The Giant Brine was a typical shore hangout. Thirty years of nautical tchotchkes covered the walls. It wasn't a particularly clean restaurant, but that didn't seem to matter to the customers who congregated inside.

When Clara walked in with Nicholas, the first thing she noticed was how comfortable everyone looked – like they'd set up shop years earlier and never bothered to leave. Aside from two kids eating with their parents, she and Nicholas were the youngest people there.

"They're back here," Nicholas said as he pointed past a weathered sign featuring the restaurant's cheerful mascot holding a plate of stacked burgers. "A brine shrimp with a mustache?" Clara thought. "Not cute."

Clara followed Nicholas toward the rear of the Giant Brine. She felt eyes on her and assumed the locals could tell, just as Nicholas had, that she wasn't one of them. She made sure to keep a smile on her face, thinking it would help her to look less alien-like.

Nicholas pulled back a dangling curtain that partially hid the back room from the rest of the Giant Brine. Before Clara could fully see in, she heard deep laughter – the kind of laughter that only family or old friends shared.

Sitting around two pushed-together tables was a group of six men and women. They all looked to be in their thirties or early forties. Script pages were all over – in hands, strewn across the tables, resting on chairs. Clara could hear the group running lines from a comedy play, which stopped when Nicholas ushered her into their view.

"What's up, bud?" The biggest guy at the table smiled and gave Nicholas a tap on the shoulder. When his eyes fell on Clara, though, the smile went flat.

"Hey, Uncle Kevin," Nicholas said. He turned to the rest of the group and added, "Hey everyone. This is Clara."

Clara gave the group a little wave and deadpanned, "Hello, large group of people."

She got some genuine laughs. Kevin laughed, too, but it sounded forced.

One of the women gave a squinty glance and asked, "Where'd you find her, Nicholas? She wash up on the beach?"

"No," Nicholas answered. "Clara's new in town. She just moved in with her aunt for the summer."

The woman nodded. Clara felt strange just standing there in front of them. She gave Nicholas a gentle nudge. He got the hint.

"Oh yeah," Nicholas said, "let me introduce you. I hope I get all the roles right." He gestured to each person in turn. "That's Corine, the Swamp Hag. Greg, the Mad Doctor. Darlene, the Apparition. Howie, the Headless Jester. My Uncle Kevin, the Hatchetman and special effects tech extraordinaire. And Genevieve, the... uh..."

Genevieve, the most sophisticated-looking member of the group, gave Nicholas a sideways glance. She wasn't going to help him.

"Aw, crap. I give up," Nicholas said, shaking his head. "What were you again?"

"Stoned, mostly," Genevieve answered. The group laughed.

"Right," Nicholas said, nodding. "Genevieve the Pothead Zombie with munchies for brains. Got it."

More laughter. Except from Kevin, who looked Clara straight in the eye while asking Nicholas, "So what made you decide to bring her to our secret lair?"

The others appeared uneasy as Kevin spoke. Clara made sure not to break his gaze. She guessed that Kevin was good at sensing when someone was afraid of him.

"She was curious about the Castle so I thought I'd introduce her to you guys," Nicholas said. "Nothing like going straight to the source, huh?"

Kevin folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Curious about the Breach Point Castle, huh?"

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