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Author Topic: Over the River and Through the Woods {One-shot} [Elina/QueenofSnark/Marikir]  (Read 437 times)

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Offline MarikirTopic starter

The rumble of the Aero's engine beneath Gale's body told him that the motorcycle wanted to leap forward and chew up the backroad that stretched before him.  He considered it for a second and almost revved the engine, but then decided to hold back..

Instinctually, he knew this place.  There was a tingling feeling in the air, in the fingertips beneath his gloves.  But, it had been so long since he had been here. 

To Grandmother's house we go. he thought as he passed over a bridge and into a thick collection of trees.

The sunlight kept the road in front of Gale illuminated, the early light bright as it filtered through the trees.  He moved his foot, shifting down as a sharp turn veered him one way, then another.  He found himself chuckling.  That "s" turn always woke him up, as he recalled.

Hmm.  Over a decade. 

The heat of summer was rising with the sun, so Gale decided to indulge his cycle's yearning to be unleashed.  And to be honest with himself, he also wanted to lean into the wind some.  He turned the handle, his speed increasing as the engine rumbled louder and louder.

Soon enough, the thicket of trees gave way to rolling hills.  He shifted forward slightly, his body leaning forward from the normal relaxed position he had been in for the past few days as he drove here from Denver. 

He crested a hill and immediately glanced to his right.  There it was. 

The house sat on a slight rise, giving it the appearance of someone standing watch on the hill.  The sun glinted off the water just beyond the house.  For a moment, Gale was not the twenty-three year old man he was.  Instead, he was back to being a 10 year old boy.

"Now, listen Gale, you behave at your grandma's house.  I don't want to hear any more stories about you showing up or tormenting Em and Raine."

"Yes, mom," he said in a semi-annoyed tone.

"I mean it Gale Wyndham, you behave.  No more jumping from the second, or God forbid the third, floor window.  I will drive back here and yank you back home for the rest of the summer!"

Gale frowned slightly as the memory played out in his head.  Typical mom, overreacting to...hang on, second floor window?

The hill suddenly dropped, as hills do when you go up one side to the crest.  Gale's stomach dropped out from under him as he suddenly found himself going too fast.  For just a moment, he was airborne. 

There was a strange moment in Gale's mind as he suddenly felt himself lift from the cycle's seat.  He didn't feel any fear.  He knew it was going to be okay.

Then, the cycle hit the ground hard, and he was jostled in the seat.  He kept the cycle under control, and slowed down, pulling over to the side of the road.  He blinked for a few seconds, before he yanked his helmet off and tore off his gloves, killing the engine and settling onto his feet, stabilizing the cycle himself.  The rumble of the engine died with a cough and left only silence.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid move, Gale.  Just kill yourself right before you get there, why don't you?  That would be a great idea," he muttered to himself.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the wind blow over him.  It seemed to strengthen, soothing his worry and lifting a few strands of his long brown hair up.  He took a deep breath.  He held it and then slowly let it out.

"God damn it, Grandma." he said to the wind.  His annoyance with himself echoed in his words, the brief surge of grief also tinting his tone.

Of course, there was no answer in the wind.  There wouldn't be.  Not anymore.

He took another breath and started the engine back up.  Screw it, he'd finish the last few minutes of the trip with the wind in his hair.  The engine growled as he pulled back onto the road and continued on.  He turned onto the side road leading to the house, then onto the single car wide driveway that wound up toward the house.  His eyes followed the driveway up and then widened slightly. 

There was a car parked in the circle drive next to the front door.

He frowned as he pulled up behind the car and idled it for a second.  He turned off the engine.

He looked around.  He didn't see anyone who could be the driver.

"Hello?" he called out.


He was about to get off the cycle's seat when the silence was shattered right at his side.

"Mr. Wyndham?"

Gale nearly fell off the seat as he spun toward the voice. 

"Holy sh-" he cried out as he tried to focus on the figure.

It was an older man, probably late sixties, or early seventies if Gale had to guess.  Hang on, no...something about the man seemed older.  He frowned as he blinked, taking in the dark clothing and the hat settled on the man's head.  The man leaned forward, his eyes examining Gale from behind a pair of rectangular spectacles.  His white beard was at odds with the large, black eyebrows that swept up from the dark eyes. 

"" Gale stammered.

"Are you Mr. Wyndham?"

Gale's brain caught up with the words.

"Yes," he said automatically.

The man nodded and leaned back.  The black leather coat the man wore seemed to be at odds with the rising heat, but Gale couldn't really say anything.  His own was of course on, since he had been driving.

"And where are the rest of you?"

Gale blinked again.  And a few more times for good measure.

"I'm sorry...the rest of me?  What are you talking about?"

