Podcast: Vacancy 1.13 – Feral

Episode 1.13 – Feral

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

I’m back with sound effects, and I have to say, I do prefer this method! Even though it’s much more time consuming, it’s a lot more satisfying in the end. I’ve been recording upcoming episodes all day, and we’re about to get into the silly arc, so let’s just say I’ve been feeling, well…bad for my neighbors.

Vacancy Episode 1.13 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:

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A Vacancy Update – Season One End And Where It’s Going

After posting the season one finale of Vacancy at 11:30pm on a Monday, my scheduled release day, for the 15th time in a row, I’m sitting here feeling very fucking pleased with myself. After 6 months, 25 parts, and about 40,000 words, I actually, like, finished something. Well, sorta.

But first of all, for those of you who have read, toiling away on your screens, straining your eyes, trying to make sense of the typos I often find way after the fact and the plot holes that I really didn’t patch and the dropped story lines that you hope I’ll pick back up (and maybe I will! MAYBE) I just want to say, Dear Reader, thank you, and I love you. I usually cringe when I hear any creator telling their followers they love them, but I think I am kind of starting to get it.

If you’ve stuck through this with me or you’re just reading for the first time, I feel like you should know these things: Vacancy started out in my mind as a serialized story, specifically a television show I never thought I’d actually pitch. I thought about trying my hand at a script, but it never felt right. Then I tried the serialized novel thing way back in July of 2016. I posted the beginning of the story in four parts, but I’d been trying to write the story out as just a traditional novel way before then (like 2014). I had a vague idea of the over arching story, but I started republishing this past year without a super solid plan, I just wanted to get myself writing again. I used NaNo 2017 to roughly draft out what I wanted to accomplish this year, and lo and behold, it exists!

My plan for Vacancy is to have it run for three “seasons” and about 25 installments each season. I’m hoping I can post from August through December/January to complete season two, then February through July 2019 to finish the last season. It seems absolutely crazy to be planning this far ahead, and who knows what life will throw at me in the meantime, but having some kind of plan is the only way I’ll be able to move forward.

Although this is far from the end, the fact that I’ve been working with these characters in my head for well over four years and finally completed something with them feels pretty monumental. There are a lot of things I would change, but I love where they’ve taken themselves and where I see their potential going.

I also love what this project has done for me as a writer in general. I’m less afraid of sucking now because basically I barely edit before throwing these things out into the ether. My suckiness is on display every week, and I’m cool with that. Not that I think that’s how writing should be done, but it sure is a great way to get over yourself. It’s also great to have a deadline so you actually do something, and that has really shown me the value in a plan for your writing. Muses are fickle and cannot be relied upon to show up on Sunday evening to bestow me with the next installment. I gotta plot that shit out.

Oh, and there’s that whole podcast thing I’m doing. That’s pretty wild.

So here we are, Dear Reader, you and me and Lorelei on the brink of something cool. We should wish ourselves luck, we’re probably going to need it.

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!

Podcast: Vacancy 1.05 – Alone Into The Woods

Episode 1.05 – Alone Into The Woods

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

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

Vacancy Episode 1.05 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 – 1.15 – Turn Around

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

V 1.15

Their footfalls crackled ominously over dead leaves as they traipsed through the dark wood, Lorelei constantly shushing Grier only to find that it was actually her making all the noise. When they came to the the pond that Axel had specified, moonlight illuminated the clearing running around its shore in an delicate, silvery blue. It would have been beautiful if not so rife with impending doom. She checked once more with Grier that the moon didn’t control a werewolf’s change and he confirmed, rolling his eyes and mocking her for what he assumed her taste in fiction was.

The air was still, the pond like a black mirror reflecting the trees at its far end so that they seemed to go on forever. Then, their figures began to emerge from the forest. One, then two, then four, until seven looming shadows stood out against the tree line, staring her down. Axel was at their center, strutting toward her around the pond, an arm outstretched, “Tonight, we battle.”

