Vacancy – 1.21 – A Long History

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

v 1.21

The scene that met Lorelei far outweighed the slight kerfuffle she thought she heard from behind the front desk. Helpless, she stood on the threshold to the dining room looking in on flying cups, plates, and people. There was shouting, glass shattering, tables being upended, and perhaps worst of all, a young woman crying into her hands in the midst of it all.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” Conrad was saying as he rolled up his sleeves, “There are too many of them to stun.”

Ziah ducked, a teacup missing her temple by inches and shattering against the foyer’s hardwoods, “I’ll take whatever you can manage.”

From his pocket, he pulled open a sachet full of sand and tossed its contents into the air, then with a snap, the scene came to a halt.

Like a living painting, the guests were frozen in place, hovering in mid air with hands pulled back into fists. Saucers and bowls were suspended between them, their contents like brush strokes in the air. But Lorelei could see they weren’t entirely frozen; the guests were moving, just barely, at a pace almost imperceptible.

Grier nudged her, “It’s a lot neater when you’re not a part of it.”

The sand Conrad had thrown collected itself above them to mimic an hourglass near the upper frame of the door. “You’ve got about ten minutes,” he told them.

Ziah hurried into the room and began collecting some of the flying cutlery as she chastised the party. The guests, of course, could not respond, but their eyes moved wildly in their sockets and Lorelei remembered the feeling of being frozen herself. It had been unpleasant, the aftermath even more so.

“So what happened here?” Conrad asked, righting a table.

Gathering up a splash of potato and leek soup from the air, Lorelei pointed to the sobbing woman with a spoon, “I’m not sure, but I bet she could tell us.”

With another snap just before her face, the girl came to life, her cries audible now with the ruckus of the room silenced. Her shoulders shook, then she sniffed and sat up, uncovering her face. Blinking, the young woman looked about the room with growing realization. She had dark eyes and a round, sun-kissed face, long, tightly curled amber hair, and to Lorelei’s surprise, a matching amber goatee encircling full lips.

“Oh my,” she sniffed again, worrying the hem of her dress in her hand as she stood revealing legs covered in fur and feet that were not feet at all but hooves, “This has turned out just awful.”

As Lorelei safely piled a stack of dishes on a rolling cart that Hotaru had hesitantly brought in, she took note of the other guests. Many looked like the girl with goat-like lower halves and facial hair indiscriminate of gender, and some even had horns in varying shape and length. The others she recognized from checking them in that morning, remembering how odd it had been there were so many lithe, delicate-featured men and women staying that day. In stark contrast to the horned-guests in their more outlandishly colored coats and intricately braided beards, the others were dressed in lighter, gossamer fabrics and wore their hair long and loose, but the ire on the assorted faces was one in the same.

“What’s turned out awful?” Ziah was adjusting one of the guest’s arms so that it was no longer inches from connecting with another guest’s jaw.

“This was supposed to be a happy time, the happiest day of our lives,” she looked longingly at one of the other guests, “But they just can’t get along, not even for one measly weekend!”

“Oh no,” Ziah nearly dropped the casserole dish she was collecting from the air onto the head of the very guest she was attempting to save, “The Aristaeus-Nomia wedding. Don’t tell me your fiance is–”

“A nymph.” She walked up to a group of frozen guests and slipped her hand around the arm of a thin, tall man who appeared to have been holding back another of his kind. He had skin the color of rich soil and small, pointed features set on a long face.

Conrad came around to them and snapped him back into life as well. He stumbled, then took up his fiance’s hands in his own. “My love, please don’t cry.” The woman nodded, but tears still spilled over her cheeks, and he wiped them away.

Ziah led the couple out in to the foyer, motioning for Lorelei to follow, and closed the double doors to the dining room behind them all. “The manor was booked for two family reunions this weekend and one wedding. I don’t know how I didn’t see it,” Ziah had a hand on her forehead, “What were you guys thinking?”

The man began, “We did invite them here under false pretenses–”

“You booked them under false pretenses too!” Ziah’s lips were drawn into a tight frown.

“We did,” he conceded, “but we needed it to be believable for our families.”

“We really thought that once we had them all together here if we could just talk to them, just show them how much we love one another, that they’d be happy for us.” The woman’s voice was ragged, and they both leaned against each other, hands clasped.

“I don’t understand,” Lorelei glanced back the the dining room door, hoping the others could clean the mess and separate the guests before they became unstunned, “What’s the big deal? You guys seem happy.”

“Nymph,” Ziah pointed at the man and then at the woman, “Satyr. Their kind have a long history of hating one another. We’re talking major rivalry.”

“To be fair, there is a lot of history between our kind,” the man said, “but those things happened thousands of years ago, and everyone has just held onto the hate.”

Ziah crossed her arms, nervously glancing back at the dining room, “Why don’t you two just elope?”

“Our families are important to us. We hated each other when we met too. We thought it was in our blood. But then the stars aligned,” she sighed and looked up at her fiance, “Andros was so brave in the drakon pits.”

“And Grace was our savior in the labyrinth.” He kissed her on the top of her head, “We fell in love, and we hoped our families could see that. The hate they have for one another is baseless, there’s no reason why they can’t be civil for one day.”

Lorelei felt a heaviness in her heart, “There must be something we can do.”

“Us?” Ziah looked at her wide-eyed, “End a millenia-long feud?”

“Well, I mean, not for all of them, but for these two families? Maybe? It means a lot to them, and I can’t imagine Charmed folk can really afford to be so hateful of each other.”

“You’d be surprised,” Ziah rubbed her chin, “They do have the whole place booked, so they won’t be disturbing any other guests.” She rounded on the two, standing a bit straighter, “Lorelei is right: here at Moonlit Shores Manor we strive to serve our guests to the best of our abilities. Our resident warlock is good, and he may be able to hold some of your family at bay long enough for you to talk things out, but I can’t make any promises. Grab any decision makers your might have and we’ll see what we can do.”

***

The white room was set with a long, glass table in its center, high-backed leather chairs lining either side, and bright fluorescents overhead. Lorelei sat beside Grace at one end, eyeing a nervous Conrad at the other. An elderly woman with horns that curled around the sides of her face–the longest and most curled of any of the guests–sat along one side of the table, Grace’s grandmother and the de facto matriarch of the Nomia clan. Grace’s father and brother sat beside her.

