WIDE OPEN EYES chapter two

Chap 2It was two weeks before Auberon got a day off. She didn’t mind the constant work and the promise of getting a real paycheck at the end of it all, though her feet were beginning to blister in places she didn’t know existed and her hands were red and tough from burns. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was fairly sure that most human bodies weren’t supposed to be worked constantly, and that she was beginning to feel the after effects of overtiredness, Auberon thought she was doing just fine.

“Take a break,” Hazel said one afternoon as she turned to look at Auberon, her constant smile faltering. “You look like you’ve been walking across the Sahara for days with no food or water.”

“I don’t think that’s a compliment,” Auberon said, letting out a laugh that turned into a sigh. She wasn’t necessarily wrong. Auberon was used to working hard, but working at the pace that Hazel did and keeping up with her for two constant weeks had barely given Auberon any time to settle into her new home. On top of that, she had been constantly stressed about her aunt coming and finding her to drag her back home. She didn’t think the probability of it was that high, but that didn’t mean a chill didn’t run down her spine every time she heard the jingle of the opening door.

“It’s not meant to be. Take a few days off. It’ll give you a little bit of time to spend that paycheck of yours.”

“Paycheck?” Auberon practically blossomed at the words, surprise falling across her face. Hazel snorted and gestured to the back.

“Yeah, every other Friday. It’s in your cubby – go cash it across the street. Get out of here, I’ll close up.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Auberon called over her shoulder, practically sliding into the back room. As promised, sitting neatly and unassuming in the cubby next to her keys, was a neatly folded envelope with her name spelled out on the front of it. Her heart fluttered in her chest with excitement as she tore the envelope open and looked inside, the check – just as unassuming a piece of paper as the envelope it was in – with her name on it looking up at her. Relief flooded her veins. In between this and the tips she had been splitting with Hazel for the last two weeks, she would have enough for rent and then some. And that was only two weeks worth of work.

Giddiness flooded through her as she bounced out of the cafe, giving Hazel a quick side hug. She was ushered out of the building by her coworker, who thrust an iced Americano into her hand before waving her off. Auberon was halfway down across the road toward the bank before she thought, yet again, about how lucky she was.

 

Auberon wasn’t telling Hazel this, and if her coworker had noticed at all within the last two weeks she hadn’t said anything, but Auberon had been eating solely off of a stolen plate and fork from the cafe.

It was one of the things that the basement apartment hadn’t come equipped with, and Auberon had been just getting by enough on tips that she hadn’t thought to set aside money to buy real utensils or that which to eat off of. Honestly Auberon was getting on fine with the salad plate she had nicked from work. Plus, honestly, no one bought so many baked goods that the tiny thing would be missing.

It was while she was standing in the aisle 7 of the only grocery store in town she first heard of the missing person, looking at plastic forks, knives, and paper plates.

“Sad about the Johnson girl,” she heard from the other side of the aisle. She was staring at the plastic forks and spoons. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to commit to actual silverware and honestly she was fairly sure that the tiny grocery store wouldn’t have any, anyway. The thought was pushed out of her mind as the woman, hidden by the shelf, let out a heavy sigh – Auberon wanted to know what could have been so sad about whoever this girl was.

“Oh, just terrible. I can’t imagine what her mother is going through.” If she had had moveable ears, they would have perked in the direction of the conversation. Instead she slowly made her way toward end of the aisle, looking down to see both women chatting while mulling over condiments; one woman was holding a jar of mayonnaise and the other a double pack of ketchup. They were both staring intently at the items in their hands, as if they were judging their purchase based on the labels. In all actuality they were just pretending to do something to cover up their blatant gossip.

“Can’t you, though? She let her daughter out at night when she knows what’s out here. It could have been anything. Coyotes, a bear…a boy,” the first woman said. Her brown hair was tied up in a tight ponytail, and she was wearing a matching track suit. She nudged her companion with her shoulder, although she didn’t take her eyes off the ketchup in her hands. The other woman – tall, blond, willowy – hushed her and looked down either end of the aisle they stood in. Her eyes glazed right over Auberon, who looked suddenly very intent on the Worcester sauce in front of her.

“You can’t say things like that out here, Joan. Someone might hear you.”

“I’m only saying what everyone else is saying. Girls’ don’t go missing here. They run away. Off to bigger cities with their secret boyfriends. I did the same thing when I was her age, you know, and I came running back with my tail tucked between my legs. Begged my mother for her forgiveness. I was gone for six months. Sarah will come back, same as me.”

“You do have a way of settling my thoughts, Joan,” the blonde said with a sigh, placing the mayonnaise back on the counter. “I was getting a little bit worried about Amy.”

“Don’t be. Amy and Sarah weren’t that close, were they?”

Auberon grabbed the unneeded bottle of steak sauce and threw it in her basket, turning on her heel then. She didn’t need to hear much else. It was bad enough that she was eavesdropping on them anyway – it seemed like petty high school drama, although admittedly it felt like the women were downplaying it a little bit. If a girl was missing it was always smartest to leave all options open, and not just decide on the easiest, right?

The rest of her shopping trip was uneventful, up until she had paid and was carrying her paper bag out to her bicycle. A police officer sat in his car, watching the opening doors of the market. He tipped his hat to Auberon as she came out, and she gave a slightly forced smile as she moved to unlock her bike and to strap her bag of groceries onto the back of it.

Officer Henry, you on patrol?” the speaker from inside of his car crackled to life, and the officer sat straighter instantly.

“Nah sir, I’m out front of the market. You need me?”

We need everyone,” it said, “back to the station now. We’ll prep you there.

“Roger that, sir. I can be there in five.”

The car grumbled to life and sped out of the lot, back wheels squealing as it turned onto the main road. Auberon watched him fly off, her eyebrows knitting together as she slipped her keys into her front pocket and lifted herself onto the bike. Maybe Raven’s End wasn’t always as quiet as it seemed.

 

,,,By the time she finally came home, it was dusk. She had taken her time to roam around the town, riding her bike down back roads and following sidewalks that she had yet to go done. Almost every day she had been exhausted once she came off work, so she hadn’t made it out to do any true exploring of the place she was planning on calling home. This afternoon had been just perfect for that – it helped that everything she bought at the store would stay solid, too.

She leaned her bike under the awning of the deck and locked it there. Her fingers fumbled for keys, one arm wrapped around her bag of groceries. Had it not been for the unfortunate crunch from underneath her feet, Auberon never would have noticed the smear of blood that tracked down the glass and culminated in a crumbled mess that was quite literally under her feet.

