One Struck

Gwen Evans is looking forward to summer - until she finds the One Direction, England's top-selling band, hiding in her barn. Now, she has to deal with rock star egos, an unwanted admirer, and the dark force that sent them into hiding in the first place.

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1. falling stars

"Gwen! Get your stupid cat out of my room!"
At the sound of the enraged shriek, Gwen glanced up from the suitcase she was packing and sighed in exasperation. Under any normal circumstances, she would have ignored her sister's whining in a sadistic bid to prolong her suffering - this time, however, the image of her poor cat trapped in Sydney's hot pink chamber of death was too awful to ignore.
She let the pair of jeans that she had been holding fall into a heap on her bed and trudged down the hallway in annoyance. The sight that awaited her when she reached Sydney's room would have been comical, had it not been so disturbing:
Her sister, flustered and furious, was shaking a woolen blanket violently while a ball of black fur clung on for dear life, hissing and spitting.
Gwen's jaw dropped in horror. "What are you doing?" she yelled, storming into the room and trying not to wince at the onslaught of pink. She snatched the cat away from her sister and held him to her chest, where he began to purr contentedly.
Sydney took a deep, calming breath as she folded the blanket and placed it neatly back on her bed. "That freak cat was getting fur on everything," she said through gritted teeth. "I had to get it off somehow."
Gwen shot her a glare and turned around, retreating back down the hallway with the cat cradled in her arms. "Aww, poor Copper," she cooed, scratching his chin. "Was Sydney being a meanie?"
"It's not like he can answer you!" Sydney shouted condescendingly at her back.
Gwen ignored her sister. She smirked and put her ear up close to Copper's whiskery face. "What's that?" she said loudly. "You think she's a know-it-all snob with horrible decorating skills?"
"Ha ha," Sydney deadpanned at full volume. "You're so funny, Gwen. Really, I'm in stitches. Now go away!"
Gwen made a face at her sister's stupidity. "In case you hadn't noticed, I am going away!"
Sydney said nothing in response, but Gwen could just imagine her pulling a face at nobody in particular as she mimicked Gwen under her breath. Somewhat satisfied at having gotten in the last word, Gwen kicked the door shut behind her and let Copper jump down into the disarray on her floor; he found a discarded sweater in the corner and curled up on it, completely at home and probably resting his eyes after all that retina-burning pink. Gwen couldn't blame him.
Arguments like the one poor Copper had just witnessed weren't uncommon in the Evans household. In fact, if a week passed without a shouting match between Gwen and Sydney, it was an indication that something was seriously wrong. The neighbors would probably have reason to call the police. Gwen and Sydney had never been terribly close. Growing up, it had become evident that the girls were about as different as was humanly possible; in fact, Gwen still found it hard to believe that they shared the same DNA. Sydney, in all her brown-haired, manicured glory, was a perfectionist in all aspects of life. She ate the right things, wore the right clothes, and networked with all the right people - hell, she even made sure to blow her nose with just the right tissues. Gwen, meanwhile, couldn't care less about half the things Sydney devoted her time to. This was reflected in her comparative shortness of friends, her curvier figure, and - the thing that annoyed Sydney most - her chewed, often dirt-encrusted fingernails. But with her bright red hair and endless source of energy, she had a fierce determination and a passion for living that most girls her age lacked.
All things considered, it was no wonder they had so much trouble seeing eye to eye. Gwen was distracted from her packing once more when her stomach growled with the intensity of a small earthquake, causing Copper to lift his head in alarm. It was so loud, in fact, that Gwen wouldn't have been surprised if Sydney had heard it all the way from her bedroom.
Fighting with Sydney always made her hungry, she realized, as she deserted her suitcase yet again and ventured downstairs to find sustenance. She took the stairs two at a time (more out of habit than anything) and made a beeline for the kitchen, where she found her mother checking the cupboards and working on a grocery list. No doubt she was thinking about further healthy supplements she could introduce into the household - although, at this point, there was little left to supplement. Sue Evans was a health fanatic, to say the least, and (with Sydney's wholehearted support) had introduced her family to a strict nutritious eating regime some years ago. For Sydney, it had been a dream come true - for Gwen, it had been a sad goodbye to steaks and a reluctant hello to tofu burgers. Not the most agreeable of lifestyle changes, but still, she'd learned to cope. And as she navigated the kitchen and found all the fixings for a peanut butter and banana sandwich, she couldn't say she minded all that much.
"Almost packed?" Sue asked her daughter. She'd just closed the last cupboard and was adding a few final touches to her list.
