Vacancy – 1.03

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

Lorelei came to with Ziah’s hand pressed against her face. Her brow was furrowed with worry, and she bit a pouty lip. Straw slid under her hands as she tried to push herself up, and Ziah helped her lean against a pole in the barn.

Seamus’s voice echoed, sounding far off, “Oh, gods, have we broken her?”

“No,” Ziah spoke in a hushed tone and brushed Lorelei’s hair away from her face, “Not yet.”

“I’ve seen that before.” Lorelei focused on the boy standing over Ziah’s shoulder. He wore a slightly annoyed look and save for his dark hair falling in shaggy curls about his face, the teen looked nothing like a dog. A long scar ran from his forehead down to his cheek, the eye in its center milky, distorting the pupil. He snarled, “That’s a human, isn’t it?”

The woman shook her head, “She’s not staying, don’t worry. I know people come here to get away from her kind.”

Lorelei felt nauseated, but not at a loss for offense, even if she had no idea what they meant. She tried focusing back on Ziah, the woman’s mass of black hair haloing around her like a great shadow, but she couldn’t muster any words.

“You like humans well enough,” Seamus said with a little laugh, and Lorelei could make out his pudgy form standing behind Ziah.

“Sure I do,” the woman fanned at Lorelei’s face, “but it’s a unique sentiment to have around here. She can’t hack it, I mean, she fainted at the sight of Grier.”

“Yeah, but that’s what happens to all the ladies,” the boy grinned, squatting down next to her and sticking his nose inches from Lorelei’s, “You wanna scratch behind my ears? It really gets my foot thumping.” She tried recoiling, but instead just banged her head on the pole behind her.

Ziah grabbed the front of his shirt and shoved him with a force that shocked Lorelei, throwing the boy so that he skidded backward in the hay. She acted as if she had exerted no energy at all, “If Seamus would have just let me memory blot her to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now it’s going to be doubly hard.”

Lorelei’s vision finally stabilized, though now her head throbbed. She saw the tall man, Ren he’d been called, come to stand beside Seamus. Pushing silvery hair behind an ear with one hand revealing its length once more, he held the newly-hatched creature with too many limbs in his other, “I’m no apothecarian, Ziah, but memory blotting is said to be very dangerous, not to mention that’s not exactly your forte. What do you plan on doing with her after?”

Ziah glanced over her shoulder, “Well, send her on her way, of course.”

“To where?” His voice was flat, and he stood very still. “She may not remember where she was going or from where she came.”

“Well, that’s the idea.”

Before she came to us.” The creature he held made a little but piercing chirp.

Though Lorelei thought she might like to forget from where she’d come before the manor, she didn’t dare say that aloud. When Ziah looked back to her, her eyes were hollow, her skin a bit sallow, and the smile she had worn the night before was gone. She was still beautiful, but she looked as though she had weathered a great storm.

“There are side effects as well: sudden blackouts, long-term memory loss, personality changes,” he looked down his long nose at Lorelei, “It seems you would be possibly wrecking one of the…acceptable humans and sending her off into danger. Perhaps we should consult Conrad for an alternative.”

“No!” Ziah cut the air with her hand, “No one else can know about this,” she glared at the boy who was still picking himself up off the ground, “Enough already do.”

“The manor did open itself up to her,” Seamus ventured carefully, clasping his hands before him, “Maybe, well…she can’t be all human, can she?”

“I don’t know,” Ziah growled from the back of her throat, and Lorelei could have sworn she saw a flicker of red flash in her dark eyes, “It’s your manor, don’t you know?”

He laughed, “Oh, dear, no: I don’t pretend to know what it’s thinking.”

The woman rolled her eyes and mumbled something less than complementary as Seamus went on. Ren’s voice hummed another suggestion, and Grier leaned in to Ziah and began to complain that he could be trusted with secrets as he told her one he’d never shared before. Their voices stacked atop one another until Lorelei could understand none of it. With a groan, she sat up a little straighter, “Um, excuse me?” When they only got louder, she cleared her throat and tried again, “Is anyone interested in what I’m thinking?”

All four sets of eyes fell on her and as they went silent, she could feel her heart thumping against her chest just as the hatchling had done earlier. “Well, uh,” she swallowed, “I was thinking I could stay.”

