Vacancy – 2.06 – The Other Side

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

v 2.06

Lorelei and Britney both scrambled behind the mirror, sliding into the tight space and smashing up against one another. Britney tried to shove Lorelei back out, but Lorelei pushed back, and they two slapped at one another as they fumbled to be completely hidden from whoever was headed their way.

The footsteps came into the room, and both girls froze, holding their breath and listening. A floorboard creaked under a silent step, then again, until finally a voice, small and feminine, “Is someone there?”

They were caught. Lorelei glanced at Britney who was glaring at her and shaking her head silently. Lorelei shrugged, and peeked out from behind the mirror. There in the center of the room stood a short girl with a round face, her hair pulled back in a knot at the back of her head and freckles spattered across her cheeks. She wore a stiff top and a striped skirt down to her ankles, and looked as though she’d stepped out of a Thanksgiving play. Of course, Lorelei realized, it may have been more likely she’d stepped into one. “Uh, hey there.”

The girl was frozen, her eyes locked on Lorelei’s, an apple in her hand hovering just before her mouth. Then her face lit up, “It worked!” She jumped in place, and laughed, “I can hardly believe my eyes!”

Britney popped out from the other side of the mirror, brow narrowed, and the girl’s smile only grew, “Two of you? By the greatest powers, I’ve done it! And just in time too!”

Lorelei stepped carefully out from behind the mirror, taking in the room again. It was simple, a bed, an armoire, and very dimly lit only by the setting sun outside. The mirror, of course, was also there, but Conrad’s figure had completely vanished and it now only showed her reflection. “In time for what?”

“The ceremony,” the girl strode up to Lorelei and grabbed the edge of her sweatshirt, running a hand over the stitching, “My word, even my magic doesn’t work as evenly as all this.”

“Wait, did you,” Britney came around the mirror looking up at it, “did you make this?”

“Of course. Well, I enchanted it,” the girl moved on to Britney, petting the woman’s curled hair and gasping as her ringlet bounced back, “What craft is this?”

Britney pushed her hand away with a scowl, “How old are you?”

“Fifteen,” she answered quickly, squatting down to inspect their pants, “And trousers! How wonderful! Now, I must know,” she jumped up again, “Tell me everything.”

Lorelei looked from the girl to Britney, but Britney was already shaking her head, “No. You’re going to tell me: why’d you make this thing?”

There was a noise from the hall, and a voice called out, “Alice? How fair thee?”

“More than fair, father!” she shouted back and scrambled for the door, closing it and turning back to the girls, “He can’t know you’re here.”

Lorelei could sense Britney’s annoyance, and stopped her before she could start, “Alice? That’s your name? What’s this ceremony?”

Alice’s eyes pulled away from the two as her shoulders fell. She took a deep breath and crossed the room to her bed, “I’m to be inducted into the order and begin training. I’ve agreed, but in truth, I’m not sure. I want to see the world, to meet new people and hear about their adventures, not be trapped in this dark little house for the rest of my life looking after some rock.”

“Rock?” Lorelei whispered, placing a finger over her lips.

“But I understand I have a duty to my family. This is what my mother would have wanted, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, that settles that,” Britney threw her hands up, “Now why’d you make a Hephastian mirror?”

“What?” the girl cocked her head, “Oh, yes, well, I would like to know what happens to this place in the future. Is it worth staying here, devoting my life to this place? Giving up my dream?”

Lorelei looked on the girl as she gently sat on the edge of her bed, her face downcast, her hands placed gently in her lap, cradling the apple. Her concerns were much too big for her tiny frame.

“Okay, great, well, everything in the future is amazing,” Britney rolled her eyes, “Space travel, Wi-Fi, green smoothies.” Alice’s face twisted in bewilderment. “And the manor is doing great, guests out the wazoo. Now, where’s the other one?”

“Other what?”

Britney took a breath, appearing to be at least trying to restrain herself, “Mirror. To send us back?”

The girl looked between the two of them, her eyes glazing over. She lifted the apple to her mouth, took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. “I didn’t think of that.”

Lorelei felt her stomach flip, “You only made one?”

“Well, it took eight months!” At Alice’s words, Britney looked like she might have a coronary, so upset no words came when she opened her mouth–a first. Alice seemed to be able to sense that, “I think I can shave some time off,” her voice cracked, “I can probably get it down to four.”

“Unacceptable,” for once Lorelei was keen on Britney’s no-nonsense attitude, “We’ll finish in time for your ceremony or whatever. Between the two of us it shouldn’t be difficult.”

Alice’s eyes were bouncing back and forth between the two, “Well, the part that took the longest was gathering the ingredients. I needed a feather from a thunderbird.”

“Whatever, she can do that,” Britney gestured to Lorelei who did not like the sound of the plan at all, “In the meantime, we’ll check in as guests.”

“Guests?”

“Here. Of the manor.”

Alice tipped her head to the side, “This is my home. Tis but me, my father, and grandmother living here.”

“You mean this place isn’t a hotel?”

She looked like she didn’t know the word. Lorelei groaned: of course she didn’t.

“Do you ever put up traveling witches?”

