Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Importance of a Strawberry Tart (Part 2 of 4)

...as she crested the floor of the attic and saw them gathered around their collection of dolls and toys, she knew she had been too conservative with her concerns.

The children had been doing more than simply playing with dead things.


Much, much more.

The girl, named inexplicably, Belle – inexplicable because she was in no way beautiful, and it’s doubtful she had ever been – spotted Georgia first. Her filthy hands clamped quickly over her mouth, as if she knew it was rude to giggle directly at Georgia, and out of politeness was doing her best to cover it up. Yet, Georgia knew that being rude was but one of many awful things the children found enjoyable. She speculated momentarily about what could have possibly made the girl’s hands so dirty but decided she would rather not to know.

From off to her left, Sebastian spoke, his voice calm and polite. “Hello, Georgia.”

Georgia jumped ever-so-slightly despite her best efforts to remain unruffled. Of the three children, it was quiet, serious Sebastian, who always kept his blazer and short pants meticulously clean, and who never, ever smiled, that made Georgia the most unsettled. So unsettled that she did not correct him, nor request that he please address her as “Miss Gaines”, despite her fervent desire to appear professional at all times.

Georgia turned to him with what she hoped was an agreeable expression. “Hello, Sebastian.”

Sebastian nodded at her, his face deceptively impassive. “Pleasant day, isn’t it?”

Georgia listened to the rain pelting the roof and wondered what it was about the day that Sebastian found pleasant. Best not to ask questions. “Yes, quite.”

From the corner of her eye, she could see Lionel’s shoulders shake with silent laughter. Oh how they loved to play with her nerves. Almost as much as they loved to play with dead things. Especially Lionel, who was the most troublesome. Large and boisterous, he stood nearly as tall as Georgia herself and seemed to take the most pleasure in wreaking havoc within the household.

Georgia surveyed her charges, taking great pains not to glance down at the monstrosity on the floor between them, the scent of which seemed to get stronger the longer she stood near it rather than dissipating over time as it usually did.

The children looked nothing alike. Thin, angular Belle, with her pale blonde hair and even paler skin. Messy Lionel, tall and brutish, with a shock of bright red hair and freckles to match. And Sebastian, his brown hair always neatly combed, his demeanor always courteous and yet she could sense a quiet menace underneath. He had a way of making soft-spoken and well-mannered exceptionally disconcerting. It made Georgia feel off-balance, like everything around the children was tilted precariously to one side. She had to maneuver around them carefully.

It was only when the children opened their mouths that one could see the family resemblance in their sharp, jagged teeth. An unfortunate family curse, was how the Master explained it, but Georgia had her doubts.

At times, late at night, when she lie awake listening to the peculiar sounds coming from the children’s wing, Georgia wasn’t even certain they were children at all.

A horrid keening arose from the floor and Georgia knew it was time to face the reason she had come. The thing she’d been steadfastly avoiding since she’d caught a glimpse of it as she entered the room. She straightened her shoulders and took a furtive deep breath to prepare herself for the sight of the children’s latest plaything. But when her eyes rested on the offending creature it was her knees that threatened to give out. She was immensely grateful that she had not eaten any of the strawberry tarts.

On the floor, far too close to the hem of her dress, sat a mud-covered raccoon. But it wasn’t the mud that distressed her so. No, a muddy floor could be cleaned easily enough. What Georgia found most upsetting was that while the animal was most certainly dead – as evidenced by the way one side of its head was squashed flat, and the walnut-sized hole in its chest – it was also very much alive.

“Oh,” she gasped. Just as the raccoon tilted it’s crushed face up at her and shrieked. It had only one milk-glazed eye.

Belle cooed affectionately and petted the matted fur on the creature’s back.

“Do you like him?” asked Sebastian. “We’ve decided to call him George, after you.”

Georgia could only nod her head yes, afraid that opening her mouth to speak might allow other things to spill out and betray her controlled fa├žade.

The raccoon scrambled forward and clutched at her skirt. Belle giggled. “He likes you, too.”

Georgia took a step back, tugging her skirt from the dead-but-alive thing’s grasp before she remembered herself and stilled. She smoothed her hair.

“There’s no need to be rude,” Belle said, picking up George and cuddling him to her like a baby. His mud-caked fur left streaks down her pinafore. Streaks, Georgia thought, that she would spend hours scrubbing out. Lionel began to laugh uproariously.

“Right. Sorry.” Georgia pursed her lips as she shifted her gaze away from the raccoon and attempted to maintain her composure.

Well. This put a considerable wrinkle in Georgia’s plan. Had the raccoon simply been dead, she could insist the children follow the rules and remove it from the house. But this was something else entirely. Georgia ran through the Master’s rules in her mind. The raccoon was dead, but also alive. Would the Master consider this a breach or not? He had never explicitly said not to reanimate dead things. Did reanimation fall into the category of play? If it did, then surely the children had broken the rule.

Georgia considered the Master’s fourth rule – the unspoken one. Do not upset the children.

If she took the hideous thing away and the children went to the Master and complained, and it was decided that the children had not in fact broken the rule, the Master might ask her to leave.

Heat flooded Georgia’s face and neck. Butterflies took wing in her stomach. She would not let these children be her undoing.

The children watched Georgia in eerie silence, their strange, dark eyes, amused. It felt as though they were scratching at the door to her mind, trying to break in.

Georgia turned her attention to the attic window, which stood open, letting the stench out into the fields and beyond. She refused to allow herself to think about what the children might have done to pour life inside a body that should not be able to hold it. There would be time for that later, after the chores were done and the Master had retired for the evening. First, she must work out what to do about George.

It was just as Georgia was coming to realize that the rain-filled silence was too quiet that she heard the scream. Eudora. A glance around the attic confirmed her suspicions. She was alone. The children had slipped out while she mused. It was unnatural the way they could move so quickly and noiselessly when they wanted to.

Eudora screamed again, and the sound was one full of terror. Georgia took the steps down from the attic two by two, careful not to trip on her skirts, and followed the scent of death to the southwest chamber. Even knowing the children as she did, she was unprepared for the sight that greeted her as she entered the room.

The Master would not be pleased.

*******
Up next: Part 3 by Lacey. Tune in on Tuesday to see how the story unfolds!


Photo by CrazedChefCook via Flickr Creative Commons

3 comments:

Jess (The Cozy Reader) said...

Great addition. :) I'm looking forward to Lacey's take!

L.J. Boldyrev said...

Thanks, Jess! I'm actually really nervous to post after these two.

Valerie Kemp said...

Thanks Jess! I can't wait to see Lacey's either!

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