I loved Twinbrook, especially in the autumn. Yeah, sure, it was located partially in a swamp and it had some real shifty people living in way too nice houses, but I had read and seen enough to guess that most towns had those anyway. It was the unfair natural order of things. But Twinbrook had a rhythm to it that I liked. I liked the people, even though I didn’t like talking to most of them because that was just the way I was.
I liked knowing a little bit about their lives, to know they passed through ups and downs just like ours. I liked getting glimpses of stories I knew I’d never hear the conclusion of. And I liked being a part of it, albeit a small, quiet part that would probably be shoved into the end credits as “Blonde girl #4”.
Somehow the trees being painted orange by the powers of biology made everything stand out even more, and even the rain that always seemed to come from the swamp felt like it belonged. Yep, it was probably my favourite season out of them all. Well, besides summer.
The autumn was sadly also the time of the most schoolwork, especially now that the teachers had started to think that we’d have to be prepared for more serious studying and deciding what we wanted to do when we grew up, as if anyone could tell that at the age of twelve. So most of our days went by doing homework and trying to cram some free time into the midst of it. How someone like Bree managed flute lessons and three other after-school clubs in her life on top of it all was anyone’s guess.
I clapped my locker shut and stretched my neck muscles. I’d spent the entire previous class staring at a paper on my desk and writing like crazy. It had been a literature class, and I’d been in a hurry to finish my book report so that I didn’t have to worry about it at home. I glanced about in the hallway. We’d had our classes mostly in the top floor now that we were older; maybe they thought the older kids needed the exercise of climbing the stairs all the time because we didn’t run around so much like the younger kids did.
Jace’s voice caught my attention and I saw him walk out of the classroom as well. He’d at some point stopped caring if his hair was neatly cut and focused more on things like soccer and rollerblades. He was also a bit less shouty nowadays.
“Hey, Lynn,” he said almost shyly, “You got the book thing done?”
“Yeah,” I said, “You?”
“No. And Uncle Bob’s going to be at our place today. He’s so going to force me to finish it in the evening.”
“Wow, how horrible. Your teacher-uncle is going to give you free hints for writing a super book report,” I said flatly. Jace grinned, but the grin quickly faded in the face of the depressing reality he seemed to be stuck in right now.
“Well, okay, fine… but we’ll have a big game later and I was going to practise in the park today. But my friends have to leave before it gets too late. So I’ll be kicking my soccer ball all alone with my mum, who hates playing soccer. Awesome.”
He was looking deflated, and I reached out to punch him lightly in the shoulder.
“Hey, I’ve got time after school, and mum and Patrick will let me be at the park until a bit later especially if your mum’s around. I could help you practise your kicks.”
Jace looked at me with a mix of boundless gratitude and certain dubiousness.
“You’d do that for me? But…”
“But… you suck at soccer.”
“Hey, it’s either me or nothing. Unless Bree’d like to…”
“What are you two talking about?” Bree’s voice cut in like a very gentle knife made of sounds, “If it’s about Jace’s obvious crush in…”
“It’s about soccer!” Jace said a little too quickly, “Lynn just offered to help me practise soccer in the park tonight. Want to join?”
Bree pursed her lips.
“Sorry, but you guys know I suck at soccer. Even worse than Lynn.”
“Hey, I’m not that bad!” I protested.
“You kicked Seidi in the shin in the last sports class,” Bree pointed out, “Twice. And she was just standing still.”
“Only one of them was an accident! She was being a jerk!”
“Yeah, because that makes it better,” Bree smiled, “I think I’ll still pass on the soccer. You two have fun on your date.”
I rolled my eyes. For some reason Bree had started obsessing over romance in the last few months. I didn’t get it. She was still the same, nice Bree who liked maths and working hard and dreaming about greatness, but now giggling and syrupy books had come into play as well. She sometimes giggled with the other girls in class too. It was pretty annoying, so I usually ignored it, as I did now.
“It’s not a date!” Jace said rather vehemently, “We’re just playing ball.”
“Right, right. Have fun, anyway. Are you coming outside before the teachers start whining again?”
That evening, like I’d promised, I asked mum for a permission to go out to the park and changed my clothes into a bit more sporty ones. I was on my way outside when Rem stopped me, trying to share his worries about a nightmare he’d had.
It was something about boogeymen behind doors, which I thought was kind of stupid considering Rem didn’t even have the traditional closet that monsters could jump out of. He still insisted one would get in and grab us, and didn’t calm down until I promised to punch the monster in the face if it did get in.
