January 2009

Story31 Jan 2009 11:57 am

As if she didn’t hear him, Rowen looked off after the family of foxes as they disappeared quickly into the underbrush. An unexpected shudder in his diaphragm caused Charlie to draw in a deep, abrupt breath which he held, cool and damp, in his lungs as he watched Rowen stand in silence. The air around him pressed heavily, suffused with the expectation of some new otherness to burst forth, something to which the episode with the fox was only a tiny precurser.

Rowen tossed her head and looked back over her shoulder with a grin in the dappled sunlight that punched through the high cloudcover at intervals. “What was that? I wasn’t listening.”

Charlie blinked at her. “Nothing,” he said, chuckling and shaking his head to shake the strange episode off.

“Well, then what are we waiting for?” She turned and picked her feet up, traipsing along the slightly higher, slightly dryer patches of the dirt road. Charlie didn’t start off after her immediately, struck with an image suddenly more vivid, as if painted directly over the fabric of morning. Rowen’s svelte figure clad in the slouch of a bomber jacket currently sliding nearly off one shoulder, the easy surety of her steps, the flash of her unkempt hair in the sun like a blonder cousin to the earthier hue of the mother fox.

“Weird,” he whispered to himself intensely, kicking himself into motion after Rowen and jogging clumsily up the track. Running turned out quickly to be a less than entirely sagacious decision as he slipped and wheeled his arms, swearing as he all but toppled into the mud. Rowen stopped and looked back at him again just in time to see the graceless recovery and laughed before wheeling again and taking off at a sprint down the small rise she stood at the top of.

“You harlot!” Charlie shouted after her, taking a more keen eye to his feet and climbing the rest of the hill. He didn’t remember the track being this hilly or this long when they’d driven to the house the night before, but he’d been extremely focused on the churning road and lashing rainfall at the time. Cresting over the hill, Charlie slid more than ran down its other flank but remained upright, coming to a waving-armed stop where Rowen stood on the side of the road, examining the tracks in the slurry of muddy water collected at the bottom of the hill.

She giggled, “Charlie look, this is where we almost spun out and went off the side of the road.”

“I can see that,” Charlie replied flatly, immediately filled with a plethora of reasons why he didn’t find that funny. As he stood still, though, the sun warmed the back of his coat and it became difficult to see what had been so bad about it at the time. “Are we almost to the split so we can rest once and for all which side of it your brother lives on?”

“He lives on the left!” Rowen exclaimed firmly. “I’m so sure we turned left. Like the note said.”

“The note he didn’t write?” Charlie raised an eyebrow, balling his hands up in his pockets and glancing around. He didn’t feel the least bit nostalgic for California out here; the grey precipitation in London put him in that funk often.

“Oh shut up. He’s just being a wanker about it, that’s all,” Rowen waved her hands emphatically, turning to stroll down the track. This time, Charlie went with her and they walked side by side, habitually in step over the uneven ground. “Are you sure you don’t have it?” She turned to look up at him sidelong. “Are you sure you didn’t pick it up with your stuff?”

“Pretty sure,” Charlie frowned. “I’m not surprised you can’t find it, though, you’re not exactly the queen of organization,” he ribbed with a grin. “It’s probably in the pocket of your other jeans or something.”

“It’s not!” Rowen feigned exasperation well. “It’s not in the car, either, where I thought it was.”

“Well, it couldn’t have gone far overnight.”

Rowen pouted. They took a couple more steps. “Well,” Charlie began, clearing his throat and making his voice sound as pretentious and egotistical as he could. “If you’d just let me, the man, take care of the navigation, we wouldn’t be in this pickle, now would we?”

Snapping her head around to needle him with a glare, Rowen screwed her shoulders up, balled her fists, and exploded in a flurry of motion to shove him and fly off down the road. Charlie didn’t hurry to keep up with her, the fork in the road visible just around a gentle curve in the track. It was the mis-estimation of this curve that had caused the near disaster Rowen pointed out evidence of at the bottom of the hill.

