The cabin, when they get there, is barely large enough to be called a house. Looking at it from the outside, it might have two rooms–three, if they’re really small. It’s lofted off the shore and has a small dock jutting out into the lake, and it’s got white walls with dirt splash around the bottom and a blue roof.
“It’s not the best place I’ve ever seen,” Lucian says as they go up the wooden steps.
Isla frowns. “Don’t be mean. It looks wonderful.”
“It’s not a great place to live, either,” Lucian adds. “Not a lot of food unless there’s a lot more fish in the lake than I saw.”
“Well…maybe they like it here,” Isla says. “It looks beautiful.”
“Sure, but there’s demons,” Lucian says. “I don’t know about you, but a demon would make me clear out pretty fast, no matter how pretty it was.”
Isla shrugs. “I still think this place is really nice.”
“Yeah, well, not everyone is willing to die for pretty scenery. Some people have self-preservation instinct,” Lucian says. She knocks on the door.
They wait for a few long moments, but there’s no response.
“I guess nobody’s home,” Isla says.
Lucian squints at the shuttered windows. “I don’t see any lights inside. Maybe they got wise and left. A demon on the loose is bad news even if you’re a witch.”
“Then what do we do?” Isla asks. She tries the door handle.
“Oh, wonderful,” Lucian says, pushing the door open and walking in. “We don’t have to break a window.”
“L-Lucian! We can’t just break in!” Isla protests.
“I can if it means we don’t have to face off with a demon,” Lucian says. “So unless you’re willing to die to make yourself feel better, maybe you should come in, too.”
“You just said we should be nice to whoever lives here! We can’t break in!”
“I said we should be nice if a witch was here. There’s no one here and the door was unlocked,” Lucian reasons. “We don’t have to take anything. We just need somewhere to stay for the night so we don’t become a stain on your pretty, pretty scenery.” She grabs Isla by the wrist and pulls her into the house. “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“I still feel bad,” Isla says.
“Then you can feel bad while being safe from demons,” Lucian replies. “Let’s see what’s in this house.”
“You said you wouldn’t steal anything!”
“I’m not, I’m looking around, that’s all.”
Lucian switches on an oil lamp on the table. It’s a cozy looking place, and much nicer than the last house they were in. There’s bookcases along the walls, full of thick leather- and cloth-bound books and small glass trinkets. There’s drawers with papers and writing tools on top, and a table in the middle of the anteroom with the oil lamp and an open book.
Lucian leafs through the book and says, “This place looks pretty clean. Someone was here recently.”
“You mean a witch?” Solanus asks. “Because it feels like a witch.”
“We shouldn’t be here,” Isla hisses. “If the witch comes back and finds us, it’s going to try and murder us!”
There’s a creaking sound, then, “Oh? Do we have visitors?”
Isla whirls towards the sound. There’s a boy standing in the doorway, rubbing his eyes. He’s wearing loose purple clothing and has messy dark hair and circles under his eyes, and also he appears to be slightly transparent.
“Oh shit, another ghost,” Isla says.
For one extremely long and stressful second, Isla’s sure that she’s about to get murdered. She’s not even wearing the knife anymore–it’s in her bag, for all the good work it can do there.
The boy looks up at Isla. “Oh, hi. Where did you guys come from? We never get visitors all the way out here.”
“We’re traveling,” Lucian says. “We got cursed a while back. I’m guessing you know how that is.”
The boy nods slowly. “Mm, yeah. Cursed. Being cursed sucks, but traveling sounds nice. I’d travel, but I’m stuck here. My boyfriend and I ran into a witch and it didn’t like us very much.”
“They usually don’t,” Lucian says.
“The witch murdered you?” Isla blurts out. “That’s horrible!”
“What?” the boy asks. “No, they didn’t murder me, I’m just cursed.”
Isla blinks. “Wait, but–”
“What’s going on? Is there a ghost or not?” Solanus asks. “Should I start screaming?”
The boy stares at Solanus. “Oh. A talking bracelet. That’s a new one.”
That much, Isla can agree with.
The boy steps into the room, as much as he can really step without having a body. He’s not very tall, and wiry to boot. His body seems to ripple, parts of it becoming more or less transparent as he moves. He’s much more substantial than the ghosts they’d encountered in the forest–he doesn’t glow and his appearance isn’t washed out or faded. If Isla sees him out of the corner of her eye, she might not think he was transparent at all.
“If you scream, I’m going to throw you in the lake,” Lucian tells Solanus. To the boy, she says, “Don’t mind her. I’m Lucian. Sorry for barging in and all. We wanted to get somewhere inside before any demons come out.”
That’s rich of Lucian, Isla thinks, to start acting sorry now, like breaking in wasn’t all her idea to begin with.
