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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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 – Monday 9/3/18

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 1.08 – Rare Breed

Episode 1.08 – Rare Breed

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

If you listen closely to this episode, you’ll here my cat, Bart, meow at about 6:20. You’re welcome.

Vacancy Episode 1.08 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 – 1.24 – 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!

Podcast: Vacancy 1.07 – Not Polite To Ask

Episode 1.07 – Not Polite To Ask

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

Vacancy – 1.23 – Everything Comes With Its Cost

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

v 1.23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So just rifle through your heirlooms?”

“Basically.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad stopped, slowly panning his light around the frame.

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

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

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

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

“Dad was a little messy, I guess?”

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

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

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

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

 

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Vacancy – 1.22 – More Than Luck

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

v 1.22

The knot in Lorelei’s stomach was monstrous and heavy. It was hardly fair, she’d thought, giving Grace an afternoon to do what she imagined nymphs would take weeks to complete, but her fiance’s family was firm in their decision: in order to approve the union of their son, a nymph, to Grace, a satyr, she must receive a blessing from Nature–yes, capital N–itself.

This was rather run of the mill for her husband-to-be’s kind. They would write an appeal, in the form of a poem, and read it aloud to the forest. If acceptable, and according to Andros, there was rarely, if ever, an instance where it had not been acceptable, Nature would display its approval. As the nymph explained it, the onlookers would take almost anything as a sign: rain meant Nature wept with joy, a stiff breeze symbolized the urge to hurry up and get on with it, and there was even a case where the reader was unceremoniously shat on by a bird mid-recitation resulting in the listeners cheering that Nature didn’t need them to finish in order to give its blessing.

Still, Lorelei fidgeted as she stood amongst the tall and lanky nymphs, as much a physical outcast as Grace herself with her short stature and plain clothes. They looked out on the satyr, standing at the edge of Moonlit Shores Manor’s forest. “A poem?” she’d blurted out when they told her, “You want me to write a poem?”

“Iambic pentameter is customary,” Belen had said with a smirk, “but you’re free to stray to dactylic hexameter or whatever you please. I’ve even heard an acceptable free verse or two in my time.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” she’d said worriedly, her eyes bouncing back from Belen to Andros, but her fiance put a hand on her arm, and insisted it would be fine. Never had there not been a sign, as signs were largely whatever the onlookers decided upon. Still, Lorelei feared the worst.

The satyr bit her lip and clenched a torn sheet of notebook paper from her spot atop a rock. They had, begrudgingly, granted her the great advantage of a cheat sheet, but insisted it was tradition for the betrothed to not be present. Ziah had perhaps smartly not allowed any of their other coworkers to attend, instructing Conrad and Grier to serve as protectors while Andros took part in the satyr trial for approval. Oddly enough, however, Ren had accompanied Ziah here to the woods, but Lorelei couldn’t help but think Grace needed a bit more support, and she offered the satyr a smile and a thumbs up.

Grace turned away from them to address the wood, her hooves clanking on the rock. A sound, small and barely audible, floated out toward the trees. It was something like a voice, but the words were ambiguous.

“Project, my dear,” Belen, Andros’s father, instructed her to snickers from a handful of the nymphs. Lorelei sneered at him, but he didn’t notice, and likely would not have cared if he did.

Grace’s shoulders raised and dropped with a deep breath and she cleared her throat:

There once was a girl from Santorini
She weren’t smart, or talented, or pretty
She spent most of her days
Feeling lots of different ways
But not once did she feel love so fiercely

Then she met a boy who made her heart swell
And they knew against all they had to rebel
He swept her off her feet
Only with him she felt complete
And that’s the happy ending she hopes to tell

There was a long moment of quiet when she finished. Lorelei raised her hands to clap, but Ziah grabbed her wrist to stop her. Instead, she glanced at Andros’s family, standing stark still, waiting, but she noted Kasia, Andros’s mother, was smiling.

There was movement in the grass, like snakes slithering across the forest floor, headed for the assembled. Long and brilliantly green, they climbed from the roots of the trees and to the rock that Grace stood atop. She gasped, spinning around, surrounded, and the onlookers did as well, muttering in shock about how this was unprecedented. But the snakes gave way, revealing themselves to be vines, moving of their own free will, encircling the rock and coating it in greenery to the very edges of Grace’s feet.

Then the vines burst forth with blooms, pink, purple, blue, yellow, each brighter than the last and painting the entirety of the rock. A single stem shot upward, reaching just to Grace’s chest where it stopped, the bud at its end twirling as it bloomed brilliantly red before her, illuminating her already blushing face with a warm glow.

