|The rules are simple: No killing or antagonism, and no conducting business on the grounds of the Crossroad Inn. It would be nice if everyone followed them. For an Inn at the intersection of the Underworld and the realms above, if some of their patrons get out of line, it could destroy the world. Good thing most don’t push their luck. Eleftheria and her sisters are witches, but that isn’t what keeps people following the rules. It’s who their father is. Here’s hoping the service is good.|
|The customer was not always right.|
If I ever got my hands on the idiot who said they were, I was going to feed him to my hellhound.
Case in point, the demon who sat by the walk-in fireplace with the cauldron bubbling over open flames, emitting the sweet scent of sleeping potion. He salivated over the singer gracing the dining room of the Inn with their haunting voice.
A mellifluous voice like that made the purple articles of clothing in the room shine just a little brighter to my eyes against the general gray of the stone walls. A voice like that told me that this average human had a soul that would make a demon rich. Maybe even put him on the court, allow his family to ascend.
This was the third seat he had parked his bony ass in since she started singing, each one a bit closer to the table-turned-stage upon which she belted out one of the best performances Crossroad Inn had ever witnessed. Which was saying something.
“Eleftheria,” my sister Jacynthe said, her voice a direct command, drawing my eyes away from him to focus on her. “What are you doing?”
Her fair hair haloed a bit from her braid after running from table to table all night. She was no less ethereally beautiful because of it, and more than one set of eyes in the room was drawn to her instead of the singer. Someday I was going to muster the courage to ask Father why she was all light and air and I was dark and shadow. But at that moment I needed to focus on my job, and watch for a breach of the rules.
“Demon by the fire,” I said, gesturing with my chin while I finished cleaning the glass in my hand, set it aside and reached for another one. “We need to keep an eye on him because I think he’s going to try and do business in here tonight.
“She pulled back from me, her eyes narrowing as she turned to spot him in the crowd.
“Okay, I’ll keep an eye on him. But you still should have heard me.”
“Why, when you were just going to call me by my full name?” I muttered, irritated that even she insisted on using it sometimes.
“I said your name three times before I resorted to that.” She raised a pale brow, and handed me a ticket from someone’s order.
Not just someone’s order. It was for blood. My blood.
“Great.” I looked up from the slip of paper to find where he was.
“By the bone case,” she said, turning and grabbing a different order from the pass through.
Yep, there he was, sitting at the alcove table by the glass-front hutch in which we kept the bones of some of the Inn’s previous stewards. They were the unlucky creatures without our ancestry who didn’t possess preternaturally long lives. Why they weren’t in the cemetery on the grounds I didn’t know. But I knew enough not to move bones.
His eyes were already on me, the familiar feeling of the hairs on my arms rising in goose skin from the hunger he allowed to show on his face just to fuck with me managed to bring me out from behind the counter and keep my gaze locked with his instead of on the demon.
I stomped toward him as a wicked half grin, half smirk twisted his gorgeous face into something more representative of his actual personality.
“Eventually,” I said, reaching his table and slamming my hands on it, sending the glasses of his companions clattering, “I’m going to get tired enough of your bullshit to send my complaint up the chain.”
“Come on, Ellie,” he said with a laugh that was brittle at the edges and a swallow as his eyes darted past like he was checking to see who else was here. “I was just offering. If you don’t want to, consider it a joke.”
“You already know there is no chance I will ever change my mind, so this has now gone beyond a joke or an offer. And there are consequences for threats here.” It was nice to watch as all the cocky rat bastard of him was replaced with cowering worm, but I had work to do.
Turning away from him, I looked over the people in the dining room, taking stock of anyone else that was likely to give me grief during my shift.So far, so good. As long as I could keep that idiotic demon away from the singer, tonight might end up uneventful.
I knocked on the wooden counter as I got behind it. Even thinking the words made me worry about what was actually going to happen. Boredom was far too rare here.Out the window, a flash of brilliant golden light made me sigh and shot my hope of nothing happening all to shit.
This story has changed from updating every Saturday to updating with a new episode every Monday.
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Crossroad Inn is a fun story that I have enjoyed writing, even if it is a very odd new format for me. Go check it out, and you can send me notes on the bottom of every episode to let me know what you think.
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And now on to our newsletter, hot mess, rough draft story!
the voice in the forest
“This is yours?” I asked, my voice hushed because for some reason this felt like a spell and I was afraid to break it by being too loud.
“My initials, yes. I…” He reached into the box, pulling the journal out and staring at it as if it was a bomb and needed to be handled carefully.
“Do you remember your name?” Part of me didn’t want to ask, to put him on the spot and expect more from him than maybe this hint could give. But another part of me wanted to know his name so badly it was like I was hungry for the information, it was a physical thing now.
