Vacancy – 1.13

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

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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