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Something Wicked 2.0 - STORY THREAD


Something Wicked ST
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"well I was leaving the dentist's office, and was approached by this guy who looked homeless.   he said some strange things to me, that someone was coming for me, for all of us, and then the world, and kept getting closer.  He said it was all in the book, that we needed Power to make it go. The cops showed up and were going to I guess escort him from the premises, and then he jumped into their cruiser.   The cops pulled their guns, and he still wouldn't get out.  They were almost panicking, screaming at him, and I thought I was about to see him shot."

Hank steeled himself.  "Then I heard a voice, arguing against me as I lamented how I couldn't do anything.  It asked if just a normal boy was all I was, if it was all I wanted to be.   I answered it.  I want to be more, that this wasn't right, and had to stop.     I asked for them to lower their guns, for everyone to calm down, and they did.  The guy got out of the car, let them cuff him and take him away.  The cops didn't take a statement from me or anything, no one did."

He shrugged.  "After that strangeness, I just went home, because that was just too crazy. I tried calling y'all, but got no answer for anyone on my way home.  I got home, made a snack, and took the book from my backpack and set it on my desk. I almost didn't hear it, but the book unlocked itself.  I read what it said, which was difficult at first because of how it was written, in old flat black ink, and right as I finished, Ben called me."

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Roach was silent for a minute after that...and that silence was loud indeed. She was like that, loud when most people were quiet, and quiet when most people got loud.

 

Finally she held out her hand and made grabby motions. "Okay, lets see it. The book. You brought it, right? Lets see for ourselves."

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The kids gathered around, all except Hank, and read the book over Roaches shoulder. “Them pictures are gross,” Jo said as she looked at the strangely horrifying illumination.

 

“There’s a lot here its going to take a while to read all of this,” Ben muttered looking at his watch, “we should probably all get home it’s getting late. I’m coming back to school tomorrow we can talk about all of this over breakfast.”

 

Everyone checked their watches or phones it was late for a school night.

 

Roach closed the book and nodded, “Can I borrow this, Hank? I’d like to read it all.”

 

Hank frowned, normally he’d agree right away but something nagged him, he didn’t want the book to be away from him. “I haven’t read it all myself, maybe after I finish it.” He held out his hand.

 

Roach looked at the hand and the book and reluctantly handed it over.

 

The kids cleaned up their table and got into the cars and headed home.

 

Roach got out at Jo’s house since that was the first one, they came to and hers was just across the road and a couple of houses down no need to make MC carry her such a short distance. Jo hopped out and said good night and headed into her house. Roach retrieved her bag and glanced a MC, who had been quiet since Wendy’s. “I know all this is weird but it’s kind of cool too. Sorry you got involved but glad too, you know.”

 

MC looked at Roach, she was a bit overwhelmed, and it was just now sinking in, “Yeah, you know you and Jo didn’t even blink when I told you my folks sold drugs.”

Roach paused not sure where MC was going with this. “Well, you always have weed and your folks are kind of hippies.”

 

MC nodded, “It is for treating epilepsy, the weed. My parents are both Pharmacists, they invented some sort of binary activating mechanism for a cancer treatment medicine. It made them very wealthy, so they got out of the rat race and moved up here. They thought being in a slower paced setting would be good for me.”  She shrugged, “I just wanted you to know. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

A slow grin spread over Rochelle's face and she looked away and chuckled before meeting MC's eyes again. "Okay," she said with a nod. "So...rich and hot. Good to know. Seeya tomorrow."

 

Roach gave MC a little wave and turned away to head back up the driveway up to her front door.

 

MC watched Roach cross the street before putting the car in gear and making a U-turn to head home. “She thinks I’m hot,” she says out loud in her empty car, a smile spreading on her face.

 

Hank parked in his usual spot and got out of his truck. This had been the weirdest of days. A loud thud behind him made him jump and spin around. A large cat with tangled fur had jumped up onto the hood of his car and was settling down on the grill under the windshield it’s eyes watching Hank warily.

 

Hank had never seen the cat and wasn’t wearing a collar, it looked feral. The boy and the cat looked at one another for about a minute then the cat tucked its head under its forepaws and went to sleep. Hank went into the house but before he went to bed, he put a plastic butter bowl filled with water and some left over chicken outside by the truck. Then he went to bed.

