spirits of decay: chapter 3
The moment Audun laid eyes on the house, he knew they’d have their work cut out for them.
It was about three times bigger than Thomas made it sound on the phone, and ten times more ostentatious. Its late owner had tried way too hard to make it look like a haunted mansion, what with the gargoyles encrusting the roof, and the graveyard right beside the house. It wasn’t hard to imagine what the inside looked like.
“Call Thomas back,” Ethan advised. “We’re going to need them for more than just the weekend.”
After a quick call to let Thomas know just how big this house they had to clear of arcana actually was, Audun and Ethan got to work on the preliminary stuff – mainly setting up a precautionary barrier and digging a fire pit in the back. The barrier was in case they stirred up anything nasty in the course of clearing out all things Eldritch related. It would keep anything supernatural from escaping the premises. The fire pit was for burning anything they found in their search that was too dangerous to let fall into the hands of normal people.
“Is the graveyard on consecrated ground, at least?” Ethan asked, once they’d finished digging and were sitting on top of their car, taking a break.
Audun gave a wry smile. “Nope”
Ethan sighed. “Figures.”
Audun didn’t share his friend’s frustration. He didn’t begrudge Ethan his annoyance, but couldn’t manage to feel any himself.
At first glance, Ethan and Audun looked like normal enough teenage boys. In truth, neither was a teenager, and they were so far from normal it wasn’t funny. Ethan was a changeling – a human who’d been kidnapped by the Eldritch as a child and drug to their world. A couple decades ago, Audun had helped him escape and gotten him back home. It was then that the real problems arose. The first was that Ethan had been kidnapped in the forties. It was about half a century later when he got back to earth, despite it only feeling like a couple weeks to him. The second was that Ethan had been about seven then. He looked like he was maybe sixteen now, but that was pushing it. He wasn’t aging like he should have been, and was essentially an adult trapped in a teenager’s body. His had been a long hard road, and sad as it was, he still hadn’t found his place in the new world. Audun thought he had for awhile, when Ethan was living at the Ironhorse Sanctuary, and had finally come to terms with everything that had happened to him. Then his adoptive father died and his kind-of adoptive sister took over the sanctuary and made a colossal mess of everything their father had spent his whole life working for. When Audun offered, Ethan immediately hit the road with him.
That had surprised Audun a little, but he guessed Ethan’s hatred of all things Eldritch didn’t extend to the one who’d rescued him from them, even if his savior was one quarter fae himself. Audun’s grandfather had been a valravn – an Eldritch from Scandinavian folklore. More specifically, a raven who’d drunk the lifeblood of an infant and gained immense power. Audun had inherited that power. The drawback was he’d also inherited some Eldritch weaknesses, including sensitivity to hallowed ground and holy relics. Whenever he paid a visit to the Ironhorse Sanctuary, he spent whatever time he was there walking around with a fever dazed mind, getting burnt or shocked by just about everything he touched, and never taking off his shoes, lest he end up with charred feet again. Churches, graveyards, and other consecrated sites weren’t that bad, but proximity to them still dulled his senses and weakened his powers. He was glad he wouldn’t be spending the rest of the week so close to consecrated ground.
After their break, Audun and Ethan braved the manor’s front door, and its ridiculous devil faced doorknocker. One step into the foyer they both stopped dead, their jaws dropping in horror at the sight that greeted them. It was like stepping into an episode of Hoarders except, at least to Audun’s knowledge, there’d never been an episode of that show where someone had been hoarding every occult related piece of crap he could possibly find.
“We’re going to need more gasoline,” Ethan decided at last. “Better call back Thomas.”
“You call back Thomas,” Audun said, venturing a step further into the house. It was a tight squeeze, though it really shouldn’t have been. The foyer was one of those grand rooms with high ceilings, walls spaced far apart, and a split staircase stretching down from the opposite side. Unfortunately, new walls had been made out of piles and piles of . . . stuff. Crates, boxes, books, heaps of unrecognizable items, fabric wrapped shapes . . . It was overwhelming, even for Audun, who’d been doing this about two centuries now. He’d never seen a house this bad.
“We’re not going to be able to sleep in here tonight, are we?” Ethan asked.
“Depends on what we find when we stop gawking and start hauling this crap out,” Audun said. “We’ll probably be able to clear enough space in this room for our sleeping bags, but if there’s an infestation of anything, I don’t know if we’ll want to.”
