March 27, 2009

Part 4

“Welcome, m’lady,” A voice says. I look up to see a young man about my age, tall and handsome, with deep sea green eyes fringed with dark lashes boring into mine. It is now that I scream. He drops in front of me, his green eyes swimming before mine in worry. He claps a hand firmly over my mouth, and glances furtively around. “Sh!” He exclaims; I realize the worry in his eyes is not for my well-being. “We cannot be found out.”

I’ve stopped screaming, and look up at him with pleading eyes. He slowly removes his hand from my lips, making sure I won’t break out into hysterics. “Who are you? Where am I?” I realize how close he is -almost on top of me -and scramble backwards in the dirt.

He straightens up, “You are the Key-bearer, yes?”
I glance down at the key I still have clutched in my hand, and nod uncertainly, not quite sure what a Key-bearer is.

“Welcome to the Land Between.” He says with a half bow that I find rather disconcerting. “I am Aidan. It is not safe to speak here,” he says, glancing warily around again, then back down at me.
I stare up at him, still confused. This is a dream; I hit my head on a rock and now I’m dreaming! He shifts lightly from foot to foot, getting agitated. “Wha...I..” I stutter, my tongue swollen with surprise. I concentrate hard and manage to gasp “What?”

He drops down to my level, his long hair falling into his green eyes. “Come! We can’t stay here!” I narrow my eyes and put on what I hope is a fearless look tinged with defiance. I probably just look like a healthy mix of scared and ill.
“I won’t go until I’ve had an explanation!” I announce, while trying to pull my skirt down to a more modest level.
“Are you sure?” he asks probingly. “Positive,” I say, a little less sure now.

“Then you’ll have to forgive me for this, m’lady; you’ve left me with no other choice. Without so much as a by-your-leave, he’s picked me up and slung me a little ungracefully across his shoulders, proceeding to walk as hurriedly forward as he can, burdened with my weight.
“Why! Of all the…you fiend! Put me down!” I kick and scream. My exclamations fall on deaf ears. “I’m afraid I can’t.” He says matter-of-factly, “we need to get to the cou…there, and I have to carry you. That is, unless you decide to walk and be compliant.” He adds with a shrug, jostling me even more. I can feel a bruises starting in several places. “You impudent little…” I grumble, “If I promise to behave will you put me down?” He nods jovially, as if the whole thing is a joke. He’s probably enjoying my pain, the wretch. “Alright, then, I’ll behave. Promise.”

He obligingly lifts me down and sets me upright on my feet. “Better?” He asks that teasing note still in his voice.

“As ‘better’ as I can be, seeing I still haven’t a clue as to where I am, what I’m doing, and what is happening!” I huff. Aidan kicks the ground in embarrassment.

“It’s not my place to say. If you come with me and swear to be good, I promise everything will be explained in time.”

I contemplate my choices: I can either go willingly with him into the strange wood, in a strange land that by all rational points probably shouldn’t exist, and maybe have everything explained to me (eventually), saving what is left of my dignity, or I can be slung uncomfortably and unceremoniously over his shoulder, and be dragged into the entire thing without saving an ounce of decorum. Right. I nod my head, and he smiles.

“Good! Follow me, then!” He strides confidently off, and I’m left with no choice but to follow at an ungainly trot.

It’s not too long before I’m out of breath, making speaking possible only in short gasps, and he doesn’t slow down. Not that I would speak to him anyway. Instead, I amuse myself by thinking of insults for him. I’ve decided he is an arrogant, supercilious man- no, boy!- who doesn’t deserve the attentions or time of me, a lady of rank and importance.