 

Jo had hoped to slip by her folks, but such was not in the cards. Her parents had not been happy with her dating an older boy last year but had let it slide mainly because they felt guilty for her medical condition. But in reality, they had been relieved when she had broken up with that boy. Tonight had reminded them of some of the actions she had taken last year and they weren’t happy.

 

Jo’s mom made it clear that not coming home after school and not calling were not going to tolerated. And staying out late on school nights were likewise not going to get a pass. It was definitely a warning but at least they didn’t punish her for today.

 

When her talking too was done she even skipped a snack and headed to bed. When she entered her room Banner, who had been laying on the bed hopped down and came to her with a hope he stood on his hind leg and his for paws landed on her shoulders, his head even with hers. The dog looked into her eyes for several breaths before he dropped back to all fours and leaned against Jo’s legs. After another moment he went and lay down across the door and Jo went to bed.

 

Roach slipped into the house the lights were down and she saw her dad asleep in the living room in front of the TV. She didn’t wake him just got the blanket kept folded on the couch for this very purpose and covered him up.

 

Once in her room she absentmindedly turned on her computers and readied herself for bed. She noticed she had an e-mail that was from an unknown account. In it was a link. She checked it for viruses and other hacking traps and couldn’t find anything she copied the link and using another safe browser followed it. It opened a dark page with a small square of light which gradually grew into and Image of a book.

 

The book.

 

She clicked on the cover, and it flipped open to page one.

 

Jo hitched a ride to school with her brothers, Roach was dropped off by her dad, and Hank gave Ben a lift as usual.

 

Jo was first and had already gotten her usual breakfast tray. Hank and ben arrived next. Jo noticed something odd right away Ben standing next to Hank was  noticeably , at least to her, taller than usual by more than a couple of inches. Not immediately noticeable to others but Jo was hypersensitive to her and others physical appearance especially height.

 

Roach showed up next followed a few moments later by MC who sort of hovered between her table and theirs until Roach motioned her to join them. MC smiled at that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hank sat in his bed, and while he was never a big reader, he read the book before going to sleep.  Cover to cover.   It was a story of greed and betrayal.  It told of a competition to conquer and explore the world, and then penance that must be paid by living such lives.   Still in the end, the worst of the betrayers was slain, and imprisoned by the wizards and the heroes.   Still even though the fallen King and Queen were resurrected, they were not free.   they had to remain where they'd fallen, forever trapped in the shadow of a mountain of sins of their own making.
 

To Hank it wasn't happy ending, and he thought about it.  In general he thought it to be a warning about the dangers of endless pursuit for power, and endless indulgence could only lead to ruin.   Certainly, the one who betrayed them paid for it in the end, and they were restored, but not as they were before.    They were restrained, and never again allowed to forget their choices that had brought them to this point.
 

He went to bed while pondering other potential meanings, but he found himself in a dream that at best he'd only partially remember.  Snippets of running through the woods, the feeling of being pursued.   Thes smell of smoke, and light of fire on the horizon, all the while feeling himself grow colder.  He had no idea how long it went on, but he could feel the eyes upon him, and no matter what, he was running alone.  He hoped the others had gotten away, that they wouldn't be caught.  
 

The cold overtook him, and he felt darkness moving in, circling him and his eyes began to close.  "I wasn't strong enough..."  they were the last words before it went black, and his alarm to get up went off.
 

"Okay, no ancient texts before bed anymore.  That was way too real, and trippy."  he said.
 

Getting up and getting ready to head to school was normal and mundane, and it went off without a hitch.   He didn't really notice anything about Ben, aside from him not needing his glasses.   Still when MC sat down, it was Hank who spoke up first.  
 

"I owe you an apology, MC."  he could see the looks on the faces of the others.  "The way I questioned your involvement wasn't right. I was concerned about us getting you wrapped up in whatever is going on, without really knowing what's going on ourselves.  I didn't want you to not really get a choice in the matter, kinda like us.  From how things sound, we're all definitely involved.   In thinking like that, and saying it the way I did, I was trying to take the same choice outa your hands. I was wrong for that, so I'm sorry."

It was awkward, but hearing him say it, it was clear he was being sincere, that it wasn't that he was opposed on a personal level, he'd just been trying in an awkward way to protect her from whatever strangeness was going on and yet to come.

