Woodland Town, Washington: It was about twelve, midnight, moonless and eerie. It was not that nights weren’t always eerie for either Zac or James Harper.
It remained the same, but they still couldn’t get used to the silence that surrounded them, the owl hooting, and the secret search of the sanguinary bats.
Ten years ago when Zac was just four and after James’s seventh birthday, something had happened in the dead silence of the night, and their parents had vanished and they were left all alone in the dark house. The Jacksons, from their mother’s side, took them in as they were happy to be having the Harpers’ property now that both the Harpers had vanished to God-knows-where and it was since then that the brothers started living a ruined and unhappy life.
A life of shadows from which colors had been snatched away, like a gruesome bruise, a curse. Ever since then they had never had nice clothes, good food, or even a birthday or Christmas present.
But although he made nights horrible to bear, James was also one of the most annoying silence-breaker. And in a way, Zac found solace in James’s absurdity.
There was a loud and horrifying knock at the door and for a short second, Zac jumped and couldn’t ignore his second thoughts about a monstrous werewolf trying to break in…
But of course, it was none other than James himself, the annoying silence breaker to the rescue.
‘Yeah, let me guess,’ he began hilariously; ‘you thought Mr. Big Bad Wolf was on the way to gobble Red Riding Hood’s grandma. Don’t worry. Kids like you better stay out of my way. I’m no less than any psycho monster,’ he babbled on as Zac turned to protest.
‘Yeah, I’m quite tired to argue,’ he said instead. ‘Where were you anyway?’
James pulled out some wrapped hot dogs from his bag and swallowed up one at a go. ‘Out north, getting some info about this place,’ he mumbled, ‘I heard spooks were out there in the woods by the Lumen River. Scary, huh?’ Munching another hot dog, ‘And yeah,’ he added.
‘We’re getting out tomorrow. We’ll go back to Aunties’ before she smacks us again.’
‘Or are you too scared to be here?’ Zac said, acidly, as his heart sank at the mention of his Aunt.
Zac was yet not able to claim that his parents had mysteriously vanished. He simply couldn’t help suspecting Aunt Ellie who could go to any extent to get hold of their huge property and his parents’ hard-earned money. And both the brothers knew that. She might have killed them and hidden them far away so that no one would ever acknowledge it.
But it was rude to even think so. How could anyone despise or loathe Zac’s generous parents? How could anyone think of hating the jovial and beautiful couple?
‘What?’ James broke in his thoughts, hoping to change the subject. ‘My, you look like a zombie, dude. What happened?’
‘I sort of…fainted a few minutes ago,’ Zac replied hastily. The last thing he wanted to fill his disgusting day was a good laugh from James on “Fainting Zac.”
‘Oh,’ James gasped, ‘does that happen often?’ he added.
‘Shut up, James. Now listen to me, we’ve already run so far away from the past, why to look…back, you know?’
James dropped the magazine he was holding and turned around to face Zac. A number of emotions flickered through his painfully screwed-up face.
‘We have to,’ he replied. ‘Besides, that house is ours.’
‘Let the house go, James. Why do we even need it? We could just hit the road and disappear in some corner of the world and start a new life elsewhere, couldn’t we?’
‘Wow, Zac, handing mom’s house to the discordant sister of hers? Mom’s gonna love that, is she?’
‘She’ll live,’ Zac replied acidly. He didn’t even know if his mother was alive and yet he was saying this.
‘I gather it is not easy to snatch the house back from Aunt Ellie—as I hardly am eighteen and unauthorized—but we’ll wait, right? Because mom’s not going to be so proud when she hears we gave up so easily. We’ll have to keep struggling, grow up until we are old enough to fight against Aunt—I mean the whole Jackson family—and then we’ll teach them some lesson and bring mom and dad back home. But till then, let us just be Aunt Ellie’s chew toys.’
Of course, James had not gotten over this fit of his. He still thought—after all those years—that he’d be able to fight against his Aunt, get the property back from her hands, and hand it back to whom it belonged—their parents.
But also there came a tragic struggle against the ill-treating of their Aunt and Uncle and their awfully irritating and crazy cousin Sally.
‘James…’ Zac began, ‘mom won’t be caring about her house at the moment, would she, given the way we are being treated? If she’s—well—alive, she’d probably want us to be happy, right? She wouldn’t care if the house is still hers or not—’
Infuriated, James snapped and he gripped onto Zac’s shirt and shook him violently. Though being a fourteen-year-old, Zac was sturdy, strong, and almost as tall as James and he didn’t look like he would fall over at any moment. Instead, he hissed furiously with clenched teeth, something of his behavior that James hadn’t noticed ever before.
But James didn’t care to notice.
‘DON’T. TALK. LIKE THAT. ABOUT MOM. EVER.’
‘But_’ Zac protested boldly.
‘How could you even talk like that? Mom’s not dead, okay? And although she would prefer not to think about the house, it is something that we must do. Get her belongings back to her. That’s what. It’s our responsibility. Or shall I say, you are being selfish.’