Andros entered the white room with Ziah, behind him trailing three willowy beings. Immediately, Grace’s grandmother jumped to her cloven feet, “That’s the one who hit me in the face with lemon tart! Let me at him!” She was not at all frail for an old thing, and she reached into her over-sized bag and flung a container of mashed potatoes at the group.

The spuds bounced off an invisible barrier that lined the center of the white room. Conrad flinched, then smiled when no one ended up covered in food again.

“There will be no fighting on the premises. This is your one chance to make this work,” Ziah warned, taking a seat at the table’s other end.

“We are no longer interested in making anything work with the likes of them.” The tallest of the family turned back to the door.

“Father!” Andros rounded on him, “You said you would at least hear us out!”

The man sighed, “I did, didn’t I?” He took a careful seat across from Grace’s grandmother, sitting stiff and tall. The man clasped his hands before him, long slender fingers coming to rest just under his chin, “You may proceed.”

“Oh, he thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow, don’t he?” Grace’s grandmother fell back into her chair, snarling, and her family nodded and scoffed in agreement.

Lorelei’s stomach turned over: it was already not going well, and Ziah was eyeing her from across the room with panic.

“Yaya,” Grace put a cautioning tone in her voice as she addressed her grandmother, “This is Andros’s father, Belen. He sits on the Council of Divine Spirits.”

“Whoopdedoo,” Yaya mumbled.

“And his wife, Kasia, also on the council, and?”

Andros cleared his throat, “And Kal, another senior member of the Council,” he finished for her, “Father, this is Grace’s grandmother, the leader of her clan, her father Caleb, and brother Rex. They are her closest family, and she cherishes them.”

The nymphs simply stared back.

“Andros and I are in love,” Grace broke in, “We are not asking y’all to become best friends, we just want a peaceful ceremony with your blessings.”

“Did she just say y’all?” Belen’s lip was upturned.

“Father!”

Belen groaned in the back of his throat, but attempted to reign himself in, “Marrying a nymph means granting great prestige on another being. We are not opposed to intermarriages, but a satyr is unprecedented.”

“Well, it ain’t no disgrace to marry a satyr neither! If that boy wanted to be my granddaughter’s husband, he’d need to prove himself worthy!” Yaya was red in the face as she shouted across the table, but she managed to keep herself seated.

“I think we are not in disagreement about this,” Kasia spoke at last, placing a hand on her husband’s elbow, “Though it has fallen out of favor, traditionally our kind have requested not individual blessings, but blessings from Nature itself when making grand decisions. Perhaps your Grace would be willing to take part in a small ceremony as trial for approval?”

Grace’s father sputtered, “Trial for approval? Grace is the smartest, sweetest, most prettiest satyr this side of the Achelous. She don’t need to prove nothing!”

“Now, wait just a minute,” Yaya waved away her son, “Little Miss Froofroo over here ain’t suggesting the worst idea I ever heard.”

Kasia sniffed, “I’m not sure whether to be offended or not.”

“Trials for both of ‘em is what I’m getting at!” Yaya smirked at Andros, then eyed his father, “I’ll happily marry ‘em myself if your boy can prove he’s a worth satyr suitor.”

Belen too stood, pausing a long moment to look over the family. “This seems acceptable.”

It should have been a joyous moment, but the room felt tense. Belen wore a tight frown and Yaya was smirking with a wicked sort of delight. Only Grace looked to be happy.

Yaya brought her palm up to her mouth and spit on it then extended her hand to Belen. The nymph stared at it, then glanced at Conrad and gave a curt nod. He took the barrier down with a wave of his hand and a flash of light, and the two shook.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

Advertisements

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

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

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

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

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 to 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.”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

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 to 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 at all.

“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 connected 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 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?”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

Podcast: Vacancy – Episode 00

So I’ve been thinking for a while about accessibility and, of course, wanting to reach a larger audience with my blog in general, but especially with Vacancy, and after some careful planning, I came to the conclusion that making an audio recording of the story, like a podcast, was the best way to go. So, Dear Reader and Dear Listener, I did just that!

Episode 00

The audio will always be behind the written work, unless I take a hiatus from writing between seasons which seems likely, but definitely not long enough to let it catch up. I’m playing around with adding sound effects and general ambiance to the story, but I’m not changing the prose beyond correcting minor errors (and editing all the “hu”s to “huh”s because Husband is being driven insane by those, apparently). So neither is needed to make the other work, but if you’d like to take a listen I would really appreciate it.

A separate post with episode 1.01 will show up tomorrow, but the episode is already live on my Anchor channel, and I am extremely proud of it. There are plenty of things that are imperfect, but I feel incredibly accomplished right now in the afterglow of wrapping it all up. Am I even allowed to feel this good about something? Honestly, it must be illegal. Poseidon is coming for my hubris-riddled ass!

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

Vacancy – 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

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

pexels-photo-695644 (1)

There were no footfalls on the stairs, no clinking dishes in the dining room, not even turning pages in the den. The only sound filling up Moonlit Shores Manor was the creaking of the rocker by the fireplace in which their omnipresent–and that night, their only– guest sat. But as always, he was very little trouble.

It was so quiet, in fact, that if Lorelei closed her eyes and strained, she could hear the gentle patter of rain as it began on the windows, something she wouldn’t normally notice until it had turned into a complete downpour.

It had been all hands on deck once the last guest checked out that morning, with Arista overseeing the scrubbing and polishing of floors, deep-cleaning of bathrooms, the removal of mysterious stains with both cleaners and the right words, and come evening the staff collapsed into the sitting room. Arista and Seamus had retired to their cottage with strict instructions to hold any and all issues until the morning, and Aoyagi had headed to the city with equally strict instructions regarding the kitchen. This left Hotaru a bit giddier than normal and Grier, well, exactly the same as always, and he kept trying to steal her seat out of shear force. She’d finally given up with him squeezing alongside her into one of two identical overstuffed, purple paisley chairs. Across from them, Ziah splayed out on the couch beside Lorelei paying no mind to their antics and sinking into the cushions. She still wore the over-sized, dirty flannel she’d worn to clean all day, unfit for welcoming guests. It seemed the manor was closed.