She shook her head.

Britney glanced at Lorelei and sighed, “Time to start a tradition.”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment – 11/12/18

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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?”

 

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.

Podcast: Vacancy 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

Episode 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

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

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

Vacancy Episode 1.16 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

Vacancy – 2.02 – Harvest Fest (Part 1)

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

v 2.02

The cart bumped along in the forest’s heart to the sounds of stag hooves on crispy leaves. When a breeze managed to wind its way through the dense branches, Lorelei pulled the sleeves of her chunkiest sweater down over her hands and wrapped her arms around her knees. She was finally on her way to Moonlit Shores.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” From the front set of the cart, Ziah turned back to the others. Ren raised an eyebrow in the seat beside her where he held the stags’ reins. From her small bag, she pulled four matchsticks, “We’ve got to draw babysitting straws.”

“Ugh, why you gotta call it that?” Grier snarled at her, crossing his arms with a pout.

“Because that’s what it is,” Ziah looked to Lorelei with a smirk, “Those two can’t man the booth alone. Age restrictions.”

Hotaru, who’d been sitting just next to Lorelei, sighed but said nothing. They would be taking shifts in twos at Moonlit Shores’ harvest festival selling the manor’s house-made mead and cider which was clinking gently along in crates beside them, but the rest of the day was free for them to explore. Lorelei was surprised Arista and Seamus were so keen to let them go, but Ziah advised that most guests would be at the festival themselves, and the two would likely spend the day by the fire unbothered. Regardless, Lorelei had never been to the town from which her workplace derived its name, and she nearly shivered with anticipation.

“Anyway,” Ziah went on, “If you get the short straw, you’re with Hotaru, and if you get the shortest straw, you’re stuck with Grier.”

“Hey!” the boy who, if Lorelei was honest with herself, could barely be called that anymore, snorted, “I’m taller than almost all of you!”

Ziah looked thoughtful for a moment then grinned, “You’re right, you have had a weird growth spurt recently. Well, congrats on finally hitting puberty. Conrad?” she offered the sticks to him, their ends hidden within her fist, reaching past a very visibly insulted Grier. Lorelei pulled second and held hers up, but she didn’t need to compare them to know she had the shortest.

“Could be worse!” Grier rolled his eyes at the front of the cart–he certainly didn’t hate her anywhere near as much as when she started–and pointed at Ziah, “But we get the midday slot, yeah?”

“Fine,” Ziah shrugged and turned back.

The cart emerged from the wood and crested a hill, the path widening. There were signs of life here, the outskirts of a town, fencing and farm animals, mailboxes and gravel driveways, but one paved a brilliant white, caught Lorelei’s attention. She followed the winding drive to its end where a house sat high on a hill, boxy and a bit out of place with its perfectly straight lines, and massive rectangular windows. Lorelei had never seen such a large, modern house, as if it were out of some magazine that had slipped backwards in time to them. It glowed oddly in the dull morning lights, half of the exterior a bright white stone, the other half black slate.

“Blackburn Estate,” Hotaru whispered next to Lorelei’s ear, and she recognized the name. This must be where Britney lived. “One of the oldest houses in town. Well, oldest foundations, at least.”

Past the farms, the homes sat closer together, and the road straightened. Set off from the main road, atop another hill, a low stone fence surrounded a patch of gravestones, a mausoleum flanked by statues in its center. There was more order here, but still a sense of whimsy. Nothing was exactly right, nor was it exactly wrong. They passed others carting in their own goods, and Lorelei wondered where on earth these people could possibly be living, but then realized that answer might not be earth–her idea of it anyway–at all.

Lorelei was hit with the salty smell of the nominal shore as the road narrowed and dipped between two rows of tightly packed buildings. If you didn’t know better, you may have thought Moonlit Shores was just like any sleepy, seaside town, but on closer inspection the pharmacy beside the coffee shop was actually an apothecary, and it wasn’t a therapist, but a palm reader set up between the tavern, where absinthe was notably served per the front sign, and the daycare, which accepted children as young as two and with up to seven limbs only.

At the center of the town, a park had been decorated for the occasion, lampposts strung with violet lights, stacks of bright pumpkins and rough-skinned gourds at their bases, and the people milling about were dressed in jewel-toned cloaks and flowing dresses, though Lorelei thought perhaps the attire wasn’t significant.

As they unloaded the hefty crates of cider, the vendors around them were lighting fires in small wood stoves and cinnamon breads and roasted corn mingled with the salty air, though Lorelei still hadn’t glimpsed the ocean. When the table was set, she finally sidled up to Ziah, “How does this stay…private?”

“From humans?” she dropped her voice low, “Well, they sort of just…don’t show up? On occasion there’s a story about a lost traveler or a vacationing family gone astray, but the forest that surrounds this place, well, it’s got an aura about it. Kind of wards them off.” She gave her a wink. The forest did have a distinct eeriness to it that set Lorelei’s stomach on edge, but she’d managed to ignore it this go around.

