Bob

The Monster in My Building: Part 1

Photo by Gabriele Brancati on Pexels.com (This is not Bob.)

I’m about to head out to work, just putting my shoes on, when I hear the familiar creak of the elevator’s hydraulic system, and the clunk of doors opening on my floor. My apartment is right next to the elevator, and usually it’s just one of the other tenants. Still, I can’t help but tense a little.

I hear footsteps shamble past my door. The scritch-clump scritch-clump of heavy, clawed feet, and then a guttural croak like the great-grandfather of all ravens.

“Shut up, Bob,” I say.

I hear a deep “awk,” and then nothing. No more footsteps. Bob heard me. Of course he did. He mostly hunts by sight, but he can hear.

I look at my phone. At this point I have no choice but to wait until Bob loses interest and leaves, but I think I can still catch my bus if I hurry. Bob usually doesn’t hang around for more than a minute or two.

As per usual, it isn’t long before I hear the scritch-clump of Bob’s footsteps again. I wait until I hear the creak of the fire door opening, the rustle of feathers as Bob pushes through, and then the door swing closed behind him.

I wait until Bob is well on his way down the hallway, heading towards the stairwell on the east side of the building. It’s actually fairly unusual for Bob to take the elevator. We suspect it only happens when Bob accidentally bumps the car call button, and the elevator is already on that floor and opens immediately.

Cautiously, I slip into the hallway, and peek through the fire door. Bob can’t open doors, so we leave them propped open so he can stick his beak through the gap and push through.

The hallway  is clear, so I hurry over to the elevator and check the monitors mounted next to the elevator. They show live feed from all the buildings’ CCTV cameras. There are other displays next to ear elevator and stairwell door on every floor.

Bob is in the east stairwell, shambling up towards the fourth floor.

What is Bob? I don’t know; nobody knows. He looks like a nine-foot tall Maribou stork with claws on his wings that would make a therizinosaurus feel inadequate. He will eat anything made of meat, but we haven’t had a death or the loss of a pet in a long time. This means either he is something unnatural and will never die or go away, or someone is feeding him. I’m not sure which I find more appalling.

I could use the elevator, but Bob has a habit of making a mess in there. Maybe he gets motion sick, or maybe he thinks of it as a kind of litter-box. I can’t tell what. So I hustle to the west stairwell, and down the stairs before Bob has time to arrive at the fourth floor and traverse the length of the building to the west stairwell. Unless he takes the elevator again, there’s nowhere else for him to go.

I know I have plenty of time to leave before Bob even enters the stairwell, but even so, knowing he is coming propels me out the door faster than any coffee could.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Thirteen

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve

I squirmed on the floral lazboy as my great-aunt Marie handed me a cup of tea. I still didn’t understand why I was growing a tail at all, never mind how to sit down with one comfortably. The first part, at least, I hoped Marie could help me with.

Marie settled down on the equally soft and floral chair across from me. Hers creaked when she sat down on it. “Well, where shall I start?”

I had so many questions. They flew around my head and blended into one another like the blobs in a hyperactive lava lamp. Why was this town so strange? What was with the rabbits? What was in that stuff Marie gave me, and my rabbit, if it was the same stuff? And perhaps most importantly, what had it done to me?

Finally I decided, we might as well begin at the beginning, or something close to it.

“What are we?” I said.

“Human,” said Marie. “Well, almost entirely human.”

“I see. And the other part?”

Marie picked up a picture frame from the side table. After gazing at it fondly for a few moments, she handed it to me.

The photo was a black-and-white of two solemn-faced women in old-timey plain dresses, with a young girl standing between them.

“As you may know our ancestors came over from Germany during the 1880s. Two of them are what we used to call wolpertingers, but now we usually just call them the ancestors or the elder folk. They are sisters and one of them — Marie-Annika — I was named after her, and she also brought her daughter Hannelore, who was half human.”

Marie reached out and tapped the young girl in the photo, indicating Hannelore.

