Avina Vaillancourt was an idiosyncratic child according to her peers. Substantially, she was such a bizarre child that she did not care about the fact that she was an oddity. Avina really only cared about her one friend, Louie, who in an even more ghastly turn of events was a talking dog.
“Lou-ie,” she huffed, leaning over in her seat to shake the curled figure beside her. Louie was a brown spotted Picardy Spaniel from Avina’s home country. He was a pup given to her on her eleventh birthday. Her father, Gibson Vaillancourt, had taken him in and flew him to America for his daughter.
The dog lifted his head, blinking the sleep away from his eyes. He tilted his head at the girl, pretending that he could not talk around her grandparents. She lived with her mother’s grandparents; her great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Annesley and Carleton Baskerville were kind, loving souls that adored their peculiar great-granddaughter. They were traveling from their home in Boston to spend the holidays with family elsewhere.
Deep down, the elder couple prayed that being amongst family would help their dear granddaughter to grow out of her fables and learn to delve into a new world of family and friends. She was an easy child for her twelve years amidst all of her strangeness. Nevertheless, they continued to fret over her.
“I hate it when you don’t talk,” she frowned, purposely speaking loud enough for them to hear her. They shared a look with one another, Carleton’s hands briefly gripping the wheel tighter. Annesley assured him with a smile, always the adamant one that their granddaughter was simply going through a faze. Surely, her fables would diminish as she grew away from talking dogs and moving doors with eyes and other such bizarre things like talking trees and walls with ears.
“We’re almost there, Avie,” Carleton spoke. “Won’t you be excited to see everyone?”
“I don’t know anyone,” she reminded her grandfather, while she crossed her arms and counted the trees they passed. She had heard that the aunt’s house they were traveling to was surrounded by the thickest forest in Ohio. She didn’t care much for the holidays, especially since this one would be spent with strangers. There would be cousins and aunts and uncles she had never met before all pushing to shake her hand and ask about her life. She hated these types of things. Too crowded, too many voices, sweat and lingering hands.
Not to mention there would be new doors with eyes that followed her and the walls would seek up every greedy little secret that spilled from her relatives lips. She hated new places. The trees chattered day in and day out, the floors shook in excitement and she could never keep her balance above their quivering. She much preferred her old room and books, trapped under a layer of blankets with Louie by her side. In her books she did not have to talk to people.
Talking was a taxing thing demanded of her and she hated it. Louie was her only companion she deemed good enough to hold more than one-word conversations with. The dog took that fact in stride with his doggy tail held up.
“You will soon enough,” Annelsy assured, thinking that her granddaughter’s displeased tone came from nervousness. “Just don’t let that shyness get in the way too much, honey. We’re all family here.”
“Yeah,” she replied, reverting back to her favorite way of communication. She slumped back in her seat, glaring down at her furry companion. Louie raised an eyebrow in response, yawned once again and stood on his paws. “Oh, Louie, stop ignoring me.” She reached forward and held the young dog in her arms, bringing him to her lap.
“Though I love you,” Louie wiggled, saying his first words since a while. “Would you kindly release me? Your grip makes it hard to breathe.” Avina loosened him.
“You frivolous dog,” she affectionately whispered, bending her head for Louie’s comfort amongst her guardians. She scratched behind his ear. “You have yet to utter a word about this oh so extravagant predicament of ours, dear pet. What are your inquires about this?”
“There will surely be new squirrels,” Louie insisted, lifting his doggy head to show off a row of sharp teeth, perfect for squirrel chewing. “Squirrel soup, even a bit of squirrel gâteau.”
“Louie,” she hissed. He produced a doggy grin.
“My apologies,” he chortled. “What makes you so disconcerted? This is undoubtedly a new prospect to examine contentedly upon.”
“Oh,” she hummed, raising her own brow. “And what makes you declare such an egregious thing?”
“Simple,” he softly barked, wary of the other hears in the vehicle. “The-”
“If you murmur a sound about squirrels or any such vermin I will personally help the forest in concealing your remains,” she warned.
“Oh, I would never,” the Spaniel expatiated his speech. “Not under any condition in which could be bestowed upon a good Spaniel such as myself would I allege such a preposterous, unthinkable-”
“Reason,” he finished short, tail wagging. Before she could respond, most presumably with more chiding, the car slowed to a crawl and her grandparents both turned.
