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   Chapter 4 The Ravenwood Arms

The Ravenwood Arms By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 25477

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:23

Chapter 4

The next morning I got up, feeling more like myself. I was rested and ready to face the day. Winston likewise was ready for normality to return. I pulled on my running clothes, making sure to add thermal tights under my yoga pants, my normal running attire. Somehow I never felt comfortable in running shorts. Even in hot weather I tended to go for the pants option. While I had skirts that showed nearly as much leg, somehow the thought of exposing that much skin while barreling full tilt through the world with a very powerful dog on a leash made me uneasy. Winston had never pulled or dragged me, being quite well behaved on our morning runs, but still if I did hit the sidewalk, I wanted at least one layer of cloth between me and it. Of course with the thermals, today I had two.

Winston waited patiently while I pulled my long straight hair up into a ponytail, once again contemplating a new cut, and did my pre run stretches. Familiar with my routine, he wiggled in excitement as he saw my stretches come to a close. I clipped his leash onto his collar and the two of us headed out. My breath puffed white in the air and I could see frosted dew on the patch of grass in front of the apartment building as we exited. Low fog still snaked along the row of trees planted to conceal our building's parking lot, hovering in the lower branches.

The stretch of sidewalk between the apartment building and the park was treated as both a warm up and cool down for both me and Winston, although I'm sure the dog could do away with the warm up. On that first stretch I could always feel him raring to go, holding himself back while I, the poor bipedal on the end of the leash, got up to speed.

This morning as I stretched my limbs, I thought about the conversation Sean and I had the day before regarding the shields. I knew why Sean worried. An attack by the things in the dark, the shadow monsters, wasn't an easy thing to forget. I was eight when it happened to us. Sean, a few months older, had just turned nine. It was a hot night, the kind where you could feel the sweat gathering behind bent knees even after the sun went down and the air was alive with the sound of the summer bugs.

That night was the community center sponsored 'Movies in the Park', a weekly summer event that caused the adults in our family to haul blankets and picnic baskets to the neighborhood park next to the community center for free entertainment. Along with us, of course, was nearly the entire neighborhood. The wall of the community center, freshly painted white at the beginning of every summer, served as the giant outdoor movie screen.

I couldn't remember later what movie played, because quite frankly I never paid too much attention to the movies. That summer we were just like any of the other kids, as magical abilities generally only kicked in at the onset of puberty unless something drastic happened to give them a jolt. I remembered the cold fried chicken, which smeared grease on lips and fingers and giant bowls full of homemade potato salad. I remembered running around with the other children. Our play was mostly silent so we didn't disturb those actually watching the movie and seemed somehow illicit due to both the silence and the flickering light splashed over the area from the improvised screen.

I could even remember the sweet-tart taste of the icy homemade lemonade we packed in thermoses. The thermoses spent the day in the freezer to make the insulated liner as cold as possible and copious amounts of ice were added before the lemonade was poured in, making each sip cold enough to burn an icy trail down my throat as I swallowed.

When the movie was over, the walk home began. It was like a parade really. The mass of adults, laden with the remnants of the feast and the seating arrangements walking slowly in the evening heat, chatting and laughing softly amongst themselves as we children ran ahead still filled with sugar amped energy. That night, Sean and I fell behind the mass group of screaming children, somehow becoming separate from both the group ahead and the adults behind. We turned one corner as the other kids turned the next. The adults had yet to follow so we were, for the moment, alone on the street.

The shadows took advantage of our momentary isolation and in a heartbeat; Sean and I were surrounded by dark monstrous shapes with long claws, sharp teeth and an appetite for magic infused blood. Their eyes were a dull red in their smoky, half see-through forms, looking more substantial than the rest of their bodies. They filled the space around us, separating us from everything in a great, gray cloud. Sean and I screamed in unison as something bit into my leg and something clawed at his arm. On instinct rather than conscious thought, my ability to shield kicked in and Sean and I huddled together inside my bubble of protection, shivering and clutching each other as the shadow creatures clawed at the shield. Their claws sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard and were nearly deafening.

