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Autumn Keane

The Key and the Door [Episode V Side Fiction]

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"A very little key will open a very heavy door." -Charles Dickens, 'The Strange Gentleman'

"Never open a door that you can’t lock again." -Persian Proverb
 

Thursday afternoon, 29th August.

The keys to the other house- once her grandparents' house and one day hers, but always the "other" house- had been in the same place they always were, hanging on a little hook by the phone in the kitchen. There were at least a dozen of them, most made of old brass, all linked on a ring with a bright yellow tag that read "Oasis Bar & Casino" in worn red letters. (The Oasis was a little hole in the wall dive on Main Street near the hardware store, with a big sign that read "DANCING;" though Autumn had never been inside, she'd always wondered if anybody in Shelly actually went there for that purpose.) Some of the keys, she knew, went to the front and back doors, to the shed, to the gun safe and the liquor cabinet. One used to belong to her grandfather's pickup truck, and one fit the padlock on the heavy utility gate across the gravel driveway. The others, though, were mysteries, an assortment of keys in shapes and sizes that didn't seem to correspond to any of the doors or security locks in either home. She and her mother had talked about it after the memorial service, when they'd cleared out most of the miscellaneous clutter and bric-a-brac Owen and Caroline had amassed in all their years together; the furniture had stayed, of course, in part because most of it had been custom-built, but much of the home's contents had been either sold or donated.

Sitting at the dining room table afterward in the oddly-silent house, Autumn and Dana had gone through the keys one by one for no other reason than that it gave them something mundane to focus on, something to take away the feeling of being gutted and hollow for just a few minutes more while they drank the coffee other people had made. One of them, they decided, was probably for a post office box. Another, smaller and well-worn, looked like it would fit a locker- maybe the one he'd used at work. There was no way of knowing, obviously, and as a result the keys that couldn't be accounted for acquired an appealingly mysterious provenance. In those few stolen moments of distraction from the reality of their loss, the two Keane women proposed increasingly fantastical origins and purposes for them: a safe deposit box containing the deed to a lost mine; a secret door at the Veterans' Memorial that led to a nuclear fallout shelter; a vault in the Highlander Self-Service Laundry that contained all the missing socks that had ever disappeared from Shelly dryers.

Those keys, with all the stories attached to them- both remembered and imagined- now jingled in the pocket of her hoodie. Looking back on that afternoon as she strapped a couple of boxes onto the back of the four-wheeler, it occurred to Autumn that in sorting out the keyring, she didn't think her mother had ever mentioned the door in the basement. She couldn't remember whether she'd ever seen it herself growing up, couldn't picture where it might have been... but then, she'd never had much reason to go down there, either. The refrigerator and the television and the fireplace and her grandfather's big chair were all upstairs, and there was no tidy, fenced-in yard for a playground but all the hills and wild places all around the cabin to keep her occupied. Why would she have wanted to go poking around for secret libraries when there were trees to climb and fox dens to find and clouds to watch?

Mom must've known about it though, she reflected, frowning as she went through the motions of closing the garage door before stepping back out into the warm, late-August sun. I mean, she lived there as a kid, and she was the one who went through the basement. If she'd cleaned it out, I'd have seen all the books and stuff, so... Did she not want to tell me, or was it just more than she felt like dealing with at the time, or what?

If Autumn's thoughts were of a somewhat murkier cast than normal when she started up the road, muddied by the prospect of unearthing family secrets and prodding at wounds not yet entirely healed, the ride up to her grandparents' property proved restorative. She took her time, letting the low rumble of the motor drown out everything else and focusing instead on the road ahead, the wind lifting her hair, and the sharp scent of pine filling her lungs. It was the closest she could get to flight- at least, without demanding another airplane from Jason Goddamn Bannon. The memory of that feeling- of swooping and circling over everyone's heads just a few short days before, of the sound of laughter ringing out bright and free as if to spite the encroaching darkness- brought a smile to her lips and a pleasant warmth to her cheeks as the gate came into view up ahead.

Into the driveway. Downshift. Brake.

