found box, and he hadn’t even changed her hair color or stolen her lunch this time. She smiled to herself at the small victory as she locked the ring away in the office when she heard the front door open.

“Good afternoon, how can I he–” Lorelei’s voice was caught in her throat when she saw him.

With golden skin and black curls, he sauntered across the foyer all smiles, honey-colored eyes set on Lorelei and unwavering. He clenched a perfectly sculpted jaw, only enhanced by rugged stubble, and stared down a long, slender nose when he made it to the counter, “Well, I’ve not seen you before.”

His tone was smooth, immediately sending a shiver down Lorelei’s spine. She stood up a bit straighter, and cleared her throat, “Uh, haha, yeah, hi, I’m new.” What an idiot, she thought.

“Yes, you certainly are.”

Lorelei suddenly felt her tongue was too big for her mouth and couldn’t swallow, “I can, um, grab Ziah if you want?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary,” he purred leaning forward, “I want you.”

“Oh, Jesus,” she heard herself saying before she could stop.

“Far from it,” he managed a dry laugh then smirked, “I’m hoping you can help me secure four rooms for two nights.”

“Of course,” Lorelei fumbled under the counter for the book, slamming it down so loudly that she scared herself. She flipped to the current day, a birds-eye layout of the manor spread out on the page, “I’m assuming you’ve stayed here before? Could I have your name?”

“Malachai.” Of course it was.

She picked out an empty block of rooms and wrote his name into one of them. The wet ink swirled around on the page, spreading out across the diagram of the four rooms, changing the shape of the map ever so slightly and filling in extra information about the returning guest.

“And may I ask yours?”

Feeling already wobbly in her knees, she told him.

He extended a hand to her, and she took it clumsily. His voice was like butter, and Lorelei wished she were bread. Toast, specifically. “It is so very nice to meet you, Lorelei.”

At the sound of her own name on his lips, her spine shivered once again, and she gripped the edge of the counter to keep from turning into a complete puddle. It was then she noticed that three others were with Malachai. Tall and lean, two women and a man meandered in the foyer, all dark-haired and warm-skinned, and Lorelei gaped at herself: had they been there all along?

She finally released his hand, but instantly regretted it. His skin had been soft and warm and her own longed for it to return. She looked down at her hand, a little shocked at herself, then back up at the others. One of the women had come over to the counter and was leaning against it. She bit a lip so full Lorelei thought it might burst, then winked at her, “Don’t worry, he has that effect on everyone.” She nudged him with her shoulder, and the two exchanged playful glances.

“And we need to keep an eye on Mr. Elkin’s griffin bec–NO!”

Ziah had entered the foyer with Grier at her side. The moment she saw Malachai, the color drained from her face, and Lorelei could have sworn her eyes flashed red.

“Ziah!” the other, younger woman ran up and threw her arms around her, but Ziah kept her eyes locked onto Malachai. She took a long, deep breath and rubbed her temple, “Oh, brother.”

“That’s me,” he grinned at her, and she glared back.

“Lorelei,” Ziah’s face was a mixture of frantic, overwhelmed, and a bit disgusted, “This is my oldest sibling, Malachai.”

“Oh, we’ve met.”

“I’m sure,” she scowled at him and motioned to the woman hugging her, “And my baby sister, Farrah.” Ziah released her and came around the counter to stand very close to Lorelei, “And Altair and Kamille, right in the middle.”

“So these are all your siblings?” Lorelei realized then she should have known, seeing them all together: the resemblance was striking. “Your family is ridiculously good looking.”

They all laughed, even Ziah, but in low, sultry tones that made her feel like she was in on the joke. But Ziah was quick to stop, “What are you doing here? And with absolutely no notice?”

“It’s my first hunt!” Farrah’s face lit up, and she licked her lips. Lorelei couldn’t imagine any of them with shotguns, knives, or even hiking boots.

“You know,” Malachai winked, “It’s more fun in packs.”

“You’re done with school?” Ziah was eyeing Malachai, but speaking with Farrah.

The girl rolled her eyes, “I’m turning in my thesis next week.”

She glared openly at her brother, “This celebration seems a little premature then, don’t you think?”

“That’s exactly why we’re here,” he told her with a smirk as if she should have known.