Charlie strode up to Rowen’s tip-toed peering to the place where the lost note had been taped. Then she stepped back and looked this way and that before pointing at him.


“You’re on the right.”

He blinked.

“The right fork,” Rowen stepped forward, gesturing for emphasis, and Charlie rolled his eyes.

“Really? Do we really need to do this?”

Rowen waved her arms exasperatedly. “Oh, like you’d rather sit at home and bemoan the distance between yourself and Santa Monica beach.”

Charlie sighed heavily. “Can you blame me for that? I’ve lived there since I was eleven.”

“You really miss it that much?” Rowen wrang her hands. She had a vulnerable streak a mile wide. A profound quiddity of her person was the hatred of being alone, and despite periodic disharmony about his lifestyle, they’d quickly clicked when he’d arrived in London, a bewildered college sophmore. She could forgive Charlie anything because he studied twice as hard as he played.

Charlie took a deep breath of the good air, quirking a smile. “No, Rowen.”

Her face softened, her mercurial expression shifting again as she

Story27 Jan 2009 11:29 am

Rowan and Charlie tracked through the muddy wet road, Rowan often getting ahead of Charlie, as he only had a vague idea on how to hike, and his boots would get stuck more often in the mud than hers.  He was a city boy after all. Rowan, on the other hand, was slowly being hypnotized by the rolling hills, fresh air, and the thrum of life wild beneath her feet. In London, she would often find herself in a vacuous rut, when she couldn’t see the excitement of city life anymore, and only saw the dull, gray, rainy days, identical and  repeating one after another like train cars.


“Hold up, Rowan!”


“Belt up, ya tosser!” Rowan called back, but she stopped to let Charlie catch up anyway.


Rowan stared out at the Scotland lowlands, of which the recent restoration projects of the country’s natural flora and fauna were still underway. For reasons she understood, Rook felt at home there. For reasons she didn’t understand, he felt at home there despite its apparent creepiness. But that was a mystery she was determined to solve, and she would start with the Mystery of the Fork in the Road.


If Charlie could keep up.


Rowan looked up at Charlie when he finally reached her. Some days, she could read her roommate like a book. On others, his face was so blank and composed it would drive her crazy trying to figure out what he was thinking so she taught herself not to. They had to make other various adjustments rooming together. Charlie had to get over his compulsion to organize everything he saw, including her personal belongings, which was most apparent when she chose to store her books in large, leaning piles on the floor instead of the actual bookshelves. On those, she’d store obscure things like rocks, shells, pencils, or anything she happened to find in the street that was fascinating.


Rowan had to get used to his early bird tendencies and occasional promiscuity, which simmered down in the time they roomed together, but that might be partly because Rowan didn’t notice it, and made a point to be occupied elsewhere when she knew Charlie had a date. It was something about him she didn’t understand. She was only promiscuous if it counted for books. If it did, she was a shameless wanton.


Overall, it was a pleasant arrangement, and he really was her best-friend despite the differences in the beginning.


“How much of this land is Rook’s?” Charlie asked when they started walking together again.


“Can’t say. Maybe 150 hectares? That’s a bit over 300 acres to you yanks.”


“So half a square mile. Not bad.”


“Sure, he’s an emperor in his own right, in this fine kingdom,” Rowan said lightly.


They laughed for maybe a second before a flash of red caught Rowan’s eye and she turned to her right to look. A few meters up, a red fox was preparing to cross the road.


“Charlie, stop!” Rowan said, grabbing his arm before he could startle it.


The red fox climbed down into the road and started to trot across it. To Rowan’s delight, the vixen was followed by three little kits, trailing after their mother like ducks in a row.


“You don’t see something like this everyday in London,” Charlie muttered.


Rowan looked over at him. He turned, smiling crookedly at her, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes before he turned back.


“Look, Rowan!” he whispered.


The mother fox was already across the road, when a forth, smaller kit started crossing the road behind his siblings. For some reason, the little fox seemed to sense them, and instead of running he hunched up, covering his eyes with his paws.


