Chapter 1 – Silverweed: a supernatural fairy tale (YA – Inspired by Little Red Riding Hood)
Once Upon a Time
Surrounded by winter woods, his grandmother’s house was down a hill, blanketed in the dreary afternoon. Aiden Young wondered if the stately, but definitely deteriorating, two-story would’ve looked less spooky if he and his mother, Lucy, were visiting under happier circumstances. He doubted it.
His mom parked the rental car beside a red BMW and cut the motor. “How do I look?” she asked as she examined herself in the rearview mirror.
“The same way you looked the first fifty times you asked.”
She sat back and sighed wearily. “I’m not sure I’ve ever dreaded anything as much as this.”
The trip to Indiana for Aiden had been perfect timing. He was out of school for the winter holiday and, more importantly, he didn’t have to face Summer, his newly ex-girlfriend. But now he was beginning to regret his decision to come with his mom. She was so stressed, they were out in the middle of what his dad would call the boondocks, and his phone service was spotty.
He was, however, looking forward to seeing his grandmother. They hadn’t visited any of his mom’s side of the family in ten years, so he couldn’t recall much about them. The house, however, triggered a memory: he remembered his cousin, Augustus, chasing him around the porch with a dead squirrel.
“Okay,” he said. “Here’s the plan. Let’s just get this over with. In and out in an hour. Boom.” Not that he was ready to go home, but maybe they could drive to town and have dinner and then check into a hotel with WiFi.
“You make it sound so simple.” She opened the car door. “Well, come on, then. Maybe things have changed around here.”
Aiden climbed out of the car and was greeted by the cold and wet December day. The frequent gusts of wind caused the sprinkles to feel more like tiny ice pellets. He covered his head with the hood of his jacket, tucked his hands inside the pockets, and followed his mom to the covered porch.
Lucy knocked, and the door creaked open a moment later.
Aiden recognized his cousin immediately when he greeted them with a, “What?” His dark hair was slicked back, and the way his swollen eyes, one green and one blue, didn’t hide his annoyance, told Aiden he was still a jerk.
“Hi. Remember us? Aunt Lucy and this is Aiden.”
Augustus scoffed. “It’s about damn time.” He walked away, leaving the door wide open. His hair wasn’t short like it had first appeared but was pulled back in a pony-tail.
Lucy glanced at Aiden as if to say, “Here we go,” and then stepped inside.
As Aiden’s eyes adjusted to the dim foyer, he surveyed his surroundings to see if he recognized anything. The floors were scuffed, worn hardwood. Faded, floral sheets covered huge, framed pictures or mirrors on the wall, and a cobweb-covered chandelier hung from the tall ceiling.
On the right-hand side, and through an open double-doorway, was the dining room. To the left, was a dark hallway, and a wide, wooden staircase.
He thought it strange that none of the grand entryway had stuck in his mind, but perhaps seven-year-old Aiden had blocked it out because even now, at seventeen, the musky smell and the gloominess made him wish he was back home in his bright modern house.
They entered a warm living room. Aiden figured the large windows and glass-paned backdoors leading to the spacious back yard brightened the room during the summer. Today, however, the murkiness of the afternoon drifted inside.
A sofa, a recliner, a console television that looked so ancient that he doubted it received cable, and a small end table with a lamp furnished the room. A dozen or so pale pillar candles lined the mantle of a red-bricked fireplace.
“Whoop,” Aiden said as he tripped on a rug he hadn’t noticed.
Augustus turned and pointed at Aiden. “Dude, watch your step.”
Aiden smoothed the rug with his foot in case it was expensive or something. “Sorry, man.”
“The last thing we need around here is more bad luck.” Augustus shook his head and walked to the chair that faced the blazing fireplace. He sat down, leaving Aiden and Lucy standing awkwardly behind the sectional.
“Sit, if you want,” he finally said.
After they made it to the front of the couch, Lucy only sat on the edge. “Augustus,” she said. “I don’t know how to express how sorry we are.”
Slowly, Augustus swiveled around to face them. “Diesel.”
“My name is Diesel.”
“Oh! Your middle name. When did you start going by your middle name?”
“Five years ago.”
“Oh.” She nodded and smoothed her hair. “How are you? Are you doing all right?”
“The funeral was yesterday,” he said without making eye contact.
“Yeah. I know, and I’m so sorry. I hoped we could drive out to the gravesite.”
Diesel leaned forward and glared at her before saying, “You missed your own sister’s funeral.”
“I know. I know. We really tried to get here on time but the airport, you know, with Christmas. It’s insane. Trying to rent a car was murder.”
Diesel shifted, sitting back in his seat.
Lucy cleared her throat. “How’s Mother?”
“She’s sleeping. Do you want to see her?”
“Nah, not if she’s resting.”
“I’ll be right back.”
When Diesel jumped up and walked out of the room, Aiden tried to exhale the tension with a silent whistle.
The fire crackled as they sat waiting.
Aiden turned when he heard a loud knock coming from above. A railing supported by carved wooden balusters edged the open landing.
“Gran,” Diesel said loudly. “Aunt Lucy and Aiden are here. Finally.”
After he heard the door open and shut, Aiden leaned over to his mom and whispered,
“Man, he sure did get weird.”
“Well, he’s been through a lot. He just lost his mom.”
“Sorry.” Aiden felt bad for a second, but his curiosity won. “What was with the rug and bad luck stuff?
She glanced behind her before leaning in closer to Aiden. “Looks like your aunt passed her silly beliefs on to him. Augustus must think you stumbling or touching a certain part of the rug is a bad omen.”
“Diesel,” Aiden corrected with a smirk.
