1

 

I was in crawling traffic during the lunchtime rush when a crow swooped out of the sky and hovered above my engine before landing. Most people would have freaked out if a crow the size of a small child landed on their car. I just hoped its claws hadn’t scratch the paint job.

The crow cawed at me before it lifted off with a flap of its wings. Others rushed to join it. Soon, the flock grew into a black cloud, circling overhead.

I sighed, and flipped my turn signal on, bullying my way to the exit ramp. So much for that coffee run I hoped for.

The oracles had really shitty timing.

I angled my car and somehow maneuvered it into the far right lane with very minimal honking. I leaned over my steering wheel, and glimpsed the crows flying toward a new construction neighborhood that popped up in the last year.

Soon, I was driving on a quiet little street, in a quiet little neighborhood. One of those types that were managed by a homeowner’s association so they all look cookie cutter, yet also made you wonder if one of the “quiet neighbors” was actually a serial killer with a mass grave in his backyard.

As I drove, I passed groups of kids with too much time on their hands now that they were fully into their summer breaks. Shrieks of laughter pierced the heavy summer day. Children walked on the sidewalks, engrossed in their handheld mobile devices. A boy rode his bike in aimless circles.

My chest tightened to see such carefree innocence. None of them had to watch their backs, or be afraid that those same friends would get too bored and practice their newfound powers on them.

I scraped my fingers through my hair, shook the fog of memories away from me, and scoured the sky for those damned crows.

A black blur too quick to be human flitted across the street. I slammed the brakes on my car, grateful that there was no one else around me. My heart jack-hammered against my ribs. Slowly, I swung the car around in a wide U-turn, parking at the curb where the oracles so nicely signaled me to stop.

I got out of my car, and walked around it toward the mailbox at the end of the driveway. 240 Foxdale Lane. I looked back at the sterile yet comfortable-looking houses that dotted the neighborhood. And then I turned my attention back to this house, and I knew why I was called here.

The house reminded me of those sticky labels that wrapped around a jar, pretending to be happy and marketable. Except, the jar was full of mayonnaise or chopped up fingers…something gross, so that no matter how pretty the label looked, there was no way I’d eat what was in the jar.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that the house standing here on 240 Foxdale Lane was that kind of an illusion. No matter how it was wrapped, I wouldn’t want to go in there. If I had more power, I would probably have been able to see behind the veil that hid it.

As far as I could tell, the house shone cheery and respectable under the grinding heat of the summer sun, complete with a wrap-around porch on elevated land.

If chills hadn’t race down my spine, I would’ve believed the lie, too. Heck, I would’ve brought over some sweet tea, and asked the homeowner if I could sit on their porch for a spell.

I blinked a few more times for good measure. Nope. Then, I accepted the fact that I needed to get closer, to actually walk up to the house, before I could figure out why the damned oracles called me so suddenly.

I wanted more than anything to get back into my car and go to the safety of my office, where my desk and files were labeled, color-coded, and filed to my exact specifications.

Whoever the oracle on duty was must have felt my attention waver, because that damned crow plopped on the mailbox with the grace of a dump truck, and cawed at me.

I snorted back in response. “You couldn’t just land on the ground like a normal bird? You’re bigger than those kids over there, it’s not like you’re exactly weak?”

It just cocked its head at me, its shining eye no doubt full of insults it dared not speak.

Instead, it opened its beak, cold mist dribbling out of it. <<Katarina, you waste time.>> The reedy voice of the oracle controlling it weaved chilling dread into the air.

I flipped it off, mostly to fight against the fear that seeped into the air. “You better hope that house is haunted. Because that mailbox is destroyed.” Then, with more bravado than I felt because that crow was watching me, I stepped forward. From one step to the next, the bright afternoon disappeared into darkness.

The moment I stepped onto the driveway, I knew I no longer walked on 240 Foxdale Lane, but on an infinite path with no beginning and no end.

This darkness was not the dark night time of sleep and rest, but the dark of secrets and twisted corridors and anxious waiting. The quiet of things that no longer are. Not the past but the once-had-been. The Inbetween, a bolthole for the Fold.

My footsteps were muted. Even sound was dead here.

The path led to the crossroad, a phenomenon out of time and space and simply was wherever I needed to be. I offered a few words of greeting to whomever guarded the roads, sure that something was there even though I couldn’t see its presence.

It didn’t hurt to be nice to something that could hurtle you into the mouths of hell if it felt like it.

The energy coming off of the crossroads felt almost like laughter. No, more like…a giggle. It was in a good mood then. I kept my destination firmly in mind and was surprised to see that I was in front of a house, the same structure and design as the illusion blanketing 240 Foxdale Lane.

But instead of the burning hope of the summer sun, here the house was gray and faded, the very air saturated with decay and ruined night.

The lawn glittered and it wasn’t from dewdrops and starlight. Broken glass was littered throughout, the moonlight glinting off the sharp edges. The stark relief of light and dark told me there were shadow pools there, traps where no light would have been able to breach.

Something hid among the dark, something that didn’t care that I knew that it was hiding. I focused my vision, and saw the eyes now blinking back at me from the shadows. I stared it down, unblinking, as I skirted the lawn and stayed firmly on the driveway and path to the house.

The steps creaked as I walked up the front porch. It was worn down and disheveled; the paint was peeling. The wood was more splinters than it was whole. Ahead, the front door creaked opened, then closed as I stepped through.

This was a house that lived in the real world, yet in the Fold, it was a mere shadow of itself. I wondered what made this house able to hold, what kept it here. Or who kept it here.

It was the potential of what could have been, drab in grays and neutrals. I felt a bit like a peacock here, with my royal purple dress pulsing like a beacon.

Jeweled tones, any vibrant color really, were precious to me. Anything that didn’t remind me of the unrelenting black of the Court. I’d spent the first twenty-one years of my life dressed in black, gray, and white…colors that represented the span of the night sky. When I walked away, I vowed that I would spend the next twenty or more years wearing every color but those. The more vibrant the better.

The floorplan of this house was like a throwback to a Victorian, with lots of rooms with their own specific functions. The room on my left was a formal dining room, or what could have been one if the chandelier wasn’t crumpled in the middle of the ornate dining table. To my right, was a parlor, complete with a fireplace, built-in bookcases, and a pair of wingback chairs.

Oh, and in the middle of the room in front of the fireplace was a hunched figure muttering to itself.

So, the oracles were right. This house was haunted.

I really wished I would have gotten my coffee first.

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