“Splendid!” Seamus threw his hands up and clapped Ren on the back. The tall man’s face changed, nostrils flaring and lips in a snarl, but only for an instant.

“Lorelei,” Ziah spoke very carefully, putting a hand on her shoulder, “What do…what do you think is happening here?”

Lorelei looked from Ziah’s otherworldly beauty, to the seven plus foot man with pointed ears, to the man with a flame-colored goatee, to the scarred boy who had only very recently been a dog. She squinted, “Aliens?”

The boy immediately burst into hysterics and threw himself onto his back again. Seamus chuckled and Ren’s lips may have even twitched, but Ziah cocked her head, “Would you be okay with that?”

“Well,” Lorelei thought a moment. The place was obviously secluded and perhaps even unreachable by anyone else. It was almost ideal if not for the nagging feeling that its inhabitants might permanently damage her in trying to get rid of her. She swallowed, “You haven’t, like, vaporized me yet. So yeah, aliens are fine.” The woman’s face softened, and Lorelei saw her chance, “And you have that open position. You said you need someone, and I need a job.”

“Well, we’re not aliens,” Ziah laughed lightly through her nose, color coming into her cheeks, “And it’s not quite as easy as that.”

“Sure it is!” Seamus leaned forward, grabbing Ziah’s shoulders, “You’re hired!”

The woman shook him off, “Gods, Seamus! And what’s Arista going to say?”

Suddenly, the look on his face ran away, and he fell into a shadowy grimace, “Didn’t think a tha…”

Lorelei screwed up her courage, pushing herself up onto her knees and with Ziah’s help came to stand before them. “Look,” she narrowed her brow, making her best serious face, “I can’t go back to where I came from, and I…I don’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t even,” she felt a sudden wave of sadness as the words came, realizing the truth for the first time, “I don’t even have anyone to tell anything to, so your secrets–government experiments, mutants, whatever–are safe with me.”

They were left in a somber silence. The girl looked at their faces again, an odd mixture of guilt and unease across them. Any fear she might have felt before at their strangeness left her.

“Ziah!” A small voice sounded from the yard as the girl from the kitchen came jogging up to them. Her face was red and eyes watery, and she grabbed the side of the barn with a huff, “Some of the men from the convention are here.”

Ziah’s eyes widened, “The convention,” and she slapped her forehead.

“They’re kind of grumpy.” Hotaru bit her lip.

The woman rolled her eyes, “Of course they are. Grab some cider, the strongest stuff, and bring it to the white room.”

“How many bottles? There’s six of them.”

“Twelve.” Ziah changed suddenly, her voice less ragged as she focused on those around her, “Grier, help her, and on the way let Bur know we’re going to need those rooms a lot earlier than we thought, probably in about three hours. Seamus, you can keep them distracted for a few minutes, right? Don’t mention that they’re early, just be your charming self. Ren, can you grab a sample of the latest harvest, and get it to the white room? No greens; root veggies and stuff we can ferment only. Then, um, make yourself scarce. And if anyone hands any of you a rock, just take it: trust me.” The group looked at her with wide eyes for a moment then she huffed, “Well, get going!” With that, they scattered.

“And you,” Ziah rounded on Lorelei and she stood very straight in response, “I need your help.”

Ziah’s long strides were difficult to keep pace with as they crossed the yard to the side porch of the manor. They entered into a short hall that lead to a storeroom filled with foods, but swept by too quickly for Lorelei to take note of anything but a spicy, earthy smell, like freshly cut grass sprinkled with paprika. The kitchen lay on the other side where the chef was leaning over a large, bubbling pot. “Aoyagi-san, can you whip up something meaty in a hurry?”

“Oh, little girl is back,” the chef pointed his ladle at Lorelei, thick brown gravy flicking off its end, “but she’s not got my eggs, still!”

Ziah ignored him, rummaging around the shelves, “Maybe like a fondue situation?”

“You sure about that?”

The woman revealed three loaves of crusty bread, “If it’s hot they’re less likely to throw it.” Then, she slung the loaves at him.

