Blaire Blackwood compared two papers side by side. One containing a dream, the other a great nightmare.
The glee she felt when she read her acceptance to Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, was short-lived by the unfortunate news of Grandfather Blackwood’s declining health.
A senile old man who refused to be catered by any outsider, he lived alone. Miserably so. A man who would be more miserable, possibly sent to an early grave, by his granddaughter's arrival.
Blaire could have trashed the note (the old croon would have thanked her for it) but if he passed away in that ancient house of his alone, she would never forgive herself.
Blaire sighed and glanced out the window.
With nothing to see but a curtain of fog, it’s hard to believe it’s springtime.
Why now? she wondered. Why?
The look on her parent’s face when she agreed to watch Grandfather Henry until college started had floored them. Blaire hadn’t been to her hometown since the incident that inadvertently caused them to move overseas. The incident that gave her the determination of dealing with crime as her future career.
The college acceptance letter was Blaire's golden ticket to that fulfilling dream. She would be another inch closer to finally being of use. Of finally doing something.
Now she was sliding down the ladder to the beginning, returning to where it all began. A childhood she will never forget and had no intention on returning to so soon.
“For a few months,” Blaire reminded herself under her breath. “Just a few months.”
Blaire's friend was dumbfounded when she explained she would spend her last summer of freedom in England nursing her grandfather.
“I’ll come visit you!” Melanie exclaimed brightly, loving the idea.
Blaire gave her a weak smile and shy nod, knowing it wouldn’t happen.
Blaire's childhood home was not a tourist site nor an ideal place to move to. Either you lived there or you didn’t. From what Blaire knew, her and her parents were the first to get out. An escape made only possible because of her. A childhood trauma is good of a reason as any to leave an overbearingly superstitious town behind.
“I’ll be back in time for school,” Blaire assured, but those words meant nothing.
Melanie had been accepted to NYCU; a different school. They'd be making new, separate groups of friends once Blaire returned.
Well, Melanie will. Blaire planned to focus on graduating, become a legal detective, and attaining her childhood dream.
Blaire didn't need new friends. Honestly, she didn't even need Mel. All she needed was her dream to be realized.
The cabbie made a turn in an invisible corner and started to roll up a steep hill.
Blaire held her breath. We’re almost there.
As they reached the top, the driver looked back at Blaire. “Which way now, Miss?”
He may be able to conquer the maze of fog, but when it comes to Blaire's off-the-map hometown, he’s just a mere mortal.
“Thanks, but I can find my way from here.”
“Really?” He looked skeptical. “It’s awfully…”
Eerie? Spooky? Straight out of a horror film?
“I’ll be fine,” Blaire assured him with a sweet smile, opening the door.
The man shrugged and headed out to retrieve a single brown roll suitcase from the trunk. Blaire had never been known to pack heavy, and she didn't mind being caught wearing the same shirt three times in one week. Besides, she knew these people once. They cared, but not about her clothes. It’ll be her arrival that would interest them the most.
Blaire waved after the driver as he slowly dove down the hill before turning her attention to the fog. It begrudgingly parted as Blaire waded her way through and like in a Grimm Fairy Tale a town appeared out of thick air.
It’s gloomy and old.
Blaire felt as if she had walked into the late 18th century, expecting to see men with top hats and women in gowns rush by in their carriages.
Nostalgia filled her as she passed houses she recognized.
The Hadleys lived to her left with their countless litters of cats. They gave Blaire her surly pet kitten, Sir Stripes.
Mrs. Brown's quaint cottage stood beside the Hadley's.
Blaire used to believe Mrs. Brown was psychic. Once, Blaire asked if she was a witch and her mother whacked her over the head for being so insensitive and ridiculous.
The Actons stuffed Blaire with their desert experiments. The entire town became ill from one of their failed batches of “chocolate chip” cookies.
The Chesters loved music and the outside world, but not enough to leave.