It took all of her willpower not to scream when she did look down.

Auberon pulled her foot away, inhaling through her nose as deeply as she could. Her shadow fell over it, but even with the darkening sky she could see the scattered and clumped feathers, slick with wetness. White portions of bone stuck out where her foot had been. Fragments were still attached to her shoe. Guilt clung to her throat like a choker, tightening with every breath. Her next inhale brought the metallic tang of blood, and the scream that was stuck in her throat changed into a gag as she tumbled backwards, the bag falling out of her hand, contents tumbling out as she tried to back as far away from the dead bird as possible.

It was obvious what had happened – it had flown right into the glass door, so hard that it had broken itself. Killed itself. She had only made it worse by not noticing, by practically crushing it underneath her feet. Now it lay, eyes glassy, wings broken. It would never fly again. Not now that it’s entire chest lay open and trampled. Auberon didn’t want to touch it, didn’t want to look at it, but she couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of it, and in the same moment she wanted to reach her hand out to it and comfort it. As if there was still some form of life in the frail body. As if there was some spirit lingering there.

She finally closed her eyes and did her best to think of anything else. She thought of the vegetables that would be bruised on the ground, on work in the morning. She breathed and tried to ignore the smell of blood. When she finally opened her eyes, she didn’t look at the bird. She moved over it, opening up the door and kicking off her shoe outside – making sure it didn’t land anywhere near the bird – and grabbed a roll of paper towels.

From there it was simple. A clean up job. Auberon couldn’t look at it as anything else without getting sick, so she pretended that she was just taking care of a mess at work. She had knocked over a bottle of syrup and used coffee grounds the other day that had looked a little like the mess on her front porch. In the darkness she could pretend that that’s what this was, as long as she didn’t try to focus too hard on it. It was only when her fingers brushed against the smoothness of its beak that she was reminded that it had once been living. Breathing, heart pumping and glassy eyes blinking. Auberon got up and walked away for a moment, staring out into the darkness as she put the back of her hand to her forehead. There was nothing she could have done to stop it. It was a wild bird, for fuck’s sake. Even if she had been here, all that would have changed was that she would have seen it happen. That might have been even worse. Turning back to the rest of its remains – no longer able to look at it as a mess from the shop – she let out a deep sigh. For now all she could do was clean it up and hope that she could do was hope that she could give the poor thing some dignity. She moved slowly, gathering its remains as she found them – scattered bones from where she had crushed it, feathers that had fallen in the mess – and set them all carefully alongside the body. When she was finished, there was only the puddle of sticky blood on the ground in front of the door, and the smear. The bird lay wrapped tightly in the towels.

Auberon didn’t just want to throw it away, and burying it six feet underground felt just as alien. A bird was not meant to hide beneath the Earth. It felt disrespectful. It was obvious after she had picked it up from its size that it was a raven, and it felt wrong to show such little reverence to it – especially given the town’s namesake. This was her home, after all, and she should treat it as such.

She would burn it in the woods, later. Give it as close to a Viking funeral as she could. The bird, she decided, would fly one last time.

 

Auberon had finally managed to go inside, hiding the remains of the bird in her bathroom and shutting the door tightly behind her. It was at ten thirty, and all she had done in the time between setting the bird up in the bathroom and setting herself up in the living room was stare at the eggshell white wall. For a good quarter of an hour, that was all she had figured out how to do. She was positive that it was the shock of the scenario – it isn’t every day that you have to reassemble a dead and broken raven, of course – but it left her heavy headed and feeling like she had fog in her brain. It felt almost surreal, despite the obvious reality of everything. She might have been able to write it off as something else if she hadn’t been so sure there was a dead bird in her bathroom sink.

Over time, the idea of functioning like a normal human person returned to her, and somewhere between her blank staring and then she had realized that something had to be done about the corpse before it started decomposing. So she texted Hazel. Both because she knew no one else and because she felt that if anyone would help, it would be her.

Hey, can I ask you a weird question?

Shoot! Hazel replied, almost instantly. A wave of relief flooded Auberon.

If I needed to burn something is there a safe place for me to do it?

Yeah. When?

Tonight?

There was a short pause before her phone began buzzing in her hand, Hazel’s face suddenly appearing on the screen. Auberon answered the call immediately, phone shaking as sudden anxiety rippled through her. She had never been good at phone calls, and the strangeness of the night didn’t change that. In fact, it made her anxiety a little worse. Her whole body felt like it was on high alert.

“Hey?” She asked, warily. She was about as used to receiving phone calls as she was to texting – and ultimately both of those things were fairly new to her. It wasn’t that she had been…isolated growing up. It was just that she had had more important things to do, and the only phone calls she had ever gotten were from her aunt. Those never ended well. Phone calls, along with many other day to day tasks, fell into the category of Immediately Anxiety Inducing.

“Hey. What do you have to burn and do you need a ride?” Hazel’s readiness took Auberon by surprise, but she didn’t hesitate in responding, more glad that she was so willing to offer her services even if she had no idea what they would be used for.

“It is…kind of a weird story, but a ride would be good, considering I have no idea how to get around here still. And it’s dark, which will make it harder.”

“Okay, I can be there in ten. Meet me down the road.” Auberon smiled to herself, happy that she didn’t have to explain just yet and that despite a complete lack of detail, Hazel was more than happy to offer her services. It was incredibly refreshing. It almost felt a little bit like friendship.

“You” Auberon began, leaning back against the kitchen counter, “are seriously awesome. Do you know that?”

“I’ve been told,” Hazel said, letting out a half laugh, “but I try not to let it go to my head. Most of the time. See you soon.”

The line clipped off, and Auberon moved to gather the bird, making sure it was padded enough to go on a ride without breaking itself too much more.

Auberon stood a little ways past the gate, where the private road turned into public, and waited for Hazel. The night air was cool against her skin – not so much that goosebumps raised on her arms, but enough that she took a shaking breath as she held her backpack close to her chest. Or maybe it was because she had a dead bird in her pack. What had once contained the entirety of her belongings, essentially her entire life, was now carrying what was left of the raven’s. She wasn’t sure if that counted as poetic justice or not.

When the headlights of Hazel’s Subaru pulled down the road Auberon gave a half-hearted wave and walked towards the vehicle as it rolled to a slow stop. As she opened the passenger’s side door and slid in, pack still hugged to her chest, she couldn’t help but notice Hazel’s eyes locked onto the mansion. It wasn’t until the door shut firmly behind Auberon that she managed to shake her attention from the house and looked at her passenger.

