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:

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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 – Monday 5/21/18

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.

Vacancy – 1.18 – Something That Was Stolen

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

v 1.18

At the head of the stairs, Lorelei, Conrad, and Britney were promptly stopped in their tracks. The blackness of the entryway was lit up as thunder cracked across the sky, and two hunched figures, no more than two-feet high, scurried across the foyer with a dog gnashing its teeth at their heels. There were more.

Grier skidded around on four paws through to the dining room behind the halflings, crashing into a table and littering the hardwood with place settings. Lorelei followed, the gash in her leg long forgotten, as they burst through to the kitchen where Hotaru was waiting atop the center island. The girl gripped the faucet hose in both hands, gritting her teeth and blasting the creatures with near-boiling water. The halflings knocked into the metal cabinets with a ping, tripping over one another’s soaked forms as they tried to escape.

Growling, Grier lunged for them, but one managed to grab the handle of a cast iron skillet with an obscenely long arm, and swung it around, making contact with his snout. Hotaru scurried across the length of the counter and jumped down. She took up the broom beside the door that lead to the store room and looked as though she would try and sweep them outside, but upon opening the door she found another batch of halflings tearing through the crates of fresh food. They turned on her with a snarl and she yelped, running full speed back at Lorelei, dropping the broom in her wake.

The three piled out of the kitchen with angry, hissing halflings on their figurative and literal tails. “How many of them are there?” Lorelei shouted breathlessly, tripping over a shattered plate.

“Too many!” Hotaru grabbed the edge of the door as she spun around it and into the foyer.

They were met with multiple sets of beady eyes coming at them from the sitting room. If they didn’t immediately stop they would collide, but they didn’t have to make the choice.

As if she were in a dream, Lorelei tried to propel herself forward, but a pressure on her chest held her to the spot, suspended in mid air just at the main entrance. She couldn’t move her head but could just glance down to see Grier mid-bound and Hotaru with her arms straight out ahead of her to brace for an impact with the floor that apparently wasn’t going to come. Frozen in place, she found she could still breathe, but only just, and the panic that was beginning to settle in her chest was doing nothing to help.

“Oh crap, we got them too. Was that me or you?” Conrad stepped into Lorelei’s view, his arms crossed and eyes narrowed as he bent down to inspect one of the halflings as the creatures following them and coming at them had all been frozen as well.

“Definitely you.” Britney swept past them all and to the front door.

Then the room brightened as the candles in the chandelier and lining the walls sprung to life all at once. Lorelei could hear footsteps on the catwalk above them, then Ziah’s voice, “What in seven hells is going on?”

“Trow, looks like,” Conrad called up to her, “They came up from the pools.”

“The manor’s defenses were taken down,” Ren’s typical drone was laced with suspicion, “Seems a bit complicated for a pack of trow.”

“Ren’s prejudice aside,” Ziah came down the stairs, sweeping her long black mane over her shoulder, “we’ve never had trouble with halflings before.”

Conrad grabbed the back of one of the frozen trow’s necks then with his free hand snapped his fingers. The creature started the thrash wildly and chatter in an incomprehensible language, but Conrad held it firm. “Britney’s taken all sorts of language courses, she should be able to ask it what it wants.”

Britney had just cracked open the main door, a cold wind slipping in and the sound of the rain intensifying. She grimaced, “Probably just to ransack the place. Come on, let’s unstun them and throw them out. You’ve got security up again,” she gestured to the candles, “They won’t get back in.”

“No, we need to know.” Lorelei didn’t need to see Ziah’s face to know she was glaring at the woman. “You’re here, may as well make use of you.”

Britney sighed and closed the door. Rolling her eyes, she shouted something that sounded more like dry heaving than words.

The creature stopped trying to escape, holding still, then grumbled a response.

“Says they were hired,” Britney shrugged.

“By?”

After trading garbled phrases, Britney rolled her eyes again, “A warlock.” The trow spewed more words, and Britney listened, raising an eyebrow. She hesitated, then spoke, “They were sent here to retreive something that was stolen.”

Lorelei wanted desperately to see the looks they all wore, but could only see Britney. The blonde woman’s normally sour face was twisted in discomfort and her eyes were trailing the ground.

“If anyone’s got anything they shouldn’t, now would be the time to speak up,” Ziah cautioned.

“I don’t believe they can,” Ren said lowly over her shoulder.

“Oh, right,” Conrad nodded to Britney and the two snapped their fingers in unison.