Aoyagi grabbed each out of the air in succession, holding all three up. That’s when Lorelei saw, he had three–no–four arms. But there was no time to react, as Ziah rushed her out of the kitchen and through a side door into another hall, and, really after seeing a dog turn into a boy, what was a couple more arms? From somewhere on the other side of the wall, a chorus of gruff voices sounded, but Ziah was undeterred from her course, taking them around a corner and into another room.

The white room was just that: white. Its walls were bare above dark wainscotting and save for some rather sad, folded furniture stacked in the corner, it was empty. “The tables, set them up in a long row just here.” Lorelei didn’t hesitate to oblige and went for the furniture, but the moment she touched them she was zapped.

She recoiled, stuck her finger in her mouth, then shook her head and went for them again. Again, she felt electricity, but this time it buzzed through her, almost pleasantly like the nighttime hum of a car’s backseat on a road trip. The two moved the pieces into the room’s center, circling the table with simple foldout chairs. It was not a very impressive sight.

“Good,” Ziah nodded, though Lorelei thought it was nothing in comparison to the colorful, eclectic dining room she’d been in earlier. “Now stand back.” Beside the door they had entered was a single light switch, though the room had no fixtures. “We’re looking for something rugged, sturdy, just very…masculine.” Then she flipped the switch.

The room came alive with a jolt through the air. Light flashed before them, and a sound like crumbling buildings emanated from behind the walls. Lorelei froze, and the room around her moved. The white plaster replaced itself with rough-cut stones, vines crawling in through their cracks. A massive, iron fixture formed on the ceiling and thick, yellowed candles on it sparked to life. The tables shook, growing sturdy, dark legs covered in knotted bark, and iron bars grew from the backs of the chairs into rough angled shapes.

Lorelei blinked. She wanted to again touch the table, to feel the wood and know it was real, to run her hands across the walls and pluck a leaf off the vines, to scratch at one of the bowls laid on the table and smell the clay, but Ziah’s voice broke her just as she was about to take a step. “Too rugged,” she said to, apparently, the room, “Maybe take it back a notch.” She flipped the switch again.

The air sizzled, the walls cracked, and there was another blinding light. The stone on the walls crumbled away into dust, leaving behind a pink floral patterned wallpaper. The plates replaced themselves with delicate, white pieces, fluted champagne glasses and gold utensils on either side. Lacy tulle shot out  from the ceiling in swooping pastels and the faint sound of birds floated somewhere in the farthest corners of the room, but none were seen.

“Very funny,” Ziah smirked, glancing at Lorelei, and she returned it. “It knows what I mean. Once more, shall we?”

With a final flip of the switch, the room changed again. This time, a deep maroon color dripped down the walls, painting over the pinks, and landscape paintings and ancient weaponry expanded from nothingness to hang there. The tables twisted into a sturdy oak, and the chairs melted together into communal benches with intricate carvings of deer and evergreens. The champagne flutes shifted themselves in steins, and at the far end of the room there was a pop and a stone fireplace roared to life.

“That’s more like it.”

Of course there were no words, and even if she could find them, Lorelei knew she couldn’t muster the voice to say them. Instead, she blinked, felt her heart pound, and knew, at the very least, the people she’d met today were probably not government experiments. This was the kind of technology that should have already been monopolized upon.

The door behind them opened, and Hotaru and Grier entered with armfulls of thick bottles full of a buttery-colored liquid. “Bur’s a little pissy.” Grier told them as he placed the bottles along the table.

“Yeah, well,” Ziah shrugged, “what else is new? Go on out front and start taking their things upstairs. Hotaru, Aoyagi-san should be cooking us up something.”

“Right,” the small girl, who Lorelei looked at closely but only noted two arms, nodded and slipped back through the door with Grier right behind her, both nearly knocking into Ren’s towering figure.

The man handed off the basket he carried to Lorelei, and she wobbled to stay on her feet under its weight. Inside, it held potatoes, apples, red and purple berries, and a handful of other unrecognizable chunks she assumed were edible. There was a little screech and from Ren’s shirt pocket and the creature she had hatched popped its head out. Ren gently pushed it back down, but gave her a knowing look before disappearing again without a word.