"Kind of," said Gwen, licking off the knife. "Sydney's been a bit distracting, though."
Her mother sighed. "I wish you girls would try a little harder to get along."
Gwen, who had this conversation with her mother at least once a week, rolled her eyes. "Mom," she groaned as she shoved the peanut butter back into the pantry. "You know that's never going to happen."
Choosing to ignore this response, Sue slipped the completed list into her purse and gave her daughter an admonishing stare. "Just make sure your suitcase is ready to go," she told her pointedly. "I want us to get an early getaway on Monday – traffic can be terrible at this time of year."
Every year, the Evans family took a trip to their lake house to celebrate the start of summer. Every year, Sue Evans swore up and down that they would be making an early getaway. Every year, they were lucky if they managed to leave the house by noon.
"Mmphkay," Gwen replied through a mouthful of peanut butter. She set her sandwich on a plate and took it into the sitting room, where she flopped down on the sofa and used the remote to turn on the TV. As usual, it was blaring some boring news channel with a reporter trying to make everything sound more dramatic than it really was. This time, however, the subject matter piqued her interest - sort of. Within in the first few headlines, she caught the words "Dale DeMort" and "public humiliation", four simple words that combined to make her heart leap. Serves him right, she thought viciously, but then a face appeared on the screen that promptly killed her moment of joy.
Actually, five faces. All of them were infuriating, but only one had the power to make Gwen's blood boil.
"You might know The One directions for their best-selling albums, their devilish good looks, or simply their irresistible charisma and charm," said the reporter as the TV flashed between scenes of the five boys signing t-shirts, smiling for cameras, and doing all that other stuff that was rock star protocol. "But one thing's for sure - if you don't know The One directions, you've surely been living under a rock."
"Somebody needs to hit your head with a rock," Gwen muttered darkly. Unintentionally, her grip on her sandwich tightened until peanut butter came oozing out of the edges.
She hadn't even noticed her mother enter the room until she heard her voice from by the doorway. "Isn't that the boy Sydney likes?"
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Likes?" She aimed a cynical look at her mother. "Worships, mom. Acts like he's a bloody god or something."
But Sue wasn't listening. "Language, sweetie," she cautioned distractedly as she slipped out the door. Then, much to Gwen's horror, she called up the stairs, "Sydney! That boy you like is on TV!"
Gwen was horrified. "No! Don't call her down! She'll-"
"OUT OF MY WAY!"
Before Gwen even had time to react, Sydney had bounded down the stairs and bolted straight through the kitchen, completely ignoring everything and everyone in her wake as she gravitated like a magnet toward her "beloved". They were currently showing clips of one of the One directions' recent gigs; two of the boys were strumming away on their instruments, running all over the stage, looking like a couple of idiots on crack. The third was flipping backward. the four playing guitar like it was some sort of fine art, set further downstage While the final member swayed girlishly.                                                                                                                    Sydney squealed when the camera zoomed in on the last member. "Harry!" she cried out. She rushed forward, dove over the sofa - knocking the sandwich out of Gwen's hands in the process - and plunked herself down inches from the screen. She reached up with longing fingers to touch the image of his face, sighing with adoration. "Styles... Someday, you're going to realize that we're meant to be together."
"Good," growled Gwen, who was trying to control her anger as she peeled the remnants of her afternoon snack off her now-stained t-shirt. "Then you can marry him, take all his money, and BUY ME A NEW SANDWICH!" Sydney turned around with a very serious expression on her face. For a moment, Gwen had the strangest feeling she might be about to apologies - but instead, all she did was further prove her state of delusion. "You may joke about it, Gwen," she said, somehow managing to keep a straight face, "but you won't be laughing when we actually do get married."
"Actually," said Gwen, "I will. I think it'll be hilarious when you handcuff him to the altar and hold him at gunpoint while he reads out the vows you wrote for him."
"Shh!" Sydney ignored her and turned her focus back to the TV, where, much, to her dismay, the scene had changed. Instead of One directions, there was a tall, broad-shouldered man in his forties with a mean expression and hair that fell to his shoulders. He wore a leather jacket despite the scorching summer weather. In this particular clip, he didn't appear to be too pleased about being caught on camera. He looked livid, absolutely outraged - like one of his malicious, money-grabbing plans had failed and, for once in his life, things hadn't gone exactly as he wanted them to.
