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  • Sid Sinha

To Grandmother's House

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Chapter 1 - Into the Woods


Red looked down at the flash drive clutched in her crimson glove, noticing the metallic edges and symmetric lines carved across the body. She closed her fist and took a deep breath; this was a dangerous mission, but it was an important one. She couldn’t afford to fail. She pocketed the drive and pulled the hood of her crimson cloak over her dark hair, shielding herself from the powdery snow that fell all around her and settled on her shoulders like silver beads. Fixing her sight on the white trail before her, she walked into the woods.

The trees rose high like nightmarish structures scaling the starlit sky, and the wind danced about like a black swan performing the aria of an ambitious orchestral piece. The frigid atmosphere threatened to chill Red to her bones, but the heating fibres layered across her cloak kept her warm. Crunching the freshly fallen snow under her crimson combat boots, Red walked on till she reached a fork.

“Turn left,” a voice said into Red’s earpiece, and she marched on following its directions.

“How much further?”

“About— for —” the voice started to cut away.

Red tapped her earpiece. “Baker?”

More static washed over the connection, and then it died out.

“Dammit!” Red swore as she balled her fists in frustration. She had known that the oncoming snowstorm would’ve eventually blocked her connection, but she’d hoped to have reached her target before that happened. Now, she was all alone. She took a deep breath, calming her nerves and marched on with a single-minded intensity in her gaze that fueled each step.

A rustle pulled her attention off her path. Red wheeled around, her amber gaze searching, and she unsheathed her dagger from her belt. Through the darkness, she spotted a figure behind a nearby tree and charged. Reaching her mark, Red swung her dagger and a loud clang resonated through the air as the figure blocked her strike with a blade of its own.

Red stepped back and prepared to attack as she studied her target, who was a man dressed in a charcoal grey combat suit. Half his face was covered with a black mask revealing only his storm grey eyes.

“Who are you?” Red demanded, her breath fogging before her in little puffs. “Why are you following me?”

The man pulled down his mask, revealing a short dark beard that covered his broad jawline. “I’m Agent Wolf, and I’m here to save you.”

“What?” Red asked, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“You are walking into a suicide mission. Grandmother’s house is a bomb, and the flash drive in your hand is the trigger. If you walk into that house, you’re not walking out.”

“You can’t expect me just to trust you,” Red shot back.

The man pulled out a small metallic slab from his jacket pocket and pressed the button in the center. A recorded conversation filled the air.

“Are you sure Red is the right agent for the mission?” one of the voices asked. Red recognized him as Baker.

“She is a liability. Do you have a better way to deal with her?” a woman’s voice replied. Mother, Red realized.

“She is too good an agent to lose,” Baker said.

“She knows too much. The agency is more important than one agent,” Mother said, her voice sounding cold. “This must be done.”

The voice recording stopped, and Wolf pocketed the metallic slab. “Still don’t believe me?” he arched an eyebrow.

“Why would they do that?” Red wondered out loud, her gaze shifting to the floor. “And why are you helping me?”

“Do you remember what Mother told you before you came on this mission?” Wolf asked.

“Mother said, ‘Straight ahead. Not to delay or be misled.’” Red said slowly, her mind taking her back to her conversation with Mother.

“Mother may be the head of the agency, but she doesn’t always have good intentions. She knew I was going to try and save you.”

Red looked up at Wolf. “Who are you?”

“I used to be an agent just like you. Then, Mother sent me to Grandmother’s House.” Wolf pulled down the collar of his shirt, revealing scarred flesh across his chest that had been deeply burnt. “Now, I try to save other agents that Mother sends to their deaths.”

The image shook Red, and she stumbled backwards. Anxiety flooded her veins, and her heart started to pound. Why would Baker and Mother try to kill me? What information do I have that’s so dangerous?

“I know you’re startled,” Wolf said, cautiously stepping towards Red. “I can help you. I have a safe house nearby; Mother won’t be able to find you there.”

“No,” Red spat. Tears of shock threatened to fill her eyes, but she held them back. There were still too many unanswered questions. “I need to talk to Baker...or someone.” She frantically tapped her earpiece, praying the connection would reestablish.