I tried to ignore the haunted look in his eyes when he finally at least pretended to calm down. I wasn’t in the mood for dealing with these things right now. If Rem wanted a more thorough talk about closet-monsters and the lack of their existence, he could talk to Patrick. I jumped on my bike and pedalled into one of the last pleasantly warm autumn evenings of the year.
Some of the trees had lost almost all of their leaves, but bunches of them were still clinging to the branches like leafy flames. Some trees were still boasting a nearly whole set of foliage, too stubborn to let go until it started snowing and the leaves would be brown and crispy. I breathed in deep, smelled the dewy, fresh air. At times like this I really understood Rem’s love for the great outdoors.
Jace was waiting for me at the Twinbrook Town Centre -park, and I saw his mum sitting nearby, trying to pretend she wasn’t really there. There was always a soccer goal set up there in the park before the snowing started, and the park was close to our house as well as Jace’s. So it was perfect for our unofficial soccer practise. Jace looked excited and was dressed to the clothes he and the school team wore in their practise matches. He waved at me wildly.
“Check it out, Lynn! They’re already decorating the park for Spooky Day, even though it’s almost a week from now!”
I looked around and saw that the place had indeed been already set up for the annual harvest festival that had become a memorial day, a scaring others day, and nowadays also a dressing up and begging for candy day once agriculture had become less and less of a common profession. The traditional pumpkin patch had been set up, along with balloons. There was even a small, ramshackle shack that played the part of a haunted house for Spooky Day until it was probably shoved into some sort of storage or redecorated to be a gingerbread house for a summer theatre or something. It looked quite impressive, even though Spooky Day had never been my favourite festival. Jace loved it, though.
“Are you gonna dress up this year?” he asked, “I’m gonna be a Roman soldier. I got a really awesome costume too.”
“That sounds cool,” I said, “I’m going as a cowplant. You know, those really big, carnivorous ones? Although I’m not that big on putting on a costume and hiding my face…”
“Awesome! You think you’d like to come to the festival here?”
Jace sounded a bit shy again, and I could have sworn he was blushing. I ignored it and shrugged.
“Yeah, I guess my family is going. Rem loves the festival.”
“Would you like to… to meet up there?” Jace asked awkwardly, and now he was definitely blushing.
“Yeah, sure. Hey, you okay? Your face is all red.”
Jace shook his head.
“Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Hey, you ready?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said again, not sounding nearly as excited as Jace was. Even though I had readily offered to help Jace – because he was a friend and it was a nice thing to do – I had to admit that my friends were right to belittle my soccer skills. I was really hoping Jace would just settle for penalty kicks. I could handle playing the part of a goalkeeper decently. Jace smiled, probably seeing my reluctance.
“What, getting cold feet, Farley?”
I rolled my eyes.
“I’m here to help you, Herring. So be nice. We’ll just do penalty kicks, right?”
“That works. Then you don’t have to worry about kicking me.”
I aimed a half-hearted kick at his shin, missing deliberately.
“Don’t count on it,” I said playfully.
We sought out the soccer goal that was tucked to the sidelines for the festivities. It was still usable, though, and I quickly took my place in front of it to fend off any others who might have a mind for some autumn soccer. I braced myself for possible hits to the face, and swore to do my best.
The next hour or so was a blur of kicks, catches and a soccer ball that bounced between the goal and Jace. I knew I was not the best practise partner for someone who played in the school team, but it seemed to be enough for Jace at the moment.
He was smiling like crazy and laughing and shouting triumphantly whenever he scored a goal – and also whenever I managed to protect the goal particularly well. By the end I was sweating and getting tired, but I had to admit that it had been fun.
“Thank you so much about this!” Jace said when we finally wrapped up our practise. His face was tomato-red from the running and kicking, but his smile was wide.
“Well, glad I helped,” I said, wiping my forehead, “I think it’s time to go home, though. It’s almost dark.”
“Yeah. So, uh… I’ll see you at school.”
Jace and I parted ways at one of the entrances to the park, and I wondered idly why Jace was being so awkward nowadays. Maybe the reasons were along the same lines as what there was behind Bree’s sudden giggling. I wasn’t feeling giggly, though. I was just feeling less and less excited when playing kids’ games or thinking about trick or treating.
Maybe we were all growing up. If that was the case, growing up was strange.
Because autumn was harvest time, professional and amateur gardeners alike would have all sorts of get-togethers in Twinbrook, which despite the surrounding swamp had a pretty thriving gardener community. Patrick wasn’t the most active member, but even he and his little vegetable garden wanted to take part in some organic farmers’ get-togethers every once in a while. So he spent his free time picking out the perfect vegetables out of his garden and carving jack-o-lanterns out of the pumpkins that weren’t prime quality. Rem loved to help him, even though he was way less handy with a knife than he was with pencils or a brush. Patrick loved to spend time with him, however, even if it meant our front yard would have some lopsidedly grinning lanterns on Spooky Day.
