• Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 7

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    For a moment, all he could think of was Sweet’s story, and it felt again like a great hole had opened under his feet, like the floor he was standing on was paper-thin and all it would take was the slightest of movements to plummet into the abnormal depths beneath it. Disorientation overwhelmed him, so he couldn’t be sure what direction he was facing, let alone what the strange shapes were in the darkness.

    He tried to force himself to stop thinking of it, of roots like teeth gnashing below the floorboards. He commanded himself to think of anything else—of the taste of pie he could still distantly sense in his mouth, of the way Sweet’s features had been cast into unnatural shapes by the shadows when he’d put the flashlight under his chin, of the game they’d played, anything.

    Septimus breathed in slowly, then out again.

    It was fine, he told himself. It was just a power outage with great timing. The house had tried to get into the spirit of things, so to speak. If anything, this would just make an excellent story later.

    He opened his eyes again and found his bearings, looking around.

    Behind him was the living room, with the great bay window. Before, with the flashlight on and the dim illumination from the kitchen, it had been just darkness out there with more darkness moving in it, but now, with his eyes adjusting to the otherwise pitch blackness, the dim light of the moon made the outdoors much more visible. The branches of the forest outside rocked back and forth in the rising wind, grey clouds lit from behind by the moon, and he realized he could hear the pattering of a cold rain beginning on the window. His car was still out there, so if Sweet ended up needing help, he could at least drive him somewhere.

    If the bay window was behind him, that meant he was still in the entryway to the bent hallway, with the basement door ahead, and the dark shapes were just the weird curve of the wall, the open kitchen door. For a moment, he was strangely hesitant to ruin what night vision he had, but the interior of the building was so dark that there was no benefit to keeping the lights off. He felt for his phone, thumbing the screen on.

    Relief flooded him at the same time the light did. The time was 9:02, which meant the power had somehow gone out almost exactly at 9, if not actually on the dot . His power was at 85% still, but he didn’t want to risk draining it any faster by using the flashlight app rather than just the screen. Who knew if Sweet would be successful at getting the power on?

    Septimus used the screen’s light to guide his way through the twisting corridor until he found the basement door, then sank down next to it, straining to hear any sound from below. He didn’t hear any, not even the sound of someone banging around down there in the dark, no cursing or swearing. Not that Sweet had ever been much of the kind to do that. But hadn’t Sweet been saying that it was full of nails and broken glass and all that? He only had a flashlight and his own phone with him. The fact that he’d trip down there seemed almost inevitable to Septimus.

    Well, if Sweet made any sounds of pain, if Sweet called for him, Septimus would hear him from here. Or he hoped he would, anyway. He hoped desperately that it wasn’t soundproofed or anything else, and that’s why he couldn’t hear anything now. The house was old. There was no way—right?  

    “Right,” he muttered to himself, and almost startled to hear his own voice in the stifling darkness.

    He checked his phone again: 9:03. God, time seemed to be passing slowly.

    Sitting in the dark, he tried to think about what he could do if something happened. He hadn’t seen a first aid kit, but Sweet had pointed out the bathroom. If it was likely to be anywhere, it would be there. Even if the house was left empty most of the year, if he came back once in a while, there would probably be at least a basic kit, right?

    9:05.

    There was one in the car, too, he remembered. He’d stocked it in there once at Max’s insistence. At the time, he’d wondered what good a small kit like that would do for a car accident, but had to agree with Max’s assessment that it’d be better than nothing, and not all car accidents were horrific affairs. So he could get that if there wasn’t one in the house.

    9:06.

    Suddenly, with a faint buzzing sound, the power came back. The hallway flooded with light from the kitchen’s open door, and Septimus let out a groan of relief. He didn’t even know why he was so worried, he admitted to himself.

    He got to his feet, reaching for the basement door, only to have it open before he could touch it.

    Sweet must have booked it up the stairs, he thought. “Everything okay down there?” he asked. “You didn’t hurt yourself?”

    Stepping through, Sweet shut the door behind himself before he looked up, and further questions died in Septimus’s throat.

    The expression on Sweet’s face was bizarre. There was an exhaustion there that had nothing to do with the time, and he stared at Septimus like he didn’t recognize him, an absolute blankness that was chilling to see.

