Hawthrorn Inn

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IshaJohnson,United Kingdom,Professional
Published Date:31-07-2017
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 Chapter 1 - Tepid Reception “You damn crazy driver” the woman screamed as she toppled to the hard ground in a heap of dress and purse. The small, sleepy town of Sanctuary was awoken with a start at her yelling as the people on the street turned to look at the scene. One of their oldest and most prominent members was struggling to her feet after the near miss with a black car that was even now speeding away. Her name was Gertrude Grover, lately of the ground and now in a foul mood. “Damn tourists” she hollered as she shook her fist at her would-be assassin. The long, black, nineteen thirties-era Mercedes Benz seemed unaware of her presence as it sped off down the long road leading through the center of town. Gertrude, past her prime by a few years but still full of spirit, was livid with anger as a few of the onlookers laughed aloud. Most, though, seeing that she was okay, went back to their errands and chores. The residents of the quiet town nestled against the foothills Appalachian Mountain range were too practical to stop their work and sooth the woman’s injured pride. “Of all the insolence,” Gertrude muttered as she brushed herself off. She’d fallen against the side of the paved street, and now her clothes were now covered in a thin layer of light brown earth. “Damn tourists think they can run over anyone if they feel like it,” she grumbled to herself as she moved with a quick step onto the sidewalk. Gertrude’s small brown eyes showed a shrewdness denoting a stern gruffness beneath her withered exterior. “That’s an interesting color of dress, Gerty,” an old acquaintance laughed from where she sat on the porch’s bench in front of the general store. “Trying it out for this fall?” She cackled at her own joke. “You know perfectly well what happened, Amelia,” Gertrude scolded as she took her usual spot beside her old friend. Every afternoon on many fall days they’d sat and talked about the good old days and how much their small town had changed. That’s where she’d been heading before the near-miss with the car. “I damn well nearly got killed and here you all are laughing at me,” she pouted as she crossed her arms over her chest. Amelia was about Gertrude’s age and height, but their personalities were like day and night. Her soft blue eyes showed a natural humor complimented by a love of the long life she’d led. Her patience was unbelievable and her laughter infectious. Even her old friend’s gruff attitude was no match for her teasing attentions as Gertrude’s frown softened, though not by much. “Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” Amelia replied as she put a comforting hand over her friend’s shoulders. “After all, you’re not dead,” she pointed out. “Well, some days I’m not sure that’s such a good thing,” her friend moodily argued as she pushed her friend’s hand away. She opened her mouth to spout more depressing words, but her eyes suddenly widened as she leaned forward in her chair and blinked against the gaze of the twilight sun. Her gaze followed the homicidal car. “They didn’t stop,” Gerty spoke in a whispered awe as she looked down the street. “Well, they missed you, didn’t they?” Amelia joked with a hearty guffaw. “Not that, you idiot” her friend snapped as she pointed at the cloud of dust that followed the fast vehicle. “They’ve gone towards the inn” Hawthorn Inn stood atop a hill of hewn rocks which overlooked the small community. It had been built during the town’s founding, and once boasted famous visitors andcommunity. It had been built during the town’s founding, and once boasted famous visitors and a lucrative business. Over the last half century, however, the inn had fallen on hard times and now stood devoid of life. The town had been trying to acquire ownership in the hopes of making it into a museum, but the previous owners had demanded more money than the community could pull together. “My God, they have,” Amelia marveled as her head whipped to the side and her jaw dropped open. “Then do you know who they are, Gerty?” she asked as she turned back to her friend. “You were on the committee to try to buy it.” Gertrude opened her mouth to comment and then promptly shut it hard enough to hear her false teeth clatter together. She scowled as she leaned back in her chair. “No, I don’t,” she sulked. “We didn’t know anyone else was looking at it.” “What do you mean you don’t know?” Amelia loudly exclaimed with a comically shocked look on her face. A few of the regulars outside the store perked up their ears. “You talked with the Olsens all the time,” she playfully argued as she dramatically threw her hands up in the air. The name of the previous owners only seemed to rile her friend further as she poked her grumpy friend with a bony finger. “You were such good friends with them, you should know who they sold it to,” she prodded as out of the corners of her eyes she looked teasingly disappointed in her gossipy friend. “Well, I don’t” her small-framed companion shot back as she crossed her arms over her chest. The wrinkles around her eyes creased as a pout appeared on the edge of her lips. “They didn’t tell me or anyone else anything about their plans for that place, and you know perfectly well why not” she stammered out. “Well, maybe if you wouldn’t have been so mean to them,” her friend scolded as she wagged a finger in her direction. “They deserved it after insulting my pie,” Gerty shot back with narrowed eyes. “I should have poisoned it, then they really would have had something to complain about,” she added with an emphatic nod. “Well, foo,” Amelia sulked as she herself slumped back into her seat. The sky mimicked her mood as gray clouds loomed overhead. “Well, someone has to know who they are,” she mused in a whispered tone. “That Mr. Merchan might know,” Gertrude vaguely suggested in a bitter tone as she waved her hand in the general direction of his whereabouts. “He’s the one who was selling it, remember?” “That’s the ticket, Gerty” Amelia shouted as she bounced back to her feet. She had enough energy for a person half her age. “Come on, maybe that old land farmer can tell us something’” she exclaimed as she grabbed her friend’s worn hand and pulled her to her feet. “Not so hard” her companion complained. She was unceremoniously dragged across the street to the local real estate agent’s office just a block off the main street. The town was small enough no destination was ever far off. The duo’s entrance was announced by a simple bell above the door as they practically fell into the tiny office. The area was generally clean except for the papers and maps which littered the desk, behind which sat the proprietor of the establishment. His trade, though lucrative, didn’t require the need of a secretary. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise, ladies,” Mr. Merchan greeted as he stood to his feet. “What brings you to my business?”