Although it seemed like an eternity, the attack couldn't have lasted long. The creatures fled as the adults approached. My eyes were squinched shut and the sudden silence their flight left behind seemed terrifying. The family explained it to the non-magical neighbors as an animal attack, a rabid dog running loose, while our grandfather coaxed me into lowering the shields so we could be taken home, promising me it was once again safe.

Later, much later, we sat through a detailed explanation of what was involved with rabies shots and told how we would need to spend the next thirty days complaining about the required shots and how much they hurt. The neighborhood formed a search party to look for the animal responsible.

Unsurprisingly, none was ever found.

I tried shaking the thoughts away as Winston and I ran, putting more effort into the run than usual, trying to shed the icy sheen of the memory from my bones with good honest sweat. Winston delighted in the faster speed, his powerful muscles working hard under his covering of fur and looking like the work dog he was built to be. As we had the time, I gave him an extra lap around the park before we headed back to the apartment.

"That should hold you until you have your after work playtime with Sean, " I told him as we began our cool down and I was able to catch my breath. Winston waggled his body in happiness. Sean was awake and sipping coffee when we re-entered the apartment. Dressed in one of his tailored black suits, his artfully shaggy brown hair neatly styled, he looked quite lawyer-ly as he studied us.

"Good run?" he asked.

"Yup, " I replied. "I always miss the morning run when I leave town." Winston barked once to remind me his bowl had yet to be filled. "Yes, yes, I hear you, " I said as I picked up his bowl. I opened the cupboard and scooped out his morning ration. I placed the filled bowl back on the floor and Winston began chomping with gusto.

"Apparently you aren't the only one who missed the morning run, " Sean replied.

"He is a creature of habit, " I replied. More than either of us, Winston knew exactly how the world should operate and was never happy when anything interrupted his set routine. Leaving the two of them in the kitchen, I headed back to my room, took a quick shower and got dressed for the day. As I would be spending my day in the back of the shop, predominantly with sandpaper and varnish, my work clothes were significantly less spiffy than my cousin's. When he saw me emerge from my room, he poured a cup of coffee for me. I put a bagel on to toast and sipped my coffee while I waited for the chance to smear cream cheese over its surface.

"So what's your day like?" I asked, pushing aside nagging thoughts about shadow creatures and unfair rules.

"I'm meeting with a couple of designers in the morning, from Garrett Designs. I think you worked with them on a corporate remodel a few years back. Their current project is a resort. It sounds like the usual; standard variations for each room so everything is similar, but not identical, followed by some individual pieces for impact in the public areas. In addition to the lobby, they want something for their spa entrance I believe. They are bringing sketches, which I'll send back to you for final estimates. Other than that, just a few standard meetings."

I nodded. "I'll be in the back most of the day. I want to get the lobby piece for the Alpine Hotel done so it can dry properly before the deadline. I can easily take a break when you need me, although I doubt I'll be company ready." My bagel finished toasting and after giving it the cream cheese treatment I took it and my coffee to the table, settling in across from Sean.

"If they want to talk to you directly, I don't think they would mind walking back into the shop, " Sean said. "It'll add that direct from the craftsman appeal to things, provided they don't get spattered with paint of course."

"I'll try to reign in my wild brush strokes, " I assured him with a laugh. The two of us finished breakfast and cleared the kitchen. By the time I finished brushing my teeth and finding a suitable coat, Sean left and Winston was settling himself and his full belly in the patch of carpet illuminated by the sun streaming through the windows. I knew that throughout the day, he would gradually shift himself like a canine sundial as the sun moved. I liked to think he spent the day recharging in the sun between my run with him in the morning and Sean's playtime with him in the park. There he would not only get to run and play with Sean, but he would get a chance to play with all of his doggie friends from around the neighborhood.