The force pushing against Lorelei was suddenly gone, and she stumbled forward, her breath coming back all at once. Hotaru landed on the ground beside her, and when Grier made contact he instantly transformed back into a human. Groaning, the boy rolled over onto his back, blood running down his chin from his nose.

Ziah pulled Hotaru to her feet, “What exactly are they looking for?”

“They don’t know,” Britney responded without addressing the trow.

“Then how are they supposed to find it?” Lorelei helped Grier sit up and tilted his head back. The boy moaned, pinching his nose.

Britney threw her hands up, “I don’t know! They don’t really speak in full sentences!”

“Enough,” Ziah waved her hands, “Tell them they need to go.”

With a huff, Britney shouted again in a mishmosh of growls and groans and then with a look to Conrad they both snapped again. The trow were mobile, but when she opened the door they hustled out without complaint or pause into the rain.

“They just get to leave?” Lorelei gestured to Grier, “Just like that?”

“Just like that indeed,” Ren was standing very stiffly by the counter.

“We weren’t getting any more information out of them,” Ziah glared at Britney then turned away, “They didn’t get whatever they were after, and they won’t try again. Not like that anyway.”

Lorelei sighed, assuming they didn’t have a charmed police to call. Britney took Conrad aside into the sitting room, and while she wanted to follow, Lorelei instead went to the dining room. She tried the light switch when she entered and to her delight the bulbs overhead flicked on, breaker box unneeded.

Ziah came in after her to help pick up the shards of plates that had broken. “All this cleaning for nothing, hu?” Lorelei chuckled, gathering up silverware.

“Maybe,” Ziah glanced back out to the foyer and back to her, “Maybe not.”

 

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Vacancy – 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

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

v - 1.17

Lorelei nudged the door open again, her candle illuminating the hall and the watery footprints. “Should we assume whoever left these is responsible for this no light situation?”

Conrad grimaced but nodded, “Most likely.”

“They look small.” There were no sounds coming from outside the room, and she stepped out into the hall, holding her candle out to see further. Though her light didn’t reach its end, it appeared the footsteps trailed the entirety of the hall, “Like a child, maybe?”

“It could be a lot of things,” he sighed.

“Many its.” The breathy voice came from back toward the water. In the light of the rocks, Lorelei could see a set of hands gripping the end of the boardwalk, long, thin fingers, then wet, black hair, plastered against a white forehead rose up from the water until two eyes peered back at them. “They came all at once, we could not stop them,” she hissed, her head bobbing hypnotically with the gentle wave of the water, “and they scuttled away.”

“What were they?” Conrad didn’t appear frightened by her sudden appearance, but Lorelei’s instinct was the bolt the other direction despite that that was down the pitch black hall behind some unknown monster. Instead, she just inched behind him as the woman spoke.

“I don’t know what you call them,” with her mouth hidden below the dock, it was even harder to place her voice as it echoed back off the water and over the rocks, “but they do not belong in the seas. And they do not belong here.” With a plunk in the black waters, the woman disappeared as if she’d never been there.

“It seems all of the manor’s defenses are down,” Conrad looked back to the dark hall, “except us.”

“Should we go get Ziah?” Lorelei questioned the back of Conrad’s head as he inevitably followed the footprints into the darkness.

“It might be too late by then.”

She found herself following close behind him, hugging the wall to avoid the wet prints and noting it did appear as though there were more than one of whatever had climbed out of the pool from the marks across the stone floor. “Too late? For what?”

“I’m not sure.” They came upon another door, this one already pushed open. It appeared to have been storage, but the boxes inside were open, canister lids stacked on shelves, and cabinet doors swinging wide. Nothing, however, was strewn across the floor, ripped, or pushed over.

The prints continued beyond the room into the hall. “Didn’t find what they were looking for?” Lorelei whispered and continued to follow Conrad into the dark.

Two more doors had been opened and rooms had been raided, but when they came to the laundry, a sound made them stop. Sheets had been strewn about so that every machine and line was covered. Candlelight fell into the folds of the sheets, moving with them as they tiptoed across the stones. Lorelei found the source of the shuffling, thrusting her candle toward a sheet that had been tossed down and was hanging from a rack. She could see movement beneath, and she reached out for the sheet.

Pulling it back revealed a creature no taller than two feet with grey and blue skin, hunched away from her and digging furiously into a box of miscellaneous socks. It spun toward her once uncovered, abandoning the box and letting out a creaking, wet screech. The thing lifted an arm so long it trailed the ground when it stood at its full height, curled claws at its end. Lorelei shrieked, jumping back as it moved on her, slashing a jagged, yellow talon.