“We want answers, Mr. Merchan,” Gertrude briskly demanded as she wriggled her way out of Amelia’s grasp and walked over to his desk. “Well, can I know the question first?” he joked as he held out his hands in defense. “Who bought the old inn?” Amelia interrogated as she comically loomed over the desk with her wrinkled hands eagerly stroking one another. “Well, I don’t know much about them myself, ladies,” he confessed as he sat back in his chair. The wide, old desk did little to distance himself from those inquisitive crones. “They bought the place from the Olsens and moved here from out west somewhere. Utah, I think.” “Oh, maybe they’re Mormons, Gerty” Amelia exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. In her long life she’d hardly left the region around the town, and any new diversion for her was always welcomed. “And we can hear some stories about the West.” “I don’t care if they have an Indian in their trunk, they are not getting any of my new neighbor pie,” Gertrude huffed. “Well, they seemed awful nice to me, Mrs. Grover,” the real estate agent confessed. “The lady even asked about hiring on some of our kids for work, and she seemed excited when I told her about my Stephanie.” “Well, I’ll have you know your new customers nearly ran me down” Gerty exclaimed as she waved her arms in the air. “What kind of a business are you running when you take on those types of people?” “Lucrative, I’d say, considering they paid in full with cash,” Mr. Merchan replied as he leaned back in his chair and rested his hands in his lap. “Cash? All of it?” Amelia gasped as she looked to Gertrude. “But weren’t the Olsons asking a lot of money?” “I don’t care how much money they have,” Gerty huffed as her brows furrowed together. She slammed her hand down on the desk, frightening both her friend and Mr. Merchan. “Them and their money be damned if they can come in here and go running everyone over with their fancy car” With her breath spent and her anger fuming, Gertrude stormed out of the agency with a shocked Amelia in tow. Mr. Merchan watched them go with a sigh as he put his feet up on his desk. “Those two old bats need to learn to mind their own business,” he mused as he began rocking in his chair. “Which ones, dad?” a girl asked as she came out of the back of the small office. She held a magazine in her hands and was rifling through the pages. “There’s a lot around here.” “The usual two, Steph,” Mr. Merchan replied as he smiled at his only child. The older teenager was loudly chewing her gum, her hair was dyed a wild shade of purple, and her arms were well covered in tattoos, but he thought she was the most perfect specimen in the world. “Oh, and I may have found you a part-time job, honey,” he announced. “Where?” Stephanie questioned as she paused in her chewing to peruse her dad’s face. Her brows came down as she coiled the magazine into a roll. “It better not be flipping burgers again,” she threatened. “No, not this time, darling,” he comforted as he stood to his feet with his arms“No, not this time, darling,” he comforted as he stood to his feet with his arms wide open. “I’ve talked to the new owners of the old inn, and they thought it would be a wonderful idea to have you as their front desk receptionist.” Stephanie’s mouth dropped open as her jaw moved to the side like a cow pausing in chewing its cud. Her eyes looked through her long bangs with an expression of disbelief. “You want me to be a secretary?” she asked as she slowly resumed her gum chewing. “Well, not exactly, honey,” Mr. Merchan replied in a sweet tone with a wide, coaxing grin. “More like a greeter,” he explained as he rubbed his chin. In his biased eyes she would have been qualified for any job, but this was a good start. “So now I’m a Walmart employee?” Stephanie snapped back as she tightly gripped the magazine between her hands. “You really need to stop helping me, dad,” she growled. “Now listen here, young lady,” her father sternly scolded as he frowned at his angel. Sometimes he wondered if she needed more focus in life. “This will mean meeting new people who may help you later on,” he suggested in an airy tone. “The new owner has big plans for the place and I’m sure she’s going to invite wealthy patrons to come visit.” The opportunity to rub elbows with wealthy boys soothed her anger, and Stephanie’s hands loosened their grip on the pages. She blew a bubble and it exploded with a loud pop before she sucked it back into her mouth with a disgusting slurp. Maybe she’d find one who’d want to make her into a trophy wife. “I guess that sounds worth it,” she admitted as she gave a wide grin through her pink lipstick. Mr. Merchan returned her smile with one of his own as his eyes turned to the newly signed papers on his desk. The name Erikson stood out along the dotted lines as he wondered at the town’s new proprietors. He reached down and tapped the name on the second line, the one used as collateral should the deal fall through. “Strange spelling,” he mused as he looked at the elegant signature. “And what a strange family,” he added as he looked out the window to the darkening day. Night was now falling fast as mothers gathered their children from the yards of neighbors and street lights flickered on to scatter the shadows.Chapter 2 - Nestling In Above the quiet town stood their oddity and claim to prestige, Hawthorn Inn. The great building seemed to grow from the rocky foundation as its peaked roof reached into the sky. Roughly hewn long boards mixed with granite arches and created a montage to all the trees and rocks in the surrounding fields and woods. Tall windows dotted the front as they looked out upon the town like unblinking eyes. A large chimney rose above all else, its aged stones blackened with old fires and forgotten memories of visitors long since past. A gravel path hewn from the stone of the hill wrapped itself around the entrance doors made of finished cherry wood which lay at the center of the facade. The trail followed the walls on either side and lost itself around the corners beneath the shadows of wild arbors and tall bushes. Rot, however, had invaded the grounds as dead branches mixed grotesquely among the living. The large yard on the left side of the structure showed tall, unkept grass which waved wildly against the smallest breeze. The ancient wood cracked and the caulking between the stone arches crumbled at the slightest touch. The great roof dipped beneath the strain of countless storms and patches of shingles had fallen and lay in forlorn piles at the foot of the walls. A long line of trees, namesakes for the inn, sheltered the road beneath their gnarled branches as the black car sped along the dirt road leading to the inn. The headlights of the dark vehicle emerged from the shadowed road and followed the drive around a circular loop. The car slowed to a stop in front of the entrance and the engine was shut off. The air was quiet for only a moment before the front passenger door was flung opened. A woman of slight build and just shy of middle age stepped angrily out of the vehicle. Her short dark hair blew freely in the gusty breeze as her boots clapped against the uneven ground of the parking area. Her face, worn with cares but still vibrant with a plain beauty, was now red and her brown eyes flashed as she scowled down at the driver. She was Emily Erikson, the new proprietor of the Hawthorn Inn and in a foul mood. “What the hell were you thinking back there?” she exclaimed as she flung her arms over her head. “I don't care if you want to drive your own car, you could have killed her” The rear passenger door opened and a boy of fourteen emerged. He huddled in his coat against the cool wind as his bright blue eyes glanced over the old trees and ancient structure with a mixture of apprehension and interest. The boy’s own dark black hair blew against his heavy glasses as his sneakers made a dull sound against the dirt. He