Disquieting Metamorphosis

Title: Disquieting Metamorphosis
Time Period: June 30, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A summons for help from some of Dornie's younger citizens leads to a less-than-comforting incident.

Where the adults of Dornie are far more likely to go to the militia when things go wrong, the children know, or believe, that they wouldn't be taken seriously. Especially not on this particular matter. Dusk has two dirty-faced, raggedy looking kids standing outside the apothecary door, one shifting nervously from foot to foot while the other peeks in through a window.

When they spot Cordelia inside, that's when there's a knock, the sounding coming a bit frantic. A palm taps against the window pane, too, a couple of kids desperate to get the young Ross' attention.

The young medic glances out of the window from where she’s working, raising a brow at the two children. She pats her wet hands on a towel and hurries to the door, opening it wide.

“Hi,” she says warmly, small smile that includes both concern that something’s wrong and just her general amiability. “Is someone sick or hurt?” That’s asked first, in case it’s an emergency and she needs to run; otherwise, if they’re just stopping by to say hello, she can relax with the preliminaries out of the way.

"It's Leslie!" blurts out the first kid, called Errol, arms waving, but before he can continue, the second one cuts in. "We were just playing, honest! And he went into that old house near the woods? And he was just supposed to pop in and pop out. Just a silly dare, see?" This one, Douglas, seems a bit more concerned with getting in trouble than the young Hightower spawnling.

But the first grabs onto Cordie's arm to tug her attention his way. "He's been in there an hour. His mama's gonna worry, we promised him home by dinner and he's not come out." Why neither of them have gone in after him is anyone's guess. But probably has to do with the rumors about the place being haunted.

Cordie’s dark eyes dart from one child to the next trying to follow the story, but she’s heard enough — if he’s gone in and hasn’t come out, he might have gotten injured, and that’s all she needs to know. “Hold on,” she says breathlessly, hurrying to grab her satchel and then ducking her head to the backroom to call to Aislinn that she’ll be leaving on an errand.

That done, she nods to the two children to lead the way. “He’s probably just fine, but it’s best if you show me where he went in, all right?” she says, the door banging closed behind her as she follows them down the stairs to the road below.

With a touch of relief, the two kids lead the way down the stairs, along the street and into more open area. Which is when they break out into a run. They seem to assume she can keep up, even if she's inching closer to being an adult every day. It's only when the woods start to thicken that they slow down. The trees have started to slink around the house, the forest slowly swallowing the long abandoned place. Once upon a time, it was painted white and had a lovely wrought iron fence around it. Columns frame the front door, sitting up on a porch. Windows open on either side of them, on both floors. Many of the panes are broken now, as are the roof shingles and the paint is dirty, worn and chipping off in more places that not. The trees keep the fading sunlight from reaching the house, leaving in an eerie shadow.

"He went in that window there," the first boy says, pointing toward one on the lower level. No glass let in that one, which is probably why it makes a better entrance than the front door, which seems to have swollen and stuck with the rain. "He'll be okay, right? Cordie?" There's a sniffle with the question, which has the second boy giving the first a punch to the shoulder. Toughen up.

Cordie edges close to the window, peering in, then looking to the two boys. She has no idea what might have kept the child inside, and she’s still enough of a child not to make promises she can’t keep. “He could be playing a prank on you guys, hoping you’ll come looking and just waiting for you to come in so he can yell ‘Boo’ at you and make you cry, make you sorry for daring him in the first place,” she says.

Throwing one leg over the window sill, she winks in their direction. “It’s what I would do,” she adds. More somberly, “Stay here…”

With that she disappears into the dark beyond the window.

The two boys look at each other, like they hadn't actually thought of that possibility. Young, imaginative minds jumping right into the worst case scenario they can think up. But even so, when she tells them to stay put, they do, too worked up to think about following. So they pace out in the grass out front instead.

Inside it's even darker. The doorway is a collection of darker shadow than the rest of the room, it's door hanging awkwardly off the rotting hinges barely noticeable. But the wood under her feet creaks, the sound definitely not helping that creepy vibe the house gives off. But what she can notice, even without light to help her, is a soft whimpering from deeper within the house.