 

MC kind of froze in the process of sitting, her eyes momentarily cutting to Roach as Hank said his peace. Once settled and the tall boy had finished She nodded not at him but sort of to herself, "It's okay Leesford, we cool."

 

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"Speaking of cool," Roach said, "the mystery hacker struck again. This time, instead of showing me creepy faces of disappeared people, it sent me to a site that had Hank's vampire porn book on it. All of it."

 

She waggled her eyebrows at Hank. "I bet I'm farther in than you."

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MC had been picking at her Breakfast not really eating it, she stopped when Roach said the book had appeared magically on her computer. "Wait you mean that weird book was e-mailed to you. How is that possible?"

 

"Books in electronic format have been around for a long time," explained Ben kind of condescendingly. 

 

MC glares at Ben, "I know that but what I'm saying is, why wait until Hank opened the book, why not just send it to her in the first place. And if you say it was sent because Hank read the book, how did whoever know that Hank had read the book? I mean that is an fucking unacceptable coincidence. Right?"

 

 

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"Oh, it's all kinds of messed up," agrees Roach. "It wasn't even emailed to me. The link TO it was. The book's hosted online, on an unlisted site. And the timing's to the point where it seems like the only real way anyone would know to send me the link right now was if they knew we'd seen the actual book. So...could be we're being watched."

 

She nodded. "And it's a draw then, because I read it too. Has a kind of LARPy Anne Rice kind of feel to it. Which kind of meshes with guys hanging out in the woods in weird costumes maybe? It'd be wild if this was all some kind of next level ARG or something."

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Jo wished she was allowed to bring Banner with her to school. The big dog had stayed unusually close during their morning run, almost pressing up against her leg at times. With all the uncanny stuff happening lately, she'd feel more... comfortable with her big furry buddy around. Not safer, she didn't feel unsafe, she could take care of herself and anyone messing with her, but she'd feel... better.

And now there was more weird stuff. Eating a breakfast big enough for three of the others sharing the table, Jo's dark blue eyes were focused on Ben hard enough to make the small - but not as small as he'd been just yesterday - boy squirm. He had to be as tall as her twin brothers now. Still way shorter than her, but still. Jo had grown extremely fast - like Guinness Record fast - during her first big adolescent growth spurt, but even she hadn't grown inches in a day. Overnight even.

The biggest girl in Blairsville barely heard her friends talking about the book, just catching enough to know that Roach had one too, now, on her computer or something. Her gaze shifted from Ben to the rest sharing the table, but only for a moment.

"Maybe whoever it was who sent that link 'bout them missin' folks sent ya th'one fer the book, too? However ya got it, what all did the book say, you guys?" Jo asked. Then she leaned forward towards Ben, voice dropping to a low whisper. "Does it hurt?"

"Does what hurt?" Ben said, eyes darting evasively.

Jordan raised a flat hand, holding it at about even with the top of her breasts, then raising it so it was level with the top of her shoulder. Her expression was flat, her mouth was tight, and her eyes were hard and demanding. This wasn't a joke to her. She loved being big, taller than most men, stronger than most men, but it was also a serious medical condition. She had to take pills otherwise the rampant growth would lead to severe and chronic health problems in the near and late future.

"Yer know what Ah mean, Ben."

Edited by Asarasa
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"So there was a link to the book on the internet, and it was sent to you."   He sighed.  Still the fact the actual book just opened on its own is odd too, and the book is itself old.  I'd say it's well past thirty, given how it looks."  He seemed to ponder this and then noticed Jo and Ben.  "You do look a little taller Ben.  I've always been taller than you, and now you're gettin pretty close to me, and that, like you not needing glasses, is really new."  He remembered looking down when talking to Ben not more than a week before, so now that Jo had called attention to it, he noticed it himself.

 

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Roach looked up from her phone at Ben and squinted a little, then lifted an eyebrow.

 

"Huh," she remarked. "Alright. Okay. I think we gotta go see 'Mister Yorushh' again. We'll get geared up, just in case he's the one kidnapping people, head on out and corner him. Find out what he knows. The way he was talking, he knows something. Because...I gotta say, I'm kind of stumped. I need to take a look at a wiki or something because none of this leads to anything."

 

"Disappearing people, weird emails, books with Twilight fan-poetry, bears and hyena-men, and the only 'lead' is an extra from the set of...of...that Mozart movie who went AWOL."

 

Rochelle paused, then added, "Amadeus."