“Does this happen often?” Lorelei asked hesitantly, pulling a foot up under her on the couch. She certainly hoped the hotel didn’t regularly sit empty with no income.

“Almost never,” Ziah bobbed her head back and grinned, “Isn’t it lovely?” Thunder rumbled far off in the distance.

“The quiet is good,” Ren entered carrying in a tea tray for the group, choosing to sit with them instead of retire to his room above the barn. The little winged creature popped out from his shirt pocket and let out a squeaky mew. “Of course it could always be quieter.”

Conrad followed behind him laden with mugs, handing out the cups as Ren poured, then took the seat beside Lorelei. He lifted his mug, “To a job well done.”

Then, the lights went out.

No one moved for a rather long moment until Lorelei finally spoke, “I bet that almost never happens either.”

“Strange,” Ziah sat up, the faint glow of candles still illuminating the room, “But it’s probably just the storm.”

Then, as if they lived atop a birthday cake, the candles were all snuffed out with one massive blow.

Grier whistled, “And that never ever happens.”

The sounds outside, rain and wind, intensified as their sight was taken away. They sat with their cups, listening to the building storm, their figures silhouettes of shadow against the darkness of the room. Then there was a crash and lightning lit up the room.

Ziah jumped to her feet with a growl, “Conrad, you and Lorelei go flip the breakers downstairs. Ren, come with me to reset the candles. You two,” she pointed at Hotaru and Grier as if they had already committed whatever crime she’d made up in her mind, “stay right here.”

Lorelei took out her phone to light her way as she followed Conrad toward the basement stairs. The darkness in the sitting room had been familiar, but the illumination of her screen made the surrounding darkness that much darker, and approaching the basement steps made her a bit queasy.

The temperature dropped as they descended, the unlit candles eerie in the dark. Lorelei squeezed her arms in tight beside her, “I’m afraid to ask, but how do these candles go out all at once?”

“It’s a spell, sometimes they malfunction.”

There had been hesitation in his voice, and against better judgement she decided to prod, “At the same time the electricity goes out?”

“Yeah,” he grunted, “It…happens.”

At the bottom of the stairs, the pool remained lit in blues and purples from the bio-luminescent creatures that crawled across the rocks, but without additional lighting, their colors were magnified. Lorelei covered the light on her phone and stared out at it, “Wow.”

“You should go swimming sometime,” he gestured out at the water, “It’s warm year round.”

She dropped her voice to a whisper, “With whatever lives in there?”

“Why not?” he smirked, “You’re probably cousins.”

Lorelei screwed up her face then forced out a laugh, “Ha, oh, yeah.” She’d figured out a lorelei was some kind of water being that sang, something like a siren, but sometimes she thought the less she knew the better. An air of mystery–that was the plan.

“Speaking of,” Conrad started down the boardwalk across the water to the basement’s other side, “Is that why you came east? To get closer to the ocean?”

Lorelei swallowed, then spoke assuredly, “Yes.” It was as good a reason as any, better than hers, anyway.

“Well, Moonlit Shores is great for that. Have you been to the beach yet?”

“No.” This realization was odd to Lorelei–she hadn’t thought that the city of Moonlit Shores, the manor’s namesake, was in fact a shore. “I haven’t even been to town yet.”

“It’s not much,” he shrugged, “But I really love it.”

“Did you grow up there?”

“Sort of.” They came around the large rocks that lined the back of the pool and found themselves in the block corridor of the more traditional basement, “I went to school in town, I played there as a kid. My first job was at the fish market.”

Lorelei smiled, “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah but I smelled terrible for a year and half straight,” he sighed, “Okay, so where is the breaker box?”

“You’re asking me?” she lit up his back with her phone.

He turned back to her, the light from his own phone too bright for her eyes, “Yes?” It was more of a question than an answer.

“Haven’t you, like worked and lived here for years? And you don’t know where the breaker is?”

“That does seem like a thing I should know, huh?” She nodded vigorously. “Thing is, it moves a lot, and I haven’t seen it in probably six months.”

“It moves?”

“Well, the manor doesn’t like us messing with it.” There was a decidedly loud creak like the house was settling. Or agreeing. “See?”

Then they were plunged into darkness as their phones died. Simultaneously.

Lorelei tried waking hers up, pressing buttons and flipping it around, but nothing happened. The dwarf had said this couldn’t happen, hadn’t he? She felt a sudden panic at being trapped in the dark with a large body of water between her and the topside of the earth.

“Well, that’s not right,” Conrad’s voice was lower, darker, having lost its typical lilt, and it did nothing for her confidence.

Then a candle flickered before her, illuminating his face in a warm glow. He’d taken one down from the sconce in the wall and lit it.

“Thanks,” she took it a bit more aggressively than she meant when he handed it off, watching him as he took down another and squeezed the wick between his fingers. Snapping, a flame jumped to life. She stopped herself from asking him what the hell he’d just done and just nodded. “Right, you’re a witch, this makes sense,” she tried assuring herself.

“Well, that’s accurate,” he scratched at the back of his head, the candlelight contouring the muscles in his arm as he moved, and chuckled, “but warlock is a little sexier.”

That’s accurate,” she mumbled, then shook her head.

“The breaker has never not been in the basement, so I guess we just have to look. It was in my office for a week once, so let’s start there.”

The first door off the corridor was the apothecary’s chamber, and even in the dark it was identifiable by the smell alone. Spicey and a bit medical, the room woke you up when you entered it. Lorelei had only been past the open door a time or two, but never inside. With her candle, she took in the space as much as she looked for the breaker box. The walls were lined with open shelves, much like the store they’d been to, but his jars were mismatched and mostly unlabeled. She hoped he was as good at what he did as he seemed.

“So, Lore, what did you do before you came here?”

She felt herself go red at his shortening of her name, glad for the lack of light, “Oh, well, I guess you could say I’m a serial receptionist. I don’t have a big dream like you,” she touched one of the jars filled with a bright yellow seed.

“You don’t?” He had gotten down onto his knees and was peering under the exam table, “When we met you seemed kinda interested in Hagan’s.”

