Welcome to October
CHAPTER
5
An Evening Endless
The Mortimer Sisters were thrown and three, and they looked at each other hardly daring to breathe. Mrs. Down had made it quite clear they weren’t to make a sound, and Mr. Mrs. Down seemed incapable of arguing against her— even though she wasn’t quite herself.
If Clara were here, Evie thought with a frown as she cleared the table, careful to keep the dishes from making even a clink. If Clara were here they all would have crossed their fingers behind their backs, said “Yes, Mrs. Down,” with smiles sweet, and been back to running and laughing the second those horrid fuzzy slippers set foot on the landing Upstairs.
Clara, however, wasn’t here, and the storm outside the Home was as unpredictable as the Mrs. Down inside it somewhere. Clara had loved rainy weather more than she loved their three-legged Stein. And that was quite a lot. Evie wondered what game Clara would have them playing instead of minding the dishes or sulking sadly about.
“We must do something,” Nyxie spoke. She was the only one still nursing her tea, and she was always off on one thing when you were off dealing with something else. But as usual, since she started saying it, Nyx seemed determined to be understood. She looked at her sisters and blinked. “We must do something about Mrs. Down.”
Mr. Mrs. Down was unreadable. Evie couldn’t tell if he was thinking it over or deeply offended or something entirely else.
“Just needs time,” he told them. But he said it again for himself. “She just needs a little time. That’s all.”
Evie started a tub as Nyx shook her head. Nyx did not believe this. “She doesn’t have time to need,” declared the now-youngest Mortimer. Evie could not believe the nerve of Nyx.
And Mr. Mrs. Down looked up at her finally shocked or amused or something entirely else. Nyx blinked and they all waited. She quietly sipped her tea. Then when the suds in the sink started spilling over and the rain poured down as impatient as Evie felt in her heart, Nyx decided to speak again.
“I’ve seen the X,” she said plainly. “The person Upstairs is not Mrs. Down. The real Mrs. Down is in her somewhere. That person is eating her up, but the real Mrs. Down...
“She needs us.”
Rain suited the Down Home, Constance always thought, but that was when it brought their family together. Not tore it apart. There was something about rain that she always knew was beautiful. Powerful. And on most days, that power was magic and good.
But on some days, that power was much and loud. Too much to understand. Too loud to block out. Those were the days one had to look out for. Those were the days where anything could happen, and occasionally in October, everything did.
Today the rain was much and loud. It was causing confusion. It was a force-field locking them in the Home most heartless while Clara, she thought, was outside in the ground grimy and cold.
You see, Constance wasn’t delusional. She wasn’t crazy or spending time chasing imagined ghosts. But that was part of the problem. She couldn’t see Clara anywhere, no matter how much she wanted to.
No matter how hard she looked.
When she closed her eyes, she saw Clara there, a silhouette in the darkness. But when she opened them wide, Clara was gone. Neither shadow, nor silhouette; neither silhouette nor ghost. She was definitely out there in the ground gross and cold while Constance was stuck safe inside— inside safe and warm.
Constance hated herself every morning and every night and every second in between when she caught glimpses of herself, but none of her little girl. She should have been there, should have caught her, should have saved her—
At the very least, she should have seen. She should have been paying attention. But she hadn’t been, had she?
And it was too late to catch Clara now.
The rain drenched the Down Home, determined to keep them in and Clara out. Constance rubbed her arms, deeply distressed she could feel there was no one in them. Constance was deeply distressed she could feel anything at all. How could she?
It was too late now.
No one had said anything for quite some time. Nyx, Evie thought, had a knack for ending things. Like conversations and fun.
But Evie loved her Nyxie Nyx even though she’d never say so first. So as the rain went on yammering, Evie said something else. She put her hand on top of her sister’s and lowered her voice so Mr. Mrs. Down wouldn’t hear. She asked a question:
“What do you propose?”
It was rare to see Nyx smile, and most times, her smiles were quite weird. But when all of Nyxie’s teeth came forth, some short and some tall, Evie looked over at Leila. For a second both were silent. Then the second got away from them.
And both fought to stifle their laughs.
They were going to get in trouble. Evie was almost sure. But she’d say the rain possessed them. That’s what Clara would do.
“Come on!” she hissed at her sisters. They were all for sneaking into the Attic. Except for the part where they had to come in, too.
Only Evie had made it past Mrs. Down’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar and the window must have been opened; the storm sounded louder than ever when Evie leapt over the door’s shadow to the other side. And after all that they’d done to make their way Upstairs and to this very point, Evie’s sisters silly had changed their silly minds.