roughly closed his door and winced as the sound echoed across the silence of the inn. “Creepy,” he mumbled as he looked up at the silhouette of the roof against the dark sky. The final person to emerge from the vehicle, and the focus of the woman’s ire, was the driver, an older gentleman well past his prime. His features, however, made an exact date uncertain as short, black hair peeked out from beneath a battered fedora. His figure was slim and his skin was pale as his eyes, covered with large glasses which wrapped around the sides of his face, looked forward and seemed to follow the same path as the boy’s. His dark suit over a heavy trench coat whipped against the wind as he appeared to ignore the woman’s scolding. “Dad, are you listening to me?” the woman finally yelled as she walked around“Dad, are you listening to me?” the woman finally yelled as she walked around the car and stopped before his impassive figure. “You almost ran down one of our new neighbors” she explained as she prodded a finger into his chest. “She’s still alive,” was the blunt response. “That’s not the point” his daughter countered as she clenched her teeth. “You just can’t go trying to kill people for jaywalking” She waved her hand down toward the seat. “And why the hell doesn’t this thing have seatbelts? Are you trying to get us all killed?” “Hey, mom?” the boy interrupted. “What is it, Jack?” his mother sighed as her shoulders slumped down and she looked to her son. Her father was completely unfazed by her efforts to shame him. “Can I go look around?” he asked as he noticed the side paths leading around the inn. “Just for a sec?” “Not until we get these bags in,” she sighed as she leaned inside the car and pulled out a small suitcase. “We can leave them in the lobby for now so I can test out the light switches.” “All right,” Jack agreed as he took out his own small bag and shut the door. “I guess you can just leave the car here, dad,” she informed as she waved her hand toward a small, empty parking lot to the left of the circular driveway. “You can park it over there later when the movers come.” He didn’t even acknowledge her words as he shut his door and looked off into the darkness beside the inn. “Impossible to deal with…” she muttered as she turned her attention to the front of the structure. With light from the waxing moon overhead, the inn stood tall against the darkness of the mountains. The imperfections of the day vanished amidst night’s kind blanket of shadows as the night softened crack and crevice. The inn silently waited as its tall windows looked down upon its visitors. “A little run down, but pretty much what I expected,” she nodded with satisfaction as the wind tossed her short hair playfully about her face. “But at least we have until the spring opening to fix any of those big and small problems.” She turned toward her son. “Ready for a look, Jack?” she asked as she held up a pair of keys and jingled the chain. “Sure,” he agreed. Mother and son left the grandfather by the car and walked up to front door. They both held their breath as she put a key into the lock and jimmied the old handle a bit before they heard the latch lift. “Dang old keys…” she grumbled. “I wish Mr. Merchan would have had a better set for us.” She turned the knob and pushed open the door. A stream of light behind them stretched out into the dark room and allowed them only a glimpse of wood floors patched with large rugs. Mrs. Erikson stepped inside and fumbled in the dark to the left of the door behind Jack heard an exclamation of success, and the lights suddenly flickered. He let out a whistle. The room was awash with light which streamed down from the elegant chandelier hung high above the floor. The hundreds of crystals arranged in stepped rows revealed every secret of every dark corner. The smooth wood panels along the walls, with marks and scuffs speaking of great age and past times, showed off their cherry tree heritage. Here and there the wall was broken by the heads of animals from around the area, shot, bagged, stuffed and put on display for visitors. The paned windows shut out the rest world as their soft white curtains brushed against cushioned benches. The seats beckoned for a visitor to look out upon itsbrushed against cushioned benches. The seats beckoned for a visitor to look out upon its windows and marvel at the wild beauty outside their frames. The interior of the front doors, though plain and weathered outside, were intricately carved with scenes of forests and hunting parties intermingled with vines. Deer sped from their pursuers as hounds nipped at their heels while in another panel man worked at his woodshop carving the very doors. The source of the chimney outside was a large granite fireplace which had been built against the right wall. The wide mantle hearkened back to feasts of deer and wild boar cooked over the spit as the laughter and cheers of revelers looked on. The massive width of the flume narrowed as it vanished into the large wooden ceiling beams above their heads. A simple, worn photograph stood atop the mantle and even in the light one couldn't make out the figures in the portrait. A pair of simple doors to the left and right of the fireplace wall led to the east wing rooms, but their worn paint and heavy locks upon the handles spoke of abandonment. On the opposite wall stood another pair of doors which showed more use as they stood on their well-oiled hinges and polished handles. Against the far back wall were the final wooden doors leading to the two back rooms of the inn. The magnificence of the room, however, revolved around the grand staircase which spread out from the center back wall. Two separate flights of carpeted, hardwood stairs curved upward from a central meeting point at the ground floor. Their oak banisters wound along the length of the steps on both sides of the stairs, and framework and support met at the top of a large, railed landing. Two hallways branched off in opposing directions from the landing and disappeared behind the walls supporting the second story. Between the two imposing staircases, nestled in a tall alcove, stood a large grandfather clock. The intricate woodwork and shining clean face stood out from the plain paneled walls as the old timer solemnly looked upon them. Jack was mesmerized by the long pendulum, trapped in the glass case, as it swung in a hypnotic rhythm to the unstoppable march of time. “It's a little different than what I remember it,” Mrs. Erikson reminisced as she gazed up at the ceiling. “From when your father and I visited, you know,” she explained. “What?” Jack asked as he was shaken from his stupor. “Oh, yeah, I know, mom,” he softly acknowledged as he nodded his head. His parents had met when both had been on winter holiday at the inn some twenty years ago. It had been a long dream of his mom's to buy the place, fix it up and make a home for themselves along with a comfortable living. Now they were going to attempt to live her dream, but they were going to have to do it without his dad. “I don't remember all these dead animals,” she commented as she took a short walk into the center of the lobby. “And someone's changed the carpeting,” she added in disgust as she scuffed her shoe against the floor. “It used to be such a nice flowery design, not this plain brown.” “Maybe the other people wanted to attract hunters?” Jack suggested as he shrugged his shoulders. “That does seem to be what they tried. There’s some pretty big game around