“We’re here,” Annesly told her. She unbuckled. “Come meet everyone, you two.” Avina and Louie shared a glance and exited the car. To calm her mind she placed her fingers in his fur. It was one of the few things she liked the feel of.
Other people’s hands crawled across her skin and left a debilitated feeling deep in her stomach. She allowed her great-grandparent’s touches, however there were times when their brushes squirmed under her flesh. She detested the feeling of itchy tags and the collars of certain shirts, not to mention there were some materials she flat out refused to touch. However, she liked the rugged feel of trees, her grandmother’s homemade clothes she constructed strictly for Avina herself, the warm feeling of the car’s hood after a long ride, and Louie’s fur. There might have been other things she didn’t mind touching, though she did not know. She didn’t touch many things.
“Do you presume there will be adequate time for squirrel chasing?” he quired.
“Hush, Louie,” she upbraided. Beside her, the Spaniel heaved a doggy sigh and trotted ahead of her.
“Come on,” Carleton called out, twisted his head to look upon his granddaughter and smiled. Around her, she felt the trees shake.
“Oooohhh,” the trees quivered. “If that dog relieves itself on me-” She grabbed Louie’s collar before he could go full canine of them. She ducked her head towards her best friend and watched a tall, elastic haired woman creak open the front door.
“I am not a scrounger,” Louie huffed. She nodded enough to pacify him and refrained from scolding him about his lack of manners. He knew as well as her about the many paths that the trees obstructed if they were not treated with care.
“I’m Lila,” the stranger introduced. “I’m your grandmother. This-” She pointed at the other woman beside her. “-is my sister, Brenda.”
“We waited a long time to meet you,” Brenda informed. She had long brown hair with curled ends and sharp brown eyes. She wore a silver wedding band.
“She’s a shy one,” Annesly defended when she did not answer. Instead, she ducked her head low and ran her fingers through Louie’s fur. She felt her great-grandmother’s hand on her shoulder, the soothing gesture welcomed and calming. Though her grandmother did not condone Avina’s stories she was quick to defend her against anything.
“I understand. Her mother was the same when she was her age,” Lila waved off. She stepped back and brought her mother into a hug. “It’s good to see you, Mom.” Carleton smiled and brought his other daughter into her own hug.
“Where are the others?” Annesly questioned, pointedly looking around the property.
“Inside,” Brenda assured, a soft smile on her pale lips. She stepped forward and offered a hand to Louie. “Hello, pup. What’s your name?” Avina waited, though she knew that the Spaniel would not answer.
“Louie,” she pressed, eyebrows narrowed. “It is rather uncivil of you not to answer when asked a question.” The dog tilted his head, one ear raised up. She huffed, crossed her arms.
“Don’t mind her,” Carleton nervously laughed, waving his hand before his daughters. “Avina’s a bit too into her own world lately. Where are Berninhard and Hans? The boys are around her age, yes?”
“Those are your cousins,” Annesly informed her granddaughter, her hand still protectively on her shoulder. Avina leaned into the touch. “Your Aunt Ethel has two boys that are fourteen and twelve. Brenda’s daughter has three children a bit younger than you. All of them live here, Avie.”
“Great,” she puffed out her cheeks, eyes narrowed at the house. Around her, the trees bristled and increased their consistent chattering. She reached out for Louie and felt his nose nudge against her hand.
“New people,” they babbled on, leaves vining across one another. “What if they make a new house? A new house? Oh, I don’t-”
“A dog!” a new onset began to complain, scorn in their whispers. “Such shameless creatures!” Avina bent and wrapped her fingers around Louie’s collar to hold him at bay, her lips tilting up when she felt the bubbling of a growl deep in his chest.
“Louie,” she breathed out. “Act with decorum.” She felt him settle down, no doubt rolling his eyes at her. She let up and followed behind the adults inside the large house. She hung further back, so their ears would not eavesdrop like the walls.
“I don’t think it’s so bad,” he announced, sensing his owner’s qualms about everything. He bumped his nose with the back of her knee. “Cheer up, Madame. There will be new risky or unexpected undertakings here for sure.”