“Leslie?” she calls, one hand on the strap of the doctor’s kit at her shoulder. She begins to follow the sound, eyes alert and watching the ground for any rotted floorboards, or worse, critters that might have decided to take up residence here. Not for the first time does she wish she were a mage; not only would magical ability be handy in a place like this, a familiar could do her scouting for her.

“Leslie, can you hear me?” she calls again, dark eyes flitting to and fro as she tries to make out shapes from the shadows, and also looks for something to use as a weapon just in case there is some creature in the darkness.

The sound cuts short, at first, when the voice calls out. But as soon as the young boy realizes it's friend and not foe, whimpering turns to out and and sobbing. He tried to get words out, but they're halting and interrupted by sudden gulps for breath. But she can tell he's down the hall, and her alertness clues her into the rotten and broken floorboards long before she runs the risk of breaking them herself. The way the creaks turn into ominous groans, the smell.

But it's also clear little Leslie didn't have the same awareness, as the crying comes from down in a hole in the floor, echoing up from basement walls.

There is debris around, abandoned bits and bobs, broken doors, rusting metal. The most useful being stronger slats of wood or the set of old andirons in the fireplace. There are things about, but none of it giving the impression of being terribly long lasting.

She is careful, stepping as close to the walls as she can, before she peers down the hole to take a look into the darkness below, striving to see the little boy. “Leslie, stay where you are! I’ll come get you… can you tell me what hurts? Can you move?” Cordelia calls down, even as she now looks for the real entrance to the basement — she’ll search it out, rather than try to go down that hole into the dark.

“Are there steps down there?” If there are steps, there must be a stairway to the floor she’s on.

It's a bit before the boy manages to calm down enough to get an answer out, but he manages after a few moments. "My ankle," he says, his shape the only thing moving down in that darkness. "I can't stand up, Miss Cordie." It's clear from his voice that he's also very frightened, but he seems to be keeping it clinical. For now.

The hunt for the real entrance leads to some back tracking, but she eventually finds it off behind a door that looks like it should lead to a closet, but when the door is yanked open, a set of stairs descend into the dark. Tree roots have grown through cracks and taken over the wall, leaving the stairs a bit difficult to navigate safely, but at least it seems like a clear shot to the boy when she gets down there.

Moving ever so slowly, cautiously, down the steps, one hand grips wall or even tree roots as the descending foot tests teach step, toes first, before taking her weight. Once again, she stays close to the wall in case the floor falls out from beneath her, so that she’ll at least have the wall to grab at in slowing her fall.

“Stay there. I’ll come to you. It’ll be all right, Leslie,” she says in as calm a voice as she can — even if she’s frightened herself descending into the darkness. “We’ll get you out of here, and you’ll be back home in no time.”

Leslie nods at her words, the whimpering back instead of the grander emotional displays. But once she gets to him, his hands cling onto her. The boy of ten looks more frail than ever just now. Where normally he plays and rough houses and makes trouble, in this setting, he's too small, too young.

It's just a few moments after Cordie gets too deep into the room to turn and run that the door she came though swings shut with a loud bang. In a house like this, it's likely wind sneaking through open windows and drafty halls. But in a house like this, that sort of sensible explanation isn't the first to jump to the mind. It doesn't help that the noise stirs a group of bats hanging from the ceiling. Leathery wings swoop around them in a mess of a group, rather than smooth synchronization. Leslie, predictably, screams at being suddenly surrounded, his grip on Cordelia turning white-knuckled until the little beasts fly up through the hole the boy made earlier.

Cordie may be a bit of a tomboy, but the door sets her nerves on edge and the bats make her shriek before she remembers she’s the grown up here. She hurries to the little boy and presses his head down, covering him as much as she can with her own body — bats can carry disease, she knows, and if one of them is rabid, there’s nothing that can save them.

