Author’s Note: This was supposed to be a short episode for the end of the month, but actually ended up being just as long as a regular blog serial installment. So I apologize for not have the additional illustrations that would go along with such a lengthy piece. That aside, please do enjoy!
It was one of those odd times that Heather had actually experienced. Usually she was late, stumbling into the kitchen sloppily dressed. But this particular morning she actually had woken up in time with the rest of the household. The air was cooler, having sent her sleeping deeply the previous night. The daylight had changed and now resembled early in the afternoon. Her whole body knew that a change of season was upon them.
Today’s tasks were a bit mundane, mostly with clearing fallow grass from the back garden. There might be an errand into the inner town for Elizabeth, but only time would tell. At least she was able to take Fluff up and about.
With the work at hand today, Heather had decided her regular work dress would suffice. While she was starting to dress in the long, sweeping skirts that Elizabeth dressed in, she rather not trip about as she sometimes did with those.
She stepped outside, realizing how mild it had become from a few months back. It almost did make her want to go back in for something warmer. Heather steeled herself, deciding that once she got to actually moving about, she’d not need anything to keep her warm.
An occasional wind blew, barely enough to play with her hair. The odor of the fallow ground was quiet prevalent, the noises of birds and other wildlife in the distance. More faintly was the bustling of the townspeople nearby. The clouds looked delectable today, towering in a giant wall across one end of the deep blue sky. She saw no skyships but knew that a few were probably about on the other end of the island.
Vak’shi was already out, having started on one of the back rows. Wielding a weeding scythe, she was slowly lopping away at overgrown grass. She hadn’t noticed Heather, head bent down to focus on her task.
The woman had the typical Kashri appearance of blue skin, violet hair and brown headdress. towered almost a head and a half over her, more with her headdress included. Her shiny locks spilled over her shoulders and face in a lovely way. Seeds and burrs clung to her wide green dress, apron pockets bulging with edibles she had found.
Her greeting was simple, just letting the woman know she was there to help. Vak’shi turned back to her, a big smile on her face.
She knew that word all too well. Come along, or let’s go. While the woman wasn’t going anywhere, it meant to join her in that context. That worked for her.
Heather reached to scoop up the heap of grass that was being made. Seeing the giveaway pile near the corner of the house, she started to trek over to place the gatherings there.
This continued for another hour. The two didn’t speak much to each other, having cleared a good portion of the garden. It got to a point that Vak’shi was cleaning the remaining grass from the beds, while she had opted to use a broom to sweep the walkways.
It was while this was going on that Heather heard her name being called. She looked up to see Elizabeth at the door of the house, waving her over. Excusing herself, she jogged over to see what was the matter.
“Oh, hi Miss Elizabeth,” Heather greeted her. She came to a stop, quickly straightening her appearance.
“Hm, hello there, lass. You have a visitor.”
Elizabeth had an incredulous expression on her face, curiosity getting the better of her.
This was certainly odd. Who wanted to see her? She didn’t know anyone that would come and ask for her by name.
“Someone who’s interested in your gift of seeing things.”
Her stomach turned inside out. This didn’t sound good. She was already jeered for in the town for her escapades with the creatures that caused havoc. On top of that, she wasn’t looking forward to being put to look for something on command like some animal.
Despite that, Elizabeth seemed fairly calm about the situation. She was pretty sure that if something serious were afoot, she wouldn’t look like a proud mother the way she did.
“Um, sure. Give me a moment.”
Taking one last effort to make sure grass or straw wasn’t clinging to her in any fashion, she stepped into the house.
Heather followed Elizabeth to the store section of their house. As they passed into the store section, she got a glimpse of who wanted to see her.
It was a girl close to her age. She was a little smaller than her, dark blonde hair in two long, bushy pigtails. Green eyes jerked up to meet her. Her crimson day dress was more typical of that of a regular town girl, sweeping in a way that suggested the use of a hoopskirt.
“Dear, this is Noelle. Noelle, Heather.”
Noelle blinked politely, folding her hands earnestly. She seemed surprised at her, as if she had not expected her general appearance.
If anything, the girl was polite despite looking more well-off than her.
“Noelle would like your opinion on some strange happenings at her house. It’s down Craven Road on the north side of town. Would you be able to give her some insight?”
Her legs stiffened, suddenly realizing that was being asked of her. Sure, she had seen Void and other apparitions since coming to terms with her abilities. But going into an abandoned structure knowing that some evil lurked there; she never quite got over that.
But the girl said it was her house, so maybe it wasn’t abandoned. Also the distance wasn’t too bad; Craven Road was a fifteen minute walk, give or take.
“I suppose I can. I’m not staying if I don’t feel comfortable, though.”
“That’ll be quite fine. Remember that, Noelle. What Heather says, goes.”
“I understand. Thanks so much for all of your help.”
Noelle did a little bow to Elizabeth.
Heather sighed, a nagging thought at the back of her head.
“Miss Elizabeth, can Janus please come with us?”
“Ah yes, your loyal sidekick for your excursions. I know you’ll look out for him, but don’t smother him too much.”
Elizabeth placed a hand on her waist, a sly smile on her face.
Heather wasn’t aware she doted that much on Janus for the woman to make a remark. But the woman simply laughed, judging Heather’s expression.
“I jest, Heather. Be you. Lighten up a little. Janus!”
A few moments later the new trio had left the shop, heading towards Noelle’s house. They all walked side by side of each other, Heather in the middle and Noelle to her right.
“I have to admit, you quite weren’t what I expected,” Noelle remarked.
“Oh? What were you ‘expecting’?”
“I suppose something along the lines of those spirit women.”
Heather gave the girl an odd glance, clearly lost. When Noelle realized this, she quickly followed up to clarify herself.
