William Lanceton had always been too curious for his own good.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” they would tell him as a child.
“Go looking for trouble and you’re sure to find it,” his mother would say. Saying it every couple of months was her way of trying to pound it into his ever-curious head.
Unfortunately for her, that just made William all the more likely to go looking.
So, who at all could be surprised then when, at 23 years old, William Lanceton found himself trapped in the corner of a dark garden, clutching his camera to his chest, as an enormous black guard dog growled and stalked toward him with deadly intent.
“W-Why, fancy meeting you here,” William joked at the dog as he attempted to sidle along the bush wall behind him towards the safety of the back gate he snuck through earlier. “Come here often?”
The dog just stared him down, its unusual green eyes practically glowing in the dim light, and continued stalking him without pause. Unfortunately for William, it approached in the direction opposite of where he would have liked it to go, cutting off his planned escape and forcing him backwards towards the mysterious house on his other side.
Now, William had experienced guard dogs before, even had a few scars on his legs from close encounters in the past—the life of a journalist is a hard one—but this dog was unlike any he had ever seen. He was enormous and had the ears and snout of a wolf, except his fur was completely black, his green eyes and white teeth the only colours to be seen on his big hulking body. William’s go-to dog biscuit was lying ignored on the ground between them, the dog only looking outraged when he offered it—yes, that`s right, outraged, he was sure of it—and now he had no idea what to do. Except… the dog wasn’t really attacking him like he`d expected it to. Instead, it was blocking off all his escape routes, forcing him backwards, like it wanted him to go to the house.
William made one last attempt to edge toward the nearest exit, but at the dog’s thunderous growl, he stopped again. Frustrated beyond his fear, he turned back to the contrary animal and said in just above a harsh whisper, “Look, dog, I am trying to leave your master’s home but you are not letting me. I want to go there,” He pointed over at the exit gate. “There. See? I’ll leave if you let me.”
The dog just stared at him in what he could only describe as disapproval. Farfetched for a dog, he knew, but that was what he was seeing.
In the hopes that the dog had understood him, William slowly took one step towards the open gate.
William sighed and crossed his arms under his camera hanging around his neck. “Okay, fine, you win. Where do you want me to go?”
He was more venting his frustration than expecting the dog to give him an answer, but the beast immediately started trotting toward the house, stopping to turn and look at him expectantly.
William looked at the house and then back at the dog disbelievingly. “You want me to go into that house?”
The dog just stared at him.
“Aren’t you a guard dog, you know, to keep people out of the house?”
The dog just stared at him again, flicking one ear.
William sighed again and grimaced, staring up at the house he had snuck into a garden in the middle of the night for, to get pictures of. Was it weird that he really didn’t want to go inside now?
“Okay, fine, but if the owner kills me for trespassing, that’s now on you.”
The dog snorted and started trotting up the path towards the house, not even looking back to see if William was following.
William nearly decided to run for it then and there, but he already knew the dog was much faster than him, so accepted his fate with a sigh and followed him.
The dog brought him to a back door, which was ajar, and walked on in.
With much trepidation, but a whole lot of curiosity, William followed the animal into the house, closing the door behind him.
“I just want to say that your dog brought me in so please don’t kill me,” William immediately called out as he looked around the room he’d been brought to. He saw that it was a mud room of sorts, with various shoes and boots along one wall and a coat wall on the other. All in one men’s size, he noted, except one smaller pair of slippers and a pale pink scarf, in a woman’s size.
Hmm, okay. A man and a woman live here. Huh. I thought the rumours said only one person lives here…
He looked toward the door that would lead him to the rest of the house and nearly jumped. The dog was staring at him around the door, its gaze disapproving yet again.
“What?” he said, putting his hands up in surrender before following the dog into the next room, “I’m just looking.“
This room was clearly a kitchen, but it was not like any ordinary kitchen you’d expect in a small town. It had all the most modern amenities, so much so there was a futuristic look to it. Everything was either black or chrome in colour, except the fresh fruit in a—of course—black, lacquered dish at the centre of the stainless-steel kitchen island.
When he felt eyes on him yet again, he knew he’d been staring too long. “All right, all right, I’m coming.”
He followed the dog into the next room, which turned out to be a hallway. Immediately his eyes searched for photos to see what the owners of the home looked like, but the only thing covering the walls were paintings. Paintings of all sorts of genres. Impressionist, abstract, realism, and more that he wouldn’t know how to name. Astonished, his hands reflexively went to lift his camera for a photo, but a growl had him immediately dropping it again.
“Sorry, sorry, habit,” he said in frustration and sheepishness, putting his hands up in the air again.
Then he realized what he was doing.
Did that dog really just try to stop me from taking a picture? He glanced askance at the dog and very slowly tried to raise his camera again, but the rumbling growl began anew, and again he dropped his hands away.
