Vacancy – 2.04 – Harvest Fest (Part 3 Final)

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

v 2.04

Waves broke on the rocks, the spray cold on Lorelei’s ankles. The sun was just disappearing on the horizon, and a gust swept down the coast making her stop in her tracks. Beyond them, she could see the walkway narrowing as the rocky ledge curved, and the beach was far off behind them. A handful of boats bobbed in the waves just off the rocks, the water below black and who knows how deep.

“Are you sure this is right?” she called ahead to Grier at the lead. He was skillfully stepping over the craggy landscape while not even looking at it, his eyes glued to the map in hand.

He shouted something back, his words lost in the wind. With a deep sigh, she continued on behind Hotaru who had surprised her with her own surefootedness, so different than when back at the manor.

Finally they came to the peak’s end, barely wide enough for the three to stand alongside one another. A grey, choppy ocean reached out in all directions, cutting into the reds and purples of the sky. She wrapped her arms tightly about herself and stood very still, trying to bury the thought that it might be nice to jump in.

“The island.” Grier turned from them and headed back, but only so far, stopping at the small dock and untying one of the dinghies.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Lorelei slipped against the rocks as she went for him, falling onto her knees. Hotaru helped her up just as Grier was stepping into the boat, “That’s not yours, you can’t just steal a boat!”

“The end of the map, X marks the spot,” he waved the map overhead as he sat, “And we’re just borrowing it. Nobody’s around to stop us. Are you coming or not?”

“I absolutely cannot believe we are doing this.”

Lorelei could feel the tightness of the frown on her face, her arms crossed. She wasn’t going to help row, but Grier didn’t seem to need assistance. In fact, he seemed to be doing better than she could have ever expected, taking all three of them out further from the shore.

“There better be something good out there,” she grumbled, “If this treasure ends up being the friendships you made along the way or some shit, I am going to be pissed.”

With the blackness of the water all around them, Lorelei shifted to center herself in the tiny vessel. When she saw the spit of land and the lighthouse atop it, she relaxed until she realized they weren’t headed exactly for it.

There was an even smaller mass, rising up from the water just beyond where the lighthouse’s island stood. It, like so many other things they’d seen that day, couldn’t have been seen unless you knew it was there. And of course Grier did.

He was quick to scuttle out of the boat and up onto the rocks, and they lost him almost immediately as he crested the small hill. “Hotaru,” Lorelei huffed, pulling herself up next to the girl, “Can you rein him in?”

“Probably,” she craned her neck up over the rocks and smiled, “but I don’t really want to.”

Grier was kneeling at the top of the hill. The sun had finally disappeared, and the darkness had come upon them quickly, but the sky was cloudless, and his form was lined in a silver light. He had the map spread out on the ground, a hand against it.

“Is this the X?” Lorelei ventured, hoping to be done.

He said nothing for a long minute then sat back, “Yeah. This is it.”

The sudden somberness to his voice struck Lorelei harder than the chill in the air.

“So, no treasure?” Lorelei could tell Hotaru felt silly saying it.

He glanced around at the spot, bare and surrounded by water, then shrugged.

Waves crashed against the rock, and the wind blew in strong, constant gusts against their ears, and the three were quiet. No one was ready to say they had to go back yet.

“He said I’d find it,” Grier turned up a lip, “if I was worthy.”

Lorelei hadn’t heard the words the man had whispered to him at the booth, but she’d been afraid of what it might have been. A scam, she thought, was most likely, with danger a close second, but now, she realized, this was much worse.

“Well,” Hotaru took a step closer to him, “aren’t you?”

He raised his eyes to hers, and she grinned knowingly back. For a second, it looked like Grier was glowing.

A light burst forth from the map so bright they all reeled back from it. There was a cracking sound, somewhere below them, and Lorelei again fell to her knees knowing full well it would do no good if they were about to be plunged into the blackness of the ocean. But instead, the little isle shifted just enough so that they could feel they weren’t in the exact spot they’d begun in, and then the light was gone.

In place of the map sat a box, no bigger than Grier’s palm, but he was quick to take it up and hold it out to them. With little hesitation, he threw it open, and Lorelei held her breath when he peered inside.

From its shallow insides, he held up an oval pendant just before his face and squinted. In the dark, Lorelei had to come close, but when she saw the familiar outline of the chipmunk, she quickly covered her mouth.

“What is it?” Hotaru cocked her head, peering up at Grier’s hand.

“No clue.”

Hotaru giggled, “It’s kinda cute.”

“You want it?” Grier motioned to hand it off to the girl.

“No!” Lorelei shouted, her breath catching, and the two stared at her blankly. Her mind raced. Could she tell them about the brooch, the letter, Conrad’s family? She swallowed, “That man. He said it was yours, Grier. You need to keep it.”