Lorelei suddenly felt this was a very bad idea. “You guys don’t look like you brought any instruments.” Her voice was small as it drifted across the pond. The seven had come around the body of water to stand even with them. Though they were at least fifty paces away, at a full run–and on paws, Lorelei assumed–they’d be on them in an instant.

“Don’t worry about us,” Axel smiled, “You should only be concerned with yourself.”

Lorelei was concerned, among many other things. She felt a rush of warm, liquid courage, the nauseating nag of stage fright, and the very sudden urge to pee. But instead of addressing any of that, she held her hand out to Grier, and he dropped the microphone into it. With a nod from her, and his own heavy sigh, he pressed a button on the machine.

The tiny box projected an ethereal sound out over the pond, a tinkling of piano keys reaching out to get lost beyond the trees. There had been a great number of songs on the machine that she didn’t recognize, probably more than she did, but some music, she reckoned, was universal. Lorelei cleared her throat and brought the microphone to her mouth. From the box a strangled, stock voice cued her, “Turn around…” And she began, “Every now and then I get a little bit lonely, and you’re never comin round…”

As she continued, she heard herself as the sounds floated away from her, slightly distorted and haunting in the darkness. She accompanied the lone piano in a quavering alto, determined to look no one in the eye. She was buoyed by the addition of the bass and raised her voice a bit, “Every now and then I fall apart.”

When the percussion on the karaoke machine kicked in, she gripped the microphone sincerely with two hands. She glanced at her challengers, catching two stepping closer to her, and took one step herself toward them. She wished her hair were bigger. “Every now and then I get a little bit terrified but then I see the look in your eyes!”

The music built and she took a deep breath: this was it. “Every now and then I fall apart!” Lorelei’s voice traveled over the pond, echoing back at her from the trees, but she could barely hear it. She was focused, the words coming to her like a long forgotten memory. She could feel the lyrics erupting from her chest and she swayed with the melody.

She raised a finger and pointed squarely at Axel, “And if you only hold me tight, we’ll be holding on forever,” and his eyes went wide. She belted the words out to him as if they were bullets, “Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time!”

Lorelei threw an arm up, teetering for a moment then regaining her balance as she shout-sang. With a stomp, she shouted, “We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks!”

There was no way the entire manor could not hear her, or at least some spectral version of her voice, even as far as they were, but she didn’t care. She wanted the world to hear. And she wanted to have the foresight to have worn a white gown. “I really need you tonight!” She threw her head back and closed her eyes, screeching out a note humans could barely hear let alone make. With a deep breath she let her voice run, trill, reach up, down, over hill and dale, until finally she ran out of breath, “Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart,” she panted for a second, then fell to her knees, “There’s nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.”

Lorelei pawed at the pond’s shore, lifting up a handful of damp earth before her, “Once upon a time there was light in my life–” then she threw it to the side, “but now there’s only love in the dark.” Falling forward, she crumpled over the microphone, “Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart.” Smashing the microphone against her lips, she whispered, “A total eclipse of the heart!”

Lorelei could hear her own breath over the speaker as she lay slumped over the microphone in the dirt. In a falsetto she whined, “Turn around bright eyes, turn around…” The music had ended, and her last shred of energy went with it. That had to have done it, she thought to herself, though she wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to be as she peered up through strands of hair fallen free in her performance.

They were stunned into silence. The pack stared at her, mouths agape. She blinked back at them knowing she had done it. Somehow, from the depth of her soul, she’d mustered a performance to win over the pack. They wouldn’t even counter perform. She had won. A smile slowly spread across her face.

Axel grinned back, his teeth shining. The grin spread from one to another until the whole pack was a blinding set of white fangs. Lorelei, still on her knees in the dirt, sat up, “Did I win?”

Grier was quiet, and she finally glanced back at him. He looked as if he were petrified, his eyes locked on the wolves. Her guts churned, and she thought she might throw up. “I really want to take your speechlessness as a yes.”