Ziah directed her to place the basket on a side table and help her uncork the bottles. When she caught a wiff of the liquid, her knees went weak and she had to grab the table to sturdy herself. Ziah laughed, “Yeah, don’t drink this straight. One part to ten parts water, for you.”

Lorelei nodded, and Ziah stared back at her. She looked as if she might say something when Hotaru slipped back inside pushing a cart covered in trays of cut up meats, breads, and cheeses, and three steaming pots of heavenly smelling goo suspended on racks over stubby candles.

Just as the woman finished directing them to arrange the food on the table and Hotaru wheeled out the cart, the sudden rumble of voices came from behind the door on the far end of the room. An Irish lilt could be heard amongst them, coming closer by the second.

“Here we go.” Ziah grabbed Lorelei’s elbow and pulled her to the back of the room, far from the door.

“Don’t be too surprised, now.”

The door burst open, and there stood Seamus, smiling broadly, but he was alone save for the thunderous voices that surrounded him. Just as Lorelei was sure that the guests were invisible, she caught a glimpse of something scurry along the side of the table and then, in a flash, a man no taller than three feet was extending a hand up to her.

She started, then quickly took it, his grip firm and nearly pulling her downward as he shook, “It’s a pleasure, lass! Now, what’s to eat?”

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Vacancy – 1.02

peacock-feathers-1312509_640Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading from the beginning here.

Lorelei sat straight up at the sound. She blinked cloudiness from her eyes then finally found a clock that told her, after much squinty deliberation, it was just after five. The knocking, however, did not cease now that she knew just how early it was, and she looked to the door from where a voice came, “Lorelei? It’s Ziah. Are you up?”

She mustered an answer, reaching up to her hair and tightening a loose ponytail. Sliding from the bed and brushing escaped brown strands from her face and sleep from her eyes, Lorelei staggered to the door and cracked it open, “Yes?”

“Lorelei!” Ziah beamed at the sight of her, her toothy grin much different from the simple, sultry smile she wore the night before, and she pushed the door open on the girl, “Good morning, sleepyhead!”

“It’s kinda early,” Lorelei leaned against the frame and yawned, “What’s going on?”

“You said last night that you wanted to get an early move on this morning.” She nodded vigorously and reached out a hand, “Remember?”

Just before she grabbed her, a man appeared behind the receptionist and took her shoulders, “Morning!”

Ziah jumped at his touch then twisted around, “What do you think you’re doing, Seamus?”

“What?” he made an exaggeratedly pained face, speaking in a thick Irish accent, “I just wanted a look…”

Ziah snapped her head back to Lorelei with another smile, but there was darkness in her eyes, “Come on, I’ve got some food waiting for you and–”

“No, no, I didn’t say I wanted to get up early I–” another yawn caught her mid-sentence, and Ziah took the moment to interrupt her.

“Well, lots of paperwork to fill out! Come on downstairs with me,” she went to pull Lorelei out into the hall, but the man pushed past and thrust his own hand into hers.

“Hello there, young miss,” they shook and Lorelei felt her whole body wobble from the force, “Sleep well, didja?”

“I was…”

“Come on,” Ziah slipped into the room and grabbed Lorelei’s bag, pulling the door closed and forcing them all out into the hall, “Let’s go downstairs, shall we?”

Dim candlelight lined the passage as it did the night before, but there was a different glow now suggesting early morning was readying itself to break through the window at the end of the hall. The man, Seamus, was staring at Lorelei with small, twinkling black eyes, flanked by wrinkles. He had graying sandy hair, but his goatee was the color of flames. They began down the hall to the landing at its end. “Tell me, where are you from, Miss? How did you get here? What lead you to our humble inn?”

Before Lorelei could tell him of the sign on the main road, Ziah grabbed his arm and pulled him a step back, “Excuse us.” She wrenched him into the room Lorelei had just so comfortably been sleeping in, shutting the door behind them. Lorelei stared back from the outside of her room, alone with the candlelight dancing across the rose-colored rug that lined the wooden floorboards.

“You what? That’s brilliant!” Seamus’s voice hooted from behind the door, and Ziah could be heard shushing him. Lorelei leaned in and could just make out the woman’s rushed whispers,

“She can’t! She’s sweet, but Arista would kill me! You too! Had I known I would have just told her we were full, but it’s not supposed to work like this.”