Out came the ring of keys, down went her feet onto the gravel. With a little fiddling, the padlock popped open, and the rusted metal gate followed suit; Autumn nudged the ATV forward again, then barred the way behind her. She'd done it countless times before, but never with this same sense of... nervousness? Anticipation? It felt a little like pedaling down the road to the farm on Monday, wondering the entire time if it was a good idea, knowing it probably wasn't, and still being unwilling to turn around. Maybe Nathan was screwing with her, but maybe he wasn't. Maybe her grandfather really did know about the Dark- Warden Crocker had, so it wasn't all that crazy an idea. Maybe...

Autumn swallowed hard as she brought the four-wheeler to a stop in front of the two-story log house Owen Kavanagh had built decades ago for his freckled, flame-haired bride.

Maybe he could still help.

Leaving the boxes for now, his granddaughter hopped off the ATV and followed the stacked stone retaining wall up to the front of the house. The darkened windows that greeted her might, in any other context, have seemed sinister- here, though, they only suggested dormancy. Another key unlocked the front door and she crossed the threshold into the mud room without hesitation, nudging the door shut with her heel. It wasn't remotely the first time she'd been here in the year since Owen had passed, but every time she walked through that door Autumn could swear she smelled fresh coffee and the faint scent of pipe smoke. Today was no exception. Smiling despite the sudden liquid blurriness of her vision, the redhead pulled off her shoes and left them there, padding in her sock feet down the rug-covered hallway.

"Hey, Grandpa," she called out quietly, her voice sounding taut even to her own ears as she passed the open kitchen. It was a silly habit, but one she couldn't seem to break just because he wasn't here to answer anymore; it would probably feel weirder if she did stop. Of course there was no coffee in the house, and no one to make it, but she couldn't help but glance over just the same. "Brought back that tackle box Dad got from you, and some other stuff we borrowed from the shop. Sorry it took so long." Exhaling in a long, shuddering breath, Autumn blinked, pausing at the broad entryway to the living area and dining room to switch on the lights. "So, um. Nathan Crocker came by yesterday," she continued, the keys jingling softly as she thrust her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. Moving past the big wood-framed sectional couch and the enormous stone fireplace mantel crowned by dusty pheasants, she headed toward the utility room and the stairs down to the basement. "We talked about you a little, and he, um. He said you knew about all of this, the stuff that's going on? Which, y'know. I was kind of surprised, because you never said anything, and Mom never said anything..." The house was silent in response, save for her breathing and the faint rhythm of her footsteps. "And, I mean, I guess I get it." She shrugged, flipping the toggle switch for the lights to the stairwell and opening the door that led to the lower level of the house. "It's crazy, right? Like, how do you even bring that up in conversation? 'Heard ya had problems with that Jauntsen kid again. Evil little bastard. Ya know, there's a chance he might be possessed by an ancient force of darkness that corrupts folks and makes 'em do some twisted shit. What do you think, m' girl? Seen anything like that?'"

Sighing, Autumn headed down the stairs.

"Yeah, Grandpa. Yeah, I have."

Edited by Vivi OOC
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Posted (edited)

The basement was divided into two parts.  One was a storage area - the shelves largely empty now, having once contained stacks of the cans, jars and bottles that had contained Caroline Kavanagh's preserves, pickles and self-canned soups which were legendary, the recipes for which were all in the large bound family cookbook her mother kept on a shelf in the kitchen in pride of place, as befit a tome four generations old before it had come into Dana Keane nee Kavanagh's hands.  With cobwebs glinting in the late-afternoon sun that slid through the high, narrow window in the south wall, the basement seemed eerily just-emptied, as though everything had just been moved yesterday and the spiders had moved in overnight.  Autumn was not sure whether it was the fact she spoke to the house as though her grandfather was still here or not, but there was a sense of life in the house - an aura, though her pragmatic side hesitated to use such a... term...

Waitaminute.

Auras weren't New Age BS.  She could see them - the life force of living people, such as with Jase when she'd healed him at the hospital.  And there was another type of aura, too.  Her skill at such things was rudimentary, but she took a breath of the slightly stale cellar air and focused for a moment as she'd been shown last Sunday, letting her Shine be her eyes, seeking out other things that shone.

The house glowed.