    Then he smiled a little, expression lightening, and shook his head. “It just took a while to get the right parts in to get it to work again,” he said. “Everything’s fine. Let’s just… go back to what we were doing.”

    A little disgruntled—it felt like his worries were being brushed aside, Septimus watched as Sweet walked past him, back to the living room. “Sure,” he said. “Fine. I mean, the story’s kind of spoiled by the interruption, though.”

    As he went, he checked his phone to confirm how long the power had been out.

    9:30.

    [Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments.
    Also, thanks for a great week! I hope you’re looking forward to the rest of the month.]

    [Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 6

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    He watched as Sweet ladled ravioli into two bowls, and tried to shake the feeling off. Yeah, it was weird, and off kilter, and there was a lot of tension, but it was probably best to leave it for now. There was probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Sweet didn’t want to talk about the house—given what little Septimus knew about his family situation, probably his childhood memories were at least awkward, and coming up with new stories would at least make him have to think over the old. If things hadn’t improved by later in the night, he could always bring it up then.

    “Want me to get the game started up?” he offered, by way of peace treaty.

    Sweet smiled over at him. “Sure,” he said. “Also, save room for dessert, ’cause I brought up a pumpkin pie.”

    “Nice!” Septimus said, relieved.

    He carried his drinks into the living room, where he found that the couch faced both a fireplace and a TV on the lintel over it, with the console connected. He turned on the TV and game, and fired up Mario Kart. The familiar sound was instantly calming and it looked like it had the same effect on Sweet when he came in.

    They ate with their bowls on their knees and swore at each other and relaxed properly, dismissing the tension with a few fortunate Blue Shells. Or Sweet did, anyway, because he was worse than Septimus, which was the norm for their gaming. Sweet had picked up gaming due to Septimus liking it, which he found really flattering, even if he wasn’t totally sure what Sweet did with his free time before that.

    Eventually, Sweet took their bowls away and came back with plates of pie. “Ghost stories now?” he offered.

    “Sure,” Septimus said. “Man, I was worried earlier that I’d messed up somehow, but if you want to, I mean, I’d still like to.”

    Sweet waved it off. “It’s nothing,” he said. “Honestly. It’s not you. Want me to turn the lights off for it?”

    “Leave the kitchen one on,” Septimus said, “but yeah.”

    When Sweet did, the room became darker than Septimus had expected. The wash of light was from several rooms away, and provided only just enough illumination to keep shapes recognizable in the darkness.

    Septimus became suddenly aware of the huge, dark bay window right behind the couch. He’d forgotten it in the lightness of the room but now, with the room itself dark, he became aware of the swaying trees, the moaning wind. At least they were far enough from civilization he didn’t expect anyone to come peeking in the window.

    “You start,” he told Sweet, when Sweet sat back down with him, then put a forkful of pie into his mouth. The rich taste of the pumpkin filling made this more real, somehow, more Halloween.

    “Okay, okay,” Sweet said. “Hang on.” He thumbed on his phone, so it lit his face from below and fractured his eyes in a thousand places, and seemed to do a search, then cleared his throat. “When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike—”

    Unable to contain his disbelief, Septimus cut in. “Sweet, are you reading someone else’s ghost story?”

    “I mean, yeah,” Sweet said. “I’m not very creative—”

    Septimus put a hand in Sweet’s face and shoved lightly, laughing. “That completely spoils the mood,” he protested. “Come on, man. I’ll go first, and you can take my cue.”

    Sweet flicked his screen off, then bowed to him, hand extended. “As the master commands.”

    Grinning, Septimus unhooked his flashlight from his belt and put it under his chin. “It was a dark and stormy night,” he intoned, “much like tonight…”

    The story he wove wasn’t particularly good—he was making it up as he went along, something about a house very much like this, but abandoned entirely after the old owner passed away. A young couple much like themselves who went there to canoodle in it, and as they kissed they found the bed begin to sink and change and feel odd, and finally, when they got out their flashlights, they realized it was soaked in blood. They ran screaming from the house, and when they went back in the light of day to disprove what they’d thought they’d seen, they found the door locked tight, though neither had tried to lock it behind them. Even as he finished it up, he had to admit that it sounded more like some kind of anxious hysteria, and ‘getting locked out’ wasn’t exactly the depth of a horrifying conclusion, but the spooky voice he was using, and the darkened atmosphere, seemed to do the trick.