“You know, the strange women who smell of numerous essences, who seem to use shawls for skirts and those headscarves. They claim they can speak to spirits.”
Now it made perfect sense. The girl had gone in expecting one of those people.
“Nobody like that around here, thankfully. They tend to cause more problems than good.”
“Why is that?”
“They often trying to rile things up for their own exploits, rather than thinking about the townspeople. And most of the time, they’re not really even helpful. One in particular used to go around and peddle scented oils. It wasn’t pretty.”
“Oh. Well, I can see how that would be problematic.”
Noelle blinked, in thought to continue the conversation. There was a small lull for a moment before she continued.
“I’m curious, why did you bring your brother along?”
“We usually work as a team when doing this sort of stuff. We help each other out, pretty much.”
Janus had perked up, hands in his pockets as he shuffled along.
“I was asking your sister.”
Noelle had a cross tone in her voice, a scowl on her face.
“Shush! Janus can answer if he pleases. Don’t be rude to him!”
Heather was frowning, placing a hand on his shoulder. Noelle seemed to stop a reply that she was about to say, squinting at the two.
“How does he help you, then?”
There was a hint of curiosity in her voice.
“Janus is often pretty good at solving problems and puzzles. He also sometimes has a different perspective on things than I do. And his small size helps him get into places I usually can’t.”
She beamed with admiration, an occasional pat reinforcing each point.
“You forgot the most important point,” Janus added.
“Oh, what did she leave out?”
“She’s not too good at facing the whole monster thing. So company to go along helps her be brave, if that makes sense.”
Heather’s cheeks burned, smacking him behind the head. He flinched, a knowing smile on his face.
“I see. So he’s not horrible?”
“Horrible? What do you mean?”
“Putting thumbtacks where you’re about to sit, snagging your skirts in the door jamb, pelting you with rotten fruit, those kind of things.”
“Those aren’t nice things at all.”
Janus looked quite concerned.
“Definitely. Janus isn’t horrible. He’s just plain sweet and kind.”
Noelle seemed to relent a little, coming to terms that Janus didn’t have any misgivings.
They continued down the road for a few moments, before Heather broke the air with an important question.
“So what’s going on at your house?”
“It’s technically not my house, but my relatives. I came to visit them.”
“Ah, that makes sense. I thought you weren’t around from here,” Janus noted.
“What is that obvious?”
Noelle looked cross once again, but had tried to curb her expression afterwards.
“Kind of. There’s not a lot of kids our age, especially girls you and Heather’s age group. Most everyone is either very old, or just got married and had a kid or two.”
Noelle nodded in understanding.
“But about this house…”
The girl folded her hands behind her back, looking at the siblings.
“Well, there’s some strange things going on. First, the house is weird. They don’t have any living room furniture. There’s a dining room with a table and some chairs, but the living room only has a single chair next to a fireplace. And that’s more similar to the wooden rocking chairs.”
That did set of an alarm bell with Heather. While Elizabeth was certainly wealthy enough to have a proper living area, most people tried in some degree to create something suitable for visitors. One chair with nothing else in the room did not match this description.
“What else happened?” Heather asked.
“Well, I could hear furniture being dragged about when I was in bed. I knew my relatives were in bed and it couldn’t have been them. I had some misplaced items which I found later in a another part of the house, and there was something that kept tripping me, especially if I tugged my skirts out of the way to not snag on anything.
But the worst part was the kitchen…”
“Something seemed wrong with the floor. Like it kind of bowed in near the entryway. The cupboard was bare and none of the doors stayed locked. Lastly, something…unexplainable happened.”
Her tone of voice changed, and the two knew that something was seriously the matter.
“Before I had come for help, I had attempted to drag my trunk by myself to the door. You know, to leave the place. But as I managed to get it out of the house, I heard the furniture being dragged around again. Against my common sense I ran in, finding that one of the dining room chairs were missing. I heard a clatter in the kitchen and went to go investigate.
When I peeked in, I noticed the depression in the floor seemed to have some sort of black swirling liquid inside. I could hear numerous whispers coming from the hole. I looked around and saw that the missing chair was in the kitchen.
I was real terrified at that point. There was no way for that chair to have been moved by someone with me there. I would’ve seen them. That hole had to do something with it.”
Noelle stopped walking, trying to keep her composure. The other two paused, patiently waiting for her.
“Then a bowl flew at me from the wash bucket. I narrowly missed it, but right after that the chair started to chase me. I ran out of the house as I could hear all sorts of creaks, groans and other furniture dragging about.”
The girl was crying at this point. It was more of a silent weeping, but it touched the other two to comfort her. They each stood on either side, hugging her gently till the sobs stopped. Mouthing a quiet thank you, she attempted to continue.
“As soon as I made it out, everything stopped. I dragged my trunk to the road, flagged someone and got them to take me into town.”
Heather was sullen for the period that the story was being told, taking stock of the facts.
This isn’t a standard case of mysterious happenings. No, this is intentional and malicious. We shouldn’t be going there.
“At least you’re here now,” Janus assured her.
“Yes, thankfully you weren’t harmed. Though I would say with such a story, you don’t need to go back at all. Even me is uneasy about going in there after hearing that.”
“I want someone’s opinion on what’s going on. Another set of eyes that can confirm that I wasn’t imagining things when I was alone. Someone who could possibly make sense of some of the incidents.”
Heather sighed deeply, glancing at Noelle for a few moments.
“Fine. But as I told Elizabeth earlier, if I don’t like it I’m leaving.”
It wasn’t long before they got to the house. It was of a newer Talmeron style, with a narrow footprint and two stories. The siding had aged, paint faded and even lichens on its surface. All the windows were dark with no curtains.
