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Şub 01

Autumn Pt. 01 Ch. 03

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Blonde

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Author’s Note

This continues a re-telling of my Homelands series. I’m proud of the original versions but don’t feel that they lived up to their full potential. This time around, you can expect a slower pace, stronger characterization, and a less grandiose plot. This is no longer an epic fantasy, with a huge battle between good and evil waiting at the end. If you read the original versions, you should feel as though you’re revisiting old friends, but you shouldn’t assume that you know how their story ends. If you haven’t, there is no need to do so. This re-telling is meant to stand on its own and is my preferred version of the tale.

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It was nearly eleven when Frank got out of the shower. He felt a little bad about that, knowing the plan was for an early start, but it wasn’t like he was the last one up—his brothers were both still fast asleep. In fact, when he got down to the kitchen, he only found his grandmother, his aunt, and his uncle there. Even his mother and his grandfather were unaccounted for, though that had to mean they’d found chores that needed doing; there was no way either of them was still in bed. Grandpa Dick thought that sleeping til eight thirty was indulgent, with anything past that being a sign of gross moral turpitude.

“Where are your brothers?” his grandmother asked after they all wished one another a bountiful Harvest. She was staring down the bridge of her nose at him even though he was several inches taller than her. There was a hint of accusation in her voice, too.

“In bed,” Frank said, a bit flippantly. In his defense, it had been years since he’d had to answer for his brothers with any regularity. “Was I supposed to bang pots and pans?”

Uncle Bobby looked up from the newspaper, the beginnings of a frown visible beneath his beard. His flinty eyes bore into Frank, but he didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tell me Grandpa’s not up yet,” Frank said.

“He had trouble sleeping,” his grandmother replied. “That can happen to us old fogies when we find ourselves in a strange bed. I’m not sure he’d have slept all that much better at home, though. He’d likely have spent the night complaining that I hadn’t done enough to get rid of the intruders who were eating us out of our pantry.”

“Oh, stop,” Aunt Liz said. “He wouldn’t see his grandkids as intruders.”

Uncle Bobby raised an eyebrow, evidently finding it as strange to hear her to come to the man’s defense as Frank did. Of course, it was very much like Aunt Liz to play peacemaker; it was just that Grandpa Dick was usually the one she was trying to get to lay down arms.

“When you’ve been married to him as long as I have, you can tell me how he does or doesn’t see things,” Grandma Noreen replied with a playful tone.

“How long have you all been up?” Frank asked. The breakfast pies were ready to go in the oven, and the empty sink and drainboard meant that the dishes had been washed, dried, and put away. His aunt and uncle were nearly done with the puzzle page, too.

“That’s the second pot of coffee, if that tells you anything,” his grandmother said, pointing to the counter behind her. “Should still be warm, though.”

“Better be,” he said, as he poured himself a mug. “Or Harvest is ruined.”

“A type of experiment,” Aunt Liz said, without looking up from the crossword. “Nine letters. Ends with `d’ and has at least one `l’ in the middle.”

“Controlled?” Frank guessed.

“That fits!” his aunt said after checking.

“Well done, Frank,” his grandmother said, touching a hand to his back.

Even the wind seemed to approve of his answer. At least it had seemed that way to Frank, until he realized how ludicrous that was. None of the farmhouse windows were open, and if a breeze had actually gotten into the kitchen, newspaper would be strewn everywhere.

He’d felt and heard something, though.

Why had it taken him a moment to recognize his relatives? It was almost like some part of him expected them to look quite different. Younger, maybe. It had been a few years since he’d seen any of them, Frank supposed, but he didn’t think that was it. His mind itched, refusing to accept reality for what it was. It almost felt like he was having a lucid dream.

“So when should I start waking people up?” he asked as he added pumpkin spice creamer to his coffee. Frank didn’t care how much of a basic bitch that made him; fall was his favorite time of year and there was no wrong way to celebrate it, as far as he was concerned.

His uncle snorted. “We let you sleep.”

Frank held a hand up defensively. “I’m not saying the answer should be `now’ or any time soon. Just volunteering my young legs when it is time to round people up.”

“That’s thoughtful of you,” Aunt Liz said. “In the meantime, let’s see how many of these others you can help me solve.” She tapped the wooden chair beside her.