“Oh go on!” returned Leila. Evie knew she hated the rain. But how could a girl who lived with the bodies in the Downstairs be so afraid of the bodiless Attic, too?
Unfortunately, there was no time for arguments. Nyx had been clear that time was of the essence. She’d already seen the X.
Whatever that meant.
And besides... “We’re right behind you,” promised Nyx.
“Fine,” Evie growled. And with a final look at the door of Mrs. Down, she went off down the hallway, took a left, picked the lock lousy of the Attic, and disappeared inside.
The Girls had been missing for some time. If it were any other day a month before now, Dr. Down wouldn’t have minded for at least another 8 hours or so.
But it wasn’t just any day. It was a rainy day. And they’d been scolded. For that, Wei Down felt horrible. He should have said something to assure them they’d done nothing really wrong. He should have said so, so they would know.
In the moment, though, he supposed, he wasn’t quite sure. Could they be hiding, perhaps, from Mrs. Down? He wondered if they’d been hurt. Could they be hiding, perhaps, from him?
It just wasn’t a normal sort of day. First the accident of Mr. Nu and Mr. Mann. Then the incident at the stoplight so scary. He thought it was nice that even still, after everything, they were all able to laugh, but he felt terrible, too. Seeing that Constance couldn’t.
Maybe it was too soon. Too soon to laugh. Too soon to joke over tea. Thunder rolled over the hillside suddenly. Was October agreeing? Or arguing adamantly against such weighted words?
Whatever the case, Wei knew if he was muddled, the Girls must be, too. They were children deep down somewhere. They were children who’d seen many horrors and gone through lots of hurt. He followed the sound of the rain all around the Home. He looked for them Downstairs; he looked for them above ground. Then finally he heard something strange. Something soft and sweet and sort of familiar.
He caught hold of the melody.
And he followed it Upstairs.
Evangeline Mortimer would never have called herself brave. But as she stood in the Attic ancient next to the record player responsible for the noise tuning out the rain and filling up the house, she had to consider herself something.
It was either brave or foolish.
The first footsteps came running. Leila and Nyx were all smiles, but like Evie’s, their eyes showed the slightest signs of fear. Evie decided to pretend she was brave.
Just this once.
“Do you think she’s heard it?” she asked her sisters sweating.
They nodded.
“Then there’s only one thing left to do.”
They nodded again and Evie decided to be very brave indeed. She dared to take the muffler out of the horn so the music could sound louder still.
Then the Mortimer Sisters danced.
When Wei Down reached the Upstairs, Constance was storming the hallway, furious.
“Constance?” Wei called over the music. But her course was set. “Oh, Girls,” he breathed hurrying along after her. “Constance!” he tried again. He took up a jog. “Constance, Darling, wait for me!”
Wei was fast but Constance was always one step faster. She broke through the door and rushed up the stairs to the Attic. Knowing it was too late to stop her from getting up there first, Wei Down tried something new.
“Constance!” he yelled as a last resort.
The strange thing was that she stopped. He nearly bumped into her on the landing, and shocked, more than anything, at the fact that it’d worked, he decided not to exactly push the point.
“Constance,” he said clearing his throat. He adjusted his glasses. Then he took them completely off.
“Constance,” he decided to start again. “If you’re upset with anyone, then please. Be upset with me. I.... Er-hum! Excuse me. Erm, I told the Girls to play the music most... yeah.”
She looked at him blankly. He flushed deep red.
“I thought it might... please you.”
She blinked. “You did?”
Wei was losing courage. “I—”
“I told you I wanted quiet.”
“Yes, but—”
“I told you it was too loud.”
“Now, Constance, please calm down...”
Constance turned to the Mortimers, who Wei noticed for the first time were dancing dizzily about. While he cocked his head and wondered what they could possibly be doing, Constance poked his stomach.
“Was this really his idea?” she asked the Sisters.
They looked at each other. Together, they said, “Yes.”
Wei gulped, knowing full well that he was in trouble. But it pleased him a little to know that the Girls, for now, were not. He closed his eyes, saying, “Let’s talk about this over dinner, my love.”
But Constance did the unthinkable.
She hugged him.
“No.” She sighed into his shirt. “Let’s dance.”
“Really?” asked Wei Down, blushing brightly.
“Really,” Constance had clearly said.
Wei shifted shyly from one foot to the other. He cleared his throat. “Are you sure?”
She was.
So it was just for a moment and a moment was quick to pass. But Wei Down knew every moment was precious. And for a moment, they danced.
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