Relieved immediately by Ren and Hotaru who had the first shift, Ziah grabbed Lorelei’s arm and guided her from booth to booth inside the sprawling park. Grier trailed behind, eating absolutely everything he could get his hands on, and Conrad kept suggesting they visit areas outside of the grounds, but was shut down by Ziah each time much to his confusion until Britney showed up and whisked him away. The morning passed in a blur of handcrafted athames and purportedly ancient spell books, and eventually Lorelei found herself behind the cider-laden table with Grier just as the sun reached its midpoint and warmed the park.

The boy unwrapped foil from the roasted, bright-red leg of what Lorelei assumed was a turkey and sunk in his fangs, pink juices trailing down his chin.

“Lord, you’re a mess,” Lorelei pressed some of the paper they’d used to buoy the bottles into his hands and gestured to his face, “How are you even still hungry?” Her own belly was bloated from a stop at a candied apple booth and cheese from an animal she’d never heard of before, and he hadn’t stopped stuffing his face since they’d arrived.

“You’re not?” he looked genuinely confused, but it only lasted a second, “Eh, you know, it’s lunch time!”

She watched him devour the meat quicker than he should have been able to then quickly denied him when he begged to run across the grounds to grab another, “I need you to help me. Someone’s bound to say something I don’t understand.”

“Oh, you need me, huh?” he smirked at her and moved his chair closer, “Well, I’m at your service, milady.”

She curled a lip at him, “Ew.”

The mead and cider proved to be quite popular, and the customers proved to be quite engaging, keeping them both busy. Ziah had been right about babysitting, however, as of the two of them, Grier turned out to be more apt to say the wrong thing, but he couldn’t be watched the entire time. As Lorelei closed a sale with a group of very chatty old witches–she guessed by their wide-brimmed hats though they were the only ones around donning them–she caught Grier in a deep conversation with a lanky man in a black cloak. The man hurried off with a bottle before Lorelei could free herself of the women and their discussion about which equinox their mead choices were best suited.

“What’d he get?” she leaned over to watch what Grier did with the cash he’d been handed, but gasped when she saw what he held.

“The la pomme noir,” the boy butchered the name.

“That’s the most expensive!” she yelled at him in a whisper, her heartbeat quickening, “He didn’t give you any money?”

Grier held up the scroll he’d accepted, “Oh, no. He gave me something much better.”

 

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.

Vacancy – 2.01 – The Box

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

v 2.01

Lorelei Fischer stood at the front desk of Moonlit Shores Manor, head dipped down over a tome of thick pages so engrossed with the odd building’s moving layout–it had to be in there somewhere, but where?–that she did not hear the heavy footfalls coming into the foyer. It was only when letters were dropped atop the book that she was startled backward, abruptly looking up and seeing Helena, the mail carrier. She was, of course, right on time, as always, wearing something like half a grin and half a grimace. Lorelei was used to the grey locks of the woman, her sharp features, her inordinate height, but the wings were always a bit of a shock.

After exchanging embarrassed pleasantries, she flipped through the mail and separated out what was meant for guests, disappointed yet again to not receive any word from Ms. Pennycress, but the package at the pile’s bottom soon stole her attention. Square and wrapped in thick, brown paper, the package was tied with a velvety ribbon, and from under it was secured a card.

The card’s outside was water-stained, the To and From illegible, but inside the words were clear:

My deepest gratitude for a most pleasant stay to my favorite employee at Moonlit Shores Manor. Tampering by any other will earn the meddler grave disappointment and a gruesome curse.

“That’s ominous,” Lorelei mumbled to herself, looking up again, but the mailwoman had gone and with her any chance for clarification.

With a shrug, she turned to secure it in the office when Ziah emerged from the door behind the counter. Lorelei handed off the package, asking for her thoughts: Ziah typically had all the answers anyway.

“Oh, well, this is…lovely.” Her voice, which could almost always be described as a purr when she was not shouting, this time sounded far away and dreamy.

Lorelei eyed the box again, nicely wrapped, but nothing extraordinary, then her companion, “I suppose.”

From the dining room, Conrad passed through the foyer carrying a basket filled with dried sprigs and flowers. He offered them a wave and a smile as he hurried toward the basement, and Lorelei waved a bit overzealously back, though when she turned back to Ziah, the woman appeared to have not noticed him at all.

“Ya know, I bet it is for you,” she sighed, staring at the succubus, “I bet people fall in love with you all the time. Must be nice.” Ziah did not respond, but instead lifted the box, blinking dark cat eyes as she examined the packaging. She turned it over delicately in her hands then held it to her ear.

Lorelei raised her voice, “So, uh, who do you think it’s for?”

Ziah cocked her head, her answer more alarming in how it sounded than what she said, “I don’t know.”

“Are you feeling okay?” Lorelei waved a hand before Ziah’s face, and when the woman didn’t react, she snatched the parcel back. Ziah, startled, lunged for it, then stopped herself with a gasp.

“That isn’t good.” The woman backed away from the girl, gripping the counter and glancing worriedly about the room. Nibbling on a nail, Ziah’s eyes widened when Grier entered the foyer, and she stopped him and ordered him to take the box from Lorelei.

