Welcome to October
A Fortune Foul
Leila Mortimer and her sisters were three, but she was the only one up before the sun. This was why, when the phone just rang and rang and rang, she went to make it stop. She bounced down the staircase, glad to be rid of the rain, glad to feel her breath catch in her chest as she ran. But just as she bounded off the bottom step with a skip, the ringing had stopped. Someone else had taken the call.
Leila hated to eavesdrop, but she loved listening in. Mrs. D, she supposed, was glad it’d stopped raining, too. She had to have been to be taking calls because Leila couldn’t quite remember the last time Mrs. D, herself, had actually done so.
“Hello?” Mrs. D said into the mouthpiece. Leila tiptoed up behind her. The voice on the opposite end muttered something muffled. “Yes, Reverend,” Mrs. D was saying, “this is she.”
Leila moved in tandem with her guardians own twists and turns. Apparently it’d been a long time. Apparently Mrs. D was feeling better, but not good.
“Reverend, I’d like to speak with you in person, if you think you’ll have time.”
Not for a house call, Leila gathered, but apparently his next sermon didn’t start for another hour. If you could come down, Leila caught, but the rest was a mess most mumbled. She hoped she’d got the gist.
And perhaps she had. Mrs. D turned to the door. For a long moment, Mrs. D hesitated to respond. But eventually, even long moments pass.
Mrs. D finally sighed.
“Alright,” she told the Reverend Angel. “I’ll be there, quick as a quokka... It’s a marsupial... Yes, I know, but despite the name, it’s quite cute... Yes, yes. Goodbye.”
Leila was excited. Mrs. D was daring to go outside! Perhaps the rain had helped to unstick the part of her that was stuck. Perhaps music really was medicine after all. Perhaps it was just the sun shining. Perhaps it was all of the above.
Leila didn’t know what had made the difference or why today of all days should be different than the one before. But she was proud of her guardian for taking a step most steadying. She wanted to be there for her. She jumped out from behind Mrs. D’s backside.
Mrs. D yelped as Leila beamed.
“Can I come?” Leila asked.
It’d been a while, Leila knew, since the Mortimers or Downs had been to church. This was partially because the Reverend Angel often came to them. But if Leila was being honest, it was partially because going to church was a Clara-and-Constance Thing. And partially because Clara was no longer around to remind them they hadn’t been.
You see, Clara never really knew their mother. She was only a year old when their parents died disconcertingly. But Leila remembered their parents taking them all to hear the sermon every Sunday. It all seemed so long ago. Mrs. D would sit with their family while Dr. D stayed Home to work. And Mrs. D had told Clara so when she was old enough to ask about where Mrs. D had been going every Sunday morning.
From that day on, Clara wanted to go to church every Sunday morning, too. She would be up before Mrs. D some days. She would force her sisters out of bed if they’d missed too many Sundays in a row. Even Dr. D whose job was jarring and tiring, both— even he was not exempt from making an appearance at least once a month.
But every Sunday from that one day on, Clara and Mrs. D walk the High Street to October’s only church. They went diligently like a proper family. Constance and her little girl.
Leila felt strange walking beside Mrs. D in Clara’s place now, up the High Street side-by-side like a proper Mom and daughter would. She couldn’t tell what Mrs. D was thinking. If they were having the same thoughts as they tried not to look directly at all of the townspeople looking directly at them. She couldn’t tell if like her, Mrs. D was just focusing on breathing. On the fact that she was breathing. Grateful that the sun, like them, was alive.
She couldn’t really tell if Mrs. D was happy Leila’d joined her, or sad that her youngest could not. She might not have been thinking anything at all. So Leila tried to stop thinking. She tried to stop glancing at Mrs. D or her shadow, since neither glanced at Leila or hers once. She tried to stop feeling strangely as they silently stalked. Leila tried desperately not to ruin Mrs. D’s concentration cool. She tried desperately to just walk.
Chapel on the Hill wasn’t a chapel— but it was on a hill. October was the place perfect for architectural oddities. Like a High Street with lots of sudden lows. Or a castle converted into an orphanage, school, and church. You see, Chapel on the Hill (with its many stories, halls, and windows) was a haven. For most of October’s lost.
