the way things change

Due to some recent change that decided to nose their way into my life just as I was beginning to instigate some order ’round these parts (see: weekly posting of short stories), I’ve had to do some thinking. Thinking isn’t a bad thing. I do a lot of it. I love thinking. Thinking and I, we go way back. Thinking and I have been doing some work and discussing some things and just wanted to have a little bit of a heart to heart with you, the blog, so you know where I’m at right now. Thinking thought it would be a good idea.

So, as we know I work at a vet clinic, and recently there has been some…upheaval. In the way that may or may not be beneficial to me. We’ll see. What this means for you, little blog, is that I am going to be changing the days I post because my entire life has been faceted around the days I work at the clinic and so I must now re-tailor things to fit in a more appropriate manner. I will be working Tuesday through Friday, and boy, am I excited to have Sunday’s off. It feels like a little miracle if I’m honest. I’m excited. I’ll be working different hours – getting up earlier, getting home earlier – and I am very much hoping that that will mean that I have more time to dedicate to truly getting work done. I may have to become slightly more dependent on coffee throughout the day…but even if that’s the case it’ll be worth it. I’d like to have more time to work on my writing and I think the only way I’ll be able to do that – and part of the reason I am so excited about my schedule change – is making sure I’m able to force myself into a rhythm and force myself back into writing every single day. I did so well around this time last year, when I managed to finish two manuscripts in two months…and then I just fell of the wagon completely.

Well, wagon, meet my ass. We will be back on you by the END of September.

In other words, Auberon’s next posting will be sometime NEXT week, after the 30th. I am not sure when. Unfortunately due to my insane work schedule (working almost 8 days in a row in order to transition) I won’t have a ton of time to get settled until next week at the earliest. I’ll be writing when I can, but I won’t be able to do proper editing (lol) of the chapter before next week. That’s okay though, it’ll give me a little bit more time to work on some things – like the “covers” etc which I immediately fell behind on. I got a little bit overly excited…I’m hoping I can get ahead of the game in September so I don’t feel so behind and all over the place.

We’ll see how that goes.

I honestly think that’s all I wanted to touch on today, although I’ve wanted to write a really thorough post on a few different things lately…so maybe I’ll do that a little bit later and see if we can get any more active posts up while we’re waiting to post Auberon. That sounds like a good enough idea to me.

Muchly. ❤

WIDE OPEN EYES: chapter one

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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

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.

 

works in constant progress

I’m a constant work in progress. There’s nothing about me that will ever reach it’s final stage, not until I’m long gone and buried in the ground. Even then I’ll always be changing, decaying, my physical body becoming one with the Earth and turning into something new. Perhaps my soul and spirit will find itself elsewhere, living another abundant life. Changing again. I don’t think we ever really stop changing.

I have a novel that I’ve been working on for almost a year now. I started it in November of last year. It was supposed to be my project for National Novel Writing Month but due to a bout of depression that left my unable to gather myself from my couch and a work schedule that demanded what little attention I had left to give, I was unsuccessful in my endeavor. The book is all the better for it at least – it’s reached different incarnations I never would have imagined. A new main character, more fleshed out and explored than the previous, a new ending, a romance that will end differently than expected. A plot that’s thicker and deeper and darker than I intended. It’s blossomed and flowed into something much bigger than I imagined. I’m what I’m considering three-fourths finished. Of course, I won’t know “finished” until I write the last words and I feel at peace with the draft, but ultimately, in the way I have things planned…I’m three-fourths finished.

Things keep changing. They keep growing. They flourish, some wither, some disappear. I’m trying to stay organized. Organization will cause fruition. Routine helps anxiety. Anxiety is spurred by my need to perfect and my fear of failure.

How can I fail when I’m the only one to judge it? Perhaps I’m my own harshest critic, as the age old idiom foretells. I think I’m going to drink my tea and mull over the ideas that are rattling around in my head. A personal project is done – soon to be followed by another, but not for awhile, surely. Time to work on my own work, truly personal work. Soon, perhaps my heroine will find her temporary ending, and she’ll walk off into the sunset with her hands held by her best friend and lady love. Or maybe…well, I don’t know yet.

I suppose we’ll see. Things are always changing, after all.

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.