Chapter one: A snowy night
In which we meet our cast, play some music and start off nicely.
The music fills the room like ribbons of light in the midnight sky.
My fingers brushing past the ivory keys with pinpoint precision.
My ears focused, my mind flowing like water.
A private slice of peace, nothing can touch me here.
My finger slips, pricks at the wrong note.
And the whole illusion shatters.
“Darn!” I cry at the mistake, I was so close to doing it perfectly.
“Language miss Serentiy.” The teacher scolds me gently, “A lady shouldn’t swear.”
“I’m sorry, mister Dandelion.” I mope while looking at those big pink eyes.
Mister Dandelion has a rabbit’s head covered in short white fur and big eyes that stare into you. It looks a bit weird at first, but you get used to it.
“Now from the top one more time.” He tells me tapping his cane in the tempo of the piece “Prac-tice makes per-fect.”
I nod, only half convinced, but nevertheless place my hands on the keys again.
As the music starts to flow again, I relax.
It’s such a strange thing. Music makes me feel so peaceful when the notes fall into the right places.
And so very angry when they don’t.
They tell me I’ll be a concert pianist one day, that I’ll play in the greatest venues of the world.
They say I’ll be a star; ‘so talented at such a tender age.’
‘Just imagine her ten years from now. ‘
Each slip of the keys, each wander from the meter, they prove that I’m not good enough.
I’ll never be a star like that.
The clapping of two white furry hands pulls me from my mind and back into the room.
“Well done, well done.” The teacher cheers.
I look at my hands, they stopped moving, the music is done.
And I didn’t make any mistakes.
I smile widely and holding my hands gratefully.
My fingers are cold like ice.
“Now look at the time, it’s already five past seven.” Mister Dandelion frets, looking at the clock, “We must get you back home post-haste.”
“Yes mister Dandelion.” I reply, getting up from my seat and putting on my leather gloves, hat and cloak. Readying myself to the elements outside.
Mister dandelion puts on his coat and funny straw hat that has the top cut out for his big ears to poke through. Because when it’s dark outside, he walks me home himself.
“Now remember, it’s in the dark that bad things happen, so we walk with purpose and don’t go dilly-dallying.” He wags a stern finger at me like he does every night, and just like every other night I tell him.
“Yes mister Dandelion.”
“Good.” He opens the door, inviting a flurry of snow into the parlour. “Then let’s go.”
We walk down the pebble road, snow crushing underneath our shoes. I hold the teacher’s downy hand.
It looks quite convenient, having your gloves growing out of your hands, that way you could never forget them, and they’re always made of such nice soft fur.
“Did you hear that?” He starts, long ears swivelling around on his head.
I shake my head.
He tugs my hand and swings his cane toward “Let’s pick up the pace a bit just in case.”
The teacher is a scaredy-cat, I wonder who escorts him home after he drops me off at my house.
The park is massive, trees are looming over us like arms ready to close in.
I’m not scared though, the dark isn’t all that different from the day. There are lanterns everywhere, so I can see just fine.
I see the benches with the floral motif cast in iron, I see the heather clumping up around the tree trunks, I see the shadowy figure that’s following us as we make our way home.
Huh? That’s strange.
That’s not there normally.
I look at the teacher, but he doesn’t seem to notice the person at all.
I look back at the trees, wondering whether to warn him or not.
But we’re quite alone.
I guess it’s nothing then.
After a stiff character-building walk we end up at my aunt’s house. It’s not a big house, in fact it looks like someone noticed there was space left over in between these tall stately buildings and decided there was ample room to toss some walls down. It’s not as tall either, and my bedroom is at ground level.
My aunt doesn’t want me going upstairs.
Mister Dandelion rings the bell and my aunt Fortuna opens the door. Upon seeing me and the teacher, she smiles an overly dramatic grin while saying “Ah, good evening mister Dandelion, how did the lessons go?”
“She’s improving with strides, ma’am, I present her with more complicated pieces each time and yet after a couple attempts she manages to play them near faultlessly.”
“That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your effort. Would you like a cup of tea to warm up a bit before going back?”