From the other end of the hall a loud thump sounded, and Lorelei jumped. Then there was a voice, tiny and quivering, “Oh, dear.”

Lorelei went toward the sound, turning at the hall’s end to see a stack of boxes floating toward her. She stopped short then saw the tiny legs below them. The woman carrying the boxes stacked well above her head meandered dangerously close to the stairs, teetering to the left, bumping into the wall and bouncing back to the right.

“Let me help you,” Lorelei called out, dashing over and taking the boxes. Two bright blue eyes sparkled from the aged face she revealed, especially youthful below two heavy lids, surrounded by folds of crepey skin and dark brown spots, and flyaway grey wisps stuck out from below a hat adorned with peacock feathers.

Lorelei lead the way down into the foyer, her box-laden amble downstairs almost as slow as the elderly woman’s even more careful steps. “Just by the entryway here, dear. Yes, thank you.” Her voice was like a worn record as she directed Lorelei who eased the boxes down with a bit of a struggle. She huffed as she stood, blinking the last of the sleep out of her eyes, and glanced about the foyer quickly. The ceiling was high, at least two stories, and a great chandelier she hadn’t noticed the night before hung from its center. It glittered black against what seemed to be lit candles, balls of wax rolling down their white sides, but she knew had to be as fake as those in the upstairs halls.

“Here you are.” The old woman pressed a dollar into Lorelei’s hand, and though she protested, the woman toddled off as if she hadn’t heard, which may have very well been the case. Lorelei looked down at the dollar then squinted. A vine-covered building was painted in lavender on the bill. It looked foreign, but hardly mattered to her, as she dropped it onto the counter she had registered at the night before.

“Excuse me, Miss.” A deep, masculine voice resonated from the front entrance. Startled into muteness, Lorelei stood frozen before the mass of a man that took up the whole of the double door frame. His unseasonable coat and black derby hat hid any features in shadows and bristly black hair. “Could I persuade you to take these to your caretaker? I’d see him myself, but must be off.”

More than a command than a request, the enormous man pressed three round objects into the stunned Lorelei’s hands and immediately strode back through doors he had entered a moment before. She glanced down. Eggs, three of them, pink, looked back. At least she felt as though they were looking back.

Lorelei spun around, but she found herself suddenly alone and the foyer all too quiet. Springing toward the door the old woman had disappeared through, she entered into a large room scattered with mismatched tables, square, round, hexagonal, amorphous, each covered in cloths of varying colors and pattern. There was a door at its opposite end, and she made for it, her charges still clutched in her hands, but a familiar voice broke her stride. “Oh, dear, some tea would be rather nice, if you would please.”

The woman was nearly hidden at a table near the front window, her feathered hat blending with the turquoises and violets of the wallpaper behind her.

“Oh, of course.”

Lorelei didn’t know what she was doing: she certainly didn’t work here, and from what she had heard Ziah say, she wouldn’t be, but something compelled her to help this woman. She continued through the swinging door on the opposite end of the room, still tightly grasping the eggs, and came to a stop. Though she could only see two people, the kitchen was bustling with life. Steam issued from numerous pans upon a long set of burners, the sound of a grill, running water, and some incomprehensible shouting filled the over-stuffed room. It smelled wonderful–no horrible–perhaps both, like a garden, and like a brewery all at once. Her eyes watered and mouth salivated.

“I need eggs!” A short man with a curt mustache shouted from the kitchen’s center amid chopped ingredients and flying knives.

Lorelei gulped, eyeing the stocky, dark-haired man who was only dwarfed further by his tall hat, “Excuse me, sir, but where is the tea?”

“Tea?” he shouted, suddenly looking up and trapping her in his intense, black eyes, “You’re in my kitchen, you work for me now! Get me eggs!”

Lorelei whimpered and almost obliged him, though she had even less idea where she would find a carton of eggs than a pot of tea, but a metallic racket shocked her out of her trance. On the floor beside the chef, a girl was splayed out, silver and copper pans littered all about her. Lorelei held her three, small charges against her chest with one hand and fell to the floor to assist the scrawny, apron-clad teen and the short man shouted at bullet speed in a language Lorelei couldn’t place beyond Asia.

