Marty awoke with a start, his heartbeat thundering in his ears, his mouth dry and cottony, his bed sheet clutched in the clenched fist of his right hand as the dream faded into nothingness.
The knock sounded again, quick and sharp and authoritative, his father's knock, followed by his muffled voice. "Thirty minutes, Marty. We need to be on the road in thirty minutes."
Taking a slow, calming breath, Marty gradually relaxed his grip on the bed sheet, walked his fingers across the mattress, and plucked his cell phone from his nightstand. One tap of the screen had him squinting against its bright light, and he muttered a curse underneath his breath, flopping over onto his back to stare up at the water stained ceiling.
"You said a dirty word," a small voice accused. "I heard it. I'm going to tell Papa."
His half-sister stood in the open doorway of his bedroom, backlit by the anemic light bulb in the hallway. The wispy tail of her braid disappeared between her lips as she stared at him with narrowed eyes, and her free arm tightened in its chokehold around her beloved bunny Petal's neck.
Marty groaned when the brat repeated her threat and pushed himself upright in the bed, taking out his frustrations on the heap of blankets tangled around his waist with a vicious series of kicks. "Go ahead," he grumbled as he swung his legs around and planted his bare feet on the cold hardwood floor. "Tell him. See if I care. Now get the hell out of my room."
The narrowed dark eyes rounded in shock before she turned on her heel, plastered on a pout, and went flouncing away in search of their father, Petal's long, loppy ears bobbing behind her.
Marty didn't waste much time dressing, pulling on a worn pair of jeans, his Red Sox hoodie, and the rattiest pair of sneakers he owned. He raked a careless hand through his dark hair, stuffed his phone in his back pocket, and grabbed his earbuds before casting one last glance at the place he'd called home for the last month and a half. Shit-hole was a description too generous for the run-down rental his father had moved them into after he'd had a fit of conscience and put a ring on his mother's finger for what felt like the hundredth time. He'd claimed the house was only temporary, that he'd find something better, but the way Marty saw it, they weren't exactly trading up by going back to Harmony. Still, he couldn't say he was sad to see the last of this place. "Good riddance," he muttered as he yanked the door shut behind him.
His father was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs, angry scowl firmly in place, eyes black with thinly veiled disappointment. He opened his mouth to lay into him, but his mom rescued him from that ugly fate at the last minute, handing off the screaming infant in her arms. "Sheridan," his father protested as he juggled the squirming bundle in his arms. "This has got to stop. You can't keep taking up for him."
"What has to stop is her crying," his mom cut off the warm-up to his father's livid tirade before it could go further. "There's a bottle in the fridge. Spend some quality time with your daughter." She pulled the sash to her satin robe tighter around her waist, plowed her fingers through her messy blond curls, pinched the bridge of her nose before she sighed and admitted in a soft voice, so low only Marty could hear it. "Your father's right. Please try to be more patient with your sister. I'm sure this is hard for her, too."
Marty snorted in disbelief, thinking of how the brat was no doubt weaving a tall tale and batting those wounded eyes in the kitchen right now, and the lecture that would surely last for hours as his father forced him to ride across two states to the one place he'd hoped to never see again. "I still don't understand why we just can't stay here in Boston, just you, me, and the baby. The job's not even permanent. It's just until Chief Bennett gets better. We could stay here, move our stuff back to our old house. They actually like us there."
"They'll like you fine in Harmony, Marty."
Marty ducked his head as his mom lifted a hand to smooth his hair back from his forehead. He couldn't bear to look at her in that moment, not with the lump in his throat, and the tears pricking at the back of his eyes, because she hadn't included herself in her reassurances to him. They both knew the score, even if they didn't talk about it in words, and the tiredness in her blue eyes, the resignation, it ate away at his insides, made his stomach knot up and drop like a stone. "You need me more than he does," he mumbled.