They did look human. But their eyes were large and too round. Their noses were too small, and their ears were prominent and pointed. All of these fell within the range of normal human features, but taken together they produced something of an uncanny valley effect. Something was different about them.

Or was I just seeing it because I’d been told they weren’t human?

“Wolpertingers?” I said. “I’ve seen those on video games. They looked like squirrels with fangs and wings.”

Marie shrugged. “They are a diverse people. They usually take the form of various forest folk. But they can also take human form if they wish to.”

“Which is how a human and a wolpertinger could…get married.”

“It’s not very common of course. Marie-Annika and her sister are quite unusual in that regard.”

My brow furrowed. “Are unusual? Don’t you mean were?”

“Oh no, they’ve both remarried to humans.”

“They’re still here?”

“Yes. Well, not here. They live much longer than we do, of course. But they live in the Black Forest now, “Marie sighed. “They went back to the Fatherland to help rebuild after the Berlin wall came down.”

“As one does.”

“Things were going so well before this year, some of the townsfolk were wondering if they might come back. They’re revered in this town, as you might expect. But with the way things are going now…well, who knows.”

“So, the festival. What is it, exactly? What happened? You can tell me now, surely.”

“Echart does go a bit overboard with the mystery of it, but he likes. Normally people ask questions, and we explain it all at the pond.” She sighed. “When you didn’t, I thought someone had told you.”

“Well?”

Marie clasped her hands and brought them to her mouth a moment before continuing. “It is a celebration of our past, to put it simply. For one month we bring back the old ways our ancestors knew with the root from the Old Country. It changes us and our companions, so that for a little while we know something of their home.”

“Wiat, so this is temporary?”

“Oh yes.”

“Thank goodness.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned that sooner. But what you have experienced is a great gift. I hope you realize that, even if your introduction to it was…unexpected.”

“Sure, it just..took me off guard. A carrot from Germany did all this?”

“No, leibchen. Not the Fatherland, the Old Country.”

“Do I want to know what that is?”

“Perhaps not. At least, not yet.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Twelve

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part Ten | Part Eleven

I sat at the desk in my room. Even after spending a relatively short time in the room, I found the floral wallpaper no longer seemed excessive and cloying. Instead, it seemed abundant, thriving. I liked it.

The rabbit liked it too, I think, though my new furry companion still seemed concerned about me. I wished I could tell it not to bother. The whole thing had been a dream, after all. And if my rabbit was a bit different in the morning, well, for all I knew I was still dreaming.

I was tired though, which was odd, since the part about getting up in the middle of the night and having a party with dancing rabbits had all been a dream. But maybe the dream hadn’t been very restful. Maybe I would have a nap.

I squirmed on my seat. My clothing seemed to be bunching oddly at the base of my spine. In doing so, I turned and caught a glimpse of glowing eyes watching me from the mirror.

Startled, I jumped to my feet, and was no less alarmed when I realized I’d spotted my own reflection. My eyes reflected light back at me, like those of a cat or dog in low light. I tilted my head slowly back and forth.

Normal.

Not normal.

Human.

Paranormal forest creature.

Trying to distract myself from the growing panic rising in my chest, I batted my hand at the base of my shirt, hoping to resolve whatever wardrobe malfunction was going on back there. What I felt was not clothing.

I turned my back to the mirror, lifted my shirt and hiked my pants down a bit. I had a tail.

Short and fluffy, like a bobcat’s.

“Marie?” I tried to keep my voice calm, but it quickly rose to a shriek. “Marie!

My rabbit furrowed its brow again, and let out a low whistle.

“No, I am not okay,” I said.

Great-aunt Marie burst into the room. “What is it, dear?”

“What’s happening to me?”

“Lower your voice dear, you’re going to scare the other–“

“What is this?”

“Well, it’s coming in very nicely.”

“What did you do to me?”

Marie exchanged a glance with the rabbit, who chirped.

“My dear,” said Marie. “Don’t you remember what happened last night? You saw what the carrot did to…”

“Fritillary,” I said.

That was the rabbit’s name. I didn’t know how I knew that.