“The Academy?” she didn’t want to admit she’d just been jostled into staring up at the sign, “I actually went to school for a while, but it got expensive,” she sighed, running a finger over the spine of a book on curative snake bites, “Especially just taking elective after elective. I was on the road to a degree in everything and nothing.”

“That’s why you left? To sort of…find yourself?”

“Yeah, actually, I think so,” she turned toward him unsure why she was telling him this. He was already looking at her.

“Is it working?”

She bit her lip, “I’m not sure yet.”

There was a muffled noise from the hall and they both jerked toward the door. Lorelei ran through who it could possibly be in her head, but none of them seemed likely. Without a word, the two looked at one another and told the other to creep toward the door. Conrad eased the door open and slipped his candle out into the hall. On the stone floor they could see the shine of small puddles running from one end to the other. They were wet and misshapen but unmistakably footprints.

Lorelei leaned against the wall in the office when Conrad eased the door shut again. She started chewing on a nail, her voice at a whisper, “You know when the lights went out, I was like, okay that’s normal, but then the candles went out and that seemed kinda weird, and then our phones died, at the exact same time, and that seems extra weird. Is there something I should know?”

“So, here’s the thing,” Conrad tugged a hand through his hair, “Those are all normal things for Moonlit Shores Manor. Magic is finicky, spells overload, you get weird electrical things in the air. Any one of those things it totally legitimate.”

She looked at him eagerly to go on, “But all of them together?”

“That seems a bit more…purposeful.”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

Vacancy – 1.15 – Turn Around

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

V 1.15

Their footfalls crackled ominously over dead leaves as they traipsed through the dark wood, Lorelei constantly shushing Grier only to find that it was actually her making all the noise. When they came to the the pond that Axel had specified, moonlight illuminated the clearing running around its shore in an delicate, silvery blue. It would have been beautiful if not so rife with impending doom. She checked once more with Grier that the moon didn’t control a werewolf’s change and he confirmed, rolling his eyes and mocking her for what he assumed her taste in fiction was.

The air was still, the pond like a black mirror reflecting the trees at its far end so that they seemed to go on forever. Then, their figures began to emerge from the forest. One, then two, then four, until seven looming shadows stood out against the tree line, staring her down. Axel was at their center, strutting toward her around the pond, an arm outstretched, “Tonight, we battle.”

Lorelei suddenly felt this was a very bad idea. “You guys don’t look like you brought any instruments.” Her voice was small as it drifted across the pond. The seven had come around the body of water to stand even with them. Though they were at least fifty paces away, at a full run–and on paws, Lorelei assumed–they’d be on them in an instant.

“Don’t worry about us,” Axel smiled, “You should only be concerned with yourself.”

Lorelei was concerned, among many other things. She felt a rush of warm, liquid courage, the nauseating nag of stage fright, and the very sudden urge to pee. But instead of addressing any of that, she held her hand out to Grier, and he dropped the microphone into it. With a nod from her, and his own heavy sigh, he pressed a button on the machine.

The tiny box projected an ethereal sound out over the pond, a tinkling of piano keys reaching out to get lost beyond the trees. There had been a great number of songs on the machine that she didn’t recognize, probably more than she did, but some music, she reckoned, was universal. Lorelei cleared her throat and brought the microphone to her mouth. From the box a strangled, stock voice cued her, “Turn around…” And she began, “Every now and then I get a little bit lonely, and you’re never comin round…”

As she continued, she heard herself as the sounds floated away from her, slightly distorted and haunting in the darkness. She accompanied the lone piano in a quavering alto, determined to look no one in the eye. She was buoyed by the addition of the bass and raised her voice a bit, “Every now and then I fall apart.”

When the percussion on the karaoke machine kicked in, she gripped the microphone sincerely with two hands. She glanced at her challengers, catching two stepping closer to her, and took one step herself toward them. She wished her hair were bigger. “Every now and then I get a little bit terrified but then I see the look in your eyes!”

The music built and she took a deep breath: this was it. “Every now and then I fall apart!” Lorelei’s voice traveled over the pond, echoing back at her from the trees, but she could barely hear it. She was focused, the words coming to her like a long forgotten memory. She could feel the lyrics erupting from her chest and she swayed with the melody.

She raised a finger and pointed squarely at Axel, “And if you only hold me tight, we’ll be holding on forever,” and his eyes went wide. She belted the words out to him as if they were bullets, “Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time!”

Lorelei threw an arm up, teetering for a moment then regaining her balance as she shout-sang. With a stomp, she shouted, “We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks!”

There was no way the entire manor could not hear her, or at least some spectral version of her voice, even as far as they were, but she didn’t care. She wanted the world to hear. And she wanted to have the foresight to have worn a white gown. “I really need you tonight!” She threw her head back and closed her eyes, screeching out a note humans could barely hear let alone make. With a deep breath she let her voice run, trill, reach up, down, over hill and dale, until finally she ran out of breath, “Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart,” she panted for a second, then fell to her knees, “There’s nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.”

Lorelei pawed at the pond’s shore, lifting up a handful of damp earth before her, “Once upon a time there was light in my life–” then she threw it to the side, “but now there’s only love in the dark.” Falling forward, she crumpled over the microphone, “Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart.” Smashing the microphone against her lips, she whispered, “A total eclipse of the heart!”

Lorelei could hear her own breath over the speaker as she lay slumped over the microphone in the dirt. In a falsetto she whined, “Turn around bright eyes, turn around…” The music had ended, and her last shred of energy went with it. That had to have done it, she thought to herself, though she wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to be as she peered up through strands of hair fallen free in her performance.

They were stunned into silence. The pack stared at her, mouths agape. She blinked back at them knowing she had done it. Somehow, from the depth of her soul, she’d mustered a performance to win over the pack. They wouldn’t even counter perform. She had won. A smile slowly spread across her face.

Axel grinned back, his teeth shining. The grin spread from one to another until the whole pack was a blinding set of white fangs. Lorelei, still on her knees in the dirt, sat up, “Did I win?”

Grier was quiet, and she finally glanced back at him. He looked as if he were petrified, his eyes locked on the wolves. Her guts churned, and she thought she might throw up. “I really want to take your speechlessness as a yes.”

