Ruth blinked at the tendrils climbing the outside of the little brick house. He’d seen a dozen just like it, more or less, in the months he’d been house hunting with Kate. It wasn’t that he minded living at Asylum, exactly, he just…
He was never going to get over certain expectations. It wasn’t that his mom wanted grandbabies (she did, and wasn’t at all subtle about it), or that his dad kept showing him job openings in this or that area (hadn’t he mentioned once that he’d love to see Oregon?). It was Ruth himself. He’d grown up with this idea of who he was going to be, and so much of that had had to change. Rethink. Compromise. Some of it couldn’t be helped. But some of it…
He wanted to marry Kate. He wanted to start a family, have a yard, a dog, do things right. Because he loved her. Living at Asylum didn’t change that, just… This was just how he understood loving someone. It wasn’t about control, or fitting in, it was just what he knew. So he got the ring, took the knee, popped the question. She’d said yes, and hadn’t made fun of him for being so old fashioned. She’d said yes to moving out, getting their own place, yes to a mudoku, the protective spell charm that all witches made as part of their wedding ceremony. That’s just how it went. So he was house hunting, going through the list of possibles and checking the energy, the aura, the ley lines—
And the ivy.
The ivy that blinked back.
Ruth did a double take—a double, double take, really—and leaned in to peer closer at the eyes between the leaves. Because there were eyes. Those were totally, unmistakably eyes. In the ivy.
As he leaned in, a stray tendril brushed across his face, almost like a caress. Great. The freaky eye-plant was trying to reassure him. Ruth rolled his eyes heavenward, as if asking the fat, heavy rain clouds for help. They stayed stubbornly grey and unresponsive. Well, at least it wasn’t actively raining on him.
Movement rustled in the leaves, drawing Ruth’s attention back to the ivy. And the eyes. They weren’t human eyes, and they weren’t even that many. Just the occasional flash of iridescence, the wink of movement, the uncanny action that made the vines seem alive. Well, more motile than a plant should be, anyway.
Another vine reached out, brushing under his nose. Ruth sneezed. The eyes scattered.
Wings. A cloud of shimmering, rainbow iridescent wings. With great big eye spots on each one. Of course. What had he been expecting? Pixies? No such thing, far as he knew. Granted, one of his teachers at Asylum was an overgrown daffodil, but eyes in the ivy? Just a family of luminescent moths, winging their way to less exciting pastures.
The too-friendly ivy would have to go. It was totally uncommon for plantlife to react to his moods, but moving around was just too weird. It spoke of something less than normal in its background, and wasn’t something he wanted in his personal garden. God, personal garden. Was he really considering this place?
The leylines were sound, near enough to tap but not so close that they’d wreck havoc on his plants. The neighborhood was quiet—mostly shifter, but that certainly didn’t bother him. He paused for a moment to wonder if his witchiness would bother them… But then, whoever had lived here previous had had freaking living ivy. Moving ivy. Whatever.
“Wouldn’t harvest that if I were you, witch boy.”
Ruth sighed. Ask and ye shall receive. He turned to face the “helpful” neighbor. “Wasn’t planning on it, ma’am. Just following up on the “For Rent” sign.” He gestured toward the front yard.
“That’s fey ivy. Wouldn’t do you any good no how.”
Ah. That explained it. “Wasn’t planning on bothering it. It has more right to this land than I, if its roots still trace a true path.”
The old woman’s eyes narrowed at his phrase, but she answered his code in kind. “Ain’t none danced the ring in over a season, if that’s what ya mean.”
Ruth nodded and eased a bit closer to the fence. “I know the steps, if the ground cries out for heartbeats.” Nothing so macabre as blood sacrifice, but he’d offered his excess of magic to the faerie gardens at The Early Bird often enough. If this was a lapsed site, maybe…
The woman’s eyes flashed a milky white, startling Ruth out of his thoughts. He hadn’t noticed she was wearing a glamour. Careless of him.
“You aren’t what you seem, witch boy.”
“Neither are you, Old Mother. You’re a long way from any hills.”
Her crocked mouth opened into a sly smile. “That I am. And I’d be glad to return to them, if the way weren’t so far for these old bones.”
A chill went done Ruth’s spine that had nothing to do with the rising wind.
“And if I were to carry you?”
Her eyes returned to their milky white, her skin following suit. It sagged and hung loose like an old sheet, blown loose from a line and caught on the branches of a dead autumn oak.
“Then the land would be good to you, and your children, and their children thereafter.”
A Grim. His “neighbor” was a ghost, left over from some thing or another, tied to some trinket still left in this ground. With enough time, and the guarantee that he wouldn’t be disturbed, he could find it. Maybe Simon could help.
“Watch over this house for me, good woman, and I’ll find you your bones. Do what you can to convince the owner to lease to me, and it’ll be even easier.”
The storm broke, rain coming down in sudden, heavy sheets. Ruth ran back to his car, sitting quietly in the driver’s seat for a moment before trusting himself to drive away. One heartbeat, two… Maybe he’d better call Kate.
“Hey honey? How do you feel about moving into somewhere haunted?”