The boy managed a tiny shake of his head, then Lorelei looked back to the pack. Something was happening. Something odd. Their figures were contorting in the moonlight, heads being thrown back, arms stretching impossibly wide. And the noises. Something between a howl and a growl and a human’s scream, but they weren’t entirely painful, almost celebratory, rapturous.

Axel growled, his voice like gravel, “Now it’s our turn.” There was a cracking like bone snapping.

Lorelei gingerly placed the microphone on the ground and began to get to her feet, her hope that they would perform dwindling, “What song are you guys going to do?”

“No song.”

Her stomach flipped again. “But that was the challenge,” she sputtered, taking a step back.

Axel laughed low then fell to his knees. The female werewolf was by his side, “We just wanted to see you make a fool of yourself before you died.”

Lorelei’s body went cold: she certainly wasn’t interested in dying. She grabbed for Grier, but the boy was frozen to the spot. “We need to run,” she was pulling at him, but he didn’t budge, “Now!”

“No,” his face fell, utterly devoid of emotion, “There’s no use. They’ll catch us. I need to just surrender.”

“No way,” she yanked at him again, the popping sounds of bone on bone echoing out around them as they changed, “Come on, let’s go!”

But Grier pulled himself away, taking a step toward the changing pack, “You should run. If I give myself up they might let you go.”

Lorelei watched him take another stunted step toward the werewolves, torn in two directions. She couldn’t physically drag him back to the manor, but everything in her screamed to stay and at least try. Standing at the edge of the pond and watching the pack writhe around on the bank ahead of them, she wished she could somehow swallow them up with the water, buy them more time, and run away.

And then, the water did just that.

Like a hand coming up from the depths, the water receded from the shore, forming into a massive wave, looming high above them all. Lorelei grabbed Grier, and as he was distracted by the sudden shadow above, she yanked him back and away from it. In an instant, the wall of water came crashing down, barely missing Grier and Lorelei, but drenching the group as they completed their transformations. The howls were swallowed up in the crashing wave and there was silence for a moment, then the heads of not-man but not-wolf creatures surfaced, spitting, gasping, gurgling, but the water did not let them escape. No, the water had encapsulated them, and was rising around them, pulling them out to the center of the pond and holding them there.

“What is the witch doing?” one of them growled.

“She’s no witch!” Axel responded with a sputter, “She’s a lorelei!”

Unsure if she really did have control over what was happening, Lorelei watched with mounting horror as the water made waves, pulling the werewolves under then allowing them up just long enough to get breath before sucking them back down. The pond churned with the force of an ocean in a hurricane, but the forest around was completely still.

Grier grabbed Lorelei’s arm, “Are you doing this?”

“I don’t think so,” she whispered, but it was then she realized the wolves didn’t know that.

When the water had calmed for a moment, still holding the creatures captive but barely afloat, she stood as tall as possible, “You thought you’d break our agreement, huh?”

The wolven-faced creature that had been Axel gasped and coughed, then sputtered, “Please, have mercy on us! We didn’t know!”

“Mercy?” she balled her fists and yelled out at them, “Why the hell would I do that?”

The water seemed to respond, jostling them around and dunking them again.

“You’re right!” a voice rose up, different from Axel’s, “We don’t deserve it!”

Others joined in, agreeing, then they began to beg between coughing and dunking. Lorelei felt a sudden panic. She hated Axel in her gut, but she felt for a moment the rest were victims, just like Grier. “Fine!” she shouted over the splashing, and she held up her hands as if to ask the water to stop, “Fine!”

The pond stagnated, but the werewolves appeared to still be trapped amongst the waters.

“But this is a win!” she pointed out at them, “I win, Grier is mine, and your pack has no jurisdiction here, all right?”

“Yes!” they were shouting in unison.

“I know I can’t really take your word for it,” she hesitated, and the pond started to rock them, gently, but fear grew on their faces instantly, “But if any of you ever return, the last thing you’ll ever see is–” she glanced at Grier, “are there eels in there?”

He raised his shoulders, his face frozen in awe.