It wasn't a golden blaze, like the other teens in the Fellowship.  It was dim, faint silvery radiance, permeating the house with a gentle warmth, a tracery of Shine that limned every stone and board emanating from a single point which, the flame-haired girl determined with a widening of her eyes, lay beyond the door of her grandfather's den.  She stepped forward, examining the lock and trying the first key that looked as though it might fit, then the second, and then the third.  The third did the trick - but Autumn felt a faint tingle under her fingers as the lock turned and somehow knew that the key would only work for... someone like her.

For a moment, the sense of the prescience with which the lock had been constructed and imbued left the girl with a faint tremble in her nerves, as much of wonder as of trepidation.  Her grandfather had known that someone with Shine would come - or had determined that only someone with Shine needed to see beyond this door.  Without more than a moment's hesitation, Autumn swung the door open.

And stepped into a room it felt like her grandfather had just stepped out of.  As she fumbled on the light switch, the thickly-carpeted floor underfoot and the carved wooden chair and desk and cabinets came into view.  The place was permeated with her grandfather's sensibilities - simple things, elegantly made, warm wooden shades and paintings on the walls of various wilderness scenes.  The Shine which permeated the house came from over the door, on the inside, where hung a strange-looking talisman with beads, feathers and claws dangling from the leather thong which fastened it out of casual reach.  But to Autumn's still active 'Third Eye', there was another source of Shine in the bottom drawer of the carved walnut desk.

On the desk blotter were two envelopes, unglued and laid carefully next to each other, both marked in her grandfather's hand.  She studied them for a moment.  One was addressed to 'My Daughter and Granddaughter'.  The other was addressed to 'Whosoever Opened the Door.'

Edited by GDP_ST
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Posted (edited)

Owen Kavanagh had been gone from this world for more than a year, his ashes scattered at Logan Pass just as the dawn broke over Going-to-the-Sun Mountain one morning in late June. It was exactly the farewell he’d asked for, an informal gathering of two small families and a wary flock of bighorn sheep watching from the mist-veiled hillside. The somewhat fussier to-do had come a couple of weeks later, an obligatory ritual to satisfy the townsfolk’s compulsion to foist their condolences and casseroles onto people who didn’t necessarily want either. The clutching hands of near-strangers, the almost metronomic litany of sorry-for-your-losses, the forest’s worth of paper fashioned into mass-produced sympathy cards- all well-intentioned gestures that, ultimately, seemed shallow and meaningless. For them, life would go on.

And yet, even now, something of her grandfather lingered in this room, in every amorphous whorl of dark-grained wood and whisper of aromatic tobacco that rose from the plush carpet, her toes sinking in with each step. It was a bittersweet feeling, this flicker of wonder at the mysteries the place contained overlaid with the emptiness of loss, the uncomfortable tightening in her chest at odds with the warmth of her affection for someone who could no longer share it. Autumn stared at the envelopes on the desk, eyes tracing the neat script she recognized from documents they’d shredded, and from half a dozen birthday cards kept in a box of treasures under her bed. Deep blue ink on crisp white paper stared back at her. 

Sit, it bade her, and she did, unthinking, sinking into the wooden chair that gave only a half-hearted creak of protest after long disuse. As Autumn glanced at the first envelope, the one addressed to herself and her mother, her fingers practically twitched with the urge to reach out, to open it, but she hadn’t come here for sentiment alone. She’d come for the journals, to see if what Nathan had said was true. This is what she reminded herself, that there was a point to all of this, a purpose. Her grandfather’s notes, the historical references he’d collected could be useful, could maybe help them figure out what was happening in Shelly and why… And, maybe, if they were lucky, how to stop it. For all the strangeness of feeling surrounded by the presence of someone she’d known and loved in a place she’d never been- and it was strange, and strangely reassuring- there were more pressing issues to deal with first. Priorities.

To Whomsoever Opened The Door,” she murmured, smiling in spite of herself. “Still putting on your good manners for company, huh?” She took up the second envelope- after all, she was the one who unlocked the door, so it should be totally fine. Right? Right. Opening it, she took a deep breath and drew forth two sheets of stationery folded together. There was no date, no emblem or monogram, just faint grey horizontal lines on paper that felt heavier, more official somehow, than the kind used for normal note-taking or correspondence. Exhaling, she leaned back in the chair and began to read. 