The teen balanced the parcel in one hand and rolled his eye, though the other milky and scarred one looked equally annoyed. “Now what?”

“Hm, maybe I’m wrong,” Ziah touched a finger to her lips, “I felt very…odd with that thing. Like I was enchanted, sort of like, well, how I imagine people might feel around me. You didn’t get that feeling, Lore?”

She shook her head.

“Stop that!” Ziah suddenly slapped the box from Grier’s hand. A corner of the paper was torn and his eyes–even the white one–were glassy.

Ziah kicked the package over to Lorelei’s feet, “You may be the only one who can be trusted with this,” she shifted her gaze left and right, “for reasons. Hold onto it. Tight. Maybe someone here is expecting it.”

With the package in hand, and Ziah and Grier in tow, Lorelei went on through the dining room and into the kitchen, bustling as ever with bubbling and chopping. Ando’s voice rang out the minute she crossed the threshold, “No!”

She stopped, letting the door swing backward and hearing it connect with Grier’s face, and he swore from his new spot on the ground.

“Bad magic,” the man emerged from behind a steaming pot, his eyes trained on the package.

“How do you know?” Lorelei could see Hotaru peeking out from the pantry as her uncle came toward them, brandishing a cleaver.

He crossed both sets of arms and frowned, his curt mustache twitching, “You don’t live over five hundred years and not know bad magic when you feel it. Get it out of my kitchen before it taints lunch!”

Lorelei backed out with the box clenched tightly to her chest. “So we should throw this away, right?” She knew as soon as she asked what the answer would be. Both Grier and Ziah shook their heads frantically, insisting that of course not, she shouldn’t be so silly, the contents would surely outweigh whatever mishap might befall them, and Ando was prone to exaggeration anyway–he was barely three hundred from what they understood.

“And tampering with mail is a federal offence!” Grier reminded them with a knowing look.

Lorelei scowled, pointing to the tear he’d made, “You’re one to talk.” She lead them through the dining room where a few guests were enjoying a late breakfast, and out onto the empty side porch. Clearing her throat, she tucked the box under her arm, “Plus, I imagine you people have different rules about these things.”

Just as Grier began to growl in her ear about what she meant by you people, Ziah asked more loudly with an air of forced casualty something more pressing, “Where are you taking it?”

“Ren is usually pretty sensible.” Lorelei marched toward the barn, her pace quickening as she tried to shake them, and found the elf inside as she expected. He tended to something large and loud concealed inside the stables, his disinterest in them changing when he eyed what Lorelei was holding. “This stupid box is cursed,” she said matter-of-factly, presenting it to him.

As Ziah and Grier protested the meaning of cursed, a pair of small hands whipped the package away from Lorelei. Hotaru paced the length of the barn, evading Ren, and turned the package over as she stared down at it. Lorelei followed, as did the other three, but the girl was suddenly graceful even with her eyes glued to the box, murmuring how pretty it was.

“You see?” Lorelei gestured to her, but even Ren’s attention had all but fallen to the mysterious container. “Ren?”

He twitched a long ear toward her and stood straight, clasping his hands behind his back. Ziah had gotten the package back, for only a moment, when Ren’s companion scampered out from his pocket and tripped Hotaru, then Grier had stolen it from her hands. With his superior reach, Ren plucked it away from the boy finally and held it above all of their heads, his winged, cat-like friend perched on his shoulder, reading the card. “Puzzling.”

With a bit of a struggle, the elf handed it to Lorelei, “The answer is likely to find its true owner. I can assist with this.”

There was a clatter from the shadows of the stable. “Are you sure?”

Without even a glance back at whatever creature was causing the ruckus, Ren nodded, “Yes.”

The band of five traipsed across the yard again, Lorelei with a tight grip on the box and an even tighter frown. At this point, she realized, she might not even be able to discard it as they’d all just clamor after it, and she knew she’d feel awfully guilty if any of them came down with a particularly bad case of being cursed, despite how vague that had been. Her own uncharmed status seemed to make her immune–it was good for something, at least–but she wondered how long the others would remain amicable while she denied them what they wanted. Especially those that knew her secret.

As they took to the stairs to Moonlit Shores Manor’s basement, bright, flitting lights crossing her path stopped them all. Bur, the head of the manor’s janitorial staff, hovered just before Lorelei’s nose. “What you got there?”

She was blurry for a second, then Lorelei was able to focus, the tiny woman’s bright red hair haloing around her body in a mass, and her wings flapping so quickly they were transparent.

“Nothing,” Lorelei answered quickly, remembering all the ways she’d been tricked by Bur’s ilk in the past few months, “So don’t worry–hey!” The box was lifted from her hands straight up to the ceiling of the stairwell. She felt the lurch of those behind her reaching for it and steadied herself with a hand on each railing to hold them back and keep herself from tumbling forward.

The blonde fairy, Tuatha, stuck her tongue out from the underside of the box where she held it up, and even Habian’s melancholic gaze held a special sort of excitement as he carried the package by the corner of its bow down toward the base of the stairs.