I’m so engrossed in my silent name calling that I don’t realize Aidan has stopped until I’ve walked right into him, banging my head rather hard on his strong back. “Ow!” I exclaim, rubbing ruefully at my forehead. I look up to see why we’ve stopped, and find myself staring at the largest felled tree I’ve ever seen. “Oh.” I say, when I realize that it’s right in our path. I look right then left for some way around, but all I can see is tree stretching out both ways. “What now?” I turn to Aidan, but he’s already scaling the tree. I hate to admit it, but he is quite graceful and quick.
He reaches the top and smirks down at me, “Coming?” He gestures to the side of the tree. I look from the tree to my skirt and volumes of petticoats. I hadn’t exactly left the house in large-fallen-tree-climbing gear. “Ah, yes, one minute if you please.” I manage to get a grip on the bark, and holding my skirt in my left hand, grapple with my feet. I get about a foot up before I fall off, landing hard on my bottom. I struggle upward, and glance up at Aidan, who looks quite like he’s holding back peals of laughter. “I’ll show you!” I mutter to him under my breath. I attack the tree again, this time completely ignoring my skirt, and focusing completely on getting to the top with as much dignity.
I’m actually getting somewhere! About four feet from the ground, I start to lose my grip and fall. A strong arm shoots out and grabs my hand, catching me before I fall. Aidan helps me scramble up the tree. “Are all young ladies where you are from this helpless?” He asks, genuinely curious.
I blush in chagrin. “We are not helpless.” Is all I can manage. I survey my dress as a distraction; it’s quite the worse for wear. What was already too short in the hem is now torn and muddied beyond repair.
“Shall we?” He stands up, and walks partway down the length of the tree. I follow him in a bit of surprise. Even though the tree is certainly wide enough to walk comfortably on, I’m the impaired damsel again because of my stupid heeled boots. I stumble and make my way shakily after Aidan, who is just laughing and shaking his head as he strolls down the tree, his leather shoes making no sound. We walk like this for a while, him the calm, cool, cloud of perfect balance and manners, and me, stumbling and ox-like, while muttering a thick stream of nonsense and curses under my breath, behind him. We eventually leave the tree, and make our way through more forest, the greens and browns weaving themselves into a pattern of dappled sunlight and trees. After a while, the silence is just too much. “So,” I begin affably, “This is the Land Between?”

Aidan nods, “That is what we call it,” he says. “And who is ‘we’?” I inquire. “Those who live…and come…here.”

This brings me up a bit, “Are there more people who come here like I am?” I ask, excited; maybe I’m not alone in this!

He shakes his head, “Not like you. But there are some who can come and go. Only a few, though. They aren’t common, and not everyone likes them. They’re afraid of difference.” He spits out the last sentence, making is savor strongly of bitterness. “And…these different ones…do they come and go often?” I probe.
A pained look flits across his face for one moment, but is quickly replaced by a hard look. “It depends.” “On what?” I push.
“I couldn’t say,” he says “I shouldn’t speak of such things yet.” He lapses into silence, and I’m smart enough to take a hint.

Not too long after, we come upon a giant Oak tree, this one still standing. Aidan glances around furtively, and knocks once on it. A door in the side open suddenly, to reveal a few stairs that spiral around and down into darkness. Aidan takes a lighted torch from a sconce on the wall, and half –bows, going down the first few stairs and turning around to look expectantly at me. I take a deep breath and step through the door which closes behind me, cutting off all light, and enclosing us in impenetrable darkness, lit only by Aidan’s single torch which is already bobbing further down the stairs, leaving the darkness to swallow the trail. I breathe deeply and start down the stairs and into the unknown.

March 20, 2009

Part 3

Chapter 2
I fall to my knees in front of her, trying to drag her out of the shock she has fallen into; “Miss March, what is wrong? Tell me! What has happened?” I take her face between my hands and stare into her flat brown eyes, now vivid with fright. Her eyes stay focused on the key, her lips move, but no sound escapes. “Miss March! You must tell me!”

“It…it…it comes!” She gurgles, “Run! It speaks!” She breaks out into a strange tongue, her eyes fixated on the key as if they cannot be removed. I look at the key, and realize that it is the source of her consternation. I try to wrestle it out of her grasp, but her hands stay locked onto it. “Miss March, you must give me the key!” I whisper hoarsely, my mothers hurried and panicked steps coming closer, “Please! It is hurting you!” Her eyes drag to me, and I drop to the floor in shock. They are turning black.

“Miss March! Evangeline, what has happened?!” My mother is almost upon us. I redouble my efforts on the key, panic seeping through my bones like ice. With one sudden wrench, I free it from her hands, and hastily pocket it.