“I can’t see you, you can’t see me?” Charlie said, bemused.


“Go on, little thing, your mama’s gettin’ away!” Rowan said, shooing it with one hand, then moving her fingers to imitate walking, as though the kit were a puppet she was trying to control.


“He can’t understand you, Rowan.”


“His mama can’t count, Charlie, he’s going to get lost if he doesn’t get a move on!” Panic seeped into her voice, much to her annoyance.


The little fox removed his paws from his eyes, but he didn’t move, frozen in place. Rowan looked into to kit’s dilated, caramel-colored eyes. She suddenly felt like she could feel the little one’s fear, primal and debilitating, unlike anything she had ever felt in the modern world.


In a brash move, she walked to her left and called out to the vixen. “Wait!”


Charlie stepped back out of her way, dumbfounded.


To their amazement, the vixen stopped and turned back towards them. They could hardly see the other three kits in the long grass. The only indication of them was the clashing movement of orange in the green grass around the mother’s legs.


“You forgot one!” Rowan called, pointing, as though the fox could understand her.


The vixen looked over at where Rowan was pointing. It was impossible for the red fox to see the kit from her perspective, but the vixen started moving back towards them anyway.


As though she understood Rowan.


Both of them watched as the mother fox moved cautiously back onto the road, moving carefully around Rowan and Charlie and up to her petrified kit. She sniffed him, then nudged him with her nose towards his siblings. Before she disappeared back into the long grass, she glanced back at the two astounded humans, specifically at Rowan.


“You’re welcome,” Rowan whispered.


The vixen left.


“Well,” Charlie said after a moment, “that was something… different.”

Story25 Jan 2009 04:57 am

“Tut-tut,” Rook muttered with a feigned disapproval, “You’re not really going outside like that are you?”  It had been less than an hour since breakfast, and Rowen was practically chomping at the bit.

She rolled her eyes good naturedly at Rook’s incredibly cliché onomatopoeia.  “Like you’re one to talk,” she answered tartly, “Do you even own a mac?”  She smiled wryly as she slid on her own rainy-day gear.  “We’re not going far, anyway,” she added belatedly.  She glanced past Charlie, who was eying his own raincoat with some distaste, to the window near the front door.

The weather was clearing, but it still looked perfectly damp, cold, and somewhat dreadful outside.  Rowen smiled in anticipation, but tempered her odd sense of adventure tactfully when Charlie looked her way.  He smiled, one side of his mouth curling up in a sly sort of crooked smile as he bent over to fasten up his wellies.

Rook caught the exchange and chuckled.  “Don’t worry, Charlie m’boy,” he said in a somewhat patronizing tone, “If you make it through today, you get an extra biscuit after supper.”

“Great, hard tack, perfect,” Charlie muttered, throwing a significant look at Rowen, who bit her lip to keep from chuckling.

“He means a cookie, love,” Rowen said -as if that made a difference- exaggerating her British accent.  She turned to her brother.  “Roo,” Rowen said in chiding tone, “Be nice.”

Rook broke into a wide grin.  “But where’s the fun in that?”

Charlie stood upright, boots secure.  “Where indeed?” He offered dryly.

Rook eyed him in a speculative sort of way, a bemused expression on his face.  A moment of silence followed, somewhat awkward, as Rowen and Charlie finished readying themselves for their small adventure.

Rowen clasped the last fastener of her coat and turned to her brother.  “Are you sure you can’t come?”

Rook shook his head.  “Can’t – had a spark of activity show up last night, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Charlie’s head bobbed up.  “Last night?”  He eyed Rook suspiciously.  “How…serendipitous…”

Rook turned to his sister’s roommate with a malevolent smile.  “Yeah…right along with your arrival, Yankee.”  His smile widened into a leering grin.  “You scared?”

Charlie rolled his eyes.