“Oh,” the boy says. “I’m Liam. Are there demons outside?”
“Only one, or at least that’s what we’re hoping,” Lucian says. “But we’re not sure. We haven’t actually seen it, and we’d like to keep it that way.”
“There’s not supposed to be demons outside,” Liam says. “But I haven’t been able to leave this place since I got cursed, so maybe they moved in.”
“You’ve been stuck here?” Isla asks. “That’s awful! What about your parents, or some older siblings, or–”
“I’m twenty-one,” Liam says.
Isla blinks. Liam looks seventeen at best. “Oh,” she says. “But you’re still…alone here, aren’t you?”
“My boyfriend lives with me,” Liam says. “They’re not here right now, though. They went to get some food but they haven’t gotten back yet.”
“Aren’t you worried? There’s a demon out there and it’s getting dark,” Isla says.
Liam makes a face. “I don’t like it, but they’ll be fine. They know how to get around at night if they have to–they can’t really go out during the day.”
Isla opens her mouth to say something, then closes it. This cabin is close to the waterfall, isn’t it? Caelan had said something about that yesterday, she remembers that now.
“Does your boyfriend…catch on fire?” Isla asks.
“Yeah, that’s Caelan,” Liam says. “They got cursed, too. I can’t leave, so Caelan stayed here with me. They’re the best.” He gets a wistful look in his eyes. “I want to kiss them sometimes. All the time.”
Lucian makes a face. “Great, good to know. Glad you told us.”
Isla elbows her. “Don’t be mean.”
Liam doesn’t even seem to have noticed. “I can’t, though. I can’t really touch anything since I got cursed.” He waves his hand and it passes through the bookshelf. “Being cursed sucks.”
“You’re telling us,” Lucian says.
Isla clears her throat. “So you and your boyfriend live here?”
Liam nods. “We’ve been here since we got cursed, so about a year ago? The witch that cursed us used to live here, but they left after.”
“So all the books are from when the witch lived here?” Lucian asks.
Liam glances back at the bookcases and shrugs. “I guess so. A lot of them don’t make much sense, and I can’t pick them up. Caelan helps me with that kind of stuff sometimes, but they need to find stuff to eat, and sleep, so they can’t always help me.”
“It could be worse,” Isla says. “It’s a beautiful place to live, with the lake and the mountains.”
Lucian elbows her. “Be nice,” she mouths.
“Yeah, that part is nice,” Liam says. “You know, there was a shooting star over the lake just a few weeks ago. Neither of us have ever seen a shooting star. I think it scared off a lot of the animals, though.”
That sounds ominous as hell. Isla knows a bad omen when she hears one.
She starts to say something when the front door slams open behind them.
“I’m back!” Caelan yells. “I found a potato! And a fancy chicken!” They triumphantly hold up a dirty potato in one hand and a dead pheasant in the other.
“Hey, babe,” Liam says. “We’ve got guests today.”
Caelan blinks and looks around the room for a full three seconds before registering Isla and Lucian’s presence. “Oh, there’s people here.”
“Figured that out on your own, did you?” Lucian asks.
Isla waves, trying to distract from that. “Hey, it’s me again! Isla. Are you okay after, uh, catching on fire yesterday?”
Caelan smiles. They certainly look better than yesterday–for one thing, both their skin and clothes are all in one piece this time. “Yeah, I’m great!” They gesture to Lucian. “Who’s this? And, uh, what happened to your skin?”
“Don’t mind me,” Lucian says. “You go take care of that potato and, uh, fancy chicken.”
“Oh, right!” Caelan says. They hurry off into an adjoining room that appears to be a kitchen, humming a song that Isla doesn’t recognize.
Lucian makes a face like she’s about to say something derisive again, so Isla quickly asks, “You forage for food? There didn’t seem to be a lot out there when we passed through.”
“It’s not usually this bad,” Liam says. “It used to be really easy to find things to eat, but since that shooting star, Caelan’s had to go farther and farther away to find things to eat. I get worried, sometimes.”
Isla wonders why they can’t grow things if they’re forced to live here, but then she remembers that Caelan catches on fire, and the soil around the house is rocky besides. They probably don’t have any other options besides foraging and trapping.
“If you want to stay the night, we don’t really have any rooms, but you’re free to sleep on the floor. I think there might be some extra blankets somewhere that we don’t use…” Liam rubs his chin in consideration. “Sorry, we weren’t expecting guests. Ever, really.”
“It’s okay,” Isla says. “I’ve got my own blanket, but thanks.”
Just then, Caelan yells, “Potato!” and bursts out of the kitchen with a plate of food. They set it down and sit, then look up at everyone else. “Oh, wait, shit, there’s people here. I’m so sorry! I forgot we had people over, I didn’t make anything for you guys–”
“It’s fine, we have food–” Isla says.