“Yeah, but we have no idea what’s in the rest of the house. Trying to get up those stairs is flirting with a broken neck, even for us – unless you, you know, do your bird thing. For all we know, there could be a colony of gnomes in the basement, or a banshee haunting the entire second floor.”
“We can set up a secondary barrier, if you want,” Audun suggested.
“That’s no good for you,” Ethan pointed out.
Ethan sighed. “Looks like we’re camping out again, then.”
“If you want, you can take the car back to town and stay at a motel there,” Audun suggested.
“Like I’d leave you here alone.” Ethan pulled out his phone and dialed Thomas. “Thomas? Hey, it’s me. You know how Audun called you a couple hours ago and said the house is worse than we thought? Well, it’s even worse than that. Bring more gasoline when you come. I don’t care – Thomas, this place is beyond ridiculous. Here, I’m emailing you a picture of what the foyer looks like. There’s no way we’re going to make any progress if we don’t just start hauling out a bunch of this junk and burning it, whether it’s really Eldritch related or not.”
“Tell him I agree,” Audun added.
“Audun’s with me on this one. No, we’re not channeling Trish. Just check your bloody email!” Ethan made a face at Audun as they waited for Thomas to boot up his computer. The Ironhorse Sanctuary didn’t get cell phone reception, so Thomas didn’t have a smart phone. Thankfully, their home internet was more or less reliable. “While you do that, Audun and I are going to get to work. We are expecting you, Blaire, and Declan tomorrow. You can leave Beatrice behind. Come to think of it, you can leave Declan behind too, if you want. Just bring Blaire.”
Audun saw surprise flit over his friend’s face in response to whatever Thomas said to him.
“Really? That’s . . .” There was a long pause while Ethan listened to whatever Thomas had to say. Audun turned his attention back to the mess around them, trying to decide what should be drug outside and burned first, until Ethan made a startled sound. “What? Declan is actually . . . ? Are you sure that’s right? He’s clearly up to something.”
Audun made a questioning motion. Ethan held up one finger, gesturing for him to wait a moment.
“Sure, Thomas. Right. See you tomorrow.” He ended the call then answered Audun’s silent question. “They’ve got a new kid at the sanctuary. They think he was a changeling.”
“Interesting,” Audun said, though he didn’t think that fact was worthy of note in and of itself. Changelings weren’t common, but they ran across a couple of them every decade. There was clearly something else about this one that caught Ethan’s attention.
“Declan thinks so,” Ethan said darkly. “Apparently he’s been treating the kid like his new pet, and has been trying really hard to keep him at the sanctuary.”
Audun gave him a confused look – he didn’t see what was amiss about this.
“Declan doesn’t care about other people, remember? He’s messed up in the head,” Ethan reminded him. “He’s probably planning on strangling the kid with a bent coat hanger or something.”
“Why would he do that?” Audun asked.
“He doesn’t need a reason. Declan is just plain crazy,” Ethan said. “Apparently the kid – they call him Stray because he won’t give them his real name – might –”
“They call him Stray? Like a stray cat?” Audun asked. “That seems kind of . . . I don’t know, offensive?”
“Probably something Declan came up with,” Ethan said, “but apparently, he might be able to see through façade.”
Audun stumbled over the stack of books he’d been trying to circumnavigate. “What?”
“Yeah. That might be why Declan’s interested in keeping him around,” Ethan said.
“How old is this boy?” Audun asked.
“He claims he’s a teenager, but won’t tell them his exact age. Declan has declared he’s thirteen, but Thomas thinks he’s closer to ten.”
“I see. And how did he come to be at the sanctuary?”
Ethan shrugged. “Apparently Blaire and Declan found him when they snuck out to go on a hunt without Beatrice’s permission. I don’t know much more about him than that.”
He wouldn’t, Audun realized. There was only so much information that could be relayed in a two minute phone conversation. Any other questions Audun had would have to wait until tomorrow when this kid actually arrived.
It’s probably nothing, Audun told himself, but deep down, he knew that wasn’t true. It wasn’t every day they found a human who might be able to see through façade, and if Declan was right about the boy’s age . . . well, things were likely to get very interesting.
After they finished cleaning up this house, anyway. That, however, was going to be boring as hell.