(Image from a Google Search)
Suggested by: Jessica Colvin
In a drafty boarding house nestled in the hills of Gloucester, one young man waited in the great hall. Rows of long tables where the students ate and studied lined the walls. The air was so still, the boy could hear the gusty breath of the wind as it ruffled his unruly dark curls, and he could hear the gossipy staff as they murmured to each other while going about their duties.
"Och, poor laddie!" Said a maid to another. "Ta have such a father as would barely stand the sight o' him more'n once a week, and yet demand 'is aine son wait on 'im 'and and foot!"
"Aye, 'tis a pity," agreed her friend, "but it does tug at the 'eart strings ta see the way 'e adores the terrible man!"
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he sensed the women watching him.
"Hmph! Makin' 'im sit 'n' wait while all the other children are free to flock about. Did 'e really say 'e was coming?"
"Aye! Sent a courier, 'e did!"
"A courier? Fine expense, that! Didn't think 'is aine son might want a new suit o' clothes, may'ap? I swear, that man never spends a farthing on anybody but hisself!"
"Miss Quincy! Fer shame! The young master has more fancy clothes than most our students see in a lifetime!"
"Hush, Mrs. Pugh; here he comes."
The boy stiffened when he heard the deliberate footsteps echo through the hall.
"Stand up, boy!"
The command jerked the boy to his feet as if he were a marionette on strings. He did not raise his eyes from the shiny black shoes pointed straight at him.
"Are they treating you well, my son?"
The young man tried his best not to fidget, focusing all his concentration away from his frolicking school fellows.
"Yes, father." Well enough; he did his best to behave normally, but his family was so notorious and his father so fearsome that everyone seemed eager to contact him as little as possible.
"Micah, look at me."
Micah raised his eyes, but the hard face looming over him could have been a concrete wall, for all the warmth and emotion it lacked.
His father set his lips. "You are a VanTussel, Micah; you do not greet your father like a whipped dog." The keen grey eyes assessed him keenly. "Is there something troubling you?"
There was no pity behind the inquiry, Micah well knew. Alexander VanTussel did not carry one morsel of pity in his long, lean body. It was more a matter of asserting control over his son's circumstances: Tell me who has been causing you discomfort and I will repay sevenfold. How could Micah express that his quarrel lay with the coldness of his own father? The young boy settled on something trivial to divert suspicion.
"What does it matter what you think?" His father chastised him. "Don't meander with hypotheticals; state your meaning with conviction."
Micah raised his chin just a bit higher and announced, "Our visitation days are on Thursdays...sir," he covered the urge to falter, while at the same time avoiding any endearing reference to his father.
Alexander did not notice this change in his son. He had begun pacing and traveled between two tables right in front of Micah.
"So?" He replied sharply without slowing.
Micah fairly trembled at the thought of correcting the great Alexander VanTussel.
Alexander pulled out the tiny gold pocket watch he inherited from his father. Something was very obviously wrong with him. Micah heard him mutter, "They should have gotten him by now!"
"What?" Firm no longer, the face staring down at him was absolutely livid.
Micah shrank back from his father.
Abruptly, Alexander's face relaxed. He even smiled—but his eyes were still dead and cold.
"Micah." His smooth tone sent a chill racing down Micah's spine. "Do you by any chance have that red scarf I gave you last year?"
The soft, warm, cozy scarf that felt like a giant hand slowly choking him; why did his father care?
"Yes," Micah answered.
The smile widened, but the eyes never quickened. "Run and fetch it for me, son."
Micah wondered what need his father had for the present, as he had never requested any of his previous gifts. At least the order gave him some respite from his father's calculating gaze.
"Yes, sir!" And Micah scurried to retrieve it from its hiding place, buried in a box in the corner of his armoire. He had placed it there in an effort to squelch the sensation of always being watched whenever the scarf lay out in the open.
When he returned, his father held something long and thin: an arrow. He scowled at it. Micah wondered at the significance.
"Whose arrow is that?" He asked his father.
Alexander grinned when he saw the scarf; at last, the eyes softened as they never did for Micah. He snatched the red fabric and carefully encased the arrow within its folds.
"A friend of mine once carried this arrow," he stated in answer to his son, "and I very much would like to return it to him."
Nearly one hundred miles away, a young redheaded traveler had just landed in Heathrow Airport. He carried no bags, but made straight for the exit. Just as he raised his hand to hail a taxi, a strange expression came over his face. He clutched at his neck, yanking a dirty collar open, but to no avail. Nearby travelers noticed his skin fading from its normal pink to a sickly purple, and no evidence of breathing could be detected. Slowly, the young man fell to his knees with his arms straitened at his sides, as if swathed in an invisible cloth. Witnesses reported a sheen of red surrounding his body for a brief moment.
By the time medical assistance had arrived, the redheaded man had vanished, and no one knew how or where.