Where the Wild Skunks Roam

Submitted into Contest #239 in response to: Write a story where your character is travelling a road that has no end.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction Speculative

The headlights cut through the shower of fall leaves, illuminating a path on the thick forest floor. The perfect camouflage provided by the leaves made it difficult to locate the dirt road.

The wind carried a noticeable fragrance that persisted in the air. The odor of a skunk has a remarkable capacity to promptly stimulate the recall of memories.  

In this remote area, as my aunt used to say, the pungent smell never seemed to go away, always lingering at this stage of the trip. Was the creation of it possibly linked to an animal, or could there have been another source behind it?

Much like last year, tonight had a similar sense of significance, commemorating a sort of anniversary. I had to use all of my vacation days to comply with my aunt's request.

It was termed as returning to our roots by her. The mystical sensation of her bare feet sinking into the cool earth captivated her.

I thought she had a hippie aura, but her profoundness went beyond any cliché of a woman who smokes pot.

Throughout the year, I managed an advertising company. No one could have possibly deduced my identity or discerned my actions when I was in pinstripes.

The closer I got to the mansion, the foliage took on a glow, each different life form had its own aura.

As a child, I remember the first time I saw a rabbit hopping through the field. I thought it was lightening bugs but in fact, the rabbit had its own golden aura.

The closer I got the more memories came back of those strange glowing creatures, plants and even from myself. The longer you were there, the more intense the auras seemed.

The wrought-iron gate loomed like a dense fortress. The forest stood tall on either side, creating an impenetrable barrier.

Like in previous years, the gate swung open with a creak, welcoming me.

The knot in my stomach, a familiar sensation from last year, had returned. This place was still, batshit spooky.

Our summers here as a child were filled with the sound of cicadas buzzing and the smell of freshly cut grass, forever altering the course of my life.

The absence of my parents has left a deep imprint on this place, turning it into a powerful symbol of both grief and resilience. A tiny voice inside me whispered, urging me to flee from this chapter of my life and pretend it never occurred.

In the business world, my reputation was built on my opulence, achievements, and the admiration of countless individuals. Why not book a flight to Paris and never return? Why come back here to an aunt who was not much older than I, her jealousy evident in her piercing glares?

Engaging in the ritual of gardening barefoot allowed me to feel a deep connection to the earth. Although I didn't like it, I couldn't deny that this was a fundamental aspect of who I am. I couldn't grasp the true nature of the connection.

As I moved past the trees, the imposing shape of the mansion, standing boldly against the rising moon, became visible.

It was flawless, completely perfect. The eerie howls of the wolves reached my ears before I opened the car door. Any individual who dared to step foot in this place would swiftly discover that Aunt Haddie was absolutely serious about her work, enough to terrify them completely.

The engine fell silent, causing the lights to dim and creating a mysterious atmosphere around us. Unexpectedly, the annoying bell reminding me to switch off the headlights abruptly stopped. I wasn't alone.

The wolves' cries echoed in the night, and then my car doors clicked.

As the doors opened, my luggage smoothly slid out from the back, just like last year. Haddie put on a good show.

Electricity was unavailable. The kitchen had a pump handle that led to a well from which the water was drawn. Torches and candles dangled in various sconces that appeared to be hundreds of years old.

My childhood memories surfaced from the depths of my being when they came to life, casting an orange glow around them.

I automatically paused and observed my belongings as they went by while I waited. My expectations were for a different ritual. In addition to that, my feet would soon be without any shoes.

It always amused me to watch things move around. The things I brought were useless because Haddie always offered the most extraordinary items. Today, it would be a flowing gown.

I had anticipated that this year would bring a new beginning.

Hopefully, the skills acquired from years of practice would transform our acrimonious relationship into something more harmonious. Maybe she might start to appreciate me for my true self rather than simply acknowledging my existence.

I stood close to the porch when I felt the first signs of the transition.  The breeze was cold as it touched parts of me that were usually comforted by cotton or silk. An average person would have been shocked by her quirky sense of humor. My designer pantsuit vanished, as did my Prada heels. There it was, my bare feet on the cold earth. I was grounded and what my aunt would say was, sky clad.

In the absence of a better understanding, it could appear that Haddie, who was welcoming me in her way, was a lesbian who delights in crossing many boundaries. That’s what I told myself, but I think there was more to it.

The breeze faded as a flowing gown replaced my earthly attire.

The front door opened with the familiar creaking sound I expected, no doubt a relic of my parent’s time.

“Looks like you've packed on some extra weight, Samantha.”

And there it was, no friendly hello, no genuine interest in my welfare...only the typical criticism.

I turned around to see Haddie smirking as always. “I’m fine, how are you?”

She walked up to me as if to examine me up close. She scrutinized my manicured hands and feet.

“You have it hard, I see.” My nails were perfect, and there was no dirt under them. Compared to hers, she was a wreck in the making.