Perhaps this was why Leila wasn’t always eager to visit the Reverend here. When her parents had died, she’d almost become a lost thing, herself. Clara probably couldn’t see the resemblance she and her sisters shared with the children who sat in the first three rows and sang sweetly in the choir. But Leila always knew she might’ve been one of them. Could always be one of them. Still was one of them. Just with a different Home.
Leila followed Mrs. D through the halls and up several flights of stairs until, at last, they’d reached the Reverend’s study: a room right under October’s biggest clock. Leila swore she could hear the gears grinding and the clock clicking while they waited outside of his never-completely closed door. They waited outside because someone was in there. Two someones. And one of them was talking to the Reverend in a very serious tone.
“There must be some way we can reach an agreement.” His voice was calm and quiet, but Leila didn’t like it. He must have been a lawyer. “My client insists on returning to his family home.”
The Reverend Angel sighed and babbled as he always did when feeling overwhelmed. “W-well yes, I understand his position, b-b-but as I’ve said b-before, that house’s been condemned.”
Leila’s ears perked up, prickly; Mrs. D also sat up, straight. They looked at one another as if sharing a thought. The only condemned house they knew of stood across the street from their Home.
“It couldn’t be,” mused Mrs. D quietly.
“The Graves’ died definitely,” Leila assured her. “Long ago.”
“Yes, right after the passing piteous of their son.”
“It can’t be,” Leila decide.
Mrs. D tilted her head. “Could it?”
The man mysterious seemed to have stood. Leila held her breath, and Mrs. D held Leila’s hand. It can’t be, Leila assured herself. There are no such things as ghosts. Mr. Graves is still asleep. Like my parents. Still asleep.
“I’m sure we can work something out,” he said. “My client has come into his inheritance which as you know is a sum substantial so...”
“S-so unless he’d rather n-n-not be around to u-use it,” the Reverend Angel replied, “I suggest you make other a-arrangements. G-good day.”
The Reverend himself opened the door. “Ah, Constance!” he said in a much better mood. Leila looked at the man coming out after him, worried about the last time she’d seen someone passing through and out of October.
“This is Mr. Mind,” Leila heard the Reverend saying. But her eyes were on the second person leaving the room.
There were no such things as ghosts, but in October, there were hardly any strangers, either. And the boy before her did look frighteningly familiar.
“And this,” the Reverend told them, “is Ichabod Graves. They were just leaving. Will our Leila be joining us for a morning cup of tea?”
Leila Mortimer did not join them for tea.
She ran.
She ran so far and so fast that Mrs. D couldn’t catch her. She ran down the steps steep and across the grounds green and she didn’t dare to stop.
Didn’t care if she couldn’t breathe.
The Mortimer Sisters were never supposed to know. The name was never released. It had all been covered up. But Leila was the oldest. As the oldest, she thought a lot. And Mr. Graves who lived Elsewhere, who only visited his parents in October but couldn’t be bothered to stay there, himself, who had died in an accident automotive on the same day as her parents...
Leila always knew that he had been the one.
Leila couldn’t stop running. She tried and tried and tried. But once she was down the hill and on the road and in a set direction, she let the wind bite at her and let her feet carry her forward. She found herself at another haven. For the rest of October’s lost.
The cemetery never scared Leila. She liked going there on her own. Perhaps this was because she knew she’d have company whether she brought someone or not. There were no such thing as ghosts, and Leila had told her sisters certainly so. But there were such things as bodies. Bodies, perhaps, were Not-people, but they were always there when you needed someone the most.
Leila fell in front of her parents. She wanted to tell them everything about today. How she woke up happy and how, now, she was not, and how confused she kept feeling and how she hated herself for having another stupid cry.
But Clara slept beside them, and Leila didn’t want any of her sisters to worry or to know. For years, Leila kept what she knew in her heart. Couldn’t she hold it all in for just a while more?
Leila forced herself to smile through her sobs most sloppy and strained. “It’s just that I can’t breathe, Clara,” she said with a laugh. “But I’ll be fine. Watch!”
Leila sat up, straight, hushing herself all the while. Then she saw, in the distance, a figure out there watching her. A boy.
“See?” she asked her sister, clenching her fists in the dirt. She stared down the shadow, trying to control her breathing by focusing on him. By thinking something else.
“All better,” Leila told herself. She exhaled, she blinked. Her wish came true.
The boy was gone.
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