The girl mumbled a thank you, her dark, straight bangs falling into her eyes as she scurried off to re-wash the pots. “Hotaru is so clumsy,” the short man laughed, “She’s no good, she’s only got two arms!”

Lorelei got to her feet, but a sudden poke at her chest made her recoil. Glancing down, one of the eggs began to vibrate, clinking against the others. She took it up between her fingers and thought she felt, for a second, a tiny thump from inside the shell.

“Ah, my egg!” The chef snatched it from her hand and raised his arm to break it into the steaming pan of boiling doom below.

“No!” Lorelei rescued the tiny pink vessel and cradled against her chest again.

“Well, where’s my eggs then?” The man returned to chopping at a rate unlike Lorelei had even seen, as if he had extra hands.

“I don’t know seeing as I don’t work for you! Now, where is the tea?” she found herself saying with more intensity than she thought able.

He stopped, glared at her, then smiled, “For you, the tea is there.” He pointed with his blade to a table by the swinging doors she’d entered. Rolling her eyes, Lorelei took it up in one hand and went back through to the old woman. With the sounds of the bustling kitchen behind her, she took a deep breath and caught the peacock lady’s eye. For the moment that she crossed the odd dining room with the tray in hand, the spice of freshly brewed tea wafting around her, she couldn’t help but smile and offer her a few kind words, “How are you today?”

“Oh, much better now,” she replied like crinkling leather.

Lorelei leaned over the table, pouring the tea carefully from the silver pot, having never done so before and praying silently that it wouldn’t spill as wisps of steam rose from the cup.

“A bit of milk would be nice,” the woman said in a way that Lorelei couldn’t possibly say no to, and she proceeded to pour carefully. “You know, I thought I was going to have a terrible day this morning, just awful, but it certainly isn’t turning out that way at all. In fact, I may be headed home tonight after all.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Lorelei tried to listen as the old woman continued, but the tapping between her palm and chest suddenly intensified. The once perfectly round, pink sphere was now chipped, a small chunk hanging off and revealing the dark insides of the egg. Her eyes widened as she saw something small and matted poke out through the hole.

In her distracted state, Lorelei had failed to realize that the teacup begin to overflow. She quickly ceased pouring and tried to sop up the spill with a bright blue napkin, but the old woman didn’t seem to notice, continuing on happily, “I’ve just come from France, you know, and that was just after Egypt, oh but not before Brazil. My, was it humid there, but the flora! My dear, rain does have a way of making the most beautiful things happen, doesn’t it?”

Lorelei smiled distractedly, assuming the woman was at least a little confused and perhaps recalling times when she was a bit more spry, and she slipped the second cup from the tray to try and re-pour the tea correctly. Leaning closer to the cup, she lifted the silver pot and began again, the amber liquid swirling and steaming in the cup, until a pink flake fell into the brew. Lorelei squeaked quietly in the back of her throat at the sight of the bit of eggshell floating peacefully in the sea of tea, but, again, the peacock lady was oblivious, “…always loved the Thames, of course, it’s more built-up now than it used to be, but…” and she quickly scooped the shell out with her finger, glancing back down at her chest. Something like a tiny snout poked out from the hole in the shell and opened its mouth, letting out a garbled screech.

“Oh, my–”

“Yes, yes, I know! But that’s what they said and I haven’t been back to Utah since!”

Lorelei offered a nervous laugh, placing the teapot back on the tray, then something speared her finger, and she couldn’t contain a yelp.

“Oh,” the woman craned her neck toward the eggs, apparently seeing them for the first time, “looks like you’ve got something special there.”

Lorelei glanced down at the contented, little face of the strangest, soggiest creature she’d ever seen, then to her finger, “It bit me!”

The old woman chuckled, leaning a bit closer to it, “Better get him to that nice, tall fellow out back.”

“The caretaker?”

“Yes, I believe so. Seen him handle quite a few different creatures now.” While Lorelei wondered just how many unruly pets guests brought to Moonlit Shores Manor, she hustled toward the door the woman had pointed to and found herself on a shaded porch looking out onto a vast lawn bordered by trees in dawn’s muted light. Set down by the woods, a barn stood, a shadow disappearing through its entrance that she knew had to be the man she was looking for.