This dog alone is worth a story.
If he wanted to have his hands bitten off to take the picture, anyway… It was seriously tempting.
As he entered the room where the dog waited for him, William’s eyebrows shot up. It was like walking into a Victorian tea party of the 1800s.
The dog led him to a couch in this historic parlor and glared at him until he sat down. It gave him one final warning look before it left the room. When the dog was out of sight, William immediately stood again, but at the sound of distant rumbling hurriedly sat back down.
Who in the world trains their dog to do that? Who in the world could train their dog to do that?
Carefully keeping his seat, William took a better look around.
Where the kitchen had been so stark, this room looked so… dainty. Everything was ornately made, with gold and silver flung about like they were nothing, but elegantly so. There was a tea set and 3-tier candy tray encased in glass on the middle coffee table and he couldn’t help but lean closer to stare at the tiny, wrapped confections inside.
“Wow,” he mumbled, before straightening and looking around again. On the far wall was a huge glass cabinet full of unique odds and ends, porcelain figurines, copper and brass gadgets, all still looking right out of the Victorian era.
It wasn’t long after he started inspecting everything in the glass case as well as he could from his seat that he felt eyes on him again, and he immediately rose to stand with his hands in the air in surrender again. “Okay, I’m going, I’m going, where to now, Cranky?” He turned to look at where he thought the dog would be and nearly jumped out of his skin when a shadowed figure stood in the doorway instead.
Shit, I’m dead! So dead!
But before he’d finished the thought, the shadow walked forward into the light and William’s heart leapt in surprise.
The shadow was actually a man. He was an incredibly good-looking man, tall, with black, silky-looking hair and deep dark eyes, dressed all in black except a gold ring that caught in the light. He was frowning fiercely as he slowly approached William near the couch and William’s heart began to race.
Unconsciously, he put his hand to his chest. What the hell is wrong with my heart? He’s not that intimidating.
But he was intimidating. Glaring at William with his deep brown eyes, he silently studied him from head to toe.
Suddenly remembering what he`d said before turning around, William hurriedly ducked his head to apologize. “I’m sorry, I thought you were the dog!” He winced as soon as the words were out of his mouth. First, that sounded weird. And second, who would ever talk to a dog like that? Hopefully, the dog owner. William’s eyes glanced around for the dog in question, but it seemed to have abandoned him when its master arrived. Of course.
“He seems quite smart, that one,” William began, trying to keep the sarcasm from his voice as his eyes met the man’s at last. “What breed—”
William’s words caught in his throat as a thrill of electricity seemed to run right through him as soon as his eyes locked with the stranger’s, rooting him to the spot. He sucked in a startled breath as his body seemed to hum from head to toe, his face flushing as they both stood there for a second, staring at each other. Dazed, William thought he saw the man’s eyes start to lighten in colour, but then it was gone as the man looked pointedly down at William’s camera hanging from the strap around his neck. At last, William was able to let out the breath he was holding as the weird sensation dissipated, leaving him shaken. What the hell was that?
“You are trespassing… to take photos?” The man’s deep voice softly rumbled in William’s ears, causing a tightening of his chest and his hands to itch to touch—for goodness sake, what the hell is wrong with me?
William took a step back, inwardly shaking himself and cleared his throat, unconsciously cupping his camera protectively.
“Yes, I’m sorry about trespassing,” he began, trying to get a grasp on the conversation, looking anywhere but at the man now, “But you wouldn’t answer—”
“So, that means you think you can just—”
“No, of course not, but I didn’t mean any harm, I assure you,” William pushed himself forward, fighting through this strange reaction he was having, and walked toward the man to hold out his hand, daring to try and meet his eyes again. “I’m William Lanceton, please call me William, and I’m very sorry to come to you like this but I really, really wished to meet you, Mr.…”
The man was staring down at William’s hand as if he’d never seen someone offer their hand before, and William was starting to seriously question his own sanity as his heart continued racing in his chest.
Quite awkwardly, after a couple seconds of the man leaving him standing in silence, he lowered his hand. “Okay, well, I wanted to see you because, as you may or may not know, you and your house are the talk of the town. Everyone would like to know who you are, and no one seems to know the truth. So… would you do me the honour of letting me interview you?” Sure, it may be laying it on thick a bit, but they were standing in an 1800s parlour so maybe a little extra politeness would be right down this guy’s alley.
“No.” The man turned on his heel and left the room.
William blinked, staring at the spot where he had been.
Uh… That’s it?
He hurried after him and saw the man walking down the hall and entering the kitchen, his dark eyes flicking towards William right before he walked out of view.
Does… he want me to follow him?
He’d refused William’s interview… but he hadn’t told him to leave. Well, maybe he wants me to work hard for it.
William entered the kitchen to find the man slicing an orange into quarters. He silently watched as the man deftly pulled the peel off each quarter and tossed the fruit into an electric blender.
