Welcome to October
CHAPTER
2
A Biscuit Beastly
When the Mortimer Sisters were ferocious and four, Evie loved that baby Clara sort of ran the Downer House. After their parents’ passing premature, Evie figured her sisters were all she really had. But not Clara compassionate who loved the Downers so completely that it was hard to say with certainty whether she was a Mortimer or a Down.
Evie knew the Downs loved her because the Downs loved their parents practically to death. And Mrs. Down would tell her so every night with a kiss at 8:30. And when she used to have the nightmares, Mr. Mrs. Down would smooth her hair until she fell asleep.
And Evangeline Mortimer liked the Downers. She liked their house. She grew to like spending hours in the Downstairs fixing corpses compromised since that was her thing— no one else’s. But unlike Clara, Evie was a Mortimer most definitely. Unlike Clara, Evie couldn’t bring herself to call the Downers Mom and Dad.
Clara was different though. Half-Mortimer, Half-Down. Half-bitter, half-sweet. And she ran the Downer household because two halves made a whole.
Evangeline remembered the first time Clara created common ground between the sisters and the Downs. For it was Clara’s idea, you see, to help their guardians gracious with the bodies around town.
Mrs. Baker was a friend of Mrs. Down, so it was day most distressing when her biscuits accidentally killed Mr. Mode.
“Don’t rightly understand it,” she told the Detectives Abe and Bee. “He was eating. Then he weren’t. It were his birthday. Then it weren’t.”
Detective Abe found this intriguing. “It was his birthday?”
“Didn’t you know?”
Detective Bee shook his head sadly. “What a day to go.”
Detective Abe flipped through his notes. “You say the Mortimer girls saw the collapse clean?”
“The deed decisive?” broke in Bee.
Mrs. Baker pointed toward the kitchen keenly. “D’you want me to call em?”
They did. So she called them.
The Mortimer girls and their matron, Mrs. Down, appeared in aprons and chefs hats batter-beaten, flour-flogged. The eldest four of their flock glanced grimly at the dining table. The only man still seated there was gaping gravely with his head in his plate.
But the youngest Mortimer girl looked at the scene with a gaze engrossed and searching.
“He didn’t even try his cake. But I made it.” Clara walked the platter to the table. She lit the candles. She sang the song. Mrs. Down patted Mrs. Baker hand as she cried when Clara quietly blew the candles out. And Clara smiled satisfactorily. “There,” she said. “Now the rest of us can have some.”
It was morbid, maybe, but Evie Mortimer laughed. Leila smiled, despite her efforts elaborate, and this made Nyx snicker as it always would.
Girls!” scolded Mrs. Down taking pains not to join them.
“Sorry, Mom,” said Clara. “How about a trade? Service for cake.”
“Clara, what are you on about?” asked Lei.
“Come on, Sister,” Clara teased. “Give an arm up. Let’s help Mom get him to the Home.”
Since Mr. Mode had chocked unceremoniously on a biscuit baked with love and nuts, the Detectives called his a passing perchance, and they helped Leila Mortimer take her first body to the morgue. Evie remembered Clara cuddling up to her, giddily.
“And so it’s begun,” she decided most definitely. She hugged Evie around the shoulders. “You’ll love it. Who knows! Might be fun.”
Evie had, in fact, grown to like redecorating corpses. That was until Evie lost someone she loved. Evangeline had lost a mother, a father, a bird. Evie couldn’t quite comprehend why she had to lose Clara, too.
After Clara’s departure depressing, the nightmares had return. Evie didn’t fear death, not dying. So the nightmares took her sisters one by one.
They were getting so oppressive that they even took the Downers, too. Evie couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t sleep with the lights off just in case the darkness came for Jinxie, too. For a while, Evie actually dreamed in color, nice and bright. But darkness was black, the Mortimers brown, the Downs white. So the nightmares were always dull and neutral-colored. Evie thought she could trick them if she left on the lights.
But one night late (or early morning), she was awoken by Mr. Mrs. Down mid-cry. She’d been thrashing, and screaming, and kicking, and crying, and the light hadn’t stopped the dark from taking the ones she loved.
Since Clara’s collapse coincident, the nightmares kept Evie in darkness. Mrs. Down was hardly talking. And Mr. Mrs. Down was being a Mr. Mrs. Downer. But Mr. Mrs. Down was the only person who knew how to chase away darkness. So when he held onto Evie, held her close until the clang of her heart matched the thump of his own, she decided not to fight him. To hold onto a non-Mortimer. Just this once.
As Clara was Half-Down, she had a gift most ghastly. She could care about other people. Non-Clara people. And she could make anyone feel loved.
As Evie was All-Mortimer, she had a problem most perplexing. She wasn’t sure what being a Mortimer completely meant. She relied on her sisters. And that was mostly it.
And Evie always liked the Downers who were her parents now, but not exactly Mom and Dad. She knew they loved her so they were family. But Clara was the one who usually said that aloud.
But Evie was a black hole. The nightmares told her so. They knew she was scared and they told her she was alone and that only made her lonely. Not even Mortimer. Just a girl grey and glum. Evie Mortimer was tired of feeling in neutral. She thought of Clara. She wanted to see color. Be whole.
It was fortunate that Mr. Mrs. Down knew the cure to nightmares. It wasn’t light as light casts shadows, and the darkness could cling to hers.
Evie cried softly into the arms of Mr. Mrs. Downer, no longer lonely. Not alone. And she fell asleep and dreamed in blacks and whites and shades of blue. The cure for dark wasn’t light. It never had been.
It was love.
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