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.

 

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Podcast: Vacancy 1.03 – What It’s Thinking

Episode 1.03 – What It’s Thinking

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

So here’s the third episode of my podcast/audio drama/audio-book-serial-thingy. I’m pretty pleased with the project as a whole so far, and aside from having to listen to my own voice, it’s been great fun putting it together. I’d suggest it to anyone writing a serial, especially one spanning over a long time, because it’s reminding me of the early plot and the voice in that writing, and I think it will help me develop the characters better as time goes on.

It’s not perfect, and it’s kinda terrifying to put something new out into the world that I know I’m a novice at, but I’m getting a really weird sense of satisfaction from the whole thing. While writing is and I suspect always will be my first love, working on this has made me really excited about world building and completing projects again.

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

Vacancy Episode 1.03 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

Vacancy – 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

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

v - 1.17

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

Conrad grimaced but nodded, “Most likely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It might be too late by then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh my gods.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The lights went out,” Lorelei offered meagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Vacancy – 1.13 – Feral

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

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 but far from the path leading to the station, she knew she had to follow. That’s when he’d dropped the “w” word.

You certainly would be,” he snapped back.

“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.

 

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Vacancy – 1.12 – A Different Path

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

v 1.12 photo

“The bank,” Conrad pointed to the most average-looking building on Centaurea Street in Bexley. Squat and with a white brick facade, it stood atop a foundation taller than those around it, four pillars at the top of the marble stairs leading to its entrance. It felt like any bank from her own world, but it leaned slightly to the left.

The line inside also gave her a sense of familiarity, but one that wasn’t necessarily comforting. They took their place at its end, and Conrad turned to her, “So, tell me about your family.”

His voice had been low, but she looked around nervously anyway. The woman ahead of them had in earbuds as well as a tail, though that was inconsequential, and the fairies in front of her were bickering. At the head of the line, a father was trying to distract his three daughters with bubbles from the end of his pipe that didn’t seem to pop no matter how hard the children tried.

“My family?” she repeated.

“Well, you know about mine, the estrangement, death, boo hoo. And you’ve been subjected to Arista and Seamus. It’s only fair.”

Lorelei winced. She was trapped. “Well, uh, yeah, I’ve got my mom, and that’s about it.”

The father at the head of the line was called up to the window, and they all stepped forward.

“No siblings? Cousins?”

“Oh, three cousins, but they live a couple states away. I don’t know them very well. My mom doesn’t get along with her sister. They had a weird childhood,” she shrugged, “That’s all.”

“Oh, so how did you find out?”

She stared at him blankly. “That they don’t like each other? It’s pretty obvious when they’re in the same room together. You should have seen three Christmases ago.”

“No, no,” he shook his head, “How did you find out about you,” he grit his teeth and said under his breath, “The c word.”

“Excuse me?” she took a step back.

“Being a changeling,” he urged her on.

She deflated and laughed a little at herself as the fairies were called up to the next window, “Oh! That! Well, I uh, just, was…informed.”

“By?”

“Letter?” she asked more than told.

“Who sent that in a letter?”

The woman before them pulled out her earbuds as she made her way to the counter, and they stepped up to the front of the line as someone else joined behind them. It moved quickly, but not quick enough for Lorelei’s liking.

“Well, there was also this kinda giant, in a trenchcoat. He had a big bushy beard and, um, it was my birthday.” Conrad was watching her intently as the lies came out of her mouth. Well, they weren’t totally lies; it had happened to someone, and just because it was fiction didn’t mean it wasn’t true. “And it was when we were on vacation at a lake, and, um–”

“Next, please!”

Lorelei turned on her heel at the sharp voice and made her way to the counter with a purpose, chiefly being to put an end to that conversation, but stopped short about a foot from the window. Atop the counter sat a white rabbit up on its haunches with a miniature pair of cat-eyed glasses perched on its snout. Lorelei glanced right and left at the other windows where it appeared humans were working with customers, and she worried she’d misheard.

“Yes, next, come on up,” the rabbit waved a paw at her and thumped its back foot.

“Uh, hi,” Lorelei swallowed hard and fished around in her own pocket, “I have this.” She pulled out the paper and offered it to the creature.

The rabbit looked at it, then at her, then back at the page. With a tiny paw, she took it and carefully unfolded the note, then pushed her glasses up further over her ever-bobbing nose. “Yes,” she said quietly to herself, then with a single hop to the back edge of the counter, leaned over and revealed a red magnifying glass from a drawer. Examining the number at its top carefully, the rabbit made all sorts of chittering noises, then finally put down the glass, “Paw, please.”

She had her own arm outstretched toward the girl, and after a moment, Lorelei extended her hand up onto the counter and gently placed it over the rabbit’s soft paw. The rabbit placed the note back in Lorelei’s hand and examined it again, “Well, it seems to be in order. What would you like to do?”

After Lorelei stared at her dumbly, Conrad leaned over, “Remove the contents, please.”