To Whomsoever Opened The Door,” she repeated quietly, and in the stillness of the room the young redhead could almost hear the words in her grandfather’s rumbling voice. “Obviously, I’m not here to greet you in person. A source of great sorrow to me, but not so great as the sorrow I feel in leaving my family in sadness and without protection. Unless my old friend…” She paused, frowning at the name that followed, and hazarded a clumsy attempt at pronouncing the unfamiliar arrangement of syllables. “...my old friend Askuwheteau was wrong- and in all the time I’ve known him, he never has been- you have what the Blackfeet call the ‘Dawning Light’. Either that, or the protection his grandfather gave mine doesn’t work and the whole lot of them have been laughing at us this whole time.” Huh. Dawning Light.'

Pausing, Autumn considered the sound of it, the way the words felt in her head. She had to admit, it sounded a little better than “the Shine,” which reminded her unpleasantly of that old horror movie with the guy who went crazy in a hotel, tried to kill his family, and froze to death in a hedge maze. Ugh. Suppressing a shiver, the girl pushed the thought aside. So far, what she’d read seemed to fit Nathan’s story- that people from their families who underwent ...whatever this coming-of-age ritual was... were supposed to be protected somehow from the Dark and those influenced by it.

Pardon, stranger. I feel death coming, and it makes me bitter.” 

There was no warning, no way to prepare for the shock of reading that admission aloud. The words swam before her eyes as if blurred by a surge of warm waves in clear blue shallows, remnants of which dripped silently down her cheeks. 

No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. You do not have time to cry right now, Autumn! Get it together. This is important, her inner voice chided her, and despite the sudden, sharp aching in her chest, practicality demanded she focus. Blinking rapidly as if to banish the upwelling of the emotional sea within her, the heir apparent to this increasingly strange legacy quickly skimmed the rest of the paragraph, her eyes catching here and there on certain words but not stopping to process them fully until she reached a passage that seemed safer. Less personal. “A man who is like a son to me has also been entrusted with this, but I am asking you as well, though I have no right…” Okay, yeah. That would have to be Warden Crocker, who’d said he’d come on her grandfather’s behalf- as much as she loved her dad, her grandfather had been as much a part of Nathan’s childhood as Nathan was of hers. She paused, as a sudden thought struck home: if Nathan really had been asked directly by her grandfather to talk to her, that meant he’d been carrying this around for almost a year and a half, along with everything else he was dealing with at home. Oh, god. Her heart sank a little at the realization, made heavier by a twinge of guilt at the little selfish surge of resentment she’d felt when he’d dumped all this in her lap yesterday.     

...See that my granddaughter goes to the Reservation,” she continued soberly, “and meets either with Askuwheteau - ‘Laughing Joe’ they call him - or with whoever is in his place. Tell them she is Owen Kavanagh’s granddaughter, and they will know what is to be done.” Well, she conceded, ‘Laughing Joe’ was definitely easier to pronounce, at least. It was nice to have a name she wouldn’t be likely to screw up when she asked for him. When she’d talked to everyone at the bleachers, earlier, she hadn’t been entirely sure who she was looking for, and Sophia seemed nice, but she wasn’t like them and Autumn didn’t really know her, and Devin had freaked out, and things had just been kind of… weird. Though, she guessed they’d been weird for a little while now, hadn’t they? Or Weird, even; the memory of her phone call with Jase, brief though it was, brought a sudden rush of warmth to her cheeks. With a quick shake of her head, Autumn tried again to concentrate on the task at hand, toes drawing formless designs in the carpet as she swung her feet.

In the bottom drawer of my desk is a small lockbox. One of the keys on my old key ring opens it. If you are what I hope you are, what Laughing Joe thought you’d be, then what’s in there is for you. ‘Protections for warriors’, he called it.” A thrill of excitement raced through her at this new revelation, sea-colored eyes intent on the bold blue script as she leaned forward, eliciting a faint creak from the old chair. The letter didn’t specify what they were, or how they worked, and apparently this friend of her grandfather’s wasn’t sure, either- just that they’d been passed down to him ‘against a time promised when warriors would come and drive out the Darkness.’ Frustratingly, there was no further explanation of the nature of the protection, the warriors they were meant for, or the fact that it suggested some kind of prophecy. She’d just have to find out on Sunday, which, in that moment, seemed a lifetime away to the restive red-haired girl. 