“Excuse me!” she shouted, running across the lawn, the tiny creature squeaking up at her. The building was long and narrow and smelled of hay, open at both ends so that the man standing in the breezeway appeared as a silhouette. His height seemed impossible, and it was only exaggerated by his lanky frame.

“I, uh, have…” she lost her train of thought as her eyes adjusted to the light. Sleek blond hair fell on either side of his features, long and pointed, and his skin was so pale it almost glowed. He was strikingly handsome, but had an oddness that unnerved her, and she stumbled over her words, before simply holding out the eggs.

Without a word, he came up to her, at least two heads taller than she, and bent down to look. The cracked egg was now almost completely apart, revealing a wet ball of matted fluff that looked like it had too many appendages to be anything from earth.

He looked on in awe then blinked grey eyes up at her, “From where did it come?”

The silky voice made her waver a moment. “Um, just a man in the hall. Said to bring them to the caretaker.”

He narrowed his eyes then and, to Lorelei’s shock, tossed the other two eggs over his shoulder.

“What are you doing!” she almost went for them, but he held out a hand and she stopped. The eggs landed and cracked with two sharp bangs, sparks and black smoke shooting from them.

Lorelei screwed up her face, looking back to the man. She watched him run long fingers against his scalp, pushing back his silvery hair, and she gasped. The man’s ears curled upward and came to pronounced points, but were covered again too quickly for her to be sure of what she saw. He spoke again, “Could I, please?”

She nodded slowly, slipping the creature into his outstretched hands.

“There you are!” Ziah’s exasperated voice came from the end of the barn. The woman strutted in, Seamus just in tow with a great grin across his face. Ziah’s already furrowed brow only worsened when she took in the scene before her, “What’s going on?”

“This human has just brought me a winged cabbit.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Lorelei pinged her eyes back and forth from the tall man’s stoic look to the horror that began to crawl across Ziah’s face at his words. “Did you just,” she laughed nervously, “call me a human?” That phrase seemed eerily familiar to her, and her head felt dizzy for a moment.

“Of course,” the man stood to his full height again, towering at least seven feet, “Why is there a human here, Ziah?”

“Damnit, Ren!” the woman slapped her forehead.

The newly born creature suddenly let out a triumphant squawk from the man’s hand as it completely loosed its shell and unfurled two wings, shaking out its feathers and sitting up on four tiny feet.

Lorelei made a sound in the back of her throat, wishing she could lay down and run away all at once.

“It’s not so bad,” Seamus shrugged with a smile, “At least we’ve still got her here!”

They all stood in silence a moment as the morning sun began to light up the yard. In the dawn, a shadow was bounding across the yard toward them. Ziah’s eyes widened. She shouted at the dog to stop, but it came just up to her, its tongue hanging from its mouth. It looked harmless as it planted itself in the straw beside her until, suddenly, it was no longer a dog at all, and in its place stood a boy who spoke in human words from a human mouth, “Is this a meeting no one told me about? I wish you guys would stop leaving me out of stuff!”

No one spoke, but Ziah and Seamus snapped their heads toward Lorelei expectantly. She could feel her mouth hanging open, but could do or say nothing.

“Oh man, I just forgot again, didn’t I?”

Lorelei’s vision tunneled and she felt herself fall.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, it’s officially August, and you know what that means: IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN!

Wait, what? You didn’t know that’s what this time of year is? You don’t know about Almost-Halloween? Pre-Pre-Halloween?

Well, shit, strap in because let me explain to you how the year works:

January through March or It’s So Fucking Cold Who Cares
Everything freezes over and dies which is sort of Halloween-y, but everyone calls snow magical which veils the true brutality of the white death dust. When the Valentine’s chocolate shows up, contemplate making a bloody heart out of gelatin for your love. If they accept, start planning a couples costume.