    When he finished, Sweet let out a dramatic shudder and leaned into the crook of his arm. “Well, now I’m reluctant to go to bed at all,” he said. “Nicely told.”

    “Thanks,” Septimus said, a little embarrassed. Sweet smelled like he’d spent a while in the autumn leaves before coming inside. “Feel a little more prepared for your turn now?”

    “Mm,” Sweet agreed. He paused, taking Septimus’s flashlight from him and putting it likewise under his chin, then began.

    “A long time ago,” he said, “there was a girl who had run away from home. It was a bad home to be in, and a worse one to run from, because they lived in the country, far away from any others. She knew that downhill lead only to the valley where they tended their sheep, so she didn’t run that way. Rather, she ran uphill, because she had never once heard what lay up that way, and hoped it was safety.”

    It sounded more like a fairy tale than a ghost story, but at least Sweet was making it up on his own now. Septimus nodded, making an encouraging sound.

    “She ran up the hill until she tripped over a hole in the ground, and lay their shivering, her blood from her skinned knees seeping into the dirt where she’d fallen,” Sweet murmured softly. “She realized it was an odd hole—wide and deep, with black dirt around it, and white sand around that. And there was another one, too; she’d fallen between them. She’d only just recognized what it looked like when it blinked.”

    It looked like Sweet had got the spirit of things after all.

    “Letting out a scream, she backed up and tried to run back the way she had come—foolishly, because if those were eyes, the small ridge of grass a little downhill was its mouth. This opened as she ran, tripping her up, and she fell, barely catching herself on the hill’s lip, feet dangling down into the strange gullet below.”

    Septimus was hooked. He leaned forward a little, fingers clenching on his knees.

    Sweet had closed his eyes now, as if envisioning it. “The grass and ground closed around her as the horror in the ground began to speak, and roots and rocks beneath brushed her feet, making her feel how close she was to whatever passed for the great creature’s teeth. She struggled, but to no avail—the movement of the lips kept her from climbing out.

    “‘Your love,’ the thing whispered, and despite how large it must have been, she had to strain to hear it. ‘Your hope. Your dreams. Which of these do you least want to lose?’

    “It was a horrible question,” Sweet went on. “But she knew she had to answer. If she could only keep one of them, the answer was easy. She could live without feeling or experiencing love, and she had never been able to plan for the future. But without hope, she could never escape her situation. ‘My hope,” she managed, in a shaking voice. ‘I don’t want to lose my hope.’

    “‘Then that is what I will eat,’ the terror underground sighed, and with a sudden movement—”

    The power went out.

    Even in the already-dark room, it was starkly obvious. The illumination from a few rooms away cut out entirely, along with the power light on the tv and the wii, and all sounds with it. It was terrifyingly silent but for the sound of nature outside. Septimus heard himself let out a little sound that he swallowed before it could become too embarrassing.

    “Ah,” Sweet said. He sounded more resigned than surprised. “I’ll go see if I can get the power started back up in the basement. You stay here.”

    Before Septimus could protest, he took Septimus’s flashlight and headed for the hallway. “Hey—” Septimus began.

    “It might take a few minutes,” Sweet called back, still resigned, and already having taken their only light halfway down the pitch-black hallway. “So don’t come down after me! I’m used to this.”

    Septimus didn’t even make out of the living room before Sweet had shut the basement door behind himself, leaving Septimus in total darkness.

    [Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments]

    [Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 5

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    Septimus decided to take the out that Sweet had offered. However many thoughts he had on whether he wanted to sleep alone or not, having a little more time to make the decision couldn’t hurt. Couldn’t hurt himself, anyway. Sweet, though, was looking a little awkward, both guilty and relieved at rushing on to the next question.

    He decided also not to ask about Sweet’s weird visits yet. Sweet had asked him two things, and moving on to asking about a third unrelated thing would probably just seem weird. But it did stand out as a little strange. Well, this whole thing did. If Sweet’s mother no longer lived here, why would he come out here at all? Why did they even keep the house at all? Maybe he was to inherit it sometime? Septimus had got the impression that Sweet’s father was dead, but he wasn’t sure why. All he knew for sure was that Sweet didn’t like his father, and that Sweet used his mother’s maiden name and preferred it over his own first name.

    Still, it seemed like it might be prying. He tried to decide if he wanted to.