“Hey. So what are we burning?”

“Okay so, first thing, please do not kill me after I tell you what is in the bag. Second…I have a dead bird in the bag.”

“Right,” Hazel said, sucking both of her lips in and staring at Auberon. She stayed silent for a good thirty seconds or so, obviously mulling over what the best thing to say was. “So we’re burning the bird.”

“He deserves a proper funeral.”

“Right. And that means we’re burning him why?”

“Like a Viking funeral.”

Hazel nodded, lips pursed but looking poignant as she backed out onto the main road. The car rumbled quietly along, the softest hint of electronic music reverberating through the speakers. They both remained silent, dark trees zooming past them as they sped down the country road. Auberon had never been this far out before – hadn’t managed to get much farther than the singular city light, if she was being honest. The streets and roads she had been exploring earlier the day weren’t exactly much to see, and had it not been for the fact that she had enjoyed the leisurely sentiment of it all, it would have been incredibly boring. This was different though – as they drove down the road and the trees buzzed past them, the stars were out in full force, lighting up the night sky with the help of the half-full moon. The past two weeks had flown by for Auberon, letting her get lost in the work and tedious – but welcome – day to day life of living alone. It was a sort of freedom and ultimately it was exactly what she wanted…but there was something that she hadn’t wanted to admit that she lacked. Something that she had hoped to find but was missing somewhere along the lines of her easily found house and job.

Now, sitting beside Hazel, driving down a road she had never been before, Auberon had the sudden realization that it was this.

Whatever this feeling was, the way she felt sitting next to a girl who was becoming her friend and who had appeared to her with no need for explanation and offered nothing but help while driving along a deserted road in the middle of one of the most beautiful nights she had ever seen, was what she had been missing.

Minus the bird, of course. Auberon would have been much happier if this hadn’t involved a corpse.

The feeling slowly dismantled itself as the car slowed, and Hazel pulled off onto a long gravel driveway. At the end sat a house with the light of a television flashing through the window. The moment the cars headlights hit it, the front porch light flicked on and the front door opened, practically in the same second.

“Where are we?” Auberon asked, straightening up suddenly. The figure that stood, half-illuminated in the light, was a thick set man that was so tall that his head practically touched the doorway. His hair was long and pulled back behind his head. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, which made Auberon instantly uncomfortable; she had always hated that men had the option to be half naked whenever they wanted to and women were always constrained to at least underwear.

“Tane’s house. He’s an old friend,” Hazel replied, looking over to her passenger with a smile. “Don’t worry. He’s Good People too.”

“So it’s not just me then?” Auberon asked, a shaky laugh escaping her lips.

“Sorry to burst that bubble, but no, it’s not just you.” Hazel shut off the car and slid out, instantly running up the steps and wrapping her arms around the man. He swung an arm around her in return – so thick that if he had used both he would have squished her in his grasp – before letting her go and giving a nod to Auberon, who stood awkwardly just outside of the passenger’s seat.

“What are we burning?” He asked, clearing his throat and waving Auberon toward him. “Not just a backpack?”

“A bird,” Hazel sighed, although the porch light illuminated her smile. “We’re sending him back to Valhalla to feast with the Vikings.”

 

WIDE OPEN EYES: chapter one

Chap 1.png

Old Madge sat and stared at the wall in front of her. The heavy bed sheet which covered it most days, hiding it from her view and from her constant thoughts, was lifted and tied to the side. Floor to ceiling was covered in notes, pinned with thumbtacks and wall tacky and tape, all scribbled down in chicken scratch that not even a nurse could comprehend. Threads of all different colors intertwined, looping and dancing along each other, sometimes spun together and creating a rainbow of colors. It was a mess, reminiscent of something someone might have seen in a police procedural; a conspiracy board. Anyone who wasn’t Old Madge would have instantly thought it to be unorganized, a mess, nothing more than a strange woman’s ramblings. It was incomprehensible except to her.

“Oh,” she said softly as she took a step closer, running her finger along the length of a singular thread. It was periwinkle blue – almost lost in the bright shades of pink, yellow, and purple. The old woman’s eyebrows furrowed, the wrinkles around them instantly caving around them to make them look more like little black sockets where eyes should have been. “This isn’t good at all.”

She plucked the thread, and it reverberated against the thumbtacks that held it up on either end, moving from one edge of the wall to another. Like a domino affect, the others all began to ripple and vibrate as well. So many of them moved that the softest hum echoed around the room.

“Old Madge, what are you going to do?” The woman asked herself, placing a palm directly against the wall, stopping the threads from moving as they went taut against her hand. They left her in absolute silence.

****

If you had asked Auberon Wolf what she had thought about her life up until today, she wouldn’t have been able to say anything good about it. Up until this morning, almost every day since the morning of her twelfth birthday had been one insurmountable disaster after another, and before long they had all added up until there wasn’t much left that she could do except merely survive. Today was the day, she was sure of it, that she had been surviving for.

“So these are the copies of your keys,” said Mr. Montgomery, handing her a keyring of jingling metal. She held it in her hand, the cold of it against her skin causing goosebumps to rise just past her wrists. She couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “Do you have anything you’ll need help moving?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head as she looked up from the keys to him. He was a younger man, hardly older than his mid thirties, with already graying hair but a youthful face. It was his cheeks that threw her off – they were large and plump, and could be perfectly described by the one Christmas song about Santa’s being cherry-like. His blue eyes were watery but kind, and his smile seemed genuine enough. And he wasn’t asking her any questions – if he did she wouldn’t have any answers anyway. So she had to appreciate that much about him. “Just me, my bike and my pack.”

“Alright then. Sounds like it’ll be an easy enough job to settle in then. Town isn’t too far from here, and if you need any help with groceries or anything on that bike of yours, just let us know. I’m sure Jefferson would be able to take the car down to the store for you.” The fact that the Montgomery’s had a butler, that they referred to by only their last name, was an instant reminder of the sort of place she was moving into. The family above her was obviously affluent, rich, probably indulgent. That they would even consider renting to someone like her was a surprise, and even more so because of the fact that they were actually taking her money and handing her the keys without blinking.

“Thank you – that’s very kind,” she said, her smile growing. Except after she handed him over her rent money for this and last month, she was fairly sure she was only going to have money to buy granola bars and oatmeal until she was able to find a job. That wasn’t something she needed to share with her new landlord, though.

“I’ll let you settle in. Just come knock on the front if you need anything,” he said with a wave, disappearing around the corner of the large manor.

