Story16 Jan 2009 07:34 pm

After the fork, it didn’t take too much longer down the road – which fortunately went along without offering any further rights or lefts – to get to a single drive, with a single mailbox, and a single camp light, swinging in good faith to show them the way.

Rowen turned to her roommate and grinned.  She was excited, and not just because the way ahead promised a meal and a bunk for the night, but because it promised her brother, and that oft-sought after feeling of contentment she experienced when she was home – Home, of course, being wherever her brother was, not a building.

Her roommate chuckled quietly, Rowen’s happy and infallible excitement catching.

“Here, here, here!” she practically sang as he pressed the brake peddle and shifted the car into park.  He nodded unnecessarily, a thoroughly bemused expression on his face as she fairly leapt out of the vehicle.  At the same time, the door to the small and slightly out of shape manor burst open and a man strode forth and captured her in his arms with a giant bear hug.  Even without the greeting, one would have assumed he was her brother, due to the shared trait of shiny copper hair which was glinting in the light that spilled out from the open doorway.

“Oh my God, Rook!” Rowen practically squealed as he released her from his hug, “I can’t believe you paid money for this dump!” She grinned, a bright glint in her eyes and Rook laughed, easily seeing the curiosity and anticipation practically radiating from his sister.  She didn’t fool him for a minute – she loved it.

Another car door slammed, and Rowen almost jumped. “Oh geez,” she mumbled with a slight cringe – she’d all but forgotten her roommate.  The sound of muttered malediction was rapidly followed by the sound of boots squelching through mud.  A Californian at heart, this was almost virgin territory for him – her roommate was not used to this kind of weather.  She hurried to his side as he opened the trunk of the car to retrieve their luggage, feeling somewhat guilty.  Rook followed languidly over, showing no notice for the howling wind and rain that whipped over him and through the flimsy excuse for a coat he was wearing.

“Rook, this is Charlie,” Rowen said, almost proudly, “my roommate.”  Charlie paused good-naturedly in his current task to grasp Rook’s hand and shake.

“Hey,” Charlie said.

“Hey,” Rook said.

Rowen rolled her eyes. Well, at least one wasn’t trying to interrogate the other, right?  Men.

Formalities over, the two men grabbed the few suitcases – each much heavier than it should be, in their unspoken yet mutual opinion, and Rowen shut the door to the trunk.  They clambered up the three steps, and Charlie let out a quiet sigh of relief when Rowen closed the door behind them as they stepped inside, shutting out the almost wintry chill.  He was drenched already, and they’d only been exposed to the elements for a few minutes.

Rook heard his sigh and grinned in his direction.  “Lovely weather we’re having, yeah?”

Charlie blinked for a second, looking for any trace of sarcasm in Rook’s face.  There wasn’t any.  Unusual, Rowen had said.  Huh.  Charlie shrugged his shoulders in response, favoring ambiguity over agreement in this case.  It didn’t matter; Rook had already matched pace with his sister.

“So, did you have any trouble finding the place?” He asked her, leading her up a set of stairs.

Rowen smiled.  “Course not, thanks to your cheeky note.”

Rook paused on a step and thought.  “What note?”

She sighed, moving up the steps ahead of him.  “You’re hilarious. The note you left me.”

Rook shrugged and followed her.  “I didn’t leave any notes.”

His sister kept climbing the stairs, choosing to ignore the comment.  Sometimes her brother could have an odd sense of humour, and being here, almost alone, probably wasn’t helping.  They reached the landing and she glanced at him sidelong.  “So…how’s the thesis coming?”

“That’s not funny,” Rook responded with a half-smile.

“That’s what I thought,” Rowen answered with a knowing smile, tinted with amusement.  They proceeded down the hall, and Rowen forgot to keep up the banter for a moment.  The hall was faced with wood, making it darker than it otherwise would have been, and the wind and rain on the roof only added to the atmosphere. She’d been here before, but the combined elements of the weather and knowing she would actually be staying here, this time for more than a single night, added a sense of romantic eeriness to the air that transformed the manor completely in her mind.  Rowen’s fingers were practically tingling with the desire to open each door and inspect each pane of wood.

Charlie caught up with her and nudged her slightly with his elbow.  “Just like the movies,” he muttered with a grin, momentarily breaking the spell Rowen had found herself under.

She smiled back, “Sure, if you like that sort of thing.”