Her grandfather did, however, mention the journals she’d come to find, although apparently they hadn’t been of much help to him. Maybe it would be different for the Fellowship? Sure, they were still trying to piece things together themselves, but Nathan had said on Wednesday that he’d never actually seen some of the things she’d described, so maybe that perspective would give them some kind of advantage reading through the old records. 

A final favor I ask of you, stranger. A favor to a dead man, who will not be able to repay it.” Autumn’s voice wavered threateningly, that telltale stinging behind her eyes again as she exhaled slowly and forged ahead. “Take the other letter on my desk to my daughter and granddaughter, along with the talisman that hangs above the door of my den. Tell them that it was my wish for them to read the letter together and to follow the instructions therein.” Unconsciously, her gaze drifted up to the strange beaded object above the doorway, its outline luminous in her mind’s eye, down to the envelope with her name and her mother’s name on it, and back to the letter trembling faintly in her hands. 

Why? The dull, hollow feeling of grief and the flickers of pleasure at happy memories were familiar to Autumn when thinking of her grandfather, were easily processed, but this frustration Ms. Kyleson had conjured yesterday… this anger, was still relatively new, and as she felt her face grow hot a part of her couldn’t help but wonder why he’d done all this. Why didn’t he ever say anything when he was alive?! How could he just… just push that responsibility off onto other people, like Nathan, and this random person he was blindly trusting to do what he asked? Why would he trust a total stranger to find out who she and her mom were, and deliver his message? What if he’d been wrong, and no one had ever said anything, or found the room?! How were they even supposed to have found it, anyway, or gotten the keys, or put all of it together? 

Fuck,” she groaned, leaning back abruptly to rest her head on the back of the chair. “Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to swear, but seriously, Grandpa. Seriously. This isn’t fair, you know?” Only silence answered her. Closing her eyes, the faint scents of smoke and long-unopened rooms filled her awareness, along with the solidity of the chair she was sitting in and the soft, dense pile of the carpet beneath her feet. There couldn’t be an answer, of course, to any of it. It was as pointless to ask as it was to be angry at someone who wasn’t there, and there were plenty of other things, other people more deserving of her ire. She knew that. The knowing didn’t make it any easier. With a sigh, Autumn opened her eyes again, staring up at the painted wood ceiling before sitting upright and returning her attention to the paper in her hand.

May the Dawning Light guide your path, and may you always know your star,” she breathed finally. It seemed unnecessary to read his signature aloud, especially after such an uncharacteristically poetic line. It reminded her a little of camping trips they’d all taken when she was younger, when both families had all been together, and her grandfather and Joe Crocker had told her and Jacob stories about how the constellations came to be, and how to use them to find your way if you were ever lost in the world. Truth be told, she was feeling kind of lost, and she wondered for a moment exactly how long she’d felt that way. ...Or whether, if it hadn’t been for the events of the past few days, she would ever even have noticed. Still, she kind of liked the sound of it, almost like a prayer, or a benediction. May you always know your star. 

Thanks, Grandpa,” she murmured, smiling a little. “I’ll be sure to keep an eye out. For now, though, let’s see what these ‘protections for warriors’ are.” Reaching into the pocket of her hoodie, Autumn pulled the plastic keyring out again, bits of brass and nickel silver jingling musically in a quick, bright chime of encouragement. To her surprise, the wooden drawer slid open easily, empty but for a slightly weathered metal lockbox that seemed to shimmer with soft luminescence as the inquisitive teen lifted it out almost reverently and set it on the desk. 

Edited by Vivi OOC
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She blew a strand of coppery hair from her face, blue eyes pondering the lockbox for a long moment, fingers fidgeting with the key-ring as she sought a likely fit for the small keyhole.  For a moment that stretched too long she wondered if perhaps the key wasn't there, then sighed in relief as she found a promising prospect.  She slid the key into the lock - and hesitated.  Protections for warriors, the letter had said, not 'weapons'.  Still, she mulled, some people considered weapons to be protection too.

Fuck it.