When the cloud of bats disperses, she takes a moment to regain her breath, shoving her hair out of her face and making sure no wings or feet are anywhere in it.

“Yuck,” Cordelia manages, but gives Leslie a smile. “All right, let me see your ankle. I’ll see if I can wrap it but you’re just going to have to lean on me and we’ll have to try to get up the stairwell.”

Now of course she’s regretting not telling the boys waiting outside to go get help before she went down to the basement, but hindsight is ever perfect.

Luckily, once the bats pass them by, it's calm again. Still creepy, but calm. And while the boy's heart is racing, he's now pumped full of adrenaline, so moving his injured foot comes easier. It's a bad one, probably having landed right on it when he fell. It's already swollen and turning color skin just shouldn't be. It's little wonder he wasn't able to stand up and get himself out of here.

"Are you going to have to cut it off? My big brother says if you start turning colors, Mrs. Rowntree has to cut it off." Tears sit welled up in his eyes, but he's trying to put on a brave face. But it's clear he's spent his hour down here dreaming up how bad this can all turn out.

“That’s only if it’s bogey green and smells bad,” Cordie says very solemnly with a very wise nod. “Your foot smells bad but only stinky-foot bad, not gangrene bad. I think it’ll be just fine. You might need to wear a cast and use crutches for a few weeks.”

She reaches to touch the skin lightly, no pressure yet, before lifting her eyes to his. “I’m going to feel the bone, see if it’s broken. It might hurt a little, but it’s not going to make it worse except for a second, all right? If you yell, it’s okay.”

Leslie opens his mouth, possibly to automatically protest the idea that anything about him stinks, but given that it's feet and they're especially gross after playing in the dirt and falling through a dusty old house, his mouth closes again without more than a gulp of air passing through it. "So I get crutches?" he says instead, bringing up a little smile, "And I can make my brothers bring me stuff!"

Silver lining.

When she goes to touch his foot, though, he cringes and hisses before she even really gets there, so he has to open a eye to peek out at what she's doing. His lower lip quivers at the idea of her poking around at his wound, but he eventually nods. And braces himself.

“Yep. And I’ll visit you every few days and I’ll bring you a treat if you’re good,” she says, before pressing lightly along the ankle, feeling for any breaks through the swollen tissue.

“Sooo,” she says as she traces the bones in the ankle, “what did you come in here for, anyway? Just a dare? I told the other boys you were probably hiding and going to scare them to keep them from worrying about you.”

"You will?" The promise is enough to get the kid to puff up a little, and even though he tenses up again as she presses against his ankle, he doesn't scream. There is definitely a break in there, and when she finds it, Leslie squeezes his eyes close against oncoming tears.

"They called me chicken," he says eventually, as if that should explain everything. "I didn't want them making fun of me." He pauses there, sniffing a bit as dirty hands wipe at his face. "I guess it wasn't too clever."

She smiles as she reaches into her bag, finding a few things in there for her work. A tiny jar of salve is pulled out first and opened; fingers dip in and then rub the ointment lightly into the skin, trying to use feather-light brush strokes of her fingers so as not to hurt the swollen flesh too much. It won’t help much, she knows, but sometimes a little placebo effect goes a long way.

“Here, chew this,” she says, pulling out a leaf from a little sachet. “It might help with the pain and swelling a little.” The last thing is a long swath of bandaging, which she begins to wrap around his ankle; the shoe she leaves on for now to help constrict the swelling until she can address it properly.

“There we go,” Cordie finally says, packing her items back up and then rising. “Now we’ll get you on your feet — I mean, foot — and out of here. Try to stand up just on the one. I’ll help you.” With that she bends to wrap an arm around his waist to help him rise.

The medical attention does have the boy seeming more relaxed. Being taken care of, Cordie giving him ointments and pain killers, it's all very comforting. So by the time she's ready for him to try to stand up, he is, too. He holds onto her, using a hand to push himself up off the ground and relying heavily on the girl to get him upright rather than go anywhere near putting his foot down. But he gets there after a fashion, and ends up being something of a burden with how much he clings to her, but at least they're mobile.