“Yes, Fritillary. I offered you the cake. I asked you if you understood what it meant.”

“I thought I was dreaming! How else would there be dancing rabbits?”

“You thought it was a dream?”

“Yes I did. Don’t look at me like that,” I said. “I think it was a perfectly reasonable assumption to make under the circumstances.”

“No one else has,” said Marie

“Well, I did.”

“I did ask you.” Marie wrung her hands a bit.

I sighed. “Would you please explain what’s going on? I’m not going to freak out.”

Or at least, I would resume freaking out at a more convenient time.

“Yes, I think I’d better.” Marie nodded. “We’ll have a cup of tea in the sitting room.”

“What’s in the tea?”

“Just cammomile, and a few herbs from the Old Country. It will help.”

“It won’t give me antlers or anything, will it?”

“Don’t be silly. You’re a lady. Nothing could give you antlers.”

“Right.” I followed Marie out into the hallway and down towards the sitting room.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Eleven

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part Ten

“You can let the rabbit out of the hutch now,” my great-aunt Marie said.

Her eyes were glowing and a long cougar-like tail descended from her skirt and curled around her ankles. I realized I must be dreaming.

“Right,” I said.

The fact that I was dreaming didn’t bother me. I’ve had a few lucid dreams before, but I’m not good at it. Somehow, even though I know I’m dreaming, I can never really make the dream do what I want it to. So I figured I would just go along with whatever bizarre scenario my brain had concocted.

I bent down, lowering the hutch to the ground, and let the rabbit out. The peachy colored bunny hopped out, sniffing the ground with the ritual caution of a domestic prey animal that has never encountered a predator.

Marie leaned down and offered the rabbit a deep purple carrot, the heirloom kind you can get at the supermarket, so I presumed. As the rabbit munched enthusiastically, rustling noises stirred in the bushes near the pond.

I shined my flashlight towards the pond and saw nearly two-dozen rabbits emerging from the bushes. Or at least they were more like rabbits than anything else. They came in many different colors. Some the natural brown to beige tones of wild rabbits, and some the white, black, grey or brown patterns of domestic rabbits. They did look like rabbits, only larger than they should be, and with slightly more human proportions.

Proportions that allowed them to, for instance, stand up on their hind legs and start dancing in a circle around the pond.

My rabbit watched them with interest, and soon hopped over to join them. It was clumsy at first, but soon got the hang of things at its proportions slowly changed to match the others. Since it was a dream, I saw nothing particularly alarming in this.

I was however a bit taken aback when I looked back to Marie and saw that she was holding a piece of carrot cake with dark purple icing.

“Now it’s your turn, dear,” she said. “Do you understand what this means?”

I didn’t. What could a piece of cake mean, in a dream or otherwise? However, I’ve had a number of dreams with cake in them, and I always deeply regret the instances when I don’t get around to eating the cake.

So I nodded and held out my hand.

“Are you sure?” she said.

Was I sure I wanted to eat cake? It wasn’t a particularly fraught question, particularly not in a dream when I didn’t even need to worry about what the excessive sugar would do to my body.

My brow furrowed. “Yes.”

Marie smiled broadly, as if I’d just announced that yes, I was sure I was going to follow in her footsteps into some deeply cherished career path.

The cake tasted unique. Quite floral for a carrot cake, but it was moist, perfectly spiced and the icing had just the right level of sweetness.

After that the dream sort of mixed with the memories I had about the festival earlier that evening. I remember dancing around the pond with the rabbits, and Ann and the others were there too.

Still, even though it had to be a dream, the next morning I still had to deal with the rabbit. She was still too big, and with distinctly bipedal proportions.

“Well,” I said. “I guess I just didn’t notice before, because it was dark.”

The rabbit tilted its head to one side and furrowed its brow.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Ten

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

I woke up at sunrise the next day in a disoriented muddle. Not only because I’d awoken in a tiny tent in the middle of the woods, but because I didn’t remember setting up the tent. Well, I guess in a sense I did, but only in the strange dream I’d had.