Sometimes I felt bad about having him spend the day inside the apartment alone, but when we tried taking him to a doggie daycare type place he spent the entire time sitting by the door waiting for us to return. Despite being a normally sociable creature, he didn't even acknowledge the other dogs or people and by the third day, he realized where I was trying to take him after our morning run and refused to be dragged out of the apartment.

Sean and I both put our strength into trying to get him to move, but he managed to slip his neck out of his collar and shimmy himself under the bed before we could catch him. Since then we let him stay at home and he seemed content. As I watched him settle in for his sun bath I contemplated getting a second dog as a companion. Winston liked other dogs, but he never had another one in his space before and I wasn't certain how he would take to such an invasion.

"Problems for later, " I told myself, giving Winston a rub on the head. "Be good, " I told him as he cracked an eye open. His stumpy tail waggled and he closed his eyes again, giving every appearance of contentment.

"Maybe I'm worried over nothing, " I decided as I slipped on my jacket and grabbed my keys. A short brisk walk later and I was in the Appleton Furniture Shop. I entered through the front, looking around to make certain everything was in order.

Sammy, the manager, had just begun opening the front show room. He spotted me and walked over, quickly walking me through the few pieces that sold while I was out of town and the new jobs that came in. As usual, it was a mix of reupholstering and refinishing and he let me know who each job had been doled out to. The larger jobs, Sean dealt with, Sammy only covering the individual walk-ins. I approved of his choices and told him my plans for the day.

"Sean might bring some people by, " I warned the efficient manager. Sammy kept the shop running like a well-oiled machine, but didn't do well with surprises. "Gracie also might stop by, " I added. "She tried to reach me while I was out of town and Sean told her I'd be back today. I should be in the workroom all day."

Sammy nodded as he took the information in. He was much more of a scheduler than a 'go with the flow' sort of person and liked to know where he could find people when things went off schedule as well as when the possible interruptions to his planned day might occur. Occasionally his need for order made things tense, but usually he worked to rein it in.

I left the showroom as Sammy penciled in the reminder of a possible client visitation onto his calendar and added a post-it-note regarding Gracie. Once in back, I shucked my coat and hung it on one of the pegs by the door. At the moment the workshop was silent. While Sammy always arrived to open the showroom early, I had a little time before the rest of my work crew arrived. For a short while, the wo

rkshop was entirely mine.

I took a brief moment to tour the other areas, checking on the progress our three full time employees were making on their work load. In addition to the three, we had a couple of part time workers who came in when we had an extra-large job to do. With the bulk of our last major job complete, their areas seemed rather bare. As everything looked to be in order, I went to my workspace.

As expected, the glue dried on the various components of my piece and I began removing the clamps to begin the process of sanding any excess glue or slight imperfections from my work, wanting a satiny smooth texture to the surface before assembling and staining my creation. As I worked, I found my mind once again drifting to the rules and regulations. In my head, Bradford's voice mocked me.

"Provide shields to those who need it, " he said mockingly in my mind. Even though I knew he meant his friends who felt above paying for such things, I agreed with the essence of it. There were a host of people who either weren't in a living situation conducive to having shielding put on their homes because they didn't actually own the place where they lived or because after purchasing a home, they didn't have the funds to pay for shielding, relying instead on stout locks and insulated glass windows.

My family did the same before I grew into my abilities. I could still remember looking out of the window at night and seeing shapes moving in the darkened yard, hungry eyes occasionally catching my gaze. After I woke up one night to find one of the shadow creatures pressed against the glass watching me sleep, I made certain to tightly draw the curtains each night before bed.

No one ever had to remind me to check the locks.

Once I began to shield, I not only shielded the house, but went around the yard, lining the perimeter of the yard with hand painted rocks to use as anchors for the shield. I used Day-Glo yellow paint so I could see them in the dark, at least until the weather wore the paint off anyway. It not only kept the shadow creatures out of the house, but an entire yard's worth of distance from my window. I knew that I was in the top and most expensive category of those who could shield, but even those with lower ranked skills were still pricey.