“That was probably my one lucky guess,” Frank warned as he accepted the invitation. “It wasn’t my verbal GRE score that got me into grad school.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get lucky again soon,” his grandmother poker oyna said. Then she seemed to realize that could be taken more than one way and covered her face, spectacles and all, with her palm. Uncle Bobby smirked but Aunt Liz didn’t even seem to notice.

Because it was totally normal for the woman to blush at inadvertent innuendo. Nothing strange about that, or her even knowing that there was another meaning to that phrase.

“Did they even look at your verbal scores?” his aunt asked without taking her eyes off the crossword. “I thought economics was closer to applied mathematics at this point.”

“So the critics say.”

Aunt Liz frowned at him. “Your mother tells me that you say that.”

Frank shrugged. “Yeah, but not pejoratively.”

His uncle chortled. “Let’s see how good you are at sudoku, then,” he said, tearing the top sheet off a pad of paper and sliding it over to Frank. “Write your answers here so others can try too. Finish in under five minutes and we’ll let have a second slice of pie.”

“You were going to anyway,” Frank said. There’d be plenty to go around. There always was. “How about you give me one of Todd’s presents?”

“Or we could give him one of yours?” Grandma Noreen suggested.

“I suppose I could just be grateful for whatever I get.”

“There’s a thought,” Aunt Liz said with a familial smile, the sort that simultaneously told him that he wasn’t behaving himself yet was affectionate enough to fall short of chiding.

#

“Is it time to open the presents yet?” Natalie asked as she set her plate aside.

“Um, no?” Todd said sardonically. “I’m still eating.”

Their sister scowled. “Who told you to grab a third slice?”

“Try second,” Todd replied as he jabbed his fork down into the divine blend of sausage, egg, bacon, and cheese, all surrounded by a flaky crust. “Who do you think I am? Frank?”

There was only one appropriate response; Frank flipped his brother off.

“Go ahead, dear,” their grandmother said, as though she’d heard none of the bickering. The look she shot Todd, however, proved that she had. “It’s already past noon.”

“Wait, wait, not yet!” their mother said. “We need Harvest music.”

“Here, connect this to that,” Dom told their sister, first holding his iPod straight up then pointing it at the entertainment center they’d moved aside to make room for the scarecrow and presents. Nat snatched it out of his hand an instant later.

“You have Harvest music on there?” Brianna asked, raising an eyebrow.

“This time of year I do, yeah,” Dom said.

“Poofter,” Todd muttered under his breath.

It didn’t take Nat long to get some old-timey carols playing. Not modern renditions, from artists people under the age of thirty might have heard of, but the sort of stuff their mother listened to. Her, and apparently Dom. Go figure.

A smile spread across their mom’s face and she started snapping her fingers in time with the tune. Well, sort of in time. Frank wasn’t one to judge, though, having no rhythm himself.

Even more surprising, their grandfather leaned back in the recliner, hands folded atop his chest, and smiled almost as widely as his two daughters were smiling. It was a freaking Harvest miracle, brought to them by Scarecrow Jim himself.

That, or a result of the first good night’s sleep he’d gotten in years. Perhaps the man ought to reconsider his view that only lazy, unemployed bums slept past sunrise.

“Careful,” Uncle Bobby told Nat, who’d started shuffling about in a manner that could almost pass for dancing. “Those hoodie-footsie-whatevers have any traction?”

Todd waved their uncle’s comment away. “Let her fall. Then we can laugh our asses off.”

Nat stuck her tongue out at him. She did not, however, continue her little routine. “Okay if I do the honors, long as I’m up?” she asked no one in particular, eyes darting towards the golden stalk that rose above Scarecrow Jim’s shoulder. “Pleasey-please?”

“I fear for the health of anyone who tries to beat you to it,” Brianna told her.

“This one gets it,” Todd said, jerking a thumb at their cousin.

No one else spoke up, so Nat went up on tiptoes and reverently plucked the ear of corn. Shiny bit of plastic held high, their sister sang a few notes of awe. Then she tossed it unceremoniously at Todd and whirled on the presents.

“That one’s not for me,” Nat said, pushing a box aside. “Nor that one.”

Realizing that Aunt Liz was about gather up their plates, Frank beat her to it. “You shouldn’t have to clean up after your niece and nephews,” he told her. Those pies couldn’t have appealed less to her daughter, who’d broken her fast with a granola bar and some apples, and the responsible adults had all made a trip back to the kitchen already.

She gave him an appreciative nod then handed him her empty coffee mug.

“Rinse it out or refill it?” he asked.