The stairs are glanced at skeptically, and Cordie unstraps her doctor’s bag to put around Leslie’s shoulders instead, then stoops in front of him.

“Piggyback time,” she says brightly, glancing back at him through a dark strand of hair that’s fallen into her eyes. “Hold on to me tight, all right? I’m going to have to hold the wall going up, and the steps are stronger on the ends than the middle.” The extra weight is a worry. “You’re the first patient I’ve given a piggyback ride to, you know.”

Leslie looks confused, at first, when she hooks her bag over him. But when she explains, he smiles a little and nods before awkwardly climbing onto her back. Great care is taken with his foot, but once it's settled, his hands grip onto her shoulders.

"First ever?" It makes him smile wider, and his arms shift just long enough to give her a quick hug. "You're the best doctor." Even if she isn't technically one. Semantics.

The door at the top of the stairs is still closed, but at least there's no lock there. If there ever was one, it's been long since raided or rotted away. But still, there's a heaviness in the chest the closer they get to it.

Cordie can’t help but grin and she gives another wink. “Don’t tell my aunt,” she teases, as she moves carefully, edging up the stairs and facing the wall itself so she can keep both hands on it, ready to grip anything that will give her a handhold should the stairs split beneath her.

The door slamming, she tells herself, is just a trick of the wind — after all, the window was open, though she can’t recall now if the wind should have blown this way, to this particular door. She finally reaches it, letting go of the wall to open the door, eager to leave this basement.

The door opens silently, which is strange since everything else in this house creaks and shifts and moans. But it slides open into a hall that's just too dark. The sun was setting outside, but it hasn't been long enough for full night to have fallen, but here in the house, it's pitch black. The pair can't even make out where the wall across from them is. There's just the slats of wood under their feet and a chill in the air.

Leslie's fingers dig into her, uncomfortable, but understandable in this atmosphere. "Miss Cordie… do you see that?" He asks in a quiet, shaky voice. Problem is, she doesn't see anything.

Her eyes strain to see in the black, black room — it doesn’t make sense, and she’s scowling, but at least she doesn’t have to try to look calm for Leslie, since he can’t see her. “I can’t see my nose in front of my face, it’s so dark in here!” she says cheerfully, one hand outstretched as she tries to remember the layout of the house’s interior, to make it to the window she’d come through.

“Errol! Douglas!” she calls, hoping they haven’t strayed too far from the window. “Can you hear me?”

As she makes the walk back toward the window, it starts to feel like the hall is just too long. And then it feels like a certainty. She's gone further to get back to her window than she went to get away from it. And all the while, the boy clings to her, burying his face against her to hide from whatever it is he's seeing in the darkness. He sobs, but tearlessly, just little jerks behind her giving him away.

When she calls out for the boys outside, she doesn't get a chance to see if they respond. As there's a sudden rush of wind down the hall, a rippling through the darkness and just enough time to feel deeply afraid before the pair find themselves standing outside of the house, the front door behind them looking busted through and Douglas and Errol staring at them with wide eyes.

Cordelia feels like she's run too far. Her heart pounds in her chest like it may burst any moment. She's covered in sweat and can't seem to catch her breath. There's definitely a sense that she just made a frantic dash, but no firm memory of what exactly happened. Just the impression of a face in the dark. Not even a human face, necessarily.

And the real puzzle is that Leslie, still firmly latched to her back, seems to be displaying the same symptoms, although it is unlikely that he hopped off her back, ran outside and hopped back on again. But then, who knows.

Cordie shakes her head, reaching up to shove a lock of sweaty hair out of her face. “I…” she tries to begin, hoping to make light of whatever is for the sake of the three younger boys with her, but she doesn’t know what to say. She swallows back whatever words those might have been, and tucks her hands under Leslie’s legs, gently so as not to pain the injured ankle.

“Well. Let’s get you to the Apothecary,” she tries again, with a feigned smile, and begins to walk. Act normal, and maybe things will be normal, seems to be the motto here.