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How Very Curious

The youngest sister unlocks the first door and gasps. The room is decorated in rich purples and old, Gothic-style furniture. In the center of the room is a four-post, ebony bed covered with a thick down comforter made of purple and black velvet. A simple wooden desk stands against the wall, accompanied by a high-backed, Gothic-style chair. A large antique wardrobe stands in the far corner, its full-length mirror reflecting the girls’ awestruck faces.

Tara squeals and flops dramatically onto the bed, “Dibs!” She wraps her arms around one of the overstuffed down pillows and hugs it close to her, “Oh wow! Oh...I’ve died and gone to heaven!”

Lara watches her sister flop around on the bed and asks, “Heaven? Where’s all that doom and gloom from a moment ago?”

She hugs the velvet cushion tighter against her chest, “I snuffed its lights out with one of these unbelievably fluffy pillows! Goodbye smelly cold park bench, I have a new lover now, and his name is Down!”

Laughing, Lara opens the second door. This room is similar in size to the one Tara claimed, with matching Gothic-style furniture. The decor was done in creamy whites and sage greens, giving the room a comfortable, airy feeling. The full-size bed is covered in pillows and has a down quilt with an ivy motif. There is a large bay window across from the bed, and the sun shining through the sheer curtains gives the room a golden glow. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen such a lovely room.

Curious, Lara walks over to the window and pulls back a lace panel, “Tara come look! This place is amazing!”

Tara runs in and flops down onto Lara’s new bed, “Nice, a window seat. And these rooms are huge! Ah, I feel like we’re at a bed-&-breakfast or something.”

Lara motions for her sister to join her at the window, “Come here and look.”

She hops off the bed and takes a seat next to her sister. Through the window, they could make out a sizable garden. Half hidden by gnarled old oaks, the garden has a large stone fountain covered in moss and twisting vines. Untamed flower beds, filled with antique roses and mountain laurel, line overgrown stone paths. Plum and redbud trees dot the landscape, their delicate white and pink blooms peeking out from under shadowy oaks and elms. Past the garden, they could make out the rooftop of an outlying building, possibly a barn or stable. Surrounding the estate for miles is a large wooded area filled with oaks, elms, and pines. It looked like something out of a fairy tale, not something either would expect to find on the outskirts of their small town.

Smiling, Lara looks over at her sister and asks, “Isn’t it gorgeous?”

Tara nods, not looking away from the sun-touched pines, “Almost makes the thought of living with a bunch of wackos not so bad.”

Excited, Lara pops her gently on the arm and says, “Come on, let’s explore.”

Tara pulls away from the window, her focus now on her smiling sister, “You sure? It’ll be dark soon, and you remember what Tweedle-dee said.”

“I’m way too wired to stay cooped up in here. I promise we’ll stay in the house, and we’ll be back safely in our rooms before dark,” Lara grabs a hold of her sister’s hand and leads her out the door.

Laughing, Tara lets herself be pulled along, “Very well, Alice. Down the rabbit hole we go!”

Making their way through the maze of hallways of the West Wing, the sisters explore the spare rooms. All were decorated in a similar fashion to theirs, with antique furniture, dark wood floors, and very dated, dark-toned wallpaper. The study and sitting room are dark as well, with button-turfed wing-backed chairs and ornately carved furnishings. Most of the decor appears to be Victorian, with a few more eclectic pieces scattered here and there. The place would have been exquisite, had it not been for the curtains of dust and cobwebs blanketing everything. It was apparent to the two that none of the rooms had been used for a very long time.

Lara studies a Tiffany lamp, marveling at the delicate jewel-toned wings of the stained glass dragonflies depicted on its shade, “Aunt Clara would love this place.”

“Yeah, all this hoity-toity old junk is right up her ally,” Tara agrees, running her hand over the arm of one of the study’s chairs. The walnut had been carved into the shape of a winged serpent and stained a deep brown.

Tara closes the study door behind them as they leave, wiping the dust from her hands onto her pants, “We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.”

Lara glanced down the hall and asks, “Should we check out the East Wing or head downstairs?”

“How about...?” with a mischievous grin Tara points up towards the third-floor landing.

“Nooo,” Lara tells her adventurous sister with a violent shake of her head.

“Oh come on! The weird one said the boss was out, and I don’t remember hearing anyone come in.”

“Maybe he came in the back and we missed him. Besides, home or not, that place is off-limits.”

Tara bounces around like a small child and whines, “But, it’s killing me! I want to know what’s up there so bad!”

“Oh Tara, honestly,” Lara scolds her baby sister. This act didn’t work when she was five, and it wasn’t going to work now.

“I can’t help it! I can actually feel my fingers twitching with the need to poke stuff,” she wiggles her fingers, chipped black nails and all, in her sister’s face.

Lara playfully swats at her, “Cut it out! Are you trying to get us fired on our first day?”

“Technically, tomorrow is our first day,” Tara says, giving her sister a sneaky, catlike grin.

“Nice try.”