She had no idea how she had gotten so fucking lucky.

Turning around, she let everything sink in. She was hardly more than a day from her aunt’s home, but she wasn’t sure she would have managed to find this good of a deal elsewhere, and honestly she didn’t care about proximity. It wasn’t like her aunt was going to come looking for her. And the town – at least what she had seen of it so far, which wasn’t much – was idyllic. It was the sort of place that you wanted to be. Which was funny, because she had never heard of it before even though she had lived just miles away from it for most of her young adult life. She pushed the thought away, though, in lieu of better ones. Like the fact that she had a home, with a backyard, totally to herself. In the basement of a mansion, no less. Sure, it was going to take most of the money she had saved up, but ultimately if it meant she had a place to stay, one that she could call her own, she didn’t care how much it was. She would find a job soon enough, and Mr. Montgomery had been incredibly understanding. It wasn’t like she had lied – she had blatantly told him she just wanted someplace of her own, and that she was going to be working on getting on her feet. He was aware that she wasn’t currently rolling in money and she had made it abundantly clear that she had no current job. She just hadn’t made it clear how broke she would be once she handed over her cash. At the time that had been good enough for him, and Auberon couldn’t have been more grateful.

“Holy shit,” she whispered to herself as she felt the keys in her hand, running her thumb over the teeth. With her other hand she threw the door open, taking a deep breath as the smell of a new coat of paint and floor wax filled her nostrils.

It was so much more than Auberon had ever imagined she would get. It was technically a studio apartment, if a studio was the same size as a miniature football field. It was the size of a real, proper apartment, just the minus the walls. Considering it was just going to be Auberon here anyway she wasn’t really concerned about those to begin with.

The room came already furnished, thank god, otherwise she would have been stuck using her sleeping bag. At least until she had enough money to find a bed for cheap on something sketchy like Craigslist or the classifieds, and a fear of bed bugs had been looming ever since she had made the last second decision to run away.

Except it wasn’t really running away if she was honest – considering she was just on the tail end of nineteen years old, and was perfectly capable of living on her own. Legally capable, even. The only part of it that was running away was the fact that she hadn’t told her aunt that she was doing it, and that she had spirited away in the middle of the night – for fear of her being found out and guilted into staying, of course.

Large windows took up most of the main wall, natural light casting a shadow on the sectional that took up the main living area. Without realizing Auberon had pushed forward into the room, door shutting softly behind her. Her fingers ran against the back of the couch, the soft suede rubbing against the pads. She let her bag fall off her shoulder into the corner of the couch as she wandered across the hardwood floor, drawn to the massive bed pushed into the corner of the room. It was covered practically from head to toe in blue throw pillows and an overly ornate duvet, the sort of thing that appeared in Better Living magazines. Auberon was instantly in love with it.

The last time she had had a new bed, a bed that looked like someone cared about it, a bed with new sheets and new pillows and that wanted to be made, she had been ten years old and her life had been very, very different. The nostalgia – mixed with the excitement of having something of her very own – overwhelmed her; Auberon threw herself onto the bed, flopping onto her stomach and giggling the moment the bed seemed to swallow her in its softness. The bed didn’t creak, the mattress didn’t protest. She sunk into it – she could imagine its soft arms wrapping around her and hugging her, just as happy to be used as she was to be using it. It felt like heaven.

“Home sweet home,” she murmured into a pillow, letting her words disappear into the fluff

She didn’t stay there long, if only because it didn’t take long for her to get stir crazy. With no form of entertainment in the home – no books, no television, nothing to use to decorate – Auberon figured that it would do her no good to just sit around in the house, staring at the eggshell colored walls (if they really were eggshell – if she was honest she had no idea what constituted as real white versus any other shade. When did shades of white turn to shades of grey? So for the sake of the fact that her new landlords seemed to be the sort to use ‘eggshell’ over ‘real’ white, she deduced that that was what the color was, like a regular Sherlock Holmes). Plus, she had always been bad about waiting for anything. Her logic told her that the sooner she got into town, the sooner she would be able to find a place that was hiring, and thus find a job and start making a living. After all, that was all she really wanted to do.

Mr. Montgomery had been right – the downtown area was less than a mile away and completely flat, so an easy bike ride with no real issues. At most people stared at her as she flew past them on the sidewalk, presumably because she was a new girl who had never been seen in these parts before. From the sign she had seen when she was first coming into town limits – a decrepit old thing with a carving of a large raven on it that proclaimed boldy RAVEN’S END, POPULATION EST. 2,105 – she assumed that this was one of those places where everyone knew everyone, and she was probably going to be worth talking about. Which, considering the fact that she was looking for a job and hoping to make this place home, wasn’t the worse thing in the world.

From the looks of it there were only two stoplights in the whole town – one by the exit and one smack dab in the middle of the most ‘metropolitan’ area, if one could even call it that. It didn’t seem particularly busy, although people could be seen walking from shop to the next; cars drove through and straight toward the highway and out of town. If anything this seemed more like the sort of place where one might stop to grab a coffee and use a restroom, rather than settle down and spend the day. Just as she rode down the sidewalk – there was no bike lane, and even despite the twenty mile per hour speed limit she wasn’t about to drive in the road and piss off the locals on day one – she passed by everything that looked like it might have been of any merit; a cafe, a second hand bookstore, and most surprisingly a place labeled RAVEN’S END APOTHECARY. The town’s bank sat kitty corner from where she paused at the intersection, and the only interesting thing about that was the bike rack that sat outside of it.

In all honesty, the entire town seemed to have boring, dreary charm down pat. Auberon added that instantly to the list of things she was falling in love with.

It didn’t take long for Auberon to realize, as she locked her bike in place, that it was well before eleven and only two things besides the bank she stood next to was open. There was the diner to her left, and the cafe that she’d already passed. This early in the morning, she would only have two options on where she could start looking for work.

“Are you looking for something lass?” A voice said from directly behind her, making Auberon jump and spin around with a gasp. Standing less than a foot away from her was the most pale woman she had ever seen – her skin and hair were the same exact shade of paper white, her eyes a gray that Auberon had never imagined could be seen anywhere but in clouds. A fraying sun hat sat back on her braided hair, creating a shadow just over her eyes and across the bridge of her nose. “Sorry to surprise you,” she said with a grin. It took up half of her face, crooked and pulled tightly to the right side, leaving the left almost motionless. Despite the apology she looked deeply pleased with herself, as though she had just pulled the most delightful prank on someone. “Just looked like ya needed some help.”