His mom pulled him to her in a hug, murmured softly into his ear as she squeezed him tight. "That may be true, but you're still going, Marty. Your sisters and I, we'll be there tomorrow. In one day. There's just a few more things to pack, and Gwen's going to help. Everything will be okay. You'll see."
Marty pulled back from her hug, made an accusation of his own. "You don't really believe that. The dreams…"
His mom shrugged, dropped her hands away from his bony shoulders, smoothed them over the front of her robe before her fingers knotted nervously in the sash, and she laughed his worries away, or tried to at least. "They're just dreams, Marty. Nothing to be worried about."
Marty took a distancing step back from her, jerked his hand back through his hair in his agitation. He ignored her injured expression and headed for the door. "I can't listen to any more of this. You're a liar. Just like he is. I'm waiting outside."
"Marty, don't," she cried. "Marty."
The cold outside felt good, invigorating. He dragged chilly air into lungs suddenly screaming for oxygen, burrowed his hands into the pouch of his hoodie as he shuffled toward the U-haul taking up most of the curbside. The door creaked when he opened it, groaned as it swung shut, and little white clouds formed in front of him as he forced himself to once again take deep, calming breaths. Stupid, forgetting the keys like that. Really, really stupid. He sniffed, blinked hard at the tears streaming down his cheeks, pushed back against the pulsing anger rushing through him every time he thought about the hell of the last several months, the hell his father had put them through, all in the name of purging his guilty conscience. It didn't work. He was still quietly seething when his father climbed into the cab of the truck beside him, slammed the door shut.
"She's crying. You made your mother cry."
Marty curled his body away from his father, put his earbuds in, and turned up the volume on his phone as he scrolled through his mp3 playlist.
His father sighed, turned the truck's engine over, and before the sun had even started to creep over the horizon, they were on the highway and leaving Boston behind.
Marty refused to look back.
New Hampshire, like the rest of Massachusetts, passed in a blur.
Marty feigned sleep for much of the long stretch of I-95N to escape his father's pathetic attempts at conversation, and it worked, or at least his father allowed him to think it worked. Marty didn't much care which.
The leaves on the trees were in various states of change, and every other house had a pumpkin or ghost or some other silly Halloween decoration on its porch.
Marty thought it was overkill for the first day of October, and he must have vocalized his feelings out loud, because he found his father agreeing with him, and for the first time since that morning at the stairs, he acknowledged his presence, snuck glances at the strong profile.
"You should have seen the Bennetts' yard after Sam married Grace. That out there?" his father paused to make sure he had his attention. "It pales in comparison."
Against his will, Marty found himself asking a question. "I thought Chief Bennett was married to Aunt Ivy?" His father gave him a long sideways glance, as if he were considering if he were mature enough to hear such scandalous news, but Marty had heard worse, had lived worse (the disaster of his mother's failed marriage to Antonio came to mind, for one), and nothing his father said could or would surprise him, so he raised an expectant brow and waited for him to continue.
"They're not married, legally anyway."
"So that makes Aunt Ivy Chief Bennett's mistress," Marty sneered. "Kind of like Mom before you decided one bastard child was enough." His father went pale before color bloomed on his cheeks, his face, his neck. That muscle in his tightly clenched jaw was jumping, and Marty knew he'd really pissed him off, big time, so he clamped his own jaw shut, didn't venture deeper into the muck that was their twisted family tree. Although, if it meant his father tossed him out of this truck and shipped him back to Boston…
His father's words were clipped, careful. "You're too young to remember, but years ago, there was an accident involving Sam's wife Grace. Her body was never recovered."
"Oh, so Chief Bennett and Aunt Ivy are just shacking up, biding their time until they can make things official." Marty didn't remind his father of the long months before his baby sister's birth. He knew he didn't have to. Besides, it was pointless, and he was tired of talking, even acknowledging his father's presence, because inevitably, any conversation between the two of them led to an argument, ugly and loud and full of accusation. Marty was damned tired of being judged by a man he didn't think was good enough to kiss the soles of his mom's feet. So he put his earbuds in again and turned up the volume, and somewhere between the New Hampshire-Maine border and the Harmony city limits, he drifted into a fitful sleep.
