“What… what is this thing?”
“It’s a van.” Autumn looked at her sisters in confusion. “You know, driver goes here, then park, sleep goes back there? Art supplies in the middle, passengers hold on for dear life?”
“Autumn…?” Spring raised her eyebrows. “Have you looked at this thing?”
“I had Cousin Jimmy look under the hood for me and Aunt Caroline did a thorough inspection…?” Autumn was hovering somewhere between offended and worried. “Guys, the paint is a little esoteric but it’s my van, it has to be a little weird.”
“No, no, I like the paint.” Summer patted the side of the machine lightly. “Good van. It looks like the dappling of sunlight on the forest floor. Autumn, when you were painting it, did you, ah, did you paint it?”
“Is that the problem? Guys, I know how to work in some basic charms.” She glared at her sisters. “I know that it’s not my thing, that I follow the Strands, not really work them, but I really do know how to handle my paint. I promise you.”
“Easy, easy.” Summer took a step back and smiled, the sort of smile she tended to use when Mom or Winter were actually angry. “Autumn, nobody’s saying you can’t handle your ink.”
“Then what are you saying? She twisted both hands outward in an angry question. “I mean, ‘what is this “thing”?’ is a pretty ambivalent question, sure, but it doesn’t sound exactly flattering.”
“It means,” Spring answered just as carefully, “that your van has a knot in it. Three of them, actually. Here, let’s see.” She wrinkled her brow and closed her eyes before she tapped her finger on the side door. “If you draw one of your eyes here…”
Autumn struggled with her frustration. She had always been the under-powered one, but that didn’t meant that it didn’t chafe to have her baby sister instructing her in Strand-sight.
She pulled out her paint-kit and worked an eye into the design, small and overlookable but distinct. She closed her own eyes and worked her other-sight in through the strands of the van.
“I see it,” she muttered. “I can see something there that looks like – oh, I’m not sure, but it’s nasty. Something like a hunger?”
“You didn’t put it in there, then?” Summer took a step forward and brushed her hand carefully over the van. “I can see your ‘stay-aways’ and your safe-weather charms – can you show me that one? It looks like I might be able to do it and it’s neat. ”
“I could show you.” Autumn allowed herself to be mollified. “But…” She frowned at the knots. “What are these? If I didn’t put them there, and neither Cousin Jimmy nor Aunt Caroline work the strands…”
“Then there’s a reason that this van wanted you to buy it.” Spring patted the hood of the vehicle. “They look hungry and nasty, but I don’t think it’s malignant… towards you.”
“That,” Autumn had to admit, “that’s… well. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely interesting.” She joined her sisters in petting the van. “Well, I’ll keep an eye on it and see what it does. Maybe it just really likes to have its own parking spot? I’ve known cars with worse traits than that…”
“Maybe.” Spring’s smile was fierce. “Imagine a van that scared other cars off. Nobody would get near it. You’d always get the best parking spot, the best camping spot…”
“The best lane on the road. Nobody tailgating you; their car would refuse to get close to you.” Summer laughed. “This, this could be fun, big sis. You’ll have to take us for a ride sometime.”
“I will,” Autumn assured them. “A road trip, even.”
Four months later, she was staring at her van in the abandoned lot where the would-be thieves had left it. The knots in the strands looked full and rounded, and her phone’s ring sounded tinny and far-away.
“Summer?” She knew she sounded worried, even though she was trying not to. “I. Ah. I think my van ate someone.”