Joyful

Man, this is necessary after yesterday’s big ole downer of a post.

But listen, I do have something to be joyful about. (I mean, I actually have hundreds of things to be joyful about, but this one specific thing is just the cat’s pajamas to me right now.)

I FINISHED A BOOK. Reading, that is. I finished reading an entire book. Wow.

So yeah, I get that that is not a big accomplishment, especially for someone who touts themselves as a writer. In fact, reading is an absolute necessity to be a writer–that’s what all the other writers say anyway–but my problem has always been getting part way through and wanting to go write myself and not picking the book back up. I decided I was changing the habit in 2019, and so far it’s going great.

I finished The Color Of Magic last night and even started Equal Rites before going to bed. I’m often afraid of stealing from the things I’m reading when I write, so I used to chose to read books way outside of the genre I was writing in, but I’m writing a comedic fantasy now, and I’m reading them as well, and this seems to be going a lot better than I expected. I could never write like Terry Pratchett, he’s legitimately just too fucking good for me to worry about copying.

I’m also pretty joyful about how much stronger I’m getting from yoga. I lost quite a bit of strength from being so sedentary in the last few months, but it’s quick to come back. My planks are pretty rad now, and I’m holding poses in ways I wasn’t able to before. Progress.

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Podcast: Vacancy 1.19 – More Fun In Packs

Episode 1.19 – More Fun In Packs

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

Look at me, getting this done while also doing NaNo. I’m the bee’s knees this month!

Vacancy Episode 1.19 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:

Blogoween Day 19 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Recommended Classic Reads

FFF - Blogoween

I should have written something today, but the day got away from me! In lieu of hasty, thoughtless prose of my own, I’d like to recommend some classic reads:

“The Outsider” by H.P. Lovecraft

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Vacancy – 2.05 – The Search

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

v 2.05

If there truly were seven hells, as Ziah so frequently swore about when miffed, Lorelei was sure she’d entered at least the fifth circle.

“Ew, ew, ew, EW!” Britney’s voice echoed out into the long hall of the basement. “I just walked through another spiderweb,” she leveled her light at Lorelei, blinding her, “Don’t you ever clean down here? It’s disgusting!”

Calm down, Gwen Stefani, why did you even want to come? was what Lorelei wanted to say, but instead she offered her the sickeningly sweet smile she gave to guests who were beginning to get on her bad side, “Actually it’s the faeries in charge of the housekeeping.”

She couldn’t see Britney’s reaction, but imagined a hefty eye roll.

Conrad had stared at her dumbly for far too long when Britney quizzed him about what he and Lorelei were discussing in hushed whispers at the Harvest Festival. His brain seemed to land on the truth, and Lorelei supposed she was appreciative of that in a friend, but she was surprised to find that Conrad hadn’t told Britney anything else up until that point–not even about his brother. She was slightly less surprised when the woman declared she would be accompanying them on their search for the deed.

Arista had insisted there was no deed, and Conrad’s only clue that it might exist was the contention of his homicidal, prodigal brother, but he was more determined than ever to find it that night. Determined enough to take both Lorelei and Britney into the depth of Moonlit Shores Manor’s basement to search.

There were plenty of store rooms and closets to hunt, including doors that Conrad would point out and remark he didn’t remember which instilled very little confidence in Lorelei. But at the same time she felt a certain excitement at crossing over unknown thresholds and rummaging through unmarked boxes. Anything could be inside, even if they didn’t find the deed, and if they did, well she had no idea what that even meant.

Still empty-handed, the three entered a room down a dead end corridor that Lorelei swore hadn’t been there moments before. Inside, the walls were rough stone and there was no light to be flicked on, not even candles, ever-flickering by the manor’s magic. Their steps became more careful, scuffing quietly against the dirty stone beneath their feet, and they each inched toward a different wall.

Lorelei found a small cabinet and crouched down before it. The wood was coarse and hand-carved, but the doors fit together tightly. She pulled at the brass knob, and it gave after a hearty tug. She shone the light of her phone inside, but could see almost immediately it was empty. The sides and base of the cabinet were the same rough wood, but the back of it had been painted black, though–she cocked her head–her light didn’t reflect the way she had expected. The blackness of the back of the cabinet seemed to swallow up the light instead, and she reached out to touch the paint, intrigued to find the back was much farther from her than she perceived.