Ziah paused, looking them all over, then relented, “Fine. Some of you might remember Grier,” she pointed to the boy standing in the doorway, his mouth abnormally shut, “He’ll show you to your rooms.”

“Your friend,” Malachai nodded at Lorelei, “I’m sure she would be willing to show us where we will be spending the night, no?”

“No.” Ziah was quick to respond, “My underaged bellhop will be more than happy to do that instead.”

As Grier very nervously picked up some of their bags and began to lead them up the stairs, neither he nor Lorelei bothered to correct Ziah about his age. Malachai lingered as the others passed, frowning, but even that was attractive, “I trust you do know where my room is?”

Lorelei could feel herself blushing down to her feet and quickly turned her eyes away. He chuckled and disappeared to the second floor.

“Gods,” Ziah grumbled, “He always does this.” She slammed her hand onto the open ledger and scowled down at it.

“Surprises you?”

Ziah scrunched up her face, “Mal has slept with every single one of my assistants: Robina, Ainsley, Michael, Gretchen.”

“Michael?”

“And now you!” she threw up her hands.

“Oh,” Lorelei felt both a pang in her chest and a sneer cross her own face, “We only just met. But, what, this is some game he likes to play?”

“It’s not a game,” she rolled her head back, “He’s just trying to…to prove something to me.”

Lorelei couldn’t see how the situation had to do with Ziah, “I don’t understand.”

She flipped absently through the pile of outgoing mail on the counter, “No, you wouldn’t.”

“Because I’m human.” Lorelei crossed her arms and glared at her.

“Oh gods, it’s already starting.” Ziah took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She placed her hands on Lorelei’s shoulders, her voice sweetening, smile widening, “Lore, I didn’t mean anything by that, okay? My brother just puts me on edge, but I shouldn’t take that out on you. I’m sorry.”

Lorelei suddenly felt light and almost flustered. She giggled, warmth returning to her face, biting her lip and nodding. Then she pulled back, recognizing how similarly she felt to when Malachai spoke to her. She squinted at Ziah, “Yeah, it’s fine.”

“Just be careful around him, okay? Don’t let him trick you or–”

“I’m not stupid,” she said a bit more forcefully than she meant. Ziah nodded and shuffled off to the dining room. When she was gone, Lorelei glanced down at the page in the ledger. Malachai’s name was listed there along with pertinent information that the ledger had recalled on him, and beneath it all, a word in big, bold letters: DANGEROUS.

***

Lorelei stayed busy that day, not seeing Malachai again, but found him hiding around corners in her mind. She thought she’d hear his voice, but when she looked he wasn’t there, thought she saw his shadow, but it was always someone else. She couldn’t hide the disappointment on her face, and it was hanging heavy over her even at the end of her shift, but Ziah’s cautious words were echoing around her brain as well. But before she clocked out, she organized the mail that had come in that day, a bill from Faust and Sons, a flyer for puca repellent, a package for a guest that was growling, and was so surprised at seeing her own name in a delicate handwriting across a square envelope that she forgot about Malachai and Ziah completely.

She gently slipped the envelope open, inside the same beautiful script:

Dearest Lorelei,

It is good to learn your name. I cannot say much about what has been left to you in a letter, but please do not think the brooch has come into your possession by mere coincidence or, worse, error. I trust you can do what needs to be done.

Unless of course you cannot which is entirely possible. Gods know many have failed.

I am traveling the Amazon for the time being, so it may be some time before I can be in touch with you again, but keep your eyes open for the signs, my dear, and eventually I will return to the manor. Perhaps then we can discuss more over tea.

Sincerely,

J.S. Pennygrass, OoO

Lorelei reread the letter as she wandered out from behind the counter, wholly engrossed in the words. She hoped Conrad could offer more insight, but as she folded it up and slid it into her pocket, she looked up to see Malachai and her mind went blank.

So close that she could feel the warmth of his body, she felt the familiar tingles that came with his presence. She swallowed and took a step back, but that didn’t stop the feeling from traveling through her core, out into her limbs, and back.

“Join me for dinner.” The man was purring. Who purrs? she thought as his words coursed through her. Damn, who cares?