My rabbit sat on its haunches at the mouth of my tent, watching me. It had gotten out of its hutch. Which was really just as well, since it was now twice its original size, so the hutch would be a bit cramped now. I knew that should have seemed odd to me, but it didn’t. Not only was the rabbit larger, but it was leaner now, less bunny-shaped. It’s limbs were longer too, its front paws proportionally larger, and there was something different about its wrists. They seemed more mobile, like those on an animal that used its front paws to manipulate objects rather than only for locomotion.

I sat up, scooched forward, and gathered my rabbit into my lap. Her fur was warm and soft under my fingers.

Why didn’t this seem strange? I did remember why my rabbit looked like this, really, in the same way I remembered set up the tent after Marie left: in a dream. But that didn’t seem reasonable. Did I care what was reasonable? No, not really.

I tried to sort out the events in my head. Marie, my great-aunt, had left me in a small clearing with my tent, my pack and the rabbit. It was dark by then. Not too dark to pitch the tent, but dark enough that I felt highly motivated to be inside the tent before it got much darker. Thanks to my pack, I was equipped with both flashlight and lantern, so that helped, but only so much.

I immediately began to set up the tent, only to quickly realize I had drunk far too much lemonade, and urgently needed to use the facilities. However, my survival instincts were telling me that striking out along the path to the outhouse, flashlight notwithstanding, was a terrible idea and would almost certainly get me eaten by monsters or murdered by strange townspeople. Clearly, the best course of action was to pitch the tent, and then quickly fall asleep so I wouldn’t realize how badly I had to pee before sunrise.

It was sunrise now. Did I still have to pee? I did not. Not as much as last night anyway.

Ultimately, I wasted a ridiculous amount of time alternating between trying to pitch the tent, and standing still thinking about how much more pleasant things would be if I quickly popped out to the outhouse and scurried back again. By the time I finally made up my mind, it was almost totally dark and the tent was barely half-finished. But in the end, I had to go.

I left the lantern, lit, at my campsite so I could find it again, and set off down the path with the flashlight. And the rabbit. I didn’t want to leave it behind in case a bobcat or wolf visited the campsite for a bedtime snack in my absence.

The outhouse was an uncomfortably long way from my campsite, but I found it eventually, and soon emerged, much relieved. Several paths led away into the dark woods, each equally unfamiliar. After circling the outhouse a few times, and possibly getting more mixed up than ever, I spotted the light from my campsite and headed towards it.

Or anyway, that’s what I thought it was. Because when I pushed through the trees towards the light, I found Marie standing in front of a pond. The light was her lantern, not mine. Then I realized I must be dreaming, because Marie’s eyes were glowing and a long cougar-like tail descended from her skirt and curled around her ankles.

“You can let the rabbit out of the hutch now,” she said.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Nine

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

Despite my misgivings I found myself enjoying the festivities that evening. Anna and I, as well as several others, made sure the entire backyard was strewn, festooned, bedizened, decked, and otherwise decorated with the ribbons. I found that several of my distant relations, at the least the ones who had shown up to help with decorating, were lively and interesting people. We were well-supplied with lemonade and cookies, which didn’t hurt either.

Decorating transitioned into the festival itself without any noticeable increase in creepiness; the last of those who showed up to help decorate became the first proper attendees as we finished putting up the ribbons, and somebody started playing lively guitar music near a giant stack of wood that would later become a bonfire.

The folk music they played a bit quirky, but I liked it. Anna and I attempted to do some of the folk dances the older people were performing. The results were at least entertaining, if not very graceful.

We had dinner afterward, which mostly consisted of hearty salads and mashed root vegetables, but I didn’t mind. It was good and there was lots of it. During dinner the sun went down and somebody lit the bonfire. The music continued, with more subdued tempos more suited to eating.

After dessert (which was not carrot cake, mind you; it was some kind of cream tart with rose petal jam on top. I thought it tasted a bit like soap) all of the out-of-town people gathered in front of the bonfire to receive an overnight pack, containing a lantern, a tent, a sleeping bag, and some snacks. And a rabbit.