“They cut your connection, didn’t they?” Wolf asked.

“They didn’t cut it. It's the snowstorm.” Red said.

Wolf leaned against a tree and folded his arms. “Ah, I see they went with a snowstorm this time. Last time, they’d lied about a rock slide that took down the communication towers.”

Red took a deep breath and remembered Mother’s words. Straight ahead. Not to delay or be misled. She looked up at Wolf. “I don’t trust you. The agency has always had my back. If Grandmother’s House is a trap, I will find my own way out.” She turned and began to walk away.

“Do you know what happened to Agent Gold?” Wolf asked.

Red stopped in her tracks. “He went missing on a mission.”

“And do you remember what that mission was?” Wolf asked. When Red didn’t answer, he continued, “He was assigned to go to Grandmother’s house.”

Wolf’s words hit Red like a battering ram, stunning her to the core as she remembered reading Gold’s file. She didn’t want to believe Wolf, but she also couldn’t deny the facts he placed before her. Gold had mysteriously disappeared without question. Maybe, Wolf was right. Maybe, he was her best shot at avoiding Gold’s downfall.

“I know you’re shocked. You don’t have to believe me,” Wolf said. “Give me the flash drive and walk into Grandmother’s house. If you find a bomb there, you’ll know I’m speaking the truth. If you don’t find one, I’ll be here waiting with the drive.”

Red narrowed her eyes at Wolf. “You really think I’m going to give the drive to a stranger.”

Wolf raised his hands in surrender. “Alright. You don’t have to give me the drive. Go ahead and die if you want.”

Wolf turned and started walking away, and Red felt hope marching away with him. She reached out. “Wait.”

Wolf stopped and turned to her, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Red pulled out the flash drive and stared at it, Gold’s face flashing before her eyes. “If there is a bomb, how can I find you?”

“I can’t tell you that,” Wolf said. “I can’t have you sending Mother after me.”

“You're not giving me much of a choice here.”

“Here are your two choices,” Wolf said, his voice laced with impatience. “Either you can come with me to my safe house now and avoid the entire problem, or you give me the flash drive and go see the house for yourself.”

Red gripped the flash drive tight and pocketed it. Her sharp amber gaze met Wolf’s cold grey eyes. “I chose neither. I don’t want your help. I’m a survivor. I’ll be alright.” With that, she turned and marched away before Wolf could say anything else.

Fighting the rising winds that stung Red’s face, she marched towards Grandmothers’ House, her mind brewing up a storm and replaying the conversation with Wolf. Was he speaking the truth? Does the agency really want me dead? If so, why? As hard as Red tried to search for answers, her mind came up blank. She couldn’t find a single reason as to why Mother would want her killed.

Half an hour later, Red approached a clearing in the forest. A rustic log cabin sat in the middle, and snow piled all around it. An oil lamp that hung by the entrance created a bubble of light that enveloped the cabin in a warm glow, contrasting the silvery-white snow that fell from the dark starlit sky.

Red took a deep breath, filling her lungs with cold air and stepped towards the cabin. She reached the entrance and stopped. Wolf’s words rang in her head as loud as thunder and made her quiver. She pulled out the flash drive and stared at it. She still had time to turn away and leave with her life. She turned to the piling snow and considered leaving the flash drive outside before she entered the cabin.

I can’t, she thought. Baker said this contained sensitive information. I can’t leave it out here.

As confusion stirred in her chest, Red shook her head in an attempt to dissipate her turmoil. She had to make a decision. She looked up at the door and did the thing she had always done. The thing that had helped her survive. In spite of all the puzzlement, her gut told her to trust Mother, to trust Baker, and she followed it. She reached out and knocked on the door.



 

Chapter 2 - Inside the Cabin


The wooden door to Grandmother’s House opened with a creek, and Red peered inside at a small empty room lit by a single oil lamp hanging overhead. Slowly, she stepped in, her muscles tense and her senses on high alert. If something dangerous truly awaited her, she was ready to run. Her eyes caught a glimmer, and she turned to a corner of the room, her dagger clenched tight. The shine had come from a small urn that sat on a shallow stool. The urn seemed to be made of silver and was polished to perfection, and the stool below it had the word ‘Grandmother’ carved into its rim by a master calligrapher.

