Moving sucked under normal conditions. Khell had moved from apartment to apartment hundreds of times in her fifteen years, and could attest to that. Still, all of those moves had been in the same city. Khell had only ever had to change schools once. She’d never really had to say goodbye to friends, and she’d never really suffered more inconvenience then having to pack and unpack (which admittedly is a big inconvenience).
It was different this time. This time she was moving to a place called Quarrytown; four hours north. Her grandparents used to have a house and a bookstore there, and now, due to wills and ownership and legalities, she and her dad owned a house and a bookstore. Goodbyes had to be said, and new schools had to be planned. There was still packing and unpacking, but now it involved a truck that would show up in Quarrytown a day after Khell and her dad. Moving always sucked, but this felt different. This felt much worse.
Khell read the brochure for the hundredth time, hoping to find something to be excited about. The front page was a wide shot of Quarrytown’s main street. All the downtown buildings looked like they were carved from slabs of limestone, and were drab to look at; even decorated as they were with flags and flowers. The picture tried to look all summery and fun, But driving up the snow covered highway, Khell was having trouble picturing it.
Quarrytown lived up to its name only by default according to the pamphlet. After all, it had a quarry. In fact, Quarrytown had one of the largest quarries in the area, and had been a real rock mogul in its heyday. Quarrytown still had a major cement production company, and a thriving tourist industry, but the quarry was no longer in use. Left abandoned, it had flooded, and was now considered one of the greatest swimming holes in the area.
Khell wasn’t sure what it took to be a mover and shaker in the world of granite stone sales, but she could understand why anyone who wanted to be one would set up shop in the area. Looking out the passenger window, she could see nothing but rock on either side of the highway, and hadn’t for the past hour. Giant wind blown cliffs that looked to be made from misshaped bricks rose up on either side of the road; topped by great pines that seemed to be clinging desperately to the rocks. Rocks, and trees, and snow. Tons of snow.
“There was never this much snow back home,” Khell commented, breaking nearly an hour of silence. It wasn’t that she didn’t talk to her dad normally, but after a few hours alone in a car, conversation can run dry.
Her dad rose an eyebrow. He’d been humming tunelessly to the radio for awhile, and seemed surprised to hear Khell’s voice. “You get a lot more snow this far north,” he agreed after a moment. “A lot more of, well, a lot really. More snow, more stars, more animals. And not just more racoons and pigeons either,” he added. “Deer, and coyotes, and owls. Things you’d never see in the city.”
“Wolves? Bears?” Khell thought a second. “Wolverines?”
“We’re not far enough north for wolverines,” her dad muttered. He chuckled quietly, and Khell was pretty sure he was making ‘snikt’ noises in his head.
“So just wolves and bears,” Khell verified. “Great.”
“Well,” Her dad said. “We’ll try to keep them out of the house.”
“The house,” Khell echoed. Her dad said that they’d spent numerous summers in her grandparents old place, and Khell had been hoping that she’d remember it during the ride, or see something that sparked a memory. None of the continual rock cliffs were looking familiar so far. They’d stopped coming north when Khell was very little; back when mum had originally become sick; back when they’d all stopped doing anything.
Dad mistook Khell’s silence for despair. He patted her knee. “I know this seems tough,” he offered. “Moving always does. But I promise, you’re going to love it.”
Khell forced a smile. “Yeah, dad,” she said. “This’ll be great. I’m sure.” Khell hid back behind the brochure, and let her smile fade. She was sure of a lot of things, but this tiny rock town being great wasn’t one of them.
The trip to the house didn’t bring Khell and her dad through the majestic streets of Quarrytown, or even near the famous quarry. They instead pulled off the highway onto a series of small country roads that led to their new property. Dad parked the car at the bottom of their new driveway, and whistled low as he stared up the rock hill to their new home.
Khell hopped out, and trudged through the calf deep snow to stand beside her dad. The driveway wound all corkscrew up the hill; or at least the parts she could make out did. The whole of it was under the same thick layer of snow that the rest of the area was. She couldn’t even see the house from here at the bottom of the driveway.
“How are they going to get the moving truck up that?” Khell asked.
Her dad shook his head. “That’s what we pay them the big bucks for,” he offered with a chuckle. He smiled at Khell, but she didn’t return the favour. Dad sighed. “We’re likely going to have to shovel it,” he admitted.
“The whole thing?” Khell looked up the driveway with disdain.
“It’d be silly to only shovel half of it,” her dad replied. His ambition faded somewhat as he looked again up the hill. “Tell you what,” he offered. “Lets just get up there, warm up the old place, and see what we can see. Maybe we can find the number for a plowing company that’ll dig us out by tomorrow.” He shrugged. “Snow like this, someone in town’s got to be cashing in, right?”
“Right.” Khell agreed. She wanted to be helpful, but shovelling a mile of snow was pushing her limit. Khell watched her dad unload the trunk of the car, and took some of the lighter bags from him.
It was a slippery walk, and Khell almost lost her footing on several occasions. The driveway winded around rock outcroppings, and through a small forest of great pines, which together did a fine job of hiding the house until Khell and her dad reached the top of the hill. At the end of the driveway was a small clearing with a snow covered picnic bench, a forgotten truck, a tiny shed, and of course, the house.
Khell wasn’t sure what she’d pictured the house looking like, but she was sure this wasn’t it. The old house was made of limestone bricks of varied color and varied size. It had two floors, but it looked as though the first floor was only grudgingly accepting the second. The windows were round, and placed at random intervals on either floor. A stone chimney jutted from the side of the house, and carried up over the top floor in a lazy zigzag. In all, the house looked like it had been built by someone who had a lot of rocks, and little time for planning. The only thing of the house that looked new was the closed porch that ran around the front of the house.