Miss March keels over and writhes on the floor, screaming; “They come! They come!” and breaks out into the strange tongue again; a gargling, guttural, yet strangely flowing speech. Mother breaks into the room and sees her on the floor, and looks at me, the shock and fear in her eyes mirroring my own.

“Eva, fetch Charles, now!” She whispers, kneeling next to me, her hands fluttering uselessly over Miss March’s body, trying to help, yet not knowing how. I force my leaden limbs to rise, move, and suddenly I’m running. I find my voice.

“Charles!” I shout for our man servant “Charles, come now!” The burly man that is Charles rushes in and follows my eyes up the stairs. With an agility that belies his heavy set, he is up the stairs in a trice, me following behind as quickly as I can.

I stand uselessly against the wall as I watch Mother instruct Charles. Miss March has stopped speaking plain English and has moved straight onto the flowy, gargling language she was slipping into before. Her now black eyes, wide and frightening that would give me nightmares for nights to come, lock onto mine, and she strangles out “You are…the…” she gurgles, foaming, before she can finish her sentence; I find myself anxious to know what she was saying. Her eyes roll up into her head, and mother trots anxiously besides Charles as he carries her, convulsing and writhing, out. I follow them out, and stop, leaning against the wall in the gloomy hall way. What has happened? I muse. I feel the heaviness of the key in my pocket, but I am suddenly scared to take it out, the image of Miss March’s frightened eyes turning black, writhing on the floor. There is little I understand here, but there is one thing I know. It was the key. The words she spoke are still ringing in my ears; They come! Run!

Downstairs, Mother stands at the window, her shawl wrapped around her slender shoulders, staring out at the horizon; the shades of blue getting darker and darker the higher into the sky you looked, until, finally, there shine a handful of dimly twinkling stars at the very center of the sky. “Evangeline,” She says, as if there is comfort in my name, “Evangeline, you are not to speak of this. It is blight to our name.” She turns her eyes to mine, and I see a barely concealed fear clouding her eyes.

“Yes mother.” I turn and head back upstairs, walking slowly, until I finally reach my room. In a daze I slip out of my dress, pulling my hair down, and stand in the center of my room, in nothing but my chemise and corset, shivering lightly. I sit down at my window, the strange key in my hand, and stare out at the forest, my breath fogging up the class where my hot breath hits it. The relief that I no longer am being watched like a child barley registers, before a fear of the mysterious key takes root. How would something happen like that? I contemplate the possibilities, and come up with only a few, each one less logical than the last. She could always have been approaching madness, I contemplate, or maybe I’ve just grieved her to a point of breaking. After two days? I must be worse than I thought! She might have been trying for a way to escape the house…. But I think of the woman writhing on the floor and speaking in a tongue unknown and write that off; not even a world famous actress could put on such a horribly persuading show as that.

The options continue to circle; everything to a bout of painful wind (I snigger at this) to appendicitis circle in my head. I look at the key, so innocent looking in my large, boyish, hands. She had looked at it with such fear, yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away. I suddenly know it has something to do with the key. As I crawl into my bed, the sheets even colder than the seat by the window, I think of two more possibilities; either the key is dangerous and to be avoided, or it is trying to tell me something. Either way, I have greatly underestimated its power and significance.

The next morning, bright and early, I join both of my parents. My mother is primly drinking her tea, and my father is eating his toast. He puts down his morning paper when I enter the room, and smiles at me, wrinkles forming around his merry blue eyes. I take my seat and fold my hands on the table, sensing that they have something to tell me. Mother clears her throat, placing her teacup on the table and angling her body towards me.

“Dear,” she starts, “after her display yesterday, Miss March will no longer be working for us. As…shocking…as it is for you not to have a chaperone, I am afraid we will have to wait until I can employ someone more suitable. Until this time, you must be careful, dear.” I glance at father, whose eyes are stern, nodding slowly. I try act demure at the news, although the relief that spreads through me makes me want to giggle in delight. Freedom. Finally I can be at ease! “Might I ask what has happened to Miss March?” I ask politely, my hands shaking slightly as I pour myself some tea.

“The doctor decided that she needed to be moved to an asylum immediately,” Father says pointedly, “she was set upon by madness, and there is nothing we can do.” I nod sullenly, but I feel far from sorry. My joy is cruel, I know, but I am too happy to feel sorry.

