Raven's Autumn Offering
Fall is my favorite time of year. Days shortening, leaves falling, crisp temperatures with a hint of the darker, colder days of rest and renewal to come, always inspire me, not to mention apples and pumpkins and the promise of holidays to come. It starts with my favorite holiday, though, and that's Halloween, or Samhain, the day when access to otherworlds is most likely, through the thin veil that separates what we think we know from what might be. So, I give you a story for a full moon night and a cosy fireplace to curl up beside, with a spicy cup of cider. Enjoy.
A Private Life
There should be a special punishment reserved for those who invade other people’s privacy. Something medieval that involved racks and iron gadgets illuminated by flickering torches would be a good starting point.
She sighed and resumed pacing around the living room. She loved this house but now it looked as though she’d have to move again. She hated fences and gates, they felt too much like cages. She preferred a large expanse of lawn and trees, just an acre or two of buffer zone between her and the rest of the world. She’d thought that should be enough to keep away the curious, but she’d been wrong.
She peered out between the blinds, and sure enough, there were more now. A fat one in a red striped shirt was dropping a candy wrapper in the herb garden she’d so carefully tended.
The phone rang, and she grabbed it up, not wanting to hear the irritating chime more than once, it jarred so on her nerves. Her hearing was very sensitive.
“Of course,” she said. He could be such an idiot. Who else would answer?
“I got your message. What’s the matter?”
“They haven’t gotten inside yet, Bob. But it’s a chancy thing at the rate we’re going. They’ve found me again. You’ve got a leak in that office, I keep telling you. You’d better plug it or I’m pulling yours.”
“Christ, Meredith. I don’t know how they've found you, they probably see you at the grocery store or the mall or something. We maintain the strictest security policy and no one, absolutely no one, gets your address or personal information. Maybe you need to keep a lower profile if you don’t want them to find you. You’re famous, you know.”
“Grocery store?” she snarled. “Mall? For God's sake, Bob, I’m not some soccer mom hitting the sales at Macy's. Besides, have you been living on Mars? They deliver now. I don’t shop for anything.” She hated supermarkets and only bought clothes when she went to New York twice a year.
“What I did was one interview. One lousy interview, that you scheduled and browbeat me into doing. I knew it was a mistake then, and see what's happened? They know what I look like. They're like… like…”
"Wolves scenting prey, I know, honey, and I'm sorry but you're getting carried away. Calm down."
"…vultures or something,” she finished simultaneously and stifled a laugh.
"OK, vultures are good," Bob said. Agents always agreed with you, that was their best trait, and they certainly knew vultures.
“Meredith, listen, it's probably just some kids screwing around in an inviting front yard.”
"You're not listening to me and I'm not discussing this further. Just send a car at eight tonight. I’ll let you know where I‘m going when I’m settled in. Since your office security is like Swiss cheese, that’s all I'm telling you for now.” She hit the end button and resisted the temptation to hurl the thing across the room. This famous writer crap had pitfalls.
She'd always wanted to write, imagining what a perfect life writers had. They were solitary creatures, much like her. They worked alone, kept erratic hours, hated interruptions, and were pretty much the only respectable hermits left with a viable profession. The only problem had been she wasn’t very good at it.
With literary adult fiction she was lousy. Her technical articles were so boring she fell asleep at the keyboard. Fact-filled, hard-hitting investigative journalism required her to establish relationships, for Christ’s sake, and interview people. Her poetry was lousy, filled with crappy metaphors and flamboyant phrases that she couldn’t control. Then, one afternoon at the bookstore, she found her niche: a place where fancy could run free, the bad guys could sometimes win, the good guys fly upside down, and cats could talk, if they were of a mind to do so. She discovered young adult supernatural fiction.
Not for her the C.S. Lewis analogy-factory, Lewis Carroll literary-riddle, Madeline L’Engle educational time-trip, or even (bless his hairy hobbit feet) J.R.R.’s elves – oh no. This wasn't what kids really wanted to read, and she knew it. Give the little darlings what they so clearly needed – a jolt. Give them what they craved – a little gore, some screams, and things that go bump in the night. Give them ordinary everyday life with a bit of a twist. Now, that was scary. Say, when the toaster turns into a killer robot, just like that, at breakfast one day, and eats the family dog. That will put any kid off pop-tarts for at least a day.
Give them vampire biology teachers, zombie football heroes and flesh-eating prom queens. After the first one sold like the proverbial hotcake, published by an adventuresome young house whose editor was a bit twisted himself, she’d known she was onto something. After she’d churned out half a dozen more and they'd climbed to the top of the bestseller lists and even adults were reading them, everyone knew it was a publishing phenomenon.
Keeping her anonymity at that juncture was the only problem, besides, of course, having the leisure time to do much else. But, she’d had a limited social life for quite a while now, ever since that night in Montana, and she was used to that. It was privacy she needed, and that was the very thing that was becoming a problem with her legion of nasty-minded little fans and their doting befuddled parents.
She turned back to the window. The chubby one with the candy was gone, but others had replaced him. There was at least half a dozen out there. Then she heard someone on the front porch, and her nostrils picked up the smell of chocolate and underneath that, sweat. She grimaced and strode into the entry hall. The little shits had some nerve, she’d give them that.