“Two cups is plenty,” she replied. Then, lowering her voice, his aunt added, “Your grandmother makes it a little too strong; but if anyone asks, I never said that.”

He canlı poker oyna smiled, pretended not to see her mother’s frown, and departed.

By the time Frank got back to the living room, everyone had opened their first gift but him. So he found one with his name on it then returned to his spot by the fireplace.

What did the yellow-wrapped cardboard box hide? Socks, of course. Argyle, at that.

“Thanks, Ma,” Frank said, holding them up for everyone to ooh and ahh over.

“Will you wear them?” she asked.

“Sure,” he lied. Frank never wore anything with patterns, as she well knew, but how could he not humor her when her tone was so plaintive? “They’ll be great for conferences.”

“Good,” she said with a grin.

The funny thing was that his mother didn’t wear a lot of patterns either. If she didn’t like them herself, why was she always trying to get him to wear them?

He knew the answer to that question, though. His mother venerated the ideal of the Well-Dressed Man, and apparently it wasn’t weird for her to try to get her sons to scratch that itch for her the way it would have been for Frank to buy her stockings and heels, because double standards are awesome and the world needed more of them.

Frank supposed he ought to be grateful that Ralph Lauren was good enough for her. Considering how much Armani was in his father’s closet, it could definitely be worse.

Brianna gave their grandfather a flat look. It wasn’t until Frank saw the title of the hardcover in her hands—The Case for Meat—that he understood why.

“Dad, you didn’t,” Aunt Liz said.

“Hush, Lizzie,” Grandma Noreen whispered. “Your daughter’s a grown a woman. If she wants to make an issue of it, she can, but you let her do so.”

To no one’s surprise, his cousin set the book aside without a word.

“This one’s not bad,” Dom said, holding up a solid black tie.

Tilting his head up, Frank saw that the ones still in the box all had patterns; one was paisley. He hated that he even knew what the name for that was.

“Only the one?” their mother asked, crestfallen.

“I keep telling you not to buy clothes for me,” Dom said, because he could say stuff like that without ruining Harvest Day. Frank would never have dared.

“I know,” came the reply. “I just thought they’d look good on you.”

“Everything looks good on me,” Dom said. “Some things look better, though.”

Brie smirked at that the way someone who wasn’t his cousin might. Oddly enough, though, that didn’t surprise Frank. He knew that other families didn’t behave that way but was still unfazed by it. Of course, he had made out with the girl just the day before.

If he didn’t know better, Frank would have said that someone was pumping an odorless, mood-altering gas into the room. The air almost felt thick with it.

Shit, maybe they were. Now that he thought about, it had felt for a while like every time he filled his lungs, he got more into the holiday spirit. A good dose of caffeine could make it feel like all was right with the world, or at least enable him to answer emails politely, but that wasn’t what he was feeling. Something was definitely off but he just didn’t care.

“I was actually running low,” Todd said, holding up a metal canister of boot polish.

“On brain cells?” Nat asked, prompting their brother to throw a pair of socks at her.

Uncle Bobby held up a coffee table book that ranked the world’s greatest golf courses. “I only just started getting into the sport,” he told Brianna, who’d apparently given it to him. His tone was somewhere between appreciative and shocked.

“Really?” she replied, shooting her mother an accusatory look.

Then Aunt Liz opened her own gift from Brie—a DVD that promised to teach her how to dance the tango, foxtrot, and cha-cha. “Oh my goodness,” she said, laughing. “Honey, just because I like watching people who know what they’re doing doesn’t mean I want to sprain an ankle.” Her smile disappeared. “Besides, it’s not like I have anyone to dance with.”

The frown that put on Uncle Bobby’s face saddened Frank almost as much as the comment itself did. No man had ever wanted to rescue a woman from loneliness and heartache as badly as his uncle did his aunt at that moment. Too bad she was his sister.

Some twenty minutes later, they’d all amassed a respectable pile of gifts. Frank’s was comprised mostly of clothes his mother thought he should wear and books he actually would read, split evenly between fantasy novels and research monographs. Oh, and the pickup artist manual that was Todd’s attempt at humor. A few Amazon gift cards rounded things out nicely, coming as close as anything could to earning an economists’ seal of approval.

Frank had yet to decide how he felt about his profession’s penchant for pointing out the inefficiency of everyone’s favorite holiday ritual. The recipient might rarely value the gift at anything close to what the giver paid for it, but that so wasn’t the point, and one didn’t need to live with a sociologist to appreciate that. Yet, at internet casino the same time, Frank couldn’t help thinking about deadweight loss as he stared at the socks and dress shirts he’d never wear.