The man suddenly looked past Gale and focused his attention beyond the confused rider. 

"Oh, good.  Right on time," the man said.

"Huh?" Gale said as he turned to follow the man's gaze.

Gale blinked rapidly a few more times.  Again.  This was becoming a habit.

"You have got to be kidding me," he whispered to himself.

Offline Elina

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Left. Left. Left. Left.   Oh, this one looks cute, Raine Atwater thought as her finger swiped right. She closed the app and tossed her phone on her purse. She'd long ago run out of small talk for the Lyft driver and he'd moved on to humming offkey. She'd poked around on Insta and texted her mom. She'd even gotten on Tinder out of sheer boredom. The drive from the Seattle airport had always felt like it took days, but when she had been a child, she'd always had Grandma and Ember and Gale to look forward to. Somehow, the two hours felt even longer now. But now, she didn't have anything to look forward to. Her cousins were off doing who knew what - she hadn't talked to either in months. And Grandma, the woman who had named Raine and loved her through her childhood, was gone.

Why the hell am I going out here, Raine wondered. Why was she doing this to herself? She hadn't been here since she was twelve. Before then, she'd spent weeks here every summer, laughing and playing with her cousins, or sitting in Grandma's fancy study and listening to stories of ancestors. But then the visits had stopped. Raine had gotten older, and her parents had started taking family vacations instead of sending her to Washington during the summer. She had been okay with it because Gale and Ember weren't going to be there either. Eventually, she'd gotten distracted by summer jobs or boyfriends, and then college. And even though she had still spoken with Grandmama on the phone a few times a year, she never had seen their family's matriarch in person again.

Raine pursed her lips. Maybe this had been a bad idea. She could have used the money she'd saved from graduation presents to go somewhere else.  After Raine was been bridesmaid for the seventh time since she'd finished college, she'd had to get away. Dallas had suddenly felt like it was choking her. She'd gone to college at S.M.U. and watched most of her friends, who had joked that they were there for their "Mrs. degree," fall in love and get married, right on cue. But Raine had been restless, unable to settle down. Something felt incomplete. She hadn't stayed with any boyfriend for more than a couple of months. She'd gotten a useless degree and didn't know what she was going to do with it. She worked as a barista and it was okay, but it wasn't where she wanted to be in a year. And now her mom was pressuring her to find direction. So Raine had decided time away might be a good idea. But why here? Why here and why now, after over a decade?

The scenery started to change, and Raine's heart beat faster. She asked the driver to stop the car, hopping out and running to the edge of the brook. Her lips curved into a smile. This was why she'd come here. It was this feeling of belonging she'd been craving. There had always been acceptance here on Grandma's land.

Raine dipped her hand in the water, letting the flowing clear liquid slide between her fingers like silk. Laughter bubbled in her, and as she stood back up, she plucked a flower from the bank and tucked it into her braid. She spun in a circle and let the laughter spill out, and then went back to the driver. "Thank you for stopping," she told him as she slipped back into the car, excited as she looked ahead and saw the light filtering through the thick copse of trees that was on either side of the narrow roadway.

Five minutes later, the driveway to the grand old lakehouse was in view and Raine was frowning. Why was there a car in the driveway? And a motorcycle? There were two people talking, and Raine tilted her head as she first noticed the old man.  And then... the younger one turned around. "Oh, my God," she squealed as she hopped out of the car, barely even waiting for it to fully stop. "Oh my God," she shouted again as she ran into the arms of her cousin. "Gale!" 
« Last Edit: July 30, 2020, 06:53:43 PM by Elina »

Offline QueenofSnark

Ember's eyes popped open with a look of surprise and mild terror.  The flight attendant was trying to get her attention gently, but ran headlong into her dream like a cheery bulldozer with a southern accent. 

"Ms. Brantley, I'm sorry to wake you, but you'll need to put your tray table and seat back up. We'll be landing soon."

Ember looked at her and tried not to frown.  Before she boarded the plane in Vegas she had been awake for 36 straight hours and she was pretty damn tired.  She and some friends owned Prometheus Lighting and Signs and they had had a big display to finish and install.  The hot new hotel had a hot new club and she and her team were lucky to get the gig.  For months, they crafted the wall to wall neon that served as the centerpiece of the design scheme.  They put the finishing touches in just moments before the opening night party got underway. 

And party she did.  Shot after shot.  Smoke after smoke.  People were in awe of her work. People wanted to get close to her like moths to a flame.  People also jumped back like they were burned as soon as she took an interest.  So, in general, she chose not to be interested by people.