“Aunt Haddie, I don’t want to fight with you. Every year, it’s the same thing. For once, can’t we at least act like we like one another?”

She looked down her nose at me before responding. “If I didn’t like you, I would let the wolves eat you. My, what big teeth they have,” she said with a maniacal laugh.

I pressed my lips together before preparing a little demonstration of my own. I had little appetite; this was about more than just preparing food. It wasn’t your typical graduation ceremony but a significant milestone on my life’s journey.

Things appeared from nowhere. The aroma of roast, fresh bread and even a cherry pie fresh from the oven filled the air.

She smiled. The bat shit crazy aunt smiled.

“You’ve been practicing.”

I gave a nod while sitting at the table. Two glasses emerged, brimming with deep red wine from the orchard that once thrived on the mansion's eastern grounds. The orchard was a serene sanctuary where I would labor in the garden, surrounded by vibrant colors and fragrant blossoms.

“What else have you been doing other than this simple stuff?”

I tasted my wine before huffing a response. Simple, if she knew how many dishes I broke just learning to levitate things, she would not say simple.

“Sweeping the floor.”

She peered at me as if confused. “You have the broom sweeping your floor. That’s clever.”

“No, Aunt Haddie, I sweep the floor after I break dishes. Lots of dishes, vases, and other things that I once cared about. Why am I doing this?”

Her eyebrows came together, making her appear like that famous artist with one brow.

“It’s our destiny.”

“What destiny. I have a successful business. I am wealthy, and I am single. Can’t that be my destiny?”

I shouldn’t have asked. I knew I was screwed when I said it. Her eyes became wild like some damned old owl sizing up its prey. She lifted her hands, allowing her attire to flair out like a bat, and then everything disappeared except her and me.

Like a starless sky, blackness surrounded us, yet I could see her.

As night turned into day, the cold fall air transformed into the warmth of summer, and the old mansion burst with vibrant colors.

Wow, white and green trim, yuck. The pungent odor of skunk was replaced by the sweet scent of roses, gardenias, and other blooming flowers, attracting busy bees. I realized that Haddie and I had more in common than I had imagined.

We had gone back to a time before I knew anything. I watched as my child self,-played with a rat. The rat was talking to me. I glanced at Haddie, who smiled a wry smile. “Forgot about Sampson, didn’t you?”

Sampson lived under the porch. I could hear him, and he heard me. He told me funny stories. We visited the chickens, and I would distract the hens while he took some of their food.  

“How is it you forgot about him?” Haddie asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I thought I made it up, I guess.”

The scene changed; we were at a field full of hot air balloons in Arizona. The memory of this event came crashing back, much like the basket that held my parents hitting the ground. The screams, the thud as it hit the ground, were all too real.

“Why take me here? That was the worst day of my life.” I cried as actual tears stained my cheeks.

Haddie pointed to a man in the crowd. “Watch him.”

The scene rewound much like an old film. Instead of watching the basket tear loose from the balloon, I watched him. “He made it happen,” I said

Haddie nodded. “Even back then, you could have stopped him.”

“Me?”

She nodded, “you were aware of the stream, and you, like he, could have controlled it.”

The stream is a mythical force of nature that Einstein could not have portrayed in squiggles on a blackboard. The principles of the stream were beyond any mathematical description. I felt it. We all feel it. Its everywhere and it nowhere. From experiencing deja vu to witnessing other unexplainable events, the stream's existence is undeniably real. Like life and death, we never genuinely vanish; we undergo a profound transformation.

“Why did he kill my parents?”

She shook her head, her hair swaying with the motion. “Just like us, they too had the power to tap into the stream and harness its energy. I guess they were about to break some rules regarding the stream. There are rules.”

“Rules? Why did I think all this stuff would stop? I miss Mom and Dad. Is there anything we can do?”

Her intense gaze sent a shiver down my spine, and I found myself utterly captivated by the mesmerizing sound of her voice.

“Once you depart from here, you will have an opportunity to begin this journey. You must practice, whether it’s breaking dishes or sweeping floors, but my dear, you must become a master in your craft before these people come looking for you.”

“Me, why me. I would turn my back on the whole mess. Why can’t we go back in time and kill him before he kills my parents?”

The scene vanished as we were once again enveloped in blackness.

“Ripples are ripples in time, much like tossing a stone in a pond. What we are witnessing are ripples. Once the event occurs, there is no going back. We didn’t turn back time; we just looked at one ripple. Think of it as an echo.”

We were back in the living room. Dinner was still waiting. Haddie made a fire with a flick of her hand.

The dishes seemed to come alive as if invisible servers were filling my cup with wine and my plate with roast. Haddie sat across from me, her usually terse demeanor giving way to a more friendly disposition.

“My older sister, your mom, didn’t want me to tell you who and what you are.”

I glanced at her. “Why did you?”

“The path you are on will end most unceremoniously if you deviate from your predestined course.”

