Roanwood Manor has overlooked this sleepy little town since its founding. Long before they built the factory that got this place up and running, or the towering pines were cleared to lay the ancient rail tracks. Before Main Street was bustling with shops and suburbia took root here the old manor’s shadow loomed over us. Built before this town was even a flyspeck on the map, Roanwood Manor sat on top of its hill, watching. Though weathered by time it still stands strong, hidden away by its sentinels of giant pines and twisted old oaks, forgotten by the world bellow. Most never give the old manor a second thought, others half-joke that the place is haunted by vengeful spirits and or worse. The children dare each other to sneak onto the grounds and ring the old bell or steal a flower from the overgrown garden, but none are brave enough to pass the old iron gate that guards this place. Some claim to see strange lights flickering in the windows at night. Others swear they hear the melancholic howl of a wolf when no wolf has been seen in this part of the state for a half-century or more. Many believe these tales to be nothing but stories to frighten the town’s more simple-minded residents, which suites the manor’s inhabitants just fine. If there is one thing Roanwood Manor values it’s privacy.
In the old manor’s library, a man sits in an overstuffed, winged back chair reading. The cover of the book is so worn the title can no longer be seen, but there is a faint embossing of a wolf on the book’s spine. The man stretches wearily in his seat, aged leather creaking as he tries to shift into a more comfortable position. He flips through the tome’s musty pages, blue eyes squinting as he rubs his stiff neck. After a few more moments of searching the man drops the book into his lap and rubs his tired eyes with the palms of his hands. “Latin. Why, Good Lord, is it always Latin?” the man groans as he picks up the book again and begins to trug though it. Every so often he jots down a few notes in the leather-bound ledger sitting on the lamp table at his side.
A loud rumbling boom echoes throughout the house as the walls of the library violently shake. Dust and plaster rains down from the ceiling, coating the man’s dark curls and olive skin in a layer of gray filth. He doesn’t notice as the windows around him rattle in their frames and books topple from the shelves surrounding him. The shaking stops as suddenly as it started, leaving behind a thick cloud of dust. The man continues to read as if nothing has happened, never once lifting his head from his work.
Frantic footsteps can be heard running up the stairs, a stampede of one. The doors to the library burst open and a soot-covered young man in a lab coat rushes in, nearly tripping on his filth-encrusted Oxfords. He frantically wipes a thick layer of grime from his wire-rimmed glasses as he stammers, “I’m s-so- oh, it’s just you Derek. I thought Jedidiah was in here.” Seeing his friend sitting there, the young man lets out a deep sigh of relief and leans his tall, thin frame heavily against the library’s entrance.
Derek, looks up from his work to stare at the bemired and flustered scientist, “Why? What did you do?”
He puts back on his spectacles and blinks owlishly at his friend, leaving a streak of soot across one of his lenses, “You didn’t hear it?”
“I... blew up the lab again,” he shyly tells the man sitting before him, shaking soot and dust out of his sandy brown hair.
Derek shakes his head, dark locks bouncing in his mirth as he says in a sing-song tone, “Old Man Fáelán is going to be pissed.”
The man in the lab coat begins to wildly pace around the room, leaving a trail of soot and grime across the library’s already filth covered floor. Distressed, the lanky Russian pulls at his disheveled hair, looking quite mad. He kicks up a cloud of dust with each step, causing Derek to go into a coughing fit.
“Dimitri, c-calm, cough, calm down. It can’t be, cough, that bad,” Derek tells him, covering his mouth with his sleeve. He picks up his ledger and uses it to fan the dust away from his face.
“You don’t understand! The basement, she is polnyi pizdets!” Dimitri cries out, dramatically flailing his arms in the air.
Derek’s eyebrows shoot up as he feigns surprise at his friend’s cursing, “Language Dee. No need to lose your cool. There’s no way the basement is, what was that again, fucked up beyond all repair?”
Lamenting over his misfortune, the scientist groans into his hands, “Oh, Jedidiah is going to kill me!”
Derek rolls his eyes at his wailing friend and goes back to his book, “Now you’re being overdramatic. The Old Man is not going to-”
A low, throaty growl fills the air. Both men jolt up and look towards the library door. Filling the doorway is a massive wolf, his gray agouti fur bristling along his back as he lets out another low growl.
Hands raised in front of him in a submissive stance, the scientist slowly backs away, “Oh, h-hi, I was j-just-”
The wolf moves in closer, his gold eyes fixed with murderous intent on the soot-covered young man.
With a nervous smile, Derek gathers up his work to move to a safer location, “Okay you two, play nice.”