"And it's not like you can put, 'to add a magical shield so shadow creatures don't attack in the night' to a home loan application, " I thought. I didn't know if the Commission had some sort of payment system so the cost of shielding could be paid in installments as I was usually sent to extremely well-heeled clients. I did know that the Commission provided shielding for some of the private schools attended by only children from the magical community though. I did some work for a couple of those, the Commission offering me a small stipend out of the community fund instead of my usual fee. I waived the stipend though thinking there were better uses for it.

"Still those are private schools for mage children with a hefty tuition attached to attendance, " I reminded myself. Neither Sean nor I had attended such schools, in fact most children in the magical community didn't; they were filled with children from the upper echelon of our society. This meant that for us, any after-hours school event required vigilance and planning. Thinking children easier targets than adults, the shadow creatures often lurked around school yards waiting for twilight opportunities. Those in the community moved in groups, chaperoned by adults and each group contained a mix of defensive and offensive abilities. As we grew old enough to move around after dark without adults, our own abilities kicking in, the groups remained.

While Sean's abilities weren't of any use with the shadow creatures, he could talk anyone who happened to see something strange into believing they hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary at all. My abilities with shields gave our group a protective covering if anything chanced upon us, although I was useless with offence. Jimmy Lucas however could cause an electrical spark, similar to that of a Taser, although he had no shielding capabilities and a little sister named Darcy whose only skill was to make flowers grow at an accelerated pace.

Admittedly, she also had luminous blue eyes, deep dimples, an innate look of innocence and the ability to cry on demand; all of which helped when Sean had to concoct a cover story. The four of us often moved through the darkness together. We had a system. I shielded, Jimmy zapped from behind my shields and Sean and Darcy kept people from wondering what was going on. The system remained in place until graduation sent us all in different directions.

"I wonder what happened to Jimmy, " I mused. Since graduation I hadn't heard a word. Despite the arrangement, we weren't all that close, Jimmy being the school's quarterback, Darcy growing up to be head cheerleader and prom queen, while I fell into the art-geek category with Sean as my chess club partner in crime. We worked well together because we all lived on the same block, but it did mean that I attended far more athletic events than I would have chosen on my own. Once proximity was ended, our enforced comradery evaporated.

I frowned at my own thoughts, but brightened as the others began to arrive. Their presence snapped me out of my introspective mood even though I normally reveled in my alone time. Today my thoughts wouldn't quiet and I welcomed the cacophony brought on by multiple projects in progress.

I even welcomed the interruption Sean brought with him mid-morning in the form of visiting designers. Pushing my personal swirl of thoughts away, I explained what I was working on; showing the drawings I made of what would hopefully be the finished product. Luckily, the piece was more than halfway assembled and it actually was starting to resemble the drawing. I then looked at their drawings, asking a few questions and adding a few comments, discussing materials and the final appearance.

"We're looking for a more lacquered look for a contemporary pop of color rather than something more traditional, " one of the designers said, looking worriedly at the piece I was working on. It was comprised of several different types of wood, fitted together. The stain I would be using later would serve more to enhance the different tones of the wood rather than cover it up.

"I know exactly what you mean, " I told the nervous designer. "For those sorts of pieces we actually have a spray system that is a bit more like what one would see in an auto body shop to paint vehicles." I walked them towards one of the tables that had been through the process. The piece was a solidly build wooden table with classic lines. The designer who brought it in wanted a similar pop of bright color to modernize the piece and so the wood had been sprayed a bright yellow and lacquered with a high gloss finish. The doubtful designer made goo-goo eyes at the piece and I saw Sean smile with approval at my handling of the client. Shortly thereafter he escorted the designers back to his office.

I went back to my piece, finally pulling it all together and adding the final layer of stain over the piece. Once the last layer of stain dried, the piece would be sealed. Once the sealer dried, it would be placed with the rest of the shipment and packaged for delivery. I stepped back, pleased with the overall effect of the piece as well as the fact that I finished it a few hours ahead of schedule.