Dad looked expectantly from the house, to Khell, and then to the house again. “So?” he asked. “What do you think?”
“Why are the porch windows Saran wrapped?” Khell asked.
“The windows.” Dad rapped on one of the thick plastic covers. “It’s to keep the heat in,” he replied matter of factly. “In the spring, we’ll take them all down.” Dad looked expectantly for Khell to answer.
Khell looked hard at the lopsided house. “We should get inside,” she said finally. Her feet were getting cold.
“Yes,” her dad agreed, sounding a bit crestfallen. Still, he smiled as he fumbled with the keys. “See the whole place, then decide what you think.”
Inside didn’t impress Khell much more than outside did. The house had a thick dust and age smell to it, mixed with stale air, and a hint of rotten wood and oil. Old furniture was covered by thick white sheets, which in turn were covered with a second sheet of dust.
The light gave a dull yellow glow when dad finally found a switch. He led Khell down the hall to the kitchen, and then to a set of stairs going down to the basement. Khell pulled back, and stared at her father sceptically.
“You’re going to start the tour in the basement?” she questioned.
“It’s a finished basement,” he assured her. “Not a, you know, creepy old house basement. Besides, we need to warm the place up before we can get comfortable.”
“Warm the place up?” Khell couldn’t imagine why the heat wouldn’t be on already. After all; the lights were working, albeit barely. She followed her father down the stairs.
Her dad said nothing until he’d led Khell past more covered furniture, and shelves of random boxes, to the far end of the basement. “The old place has a woodstove,” he explained, pointing to an ancient cauldron shaped stove. “We need fire to heat the house.”
Khell put her hands on her hips. “You don’t know how to make a fire,” she stated with a smirk. “You can barely handle the ordinary oven.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” her dad replied, mocking hurt. “I can make fire. Heck, people start fires by accident all the time; it can’t be that hard to do on purpose.” He opened the gated mouth of the woodstove, and began to jam flammables from the pile nearby into the opening.
Khell watched over her dad’s shoulder. He stuffed the woodstove with a full week of old newspapers, as well as a small tree’s worth of twigs. Two giant logs crushed the whole mess down. It looked like a pretty good start to a fire, though really Khell was just guessing as she’d never made fire exist before.
Dad nodded at his work. He patted at his pockets, and looked up at Khell. “Hey, you haven’t taken up smoking have you?” he asked.
“What? Dad, no.”
“Good,” dad said. “It’s a terrible habit. Never start.” He stared into the open wood stove. “Of course, if you were smoking, or if I was, one of us would have a lighter.”
Khell watched as her dad patted his pockets again; as though a lighter would magically appear there. She giggled despite herself. “Maybe the fire will start itself accidentally,” she offered.
Dad made a face at Khell before he stood, and began to search the shelves. “There’s got to be some matches or something, right?” he said.
Khell watched her dad rummage for a while before standing up as well. “I’ll go check upstairs,” she offered. “Maybe the kitchen?” Khell took her father’s grunt and dismissive wave as a yes, and went back upstairs.
Khell searched through a few kitchen drawers, finding silverware, dishes, and a particularly large collection of elastics. She did not find a lighter though, and decided to see what the rest of the first floor had to offer.
The main floor was all connected by a long central hallway; capped on either side by the living room (at the front) and the kitchen (at the back). There was a bathroom; with a large claw footed tub, and flower printed tile walls. There was a small sitting room that Khell was certain would be called a study, though she wasn’t sure. There was an even smaller room that didn’t hold any purpose that Khell could see. She named that the cloak room because why not? The living room had a pair of couches, and a piano, but no T.V. Finally, there was the library.
Khell had always been a fan of books, and would be lying if she told anyone she wasn’t interested in the library. It was nearly the same size as the living room, and full ceiling to floor with shelves of books. There was a large table in the middle of the room, lost under a stack of books waiting to be sorted, and a small nook near a large round window, perfect for just sitting and reading. Khell ran a finger over the spines of some of the books as she walked through the room. She supposed that it shouldn’t be surprising that her grand folks had liked books enough to have a library; they did own a bookstore after all.
Of course, the library also seemed the least likely place to find a lighter. Books and fire were never big friends after all. Khell sighed, and made a mental promise to come and check out the books soon. She was just about to close the library door, when she heard a soft thump from inside.
Khell held the doorknob, but didn’t look back in right away. She was neither an easily frightened, nor superstitious girl, but this was a new unfamiliar house, and strange noises could really spook anyone. Khell listened for a good few seconds for any more noise before she screwed up enough courage to look back in the library.
When she finally did look back in the library, she found that one of the books had slid from the table, and was lying on the floor. Khell mentally chastised herself as she picked up the stray literature.
Khell stared at the book. It was older than any book she’d ever seen. The cover was coated in a rusty red leather; worn thin along the edges. The book’s spine was a thick brass hinge, and the corners had gilded brass protectors hammered on. The title of the book was a series of markings Khell had never seen before, made of inlaid iron. Below that was a large curled symbol of interwoven circles atop a thin metal band that ran the width of the book, and held it closed.
Khell squinted at the title of the book with a strange feeling that the markings would make sense if she stared at them long enough. She ran a hand over the circle symbols, and found them to be warm. The circles of it felt loose, like they could be moved about. Khell wondered if they had anything to do with the band sealing the book.
Khell’s heart skipped a beat as her dad’s shout broke the silence. “I found one!” he yelled from the basement. “Little magnetic box on the side of the pipe! Ingenious really.”
“Alright dad!” Khell yelled back. She put the book down on the table, and headed back towards the basement stairs. Already the house was filling with the thick black smoke of her father’s first attempt to start a wood stove.