Despite my drunken state, my mind was racing with untamed thoughts. With a satisfied smile, Haddie watched as the dishes effortlessly cleaned themselves, signaling the end of her day. The mesmerizing clatter of each dish filled the room as if magic was working overtime.

As I climbed each stair, they greeted me with a familiar creak, as if they welcomed me back home. 'Home,' that had an extraordinary ring to it. With a somber feeling lingering in the air, I decided it was time to call it a night.

The days passed quickly as I took the craft more passionately than before.

One of the oldest rats in history came out of the wall the night before I was to leave.

“Your mom would be proud of you, Celest.”

My smile most certainly delighted the little fellow. “You remembered my middle name. Why you?”

“You might have forgotten me, but I could never forget you. How many little girls talk to the likes of me?”

I reached out to him. Sampson crawled up my leg while jumping into my outstretched hand. His tiny claws tickled as he tried to match my gaze with his beady black eyes. My youth came rushing back as Sampson regaled me with stories from long ago.

“Like it or not, it’s who you are. This journey goes on forever. The riches of your world will one day rust or decay. The path you’re on…goes on and on.”

I sat on the floor as Sampson brought out more of his cousins, grandkids, etc. The room reminded me of a movie where rats were everywhere.

Gradually, the room cleared until only Sampson and I were left. “You’ve just met my entire family; they all talked with you. Why are you sad?”

I glanced at him… "I am between two worlds. This one seems like a fairy tale, and mine, well, I can afford whatever I want. I don’t know which world to choose.”

“Who said you have to choose? Move out here and live in your world, as you must.”

The thought of moving out here where the skunks roam wild had its allure.

We sat on the front porch as lighting bugs began to talk with each other in their own private language of dots and dashes.

I noticed the golden glow of a bunny as it went scurrying through the brush.

“So, what are you going to do?” Haddie asked.

I glanced at Haddie, who was staring in my direction. “I got some advice from a family of rats last night. If I am on this road, my parents might be on this road too. Do you think adding electricity and plumbing would ruin the allure of this place?”

Haddie laughed; this time, the laugh was not a cackle but a warm chuckle. “If that’s what it takes for you to call this place home, I will ensure it won’t spoil anything.”

“Thanks, Aunt Haddie. I can run my business remotely if you can get the internet here.”

The moon began to rise, marking the time I was to depart. I watched my unopened luggage parade itself back to my car.

Lights inside the house put themselves out as a murder of crows circled overhead. A brisk wind blew from the north, causing many leaves to fill the air, obscuring my vision of the paddock to the East.

Leaves weren’t the only thing blowing; so was my flowing gown until it vanished.

The door to my car opened as I stood on the porch. “Aunt Haddie, it’s a little chilly to be playing this game. Can I have my clothes, please?”

I waited for the rest of my things to materialize when Sampson poked his head out from under the porch.

“Celest, you need to be grounded. Step on the grass.”

I glanced down at his little pink nose and beady eyes staring at me. One foot off the porch, I found one of my shoes and half my clothes. The other foot completed the ensemble.

My aunt’s laugh left no room for doubt that she was pleased with herself.

I still think she is a witchy lesbian. Maybe she has a thing for my green eyes and red hair. As I thought that, I swear I felt a pinch on my bum.

Arriving back home, the house seemed empty. I took extra time off to deal with what I had seen over the last few days.

Something didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Stepping out of the shower, I thought I saw someone else looking back at me in the mirror. My mind was playing tricks on me, or so I thought.

Noises from downstairs shattered my dreams as I sat up in bed.

Clatters were coming from the kitchen. When the light switched on, I was gobsmacked as it appeared the dishes had their own minds.

The cackle of my aunt echoed off the walls.

Night Dearie…

Aunt Haddie ensured I didn’t forget her or where home truly was. It was time to begin the endless journey.

March 01, 2024 20:02

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5 comments

Rancid Blough
18:48 Mar 07, 2024

There are a lot of good ideas in this story. I particularly like the fact that all living things have a visible aura. You could have a lot of fun with that. I also really liked the aunt too. Her character is strongly written. I agree with David Sweet, this feels like part of a much larger story. Are you planning on doing more with it? The only negative, I feel it would have more impact if this was the first time Samantha had been there since her childhood.

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Scott Taylor
02:55 Mar 17, 2024

Yes...I, too, am fond of the characters. My blog is here, and that is where I talk about many things, including what I am working on. Cheers https://wordpress.com/stats/day/thetimedok.com

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Ed Wooten
20:20 Mar 05, 2024

When you realize there's only you and one other relative attending a family reunion...well...hmmm, it's gonna get more bizarre...and it does. Great piece.

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Scott Taylor
17:14 Mar 06, 2024

Thanks! :)

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David Sweet
15:10 Mar 04, 2024

I enjoyed the world building in this story. It sounds as if you have been working on these characters in another capacity besides this prompt? I look forward to reading some of your other work and checking out your writing journey. Good luck wirh everything!

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