Five years ago
“Aren’t I supposed to be the twister, the chaos-bringer?”
Spring looked at her older sister, trying to hide her amusement and really not succeeding at all. Her sister, in return, looked back at her with a glare that could melt paint.
“You are supposed to be, at the moment, helping me, and not telling Mom.”
“Have no fear, I still owe you for that… incident. But I want a picture.”
“Spring, if you don’t get me out of this damn tree, I’m going to get Winter to organize your sock drawer!”
“Coming, coming. Oy, Autumn, when did you get so cranky?”
Four years ago
“Explain to me again what you’re doing?” Summer sat on her sister’s bed, watching the haphazard packing and surreptitiously smoothing everything out, organizing it, and, just because she could, laying luck and happiness charms in every single shirt and pair of panties.
“I’m going on the road, more or less.”
“The RV thingy in the driveway would suggest that, yes. Weren’t you going to do college?”
“I was going to, but, well, Winter’s good at school and you’re going to be brilliant and… and I won’t be, either of those things. So the money’s for you two.”
“Nobel of you.”
Three years ago
“So how long are you going to do this?” Winter studied Autumn’s chaotic receipts, and, with a long-suffering sigh, began stacking them into organized piles.
“As long as I can afford to, as long as it’s fun, as long as it teaches me something.”
“You know you sound like Spring, right?”
“Well, it’s not as if she has a monopoly on making a mess, you know. She just happens to be the best at Tangling the world up.”
“All you seem to tangle up is your own life.”
She sighed. “That’s only the half of it, big brother, trust me.”
Two years ago
“I’m just saying, Autumn, you could bring someone home you actually intend to have a relationship with. He’s a nice boy, and he’s very appreciative of my cooking, but isn’t there going to be a special someone in your life? Even Spring has boyfriends.”
“Spring, generally, has boyfriends for about an hour. Maybe a month and a half if she’s been around Winter a lot.”
“Well, that’s Spring. You don’t need to be a chaos-demon, you know. One of those in the family is really quite enough.”
Autumn shook her head at her mother. “Mom,” she sighed, “I don’t TRY to make messes.”
One year ago
“I love your family, Autumn m’dear, but I get the feeling they’re not quite as fond of me.”
“It’s not that they don’t like you, Gregor, it’s that…”
“That I’m not the sort of boy that’s going to bring any grandkids. Although with a family of four, you’d think your mother would cut you some slack.”
“I’m supposed to be the ‘family’ one. Winter’s in charge of being level-headed, I’m in charge of being good with people…”
“Summer’s in charge of bad relationship decisions?”
“You saw that, too? Well, someone has to make the bad choices.” It shouldn’t always be her.
Thanksgiving, this year
“I know what it is,” Spring muttered to Winter. “I know what she’s doing.”
“Do you?” he asked gently, looking over at Autumn; his date and Spring’s were discussing business, much to everyone’s surprise; Autumn was making bad jokes with Summer’s dates and her own perpetual escort.
“You taught me how to see the tangles, Winter, I know you can see that one. The wild knot around her heart? The mess she’s pretending isn’t there?”
“Spring,” he answered, just as gently, “she’s always been a tangle. Chaos follows her.”
His littlest sister sulked. “Being a chaos-harbinger is my job.”
“It is. It’s her destiny, however.”
“Lady, ma’am, Mistress,” Jason gulped, “I have no idea what is going on.”
Her eyes met his in the rear-view mirror, and her voice was gentle as she spoke to him. “You know the important things, Jason. I have bought you, and you are mine now, correct?”
“Yes, Mistress,” he answered, too nervous to even feel resentful.
“When nobody else was interested, because of your spunk and attitude. That part’s important, don’t forget that.”
“Yes, Mistress,” he echoed, and, because she had mentioned his spunk, he added, “so you shopped the bargain bin for me. I get it.”
“That, too,” she agreed. “But it’s important to remember that I bought you for that spunk, not just because no-one else wanted it.”
He nodded slowly. “You wanted someone with… a personality?”
“Among other things. I wanted someone with some life left in them.”
“You make me sound like a bull in the arena,” he complained.
“That’s exactly right.” Before he could balk at that analogy, she continued. “You know you belong to me. You know why I bought you. You know that today is Samhain, Hallowe’en. And you know that I have a costume waiting for you. What else do you need?”
“Why are they dragging that woman away?” he tried. “Okay, revenge of the food, but this seems a little extreme. She’s crying.”
“You would, too. She’s been picked to tithe to the poor and needy for the next year.”
“Like that? By being hit with a stick?”
“Just like that.”
Jason shook his head. “You people are crazy, Mistress. Absolutely buck nutty.”
“Foreign,” she corrected. “We’re a lot different from your people, but that’s not the same as crazy.”
“Looks the same from here,” he admitted.
“Well, you’ll have to learn.” Stopped at a light, she looked back at him. “Make no mistake, Jason, while I’m interested in your ‘spunk,’ I am not interested in disobedience. I will give you clear rules. If you do not follow them, you will be punished. If you continue to disobey, I will sell you. And the place I will sell you to will make the work camps look like a vacation resort. Do you understand?”
Jason gulped, and nodded. “Yes, Mistress.” Shit, shit shit. “I understand. I’ll be obedient.”
“I know you will.” Her smile, this time, was sharp and predatory. “Mind you, there’s nothing saying you can’t be a brat. You just have to be an obedient brat.”
“O… okay. So it’s safe to say I think you’re crazy?”
“In private, yes. In front of other people, I might not be so tolerant.”
“… you people are all nuts. Mistress.”
“And you will learn how to live with us, Jason. Or else.”
Jason gulped. “Yes, Mistress. And are you going to tell me why you have a costume for me?”
“I could tell you why,” she decided. “I knew I was buying someone today. And we always do a costume event at the ranch for Samhain, getting in the spirit, you know?”
Jason nodded nervously. “Okay. So you… have a costume for some slave you might buy?”
“Well, you wouldn’t want to be left out, would you?” she smirked. “When everyone else is getting into the celebration?”
“Mistress,” he answered, as honestly as he could, “I don’t know what I’d be being left out of.”
“You’ll see soon,” she assured him. “We’re almost there.”
“Oh, good,” he answered tiredly, and settled back into his seat. The cuffs were pressing against his back, his feet and other bits were getting chilled, but it wasn’t the slave shop anymore, not the auction hall, and not a work camp.
He didn’t want to think things were looking up, he really didn’t. That seemed like asking for more trouble. And there was this weird Hallowe’en thing to contend with, and the unknown costume…
And a garage. His new owner was pulling into a large garage, between an SUV and a Mustang. “I do well enough for myself,” she answered his unspoken question. “Wait here.”
“Yes, Mistress.” What else was he going to do? He waited, while she headed out into the garage and disappeared from sight, waited while his fingers and hands started to grow numb and he started drifting off.
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