The boy managed a tiny shake of his head, then Lorelei looked back to the pack. Something was happening. Something odd. Their figures were contorting in the moonlight, heads being thrown back, arms stretching impossibly wide. And the noises. Something between a howl and a growl and a human’s scream, but they weren’t entirely painful, almost celebratory, rapturous.

Axel growled, his voice like gravel, “Now it’s our turn.” There was a cracking like bone snapping.

Lorelei gingerly placed the microphone on the ground and began to get to her feet, her hope that they would perform dwindling, “What song are you guys going to do?”

“No song.”

Her stomach flipped again. “But that was the challenge,” she sputtered, taking a step back.

Axel laughed low then fell to his knees. The female werewolf was by his side, “We just wanted to see you make a fool of yourself before you died.”

Lorelei’s body went cold: she certainly wasn’t interested in dying. She grabbed for Grier, but the boy was frozen to the spot. “We need to run,” she was pulling at him, but he didn’t budge, “Now!”

“No,” his face fell, utterly devoid of emotion, “There’s no use. They’ll catch us. I need to just surrender.”

“No way,” she yanked at him again, the popping sounds of bone on bone echoing out around them as they changed, “Come on, let’s go!”

But Grier pulled himself away, taking a step toward the changing pack, “You should run. If I give myself up they might let you go.”

Lorelei watched him take another stunted step toward the werewolves, torn in two directions. She couldn’t physically drag him back to the manor, but everything in her screamed to stay and at least try. Standing at the edge of the pond and watching the pack writhe around on the bank ahead of them, she wished she could somehow swallow them up with the water, buy them more time, and run away.

And then, the water did just that.

Like a hand coming up from the depths, the water receded from the shore, forming into a massive wave, looming high above them all. Lorelei grabbed Grier, and as he was distracted by the sudden shadow above, she yanked him back and away from it. In an instant, the wall of water came crashing down, barely missing Grier and Lorelei, but drenching the group as they completed their transformations. The howls were swallowed up in the crashing wave and there was silence for a moment, then the heads of not-man but not-wolf creatures surfaced, spitting, gasping, gurgling, but the water did not let them escape. No, the water had encapsulated them, and was rising around them, pulling them out to the center of the pond and holding them there.

“What is the witch doing?” one of them growled.

“She’s no witch!” Axel responded with a sputter, “She’s a lorelei!”

Unsure if she really did have control over what was happening, Lorelei watched with mounting horror as the water made waves, pulling the werewolves under then allowing them up just long enough to get breath before sucking them back down. The pond churned with the force of an ocean in a hurricane, but the forest around was completely still.

Grier grabbed Lorelei’s arm, “Are you doing this?”

“I don’t think so,” she whispered, but it was then she realized the wolves didn’t know that.

When the water had calmed for a moment, still holding the creatures captive but barely afloat, she stood as tall as possible, “You thought you’d break our agreement, huh?”

The wolven-faced creature that had been Axel gasped and coughed, then sputtered, “Please, have mercy on us! We didn’t know!”

“Mercy?” she balled her fists and yelled out at them, “Why the hell would I do that?”

The water seemed to respond, jostling them around and dunking them again.

“You’re right!” a voice rose up, different from Axel’s, “We don’t deserve it!”

Others joined in, agreeing, then they began to beg between coughing and dunking. Lorelei felt a sudden panic. She hated Axel in her gut, but she felt for a moment the rest were victims, just like Grier. “Fine!” she shouted over the splashing, and she held up her hands as if to ask the water to stop, “Fine!”

The pond stagnated, but the werewolves appeared to still be trapped amongst the waters.

“But this is a win!” she pointed out at them, “I win, Grier is mine, and your pack has no jurisdiction here, all right?”

“Yes!” they were shouting in unison.

“I know I can’t really take your word for it,” she hesitated, and the pond started to rock them, gently, but fear grew on their faces instantly, “But if any of you ever return, the last thing you’ll ever see is–” she glanced at Grier, “are there eels in there?”

He raised his shoulders, his face frozen in awe.

“The last thing you’ll ever see is whatever lives at the bottom of this pond!”

There were watery agreements from the pack, and she nodded, “All right then.”

As if she were in control of the water, at her word it lifted the pack out and dumped them on the bank with a splat. Sopping and out of breath, they tried to raise themselves up, falling back all over one another. Looking up at her through soaked fur, they had a new fear in their eyes. Resigned, they began to back off toward the treeline.

Axel looked as though he wanted to say something, but the claw-like hands of one of his companions were on him, pulling him back, and he turned with the group, fleeing.

“How?” Grier’s voice was low as he stared at Lorelei.

She shrugged, “Pond’s enchanted or something, right?” It seemed obvious to her. He shrugged back, his eyes locked on the spot the pack had disappeared into. “Well, probably,” Lorelei remarked more to herself than anything, then turned back toward the path they’d taken to get there.

A small body lay on the ground just at the forest’s edge. It almost glowed, pale in the moonlight that reached there. Cautiously, they began toward it, but when Lorelei recognized the form, she broke into a sprint.

Hotaru was limp as Lorelei pulled her onto her lap. She tapped at her face and called her name, Grier dropping down at her side, the pack forgotten. The girl’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened? Are you okay? How did you get out here?” Lorelei asked questions with rapid fire, and the girl just blinked back. “We need to get her back. Now.”

There was no time to discuss their victory as they carried her back to the manor and brought her inside to the sitting room, empty save for the sleeping man in the rocker by the fire who Lorelei expected wouldn’t tell a soul what was going on anyway. They placed her on the couch, but she’d stayed conscious for the trip and was breathing normally again.

“Should I get Conrad?” Grier was already moving for the door.

“No!” Hotaru sat up, then slumped back down. “No, no,” she placed a hand on her forehead and closed her eyes, “I will be all right, I just need to rest.”

“Was that…was that you in the woods?” Lorelei knelt down before her on the floor, remembering the trick Hotaru had showed her with the bowl of water.

“Don’t be stupid,” Grier rolled his eyes.

But Hotaru’s guilty face told them both the truth without words.

“No way,” his hands fell at his sides.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she spoke quietly and deliberately, “but I had to do something; you would have been killed.”

“Hotaru,” Lorelei grabbed her hand and scream-whispered, “You are amazing! You were eavesdropping on us, huh?”

The girl smiled weakly, “Accident.”

