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Velvet Shed - Chapter 1: The House That Mother Made

Have you ever felt like your town was different? Like there was nothing strange on the surface, but deep down there was this underlying feeling that something was off? I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve always felt that way. Nothing adds up. As if there’s some pieces missing to the whole puzzle that is my town. My town is a quiet hobble on the coast of Buzzard’s Bay in Naushon Island, Massachusetts. Strange things have happened here for a long time.

If you were to look for my town on a map or you were to look it up online, like on Google or something, you’ll only be met with an empty expanse of woods and the dirty, black-ish sand that makes up the shore.
To those who live here though, it's not so bad. Save for the weird happenings from time to time.

The name of my town is Powder Bay.

The town in of itself is mostly comprised of some small mom/pop shops, an old as fuck movie theatre, a recently renovated neighborhood with the works, lovely parks and trails covered in litter. But hey, we got a Wal-Mart recently! And then there's the titular Powder Bay. Which got its name from the black sand that surrounds the shore. I’d tell you why the sands are black, but that’s a story for another time.

On the end of the shore atop a cliff watching over the bay, sits an old lighthouse that’s not seen use in over 70 years. It’s since been refurbished and now lives the rest of its days as a pub, where the fishermen and women of Powder Bay can go to wet their whistles.

At the exit of the town there’s a single route back to mainland Massachusetts by a connecting bridge. Other than that, there’s nothing but expanse of woods stretching for miles and shorelines reaching into cold, unforgiving seawater.

My name is Marcus Grath. I’m a raccoon of a small stature compared to the more rugged folks of my town. I’m thin and tall. There’s a chunk of my tail missing at the tip, leaving only three quarters of the thing left on me. By all accounts I’m a ghost in my town. But hey. At least it’s quiet.

With all that said, now onto the real story. The story of how I learned what the Velvet Shed is in this town of mine. You see, velvet shedding is not a tradition in the more traditional sense. To most people who know it it’s simply a biological phenomenon that happens to deer, moose, elk and most other cervines. In the latter winter months, cervine antlers begin to shed a velvet-like substance that accumulates over the winter to protect their antlers from the cold.

The shedding is usually seen as an unsightly phenomenon to those who witness it in the wild, as deer and moose don’t feel it as it sloughs off and the fresh antler begins to bleed. All perfectly natural. Their more anthropomorphic counterparts however, have shavers for such an occasion and can remove the velvet in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Ferals however… They have to make due. Using nearby branches and brush to scrape off the velvety flesh, leaving behind pools of blood and thin velveted skin in their wake.

In my town however, velvet shedding’s definition is different.

My curiosity began when I was a boy. My mother would tell me stories before bed, as mothers usually would. One night she told me a story about the woods around our town and why I should never go in there during the early days of January.

“Don’t go into the woods during the velvet shed.” She would say. And to this day it always bugged me, because I never understood why. Now though... Now I know better than anyone.

That night when I was ten years old, I was tucked into bed for the night. She kissed me on the forehead then stood up to pull the ceiling fan light switch.

Before she could get even halfway to the door I finally got the courage to ask what was on my mind.

"I talked to the boys at the hunters club in town, and they say the same thing you say. But never tell me why we aint allowed though and neither do you. Why do we stay out of the woods every year around this time?"

My mom sighed and thought to herself for a moment before she spoke. "I suppose you're old enough to know now." She said as she looked out the window into the cold and bitter field that hugged the snow-covered pines around our home. "You see. The velvet shed is a sacred time here in Powder Bay. The Penobscot people talked of a spirit living in those woods among the bucks and moose; one that protects them from hunters in the winter. Our town respects their customs. And with that respect we acknowledge that in January no one is allowed in there under any circumstances."

I stared in curiosity as she continued, on the edge of my bed.

"One night, a long time ago in our town, a young hunter was very poor and hungry. He refused to believe what the natives warned the town of and went out with his flintlock to kill a buck for food. He went into the woods on a balmy January night, similar to this one. You could hear the crunching of snow beneath his boots for hours as he hunted for his game. Many in the town feared for his life, but no one dared go in and stop him. A single shot rang out from deep in the brush. Then nothing was heard again. It wasn't until February did the townsfolk round up a posse to find him or what was left. All that could be found was his tattered tricorn covered in frozen blood and his flintlock rifle broken in two."