Her jeans ripped on the thing’s claw as she stumbled away, but it kept coming. Lorelei pulled back her foot and connecting with it, sending the creature across the room until it hit the wall with a splat. Another two of them emerged from under the sheets, muttering a garbled, guttural language to one another. When they spied the two, they brandished their claws, but Conrad was quicker, pulling a vial from his pocket and throwing it to the ground at their feet. An orange dust filled up the room, obscuring everything and Lorelei began to choke on it. Conrad’s hand was around her arm, pulling her back from where he’d thrown the vial, and she stumbled into one of the washing machines with a reverberating clang, knocking a box of powdered laundry detergent to the floor, the white dust mixing with the orange.

The two creatures, followed by the third, scurried from the room amongst the clatter. They followed, but the creatures were impossibly fast, already disappeared by the time they skidded out into the hall. In the distance they heard three tiny splashes.

“What were those?” Lorelei asked breathlessly, grabbing the door frame for support, her candle having gone out in the run.

“Trow?” he screwed up his face, turning back to her, “Kobold maybe? I’ve never seen anything like them around here though. Hey, your leg!”

His candlelight revealed that the creature had sliced through through her pants and left a long scrape down her shin. “Woah,” she took a step, suddenly feeling the pain pulse across her shin.

Conrad dropped to the ground and took her ankle in his hand, throwing her off balance. She dropped her candle and scrambled for the doorway to stay upward. “It’s not too deep. I have something for this.”

“Oh my gods.”

At the hall’s end stood Conrad’s girlfriend. She looked more than a bit disgusted, carrying her own candle that illuminated her face in a fiery glow.

“Britney?” Conrad looked over his shoulder, “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing?” she gestured wildly to him.

Conrad stood, turning to her, Lorelei’s ankle still in hand. She squealed and gripped the frame more tightly, managing to stay up, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Lorelei was just attacked by some type of halfling.”

She pursed her lips, but couldn’t deny the blood, “Ew.”

Conrad glanced back to Lorelei then, realizing, dropped her foot. “Can you walk?”

Lorelei found she could manage down the hall, declining Conrad’s offers for assistance. He grumbled at Britney as he passed her, “I told you I was working tonight.”

“Oh? Down here in the dark?” she sniffed, leaning up against the wall outside his office. Conrad went inside to rummage for a salve and Lorelei stood beside her awkwardly. She had a candle, after all.

“The lights went out,” Lorelei offered meagerly.

“Duh,” Britney rolled her eyes then looked off down the hall toward its dark end and away from Lorelei. She really was quite pretty, even when she turned up her lip and exuded disgust, Lorelei thought, and that certainly counted for something. Today she wore her hair in a thick braid over her shoulder and a dark grey knit sweater, seasonably appropriate but she didn’t appear wet from the storm. There was a buzz in the silence of the hall, and Britney pulled a phone out of her pocket. She held it close to her face, illuminating her skin with a blue glow in the dark, then scoffed. She banged out out a message with her thumb and quickly pocketed the device, mumbling to herself, “I’m twenty three, father, not thirteen.”

Lorelei watched Britney lean her head back against the wall and close her eyes with a deep sigh, the repulsed look she typically wore gone. “Hey,” Lorelei pointed at her, “Your phone works!”

Britney flashed her eyes as if realizing she was there for the first time, but Conrad emerged from his office at that moment. He got down on his knees to apply the salve, but Lorelei was quick to take it from him and insist on doing it herself. As she sat on the ground, and slathered on the beige paste, she listened to the uncomfortable silence between them, wanting only to break it.

“Wow, this really takes the sting out,” she had put on her peppiest of voices.

“Thanks.” She didn’t even have to glance up at them to know they were glaring at one another. “I make it myself.”

“That’s great,” she faltered, “Uh, so those little halfling things, kinda crazy, huh?”

“Yeah,” Britney sucked her teeth, “It is pretty crazy that a halfling thing would be here. Almost unbelievable.”

Lorelei scowled at herself. How had she dug this hole deeper? She knew there was little she could say to smooth the moment over, hoping for a distraction, when fate answered her in the sound of a crash from upstairs. “Oh, thank god,” she sighed, jumping to her feet, “Let’s shift all our attention to that, shall we?”

 

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