Later that day, the two men go down to the destroyed basement to survey the wreckage. The ceiling and walls in a far corner are charred black. Most of the scientific equipment stored on that side is destroyed beyond recognition. A large metal lab table lays twisted on its side with a basketball-sized crater in its center. Shards of broken glass and metal shrapnel glitter across the floor. All of this is covered in a thick layer of soot and sodium bicarbonate powder from the empty fire extinguisher lying on its side by the basement door.
Yup, this was bad. Most of Dimitri’s tools would need to be replaced, and a lot of their hunting gear would have to be rebuilt. This was going to keep them decommissioned for awhile. Unable to take in all of the destruction, Derek runs shaky fingers through his dark, curly hair and asks, “Seriously, Dimitri?”
The tattered Russian can only give his friend a weak smile as a reply.
Derek nudges the fire extinguisher with his foot, sending it rolling down the basement stairs with a hollow clang, “What on Earth were you doing down here anyway?”
Dimitri fiddles with his glasses, once again leaving streaks of soot on the lenses, and says in a low whisper, “Fixing the vacuum.”
Derek’s eyes grow wide with shock as he cries out, “The vacuum cleaner did this?”
“I-I thought I could improve its suction power a bit,” the scientist stammers, shifting his gaze from his friend to his dirty Oxfords.
“Something tells me that the vacuum is the only thing not going to suck today,” Derek groans. He was starting to miss the quiet solitude of the upstairs library.
Taking off his glasses, Dimitri tries in vain to clean the lenses on the sleeve of his lab coat, “Come on, let’s get this place cleaned up.”
Derek’s shoulders slump, “Right... Couldn’t we just shut the door and pretend this part of the house never existed?”
Dimitri gives a quick shake of his head, sending a cloud of dust from his sandy brown hair, “Nope, we need the lab. And I doubt Jedidiah will give us another basement.”
Derek rubs his neck and slowly makes his way down the basement stairs, mourning the loss of his quiet afternoon and yet another home appliance.
Just after dark the two emerge from the basement tired, sore, and covered head to toe in soot and grime.
Derek pops his stiff back, “I need a drink.” He walks over to the cupboard and looks for a glass. The cupboard is bare except for a large house spider that has taken residence in a shadowy corner. Opening another cupboard Derek finds it in the same state, “Hey Dee, where are all the glasses?”
Dimitri points to the sink. It is overflowing with dirty dishes, as are the countertops and the kitchen island. The trash is overflowing and the kitchen table is covered in empty pizza boxes and ancient take-out containers. The place is a complete wreck.
Worn out and thirsty, Derek leans heavily against the fridge and asks, “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Nope, we need a maid. Preferably a cute French one.”
Dimitri gives a weary shake of his head, “Dream all you want, it’ll never happen.”
“What makes you say that?” Derek asks as he grabs a soda from the fridge, at least he hoped it was soda. He offers Dimitri one, who declines with a shake of his head.
“Jedidiah doesn’t exactly like house guests, remember?”
He pops the tab on his drink and is a little concerned when he doesn’t hear the expected fizzing sound, “Ah, come on, it won’t kill us to ask.”
“It might,” Dimitri tells him as he watches his friend take a cautious sip of his flat beverage.
Derek takes one sip and puts the open can back into the fridge, thoroughly disgusted, ”Cough, m-maybe we should order take-out first. The old man is more accommodating on a full stomach.”
A half-hour later, the two walk upstairs to the third floor, take-out in tow. Derek tip-toes to a large wooden door at the top of the third-floor stair and gives it a light rap, “Hey Boss, you in? We brought dinner.”
He gives another rap of his knuckles and the door slowly creeps open. Derek looks over at his friend and gives a small, nervous chuckle.
He pushes the door open further, causing the hinges to let out a shrill screech, “Heh, you would think after ten years I would be used to how creepy this place is.”
Trying his best not to appear freaked out, Dimitri nudges his friend forward. The two walk into a large study lit only by a fireplace at the far end of the room. Immense wooden bookshelves cover the walls from floor to ceiling, cram-packed with ancient tomes, old leather-bound books, and other oddities. Their boss stands there scowling down at the lit fireplace, a tumbler half full of brandy in his hand. His tall frame leans heavily against the mantle, waves of black hair concealing most of his face. Jedidiah looks up as the two men tip-toe in, the light from the fire glinting off his golden eyes.
