Story09 Feb 2009 12:04 pm

An hour and fifteen minutes later, Rook stood in the hotel lobby with his hands folded behind his back, eyes roaming the somewhat shabby décor detachedly. He focussed his attention on hearing the sharp report of Margarete’s low heels come quickly down the hallway and around the corner. The German woman stopped up short and swept her cool gaze over him from toe to crown before approaching at a more conversational pace.

“Master Rook,” she smiled languidly. “Not like you to be so punctual.”

He chuckled. “We have to get back. Rowen will skin me if I’m out too long. She’s off with her roommate at the moment exploring the countryside and, while I know Rowen could be out there until next Halloween, Charlie didn’t strike me as the woodsy type.”

“Roommate. Not a beau?” Margarete arched a well-shaped brow.

“No, I don’t think so,” Rook laughed of his sister.

Shaking her head, Margarete swayed toward the door. “I swear. That girl needs to at least find herself a boyfriend once in a while.”

“I certainly don’t think so,” Rook replied haughtily, relieving his friend of her bags and following her out the door. Margarete always looked polished, but he could tell she was tired.

“You wouldn’t, big brother. Now then, where can a woman stop for a cup of coffee and a cigarette between here and Transylvania or wherever it is you’re playing house?”

Meanwhile, north of the ending trickle of the main road, Charlie and Rowen returned to Rook’s house.

“What!” Charlie exclaimed defensively. “My legs hurt! I’m not used to all this running amok that you do.”

“You city boys are sissies,” Rowen giggled as she kicked off her muddy boots on the veranda and padded inside, leaving Charlie to pick at the dirt-encrusted laces of his shoes. He muttered incomprehensibly behind her as she stopped a few paces in from the door, turning her head this way and that. “Rook’s gone,” she mused more quietly.

“Is he? Did you check for his car?”

“No, I can just tell.”

Eying her strangely, Charlie grunted as he tugged his shoes off and stretched his toes out.

Rowen had gone over to a credenza to the side of the doorway that she hadn’t noticed the day prior. On it rested a carving of a leaping fox, its head turned up toward the onlooker as if to smile, ears alert. Its eyes were little pieces of round green jade, and the wood was worked with long lines and polished as smooth as water. She ran her hand lightly over the fox’s back, feeling the almost impossibly fine texture worked in for the fur and remembering the vixen and her cubs from earlier in the day.

Also, strangely, another memory welled forward in her mind’s eye. When she was a child, the family had taken a trip to Scotland all together. She remembered very little of it, having been only four and Rook nearly six. The greyness of the weather remained in her mind, alternating between rain and suffocating fog. Their mother had been upset that they weren’t having ‘real vacation weather’ but father had laughed his round laugh and said that this was good authentic Scottish weather to be relished.

She and Rook had been indifferent to the chill, happy to run the energy out of their tireless legs. They’d been staying in a house, somewhere… in her mind’s eye, Rook’s dilapidated manor had taken its place visually but she couldn’t be sure if that was genuine memory or simple construction. Could it have been the same plot of land? Had her family known this woman that Rook purchased the property from? She felt suddenly hungry, knowing so little about any extended family or friends of her late parents.

“For heaven’s sake, John, she could have been attacked by a fox or something! They’re all over the country side,” her mother’s voice trembled with fear turning quick to anger as she clutched her daughter close. Rowen’s wet clothes clung to her body and the cold began to seep in, strangely only now that she was inside not far from the old stove glowing in the kitchen.

“She’s fine, Mary,” his father had replied calmly, trying to divert her mother’s panic. “We have her back now, that’s all that matters.”

Rowen could still feel the warm breath on her hair, the shallow pant of small, animal lungs as she sat on the ground and cried because she was lost. She and Rook had been playing hide and seek, which he normally one, though this time she’d hidden too well and couldn’t find her way back. When she’d turned, she’d been inches from the red and white furred mask of a vulpine face, green eyes glittering inquisitively.

Hopping lightly back from her, the little beast had let loose a short, sharp bark into the gloaming. That bark had guided her hand-torch wielding father toward her into the forest, though John declined from sharing that with Mary, and never saw the fox himself. Rowen, by her turn, had never told anyone that she’d seen it either, though it had been within arms reach of her.

The memory was so dim as to make her doubt its validity, as though it had been, perhaps, a dream or some other collusion of unrelated happenstance.

“Rowen?” Charlie stood right behind her, now, peering over her shoulder at the sculpture.

“Sorry,” she said hoarsely, and cleared her throat. “Just… I think maybe my family knew the old woman that used to own this place.”

“The bat that believes in ghosts?” Charlie said skeptically. Rowen laughed and turned around to push him.

“No! I mean, yes, but I think maybe we visited her once when I was a kid. I have to ask my brother.”

“Where’d he go off to, anyway?”

“Not sure. I’m famished though, last one to the parlor makes lunch!”

She sprinted off to the kitchen as Charlie rolled his eyes and trudged after her, knees aching.

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