"What the hell?!" Marty fumbled for a handhold as the U-haul's door was rudely yanked open, squinted against the early evening sunlight before focusing on the tall, lanky teen grinning back at him through the dirty window. "What's your problem?"
"Uncle Luis said you'd had enough beauty sleep, wanted me to drag your sorry ass inside to help with the unpacking."
"Yeah, right," Marty grumbled, sliding out of the passenger seat of the truck to stand beside the strange boy who just kept grinning at him, like he was a shiny new toy underneath the Christmas tree. It was really disturbing, the earnestness of it. He looked like a puppy that wanted a treat, and Marty wasn't into free handouts. "Like that's going to happen."
That wiped the grin away. "Where are you going?"
Marty shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Somewhere not here." He gave the teen one last backward glance before plugging his hands in his pockets and heading for the sidewalk. Sighing when he realized he was being followed, he called out over his shoulder, "You coming or not?"
The houses on each side of the street were old, historical maybe, the yards well-kept. Pumpkins were out in full force. One house even had a sign up already, advertising a big Halloween bash.
Apparently, it was an annual thing, because Marty's boy scout tagalong couldn't resist providing the tour guide cliff notes. "The Hudsons live there. Last year's party was awesome. Mama went as Cinderella and Dad went as Prince Charming."
"You go to parties with your parents? How old are you?"
"Older than you," Boy Scout looked really irritated. "I've already got my learner's permit."
Interest finally piqued, Marty came to a full stop and looked up at the boy, his older cousin if all the clues he'd gathered were to be trusted. "Got any wheels?"
"Not yet. Why?"
Marty didn't answer his question, only resumed his trek along the cracked sidewalk. "No reason."
His shadow caught up with him, frowned. "You're not anything like I remember."
Marty snorted, finally managed a smile. "Neither are you. They still call you Little Ethan?"
A bright, shiny Lexus found them over an hour later. They were sitting on some metal bleachers, freezing their asses off, watching the high school football team practice.
Little Ethan immediately jumped up, showed the appropriate amount of remorse for his actions; Marty was slower to rise, slower to greet their newly arrived parents. "You're really in for it now," his cousin mumbled as they watched his father eat up the distance between the SUV and the bleachers in long, furious strides.
"Get in the car."
Marty straightened to his full height, dared to defy his father. "I'm not going anywhere with you." Beside him, Little Ethan sucked in a sharp, surprised gasp, clattered down the metal bleachers on nimble feet, and hurried to the SUV with his head hung low. Through the tinted windows, Marty could barely make out the petite form of Little Ethan's mother, no doubt reading his cousin her own form of the riot act.
His father's voice was low and dangerous, his words delivered through clenched teeth. "Get in the damned car, Marty."
"Why? Why should I get in the car with her? I heard her on the phone. She called Bella a mistake."
His father dropped his head, blew out a frustrated breath. "Your sister was not a mistake. That's not what Theresa meant."
Marty was unconvinced. "You weren't happy when she was born. You weren't even there. You were there when Gilly was born. I remember."
"The circumstances were different, Marty. With Bella, your mother and I, we…" he ran out of words, obviously unable, or unwilling, to be honest.
Marty put the words into his father's mouth, his voice cracking with emotion. "Save it. I know you don't love her the way you love Gilly. So does Mom. Why else do you think she's so sad all the time?"
"Enough, Marty," his father snapped. "Enough. Get in the damned car. Now."
Out of a sense of self-preservation, Marty wisely backed down, did as his father ordered.
The ride back to the new house was strained, silent except for his aunt Theresa's nervous chatter.