“The last thing you’ll ever see is whatever lives at the bottom of this pond!”

There were watery agreements from the pack, and she nodded, “All right then.”

As if she were in control of the water, at her word it lifted the pack out and dumped them on the bank with a splat. Sopping and out of breath, they tried to raise themselves up, falling back all over one another. Looking up at her through soaked fur, they had a new fear in their eyes. Resigned, they began to back off toward the treeline.

Axel looked as though he wanted to say something, but the claw-like hands of one of his companions were on him, pulling him back, and he turned with the group, fleeing.

“How?” Grier’s voice was low as he stared at Lorelei.

She shrugged, “Pond’s enchanted or something, right?” It seemed obvious to her. He shrugged back, his eyes locked on the spot the pack had disappeared into. “Well, probably,” Lorelei remarked more to herself than anything, then turned back toward the path they’d taken to get there.

A small body lay on the ground just at the forest’s edge. It almost glowed, pale in the moonlight that reached there. Cautiously, they began toward it, but when Lorelei recognized the form, she broke into a sprint.

Hotaru was limp as Lorelei pulled her onto her lap. She tapped at her face and called her name, Grier dropping down at her side, the pack forgotten. The girl’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened? Are you okay? How did you get out here?” Lorelei asked questions with rapid fire, and the girl just blinked back. “We need to get her back. Now.”

There was no time to discuss their victory as they carried her back to the manor and brought her inside to the sitting room, empty save for the sleeping man in the rocker by the fire who Lorelei expected wouldn’t tell a soul what was going on anyway. They placed her on the couch, but she’d stayed conscious for the trip and was breathing normally again.

“Should I get Conrad?” Grier was already moving for the door.

“No!” Hotaru sat up, then slumped back down. “No, no,” she placed a hand on her forehead and closed her eyes, “I will be all right, I just need to rest.”

“Was that…was that you in the woods?” Lorelei knelt down before her on the floor, remembering the trick Hotaru had showed her with the bowl of water.

“Don’t be stupid,” Grier rolled his eyes.

But Hotaru’s guilty face told them both the truth without words.

“No way,” his hands fell at his sides.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she spoke quietly and deliberately, “but I had to do something; you would have been killed.”

“Hotaru,” Lorelei grabbed her hand and scream-whispered, “You are amazing! You were eavesdropping on us, huh?”

The girl smiled weakly, “Accident.”

“I can’t believe it,” Grier flopped down onto the couch next to her feet, “Well, thanks. You really saved our skins.”

Her face went pink, “I just want to go to bed.”

They helped her to her room and saw to her getting under the covers where she instantly fell asleep. Back in the hall, Lorelei yawned and Grier followed suit. “Well, I’m glad you’re going to get to stay. And I’m extra glad I’m not dead. Pretty successful night, huh?”

Grier stood in the hallway, glancing at Hotaru’s closed door, then to Lorelei. His eyes were glassy, and his face was red. Then, in a move that neither of them really expected, he threw his arms around her and buried his face into her shoulder. For a moment Lorelei didn’t move, afraid it was a trick, then she relented and hugged him back. He squeezed her harder then, and she chuckled, “Well, I didn’t know my singing was that good.”

He pulled back from her and wiped at his face. He may have been crying, but neither of them would ever say. “Oh no, that was terrible.”

“Terrible?” she frowned, “Really?”

“Spectacularly bad. Like, I’m impressed at how bad it was.”

“All right, all right!” she hissed trying to stifle her laughter.

“The absolute worst,” he turned and went for his door, “Humans, they just can’t carry a tune to save their lives.” Then, offering her a quick smile, he slipped into his room and shut the door.

 

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!

Vacancy – 1.11 – An Inconvenient Number

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

You can also listen to this episode here.


V 1.11
The sound of the motorcycle impeded any conversation, but it was just as well since Lorelei would have had no idea what to say with her arms wrapped around Conrad’s waist as they bumped along the path through the forest anyway. After her first successful week at the manor, threat of death from above resolved, the office neatly sorted, and the dwarves checking out that morning, Lorelei thought to do a load of her own laundry when she found the slip of paper she’d been given by the old woman on her first day crumpled in her pocket. When she inquired what to do with it, Ziah told her it would be good at the bank in Bexley for the contents of a box.