“It is going to be a lovely day, I think,” Mother says, turning the conversation to a more pleasant topic as every well-bred woman should. “I think it would be a lovely day for a walk.” She says. “Yes it is.” I remark absentmindedly, wondering what I can get away with today. I think of the forest- wild, quiet, and most importantly; abandoned of all people. I suddenly know what I want to do with my time. I sniff quietly, as distressed a look as I can manage on my face.

“Why, Eva, what ever is the matter?” my mother asks concerned. Make this good, Eva, girl, I think to myself. “I’m sorry, mother; it’s just that it is all so vexing! I hardly know what to think.” I manage to produce a tear, and wipe it away.

Mother looks genuinely concerned, and I find I almost believe it myself. “No, dear, it wasn’t your fault! Miss March was unstable- it has nothing to do with you.” She’s fallen directly into the trap.

I nod sullenly, trying my hardest not to burst out into a smile at my own dramatics. “I know, but I still feel horribly for what has happened.”

Mother’s eyes narrow in contemplation, “maybe if you were to take a walk this morning, you would feel better; the garden is exquisite.” She supplies helpfully. It is all I can do not to grin in triumph. Instead, I nod my head.

“That does sound agreeable.” I smile a little. Satisfied that she has made me feel better, Mother turns back to her tea, and father to his paper.

“There, there, poppet,” he says absentmindedly, already reabsorbed in the daily news. The day is lovely, just as mother had predicted, but with enough of a chill that I must wear my cape. I walk through the garden, my hands trailing over the rosebuds, and I lean down to smell one, its fragrance heavy and beautiful, like the velvet of my cape, clouds my mind with images of childhood- my mother’s dresses of crisp cotton, her rose water perfume, my father holding me close, smelling like cigars, then kissing my mother lightly on the cheek, her blushing in reply- all such happy images, I want to cry. I miss the simpler days of my childhood. I walk on, my blue cape swirling comfortingly around me.

At the edge of our garden, I look out onto the forest, weighing the disadvantages. My mother is no where to be seen, and I need someplace quiet- away from it all- to think. I take a few steps into the forest, the key heavy in my pocket, and stop, suddenly not sure if this is a good idea. I see a doe, the flat brown of her coat standing out against the green and dark brown of the forest. My foot, landing on a twig, brings her head up suddenly, and she leaps away, the white of her tail flashing like a beacon. I suddenly don’t care about the consequences; I want to run, and I don’t want to think about it.

Without a second thought, I’m running, the corset I wear making my breathing labored, but I keep chasing it anyway. The freedom I feel is intoxicating, and brings back a memory not quite clear, maybe of a dream. I run faster and faster, the tail of the doe always a taunting temptation just yards ahead of me. And suddenly, I don’t care about the deer; I just want to bathe in this freedom- the glory of the run, not the chase, takes over, and I am carefree. Miss March can rot for all I care, I think, The whole world can rot. I’m feeling particularly uncharitable at this moment; my freedom is not making me into the most pleasant of girls. Suddenly, I trip and stumble into a clearing.

It’s a perfect circle, the light pouring in from the gap in the trees. As suddenly as I stop, my misgivings catch up with me. A young woman left alone in the forest; shocking! Anything could happen! Who ever said that there weren’t people in the forest? There could be gypsies for all anyone knows. Gypsy men. I shudder at the thought, and refuse to think about it. Although I have lost track completely of how long I’ve been running.

I tilt my head up to the sky and drink in the sun, my chest heaving with shortness of breath. Blasted corset, I think. I take the key out of my pocket and examine it in the shade of my cloak; as if staring at it is going to unravel its mysteries. I hold it out in the sunlight to get a better look, turning it this way and that, the sunlight glinting dully off it. I lay it in my palm, and stare at it for a few seconds. Suddenly it’s hot, as if it’s on fire, burning my palm. “Ow!” I screech, my hand too paralyzed with pain to remove it. It hurts! I can smell the singing of my own flesh as I drop to my knees, tears squeezing out as the key falls to the ground.