The nymphs fell silent, but only for an instant, and then one shouted, the loudest Lorelei had heard any of them, that it was a sign. The others joined in with cheers and approving words, and only Belen’s mouth stayed set in a tight frown, narrowing eyes at the girl. Kasia laid a hand on his shoulder, “Nature has given its blessing.”

Back at the manor, Grace could not stop smiling as the nymphs took turns congratulating her and telling her they had never seen such a display, but she was determined to see Andros. With newly found confidence, she burst into the sitting room where her family stood in a circle. The furniture had been pulled back away from the room’s center, even the sleeping old man’s rocker was nestled up against the wall though he continued to snore as if nothing had happened, and in its place, a single table and two chairs.

Yaya, Grace’s grandmother, sat across from Andros, hunched over the table with a glass grasped in hand. Her mouth drooped and her eyes were hollow, but she snorted at the boy, “Another!”

Grace’s father stood between the two holding a bottle of clear liquid. He hesitated.

“I said, another!” Yaya slurred, banging her glass on the table.

Andros also lifted his, “You heard the lady.” While Yaya looked like she might fall right out of her chair, Andros sat up straight, grinning.

“Yaya!” Grace shouted, stomping toward them, “What are you thinking? How much of that stuff have you had?”

Her father held up the bottle, large enough to hold at least a liter, to show it was only half gone, but then her brother held up another identical but empty jug.

“That stuff’s like poison!” Grace pushed her way across the room to Andros and knelt beside the table, “Are you all right?”

“Sweetheart,” a satyr from the group laughed, “Ain’t no one ever been more all right than your beau here!” The others nodded and bleated.

“I feel great,” Andros held his glass up to Grace’s father again, “If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”

Grace’s father obliged, filling both glasses and stepping back, the color already drained from his face.

Andros downed the cup, eyes closed, and gently placed it back on the table. He took a deep breath and the satyrs held their own, then Andros belched, and they cheered.

Yaya growled, holding her own full glass up to her lips, “Boy, I don’t know how you done this,” she was blinking, but her lids weren’t working in unison, “but I reckon–” she swayed to the left, catching herself on the table. “Boy, I reckon,” again she swayed, this time to the right, barely grabbing hold of her chair to stay upright, “I reckon–” Yaya thrust her glass forward, the liquid in it sloshing, and then she froze. Her eyes crossed, she mumbled incoherently, and collapsed onto the table, the glass spilling and liquid hissing across the wood.

The satyrs cheered, gathering around Andros and grabbing the legs of his chair. Grace jumped back as they lifted him and paraded him about the room. After confirming Yaya was, in fact, not dead, her father scoffed, “Ain’t nobody ever beat Maw,” and he went up to Kasia who had come to check on the racket. “Ma’am,” he offered her his hand, “I would be honored to have your son as part of the Nomia family.”

Kasia giggled, “And I see in your Grace the daughter I always wanted.”

Lorelei could barely believe her eyes and skirted the room to where Conrad and Grier sat on the couch up against the far wall. They both looked a little dazed and when she greeted them, they were slow to respond.

“Oh, hey!” Conrad tried to stand, but his feet slipped out from under him, and he slumped back onto the couch. Laughing, he slapped Grier’s chest with the back of his hand, “Hey, hey, look it’s Lor–” he stopped abruptly, covering his mouth, his eyes suddenly huge.

Grier’s head lolled back and he closed his eyes, “Hi, Laaar.”

“What’s happening?” she glanced about to be sure the satyrs were still preoccupied with Andros.

“It’s fine,” Conrad nodded in slow motion, “You’re going to have to leave us here for a while though.”

Lorelei took a step back from them, “Do I want to know?”

Conrad was shaking his head then, again painfully slowly, as if he were trying to keep his balance though he was sitting.

Lorelei turned and, with a smile, ushered the group out of the room.

By nightfall, Yaya had recovered well enough to begin a shouting match with Belen when they happened upon one another in the upstairs hallway while the rest of their families celebrated together in the dining room. Lorelei happened upon them and shooed them downstairs into the foyer where they continued to rant to one another, declaring their disapproval.

“Then leave,” Grace’s no longer tiny voice sounded from the doorway.

Andros stood at her side, “We gave you more than either of you deserved. We wish you could be happy for us, but if you cannot, then so be it.”

Belen and Yaya fell silent, staring back at the two with stony faces. Yaya opened her mouth, but Grace stopped her, “You heard him–git!”

Belen turned to Yaya and began shouting at her that this was her fault, and she spewed anger right back, but when Lorelei opened the front door, they both stormed out it. Their voices carried on into the night as they stalked across the yard until they could no longer be heard.