Auberon’s heart beat hard in her chest from the scare, but she gave the woman her best attempt at a smile and nodded as she took a deep and steadying breath. “Thank you – I actually would love some help.” She stood up straighter and gave the woman a smile as she extended a hand for the older woman to shake. “I’m Auberon.”

“Knew I hadn’t seen you ‘round – I know everyone. Madge, I am,” she said as she took Auberon’s hand and gave it a firm, hard shake, harder than Auberon had expected. “Auberon’s a funny name, d’ya know where it came from?”

“No,” Auberon said with a shrug – she had looked it up once but her parents had been gone long before she had ever gotten the urge to ask them what had made them pick it. “No idea. So you know everyone here?” She said, instantly moving the subject on – the woman seemed nice enough, if not…quirky, and if she knew everyone then there was a high chance she would know if there was someone hiring. At least that was what she hoped.

“One and all, big and small,” the woman said with a wink, not dropping Auberon’s hand as she began tugging her in the direction of the crosswalk. “C’mere, let Old Madge get you set. I’ve got a good sense about people, Auberon, and I get a good sense about you. Do you know what sense I’m getting?” She asked, ignoring the glowing red hand sign that told them to stay put on the other side of the street and pulling Auberon along behind her no matter, “that you’re good people. I know just the place for you.”

Old Madge pulled her to the other edge of the street and pushed open the door of the cafe, making sure that Auberon was in before she let the door fall shut behind her. Floor-to-ceiling windows crossed the entire room, black and white tile on the floor, a granite counter top creating a bar that took up the back and main wall. It wasn’t all that busy except for a man sitting in the corner, dutifully tip-taping away at his keyboard, and the girl that leaned against the counter in a black apron, doodling on a napkin and swirling a spoon in a cup of piping hot coffee with the other hand.

When the door fell shut and the bells that sat around its handle jingled, the girl looked up right at Auberon, and a grin overtook her face as if she was seeing a long lost friend for the first time in years.

“Whose this, Old Madge?” She said, pushing away both the coffee and the doodle. “Who’ve you brought to me today?” The girl’s dyed black hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail that fell just between between her shoulder blades. Her smile was big and genuine, showing whitened teeth that were so straight they could have only been made so by braces, and a splattering of freckles across her nose that seemed to move as she spoke and smiled. Her eyes were a mossy shade of green, and just like Madge, there was something strangely inviting about her.

“Hazel,” Old Madge cried, despite their proximity, “I’ve brought you a good people,” she said, tugging again on Auberon, who blushed but grinned nonetheless.

“I thought I told you I don’t take in strays,” the other girl said. Now standing directly opposite each other on either side of the bar, it wasn’t hard to see that Auberon was almost half a foot taller than the barista – she had to look up to smile in Auberon’s direction.

“She ain’t a stray – her name is Auberon, and she’s good people.”

“And how long have you known this ‘good people’?” Hazel asked, outstretching her hand for Auberon to shake – her handshake, while looser than Old Madge’s, was still firm. The sort that she had been instructed as a proper, good handshake by her debate teacher in high school. “I’m Hazel, if you haven’t figured out yet.”

Old Madge let out a sigh and shrugged, letting Auberon’s hand go for the first time. “Somewhere between five years and five centuries, I’ve yet to figure that out yet,” she said in a groan, although her words ended in her half-sided, toothy grin. “This good people is looking for something and I think you can help her.”

“Let me guess,” Hazel said, directing her words at Auberon now, “you’re looking for a job.”

“You would be correct,” Auberon said, giving the girl a half smile. “Although I wasn’t expecting to be caught up in whatever Miss Madge is trying to sell you – I’m really not all that sure I’m good people,” she said, giving a sheepish grin.

“Old Madge,” the older woman said, ending in a cackle.

“Oh, that’s the thing – good people never are. It’s the ones that tell you that they’re good people you’ve got to look out for,” Hazel said, this time moving toward the back of the counter to where a display case of baked goods sat. She pulled out a muffin and placed it on a napkin, handing it to the old woman and making a shooing motion. “For your troubles, Old Madge. If it wasn’t for you, god forbid, I’d never have anyone else to cover my shifts. I’ll see you around I’m sure.”

“You’ll see me when I see me,” Old Madge said with a shrug, giving a hard pat on Auberon’s shoulder as she took the muffin and began to walk backwards toward the door. “I’ll see you when you see me!” And with that toddled out of the cafe, disappearing out the door and around the corner as if she had never been there.

“Does that happen often?” Auberon asked, staring at the place where Old Madge had just been standing.

“Not all that often, but it doesn’t not happen, if you know what I mean.”

“I think so.” As Auberon spoke Hazel ducked down behind the counter, reappearing a moment later with a folded apron in her hands, identical to the one she wore. She thrust it out to Auberon across the granite bar.

“So, Good People, you want a job or not?” Continue reading

silence on the home front;

Been quiet here lately. Not even crickets sounding off. There’s a good reason though, I promise.

I’ve already failed this portion of my quarterly goals, but that’s alright, because it’s helping me make sure I get to another part of it. I missed last week’s blog post but I’ll be posting an additional post tomorrow. That post will be the beginning of a short story serial that will be going up in a weekly format, and will hopefully be something you’re all interested in.

It’s the story of a girl named Auberon, who has spent her entire life wanting to escape and have freedom on her own terms. She just wants to be able to live her life as she sees fit, and decides to settle down in a small town she’s never heard of, slowly making herself something that might last. There’s just one small thing though…this town isn’t exactly as quiet as most small towns are supposed to be. This town is sitting on a secret, and Auberon might be exactly the person it needs to uncover it.

The story is, if you’re looking for a genre breakdown, a YA paranormal/supernatural piece. It’s going to be posted weekly, every Thursday evening, and I’m really excited to share it with whoever is going to be reading it.

Back to radio silence – I’ve got some finishing touches to work on.

Muchly. ❤

unstoppable force meets immovable object

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There’s a bar by the windows. She sits there partially because there is nowhere else, and partially because of the trapped feeling that blossoms in her chest as she looks around the otherwise packed cafe. Here, she can study the stained glass of the theater across the street. Here, she can keep an eye on those who walk in, out, and by…and also on the corner of the room, where the door reads EMPLOYEE’S ONLY in damning red letters. Here, in the corner of the bar where she can see it all, she feels safe.