“What do you think this is?”

Lorelei turned at Britney’s voice to see her standing before a tall object draped in a heavy canvas cloth. “Not the deed,” Lorelei half whispered, though she wasn’t entirely sure of that what with everything she’d seen at the manor, but it was intriguing enough to get her to stand beside Britney and stare up at it.

Conrad circled the thing, his lips drawn into a pout and brow furrowed. It towered over even him, and Lorelei wondered how it was maneuvered down the hall and into the room in the first place. “I guess we need to see it,” he said, coming up to its side and pulling off the cloth with a great heave.

The canvas kicked up dust and Lorelei inhaled a mouthful of it. Her lungs stung and she exhaled so sharply, she lost her balance. At her side, Britney was sputtering and waving frantically at her face, and Conrad’s voice was saying something but was muffled and distorted as if he might have pulled the canvas over his own face.

Before them was a frame, as wide as the two of them standing beside one another. Polished and smooth, the wood spiraled up on both sides to meet at the top far above their heads in a point, and the bottom was flat, the whole piece suspended on a rack of sorts. Lorelei would have thought it was a massive mirror, but neither she nor Britney were reflected in the glass, and instead, she saw Conrad stepping into the frame on the other side.

“Uh oh.” His eyes were wide, his face illuminated by the dull blue of his phone.

Britney coughed once more, her tongue sticking out, “What?”

“This might be a problem.”

Lorelei squinted at him on the other side of the frame. The wall behind him was dark, even with his own light, but the room she was in felt brighter, and she thought her eyes had gotten used to the darkness. But something was…off.

The urge took her before she knew why, and Lorelei reached out, her hand stopping abruptly in the air between them, hovering just inside the frame. There was something there, a barrier, hard and smooth, and it didn’t give at all when she pushed.

“What are you doing?” Britney scoffed, her hands on her hips.

Conrad reached forward as well, rapping his knuckled solidly against the invisible barrier.

“You two,” Britney shook her head and walked around to the other side of the frame, “I just don’t–”

The woman’s voice caught in her throat. She should have appeared beside Conrad, but instead his face turned more panicked as Britney disappeared. She popped back up on the other side with a gasp, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Lorelei swallowed, taking her hand away from the barrier and peering around the frame. As she expected, there was nothing but a small sliver of space between it and the wall.

“I’ve seen this before.” Lorelei came back around the mirror at Conrad’s words. “But not this one specifically.”

“How are you there, but not there,” Britney’s lips were pursed tightly, but she managed to growl, “And why are we here?” When she gestured to the room, Lorelei glanced around. It was not the place they had just been, but a bedroom, small and sparsely decorated, and she could smell something distinctly sweet coming from the hall.

“Hephaestian mirror,” Conrad sighed, “Happened to Seamus when I was thirteen. Apparently the manor’s home to a few.” He ran a hand along his side of the frame, inspecting it, “Problem is they only have one good jump in them at a time.”

“We’re stuck here?” Britney shrieked, throwing up her hands.

“No,” Conrad was quick to answer, then screwed up his face, “Well, I don’t think so. Seamus got back he just had to find the other one.”

“Well, where the hell is it?”

Conrad stared back at them sheepishly, “We destroyed it.”

“Oh my gods!” Britney crossed her arms, stomping away.

“Wait, I’m sorry,” Lorelei found her voice, glancing back from Britney to Conrad, “What exactly is going on?”

“Hephaestian mirror,” Conrad repeated, his face a bit more shadowed than a moment earlier, “They work sort of like…like the portals at the train station, but with time instead of space.”

“Like the portals? So why can’t we come back through?”

Conrad scratched the back of his head, “Way stronger magic, really complicated, usually just one way.”

Britney came storming back to the mirror, jabbing her finger into the glass, “And they destroyed our only way back!”

“No!” Conrad’s features were getting blurry, “This wasn’t the one Seamus fell into. There’s a second one somewhere on your side that will get you back, you just need to find it.”

“We don’t even know where our side is!” Britney snorted.