The only person that never let her down had been her grandmother.  She was warm sunshine on your face, the smell of baked goods and curling up with a thick blanket and a good book in front of a fire all rolled into one.  While Ember's mom asked, "When are you going to focus on studying something useful and get a real job?", Grandma Hazel thought that her interest in glass blowing was perfect.  If her mom hadn't wanted her to be fascinated by flashy signage, then maybe she shouldn't have moved them to Vegas.  Sneaking into clubs since she was 15 hadn't hurt either when it came to her love of neon.

Ember braced for the plane's descent and was glad when it stuck the landing and taxi'ed to the terminal.  She grabbed her bags, journeyed to the rental car village and picked up the keys to the small SUV whose penalty she either would or would not have to pay due to the smell of smoke she would probably leave behind.

She left the airport, got on the highway and let memories, instinct, and okay, a little GPS, guide her to her destination.  Her grandmother died before she could tell her they had got the job.  She missed the funeral.  Mom and her sisters were pretty pissed that the house had been left to some mysterious trust.  She promised herself she would go back and visit grandma's place one more time when things slowed down.  Once she knew the date of the club's opening, she booked a flight for the next day.  She didn't know she would be a hot mess in desperate need of sleep, but she woke up more and more as she smoked and took the winding roads that led her home.

Every summer she and her cousins met up at grandma's when they were kids.  She stayed there off and on at other times as well.  Her mom was flakey and didn't settle down in Vegas until she was almost a teenager.  Until then, home was grandma's house.  And she needed to go home. 

She was getting close.  Over the river, and through the woods as grandmother's house we near, no one asks about school, no one thinks I'm a fool, no one questions my career…  OK, that's not how the song goes, but it might as well have.  She was thinking about grandma and feeling lonely when the house came into view.  She wasn't sure what she expected when she turned into the driveway, but it wasn't a welcoming party of leather and lace.  Who the hell was this?

Then they all turned to her and stared.  Raine?  Gale?  And who was the guy in the hat? 

Confused, she got out of the car and went over to the group.  Raine threw her arms around her.  Gale looked surprised, then gave her a big cheesy grin and she turned to include him in the cousin love fest underway.  The guy in the hat cleared his throat and stared expectantly.  He finally got their full attention and said, "Good, now that you're all here, we can begin."

Offline MarikirTopic starter

Gale was still reeling when the man's voice penetrated his perception.  Gale turned toward the man in the hat and swung his leg over the cycle's seat, standing up.  He let his cousins go and glanced from Ember to the man, focusing on the man finally.

"Hang on, what's going on?"

The man raised an eyebrow at Gale's question. 

"If you would let me continue, Mr. Wyndham, I will answer the questions that need to be answered at this point in time and then let you and your cousins discover the answers to any other questions you may have on your own time, through your own effort.  I am busy after all."

Gale felt the presence of the man squash the further questions he had.  The man had the feel of the hardest, most severe building site supervisor Gale had ever worked under.  He gave a slight shrug and murmured an affirmative sound.

The man's eyebrow lowered and then he reached inside his coat, presumably going for the inner pocket.

"Now then, as the duly selected representative of the Hamamelis Trust, established at the behest of your grandmother, Hazel Southeil, it is my responsibility to pass along to you three the keys to your grandmother's former residence."

He took out three key rings, each with three keys on them.  The only distinguishing item on each key ring was a small leather tag that had stylized letters on them.  He handed the one with the 'G' to Gale, the one with 'E' to Ember, and the one with the 'R' to Raine.  The man pressed each  one into their palms with slightly more pressure than normal. 

He continued to speak.  "Now, the terms of your grandmother Hazel's will stipulates that the property shall become the joint possession of all three of you in the event that you all satisfy the requisite conditions."

He reached into his coat again and pulled out a clipboard.  Gale frowned slightly at the sight.  How was he holding that inside the coat?

The man ran a finger down the page on the clipboard and muttered to himself before nodding.

"Ah, here it is.  Yes, you three are required to appear at the house on this day, at this time, and then enjoined to take up residence here for the following two weeks.  Also, it is your responsibility to be on the premises for the entire 24 hours on the date of the Summer Solstice.  This shall refer to the hours of daylight from dawn of that day until dawn of the following day.  Since the Solstice occurs within the upcoming two weeks, I will be checking on your progress three times.  Once at dawn of the Solstice, once again at dawn of the next day, and then at the end of the two weeks."

The man glanced up at the three of them.

"I trust that is understood?  Good."

He flipped up a page on the clipboard and continued, not waiting for a response.

"Upon completion of the requirements and acceptance by yourselves of the responsibilities of residence at this location, all titles and legal rights to this property as well as any and all esoteric gifts and benefits shall be transferred to joint custody amongst you, to be shared and enjoyed by all of you."