She stopped, her hand on the front door knob, the marble tiles cool on her bare feet. What was she thinking? She couldn’t very well open the door, now could she? Then they’d know she was here for sure and the game was up. Quiet, quiet, until the night. Besides, she had to pack. She’d let the movers do all the rest. She’d just take the most necessary stuff and buy anything else she needed.
She'd been planning on this for a month now, knowing instinctively she was going to be discovered. It wasn't the first time. After the interview in New York, there'd been that curious guy who showed up in the parking garage. She'd had to cover her tracks very carefully that time. She still felt a pang of regret for the Jaguar, a car she’d loved. It now rested on the bottom of the East River with a full trunk.
She took one last look through the blinds. The sun cast long shadows over the emerald grass, the trees' long limbs creating darker shadows here and there. Children dotted the lawn, wandering about, laughing as they pushed and shoved one another, the way children do. At least they’d probably leave when their stomachs began to rumble. The dinner hour wasn't far away. She headed up the stairs, bare feet noiseless on the thick carpet.
She was ready by seven, bags in the entry hall, including her laptop and the hard drives from the desktop. The house had been carefully emptied of anything that could possibly give a clue as to where she'd gone or who she was. She'd set the security system, checked the furnace for the coming autumn nights, and made sure all was in order.
She paced restlessly through the rooms, the stale air of a closed place getting on her nerves. Normally she kept the windows open to let the evening air circulate through the rooms. She felt like going for her usual run, but there wouldn’t be enough time with the car scheduled for eight. Perhaps just some fresh air would do.
She opened the front door and there he was, sitting on her porch swing, the white stripes of his shirt glowing in the dusk. He stood up, candy wrappers falling from his lap, a book clutched in his hand.
“I knew I was right! It is you!”
“Indeed." Her jaw clenched. Why did they always cling so. "What a clever little boy. Do you make it a habit to camp out at strangers’ front doors?”
“No, but I had to this time, once I figured out it was you." He stood up, awkward but determined. "I saw you on the Today show one day last year when I was home sick from school. Then I saw you early one morning in your garden in the front out here and I knew for sure. I brought this, will you sign it?”
The words came out in a rush, and he held out the book, the screen door still between them. “I’ve read all your books, and I love them all, but this one is my favorite. What’s the next one about? Witches, or vampires? Boy, this is great!”
“Well, maybe for you,” she said, opening the door and walking onto the porch. “Let’s see, which one is it?” She took the book from his hand and turned it over. “Ah, Wolf Moon. Like werewolves, do you?” She smiled. “Ever met one?”
“Naw, that’s just make-believe stuff,” he said. “But I wish they were real, that’d be really cool.” He shuffled his feet impatiently.
“It would? Be careful what you wish for, kid. Got a pen?”
He fished in his pocket and brought forth a grubby ballpoint, slightly sticky, and she stepped back and turned on the porch light. He handed the pen to her and looked up at her face. He went very still, then jumped just a bit when she took the pen from his hand.
She smiled, her teeth very white. “Second thoughts?”
“Uh…no…uh, it's just that I’ve never seen anybody with yellow eyes before,” he stammered. “And how’d you get that white streak in your hair?”
Meredith laughed. “Lots of people have amber-green eyes, young man. It’s quite common in some circles, and you should never ask a lady about her hair color.” She bent over the book, then looked up, and fixed him with a stare. “What’s your name?”
“Uh...Sam.” He seemed reluctant, now.
She smiled and bent to the book. “To Sam, who likes werewolves and camps out on porches. Keep reading. Love, Meredith Bane.” She finished her signature with a flourish and handed him back the book and pen.
“Thanks, thanks a lot.” He grasped the book tightly and looked around. It was very dark now, and no cars had passed on the street for a while. “Uh… I gotta go. My mom’s probably worried.”
“As well she should be, Sam, as well she should be,” she said. “You better run on home. I’m positive you’ll be perfectly safe.”
“Uh, yeah, well, how would you know that?” he said, hurriedly stepping down from the porch.
“Because,” she stepped toward him and leaned down, whispering in his ear. “It’s three days until the full moon, that’s why I’m absolutely certain.”
He ran down the front walk and didn’t look back.
She laughed, watching him sprint towards the street, and went back into the house, closing the door behind her. Oh my, I hope I haven’t lost a fan, she thought, but at least his timing was good. She looked at her reflection in the hall mirror, and ran her hand over the white streak in her shoulder-length black hair. She was pretty used to it now.
The brochure from the Boise realtor was on the table and she opened it up again. The house sounded perfect, and she’d faxed him the signed papers yesterday. It was the last paragraph she especially liked.
“The house and property adjoin the National Forest, which begins the River of No Return Wilderness Area, affording maximum privacy and endless wilderness excursion opportunities, abounding with streams, lakes and rich in wildlife, including an area reserved for the Federal Wolf Recovery Project.”
She stuffed the brochure in her briefcase and smiled. This time, it really sounded like home.
--Raven Grimaldi, 2013