“I can’t,” she shook her head even as she walked through to the dining room with him, “It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“But I’m alone otherwise,” he motioned to the room. Both Altair and Kamille were seated at separate tables, Altair with a young man who’d shown up to the manor two days prior, and Kamille with a couple that had checked in that afternoon.

Malachai’s hand was on the small of her back and electricity shot through her body. She didn’t hate it. He motioned to a small table in the corner, “Please.”

“Well, okay.” Lorelei practically sprinted to the table. In the shadows and against the back wall, it was unlikely Ziah would see them, and who was Ziah, or anyone, to tell her what to do anyway?

She dropped down onto the chair and watched Malachai slither into his own. The candle on the table cast demonic shadows across his face. She thought about what it meant to be possessed by something, then shook her head, embarrassed to have considered the thought. Malachai was simply staring at her from across the table, the flame flickering in his honey eyes.

She forced herself to look away, noting Hotaru’s diminutive frame coming out of the kitchen. She wouldn’t see her, but she was coming their way. Making a beeline, in fact. The girl’s eyes were focused on the food, but she was getting closer, traversing the maze of tables and chairs until she was on them, and before she could duck, Hotaru was sitting the plates down before them, her face almost as pink as Lorelei’s when their eyes met.

“I already ordered for us, I hope you don’t mind.” Malachai thanked Hotaru politely, but didn’t take his eyes off of his dinner companion.

Hotaru hurried off, and Lorelei felt nauseated, then she snapped her head back to him, “You ordered for me before you even knew I’d agree to eat with you?”

“Well,” he picked up his fork, “I hoped.”

She felt her head get dizzy again, but wanted to focus. “Tell me about growing up with Ziah,” she heard herself saying, “What was that like?”

“We actually didn’t grow up together, none of us did,” he smiled, “We were raised by different mothers. It is our father who we have in common. It was only when we were much older that we met.”

“Oh, Farrah too?” Lorelei realized she hadn’t seen the youngest in the dining room.

“Yes, we found her just a few years ago. We have other siblings as well, but none like us.” He winked, and she wasn’t sure if she was meant to understand. “It’s nice when we can all get together, but Ziah so infrequently obliges us, so we come to her,” he leaned closer, “And I’m very glad we did.”

Lorelei pulled her gaze away and picked up her own fork. Keep things formal, she told herself, “That’s nice. So what do you do?”

“Uh,” he seemed to stumble for a moment, then caught himself, “You mean my occupation? Of course, I write music.”

“Oh? Anything I might have heard?”

“It depends on how much time you spend in the human world,” he smirked, “They’re a lovely target audience. Almost too easy.”

Lorelei felt her heartbeat quicken, but not from excitement, “Oh, not much really,” she lore-lied.

“Then it isn’t likely. And you, what did you do before you came here to work with my sister?”

“School,” she told him truthfully, hoping he would assume the academy, “I studied a lot of things, like literature.” They definitely had books in this world, and he didn’t need to know the specifics of how wide a net she’d cast over her academics.

“Poetry?” he asked.

She felt that tingly sensation again. He was going somewhere with this. Somewhere she wasn’t sure she should follow. “I really like horror actually,” she stuffed a forkful of pasta into her mouth, “The bloodier the better.”

Malachai’s grin grew under the candlelight revealing sharp canines, and he laughed, “I knew I liked you for a reason, Lorelei.”

At the sound of her name again, she wanted to fling herself at him, but memories of Ziah’s hesitation to reveal what she truly was to Lorelei held her to the spot. They continued on, him attempting to lead her down a different path than she knew she should go, and her redirecting, almost against her own will. Once the plates had long been empty and the others had trickled out of the dining room, Lorelei was mentally exhausted, and her body ached. For what, she was unsure.

“It’s so late!” she exclaimed, barely making out the time on the clock in the shadows of the dining room, “I should be in bed!”

“Indeed,” he smirked and stood, “Let me take you there.”

Her eyes went wide. He hadn’t suggested anything untoward, not really, had he?

“Ready to go then?” Ziah appeared at his side, her arms crossed.

“Ah, sister–”

“Don’t you ‘sister’ me,” she held up a hand, “You said you came here for a hunt, and we’re waiting for you.”