“What’s the rabbit for?” I asked my great-aunt Marie.

She smiled as she handed me the little hutch. The rabbit inside was a peachy-tan color with a white underbelly and white socks on its front feet.

“A little companion for your overnight stay in the forest. You’ll have a party together.”

“A what?”

“It’ll become clear at the time.”

“Alright.”

I wandered off to stand next to the two participants who’d already gotten their packs and their rabbits. Anna was next in line and she scooted next to me to wait for the last three.

“So,” she said. “Do you think this was what your uncle Echart meant? About what happens to the rabbits?”

“That we all go on a sleepover in the woods? Maybe.”

“But there’s more than six rabbits in the hutch.”

“Maybe some of the rabbits just live here, and don’t go on the sleepovers.”

Anna’s rabbit was mostly black with white patches on its face and ears. The rabbits had ribbons tied around their necks, the same black, orange, and yellow ribbons me and Anna had brought from the store earlier that day. The black ribbon nearly blended in with the rabbit’s fur but the others stood out like fire. The peachy fur of my rabbit didn’t match the ribbons nearly so well, but I thought it was cuter anyway.

When we’d all received our rabbits, Marie and Echart beamed at the us, the light from the lanterns they carried illuminating their faces. They didn’t look scary, exactly, but it was a fairly eerie effect.

“Well then. Let’s be off.”

With that, they set off down the ribbon-lined path into the forest, with the six of us in tow. I tried not to wonder how many of us would be returning in the morning.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Eight

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3| Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The trip into town to get the ribbons was…interesting, to say the least. We got a lot of stares and people whispered to each other, and otherwise acted weird. But it wasn’t the sort of attention you’d expect to get wheeling an ungodly amount of black, yellow, and red ribbons in a handcart down mainstreet.

People seemed excited to see the preparations, for what I didn’t know yet. A few even came up to us and asked to touch the ribbons. We said yes; I couldn’t what harm that would do. Some even tried to inconspicuously follow us for a while, pretending they happened to be on their own errands in the same direction we were headed. Thankfully, they gave up on that once we turned onto a residential road.

“So, what do you think are the options of where this could be going?” said Anna. “Say this was a movie, what would you expect would happen?”

“Oh boy, nowhere good.” I said. “There’s definitely a monster in the forest.”

“For sure. And this event tonight doesn’t bode well.”

“No, not at all. I usually don’t watch movies with culty things in them.”

“You’re thinking about Midsommar, aren’t you?”

“Trying not to,” I said. “But regardless of the ribbons, we know this really isn’t a cult. Even though if it was a movie it totally would be anyway. And we know that the participants don’t die. They don’t even warn other people against going. At least not the ones I’ve talked to.”

“They could be imposters.”

“Yeah, but in a movie though. I don’t think that’s what really happened.”

“That would be a little far-fetched.”

“Another thing, though. When I asked about the rabbits, Echart said that what happens to them happens to all of us. But I don’t think that means death, because we know the participants in this don’t die.”

“Unless he meant all of us, eventually.”

“Maybe, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what they’re for. I don’t think the adults would encourage the kids to be playing with them and getting attached to them if that was the case.”

“Then what does it mean?”

“I have no idea.”

We trundled along in silence for a while, and I stared at the ribbons. This conversation had not made me feel any better about what was going on.

“Well, what if it wasn’t a horror movie?”

I shrugged. “Then it’s a weird artsy flick and we’re going to get married to the thing in the forest. Or the rabbits.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Seven

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

When I woke up I could already smell breakfast cooking and hear the clamor of my hosts, the four other house guests, and what turned out to be another half-dozen people who’d just dropped by for breakfast.

I got lost in the shuffle, and nobody mentioned the cherry cobbler incident, or anything that came with it. I wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed about this or not. Part of me would have liked to discuss it, but I wasn’t really sure it would help. What was there to discuss, really?