He flipped the pendant over in his hand, “I wouldn’t have even found it without Hotaru, though.”

“She’s right,” the girl said quickly, “It’s yours.”

Back on the mainland, they reached the festival grounds just as the first firework burst in the sky. Grier was purportedly ravenous and ran off for food before, Hotaru following after, and both were gone before Lorelei could get her bearings again. She sighed and sauntered toward where their booth was when Conrad suddenly popped up in front of her. “You’re alive!”

“Barely,” she rubbed at her face, feeling a gritty, sandiness across her skin.

“Ziah was getting nervous,” he chuckled, “but I told her you’d be fine. She’d probably feel a lot better if you let her know you’ve not been eaten by chupacabras though.”

“Of course, but first, I need to tell you something,” she looked about for a second to ensure they were alone, “It’s been a long day, but basically Grier was given a brooch, like the one I got from Ms. Pennycress. I’m almost certain it’s the same symbol.”

Conrad’s brow darkened, “Like my father’s?”

She nodded. “Do you think it’s possible that your brother was here tonight?” Her stomach turned at the thought.

“No,” he shook his head fast, then screwed up his face, “Well, maybe. Do you think this has to do with the deed?”

Lorelei’s heart jumped. She had been wanting to bring up the deed for what felt like forever, from the moment they returned from his parents’ house, but the right time hadn’t come. Finally, she thought, and sighed, opening her mouth to speak.

But from behind Conrad, Britney’s voice was clear and piercing, “What deed?”

 

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If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

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Vacancy – 2.03 – Harvest Fest (Part 2)

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

v 2.03

“I can’t believe you!” Lorelei touched her forehead, a vein pulsating beneath her fingertips.

Grier’s mouth was hanging open excitedly, the paper clenched in his fist. She’d managed to drag him away from the booth before Ziah or Conrad could count the rest of the supply or the money gathered as one shift ended and the other began, and they ended up in a quiet spot just at the edge of the festival grounds. “I know,” he was grinning stupidly, ear to ear, “This is amazing!”

Lorelei sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose. It absolutely was not amazing. Grier had traded one of their most expensive ciders for not legal tender, but a piece of parchment, aged, torn, and with an almost illegible writing scrawled over and even less recognizable drawing. Evening was settling in around them, lamplights flicking on, and shadows were growing tall in the setting sun. She only had a few hours to rectify this.

“That man, where do you think he went?”

Grier shrugged, “I dunno, home? He’s not got the map anymore so why would he hang around?”

“That’s what that is? A map?” She pointed to the paper.

“To treasure!” He was eighteen now, but acting more like a child than she’d ever seen.

“You think that’s a legitimate treasure map? And someone just handed it off to you?” Crossing her arms, Lorelei sighed, “Was he wearing an eye patch too?”

“No. And he didn’t just give it to me, we did a trade,” he rolled his eyes, “He said the treasure is worth more than the bottle, don’t worry, we’ll be able to pay it back. Come on!”

He turned from her, unfolding the paper and burying his nose in it as he walked.

“You realize how ludicrous this sounds, right?” She was watching him as he started across the street.

“What’s ludicrous?”

Lorelei jumped at the sound of Hotaru beside her. The short girl winced and offered her an apologetic look.

“Treasure hunting,” she snarled, the hurried after him.

They were headed down a wide sidewalk along Main Street, the buildings packed together tightly, but their doors and shutters close; it seemed everyone was at the festival. Lorelei and Hotaru were rushing to keep pace with Grier, until he stopped suddenly.

He looked up and spun around, “I don’t understand. This is it. That was…short!”

Lorelei glanced up at the building they were in front of. It was painted a bright magenta with yellow awnings and flower boxes spilling over with pansies. A kettle-shaped sign hung above the door reading Eleanor’s Tea Room, and another in the window read Closed.

Even with the nagging thought that the man had give up the map too close to the end to be a coincidence, Lorelei found herself poking around the flower boxes alongside Grier, though she had no idea what they were looking for. Then Hotaru plucked the paper from Grier. “No, it doesn’t stop here, not exactly.”

She wandered away from them for a moment, down the sidewalk, then back and turned sharply toward the building, disappearing into the hedge. At the edge of the sidewalk, there was a small arch, drowning in ivy and white flowers, and Hotaru had dipped under and through it. Grier followed, and Lorelei found herself alone on the sidewalk, her question of “Should we be doing this?” left unanswered before she ducked under the ivy as well.

The walkway between the tea room and its neighbor was just wide enough for her to squeeze through, though it was dark and stray vines tugged at her sweater. There was light at its end, from the back of the building, and she stepped out onto a patio scattered with mismatched tables and chairs, surrounded by a fence covered in the tendrils of rose bushes just at the beginning of their hibernation.