My mouth hung open in awe. I wasn't expecting such a terrifying tale. But in my young mind, I got an answer that was at least sufficient enough to stave off my curiosity. She kissed my forehead again and left. Even after a story like that I remember falling asleep with ease. 'How real could it be?' I thought to myself.

That was twenty years ago now. She disappeared a year ago. It took only three weeks after her first missing poster to be presumed dead by police. The year after her disappearance I was contacted by Riley Cunningham, our family attorney. In her last will and testament I inherited all she had to her name, as no other family turned up to claim it.

What I inherited was our two story family home, the belongings within it and her car. An old 1978 Triumph Stag.

Riley Cunningham was a wily old tabby cat, with finely trimmed fur and a well groomed tail draped in silky but greying fur. He was charming but professional. His frame barely fit the finely tailored suit he wore, but he wore it well nonetheless. His coal black suit was lined with vibrant white lines and adorned with nicely polished pearl cufflinks and a solid gold lapel of a symbol I didn't know. It looked to be a dead oak tree and circled by a ring, a sword wedged into the dirt in front of it.

"Will you be claiming this inheritance?" Riley asked. I didn’t move, my solemn features obvious to him.

"Do you know what the most mysterious part about her disappearance is?" I asked, looking down at my feet as I slouched in the chair across from him in his office. "What would that be?" he asked. "The keys for her car were still in the ignition and the driver door was open wide. There were footprints in the snow the night she was discovered missing, walking away from the car and into the woods. Are you really gonna sit there and tell me she just... Walked into the woods? For no reason?"

Riley kept silent. He most likely thought that I was grieving in my own way and holding on to the thought that my mother may still be alive, though he never thought it to be true himself. After a time he got up and put a paw on my shoulder. "I'm not allowed to say anything officially on the matter Marcus. But if it were me personally, I'd want some closure as well." He said with a mournful, caring tone in his voice.

The house my mother and I lived in was a humble two story place on the edge of town, lined thick with pine trees separating us from the rest of the town and neighbors. A tin roof, green outer walls and a maple wood porch in a colonial style along the home. We had a barn, but it had fallen into disrepair since dad walked out on us long before mom disappeared. So it's more or less just a pile of wood that vaguely resembles a barn now. Inside that barn were simple tools caked in years worth of rust and grime. And a tractor style lawn mower which broke down after only a few years of use.

We pulled up in Riley’s black Miata to the front driveway of my old childhood home. The air was thick with the morning’s haze, wet and omnipresent. Not many sounds could be heard through the mist, save for some light chirps of the early morning chickadees, sparrows and the distant tremolo of loons. The weather was unlike the usual we would have that time of year. Januarys are usually very cold and bitter with an oppressive wind. But that day’s cold was bearable, the winds mild and the air humid.

Riley handed me a key and a flashlight as he went to grab some things from the trunk of his car. I strapped on my backpack and went to open the door. As I walked to the porch I recalled briefly how I got to where I was, thinking hard about all that had happened up until then; the trip here, the call that my mom was missing, the announcement that the search was called off. Next thing I knew I was at the porch, turning the key and opening the door. The door creaked loudly on its hinges as the atmosphere inside hit me in the face with a dank slap.

The air inside was musty and chilled. The smell was that of mold and stagnant dust as well as many other indescribable odors that would come from a year without habitation. The house was dark and nothing had moved in there since it was last investigated by police the year prior. There was even cordoning tape still left behind in places.

‘At least the place hasn’t been looted…’ I thought to myself as I turned on the flashlight, seeing the family photos and paintings caked in dust and grime. As I looked at the pictures and I saw one of me and my parents. Both of them. “I remember this one.” I said quietly as I took it off the wall. It was a picture of me with my parents at the annual July Fourth festival. I was only five years old back then. We looked so happy. I felt a morose sensation come over me for a brief moment as I contemplated how I got here in life. A missing mother and an absent deadbeat father.

I passed my flashlight around the living room. Everything from the bay window that looked out into the backyard to the corridor leading to the kitchen were covered in at least an inch of dust. The living room was furnished in moderate luxuries; a leather sofa, two swinging arm chairs and a coffee table with an ornate bowl filled with a potpourri that long since lost its scent. The television was admittedly the most modern item she owned, a flat screen with 30 inch LED display. It was a gift I bought her for Christmas the year prior to her disappearance.