“Whatever correlates to the number on there,” she’d pointed to a long sequence of numbers, letters, and symbols at the top of the note, “Ms. Pennycress is a bit…odd. She may have left tons of gold in there, or an old, mismatched sock.”

Conrad had been passing by when Lorelei told Ziah she’d never been to Bexley before, though she remembered the name from the station in the woods. He offered to take her as he would be headed there that evening to “stock up” on essentials for the apothecary.

And here she was, riding “rear admiral” as he’d called it when he told her to hop on. Only once did she squeeze him what she thought was too tightly when they hit a bump, still she was glad when they dismounted, unsure she could possibly sweat anymore.

She shivered when they entered through the cave opening and came out in the quiet station, that same dizzying sense of nothingness all around her. The archway to Bexley stood ominously above them, and Ziah’s hesitancy to see Lorelei go ate away at her. She glanced at Conrad, calm and confident as he adjusted the bag strapped to his back.

“Ready?” With a nod, they went though the archway, the same weightless feeling and shiver.

Before she saw anything, she heard it. There was chatter, the twittering of birds, laughter, and then light. They stepped out onto grass atop a hill in the center of a park. With the archway behind them, Moonlit Station carved into the bricks at its top, Lorelei could see out across the grassy field and beyond to a wrought iron fence and a densely packed street. When she spun to take it all in, she saw the arch again, but despite having come through from the station, she could now see through it to the rest of the park and a handful of other arches set atop the hill. Curious, she walked around to the arch’s other side. At the top of this side, it read “Blind Cape.”

With a shrug, she stepped through it to meet up with Conrad who still stood on its other side, but instead when her foot hit the ground, the friendly sounds of the park were swallowed into darkness, and she was she standing on a beach in the middle of the night, her stomach feeling as if it had just fallen out of her. An eerie baying sounded somewhere in the distance, and scrub bushes across the dunes rattled ominously as a violent wind whipped down the coast. She stumbled backward and the sunlight blinded her as she nearly tumbled down the hill.

A hand was around her arm, lifting her to her feet. “Yeah, so the Warlock General suggests not passing through an interdimensional portal more than seven and a half times a day, which is admittedly an inconvenient number, but we should try sticking to that.” Lorelei tried to return Conrad’s grin, but she was shaken and her heart was beating a bit too quickly for her liking. Also not to her liking was how it slowed when he released her.

The park looked remarkably ordinary at first glance. Well manicured grass in triangular patches was broken up by wide sidewalks, skinny trees ran along the sidewalks, mulched flower beds at their roots, and larger oaks offered shade in the grass fields. People walked by arm-in-arm with one another or with their leashed dogs. Only on closer examination, they weren’t all dogs, nor were they all strictly what Lorelei would call people. She wanted so badly to spin around and take it all in, but that had proven disastrous a moment prior, and gawking could give her away. She touched her face as if she could feel for the freckles the fairies had given her, trusting they were still there.

Conrad began sure-footedly down a path, and she hurried alongside him, wrapping her arms around herself and staring unblinking in every direction. A couple walked hand in hand toward them, their skins in blotchy shades of red and purple, speaking to one another in a language Lorelei couldn’t even begin to place. When they passed, Lorelei glanced back to see their tails were also entwined.

“The bank is quite close, but since we don’t know what we’re picking up, we may be better off heading to the apothecary first,” he told her, and she agreed because really what else could she say, but she hardly hear him anyway, distracted by a blonde woman sitting on a bench and tossing handfuls of seed toward a bush where a gaggle of geckos, neon pink with bulbous eyes, darted out onto the sidewalk, slingshotting their tongues and collecting her offering before skittering away.

“I need to go to two places,” he hesitated, “and it might not all be as nice as this, I’ve got to warn you.”