I was halfway through a strawberry waffle when Anna mostly-politely shoved aside one of my second cousins and plopped down on the bench beside me.

“Hey,” she said. “Apparently something’s going on this evening that requires a metric butt-ton of ribbons. Want to go into town with me to get them?”

“Ribbons?”

“Yeah, ribbons.”

“Sure,” I said.

Despite the warning about the quantity of ribbons required, I was nevertheless surprised when Anna showed up with a wheelbarrow. Or something like it. It was less awkward than a wheelbarrow, perhaps one could call it a handcart.

“Really?” I said. “We couldn’t just carry them in bags or something?”

“Oh, we’ll do that too. We need all the ribbons,” Anna said. “I mean literally, all of them. The general store made a special bulk order just for us.”

“Wow,” I said.

We trundled the handcart down the street in companionable silence for a while. I noticed Anna’s multitude of charm bracelets, which reminded me of the ones popular girls usually wore at my high school. Somehow this got me off on a mental tangent about the differences between younger and older millennials and wondering whether or not Anna saw me as one of her own generation or essentially a younger version of her parents.

I mean, it wasn’t like because I was older and had kids I was suddenly a member of a different species. And then, I suppose I didn’t really know whether or not Anna did have children, but she was undeniably younger and certainly had that irresponsible, unencumbered “single” air about her.

“Did you notice anything…weird…last night?” said Anna.

“What? Oh,” I said. “Did you?”

I hadn’t actually answered her question, but then I wasn’t sure what the answer should be. Strictly speaking, the answer was yes, but I wasn’t sure what I’d seen was actually significant. But if we started discussing it, I knew it could start to seem significant whether it really was or not.

“Yes,” she said. “I think so. My great-aunt’s house doesn’t have indoor plumbing, lucky me-“

“You’d think there would be building code violations along with that.”

“Right? Personally, I think she pays protection against inspectors to the family of hedgehogs that live under the porch. Those things are ornery,” she said. “Anyway, I had to go outside last night and I saw something. I mean, it could have been a deer or a coyote, but I swear it was walking on two legs.”

“What did it look like?”

“Well I saw a kind of upright silhouette, and the glowing eyes with reflective light like pets have in camera flash.”

I inwardly cringed. “And a long tail?”

“Maybe. That or it waved at me, and I don’t know which concerns me more.”

I nodded and looked down at the handcart.

“So, did you see something?” Anna said.

“Possibly. I got up to get a snack last night. I thought I saw shining eyes and a long waving tail when I glanced into the dining room, but it could have just been something shiny and a tree branch waving outside.”

“Wait, what you saw was inside the dining room?”

“Or outside on the porch, maybe. If I saw anything at all. I mean, it’s so easy to get carried away with these things. Just think about all the people who’ve seen bigfoot.”

“Oh totally. Especially since this place actually is weird. But who knows.”

“I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes open.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Six

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

I never sleep well the first night in a new environment, and this place seemed designed to enhance that unfortunate situation.

The sounds outside were all wrong. Since it was summer, the sun was out until late, and so the children all felt the need to be running around screaming until the last vestiges of daylight were well and truly gone. When they did, however, it got way too quiet.

Apparently the children’s noise had been scaring away various forest creatures who then came out and began making ungodly noises, particularly just as I was about to fall asleep. Not loudly, you understand, and not quietly enough to go unnoticed. Just the right sound level that forced me to listen for them in case they ended up being as threatening as they sounded.

The floral wallpaper and other poufy accents did not look any less overpowering and sinister in the dark, but I had my sleeping mask on so this didn’t bother me too much. The bed, however, was another matter.

It was incredibly soft, which I liked at first, and burrowed into the pillowy mattress. After a while, though, I started to feel as though I would sink into it and be lost forever if I didn’t lie stiffly still.

Despite all this, I could possibly have drifted off into an uneasy sleep, if I hadn’t gotten hungry. It wasn’t the hunger itself, so much as the internal debate it inspired. Before I retired to bed for the night, Maria told me that there were plenty of cookies left, and cherry cobbler in the fridge, and I was encouraged to avail myself of these provisions should I get peckish in the night.