I moved toward the kitchen and was hit with a foul stench. It was then I realized that she had been missing for months, therefore the electric bill went out god knows how long ago. All the contents of her refrigerator is most definitely a microbiome of molds and bacteria generations and generations old. Any longer without me noticing and it would most likely have become some kind of civilization of sentient symbiotic bacteria/mold hybrids who set aside their differences to destroy us all. I didn’t bother looking any further than that, knowing full well that I was only going to find more and more unpleasantries.

I moved down the corridor adjacent to the kitchen to find the staircase. I was at the foot of the stairwell and it was then that I heard a loud crash from the second floor. I jumped back in shock, random bumps in an abandoned home tend to do that after all. I called up the stairs “H-hello?!” No answer. “I g-got a weapon!” I didn’t. Every call I made up the stairs were met with nothing. Silence came as I strained to listen into the darkness. All I could hear was the ringing of silence and my heartbeat in my own ears. I decided to shine my flashlight up the stairs. I saw nothing.

Now a normal person in this situation would probably think to bail and find someone to go up to the creepy upstairs area of an abandoned house to investigate a noise with you. I’m not a normal person. I started up the stairs slowly, making sure that my feet didn’t make too much noise on the creaking steps. I made it to the top, still not hearing a thing. The silence was deafening as I scanned my flashlight around the hallway and I moved toward the nearest door.

Inside was my old bedroom. The walls coated in less dust and dander but covered in posters of bands and movies I enjoyed as a kid. My old bed was unmade and covered in half empty boxes. Another sound, softer this time came from inside my old closet. I jumped at the sound and swung my flashlight toward the door.

“W-whoever you are. I have a weapon, and I’m n-not afraid to use it!” I say in a tone that most likely wouldn’t even scare the paint off the walls. I walked cautiously to the closet with a paw outstretched for the handle. ‘It was my imagination. it was my imagination. it was my imagination.’ I thought to myself in a mantra, trying in vain to make my heart cease pounding. In a brief moment of pure bravery I swung open the door and was met with two glowing eyes and an angry hiss of a feral raccoon that made me jump back and fall on my ass...

It ran off, and I was on the floor, my breathing labored in shock.

“You fucking pest! Yeah, you better run!” I say with a shaky voice, more to steady myself than to scare the feral. I slowly stood up and shook off my fear, feeling silly about being shaken up about a random pest making noise. I looked out the bedroom window and into the woods. It was then that I briefly remembered mom’s story from my childhood. About the Velvet Shed. I remembered the fear the story instilled in me, and how every January I would sit up at night look out this very window and gaze at the sea of trees around our home. I remembered how still those nights were, the treetops and ground equally covered in inches upon inches of snow. I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I did know that my mom’s story had an impact on me in some way. I felt it back then. I felt it at that moment too. The uncertainty plagued me.

Next was my mom’s room. Her door was cordoned off with police tape. I pulled the tape and opened the door. Her room was adorned with maroon colored walls, a queen sized bed with a classical style headboard made of redwood. The linens were messy and unmade as if she leapt out of bed in a hurry and the floors were partly messy with some gowns and blouses.

It was then I noticed a book on my mom’s bed. It was a deep crimson with brass brackets with an ornate symbol stamped in brass on the center cover. A dead oak tree circled by a ring and a sword wedged into the dirt in front of it. I noticed the journal looked old. Very old in fact. The pages were as yellow as a sunflower and the brass was worn and dull. There was a strap holding the book closed with a thick padlock.

‘This book. It feels familiar. But why? That symbol too. It’s like Riley’s pin...’ I think to myself as I shake off the strange sensation and deposit the book into my backpack. I walk out and turn on my flashlight again. At the end of the hallway I see that damn feral raccoon again! “You gotta be kidding me! Get outta here, damn it!” I say as I begin to chase it off. It runs down the stairs and I give chase, pushing it toward the open front door. Riley yelps in surprise as the raccoon runs under his legs and he’s caught off guard, falling over with his clipboard and a small black notebook in his paw.

“What was that?!” He asked in excitement. I help him up. “What do you think? It was just a pest I chased out of the house. I don’t know how it got in, but damn.” Riley shook his head. “Well it must have gotten locked in when police closed and locked the door. The front door was wide open when your mother was discovered missing, after all.” That made sense to me enough to drop it.