Rowen chuckled.  “Fine then, ghost chaser,” she said, taking Charlie’s arm, “Go enjoy your gizmos.”  She opened the door and stepped out, ushering Charlie along with her.  She turned to grin at her brother.  “But I expect there to be some serious enlightenment happening here while we’re gone.”

Rook grabbed the back of his sister’s coat just long enough to give her an affectionate kiss on the top of her head.  “Cheeky.”


Rowen sighed with open delight as she and Charlie stepped out into the crisp, and wet, Scottish air.  “It’s lovely, isn’t it?”

Charlie smiled at Ro’s unabashed enthusiasm for the otherwise-dreary landscape.  “I suppose it could be,” he answered, sounding rather philosophical, “Though I could do with a little less wet and a little more sun.” He grinned at her to show he was being facetious.

“Well, chalk this up to educational experience,” Rowen said, grinning back at him, “You know, build character and gain wisdom and all that rubbish.”

“Sure, sure,” Charlie said, thrusting his hands in the pockets of his coat.  “So, then, what’s the purpose of this little adventure?”

“I thought we might walk down the road,” Rowen answered, her tone a little too light, “You know, see what we see sort of thing?”

Charlie nodded and they began walking, their boots squelching through the mud, creating an odd sort of rhythm.  “So…” he finally said, after they had gone down the lane silently for a few minutes, “Your brother seems….interesting.”

Rowen giggled.  “Yeah, that’s one way to describe him.”

Charlie smiled, enjoying her laugh.  “No, I mean it,” he said, “It’s quite interesting watching you two…verbally spar…”

She looked at him sideways, “That’s right – I forget you’re an only child.”

“A blessing and a curse.”

Rowen thought for a moment about how different her life would be without her brother.  Easier, perhaps, but lacking some sort of core vibrancy that their relationship kindled.  They were too integral to the other – rather like Moses and Aaron in the Exodus. 

“Well,” she finally said, thoughtfully, “at least you didn’t have to worry about losing your dollies to your brother’s wild experiments in voo-doo…”

Charlie stopped pace for a second.  “He did what?”

Rowen laughed, pleased at her roommate’s reaction.  “He did.  I was eleven, he was twelve.  Our parents couldn’t decide whether to take away his books or give him more…”

Charlie shook his head in delighted disbelief as he quickened his pace to keep up with Rowen, who had continued moving and was a few strides ahead of him.  “That’s incredible,” he said, meaning it sincerely, “The only thing my parents seemed to fight over was money.”

“Is that where your stingy-ness over the costs of our utilities comes from?” Rowen said with a tilt of her head and a cat-like smile.

Charlie laughed, a somewhat sheepish expression on his face.  “Could be.”

“Good thing you managed to find me and my one-of-a-kind rent controlled flat, yeah?”

Charlie grinned appreciativly.  “You have no idea.”

They walked along in companionable silence, Rowen paying far too much attention to the road itself, and Charlie, in turn, paying attention to Rowen’s odd focus.

“Is this….?” Rowen frowned slightly, looking about her, “Is this the same road we drove down last night?”

“What?” Charlie echoed her frown.  “I would assume so?”  He looked at her oddly.  “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Rowen looked away, absently trailing her hand through the damp drizzle.  “Never mind…”

Charlie shrugged, offering his crooked smile once more, “As you wish, madam.”

Story22 Jan 2009 08:31 pm

Rook was up early, definitely before his sister who had a habit of sleeping in regularly even when she didn’t fall asleep exhausted. Charlie had come downstairs about halfway through breakfast being prepared, the scent of waffles pulling him from sleep and dispelling any vestiges of sleep. Charlie looked like he wanted to help the copper haired chef but Rook would have none of it, telling him to have a seat and chill in the brisk morning air till breakfast was done.

In between cooking each waffle Rook rooted around in the cupboards and fridge, stopping randomly to pop an olive into his mouth from one of the jars.  He also seemed to remember something in the middle of stirring batter and turned to open the casement for the single window in the kitchen. The intent of course was to let in light for the single flower sitting in the window sill. While the only effect of opening the window was to show a lighted gray sky and a continuous drizzle, the single blue flower gave the spacious kitchen an illusion of modesty.

