Kleronomos Chapter Two
As a child, Charlie would walk the five miles down the mountain path to her father’s house knowing that he would most likely be buzzed when he opened the door, but she would have her choice of records and he would never harm her. The trek back home to her mother’s well-kept apartment was just as easy because she had Elliot. Her little brother would cling to her the moment she walked through the door, satisfied with anything she had for him. He loved her music too, but most of all he loved her stories.
To Charlie, Elliot was an anomaly. She told him about the creatures she walked past and the dragons that flew over the farm houses that lined the mountainside. She told him about the mushroom men and their dances and the little boy who sat in the back of her classroom that never spoke to anyone and whose name was never called. Elliot didn’t call her weird or run away. Instead he smiled or clung to her and laughed. He wanted to see those things too. Charlie thought that when he was older that wish would come true, but as time went by, Elliot began to respond differently to her stories.
“Stop it, Charlie,” he would say. “People are going to think you’re crazy if you don’t stop making things up.”
“I’m not making it up,” she’d say. But Elliot just shook his head and went back to his books. He didn’t smile or laugh anymore. Instead he drifted in his worry and wonder for her sanity, lashing out in the lack of courage to say what he really felt.
I’m afraid you’re seeing things. He thought. I’m afraid that you’re really crazy.
As they got older, Charlie dove further and further into music and Elliot studied so often that they barely spent any time together. It wasn’t a big deal. They were busy. Teenagers are often very busy. So Elliot would study at home or at school and then help their mother out at her bookstore while Charlie practiced her trumpet and any other instrument she could get her hands on. She played every recital, assembly, parking lot, and coffee house she could. She made a name for herself and even caught the attention of mentors and scouts that wanted to send her far away to some school that Elliot had never heard of where she could become a star. As a child, Elliot was selfish enough to tell her he didn’t want her to go, but now that he was in high school he regretted that more than anything.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Elliot swerved dangerously in his desk chair as his sister commandeered his laptop. The motion was so quick that he barely had time to register his door swinging open or Charlie’s arms ripping him away from the desk.
“You read folklore, right?” She asked in a rushed tone, typing something about masks into the search bar.
“I was studying.”
“Okay, but you read folklore, right?”
Elliot sighed and sat up right, adjusting his chair so he could lean against his desk. “I read fantasy sometimes.” He leaned into his palm and glared at the tidy shelf on the opposite side of the room. There were enough fantasy novels there for it to be obvious that he read them more than sometimes, but he knew she was too self-absorbed to pay any attention to that. This was Charlie. Always on about something strange and disconnected from the world, not caring who it bothers or whose time she’s cutting into.
“Have you ever seen anything about a masked woman who curses you or plays deadly games?”
Elliot silently watched his sister’s eyes become impatient and frustrated. It was obvious she had no idea what she was looking for. After all, why would she have come into his room in the first place when she had her own laptop she could use? He knew Charlie well enough to know that she wasn’t going to bother searching if she could just get the answer from him. But telling her would be enabling.
“Why?” Elliot sat up, folding his arms, waiting for her menacing glare.
“For what?” He taunted. “School?”
Charlie stood at attention. “Why do you have to be such an ass about it? Maybe I’m planning on going to college.”
“You’d have to get a GED first. And I know you’re not ready for that.”
They stared each other down, Charlie hoping her height might give her some advantage and Elliot like steel in his desk chair. He knew she wouldn’t tell him the truth from the moment she asked him that question and so settled on the satisfaction of, at the very least, not giving her an answer.
“Whatever,” Charlie said at last, turning away from her brother’s much more resolute gaze.
“Whatever about school or whatever about the question?”
“Just whatever!” Throwing her hands up in the air, Charlie made an effort to leave the room when Elliot finally stood from his seat and nearly leapt in front of the door.
“Is it really for school?” He asked, suddenly, almost desperately and Charlie appraised him. “If it’s really for school then I’ll help you.”
There was a long silence before Charlie answered, “It’s not for school,” and Elliot moved slowly and with a slightly defeated atmosphere back to his desk chair. “Why does it matter to you if I go to school or not? Are you that obsessed with studying?”
“I’m not obsessed!” he defended. “I just don’t want you to end up like grandpa. Saying weird stuff and living all alone in the mountains like a hermit. You’re better than that, Charlotte.”
Charlie grimaced. “Don’t call me that.”
Elliot looked back at his laptop and the words “local myths and legends” typed into the search bar. He watched it as if it were his sister’s back as she walked out of his bedroom, half resigned and half forlorn, before closing the browser and going back to his studies.