Riley padded himself off. “Alright then. Did you find anything of interest?” I nodded. “I’ll take it.” I said vaguely. Riley looked at me confused, “Take… what?” I gesture all around me, flustered. “The house, her car, all her belongings. I’ll take 'em all. I’ll sort through it. Maybe that could help get to the bottom of this.” Riley nodded in understanding.

“I also found this.” I say as I pull out the book from my mother’s room. Riley goes pale at the sight of the book. “I didn’t know your mother had that…” He says with a shaky breath. “What is it? It has the same symbol as your pin. I figured you’d know.” I ask as I inspect all the details of the book. Riley sighs. “It's a journal. It contains some old writing from a colleague of your mother and I. He went missing in those woods as well, but it was a long long time ago. Long before you were born.” Riley handed me an old brass key. “I’m gonna take a wild guess and say this key goes to the lock.” I asked. Riley nodded. “But don’t open it here, it won’t help you here.” I tilted my head. “Help me? It’s a book. What do you mean?”

Riley chuckled as he walked away. “If you don’t know the power of a good book, then they won’t ever help you, my boy.” He said as he began writing things in his notebook, most likely appraising the junk around the house.

I walked up to the stag and opened the driver side door. Besides a slight moldy smell from lack of driving it, the car was in pretty damn good condition. After all this time the keys were still in the ignition. “Great police work.” I say sarcastically as I attach the car keys to my own keyring, along with the brass journal key and the new house key. I turn over the engine and it fires up “Huh, even after all this time, the battery didn’t even lose juice.”

I stepped out of the car and came up to Riley. “I’m gonna leave the house key with you for now so you can lock up here when you’re ready to go. I’m gonna go and get that Stag checked out and see if it needs new fuel. God knows how long the gas in it has been sitting.” Riley nodded and took the key from me. “Alright, Marcus. Meet me at my office at about 5pm. We’ll get you squared away on finalizing the inheritance payouts.” I nodded and walked to the Stag, firing it up and driving away to the gas station on the edge of town.

After filling her up and checking all the other fluids and needs, which were all okay miraculously, I drove to my apartment on the brackish black sanded shoreline. I opened the door and walked in, sitting on my sofa with a sigh. I glanced at the clock. 3:30pm. I had a good hour and a half to kill. I opened up my bag and pulled out the journal. It felt warm in my paws. Warmer than the air around my apartment even.

‘Open me… open me… open me, open me open me open me OPENMEOPENMEOPENMEOPENME.’

My mind screamed and reeled suddenly! I flung the book onto my sofa and grabbed at my pulsating skull! “W-what the hell was that?!” I exclaimed in confused surprise. I shook off my shock and moved to pick up the book again.

I soon pulled out the brass key and examined it. It was a worn skeleton key, the ornate bow emblazoned with a deer head that reminded me of the one in the Jägermeister logo, but without the cross. The bit on the end was slightly damaged on the ward but should still be okay enough to unlock the padlock. I hesitated, my paw shaking lightly as I directed the key to the lock. I don’t know why I was filled with such apprehension over a book. ‘I-its just a fucking book!’ I thought, shaking off the fear I was feeling, then I plunged the key in and turned.

The lock gave way and I pulled it away from the strap, moving the strap away from the book.

The pages were dirty and creased and smelled musty, as if the book was found in a puddle after a long rain. The ink was legible, be it written in a messy handwriting. It wasn’t my mom’s handwriting though, giving weight to what Riley told me. This book was indeed not my mother’s. ‘If this book isn’t her’s, then who did this book belong to?’ I asked in thought. There was writing on the inside cover of the book. It looked to be written in faded, black ink.

“To whom of the guild who may find this journal; I’m sorry. I failed in its capture. If only I had more time and escaped these foul woods, I would give my whole report in person. This journal, whenever or whomever may find it, should help in the groundwork for its capture or slaying.”

“The fuck?” I asked myself as I read aloud the writing back and forth a few times, trying to figure out all it meant. What was the guild? What was this person trying to capture? I moved the first stiff page and as I did a bone white piece of paper fell out. It looked newer, ripped from the pages of a notebook and stuffed in this book before it was closed and locked.