“You guys, wait!” Lorelei thundered down the stairs after the three dots of light, the sound of her colleagues behind her a great catalyst to move quickly. She followed the fairies across the boardwalk over the black pools and into the long, stone corridor. They were out of reach and impossibly fast, but came to an abrupt halt when one of the doors swung open and Conrad stepped out into the hallway.

The package bounced off Conrad’s head and fell to the floor at his feet, and the fairies immediately began bickering with one another about whose fault the mishap had been. Lorelei shouted at him to stop, but he’d already picked it up and his jaw had gone slack. He’d been the fastest yet.

Swearing, Lorelei ripped the box from his hands before he could react and pushed past him into the apothecary, rounding on the small crowd that nearly trampled one another to get in through the door. “Listen up, all of you,” she held the box over her head, “You’re acting crazy. This is just a stupid box, and whatever’s inside might just kill you if you open up. Is that a chance any of you are willing to take?”

Their voices came at her all at once, a garbled mess of pleading and shouting, some of them turning on each other. She watched their faces change as they fought, arguing, calling names, hardly recognizing people she would have considered friends earlier in the day. Her stomach twisted into a knot, “Stop it!”

A hush fell over them as they turned their eyes back to her, slowly. Too slowly for comfort.

“Clearly we can’t tell who this really belongs to, so–”

“Obviously it’s for me,” Ziah announced, jutting out a hip and holding her head up, “You said it yourself, Lorelei, people send me gifts all the time.”

“Of course you’d think that,” Grier huffed.

“Well, it’s obviously not meant for you,” Ziah scowled back.

The boy grinned, “You don’t think someone might send me a big old thank you? Like maybe your sister?”

While Lorelei contemplated how similar the magic of the box was to a succubus, Hotaru piped up, a particularly annoyed look to her scrunched up face, “You know there are other ways to earn gratitude than sleeping around. Like taking special care of dietary restrictions!”

“Or care of beloved companions,” Ren spoke a bit more loudly than he was wont to do, his pet chirping in agreement.

“Or how about the guests themselves?” Conrad sneered at the elf, and was met with a less than stoic gaze.

As they fell again into bickering, the fairies’ tiny voices buzzing about as well, Lorelei sighed and rubbed her temples. This was getting her nowhere.

“There you all are!” Arista’s dagger of a voice sliced through them all as she appeared in the doorway, Seamus cowering behind her. “What is all this racket, and why can’t it wait until after hours? I had to check someone in myself just now, and I’m certainly not paying all of you so that I can do your jobs!” She stomped into the room, walking straight up to Lorelei, “Specifically, siren, your job! I didn’t expect to have a–” she breathed in suddenly, her eyes falling to the parcel, “to have a, uh, huh.” Arista leaned over, Seamus just behind her, and she plucked the box from Lorelei’s hands, “How peculiar. Is it…is it meant for someone?”

With a long, low breath, Lorelei, prepared herself. She screwed up her courage and grabbed the box back, flying past the others and down the hall. Behind her, she could hear the group realizing what had happened and their footsteps as they hurried behind her, but she’d already taken to the stairs. Back on the main floor, she skidded past the reception desk and across the foyer into the sitting room.

“Excuse me!” she called out to the couple who was enjoying tea on the loveseat, “If you don’t mind, we’re having a staff meeting. We’ll only be a minute.”

“We?” the man looked behind her where no one stood, then jumped up the minute he saw the mob that plunged into the room.

“The conservatory’s lovely this time of year,” Lorelei nodded at them frantically as she hurried them out and shut the door fast behind them, shivering at the last of the autumn chill. From the front of the room, they were shouting at her, the whole lot of them, and coming at her like a wall. She glanced to the sleeping man for help, but he only rocked methodically and let out a gentle snore. Then Lorelei’s mind ticked, and she held the box–the utterly stupid box–over her head. “Don’t try me! I’ll do it!”

Looks of horror settled on their faces, the fire crackling in the silence left in wake of their arguing. It was warm on Lorelei’s back, doing nothing to alleviate her panicky sweat.

“Do I have your attention now?” Worried heads nodded back at her. “If the wrong one of you opens this box, you’ll be cursed! Do you all understand that? Are you prepared for that?”

“I won’t be!” A chorus of dissent rose up from those before her insisting they were the true recipient. But of course, there was no way to tell, and none of them were being reasonable.

“You’ve all completely lost it,” she felt her arms go lax though she still held the package aloft, “This stupid little box has made you all go completely mad. I should just destroy it.” As she dropped her hands down to fling it in the fire, the group was suddenly louder than they’d ever been. Their faces contorted, and they advanced on her until she froze.

The group appeared as if they might just rip her to shreds right there. If she threw the box in the fire, would its hold over them actually dissipate? And even if it did, would it happen fast enough to save her from being chucked along into the fire right behind it?

The girl sighed, “Fine.” She glanced down at the ribbon, slightly askew now, and the brown paper, corners ruffled. There was only one way out.

Lorelei tugged the bow, and it fell away easily. As the paper unfolded, those assembled gasped, but none converged on her. Instead, a light shone from inside the parcel, blinding for a moment, then it was gone.

“Well, what is it?” Ziah’s voice was panicked, desperate.