“I can’t believe it,” Grier flopped down onto the couch next to her feet, “Well, thanks. You really saved our skins.”

Her face went pink, “I just want to go to bed.”

They helped her to her room and saw to her getting under the covers where she instantly fell asleep. Back in the hall, Lorelei yawned and Grier followed suit. “Well, I’m glad you’re going to get to stay. And I’m extra glad I’m not dead. Pretty successful night, huh?”

Grier stood in the hallway, glancing at Hotaru’s closed door, then to Lorelei. His eyes were glassy, and his face was red. Then, in a move that neither of them really expected, he threw his arms around her and buried his face into her shoulder. For a moment Lorelei didn’t move, afraid it was a trick, then she relented and hugged him back. He squeezed her harder then, and she chuckled, “Well, I didn’t know my singing was that good.”

He pulled back from her and wiped at his face. He may have been crying, but neither of them would ever say. “Oh no, that was terrible.”

“Terrible?” she frowned, “Really?”

“Spectacularly bad. Like, I’m impressed at how bad it was.”

“All right, all right!” she hissed trying to stifle her laughter.

“The absolute worst,” he turned and went for his door, “Humans, they just can’t carry a tune to save their lives.” Then, offering her a quick smile, he slipped into his room and shut the door.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

Vacancy – 1.14 – Something Stupid

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

You can also listen to this episode here.

Vacancy1.14

“He already has one.”

Axel blinked slowly, setting his dark eyes on her, “What was that, sweetheart?”

“A family. Grier already has us. He doesn’t need you.” Lorelei spat the words out, disgusted that the man who’d disfigured Grier would try and convince him that was what family did.

The werewolf took a step toward the girl, looking down his long nose at her, “Are you saying he is already committed to a pack?”

“Yeah,” she nodded vigorously, cooly walking to where Grier stood a few paces from the men and hoping Axel was dumb enough to believe it, “he is!”

“And who has authority over this pack?”

Grier reached out to grab her, but she felt his hand a moment too late. She was angry, and the words came before any other senses could register. “I do.”

Axel smiled, looking over at the others in his own pack. They began to snicker until it built to full on laughter, shoulders shaking. Axel threw back his head and his voice crescendoed into a howl. The others joined in, sending their cries up into the sky, and the sound of other voices echoed back from deep in the forest.

Lorelei took a step closer to Grier, dropping her voice to a whisper, “What the hell is happening?”

“You, uh, just declared yourself the alpha,” he was wide eyed, staring intently at Axel as he howled, “to another alpha.”

“What?” Lorelei looked from one werewolf to another, “What does that even mean?”

Axel dropped his head back down and strode right up to Lorelei, leaning down so his nose was inches from her own. The others fell silent. “I challenge you to luno agon.”

The others threw their heads back once more and screamed into the sky, “Luno agon!”

Lorelei tried to not look away, but his breath was appalling and she grimaced. She had no idea what the words meant, but didn’t feel very confident that they were anything good.

“Are you not brave enough?” Axel growled, snapping his jaw at her, and she recoiled.

“She is not brave!” the woman shouted, and other voices from the forest echoed back.

“Hey!” Lorelei could feel her knees trembling, but she was still standing there, wasn’t she? “I just don’t know what that means.”

The tallest werewolf threw back his head, “She doesn’t know what that–” then stopped abruptly, looking to Axel who shook his head.

Axel stood straight and looked her up and down. “A duel,” he was almost giddy, “For the boy.”

Lorelei immediately felt slimy, “You can’t just, like, win people.”

“You claim the boy belongs to you!” Axel was suddenly furious.

“Yes, yes okay!” she threw up her hands, “Fine. For the boy.”

He composed himself with a long breath, “We will duel. Now, what is the challenge?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Yes,” he was visibly agitated, rolling his eyes, “Lupo agon. The challengee sets the specifics of the duel. Typically we fight to the death, we’re werewolves, but maybe your culture is different. What are you anyway?”

“Uh, I’m a lorelei,” she lore-lied.

“A lorelei?” Axel snickered, “What are you going to do? Sing me to death?” His laughed morphed into a full bellied guffaw, and the others were quick to follow suit.

She glanced to Grier who was was pale-skinned and wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open. He would be no help. She turned back to Axel, “Yeah. Yeah, I am. I challenge you to a sing off, okay? ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’ style.”

The werewolf’s laughter died off, and Axel held his stomach as he looked down at her, wiping away a tear,  “This can’t–you can’t–can she do that?”

Bewildered, the pack looked at one another, then the woman crossed her arms and smiled, “She can declare lupo agon in whatever way she likes.”

“But that can’t–”

“In whatever way she likes!” the woman scowled, and Axel huffed.

“Fine! Tonight, at midnight, by the pond.”

“Fine!” she shouted back, crossing her arms and stomping a foot.

“Fine!” Axel turned on his heel and began out into the woods, the others at his feet. She watched them go, her heart thumping so loudly it was banging against her ears, but she didn’t dare move until they were out of sight.

Finally, Grier cleared his throat, “So, that just happened.”

“Yup.”

“Can you, like, even sing?”

Lorelei’s arms fell to her sides and she hung her head, “Not at all.”

***

“I need more alcohol.” Lorelei had finished off half of a bottle of wine, but she wasn’t feeling very tipsy.

“How will that help?” Across the table from her in the empty kitchen, Grier was fidgeting with the icing on a cupcake that Hotaru had shyly given him before heading off to bed. It was close to midnight and the day had gone by too quickly. Now he was looking much younger than he’d ever seemed with chocolate frosting on his finger that he couldn’t bare eating.

“I did karaoke once when I was very drunk. From what I remember, I was pretty good, so that’s our best bet.” She went to stand and wobbled a bit, “Oh, hey, did you see that? I think we’re getting there.”

“Oh, geez,” Grier slapped his forehead, but Lorelei ignored him, grabbing a bottle of yellow-colored liquid from one of the wine coolers.

She made her way back to her seat and worked the cork out, “So, why do they want you so badly anyway? You clearly don’t want to be in their cult.”

Grier sighed, stretching his arms across the table, “Most people don’t survive the curse, but I was one of the lucky few.”

“Slim pickens,” Lorelei poured herself some of the liquid, took a drink, and instantly regretted it, “Ew!” She pushed the bottle away.