“Dear Riley,

Yes, this journal is from David. That fucking bastard did it! He really did it! How did we not know after all this time?! How did we not know he left this book behind until now? Also how did it end up on my porch? Better yet, why did he ignore us and our warnings about the woods?! He knew what would happen if he stumbled across that damn skull, did he not? Dammit Riley, this is bad. At least give this book a once over like I did, it does have some valuable information about that creature. Perhaps with time it’ll lead to finally ending it, once and for all. The natives that lived here long ago may not have known what to do, but perhaps in time, we could.”

I didn’t know what to think. ‘What is all this???’ I thought to myself as I sat back into my sofa, my head resting on the cushion. I looked at the clock again. 4pm on the dot. I closed the book up, and decided I was going to bring it with me to Riley’s office along with the note that fell out. He had answers and he was gonna tell me.

I got up, stuffed the book back in my bag and marched toward the door, determined to find out what I had to.

I was about to open the door when I was taken aback by a sudden knocking. A gentle, polite tapping but firm enough to let know of its urgency. I swung the door open to find Penelope McClain at my doorstep. Penelope was a petite husky with red fur and glasses and a calm demeanor. She wasn’t much for the rough and tumble ways of Powder Bay and as such was a bookworm, keeping her mind sharp and her wits sharper. Something looked to be biting at her but I couldn’t tell what.

“P-pen. What’s up, you okay?” I asked as I invited her in. “Not really Marcus, haven’t you gotten my texts?” She asked in a hurried tone. “I probably did, but I haven’t looked at my phone since last night. I just got home from taking a look at my mom’s house with our attorney. Why? What’s up?” I say in response. Penelope sits down and looks to the floor. “Jack’s been missing for a few days!” She said with a slight shudder. My eyes widen. “Your boyfriend??? He’s missing???” I asked as I sat next to her. “Where was he last seen?” She looked up to meet my eyes, her bright heterochromic irises glistening in the afternoon light.

“Last Saturday, with me at night. We walked down the nature trail next to the houses on Flintlock Street. We felt watched from the woods around the trail so we left early to get me home. My doorstep was where he was last seen.” I stared on in worry, my mind was now plagued with yet another missing person. This time a mutual friend and Penelope’s boyfriend. This made too much sense, but didn’t at the same time. “What did the police say?” She choked on her tears as she broke down. “T-they said they scanned the immediate woods for days, but today called off the search for no reason! He could be cold and Lost! Hurt! Or worse!” I stopped her there. “Nothing ever good comes from overthinking about the worst case scenario.” I say assuredly.

I stood up and reached a paw, to Penelope. “Come with me. Before you knocked, I was on my way out to see my family attorney. I’m going there now, I have to meet him at five. I think he may have some insight on where he might have gone.” Penelope tilted her head in confusion as she wiped away tears. “What would he know?” I smirked at her question. “More than what he’s letting on.” She grabbed my paw and I helped her up. We both took a ride in the Stag to his office.

“Nice car.” she shyly said as she rolled down the window. “Not mine, it’s my mom’s. I’m just holding on to it for her” I replied, keeping my eyes on the road.

We stopped at a red light. And walking down the road were a bull and a rabbit. The bull was broad as most bulls are and decked out in a green and purple letterman jacket with a B on the left chest, the back labeled as Caesar 23. The rabbit was shorter and skinny, hair dyed electric blue, nose pierced with a silver barbell and lips pierced with chromed studs, his skinny jeans torn at the knees and his hoodie trimmed with faux fur. I knew these two as Keith Caesar and John Crane.

“Hey, pen! Hey earlygrad.” Keith said from Penelope’s window to the both of us respectively. “H-hey Keith. Hey John. What’s up?” Penelope said politely, trying to hide the sorrow in her eyes.

John piped up. “We were looking for you actually. Hey, I know you’ve been a little down since David went missing. So we thought a little party at my place would make you feel better. It’s gonna be this Friday, and don’t worry, it’ll only be you, me, Keith here and Becky.” Keith cut John off, “You’re welcome to come too Marky boy, if we aint too stupid for you.”

I tilted my head in annoyance. These guys were always jealous that I graduated school a year early and left them all behind. Not like any of them were friends of mine, only friends of Penelope and even then, I didn’t see what she saw in them.

Penelope smiled meekly and nodded. “Y-yeah, that sounds great, I’ll see you all then.” She says as the light finally turns green. We drive away as they go their way to wherever guys like them go when they’re bored on a Wednesday in a small town like this one.

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