The yard didn’t help its case, either. The grass was overgrown, even falling into the fallow state as those in the gardens. A small path of flagstones led to the porch.
“This is where you’re staying? It’s run down!”
Janus was in disbelief, snorting in disapproval.
“Not everyone has a rich, well-made house like you two,” Noelle retorted.
“No, but we in Ellowwood at least try to fix their houses up to a habitable state. Cracked windows are inexcusable.”
Heather pointed to such an example, a window on the upper floor.
“I honestly didn’t notice that. I swore the house seemed sound when I arrived.”
The trio stepped into the yard. As they got closer to the door, Noelle reached for a key in her sleeve, using it to unlock the door. As the lock snapped, she stepped back to give the others access.
Heather was the first one in. She carefully stepped forward, stopping in the middle of the parlor to analyze the surroundings.
While the house looked run-down just on the inside, it was receiving lots of sunlight from the windows. The faded paint and missing wallpaper gave it the dark appearance. While there was a musty smell, her nose did pick up a trace of soap. Either it was from the kitchen or cleaning being done elsewhere. Lastly the house was dead silent.
“Sis, look at the painting.”
Heather looked to where Janus indicated. On the wall was the portrait of a man in a full waistcoat and jacket. He had fiery red hair; but the eyes and mouth had been gouged out.
Her fingers went up to this, almost touching the painting before deciding otherwise due to common sense.
“Why would a painting be ruined like this?”
Noelle was baffled.
“That’s a very good question. But this painting looks old and matches the way things are. I want to say this was probably in the house before they moved here.”
“Good point,” Janus agreed.
“Let me show you upstairs so you can get a better idea of the place,” Noelle offered.
She gathered up her skirts and started up the narrow flight of stairs. While Heather deemed Noelle’s outfit not too ‘fancy’, the skirts dragged against the sides of the wall and banister. That was certainly a much narrower staircase than normal. Heather got the impression that this was somehow ‘makeshift’, and not a proper, well-built stairs.
She nudged Janus to go next, bringing up the rear. The last thing she wanted was something to snatch her brother when she wasn’t looking. While they did have a system that worked pretty well, she wasn’t about to take a chance in a house with moving furniture.
They reached the top of the stairs, making a right into the first door. Noelle stepped aside, letting the two enter.
The room was very bright. As a matter of fact, it didn’t look too bad for a bedroom. Maybe another coat of paint, some actual plaster, and it would be quite livable.
Heather looked around, not seeing anything particularly of interest. She slumped onto the edge of the bed, skirts spread out some as she glanced around from her new vantage point.
Janus wandered over to the wash basin, looking at the other parts of the room. Noelle has stepped inside, looking a bit frightened.
“Are you okay? Did something happen?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I don’t want to be standing outside with my back to an empty house.”
Noelle visibly shivered, seeming more settled to be in their company rather than alone.
Heather didn’t blame the girl. She wouldn’t have, either. It was then she noticed something strange.
Noelle’s room was quite small. It seemed about the same size as her attic loft, but the furniture placement was quiet cramped. In fact, she noticed that Noelle would’ve had a hard time going about in her current attire.
“Silly question, but how were you able to go around your room so easily?”
“I could. Just like this-“
She had started to make her way towards Janus and the window, but stopped when her hoopskirt didn’t even make it past the gap between the dresser and bed. Frowning, she tried again, squishing her skirts in on the side to try to fit. The hoopskirt creaked from the strain, sandwiched almost flat at the hem. Finding this quite difficult, she stepped back and let her skirts fall normally.
Noelle’s eyes widened, looking a bit fearful.
“That’s impossible. I was fully able to reach the washbasin quiet easily this morning. I know the dresser made it narrow, but I didn’t even need to make myself fit there.”
Heather got off the bed, going over to where she was standing and observing the space. The gap between the dresser and bed was not much wider than a foot. The bed was firmly against the wall, and so was the dresser.
There was no physical way the room could’ve housed more space, and for any way that the furniture could’ve been rearranged.
Heather’s mind wandered a moment, pondering how Noelle couldn’t fit between the bed.
While she had an idle fascination to dress in such a way sometimes, she was glad she had no inclination to do so in a regular basis. The hoopskirt was a cumbersome thing that creaked and refused to bend easily, bumping into doorways and furniture. It was also much more difficult to handle with her level of activity of scrambling around obstacles, climbing fences or up ladders.
No, the starched petticoats she wore were more than enough. They may have been inconvenient at times but they at least gave her mobility. A lot more compared to that…thing.
She wedged herself to make her way to the window. In comparison, her skirts crumpled easily and allowed her passage. Upon making it through, Heather glanced out the window towards the yard, turning around in the free space on the other side of the bed. It seemed enough space to move about to take care of one’s self.
Just to be sure, she called Noelle over with her hand. The girl looked irritated with this, clambering over the bed with great difficulty before arriving where the other two where standing. Her face was displeased, strands of hair in her face.
“Does it seem like this part of the room is the same?”
Heather and Janus stepped back, giving Noelle space to explore. The girl took a few steps, turning around and walking to the other end of the room.
“I think so. Though I think it’s shorter for some reason. I’m almost sure I could take a few more steps before reaching the wall.”
Heather folded her arms, deep in thought. If Noelle was speaking the truth, the only way this would make sense is if the room actually shrunk. How was a completely different matter entirely; but it was certainly looking like it was the case.
I better check the rest of the house.
“The only other room here is my aunt and uncle’s. Down the hall.”
The trio made their way out of the room, heading towards the next door at the end of the hallway. As Heather placed Janus in front of her again, she began to feel uneasy. Not the puzzling-this-was-strange kind of feeling; rather, the something horrible-would-be-here-any-second sort of feeling. And from experience, it was in her best interest to remember that.