They’d stopped at a room near the end of the corridor.  Rook gestured grandly.  “Your room, my dear,” he said with a lopsided grin.  Rowen chuckled and went inside, Charlie following with her suitcase. It was small, but large enough to house a full bed – thankfully – and a dresser.  There was a window, too, and outside a tree loomed.  It looked very much like every scary shadow tree ever seen in any bad dream.  Its tangled branches even scraped across the window, making a tinny sort of sound, like someone was throwing bottle caps at the glass.  Rowen loved it.

“And for the gentleman,” Rook continued, a hint of emphasis on the word ‘gentleman,’ “The suite across the hall.”
Charlie lifted a brow in Rowen’s direction, noting her brother’s foretold unusual behavior with an amused smile, and left her suitcase to check out his own accommodations.

Guests settled securely in their respective quarters, Rook grinned, enjoying his playacting.  “Dinner will be served promptly…whenever you make it yourselves.”

Rowen laughed and gave her brother a good-natured shove.  “I hope you have more than chocolate pudding cups in your fridge this time.”

Story15 Jan 2009 07:31 pm

Gazing down the long corridor of trees that sheltered the road just barely from the driving rain, Rowen squirmed in her seat and curled into the cold door of the car. The struggle to get comfortable she knew to be vain even as she craned her neck up to look at her roommate.

“If you need a break from driving, I’m not going to be able to get any sleep.”

“I’m good for now,” he said. His voice bore the same hesitation she felt to stop in the hideous weather that had kept them from so much as getting out to stretch their legs for the last 60 miles or so of the trip out to Rook’s remote property. Hitting the air for the frantic Chinese fire drill to switch drivers had resulted, last time, in her knee deep in the slippery mud, straining at the bumper to make sure they’d be able to get the car out of the slurry.

“Ok,” she responded lazily after few moments of wheel-churning silence. “We’re not far out anyway, I don’t think. You’ve never met my brother, have you?”

“Not so far.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“So I hear.”

“…different,” Rowen said with a little bit of an irrepressible smile.

“So I hear,” he repeated, laughing. “So are you.”

“I guess I just come from an unusual family.”

Turning to narrow her eyes at the darkness that blurred by through the rain running down the passenger side window, Rowen tried to read out some glimpse of ancestral history in the wood and storm beyond. Despite not having grown up here, she and her brother had always felt a deep attachment to the Celtic terrain well-footed by her hereditary predecessors. She’d been outspokenly supportive of her brother’s otherwise lunatic decision to purchase land with the last clutch of change in his graduate-student pockets and move out here. Nobody else saw it coming, and while Rook hadn’t discussed it with her prior to, and he called her up in his offhand way to tell her he was moving across the Atlantic with as much cavalier dismissal as one might remark that they were going to stroll down to the market for a pint of milk after work so don’t hold up supper on their account. Despite the lack of warning, she’d smiled knowingly into the phone, feeling as though she’d been aware of his plan all along.

You’ll come and visit me, won’t you Ro?” she remembered him saying, a rare and private flash of vulnerability in his voice.

Of course, you ridiculous ass.”

The pair of siblings, just 14 months apart in age with Rook being the senior member of the duo, had never lived very far apart, but any sting said separation would have brought to Rowen was mitigated by the simple sensation of ‘rightness’.

“Watch it!” Her hands struck the dashboard seconds before the vehicle lurched as the car swerved in the protesting mud to avoid a white flash of road sign. Having flickered out of nowhere like some kind of ghostly flame in the deluge, it marked an even fork in the road that Rowen remembered only dimly from the one other time she’d been out to Rook’s house.

She and her roommate sat breathing hard in the vehicle for a moment, both startled from the trance of the long drive by the sudden stop. The growling idle of the engine mingled with the tinny percussion of rain striking the roof and body of the car.

“So,” he began, clearing his throat. “Which way?”

“Fuck,” Rowen hissed, leaning over the dash to peer this way and that out of the windshield. “I’m pretty sure we need to go right.”

“Pretty sure?”

The old sign was worn beyond legibility, but she doubted it had said ‘ROOK’S PAD THAT WAY →’ to begin with. Nonetheless, she squinted at it, and caught sight in the darkness of a flickering shape that swung from the sign, helpless to the gusts of the wind.

“Wait, there’s something out there.” Rowen unbuckled her seatbelt and huddled against the bite of the rain as she jogged up to the sign. The flapping object was a plastic zipper bag with paper folded inside of it, marked in black magic marker with the letter ‘R’ and duct-taped to the sign. Wrenching it off, she crowded herself back into the passenger seat of the sedan and tore into the bag.

‘Dear R,

Take the left fork. I know you feel like you should take the right fork, but take the left one. See you soon.



“What is it?”

“A note from my brother. Take a left.”

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