Gwen regarded his deep frown with a strange sense of satisfaction. If there was one person she loathed more than The One directions and their pathetic music, it was Dale DeMort. Indisputably one of the world's most powerful business tycoons, the Russian multimillionaire was both the brains and the brawn behind one of the most rapidly growing superstore chains that the world had ever seen. Dal-Mart, his self-titled megastore, had rapidly grown into a destructive empire of low prices and equally low employee salaries that was hell-bent on crushing both smaller businesses and endangered woodlands to the ground in its quest for world domination.
Okay, so perhaps it wasn't all quite so dramatic. In Gwen's mind, however, Dale "The Devil" DeMort was practically on the verge of spontaneously combusting and strolling around with a pitchfork in his hand.
"Just hours ago, Dale DeMort celebrated the opening of the newest Dal-Mart superstore in London – but a distinct flaw in the ceremony did not go unnoticed by the eager crowd."
Gwen focused her attention on the television again, which was currently displaying a large and rather angry throng of people gathered in front of a colossal building.
"It's no secret that DeMort is one of the least popular public figures in our nation – something he was maybe hoping to change when he announced that The One directions would be playing at the opening ceremony of his London megastore," the reporter declared, and Gwen felt a surge of disgust flow through her. It was just like them to promote such a horrible cause. "The heavily publicized concert was the main draw for the majority of guests today, but unfortunately for them, they never got to see their idols. In a surprising turn of events, The One directions failed to make an appearance at the ceremony, leaving hundreds of devastated fans in their wake. Sources claim that DeMort was angry at the betrayal, but whether or not this was some sort of protest remains to be determined. It would seem that one directions have disappeared off the public radar for the time being. When contacted, none of their agents or other officials could were able to disclose the exact whereabouts of these four talented musicians. The verdict is unclear at this stage, but from the looks of things, we have a band on the run."
The story was clearly over, but apparently, the news station had seen fit to play a slideshow featuring The One directions, backed up mysterious-sounding music. Internally, Gwen scoffed at this; it wasn't as if they were dead or anything. Sydney, she noticed, was still gaping at the screen, blinking stupidly. Gwen was surprised she wasn't in hysterics by now. Almost as if her thinking this had acted as a prompt of sorts, Sydney had a delayed reaction and suddenly shrieked, the ear-splitting sound causing Gwen to wince. "What?" She looked horrified. "Disappeared? How on earth can they just be gone? How... how could they just ABANDON their fans like that?"
Gwen raised her eyebrows and surprised herself by saying, "Are you kidding, Sydney? Standing up Dal DeMort is like the one decent thing they've done in their entire career."
Sydney whipped around and fixed Gwen with a death glare. "Of course, you wouldn't understand," she said coldly, before getting up and storming away like a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. "This is HORRIBLE!" she heard from the top of the stairs, right before the sound of a slamming door.
Rolling her eyes at her sister's antics, Gwen turned back to face the television. The slide show had come to an end, freezing on a black and white picture of the one directions as the final notes of music played, and Gwen couldn't help but examine their faces with newly-found admiration.
Wait a second. Admiration? No, that wasn't possible. The One directions were arrogant, annoying, assholes - and a thousand other things starting with "a", but "admirable" wasn't anywhere on that list. Startled at the fact that she had considered it even for one second, Gwen snatched up the remote and pressed the "off" button, and with a click and a flash of light, the one directions' faces disappeared.

Somewhere in the outskirts of Gryffindale, the soft hum of a car's engine stopped abruptly and gave way to silence.
The car was not fancy in make or aesthetics; it was plain, black, and just big enough to fit the four teenage boys who sat nervously on its worn-out seats. It wasn't all that fast, it was boxy rather than sleek, and its paint job could probably use a touch up. Or a miracle. In short, it was the last kind of car one would expect to be driven by four multimillionaires with some of the most recognized faces in Britain.
That was precisely why it was so perfect.
Zayn had been less than thrilled when Harry, who tended to be the voice of authority in the band, had pointed to it in his uncle's auto shop and said, "It's perfect," when it was, in fact, the farthest thing from perfect. But it only took a little reminder of how dire their situation was - and permission to name it "the One direction mobile" - before Zayn was shutting up and sliding gingerly into the passenger seat.
None of them were particularly fond of one direction mobile. It was uncomfortable and made horrible noises when pushed to go faster than a snail’s pace. Having recently departed from a life of luxury, these rock stars had high standards. The car met none of them.
And yet, when they'd finally reached their destination and Harry pulled up next to the curb, nobody seemed to want to leave its confines.
"Well," said Niall, "this is it."
"It" referred to a few different things: "it" as in the end of their journey, and time to find out whether or not this had really been a good idea after all; "it" as in Gryffindale, the town they'd chosen for its seclusion and tiny population; and finally "it", the Leaky Cauldron, the dingy (and somewhat questionably named) hotel they'd just pulled up to.