She knows that safety would be gone the moment she passed through the labeled door, the moment she slipped underneath the EMPLOYEE and shut it behind her. The idea makes her chest flutter weakly within its cavity – or maybe because of the person sitting beside her, with the flat chest and the shaved head, who she can’t stop stealing glances at. She knows she wants to grab their hand and run through the door, throwing ideals of safety out the window for the chance of adventure and maybe love…but instead she remains sitting. She’s quiet. She reads her book by the windows, easily distracted by passers-by.

Instead, she dreams.

—It isn’t safe, just beyond the door. She hears it buzzing. It’s constant, like the soft whir of a fan, but higher pitched. As though there’s some sort of frequency attached to it. No one else seems to notice it and never has. Despite the fact that she’s come here every day for months, she’s never once witnessed an employee step past the threshold. She wants to know what the buzzing is – almost yearns for it sometimes, on the days when the fluttering in her chest gets overwhelming and the fear subsides just long enough for her to wonder if it would be worth it to run through and forsake it all. She knows that ultimately, it’s too much for her. She never could. She relishes the safety of her books too much. She relishes the dream of slight perfection in the back of her head, the one that always pinpoints the person with the shaved head and tries to beckon them to look over at her.

For the first time, in that moment, they do. They look with their soft grey eyes at her and the fear all but leaves. Instead she’s caught by their beauty, the simpleness, the way the corners lead up into soft eyelashes that almost touch their cheeks as they blink. It’s in that moment that she decides. Fuck the fear, fuck the buzz, fuck it all.

She doesn’t speak, she just stands, and she crosses the room. No one notices, no one at all, except for the person with shaved head whose eyes follow her all the way. They follow her even as her fingers touch the knob. The buzzing has grown increasingly louder.
Louder, and louder still, until it’s all that’s in her head. Except for those grey eyes, which for some reason keep her unafraid. She looks back at them. They look back at her.

 

Bach, Bach, Bach It Up

A prompt delivered by the wonderful Malena Munford, via her book Just The TitlesIt’s a lovely little thing made to inspire artists in whatever way they see fit, and this specific prompt of sorts spoke to me. This is just a quick one-shot. Unedited and posted as quickly as it was written. Have fun, and I hope you enjoy.

(and even though this is technically posted on Friday and is thus late, I am refuting this fact because I haven’t fallen asleep yet…which means that it’s still Thursday to me, right?)

xxx

People were always telling me that I reminded them of Bach. It was probably because my name was Sebastian, and because I’m a cellist – his cello pieces are some of his most famous and beloved works, you know. People tend to ignore the fact that Bach was an organist, though, if only because they like the other similarities or just don’t give two shits. I would say that the coincidences end there but I would be lying. My parents are German, through and through, all the way down to their brusque accents and appreciation for anything ending in ‘-wurst’. It was for all of those reasons that people had stopped calling me by my given name and some how, I had ended up with the nickname “Jo”.

The final bit of irony was the fact that people called me Joe and not Yo. I tried to correct people at first. It didn’t stick, but the name did, so I eventually gave up.

It’s that name that I hear called now as I stand just outside of the auditorium doors, my cello propped up in it’s case on the wall. I’ve been working my fingers against the palm of my hands to the point where the skin is almost fire engine red. I can’t help it – the nervous energy runs through me and has to come out somewhere. I’d rather it try to escape now than during my audition.

I turn to look at the attendant, my eyes wide as I try to keep my nerves in check, and nod once. They hardly notice me, not bothering to look over their glasses to make sure I’ve heard them. As they disappear behind the heavy door I grab my instrument and begin the journey inside. I’m afraid that the trip from the hallway to the stage will be longer and more strenuous then the audition itself. I worry that I’ll trip and fall and leave my cello in pieces, the cello that I’ve played so diligently for years, the cello that has the grooves of my finger tips in its long and elegant neck. Her name is Sabine. I’d had her since they’d forgotten my name was Sebastian and decided I was Jo – I’d always known that she knew what my real name was. Sabine was the love of my life without question. It wasn’t the music, it wasn’t the composers, it wasn’t the notes or the feeling but the instrument, so well cared for and in tune with myself. The idea – the fear – of her breaking on me when she was only chance at greatness? It was more terrifying than if I went flat.

By the time I reach the stage I’ve tempered my fear, sure that I’ve encountered the most terrifying part. Except for the audition itself that is.

I was the sort of person who thrived on lack of sleep. Four, five hours at most and I was springy and awake and with a simple cup of black tea (one sugar, cream for days) I would be able to plow through the day. It must have been the nerves, but the night before the audition I had been a right wreck. I figured I would tuck in early and wake up before the birds, rehearse my piece a few more times until I felt like the muscle memory could play the piece without me if my mind wasn’t there. It would all work out fine. Except it didn’t, because I woke up seven hours later. The sun had risen happily into the sky and the birds were chirping and singing, practically taunting me. I had tried to write it off as something small – perhaps I was staving off a cold and my body needed the sleep. Maybe it was something else. I knew it was the nerves, knew that I sounded like a woman from an Austen novel, but I couldn’t help it. This was going to the audition that defined the rest of my life. Which was funny enough, considering that the audition and the seat that I was playing for wasn’t all that important. What was important was the the maestro. The woman who would be judging me, feeling me out. I didn’t care if I didn’t make this orchestra – it was hardly the best. What I wanted was to make it onto her radar, for her to hear me play, just the once.

After all, we had spent our entire life in the same house, growing further and further apart note by note. It would only make sense that she heard me play…just once.

She had eventually stopped using my given name too, even though she was the one who had given to me in the first place. Maybe she thought I wasn’t good enough to be so openly compared to the great composer, although she had never heard me play, so who was she to say?

I closed my eyes as I unbuckled Sabine’s hefty case. I tried to imagine the bow beneath my fingers before I touched it, tried to feel the vibrations of the strings against my neck and chest. I imagined every single piece of the music before I set it in front of me. There was an impatient tapping of a pen from the auditorium. No doubt she was impatient, ready to be done already, having already heard her fill of mediocre musicians from behind the black curtain that separated us (all in the name of diversity, of course). I wondered what she would think when she saw me take a bow in front of her. She wouldn’t gasp or feign shock. Too stoic for that. Would she raise an eyebrow, would the corner of her lip upturn? Downturn? No, she would simply stare at me. Acknowledge that she had heard it. I suppose that was all I wanted.

