16,228 / 50,000
Nothing clever or noteworthy. On with the words.
By the time Markus had helped Charlie back to the still running car, he was already back to being steady on his feet. Before they had even reached the car door, Charlie had removed Markus's arm from around his waist, and was walking under his own power. Each step was still a challenge, and he could feel his legs shaking with each one, but each step was also stronger than the last.
Since he had left the car, Charlie reckoned only a few minutes had passed; ten at most. It felt like so much more to him, though. The condensed encyclopedia of information that whatever force resting in Kraftsbury gave to Charlie had made time stretch out forever. If he had awoken and seen large crystaline buildings, with cars hovering between them, he would not have been surprised. Charlie could only wonder how many lifetimes he had mentally lived in this other world.
Charlie stumbled as he tried to enter the car. One of his feet hit a patch of snow-slicked road, partially melted from the car idling in the middle of the highway. Markus was quick enough to grab him and help him into the car before he lost his footing.
The driver smiled as he helped Charlie into his seat. "I think you've said hello to the ground enough times for one night, don't you?"
Charlie smiled back, and gave a nod. He got comfortable in the passenger seat and waited for Markus to continue driving. He rubbed the side of his face, feeling the cold, slick flesh under his hand. His fingers came away wet from the melted snow dripping from his hair and cheek. He rubbed his hand dry on his faded jeans, finding enough of a dry spot on those to do so. The wet, cold, yet clammy feel of his skin reminded him of those creatures that have lived in his brain, but he pushed the thoughts from his mind. He was certain they would be back to haunt him soon enough. Better to not give them more time than they needed in his thoughts.
Once Markus was back in the car, he continued to drive onwards. He paused as he neared the sign, the car having not even started moving yet. Charlie felt the car lurch as it came near to where he had just passed out. He grabbed at the handle on the car door, and his fingers wrapped tight around the cool vinyl.
Markus didn't know what to expect, if his passenger would pass out once more, of if it would somehow affect himself. He'd been here for the skiing numerous times before, driven this road several times a year, even. Never before had he seen a reaction like that.
Not even Charlie knew what would happen. This town had been hell on Earth for him in the past, but nothing like that mental blast that sent him face down on the side of the road like a common drunk.
Both of them braced themselves as they passed over the imaginary threshold into town that someone had randomly jotted down on a map centuries ago. It wasn't until they had put the sign into the rearview mirrors that Charlie and Markus both realised they had been holding their breath. They let it out with a heavy, relieved sigh at the anticlimactic moment.
Markus drove with caution along the road, not knowing what else could happen in this already exceptional trip. That was fine by Charlie, as it gave him time to familiarise himself with the surroundings and give directions as needed. Not much had changed since he had left town, but enough had changed to give him pause. Driving through at night helped to hide most of the details, and Charlie was able to pick his way through the roads with ease.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and soon Charlie found himself standing beside the car in a familiar yard. It too looked much the same, but it was covered in snow. His sister could have done any number of things he couldn't see at the moment.
Charlie leaned over into the open doorway of the car and spoke, "You know your way back to your condo from here? You can probably stay the night here, the place is big enough."
Markus shook his head. "Thanks for the offer, Charlie. The main road's not far from here, and the mountain is just around the corner, almost."
"Just up the road a piece, ayuh," Charlie grinned, doing his best impression of a local farmers.
The man who had driven him all this way recognised the accent, and chuckled. "Ten minutes, as the crow flies."
"Ya can't get there from here!"
They both laughed, and Charlie was the next to speak. "It's either way past our bedtimes, or I suffered brain damage if we're laughing our asses off over bad Vermont accents and sayings. I should wake up my sister, and you should get the hell out of here."
Markus gave a nod, and put the car into reverse. Charlie closed the door, and the window rolled down before he had turned away. "Hey, Charlie! I've got some time tomorrow before the mountain opens, want to catch some breakfast? Be nice to chat with a local, and see you in light that's not from my car."
"Sure, why not? Give me your cell number?"
The professor reached into the coat pocket and again produced his notebook. He flipped passed the virtual gibberish spouting from Charlie's lips earlier, and jotted his number down on the next page. Markus tore it out of the book and handed it over to Charlie.
Charlie took out a pen of his own, and scribbled his own phone number down on the same piece of paper, then tore it into two pieces. He handed back the piece with his number on it, and shoved Marcus's number into his own pocket.
With that, Markus backed out of the driveway, leaving Charlie alone in the snowy yard, in the dark, and in Krasftbury. This was not the most desirable scenario Charlie had ever envisioned for himself. All the moment called for now to be complete would be for him to all of a sudden burst into flames. That would make it a complete night.