I’m bent over double on the ground, trying to stop the burning in my hand. I cry out, but I know there is no one to hear me. I place my mouth to my hand, trying to stop the blistering burn on my palm, the pain making me feel faint. As suddenly as it started, it is gone, with nothing but a light throbbing. I stop crying and sit up a little, staring at my hand. There, in the center of my palm, is a perfect imprint of the key, light pink and slightly raised, like a scar. There aren’t any blisters or any smell, just the replica of the key on my hand. I’m suddenly burning with curiosity and confusion. I look at the key, lying on the cool, hard ground. Don’t touch it! My mind screams, but I slowly graze my fingers across it anyway, expecting it to be hot. I’m surprised to find that it’s a cool as it ever was. I pick it up hesitantly, and then lay it against my new scar, matching them up perfectly.

I’m not expecting what happens next. The key starts tingling, then pulsing light. I stare at it in shock, scrambling to my feet. My head starts pulsing and I glance around wildly in fear. What’s happening?! Panic blooms in me, starting in my stomach and working its way up. The four closest trees, standing in a perfect square across from each other, suddenly light up around the base, a golden light filtering up through the veins, and then drawing circles in the middle. The light seeps from the base in lines, connecting into a circle around me; and then it’s dark, the only things visible are the four trees and the bright, blinding light. I open my mouth, try to scream, but nothing comes out. I turn around wildly in a circle, trying to break the spell or whatever it is that is happening. The light from one of the trees suddenly goes up into a flame, spreading along the line, then up the tree, and then it has disappeared completely into black darkness.

Unexpectedly, I’m falling, the wind rushing by me wildly and making me feel ill. No! What is this! What is happening! Quite suddenly, I stop, hitting my head squarely on the ground.