The man, who Gale had decided must be a lawyer, reached again into his coat and pulled out a slim, stick like thing.  Gale was about to ask how in the hell that the guy had hidden that along with the clipboard when he realized that the item was a pen.  At least, it had the appearance of a pen, especially when the man pressed on the side and a metal tip slid out the bottom end with a soft click.  But Gale had never seen a pen with a feather on it.  Well, he had seen them in movies set in old times.  Also, he suddenly recalled, his grandmother had one in her study, a quill she called it, but it wasn't like this, one that combined modern and old style.  As a pen for day to day use, this was unusual.  The man held out the pen, the feather shifting in a sudden breeze.

"Sign here, please."

Gale turned toward his cousins and then back to the man.

"Hold up, you mean to say that...the house?  Is ours?!"

Gale's voice was incredulous. 

The man focused on Gale.  The pen was held still.

"No, it isn't.  Not unless you three satisfy the conditions laid out by Hazel.  However, if you can do that, you may accept the house under your own free will."

He moved the pen and the clipboard slightly, as if to draw attention to them.

"So, sign here please.  This is acceptance of the conditions and indicates your understanding in how to satisfy them."

Gale glanced back at his cousins.  He couldn't believe what he had just heard, but for some reason it didn't surprise him.  This sounded like something grandmother would do, some weird challenge in order to teach a lesson.  He also remembered that his mother had told him that the old house had been set aside for some reason, but she hadn't told him about this.  Maybe she didn't know?

"I...what do you two think?" he asked his cousins. 

Offline Elina

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Raine got her luggage and sent her Lyft driver on his way, and had barely made her way back to Gale when they both turned toward the sound of another set of tires crunching on the gravel driveway. Her jaw dropped when she Ember got out. "Hey, did you two plan to be here?" she asked in the middle of hugs, and was surprised when they both said no. So, this was some weird coincidence?

They were all chattering over each other, typing to figure out what was going on, when the tall guy who'd been standing in front of the house spoke and explained what was happening without really explaining anything at all. He gave them each a key and told them that the house was theirs if they stuck around for two weeks - not a problem for her because that's how long Raine had planned her trip for - and then explained that he'd be checking on their progress. What progress? Are we supposed to clean up the place? She opened her mouth to ask and then shut it again when the man gave her a stern look that let her know he'd not welcome interruption in the middle of his speech and continued on.

When he finished, holding out his pen...his quill?... in anticipation, none of them took it. Instead, they all looked at one another. What was going on? Who was this guy? Was this some sort of joke?

"I don't know," Raine answered when Gale asked her and Ember what they thought. "I don't even understand what's going on. I didn't tell you guys I was coming up here and it seems like you two didn't plan this either, and yet we're all here and this guys is acting like we had an appointment. I was going to call Grandma's neighbor to let me into the house. I figured old Mrs. Stonewall would have a key and would drive over."

She turned to the old man who was looking at them expectantly. "Um, excuse me, but who are you?" she asked. He looked affronted.

"I am who I am," he answered impatiently. "And as I told you, I am busy. You need to sign this so I can get on my way. Don't you understand the rules and stipulations?"

Raine didn't understand what was happening. She looked back at her cousins. "I don't know what is going on. I don't even get what progress he's supposed to check in on. Is this something Grandma wanted? Why wouldn't she have told us? I'm going to follow your lead on this. But something is telling me we should sign whatever he wants. I don't understand it, but I feel like I need to sign."

Offline QueenofSnark

Ember quietly watched the man.  The man turned to her and offered the pen.  She had questions.  She began to ask what would have been the first of many questions when the man raised his eyebrows above his glasses and spoke to her as if he could hear her thoughts. 

"This is not the time for questions, Ember Brantley.  This is a time for action."

He held out the pen.  She narrowed her eyes.  He thought he was stubborn did he?  He didn't even know from stubborn if he thought he could get Ember to do something she didn't want to do.

She opened her mouth and his look softened a little. 

Then he spoke, "Hazel said it would be you.  Very well."  He looked at all three of the cousins before resting his eyes on Ember.  Then he spoke again. 

"The house is yours if you choose it… and it chooses you.  That is what I will be checking for when I visit."  Ember again opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, he continued, "I will know the answer on my final visit once the solstice has ended and that is all there is to say right now." 

He held out the pen again and, surprising herself, Ember took it.  As she gripped the pen, the air seemed to get warmer and there was an almost staticy feeling of energy surrounding her.  She was still hesitant, but the longer she held the pen, the more the feeling grew.  She reluctantly signed her name where the man indicated and gave him back the pen.

He then turned to Gale who took the pen.  Gale lightly stroked his finger along the feather and a warm breeze blew onto the porch where they stood.  He made quick work of his signature and handed the pen over to Raine.