"I don't like it," said Zayn in a low voice the moment he glanced out the window.
"Of course you don't," scoffed Liam from the back seat. "It's two and a half stars, at most. And you're a princess."
"I am NOT a bloody prin-"
"Can we eat?" Niall put forward this question in a tone which made it clear that he had not been listening to a word of his friends' banter.
Harry regarded the pudgy boy through the rear-view mirror with an incredulous expression. "Seriously, Niall? We're about to meet our doom in a piece of shit hotel and all you can think of is food?"
Zayn rolled his eyes. "This is Niall we're talking about - If there were an earthquake, he'd be sitting in the middle of it, stuffing his face."
"That's not true!"
Four sets of eyebrows rose simultaneously and four skeptical expressions were shot in Niall's direction. "Niall," said Zayn bluntly, "remember the earthquake last year when we were in LA?"
Louise looked puzzled. "There was an earthquake?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "The rest of us were busy trying to stop all our shit from breaking, and Niall  were too engrossed in hot dog while you sleeping to even notice."
Zayn burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and Niall opened his mouth to protest, but Liam cut in, bringing them all crashing back to reality. "Guys, seriously, shut up. Are we going inside or not?"
Harry cast another dubious look at the questionable-looking establishment. "Do we really have a choice?"
"Well, we could always go back to London," Zayn pointed out, and then chuckled darkly.
Like a bucket of ice water over their heads, his words sent a chill through the air. This sinister reminder, however, seemed to be exactly the reality check that they needed to proceed - not five seconds later, the four boys were out of the car and making their way toward the heavily fingerprinted glass door of the Leaky Cauldron. Despite their hastily-invented disguises, they walked with their heads down and tried to keep a low profile as they entered. This proved somewhat difficult, despite watching One Direction go through the correct door, somehow managed to walk straight into the adjacent glass pane and fall to the ground in a heap. While Liam and Harry glanced shiftily around at the few people present in the tiny lobby, Zayn hoisted Louise up by the back of his jacket and Niall’s stomach growl loud. “Good going, Niall.”
Trying to keep the nervousness out of their tread, the one directions moved toward the front desk with purpose. When the receptionist looked up over her horn-rimmed glasses, Harry cleared his throat and said, "Uh, we'd like to request a room for five, please - for one week. Preferably with separate beds."
The receptionist failed to offer so much as a nod or a smile before turning to her outdated computer screen and tapping in a few numbers. Her eyes roamed up and down the screen for a few moments, and then she turned back to the one directions, her face as hard and expressionless as ever. "We've got a vacancy on the fourth floor. D'you want it?"
The One directions couldn't help but be appalled by her lack of eloquence. Harry, however, tried to keep his disgust from showing as he replied "That would be great," with a tight smile.
After a few more clicks and taps, the woman extracted a yellow sheet of paper from her desk drawer and spent a ridiculous amount of time painstakingly copying down the details. As they waited, Zayn tapped his fingers on the peeling linoleum that covered the desk in impatience and Louise gaped indiscreetly at every person who passed through the lobby.
Finally, the receptionist set down her pen. "That'll be four hundred pounds," she said brusquely. "And I'll need to see some I.D."
The One directions exchanged uneasy expressions. As many experiences as they'd had with hotels throughout their career, none of those had involved giving any sort of identification. They were rock gods, after all. Anybody with a functioning brain would recognize them.
Unfortunately, this was one situation where they could not, under any circumstances, be recognized. Giving this receptionist something with their names on it would be suicide; everything they'd been through - the escape, the horrible car, the treacherous drive to get here - would be for nothing. If they didn't think of anything, well... to put it simply, they were screwed.
They tried to convey their thoughts through facial expressions, but, judging by the looks of helplessness and "I got nothing" going around in their little telepathic conversation, each One direction was just as confused as the next. When they realized that there was, in fact, nothing they could do, they all began to panic. Glancing around the lobby, every pair of eyes was suddenly menacing, every person who passed by was on the verge of recognizing them and revealing their secret, and the whole room took on an eerie, sinister feel.
"Uh, on second thought," said Harry, beginning to back away from the desk (the others followed suit, clearly thinking exactly what he was), "we don't need the room. Thanks anyway."
And they were out the door in a heartbeat.
