She really shouldn't let it get to her.
Everybody knew that the little slips of paper in Fortune Cookies were just that—paper. Paper with harmless little words just meant to amuse people. Alia had gotten positive fortunes, weird fortunes, sad fortunes, laughable fortunes, and of course some pretty negative ones…but for some reason this one really got to her. It was almost…ominous.
The wolf is at the door.
That was all it said; six little words that didn't have to mean a thing. But she couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen to her. Then, of course, was the fact that it didn't just say "a wolf", it said "the wolf". That was what worried her most. What—or who—was the wolf?
One Halloween she'd dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and her jerk older brother jumped down from that dead tree in their yard dressed as the Big Bad Wolf. She whacked him over the head with her wicker basket. He'd then tackled her, growling in her face, trying to convince her that he'd been turned into some sort of werewolf and was therefore not capable of mercy. By the time her mom heard her screams and put a stop to it, Alia had dirt all over her and in her hair, her brother had tiny scratches covering his face, and they were well on their way to an interspecies war.
Understandably her opinion of wolves hadn't really sweetened from there.
When she tried to talk to her best friend about it, she was given an exaggerated eye-roll and the usual Sydney brand of advice- "Suck it up and move on, Alia. Honestly. It's like you never got past that 'monsters under the bed' phase."
Alia thought about informing her that there had, in fact, been a monster under her bed when she was younger— a six-inch rat— but figured Sydney would only shake her head and mutter something to the effect of "girls are such weenies." Never mind the fact that she herself was female.
It wouldn't have been so bad; she might have even forgotten about the stupid prediction if it wasn't for the fact that she got another the very next week.
A storm is coming.
Alia decided immediately that there would be no more Chinese takeout.
Of course it was too late, now. Now she had two bad fortunes in six days to her name and a growing paranoia that some sort of foreign hit squad had been dispatched to kill her. Slowly.
She knew things were bad when she caught a glimpse of her strawberry blonde curls out of the corner of her eye one day and screamed. She was quite glad she lived alone at that moment and no one had heard her. Except perhaps Mr. Leman next door, but he was old and might think he'd imagined it. Besides, he should be used to her strange behavior by now.
She'd taken to wearing her hair up.
She briefly thought about sleeping at a different friend's house every night so any attackers would have a harder time tracking her down. There were two problems with this plan. One: they were probably following her 24/7 anyway and this would only ensure her friends going down with her. Two: she had a grand total of one friend who would let her sleep on his couch for no reason, and he was living with the very friend who laughed at her fear of fortune cookies.
"You do realize that once we sign the papers, it's over, right? No going back?" Jamie's voice had taken on his old 'you're making a very bad decision' tone again, and Sydney was tired of it.
"Would you stop? You're making it sound all foreboding and life-ruining. It's just a house! People buy houses every day!" She tried to keep her shouting at a whisper so as not to alarm the realtor standing in the hall, but was having a hard time of it. It was one thing to be cautious, but Sydney didn't think she could have found a more frustrating boyfriend if she'd tried. Fiancé, she reminded herself. Have to start thinking of him as your fiancé.
"Not this house. This house is…" he shivered, "wrong. It just gives me a bad feeling." His walnut brown hair was standing on end, a testament to the fact that he'd woken up late (again) and hadn't bothered doing anything with it. This only added to the 'I'm afraid of my own shadow' persona he was clinging to today.
If I changed my mind every time someone had a 'bad feeling', I never would have opened my very-successful bookshop, Alia and I wouldn't have found that old Beatles album in the attic of your grandfather's condemned cabin, and I wouldn't have agreed to marry you. Sydney decided that while this argument helped her point, it would also make Jamie feel awful. She changed tactics.
"Have you been talking to Alia lately? It's like everyone around me has decided to go crazy just because it's October!" Her arms flew out to the sides in an exasperated manner, like she literally could not believe what he was saying. "For the last time, Jamie…this house is not haunted." She leaned forward and stared into his pale blue eyes, trying to impress how serious she was. It was not at all an attempt to distract him with her attractiveness—something she had been accused of on several occasions—because Sydney Young was not that sort of girl, no sir. "There are no such things as ghosts." He was already shaking his head, utterly unaffected. His untidy hair ruffled with the movement.
Damn, but he's adorable.
"Maybe not ghosts," he continued with determination, "but spirits, demons, something. I'm telling you—I don't like it." He was staring her down, now, and was doing a good job of it, too.
She dropped her head into her hands. Her attempts at distraction had completely backfired. And he wasn't even trying. "James," she told her fingers, "We talked about this. I promise you, nothing is wrong with this house. It's all local superstition! It gives the place character. Now would you sign the paper, already? We've got packing to do." Without looking at his face, she slid the paper in front of him and handed him the pen.
After a moment she peeked up only to catch him staring at her, his mouth drawn into a thin line. "Fine. But if something happens to me, I will come back from the other side just to do my I-told-you-so dance. And I know how much that annoys you." He pointed the pen at her in emphasis and narrowed his eyes.
She smirked. "Fine."
He signed the paper.
The housewarming was small—just Jamie's brother Ian, Alia, and their other mutual friend Craig had been invited. They had Chinese.
By the time they'd finished dinner, Alia wasn't the only one feeling drunk and blissful. Even Jamie's demeanor had relaxed a bit, heedless of the strong wind knocking tree branches against the old windows.
"Guys!" He called out in glee, "there's fortune cookies!" He pulled them from the discarded take-out bag with triumph lighting his features.
Alia's pleasant haze evaporated. "Uh…no thanks, Jamie. Don't need fortunes, me." She smiled in what she hoped was nonchalance. It didn't work.
"Not this again," Sydney snorted. Ian and Craig looked confused. "Alia's all wary of fortune cookies now 'cuz she got a few bad ones," she offered by way of explanation. After a few bleary glances around the room, she was able to get her gaze to settle back on Alia. "Just eat the stupid cookie, you wimp." Jamie tossed her one and she actually managed to catch it. With her face, of course.
"Sorry," he mumbled, taking the last eggroll and stuffing it in his mouth whole.
"Whatever." She was too busy glaring at the vacuum-sealed package in her hands to pay much attention. She carefully unwrapped it and broke the cookie apart, letting the paper fall to the floor. After eyeing it for a moment, she decided to ignore the thing completely and just eat her cookie.
Of course, Sydney wasn't having that. "Oh, come on! Read us your fortune!" Ian, Craig, and Jamie joined in with their own encouragements, rising in volume and enthusiasm until she had no choice but to relent.
"Okay, okay! I'm reading it. Chill out." Her hand was shaking as she reached for the innocent paper. Well, it was trying very hard to look innocent at least. She pulled it open and read it aloud for their benefit.
"'Sometimes trying to avoid one's fate leads one directly to it.'" Alia's voice grew quieter as she read, and when she finished, the paper slipped through her fingers, fluttering to the floor again. For a moment no one moved.
Then three things happened simultaneously: lightning flashed, the power went out, and there was a knock at the door.