As a precaution she peeked over her shoulder to make sure they were alone. They stood alone.
Noelle had stopped at the door. She stood there for a moment, biting her lip and not moving.
She didn’t answer, looking at the siblings a few seconds later.
“I don’t know. I got this really bad feeling all of a sudden. Like we shouldn’t be here.”
“What about you, Janus?”
“It’s hard to say. I think I’m just a little scared because you two are, but its more of a gut feeling that something might happen. Like a calm intuition.”
At this rate, Heather knew they definitely shouldn’t be going there. She gently grasped Noelle’s wrist and stepped back.
“I think you’re right. Something’s up with the room. Let’s skip it for now.”
“Agreed,” Janus chimed in.
The turned around, heading back down to the ground floor. Heather kept peering behind her, in case the door had suddenly decided to fly open or worse. As they gained distance, the feeling seemed to subside; while the imprint was there, it was clear that some sort of trouble would’ve occurred if they entered.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Heather looked around. She seriously had thoughts of just abandoning the house at this point, based on the feeling a moment earlier.
“Look, I think we an agree something is going on here. Can we call it quits? Go home?”
“At least look at the kitchen for me, please. That’s where all of this happened.”
Noelle clasped her hands together, pleading for her to reconsider.
“It’s just over there across the room, Heather. We can probably just peek and head out. At least you can have some evidence to mull over if anything.”
Heather was annoyed that her brother was outvoting her on this, but she reminded herself that while he was a boy, he was much more “blind” to these happenings than she was. Janus often couldn’t see these monsters or entities unless they were visible to other people; while this was a hindrance to her, it sometimes gave her an insight to these incidents.
“Okay. But if I see eyes and you don’t, I’m running to the door with you in tow, whether you like it or not.”
Heather nodded in appreciation, tousling the hair on Janus’ head with a quick pat.
She didn’t wait for Noelle to lead the way this time. Stepping into the living room, Heather could see why this looked odd. To her, this definitely was strange.
It was if the living room was completely abandoned. Cobwebs filled the fireplace. Not one picture or decoration hung on the living room walls. The glass panes were dirty and smudged, and dust caked the floor in certain. One lone rocking chair sat near the fireplace, undisturbed.
“See what I mean?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Heather could see the dining room from where she stood. It was just as plain as this room, partially enclosed with two walls. The table was of worn white oak, four chairs surrounding the table. Noelle audibly gasped and grabbed both her and Janus, keeping them from going further.
“The chairs…they’re all there.”
“Including the one that chased you?” Janus asked.
Noelle nodded with a quivering lip.
No alarm bells were going off for Heather. If something else had moved the chair, it was either gone or was in hiding somewhere else. It didn’t seem like the furniture itself had an issue. With pensive breaths she stepped over to the table, laying her palm on the surface.
Okay, I’ll keep that as a note.
Heather turned around to the kitchen. She noticed that Noelle as frozen in place, frightened to go any further. She couldn’t blame her from the kitchen incident, but she wished that she would at least follow them.
As she approached the kitchen, a pain shot through in her head. It almost made her see stars; but she whirled around so fast in reflex that her skirts had flared out like a dancer at the harvest festival. Her eyes focused on the fireplace, her shoulders frozen.
Janus as Noelle seemed to notice that something was wrong, turning their attention to the same spot.
Something was wrong with the living room.
Now that she was focusing her attention on it, the lone chair did make her uneasy. That’s what was off in the room. Maybe it was the black paint, the aged wood, or the fact that it was off-center in the room. But something was definitely fishy about it.
“Why are we scared of a chair?”
The question was innocent, but Heather had to tamp down her temper to give a response.
“It looks fishy. Doesn’t it to you?”
“Well, strange, but not ‘fishy’. I mean, I never saw a rocking chair that was black.”
“Exactly. Stay away from it.”
At least she knew her brother would listen. Heather turned her attention back to the kitchen. Finally, she could just examine this and go home.
She started to realize that the kitchen had an eerie feeling. While there was sunlight, the kitchen seemed to be darker than the rest of the house. Funny green wallpaper covered the walls. The smell of soap came from this room, making Heather realize that it was the wash basins giving off the odor.
The eerie feeling became even stronger as she was able to associate with something. It was the same type of feeling when she sometimes sat at the pub with Maddie, listening to the sailors talk of the strange sights on their voyages. The dangers that lurked beneath the clouds of their world, the mysterious disappearances of men and airships.
It was then when she realized that her gift was beginning to be of use.
Near the entrance of the kitchen was a large indent in the floor. It was if someone had left a heavy burden on the plans for a number of years, eventually bowing in with pressure.
At first it just seemed like that; planks that were bent out of shape. But as her eyes focused, she began to see a mass of black and purple pooled in the middle of the depression. A strange sort of vapor was wafting up from it, much like a pot of stew.
This isn’t a monster. This has to be a link to the Void.
“Is that the hole in the floor?”
Thankfully Janus hadn’t blundered into it as she thought he would, standing at the doorway instead.
“Yeah, stay put.”
Heather grabbed his arm to make sure he stayed. He seemed to get the message, waiting on her to act.
Noelle had crept close to Janus, holding onto his shoulders out of fright. Heather glanced at her curiously, finding her sudden attachment to Janus interesting to say the least.
“Do you think that spot has something to do with the house?”
“I think. I sense some Void stuff but that’s it. Like residue or a passive link.”
“So you see black stuff?”
Janus was trying to peer around the girls to get a better view of the floor.
“Yeah, some. Not a whole lot. But it’s there.”
Heather glanced back at Noelle, along with making sure they were alone.
“What gave you the idea that something was wrong with this part of the floor?”