“Lightweight,” Grier grinned, the first time he’d smiled all day, “but what can you expect from a human.”

Lorelei crossed her arms, tipping back then quickly steadying herself, “You said Axel, a werewolf, did this to you,” she motioned to her own face, “So why do you hate humans so much? I mean, clearly you used to be one.”

Grier was quiet a moment. He opened his mouth a couple times, then closed it again, but Lorelei was patient. She could wait him out. Finally, the boy looked down at his lap and began. “Axel was my mom’s boyfriend. She didn’t know what he was, not at first, she just thought he was an alcoholic, and that was fine with her. He got worse as time went on, he’d leave, he’d come back, he’d bring friends.” The boy never looked up at her, his voice low. “The older I got, the more I hated him, and when I let him know, he took his anger out on me. I thought my mom wouldn’t let that happen but she seemed, I don’t know, relieved?” he scratched behind an ear, “Like glad it wasn’t her anymore. Then we found out what he was and instead of running away it just made her want to be with him more. It was so stupid,” he slammed his fist down on the table, “So human.”

Lorelei watched him grit his teeth as he stared at his fist, but didn’t speak: there wasn’t anything she could say.

“After he scarred me, he said he’d be back, if I survived, and left us, but he didn’t come back. I thought things might be okay after that, but I was wrong. Mom seemed to just hate me, like she looked at me like I was him, and she said she knew what I’d become. A monster.” His voice cracked, then he shook his head, “When I figured out I could change, I was able to hide it, but I couldn’t hide my face. The kids I went to school with called me names, and no one understood or believed me. Everyone was so cruel all the time, even my own mother.”

Lorelei felt the urge to hug him, but thought better of it as he was explaining to her why he hated the very thing she was. “So, you left?” she whispered.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “A few years ago. I tried making it on my own, but it’s hard. Eventually I found this place, or, well, it found me kinda, and I’ve been here since. I didn’t think Axel would ever come for me. Or, at least, he wouldn’t be able to find me. I hoped he would forget about me, but I’ve learned a lot about werewolves since then, and there aren’t many of us. He’s the kinda guy who thinks there should be more. And he thinks he should be in charge of them.”

“Well,” Lorelei slapped her hand down harder than she meant to, “he’s not in charge of you, buddy!” She wasn’t quite sure where her choice of words had come from and hiccuped.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” he eyed her nervously, “You shouldn’t do this.”

“Oh, you mean I don’t have to challenge a pack of carnivorous wolf-men for your very soul?” she chuckled, “Yeah, I know.”

“Seriously,” his frown was deep, “I mean, Axel’s dumb, but you don’t seem that stupid. For a human.”

“The whole thing is stupid,” Lorelei waved at him, “You can’t own somebody. If they need this little show, though, to prove that, then so be it. You got the thing?”

“Oh, yeah,” he reached down and lifted up a portable speaker box with a microphone, “We haven’t used it in a while, but it still works.”

“All right, let’s go win us a lupin aragog!”

Lupo agon.”

She popped up from her chair and nearly fell over, but caught herself at the last minute, “Whatever!”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!

Vacancy – 1.13 – Feral

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

You can also listen to this episode here.

vacancy1.13

Lorelei immediately didn’t like the look of them. When they let the double doors slam behind them, the largest of the three strut up the front desk, a tattoo on his neck and eyes that wandered everywhere but to her face.

“Hello, sweetheart.” With that, she knew the next twenty four hours would have been a challenge had Ziah been there, but without her it was bound to be exponentially worse. “Nice place ya got here.” He placed his elbows on the desk, bringing his face far too close to her own.

Lorelei smiled as broadly as she could and stepped back, “What can I do for you today, sir?”

“Oh, lots,” he winked at her, and she managed to keep from hacking on him. A set of scars ran along his temple and up onto his head where they prevented hair from growing in two long lines, parting the stringy mane he had bound at the nape of his neck. Seeing the markings on his neck more clearly, Lorelei could just make out the word “Feral” in an overly styled font scrawled above an animalistic skull. The other man who had come in with him, tall but rail thin and wearing an open vest with nothing underneath, was poking his shaved head through to the dining room, and their third companion, a woman wearing leather and leopard print, leaned against the front door’s frame, her gum chewing audible from across the room. “We’re looking for someone and hear tell that he’s on the, uh, prem-i-ses.” He smirked and drew the word out as if impressed with himself for using it.

“Oh?” Lorelei’s smile faltered, “Well, I can’t give you any information on our guests, but if they–”

“Not a guest. A kid. Dark hair, about yea tall. Hard to miss him what with the big ole scar over his eye,” the man pointed to his own then winked at her again, “Gave him that myself.”

Struck deep in her gut with worry, Lorelei flicked her eyes to the front door, hoping Grier would not come through, though he was due back any moment. The man glanced over his shoulder, and she grimaced at her own tell. Finally she frowned, “I’m not aware of anyone by that description, and I’m disinclined to give you information about the rest of us here at Moonlit Shores Manor.” She stared stony-faced at the man, daring him to say anything else.

“Good morning to you!” Seamus’s cheery voice broke into the room as he strode in from the sitting room. Despite his lime green suspenders, layered over a sky blue dress shirt and pin-covered bowler, the sight of him didn’t break the stare between Lorelei and the stranger. He paused a moment, then sidled up next to Lorelei at the counter. “Good sir!” he extended a hand, “Welcome to Moonlit Shores Manor! Are you looking to book a few rooms? Or perhaps just one? No judgement here!”

The man gave Seamus’s hand and half-hearted glance, then smirked at Lorelei, “Not today, but maybe we’ll be back.”

He slinked out of the manor, the woman following, and the tall man bringing up the rear, though he reached out just as the door closed and grabbed the coat rack so that it would crash to the ground in their wake. Staring after them, Seamus rubbed a hand through his fiery beard, “Things seemed a bit tense there, lass.”

“No, no,” she told him, hopping from behind the counter and fixing the rack, “They were just, uh, trying to sell us something.”

“A bit rough for salesmen,” Seamus glanced back at the door then shrugged, “But we’ve not got time for that, do we? The missus and I are off for a short holiday.”

“You are?” Ziah hadn’t mentioned this.