She nodded. “Right, Diesel. Anyway, I knew all the folklore Mother told me and Rose was make-believe, fairy tales. Rose soaked it all in as a child but didn’t go all,” she waved her hands, “you know, until you know.”
Aiden shook his head because he didn’t know. His mom rarely brought up her sister in conversation.
“Well,” she whispered, “when Rose was pregnant, her boyfriend, Harley, left her. I think something completely snapped. Even though I had already moved out by then, I heard Rose took it hard. At least that S.O.B. left money for Diesel when he died.”
They both jumped when Diesel cleared his throat from directly behind them.
“She’s not feeling well,” he said. “She wants to know if you guys can go up there.”
“Sure, sure,” Lucy said, her face bright red.
They stood up and followed Diesel into the foyer and up the stairs. After a few steps up, the stairs turned to the right. Aiden could see over the banister, down into the living room. A chair lift, most likely for Granny, was at the very top of the stairs.
The bedroom door was open, and Granny sat in a recliner covered by a patchwork quilt. Her grey, bushy eyebrows went all the way across and met in the middle of her brow. Her cheekbones sank in, and her long, silver hair draped over her shoulders.
“Lucille, you’re here,” Granny said, her voice ungrateful.
“I’m so sorry about Rose.” Lucy gave Granny a quick, distant hug. “I can’t believe she had a heart attack.”
“I don’t believe it, either. I suspect it was something else. Doctors. All of them, money hungry. Hmph, it doesn’t matter anymore. She’s gone. Rose is gone.”
Aiden heard the door close behind him. Diesel had left the room.
“She was a good daughter,” Granny said. “I could count on her. Always here for me.” She shook her head and then her face softened when she noticed Aiden. “My, my, look at you. You sure do remind me of your granddaddy; those eyes as blue as the sky, and when he was younger he had that dark hair.” Her eyes glassed over for a second as she seemed to reminisce, and then she said, “Come give Granny a hug.”
Aiden accepted Granny’s outstretched arms and hugged her, smelling the scent of grassy earth. When he pulled away, she smiled warmly.
“It’s so good to see you in person,” she said. “I’ve been sent pictures, but it’s not the same.” She looked around Aiden. “Where’s my new grandson? How old is he now, two?”
Lucy cleared her throat. “He’s three, and he has a cough, and I thought it would be best if Mike stayed home with him.”
Granny eased her attention over to Lucy. “I see. Seems a shame, a grandmother never meeting her own grandson. So when you running off again? Soon, I suppose, since you have an excuse.”
Lucy straightened and smiled curtly. “There’s something I need to talk—”
“Granny interrupted: “You can stay in your old room if you want. It’s the same. We haven’t changed a thing in case you ever decided to come home. There’s some clean linens in the hall closet. Aiden, honey, you can take the guest room downstairs. I’m feeling quite weak. Please ask Diesel if there’s some leftovers from Rose’s friends that I can have for my supper tonight. Rose always made supper.”
“I’d be happy to cook,” Lucy said.
Aiden cut her a look. What did she just do? In and out! he wanted to scream.
“I suppose that will do,” Granny said. “Turn the light out when you leave.”
Lucy wrung her hands and then leaned over to the bedside table and snapped off the lamp. The room went dim. She turned abruptly and left the room.
Aiden smiled uneasily at Granny. “See ya,” he said before following his mom’s exit. He shut the door behind him and caught up with his mom on the stairs, mid-ramble.
“She chose to live with Rose, and now she’s saying I abandoned her or something.”
“I didn’t hear her say that, but I did hear you volunteer to cook. We’re never going to get out here?”
“Why don’t we go to the car,” she whispered as they reached the foyer, “and we can talk.”
Once in the car, Lucy placed her hand on her cheek as she stared out the front windshield. “I knew it would be hard, but I can’t believe she’s implying I ran off. I didn’t run off. I got married. I couldn’t bring myself to come back very often because every time I did, Rose acted and looked so strange.”
“Like a witch or gypsy or something. The last time we came here, I swear she was in the kitchen making a potion.”
“No wonder you ran off. Your family is bonkers.”
“Funny,” she said, but didn’t laugh. “I tried to tell Mother that I wasn’t sure Rose should be taking care of anyone and invited Mother to come live with us then. Of course, she wouldn’t hear anything bad about her Rose. Mother chose her over me, so it’s not my fault.” She began to cry softly. “But I really didn’t mean for ten years to go by.”
Aiden searched for a tissue but gave up and pulled a t-shirt out of his duffle bag from the backseat and handed it to her.
Lucy dried her tears. “I know it’s too late to make it up to Rose, but maybe I can help Mother and be there for my nephew. We’ll sit down and have a nice dinner and try to convince them that the best thing to do is for Mother to move in with us. Diesel too, if he wants. I’m sure they’ll see that it’s the best solution. Right?”
He shrugged. After meeting Diesel again, he was pretty sure he’d laugh, or grunt, in their faces. He had money and was old enough to be on his own. Aiden knew what he would choose if given the choice.
“I’m sorry.” She patted Aiden on the leg. “I really didn’t mean to get all into that. Let’s get the luggage and get settled in.”
“Wait a minute. You’re not suggesting we sleep here, are you? I thought we were going to a hotel?”
“It will be late after dinner. There’s no place to stay in town, and I don’t want us to drive real far at night.”
They had driven straight through historic downtown Kingwood, Indiana. And nope, Aiden hadn’t noticed anything that even resembled a Holiday Inn. “Ah, man.”
“It’s only for the one night.” She sighed and stared at the house. “How bad could it be?”
Aiden imagined Diesel looming over his bed with a butcher knife chanting “You are bad luck. I must get rid of all bad luck.” Aiden shuddered. “Right,” he said. “How bad?”
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