“I’ve been expecting you,” a voice came, and Red instantly turned in the direction of the sound, ready to pounce, only to find a woman standing by the entrance. She had dark hair and wore a deep mauve pantsuit with matching high heels. She had a pretty face with eyes that almost glowed as they sparkled under the light of the oil lamp, and ears that were a bit wide and flat in comparison to her other sharp features.

“Who are you?” Red demanded.

The woman pulled out a badge from her suit and flashed it before Red’s eyes. “I’m Grandmother.”

Red scanned the badge, taking note of the woman’s picture that was clearly taken a while ago. While she still had a pointed nose and grey eyes, her hair had grown quite a bit from the bob cut she’d sported when the picture was taken, and she’d even gotten rid of a flashy piercing she had on the rim of her right ear. Below the picture was the name ‘Agent Grandmother.’

“I’m glad to know you made it here safely,” Grandmother said.

“Why the name Grandmother?” Red asked.

“I didn’t choose it; I inherited it,” Grandmother replied, walking past Red into the cabin. She reached out and pointed towards the urn. “You can place the drive in there.”

Red looked at the urn as her conversation with Wolf rang in her head. She had to be extremely cautious. “Why don’t you open the urn for me?”

“Because only your fingerprint will open it,” Grandmother said, sounding bored. “Quick, let’s get this over with.”

Red stepped up to the urn, keeping an eye on Grandmother through the reflection on the smooth service. Grandmother looked bored, but her muscles seemed tense. Maybe they weren’t; perhaps as a result of Wolf’s words, Red’s imagination was on fire. After all, if there was really a bomb in the urn, Grandmother wouldn’t be in the cabin with her. Swallowing her suspicion, Red placed her thumb on the little black square on the top of the urn. There was a soft click, and the lid started to come off. A glint caught Red’s eye, and she noticed something strange; the tip of Grandmother’s left ear was shimmering and seemed almost translucent. Red hadn’t noticed it before, but through the rounded reflection, she could see the light of the oil lamp hit Grandmother at a different angle and reveal the shimmer. A shimmer that was never seen in humans; but quite commonly seen in malfunctioning holograms. Panic flooded Red’s mind as her heart fell to her stomach. NO!

The lid shot off, and a cloud of thick smoke instantly filled the cabin. Red fell to her knees as toxic gas filled her lungs, choking her and bringing tears to her eyes. She gasped and felt the bile rise from her stomach. Her body wanted to pass out, but Red clung to consciousness with every fibre of her stubborn being. If this was her end, she would go fighting.

Struggling to get clean air into her lungs, Red reached for the pouch fastened to her belt when a stinging pain flared around her neck, strangulating her throat as a figure appeared behind her. With desperation flooding her mind, Red clawed at her neck and found a thin wire cutting into her skin. Adrenaline coursed through her veins and she drew power she didn’t know she had to pull a dagger from her belt and blindly fling it backwards.

A pained grunt erupted from behind Red and the wire around her neck loosened. Retching and coughing, Red wheeled around, and through the tears blinding her eyes, she saw a figure on the floor. She couldn’t make out who it was; all she could see was a blur of dark smears against a hazy white background. Red’s throat started to close up, and she immediately bolted for the door, desperation fueling each step. She had to leave the cabin; she needed fresh air.

Unable to clearly see anything before her, Red slammed into a wall and started feeling around. The door had to be there. Her fingertip scraped through a smooth rounded surface. The doorknob! Red gripped the smooth metal ball with two hands and pulled as hard as she could, but the door didn’t budge. It was bolted; it stood like an iron fortress blocking her way out and crushing her hopes of escaping alive.

Red’s nerves ran cold, and she slowly turned around to find the figure stand up and pull a knife out of its shoulder. Red’s stomach churned, and she fell to her knees, throwing up bile that stung her mouth. Pain shot through her insides, crippling her with agony and her lungs threatened to collapse. This was the end. For the first time in her life, Red’s gut had failed her. Wolf was right; she was going to die in the cabin.




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