It was a couple of days before Spooky Day when Patrick and mum left us alone so they could spend a night together with some gardening hippies and talk about vegetables and herbs. It mostly sounded unbelievably boring, and I was so glad Rem and I were left home without questions.
The sun was setting earlier and earlier in preparation for winter, and Rem was painting spring colours into the shapes of dragons. I was reading the newest novel in a series about a young wizard. The armchair was nice and cosy and the house was warm, keeping out the cold night air. It was one of those moments of perfect relaxation.
So of course that was when the doorbell had to ring. I sighed. Had mum and Patrick forgotten their keys? That almost never happened. Why did it have to be now when I was about to reach something close to a Zen state?
“Rem? Can you get that?” I asked, carefully setting my book aside.
“My hands are covered in paint,” Rem said, “I’ve got to wash them first.”
The doorbell rang again. I slid down from my seat.
“Oh, fine, I’ll get it. Hold on!”
I walked to the door and heard Rem turn on the tap in the bathroom. My hand reached the handle just when the water stopped flowing and Rem shouted:
“Wait, Lynn! Don’t open that!”
My hand had already pushed the handle down. And I was gripped with a rather unpleasant sense of déjà vu.
Nils Laketon, my deadbeat dad, studied me from behind dark aviator glasses. His leather jacket was dirtier than before, and there was something very different about him. He stood like a statue at our door, nodding stiffly at me but not saying a word.
“Laketon?” I said, “I mean, dad? Nils? What are you doing here?”
Nils Laketon said nothing. I was starting to feel seriously creeped out.
“Mum’s not home,” I added uneasily, “So… uh… sorry?”
Laketon’s mouth twitched. I heard Rem’s bare feet slap against the floor.
“Lynn? Is it the boogeyman?” his voice was agitated. What was going on? I looked at Laketon’s stony face and listened to Rem’s tone and made my decision.
I slammed the door shut. To my horror, it didn’t go all the way. Something pushed it back open with a force enough to tip a bear, and I staggered out of the way. I caught another glimpse of a snarl on Laketon’s face before a strong arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me off my feet.
I struggled against the grip, but it didn’t yield. Laketon stepped into our house, and I could barely see from the tears that now clouded my vision.
“Rem! Get away from here!” I shouted, “SOMEONE, HELP US!”
The front door slammed shut behind me, blocking my calls for help from the neighbours. Fear and panic clouded everything. One of my strongest thoughts was to keep yelling at Rem to run. Rem, who stood frozen in place in our living room.
“Run! Just GO!”
“Or don’t,” said Laketon in a cold, even voice, “If you come with me nicely, kid, I won’t hurt your sister. How about it?”
“Don’t listen to him!” I shouted and tried punching the steely arm around my waist. Laketon’s grip just tightened and he shook me painfully. Rem wasn’t running. His eyes were wide and brimming with tears. And my muddled thoughts realised in one fleeting moment that Rem’s nightmare had just come true.
“Come on, freak!” Laketon snapped, “Do I have to grab you too? Either way, we’re all getting out of here.”
Rem took slow, zombie-like steps towards me and Laketon. I shouted again at him to run. He didn’t.
“I’ll come with you,” he said in a barely audible voice, “Just don’t hurt her.”
“No!” I snapped, “I’ll be fine, Rem! Run and call the police!”
Rem shook his head. He walked obediently next to Laketon as he dragged me kicking and screaming into a truck he had haphazardly parked on the road near our house. The neighbours’ houses were mostly dark, but I still shouted in hopes that somebody would hear us. Laketon shook me again, quickened his steps and shoved me into the car without any problems despite my struggling. He was strong. Scarily strong. Rem sat next to me, stiff with fear and crying silently. Laketon sped to the road, destroying any chance of escaping. I wrapped my arms around Rem and Rem buried his face in my shoulder. I had screamed for help outside, but now it was no use. Our house was left behind, and we were headed towards the swampy outskirts of Twinbrook.
We could only watch as our house disappeared into the gathering dark.
I had never been so afraid.
Author’s Note: Yeah… Stuff gets a bit intense in this one… One of the reasons I haven’t updated for a while was because I was debating with myself whether to start this part of the plot yet or keep putting out filler, but then decided that filler wouldn’t do anything… ugh, pacing is haaaaard. Anyway, hope you guys like it! I tried to make it possible for anyone to comment. Not sure if it worked but if it did, then great!