Kleronomos Chapter Three
The mountain trail was long back up to her mother’s house then passed it leading onto the dirt roads that became even darker than the scarcely lit farmlands. There were no street lights up there and by the time Charlie had gotten to the bottom of the forest covered mountain path it had become so dark she was debating on turning back. Charlie turned this way and that in contemplation before pulling out her cheap smart phone and opening the app store to search for a flashlight. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she had no service and a loud grunt escaped her mouth before she shoved her phone back into her pocket to resist the urge to throw it down the hill. Then, suddenly, a light was shining on her and she stilled.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing out here, Charlotte?” Came Elliot’s usual scolding tone and Charlie felt her shoulders drop in relief then rise again in irritation.
“Would you stop mothering me, Ellie?” she asked, mockingly politely, enjoying the look abashed look of frustration on her brother’s face. Looking back up to the trees, she could see the beginnings of a pathway with the light from Elliot’s phone.
Elliot watched Charlie squint as a shadow passed through the trees but all he saw was a girl unable to see in the dark without her glasses. He sighed, pulling the large orange frames from his pocket and handing them to his sister, making it all too obvious that he had followed her. She thanked him quietly, distracted, and turned back to the trees to try and find the shadow again, but there was nothing. Only still woods, darkness and the mountain breeze.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked again with significantly more patience.
“I’m going to see grandpa,” she answered casually, as if she hadn’t just dropped a bomb and Elliot wasn’t staring wide eyed at her. Charlie hesitated, wondering if it was a good idea to bring Elliot into a place that was so clearly haunted, but she had never seen a spirit attack a human that couldn’t see it and she needed his light to see. She looked back at him once before deciding that he would definitely follow her no matter how much he didn’t want to, then took one step into the woods before he stopped her.
“What are you doing?!” he near shouted. “Are you crazy?! You can’t go in there!”
“I need to ask him some questions.” Charlie shrugged him off and continued onto the path with reckless bravery.
Elliot glanced around in a paranoid fashion before scrambling to her side. “Can’t you do that in the morning?!” he whispered loudly.
“No.” Charlie looked back at him for a moment as if he was asking a stupid question and he should know it. “What would I do in the mean time?”
“Gee, I don’t know. Sleep?” he glared.
Charlie sighed. She wanted to tell him the truth but he wouldn’t believe her, so she tried to think of a lie instead but nothing came to mind. In the end she simply stayed silent and Elliot grew more exasperated. He threatened to go home, taking his light with him, but Charlie knew he wouldn’t leave her alone in the mountains at night. So instead she listened to Elliot’s complaintive whispering for the entirety of the thirteen minutes it took to reach her grandfather’s cabin.
It was easy to tune him out. For every “It’s a school night,” there was a “Look, two humans,” echoing from the leaves. For every “Mom’s going to kill us,” there was a “What are they doing here?” from somewhere in the trees. She tried her damndest to ignore the voices, but every now and then she would glance back at Elliot, wondering if he really couldn’t hear them. Finally they stood before a rundown cabin, moss and vines growing in and out of the wood, darkness encompassing every corner. Even from the outside it was obvious that no one had been there for years.
“Why aren’t there any animals around here?” Elliot quietly looked around, subconsciously moving closer to Charlie. “Shouldn’t we at least hear some birds?”
“No. Animals know better,” Charlie said eerily. She had seen enough to know that animals could see what she saw and it was clear that these woods were crawling with spirits. There was no way any animals would be around such a place and knowing he wouldn’t get mauled by a mountain lion was the only reason she was willing to let Elliot come with her.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he grimaced.
Charlie only rolled her eyes. “It means what it means.” she answered impatiently, stepping up to the door. For a moment she considered turning back. The air was just as thick and uncomfortable as she remembered, and she couldn’t imagine that anyone who could see and feel what she did would choose to live here. But this was her only option so she steeled herself and knocked loudly on the door three times.
Elliot made an audibly scared whine as the door unlocked and opened slowly. He wanted to believe that the door gave way from the force of her knock but it was clear that it had been opened from the inside, and when there was nothing but darkness to greet them, he was all for turning tail and running home.
“Get over here, Elliot. I can’t see anything,” Charlie commanded, somehow sure that there was nothing to fear inside that house. Of course, there was no way to convince Elliot of that.
