Waves broke on the rocks, the spray cold on Lorelei’s ankles. The sun was just disappearing on the horizon, and a gust swept down the coast making her stop in her tracks. Beyond them, she could see the walkway narrowing as the rocky ledge curved, and the beach was far off behind them. A handful of boats bobbed in the waves just off the rocks, the water below black and who knows how deep.
“Are you sure this is right?” she called ahead to Grier at the lead. He was skillfully stepping over the craggy landscape while not even looking at it, his eyes glued to the map in hand.
He shouted something back, his words lost in the wind. With a deep sigh, she continued on behind Hotaru who had surprised her with her own surefootedness, so different than when back at the manor.
Finally they came to the peak’s end, barely wide enough for the three to stand alongside one another. A grey, choppy ocean reached out in all directions, cutting into the reds and purples of the sky. She wrapped her arms tightly about herself and stood very still, trying to bury the thought that it might be nice to jump in.
“The island.” Grier turned from them and headed back, but only so far, stopping at the small dock and untying one of the dinghies.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Lorelei slipped against the rocks as she went for him, falling onto her knees. Hotaru helped her up just as Grier was stepping into the boat, “That’s not yours, you can’t just steal a boat!”
“The end of the map, X marks the spot,” he waved the map overhead as he sat, “And we’re just borrowing it. Nobody’s around to stop us. Are you coming or not?”
“I absolutely cannot believe we are doing this.”
Lorelei could feel the tightness of the frown on her face, her arms crossed. She wasn’t going to help row, but Grier didn’t seem to need assistance. In fact, he seemed to be doing better than she could have ever expected, taking all three of them out further from the shore.
“There better be something good out there,” she grumbled, “If this treasure ends up being the friendships you made along the way or some shit, I am going to be pissed.”
With the blackness of the water all around them, Lorelei shifted to center herself in the tiny vessel. When she saw the spit of land and the lighthouse atop it, she relaxed until she realized they weren’t headed exactly for it.
There was an even smaller mass, rising up from the water just beyond where the lighthouse’s island stood. It, like so many other things they’d seen that day, couldn’t have been seen unless you knew it was there. And of course Grier did.
He was quick to scuttle out of the boat and up onto the rocks, and they lost him almost immediately as he crested the small hill. “Hotaru,” Lorelei huffed, pulling herself up next to the girl, “Can you rein him in?”
“Probably,” she craned her neck up over the rocks and smiled, “but I don’t really want to.”
Grier was kneeling at the top of the hill. The sun had finally disappeared, and the darkness had come upon them quickly, but the sky was cloudless, and his form was lined in a silver light. He had the map spread out on the ground, a hand against it.
“Is this the X?” Lorelei ventured, hoping to be done.
He said nothing for a long minute then sat back, “Yeah. This is it.”
The sudden somberness to his voice struck Lorelei harder than the chill in the air.
“So, no treasure?” Lorelei could tell Hotaru felt silly saying it.
He glanced around at the spot, bare and surrounded by water, then shrugged.
Waves crashed against the rock, and the wind blew in strong, constant gusts against their ears, and the three were quiet. No one was ready to say they had to go back yet.
“He said I’d find it,” Grier turned up a lip, “if I was worthy.”
Lorelei hadn’t heard the words the man had whispered to him at the booth, but she’d been afraid of what it might have been. A scam, she thought, was most likely, with danger a close second, but now, she realized, this was much worse.
“Well,” Hotaru took a step closer to him, “aren’t you?”
He raised his eyes to hers, and she grinned knowingly back. For a second, it looked like Grier was glowing.
A light burst forth from the map so bright they all reeled back from it. There was a cracking sound, somewhere below them, and Lorelei again fell to her knees knowing full well it would do no good if they were about to be plunged into the blackness of the ocean. But instead, the little isle shifted just enough so that they could feel they weren’t in the exact spot they’d begun in, and then the light was gone.
In place of the map sat a box, no bigger than Grier’s palm, but he was quick to take it up and hold it out to them. With little hesitation, he threw it open, and Lorelei held her breath when he peered inside.
From its shallow insides, he held up an oval pendant just before his face and squinted. In the dark, Lorelei had to come close, but when she saw the familiar outline of the chipmunk, she quickly covered her mouth.
“What is it?” Hotaru cocked her head, peering up at Grier’s hand.
Hotaru giggled, “It’s kinda cute.”
“You want it?” Grier motioned to hand it off to the girl.
“No!” Lorelei shouted, her breath catching, and the two stared at her blankly. Her mind raced. Could she tell them about the brooch, the letter, Conrad’s family? She swallowed, “That man. He said it was yours, Grier. You need to keep it.”
He flipped the pendant over in his hand, “I wouldn’t have even found it without Hotaru, though.”
“She’s right,” the girl said quickly, “It’s yours.”
Back on the mainland, they reached the festival grounds just as the first firework burst in the sky. Grier was purportedly ravenous and ran off for food before, Hotaru following after, and both were gone before Lorelei could get her bearings again. She sighed and sauntered toward where their booth was when Conrad suddenly popped up in front of her. “You’re alive!”
“Barely,” she rubbed at her face, feeling a gritty, sandiness across her skin.
“Ziah was getting nervous,” he chuckled, “but I told her you’d be fine. She’d probably feel a lot better if you let her know you’ve not been eaten by chupacabras though.”
“Of course, but first, I need to tell you something,” she looked about for a second to ensure they were alone, “It’s been a long day, but basically Grier was given a brooch, like the one I got from Ms. Pennycress. I’m almost certain it’s the same symbol.”
Conrad’s brow darkened, “Like my father’s?”
She nodded. “Do you think it’s possible that your brother was here tonight?” Her stomach turned at the thought.
“No,” he shook his head fast, then screwed up his face, “Well, maybe. Do you think this has to do with the deed?”
Lorelei’s heart jumped. She had been wanting to bring up the deed for what felt like forever, from the moment they returned from his parents’ house, but the right time hadn’t come. Finally, she thought, and sighed, opening her mouth to speak.
But from behind Conrad, Britney’s voice was clear and piercing, “What deed?”
If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!