A/N: IMPORTANT! Howl's name was changed to Halcyon (Hal).
"Do you know what we did with the fake spider webs?" Bruce Holiday asked his daughter, Molly. The two were currently digging through the storage car of the circus train, trying to set up the haunted house in Poppleville's official fairgrounds.
"I'm not sure," Molly said and extracted herself from a devious pile of Christmas lights all strung together. "But Micah and Pippin like to play with them. I can go see if they know where they are."
Bruce smiled. "Thanks, honey."
Molly jumped out of the storage car and braced herself against bone chilling autumn air. A slight breeze teased the strands of her short brown hair. Molly looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of the Telekinetic twins, Micah and Pippin. The tents had already been erected the day before, so it wasn't quite as easy to pick individuals out of a crowd anymore. She spotted a flash of blond and feathers just then, and hurried after them.
"Hal!" she called and the young man pulled up. He folded his wings in, and Molly watched as his wings became thinner and the feathers retreated inside his skin.
"Hey, Molly," he said and flexed his fingers.
"Hi," she smiled up at her handsome friend, "have you seen the twins?" At the mention of Micah and Pippin, Hal's jaw tightened and the crease along his forehead became suddenly more prominent than usual.
"Yeah," he said with a scowl, "they're screwing around in the haunted house and driving Ari insane, which is making me crazy."
"Thanks, I'll go take them off your hands."
Hal closed his eyes and sighed. She thought she heard him mutter something along the lines of, "Thank God," before patting her arm and heading toward the storage car. The haunted house was not looking very haunted at the moment, since most of the Halloween decorations were still in a jumbled mess aboard the train. The second largest tent had been assigned to be the haunted house years ago, after Ari had agreed to organize and supervise the undertaking. But today it seemed that the Season Shifter was taking a break, Molly concluded as she glanced around hopefully but caught no sight of him.
Micah and Pippin on the other hand, appeared to be having a gay old time "decorating," if it could even be called that. It looked as if Hal had been more accurate when he had called it "screwing around." The two Telekinetics jumped around like curly haired grasshoppers, using their minds to propel themselves off the ground and hang spiders and ghouls from the ceiling and bleachers. They were quite a sight, flying around like that, with their baggy clothes, cocoa skin, and wild hair. There was no way Molly would be able to catch them to ask what they had done with the spider webs.
She tapped her chin, wondering what to do, when something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to her left and there, underneath the fish tanks, was a big wad of fake spider webs! She had just bent down to gather them up, when a deep booming voice erupted joyfully behind her.
"Devochka!" Molly jumped and bonked the back of her head on the table holding the fish tank in her hurry to stand up. Hector Petrov, a man in his late fifties, had been with the Holiday Traveling Circus since it's beginning. Molly had grown up around the man and had learned to understand a bit of Russian over the years as well. He stood there currently, beaming at her, and holding his arms out in an extravagant gesture of welcome.
"Hi, Mr. P." Molly smiled up at the tall, broad shouldered man. "How are the flying fish today?" she asked, motioning to the tanks behind her.
"Ah, sadly they have beginnings to be slow. The weather sits wrong with them," said Hector in his heavily accented English. Hector had been talking to and training all kinds of animals all his life, or so he claimed. Fish were his passion, though. Before every act, Hector would give his fish a pep talk, which was almost as good as the actual show. He'd then set up obstacle courses that consisted of multiple inflatable kiddy pools and some of the fire resistant hoops that the acrobats normally used. Molly had to admit that it was quite entertaining when the fish were feeling cooperative.
"But Mollys-dear looks well," Hector observed. Molly smiled. Despite over thirty years of trying to learn the English language, Hector still got confused sometimes. When Molly was little, Mr. Holiday always called her "Molly dear," and Hector mistook the endearment for her actual name. It didn't matter how many times anyone attempted to correct him. He'd always say, "Oh yes. Of course, this I know," and then he'd go right back to calling her Mollys-dear. Molly didn't mind, though. She thought it was cute, in a grandfatherly sort of way.