    Septimus rose, his drinks still in both hands, and wandered into the dining room a little ways. From here, he could see the living room; a couch was leaning against the wall next to the front hall, with a big bay window overlooking the front. Probably where Sweet had watched him from. “You got a TV out there?”

    “Yeah,” Sweet called over.

    “Consoles?”

    “I brought mine up, yeah.”

    “We could Mario Kart until it’s a bit darker,” Septimus said. “Then get into the Halloween spirit with some ghost stories?”

    Sweet laughed. “Come back over, I don’t want to shout,” he said. And as Septimus headed back to the dining room doorway, “Sure, Mario Kart and ghost stories. Sounds nice and wholesome.”

    They usually played video games or watched movies when Sweet came over to Septimus’s, and Septimus had thought that starting with something they were both used to might relax his own nerves a little. Other than that, they’d done some dinners out at various restaurants around the city and stuff like that. They hadn’t been together that long, and had kept things pretty casual to start.

    “I’m all about wholesome,” Septimus said. He scuffed his toe on the stain on the carpet—it was a dark red, and pretty old. “This is probably wine, right?”

    “No,” Sweet said, “it’s blood.”

    Septimus froze. “Uh?”

    “I used to get nosebleeds as a kid,” Sweet explained, laughing. “That one never came out. Mom covered it with the table, but now the table’s gone, there it is.”

    Septimus’s heart found its normal rhythm again. “Oh,” he said. “Jeez. See? If you’d wanted to spook me out you had a perfect opportunity there. Actually, that might be fun. Was there anything in this house that would count as a ghost story? Or you could make them up. We could wander the house with our flashlights on and the lights off, and you could tell me spooky stories about various features of the house. This blood spot was where a man died. Maybe your mother’s room is closed because it’s haunted, or a piece of different wallpaper covers a secret passage, or the basement is off limits due to a dark and terrible secret—”

    “No,” Sweet said flatly. His voice came out harsh and overly loud.  

    Taken aback, Septimus looked away, finding himself staring at that patch of blood again. “Sorry. I just thought, you’re the one who said to come up for Halloween because the house is spooky—”

    “Yeah, I know. Sorry,” Sweet said. He turned the stove dial off with a click. “But I’m uncomfortable about going that far with it. Let’s just do normal ghost stories after we game. Or watch a scary movie. Are we eating in front of the TV?”

    “Uh, yeah, I guess,” Septimus said. He felt off-kilter again, though this time, there was no strange vertigo. He felt like there was more he should say or ask, but was having trouble thinking of what.

    [Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments]

    [Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 4

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    “I’ll come with you,” Septimus said. “I feel fine now. If you have a coke or juice or something, though, I should probably have that. Maybe my blood sugar’s low.”

    Sweet nodded, waiting until Septimus was out in the hall with him before he turned the light off in his room. “I’ll go first down the stairs anyway. If you fall, I’ll cushion you.”

    “Nice of you,” Septimus said. “It’s probably fine, this just hasn’t happened before, so I’m a little freaked out.”

    Making a sympathetic noise, Sweet started down the stairs. Septimus followed behind him, then said, “Hey.”

    “Hm?”

    “Back up one step.”

    Sweet glanced back over his shoulder curiously but did, stepping back up onto the step he’d just come from. “What?”

    “Go back down.”

    “Uhh, okay.” Sweet did.

    Septimus frowned at him, then pinched his own side. “I know I’m bigger than you, but I didn’t think it was that much. The stairs are squeaking for you but not me.”

    “This house and I just know each other well,” Sweet said. “I come here twice a year no matter what, so it recognizes me.”

    Septimus stared at him and, for once, wished his eyes didn’t catch the light in that weird way. “Are you trying to set the Halloween mood? Because that was creepy. That was a really creepy thing to say, Sweet.”

    Sweet laughed. “I mean,” he clarified, “I’m really familiar with what parts of the stairs are squeaky and what parts aren’t. I used to creep around here all the time when I was a kid and didn’t want my mom to catch me up. Done having me experiment?”

    “Now I feel dumb,” Septimus groused. “Go on then.”

    Laughing again, more deeply, Sweet led the rest of the way down the stairs and back into the bent hallway. He opened the door to the kitchen, heading inside.