"Crazy, crazy, crazy," Harry muttered to himself as the five of them piled back into the one direction mobile. When the last door had swung shut, he took to expressing these sentiments more loudly. "We were bloody CRAZY to think we had any chance of hiding from him. SHIT!" He pounded his fist violently on the dashboard and then proceeded to drag the same hand through his already ruffled black hair, looking thoroughly distressed. "Even in a town this small, we can't go anywhere without telling people who we are. What the hell are we supposed to do?"
"Calm down, mate," said Liam in a low tone.
"Calm down?" Louise demanded, turning to stare at his friend with wild eyes. "Bloody, Liam! Do you know what he does to people who betray him? If he finds us, we're as good as dead!"
In the long moment of silence following this statement, the bleak outlook of their predicament began to creep in. Louise, Niall, and Liam exchanged hopeless glances in the back seat while up front, Zayn stared out the window with a melancholy frown on his face.
After a few minutes, when Harry' ragged breathing began to slow, Niall dared to speak up.
"So... where do we go now?"

Gwen was busy chopping carrots for dinner when she heard the doorbell ring.
Her mother, who was on the phone with a colleague, called out from the other room. "Could you get that, Gwen dear?"
Sydney was still locked away in her bedroom (she'd claimed she needed time to "deal" with the aftermath of this afternoon's shock) and Mr. Evans had not yet returned from work, so Gwen had no choice but to comply. She couldn't say she minded, though. It was a welcome - if only temporary - reprieve from the monotony of kitchen work, throughout which all she seemed to be able to think about was the ordeal with the Dal DeMort and the One directions. It was all so... strange. And unbelievable.
No, she didn't want to dwell on it. And besides, speaking of her father that was probably him at the door right then, home early from the office. Gwen's mood lifted considerably at the thought.
But it wasn't Mr. Evans. Instead, Jake Dursley stood in the doorway, his hands shoved deep into his pockets as he peered nervously at her through his thick-framed glasses. When he saw that she wasn't Sydney, he exhaled heavily and pushed past Gwen into the house.
Gwen was used to this reaction. Jake tried to hide it, but anybody would be a fool not to pick up on his obsession with Sydney Evans. Gwen, for one, had known for many years now. Jake lived across the street, and he'd been friends with the Evans sisters since before they'd started school. But at some point, he'd begun blatantly ignoring Gwen and focusing all his affability on the taller, slimmer, brown-haired sister, who, ironically, treated him like a piece of dirt. Gwen always made an effort to be kind to Jake, even though she often wondered what he could possibly see in somebody as annoying as Sydney, but Jake barely even looked at her anymore. To him, she was just another medium of communicating with his "future wife", especially when Sydney was avoiding him and sent Gwen to do her dirty work. While that part wasn't very enjoyable, Gwen didn't really have anything against Jake - after all, they'd been good friends once, and to be honest, the whole thing kind of amused her. She got a kick out of watching Sydney squirm under Jake's adoring gaze.
"Is Sydney home?" Jake asked, trying to sound casual but failing. His voice was desperately hopeful.
"Err, she is," said Gwen tentatively, "but she's... not really in a state to talk right now. Can I take a message for her?"
Jake looked exasperated and shook his head quickly. "No, no, that won't do. I'm going blackberry picking and I wanted to see if she'd join me. Are you sure she won't talk? Where is she?" Jake began to make his way further into the house, and Gwen followed him, hoping he wouldn't go up to Sydney's room. Alas, he headed straight for the staircase - so Gwen grabbed the back of his jacket and stopped him in his tracks.
"Sorry, Jake," she said when he turned around and regarded her with a startled expression, as if noticing for the first time that she was actually there, and not just some incorporeal being acting as his conscience. Gwen wanted to roll her eyes at this, but instead offered an apologetic smile and continued to explain. "Sydney's really upset right now. But if you want," she offered, "I'll go with you instead."
Jake shook his head stubbornly. "No, no, I need Sydney. Where is she? Why is she so upset?"
Gwen tried not to be insulted by his shameless dismissal of her offer. "She's sort of... grieving over her beloved."
She should have known not to say it, but she couldn't help it - the only thing that came naturally when she spoke of Sydney's obsession with Harry Styles was ridicule. In this case, her choice of words was unfortunate; Jake's eyes lit up with rage and his usual pallor deepened to an unflattering shade of purple as his hands balled up into fists. He looked like he was going to explode.
"Her beloved?" he growled, obviously trying to sound menacing but - again - failing quite miserably. "Not that Styles bloke again? I swear, I'll grind him into dust! That egotistical, girl-stealing swine... He and his mates think they can just go around butchering the beautiful art of music... but I'll show him! I'll-"
"Okay, time to go," said Gwen, unable to feign patience any longer. Jake didn't seem bothered by her kicking him out. He let her steer him by the shoulders back to the front door, muttering furiously about the one directions all the while. Once he was out the door, Gwen gave a little wave goodbye. "See you, Jake," she said, but he didn't even turn around to acknowledge her as he walked across the lawn.