Lorelei tried to sit very still, hoping Ziah wouldn’t see her, but couldn’t help screwing up her face at Ziah’s words. A hunt? In the middle of the night?

Malachai looked from one of them to the other then relented, “Yes, of course. If you will excuse me.”

When they both left, Lorelei barely caught Ziah’s unapproving eye. She was unsure whether she was relieved or annoyed, but once she was no longer in Malachai’s presence, she felt so completely sapped of energy, she almost leaned back and fell asleep.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

Podcast: Vacancy 1.02 – Human

Episode 1.02 – Human

Vacancy’s Theme is “Planet Bullspit” by Corey Major

Vacancy Episode 1.02 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

A Conversation With Marlow

I had to go to the post office today, so I walked from home to Husband’s work to have lunch with him first. Both his work and the post office are about a mile and a half from home through the city, and it’s legitimately easier and faster to walk than drive (plus bonus steps).

So I set out this morning with plans to “mind-write” (plot out where a couple stories are going) as I went. That didn’t happen.

As I waited for the walk sign to cross the street, I saw a man coming toward me. He was walking during a green light and had traffic stopped, a dick move for sure. I guess I should describe him here: a few inches taller than my 5’4″, low to average weight, black, maybe 40s, and most likely homeless from the state of his clothes and dental hygiene, but not something you’d notice immediately. When he got to my side of the street he said “hello,” and because I am who I am, and I was feeling rather good, I greeted him back. I was, after all, about to go in the exact opposite direction of this man, and the light was just changing. Perfect: the part of me that gives way too many shits about what other people think was appeased by being nice, and the more animalistic, don’t-get-murdered side was content that this potential danger was being avoided.

But what a fool I was because this man didn’t really have anywhere to be and immediately started talking to me. He began referring to me as “mami” (which was really odd since neither of us were Hispanic–later, when I said to him “Mami? I’m no one’s mother,” he told me he was adopting me as his mom), but he wasn’t being overtly sexual or creepy, just started having this conversation.

The first thing I asked him was “Didn’t you just cross this street?” I was on high alert at this point. The direction I was headed was into a neighborhood, no longer on the main road, so there would be way fewer people and cars.

But he responded jovially, “I just need somebody to talk to.”

Here’s the thing, Dear Reader, I would never advocate for anyone to talk to strangers. It really just is not safe. If I were reading this story, I’d be screaming in my head “RUN, BITCH, RUN!” However, I know that in my heart, kindness costs nothing. Still, I laughed and said, “There’s a guy who works at the gas station. He’s probably bored behind that counter all day; you could talk to him!”

He shook that off. “No no,” he said, “That guy, well, promise you would get mad or upset by this?”

“Uh, sure?” Though my word should have meant nothing to this stranger.

“That guy in there, he’s a jerk. He doesn’t uh…well,” he stumbled over this, not because he didn’t have the words for it, but because he didn’t have the words for me to explain it, “I get the feeling he doesn’t like people of the African American persuasion.”

I had a tiny conversation in my head at that moment. Because I was already over analyzing everything anyway and planning how not to die, I really thought about what he was saying, how, and, why. Why would it offend me, a white woman, if he told me the Middle Eastern guy at the gas station was racist? Wouldn’t he know better than anyone? Did he expect me to argue with him? Was I really in the position to be argumentative?

“I can see that,” I finally told him, “A lot of people are.” I thought back to seeing This Is America for the first time this morning.

So we started to have a conversation. Well, he started to have a conversation at me. I’m not good with new people, even when I’m fairly certain they won’t kill me, so you can imagine my discomfort, but when he reiterated he just needed someone to talk to, I decided I could be that person. I’ve been practicing my whole life at being a listener. Even though I knew the conversation had an ulterior motive, and it was essentially a lie, though more like a mask. Heck, maybe it was true. Does anyone talk–really talk–to homeless people?

First we made small talk, and he used the time to comment on me (this is where we discussed how I wasn’t anybody’s mother), that I was talking to him and he was shocked, and then asked me what was wrong with my shoulder. I’m fairly pale and have freckles from years of sun damage, but he was actually referencing my acne. (It’s really blossomed in the last few months, but thankfully only on my back.) I explained to him what it was, and assured him that no, it was not contagious when he asked. I laughed because here was this man, pointing out something that’s pretty gross and should make me self conscious but I weirdly didn’t feel bad about it, and he wasn’t making me feel bad. It was just a thing we were discussing.

