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From the journal of Alphonse Antoine Baptiste Marie Merceau (translated from the French, and written in a dark liquid that appears to be blood), dated March 27, 1754:
At last, at last! After too many dreary nights and days of despair, at last a faint glimmer of hope gleams palely upon the horizon!
I know now precisely how he does it, how the fearful creature--for I will not call him a man--who holds my life in his hands has used me and my poor talent to create this horrible reality.
And knowing, surely I will be able to prevent his horrifying plans for the future, not only of this innocent world, but of what may well be a great many other worlds besides?
It will not be a simple matter. It will take all my ability, and so very much more.
It will not be quick. I must plan and work--in secret, always in secret--and strive ever to keep the knowledge I have gathered, through toil and danger, from that monster.
But what other course is there? I am responsible for everything that has happened. It lies now with me to correct all that I have done, to return this world to its proper place, to protect other worlds from his taint.
But I will need help.
And I believe I know where I can find it...
Noah Macgregor glanced out the window for about the dozenth time in the last five minutes. Nothing but trees. No cars in either direction.
"Are we there yet?" he asked hopefully.
His mom turned the air conditioner up another notch, then glanced over her shoulder from the front seat and smiled atNoah. "I'm sure we're almost there, honey. It's--" She gave another fold to the map she had spread across her lap. "Well, it looks like it's just about two more miles to the turn-off. Ham, do you recognize anything yet?"
Hamish Macgregor shook his head, his red hair blazing in the late afternoon South Carolina sunshine. "Not really, Amelia, but remember, I haven't been here since I was eight."
"Wow, that was like ice ages ago, huh, Dad?" Holli, Noah's older sister, laughed.
"Yes, it was eons ago, my child," croaked Ham in his old codger voice. "Back around the turn of the century it was, when the stagecoaches were still running. Ah, I remember it well. Took days to trek into town where we bought pickles from barrels, when we weren't hunting possums for food."
"There were pirates around here, weren't there, Dad?"
"Yup, tons of pirates all through this area. In fact," Ham turned his head to glance at his wife, then went on in a deep and creepy voice, "there were rumors that Captain Ambrose Craven built our house using the vast treasures he stole in his days as a pirate. He's the one who named it Rest-And-Be-Thankful."
"No kidding, Dad? I didn't know he was a real pirate!" Noah jumped up and down in his seat, then grabbed one of the books in the pile beside him and started flipping through the pages. "Craven, Craven..." he muttered.
"Oh, here we go." Holli put down her pencil - she'd been sketching the trees draped with Spanish moss - and tucked her pale blonde hair behind her ears. "Dork boy back to his dorky history books."
"Not nearly as dorky as your boring pictures," Noah replied, as he always did. But his heart wasn't in it this time.
Pirates! He tried to read about them, but the road was too bumpy. He put the book back in the pile, rolled his window down and took a deep breath of the salt-tinged air - then rolled it back up fast at the blast of heat.
Holli grumbled under her breath as she dusted sand off her drawing.
Noah sighed and turned to look out the window. He wondered how long it would take him to pick up a southern accent. He took a deep breath, reminded himself to talk as slow as possible, and said, "Soooo, Dayud ... ah we'all thaya yayut?"
Holli snickered and stopped drawing. "That, Noey, was the worst Southern accent I think I've ever heard. Face it, you cannot get a Southern accent in a couple of days. It takes years, at least, if not being born here, so--"
Holli was interrupted by a reverberating snore that echoed from the back of the overstuffed mini-van. The snore bounced off the windows, then broke off into a snuffling grunt accompanied by a volley of snorts, and a series of scratching, scrambling sounds. A shaggy head accompanied by a puff of flying hairs rose slowly over the back of the kids' seat, and a wide mouth fell open. A long pink tongue unrolled. A soft woof heralded a strand of drool that began to trickle lazily from one side of the mouth.
"Yes, you can have a cookie, Gilbert sweetie." Holli leaned over and dug into the box of dog biscuits in the floor between her and Noah, then handed one to the overweight black Lab. Gilbert gave a quick chew - chewing was the only thing the Lab ever did quickly - and swallowed it in a single gulp. He turned his head and gave Noah a hopeful look from his sad brown eyes, the look that was so hard for Noah to ignore.
"Dad, will there be anybody at the house?" Holli closed her drawing pad and tucked it into her green cardboard portfolio.
"Mr. Ravenel, the lawyer, said two of Great-Uncle Enoch's servants are staying on, at least for a little while, until we get settled. In fact, they may stay all summer, if we want them to."
The van rocked as Ham Macgregor turned into the side road. Noah reached behind the seat and patted Gilbert, who'd slid around a little during the turn.
The road was crushed shell. It twisted and turned, seemed almost to loop back on itself at times, and the heavy undergrowth on each side made it seem as if the van was traveling through a long green tunnel of vegetation.
The heat came up in waves that made the air ripple and jump.
"Uh, Dad? Does this road ever end?"
"Doesn't look like it will, does it, Holli?" Ham's voice was cheerful and eager. "I remember the summers when I visited, I always wondered the same thing. But it won't be much longer..."
Just at that instant, the car came out of the green tunnel.
But there was no house in front of them.
Instead, an open pair of tall gates sagged on either side of the road. The gates were made of iron uprights with sharp-looking, spear-shaped points connected by thick bars of iron. Everything was red-brown with rust. Each gate hung from a massive stone column. The one on the right side of the road was topped with a grinning gargoyle with one arm clinging to an anchor. The column on the left had a huge buzzard perched on top, its neck crooked as it seemed to glare down at the Macgregor van.
Then the buzzard spread its wings and flew off.
"Cool, Dad!" Noah said in delight.
Holli said, "Brrr," and shivered. "Just like an old horror movie."
Through the open gates. Two turns, three. The air seemed to be getting thicker, denser, harder to breathe. And the green stuff on either side of the road grew steadily closer and closer...
Then suddenly, the overgrowth ended and the view opened up, almost like they'd come out of a vegetation cave. And there was the house, spread out before them in a little hollow.
"Yep," Ham Macgregor said in a satisfied tone. Noah could almost hear his dad's chest swelling with pride. "That's Rest-And-Be-Thankful. Our very own Rest-And-Be-Thankful. Amelia, kids, Gilbert - welcome to our new home."