    The room was a bit old-fashioned, with a weathered checkered floor, and the type of wood cabinets and off-white countertop that Septimus guessed were last refinished in the 80s or 90s. A small folding table was set up against one wall with folding chairs on two sides; the other wall had the counter, with its sink and stove and cabinets. Through an open archway, Septimus could see what must have been a dining room space, but was now empty but for the dusty china cabinet against one wall and a dark stain on the carpet.

    Sweet went to the fridge and pulled out a coke, testing it with his fingertips to see if it was cold before handing it off to Septimus. Catching a glimpse inside, Septimus said, “Hey, can I have one of the waters too? If it’s dehydration I shouldn’t just be downing soda.”

    “Sure.” Sweet pulled out a bottle of that and passed it off as well. “That reminds me, don’t drink the tap water. It’s fine to bathe in but I wouldn’t ingest it.”

    “Rust?”

    “Something like that. Anyway, I brought enough supplies that we could stay here for a week if we wanted, so drink as much water as you think you need.” Sweet shut the fridge and strained up on his tiptoes to open another cabinet. “Got your preference of canned goods?”

    “Chef Boyardee?” Septimus ventured. He couldn’t imagine why Sweet might have overprepared so much, except that there was a chance of snow tonight. It wasn’t supposed to be a lot, and shouldn’t stick, but the house was isolated enough that if it was much worse than expected, they might be trapped there for a bit. He wished briefly that he’d brought an external battery for his phone; if they were stuck here and the power went out, a charger wouldn’t do him much good. No point worrying, though. He popped the coke’s tab open and took a sip.

    Sweet smiled at him. “Your wish is my command.” He fetched the can down, and picked a saucepan out of a lower cabinet, eyed it, then blew on the lid. Septimus hoped it was dust he was getting rid of, not a spider.

    “You want any help?” he offered.

    “I’m good,” Sweet said. “You just sit and drink. Don’t want a fainting fit over the stove.”

    Obediently, Septimus sat. He took another sip.

    “Done any more thinking about where you would prefer that I sleep tonight?”

    Septimus almost inhaled his mouthful of coke. He had been thinking of it, of course, ever since Sweet had offered to take the other room. On the one hand, this was a great opportunity. On the other hand, they were already here because it was like a horror movie setup, and he knew how those went. He choked down his drink. “Um,” he said.

    “Never mind,” Sweet said hurriedly. “Anything you do wanna do tonight?”

    [Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments]

    [Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 3

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    Septimus kept his arm around Sweet, sighing as the light dismissed his panic fully. This time, when he spoke, his voice came out evenly. “Yeah, I wanna drop my stuff off first of all. It’s not heavy or anything but I don’t have to haul my laptop around, right?”

    “Right,” Sweet agreed. He started to pull away.

    “Where’re you going?” Septimus protested softly. “Haven’t said hello properly yet.” He tugged Sweet back, leaning in close as Sweet’s confusion changed to realization.

    Septimus kissed Sweet gently, a soft brush of lips on lips, swallowing the hot gust of Sweet’s breath as his mouth opened slightly. Sweet was always a bit shy about kissing—not unwilling, never that. But he acted as though it was a surprise each time. As though, each time, he was never quite sure what to do with his mouth at first. Sweet had assured him before that he had no problem with it—that he liked kissing, and definitely didn’t want Septimus to stop doing it, and would like one right now, actually—but Septimus still liked to be gentle and careful about it, at least at first, to get Sweet past that first moment of surprise and shyness.

    The kiss between them grew heated, Sweet’s teeth catching briefly at Septimus’s lip, a hot wet press of tongue tasting Septimus before he pulled back.

    “Hi,” Septimus muttered.

    “Hi,” Sweet said back, a little breathless. He drew a great lungful of air, then let it out slowly as his mouth found a smile again, eyes fixed on Septimus’s. “So. Let’s go drop off your stuff?”

    “Let’s,” Septimus agreed. He swallowed, willing his heart to find its normal pace again, though this time for another reason. “Why don’t you show me around the house as you go? Looks old. 1920s maybe?”

    Sweet shrugged a shoulder. “Thereabouts,” he said. “When it was built, anyway. It’s been kept up to date, though.” He pulled away, Septimus’s arm falling from around him.

    And something shifted.