Strangely enough for as dingy as it appeared outside the window, opening it seemed to have brightened the room considerably. Rook placed a good sized pile of waffles before his sisters’ roomie not long after Charlie sat down, who began to eradicate them rather methodically. “This is one hell-of-a breakfast.” He said between bites while licking the milky white cream from his fork. There was a hint of nutmeg, cinnamon and hazelnut in it giving the cream a very pleasant flavor. Charlie grinned happily, “Where’d you learn to make waffles taste better than normal waffles?”

“Oh you know, tricked an Each Uisge into giving me a recipe book from a master cook that he intern had fooled into one of the lochs.” Rook chuckled and sat down with his own plate beginning to eat with a hearty appetite. There was a large loch bordering his land up to the north, and a smaller one setting just behind the manor a few hundred yards away. Rook wondered idly if he would even stand a chance in an encounter with an Each Uisge, not noticing that his stack of waffles were slowly becoming an artful display of a horse as he ate.

Charlie cocked his head to the side and looked at Rook oddly, “An Axe Ishka? What’s that?” No doubt some mythos. Strangely enough as skeptical as Charlie was he had rather enjoyed Rowen’s brother’s story last night.

“Ah, tis a water-horse, of one particular kind. They tend to be the meanest, so you gotta keep your wits sharp, and never trust a horse offerin you a free ride out here. Especially if there is water nearby, or any scent of water for that matter.”

A sleepy voice emanated from the doorway, “Rook, don’t go scarin the boy with such talk, he might not want to go swimming with me in the loch later.” The last half of Rowen’s comment was muffled by a yawn that erupted in the middle.

“Ah well I could be telling him about the story here about where a young toddler was kidnapped by a local haunt in a neighboring castle ruin, and was later found on the shores of the Loch. They say that a fellow saw a horse near the water, and when he came to investigate only found the babe, nice and warm under a pile of dried seaweed. He looked about for the horse but all he saw was a single set of ripples out in the otherwise glass smooth water. Mayhaps we have one of them supposedly benevolent spirits.” He winked at his sister.

Charlie chuckled at the recount, thinking to ask more about the story later, and looked over at the latecomer, her hair a disarray and sleep still filling her eyes, pulling at her eyelids. No Rowan was definitely not a morning person. “Good thing you finally got up, I might have eaten your helping of breakfast.”

“I’d have let him too, he looks half starved. What sort of caregiver are you, to let your housemates go without food. For shame little sister. For shame.”

“Oh do be quiet, can’t be letting him know I can cook as well as you now. Then I might actually have to start preparing food at home.” She shot a mock glare at her brother as she hurried over to the counter to collect her pile of waffles which were still warm and proceeded to put an ample helping of cream on top, on the sides, and more on top. Rook always whipped his own cream, and he always added extra flavor to it. Couldn’t hurt to relish as much as possible right?

“All that sugar is gonna kill you someday Rowen.” Charlie said with a smile, “Mind bringin me a little extra?”

“Get your own damned cream, I’m hungry.” She came over and plopped down in one of the chairs, forgetting for a moment that any one of them could be a pile of sticks disguised as such. Hers groaned ominously for a moment, and then unexpectedly, held together.

While she was otherwise preoccupied with the anticipation of falling flat on her bum, Charlie took the opportunity to steal some of her excess cream for his own.

Story19 Jan 2009 08:10 pm

After another half of an hour, the dishes were done and the trio had retired to the upper floor of the ramshackle house. Charlie bid them a short goodnight and vanished into his room, and Rowen leaned in the jamb of her door, smiling at her big brother.

I’m glad you came, kiddo,” Rook said with a lopsided grin. Rowen fell into a loose hug.


I love this place!” Rowen exclaimed with a grin. “I knew it was right the instant you said it to me.”


I know you did.” Rook’s eyes turned sly, thoughtful.