The contents of the box were almost underwhelming.  A bundle of woven cloth, which unfolded to reveal number of plain-looking bracelets made of what looked like old copper, faded and worn-down swirling patterns etched into their surfaces.  Almost underwhelming, except that Autumn had seen a similar bracelet recently - on Devin Jauntsen's wrist.  They looked - no, felt - old, and as she tentatively reached out and picked one up, it seemed to weigh more than a simple thin band of copper ought to weigh, and caught the light in an odd fashion.  She held it on her palm, considering, feeling the warmth of the thing permeating her skin - a warmth that was both physical and spiritual, it seemed.

Devin had, apparently, been given his bracelet in the Other World, by a woman(?) in armor who'd saved him from a beast.  At least, that was how Autumn understood the story from the Cliff Notes.  And now her grandfather had been storing a box full of - she counted - an even dozen of the things, passed down by the local Blackfeet for gods-knew how long, against some future where the 'warriors' would come who would need them.  Her mind spun a little at the scope of it, similar to when Cassie had been talking about how the Man In Black had been affecting events for centuries or longer to produce the teens of the Fellowship.  A crazy thought occurred - was he behind this too?  It was nuts - not everything was down to Mr Black or aliens... Or was it?

She put the bracelet back in the box.  The one on Devin's wrist had apparently nearly killed Cass, so damned sure Autumn wasn't going to distribute these things until she had more information.  She sat back in the chair, staring at the dully gleaming circlets of metal, throwing back glints of light like red gold.  Protections for warriors.  Were she and the others warriors?  They fought monsters.  They fought evil motherfuckers in underground labs.  They rescued people.  They stood against the Dark.  And Autumn was as much part of that as any of them - perhaps more so, if the revelation of her family roots and history in the area were anything to go by.

"Warriors."  she said aloud, testing the word then snorting.  "Riiight."  The crisp white rectangle of the other letter caught her eye, sitting on the blotter next to the lockbox.  The letter her and her mother were to read together.

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Now what? She’d done what she’d set out to do: confirm whether or not Nathan had been telling the truth about her grandfather and about their families’ involvement in Shelly over the last… who knew how many years. She’d found the study, unlocked the door, and the journals were all there just as he’d said they’d be- waiting, as they’d waited somewhere for Owen in his day, for probably all of the Kavanaghs. As they might wait, still, if this cycle of insanity and death continued, perhaps with the addition of her own account wedged between the former Warden Captain’s and the colorful slab of petrified wood she used as a book-end at home. ...If she survived to write it, anyway. The chair gave another cursory squeak of complaint as Autumn rose, sock feet silent on the rug. They paced, once, the length of the room. Then twice. And then paused in front of the tall cabinet with beveled glass doors.

 

The latch clicked softly at her touch, hinges swinging wide to lay bare lifetimes of observations by her family- families, really, she considered, remembering what Warden Crocker had said about their shared history. About Jacob knowing some of it, probably more than he let on. About her hypothetical role in all of this. Pale fingertips skimmed over the volumes arrayed on the shelves- some hand-stitched and clad in dark leather, others little more than slim notebooks yellowed with age. There was a kind of power here, wasn’t there? A sense of… what was the word? Gravitas. She could almost feel a faint tingle as she stroked the spines and worn bindings, an almost-tactile sensation that, while not precisely magic, was in its own way magical. Although her grandfather probably hadn’t intended for the contents of this room to be part of her inheritance, they were now- perhaps more so than even the house itself would be when she came of age.

 

Sliding the first of the books carefully off the shelf, Autumn sank to the floor in front of the cabinet, crossing her legs as she sat. This was where it started. Not for her, but for someone who’d maybe stood in her place. At least, metaphorically speaking. The unmarked cloth-bound cover crackled softly as she opened it, laying it gently on the carpet in front of her; Thomas Michael Kavanagh, the faded graphite scrawl read on the front page. “God, how old is this?” she breathed, half-disbelieving. And there were more journals than she’d expected, too… Which meant that either her ancestors had been seriously prolific note-takers, or this had all been going on longer than the five or so generations since Shelly had existed. Or, the redhead suddenly came to a grim realization, and swallowed hard: They might have all just died young. 