here,” she agreed as she playfully scowled at the heads staring at her. “But enough of that,” she commented as she turned back to their plans and walked back to the front of the room. “If you’re going to explore, you’d better take one of these,” she informed as she took a flashlightyou’re going to explore, you’d better take one of these,” she informed as she took a flashlight from her back. “I thought we might have needed them for the getting around, but it looks like the electricity is working just fine.” “Thanks, mom,” Jack replied. Just then the clock against the far wall chimed the hour of five, calling everyone to look in awe as those hands showed the hour. The deep gongs echoed through the cold, silent room and caused them all to pause. It was as if the whole world stopped to listen to those imposing notes. They didn’t move until the last chime had died away. “Loud, isn’t it?” his mom whispered as though too afraid to break the silence. “Yeah,” he agreed. He tested his flashlight and was glad to find it worked. “Don’t stay out there too long,” his mom advised. “I don’t want to have to meet all the neighbors in a search party.” “I just wanna look around a little,” he assured. Jack slipped out front doors before she could change her mind. He closed the door behind himself and clicked on the flashlight. The first thing he noticed was his grandfather had disappeared, but he was much more interested in exploring the grounds than in worrying about his elderly relation. To his right lay endless possibilities of exploration as Jack stepped his way carefully along the stone path. He passed by several darkened windows before he reached the corner of the inn, and stopped to look around. A wall of bushes lay to his left, so thick the moon overhead couldn’t penetrate their depths. Their branches had been trained to wrap above latticed arches woven using the branches of the hawthorn trees. Many of the arches had rotted away, but the plants still bent to their will and covered the path in a deep shadow. He shined his flashlight down the path leading along the parking lot and found the hedge traveled a few dozen yards from the inn and was only stopped by the encroaching woods. If he wanted to keep his word to his mom and not wander too far, he would need to follow the path before him. He pointed the light from his torch down the dark walk along the wall. His bespectacled eyes could just make out the faint light of the moon at the end of the path. “Kinda creepy,” he admitted to himself as the incessant wind blew down the walk and whipped at his clothes. He straightened and braced himself for any scares. “Well, here goes nothing.” Jack kept to the center of the path and his footsteps rang loudly upon the roughly hewn stone. His flashlight caught shadows of loose branches from the old bushes and jagged rocks protruding from the walls of the inn. His coat brushed against the sills of the window frames and all was quiet. Unconsciously Jack found he had quickened his pace as the darkness became oppressive. His eyes were stuck fast to the freedom at the end of the tunnel as his breathing quickened. His ears caught the slightest hint of a noise behind him. He paused and swiveled around. The beam from his flashlight shook a little as he saw nor heard anything more. “Come on, Jack, just a rabbit or something,” he scolded himself. He resumed his hurried pace and nearly burst through the stifling hedge into a surprising view. Beyond him lay a large, open field which spilled down a sloping hillside. Tall grass waved against the breeze and late-blooming wild flowers dotted the hill. The old forestgrass waved against the breeze and late-blooming wild flowers dotted the hill. The old forest past the inn circled the meadow as the mountains filled the sky like sentinels. Here and there upon the grass stood an ancient tree or jagged outcropping of rock. The row of bushes he had followed stopped and the stone path was replaced by a newer patio which covered the entire back of the inn. Flower pots and small, decorative bushes were arranged along the wall and a few ancient lounge chairs were overturned in front of a pair of French doors. Jack squinted as he noticed an old structure with a peaked roof situated not more than a hundred yards from the patio. He squinted and was able to notice an old dirt path which led down to the building. His curious feet took him in that direction as he turned his torch back on to see the way through the deep grass which bent down over the trail. After a few yards he realized the structure he was heading for was an old gazebo, and his quick steps allowed him to reach the enclosure in good time. There Jack found the wood beams to be half-rotted and the rails which ran around five of the six sides ready to fall off. The crestfallen dead flower in their beds surrounding the decrepit structure mirrored his own disappointment as he stopped before the stone steps leading beneath the roof. He wasn’t sure whether the old wood of the floor would support his weight., so he carefully tested the support by kicking at one of the boards. “Don’t do that,” a voice behind him ordered. In his shock Jack jumped into the air and dropped his flashlight on the ground as he twirled around to discover his grandfather standing not more than two feet from him. His face was fixed straight ahead at the gazebo, but the boy had a feeling his eyes were on him. “Damn it, grandpa” he scolded as he clutched his chest and reached down to pick up his light. The glass on the front had broken when it hit the ground. It was useless. “Don’t do that” he emphasized as he repeated the same command. “You sound like your mother,” his grandfather dryly commented as he walked past the frightened boy and stepped up into the gazebo. “Well, I am her son,” he pointed out as he cautiously followed and tapped the floor gingerly with his feet every few steps. His grandfather only grunted softly in reply as he stepped up to the rotten railing at the opposite end of the structure. He placed a hand on the wood as he looked out to the wondrous view stretched out before them. Jack came up to his side and peered at the imperious mountains and seemingly impenetrable forest which lay beyond. It was very quiet as the two of them stood there for a few minutes. The breeze wafted silently through the trees as the night marched on. Jack nervously looked up at his grandfather, a man he had only just met a few hours ago. His entire life he had known about his mother’s father, but until they had met him at the airport after their plane had landed he had never met him. Glancing at him now he could see the resemblance from his mom's face as he glimpsed her dark hair and a hint of a stubborn line along the chin. Jack couldn't tell whether they had the same eyes, but he assumed they were their probably an ordinary brown. He wondered why, with the night upon them, he still wore those dark spectacles. “Great view, isn’t it?” the boy asked to break the tension. The older gentleman didn’t reply, but then Jack didn’t really expect a response. From his little experience with him in the car he had realized his grandfather was odd, to use aFrom his little experience with him in the car he had realized his grandfather was odd, to use a mild phrase. He had literally said nothing during their drive to the inn, even though his mom had tried to ask him a few simple questions about health and activities. He wondered why his grandfather had even joined them here. “Well, it’s