“My uncle claimed that the floor was always sinking. The ground below it is level, but anything build above it sinks down there. They tried to put a house jack beneath it a long time ago but it didn’t do any good. In fact, it broke the jack.”
Well, she knew something was off. Heather had to give her credit for that.
She nodded to Janus.
“What made you change your mind about him?”
Noelle glanced down at him, realizing what she had done. With blushed cheeks she eased her grip but continued to cling to him.
“I’m sorry, I became unsettled with being close to the kitchen.”
“It’s okay, you’ll be fine. You’re with us,” Janus tried to assure her.
Noelle managed a meek smile in response but didn’t change her stance.
“Well, now you know why I carry him around with me now, do you?”
“I can see why.”
Heather was about to open her mouth when there was a loud slam behind them. All three youngsters turned to face the noise, bunching together and holding each other in fright.
At first, it wasn’t clear what had happened. But as she quickly analyzed the scene, Heather realized what was the matter. Noelle whimpered in panic, grasping Janus to her side.
The chair was nowhere in sight. How was that possible? There was nowhere for it to go unless it had traveled out of the room, just as the other chair had chased Noelle earlier. As she scanned the room and thought of options, her heart skipped a beat.
The chair was on the ceiling, feet firmly to the planks above. Dead center.
This is it. Time to go.
Heather’s head snapped back to the sink in the floor, grabbing Noelle and pulling her into the living room. With a grip on her arm, she started to skirt around the edge of the room, returning her eyes back to the chair.
“Keep your eyes on the doorway,” Heather ordered.
The girl obeyed without question, although frozen in fear. Janus had to push her along to keep moving. She was starting to shiver as her breath rate increased, losing motor control.
The negative experience they had felt earlier was present once again. Heather wanted to chalk it up to the chair being on the ceiling, but she was pretty sure the two were related and the same.
She kept her gaze on the chair, not deviating her eyes. She knew that if she even took her eyes off of it to flee, it would come hurtling towards them or worse. She dared not blink, even.
Heather almost stumbled into the wall corner. She stretched her hand out to continue navigating, but realized she could utilize some help.
“Janus, lead me to the doorway.” She motioned for him to grab her hand.
He seemed to know what was going on, firmly gripping her hand before moving forward. Noelle didn’t respond to this, but Heather was certain she was unhappy to lose Janus.
They had reached the parlor doorway, five feet away from freedom from the outside entrance.
“Go to the door, outside.”
She heard the door creak as they continued. The waft of outside air blew from behind her, reinforcing that they were going to get out of this.
“Watch your step,” Janus warned.
“No, let Noelle go first. I can see the kitchen from here. It’s okay.”
Her voice wavered as she said that, most likely from how much effort she put into staring at the abhorrent chair. She pushed Noelle behind her, who stumbled out of the house.
The negative feeling swelled even more upon Noelle’s exit. The chair started to morph and shift into a twisted mass, the feet of the chair transforming into real human feet. Heather could feel something catch in her throat as she couldn’t breathe. If she didn’t leave now, things would get worse.
Praying that the others were behind her, she stumbled backwards out of the house. As her foot pressed onto the step, the horrid chair flew towards her at incredible speed. She shrieked and tripped, falling backwards. Heather felt Noelle catch her, Janus throwing himself at the door to slam it shut.
Just as the door closed, it was struck with something of massive force. Heather managed to get to her feet as the trio stepped backwards from the porch, unsure if the door had managed to hold the evil inside. Whatever had stopped up in her throat was gone, allowing her to breathe freely.
“Are you all right?” Noelle asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”
Both the girl and Janus were holding onto her, making sure she got her balance before letting go. They started to leave the yard, Heather constantly looking over her shoulder. Janus walked backwards refusing to turn around.
They had just exited the yard as Heather looked back to see where to step. Noelle had turned to face the house now that they were away. Her eyes widened as her hand flew to her mouth, resisting the urge to scream.
Her head snapped around upon her brother calling her. At the foot of the porch was a tall entity, with a stretched torso and a knob for a head. It was sickly brown color and the bumps from ribs were visible. It didn’t have arms, mouth or even eyes.
The dread from when they were inside the house washed over Heather once again. She quickly calculated in her what to do; leaving was certainly the best option, but would they be safe making a run for it?
She decided it was better than having another stare-off with it.
“C’mon. Go. Go!”
Heather shoved the other two to get them going before breaking into a run. The three of them dashed down the road, Heather lagging behind a little to make sure none of them got left behind. She peeked over her shoulder ever so often to make sure they weren’t getting followed.
The entity didn’t move at all, still pointed the same direction it was when they left. Just as they rounded the corner of the road, it vanished in the blink of an eye.
Heather slowed down, gazing back down the road for a few seconds to ensure they were safe.
“I think we’re okay.”
She hunched over some, catching her breath.
Noelle had come to a stop, letting go of all her skirts she had yanked up during the escape. She faltered and almost collapsed, Janus catching her before she hit the ground. Despite being winded herself, Heather came over to see if she how she was doing.
“Are you all right?”
“My legs are giving out on me all of a sudden. They feel so weak.” Noelle had slumped to a sitting position, Janus keeping her support.
“You have a moment, but I don’t think we should stay around here. I don’t trust that it won’t come chase us.”
“I know. It’s like the energy got sucked out of me all of a sudden.”
Her eyes were half-closed, grasping onto Janus as she had been doing earlier.
“Here, lean on me. Janus, grab ahold of her too. We need to keep moving.”
Noelle didn’t protest, struggling to her feet and leaning against Heather. She put the girl’s arm around her neck as Janus grasped her around the waist, planting her other hand firmly on his shoulder.
While it was a cumbersome arrangement, it was better than nothing.