Cotton, Darlington, Emsworth, Fulton, Easton, Garrick, Graham, Hayes, Kenley…
Blaire began to name each house as she passed them all, knowing that the families still remained.
If they didn’t, Blaire and her parents would have received a letter informing them just as how they were informed when the Hasting’s youngest killed Kenley’s precious flower beds by over watering or the Lancaster’s hosted a story night. Without any horror stories, of course. They didn’t want to “encourage” any past behavior. What they never mentioned was what Blaire found most important:
“Do they still believe in the taking season?” she asked her father as he polished off Mr. Kirby’s note whining why it took them so long to respond to the town's mundane letters.
“Do you still believe?” Blaire added.
“Well,” Geoffrey Blackwood hesitated, his eyes flickering uncertainly to his wife.
Even though she’s an outsider, born in Oregon where they now currently lived, Blaire's mother had always been a believer. Legendary stories of the demon’s woods and the taking season beckoned Liz during her curious years to the mystical town where she fell for Blaire's father.
Blaire didn’t doubt Liz's sincerity for her father, but she wouldn’t be surprised if her mother had planned to be anchored in that peculiar town.
“No,” Geoffrey confessed. “Not anymore.”
Blaire supposed it was hard to believe in something when you are thrown into a society where your faith is a debunked myth.
The town would disagree. Claim they even have a witness. But the witness was a child who, now a young adult, questioned their own reliability at times.
Proof. That’s what’s necessary.
Too bad the forest was off limits.
“But they still do,” Blaire pressed on, “believe in the taking season?"
“Blaire,” Geoffrey smiled at his daughter, “they always will.”
She shook her head.
If they still believed, then they should move.
But Blaire knew they couldn't. Their roots are too deep, centuries of their family history marked in that town. Leaving it for a modern, fast paced world that made the head spin sounded like a dead deal.
Blaire would have agreed, had she never left.
Having a taste of the 21st century, of Wi-Fi, Sunbucks, rock music, MeTube…the thought of turning back, of living there permanently, was not a fantasy. It was a nightmare.
Blaire paused as she reached the only restaurant, The Lester's, obviously owned by the Lester household.
Since it’s the afternoon, everyone is either at home or there eating, following a schedule that has never been deviated from. Not even on life changing events such as the return of a Blackwood.
Blaire smiled and shook her head as she recalled Michael Lester, the boy who loathed her sidekick. Blaire was the mischievous brat weaseling herself into trouble and Michael was the golden boy. She couldn’t very well be a successful rebel with a boy who would rat on her for practically breathing.
Blaire was fortunate to have had Cole. He knew how futile it was to prevent Blaire from her desires. The most he could do was stand beside her and keep a lookout; protect and prevent her from any unnecessary injuries.
Blaire thought a sidekick was unnecessary, but it turned out having someone stronger and taller than her had many uses.
Blaire moved on, deciding to drop in on The Lester's once she settled in.
After a few corner turns and a wave of the hand, Blaire saw her old house loom in the distance. A haunted mansion, if you will.
In the real world, this “mansion” would be only slightly larger than Melanie’s two-story house. But here, where a house is a Hobbit cottage, it's a castle that once housed many Blackwoods. Then they started dying or, as Blaire's grandfather put, were: "Spirited away by the demon in the woods".
“The demon loves them healthy. Age does not matter so much,” Grandfather explained as Blaire's child self drew before the fireplace.
Every time she struggled with a drawing, she tossed it in the fire and watched it burn. Sometimes Blaire threw paper in the fire just because she liked to watch the flames lick it to ash.
“We no longer sacrifice our people to the beast. We protect our family, as you should.”
“With this castle?” Blaire asked, one eyebrow arched.
To be honest, Blaire never believed in them. Fairies, magic, any of it. Blaire believed in what she could see. And what she saw at age six was a crazy old croon rampaging about some ancient bedtime story.
“Why don’t you just move?” she asked her grandfather. It made no sense to stay in a town where you and your family’s life was in danger.