 

"Anyway. After school today? Everyone clear for that?"

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The school day crawled, they Kids ate lunch together, Hank and Roach compared notes on the the book, roach even tried to share the link but it wouldn't work on any one else's computer, only hers.

 

They agreed to meet up after school at Jo's. Ben had avoided Jo and her questions all day but after school he was cornered by Jo on his way, with Hank, to Hank's truck.

 

"Well, does it hurt? And no squirming out of answering this time."

 

Ben looked at Hank hoping for rescue but all Hank did was shrug. "I'm kinda wondering myself."

 

With a sigh Ben shook his head, "No it doesn't or not that I noticed, The glasses were what I noticed first. I suddenly had real blurry vision, that's why I went home sick it wasn't until I was at the doctor and I took my glasses off so he could look at my eyes that I noticed I could see without them." He started walking toward the truck, Hank and Jo exchanged glances and followed.

 

"Later after I was home i went to take a shower, I was feeling pretty stressed to be honest, and when I took off my shirt I was different."

 

****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

Roach and MC met after last bell, Jo had told them that she was going to ride with Hank and Ben. They went to Walmart and picked up some trail snacks and bottled water, then went by MC's house so she could change.

 

The house was in what passed for an upper-class neighborhood in this part of the Georgia. It was still rural with most homes sitting on a minimum of an acre or two, Tree lines instead of fences separating them. The homes were generally half or full brick single story, whereas the general home in Blairsville and Union county as a whole wood old wood frame home built in the nineteen fifties to replace homes that had been there since the 1800s. MC's house was no different, at least onthe outside.

 

It was obvious that the home had been renovated, while retaining the humble exterior the inside was modern and decidedly not  'Hippy'.

 

"You want to watch some tv or listen to some music while I change?" MC handed Roach a multi control remote that looked like it cost more than her dads big screen. "Also kitchens through there if you want something to drink."  She pointed toward a set of saloon style swinging doors. "I'm gonna grab a quick shower and change," She smiled at Roach, "ten minutes tops."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rochelle returned the smile and gave MC a nod and a thumbs up, and immediately wondered to herself if that was extra. It felt a little extra. Shit.

 

At least, she decided as she searched the cupboards in the kitchen briskly for the glasses, the house was big enough she couldn't hear the shower. Like, you could hear the water in the pipes, but not the actual splish splish of the shower. Because that would have been distracting. As it was? Totally not distracted. Then Roach realized the glasses had been in the cabinet she'd just closed and was starting to move on from. Goddamnit.

 

She went back, nabbed a short, squat cup and only filled it about half full. She wasn't staying long. Pretty soon MC would be out, and her hair would be all wet, and she'd have that fresh shampoo smell... You know, maybe some TV would be good right now.

 

So Roach went over into what she assumed was the living room, even if it seemed big enough to be the garage from her place. The couch turned a corner. That was pretty sweet. It took a second of peering at the remote to suss out the controls. This switch had to be turned to that position, then you hit that button. The TV lit up then, on whatever channel it had last been tuned to.

 

Roach had a seat on the right-angled couch and didn't so much watch TV as let it play in the background as her brain oscillated between thinking about all this weird shit, and not (definitely not because that'd be a little creepy if she did) think about MC in the shower.

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"i've heard of shooting up over the summer, but this is abit more than that Ben."   His face was serious but then he smiled.  "Still, if it isn't actually hurting, I guess it's alright."

Hank had a habit of being fairly accepting of things he couldn't change or do anything about.   "You didn't like wish to be taller, or not need your glasses in the last couple days did you?"  his tone was half-teasing, half not. 

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Jo gave Hank a hooded look. It wasn't 'alright' Ben had grown a couple of inches overnight. She turned her eyes on Ben, brows furrowing in scrutiny. She didn't know how nobody else as school hadn't noticed. Where his clothes not fitting right? Were there other changes than just the height and no glasses thing? When she'd been going through her explosive growth spurt, it seemed like she'd been outgrowing her clothes weekly. Ben did look a lot less... nerdy without the glasses though.

Jo snorted. "Different. Right." She shook her head, pale blond hair swinging and nodded towards Hank's truck. "Let's get goin'. Ah'll need forty minutes thereabouts. Gotta get my workout of the day done - short one today and a shower. And then tell mah parents Ah'll be missin' supper at home again. Ah can't be too late tonight this time. Ma and pa were none to happy with me fer last night." Dark blue eyes narrowed in suspicion at Ben. "If yah keep on... whatever's happenin' with yah, Ah can swipe some of Ryland's stuff fer yah. If yah want."