As the reached the purple-rose covered trellis that lead them out of the park, a group of teenagers came barreling toward them on skateboards. Lorelei and Conrad flattened themselves against opposite sides of the trellis to make way.

“All right?” Conrad asked, chuckling at the look that must have been on her face.

“Those skateboards didn’t have wheels,” she was pointing after them as they zipped through the park.

“Nope.”

“Those were tiny golden wings?”

“Yup.”

“That’s great!”

Outside the park lay a real city. The streets were narrow and filled with people and people-like beings, though there were bus stops and a double decker meandered its way through the crowd. Buildings lined the roads fitting tightly together with the occasional dark and ominous alley, but their fronts were often colorful with signage that didn’t specify exactly what the buildings contained.

Questions exploded inside her head, every turn replacing an existing one with something new, chiefly among them Where are we? as it had become apparent to her through the weather and daylight they were no longer in the same state, or perhaps even country, as Moonlit Shores Manor–wherever that was–but she resisted asking, feeling as though Bexley might not be anywhere at all. Finally, she pointed to a sign hanging above a door that held no legible letters to her but a triangle, a star, and what looked like a hieroglyph of a cat. “What does that say?”

Conrad stopped, peering up at it, “I have no idea. Wanna go in?”

In the window, an aquarium tank full of eels packed tightly together, slithered all over one another. “No, not really.”

“Maybe next time then,” he continued on, bringing them down a number of streets identified by what seemed like the scientific names of plants.

“So you come here often?” she heard herself asking like an idiot.

“At least once a month for supplies. Sometimes we come out on the weekends for dinner or to a show.” That we included the haughty woman she’d met at the manor, and she frowned a little. “Sometimes I just like to come and walk around, not that I have that much free time. Ah, here we are,” he guided her to a storefront with a spiral carved into a wooden plank jutting out from the door. They entered with the tingle of chimes into a tightly packed shop. The smell was both pleasant and not, clean and healthy, but stinging to her nose, but Lorelei immediately felt relaxed and the urge to buy something hit her all at once. Almost intuitively, the two glanced at one another, and Conrad raised an eyebrow at her, “Get used to that, most of them do it.”

The woman behind the counter at the end of the shop waved to them, and Conrad addressed her by name, letting her know he’d come for his pick up. She told him it was almost ready and encouraged him to have a look around while she double checked it.

A wall ran the length of the shop, filled with clear bulk bins. Their contents varied in color, mostly greens and browns, but a splash of magenta or teal stood out boldly from the rest. The labels were hand-written, and she read a few quietly to herself, Valerian Root, Mugwort, Knight’s Milfoil, noting a few that were marked only with symbols.

Conrad appeared over her shoulder, pointing at one of the bins containing a bright yellow, sand-like substance with a marker that only displayed a square with a line through the middle, “To mend a split. We use it to help broken things like bones, sleeping cycles, hearts.”

Lorelei giggled, but when he didn’t respond in kind she peered up at him; he was already pointing out the next container. “That we call lushberry,” the label was of a few stars in a circle, “Causes instant drunkenness if consumed. And this one is for curing that drunkenness.” That label had a sun on it.

“You sure know your stuff,” she commented, still worried he was joking with her.

“School wasn’t a waste afterall,” he sighed, “Tell my father that.”

Lorelei scoffed, “Your dad’s upset that you became a doctor?”

“Well, he’s dead, so he’s not anything anymore,” he laughed awkwardly, “but it wasn’t his first choice for me. Thankfully, he had my brother to follow in his footsteps already.”

“You have a brother?” she tried to sound hopeful.

“Had,” he scratched the back of his head, “Turns out secret societies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Or maybe they are.”

Lorelei contemplated telling him she was sorry for his loss, but she couldn’t get the words to come. Instead, she stupidly stuttered, “Dude, that sucks.”