Gwen closed the door and sighed; all this drama was beginning to drive her crazy. She couldn't wait to get out of here.

“Please tell me you're joking."
Zayn' tone was positively murderous as he stared at the decrepit barn in front of him, horror-struck.
Harry rubbed his temples. After unintentionally driving the one direction mobile into a ditch, they'd been left without a mode of transport and, more importantly, without sufficient concealment from any prying eyes they might run into, save for their feeble disguises. So they'd opted for the next best thing - a forest of tall pine trees. After traipsing through much of it with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a couple of guitar cases, they'd soon found themselves completely and utterly lost. Finally, Harry had stumbled upon a piece of open land, at the edge of which sat the tired-looking barn. It was pretty shitty, but it was probably the only option they had at this point. "Got a better idea?" he questioned flatly.
"Yeah, here's one: it's called 'Let's not sleep in a pile of animal crap tonight'."
Liam rolled his eyes and muttered "Princess," just as Louise laugh and Niall burst out from a cluster of trees, looking disoriented. "There you guys are!" Niall gasped.
Harry regarded him with raised eyebrows. "Where've you been?"
"Got lost," he muttered, crossing his arms over his rather prominent gut. "You could have waited up, you know!"
Liam shot the boy a look of complete bafflement. "Niall, we were like, leisurely strolling the whole way here."
Niall opened his mouth, but before he could defend himself, Harry called out "Oi, guys! C'mere!" He had opened the decaying door of the barn and was flagging them over.
In an instant, all four boys were staring through the doorway and into a darkened, hay-strewn space.
It was a building of simple design, without much in the way of contents. The small, rectangular room was dingy and lit only by sunlight filtering in through the holes in the roof. With a floor covered in dirt and who-knew-what-else, discarded wooden crates and bales of hay lining the walls and a (probably unreliable) wooden ladder leading to a modest upper level, it wasn't much. But did they have any other choice?
"See?" said Harry. "It's not that bad." But even he wasn't convinced as he spoke these words, and after a quick look around the place, the other one directions returned to their original state of disgust.
"Not that bad?" Zayn said incredulously. "Where do you suppose we're going to sleep, then?" He took a step inside to scope out potential "beds", but stopped a couple of meters in and sniffed the air. "Bloody hell. What is that?"
Harry, who had followed him inside, gave him a firm pat on the shoulder. "I don't know, mate, but you'd better get used to it. This is home - at least until we come up with a better idea."
Zayn groaned. Louise, still panting from the trek through the forest, lumbered through the door and sat down on the nearest bale of hay. Something made a squelching noise as he did - and though Louise didn't seem to notice this, the others grimaced at the sound.
Liam was the last to enter. "Yeah," he said as he took his first step in, and sighed. "Home, sweet home."

Sydney stayed in her room until dinnertime.
It took a fair amount of convincing to get her to stop moping around and come downstairs, but somehow, the draw of grilled cod and garden salad finally won her over. (Gwen really worried about her sister's sanity at times.)
Still, as she sat at the table with the rest of the family, Sydney merely picked at her food. Her expression was perpetually glum, her eyes fixated on her plate, her chin rested in her palm as she poked her fork for the umpteenth time into her fish fillet.
The moment the table was cleared, she disappeared into her room once again without as much as a word. While her parents seemed concerned about this behavior, Gwen found the entire situation to be quite comical. When you really thought about it, it was completely ridiculous for someone to get so worked up about the supposed disappearance of someone they didn't even know. She tried to share this belief with Sydney, but her sister responded with a look so witheringly vile that it was a miracle Gwen didn't crumble to the ground in a pile of ashes right then and there.
Shortly after dinner, Gwen found herself wandering back into the kitchen for a snack. The meagre selection of fish and lettuce at dinner had left her stomach feeling very dissatisfied, and she had a hankering for an ice cream cone (although, given the state of things, a bowl of yoghurt and berries would probably have to suffice). The moment she stepped through the doorway, however, there was a frantic crinkling noise and the sound of a cupboard door slamming, and she found herself face to face with her father. He was standing next to the pantry with a guilty expression on his face, which was merely enhanced by the fact that his cheeks were stuffed full of food.