Hotaru stood at the center of the space where an oak tree was growing, its branches spread out above them, adorned with lanterns and twinkling in the darkness the tree created. “You have to get to the right spot before it will tell you where to go next,” she reached a hand out and placed it on the tree, and as Lorelei came up behind her, she saw a line crawling itself across the map.

“Of course! That man didn’t know Moonlit Shores well enough to use this,” Grier grabbed her upper arm and spun her toward him, “You’re so smart!” Then he snatched the map from her and headed out. Hotaru’s face flushed deep red, and she smiled for just a second until her eye’s met Lorelei’s, and she hurried off into the darkness after Grier.

The sidewalk took them down away from Main Street, and the smell of the ocean intensified. Grier led them like a hound–though Lorelei would never say that–to a big, square building with shaker shingles and a high mansard roof. When Lorelei stepped inside, she paused, feeling how cavernous the place was immediately. She faltered on the threshold then pulled her head back out, glancing at the facade of the place, how at sat on a corner lot looking ordinary and unobtrusive, and then popped back in. It was definitely bigger on the inside, but she’d come to realize that pointing these things out didn’t seem to matter.

The library smelled like she’d fallen between the pages of an old book. Each row of tomes was lit from overhead by an orangey bulb nestled into a stained glass lampshade, casting warm blocks of color all over the leathery spines. Their footsteps echoed into the otherwise empty place, floating off into the impossibly high ceiling.

“Where in here?” Grier’s voice pierced the quiet.

Lorelei shushed him, but wondered if it mattered in the emptiness of the place.

“Probably something old,” he stopped and looked around, “That doesn’t narrow it down.” Then his face lit up and he bolted across the room and out of sight.

Hotaru looked after him, then turned back to Lorelei, “Where did he get that map?”

“Some man at the booth,” she ran a finger along one of the books and thought she heard a giggle. She jerked her hand back and shuffled away from the stacks.

“Was he dressed in a black cloak?”

“Yes,” Lorelei narrowed her eyes at the girl, “Why?”

“Kind of tall and skinny?”

The anxiety on Lorelei’s face told her the answer.

“I saw him following you around this morning. Ren even seemed kind of interested, but the man disappeared before you two took over for us, so I didn’t think much about it after that.”

Lorelei felt a queasiness in her stomach, “What do we do?”

“Found it!” Grier came thundering back to them with the map held high over his head, “It was the archway into the old record’s room. Made of reclaimed wood from the Argo. Next stop!”

They watched him march past and back out the door.

“I don’t think he could be convinced to stop,” Hotaru bit her lip, “There’s really only one thing we can do–”

“Knock him out.”

“Protect him.”

Lorelei grimaced, “Oh, okay, yeah, protect him. That’s a good option too. Let’s do that.”

Grier was almost sprinting as he headed down the road. Barely keeping up, Lorelei turned the corner to finally see it: the ocean. Out past a line of red and white stilted houses, the smokey blue of the water reached up and melted into a hazy, yellow sky. The clouds were resting against the water like long swaths of cotton candy in pinks and blues, and the sun was slipping down behind the sea.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there when she remembered she was meant to be following Grier and Hotaru. She saw them bustling along a stone retaining wall ahead and hurried passed the stairs that would take them down to the beach, catching up with them near a thicket.

It looked especially dark beyond the treeline, and again Lorelei stopped, “Grier, are you sure you’re going in the right direction?”

“Oh yeah,” he forged ahead to the edge of the trees, “Next spot is the old fishing shack.”

“Isn’t that over there?” Hotaru pointed back the way they’d come to a sort of terrifying, but admittedly less terrifying than the wood, dilapidated hut at the edge of the beach.

Grier shook his head, “I don’t think it means there.”

He disappeared amongst the trees, and with a little groan, Lorelei went in after with Hotaru. The girl was muttering to herself about what else the old fishing shack could possibly refer to, but her voice was swallowed up in the branches.

Sinking into the ground, Lorelei pulled each foot after another, bending over and pushing old branches away from her face. She came upon Grier before she realized in the dark, finding him kneeling in the muddy sand beside a few planks, broken in a small stack. There in the shadows she could just make out the outline of a foundation of what was once, long, long ago, something one might have called a fishing shack.

“How did you know this was here?”

Her voice seemed to pull him from a bit of a trance. “Oh, you know, it’s part of Moonlit Shores. Got it!” He popped back up and hurried past them, shouting after himself in the dark, “Come on, ladies, we’re near the end, I can feel it!”

She looked to Hotaru for clarification, and the girl smiled in the dark, “He made this place his home. I’ve lived here almost my whole life, but I think he’ll always know more about it than I do.”

With a sigh, they pressed on.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.