 

The first entries, frustratingly dated by month and not by year, detailed the hardships of frontier life, frustration at the implacability of the landscape, and grief at the loss of an infant son. ...Which, she realized, was pretty standard fare for pioneers. There was no obvious mention of war, famine, drought, mining, railroads- nothing that could point to a specific point in time in either country. It was instead an intensely personal chronicle of a man of faith attempting to eke out a life with his family in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world. As she continued to skim through the tricky penmanship and creative spelling, though, Autumn found a curt entry describing an uncomfortable meeting. 

 

[...Yesterday evening we had been visited by some few of the local Indians who asked after our stock. I am grateful to God that Catie and the children were in-doors. I think they meant to trade but I cannot be sure...]

 

It was an anomaly, a definite interruption of what (she admitted guiltily to herself) was otherwise relatively boring text. It was probably fascinating stuff for an historian, but for her? Not so much. There were other interactions after that, she discovered, interspersed among those that discussed the awful spring weather, Thomas’s prayers for the future, and his wife’s poor health. All of them were similarly brief, but there was a gradual shift in language and tone over a period of several months, from “the local Indians” to “our neighbours” and, eventually, “our friends from across the river.”

 

Soon after, an entry in June: 

 

[...Word came in the morning to-day that a terrible thing has befallen the Byrnes, late of Wicklow. All perished save the father, and himself missing. Catie lit a candle, and we all of us prayed for his safe return and the peace of Our Lord on his family, may He grant them eternal rest...] 

 

Followed by another, less than a week later:

 

[...Young Stephen Moore was found in a very sad state, fallen afoul of some wild animals. My darling Anne is beside herself, and has been all evening in prayer. They were a fine match…] 

 

And a few days after that:

 

[...An affray in town this morn. James Byrne stabbed three men at the G.S. before he was brought down. I do not dare tell my Catherine…]  

 

There were more such events over the following weeks, even with those involved being separated by miles, and as she read Autumn felt a growing sense of unease: numerous violent attacks attributed to “wild animals,” children gone missing, ordinary people suddenly flying into unreasonable rages over trivial matters. Even Thomas’s own offspring weren’t immune, as he reported in July that the two eldest boys had that afternoon beaten each other bloody without good explanation; the oldest of the girls, Anne, whose sweetheart had died, reported fearfully that she had dreamed of the Devil himself with great horns and flaming eyes.

 

The next entry was dated several days later, with no mention of what transpired:

 

[...The trinket our friends brought hangs above the door, though I can hardly bear to look at it. I do not know what power their heathen prayers have to bless our home, but I am a desperate man and must believe it was Our Lord’s will that they came to us. My dear Catie awoke this morn. Surely we are all children of God…]

 

“Holy shit,” the red-haired descendant of this long-dead author whispered into the silence, peering up at the arrangement of beads and feathers above the door to the room in which she now sat. “Holy. Fucking. Shit.” Then, sheepishly as she remembered where she was: “Sorry, Grandpa.” Was this talisman the same one Thomas had gotten from the Blackfeet, or a more modern replacement? This was… Wow. Just, wow. She had no idea what time it was, or how long she’d sat there on the carpet in her socks- but now that she’d begun the story, she had to finish it, right? Bending over the journal again, Autumn resumed turning the pages, her expression rapt as the faded letters carried her back through time. 

 

Thomas wrote of the worrying frequency of these awful, inexplicable happenings in the area at first once a week or so, and then almost daily, until suddenly… Nothing. He continued to write, of course, in that same archaic style and spare prose, but only about the mundane frontier life he’d described through the first several months. The final entry was dated simply, “November:” 

 

[...The horrors of recent months seem now like a fever-dream. I grieve for the lost, though my family was spared by the grace of God and the blessing of our Indian friends, whom He sent as our earthly salvation. We will keep their symbol next to His, lest we forget our peril now in times of good fortune…]

 

Autumn slumped forward bonelessly over her crossed legs- hands on the floor, forehead on her hands- and just sat for a moment, breathing in the faint, sweet whisper of tobacco. This wasn’t a story someone told about something they thought they saw. This was someone’s real, actual life, written as it happened, probably at least a hundred years ago… But apart from the language, it could almost have been pulled straight from Shelly, circa 2019. If there was an older record than this, she decided, the Blackfeet would likely have it. The other journals might provide more details, but for now, this was enough. 

Well. Lifting her head to peer once more at the cabinet, and then the desk, the youngest of the Kavanagh line frowned. Almost enough.

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