Derek freezes in place, startled by the pair of glowing, predatory eyes watching them. Gathering up his nerve, he moves to stand in front of their employer, a nervous grin plastered on his face. No, I will never get used to how creepy this place is.
Clearing his throat Derek tells their boss, “So, the basement is all fixed up now. Looks like no damage was done to the seals, so that’s something.”
Jedidiah Fáelán lets out a heavy sigh and rubs his temple with his free hand, like a weary father about to scold two rambunctious children. He takes another sip of his brandy before proceeding, “Yes, that is something. You both know what could happen if any of those seals are broken. Your tinkering could very well get us all killed, Orlov.”
The young scientist shies away, a little nervous at being suddenly addressed. He looks down at his hands and stammers out an apology, “I’m s-sorry, Jedidiah. I will be more careful next time.”
Their boss narrows his eyes at Dimitri and asks, “Next time?”
“W-Well yes, I have to, you see. It’s part of my work. H-How else am I to make the equipment we need? There’s not exactly a market geared toward our line of work. Nothing reputable, anyway.”
Jedidiah looks down into his nearly empty glass and ponders for a moment before saying, “Yes, your field is a little ...specialized. Very well, continue your tinkering. Just try not to destroy the house.”
Noticing that the mood has lightened somewhat the two friends’ shoulders relax.
Feeling braver Derek walks over to Jedidiah and shakes a container of take-out at him, “Hungry?”
His employer crinkles his nose in disgust at the steaming cardboard box, “What is that?”
Derek lifts the box to his nose and sniffs it, “Chow Mein, I think. It’s from the noodle shop downtown.” He makes the box dance in front of him and chants, “Come on, you know you want it.”
Jedidiah waves his hands in front of him in an attempt to shield himself against the rank-smelling container, “No, thank you. I could go for some real food.”
Derek pries the box of take-out open and studies its contents, “Actually, we wanted to talk to you about that.”
Scowling, Jedidiah steps back from the offensive smell, “If you want me to cook, think again.”
Rummaging through the plastic sack on the lamp table behind him, Derek hunts for a set of chopsticks, “God, no. The last time was, well, it was hilarious really. No, we were thinking more along the lines of hiring someone to do the cooking, and cleaning, and what have you.”
Jedidiah’s scowl deepens, “No.”
“No. There are too many people in my house as it is.”
“But, it’s just the three of us.”
Swallowing a mouth full of noodles, Dimitri puts down his chopsticks and chimes in, “Jedidiah, you know Derek and I don’t have the time to keep up with the whole house. I mean, it’s huge! And you’re not exactly big on housekeeping yourself.”
Brandishing his successfully obtained chopsticks, Derek plops down with his take-out in a chair next to their boss, causing dust to billow out of the cushion and float hazily into the air, “Besides, a man can’t live on cup noodle alone.”
“Speak for yourself,” Dimitri scoffs, then slurps down another mouth full of noodles from his white paper box.
Jedidiah watches the scientist inhale his food and wonders how anyone could eat that swill.
“It’s tempting Drake, but my home isn’t exactly a place fit for outsiders.”
Snapping apart his chopsticks, Derek tells him, “If you are worried about well, you know, I have a plan about that. We’ll have it so they would only take care of the first two floors of the house. Those are the ones in the worst shape anyway.”
Arms crossed over his chest, Jedidiah leans against the mantle and asks, “And, if curiosity gets the better of them and they decide to go poking around?”
Derek squeezes a packet of soy sauce into his box as he explains further, “The basements are locked. The three of us are the only ones with keys to them. And you’re the only one with access to the third floor. You usually stay up here when you’re not feeling like yourself anyway.”
Jedidiah takes another sip of his brandy before saying, “Still, I’m not comfortable with a stranger coming and going as they see fit.”
“We could always have them live here. People have live-in housekeepers all the time. They would probably have to, considering how long their workday will have to be to maintain this place. And you wouldn’t have to pay them as much as someone who commutes. Having a roof over their head and three square meals a day would be part of their pay. And, Dimitri and I could be the ones to tell whoever what needs to be done, so you won’t have to be bothered with it.”
Their boss thinks for a bit before saying, “Very well, hire someone. Just remember to be careful who you choose. The two of you will be responsible for their well being.”
“Thanks, Boss, you won’t regret this,” Derek leaps up from his chair, beaming from ear to ear. Never in his wildest dreams did he think Jedidiah would agree to this. He wanted to start hatching out his plans before their boss had a chance to change his mind.
Annoyed, Fáelán slumps heavily into his chair and shoos the two away, “Yes yes, now get that stuff out of my study. It stinks.”