As they started to walk back home, Heather glanced at the other two.
“You two saw that, right?”
“The red eyes?”
Janus looked up at Heather.
Heather almost stopped in her tracks, in utter disbelief.
“Red eyes? What red eyes?”
“You didn’t see them?! Those horrible red eyes peering out of the upper window, the one which would’ve been the other bedroom.”
Noelle was frantic, unnerved that Heather hadn’t seen the same thing.
“No, I didn’t. I saw some big tall brown thing with no eyes.”
The other two were silent as Heather continued to describe what she saw.
“I guess you were able to either see its true form. It must appear different to regular people,” Janus suggested.
“I think so too. I’m glad we decided to leave the yard. We would’ve been all in danger if we stayed looking at the window.”
Heather adjusted her grip on Noelle. Together, the three of them headed back to Elizabeth’s place.
Late evening had arrived. Everyone was back at Elizabeth’s shop, having closed for the night. While the door was certainly closed for business, the store was most certainly occupied.
Heather, Noelle and Tau’mi sat around the table in the alcove. They were pensively waiting for Elizabeth to arrive. After they had related the happenings to the house, she had left early to go speak to some of the townspeople. Vak’shi had run the shop till dusk, closing and awaiting her return.
Tau’mi was slumped on the table, mindlessly fiddling with some beads in a small bowl. Heather was reading a small prose book, and Noelle was curled up on the end of the bench, fast asleep.
Vak’shi and Janus were in another part of the shop, stocking shelves. Heather could hear their low voices, an occasional giggle from either of them. It felt good to hear both of them carry on, reminding her how things had been going before Noelle had asked for help.
Tau’mi had enough of this, getting up to occupy herself.
“I will get drinks. Do you want anything?”
“Sure, tea will be fine.”
Heather closed the book, looking up at her friend. Tau’mi nodded, leaving towards the house section.
A moment had passed before the door clattered open. Everyone jumped to attention as Elizabeth walked in, locking it behind her. Heather was instantly alert.
Elizabeth gave a tired glance at her, shedding her cloak before hanging it on the wall.
“I’ll tell you in a moment. Where’s the others?”
“Tau’mi went to go get refreshments.”
“I’m in the back, Mom!” Janus called out from across the store.
“You and Vak’shi can gather around, dear. I know you’re eager to know what’s happening.”
With a quick brushing of the front of her clothes she slowly walked over, pulling a bench from nearby to sit down on.
Vak’shi and Janus appeared from around the shelf, curious to the outcome. Elizabeth pushed her skirts aside and let Janus perch on the end of her bench. Vak’shi fetched a chair from near the fireplace, sitting down on the other end of the table.
By then Noelle had awakened from the commotion. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she yawned, noticing that Elizabeth had arrived. She attempted to straighten herself and look attentive, shrugging off her slumber.
“How are you feeling, Noelle. Any better?”
“A bit better, Miss Elizabeth. I still have a uncomfortable, dreading feeling, though. It hasn’t quite gone away.”
Elizabeth bent her head down. Heather knew from that reaction that she knew what was the matter.
Tau’mi bustled in, a tray of tea, cups and fixings planted on top. She quickly set the tray down, plopping down next to Heather. Cinnamon spice filled the air as she poured Heather her tea, staying quiet so that Elizabeth could continue.
“I had a talk with some of the lads down at the pub Maddie works at. I spent some time, telling them exactly what you all had told me. Maddie even sat around and listened.”
“What did they say?” Vak’shi asked.
“Lot’s of things, actually. Some made sense, some didn’t. But most of it added up to figure out what might be going on at the house.”
Elizabeth leaned forward and crossed her legs, accidentally nudging Janus off the seat. The girls giggled as she tugged him close, resting an arm around his shoulders.
“For one, that sinkhole you saw in the kitchen? That’s been there for quite awhile. Since that house was built, to be more precise. Silas claims that long before Thomas and I had moved here, the Royal Guard had killed some sort of creature. They buried it out of the way where nobody should’ve gone.”
“But somebody did go there?”
Tau’mi was all ears, hands propping her chin.
“Not intentionally. The Craven road was formed, and houses were built about a decade later along the stretch. Noelle’s house was one of these. The consensus is that the buried creature beneath is what’s causing those issues.
And it’s been going on for quite a bit! More families have gone through that house more than how old Janus is.”
“Why not tear the house down, then? If it’s that much trouble?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath, as in disbelief.
“It actually almost did. When the last family left, it sat vacant for quite a bit. And it was almost to the point that the family would allow the town to demolish the house. But, Noelle’s family bought it before that could take place. They refused for the township to purchase it, and have invoked the prime rights rule. So unless the actual governor of the region actually gets involved, it’s their place.”
She took a pause, reaching for a teacup to help herself.
“But your aunt and uncle did something, Noelle. I’m not sure what exactly they did, but what you experienced in that house, it was more terrible than anything the old stories about the place have been told.”
Noelle shivered, worry on her face.
Elizabeth had just finished putting sugar in her tea, biting her lip in hesitation. Her voice lowered, becoming calm as possibly could as to not alarm the others.
“They…invited something into the house, and formed some sort of contract with it. Something related to what had been killed and buried there. And for some twisted arrangement, it didn’t like you.”
Noelle looked terrified, letting out a sharp gasp. Hurt and betrayal filled her face.
“I couldn’t believe that my aunt and uncle would treat me this way. They were so gracious and loving the last time I had met them. What could make them change so much? To not only dislike me, but to allow such a thing into their lives?”
She was clearly disturbed, almost looking like she’d cry. Heather slid over to her side, grasping her shoulder and rubbing her arm.