“Nothing.” Lorelei turned the empty container toward them, lifting her head and frowning. She shook it, just to be sure, then tossed it toward them, Ren reaching out and catching it, then passing it around.

Lorelei took a deep breath, ready, but nothing came. She did not feel suddenly ill or woebegotten. She took a step but her legs worked, and she didn’t trip on nothing. For a second she was quite pleased, then felt an incredible sense of doom: the curse was likely something much worse than she imagined.

“Nobody invited me to the party.” Britney leaned against the entrance to the sitting room, arms crossed, a lip upturned. No one had heard her enter in the commotion, and the woman seemed especially annoyed at that.

“Oh,” Conrad, rubbed the side of his face, “There was some mail.”

“Stupid, really,” Ziah laughed meekly.

“So dumb,” Grier agreed, “could have been for anyone.”

Britney perked up, raising an eyebrow.

Ren stood very straight and clasped his hands behind his back, “It was supposedly cursed, but it must have been a bit of a hoax.”

“Cursed?” Britney smirked, “And let me guess: she was dumb enough to open it?”

Lorelei felt all their eyes go back to her then watched their faces change again. “What? What’s wrong?” She turned swiftly to glance in the mirror above the fireplace. Marks were forming, red and angry, across her nose, her cheeks, her chin, and leaving white pustules that were already beginning to ooze. They suddenly burned, and she cried out. That stupid box!

“I have something for that!” Conrad announced, striding up to her and whirling her toward him. His face inches from hers, one of the pimples burst and splattered him with white puss. “Yeah, standard one hundred level her. Not to worry!” He gently took her elbow and guided her across the room. Her eyes were swelling.

“Hey, we have lunch plans,” she heard Britney growl from the doorway as they passed.

“Medical emergency, dear.” He lead her with his arm, and though she couldn’t see him, she all but heard him roll his eyes.

Maybe the box wasn’t that stupid after all.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

Well it was a bit behind schedule, but it happened! Happy season two premier! More to come, hopefully on time, as fall unfolds.

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.

Podcast: Vacancy 1.14 – Something Stupid

Episode 1.14 – Something Stupid

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

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

This one was a lot of fun to record and to edit, but it was also kind of hard. You can tell I have been drunk exactly one time ever in my life and had to base my “acting” on what I’ve seen on television. Whatever!

Vacancy Episode 1.14 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

Vacancy – 1.23 – Everything Comes With Its Cost

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

v 1.23

Lorelei’s concern that Conrad had forgotten completely–unintentionally or otherwise–about the letter from Ms. Pennycress had been erased when she found him waiting at the reception desk that morning before her shift even started. It had been two weeks since he’d suggested they visit his parent’s home, but he raised a hand to her even before she reached the bottom of the steps as if the conversation had just been moments earlier, “Avail!”

That night, after she wrangled up exactly seventeen extra pillows for a family of kumiho for fort building, and he diagnosed a banshee with RSV, respiratory supernatural virus as he’d enthusiastically explained, they took the hidden road that Lorelei drove in on the night she first came to Moonlit Shore’s Manor. With the brooch in her pocket, she held tightly to the back of Conrad’s jacket as he steered his motorbike off the main gravel drive and down a slightly narrower one into the woods.

A short drive later, they emerged in a raised clearing. The house loomed above them, cutting into the darkening, grey-blue sky as it reached upward. At its attic peak, it stood four stories, tall windows bordered with dark green shutters freckling its face. The siding had been yellow at one time, but to call it yellow now would have been an insult to the color. Detailed framework lined every edge and roof, but the patterns were obscured by thick vines, and the long shadows of the preemptively dark fall evening. A freezing gust of wind blew across them as they stared up at it, and they both pulled their coats tight, the smell of rain heavy in the air.

“This place is definitely haunted,” Lorelei found herself saying before she could stop. The memory that Conrad’s family had all perished hit her hard then, and she snapped her head toward him to apologize.

“They didn’t die here,” he told her matter-of-factly, “I mean, I’m sure someone did at some point, the house is just a few decades younger than the manor, but I don’t remember any ghosts hanging around when I was growing up.”

Lorelei began to wonder about the implication of a world where ghosts existed and people you loved had died, when she realized Conrad was already headed up the discolored steps leaving her in the increasingly dark yard. She scurried up behind him, the front porch creaking under their feet. Lorelei instantly felt uneasy, as if she were going somewhere she weren’t allowed, somewhere no one was allowed. “When was the last time you said you were here?” She wasn’t entirely sure he actually had said.

Conrad pushed the key, an ancient, rusted looking thing, into the lock then wiggled it around until it finally unlatched, “Oh, just a little while.” Inside, it was dark, and Conrad reached for a switch. He flipped on the lights, they flickered, and unceremoniously went back out. “Maybe a long while.”

From his satchel, he handed her a flashlight and flicked on his own. “What, no magic?” Lorelei feigned disappointment, lighting up her own face to show him that she was pouting exaggeratedly as he pulled the front door shut against the intensifying wind, plunging them into an even deeper darkness.