You’re hiding something…” Tilting her head, Rowen looked up through her lashes at her sibling, frowning as she tried to read his face. He only shook his head; neither confirming nor denying. “And what was with you denying your note in front of Charlie?! He was with me when I got it!”


A genuine shadow passed through Rook’s face. “Rowen,” he said earnestly, dropping his voice. “I didn’t leave you a note.”


At the fork in the road? Taped to the signpost?” A tremor of uncertainty bolted momentarily through her; she felt her face and her hands go hot. Rook shook his head.


You think I’d go out in this? You knew the way, you drove here before.”


But I thought it was the right fork…” she whispered, the heat going out of her more suddenly than she expected.


Rook reached out and grasped her shoulders. “Rowen. It is the right fork, coming from the train station.”


She shook her head emphatically. “No! We turned left, and your place is just down the road, on the left.”


Ro, love, I haven’t been down to the town in a few weeks but I live here, and the road veers to the right. There’s another path there, I know the signpost you’re talking about, but nobody drives down that way… there’s nothing out there but moorland, it’s been abandoned for ages.”


That doesn’t make any sense.” She pulled away from him, digging in the pockets of her sweatshirt and jeans.


“I’m sure I still have the note. It said that you knew I’d want to take the right fork but I needed to take the left one. We’d stopped because we didn’t know where to turn, but then I saw your note and I did what it said.”


All the humor gone from his face, Rook regarded his sister carefully. “You’re tired, Ro.”


I must have left it in the car.”


Why don’t you get some rest.”


Furtively, while she continued to pat down her garments, Rook looked over his shoulder at the Charlie boy’s closed door. He thought, perhaps, that the newcomer had arranged some manner of divisive prank to play but this hardly seemed productive to that end by itself. And besides, how would he have planted the note on the signpost, if that was how she found it?


He looked back to find Rowen looking unhappily at the floor, her arms crossed over her stomach. Rook couldn’t help but smile and chuckle, tousling her mess of wild hair. “You look like nothing half so much as an eight year old right now, Ro.”


She didn’t cut the quintessential portrait of amusement. “I don’t like it, Rook. Something feels weird all of the sudden.”


Setting his hand on her upper back, he turned her around through the open door and followed her into her room. “It’s a weird place. There are bound to be some bumps in the night. Old house.”


Yea, that you’re studying ghosts in.”


Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rowen. You of all people are not allowed to get all creepy on me because some old witch got suckered in by an archaic old legend and now I’m following up on it for my thesis. Aren’t the most useful theories the ones proven wrong?”


They both knew he was only speaking to comfort her, but his laudable efforts met with a good response. Rowen smiled apologetically, not because she knew Rook to be entirely straightforward, but because he’d asserted the old protectiveness that his family role demanded and it never failed to make her feel safer.


Legend?” she inquired after a moment.


I promise I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.” Rook grinned. His diverse and often eccentric interests always kept her entertained as a child, a young adult, and even in her present life.


Alright,” Rowen said, sitting on the bed and drawing her legs up underneath her.


You’ll be alright?” he pushed his eyebrows up.


Of course,” she grinned, and he turned to go. Like well-tuned clockwork, she reached for the lamp on the night table as he flipped the switch to the light overhead, darkening the room against the smaller incandescence of the table lamp.


Sweet dreams, little fox.” Rook smiled from the doorway, a shadowy shape that faded into the hall as the door swung closed on quiet hinges. Rowen squirmed out of her still slightly damp travel clothes and into pajamas retrieved from her suitcase, the rhyme their grandmother sang to them growing up filling the startled space in her mind.

Two little foxes, time for bed,
While winter sleeps the sleep of the dead
Your footed snow and the falling light
Have finally won your race with night
The day is gone, bid it farewell
Night holds the secret I will tell.




Story16 Jan 2009 11:31 pm

“Of course dear sister, after your fit last time I decided to stock up on some peanut butter as well.” Rook tickled her sides forcing her to squirm like a fish out of water. Rowen swatted at his hands and glared as mean as she could through the unavoidable giggles.

