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