“It’s not free,” he chuckled, “Everything comes with its cost, and you never know when you’re going to really need it.”

She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but hoped she wouldn’t find out.

The foyer was small with a single staircase headed upward and a narrow hall beside it, and under different circumstances, it would have been inviting. It was not unkempt, but it was obvious no one was maintaining the place, a layer of dust over the once reflective surface of an accent table, and the landscape painting hanging above at a slight angle.

Lorelei shined her light over the archways that lead further into the house, casting long shadows across the strips of the rooms she could make out. They moved eerily in the steady wake of her light, as if the entire space were waving back at her, then there was a flutter of movement just at the edge of her beam, and she yelped, dropping the light and jumping behind Conrad.

He turned, quickly panning over the area “What? What is it?”

“I thought I saw,” she squinted back into the room, peering out from behind him. “Nothing,” she took a big breath, “I’m sorry, guess I’m just jumpy.”

He glanced over his shoulder at her. She was gripping his arm. “That’s all right.”

She groaned at herself and let him go, picking up the flashlight and taking a step further into the house. “It’s okay, I’m tough,” she snorted, turning her back on the darkness of the hall to face him, “I’ve dealt with ghosts, trow, werewolves: this is nothing!”

A crack of thunder ripped through the house, and the place lit up so bright they were blinded. Lorelei threw herself at Conrad again, this time into his chest. Her heart was beating a mile a minute, and she didn’t dare move until she got her breath under control. When she finally pulled back, she looked up at him. This time there was a hint of panic on his face, and he stood stockstill.

“Sorry!” she took another step back, her heart still racing. Rain began to plunk against the front windows in thick drops. There would be no going back now.

Conrad cleared his throat and stood a bit straighter, “No, no, it’s fine.” He took a couple steps forward then stopped, “Did you say werewolves?”

Lorelei shook her head quickly, “Nope, I don’t think so.”

Shrugging, Conrad stuck his head through to the dining room directly off the foyer. A table that sat eight, surrounded with high-backed chairs took up the space, with a bar at the back of the room, and a glass-doored hutch. “Yup, just like I remember.”

“So you live full-time at the manor just like us? You don’t come back here?”

“I moved into the cottage with Arista and Seamus right after my parents died,” he crossed the foyer and peeked into what looked to be a receiving parlor with stiff-backed furniture and an ashy fireplace, “I was only eleven, so it made sense. I moved into the manor proper at about sixteen just to get some space. I used to come back here sometimes, but eventually stopped.”

“Eleven?” Lorelei followed him, “I didn’t know you were so young.”

He flipped through a stack of books on the small table in the room’s center, “It didn’t feel like it. Not afterward anyway.”

Lorelei ran her light over the outer rim of the space. An upright piano sat in the corner, painted teal and pink, beside it mismatched but fancifully upholstered chairs, and across the room shelving filled with knick-knacks. There was a feeling here, faint, but pulsing. Something felt alive, even joyful.

“It’s probably been two, maybe three years since I’ve been inside. I’ve ridden up here, but didn’t have the guts to come back in.”

Lorelei watched him pass through another archway. His flashlight illuminated just enough of his face for her to confirm the sadness she’d heard in his voice. She went up to him and hesitated, wanting to put a hand on his shoulder.

“But look, we’re here!” he smiled and flicked the flashlight all over the space, illuminating a mirror on the opposite wall so that shadows looked like they moved across every surface.

She smiled uneasily back, the skittering shadows making her pull into herself as another clap of thunder roared above them. “Right, so what exactly should we be looking for?”

“Well, my parents had a lot of stuff–old stuff, weird stuff–passed down through the family, and I’m hoping that something will give us a clue about the brooch, the letter, maybe even the society.”

“So just rifle through your heirlooms?”

“Basically.”

Where they stood appeared to be a library, bookshelves lining every wall and comfy seating in its center. Amongst the barely legible spines sat what she assumed were some of the heirlooms, an elephant carved from wood, a jade dragon, a taxidermied crow. The shelves themselves were almost as beautiful as the artifacts, stained dark with ornate corners and built into the wall with intricate floral details that complimented the wallpaper. “This place is really beautiful,” she called over her shoulder as she ran a finger along a thin piece of notched wood atop a stand, “I know you’re not comfortable here, but it’d be a shame to let the house just sort of…die, ya know? Maybe if you did some upgrades to it or restored it you’d feel more at home?”

“You really think it’s nice?” he came in and looked around, grabbing a book off the shelf, “Britney says I should demolish it.”

“What?” Lorelei stomped, and lightning flashed into the room. Conrad jumped, but she wasn’t sure from what. “That’s insane!” she crossed her arms and frowned at the idea, then she grit her teeth and sighed, “Well, unless she thinks you’d be happier for it. Maybe that’s not totally insane.”

Conrad rolled his eyes, “No, I’m pretty sure she just thinks it’s old and gross.”

She watched him thoughtlessly leaf though the book with one hand wanting to ask how he really felt about that, but instead chewed her lip and pulled a book down herself. The pages were in a language she didn’t know, and the drawing she came upon, a black and white etching of a group of people standing in a circle around a shining orb, had her even more confused. She peeked up at Conrad again. He was staring at the shelves, but not really looking at anything.