“This is our home,” he explained tartly. “If we leave, then the beast wins.”
“That sounds dumb.”
Grandfather scoffed. “What would a child know?”
“You called me stupid!” Blaire shot to her feet, outraged.
“Did you hear me say the word?” He blinked innocently.
“Henry, I hope you aren’t teasing our Blaire.” Another ancient adult entered the vast lounge. She was old, yes, but in an elegant way.
Blaire had often imagined Grandfather dropping dead any minute. But Grandmother…well, she was immortal. Kind people like her with endless patience and warmth were untouchable.
“I’m not stupid,” Blaire growled, turning to Grandmother Valerie with fisted hands.
“Of course not. You’re a Blackwood. Blackwoods are not stupid,” she assured, but Blaire didn’t feel comforted. Her grandfather was a Blackwood and he believed in fairy tales. That made him stupid.
Seeing her reluctance, Blaire's grandmother pulled a present from behind her back. “Look what I found for you!”
Blaire snatched the book as a wide grin broke upon her face.
“She’s too young to be able to read that,” Grandfather protested.
“Cole can read it,” his granddaughter retorted, smug. “Cole’s eleven.”
“He’s too old for you,” he grumbled.
“They’re children,” his wife reminded.
“Henry,” she warned and he was silenced, though his eyes said many things.
Blaire didn’t dare open the book.
The family library was massive, filled with too many books she cared little for. Cole often stopped by to borrow some. Non-fiction, usually. The most boring genre to Blaire's childhood self.
“I’m going to see these places,” he promised her when he’d review textbooks that revealed places overseas.
Alone? Blaire wanted to ask, but was too afraid to know the answer.
While Cole decided to become an explorer, Blaire decided on keep causing trouble.
She would explore their town, pluck the heads off Mrs. Fulton’s flower bushes, witness personal moments, and trip into Mrs. and Mr. Darlington’s pond while running away from their hateful bulldog, Creampuff.
“Watch your footing, dear,” Mrs. Brown said one afternoon as Blaire stood at the precipice of the hill, the only entrance and exit of the town. The place Cole would inevitably use when he decided to leave his friend behind.
Blaire jumped, startled. “Mrs. Brown! How did you-”
“Many people have slipped and fallen to their deaths,” Mrs. Brown explained, chilling Blaire. Most adults are careful of what they say to children as to not frighten them.
Blaire supposed Mrs. Brown didn’t care what age Blaire was.
The young Blackwood swallowed but did not move. She wasn’t frozen, per say. She was more…curious. Intrigued.
Blaire glanced over her shoulder, wanting to see the bottom. Where the town ended and so did the person’s life. But the blasted fog was in the way.
Mrs. Brown considered the girl's reaction. “Do you like scary stories, Blaire?”
“I’ve never really heard any,” she confessed. It wasn’t common for someone of her age to be read horror. “And I don’t like reading.”
“The Blackwood family has a book recording all of the town’s tales. We have quite a few I think you’d enjoy.” Mrs. Brown’s eyes glinted mischievously and she leaned forward. “Perhaps you can have Cole read them.”
Blaire looked at her curiously. “Are they scary?”
“Hmmm.” She pretended to think about it. “They are to me.”
“I want to be scared,” Blaire told her eagerly.
Blaire had been surprised before. Her mother had appeared behind her suddenly and startled her. But she had never really been terrified. Never been too terrified to sleep, to sit in the darkness or be alone.
Blaire expected her parents or anyone, really, to appear and protest at that moment.
“She’s too young!”
“Not on my watch!”
“Burn the book!”
But they remained alone.
Blaire didn’t question why Mrs. Brown was there or if she had followed her. All she did was race home.
When Blaire saw Grandmother Valerie, so sweet and generous, she couldn’t help but blurt in excitement: “I want to read our town fairy tales!”
Back to the past's present, Blaire declared to her grandparents: “I’m going to Cole now!”
“Over my dead bod-” Grandfather Henry began, but by then his grandchild was gone.