So I played therapist. “What’s going on? Why are you having a hard time? Let’s get to the crux of this.” (So you will go away was the underlying message though delivered with a smile.)

“Well, now, I don’t want to scare you,” he tells me.

Too late, I think.

“I just spent 12 years incarcerated for a crime I didn’t commit.”

I didn’t want to know the specifics, so instead we discussed the lack of a rehabilitation process in our criminal justice system and the ways the country uses mental health and psych wards as weapons instead of helpful tools. This stranger was well-spoken (despite not really knowing what acne was), clear, easy to understand, and didn’t strike me as someone who’d been to jail. Of course, the tale he told me was so he could get to the point: he was down on his luck. But we had the conversation nonetheless.

This morning when I got dressed, I grabbed a pair of shorts out of the clean clothes basket and found there was a five dollar bill in the pocket. I very rarely have cash, but on this day I actually had that five in my pocket. Of course I was going to give it to him, this was ultimately what he wanted and we both knew that. So I told him this story: I have $5 that I’m going to give you, but isn’t it strange because I only just found it this morning and this is the day we meet.

He looked close to tears, and he hugged me. This was way too much for me, and I tried explaining to him “I don’t hug strangers” because of “things that have happened to me in the past.” This, he tells me, hurts his feelings. The feminist in me wanted to have the “your feelings aren’t more important than my safety” conversation, but I hadn’t been murdered yet and I wanted to stay not dead which is an even bigger comment on feminism without anything being said, so I just moved on.

“What’s your astrological sign?” my new friend asked me.

“Guess.”

This, like many things I said to him, made him laugh uproariously. I was “a mess, girl, just a mess” but also “a firecracker” and “full of surprises.” He guessed cancer or libra, and I told him “Wow, I was born right on the cusp of cancer and leo.” He was very excited to have gotten it almost right. “Okay, you do me now, what do you think I am?”

“Well, I don’t know much about the other signs, just myself,” which is mostly true, but he insisted. “Okay, sagittarius.”

“My sister’s a sagittarius!” he throws his hands up, “But me, I’m aquarius.”

“Hm,” I smile, “Yeah, I can see that, like the water, meandering and adaptive.”

“You,” he points at me, “You know more than you let on. You’re the kind of person who won’t let other people know that you’re superior to them. You bring things down to other people’s level.” I’m just laughing at this, and he goes on to tell me how cool I am, and I say to him, “You’d be the first person to ever say that to me.”

“Listen, Ashley,” because at this point we’d traded names, “When someone tells you they think you’re cool, you’re supposed to say ‘I know.'”

And all I can do is laugh because I very frequently do just that. I’m always jokingly full of myself with people I know, but in talking to strange men I’ve learned that being humble and demure can save your life, and here this person is who, by all rights, I should be afraid of, teaching me to do a thing that really isn’t safe for women to do, and it was all so preposterous.

We parted ways soon after that after I insisted I had to go meet my husband who he definitely didn’t believe existed. Enough other things happened to write a whole series of blogs (specifically a blog called “There’s A Special Circle Of Hell For Women Who Don’t Help Other Women But I Guess That’s Pretty Sexist Too”), but I’ve expended enough energy on this encounter for one day. The point? There isn’t one. I’m in no way advocating speaking to strangers, ignoring your gut, being kind because it’s free. I’m also not advocating against those things. What happened today was rare, but probably only because we don’t let those things happen, but we certainly can’t be blamed for disallowing them.

But don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a feel good story. When I walked home I prayed not to run into him again which I admittedly feel guilty about: our conversation had the potential to be very pleasant had I not been riddled with anxiety. And I didn’t die, right? But really, how fucking stupid is it I felt guilty? No one has a right to anyone else’s time ever. All I wanted was to think about what was about to happen to Lorelei and the gang, but even on the way home I couldn’t because I was on even higher alert plus chastising myself for the whole thing which was even dumber: I had very little control over that whole situation.

So I mean, I don’t know, Dear Reader, take from this what you will. Sorry I didn’t say “fuck” very much.