Despite this invitation, obviously it was impossible for me to do so. Creeping around in the dark in a near stranger’s house for the purpose of poking around in their kitchen was rude and out of the question, notwithstanding the fact that I’d been told to do exactly that if it suited me.

But I really wanted some cherry cobbler, and I’d been told I could get some. Wasn’t this the Truth? Wasn’t my reluctance to go downstairs a product of my overly timid nature? And wasn’t it this very timidity that led me to accept Echart’s invitation and got me stuck out here in the first place?

True, I’d been curious as well, but now that I was here, curiosity didn’t seem like a valid reason to have come. And it was certainly politeness, if not timidity, that kept me from hauling my butt back home at the earliest opportunity.

I decided I had to go get some cherry cobbler. It might be a very small step toward regaining control of my life, but it was a step nonetheless.

When the first step I took out of my room and into the hall produced an enormous squeak, I realized obtaining cherry cobbler was going to be even more fraught than I imagined, and almost turned back. But I pressed on, determined not to be put off by talkative floorboards.

As I picked my way down the hall, and then the stairs, I noticed something odd about the wallpaper. The main pattern was a black floral print on a silvery background, and in the moonlight streaming in from the windows, I noticed the negative space between the floral motifs resembled a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Or one rabbit with wings.

Why all the rabbits? I shook my head and continued down the stairs.

The kitchen, I believed, was to my left. I knew it was next to the dining room, through which one traveled to get to the sliding patio door. But I knew this less because I remembered where I’d gone earlier, and more because the sounds of snoring clearly indicated that the first-floor spare bedrooms were located to my right.

The first floor was mercifully carpeted, and allowing me to pad stealthily towards the kitchen. Rationally, of course, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world if someone heard me getting a night-time snack, but I have never claimed to be rational. Besides, if it really would have been the end of the world I wouldn’t have attempted getting a snack in the first place.

Just as I was about to enter the kitchen, I caught a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye, from within the dining room. My instincts suggested it might be a lashing tail, or a particularly athletic snake, but my rational mind countered with the possibility of a tree branch being blown around on the other side of the patio doors. I turned to glance into the dining room and resolve the issue.

Two glowing eyes stared back at me.

I scooted into the kitchen and ducked behind the slightly protruding refrigerator. In a moment or two, I calmed down enough to decide that I had probably just seen a reflection off the glass vase on the dining table or something else equally innocuous. I was far too jumpy.

But hadn’t those eyes been attached to a dark figure? No, that was just my mind reinterpreting ordinary shadows to lend context to what I thought I’d seen. And no, I was not going to check. The probability of an actual menacing form with glowing eyes standing in the dining room was far to low to justify delaying the consumption of cherry cobbler, and besides, in the unlikely event there was something in the dining room, going to look at it would only hasten my inevitable demise.

I quietly pried the refrigerator door open, and spotted a mostly-empty pan of cobbler. What was left could have been cut into two smallish pieces, or it could be a single quite large piece. I decided on the latter, to avoid having to search out a plate. This way, I only had to find a fork.

Plus, as I picked at the cobbler with the fork in one hand, while hefting the pan with another, the heavy ceramic pan would do quite well to stun an intruder if necessary.

Light blinded my eyes as someone flicked the kitchen light switch.

I started and immediatly choked on the bite of cobbler in my mouth.

Maria hurried over to me and swiftly produced a glass of water with which to wash down the offending dessert.

“So sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to startled you,” she said.

“That’s alright,” I croaked.

“Would you like some ice cream on that?” she asked.

I nodded, feeling rather childish.


Sorry this episode was late coming out. I’ve been watching the news too much and the muse got freaked out, hid under my bed and wouldn’t come out.

Which is really impressive, since my bed doesn’t have an “under.” It’s just a mattress on the floor. Anyway, I’ll endeavour to return to my mostly weekly schedule, but cannot offer guarantees. Thank you for reading.