“Oh, Louie,” she softly laughed, loving her pet for his ataractic ways. She scratched behind his ear. “You phenomenal dog.”
“You don’t have to stop there, Madame,” he barked, tail wagging. “While I love you very much to the tip of my tail to my nose you forgot to mention my astonishing squirrel chasing skills. Reasonably, I should get a treat for this, yes?”
“Louie,” she scolded, though her lips tilted up despite herself. He tossed his head and picked up the pace.
“Don’t be nervous,” Carleton said. He stepped back and tugged Avina into a comforting hug. She breathed in her grandfather’s scent; mint chocolate and aftershave. He patted her head, placed a kiss on her cheek and opened the door to their new world. She reached for Louie, thankful to find him already backing into her.
A smaller, younger version of Brenda with short blonde hair and large bambi eyes stepped into Avina’s view, a young boy with dark skin clinging to her side. She smiled at the guests and brought Annesley and Carleton into a hug.
“It’s so good to see you after all these years, Grandma and Grandpa,” she grinned. She bent down and took the small boy’s hand in hers. “This is Nixon, my youngest.”
“Oh, hi, boy,” Carleton introduced. He smiled wide and winked at the shy boy. “How old are you?”
“S-six,” he stuttered, pressing his face into his mother’s side. Annesly cooed at his adorable flushed cheeks.
“Come in,” the younger Brenda waved. She stepped back and held the door open. Lila and Brenda lead first, waddling in similar ways to the back of the house. Avina stopped with her grandparents beside the girl as she closed the door. She stumbled when the floors started to shake and twists from their feet. Quickly, she tore off her shoes and held onto Louie for balance.
She had discovered over the years that floors really despised dirty shoes. She made a habit to keep hers clean, but the trek outside had muddied them. She shook her head at Annesly’s side glance, tightened her grip on Louie and prayed the floors would settle down soon enough.
“You’ve grown, Yoana,” Carleton commented. He removed his coat, helped his wife with her’s and followed Yoana into the family room. Avina shuffled after, frowning when the boards underneath her began to rock into new places. She stepped over the holes and continued on her way.
“Not that much,” Yoana waved off. She turned a corner and brought them into a spacious light blue room with dozens of people meandering about. Most stopped their conversations when they spotted the old couple, the young girl and her dog. Avina didn’t study them much, too distracted on keeping her balance and the ears that began to grow out from the walls. They were large and small, different tones and shapes, but listening the same nevertheless.
“Carleton,” a dark skinned male with thinning hair beamed. He stepped away from a mixed girl a year or two below Avina and outstretched his hand. Carleton didn’t hesitate to bring him into a hug.
“Damien,” Annesly said. She waited until he had stepped back before she brought him into another hug. “It’s good to see you, boy. Treating my granddaughter well?”
“Always, Ma’am,” he replied, a large smile across his face. He had only one dimple. Yoana shook her head and kissed his cheek. Avina figured they were married, judging by the three mixed children she spotted, including young Nixon that now clung to his father’s leg. Damien picked up the boy and settled him on his hip, a big smile still on his face.
The doors, with their huge, bulging eyes turned toward her. She winced and closed her own. She always thanked that they could not move from the doors. She didn’t know if she could handle floating eyes.
“Enough about that,” Lila smiled. She stepped around her parents and smiled down at Avina. “This is Avina, my Gracen’s daughter.”
“Oh!” Yoana announced, her eyes lighting up. “I’m sorry, young one. You’re so quiet, I didn’t see you.” Avina nodded and set her hand on top of Louie’s head.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Damien smiled, his arm wrapped around his wife. Nixon was stuck between them, his eyes wide and teary.
“Same,” Avina inhaled. She met Louie’s eyes and nodded. Eventually, the floors settled down. She found her footing, exhaled and let her death grip on Louie go.
“She’s not much for words,” Annesly defended. She inclined her head and placed her hand in her husband’s. “She is a very bright child though.” She refrained from mentioning her great-granddaughter's refusal to attend school no doubt knowing her relatives reactions. They would never understand why she allowed Avina to act on her own and proceeded to homeschool her to her own preferences.
