As part of the Funk-N-Fiction Halloween Flash Fiction Event, we’re showcasing a few of the participating authors who are also 2021 Coastal Magic Convention Featured Authors! Today is the last day of the event, and we’re starting off with a story from Feature Author Jeanne Adams. Jeanne chose this image as inspiration for her story…
Don’t forget to check the info for the Rafflecopter giveaway below the story!! Print books, ebooks, and giftcards are all parts of SEVEN different prize packs!
TRICK OR TREAT AT CAYNHAM CASTLEA
Haven Harbor Halloween Novella (Haven Harbor #7)
THE PRINCESS PROBLEM
in CHRISTMAS ON OUTCAST STATION
A space adventure with Nancy Northcott
Shivering as a cold, late September wind cut through her jacket, Kelce compared the old photograph of Beauclaire House with the decrepit reality she faced.
The photo depicted the mansion as a showplace, circa 1900, with well-dressed people sitting on the elegant stone steps. Gleaming windows winked in the sun, and neatly painted trim and shutters set off the dark stone facade. In the photo, the landscaping was lush, and the people smiled.
Now, the house was a run-down, boarded up disaster with graffiti on the façade, rotting trellises and drooping shutters.
“Uncle Bastian was an asshole,” Kelce muttered to herself. The wind whipped her words away.
Thanks to Bastian, the battered mansion was now hers. She hoped.
Kelce and her four cousins had been summoned from their respective homes to Asheville, North Carolina, for the reading of their Great Uncle Bastian’s will. Uncle Bastian, a strange, eccentric man, had left them each a significant inheritance. Each bequest, however, came with a challenge. If you met the challenge, you got the inheritance free and clear. You’d also receive additional, as-yet-unrevealed, gifts.
Her challenge was to get Beauclaire House habitable by Halloween. She had her wits, skill, thirty-five days, and $300,000. That sounded like a lot of money until you saw the house. It was huge, and in bad shape. However, if a Buncombe County inspector gave her a Certificate of Occupancy by the October 31st, it was hers.
If she failed to get the Certificate, however, she’d be evicted and receive a mere $10,000 for her trouble. She’d never know what else might have been in the goodie box of Uncle Bastian’s estate.
It would take hard work and take some serious luck to meet the deadline. Habitable meant working plumbing, electrical, heating and air, a working kitchen, and windows and doors that opened and closed.
Beauclaire House had a lot of windows. They were all boarded up, so she didn’t know how many she’d have to replace. God only knew what the plumbing was like.
“He knew my weakness.” Kelce loved Beauclaire House because it had belonged to her beloved grandfather, Bastian’s brother.
The wind banged a loose shutter. The noise sent a murder of crows flying from a massive oak.
The only other sound was the distant hum of a leaf blower. The neighborhood was full of estate-sized homes. Beauclaire House was the only one in such deplorable shape. The rest were neatly manicured bastions of Southern charm.
Her cousin John had grinned as she’d gotten the keys to Beauclaire House.
“Better you than me,” he’d crowed. “You’d should take the $300K and burn it down.”
“Then she wouldn’t garner the rest of her significant bequest,” the lawyer had intoned.
“Whatever.” John planned to take the upfront money and screw the challenge. His parting shot to the rest of them had been, “Good luck, suckers!”
Each cousin had the same Halloween deadline. Meet your challenge by deadline, get more than the original “prize” of whatever you were bequeathed.
John wasn’t even going to try for more. Short term gain, that was John’s style.
“John’s more of an asshole than Uncle Bastian, by far.”
Determination surged within her. Her college loans were massive. Her ancient Subaru wagon needed work, and, thanks to the pandemic, she didn’t have a job. She had savings––enough to get her through January––but after that, she’d be in trouble. She should focus on that, rather than trying to race the clock to fix what was probably an unfixable house.
Refurbished, the 9,500-square-foot Beauclaire House and its attendant eight acres would be worth several million dollars. The land itself was valuable––she could subdivide the back four acres into other lots––but she couldn’t sell it without a deed, and she didn’t get the deed without fixing it up by the deadline.
John’s advice to take the $300,000, flashed briefly into her mind.
“As previously stated, John is an asshole.” She grinned. “And I’d better get my ass in gear.”
Stepping onto the crumbling porch, she gingerly tested each board. She jingled the fat ring of keys as she walked. Of course, the keyring hadn’t featured a key to the massive iron gates at the bottom of the driveway. She’d come though the people-sized gate next to the main gates––she had that key––and hauled her workbag and cleaning supplies all the way up to the house.
“Mark and replace rotten porch boards ASAP.” Another item for the to-do list. It was already pages long.
The ancient doorplate lock on what were probably stunningly beautiful oak-and-glass doors took a skeleton key. There were seven of those on the keyring. The fifth one worked, and she wrapped a piece of masking tape on it and marked it Front Door. The dark, tarnished brass deadbolt key was easier to find––there were only three that might fit it––but it took forever to wiggle the key just right.
The door swung open onto dark, dusty splendor.
She pulled a camping lantern out of one of the boxes she’d hauled up the hill, turned it on, then set about dragging in the rest of the boxes. That done, she shone a flashlight around. The wide foyer held an elegant fireplace and impressive, Scarlet O’Hara-type stairs leading to the shadowy second floor.