“Sh-shouldn’t we… you know… not trespass? Or something?”
“This place is obviously abandoned. Aren’t you worried about what happened to grandpa?” She reasoned, knowing appealing to his conscience was probably the only way to convince him.
Elliot swallowed loudly, looking back over each shoulder before scurrying toward the door. He stood in front of her in a show of bravery, to protect her, though it was clear that she was far less bothered by their situation. Charlie rolled her eyes before proceeding into the cabin and telling Elliot to keep the light on her.
Inside the air was considerably lighter and, whether he noticed it or not, even Elliot’s shoulders had become less tense. Charlie noticed it. She noticed it so much that, for a moment, she just stood there wondering if that meant that her grandfather was somehow able to do some sort of magic that protected the inside of the house. She wondered if that meant she could do it too. Elliot didn’t pay any mind to her spacing and instead pointed his light in as many different directions as possible just in case there was someone lying in wait to snatch them up and put them in an oven. He expected to find a person, an animal, a ghost, a dead body, anything, but all he found was scattered paper and books, strange trinkets, and a small unmade bed, as if it was left in a hurry.
“This place is a mess.” He grimaced just before tripping and stumbling onto something large in the middle of the floor.
Charlie shook out of her thoughts, taking the time to laugh at Elliot’s clumsiness before helping him up. He glared at her before dusting himself off and pointing his light at the offending object and the two stood back in wonder at the sight of the floor boards coming up around a wide tree trunk.
“There is so much about this that doesn’t make any sense,” Charlie scratched her head as Elliot moved his phone around the area, her eyes drawn to something in the darkness that his light passed over momentarily. Wordlessly, she grabbed her brother’s phone from his hand and pointed it at a wooden post near the bed where a side table should be. On the post was a large white and grey owl, still as death with eyes that almost seemed to meet hers until she blinked.
Elliot made a sudden scramble for her, startled by the creature, before relaxing. “Oh, it’s just a toy.” He exhaled, hand on his chest in a damselish sort of way, Charlie thought. “What’s something like that doing here?”
Charlie turned away from it, disappointed. “Maybe he liked stuffed animals.”
“Don’t say liked like he’s dead or something.” Elliot fumbled with his coat, unbuttoning the top few buttons and unwrapping his tan scarf.
“Well, he might be,” Charlie answered coldly. “From the looks of it he left here in a hurry.”
“We should probably do the same,” Elliot mumbled, reaching for his phone.
Charlie moved it seamlessly to her other hand, keeping it from him, and began to sift through some papers. Elliot’s eyes brightened a bit as they looked over Charlie’s shoulder at folk stories and drawings, but it was clear she was focused on something in particular. Naturally, she ignored him when he asked about it, so Elliot thought back to the words she typed into his search bar and went about searching for anything having to do with a mask.
After some time with nothing to be found, Charlie seemed to deflate a bit. Elliot watched her sink hopelessly as if someone had let the air out of her and reflexively moved to catch her, only managing to hold onto her shoulders as her knees hit the dusty floor.
Charlie glared up at him for only a moment with little force then looked back at the ground where her stockings had picked up a layer of dust from the wood. “Why don’t you call me Charlie anymore, huh?” she asked, a softness in her tone that Elliot wasn’t used to. He didn’t really know how to answer that. “You used to call me Charlie when we were kids. You used to wait for me to come home and then I’d tell you about my day.”
“Where is all this coming from?” He crouched down next to her, a concerned hand on her back, and watched Charlie as she sighed and put herself back together.
“It’s nothing.” She stood, pulling him back up with her. “I’m just tired.” She motioned for Elliot to follow her out the door and he took another look around in the dim light from his phone in Charlie’s hand.
He grabbed a few of the books and a stack of paper before following her. He thought that she might ask him why, but she made no mention of it and Elliot began debating on what he should call his sister from now on. He always thought she just hated her name. Had something so simple really been bothering her?
As they walked on he remembered his freshman year of high school, when Charlie was still in school and they were supposed to walk home together. Somehow in his memory it was always Charlie who had decided to trail behind him or look off in some other direction where she couldn’t see him, but here on the mountain trail where Charlie stuck protectively close to him he was reminded that he was the one who began walking ahead of her first. He was the one who stopped looking at her in awe. He was the one who stopped calling her Charlie.