Ryland was the second oldest of Jo's brothers and the tallest, though he was still nearly half a foot shorter than his sister. He was also backpacking across Europe so he wouldn't miss some of the clothes he'd left behind. The kids piled into the pickup and Hank drove them home. Rolling to a stop outside of the Johansson's, Jo hopped out and strode briskly towards the front door. 

 

She waved to the boys and called out over her shoulder. "Remembah! Forty minutes. Or thereabouts."

The front door closed with a boom. Jo muttered greetings to her parents, rushed upstairs to change, then down to the basement and the home gym, the huge girl clomping on the stairs enough to practically make the house shake. Barely taking the time to warm up, Jo went into the Linda WOD, decreasing series of reps for Deadlifts, Bench Press, and Clean, based on bodyweight.

Keith, the braver - or less cautious - Jo's brothers still living at home went downstairs to check on his sister, but one look at the intensity on her face and how savagely she was working the weights and he thought better of it and went right back upstairs. Banner, from the corner of the room, watched him go, chuffed, then lay down with his head resting on his front paws.

Jo... didn't know what to think. Too much strange and uncanny stuff was happening. She'd always been the most athletic one of the Walsh Street Kids, and starting more than a year, she'd been undoubtedly the biggest and strongest. Her height was freak genetics and a hormone thing. So was how easily she put on muscle, but she still had to work on it, and she did every day. Unconsciously, she was... irked that Ben seemed to be going through some sort of magic super growth that was effortless and pain free. It seemed unfair, and the overdeveloped teen was well aware that the same sentiments had been levied her way from fellow competitors at the Crossfit games and during heptathlons.

What if Ben ended up taller than her? Stronger than her? It might be petty of her, but Jo 'She-Hulk' Johansson didn't like the idea.

Jo took a quick, cold shower. Staring in the mirror as she dried her hair. Jo considered, then decided to skip taking the pills she was supposed to take everyday, the ones that regulated her out of control hormones that were responsible for her improbable growth and development. One day wouldn't hurt.

True to her word, forty minutes - or thereabouts - Jo was back outside. Her pale blond hair was still slightly darkened from damp from being toweled dry. She was dressed in black, thermal-lined athleticwear straining against her powerfully muscled physique and leaving her midriff bare, navel piercing glinting under the sun. Over her shoulder, she had a rugged pack, a pair of big water bottles strapped to the sides, stuffed with a few things she'd normally take for an extended run or hike in the hills and woods. She had Banner's leash looped around her wrist, the big Kangal Shepherd sitting on his haunches at his mistress' side.

Her mom hadn't been thrilled her missing supper again, though Jo had promised she eat something with the guys, who were helping her with... stuff. She'd been vague about if it was actually for school. Skye Johansson was doubtful of her overgrown daughter's motives, but was willing to let it go, this time, if she really was going to be with Hank and Ben. Both boys had good heads on their shoulders.

Bouncing on her toes, Jo waited for the rest of the gang, resisting the urge to start jogging towards the weird rock and Mister Yorushh.

Edited by Asarasa
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Roach heard the water stop running and turned to look back toward where MC had vanished earlier. It had only been about five minutes and it was another five before MC came out of the back.

 

She was wearing faded jeans tucked into well worn work boots that looked too big and a plain grey t-shirt that was thin enough for Roach to notice that she wasn’t wearing a bra, oh, and her hair was still damp from the shower. In one hand she was carrying her school backpack and the other her leather jacket. She went into the kitchen calling over her shoulder.

 

“I’m going to bring some bottled water. Do we need food?”

 

Roach turned the TV off and stood up, “I don’t know maybe some energy bars or something.” She heard MC opening cabinets.

 

“How about trail mix?”  “That’s good.”

 

A few moments later MC came into the living room and handed Roach the backpack, now heavy with water and snacks, “Hold that for a second,” she said as she put on her jacket, “You Ready.”

 

 

The drive form MC’s house to Roaches took another fifteen minutes, they passed Hank’s house and saw that his truck was there already. MC parked on the side of the road in front of Roach’s house.

 

Spoiler

wanted to give Max a chance to respond before getting everyone together and heading into the hills.