"Not bad at all, " I told myself as I began to rinse out my brushes and put my workspace back to rights. My thoughts once again drifted towards shields. When the time came for Sean and I to each establish separate homes, I knew I would provide Sean with the strongest shields possible, despite the Commission. I had the feeling the Commission, or more specifically James, knew it as well, but would be content as long as they received their customary fee. Sean was right though; there were plenty of others who couldn't afford the same protection.

"I can't shield them all, " I reminded myself.

"From what?" A voice behind me said, causing me to jump with surprise, my brushes clattering into the sink. I turned to find Gracie staring at me amusedly.

"Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" I asked, ignoring her question as I picked up the brushes, shook the water out of them and set them to dry.

"I wouldn't have to if you ever turned your phone on, " she replied with a smirk. Gracie turned to the piece I left drying and slowly walked around it, admiring the work.

"I forgot, " I told her realizing I hadn't turned the phone back on since returning to town.

"Uh huh, you know your phone is off more than it is on?" She gave her glossy black curls a toss as she continued to circle my creation. With the black curls and bright blue eyes, Gracie always reminded me of a life sized china doll.

"I don't like it ringing when I'm with clients, " I told her, trying to remember if I even picked up the phone from the charger when I left the apartment. Somehow I had never gotten the drive to be connected at all times to the general goings on of the world that everyone else seemed to have and typically only used the phone to call out, more often than not forgetting to carry it entirely.

"What if they are clients trying to call you?" She asked. Unlike me, Gracie couldn't imagine a moment without her phone. The only reason it wasn't out at the moment was because she promised me. Gracie tended to ignore the world around her when texting or talking on the phone and the workshop was not a good place to do such a thing. After a near disastrous accident involving a table saw, I told her the next time her phone came out in the workshop she would be banned from entry. Luckily the incident shook her enough and she found the workshop interesting enough, that she complied.

"Clients either call Sean or Sammy, " I replied with a shrug. "Same for emergencies mostly." I didn't add that even the Commission had grown accustomed to calling Sean when they had a job for me. More accurately speaking, they called Sean's assistant Gina, who passed me the message to call James. While James often complained about the relay system, it was designed to give me time to think about my schedule before James presented a new job to me and to my mind worked quite well.

Gracie shook her head and sighed heavily. "Some days you cause me to despair, " she said. "Did Sean tell you I stopped by?"

"He did, " I replied, ignoring her comment of despair. Usually I made a crack about extended cell phone usage being responsible for the rise in brain cancer, but today I was glad enough to be distracted from my own thoughts that I let it slide. "You found an auction."

"Yes, it's being held tomorrow around two, can you make it?"

"I suppose so, " I replied slowly. I had no intention of buying a house so soon, but figured it couldn't hurt to indulge Gracie's desire to attend a foreclosure auction with someone who wouldn't necessarily break her own thumb when using a hammer as Gracie had done, twice in the time I had known her.

Both times with my hammer.

"Great, " Gracie replied allowing her excitement to show in the form of a little bounce. "I got the list of rules from the people running it." She told me. I watched as Gracie rummaged around in her giant purse. I was fairly certain it was larger than my overnight bag and not for the first time, I wondered what she felt it was necessary to carry at all times.

"Do you know what properties are coming up for sale, " I asked figuring I might as well get into the spirit of things.

"Oh, they don't generally announce until about an hour or so before the auction what properties are being sold. I'll pick you up and bring my laptop so you can look at them on the way there if you'd like." Gracie handed me the sheet of rules as I wondered about the wisdom of purchasing a home sight unseen.

"Apparently I'll have to go to the bank first, " I said as I scanned the sheet and noticed cashier's checks would be required. Mentally I re-arranged my schedule. I could easily put the sealer on my finished piece, run to the bank and then the auction. I figured the auction couldn't take that long and by the time it was finished, the sealer would be dry, the piece could be moved from my space and the next project on my list could be moved in.

"Not too bad a schedule re-arrangement, " I said. I looked up at the expectant Gracie. "I'm in, " I told her. She grinned. "Just don't expect me to buy something on my first auction out, " I warned her.

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