“I… Maybe…I’m not sure.” He took a deep breath and held it as he opened the cover.As much as I wanted to see what was inside, it felt like I was an interloper again on his life. None of what we found up here so far was easy for him. And still we had to keep going.Grabbing the box, I shuffled through the other notebooks and things in it.
The first few books I looked through were filled with notes on what looked to be school assignments. It made me wonder what school was like for him.
Did he ever go somewhere to study, or was there a governess? During his time it could have been either, both, or a combination of the two. Well… as far as I knew it could have been. But I was basing that idea on scant evidence and mostly my less than historically accurate movie watching experience.
History was interesting, but school was always a challenge for me because of my mother and my stranger habits.
Blackwell turned another page in his book, his face so intent I wondered if he would even hear me if I asked a question.
When we were here, among the insubstantial dust motes that still managed to be thick and leave a mark, he was so real I had moments my mind tricked me into thinking he was alive and my real friend I was helping.
Real friend, my mind tripped on the words, because whatever else he was, and whether or not I was able to help him in the end, he was my real friend already.
I had to start shoving away the negative thoughts planted in my head by my mother and the doctors and the years everyone called me crazy.
Shaking my head, trying to focus, I returned to my hunt through the rest of the box.
Another book was even older than the others and felt like fabric in my hand, soft and furred almost.
Page after page of the book was a small child’s careful practice as learned to write neatly in perfect flowing script.
The lines read like they were passages from the Bible, and I wondered if he was taught by nuns, until I got to the last page. Instead of his name, on the last page was a list of a girl’s name. My name. Arabella was scrawled over and over again, in neat, perfect lines. My name looked more beautiful and more like something that didn’t belong to me than it ever had before to see it in the book in my hands.
The back cover of the book had Blackwell’s initials on it in the cramped chicken scratch he first started filling the book with that was clear in the first pages.
So this was his book. Filled with my name.
I tried to catch my breath, but the air tasted of dust and secrets I wasn’t sure I wanted all the answers to.
Glancing up at Blackwell, I tucked the notebook under my leg and decided to take it with me when we left the attic. Maybe I would show it to him eventually, but for now, I couldn’t. It was too much. And for a few minutes, instead of looking at the next notebook I took out of the box, I stared at Blackwell.
For some reason, looking at him helped calm the raging of my heart.
Once, long ago, he knew someone with my name. And she must have been important to him for him to practice using her name. Who was she?
Did I want to find out?His dark lashes pressed against his pale cheek, and a lock his dark hair fell across his forehead.
My hand itched to sweep the hair away. But what if the person with my name hurt him long ago? What did that mean for the way that I should interact him? Did it mean I shouldn’t want to move that piece of hair, and that I shouldn’t touch my friend? Did it mean that no matter how hard I tried to help him all my efforts were doomed?
I shook my head and shoved all my thoughts about my name, and whoever it was who had it before me, away and looked through more notebooks.
One of the books was all sketches of boats.
Boats of different sizes and different shapes, some with names like catamaran scrawled at the top.
I looked up from the pages to smile at Blackwell and show him the book that seemed like it could only bring joy, but he was crying.
Tears streamed down his face, but his lips were turned up at the corners in a sad smile at the same time.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, which was a stupid question. Everything was wrong for him right now.
“Arabella,” he said, lifting his head to meet my eyes. “May I introduce myself?”
“You found your name?” I asked, leaning forward and putting a hand over his, grinning like a fool.
The reality of his name might let me find out more about him, and it might all be terrible things to know and to learn. But I wanted him to have his name back so much it felt like my breath stop while I waited.
He smiled, turning his hand in mine to hold mine back.
“My name is Montgomery Alexander Blackwell.” He lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it, his grin huge even as his tears continued to fall.
“Your name is Montgomery?” I bit my lip, barely containing the laughter bubbling up inside me.
“Why do you look like you’re going to be sick? Are you okay?” He leaned forward, letting go of the book with his other hand and placing it against my cheek, getting closer to look in my eyes.
“No, I’m fine. I just…” It took another moment to shove the giggles back down again. “Monty isn’t exactly what I was expecting.”
“Monty?” He pulled back and looked at me like I spat on him. “My name is Montgonery, Monty is terrible.”
And I lost my hold on my laughter, bending forward, leaning my head against his chest, I cracked up.
“Hey,” he said, not moving or shoving me away, but sounding genuinely hurt.
“You’re right. Monty is terrible,” I said, finally getting it under control.
With a nod, he turned the notebook on his lap toward me and pointed to another word.
Looking down, I realized that hiding the handwriting book was a waste of time. My name was here too.
I hope you love all the new stories and I will have more of The Voice In The Forest next week, as well as hopefully more specific news for what’s coming.