“Although we wouldn’t say no to more,” Lucian adds.
“Lucian!” Isla hisses.
“I’m just saying,” Lucian says.
It takes some arguing, but Isla eventually convinces Caelan that it’s okay that they didn’t make any extra food because she has her own, and Caelan goes ahead and eats their potato and pheasant. They talk about the mountain and the area, but there’s not much notable information. There’s no towns nearby and there’s some stuff out past the waterfall, but Caelan doesn’t know much of what’s out there; the drop is too steep and it would take too long to get back up.
“So what are you guys doing here?” Caelan eventually asks.
“Traveling,” Lucian says before Isla can respond. “Heading north through the mountain path and wandered our way up here. It looks nice.”
“Yeah, it’s really great,” Caelan says. “Sunset over the waterfall is the best, and I like to sit out on the dock with Liam and tell him all about how much I love him and–”
Lucian makes a stifled gagging sound.
Isla elbows her in the side. “I think that’s really sweet,” she says. “I’m glad you guys are still together even after everything.”
“I’d go anywhere with Liam. He’s the best person I’ve ever met,” Caelan says, reaching over to Liam. “I love him so–”
Their hand passes through Liam’s torso, and Caelan trails off.
“It’s okay,” Liam says softly. “As long as we’re together.”
“Yeah. I know,” Caelan says.
They stare at each other lovingly for a long thirty seconds until Lucian clears her throat and says, “So it’s getting late. Maybe we should get ready to sleep.”
“Lucian, they were having a moment!” Isla says.
“I know, I was there,” Lucian says. “Sorry to interrupt, I’ve got something to take care of, and Isla needs to get some sleep, too.” She reaches over and takes Solanus off of Isla’s wrist. “Thanks for letting us stay for the night. We really appreciate it.” She puts Solanus on her wrist and steps out to the porch.
“I’m so sorry about her,” Isla tells Caelan and Liam. “She’s kind of cranky.”
“It’s okay! Everyone has bad days, right?” Caelan asks.
Isla’s pretty sure that Lucian’s like this all the time. She keeps that to herself.
They talk for a little bit longer, but soon enough Caelan says good night and goes into the bedroom, shutting the door behind them. Isla lays out her blankets on the floor to sleep on.
While she’s doing that, Lucian comes back in.
“Lucian,” Isla says. “Where did you go? And what was that all about? You were the one who said we should be nice.”
“I didn’t try to stab them or anything, did I?” Lucian asks. “Anyways, I was on the porch. I had to talk to Sol a bit, away from your lovebird friends. This place gives me the creeps.”
“You wanted to stay here,” Isla says.
“I wanted to stay safe from the demon,” Lucian says. “Just because this is better doesn’t mean I like it. It feels witchy as hell in here.”
Isla pats her blankets down. “What do you mean, it feels witchy?”
“It’s pretty self-explanatory, if you ask me. It feels like witchcraft in here.”
“A witch used to live here,” Isla says.
“Maybe, but it feels like witchcraft now,” Lucian says. “It’s way too strong for it to be from whatever many years ago. Sol agrees with me.”
“Feels demony, too,” Solanus says. “I don’t like it.”
“And since nobody lives here except those two, the logical conclusion here is that one or both of them are witches,” Lucian says. “I don’t think you should trust them.”
“What?” Isla asks. “But they’re so nice!”
“Yeah, well, turns out some witches are nice. It’s easier to get close enough to someone to curse them if you’re not a dickweed, funnily enough,” Lucian says. “Just because they can’t actually curse us doesn’t mean they can’t hurt us at all.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Well, we find your memories and get out of here, obviously,” Lucian says.
“We’ve got a lead, though, right? That shooting star Liam mentioned has to do with my memories.”
“Right. We’ll have to search around the lake again tomorrow,” Lucian says. “And don’t talk so loud. These guys don’t need to know what we’re looking for, and we don’t want them finding your memories before we do.”
“They’re perfectly nice people,” Isla says. “Just because they’re in love doesn’t mean they’re…plotting against us or anything.”
“I don’t trust them, and that has nothing to do with their disgustingly soppy romance,” Lucian says. “Caelan’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer but Liam’s shifty as hell. I looked through some of the books on those shelves and it’s pretty advanced witchcraft. They did not look like they haven’t been touched in the last year.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re witches, though. I mean, they’re stuck here. Of course they’d look through the books. Can’t you give them the benefit of the doubt?” Isla asks. “Can’t you be nice for once in your life?”
“Being nice isn’t going to get my soul back,” Lucian hisses. “If that’s all you’ve got to say, I’m going back outside. The witchcraft in here makes my skin crawl.”
With that, she leaves and slams the door behind her.
That probably could have gone better.