William had just moved into town, and seeing the local paper offered money to free-lance writers, wanted to publish an article that people would want to read. So, when he’d heard about this “terror house on Maple Tree Avenue” that no one knew anything about yet were all fascinated with, he had jumped right in to investigate further.
He had called first a few times, but he’d always been met with a “If you are not a client, then do not call this number.”
As you would, he’d once called pretending he was a client, but the man on the other side, whose voice he recognized to be the man now before him, had seen through that immediately, asking a question that William had no idea the answer to and obviously answered wrong. The man had threatened the police if William called anymore.
So, William had thought to take a more indirect approach. And here he was now. Inside the ‘terror house’ … and he was watching a man cut fruit in a kitchen.
Not what he expected.
“I do not wish anyone to know anything about me.” The man spoke quietly but firmly, all the while peeling a banana and tossing it into the blender as well. He moved to the fridge, grabbed what looked like Greek Yogurt, and put a dollop into the blender over top the fruit.
William didn’t know why, but watching this man dressed for a funeral calmly make what he assumed would be a smoothie, was the most fascinating thing to observe. He felt his hands itch on the camera but kept control of himself.
“Perhaps so, but you’ve caught their interest and that isn’t something that will go away as long as you remain as mysterious as you are now.” Well, they could lose interest, he knew. Their interest could be a passing fad, but William wanted to take advantage of their interest right now so they would remember him for future articles, as someone who found out what they wanted to know. “And besides, we’re social creatures. You can’t do everything by yourself. Wouldn’t it be good to get to know your neighbours?”
The man looked as interested to know his neighbours as the dog had looked willing to let him go. Where did that mutt go, anyway?
“So, you’re here because you want to know the truth about me?”
“Yes,” William said almost hesitantly. There was something ominous about the way the man had just said that.
“And if I let you tell everyone about the truth, will they stop coming over my walls?”
William’s eyebrows raised. “How often do you get people coming over your walls?”
“You’re the third one this week,” the man responded, frowning deeply as he turned on the blender. His eyes flicked up to catch William’s again, causing that strange jolt of energy through William again, but he just as quickly dropped his gaze back to his blender.
William resisted the urge to check his pulse to see if it was really hammering in his chest from just one glance.
“S-So, you’re going to let me interview you?” William wouldn’t lie. He was surprised. Generally, when he was found trespassing—which, wasn’t often, he assured himself—the homeowner had no interest in being interviewed after.
The man was silent as he got out a glass and poured the smoothie into it.
“Yes,” he said finally.
William gave himself an inward high five and grinned.
“Perfect! I’ll just—”
“But only if you make it so that no one will bother me again.”
William’s mouth was left open. “But how would I do that? You must know you are fascinating.” Okay, that came out wrong. “I mean… your story seems fascinating.”
The man frowned even more deeply as he came around the island and placed the smoothie in front of where William was standing.
William looked down at the drink and blinked. Did he just… make a smoothie for me?
“You’re a reporter, aren’t you?” The man said that like it somehow answered William’s question, he returned to his blender and started rinsing the parts in the sink.
“A free-lance journalist. Yes, I’m going to submit articles to the newspaper, but it’s really just until I make it big as an online writer…” Why am I even talking right now? Yes or no, man, yes or no.
The man returned, brought the smoothie up near William’s chest and held it there. “Drink your smoothie.”
William stared at the proffered drink incredulously. Rather persistent, isn`t he?
Uncertain he should be doing this, William accepted the cold drink with a muttered, “Thank you.” Was it his imagination, or did the man make sure their fingers didn’t touch? Not that William wanted to touch the man’s fingers. It was just something worth noting, that’s all.
“Where are you staying?”
William just managed to keep from locking eyes with the man again—not ready to go through that weird rollercoaster again, and looked down at his smoothie instead.
Why does he want to know where I live?
Well, sharing yourself was the best way to get others to share themselves. And I know where he lives… So, in the name of journalism…
“I guess you could say I’m a drifter,” William chuckled a little shakily, “I’m at the motel on 5th. I don’t need anything more permanent because—”
“You will stay here while you do the interview.”
William snapped his head over to stare at the man, who had just pulled out a pocket watch and looked down at the time. Of course, he has a pocket watch.
“If you want to know the truth about me,” the man said as he flicked his watch closed but continued to look down at it in his palm, “Then you will stay here until you do.”
The man looked up and their gazes locked once more. “Those are my conditions. Do you accept?”
This time it was the smoothie nearly dropping out of his hand that caused him to wake up and tear his eyes away to look down at what he was holding. With a shaky hand, he took a drink of the smoothie, gulping it down past the knot in his throat, and said more hoarsely than he had intended, “Yes.”
What am I even saying? Shoot, that’s a good smoothie. Shame I’ve just lost my mind.