To her surprise he burst out laughing. “Yeah it kinda does,” he cocked his head and looked at her earnestly, “but it also kinda doesn’t? I miss them sometimes, but they could be assholes. Now my mom, she was–”

“Almost finished!” the shopkeeper’s voice rang out from the back, breaking Conrad of his thought.

“Why am I telling you this?” he screwed up his face, running a hand over his stubble, “This must be so uncomfortable for you! Come look over here,” with a hand on her back he guided her to another shelf and started telling her excitedly about boils.

Lorelei took a small jar off the shelf as he spoke and inspected it. Through the clear lid, she could see minute, dried purple flowers and she untwisted the top of the jar to sniff. Suddenly she could feel every nerve in her body come to attention, and her eyes went wide as she felt a way she’d never felt in public before.

Conrad’s face changed, and he slowly took the bottle from her. As his hand slid over hers, a chill ran up her arm and into her chest, and yet her face flushed.

“Oh, that was–,” he quickly screwed back on the lid, and took a step back, “How do you feel?”

Her mouth went dry and she licked her lips, the sensation sending another shock through her, more faint, but troubling. She managed a whisper, “I don’t want to say.”

“Well, since you’re not vomiting, looks like you’re part of the 14.7 percent. Congratulations.” He winked, and she felt her face go deep scarlet, relief only coming when the shopkeeper called that she was finished.

When he paid, Lorelei had no idea how they would bring the load back, let alone traverse the city with it, but he put his small satchel on the counter and began filling it with the loot, and the bag never changed shape. When the last piece was slipped in, he lifted it effortlessly and slung it over his shoulder.

“That shouldn’t have surprised me,” Lorelei shook her head, and he chuckled.

Outside, they passed by a sweet shop that made Lorelei literally drool (“They do that too,” he told her), and a pet store with big-toothed puppies in the front window (“Completely herbivorous, I know, unbelievable!”) “The next place we’re headed,” he gestured to the street they were on, “Isn’t exactly like this.”

“This,” she gestured up the street as well, “Isn’t exactly identifiable to me anyway, so…”

“Just stay close and try not to look so–” he looked her over, “so nice.”

She furrowed her brow and frowned.

“Better,” he squinted, “but I guess that’s the best you can probably do.”

“Thanks?”

They took another turn down a winding road, and she began to notice how the streets were more narrow, the building taller, leaning out over them and blotting out the sunlight. Fewer folks were about, but those that were skulked. Lorelei tried to skulk too, but had the instinctive feeling she looked more like she was scurrying.

Finally, they turned into a shop off a narrow alley that Lorelei had mistaken for a private residence from the lack of signage on the door. There was no bell when they entered, but a clerk was upon them almost immediately. “Number 52,” Conrad said to the man who disappeared without a word.

The place was dark, but strategic violet lights illuminated items. There were herbs here too, though she wasn’t close enough to read the labels, and jars filled with things she didn’t want to read the labels for. In the far corner an elderly woman sat in a rocking chair, her eyes locked on a book in her lap as her lips mouthed the words. Lorelei could just hear her whispers in the quiet of the room, punctuated by the rhythmic creak of her chair.

Lorelei took a step toward a shelf, but without a look or a word, Conrad’s hand wrapped around her upper arm and held her to the spot just up against him. When the clerk returned, they exchanged currency for a tiny vial, and only then he released her and they left. Back outside, neither said a word until they had emerged from the darkened parts of the city.

“I want to ask what that was about, but you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“You’re better off not knowing.”

She knew he was right.

 

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Vacancy – 1.09 – Please Don’t Worry

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

You can also listen to this episode here.

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Lorelei pushed the curtains away as she curled herself up on the window seat. Outside, an open field was glowing back in golden oranges under the morning sun despite how late she knew it really was. Her heart raced at the familiar sight, momentarily forgetting she was far from that place, but dropping the curtain back between her and the scene didn’t immediately put it out of her mind. With a sigh, she took up her phone from the nightstand and opened the messages. As she scrolled through their words, her heart balled itself up, threw itself against her chest repeatedly, then finally settled, utterly deflated.