“Technically you do know where,” Conrad’s image was almost completely gone, “You just don’t know when.”

When I get back there, I swear–”

“Shh!” Lorelei grabbed Britney’s arm to quiet her. From beyond the bedroom, there was a creak, footsteps on floorboards, coming toward them, and they froze.

 

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 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

Episode 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

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

Today was almost a disaster when I realized while editing in sound effects that I hadn’t actually finished recording the vocals for this episode! I don’t know how that happened, usually I sit down and record three episodes all at one time, but apparently I got bored three quarters of the way through and just stopped this one. Crisis averted, though, I finished it up and here it is.

I was listening to The Magnus Archives today and thinking about how cool it would be to have voice actors for all the characters. Of course, I’m not writing Vacancy to be an audio drama, so it’s not great work for anybody, but it would be neat to hear. Maybe someday I’ll write an audio drama specifically, but for now I really enjoy making these as they are.

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

Vacancy Episode 1.17 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 – 2.04 – 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 1.11 – An Inconvenient Number

Episode 1.11 – An Inconvenient Number

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

Woohoo, you guys, I did it! All the recording and editing and posting in one day! Just a few hours actually, leaving me a little time to write today too. I am on a godamned roll!! Warning: there’s a bad word in this episode.

Vacancy Episode 1.11 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:

Where To Listen To Vacancy

I’ve been using Anchor.fm to distribute Vacancy as a serialized audio drama, and that platform has been amazing. It makes publishing incredibly easy, keeps stats for me, and distributes my cast out to seven other platforms!

Anchor
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Breaker
Castbox
Overcast
Pocket Casts
RadioPublic

 

anchor

Just to be blear, this isn’t sponsored by Anchor or anything, it’s just that the process of creating the podcast, all by myself without spending any money and trying my best to stick to a schedule, can be a little overwhelming at times, but Anchor makes publishing it so flipping easy, so I just needed to put this out there. If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, either talk radio or an audio drama, using Anchor to publish it is an amazing way to go.

Vacancy – 1.25 – Promise

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

v 1.25

“They’re dead, idiot.”

Conrad winced, and thunder cracked across the sky as the third floor landing lit up. “I know. But have you been to their graves?” He was still staring out the window though it was pitch dark beyond the torrents of rain.

Byron was silent, and Lorelei studied his face in the darkness that her eyes had become used to. His lips moved, but he said nothing, as if the words were trying to come but he wouldn’t let them. His eyes softened, and for a moment she saw a striking resemblance to Conrad and almost felt sorry for him until she remembered the wooden spike hovering inches from her throat.

“You think it’s there?” Byron finally broke the steady sound of the rain on the roof.

Conrad glanced at him, his eyes flicking over Lorelei and back, then nodded.

“Would make sense,” his brother snorted, “taking it with them.” Byron snapped his head to Lorelei, and she instantly straightened, “Ladies first.”

Following his gesture, she took to the stairs, the splintered wood toying with her as she had to move toward it with each step, but it managed to leave the smallest of gaps so as to not turn her into a vampire’s fantasy. She was annoyed, but equally impressed, especially as she listened to the nonchalance in Byron’s voice, “Maybe it’s better you never joined the Omphalos; they wouldn’t appreciate how easy you made this.”

“Omphalos,” Conrad’s voice repeated behind her, “You mean the order?”

“What else would I mean?”

Lorelei saw in her mind the hilt of the sword Conrad had shown her in his office and its engraving of “OoO.” Order of Omphalos? she questioned silently, though it meant nothing to her. She ran a hand over her pocket to feel that the brooch was still there. Ms. Pennycress had signed her name with the same acronym.

Off the kitchen there was a back door that emptied them out onto a porch. The air was heavy and cold and smelled of the ocean, and when Byron’s elbow nudged her off the edge, Lorelei’s breath caught in her throat at the freezing rain. They marched across the field, the storm raging over them, until they reached the tall hedge that encircled the garden.

Conrad entered first, and Lorelei followed, keeping her eyes on his back, the shadows of the foliage and statues eerie in the distorted darkness. Deep in the garden, a set of headstones stood at the base of a thick tree trunk. Overhanging branches staved off a bit of rain, and Lorelei pushed her hair away from her face before quickly recrossing her arms to hold her own body still. She could see both brothers were staring uneasily at the stones.

