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.




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