Raine took the pen and the air turned moist and expectant, like a spring shower was about to begin.  She added her signature to the document and thunder rolled in the distance.  The cousins all looked up.  It was an otherwise clear and cloudless day and the thunder seemed wrong, but also right?  The man did not seem fazed at all.

He tucked the pen and clipboard into his jacket.  He gave them a small smile and told them he would see them soon.  Then he turned, got into his car and drove away.

The cousins watched him go then turned to each other.  Almost simultaneously, they erupted into a chorus of "that was bizarre," "what the fuck was that?" and "holy shit."  Then they laughed and looked at each other fondly.  Ember looked at Gale and Raine and said what they were all thinking, "I missed you guys.  Man, I wish Grandma was here."  Another cousin hug ensued until Gale broke it with, "I guess we need to open the door and check out this shit show we inherited.  You realize there's probably been no one keeping up the place over the last year."  They looked around and saw the neat yard and well maintained flower beds.  Maybe someone was hired to keep the place from looking abandoned?

They all turned to the door.  Gale put his key in the lock and the door opened easily.  They all moved into the entryway and stared.  They expected dust.  They expected sheets covering the furniture.  They expected the place to feel desolate and empty, but that was not what they encountered.

It was the same as it had always been.  The sitting room looked cozy and ready for them to play games when it rained.  The air was clean and smelled like trees and the lake with just a hint of something else.  Was it…. cookies baking?  Snickerdoodles?  The banister leading upstairs was devoid of dust and shined like it had been polished that morning.  It was almost as if Grandma Hazel could step around the corner, out of the kitchen and welcome them home.

Offline MarikirTopic starter

Gale chuckled slightly at his own words about the place being abandoned as the other two cousins paused a second behind him.  During his drive up, he had been making a list of things to check on at the house and grounds.  He had planned on doing some repair and upkeep.  That would probably give him something to do for a couple weeks.  He leapt up the steps to the porch in one quick move that felt effortless.  He'd always done that as a kid.  Steps were for others.

He slid his key into the lock, but there was resistance.  He turned to mention something to the cousins.  Their feet hit the steps up to the porch as he opened his mouth.  The key spun in the lock with oiled ease.

Gale shut his mouth, a moment of confusion on his face as he turned back to the door.  It opened for him with no further resistance.  In fact, both of the front doors opened inward, not making a sound.

The three of the cousins stepped inside together and with growing surprise and confusion looked around.  It was as if they had left the place yesterday instead of a decade or so ago.

Gale took a deep sniff of the air. 

"That's...weird.  Smells like baking?"

He glanced at the others and then shrugged.  He took a further step inward. 

"Man, the whole concept of baking is weird for me ever since that movie came out.  That one about the kids fighting in an arena?"

He kept looking around, as if searching for their grandmother.  He couldn't have said if he was or wasn't at that moment in time.  He kept talking, his brain not really concentrating, just filling the empty air.

"You know, there was a character in there with my name in it.  Keep expecting people to ask me about what bread I baked that morning, but that never happened.  Oh well."

Ember and Raine glanced at each other then turned back to Gale.  They spoke at the same time.

"Peeta," they said simultaneously, both with an upturned eyebrow.

He turned back to them.


Ember took a step forward and patted him on the shoulder as she explained.

"Peeta was the baker.  Gale was a hunter."

Raine chuckled as she patted Gale's other shoulder.

"And he was played by a Hemsworth in the movie, so better luck on the comparison front next time, cousin."

Gale's eyebrows drew together for a moment as he started to open his mouth to argue, but then he realized that they were probably right.  Already they were falling back into their old habits as kids.

"Oh," he said instead.  "Okay, yeah, I kn-...uh, yeah.  Right."

Gale looked along the staircase leading upstairs.  He craned his head to look straight up. 

The other two had moved further in.  But all of them were in sight of each other.  They met each other's eyes.  With an unspoken agreement, they all moved toward where the kitchen was.

When they got there, Gale felt a little disappointment that opening the door didn't reveal their grandmother.  Gale moved over to the oven and opened it, bending down to look inside it.  He straightened and closed it.  The faint smell of cookies was already dispersing though by the time he had opened it.  .

"Okay, nothing there.  So, not a trick to make the place feel like a home."

Ember turned to look sharply at Gale.

"No trick is needed to make it feel like a home.  It already is."

She paused, then looked away.

"Well, it was.  Grandma's that is."

Gale felt a sting in the corner of his eyes. 

"Yeah," he said softly.  He tried to take a deep breath but it got stuck in his throat. 