kinda dark now,” he hinted as turned with a side glance at his grandfather. “So I’m going to go inside,” he explained as he stepped away from the railing. His grandfather didn’t acknowledge Jack’s words but only continued to look out at the view. The boy just shrugged and stepped back onto the path. His way was much harder without his flashlight and he stumbled a few times before he reached the patio. His hands were scuffed and his pants stained as he walked up to the door. He wasn’t a fan of the dark. Jack turned the knob and found to his dismay the door to be locked and no light inside. He groaned and slowly turned his attention to path along the house, his second option for getting back in. Without his flashlight he had no great desire to enter that impenetrable forest of rotten lattice and oppressing bushes. He was a pathetic figure as the wind blew around him and he shivered against the cool air. He looked over his shoulder and his eyes flitted among the shadows of bush and broken chair. So close to comfort and yet so very far amidst the unknown darkness. Jack’s breath caught in his throat and he was about to rap hard on the frame when he stiffened at the sound of a light foot scuffle along the patio. He slowly turned and nearly collapsed with relief as he noticed his grandfather had come up the path to stand behind him. He hadn’t seen him standing there before. “Hi,” he lamely greeted as his startled mind could think of nothing else to say. His grandfather was really starting to creep him out. “Trapped outside like me, hunh?” he joked, but the humor fell flat when his companion didn't even crack a smile. Jack jerked aside as his relative stepped up to the doors. Out of one of his pockets he pulled an ancient looking key. It was scuffed and chipped on the handle from countless years of use. It fit easily enough into the lock, however, and the with a push of the handle the door swung open. “Where’d you get that?” he asked. As far as he knew, his mom had the only set of keys. “This is merely a skeleton key,” was the vague reply as the elder stepped back to allow him to enter. “It can open many doors.” “Thanks a lot,” Jack smiled as he walked through through the portal. When he did not hear footsteps following, he turned and found the door shut and his grandfather gone. “Creepy,” he commented as he turned toward the room he had just entered. Jack found himself in an open area filled with small tables and comfortable wicker chairs. With the large windows which ran along the outside wall to his left and right, he imagined sunlight would engulf the room during the day. A pair of angled doors across his way allowed light from the lobby to flow into the room and allow him more visibility. He could hear noises coming from some simple swinging doors off to his right and he wandered through to find the kitchen. His mom was bustling about unpacking their foodstuffs, and he couldn’t have been more glad to see her. Looking around the bright and cheerful area, Jack was amused to see an old fashioned layout complete with a wood stove beside two modern electric ovens. The cobble stone floor was dusty from disuse and encircled a center island with an old, encrusted sink. Thestone floor was dusty from disuse and encircled a center island with an old, encrusted sink. The main sink lay against the far wall to his right near where his mom stood emptying the items from the bag into the open cupboards. The new double-door stainless-steel refrigerator stood to his right. Opposite him lay more counter space and another pair of doors leading to the front room. Food and drink lay all over the marble counter as she stood indecisively looking around the empty shelves. Jack laid his coat and broken flashlight on the island, which attracted his mother’s attention. “Oh good, there you are,” she commented as she pushed the box of perishables across the counter toward the refrigerator. “Do you think you could put those in the fridge for me?” “Sure, mom,” Jack accepted as he scooped up two gallons of milk and put them in the appliance. With the two working together they soon had the shelves stocked and the fridge full. “Well, I think that’s enough work for me,” his mom announced as she wiped her brow. Dust covered her forehead and Jack had trouble hiding his laughter. “What?” she asked as she looked down at her filthy hand. “Oh, let me guess,” she grinned as she turned to the small, narrow window which ran above the counter. “Yep, perfect,” she joked as she let out a laugh of her own. Jack jumped in the air as his mother suddenly let out a high pitched scream. “Damn it, dad” she yelled at the figure who stood on the path outside the kitchen window as her hands slammed down on the counter. “What the hell are you doing out there?” she demanded to know as she slid open a portion of the glass. “Enjoying the view,” he dryly commented, but both occupants of the kitchen could tell he was amused. “Well, enjoy it some place else” she furiously replied as she slammed the window shut. For a moment Jack thought she would break the glass, but the only sound was her heavy breathing. “He’s going to give me a heart attack,” she grumbled as she turned around and slumped against the counter. She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of frustration. “How about we go find a pizza place?” she suggested as she pinched the bridge of her nose. That was her usual manner of showing frustration. “Before I decide to teach your grandfather some manners,” she muttered. “Sure” Jack agreed as a small breeze seemed to blow by him, but he shrugged it off to the drafts in the old inn. He grabbed his coat from the island, but was surprised to reveal a pair of keys rather than his broken flashlight. He ducked his head beneath the island counter and saw nothing of the flashlight. “Lost something?” his mom asked as she opened her eyes and pushed off from the counter. “Um, guess not,” he sheepishly replied. “But how are we going to get to town?” he inquired as he put on the jacket. “I’ll just see if your grandfather will let me drive his car,” his mom grimaced as she looked out the window. The dark figure had disappeared. “Dang, never around when I need him.” “Are these the keys?” Jack suggested as he picked up the ring his coat had covered. “Were they always sitting there?” his mother asked as she took the keys in hand.“My coat was hiding them,” he explained with a shrug. He was a little confused himself, though, as he couldn't recall them sitting there when he put his jacket down. The broken flashlight had been exchanged for a pair of keys. “I was too distracted by the food to see them.” “Ah, that would explain it,” she agreed, but she didn’t quite look convinced. “Well, I guess we’d better go find something quick before we starve to death,” she commented with a laugh. “Shouldn’t we try to find Grandpa first?” Jack asked as he looked to the window. He wasn't too thrilled about his suggestion, but he didn't want to just leave without first asking. They were going to borrow his car, too, after all. “No, he’ll be fine,” she replied as she shook her head and headed toward the front of the inn. “If he gets hungry, he knows where to find food.”Chapter 3 – Unsettling Inn Jack followed his mother out of the kitchen and into the lobby. “We'll leave the lights on for when we get back,” his mom suggested as she opened one of the grand doors. Jack slipped out behind her and watched as she tightly closed and locked the bolt. She placed the key into