“She’s got some business in Dublin, of all places, and I never miss a chance to visit home,” he laid a finger alongside his own nose. “You’ll be fine of course, if Ziah’s leaving you on your own no reason for us to think otherwise!”

She watched after him as he strode out of the room. Of course they were leaving. Of course. She turned back to the closed entrance and glanced out the tall window lining the side of the door. They were nowhere in sight, and she willed it to stay that way.

“Hey.”

Lorelei spun around, her heart leaping into her throat as Grier emerged from the office behind the counter. “You scared me!” she scolded him, slapping her hand on her chest, “Were you in there the whole time?”

“Yeah,” he tiptoed out from behind the counter and up to the window on the door’s opposite side. When he was satisfied they were no longer around, he turned to her, “You didn’t say anything about me to them.”

She nodded, “Duh.” Grier had been less antagonistic, but still standoffish since the seance. He liked to pretend he didn’t hear her when she asked him questions, at least not the first time. 

“Or to Seamus.”

“It’s not really his business, I guess,” she shrugged. It had seemed the right thing to do at the time, though now she was having second thoughts.

Grier snorted and crossed his arms, “Thanks.”

She eyed him a minute then went back to the counter, “Did you really think I would just, like, give you up? Like three scary-looking, super rude people come in looking for you, and I’d just throw you to the wolves?”

Grier pouted, “I don’t know, I mean, maybe? You’ll probably get another chance, though: they’ll be back,” he glanced out the window again, “Tonight.”

“Tonight?” Lorelei dropped her head into her hands and her elbows onto the counter, “They can’t just like be chill til Ziah comes back?”

Grier paced from the dining room entrance to the sitting room and back again. She watched him run his hands through his curly mop, his eyes trailing the floor. Then he stopped. “Lorelei,” he addressed her using her name for the first time, “I think I’m in trouble.”

***

“Werewolves?” Lorelei was trying to keep pace with Grier as he bound through the woods, suddenly lithe and fast. “I thought you were just like a shapeshifter or a furry or something.”

He paused a moment to glare at her, then continued on, “I’m not one fully, not yet, but they are.”

“Well, if they’re out here in the woods wouldn’t we be safer back in the manor?”

You certainly would be,” he snapped back.

Grier had gone back to his duties after they chatted briefly about “some bad guys” who were out to get him, but when Lorelei saw him trying to slink away after lunch into the wooded area behind the manor, she knew she had to follow. That’s when he’d dropped the “w” word.

“So what do they really want with you then?”

Grier hopped up onto a fallen log and paused, sniffing at the air, “They want to initiate me into their pack. If I’m in the pack before my first full transformation, I’ll be bound to them for the rest of my life, though no telling how long that will be with what they get up to.”

“I thought they were here to hurt you,” she tried to climb up behind him, but he was over on the other side of the log before she could get footing, “They just want you to join their club?”

“Not a club!” She saw him cut the air with his hand as she scrambled over the tree. “More like a gang.”

With the forest floor leveling out, she was able to catch up to him, “And you don’t want to join?”

“You see this?” he rounded on her, suddenly face to face. Grier was pointing at his white eye, the scarred skin cutting down his forehead and cheek a shining silver. “Axel did this to me when I was nine. So no, I don’t want to be part of a club that does this to anyone, especially not little kids.”

He turned and raced off again through the woods, and she tried to follow, “Grier, wait!” His figure jumped over another log and around a cluster of trees, and when she got there, she lost sight of him. She called out his name again, but there was no answer.

It was midday, but the forest was dark. She turned quickly, but everything looked the same in green and black shadows. The path she’d seen earlier was no longer underfoot, and when she stopped to listen for the sound of his traipsing through the fallen leaves, she heard nothing, not even the sounds of birds. “You little shit,” she grit her teeth and turned again.

“Sweetheart!” Axel loomed over her, and her heart dropped into her gut. His teeth were shining in a half smile, heavy brows coming down over dark eyes.

“Oh,” she smiled sweetly, mimicking what she had offered him insincerely before, “Hello there.”

“Fancy seeing you out here,” he took a step toward her and she matched him, stepping back.

“Ah, yeah, well, what’s…up?”

He narrowed his eyes, studying her “Not much, and you?”

“Just going for a walk out in the woods…all alone,” Lorelei clasped her hands behind her back and took another step away from him. Good, she thought, he was at least a bit dumb. “Nice day, hu?”

“Quite. I, uh,” Axel cleared his throat, “I’m still looking for our little friend.”

“Not having any luck?” she cocked her head, “Well, that’s too bad. I’ll keep an eye out!” Lorelei turned to flee, but was met with the bare chest and visible ribs of the skinny, tall man from the lobby. He pushed her backward and she tripped, but caught herself before she fell to the ground. She was getting better at that. “Listen, you’re trespassing, all right?” she said, unsure if it was true and looking from one to the other as they began to close in on her, “It’ll be easier for all of us if you guys just head home.” The waver in her voice was thoroughly unconvincing.

“You could just give him up, you know,” Axel growled, “We’d consider sparing you if you did.”

The woman emerged from the trees, more threatening up close with dark lips highlighting how much she was enjoying this. Lorelei held her ground, balling her fists, “I already told you everything.” Somewhere out in the woods she heard a twig snap and wondered if there were more of them and if they would take chase if she ran. She was no good to them if no one knew she was missing, but they were probably too dumb to realize that.

“Here I am.” Grier’s voice came from above. He was crouching on a tree limb, glowering down at them.

“Oh, wow,” Lorelei glared at him, “Look at that, a boy I’ve never once seen before with my own eyes.”

He dropped down, a shocking distance, but landed with ease to stand opposite the group. “What do you want, Axel?”

“It’s time,” the man said to him, “You’ll be changing soon. Can’t you hear the call? Feel the moon?”

“You don’t know that,” his fists were balled at his sides, “It might never happen.”

“It will happen, Grier, and you’ll need us when it does.” The man’s lip turned up. The words were almost kind, but Lorelei could feel a venom to them. “When you change, you’ll need a family.”

Grier was quiet, his shoulders slumping in slightly. He scrunched his face up, his eyes glossing over, and Lorelei got nervous. Nervous enough to do something stupid.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, 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!