“So what did you parents do?” she asked, forcing a lilt into her voice.

“Mom was a midwife, actually, and my dad was just wealthy, I guess.” He chuckled, gesturing to the objects on the case, “He traveled a lot, collected things, and managed the manor along with Arista.”

“I’m assuming that was passed down through your family too?”

“Yup,” he shone his flashlight in the upper corners of the room’s vaulted ceilings, “Arista and my father grew up here, but she had the cottage built shortly after my mom came into the picture. Didn’t get along, big surprise.”

“Shocking,” Lorelei flicked her light through the doorway into a massive kitchen. The room was also filled with shelves holding curios. “Man, there’s a lot of stuff here,” she mused, taking a few careful steps onto the tile. When she glanced back at Conrad, he was carefully opening a drawer, sweeping his eyes over its contents, and closing it again. “And you don’t seem to be looking very hard for anything.”

“Um, well,” he scratched the back of his neck, “that’s probably because I have a good feeling where we ought to look, and I’m just avoiding it.”

“Oh?” she turned her light onto him with a half smile, “and where might that be?”

“My father’s study. If there’s something here, that’s where we’ll find it.”

“Where the sword came from?” she both dreaded and delighted at his pending answer, “Upstairs?”

“Yup,” he was eyeing the entry hall, “I just wasn’t really allowed in there as a kid, so…”

She turned abruptly and headed for the stairs at the front of the house, passing him with a smirk, “You have issues.”

Conrad scoffed after her, “Says the woman who left someone at the altar.”

“We’re not talking about that right now,” she flicked her light over her shoulder so that he had to shield his eyes from it. Her biggest, well, second biggest secret had been brought to light the week prior, but no one had spoken of it since, and she’d hoped it had been forgotten.

“Oh, but I think I am,” his voice floated up the stairs behind her as she tried to escape it. She took the stairs a little faster than she would have otherwise in the dark, but stopped at the landing. “How does one manage to get so close to saying ‘I do’ and then change their mind? I’ve been meaning to ask.”

She glared at him as he came to stand next to her. He was grinning, and though annoyed, she had to fight back her own smile, “It’s complicated.”

The rain was louder here, echoing from the top of the stairwell at the attic. The second floor’s landing had four doorways off of it and another set of ascending stairs. With the doors open, Lorelei glanced into them and saw one had a single bed and the trappings of a young boy’s room. “Yours?”

Conrad lingered in the doorway before stepping in, “Yeah. Well, when I was a kid.”

“You liked dinosaurs?” She stood on the threshold, shining her light over three stick figures on the dresser, well loved. Something about a warlock being interested in the prehistoric amused her.

“Still do,” he picked up the triceratops and inspected it, then pointed it at her, “I mean, how can you not?” The room appeared complete and untouched as if he brought nothing with him when he left to live with his aunt and uncle. “I didn’t make them fight though, I used to pretend they were trying to figure out how to not go extinct. Ya know, I think this one and this one were even married.”

When he raised an eyebrow at her she grunted and turned out of the room, “Which of these is the study?”

Conrad groaned loudly, “None of them,” and motioned up the next staircase.

Thunder rattled the house. Lorelei sighed, “Of course.”

The third floor was more open, with a larger landing and a small seating area by a window. Outside, rain pelted the glass and a flash of lightning illuminated a doorway on either side, one open onto a bedroom with an over-sized four poster bed and downy bedding. Across the landing another door was closed, but only just.

Conrad stopped, slowly panning his light around the frame.

She could feel his hesitation, “What’s wrong?”

“I was almost certain we’d have to pop the lock off. I don’t remember this door ever being open.”

She tried to sound confident, but her voice hitched, “How, uh–how else would Arista have gotten the sword?”

Conrad took a few careful steps up to the door, and Lorelei stayed on his heels. Pushing it open with the head of his light, he illuminated the room. Unlike the rest of the house, still neat even if dusty and aged, this space stood in stark contrast. The floor and desk were covered in tattered papers. Drawers had been scattered from their homes, contents spilt on the floor and left wherever they landed, and shelves had been cleared, pieces of what once lined them unidentifiable now.

“Dad was a little messy, I guess?”

“This can’t be right,” he strode in amongst the papers, looking around frantically, “There’s no way it was left like this.”

Lorelei took a few steps into the room, and though she was careful, managed to crunch something underfoot. Shining her light on the floor, she found a framed photo of a woman and two boys, one a toddler, and the other a pre-teen, the glass of the frame shattered long before she’d gotten there.

“Finally broke into daddy’s study, huh?”

Lorelei spun, shocked to see a man leaning haphazardly against the door frame in her light’s beam. He wore a large, dark coat, but she could see he was slim beneath, tall, and with dark hair and light eyes that were strangely familiar. Stumbling backward, she shot a look at Conrad. That was it–he wore his hair cropped short with a clean-shaven face and a look like he knew something that could ruin you, but he looked enough like Conrad to be related. Even brothers.

 

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!