March 6, 2009

Part 2

Continued from part one, ends at the end of Chapter 1.
I’ve woken early, the fingers of the sun just beginning to reach out, penetrating the cracks in between the two velvet drapes that cover my window. I find I’m powerless to return to my blanket of dreams, so I get out of bed, leaving it a mess; if we have the maids, I reason, why not put them to use? It is a cruel logic. The slap of the cold water I splash across my face is enough to wake up the rest of me, and I stare at my reflection, contemplating what I see. A long, rather flat, nose speaks nothing of aristocracy, though my family is rather rich, and my long full lips turned down with concentration, and my eyes atop high curved cheekbones. Disappointed with what I see, I gargle with rose water, hoping to rid my mouth of the taste; somewhere between last night’s soup, and garlic. I stare at my wardrobe full of dresses, and grimace. They are all a little too short. I wrap myself in my dressing gown, and leave my room, my family still asleep in their beds. The long hall that is the upstairs stretches out before me, and I tread it carefully, wary of squeaking or loose floorboards. The thought of me falling through the floor, and landing in Miss March’s bed below is rather funny and I am trying not to giggle. So sorry, it appears that we may want to fix the upstairs floor; good day! The look on her face would be quite comical!
I run my hands along the walls, feeling the grooves and lines flowing beneath my fingers. Scratch, line, bump. Scratch, line, line. Line, bump scratch. Line, line, crumble. I look to my hands, where a piece of the plaster has fallen away. I am in a sort of alcove, before the stairs to the attics. I peer into the small hole I have made, and see not beams underneath, but a gap, and then something brown and rounded- polished wood. My heart picks up pace, excitement starting in the pit of my stomach and working its way upward to my heart, now my throat, as I peel away more plastic, hungry to know the secret of what is beneath. With a light cracking noise, a large sheet of plaster pulls away, sending a shower of dust with it. I cough and rub my eyes, temporarily blinded. When the dust settles and I can look up again, I stare.
It is a door.
Made from a dark wood, polished and beautiful, despite the layer of dust, it is decorated with intricate carvings; a staff, a book, and a key. I run my hand over them, puzzling what they mean for a moment before grasping the handle. I pause, unsure for a moment. Think, Eve. Don’t do anything unwise. There is probably a reason it has been closed off. You don’t know what is behind it! It could be anything! I stand for a second more, weighing my tentative fear against my raging curiosity. The latter end wins. I slowly turn the handle, my nerves steeled for anything.
I poke my head in to see an empty, dusty, attic like room, so small it could be called a closet. I walk in, making no noise, to stand in the center of the room, slightly disappointed at my unexciting find. I walk the perimeter of it, seeing nothing that captures my attention. It is a dark, musty room, with but one window to light it. I stand at this window, and admire the view it allows. It looks directly on the forest behind the cottage, the sea of green trees waving below like waves on the ocean.
I sigh and turn to walk back to the door, but something on the floor glistens dully at a bit of light that has reflected off of it, catching my eye. I bend over and pick it up. It is a silver key, nothing special about it, but the dust on it, like it has been there for years. I rub it on the wide sleeve of my robe, and hold it in the palm of my hand. It fogs with my warm breath, and then flashes lightly. I blink. Blasted dust is making everything look odd! I muse. I pocket it, and leave the room as it was before.
The house is coming to life around me. I can hear the servants on the stairs, and the cook in the kitchen, warming the scones for breakfast. I sigh, entering my room and slipping out of my dressing gown behind the screen, but not before I put the key on the dresser. I struggle with my corset for several minutes, before giving up. To my luck, a maid enters the room. “Would you be so kind?” I ask, turning my back to her, and gesturing widely at the laces of my corset. A blush creeps up the young maid’s face, but she complies readily, pulling until I cannot breathe, and I fear my ribs shall break. “
"Is there anything else, ma’m?” she asks, eyes averted.
“No, that shall be all, thank you,” I manage to wheeze. She nods and leaves, whilst I struggle into a dress of blue silk. At that exact moment, Miss March, the reaper herself, knocks and enters, without waiting for a reply. “Good morning!” I manage to breeze, hoping that she is friendlier this morning. My expectations are not met.
“Good morning,” she says without enthusiasm, as if to say, I would rather be locked in the stocks than be here. “Shall I do your hair?” she asks, not waiting for a response before she starts to fiercely pull my hair back hard. So hard that I almost forget about the pain from my corset. Almost. I steal quick glances at her while she is brushing and winding my hair. Her dark brown eyebrows knit together in concentration overtop of her flat brown eyes as she pulls at my unyielding hair. I glance at her brown hair, the same flat color as her eyes, pulled severely back into a bun, and my hopes for my hair aren’t very high.
“Do you like the house?” I ask by means of conversation. She nods. “I rather like the garden,” I remark. She nods again. I could probably say the Buckingham palace is made of smelly limburger cheese; I think the cottage would be rather nice like that, don’t you? And she would nod right a long; it’s actually quite maddening. It takes me a minute to realize she has stopped working. I glance in the mirror. My hair is pulled back into a twisted bun with a million pins scratching my tender scalp, but overall it is quite becoming. “Thank you,” I manage to stutter, still surprised at the simplicity, yet hinted elegance, of it. Again, only a nod. I shall have to do something about this.
I follow her down the stairs and into the dining room, where father and mother are already seated. “Hello, Poppet,” father smiles at me, the pet name he has been using for me my whole life sounds strange after so long. The rest of the meal passes in the chattering of my parents, and the inevitable silence of Miss March. I am content to retreat into myself with my thoughts. They turn back to the mysterious room, and the key. I wonder why it was covered up? Did there use to be something to hide? If there was, why wasn’t it in there? I don’t think it has been opened since it was sealed. At least it didn’t look that way. The possibility that the key was the object to hide passes my thoughts for a brief moment, but then I dismiss it. It’s nothing but a harmless key. My thoughts move on uninterrupted to new possibilities, none of them seeming logical.

“Did you not hear me?” It’s my mother’s voice breaking through my stupor; I look at her in confusion, and she sighs. “I go to town today, and asked if you would accompany me?” she repeats. I look down at the table cloth and nod. Mother’s smile is like a sunbeam cutting through the clouds, and it makes it hard for me to say no. I open my mouth to speak, but it isn’t my voice that comes out; it’s Miss March’s. The sound of it startles me.
“Miss Dalton could use with new gowns; they are all short on the hem.” The shock of hearing the ever silent Miss March overcomes my impulse to glare at the comment. I do need new dresses. Maybe I can see Bella and Genevieve. This hope makes the prospect of visiting London even more attractive.