She tosses her hands up in the air with a huff and says, “Okay fine! But you are killing me, I hope you know. Killing me!”

“Don’t be so draAHHHH!” Lara is startled by the feeling of warm air on the small of her back. She jumps to the side next to her sister and clutches on to Tara’s arm.

Startled, Tara glances over at where her sister had been standing a moment ago, “Lara, are you HOLY shhh!” She covers her mouth to keep from screaming profanities as all color drains from her face.

In a shadowy corner of the hallway, right in the spot where Lara had been standing, sits an inordinately large gray wolf. The canine tilts his head to the side and looks them over quizzically.

Shaken, Tara backs up and bumps into her sister, ”That is a huge dog.”

Lara peeks over her sister’s shoulder, “Where on Earth did he come from? Mr.Drake and Mr.Orlov never said anything about having a pet.”

Tara looks over her shoulder, cocking a brow at her sister, “Oh, I’m sure they didn’t tell us a lot of things. Which is why I want to check upstairs! Who knows what they could be hi-”

The wolf lets out a low growl, the thick fur on his shoulders bristling up.

Lara tugs at her sister’s arm, “Um, Tara...”

The younger sister puts up her hands defensibly, “Okay! Okay! No upstairs! Upstairs bad!”

The wolf stops growling and lets out an exasperated huff. Just to be on the safe side, the gigantic canine gets up and positions himself in front of the third-floor stairs. He pointedly sits his rump down on the first step, just in case the two got it in their heads to try and sneak past him.

Lara watches him, unable to look away, “I wonder if he belongs to the owner of this place.”

Tara slowly lowers her hands to her side, her eyes never leaving the huge canine in front of them, “Yeah, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum don’t seem like the type that could handle such a beast. He must belong to Mr.Mysterio.”

The wolf cocks his head to the side, gold eyes studying the two girls. How they had come to be here he did not know, but they didn’t appear to be a threat. At least, they didn’t act like burglars or the like. And no self-respecting hunter would have let their guard down so easily. Neither was exactly dressed for stealth, and they were unarmed. By all accounts, they were two normal, human girls. They watched him, faces pale and eyes wide, clinging to one another. The taller girl reeks of cheap incense, hair dye, and the sharp acid scent humans give off when they are afraid. The other one didn’t seem so much afraid of him as she was startled. She didn’t give off the scent of fear he has come to expect from humans. Instead, her scent was warm and lightly sweet. It reminded him a little of honey and vanilla, with a faint floral note. The floral scent was somewhat chemical, probably her shampoo, but the warm, sweet smell was natural. He found it strangely pleasant.

Lara stares at the wolf in wide-eyed wonder. Never before has she seen a canine so massive. Sitting there not three feet away, the top of his head could easily reach her chest. The beast is covered in a coat of ticked gray fur which fades to white along his neck, stomach, and legs. The fur was darker, almost a charcoal gray, on his shoulders and along his spine. The thick fur could not hide the taut muscles underneath, giving him the appearance of being anything but domesticated. Lara could tell at a glance that this was no lazy lap dog. More like a guard dog on steroids. Still, despite the growling earlier, he didn’t appear to be aggressive.

Lara lets go of her sister’s arm and slowly makes her way towards the wolf.

“What the Hell do you think you are doing?” Tara hisses through clenched teeth.

Giving her sister a reassuring smile, she inches her way forward, “Just getting a closer look. I want to see if he has any tags.”

“What? Why?” Tara cries out. Large dogs have always made her feel nervous, and this brute was something out of her worst nightmares.

“Well, if we’re going to be living together I would like to know his name.”

Tara has to fight the urge to drag her sister back to the sanctuary of their rooms, “Or you could ask one of the weirdos we work with instead of risking sudden death by mauling!”

Lara ignores her and walks up to the canine. Fearing for her sister’s safety, Tara begs her to be careful. The older sibling slowly bends down on one knee and looks around the wolf’s neck. Unsure of her motives, he stands and steps a few steps away from her. Kneeling down as she was, the wolf towered over her, looking down at her with puzzled gold eyes. Now that he was on his feet, Lara could see just how sizable he actually was. He had to be at least seven feet long from his head to the end of his tail. Looking down she notices that his paw is the same size as her hand. In her crouched position Lara is nearly a head shorter than him. The wolf lets out another huff, warm breath blowing strands of her hair into her face. Before she can think better of it, Lara leans forward and tilts her head to the side to get a better look at his neck. To her surprise, there is no collar.

“Well, no luck. He’ll just have to remain a mystery for now. Quite an impressive dog, though.”

Tara rolls her eyes an tries to fight back the creepy-crawlies she was feeling, ” If by impressive you mean huge and scary.”

Lara sits up and looks the wolf over, “You think so? I think he’s beautiful. I’ve never seen such gold eyes.”

Tara cocks an eyebrow at her sister and quips, “Careful, Riding Hood, a few more lines like that and he might decide to gobble you up.”

“If he was going to attack me, I think he would have done it by now.”

“Alright, alright. Come on, let’s go look around downstairs.”

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