Chapter three: A curious case
In which we learn things we probably didn’t want to know.
Hours later I’m lying in bed.
My eyes are wide-open staring up into the darkness.
My mind is racing, my thoughts are a jumble of uncertainties and doubts I can’t follow along with and I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that things have gone beyond my control and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.
Every time I close my eyes all I can see is that stalking presence.
I’m no longer safe, am I? What if I’ll never be safe again and it’s all a matter of time till whatever is out there finds me and hurts me.
The glass in the window is so thin, so fragile.
What’s stopping it from breaking it and getting in?
Then the sound of voices outside makes cold sweat drip down the back of my neck.
It’s here! It’s out there it-
It sounds like aunt Fortuna…
I drag myself out of bed, my heart still thumping in my chest.
I crawl over to the window and slowly pull the curtain aside just a smidgen so I can peep outside.
I find Aunt Fortuna and madam Ditty pushing snow from the marble bench and putting down little cushions to sit on. They’re wearing thick woollen scarves around their shoulders. The madam pulls the ferrets on her lap where they crawl underneath the scarf for warmth.
Aunt Fortuna sets a bottle of brandy down on the table.
“I can ask Prim to make a fire-”
“No, no, let the girl sleep, I just need a bit of fresh air.” The madam explains before pulling out her pipe.
I take a long look around the garden but nothing seems amiss.
I should go back to bed, it’s clear there’s no danger and eavesdropping is bad after all.
But then as I let go of the curtain Madam Ditty starts talking about my mother and I can’t help but be curious.
“Everyone could see from a mile away where Amora and that man were heading. I even warned her, told her he was going to break her heart but honestly, I think that may have spurred her on even more.” She takes a long huff from the pipe.
“Well, she hated to be wrong.” I wonder why aunt Fortuna sounds so bitter saying that.
“Don’t we all?” The madam shrugs blowing wisps of smoke into the air “I just don’t understand why she didn’t take the kid along. I mean surely she knows how much of a goldmine she’ll be if properly raised.”
“Oh, she wanted to.” My aunt bites.
Madam Ditty looks as confused as I feel “But…?” she asks.
“The woman is hysterical and in no state to raise a child.” She explains and in her voice, I can hear a visceral sourness I never heard from my aunt before.
Does she hate my mother?
“Harsh.” The madam responds dryly.
“Do you disagree?” Fortuna challenges.
“Not really. She’s too much of a romantic to think clearly at the best of times. So where is she now?”
“Still chasing after him I presume. I haven’t heard from her in months.”
My hands are shaking, my eyes feel prickly. What am I to make of this? Did mum leave me forever? Or did aunt Fortuna steal me away from her? Who am I supposed to be angry at?
I want to scream, want to jump out, tell them to speak clearly and explain to me what exactly happened between aunt Fortuna and mum. How did I end up here and what’s going to happen from here on out.
But there’s a big gap between wanting and doing, and the conversation gently peddles on without me.
The madam sighs “Such a waste of talent.”
Aunt shrugs “I’m not going to pretend I understand my sister, she’s always been off. Ever since we were kids she wanted the things she couldn’t have. She was always looking for more, looking for better, she was simply unable of being content.”
The madam takes another drag off her pipe and breathes “You mean she’s ambitious, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“She dropped her whole career down the privy just because a guy left her for a floozy!”
The madam hushes her “Calm yourself, It’s three in the morning you don’t want to wake Serenity do you?”
At the mention of my name I quickly dive down behind the wall. I don’t want them to catch me listening in.
I heart them talking still but in hushed, whisper-like voices.
I can’t understand them anymore.
But my mind is still racing.
What’s a floozy? Does that mean mum isn’t coming back anymore? Why do these two women speak so lowly of her? She’s a star! Or used to be…
Does she even play anymore?
What about touring the world together?
I feel a small hole opening up in the pit of my stomach and with every bad thought, it grows and grows until I feel like I’ll be swallowed up and I’ll never emerge again from its inky depths.
I should go back to bed, rest my head forget all of this.
I drag myself to bed.
Close my eyes.
My brain just thought for hours on end, digesting this new information in the most destructive ways.
Until I wake up.
The sun is out meaning I must have slept.
But then why do I feel more tired than before?
I grumble and sigh as I pull myself out of bed and open the curtains.
I still see the aftermath of the night before; the footprints in the snow, the wiped-down bench, an empty bottle of brandy lying sideways on the table.
Well, it wasn’t a dream then sadly.
I tell myself to get dressed but just as I’m about to turn away I notice something off from the corner of my eye.
Something is wrong.
I look at the window, the curtains the frame.
Then come to a chilling realization.
The bolt of my window is gone.
It’s not even broken it simply vanished leaving four holes in the wooden frame to remind me there was once one there.
When did that happen?
Was it like that last night?
It must have been, right? I slept so poorly there’s no way someone removed the bolt without me noticing.
Who would even do that? It wasn’t me, I don’t see why aunt would either.
It’s the thing outside that did it, it must be but that means…that means it must have gotten in to remove it.
And maybe still is…
And my brain tells me ‘of course not if it were it would have stricken in the night’.
Yet that perfectly reasonable explanation doesn’t calm me down.
I look around myself the large wardrobe across my bed seeming particularly suspicious.
I walk towards it, imagining someone inside. It would fit so neatly, so perfectly.
I need to open it, need to be sure but now my hands are shaking at the thought.
I try to laugh away my silliness but it doesn’t help.
I start humming but the moment I do the notes get caught in my throat thinking back to last time.
If my wardrobe started humming I would expire I just know I would.
“Oh, silly girl just open up the door you’ve done so dozens of times before.” I scold myself but even that doesn’t do the trick in calming my nerves. On the contrary, now I feel guilty for feeling scared.
I grunt, then in a moment of stubbornness, I walk to my vanity table, open up the lower drawer, pull out a scarf and tie it around the doorknob.
I then space myself as far as I can from the door and pull.
The door flings open in the most mundane of fashions and to my relief the inside is filled with all manner of undergarments dresses and coats, but no creatures or shadows that wish to haunt me.
So it’s not here anymore.
But I still have to do something about the window.
It can’t stay unlocked like that if the thing did that so it could grant access whenever there’s no telling when it’ll strike.
I look at the scarf in my hands, untie it from the doorknob and head over to the window. Here I look at places I can tie-up. It’s a sliding sash window so tying doors together isn’t an option. There is a single handle at the bottom though if I can tie it to something it should be okay. I pull the fabric as far as it will go and find I can just about reach the leg of my bed.
I tie it down.
Test if I can open the window.
Find it’s quite stuck.
A small bloom of pride popping up inside me.
With a smile, I head on downstairs.