Whether any of that explained the creeping sense of disappointment, though, was another matter. The numerous indicators that someone was messing with them didn’t bother Frank, however much his rational side knew that they should, but he had this sense that something more was going to happen, and he was getting impatient for it to do so.

He had no fucking clue what that might be, though.

At least, he didn’t until the wind returned.

It didn’t transport them to the night-meets-day palace, though. They were forced out of their mortal disguises and into their true forms, the same as every other time, and Frank felt memories return to him like rain drops falling on his head, but they remained in the farmhouse. Nothing about the room even changed, save for the occupants. The scarecrow still stood watch over a pile of pumpkins and paper leaves, their presents remained stacked beside them, as did the trash bags filled with torn wrapping paper.

That probably meant something, but Frank was too distracted by their outfits to ponder the implications. Suddenly, everyone was dressed like Scarecrow Jim.

Their costumes were far from identical, not least because the guys were all in overalls and the women skirts and dresses, but there was no mistaking the theme. Tans, browns, and creams dominated, with no denim to be found. Scarecrow Jim’s iconic look only dated back to the fifties, when he’d been invented by Coca-Cola, but they hadn’t wanted him to look modern even then. Every one of them, male and female, wore either a wide-brimmed hat or a conical cap. Some were made of straw, some felt, most were brown or tan, but all were appropriately old-fashioned. The same went for their footwear; from felt slippers to leather knee highs with straw dangling out the top, each was quintessentially scarecrow.

Yet everyone besides Aunt Liz deviated from Jim’s style and palette in some way. And, of course, even that was an expression of their aunt’s personality. Nat wore suede ankle booties that went perfectly with a skirt that was tighter and shorter than anyone else’s. Their mother’s jumper was brick red, Brie’s halter top and felt cap were pink, and their grandmother’s blouse was a colorful green and yellow plaid.

The men, too, hewed to the traditional overall yet put their own little spin on things as well. Dom wore a silk shirt that was almost nice enough for Wall Street; Todd’s tank top was the same shade of red as the Marine Corps insignia; Frank was conspicuously shirtless, though he did at least have his overalls up; and both Uncle Bobby and Grandpa Dick wore long-sleeved tees the color of buttermilk. Didn’t it just figure that the latter was the only one not wearing blush or eyeliner? His grandfather’s nose was as ruddy as the rest of theirs, and if not for his beard he’d probably have fake stitches running up from the corners of his mouth, but that was where he drew the line. Any more makeup than that would be too feminine for him. It didn’t matter what Jim wore, or that everyone knew he was male; the clan patriarch was going to stand up for traditional notions of masculinity, because that was what gave his life meaning. Or so it often seemed to Frank.

“Last one’s for you, Grandpa,” Nat said, presenting the only unwrapped gift

Should he have been surprised that his sister was acting like nothing had changed? Frank wasn’t even sure. It seemed that one of the things the spell did was prevent them from thinking too much about the fact that they were under one, nevermind the way they kept switching between different phases. He was starting to think that he was a little better at fighting its effects than the others were, but, that could have been his ego talking.

“Aww, thanks, Natty Pumpkin,” their grandfather replied, using a nickname Frank hadn’t heard in years. He then removed the gold ribbon, opened the box, and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. “Thank you very much,” he told his grandkids. Uncle Bobby had made the selection, but it was their names on the label. “This is one of my all-time favorites.”

“Glad to hear it,” Dom said, speaking for all of them.

“You’ll have to try some with me later,” Grandpa Dick told him.

“Definitely,” said Mister Rum-and-Coke, who wouldn’t know an Islay from a Highlands.

The small talk continued, and did not stray from the standard script. Anyone listening in on them, without a video component to their surveillance, would think they were a normal family, unaffected by the supernatural. Yet their eyes slowly started to wander.

What was everyone waiting for, then? Did they not know that every single person in that room was already guilty of incest? Perhaps. Even if no one was having much trouble recovering their memories, though, they might not know that everyone was on the same page. Common knowledge was a big deal, as Frank had learned in micro. If something was true, and everyone knew it to be true, but they didn’t know that everyone else knew it to be true, then it might as well be false. Shit, one didn’t even need game theory to explain that; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” made basically the same point.

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