He suddenly felt Raine and Ember hugging him.  They had moved over to him without a word or sound.  For another few seconds, the cousins held each other, but in comfort instead of joy. 

Gale whispered softly to them.

"Damn it, I'm gonna miss her so much.  I already do."

The others didn't say a word, knowing they didn't need to for the agreement to be shared among them.  They merely held each other for a little bit longer. 

There was a faint play of air along the shoulders of all of them, and the house seemed to exhale softly, offering its own comfort to the three.  They didn't seem to notice, but they each felt a little bit of the sorrow let loose its grip on them.

The embrace broke apart when Gale shifted to wipe his eyes.  None of them looked at each other for a second, composing themselves before turning back to each other.

"Well," Gale began. "I guess that we are here for at least a couple weeks?  I should get my few things from the bike and then start laundry.  Hadn't planned on staying that long, but what the hell, right?"

He headed back toward the front doors.  "We should also decide who gets what room."

He turned back to them for a moment, eyes glinting with mischief.  Then he suddenly broke into a run.

Offline Elina

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"Hey, no fair," Raine called out. Ember's laughter filled the air next to her as they both gave chase, trailing behind Gale as he darted up the stairs, seeming to fly up them as he skipped steps. It had been like this when they were kids, always a race to see which of them would get the room in the attic that they all coveted, always with Gale winning because he ran like the wind. The only thing missing was Grandma's laughter from the living room.

Gale reached the room first, pausing in the doorway and then entering. Ember and Raine followed behind him. Looking around, Raine shook her head. "It's so weird. I wonder who's been keeping the place up. I swear, it's exactly like it was last time I was here a decade ago. None of the furniture looks worn out. There's not even dust anywhere." Her fingers trailed along the edge of a dresser. Her cousins didn't have answers either.

They decided to get settled in and meet downstairs an hour later. Ember and Raine gravitated to the rooms they'd slept in as children, leaving Grandma's alone with some unspoken agreement. Raine got her luggage and went into the one she'd claimed, quickly unpacking her belongings, and then headed back to the kitchen, the scent of cookies reminding her that she'd eaten nothing since that bag of pretzels on the plane. Maybe they could order pizza tonight and worry about grocery shopping in the morning. Town was a twenty-five minute drive away, but the delivery place was surely used to people calling from around the lake. But when she opened the pantry, it was fully stocked. Her mouth twisted into a little frown as she picked up a jar of pasta sauce. Not expired. Everything seemed fresh.

She went to the refrigerator and found milk, juice, meat, produce... everything they'd need. The spice cabinet was the same, she realized as she sniffed at a small jar of oregano. Everything was fresh. It really was as if they'd been expected, even though none of them had.

She heard a noise behind her and turned to see Ember walking into the kitchen. "Pizza?" Ember asked, and Raine shook her head.

"No, check this out, Em. There's a lot of food here. The entire pantry is stocked, and so is the fridge. There's even some beer and wine. I wouldn't be surprised if the liquor cabinet is full, too." The cousins decided on pasta since it would be quick and chatted about how weird everything seemed as they started making dinner. Gale made a salad when he joined them.

The trio ate dinner at the table in the nook off the kitchen as they had when they were children. There was a formal dining room, too, but Grandma hadn't ever really used it when they'd been around. After, they changed into pajamas and reminisced, sitting on the thick living room rug. They talked about childhood summers playing in the lake and the surrounding woods. They told each other their favorite memories about their grandmother. They laughed, and a couple of times, they even became teary-eyed, lovingly squeezing each others' hands in support. They caught up with each other. There was only so much of one's life that was shared over Instagram, after all.

Offline QueenofSnark

Eventually the conversation turned to the now and the beer and wine flowed.  Between mouthfuls of Malbec, Ember told her cousins about glass blowing and blowing off school.  Other types of blowing might also have come up.  Partly of the sexual variety, but also the blowing up and blowing off that inevitably marked the end of her relationships.  Raine laughed and Gale hid behind his beer which did little to conceal his discomfort with the conversation.  Then Gale regaled Ember and Raine with stories from the sky where he worked in construction and went rock climbing in Colorado.  He was about to wax poetic about his motorcycle when the grandfather clock in the entryway began to chime.  They knew better than to talk over it.  The chimes were so loud, it had always seemed like the house was admonishing them.





Suddenly the air became charged with energy.  The cousins looked at one another with wide eyes and held one another's gaze.




Then the lights went out.  The cousins simultaneously drew in an audible breath and held it.




The windows rattled and the walls shook.  The cousins reached for each other and held tight.



There was silence once again in the house, but the lights remained off.  There was only the moon outside cutting through the windows into the darkness.  The cousins could hear their own hearts beating.  Almost as one they stepped back from one another and a chorus of expletives erupted from all three.