her purse and they aimed their steps toward the awaiting car. Jack could tell his mom was a little nervous about driving the high-class vehicle as she fumbled to unlock the driver's side door. “I'm already regretting this…” he heard her mutter as she finally succeeded in turning the lock. She slid into the seat and unlocked his side, allowing him to slip in. Jack felt a little uncomfortable without a seatbelt, and so did his mom. “I wish he’d put some seatbelts in this thing,” she muttered. “It’s not like he’s not rich enough.” “Just don’t get pulled over,” Jack joked. “Don’t remind me, it’ll just make things worse.” Jack tightly held on to the car door handle and pressed his feet down on the floor. He was more than a little nervous about his mom driving after seeing her fumble at the door. He also realized the vehicle was a manual, and she would need to drive with the stick. She didn’t have much experience with those. “Here's hoping,” she announced as she put the key into the ignition and turned. She breathed a sigh of relief as the engine roared to life. “Now with a little luck we can find a nice place to eat,” she added as she ground down the gears. “I'm sure there's something in town, mom,” Jack winced at the awful noise as they pulled out of the parking lot and proceeded down the road. Their luck proved to be durable as they drove into the town and spotted bright lights and parked vehicles not more than a street off the main drive. Jack's mom looked at the nearest corner to take and found herself accidentally turning into a rather dark alley. The gears protested as she tried to shift down and the sudden lack of light caught her off guard as she bumped into trash cans. “Mom” Jack suddenly screamed as his hand shot out. Someone was standing in the middle of the alley. His mother pressed her foot to the break as the car came to a screeching halt . The person dove for a group of garbage cans against the side of a building and managed to scatter several stray cats who added to the ruckus with their angry yowls. For a moment after the felines had fled all was quiet as Jack and his mother breathed harshly. Then the cans shifted and a head popped out, allowing the car's headlights to show a lad of about thirteen wearing a dark coat and hat. Jack's mom bolted out her door and was at his side in a second. Jack could tell she was shaking as she knelt down beside him. He himself was gripping the dashboard tightly with one hand as he held his breath. “Are you all right?” she asked as she looked him over. Her voice was shaky. “I'm so sorry for the scare,” she profusely apologized as the boy slowly removed himself from the trash. “Yeah, I think I'm all right,” he muttered as his legs wobbled unsteadily beneath“Yeah, I think I'm all right,” he muttered as his legs wobbled unsteadily beneath him. “But you need to watch where you're driving,” he scolded His rather absurd understatement elicited laughter rather than shame from Jack’s mom. Jack was finally able to breath a sigh of relief as he leaned back in his seat. The boy was evidently unharmed and all was well. “You're right,” he heard his mom amicably agreed as she stood up. “My driving is getting almost as bad as my dad’s.” “He must be pretty bad,” the boy commented. He suddenly squinted at her and into the harsh lights of the vehicle. “So where are you guys from?” he asked. He rubbed his chin and looked between the two of them. “I don't recognize you.” “No, my son and I are new to the area,” she explained as she looked to the car. “Jack, come out and meet, um, I'm sorry, what was your name?” she sheepishly questioned as she turned back toward the boy. “The name's Kyle, Kyle Skinner,” he introduced as he held out his hand. “Emily Erikson,” she replied as took his hand and gave it a firm shake. Her son was soon at her side. “And this is my son, John Erikson.” “Just call me Jack,” he corrected as the boys exchanged handshakes. “Pleasure,” the younger greeted, a word which made the mother hard pressed not to laugh again. “What brings you two here?” he questioned as though the entire episode with the car had never occurred. “Actually we just moved into the Hawthorn Inn,” Emily explained. Kyle jerked back as his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. His lips tried to produce sounds as they slipped against one another, but nothing came out but spent air. The appearance would have been comical if his two companions hadn’t been so perplexed by his overreaction. “Y-you're kidding, right?” Kyle finally exclaimed as speech returned to him. He looked from Emily to Jack and back. “You guys bought it? The actual owners?” “Yes,” Emily replied with a laugh. “Why wouldn’t we own it?” “You have to let me see it” he demanded as he clasped his hands together. “Please?” “Wait one minute, young fellow,” the mother interrupted. “Why do we need to let you see the inn so badly?” “Just, well, just because” Kyle lamely replied as he flung his arms out. They weren’t really moved by his thorough explanation. “You just have to” “Right now we’d just be grateful if you could find us a place to eat,” Emily commented as she looked past him toward the next street. They could hear many voices talking and cars drove by. Friday night eaters out for a good piece of greasy fast food. “We’re starving.” “Oh,” the young boy answered as he heard their stomachs grumble. Then a wide smile brightened his face and he gave a deep bow. “Well, then I’d be glad to be at your service” he enthusiastically replied. “I know just the place to take you.” “Well then, lead on, gallant knight,” the mother replied as she stepped aside and motioned toward the car. “Your steed awaits.” “Um, how do I know I can trust you guys?” he explained as he hesitated to accept their offer. He narrowed his eyes and rubbed his chin. “You guys did try to run me over.” “Come on, no one's a stranger after they’ve nearly ran you over,” Jack humored.“Jack” his mother scolded him as her face paled. “Hmm, hard to argue against that,” Kyle interrupted as he stepped toward the car with a smile on his face. Jack and his mom cast odd expressions at the quirky boy. “We’d better get going, then, before Amanda gets cranky.” “Who’s Amanda?” Mrs. Erikson inquired as they all slipped into the vehicle. “Just a friend,” he explained as he took the front passenger seat. “Take a left outta here and then drive down the road a block. That place has the best burgers in town.” The driver did as was instructed and within two minutes the group was parking at the local hamburger eatery. The parking lot was moderately busy with the Friday night crowd, but school had only just started and homework was light for all the teenagers with allowances. The bright lights were inviting as the group followed their young guide into the large dining area. Jack looked around at the locals with a little apprehension, and one girl in particular stood out from the rest. She appeared to be only a few years older than himself and held the most shocking color of purple hair he had ever witnessed. His mother noticed his gaze and poked him in the rib. “Ow,” he complained as he rubbed his side. “What’d you do that for?” “She's what, almost five years older than you?” his mother pointed out. “So aren't you a little too old to be wanting to hang out with a purple dinosaur?” she teased. Jack rolled his eyes and the two followed Kyle to where a girl of about his age sat at an empty table. She was a little surprised to see the crowd come up, and rather instinctively