“What are you even going to do with the deed?” Conrad had to shout over the rain, “Arista’s not going to just hand anything over.”

Byron’s face changed, and he eyed his brother, “It won’t be up to her.”

Conrad sneered at him then pointed to one of the stones, “There, on the back, there’s a compartment.”

Byron took wide steps around the graves, not treading directly in front of them, and leaned down behind one of the stones.

“Wait!” the urgency in Conrad’s voice made Lorelei jump. He was staring intently at his brother, and thunder cracked across the sky. They locked eyes for a long moment until Conrad sputtered, “Can you just…just tell me what happened?”

Byron put a hand on the stone and bit his lip, then let out a long sigh, “Maybe when you’re older.” Then he dipped back behind the headstone, and Conrad made a quick move to Lorelei’s side, grabbing her arm. There was a spark and Byron yelped, then a squish as he fell back against the wet earth. The spike dropped from the air at Lorelei’s feet and she instinctively threw a hand up around her throat, taking a deep breath, but was immediately back on edge when Byron shot up to his feet.

But his eyes were different, wild, and his hands were out in front of him as if he were searching in the dark for a light switch, “What the hell was that?” he cried, spinning around and looking up into the branches of the trees, “Who’s there?”

Conrad took a long step back, pulling Lorelei with him, “It’s not safe,” he shouted over the sound of the rain.

Byron swore, looking left then right and left again, crouching low and gasping for air. He backed into the tree, then cried out, jumping forward. Lorelei covered her mouth to keep from laughing.

“We gotta get outta here,” Conrad insisted, but didn’t move, his eyes locked on his brother, “They’re coming!”

Cursing, Byron eyed him, grimaced, then turned and fled into the darkness. When his figure disappeared, Conrad did the same, pulling Lorelei back out in the full brunt of the storm and through the garden in the opposite direction.

“What just happened?” she shouted after him after they’d cleared the hedge, trying to keep up with his long strides in the mud.

“Paranoia.” Lorelei could see the house through the torrents of rain and her own hair. “Arista set it years ago. I’m just thankful it still worked.”

Conrad bypassed the manor entirely on his bike, riding up to the cottage and coming to a sharp stop across three rows of what were once dahlias. He dismounted, instructing Lorelei to follow him in a voice she dared not question, and before she knew it, they were inside the cottage’s front office entryway, and he was banging on the door the lead to the rest of the house, shouting for Arista.

Lorelei had not been inside the cottage since Arista had okayed her to work at Moonlit Shores, and on a temporary basis at that so she could get rid of her easily, as Ziah had said. She glanced down at the floor and what appeared to be a very expensive carpet she was dripping mud and rainwater onto just as the door opened.

“Conrad, what on earth?” Arista’s voice was nothing like she expected, concerned and even shaking, and when she caught sight of the woman hurrying in, bleary-eyed and pulling a robe tightly around her as she reached out for Conrad’s arm, she thought she even looked motherly.

Seamus was on her heels in bright green boxer shorts and nothing else, scratching his belly and blinking out at them. He ran a hand through his fiery beard and beamed at Lorelei, “Good evening, lass!”

It was then Arista noticed Lorelei was even there, and her mouth creased into a tight frown. She stood straight and lifted her chin, “Explain. Now.”

“Is there a deed?” Conrad never blinked as he tried to catch her eye.

“A…a what?” she faltered, her eyes pingponging from Conrad to Lorelei.

“A deed. Byron said he wants the deed, but I’ve never even seen the damn thing. Is there a deed to Moonlit Shores Manor, and do you have it somewhere safe?” He somehow looked taller than normal, his green eyes intense, his jaw tight. Lorelei had never seen him like this, and she suddenly felt like she needed to sit down.

“Byron?” Arista appeared to crumple, “You spoke to Byron?”

He sighed, blinking slowly, then finally nodded.

“He’s…he’s alive?” She began to stagger backward and Seamus pushed the desk chair under her just before she fell blindly backward. “Byron’s alive.”

“And trying to take the manor from you,” Conrad lowered his voice, “So where’s the deed?”