‘I’m not,’ Zac hissed again, much furiously, which made James stop.
‘That’s enough. Pack your things and let’s get back,’ he ordered.
Without another word, relieved that peace was made, James and Zac silently packed their things up and made their way out into the night and towards the silent, dark and deserted lane.
At about one at midnight, thanks to their slow luck, they got picked up on the way by someone.
But it wasn’t enough of awesome luck either. For the “someone” was none other than Aunt Ellie’s husband, old Uncle Jackson.
When they reached home, of course—‘what the devil were you two doing?!’ Uncle Jackson bellowed, his chubby cheeks flushing with anger.
‘Wandering out in the night days before—what?—parents taught you to be troublemakers to some nice relatives like us?’ Aunt Ellie growled cruelly, and with an evil tone and a ghastly scowl.
By her side, Sally was giving her most irksome and peevish grins which, when the brothers saw, felt the heat rise and wished they could tear her face apart into innumerable pieces, scattering them across the universe, never to be found again.
But Aunt Ellie’s tyrannous and saucer-like eyes caught Zac’s glare.
‘You!’ She shrieked, glaring balefully at Zac. ‘Don’t you dare raise your evil “mommy’s-eyes-being-passed-to-you” at my daughter! You do have your mother’s most unhealthy face and jade green eyes and all, but all evil parts. Can’t guess what’s the good side of her, anyway.’
Feeling awfully insulted, James was incensed. Zac had almost lost control over himself. Who are you to say ill against my mother, you fat bitch! He had almost said. Two pairs of angry jade eyes stared on the gruesome face of their Aunt as anger vaporized from the roots of their bronze hair.
Strong fists curled up into balls, muscles tensed and flexed as if ready to punch the next time Aunt Ellie picked her tongue to speak ill of their mother again. But fortunately for her, she didn’t. There was something about both of their looks that stopped her. Well, she didn’t stop glaring but instead of speaking again, she pointed them dumbly towards the staircase which meant them to leave.
‘And,’ added she as they moved, stepping heavily across the tiles. ‘You don’t get meals for the next three days.’
And words came out automatically. ‘We’d better starve to death than eat something made by an evil sorceress as you are,’ James said, scathingly.
‘What did you just say?’ Aunt Ellie yelled.
‘Ellie, tone it down. You don’t want the neighbors to know about the boys in here, do you?’ Uncle Jackson said taking her plump hand. ‘Sally, back to bed,’ he ordered and she stuck out her tongue at the boys and disappeared.
‘And you boys, up to bed and no other sound from you, you get that?’
Without a reply, the brothers walked upstairs. Zac was hurt, James was livid and furious.
When things were beginning to get calm and they slipped in for bed, James spoke, sounding calmer than he expected himself to be. ‘You do act at wrong times,’ he murmured.
‘What?’ Zac muttered trying to grasp the inaudible voice.
‘One such furious hiss of yours would have stopped that balloon from ruining my mind. How did you do that anyway? I mean, that was really…handsome arrogance you showed earlier. Hey, no offense.’ James pressed a crooked smile.
‘None taken,’ Zac replied and remained so quiet that James was about to give up his expectation for some answer. ‘Honestly?’ he then said with a scoff. ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t know…’ his voice trailed off. He looked so absolutely still that James had to clear his throat twice to pull him out of wherever he was sinking too.
‘What, you trying out-of-body-experience or something? How did you become that still?’
‘Sorry. Well, I don’t know but when I get livid, I’m not in control of myself. I act strange, of course, I do, and I don’t realize any wrong and right. I guess that’s how that hiss came,’ Zac replied, not moving his lips too much.
For a short second, James couldn’t get what Zac was talking about. ‘Oh, the hiss, right. Well, at least that’ll come in handy,’ he said, much calm and comfortable now, ‘You know, against that bitch aunt.’
‘Let’s get to bed, James. I’m tired,’ Zac murmured as he lay down and drifted to sleep at once.
‘Go sleep.’ His brother replied, much later.
The wind thudded against the pane of the scarred glass of the rooftop room of theirs. Through the glass, nothing except the tall trees were seen and the red roof tiles, of course. The rain was heavy against the roof, rattling on the tiles as it broke into an extremely heavy shower.
But Zac didn’t wake up despite the noise. He was tired and weary. There were deep purplish-black circles around his eyes and James wasn’t pleased that his tired brother would be waking up early morning and would be going to school. He was intending to not wake Zac up and let him have a good day’s sleep.
James had a hard time falling asleep for he couldn’t stop the sickening flow of Aunt Ellie’s ill words from running over and over in his mind like some voice recorder. But his will was to find some way out of the discordant family, the cruel world around him, find his parents, and live a life.
But of course, he didn’t know yet that his worries would nowhere be near to decreasing because there was something dark and unknown waiting between the thick masses of trees and woods around the town…