“Is this your dog?” Yoana shifted, drawing attention to the canine attached to Avina’s side. “Ethel and Markus have a mutt named Yeller. My girls love playing with him.”
“His name is Louie,” Carleton disclosed.
“How lovely,” Yoana smiled. She straightened her back and off-handley waved a hand around. “You can go anywhere you want, Avina. Just...don’t go into the wood okay? It’s rather easy to get lost back there.” Avina frowned, sensing something off about her tone.
“Okay.” Nevertheless, she knew better than to question it. She ducked behind Carleton and took the first opening given to her. With speed, Louie and her raced out the back to be with themselves. She glanced around for any of the younger cousins and heaved a sigh of relief she was alone.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Louie said. She ignored him and creeped towards the opening of the woods, curious. To her immense surprise, the trees did not start their chatter. It was rather odd. And Avina was a master at the odd.
She jumped when she felt him bite her arm. “Louie Vaillancourt!” She turned on her heels and pinched him back before he could jump away. He snorted and stepped out of her reach.
“Who are you?” They both turned, startled with racing hearts. On instinct, she grabbed for Louie. There was a boy before her, perhaps a cousin with wispy blonde hair and blue eyes. He held a brown and white spotted mutt on a black leash.
“A-Avina,” she revealed. There was a reason she despised talking to people that were not her grandparents or Louie. She was terrible at it and held a certain stutter that never appeared otherwise.
It made her feel shortsighted and Avina really loathed that.
“Ah,” the boy responded, his eyes much lighter up close. He smiled and patted the dog’s head. “My mother told me about you! You’re my cousin, yes?” She nodded, her tongue frozen solid. “My name is Berninhard, almost fifteen.”
He frowned, his head tilted when she didn’t respond. His eyes diverged away from her. “What about your dog?” he continued to blubber. “What’s his name?”
“Louie,” she whispered. She eyed the mutt at her cousin’s feet that proceeded to growl back. She felt a nibble at her ankle and pinched Louie back. “He’s a proud Picardy Spaniel.” Another nudge. She rolled her eyes. “From France. A proper, respectable pup.”
Berninhard raised an eyebrow when the dog raised his head in response. It was as if he understood. Though, that thought had to be ridiculous. Dogs were dogs. His own Yeller was smart, sure, but he couldn’t tell what door lead outside and scratched at any random one when he needed to be let out.
“What’re you doing out here?” he proceeded to probe. He tugged at Yeller’s leash when he tried to wander off. Avina pointed towards the house. He nodded. “Yeah, I know that. I’m asking why you’re out here. So close to the woods that is. We’re not allowed”
“No reason,” she shrugged. She looked over at the edge of where the forest started. The trees were still a deep slumber. Avina prefered them that why for their unremitting chattering bounced around her head too much and causes migraines. Nevertheless, she would rather spend her time with the trees than locked in the new houses with their quaking floors, nosy ears and the eyes that followed her every move.
“You’re weird,” Berninhard quipped. She shrugged, not offended. She had been called many things before, but they had never bothered her. She knew she was peculiar compared to other children, and even most adults for that matter, albeit she rather liked herself. If she was not an unnatural oddity than would she have Louie? She couldn't dare to think of a life without her best friend despite his appearance a simple year earlier and the fact that she had lived before him; it didn’t matter in the end, Louie was apart of her life.
“And you never talk,” Bernihard continued on, ostensibly content to talk enough for the both of them. “That’s odd too. The not talking thing.”
“I...don’t like to,” she explained. Her fingers filtered through Louie’s hair, encouraging her on. “There...isn’t a...a need to.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he jerked his shoulders. He looked down, patted the top of Yeller’s head and laughed to himself. “I suppose some people do talk too much. I can’t help it though! I always have things to say.” She winced. Another thing she despised were words like always and literally. They were used in the wrong way far too often. Nothing was ever always and certainly the word literally was squandered upon excessively.
“Anyways,” he pressed. He pointed at the woods behind her. “Don’t go back there. It’s dangerous.” He paused, heard his name called and offered something lost to Avina. She waited until he was out of sight and shared a look with Louie.
“Well.” He picked his head up high. “Should we get going, Madame?” She shook her head, a grin appearing across her face.
“You know me so well,” she praised. Together, they entered the woods.