***

The wedding was to take place the next morning in the manor’s back garden. Lorelei was pleased with the set up that she helped Ziah put together even with Arista shouting at them the entire time. As the guests took their seats, she and Ziah hurried inside to see if there was anything else Grace needed, but were shocked at what they were met with.

A crying Grace, just like how Lorelei had first found her, sat on the edge of her bed. When they questioned what happened, a young nymph pointed to the far wall and the dress bag that hung there. It had been unzipped and inside instead of a gown, tattered white fabric hung limply from the hanger, spilling out onto the floor.

Lorelei went to the tatters, mouth agape, “There’s got to be someone here who can, like, magic this back together.”

“In time to walk down the aisle?” Ziah was behind her, whispering into her ear, “Doubtful.”

Grace sniffed, “No, it doesn’t matter.” Dressed in a slip, she began digging into her suitcase, throwing skirts and blouses across the room, I’ve got something, I’m sure of it. It doesn’t matter what I wear!”

“I might have something,” the nymph sat back, thinking hard, “It’s mostly pink, but maybe?”

Lorelei stood slowly, “I can fix this.”

“Lore,” Ziah cautioned under her breath, “I really don’t think we can.”

“No,” Lorelei smiled, “I can fix this.” She felt her feet flying before she knew what she was doing. In a flash she descended the stairs and hit the foyer, nearly tripping out the front door. At her car, she threw open the trunk, tossing aside her belongings until she found it.

In an instant she was back inside and thundering up the stairs, catching her breath in the doorway to Grace’s room. She couldn’t speak and instead just held out the garment bag, urging the satyr to take it.

Grace unzipped the bag and white tulle spilled out. Wordlessly, she pulled the wedding gown from the bag and held it up to herself. “How?”

Still panting, Lorelei shook her head with a smile then shrugged.

***

“Okay, how’d you do it?” Ziah was drumming her fingers on the table, eying Lorelei with hawklike intensity. The party had gone on all day and into the evening, and finally the new Aristaeus-Nomia clan had retired leaving Lorelei and her co-workers scattered around a table in the garden amidst empty serving trays and place settings. When she didn’t answer, Ziah leaned in closer, “I know it’s not your forte, magicking up dresses, so how did you do it?” It was clear she was at least a little tipsy.

Hotaru was suddenly staring at her with the same intensity, “What does she mean? Magicking up dresses?” They all learned that Grace’s dress had been shredded by Belen, and similarly the rings had been stolen by Yaya, but only when both Belen and Yaya returned after the ceremony. They two were distraught and after spending the night lost in the woods had seen the error in their ways, confessing to the wedding party. Though Grace and Andros were prepared to be wed in t-shirts and utilizing candy rings, replacements for all had been provided, seemingly, by a miracle.

“Uh,” Lorelei shrank back in her chair, hoping against hope it would not come up.

Conrad and Grier perked up despite the headaches they’d been nursing all day, and even Ren cocked his head so that one long ear was pointed toward her. “Wait,” Grier rubbed at his eyes, his voice hoarse, “So Lorelei did magic?”

“It wasn’t magic,” she said quickly amongst mixed company who knew and did not know her secret, “It was just luck. You know, the same way Grace was able to get Nature to give her blessing or how Andros held his liquor so well.”

Ren reached a long arm across the table and picked a bloom from the centerpiece. He held it before his face between two fingers, and from the stem, roots grew, long and thick, and the bloom itself multiplied. A moment later he was holding a bouquet. Of course, she thought to herself, It’s why Ziah had insisted he go to the forest with them.

Lorelei blinked, turning to Conrad and Grier, “And you two, you were drunk!”

The warlock put a finger to his lips, wincing from her shout, “Transference. It’s complicated, but not difficult with multiple willing subjects.”

Lorelei sighed. She had to tell them. “I had the dress in my car. It was mine.” Lorelei took in their faces, a range of confusion until she saw Ziah’s realization and the woman’s instant regret at having said anything at all. “I was sort of supposed to get married,” she told them, studying the grain of the wooden table with intensity, “but instead I just kinda drove past the church and I ended up, well, here.” When no one spoke she swallowed, “They did think it was really weird I wanted to drive myself, and in hindsight I can see that.”

“You’re a runaway bride.” Grier was grinning from ear to ear, the bastard.

Lorelei cringed, but nodded.

“That’s why,” Ziah was staring past her and up at the manor, illuminated in the darkness. “No,” she smiled, “That was more than luck. That was magic.”

 

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