April through June or How The Hell Did It Get So Hot?
If you’re in Florida it’s already Summer, but in the rest of the northern hemisphere, it’s spring, and no matter where you are, you’re as far away from Halloween as you can get on the calendar (though you could argue that November 1st is as far as you can get according to Prince Is Right rules). You try and find the stuff you bought at the craft and holiday-themed stores last November 1st. You find a single Dollar Tree skull missing an eye and a glitter spider with two broken legs. Rebirth is all around you, and it’s really difficult to think of death, but you gotta try, buddy. I believe in you!

July or MY BIRTHDAY and Pre-Pre-Pre Halloween
As a gift to myself in the month I was born, I start thinking hardcore about Halloween and fantasizing about a chilly breeze because it’s hotter than the devil’s butthole down here in The Sunshine State. July is like the first trimester of Halloween. You know it’s coming, but it’s still a long way off. You might start collecting things, pinning stuff, and getting grandiose ideas about something pirate-themed because that always seems like a good idea early on (spoiler alert: you’ll switch it to vampires when the first red leaf falls).

August or Pre-Pre-Halloween
Now’s the time to get your shit together for real. Make your first of many visits to Dollar Tree. Make your second and third visits to the Dollar Trees in the next city over. BUY ALL THE SQUEAKY RATS. You need to get yourself set on a theme early PPH so that your crafts/planning don’t go off on a tangent. DO YOU HEAR ME PIRATE PEOPLE? BUILDING A SEA MONSTER DOESN’T SEEM SO EASY NOW, DOES IT? By the end of the month you need to have at least half of everything you want to get done, done.

September or Pre-Halloween
HOLY SHIT YOU DON’T HAVE HALF OF EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO GET DONE, DONE, DO YOU? Of course not, because you didn’t heed my warnings and take PPH seriously. PH should be about putting the final touches on your yard display, but you really end up in a mad rush, covered in paper mache and spirit gum, one eyebrow burnt off, and when your husband finds you in the garage you realize you just lost two and a half hours daydreaming about giant spiders wrapping you in a gentle cocoon because you forgot to open the door and accidentally huffed spray paint. You might end up with naught to show for your trouble but half of a dragon skull and a cat who’s now terrified of PVC, but it doesn’t matter because guess what…

October HALLOWEEN!!!
You thought Halloween was one day? Hell no, mother fucker, Halloween is a 31 day pumpkin-spiced, Burton-styled, blood-spattered, Hill-House-haunted, bat-bogey-hexed spooktacular of all that’s creepy and orange and wonderful. You gave up on your crafts after your husband hid all the paint and just threw whatever you had out on the lawn surrounded by crime scene tape. You can spend the actual month doing some costume planning and baking all those ridiculous Pinterest holiday foods that always come out looking insane, but its okay because it’s Halloween and shit is supposed to be grungy. THAT’S THE AESTHETIC. You’ll go to work one day with eyeliner streaked across both cheeks because it didn’t come off during a makeup test the night before. You’ll try and convince your coworkers they’re crazy. It won’t work, but you can distract them with cookies shaped like Frankenstein. The actual day arrives. YOU have arrived. All is right with the world for a solid 24 hours.

November or Post Halloween Depression
Unless you’re careful PHD will hit you harder than Leatherface’s chainsaw. Visit all the craft and holiday-themed stores the day after and put that shit somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, you will only find a broken glitter spider and a skull in need of an eye-patch next year anyway. Maybe next year you will do a pirate theme? You keep the spirit (ha, get it?) alive with apple cider and cemetery visits. You salvage what’s left of the lawn ornaments. You have a little cry.

Chri-December or Green and Red Glitter Hell
Utter madness descends upon you like a plague. There is more carnage this time of year than the holiday that’s meant to be covered in severed limbs. People are literally barreling over one another for discounts at their local shop-all. It’s not the Halloweenies that are the savages, it’s the Christ-mas-ians. A few “twisted” individuals release horror-themed Christmas movies. You decorate everything with Nightmare Before Christmas stuff because you can, and ride out the storm clinging onto that plastic pumpkin you spray painted gold with the hope that someone’s throwing a fancy-dress party for New Years. And then it gets cold.

So now I hope you understand what I mean when I say it’s Almost-Halloween as basically the whole world revolves around October 31st. Start preparing now, my little creepies, Pre-Halloween will be here any moment!