    For a moment, Septimus couldn’t even register what was happening. It was like the floor had fallen away beneath him, like some great yawning maw had opened under his feet, gravity pulling him away as up became down and down became up and sideways became something else altogether, something impossible. He didn’t recall making any kind of sound, but he must have, because the world righted itself abruptly again around a point of connection, Sweet’s hand suddenly squeezing his.

    “You okay?” Sweet asked, brows furrowed.

    “Vertigo,” Septimus gasped. He drew a deep breath, and another, but the world had fully stopped spinning. Still, he found himself reluctant to let go of Sweet’s hand. “I’m okay now. Guess I’m hungrier than I realized.”

    “We’ll get you something to eat once we’ve dropped your stuff off,” Sweet said, still concerned. “Think you can manage the stairs?”

    Nodding, half to triple check that his sense of balance wasn’t going to desert him, Septimus said, “Yeah. I think I’ll be fine. Hope I’m not getting sick.”

    “Hope so too,” Sweet said, and tugged him out of the room.

    The laundry room led to an odd hallway, bent and crooked in a boxy S-shape, with several doors off it at its various bends. The strangeness of the design, along with the woodwork that spoke of a different age, did lend to a sense of creepiness, though how much of that was Septimus’s expectations was hard to say. Especially while still alarmed by what had just happened.

    Sweet pointed as they went. “The open doorway at the end leads to the living room,” he said. “This door leads to the kitchen. There’s a dining room connected to both the living room and the kitchen on the other side, but there isn’t a table in it anymore so we’re going to eat in the kitchen itself. This door leads to the basement steps—don’t go down there, okay? It’s a mess and not really safe if you don’t know your way around, exposed wires and nails and stuff. Don’t want to have to drive a few hours to the hospital in the middle of the night.”

    He couldn’t imagine wanting to go rooting around in a strange basement anyway. Though he did find himself curious to check out the rest of the house, open doors and see what little mementos of Sweet’s childhood might be around. A basketball in the front hall, or childhood photos on the walls—something like that. Maybe later, he concluded, when he’d got more settled. “Right,” Septimus said.

    The certainty in his tone had earned him a grin. “And these are the stairs up. C’mon, I’ll spot you.”

    Sweet kept hold of one of his hands, while Septimus held the wooden banister with the other. The lacquered wood steps creaked under him but were secure, and the vertigo didn’t return.

    The hallway on the second floor was, thankfully, straight. “Bathroom’s there,” Sweet said, pointing. “The door at the end is the master bedroom. Mom doesn’t come back here any more so if you’d rather not share a bed with me, I can take that room. I don’t want to, uh, assume. You can stay in my room either way, though, it’s a lot more comfy. Let me know after you’ve had a chance to think about, I, you know, what you want.”

    Septimus didn’t have a chance to respond to the stammered request, as Sweet had continued to lead him to his own bedroom door as he talked, then opened it, bringing him in. It looked clean and warm, the light already on. The window overlooked dark trees. There was a double bed, a closet with a few hangers though no clothes hanging in it, a bookshelf with just a couple of books sitting on it, and a dresser with an old mirror covered by a dust cloth. Though, Septimus noted, there didn’t seem to be any dust around, no cobwebs or spiders. He knew that Sweet lived two hours away in the city, but it looked like this place was kept ready to come back to at any time.

    “Did you tell me to come separately so you could get here early and clean up?” Septimus demanded.

    Grinning at him, Sweet gestured at the bed, a go on then gesture. “Unpack already. You can use my dresser or closet if you want, but since you only have a backpack with you, I can’t figure you’ll want to.” At that, Sweet pulled away, moving to sit at his desk chair.

    As Sweet’s hand slipped from his, Septimus felt a moment of panic. But the vertigo didn’t reoccur, and he felt a little silly for thinking it might. Physical contact could hardly prevent dizziness.

    To cover up his embarrassment, he dumped his backpack out on the bed, then slipped his phone into his pocket and hooked his flashlight onto his belt. Even with his phone’s flashlight function, it was better to be safe than sorry—especially given his dizzy spell earlier, he had no desire to be stuck in the dark if the power went out unexpectedly. Sweet’s eyebrows raised, but he nodded a moment later, like he’d made sense of the choice.

    “Food now?” Sweet asked, when Septimus was done. “Do you need to rest up while I cook or will you be all right? I’ve got a variety of canned goods I can heat up for you. We will all dine like gourmets tonight.”

    [Please suggest an action in the Comments]

    [Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]