"What in the holy hell…?

"Mother fucker, what was that?"

"Shit balls on Sunday!"

That last one was Ember.  The other two turned to her quizzically, the seemingly haunted house nearly forgotten.

"Shit balls on Sunday?"  All of a sudden, they laughed like they needed it to survive.  And while tears of laughter streamed down their faces, they smiled at one another in flickering candlelight that had not been there moments earlier.

Offline MarikirTopic starter

The laughter died out prematurely as the three glanced around them.  Candles around the room were all lit, casting jumping shadows that blended and dissolved into each other.  Each of them took a few seconds to take in the light before taking quick looks at each other.

Gale spoke first, his eyes darting between his cousins and the lights that surrounded them.

"Uh," he began, clearing his throat, "just to make sure that my memory isn't shot all to hell, those weren't lit before, right?"

Raine shook her head.  Ember was silent.

Gale moved toward a set of three candles set next to a window.  The flames flickered into each other.  He reached out a hand.  He held it above the three, his eyes narrowing.

"Okay, so they are real.  It's hot."

The other two cousins glanced at each other, Ember raising her eyebrows.  What was he doing?

Gale slowly lowered his hand and then after a moment, yanked it back with a slight yelp.

"Ow!" he said.

Raine opened her mouth to say something.

A loud bang against the windows interrupted Raine, causing the three cousins to start in surprise.  Gale moved back toward the other two.

They all saw that the windows were now blocked by the exterior shutters.  All of the large windows in the room, of which there were a few, now were covered.  The light from the candles glowed against the dark wood grain of the now closed shutters.

The fact that it had happened to all of the windows, at the exact same time, was unmistakable to the three.  This was a virtually impossible coincidence, Gale thought.  Gale took another step backward, bringing the three of them into a line.

"That's...different," he said softly.

All of the flames on top of the candles suddenly shifted their flickering.  In a movement that was impossible to believe, they all bent inward toward the three.  It was as if the flames were reaching out toward the cousins.

There was a shift in the feeling in the air of the room.  Gale glanced up and around.

" feels like someone is watching us," he whispered.

But who?

Then, unbidden, a worse thought slipped into Gale's mind.

Or what?

He felt a cold chill run up his spine at that thought.  He kept the thought to himself.

Offline Elina

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There had been that weird gust of wind and thunder when they'd been outside, but Raine hadn't thought a storm was blowing in. Shutters slamming and candles lighting themselves? None of this was normal. And now, the air had become very still. That, at least, made sense. No air conditioner. "And to think I was going to stay here alone for two weeks," she muttered.

"This isn't funny, y'all," she admonished. "Trick candles?  Whose idea was this? Ember?"

Ember's lip curled sardonically, her eyes clearly saying "really, Raine?"


He shook his head.

"Well, then what the fuck is going on? Hey," she called out, "Whoever is pulling this crap, knock it off!" No response. Nobody had known they were coming, but clearly they had because that weird old man had met them at the door, and the entire house was stocked up and clean, so someone had access to everything. "You guys think someone is in here?"

Gale shrugged. His eyes were darting around the room. Ember's eyes were narrowed and suspicious.

It was the weirdest thing. It was eerie for sure. Weird as hell. And there was definitely a feeling of stillness and being watched. But somehow, it wasn't scary. There wasn't a feeling like they were in some slasher movie. Heck, there wasn't even a feeling like they were in a Scooby Doo episode.

"Guess we should look around and make sure there isn't anyone else here." They all talked about it and agreed. The house was big, but not so big that three people couldn't look at every nook and cranny within ten or fifteen minutes.

"You got the attic, so you check out the basement," Ember told Gale.

"Wait, that's --"

"You scared, Gale?" Raine asked, teasing.

"Fine. Shout if you find anything."

They split up, using the flashlights on their phones instead of the candles, and a few minutes later, met back up in the hallway. None of them had found anything weird, or at least not anything weirder. There was nobody here, nobody watching, unless some creep had set up cameras.

"This is messed up. Maybe it was all just some sort of weird coincidence after all. I say we call it a night." And then, as if in agreement, the candles in the living room blew themselves out.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2020, 03:32:57 PM by Elina »

Offline QueenofSnark

Re: Over the River and Through the Woods {One-shot} [Elina/QueenofSnark/Marikir]
« Reply #11 on: September 07, 2020, 12:36:02 AM »
As the candlelight snapped off, the light from the lamps around the room and in the hallway returned, as did the gentle hum of the air conditioner. 

OK then, that about maxed the weirdness quotient for one night.

Without comment, the cousins simultaneously agreed to ignore what their senses were telling them and go with Raine's suggestion.  They left the detritus of their meal and adult beverages and headed to their respective rooms.