Arista’s lip quivered then just as quickly she sat up, “We cannot discuss this in front of strangers.”

Conrad grunted, “Considering Byron just tried to kill her, I think she’s earned hearing whatever you have to say.”

“Tried to kill her? Bryon?” her mouth fell open, and then she frowned, “Well, what in the world did she do to make him try something like that?”

Lorelei sucked in a sharp breath, and Conrad stared at his aunt blankly, “I’m not my father, you know.”

Arista rolled her eyes, “Nothing like that exists.”

“He seemed pretty convinced. He tore up dad’s office looking for it.”

“He got into the house?” she squinted up to the ceiling, “The spells must have worn off. Or he’s not one of them–”

“That doesn’t matter,” Conrad slapped his hand on the desk, and they all jumped, “Is this place safe or not?”

“Yes!” she shouted, coming to her feet, “There is no paper deed, Conrad. Nothing he can get his hands on. You, on the other hand,” she crossed her arms, but softened slightly, “You know this place is yours. You just have to–”

“I know,” he relented then, turning away from her, “Listen, he’s out there, somewhere. I had him trigger the psychosis trap at the headstones so we could get away, but who knows how far he’ll run.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Seamus put a hand on Arista’s shoulder before she could say anything more. She looked like she wanted to reach out to him, but instead touched her hand to her own face.

Conrad’s eyes flickered over to Lorelei then. She had been trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but under his gaze she felt completely exposed. He strode up to her and opened the door, nodding for her to walk out with him.

Outside, the rain was still coming down hard, but their walk to the manor was not hurried. They entered through the back, and Lorelei remembered the first time she walked into the manor, soaked to the core and afraid, but for wholly different reasons. She followed Conrad into the kitchen, the swinging door plunging them into an even deeper silence when it finally stopped. An orange light from the hood vent was all that illuminated the space, but it was enough.

Conrad’s voice cracked when he finally spoke, “I am so, so sorry, Lorelei, I–”

“It’s fine,” she stopped him with a raised hand then wiped at her face and flicked the water in the sink, “It’s not your fault. But are you okay?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” he studied the floor.

“I’m serious,” she dipped her head to try and see his face better, “That was…a lot.”

He looked up at her then took an awkward step, closing the space between them. She stiffened as he put his arms around her, but when her chest filled up with warmth and the realization that any immediate danger was gone kicked in, she felt herself melt against him. It was nice, she thought. Very, very nice.

When he pulled back, she sighed, then caught herself. She’d stopped shivering, and lifted up her arms, completely dry, “Magic?”

He half smiled.

“How expensive was that?” she chuckled, “I could have just grabbed a towel, you didn’t really need to do that.”

“No, I definitely did.” She couldn’t be sure under the warm orange glow, but she thought she saw the color of his face change. “Anyway, I’m okay. You’re the one who almost got, well,” he ran a finger across his neck.

“I’m used to it,” she waved him away, “You can pay me back in answers.”

“Maybe tomorrow?”

“Or next week, next month,” she grinned, “We’re here, we’re safe, we have plenty of time.”

“Right,” he nodded as if he were assuring himself, “Right. Thank you.”

“Thank you.”

Lorelei watched him as he hesitated at the door then gave her a little nod before heading off for the basement. She felt dreamy as she headed for her own room, as if her feet took her there, but her mind was somewhere else. She’d almost died tonight, she thought, but that seemed like a distant memory in the wake of the brief moment in the kitchen, and her core was still warm.

The sound of the rain reached even her bedroom, in the heart of the manor, as Ziah had called it, and though she knew the man who had threatened her life was somewhere out there with plans to get into and take over Moonlit Shores Manor, she felt as safe as she did her first night there when she’d been lulled to sleep by low rolling thunder. But this time, she thought, slipping the brooch from her pocket and pressing it against her chest, this time she wanted to return the favor, and as both good sense and dumb luck would have it, she spoke this thought out loud, “I promise I’ll protect you too.”

 

Table of Contents | Season Two – Episode 1

Thank you so much for reading the first season of Vacancy! After a short month, the second season will be posted again on Mondays right here on my blog. For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.