She scrolled to ‘Mom’ and typed out a message to her, I’m fine, please don’t worry. I won’t be coming back soon. Love you.

Once the message had been sent, she accessed her bank account and sent a large transfer, pouted a second over her near-empty account, then quickly powered the phone off and tossed it onto the bed. Even if things went horribly wrong tonight, she would stick to her word: she wasn’t going back.

After the chandelier had fallen that morning, there were more strange occurrences all over the grounds–strange even for Moonlit Shores Manor, Ziah had remarked with a faraway look in her eyes. A stove blew up in the kitchen with the dinner’s roasts inside, a plant that wasn’t known to eat people tried to munch on the toddler of a guest, and four separate tubs overflowed with a bright blue goop at the same time. A valiant effort by the fairies quickly cleaned up the messes, and guests were expertly shuffled around by Ziah, and Lorelei noticed that there was always an extra room ready, so she was struggling with the idea that the manor was rebelling against her human presence, but Grier continued to mumble about curses when Lorelei was in earshot. She had tried to hole herself up in the office and continue to tidy it, but by the end of the day, she was worried the whole place might come down around them.

Ziah declared she would put an end to the whole thing after the dessert cart broke a wheel and toppled onto a family of satyrs. She made a rushed phone call then informed the staff there would be an emergency meeting downstairs at 2:30am before heading off to bed herself.

Lorelei had found sleep impossible, fearing they both would and would not find the source of the manor’s troubles that night. She slid off the window seat, about a half an hour before their meeting time, and tiptoed to the door, sneaking down the hall to the common room. A low fire was crackling in the hearth, and she went for the couch, but found Hotaru there instead.

The girl was hunched over a small bowl in her lap, the straight bob of black hair falling like a curtain on either side of her face. From the bowl, a funnel of water had risen and was pulsating just at the surface. Hotaru’s eyes were fixated on the funnel, and Lorelei on Hotaru. The girl was surely controlling the water, but that was impossible, wasn’t it? In her stunned silence, Lorelei realized she’d stood there too long to not make the situation awkward, but wasn’t going to let that stop her. “Wow.”

Hotaru snapped her face up, and the funnel fell, splashing into the bowl and subsequently all over the girl.

Lorelei grabbed a stray blanket from another chair and traded the girl the blanket for the bowl, apologizing.

“No, it’s okay,” Hotaru said quietly, frowning, “It’s my fault, I should have been better focused.”

“So you were doing that?” Lorelei screwed up her face, “That was amazing.”

“Really?” Hotaru finished sopping up the water and placed the blanket on the coffee table.

Lorelei nodded, mouth open.

“Ando says my skills are still very juvenile.”

She scrunched up her face, “What the hell does he know?” When the girl laughed, Lorelei offered the bowl back to her her, “I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before. Will you show me again?”

Hotaru hesitated, then took the bowl, “Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

The girl bit her lip and studied what was left of the water. After a moment, a bubble raised on the surface as if something were pushing it up from underneath. Then it raised higher and higher until it separated itself from the bottom of the bowl all together. The water floated in an orb above the bowl, and Lorelei had the strong urge to poke it, but restrained herself.

Hotaru nodded her head, and the orb bounced in the air up to the ceiling, then slowly came back down, gently placing itself back in the bowl. The water sloshed a moment then settled as if nothing had happened. “What do you think?”

“I–it’s just…wow.”

Hotaru giggled, “I used to not be able to separate it out. I’m pretty proud of that.”

“You should be!” Lorelei fell back onto the couch, “I didn’t know the world could be like this.”

“Like what?” the girl placed the bowl on the coffee table and pulled her knees into her chest.

“Oh,” Lorelei stuttered, “I just didn’t grow up around all this,” she motioned to the room, “It’s weird. It’s all stuff you see on TV or read in books. It’s not supposed to be like this in real life.”

Hotaru sighed a little, “Sometimes I wish it weren’t real life.” She stood up from the couch, “It’s almost time for the meeting.”

 

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!