Part G, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Zoey wasn’t surprised to see Benton on hand to open the door for them. Nor was she surprised by his pithy “I see you found her” remark to Ferraro. The two were a matched pair when it came to pointed brevity.
She was surprised to see the cook, Mrs. Darby, hovering anxiously nearby.
“Lord have mercy, look at you!” the woman said. “You come with me to the kitchen, Ms. Prescott, and we’ll get you fixed up right and proper.” Mrs. Darby leveled a stern look at her employer, as if Zoey’s condition were somehow his fault, and herded her charge off toward the kitchen.
“Heavens, child, your hands are bleeding. And what a nasty sunburn on your face. You really must apply sunscreen if you plan to be outdoors for any length of time.”
Zoey doubted sunscreen was much of a defense against dragons, but she just nodded and examined her knuckles. The scrapes had indeed cracked open and oozed a bit, probably the result of crawling through the tunnels rather than the severity of the wounds. She was hardly bleeding to death.
“I’m sure it looks much worse than it is,” she said in an effort to reassure the cook, but Mrs. Darby wasn’t having it.
She hustled Zoey over to the large kitchen sink to wash and rummaged through an upper cabinet for a first aid kit. Zoey dried her hands and face and took the kit, promising to use it once she’d had a hot bath.
“I suppose I should join Mr. Ferraro for dinner,” Zoey said, bracing herself for an unpleasant meal.
“Oh my, no. It’s past ten o’clock. Mr. Ferraro dined hours ago. You just sit down at the table here and I’ll have something for you in a jiffy.”
Zoey concealed her surprise at the time and managed to stay awake long enough to eat two bowls of hearty chicken soup and a thick grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food, for which she thanked Mrs. Darby profusely. She had just finished making an awkward request for dessert to be left out on the back stoop — a request the woman agreed to as if it were customary — and was finishing off a glass of milk when Ferraro entered the kitchen.
“Ms. Prescott,” he said, then stopped and stared at her mouth just long enough for her to realize she must have a milk moustache. She wiped it away as he continued.
“I anticipate tomorrow will be a long day, catching up on correspondence,” he said.
Oh, crap. She had managed to forget all about her “job” here. She smiled, trying to project calm confidence. “There’s not all that much to catch up on, Anton.”
“In that case, Ms. Prescott, perhaps I’m overpaying you. I rise early and will expect you to join me in the study an hour past dawn.”
Mr. Tall Dark and Imperious left the room and Zoey gave a mock salute to his back, then snuck a glance at the cook, who was busily wiping down already clean counters. Was that a trace of a smile she saw curving the woman’s mouth?
“Mrs. Darby?” she asked, fighting a yawn. “What time, exactly, is dawn?” Zoey wasn’t a morning person and hadn’t seen a single sunrise since she’d arrived.
“Don’t you fret about it, dear. I’ll come knock on your door to wake you in plenty of time for breakfast. You go on to bed now.”
Upstairs, Zoey took one look in the mirror and concluded Mrs. Darby hadn’t over-reacted after all. What a disaster. She took a hot shower, fairly certain she’d fall asleep and drown if she soaked in the bathtub, and applied antiseptic cream to the worst of her injuries before getting ready for bed. She dropped her filthy torn clothes in a pile in her room, knowing they were ruined but too exhausted to sort it out tonight.
All she wanted was a good night’s sleep. Everything else could wait for tomorrow.
She’d set the white quartz on her nightstand and it emitted a soft rosy glow once she turned off the lamp. She wasn’t even surprised. A crystal capable of adjusting to circumstances was least remarkable thing she’d seen that day.
Seconds later, she was drifting off to sleep when she heard the sound of children giggling. She sat straight up in bed, looking around the room for the source. Nothing. She was alone in the room. She must be imagining things. She knew there were no children living on the estate. She’d asked, first thing when she arrived.
She’d settled back into the comfy warm bed when she heard it again, a bit louder this time. It was the type of giggling particular to children who thought they were being quiet but ended up making more noise than if they hadn’t tried.
Zoey stared up at the ceiling, so tired she was in favour of having them all summarily executed if she got her hands on them. She was working up the energy to go find a maid or, god forbid, even Benton to deal with it when she noticed that the ceiling was . . . moving.
She rubbed her eyes and looked again, but the pale swirling shapes were still there. Not the ceiling, exactly, but something up near the ceiling.
One suddenly swooped down and bounced off the end of her bed, just missing her feet, prompting a fresh round of poorly stifled laughter.
Ghosts, she thought dully, somehow unsurprised by this as well. She had ghosts in her bedroom. And not just any ghosts, the ghosts of mischievous children.
She was too tired to even begin to think how to deal with them. All she knew was that if she didn’t get some sleep she’d be suicidal, maybe even gleefully homicidal, by the time she met with Ferraro in the morning.
There were thudding sounds off in the distance and at first she thought she was imagining them. But they drew steadily closer, became ever louder. She felt the vibrations right through her mattress. She saw a bright flare of light outside her window, heard a magnificent roar of sound, and smiled as she watched the pale shapes converge and flee en masse through the gap under the door.
The old girl might not be light on her feet, but she certainly was efficient. Zoey’s lips moved in a silent but heartfelt “thank you.”
Her gaze swept the room to make sure they all were gone and paused on a deeply shadowed area over in a far corner. An irregular shape, it was small and dark and absolutely still. It almost seemed to exude malevolence.
Unable to keep her eyes open, Zoey dismissed it as a symptom of exhaustion. But as she drifted off to sleep, one last thought made a reprise: there are monsters in the dark.
G is for Ghosts