Several hours later, I am sitting at a café table with Genevieve and Bella. We were lucky enough to have been in the same dress shop.
“I honestly don’t see how you can be so upset. I hear Shropshire is lovely!” Bella says condescendingly. I cannot help but notice the patronizing tone in her voice.
“Yes, but you’ve never been there. No one has.” I’m whining again, I find, and try to cheer up. “Well, at least my chaperone is cheerful and obliging!” I add with a smile. Genevieve chokes on her tea and Bella splutters with hardly contained laughter.
“Cheerful and obliging?” Genevieve squeals, “I’ve seen dead people with more enthusiasm!” she exclaims, attracting the attention of some of others in the café. She immediately contains herself. “Yes, quite,” she adds.
Isabella pretends to stifle and yawn, “I hardly think she will be needed on your excursions here; we shall just have to get rid of her.”
Her words have me sitting up straighter. “Get rid of her? How do you plan to get past my mother, pray tell, with that?”
“Simple; she doesn’t need to know! That or we could just un-employ her…”
Genevieve looks from face to face, “Really, Bella, how do you plan to un-employ a chaperone who you’ve not even hired?” She seems dismissingly amused at the very thought, and I can see how silly and fruitless that would be.
“She’s right, you know, my mother would probably just acquire someone else. Heaven’s she could be worse than Miss March!” All our jaws hang open at the very thought. Bella, naturally, is the first to remember herself.
“Honestly, that cannot be possible!” She pats her hair in thought, mindlessly sighing. “I shall just have to pay you a call, someday, and we shall plan from there!” Genevieve’s face falls at the suggestion- it doesn’t include her. “Oh, honestly, Gen, you would come too! You don’t need to act like such a child!” Isabella sighs in frustration, then perks up again, standing, “As for when we” she emphasizes the word, “visit, it shall have to an opportune time for us to observe and find a way to bring down the offensive Miss March.”
Our long skirts rustle as Genevieve and I stand also, my mother and Miss March herself, loaded with parcels and boxes, having just stepped in. I embrace them both, and we all three step towards where my mother waits, standing by an overburdened Miss March. “Hello, girls,” Mother greets my friends cordially, the picture of womanly perfection. She turns to me, “we must be leaving now, dear; we’ve a train to catch.” I turn to my friends, wistful longing and anger turning on a spit inside me, and embrace them one last time.
“Soon.” Isabella whispers in my ear, eyeing Miss March.
The whole three hours back to Shropshire sees my mother chattering about gowns, teas, and other such tedious subjects to Miss March, who just nods and agrees silently with her. I sigh and look out the window. The slow drizzle coming down is like a grey wet blanket, stifling and sad, that mutes everything but the green, which now seems an even richer shade than ever. My mind wanders aimlessly, making shapes out of the fog that our train speeds past, and thinking about the up coming visit I can expect from my two friends.
“Eva, dear,” It’s my mother breaking my reverie. “What do you think of that blue taffeta we saw today? Would it not look splendid on you? What do you think, Miss March?” Of course, Miss March nods. Mother continues, “I think it would make a lovely ball gown. Would you like that, dear?” It’s not a gift; it’s a bribe- a bribe to get me to accept our new home. But I won’t take it.

“I hardly know, mother, since there isn’t a single occasion to wear it to.” I spit out. The hard look that flits across her face, somewhere between disappointment and anger, is only there briefly.
“I wouldn’t know, there might arise an occasion; the country is not void of assemblies,” through slightly clenched teeth.
I stare on, cool as I can manage to look, though I’m seething inside, “Yes, mother, assemblies- we might even get to dance in between chasing chickens! My voice has gone up slightly, and I try to calm myself.
Mother closes her eyes briefly, as if seeking patience from deep down. I wait to be reprimanded for my less than respectful reply, my impertinence, anything, but she just sighs, “Really, Eva, I’m in no state of health to deal with you right now.”
Of course not, Mother; we wouldn’t want you to appear as if you’re in good health! How silly of me! I want to bite back, but where would that get me? No where. So I lay my head against the cool glass of the window, and fight the tears that well up and threaten to pour down like the rain outside.