"Thanks Mr. P. I am doing pretty good today, but I'd be better if I didn't have spook-ify the entire fairgrounds." She whipped a long string of spider web dejectedly.
"Don't have so glum face," Hector said and pinched her cheek. "Fairgrounds will look very spooky-fried when you have done. Everyone will loves it" The old man smiled then, and his long face relaxed into a sea of wrinkles that made Molly feel at home. "How 'bout," he said with a sudden twinkle in his eye, "I show you pictures before you go back to work?"
He looked so excited that Molly couldn't have said no even if she had wanted to. She desperately needed a break, and Hector loved to tell stories. Molly nodded and he hurried to the carpetbag he always carried with him. She had heard Howl ask him once why he didn't just keep all his things in his room, to which Hector replied that it was an old traveler's habit. He walked back over to Molly, carrying a leather bound photo album, and they both sat down on the first row of bleachers.
He opened it up in the middle, which displayed an array of black and white pictures. "This one," he said and pointed, "is head of Chupacabra. I chase it all the way to country called Brazil when I was young man."
Molly tried not to grimace. Hector was so delighted to finally have an audience, and she didn't want to spoil it for him. He moved on to another picture of him and his brother hiking through the Alps and told her countless tales of yeti sightings. When he turned the page, Molly was relieved not to see any photos of gruesome animal remains. But as she was gazing over them, one picture in particular drew her eye.
At first she thought it must be a trick of the light. And then she figured it was simply a coincidence. But the longer she studied that photo, the more obvious it became.
"Is that Ari?" she asked, pointing to another black and white picture. There were five people, including Hector she noticed. A man, a young woman, and a girl who looked like she might be the woman's daughter. A younger version of Hector was standing in front of the group with his arm slung around the smiling man's shoulders, but standing off to the side was a boy. This boy was the only one in the photo wearing a frown. In fact, he wasn't even looking at the camera. He was staring off to the side, with his hands stuffed tightly in his pockets, like he wished he could be anywhere else.
"Who, him?" Hector asked and poked the boy's head with a thick calloused finger. "No, no, no. Is old friend, Ivan. That's his family behind me. This was taken before I leave St. Petersburg." Well, it was obvious now that she thought about it. Of course the boy in the photo wasn't Ari, the picture was more than thirty years old and Ari had only turned twenty a few weeks ago. The two were so similar, though. The boy could have been Ari's twin.
"It sure does look an awful lot like him," she said quietly to herself. Then to Hector, "You don't remember their last name, do you?"
Hector shook his head sadly. "Is been so long time. I only remember Ivan, because he have special gift like me."
"He could talk to animals?"
"No, no, no." Hector shook his head and poked the photograph again. "This boy talk many times with the wind." Molly's eyes widened. He talked with the wind? That sounded eerily familiar… "But I should sends you back to work now." Hector snapped the album shut.
Molly brought herself out of her thoughts, long enough to give the old man a hug. "Thanks for telling me all those stories, Mr. P."
"You are very welcomes any time you like." Hector smiled her favorite wrinkly smile. "And take this with you, vnuchka. Since you like it." He handed her the picture of Ivan.
"You know, I'm not really your granddaughter," Molly teased and tucked the photo into her pocket.
"Of course you are, Mollys-dear!" Hector exclaimed and threw his arms out wide again, laughing. And then he patted his chest more solemnly, "In here, you are."
Molly clutched the spider webbing and tried not to tear up at the old man's sincerity. Instead of trying to speak, she hugged him again.
Outside, Artemis Snow sat in a maple tree, picking green leaves from the branches and running his fingers over their brittle spines until they were dried, shriveled, and yellow; the magic of a Season Shifter sucking the life from them. Down below, he watched as Molly hurried from the haunted house, weighed down with fake spider webbing. For a moment, he wondered how many more years Molly would be around to decorate for the holiday seasons, before she left him forever. It was a brief thought though, and he soon went on to brood over something else.