 

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Roach got out of the car, then hesitated with the door open before closing it. A weird, wild urge to invite MC inside bubbled around inside her...though realizing she had no idea what her folks were up to basically shanked that notion in the alley behind the bar long before it got to her mouth. Still.

 

"So...you want to hang out sometime?" she asked, leaning down a little to look at MC just under the car's doorjamb. Her tone was casual, super casual. Like...so casual. "I mean, without the dork brigade along. Figured it might be nice to have a slight conversation without hearing about Jo's reps or whatever."

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MC looked over at Rochelle, smiled and nodded, “That’d be nice.”  Roach nodded, “Cool, I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”

When Roach was finished at her house, she and MC crossed the street and joined up with the rest of the Kids.

 

It was Jo who suggested that they cut through the woods behind the Clairburn place leaving the various cars so as to calm the fears of worried parents. She told them that they could cut straight up to the creek where the path to the weird guy Yorushh was at. The Kids agreed and they set off.

 

They cut through Jo’s backyard and into the woods there,  a few yards in they came to an old, barbed wire fence which they crossed and went deeper into the wood until they came to an old single lane gravel road. The road was ancient, and the side were overgrown with grass and weeds, the drive itself however, was clear. They turned onto the road/drive and made better time as the followed its curves up toward the old mansion and the hills beyond.

 

As they approached closer to the house the Kids could hear the sounds of music, muffled, but unmistakable. It was some sort of rock music though none of the Kids had ever heard it before. They slow their approach until they could see what was ahead.

 

Music Heard

Spoiler

 

 

The Kids came to the end of the drive which opened up onto a large round driveway. In the center of the circular drive on a grassy rise was and old fountain. 435859770_download(1).jpg.7d2f15fc102e862f6aa92cf81f2eaeb2.jpg

All of the Kids knew the fountain, it was the starting point of the dare thousands of county kids had performed since the nineteen fifties. Start at the fountain and walk alone up on the old rickety veranda and knock on the door of what was purported to be the most haunted house in Appalachia. All of this was to be done at midnight of course and preferably either under a new moon or a full moon.

 

The fountain they saw today was not the fountain they ad seen before. The weeds and grass were gone, the fountain itself, while not working, had been cleaned and its bronze. While not gleaming was certainly free of the green corrosion that they had previously glimpse under the now missing overgrowth. On the other side of the fountain between it and the house was an old Cadillac, light blue and vintage ragtop. The music, electric guitars and synthesizers, came from inside the house.

 

 

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Working out, running, walking her dog, just hanging out, Jo listened to all sorts of music. Pop, classic and hard rock, metal, country, folk, and hip-hop. She ain't never heard any music like this. And never any music or anything here, except for the wind and rustling leaves or branches. She'd done the Clairburn Dare before, last year. The first time she'd really drank alcohol to any real degree.

This time, it was both less and more eerie and weird.

Jo looked back over her shoulder at her friends all bunching up at the end of the drive. "Any of y'all hear tell of anyone movin' in to the old Clairburn place?" The place had been abandoned for decades, before their parents had been born at least. There were shakes of heads. "Me neither."

The Clairburn Place sat well back from the road, but surely she, her parents, or her brothers, one of them would have noticed someone going up the drive. Hells, she should have noticed something when she'd found Ben's backpack. The fountain and veranda couldn't have been all cleaned up and weeded and the like so quickly, could it?

Before she could give it a second thought, the towering teen crouched down, unwinding the leash from her wrist. She clipped to Banner's collar then straightened up. She wasn't worried how Banner might react, not really, but he was a mighty big dog, and being leashed helped ease others. Besides, these were likely to be the strangest of strange folks.

"Well, too early for the moon to be out, and it ain't new nor full no how, but Ah guess Ah'm gonna do the Clairburn Dare anyways. Be polite and all, 'pologizin' for the trespass and sayin' hello to the new neighbors." She nodded back to way they'd come. "Y'all can go back a ways, in case this lot ain't so friendly and Ah land in a spot of trouble. Ah won't snitch."

It wasn't she hadn't cut through the Clairburn grounds on her own before, going for a walk or run with Banner. It could be believed she was alone this time too. And this time, she was going to go all the way. Not waiting to see if the others were staying put or coming along, the big girl strode brusquely forward, her big Kangal Shepherd at her side.

