Okay, so I’m getting at least a little bit ahead of the chapter that I’m posting so that I can edit some of the details if I think I need to. I would love it if you would tell me if you catch a weird inconsistency (you know how I feel about that).
For previous chapters, go to the House of Lies Page.
Twenty-seven minutes after pulling out in front of Lucas’s apartment building, Vanessa slid the gear shift into ‘park,’ killed the engine, and unbuckled her seat belt.
“Here you go,” she looked out the windshield at a towering five-story mansion, “Your home away from home.”
Lucas popped the car door and pushed it open with his foot. He grabbed his bags and his drive-thru burger wrapper and stared at the building.
Lights glowed in several of the windows and feeble porch lamps cast little more than the distant city lights on the walk up to the front door. The house was made of wood and stone, intricate corbels and porch posts twisting grotesquely in the late summer night. Lucas dragged his feet to the porch and waited behind Vanessa for someone to open the door.
It creaked open. “Yes?”
The door swung open loudly and Lucas and Vanessa stepped into a dimly lit entry with a black and white checkered marble floor. A man with a neck as thick as a bull’s stood stiffly, his black suit straining to contain his shoulders.
“Good evening, Carl. You’re looking intense, as usual.”
“A new kid, huh?” his voice matched his appearance, gruff and deep.
“Yeah, where’s Zagan?”
“Does he know you’re coming?”
Vanessa held up her cell phone and cocked her hip, giving the thick man a ‘duh’ look. Lucas slid his duffel bag off of his shoulder and adjusted the strap of his backpack, looking between the two adults.
“Okay, I’ll get Mona for the kid. Zagan’s in his office.” The strange doorman squeezed through a doorway to the left. Lucas was surprised he fit.
“Later, Lucas. I’ll see you around.” She headed for the stairs.
“Wait,” Lucas took a step forward, “When will I get to see Pa again?”
Her mouth turned up in a tight smile. “If you’re a good boy, maybe later this week.”
Lucas watched her disappear where the stairs took a turn. Carl returned with a petrified old woman, thin and stooped, her white stringy hair pulled into a messy bun. She held out her hand, lifting her arm slowly, as if the bone-thin limb weighed as much as the man in the back suit.
“I’m Mona.” Her voice wavered with age.
Lucas stepped back out of reach. “Lucas.”
Mona dropped her hand and wiped it on her apron. “Follow me.”
She headed back toward the door through which she had come a moment before. Lucas picked up his duffel and followed. Shouldering his bags past the hulking doorman, he turned sideways to fit through the door.
Half a dozen kids sprawled out in a huge room, doing everything from playing pool to putting on make-up. A kid even leaned over and picked his nose. Sconces and chandeliers threw shadows on the papered walls, heavy velvet drapes framing a large bay window with a window seat. Ornate furniture and ancient art, including a large medieval knight, made the room feel smaller the longer Lucas looked at it.
One by one they all stopped what they were doing and stared. Lucas hid behind his bangs and frowned.
“Who’s the new kid?” wheezed out a boy dressed all in black. He was thin, his skin pale and grayish under greasy blond hair.
Mona looked at Lucas to answer. He shrugged. “Lucas Desmondo.”
“Lucas, huh? I’m Max.”
They were all close to Lucas’s age, as far as he could tell, most of them pale and thin, and they all went back to whatever it was they had been doing when he arrived.
“This is Brandon,” Mona pulled the nose-picker away from the wall. “You’ll be sharing his room.”
Brandon smiled and wiped his hand on his pants, then held it out for a shake. Lucas dumped the strap of his duffel in the boy’s hand.
“Alright, then, up to our room. This way.” Brandon struggled with the weight of the duffel, the heavy canvas bumping against his purple skinny jeans each time he took a step. Lucas figured they were headed for the second floor, but Brandon kept going.
Out of breath, he stopped in front of the only door on the fifth floor and twisted the knob. “This is it.”
The two sides of the room were identical, a twin bed and nightstand on each side of a small window. The bed on the right had an undressed mattress and bare walls. The bed on the left drowned under a mess of rainbow and tie-dye color blankets and walls plastered with cartoon posters and bumper stickers.
“Wow,” Lucas dumped his backpack on the plain bed. “How long have you been here?”
“About two weeks,” Brandon sniffed and dropped Lucas’s duffel on the floor by the closet.
“They let you put all that on the walls?”
Brandon flopped onto his bed and bounced a couple of times. “Yeah. You got any posters?”
Lucas shook his head. “Why would I put up posters? I’ll only be here until my pa gets out of the hospital.”
Scratching his nose, Brandon raised a thin black eyebrow. “You still have a dad? Alive?”
“You don’t?” Lucas pulled his bag up onto the bed and unzipped it.
“Nah,” Brandon picked at the seam on his pants. “No parents, no family.” He looked up with a grin. “I’m the one and only Zamborini!”
Lucas looked at Brandon, his bed and posters. “You are definitely a one and only, I’ll give you that.”
Brandon just kept on grinning.
“So,” Lucas pulled out his clothes and sorted the mostly dirty shirts from the clean underwear and pants, “Where can I throw these in to wash?”
“If you go down to the third floor, turn right at the landing, the laundry room is the fourth door on the right, not counting the bathroom or the door that leads to the cleaning stuff.”
Lucas looked up, a gray tee dangling from his hand. It was like the kid was trying to give him directions to Mars.
Brandon got the message from Lucas’s face. “I’ll show you.”
On the way down two flights of stairs, down a long hallway to the sixth door on the right, Brandon filled Lucas in on the run of the home: They did not go to school. They did not go to the store. They did not go to the mall, or the post office, or the barber’s, or the gas station. They did not go anywhere. Ever.
“Do you go to the bathroom?” Lucas asked as he popped the top of the washing machine. It was an old Laundromat machine, the change collector rigged so that it would work without a buck and a half in quarters.
“Just kidding. If you don’t go anywhere, what do you guys do all day?”
“Um, well, we just sort of hang around. We all just do our own thing. I like to draw.”
Lucas piled his clothes into the washing machine drum and put detergent in the measuring cup. “Draw? Like what?”
He heard Brandon fidget in the laundry room doorway. “Mythical creatures. You know, centaurs and goblins and stuff. At least since I came here. I sort of dream about them a lot, you know, what they look like.”
At least he didn’t say, ‘I sort of talk to them a lot.’ Lucas pushed the ‘normal’ button and watched the water pour in for a moment before pulling the top of the washer down.
“Is it safe to leave these here? Or should I post a watch?”
“They’ll be alright.”
“Thanks, Brandon,” Lucas managed to catch his eye, and Brandon smiled shyly. It was obvious that the kid hadn’t had many friends. “Can you show me the rest of the place?”