My hand found the bow, my fingers found the strings, and with a deep breath that settled into the well of my chest I drew my weapon across the valley of what very well could have been my demise. I was being melodramatic. I felt it fit. A humming, vibrant G rose from the depths of Sabine, filling the room and reaching the rafters, and with that singular note I fell away from the world, forgetting the woman that sat on the other side of the shade. I forgot that I would go home to her and hardly speak more than a few words as she sipped on decaf coffee while Mozart reverberated through the house. I would forget that I had missed her and the way her voice sounded when she spoke, how I often wondered if her larynx was covered in dust or if it was just the mantle in the living room. I forgot the audition felt like it was the end of the world, maybe the beginning of a new one…and instead, I played, like nothing else in the world mattered.

 

 

the raven and the dove: prologue

There was something strange about the woman, and Gwen had known it from the moment she had first laid eyes on her. She had stepped out of Father’s car with such grace and elegance that, for a moment, she didn’t seem real. Her dress, a blue so bright and vivid that it was hard to look on directly, pooled about her, hiding her feet from view and making her seem much taller than she was in reality. This woman, Gwen learned quickly, was not practical, normal, nor someone to be reckoned with. She was a force and she was harsh and she was beautiful in ways that Gwen had not known were humanly possible. When she, escorted by Father, reached the front steps of their home she kneeled to look Gwen right in the eye and smiled at her. With the corner of her mouth upturned just so and her eyebrows curved in an inquisitive arc, the stranger looked hungry. Beautiful, crazy, and hungry. Gwen could see her clearly in that moment, how her cheeks were sharp like knives and the way that her eyes had not one color, but thousands. Her eyes sparkled like a crystal. The lightest ice blue at the core of the iris, with a thousand other colors buried just underneath. She wanted to reach out and touch the woman’s eyes – but instead she walked into suddenly open arms, and wrapped her own around the strange woman’s neck. Gwen could feel every bone she touched underneath the skin, and goosebumps rose up over her soft flesh like tidal wave. Her Father looked down on her with a smile on her face, but the chill still lingered on her skin long after the embrace ended and the woman who would be her New Mother was shown to her room.

That night at dinner, she found that her new mother had a name; Venus. “My parents thought it would funny to name me after the Roman goddess of love – a bit ironic considering how long it took me to find it,” she had said in a quiet voice that sounded identical to what Gwen had always imagined an angel would sound like. She spoke while staring at Father from beneath the longest eyelashes that Gwen had ever seen. Even with her miles and miles of hair piled into a messy bun high on top of her head and her make-up removed, she looked exactly like her namesake, and Gwen understood the sudden infatuation that her previously-celibate father had fallen head first into. She was beautiful, filled to the brim with such intricacies that she could only be described as perfect, and seemed just as infatuated with Father as he did her. Gwen did her best to smile at the woman, although the expression shook on her lips, and she went back to shoveling food into her mouth almost without pause.

“Are you going to properly introduce yourself?” Father said as he turned to look at his daughter, her mouth full of potatoes. She looked stunned for a moment, heavy strands of black hair falling across her face, before she nodded, swallowing her food as fast she could, and pulling the hair behind her ear.

“I’m Gwen. I’m not sure what it means.”

“White, fair, and blessed,” the woman said almost too quickly from the other end of the table, her eyes boring into her untouched plate while her fork weakly pushed around some of the vegetables.

“I didn’t know that,” Father said as he cut, then took a bite of the rare steak on his plate. A little bit of blood dribbled down his chin, and he wiped it off with the back of his hand, chuckling to himself. “I’m a bit of a mess tonight, aren’t I?”

“I love the mess,” Venus cooed across the table, reaching one hand out and resting her long, pointed fingers on his wrist. Father beamed with his mouth full, before he realized the mistake and chewed the rest of his bite.

“May I be excused?” Gwen asked after a finishing off what she could of her plate. Her father waved his hand nonchalantly, and Venus beamed at her with a mouth full of sparkling white teeth. Taking the gestures as an affirmation, she stood up and gathered her dishes, about to head out of the dining room when Venus called her name.

“Gwen, darling. It was ever so lovely to meet you. I hope we’ll be spending more time together.”

Gwen looked over her shoulder and gave a sheepish smile to the near-stranger, her freckled and already rosy cheeks reddening even more. “Me too. Nice to meet you, Venus.” She looked at her father and shrugged a bit, her smile becoming more genuine. “Night, daddy.”

“G’night, my fairest,” he said, pushing himself out of his chair and going over to give Gwen a kiss on the head. “Have good dreams for me.”

Before she turned to leave the room, she could swear she saw Venus glaring past her father at her. Gwen pushed it out of her mind.

The next few days passed by in a blur; the warmth of summer was quickly dying down, making way for the crisp autumn chill that followed the changing leaves and it seemed that everything had suddenly picked up its pace as Gwen’s entire life tried to fit itself into the last few days of the season. Venus had taken up what seemed to be a permanent residence in the house, and Gwen didn’t mind much. After all, Gwen spent most of her time outside on the grounds of the mansion, rather than tucked away inside with her Father and new mother. There was little inside that interested her other than books, and while there were few things that gave her more joy than diving into a new story, stories had been made for cold nights in front of a fireplace. They were not for sunny days when a cool breeze was relished, and the birds sang their songs beckoning her to chase them. The grounds went on for what felt like miles, never really ending as long as she was on foot. She had made hundreds of four legged friends while exploring every inch of her home. There were foxes that lived out behind the pool house. A small family of father, mother, and child to reflect her own. They seemed happy, and she had taken it as a good sign the first time she had stumbled upon the family, nestled safely amongst each other. The smallest of the three had perked its head up when she had originally approached, staring at her, though its expression was playful. Ever since she had run out to check on them every night and most of the time they were still curled into each other. Birds were everywhere – constantly following her singing to her songs of the days gone by and days to come. They were mostly magpies and crows, some chickadees and finches.

Besides the birds and the family of foxes, she had met a cat. The cat was the only animal that Gwen was allowed to bring inside, no matter how hard the birds tried to follow her into her house, someone would always end up chasing them out. She had affectionately named the feline Rose, for no other reason than she had found it stuck inside of the rose garden, a thorn in its paw and the most pitiful of looks on her face. She was gray and white striped, with the most precious pink nose that Gwen had ever seen. The strangest thing about the cat was its bright blue eyes – darker and stronger than Venus’ eyes, they had an almost uncomfortable depth to them. Gwen tried to ignore it most of the time. Rose had followed Gwen everywhere since the day she had rescued her, and she did a decent job of ignoring the birds, all things considered.