“Very well.” The rabbit pressed a button on the counter beside her, “I need a  guardsman.”

A moment later, a figure came from the rooms behind where the tellers stood. Sheathed in metal from head to toe, he was like a suit of armour, but walked independently. The guardsman carried a halberd, a flag of lilac and green stripes attached, and wore a green plume that sprouted from the top of his helmet, oddly organic against the rigidity of his suit. The rabbit passed the paper to the guardsman, and he bent over fully to stare at the note, then snapped his attention back to them.

“Robin will escort you,” the rabbit hopped the the counter’s end and swung open a gate for them to pass through.

They followed the walking armour as it announced its way across the marble floors. They were taken down a corridor and ended at a vault. The guardsman picked up his halberd and flipped it horizontal, and they jumped away as it sliced through the air between them. The armour inserted the end into the vault’s lock and twisted, the door giving way.

The inside of the vault’s walls and floor were lined in a deep red velvet, and the room was flooded with light. It was dizzying to barely be able to see where floor and wall met, and they focused on the counter-height table in its center. The guardsman closed them in and secured the door. If he was mechanical, she thought, she hoped he wouldn’t run out of power inside.

There was another door, which the guardsman told them to stay back from, not with words, but with the stiff sweeping motion of his hand. Lorelei and Conrad stood at the far end of the table, and the armour made similar movements, let himself in, and a few agonizingly silent moments later, emerged with a box. He locked the door again, placed the box on the table, and marched to a corner, turning stiff as stone.

Unsure if he was truly alive, Lorelei leaned over to Conrad, “Is it…saying it’s okay to open the box?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You think so?” she groaned, “He’s got a really sharp thing in his hands, you know.”

He could only shrug, “I’ve never done this before.”

Lorelei bit her lip and reached out for the box. It was silver and unadorned, and though she tried to remind herself of Ziah’s words it could just be an old mismatched sock she felt a jolt of excitement as she lifted the lid. The box was lined in the same deep red as the room and completely empty save for a bronze circle in its center. She picked it up, much heavier than she expected, and ran a finger over the animal etched into it, round-bodied and big-eyed, holding up what appeared to be a shield. “What is this?” she asked, turning to Conrad, “Is it a chipmunk?”

He had busied himself staring at his shoes but was quick to look when she asked. He gasped and in a swift movement almost grabbed it from her, then stopped. “May I?”

“Of course,” she placed it in his hand and he flipped it over.

On the back, a long, thin metal pin was attached. Conrad held it close to his face, “It can’t be.”

She was afraid to ask, so she only stared at him.

“A brooch,” he flipped it over again, “And this symbol, I recognize it, but I’ve only seen it one place before,” Conrad stared at the brooch another moment, then plunked it back into her hand, “In my father’s casket.”

Lorelei froze. He’d just told her about his family’s passing, but this made it seem much more real.

“No,” she tried to push it back into his hands, “You should keep this if it was your father’s.”

“No, no,” he pulled away, “My father had a ring with that same chipmunk, and I saw it buried with him. And anyway, this is yours. Ms. Pennycress gave it to you. I’m just surprised. I never saw that symbol anywhere else, but,” he stared at it a moment longer then looked away, “I’m certain that’s it.”

After a few more awkward moments of silence, Lorelei let the guardsman know they were finished. They were led out and left the bank, crossing the street to the park.

“You said your father was in a secret society?” Lorelei finally ventured when she could see the arches again.

“Well,” he laughed, “I did, didn’t I?”

“Does this have anything to do with that?” she patted her pocket where she’d placed the brooch.

He shrugged, “No idea. I never wanted to be inducted. I wanted a different path, and I guess I got that.”

When they went back through the portal to the station, Lorelei felt the shiver more intensely than she had before, then when they passed back into the woods, she felt sick to her stomach, “You weren’t kidding about the Warlock General,” she told him, though she wasn’t entirely sure she felt ill because of the arches and their mysterious transportation powers.

He took her arm gently and stopped her before they mounted his bike, “Are you all right?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” she blushed then stood up straight, reminding herself he was, after all, a doctor, “Just nauseous.”

Back at the manor, Conrad had wished her good night and headed for the basement, and Lorelei found herself alone at the front desk, night having fallen and most parties already in bed. She pulled out the brooch, still wanting to give it to Conrad, but he didn’t seem keen on having it.

An idea struck her, and she slipped into the newly organized office, immediately finding the file she needed with Ms. Pennycress’s name. Unlike the others, she did not have a telephone number or email address, only a mailing address in England. With her travels, Lorelei couldn’t know when she would again be there, but it was her only shot. On Moonlit Shores Manor stationary, she drafted up a quick letter to the woman, thanking her for the gift and inquiring more about it, being sure not to specify anything about Conrad or his family. She slid the sealed letter into the outgoing mail bin between two bills and went to the staircase. Before heading up, she turned back to the office, unsure if Samuel’s presence was there or not. “Don’t mention this to anyone,” she said under her breath for good measure and went to bed.

 

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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!