The Lexus hardly had time to roll to a complete stop before Marty was out of the door and bounding up the porch steps of the spooky old Victorian. He bumped into a stack of boxes just inside the front door in his haste, but he paid them no mind, barely registering the crash or the crunch of shattered glass beneath the soles of his sneakers.
His father left him alone.
Mostly, Marty was relieved; only a small part of him, a very small part, would admit to being disappointed. He'd long ago learned how to bury that feeling.
That night, when he was sure his father had fallen asleep, Marty left the attic and his sleeping bag, let himself out of the old house, and shuffled quietly down the steps. A stiff breeze blustered around him, plucking the vulnerable leaves from their trees, swirling them in the cold midnight air. He thumbed through the names in his phone's address book, lingered over his mom's number, but chose, in the end, not to waken her or Bella. Instead, he punched in a number, still somewhat new to him, and waited patiently for the person on the other end to pick up. And waited and waited.
Finally, his cousin answered. "This better be good."
Marty turned his back on the looming shadow of the house, pulled his hood over his head to ward against the chill. His blue eyes picked out the intermittent flash of the lighthouse's beam, the bobbing boats amid the whitecaps, and the beginnings of an idea formed. "You said your grandpa has a boat, right?"
"Marty," Little Ethan groaned. "I'm already in hot water for this evening."
"Do you want to be called Little Ethan your entire life?" Marty baited. "Because you will be, if you don't man up and grow a pair."
"Fine," his cousin sighed. "You remember which one it is?"
"Yeah," Marty rolled his eyes. "The Amazing Grace. See you there in twenty?"
"Make it thirty," Little Ethan bargained. "Jonathan sleeps like the dead. It's Jane I have to worry about."
"Not helping your case," Marty told him as he left the house behind, broke into a jog down the sidewalk. "Forget it. I'll meet you there. In thirty," he reaffirmed before ending the call and sliding his phone back into the pocket of his jeans. He didn't look back or he would have seen it.
A shadow passed in front of the attic window. Just the blink of an eye, and it was gone.
Two stories below, Marty's father rolled over to his side, stared into the flickering flames of the fire he'd built just an hour earlier. He wondered if he should make the climb up the stairs to deal with his troubled son as he listened to the faint thud of restless footsteps echoing through the cavernous walls of the mostly empty old house. The memory of his son's cutting words was still too fresh, though. His wounds still too raw. So he rolled back onto his back, imagined the pillow in his arms was the warm softness of his wife holding him close, before everything went so wrong. He slept, none the wiser until morning dawned, with his brother-in-law on the phone and his son nowhere to be found.
So...I hate to make this admission, but with the loss of my desktop, I'm not sure when, if ever, Whisper will be completed.
And with Halloween approaching, I was really missing that fic in particular. But my planned storylines were so complicated, split off in so many directions, that it's hard to duplicate what's been lost. I'm not saying I won't try again, eventually, but for now it's easier to write different stories along the same vein.
So Haunted was born.
Like most of my stories, this one is AU. It also includes much of the cast. The biggest difference is that it is post series, and it's not what I would call a fluffy story, lol. Chapters will alternate between different points of view, and there should be 31 chapters, for the 31 days of the month of October. ;) Because this is my Halloween contribution (and the rest of Under a Silver Moon was lost with the same strike of lightning, grrr.).
I'm going to give this fic an overall rating of PG-13 with the potential for higher rated chapters. Rating will mostly be for language and adult themes/content. I probably won't do the little overview/summary at the beginning of each chapter like I usually do, because giving too much away would spoil things, don't you think? And we don't want that.
So...now that we've gotten the boring stuff out of the way, what did you think about the first chapter?
He's quite the angry young man, isn't he?
You'll find out his reasons as the story continues and be able to judge for yourself whether they're justified or not.
Each point of view should give a little more insight into all of the characters' motivations.
Who are you looking forward to reading about next?
Feedback is loved and much adored.
Thanks so very much for reading!