Upon seeing her there, Max Evans let out a sigh of relief and swallowed. "Ah, Gwenn bear. I thought you were your mother." With a sheepish laugh, he pulled the pantry open again and reached up to the very top corner, where he and Gwen kept a secret stash of what they liked to call 'real food'. "I should've known it was you – you've always had amazing junk food radar."
Gwen's mouth began to water as he pulled down a package of salt and vinegar chips. "Gamma!" she squealed, launching herself at the bag and stuffing a handful of greasy goodness into her mouth. "Mm… saturated fat," she moaned, delving in for another handful.
Max laughed, and his green eyes – so much like Gwen's – lit up, giving his face a boyish glow. "Better save some for tomorrow," he advised, pulling the chips away from his daughter's greedy hands and stowing them back in their hiding spot. "I think your mother's making boiled tofu again."
"Ewe, barf," said Gwen, scrunching her face up in disgust.
Max chuckled and ruffled her hair affectionately. "That's my girl."
Later that evening, Gwen was on her way outside to complete her nightly task of topping up the cat's food and water dishes. It was unfortunate that Sue happened to choose this exact moment to send Sydney out with the garbage and recycling; the two of them ended up heading out the door one right after the other.
Sydney refused to hold the door open for her sister, but Gwen expected no less. She had a hand free to catch it before it swung back and bowled her over. Sydney headed around to the back porch and down the steps; Gwen followed at a distance. What was also unfortunate was that they were headed in the same direction - although, to be honest, that was actually Sydney's fault. A couple of months ago, she'd complained about how gross it was that Copper ate his "slimy meat food" in the same room where the Evans family consumed their meals. Being a people-pleaser (well, more of a Sydney-pleaser), Sue had fulfilled her daughter's request and had Copper's food dishes moved out to the shed behind the house. (Gwen found this incredibly unfair; had she complained that Sydney clipped her toenails in the same bathroom where Gwen brushed her teeth every morning, it would have been a similarly ridiculous argument. But would it have been acknowledged? Absolutely not.) Of course, the garbage bins just happened to be lined up along the side of the shed. Gwen hadn't trusted Sydney around garbage bins since an unfortunate incident three years prior involving Gwen, Sydney's surprising lifting strength, and... Well, a garbage bin.
Gwen kept her distance and hoped that they could get through this little excursion without exchanging a word. That was probably the safest option for the both of them. Sydney, however, had a different idea. As soon as Gwen opened a can of salmon to put in Copper's bowl, Sydney sniffed disgustedly and complained, "Ewe, gross! Get that stuff away from me!" even though she was nowhere near her.
Naturally, Gwen couldn't just stand there and tolerate her unfounded grumbling, so she smirked, pulled the lid right off the salmon and strolled over to Sydney. "No, seriously, it smells great! Try some," she said, shoving it under Sydney's nose and watching her sister's expression change from irritated to horror-struck.
Sydney screamed, swatting the can out of Gwen's grasp and causing it to tumble onto her front. Pink salmon cascaded down Gwen's tank top.
"Oh, that's just brilliant," said Gwen, her voice dripping with sarcasm as she assessed the damage and grimaced. "That's two of my shirts you've ruined today. And now Copper's getting dry food for dinner."
As she headed back into the shed to find alternate food for the cat, she heard Sydney mutter, "Serves you right. Both of you." She ignored this remark and filled up Copper's dishes, wishing as she did so that it was Sydney who was forced to eat her meals in the shed, and not her comparatively warm-hearted cat.
Since Sydney was terribly slow with the garbage, using a hand wipe to open the lid and standing back as she gingerly dropped each bag into the bin, Gwen was the first to finish her chore. She walked briskly on her way back to the house. It was a far jaunt, their property being so large, but she was halfway there by the time she heard the lid of the recycling bin fall shut; Sydney gave a little yelp, presumably alarmed at the waft of "garbage air" that was emitted as this happened.
Gwen rolled her eyes. As she did this, she caught a glimpse of something at the far end of the property. Across the field, behind a couple of oak trees, was the old barn house, neglected over the past decade or so and half-deteriorated by years of harsh weather and a lack of maintenance. Gwen hadn't visited the barn since she was very, very young. Even then, it had been intriguing and frightening, a temporary fixation to satisfy Gwen's curiosity. She'd taken Sydney back there one summer's night, lured her in, closed the door on her and run back to the house. Apparently, Sydney didn't have very good navigational skills in the dark, because she hadn't been able to get out until she'd been retrieved by her father and carried back in tears. Gwen was grounded for three weeks. Sydney was scarred for life.
Needless to say, nobody had ventured back to the barn ever since.