“I believe greed and jealously. From what I was told, Noelle’s relatives became quite reclusive, agitated and even hostile after a period of time. The thing must’ve been living in the house by then.
But, they must’ve had an additional vendetta against you. And while I’m in no place to pass judgements, I want to say it has something to do with you and your family’s well-being.”
Noelle’s face was blank, slowly nodding.
“They were upset upon my arrival. They could not believe my clothes, my belongings. That I was cheerful and happier than they were. They way they behaved was despicable.”
Some tears slid down the girl’s cheeks.
“However, you did something. Something that you neglected to tell Heather and the others about your plight, isn’t there?”
Her eyes sharply looked at Elizabeth, knowing she had been found out.
“You possibly couldn’t-“
“Lass, as evil as those specters are, you either had to have angered it or be cursed for something. Which is it?”
Noelle looked around for support, flabbergasted to being put on the spot. Heather continued to hold onto her shoulder.
“It’s okay, you’ll be fine. I mean it,” Heather assured her.
Noelle’s eyes wandered to the ground as Elizabeth sipped her tea. The room was silent as the fire crackled in the hearth. The girl took a deep breath, looking at the ceiling for resolve before speaking.
“Before I came to Ellowwood, my parents bought me new clothes for my trip. In particular they got me a new day dress, the one I wear now. With a hoopskirt and more than one petticoat. Things I never wore or even dreamed of wearing because of how poor we were. They were such wonderful gifts and I cherished my parents for allowing me to dress finely when coming here.”
She grasped large handfuls of her skirts while speaking, looking down at her lap.
“Late last evening, I had retired to rest. As I lay there, I could hear my relatives speaking from down below. I put my ear to the floor and heard how they had rifled through my things. My aunt had seen the dress and grew insanely jealous, wishing how something unfortunate would happen to me so she’d get it.”
“Noelle, that horrible!”
Tau’mi was shocked, low murmurs of disbelief coming from the others.
“But it didn’t stop there. Early in the morning I heard some commotion in my room. When I awoke I saw nothing; but as I went to dress myself, I noticed the articles of my hoopskirt and petticoats were missing. They were not in my room whatsoever, and it was clear they were moved. I finished dressing with what I had and went for breakfast.
When I asked them about the incident, they laughed it off as me being forgetful. The aunt also added that there was a resident ghost and maybe it played some mischief on me. It was an insulting answer at least.”
“Very much so. Go on,” Elizabeth encouraged.
“My aunt and uncle went out to their work for the day shortly after. I went back up to my room to try to make myself look presentable, and noticed that their bedroom door was open. I peeked in and saw my missing clothes on their bed. They had also stolen a porcelain jar of kalti essence dust, which sat on their dresser.
Angered, I gathered up everything, dressed myself and packed my trunk. As I left the house, that’s when the incidents started to occur.”
There was silence for a few seconds as Elizabeth rubbed her temples, apology in her face.
“That’s exactly what I was afraid of. That thing views that you stole from it’s house, hence the vengeance. And I won’t put it past them that they possibly cursed those items just in case you did just what you did.”
“That’s also why we all got that feeling near the bedroom. That thing must live or stay inside somehow, with some connection,” Heather added.
“People still do that stuff?”
Janus looked up to his mother in disbelief.
“It’s rare but it happens. It’s very sinister and grotesque practices born out of fear and evil. Usually in attempts to commune with those of the Void. I thought that Ellowwood was free of such things, but I should’ve known better considering how many incidents we’ve had in the past few years.”
“I had hoped that when Heather came to help me, her and her brother’s company would have prevented anything from happening to me in the house. That they would’ve just prove that I hallucinated the whole thing and put my mind to rest. But I suppose those were foolish thoughts.”
Noelle turned away, face full of shame.
“You were very lucky they were with you. Otherwise, worse could’ve happened to you.”
“I’m aware of that.”
Elizabeth got off her stool and stood.
“Well, that solves that. We at least know that bit and got to the bottom of what was going on. I know a place you an stay and the town will be looking into it within the next few days. But before we go further, I think we need to take care of a current issue at hand. The sooner the better.”
Noelle stood to her feet. It was clear she was sad to lose her parents’ gifts. She looked down at her skirts, giving them a last look.
“Yes, the cursed clothing, along with the jar. I understand; I hate to part with them but there’s no other way.”
Elizabeth nodded silently.
“We’ll help you get replacements, don’t worry. We’ll figure out something,” Heather assured her. She had gotten to her feet, coming to her side.
“Dears, do you all mind waiting here for awhile? Keep Janus company and entertain him.”
Janus slid onto the window seat between Vak’shi and Tau’mi. The Kashri were thrilled at his arrangement, all smiles as they cleared part of the table. To play some small game, no doubt.
“Sure, Mom. Take the time you need. We’ll be fine.”
“Good lad. We’ll be back.”
The bell on the door jingled. Heather looked up from her reading at the counter.
The girl locked the door, a large smile on her face. Heather came out from behind the counter and gave her a hug, both girls laughing.
“How’s things at the Pensworth house?”
“It’s a little tiring but good! They absolutely enjoy me being there.”
Noelle clasped her hands together, looking around the shop.
“I’m glad to hear that. They love it when Janus and Fluff visit, and really just friendly to most everyone. I guess it was kind of natural to let you stay with them.”
“They really are wonderful people. It’s been a much more positive experience since I arrived.”
There was a growling squeak as Pipp entered the scene, trotting up to Noelle in bold fascination. In turn she gasped softly, crouching on the floor with hands on her knees.
“Aww, he’s so cute. Can he be played with?”
“Sure, he even likes to be held. Let me show you.”
Heather picked up Pipp as Noelle stood. She cooed and gently spoke to the creature for a moment, before carefully handing it over to the girl.