clutched at her purse at her side. “Hey Amanda, look who I found,” her friend announced as he gestured toward his guests. He was all smiles, but she didn’t think much of his catch. “You’ve picked up more strangers?” she scolded. Jack wondered what other people Kyle had picked up. Kyle’s female friend cringed when several of the other customers looked their way. His volume was always set to eleven. “And could you keep it down?” she begged. “Nope,” Kyle replied as he sat down and took a French fry from her basket. “Maybe we should find our own seats,” Emily commented as she noticed the girl's tense posture. There were plenty other tables to grab while they waited for their order. “We don't want to intrude.” “It's all right, you won't be protruding,” Kyle argued with a laugh through a mouthful of deep fried potatoes. “Just go order your stuff and we'll wait here.” The two strangers went up to the counter to make their order, leaving the old friends to their discussion. “Who are they?” Amanda questioned after the others were out of hearing as she leaned over the small table. “And how in the world did you find them this time?” “The new owners of the inn,” her friend replied as he munched on more fries. “They almost ran me over on the way here and offered to give me a lift,” he explained as he waved off his friend's horrified expression. “But that's not the best part,” he informed as he leaned over so that their faces almost touched. She couldn’t get over the last ‘great’ part. “They promised me a look at the inn. This could be our way of getting in there and investigating all those rumors” he announced with a small squeal of delight. “You know you're addicted, right?” she questioned as she rolled her eyes, backed“You know you're addicted, right?” she questioned as she rolled her eyes, backed away and brushed off some fry crumbs from her face. “It keeps me from going bored out of my mind,” Kyle defensively replied. “Otherwise I'd be-” “Sane,” she interrupted with a titter. “Because those old rumors are just that, rumors. Their just their to scare away vandals and people who are too curious.” She pointedly looked at him Kyle. At that moment Jack and his mother returned to the table with their order made and a numbered plate to place on the table for the waitress to find them. “We decided to take our food home with us,” Emily announced as she and her son stood by the table. “We don't want to intrude on your dinner.” “But that's not a problem,” Kyle argued as he looked to his friend and gently elbowed her. “We don't mind them, do we?” “You can stay if you want,” Amanda sighed as she rolled her eyes and lazily munched a fry. There were hardly any left. “I think Kyle is dying to see the inn,” she pointedly informed. “He does seem pretty interested,” Emily admitted with a nervous laugh. By now she realized a few of the other patrons were listening in on their conversation. “But maybe you’d both would like to visit us?” Jack looked to his mom in both surprise and nervousness. He wasn't so sure about inviting strangers so quickly over to the inn before they had a chance to even unpack. He also had a sneaking suspicion his parent was trying to push friends on him early before he tried to cloister himself in his bedroom. He had great plans for walling himself up using the furniture. “Yeah” Kyle practically yelled as he jumped to his feet. “When can we go? Now? I don’t have any homework this weekend.” “Well, how about you come up tomorrow at about ten?” she suggested with a laugh as she set her hands on his shoulders. She gently pushed him back down into his seat. “That way you two can stay for lunch, and the view is incredible before the sun sets,” she noted as she looked Amanda. “I don’t know...” Amanda hesitated. “I mean, it's Saturday and all, but I might be busy,” she lamely excused. “Come on, Amanda” Kyle scolded as he frowned. “You don’t have any homework, either.” Kyle suddenly paused and glanced over at Jack. “What grade are you in, anyway?” “I just started high school, but I’m not really in any grade,” Jack confessed as he shrugged his shoulders. He’d gone through this conversation before, and he was pretty indifferent to explaining these details to strangers. “He’s home schooled,” his mother explained as she gave a small grin as she turned to Amanda. “And as for the visit, you might get to see some of the wildlife wandering around the back meadow,” she pointedly remarked as she noted an assortment of animal pins on the girl's purse. “Well, I’'d have to ask my mom first…” Amanda hesitated as she bit her lip. “My mom would be thrilled to have me out of the house,” Kyle exclaimed with a laugh. His new acquaintances didn’t have a hard time believing that. “But she might be a little worried about me going to visit some people she doesn't know.” “I can call both your parents, if you want to come,” Emily offered with a smile.“I can call both your parents, if you want to come,” Emily offered with a smile. Jack inwardly groaned at his mom’s insistence. She was up to something. “I'm sure they won't mind too much once I've explained everything.” Kyle readily gave his family’s number, and after some prodding from his friend, Amanda gave her own. Any further conversation was interrupted as their bagged food came to the table. “Well, we’d better get going,” Mrs. Erikson scolded herself as she took the bag from the employee. “We have a lot of work to do around that place.” “See ya tomorrow” Kyle called after them as he waved his goodbyes. “And don't run anyone over” Emily's face turned a shade of pink as they quickly exited the establishment and walked over to their car. Jack pushed his feet against the floor and his mom ground the gears as they drove down the road in silence. Jack was not looking forward to their visit tomorrow. “You think their parents will let them come?” Jack finally asked after they had left the lights of the town behind them. “Maybe,” his mom replied with a smile. “It’s worth a try, and I'm kind of curious to see how one of the locals acts around the inn.” “Why’s that?” her son questioned as he slightly leaned toward her. “Oh, just some tales I’ve heard about the place, that’s all,” she evasively answered. “I don’t want any of them to feel we’'re not approachable.” Jack was too tired to prod her, but he promised himself he would start the interrogation tomorrow after a good night's sleep. Then another thought came to mind, and he apprehensively glanced at his mom. “Do you think Grandpa would want to meet them?” Jack hesitantly asked. “I doubt it,” his mother replied with a laugh. “Remember what I told you about his sleeping habits?” she reminded of their conversation on the plane. She’d briefly mentioned that his grandfather kept his own time and they cold never be sure whether he’d be awake or not. “He probably won't even be awake when they leave.” “Yeah, I guess you're right,” Jack agreed, but he turned a sly look to his mother. “Though I think you love him more than me,” he teased. “Because he gets to sleep in later.” “You have chores to do, young man,” his mother countered. “Your grandfather's job is to stay out of the way.” She suddenly frowned as she looked straight ahead. “You'd probably better not tell your new friends about your grandfather,” she suggested. “At least not just yet.” “Why not?” he asked. It was a strange idea to hide a family member. “Well, he's a little strange,” she explained. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel. “And we don't want to scare them on their first visit.” “I guess,” was Jack's reply as he slumped down in his seat. He had looked forward to telling the two visitors about his quirky relative. “But aren't they going to find out about him some time?” “Well, we can't avoid that forever, that's true,” his mother sighed. “But for now, let's try to make a good first impression.” Here she snickered a little. “Think of the impression he already tried to make on that elderly lady.” Jack joined in her mirth as they bumped along the road leading to the dark inn. “You'd better not stay up too late,” his mother warned as the lights from the car shone on the dark inn. “You're going to have be ready for when your guests come.”“My guests?” Jack repeated as he failed to stifle a yawn as the vehicle came to a stop. “I’m going to be busy looking over the inn and seeing what needs to be upgraded and cleaned out,” she defended as she parked the car at the front door. “Great,” he mumbled as he looked down at the food in his lap. “May as well eat my last meal,” he half-joked. “Making some friends will do you good,” his mother encouraged as she stepped out of the car. “And I’ll let you eat in your room just this once. I’m too tired to clean up the kitchen,” she offered. She scowled at the dark entrance to the inn. “Didn't we leave the lights on?” she asked as she was forced to fumble for the keys. “Yeah,” Jack replied as he sided up to his mother against the intruding and unexpected darkness. “That's what I thought,” his mom commented as she carefully unlocked the entrance and she held him back. “Me first,” she softly commanded as she stepped into the shadowed lobby. She turned to the front of the desk as she tried not to stumble against any unknown furniture. “I just need to find that dang light switch,” she mumbled as she let out a sharp cry. “Mom” Jack yelled out as he shot in and tried to look where she’d gone. The darkness was impenetrable. “I'm fine,” she softly replied as he heard her shuffle along the floor. “Just bruised my hip on a chair, I think. Damn this darkness” “Uh, mom?” Jack asked as his eyes followed the light streaming in from the open door. Something was amiss. “Shouldn't our bags be lying there?” His mother took in a sharp breath as she, too, noticed the empty area where their suitcases had stood. “What the hell?” she muttered as she continued to fumble around in the dark. “They are in your rooms,” a voice commented from the staircase. At that moment Jack’s mom found the light switch and the room was flooded with the chandelier’s brilliance. The light vanquished the dark shadows, and mother and son turned their heads to find the patriarch of the family standing at the foot of the steps. Jack noticed as his grandfather looked upward and scowled at the soft, comforting glow above them. He also realized that even in dark his elder had been wearing those strange dark glasses. He had also removed his large overcoat and hat, showing off a slim physique and an almost untamed mass of short black hair. “You're sadistic,” Jack's mother commented as she tried to contain her erratic breathing from yet another scare. “Don't you have better things to do than to scare us?” Jack's body shook as he held tightly to the bag in his hand. The new home combined with their new family member was taking its toll on his nerves. It had also almost scared the hunger out of him. “The hour is late,” his grandfather vaguely commented. “Well, that’s one thing we can agree on,” Emily commented as she sighed and fumbled around to the other side of the desk. “And we didn't leave that late,” she argued as she frowned at him. “Coming from someone who's such a night owl, your acting a little ridiculous.” Jack was really starting to see a creepy pattern to his relation's entrances. “Come on, Jack, we’d better go see where your grandfather has hidden our“Come on, Jack, we’d better go see where your grandfather has hidden our luggage,” his mom half joked as she stepped around the front of the desk with a large chain of keys. They jingled loudly in her hands. “This could take all night.” “They are in the west wing,” the grandfather dryly noted as his face turned to his daughter. “The final two rooms.” “Why didn’'t you put us in the east wing?” she scolded as crossed her arms over her chest. “You know they have a better view of the rising sun.” He continued to stare at her without comment until she growled and threw up her arms in submission. “Fine, we'll do it your way,” she agreed, though she cast the evil eye at him. “But I want to talk to you tomorrow,” she ordered as she turned to Jack. “Come on, Jack, I think I know where to go.” Jack jogged over to her and they both proceeded up the stairs. He looked to his grandfather as he passed, and for a moment he thought their eyes actually met. He couldn't say for certain because of the glasses he still wore, but Jack felt there was something in his face that expressed interest or fascination. He wasn't sure he could return the feeling. But the contact didn't last long and the moment was so brief the boy convinced himself he was just imagining things. Maybe the long drive and hunger were grating on his nerves, and the figure who remained in the lobby wasn’t helping matters as the two hit the landing. Jack turned his attention to the inn's layout and looked in the opposing directions of the two halls. He’d gotten a chance to look at the floor plan, and now he had the perfect opportunity to use what he’d learned. Because of the roughly square shape of the building, there were very few hallways and generally it was impossible for someone to get lost. The main hall ran perpendicular with the lengthwise of the house but performed ninety degree turns at all four points of the building. The corners allowed enough room for bedrooms to be situated across the entire outer walls. The center of the upper floor contained a large ballroom and was reached by two carved doors similar to those in the lobby. Those doors stood in the center of the main part of the hall directly in front of the landing. Each of the four walls of the ballroom held doors of similar make, and there was an attic situated in the rafters above the entire structure, but he hadn’t seen any way to access it. If Jack’s guess was right, their bedrooms were located at the far left corner of the inn. His mom led them in that direction as they turned left and wandered around the corner to the far end of the hall. Ordinarily the corridor would have been lit by the electric lamps hanging on the walls every few yards, but because they had no idea where the switch was the hall was only vaguely lit from the light of the lobby's chandelier. “He just had to take the flashlights, too…” he heard his mom mutter. By the time they had reached the end of the hall there wasn’t even a dim glow against the walls behind them. A tall, narrow window stood at the end of the passage in a tiny nook between the far left corner bedroom and the start of the back row of rooms. Moonlight streamed into the hall and allowed for more light than Jack expected. His mom stopped at the final two doors and looked between them indecisively. “Well, I'm not really sure which one is yours and which one is mine, so I guess we'll just have to try them,” she suggested as she looked up at the lights positioned along the hall. “And remind me tomorrow to check where these light switches are,” she added as she scowled at the nearest unlit lamp.

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