Ember stayed in the same bedroom she had as a kid.  The bed was covered with a quilt grandma had sewn from old clothes worn by her mom and the aunts when they were little.  It was soft and familiar.  It smelled like Grandma's.  The bedside table had a touch lamp that looked like an old lantern and a dish etched in gold to hold her jewelry after she got ready for bed.  She thought about using it for an ashtray, but practically felt the house's disapproval.

Instead, she crawled under the covers.  It felt wrong, but also right.  She had had enough grief, family, fiery neon and loneliness.  She fell into a deep dreamless sleep.


The next morning Ember woke feeling more rested than she had felt in months, maybe years.  After a quick shower, she changed into lake clothes and headed downstairs.  In the kitchen she found the cousins already busy making breakfast.  Someone had already cleaned up last nights' dishes.  She grabbed a mug of coffee and went out to the back patio.  She took a gulp of hot coffee and lit a cigarette.  She pulled the smoke into her lungs and stared at the calm water of the lake. 

Raine sat down at the table and chided Ember for her habit.  "You know those things will kill you someday."  Ember blew smoke in her direction and smiled when Raine coughed dramatically.  "Not before I take out the next person who suggests that smoking might be bad for my health."  Ember took another drag and took in her surroundings. 

Gale had grabbed food and joined them.  "So how'd everyone sleep last night?"

They all agreed that despite last night's weirdness, everyone had slept really well.  It was time to make plans for the day.  Ember put out her cigarette and turned to her cousins.  "So, who's up for some exploring?"

Offline MarikirTopic starter

Re: Over the River and Through the Woods {One-shot} [Elina/QueenofSnark/Marikir]
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2020, 11:18:43 PM »
Gale shrugged as he popped his final piece of bacon into his mouth.  He stood and stretched his arms over his head.  He turned and looked up the side of the house, toward the top of the old residence.

"I think I'm going to just get on with what I had been planning on my way here."

He motioned toward the upper levels and roof.

"There has to be some kind of neglect, the house was supposedly empty for so long.  I'm going to climb up and check the roof, all the way up to the top.  Start on the outside and work my way in.  Even though the room in the attic seems...well, it seems like we had just left, but there has to be something."

He glanced back and the other two and raised his eyebrows in question.

"Right?  There has to be?"

He frowned and turned back to the house. 

He let the others state where they were planning on going, nodding after a second or two when they had finished.  He was already thinking about what he needed to do and grab in order to get up the house's exterior.  When they finished, he gave a final nod. 

"Anyway, I'm going to go put on my boots and some old jeans, then get climbing.  I guess I need to go check the shed for a ladder."

Could just climb up the side though he thought.  His mother's chiding from when he was a kid rang in his ear for a split second. 

"I'll yell if I need some help, but I don't think I'll have any problems.  This isn't anything compared to the last job site.  This has walls."

He chuckled and picked up the glass that had held his milk.  He reached for any dishes that the others had.

"Oh, I'll get these.  Least I can do after you two got the mess from last night."

He turned and walked inside, not noticing the strange glance that each of the other two gave him and then each other.

He called back out to Ember and Raine, over his shoulder.

"Oh, figure out what you both want for lunch.  If someone needs to go into town, I can go, assuming I don't break my neck this morning."

Offline Elina

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This whole thing was weird - now somehow the dishes had been done from the night before, and none of them had done them? Raine had that feeling like the had the night before, that niggling feeling that they were somehow not alone. And yet, she was unafraid, even though it was becoming more and more clear that someone had to be hiding in the house. Except... well, they had covered every inch of the house the night before when they had searched, and there had been nobody.

She shrugged it off, though. Maybe Ember had washed the dishes from the night before when she had gotten up - except that the dish rack next to the sink had been empty. There had been no newly-washed damp dishes drying or waiting to be put away.

Raine and Ember decided not to go outdoors to the lake or into the forest at that point. They wanted to be around in case Gale needed help or actually did injure himself, although neither one actually thought he would. He had always been agile. So instead, Raine went up to her room to grab a book she had brought along with her and her cell phone. As she was walking back down the stairs, she clicked on her phone.

As she reached the kitchen, where Gale was finishing up the dishes and Ember was leaned against the counter talking to him, she said, "Ugh. My phone is dead. I had it plugged in. I must have broken my charger. Gale, pick one up for me if you go to town please?" Although the house seemed pretty stocked up with groceries, so maybe they wouldn't need anything. "Can I borrow one of your phones? I just want to check in with mom."

They both pulled their phones out of their pockets and frowned. "What?" Raine asked.

"Dead," her cousins said at the same time.