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

Vacancy – 1.24 – Telling Lies

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

v 1.24

Conrad came around the desk, his steps fast and loud on the hardwoods, “Lorelei, meet my brother.”

So, this man, matching Conrad in so many ways, even in how he leaned against the door to their father’s study, was in fact his brother. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? “So there are ghosts here?” Lorelei felt stuck to the spot though she wanted to step back and away from the stranger, her stomach instantly in knots.

“Oh, no,” the man smiled slowly from the side of his mouth, “I’m very much alive.” Even in the darkness she could make out how they shared the same chin, and had this man’s been unbroken, the same nose, but the feeling swimming in her gut when she looked at Conrad’s brother did not bring about the same comforting familiarity as when she looked on Conrad himself. No, this feeling was one of dread.

Lorelei dropped her voice low, turning slightly over her shoulder though she was afraid to take her eyes off him, “But you said he died.”

The man chuckled, “Telling lies about me again?”

“To be fair, I haven’t seen him in years, so he may as well have been dead,” Conrad’s voice had gone cold and unfamiliar, and mixed with the grin his brother wore sent a chill down Lorelei’s spine, “but I’m pretty sure I was just vague enough to leave it open to interpretation.”

“I’m Byron,” the man extended a hand, pushing himself off the doorway, but Conrad cut him off with a few aggressive steps forward. “Oh, a little touchy, I see,” he glanced down at his own hand then dropped it, “or not.”

“What are you doing here?” Conrad’s voice dropped to a low rumble.

Byron pouted, “The prodigal son can’t come home?”

“This isn’t your home anymore.”

“From the looks of it, it’s not yours either,” he shrugged, pacing around the edge of the study. Conrad moved with him, placing himself between Lorelei and his brother. “Figured by now you’d be all settled in, married to that Blackburn girl,” he raised an eyebrow at Lorelei, “That doesn’t look like her though. Apple doesn’t fall far, eh?”

“Don’t,” Conrad growled then took a breath, “Don’t talk like you know me. Now tell me why you’re here.”

“Well, probably the same reason as you, but it looks like we’re both out of luck.” Byron kicked at some of the papers on the floor then turned, “Unless you already have it?”

Conrad stared at him, steely, and Lorelei said nothing. They, of course, had no idea what they were even looking for.

“You’d share wouldn’t you?” Byron took another step toward him, “Like when we were kids?”

Conrad grit his teeth, “There’s nothing here for either of us.”

“No? Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t catch up,” Byron shrugged, “Maybe play a little game? Remember when you used to be playing with something, and I wanted it?”

Conrad reached back and grabbed Lorelei, his fingers digging into her wrist, and he pulled her so that she was behind him. She suspected she should have felt safer, but absolutely did not.

“Remember how I used to just take it?”

“Yeah, you were a jerk then, and I can only imagine you haven’t grown out of it.”

“I wasn’t a very good brother,” he laughed, “Kind of stupid too because I never really wanted what you had, I just didn’t want you to have it.”

Byron raised his hand and with a flash the room lit up. Conrad’s grip around Lorelei’s wrist was gone as he fell to his knees before her, but before she could react, something struck her core, searing through her body. She too wanted to fall into a ball on the ground, but found herself paralyzed, unable to even draw a breath.

Byron took an easy step over Conrad’s body as he groaned on the floor. “It’s cute you thought I wouldn’t attack you.” He got behind Lorelei and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, holding her up against him and pulling her backward toward the door. She wanted to pull away, but couldn’t move.

Conrad rolled onto his knees and staggered to his feet, “What the hell, Byron?”

“Just tell me where the damn deed is.” Byron’s breath was hot on Lorelei’s ear, and it sounded as though he were trying to hide how fatigued he’d suddenly become.

Conrad was coughing, fighting to stand straight, “Deed?”

“To the manor,” Byron shook Lorelei for emphasis, and she began to feel a tingling in her limbs and managed to catch her breath. “Where is it?”

Shaking his head, Conrad focused on them, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and she’s got no idea either, so just let her go.”

“Make me!” She could hear a smile in Byron’s voice. He was enjoying this. “Come on, Conrad, I know you’re better than this.” Lorelei felt her own weight then, as the feeling fully returned in her legs and arms.

With a grunt, Conrad pulled a sachet from his bag.