I roll my eyes, he never wants tea.
And as expected the rabbit replies “That sounds wonderful, but I rather head home now rather than later if it’s all the same to you.”
And my aunt says “Very well, good night mister Dandelion.”
The teacher tips his straw hat, turns and swiftly disappears back into the dark.
Aunt closes the door and the smile melts away like snow on a flame. “Prim is nearly done making dinner, how about you go help her set the table? I still need to take care of some things upstairs.”
“Yes aunt Fortuna.” I reply obediently and head to the kitchen that’s heavy with the smell of meat and grease. Prim is twice my age, but she doesn’t look like that, she’s very small for an adult. So as I enter the kitchen, Prim is standing on a stepping stool as she pulls sage and parsley from bunches off the ceiling.
Her head whips in my direction at the sound of my footsteps she looks a bit spooked, but then she quickly calms down again, “Ah, miss Serenity did you have fun at lessons.”
“It was all right, I’m here to set the table.”
“That’s very nice, thank you.”
I walk to the tableware cabinet and pull out a set of plates and teacups, silver spoons and sharp knives.
I put everything down on the lace tablecloth that used to be white once but now features a yellowish tinge as stains and tobacco smoke tarnished it beyond recognition.
Prim sets down a cast iron pot, then a skillet and then a bowl of cooked vegetables.
“Have a nice meal.” She says, then takes a bow and leaves for the back room to eat.
I then walk to the stairs and ring the great copper bell to announce dinner.
“I’m coming!” aunt Fortuna yells down.
So I walk back to the table and sit down.
I stare at the window as I wait, wondering if what I saw was real or imaginary, if it were real, it’d still be out there, right?
Maybe it’s standing just outside the window, looking in, but I can’t see because all I can see is the reflection of the kitchen and my own eyes staring back at me.
“Sorry for the wait.” Aunt Fortuna says comes rushing into the room.
I didn’t even notice the time passing, but a glance at the mantle clock reveals it’s been five minutes since I called her to come down.
She sits down and with that everyone’s here.
Aunt Fortuna doesn’t have a husband, mum used to call her a spinster and a failure. But now that mum is gone, aunt Fortuna takes care of me, so she can’t be all that bad.
“So how was your day?” she asks while piling my plate with meaty stew and potatoes.
I shrug, “It was okay, I messed up a couple of times, but I also played the piece right in the end.”
“Well done.” She smiles as she puts the plate down in front of me.
“And how was your day?”
The waves the question away, “Oh same old, same old, Lady Daisy finally got that baby, again.” She mutters the last word under her breath, “Sir Cobbler hurt his back, so his son has taken over for now, but it’s clear he still got a lot to learn. Oh! And I finally got Madam Ditty to come over and hear you play.”
“I see.” I try to sound enthusiastic, but the truth is I find madam Ditty a little scary.
She’s the owner of a theatre in the outer regions, so she’s a very important person. But she acts strangely and drags her two white ferrets along everywhere they go.
One of them bit me too!
Stupid animals, all I wanted to do was pet them.
It really hurt!
I’m not looking forward to that reunion.
For now I just nod and smile and eat my food as usual.
“She’ll come by at three in the afternoon, so I think it’s best if you skip piano lesson for once, I’m sure it’s fine.”
“If madam Ditty comes by here, then what do I play on?” I ask since we don’t have a piano in the house.
“I mentioned that, and she said it’s no problem. She’ll be bringing her own.”
The moment I set foot in my bedroom again, something feels off again. I turn on the light, but the light feels different somehow.
I walk to the curtain, pull them aside just a smidgen, peeking out the slit into the darkness beyond.
There’s a tingle in the back of my neck, that sense of being watched, but outside the yard stands empty.
Just snow falling, flowing down from the sky.
My eyes feel weary.
My body feels heavy.
I should just go sleep.
Yet when I lay down on the bed, my brain keeps getting pulled to the window, to whatever is outside.
There’s nothing outside, I’m just nervous about tomorrow.
Just close your eyes, it’ll all be fine.