Charlie stomped back to her room and paced for a good twenty minutes before walking to her closet door and standing there for another five. She watched it like it was a bouncer at a club that she could only hope to bluff her way into, imagining the various cases she knew were buried under clothes and trinkets inside. Her instruments. Her trumpet.
Contemplating her dilemma, she considered playing. Why not? After all, what good had not playing done her? While it had stopped the monsters from coming directly to her it hadn’t actually kept her from the ones that wandered around on their own. Now she was cursed with a task that anyone as lazy and depressed as she would know is impossible. She had to think of something quickly, but the only viable options were learning more about that spirit or talking to another one. The former involved reading and research, which Charlie dreaded, but the latter involved even more monsters which was a very uncertain option indeed. A solemn laugh left Charlie’s lips as she thought about Elliot’s worries. At this rate she wouldn’t live long enough to end up as some crotchety old hermit.
Then a thought struck her. Grandpa.
It had been a long time since Charlie had seen her grandfather. She remembered when she was very young and her parents were still trying to “make it work for the sake of the kids” that her father would drive her and Elliot, who could barely walk at the time, up the mountain road to where she got a very strange feeling. Charlie would always fuss, unable to communicate how uncomfortable the thickness of the air or the eerie silence of the woods made her. In the end she couldn’t recall her grandfather’s face or voice, but she remembered that he smiled brightly and loved music as well, and that after her parents’ divorce she never went to see him again.
Suddenly Charlie had an idea and there was no time to waste. She pulled her coat and boots back on and shouted something vague about going out, hearing about half a second of Elliot’s protest before meaningfully shutting the door. The mountain road seemed longer than it did as a child as Charlie made her way down the familiar path to her father’s old farmhouse. The countryside expanded the further she went down until the houses were separated by acres of land that were surely not being utilized to their full potential. Charlie was used to the creatures that occasionally flew overhead or the oddly dressed wanderers on the smaller dirt paths, though they were admittedly much creeper at dusk. She pointedly ignored them as she jogged past until she was in front of her father’s porch.
He sat on the only step that wasn’t broken with a pipe and a shocked look in his large brown eyes. There were more lines on his face than Charlie remembered and she wondered if the old farmhouse had sagged a bit since she was young or if she recalled it in a grander way simply because she was closer to the ground then. The thought was fleeting as she unceremoniously asked about her grandfather and her dad laughed suddenly and loudly before taking a long drag on his pipe that stunk of herb and something wooden. Somehow he became more relaxed the more impatient Charlie felt, asking her questions about her mom and Elliot and only getting clipped and passive answers.
“Can you just tell me how to get to his house?” Charlie finally asked, when she was almost certain that he hadn’t heard her question at all. She made no effort to hold in her frustrated sigh as her father took another long drag and ran an easy hand through his dark curly hair. The sun had fallen completely from the sky now and she took no note of the tired look in his eyes or the way the pleasant tone the orange sky gave to his dark skin had transformed to a sullen looking low light. Without her glasses she was drawn to the way his pipe smoldered when he took a drag and involuntarily squinted a bit when it would go away.
“I haven’t seen my little girl in what… three years?”
“Two, Dad. It’s only been two.”
“More than that.” He turned his pipe over, tapping the charred remains of who knows what into the dirt. “Do you want to come in?”
“Of course you don’t.” He laughed again. “Why the sudden interest in your grandpa?” He looked at her in the eyes then, for the first time since she’d gotten there and she took great care in thinking of her answer. Here, away from Elliot and her mom she felt like the truth might be acceptable. Perhaps it was because her father didn’t have the power to send her to some shrink or quack if she sounded like an insane person. Or maybe she just felt like she owed him that.
“He was strange,” she started, looking at the ground and then back at him as if trying to start over. “He was like me, right? He saw… said he saw weird stuff?”
“He was crazy,” he corrected with a strangely harsh tone before softening his gaze. “You’re not crazy, kid.”
“Maybe. But I need to see for myself.” Charlie wanted to say more, but somehow it felt like she couldn’t. Suddenly there was a wall between them that made her wonder what her father’s relationship was like with his dad. “Can you tell me how to get there?” She settled.
Her father gave in after that, retreating inside and leaving the door slightly ajar, silently inviting her in one last time. Charlie contemplated that, but decided against it and instead watched the porch as if all of the unspoken words between them had landed there and if she stared at it hard enough she would be able to hear them. After a short time Charlie’s father returned with a piece of notebook paper torn unevenly at the edge in a way that she knew Elliot would hate. He always took care with things like that, like he wanted everything to be perfect. Charlie frowned a bit at that before thanking her father who only shrugged and returned to his spot on the porch with a refilled pipe.