She punched him in the chest, “If you don’t stop I’m gonna rip your heart out and eat that for supper, that sound fine by you?”

Her brother took the blow and stumbled back out of her doorway as if it had actually caused harm, gripping his chest and breathing raggedly, “Is that to be the way of it then? Cut down by my own sister in cold blood?” Unable to keep the amusement from his face, he turned around and sauntered down the hall, “Do be a dear and don’t take too long unpacking, I must finish my supper before it gets too much colder and I’d love some company.”

About fifteen minutes later they were seated around a long dining table that looked and felt like ages had washed over it, and that many more ages would come before it fell to the decay of time. The chairs though seemed a ragged assortment of chairs varying in comfort, design, and stability. The first one Charlie had tested almost caved in under his weight and he jumped up so quick he hit his knee into the underside of the table and stumbled backward a bit. Luckily his bowl of stew didn’t go flying off in some odd direction, though that would have only increased the feeling of schadenfreude Rowen had while watching him.

“Do take care not to hurt that pretty little tail else you might have to go to bed before story time.” She grinned openly at Charlie and offering the seat on the right side of her, “This one doesn’t seem near so rickety.” Charlie gave her a mock glare through a beet red face before picking up his bowl and settling down next to her. There was a small silence as each of them shoveled food into their mouths, the two siblings almost mirroring each other in the vigorous virtually non stop devouring of stew, and Charlie savoring each bite as Rook seemed to be a rather well versed cook.

Finally, deciding to get to know his roomie’s brother better Charlie broke the silence, which was more theoretical then literal as the rain and wind lashing against the house continued raging. “So what sort of thesis does a Quantum Physics slash Paranormal Studies major work on out here in the country?”

Rowan choked slightly on a spoonful of food, she had already tried to explain it to Charlie once and she highly doubted he’d get any more clear an answer as she could give. “Ah, you’ve upset my sister asking such a question. She might go choking to death now.” Rook smiled his crooked half-smile and put a spoonful of stew into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully for a moment.

“You know the previous owner of this house was a nice old lady, I met her just before her children sold me this place. She was a suffragette throughout the twentieth century, just like her mother before her. Moved out here to die she did, but in the end her kids would have none of letting her live her life laissez-faire. They came and brought her to live with them and take care of her, claimed she was getting senile and needed care.” He spooned another mouthful and continued eating, ending his sentence as if that was the end of the explanation.

Charlie was completely bewildered, definitely a strange man. Might as well get him to continue the story as there was obviously more. He noticed that Rowen’s eyes were sparkling with wonderment and anticipation. The girl was like a kid sometimes. Smiling and shaking his head he prompted Rook for more, “So the kids sold you there mom’s favorite property. She didn’t appreciate that much, did she?”

“On the contrary, the old bat was fine with selling the place so long as she got to speak to the new owner and give her blessing. Which in the end was more or less a request to keep her ghost tracking gear operating. There’s a room upstairs that was locked when I initially bought the place, apparently she had the key. Anyway, there’re charts and graphs filled with all sorts of data she’s gathered over the years, and notes on how she’s interpreted the tangents and osculations of said data. A few funky machines meant to pick up paranormal activity and such.” He smiled, “Do you believe in ghosts Charlie?”

“No, why would I?”

“No particular reason, I was just curious. I figure, anything is possible. So I’m here writing a thesis based on proving paranormal activity through quantum theory. Except by the time the alarm wakes me in the morning, I’m usually distracted by exploring the land about here.” Stifling a yawn he reached across the table to take his sister’s bowl, but she smacked his hand with her spoon causing him to withdraw with a yelp.

“I’ll be doing the dishes tonight, after all you made supper.” She smiled wearily at him, the stew was having its effect of filling the tummy and putting one to sleep. Though it was probably the trip out that really had exhausted her.

Rook grinned broadly at her, “Sure Rowen, if you can stand up on your own.”

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.”

Project Information15 Jan 2009 03:54 am

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