Charlie stood, looking at his childhood home in the darkness. They were far enough away from any street lights here that he could not make out many details, unable to tell just how much his family had changed since he had last been here. Knowing Adrienne and his father, they likely would have kept it exactly the same.
Most of the house was dark, but he could see a few dim sparks inside the house. His mother had always scattered small night lights all over the house, and it looks like Adrienne had kept up the tradition. Charlie was always more annoyed by them than anything else. To him, they were little pin pricks that jabbed at his eyes as he tried to get from one room to the next. Charlie never had any trouble traversing a house he knew better than the back of his hand in the dark. He could have done it with his eyes closed if he had to. Instead, those little lights just got in his way. Charlie came to accept them over time, eventually understanding not everyone was the same, but still they bothered his sensabilities.
Growing tired of standing out in the cold and reminiscing, Charlie strode across the fresh fallen snow towards the door.
He climbed up the stairs and kicked off his shoes on a post once he reached the small porch. Charlie tried the doorknob first, finding it locked.
He just smiled to himself, and pawed at the mailbox hanging beside the door. The black metal was cold from the weather, and he could feel his fingers getting numb already. It only hung on two simple hooks set into the wood, and Charlie was able to pivot it away from the wall and reach behind it.
It was almost as if he had never left, as his fingers clasped upon the key he had left there over nine years ago. He had found a magnet on a keychain fob, and used it to attach to the backside of the mailbox. The hidden key came in handy on more than one occasion when he was out late and didn't want to disturb anyone.
Charlie was a little surprised to find the key still there. Surely someone would have moved the box in nine years, and found it. Once he had left town, he never even gave the key any thought. Why would he? Charlie did not expect to return, so the key was left, waiting for his return.
And here he was, back in Kraftsbury, and key in hand. He looked at it in the dark, thinking the cruelest thing to discover as he stood there in the cold, would be to discover that his sister had changed the looks.
He pulled open the outer door, made of thin metal, and with a pane of glass in the upper half. In better weather, Charlie rememebred there being a screen in there instead, and he would stand inside the door way and just watch the yard. Creatures running through it, dad cutting the grass, leaves changing, leaves falling, snow covering the ground. Charlie loved to just watch a place, watch it change.
Fumbling with the key in his numb fingers, Charlie got it to slip into the lock, and was relieved it at least went that far. It slide home with a solid click, and felt as if it was in all the way. He jiggled the handle a little, and tried to turn the key, but it seemed useless. Maybe his sister had changed the locks after all. Charlie leaned on the door, and gave the key another twist, this time it clicked all the tumblers, and it turned like there was nothing there.
Charlie yanked the key out, and twirled it around his finger with pride. A means to sneak back into the house from almost a decade prior was paying off in unexpected ways. He returned the key to its hiding place, because one never knew, and opened the door.
Inside the front hall, Charlie equally knew what to expect, and was surprised. The architecture was the same, but his sister had replaced some of the furnishings. Most notably was a throw rub now resting upon the hardwood floor.
What took him most by surprise was his sister, leaning back against a cabinet across from the door. The rug seperated them, like a river between two shores. Adrienne stood there, watching her brother as he waited just outside the doorway, shocked to see her waiting for him.
Her hair was longer than Charlie remembered, but it had been quite a few years since she had last come for a visit. He thought it had looked longer in the pictures she had sent him over the years, but he could never tell for sure. It hung in thick waves, almost down to the small of her back.
In her hands she held a steaming mug. From the smell in the air, and the mound spilling over the top, Charlie knew his sister still enjoyed a late night mug of cocoa. There were nights in the middle of summer when he could catch her with one, curled up in their father's chair, and reading a thick, heavy book.
She was wearing a black turtleneck, a pair of jeans just as faded as her brother's, with even a few holes worn into the knees. On her feet, she had on a pair of lion head slippers, designed to look as if they were eating the wearer's feet.
All the two of them did for the longest time was stand there, staring at each other. Neither knew what to say, after so many years. Talking over the phone just isn't the same, especially with so much left unsaid over what had happened.
It was finally Adrienne who broke the silence. She took a sipe from her mug, and licked away a spot of whipped cream from her upper lip. As much as Charlie hated coming home, seeing his sister, hearing her again, it all seemed worthwhile. After the fact, Charlie would think differently, but for now, he was glad to be where he was.
"Took you long enough. I was getting tired of standing here. I thought you were going to pass out from the cold right on the porch."
Charlie said nothing about his earlier event that night. Instead, he looked like a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
His sister saw the way he looked, and while she was having her share of fun with him, Adrienne was equally proud to have her brother standing there. The more morbid side of her thought that if she knew it would get him home, she would have had their father killed years ago.
Instead, all the redheaded young woman said to her sibling, as she raised her mug once more was, "Cocoa?"