A long parlor ran along the right side of the house. It too had a fireplace, and the flashlight beam picked out an ornate mantel with carved oak leaves and elfin faces supported by snarling dragons on the sides. To the left, a circular room on the front of the house was the base of the elegant sunroom that dominated the facade. Attached to it was another parlor-slash-library along the left side of the house.
Her official countdown had started the minute she got the keys. Today she’d measure, plan and prepare. She’d already spent all Friday night making lists, timelines, and projections. She’d ordered materials and created a plan of attack.
Until the pandemic, Kelce had been a project manager for an Atlanta-based construction firm. She understood renovation and knew what she might be facing. She also knew how to swing a hammer, thanks to her dad and grandad. And Uncle Bastian.
That knowledge meant she’d gotten right to work. Kelce already had a welder coming Monday to cut through the big gate, since she didn’t have a key. She’d squeezed in under the wire before close of business on Friday to order the temporary power hookup and a roll-off dumpster. This morning, bright and early, she’d rented a comfy RV to stay on-site. She’d pick that up on Tuesday. The RV meant she could give up her apartment in Atlanta––one less expense. The RV was both cheaper, and on-site. She could handle one month in an RV to have a little extra for the reno.
Tomorrow’s schedule featured driving back to Atlanta to pack her apartment. Thankfully, her best friend, Selma Kincaid, would handle the movers and taking everything to storage.
“Gotta buy her dinner,” Kelce mused. Selma was thrilled about Kelce’s adventure. “Make that several dinners.”
On this last, blustery Saturday in September, she’d explore, measure and assess Beauclaire House. Every day between now and Halloween had to show progress. Kelce pulled out a tape measure, a notebook, and her favorite pen.
Time to get started.
Despair rocked Artimus as the petite, dark-haired woman danced around the rotting boards on the wide porch. It was already a kind of hell being unable to shift out of his human form, unable to use his magic, unable to be himself––all of himself. Now he didn’t know if the curse could ever be broken.
That curse meant living without shifting to his other form or using his formidable arcane skills until a month where there was a full moon on both the first and last day of the month. And worse, until a mortal chose to free him.
The full moon to begin it, the full moon to end it and the tasks complete. Meet the tasks and earn the goodwill of a mortal. Without promise of riches or aid, the mortal must unlock your curse’s cage. If that comes to pass, free you will be.
If not, all power flies away. You will burn in a pillar of fire as the sun rises on the new day.
Two full moons in a month was unusual, but doable. Two full moons hitting on the first day and the last though? That was rare as hell. Add in having someone––a damn mortal––ready to help?
For decades, he’d waited. And despaired. Until Bastian.
Surprisingly, Bastian had unearthed not only his trunks but the abominable iron cage connected to his curse. They’d found the key for the trunks, but not the cage. There was no undoing the curse without that key.
The full moons had finally aligned––one on October 1, another October 31––and things were moving. Bastian had never once mentioned this crumbling old house. Then he’d died.
Artimus had received the gate keys and this address from Bastian’s lawyer.
Instructions said bring the keyring to Beauclaire House, and he had. He’d watched for days, but nothing stirred around the old house. Until today.
Now, she was here, whoever she was. Was the woman aware of him or his trouble?
With a grunt of irritation, he muttered, “Trouble. There’s a fine, simple word for it.”
It was only his entire existence at stake.
He watched her try key after key. From his vantage point high in the massive grandfather oak, he could see everything. The old oak held onto its leaves, shielding him from view. He’d had a moment of worry when the crows flew, but she’d paid attention to them and never felt his watching gaze.
Who was she? She was far too young to be a daughter, unless Bastian, the old goat, had been up to considerable friskiness in his seventies.
“Not impossible for a human, but unlikely,” he muttered as the woman finally opened the door.
Bastian du Beauclaire had died at the ripe old age of a hundred and four, while on a tour of Egypt. With Bastian gone, there was no one left to break Artimus’s curse, unless Bastian had somehow set this frail-looking human up to do it.
“And what can she do that Bastian didn’t?” Artimus grimaced. “Nothing.”
He’d watch, for now. He didn’t dare hope. Not yet.
A scrape of sound had him refocusing on the house. She dragged the boxes she’d laboriously carried up from her car into the house. He felt bad for not helping, but he hadn’t wanted to give himself away. Or scare her. A strange man coming out of the trees to heft her boxes definitely would’ve been off-putting. If this was going to work, he’d have to make a good impression.
He grimaced at the thought.
How like Bastian to perversely leave the gate key with Artimus, rather than his heir. Gods, he hoped she was Bastian’s heir and not just some random cleaning lady.
“While I’m wishing, I’ll wish that she knows his secrets and sets me free.” He shook his head, rustling the nearby leaves. “And surely pigs will fly and flames will freeze.”
He fingered the keyring in his pocket and a trickle of magic tingled through him. Being able to feel magic and not use it was an ache in his bones. The key fob––a dragon-shaped bauble––was certainly magic. It was also important.
What he didn’t know was how, or even if, the damn thing pertained to his situation. It could just be another magical artifact in Bastian’s vast collection.
Wherever Bastian had gone––heaven, hell or some other plane of existence––he was probably laughing.
Artimus looked skyward.
“Was the keyring your idea of a clue, you canny old bastard, or just another trick?”
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