On a day that did not seem particularly life-changing, at least at the time, Gwen had been taking a walk across the grounds, she ran across Venus outside behind the pool house. She had never seen her new mother outside of the house, the one time she had stepped out of the car exempt, and so she had slowly approached her, not making a noise as she crept behind the bushes, Rose padding quietly alongside her. Gwen peeked through the shrubbery. All she could see was Venus’ perfectly straightened and blond hair falling across her shoulders. After a few moments of silence, Venus turned around, her elegant black sweater soggy and wet. Her were hands covered in something such a deep red that it could only be blood. A gasp escaped Gwen’s lips, and without thinking she tumbled through the bushes, rushing to Venus’ side. Venus looked for a moment like she had been hit in the face, before her composure broke, and the woman began shuddering and shaking, sobs racking her fragile shoulders.

“Oh Gwen,” she cried, trying her hardest to wipe the blood off on the freshly watered grass. “I think it’s dead, the poor creature is dead.” Gwen stumbled forward a bit more, and looked over the woman’s shoulder, her heart frozen inside her. She knew who lived here. “I don’t know where the mother and father went… but oh my darling, he’s bled out. There’s no saving him.”

Gwen saw the mutilated body of the baby fox, four legs splayed out as he lay on his back, glossy black eyes lifeless and empty. Venus still shook and shuddered in front of Gwen’s feet. “You were trying to save him?” She asked in a voice so small she could barely hear herself speaking. The blond sniffed and tried to wipe something away from either cheek, presumably tears, but only succeeded in smudging blood on either side of her face.

“Of course I was, he was only a wee thing. But by the time I got over here it was too late. I don’t know what could have possibly done something so terrible…” she went on before breaking down into a wailing sob. But she pushed herself to her knees and went to Gwen, who stood statue still, staring at the blood-soaked fox that lay just a foot away from her. Venus forcibly turned Gwen away at the shoulders, the excess blood from her hands getting stuck on the white lace dress that Gwen was in. The girl did as her body was bid, and she began walking away from the scene of whatever crime had been committed there, drowning out the sound of her sniveling companion. Rose didn’t follow her home that day.

When they finally got into the house, they entered through the kitchen, where Jeffrey stood dicing onions so fast that Gwen couldn’t see his hand. At the sound of the door creaking open he turned with a smile on his face, but dropped it and his knife as soon as he saw the blood on Venus’ arms and shirt, and young Gwen’s shoulders. “Oh lord,” he exclaimed without even thinking, and scooped the ten year old up in his arms, ignoring Venus completely. Gwen wrapped her arms around Cheffrey’s neck and burrowed her face into his shoulder, tear-less chokes falling out of her mouth. He ran his fingers through her hair as he carried her to Father’s study, where he sat with his nose in a stack of papers and a pen in hand. The moment the door opened he was on his feet running across the room, a look of terror filling his face. Father fell to his knees as Jeffrey set Gwen on the floor, and her face was tear stained, cheeks red and eyes welled shut. Father wrapped her in one arm, while his other searched for the source of the blood, prodding and poking at her shoulders, as he cooed and shushed his daughter. After realizing that the blood was not hers, he calmed, and pulled her away from him for just a moment, brushing her ebony hair back from her face and pulling it tightly behind her ear. Gwen tried to compose herself as well as she could, staring at her Father with his deep and comforting brown eyes. She only succeeded in coughing on the sobs that she was trying to push back down her throat.

“Darling girl,” he said, still on his knees, “what happened? What happened, fairest?”

“The- the f-f-”

“The little fox behind the pool house was killed,” said Venus, who appeared in the doorway, where Jeffrey had stood just a moment before. Her arms were no longer covered in blood, the dirty shirt replaced by an elegant white tank top. Gwen, sniveling, turned to look at Venus; her bottom lip quivered.

“Who killed it?” Father said, standing up and taking his daughter’s hand in his, lips thin and eyes hard as he stared at the woman in front of him. “And why did Gwen see it?”

“An animal killed it, I would assume. It was dead when I found it,” Venus said with a slight drawl, shifting her weight onto her hip. “Gwen was following me, god knows why. I was trying to get rid of it when she snuck up on me.”

Gwen’s lips quivered even more as Venus began to speak. The blood that should have been smudged on her cheeks was gone and replaced by her usual pale coloring, a splatter of the lightest freckles covering on her skin. In fact her makeup looked completely in tact, as though she had never been crying or wiping at her face. Venus stared at Gwen with one dark blond eyebrow arched, her hands folded across her chest and her chin raised just slightly. The very pose made her look dominant and dignified. Gwen knew that no matter what she said it wouldn’t sound good, and she wouldn’t be able to lie about sneaking behind Venus – it was a bit of the truth after all. She had been snooping. And if she hadn’t… well, maybe then she wouldn’t be so upset. Maybe if she had minded her own business she never would have seen anything at all.

“Why were you sneaking up on Venus?” Father said as he looked down at Gwen, the softness in his eyes gone, and replaced with a hardness that reached into the back of his mind. Gwen shrugged and shook her head, not knowing what to say.

“I- I didn’t mean- she just never comes out,” she spoke quietly, stumbling over her words. She rubbed her hands and intertwined her fingers together, clearing her throat and trying to push down the tears that lingered at the back of her throat. “I wanted to know where she was going.”

“Following people is not a very trust worthy thing to do, Gwen,” Venus declared as she took a step forward, the sound of sharp heels tapping on the hardwood floor echoing through out the room. Had she been wearing heels before? She hadn’t been wearing a tank top or pants before. How had she changed so fast?

Whatever happened next seemed more like a blur than anything – Gwen’s father did not protect her, and Jeffrey was long gone, and it seemed that only Venus and her word mattered. Gwen had done wrong. Gwen was not a good child. Gwen should never have followed her, and should never have gone outside to begin with. Fraternizing with wild animals was wrong and dangerous and could get her killed. She wouldn’t go outside again, not without the strictest of supervision.

The next time that Gwen was able to escape to the outdoors was the day Father and Venus exchanged rings and signed a very important piece of paper, whatever legal document you had to scribble on to have people consider you married. She stood in between Father and Venus as they exchanged vows and held hands on either side of her, and she wore a dress the same color as the fox’s blood had been. Venus wore an exquisite white gown with golden filigree snaking up to the tight bodice and a train so long that Gwen couldn’t see the end of it.

The ceremony was beautiful and Father seemed happy, so Gwen was as well. It wasn’t until later that week that he started to get headaches, and then the next he went to the doctor’s office. He never came home.