So it was strange, now, that as Gwen glanced inadvertently in that direction, she saw a miniscule light shining at the back of the field. She stopped in her tracks and narrowed her eyes, wondering if she was hallucinating.                                                                                                                         Nope, it was definitely there. A shiver swept through her at the sight of it, but at the same time, she was fascinated. Just like when she was a child, she felt drawn toward the barn by an eerie sort of curiosity. It was almost pitch black out by now, but really, how bad could it be? Without giving it another thought, Gwen deposited the water bottle she'd used to fill Copper's dish and began to walk purposefully in the direction of the mysterious light.
"Wh-where are you going?" Sydney asked suddenly. In her voice was a combination of annoyance and anxiety; annoyance at the fact that Gwen was doing something strange and impulsive, and anxiety, no doubt, because she was being left alone in the darkness in the middle of their vast yard with nothing to protect her but a plastic recycling box.
"Like you care," Gwen said dully.
"You can't leave me here alone!" Sydney's voice was so high-pitched, so grating, that Gwen cringed and was forced to stop once again.
She swiveled around, made a duh sort of face at Sydney, and said, "Well then, you're going to have to come with me, aren't you?"
As expected, Sydney froze up and adamantly shook her head. "NO. No way am I going back there. Not in a million years."
Gwen turned around exasperatedly and continued to walk across the field. "Then for goodness' sake, Sydney, shut your pie hole." She quickened her pace.
A couple of seconds, and then, predictably...
"Wait!"
Sydney hurried along behind her; evidently, her fear of being alone in the dark had won out over her reluctance to visit that place again. Gwen couldn't say she hadn't expected this, but she wasn't particularly pleased at having acquired a companion. As they crossed the darkened field, drawn toward the light in the corner, Sydney jumped at the tiniest noises, kept glancing around as if something was about to jump out at her at any moment, and at one point actually grabbed onto the back of Gwen's shirt in her panic.
"This is a really bad idea," Sydney hissed as they approached the closest tree to the barn. "You're not just going to lock me in there again, a-?"
Gwen shushed her impatiently and dragged her behind the tree. She was focused on the voices she'd just picked up on, drifting toward them from inside the dilapidated building. There was the unmistakable sound of male laughter, the occasional girlish whimper, and one voice that was deeper than all the others, speaking in a slow, spine-chilling monotone.
Imitating one of the voices in the barn, Sydney whimpered. "I told you this was a bad idea!" she whispered. "You're going to get us murdered! Who knows what could be in there - it's probably a serial killer on the run, or a monster, or a-"
Gwen had had enough. She pivoted on her heel, slapped a hand over her sister's mouth and fixed her with a harsh look. She tried to keep her voice low, but it was difficult to suppress her rising anger. "Shut your goddamn mouth, Sydney, or I swear, I will put you out there as bait. Do you understand?"
Wide-eyed and stunned into silence, Sydney nodded hurriedly. Gwen pulled her hand away and gave the barn one last glance from her lookout point before stepping out from behind the tree and beginning to tiptoe across the remaining stretch of lawn.
With Sydney close behind, Gwen approached the barn. When she was less than three meters from the door, she began to pick up on distinct bits of conversation.
"And then the werewolf creeps up behind the unsuspecting traveler, and... BANG!" Somebody shrieked at this; next to Gwen, Sydney jumped. "Snaps his neck!"
"Oooh, I'm scared," said another voice mockingly. "Honestly, these stories suck. Where did you get them from - Louise's bedtime story collection?"
Gwen didn't hear anymore, because Sydney had begun to tug urgently on her arm.
"What?" she hissed as quietly as possible.
For once, Sydney showed some common sense and kept her voice to minimal volume as well. Her eyes, however, told Gwen that she would have spoken much louder, had they not been in such a situation. "I know that voice!" she whispered excitedly. "I would know that voice anywhere!"
Gwen shot her a confused look, but decided not to ask questions. Instead, she took the final few steps that led her to the barn door, reached out tentatively for the handle...
...And, in one swift motion, threw the door open.
The voices stopped abruptly.
Sydney shrieked.
Five boys sat completely still in the center of the barn, their faces frozen in various expressions. They were gathered together on a cluster of hay bales; one, with black hair, held a flashlight to his chin and had his mouth open in shock. To his left, a rather blond boy looked scared out of his mind, and the other three wore similar looks of horror, as if they'd been caught in some despicable act.
But they hadn't done anything terribly wrong. What had caused Sydney to shriek - and Gwen to go rigid from head to toe - had been the mere sight of their five faces.
Five faces which were startlingly familiar.
The One directions.

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