“One of your little potions? You still do that?” Disappointment dripped from his words, “Come on now, if you refuse to try I’m just going to kill her.”

Lorelei grabbed onto the arm Byron had around her shoulders and pulled down. Catching him off guard and apparently weakened, she managed to spin around in his grasp and wrench her knee upward until it connected with his gut. He coughed, doubling over and releasing her.

The moment she was free of him, Conrad stumbled forward with a fist balled around the sachet and struck his jaw. Byron’s body lifted from the ground and sailed out through the doorway, crashing loudly on the landing. Conrad glanced at his fist, raising his eyebrows in momentary surprise as the sachet melted away, then staggered out the door.

Lorelei heard them on the landing, a shout, and smash, something–possibly human–breaking, but her own senses were dulled and her limbs shaking with either injury or fear, she didn’t know. She blinked about the room for the flashlight, having lost it when she was struck by, what exactly? Had that been magic? Honest to goodness witchcraft? Shaking her head, she ran to the doorway: the pale light streaming in from the window on the landing would surely be all she needed to glimpse the ensuring battle.

The boys were wrestling. She couldn’t tell who had the upper hand as they rolled into the wall and knocked a portrait to the floor. Conrad threw another punch and it was dodged, then Byron caught him in the face with his own elbow, but it had looked to be accidental. Neither seemed to be doing much damage so close to one another, and with Byron’s threat of murder long forgotten, Lorelei sighed to herself, “This is disappointing.”

Perhaps louder than she meant, her words froze them, and they both glanced back at her. “Uh,” she swallowed, “I mean, you’re witches–sorry, warlocks–I just didn’t expect…whatever this is.”

The two then locked eyes with one another, each grimaced as if they realized it at the same moment, and the room lit up with a brilliant green flash and a deafening crack. Lorelei felt the light like a wave as it passed through her, and she grabbed the doorway to stay on her feet, and when it went out, the two stood on opposite sides of the landing.

The portrait they had knocked down flew up from the floor unaided toward Conrad, and he raised an arm just before it crashed into him. Byron grunted, annoyed, flicking his hand in front of his face, and the finial from atop the stair’s railing was sent toward Conrad’s head. This time, Conrad threw his hand out and redirected the finial so that it took a turn and fell down the shaft, bouncing off the landing with a crack on the stories below.

Again, Byron made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat and swept his arm in front of himself. A chair slid out from against the wall, and Conrad used both arms to send it away, toward Byron, where it stopped at his feet.

“Deflect, deflect, deflect!” Byron started flipping both of his hands into the air from which cracks of toxically green bolts were flinging, “How am I supposed to know who’s better if you don’t do something?”

“You’re insane.” The hissing green strikes died out just at the edge of where Conrad held his hands. He’d taken a wide stance and dipped his head low.

“No, our father was. Insane for leaving everything to you without testing your mettle.”

“Arista manages the manor,” Conrad continued to deflect the sparks, “I didn’t even know there was a deed until right now.”

“Regardless,” Byron’s smile had permanently changed to a tight, angry line, “it was meant to go to you. Father told me the deed was hidden somewhere I would never think to look for it, suggesting it was somewhere you would.”

Conrad threw his hands wide and knocked Byron back, “I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care.”

His brother hit the wall beside where Lorelei stood and blinked. The house fell quiet, the rain echoing outside.

“Fine, a little encouragement should do the trick.” In a swift movement, Byron swam his hand in front of his face and alighted a piece of wood, splintered in their earlier scuffle, to sail through the air toward Lorelei. She gasped, the wind off of it flying past her face, but the sliver stopped just at her throat.

Conrad’s eyes went wide from across the landing. When she attempted to duck away, the spear moved with her, and Lorelei quickly stood again, holding herself as still as possible. Perhaps Byron had been sincere when suggesting he’d kill her.

“Somewhere you’d never think to look,” Conrad was glancing out the window, his voice different now, lighter, detached, “That’s what he said, huh?”

A brilliant flash of lightning followed by a crash of thunder shook the house. In its wake, the lawn behind the house was lit, revealing a massive hedge garden. Conrad turned back to his brother, “Have you been to see mom and dad?”

 

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!