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Jo had gotten about halfway to the fountain when Banner huffed and stopped walking. He was looking at the fountain.

 

Just then a large cat jumped up from in the fountains bowl and balanced on the edge, looking at Jo and Banner then it looked back where the rest of the Kids were.

 

Banner sat down. The cat sat down.

 

The two animals stared at each other, neither making a sound or moving.

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Hank shook his head.  "No I haven't heard anything about it."   He couldn't recall anyone ever living there, but clearly someone did, now.   Banner's actions drew his attention and he saw the cat.  "Hey, that's the cat I fed the other night.  It was pretty friendly."   Hank was a sportsman, he hunted and fished, but he was never cruel to animals.   it wasn't really surprising that Hank had fed this cat.  "I had no idea it lived here though."  he whispered softly, not really caring if he got caught, they'd taken the clairburn shortcut before, never seeing a soul.  Heck he didn't even remember seeing animals here.  

 

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"It's been livin' well, looks like," Jo commented as she looked about. "Don't think we'll have to worry 'bout any mice, even with you feeding it, Hank."

Sure, it was a big cat, but come on, it was only a cat. Banner outweighed pretty much any wolf. Jo gave her dog a nonplussed look. When he didn't break his gaze with the cat, she gave his leash a tiny tug, more a tacking up of the slack than a real pull. "Seriously, buddy? You've got, what? A hundred thirty, forty on him? He can't really hurt ya. Not more than once, anyways."

Jo let out a low, sharp whistle and gave the leash a more substantial tug. "Let's go, Banner. I'll protect you."

Banner looked up at the huge girl with what many would claim was exasperation in his amber eyes and climbed back to his feet with a chuff. Jo interposed herself between canine and the feline as she once again strode forward, skirting around the fountain and keeping a wary eye on the cat. With a dog, you know what it was going to do, what it was thinking, most times. With a cat, you never did, and despite what she'd told Banner, he could be hurt by a sharp claw in the right - or rather wrong - place.

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Jo moved forward Banner at her heels, the cat watched them skirt around the fountain and walk past the caddy.

 

With one last glance toward the rest of the Kids back at the drive entrance, the cat jumped off the fountain and darted under the car and onto the veranda where it waited for Jo and Banner.

 

Jo paused at the foot of the stairs the music had changed to a different song but was obviously the same group. It was louder here. She looked at the Cat sitting at the top of the stair leading onto the veranda. Banner huffed again, not at Jo but at the cat who made a chirping sound as if in reply. The cat jumped up onto the veranda banister and Banner started up the stairs tugging his leash. Jo followed.

 

Jo was on the veranda in front of an old-fashioned screen door which covered a fancy wooden door that was painted a very weathered white. There wasn’t a doorbell but there was a huge knocker shaped like a horse’s head on the wooden door as well as a corroded brass chain dangling beside the door going through the frame into the house. Jo figured that was some sort of doorbell but she was afraid the chain might break if she used it so she opened the screen door to use the knocker instead.

 

She used the knocker, it gave a solid but underwhelming clack as it struck the plate, a couple of times but there was no change in the volume of the music. Jo knocked again this time with her fist, her knuckles making a loud booming knock on the strangely solid door. As she started her second set of hand knocks the volume of the music dropped dramatically.

 

Jo could here the sound of a door closing inside the house and footsteps which got louder approaching the  door. She stepped back letting the screen door close as the front door opened revealing and an older man in a turtleneck sweater. 

 

“Can I help you.”                                                                        A1uyY0KbYSR8fk7Wkdbs2VfsBw1.thumb.jpg.a1bdf1b324da3d3e8b96cce198d5776a.jpg

 

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Rochelle wasn't sure why they were bothering with the old Clairburne place. She wasn't sure how close it was to the spot they'd met that mysterious dude out in the woods, but it clearly wasn't THE place. Maybe it was on the way...Jo was usually not too bad with that kind of thing. She checked her phone to see how the reception was here, and thus missed the Disney moment with cats and dogs. By the time she looked up Jo was already almost to the house and she had to hurry not to be left behind.

 

"Hey, Jo," she called as she went. "You sure this is the right way? We didn't pass here when we went out there last time. Lets backtrack to where you saw the bear again, then...oh shit..."

 

That's where the old man had his greeting, of course.

 

"Someone lives out here?"

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