My room seems inviting after three hours on the train, and even the rain has slowed to a think, drizzly, fog. I look about for something, anything, to pull my mind from the state of boredom it’s currently in; my eyes rest on the key, and I’m pulled back to its mystery. I stare at it, possibilities swirling through my head once again.
What are you for? I stare at it harder, and my eyes begin to droop- the long trip and the argument with my mother weighing on me, until I finally fall asleep.
I’m dreaming; such things! It’s frightening and wonderful at the same time. I’m running through a forest, green and lush, with branches and the cool, packed earth beneath my bare feet. The freedom I feel is indescribable, I’m bathing in it, running for no other reason than to go as fast as I can. I stop in a clearing, look down, and see the key in my hand, glowing softly. Confused, I look up and see a girl, no, a woman, with a smile on her lips and her arms outstretched. Suddenly, the smile has disappeared, and she is staring in horror at something behind me. I turn slowly, and see what is causing her so much terror. A shadow behind me is looming higher and higher, convulsing and twisting. Moving. I hear a scream and realize that it is my own. Something is hurting me! I look down at my palm to see the key, black and hot, burning my hand, but I can’t let go! I turn back to the shadow, ten feet tall and about to consume me, when the woman is suddenly in front of me, the panic clear in her eyes. The shadow’s roaring drowns out all of her words but one; Go!
I’m awake, panting, the key in my hand. I can remember dreaming, but what about I don’t recall. Whatever it was has perspiration beading across my forehead. I place the key by my wash stand, and splash the cool, reviving water on my face, and breathe deeply. It was only a dream, Eva, that’s all; nothing to get scared about. With a silence that surprises me, Miss March is suddenly at my door.
“Yes?” I jump, startled; trust the ever silent one to scare me!
“You are needed downstairs for tea, miss.”
I nod cheerily, vowing that I will somehow make her smile. “I am sorry for any delay; I was a bit indisposed. You didn’t have too much fun without me?” Her calm, blank, gaze meets mine, but there is no Haha, Miss Dalton! Or, How funny of you! Just her watery, accusing, stare. I breeze past her, my former fears forgotten.
Downstairs, mother is gracefully pouring herself some tea from a dainty floral teapot, into a matching tiny teacup. I’ve never understood why we use such small cups for tea, when one can get even more from a nice heavy mug, but I keep this to myself. “Good afternoon, mother.” I’m trying to push past our latest argument on the train ride home.
“I do believe it is closer to evening, dear,” she says, taking a small sip from the miniscule cup. I glance at the timepiece and see she is correct- I have slept longer than I meant.
“Forgive me for sleeping so late- I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” I pour myself some tea and take a sip, lifting the saucer with the cup the way I have had drilled into my head a thousand times- the way a proper lady should.
“Sleep is good for your health,” Mother states dismissively, “I would not mind having a nap myself.” She pulls her shawl tighter around herself. She suddenly looks so small and frail, sitting there, as miniscule and thin as the teacup she sips from. I feel beastly for the way I treated her earlier, and want to tell her so. I glance at Miss March; a problem. I do not want to apologize in front of the chaperone. A plan forms in my head, and I act upon it.
“I am a bit chilled; Miss March, would you be so kind as to fetch my shawl?” I shiver a bit for added effect. The Glacier’s eyes narrow slightly, but I meet her gaze innocent as could be. Go with it! Go with it! I will in my mind. She nods and rises to get it. As soon as she is partway up the stairs, I turn back to my mother, and smile slightly. I take a deep breath, “Mother?” I ask.

“Yes?” she responds, looking up at me.
"I wanted to ask you…that is, I would…” I trail off, not sure how to put it. I suddenly don’t know how to apologize.
“Yes?” She prompts again.
“It’s just that…I…think the blue taffeta would make a lovely dr…”
A high pitched scream interrupts my poor excuse for an apology. We both look up at each other, a question mark in our eyes. The scream happens again, this time a high keening; it sounds panicked. Suddenly it hits me; Miss March! I leap up from my chair just as my mother rises, pull up my skirt, and dash upstairs as if the hounds of hell were chasing me. Something was terribly wrong with that scream. I make it to the top of the stairs, and dash into my room to find Miss March, white as a ghost with her eyes wide, her mouth a perfect O with no sound coming out. She’s staring at something in her hands.
It’s the key.