Noelle cradled her arms as Heather showed her, looking down at Pipp in amazement as the creature rested in her arms. She carefully stroked it for a moment, saying nothing as she took in the experience.
“I really appreciate all of the help you and your family provided. Finding me the place to stay, going to help me, even buying me replacement clothing. Thank you seems inadequate and I can’t stop repeating it.”
“You’re very welcome, Noelle. I’m glad you’re doing better now.”
Heather smiled, happy that Noelle was all right. While the events of a few days ago were fresh on her mind, she hadn’t thought it would involve a new friend. Or what she was trying to be at least.
Noelle let Pipp to the floor, wringing her hands together as she looked around.
“Janus isn’t around, is he? I know you mentioned he didn’t go to school with the others.”
“He’s actually upstairs working away on something, I’m sure. Would you like me to get him for you?”
“If you could. I actually wanted to spend some time with him, if you didn’t mind.”
This caught Heather’s attention.
“Oh? It rare a girl comes asking for my brother, specifically one younger than Elizabeth.”
Noelle’s cheeks turned pink as she stumbled to get her words together.
“I know. Why would someone like me spend company with your brother? But he was so kind and friendly, and I wanted to actually enjoy his company when a crazy house wasn’t trying to kill us.
You see, when I held onto Janus back at the house, I had never really experienced that sort of…how should I put it, interaction? Spending time with someone always had it that they had to entertain me, go through some custom and emphasis just to get someone’s attention. And I would be on the bottom of that, looking up to whoever decided to give me the time of day.
But Janus wasn’t like that. He felt lower than me, if that made sense. He also felt very open. For that brief time, I cherished walking close with him, knowing that he genuinely cared if something would’ve happened to me. And for the first time in years, I felt responsible and concerned about his safety as well.”
That certainly explained a lot. Noelle hadn’t even looked at Heather the whole time, staring at the floor during her explanation.
“I’m guessing you never quite had siblings, huh?”
“No, not really.”
Heather leaned against the counter, folding her arms.
“I see. I went through a little phase of that myself, except that it was more of I didn’t think Janus would make a very good friend. But I found out he did and I grew attached to him. He kind of just returned the favor.”
Noelle clasped her hands together, looking away.
“He’s real nice.”
“Yeah, he is, isn’t he?”
She was deeply blushing at this point, more on her mind.
“I also wanted to say I appreciated getting to get to know you”
“Really? Plain old me?”
Heather scoffed in disbelief. She possibly couldn’t have earned her attachment as well, could she?
“Yes, plain old you. You didn’t prattle or gossip, nor did you complain or whine. You were brave and capable. You cared more about if I was okay and if your brother was safe, instead of what someone would think or who said what. I admired that.”
It was her turn to be embarrassed. Maddie had claimed these exact qualities were her “gemstones”, and that she should try to use them to the best of her abilities. Yet again someone else was telling her this.
“Uh, thank you. I mean, I get told that now and then.”
With the conversation going the way it did, Heather felt that Noelle earned her right to stick around. She looked towards the house section, calling out loudly.
“Janus! You have company!”
His voice was distant, but the footsteps could already be heard from the other end of the house. Within a moment he had arrived in the shop, curious to who had wanted to see him.
Upon seeing him, Noelle’s face lit up. She took a few steps forwards, clasping her hands at chest height.
“Noelle! Um, hi. Doing all right?”
Janus was a bit surprised, coming closer towards her. Noelle bent over just a little, eyes soft.
“Much better. I wanted to properly thank you for helping me the other day, I really appreciated it.”
“Uhh, sure. You’re welcome. I hope things are doing better now.”
Noelle sidled closer, reaching over and delivering a tight hug along with a kiss on his cheek. Janus was taken back by surprise, looking a little bewildered. The girl stepped back, a pleased look on her face.
“I was talking to you sister about some things, and I wanted to know if I could spend some time with you.”
“I guess if you’d like. Heather, this is okay, right?”
Heather giggled, amused how her brother didn’t know how to handle Noelle’s attention.
“If I’d like?! I have to approach this differently, then.”
Noelle grasped up two large handfuls of her dress, pinning one to the side of her waist while bringing the other up to her chest with a sweep. Large swatches of petticoats were on display as she leaned to the side a little.
“Hey Janus, can I stick around with you for awhile?”
Her voice was a more upbeat and less proper. She added a campy wink and head nod for added emphasis, waiting for his response.
Both Janus as Heather started laughing, enjoying the entertainment. The girl had managed to imitate not only Janus’ way of talking, but also capture the open nature of most everyone at the house. To be honest, Heather felt it was a perfect representation of the type of girl Janus would fall for one day.
“Nicely done, Noelle! That was pretty impressive.”
Heather briefly clapped her hands together.
“You have Mrs. Pensworth to thank for that. She was quite helpful about the whole thing, honestly.”
She adjusted the grip on her skirts and focused on Janus.
“So, are you going keep me waiting like this? Why not show me some of your books or give me a walk around the place?”
Janus didn’t answer, looking at Heather for confirmation.
“It’s okay, Janus. She just wants to hang around with you without being spooked by monsters or ghosts. Let’s say she truly realized you weren’t horrible, but actually likable.”
She gave him an approving nod. Janus responded in understanding, looking back at Noelle.
“I see. Sure, come on!”
He eagerly stretched out his hand for Noelle to take. She dropped her skirts and eagerly grasped it with a chuckle, letting him lead the way towards the back of the house.
As the two disappeared, Heather felt warm inside. The same feeling when she was starting to grow accustomed to Elizabeth and the others upon living here. Or when she woke up every morning and someone was there to greet her. She was more than happy that Noelle was getting the same helping of treatment, and felt confident that things would be good for awhile at least.