Despite my headache, I reported for duty at 7 AM as expected. Mrs. Cotts insisted I take a day for bed rest, but even though I had survived the night without dreaming of the marble wolfman, I had no desire to do anything that would increase the immediate likelihood of he and I coming into contact. There was something about this house that affected dreams in ways I did not understand. I know I have a tendancy tendency to act sharply and passionately at a moment’s notice, and so I have developed a counter tendency to educate myself in quieter moments. Given that there are mysterious events inside Kraken Moor, it seems inevitable that I shall eventually act hotly, and thus I need to be prepared for that occurrence.
Still, I have been hired to work and I do not intend to shirk my duties.
The three members of staff who stood in her office with me rolled their figurative eyes at Mrs. Cotts’ declaration that I rest for the day, and so I removed myself to the hallway. I returned to the office after my three fellow workers left, where I objected to being ordered to bed.
“I am fine to resume my duties, ma’am,” I insisted.
“Are you attempting to impress me again with your desire to work above and beyond the call of duty?” Mrs. Cotts asked sternly. “We had this problem on the first day of your employment here. I had thought the matter settled.”
“With all due respect, ma’am,” I said, treading carefully as Mrs. Cotts had been of great assistance to me this week, “it is not you that I am attempting to impress.”
The middle-aged woman leaned back in her chair. I was suddenly conscious of how small this room was – the bookshelf on my right, the largeness of Mrs. Cotts’ desk before me, and a large duty board to my left all seemed to press in on me. The wall was split in halves – the bottom contained a wood paneling of thin, parallel boards, while the upper half was painted a flat, plum color. The creaking of her wooden chair resounded with the cracking of thunder. “Miss Sharper, I am the only person here you need to impress.”
“But you said-”
“The act of arriving early or working while hurt is not impressive,” Mrs. Cotts said, leaning forward, “as it impacts your overall performance. If you arrive 15 minutes early, you will want to leave 15 minutes early. If you work while hurt, you will want to not work while healthy.”
“I am sorry, ma’am,” I said apologetically. “I just do not wish to find myself on the wrong side of the rest of the staff.”
“My dear,” Mrs. Cotts smiled (though I could not discern the meaning behind it), “you have been on the other side of the staff since you arrived.” I raised my back at that remark, and Mrs. Cotts moved quickly to explain. “You have four marks against you: you are new, you are American, you are young, and you are beautiful. There is nothing you can do to earn their respect except to do what you are told and to put the good of Kraken Moor above any personal concerns.”
“I do not understand.”
I could see that Mrs. Cotts believed she had taken one step too many, and so the brunette moved around her desk to stand directly before me. “We all owe a fealty to this house, Miss Sharper,” she said quietly. “There is none inside its walls who does not owe a debt to Kraken Moor. Like you, we all found shelter here from the raging storm that is Life. That begins with Captain Shepherd, who bought this estate a quarter century ago after earning his fortune in the Pacific, hunting whales and merchandise with equal aplomb. I do not know exactly what happened to him on the seas, nor would I tell you if the whole truth had been witnessed by my very eyes. It is said that he only found peace once this house gave him respite from the world. You will only find acceptance among the rest of the house when they are convinced you will put the needs of Kraken Moor above your own.”
Mrs. Cotts turned from me and walked to the duty board to my left. Using half the plum-colored wall, Mrs. Cotts had the entire week’s duties laid out. For today, Friday the 6th, a card with my name on it was tacked at the bottom of the day’s calendar, with the word “REST” inked below “Beatrice.” Mrs. Cotts took the card from the board and turned to me.
“I leave today in your hands, Miss Sharper,” Mrs. Cotts said, all pretext of anything but a professional countenance removed from her face. “You can perform your assigned task or you may fill in your own duties for the day. If you perform this task, the staff will resent you, but know that it is under my orders. If you choose to work, the staff will still resent you, only they will lay the ultimate blame at your feet and not mine. Knowing this, choose.”
I bowed my head, knowing I really had no choice in the matter. “I will perform my assigned task, Mrs. Cotts.”
“As you wish, Miss Sharper,” the Head of Staff said as she replaced the card on the duty board. Turning back, she moved behind her desk and pulled out a lower drawer. Pulling out an ornate wooden box, Mrs. Cotts opened the tea caddy without speaking. What looked like a small, metal flask was removed from the box, but it opened in half, revealing itself to be a personal carrying case for small items. Mrs. Cotts placed some tea leaves into the case, closed it, and handed it to me.
I graciously accepted the case, but as my fingers moved to take it from Mrs. Cotts, her own fingers held fast. I met her eyes and they blazed with a fierce intensity. “You will take these leaves to the kitchen and prepare yourself two cups. Add no milk nor sugar. Return to your room. Drink one. Sleep. When you awake, drink the second. It will be cold, of course, but you will drink every final drop. Do you understand?”
The directions were simple but their meaning obtuse to me. Still, I decided it was not the time to press Mrs. Cotts for clarification. “Yes, ma’am,” was my only response.
“Very good,” the Head of Staff replied, removing her grip on the case.
I did as I was instructed. I went to the kitchen, which was thankfully empty. I made two cups of tea, adding no sugar nor milk. In my room, I placed both of them on the desk. Drinking the first, I laid down on my bed. I feared the presence of the marble wolfman from the maze, but the cup of tea had relaxed me to the point where I feard feared nothing. I welcomed the embrace of sleep and it came. Quickly, I was asleep.
I dreamed of Madam Soiss, but it was not the violent, bloody vision from yesterday. In the stead of that horrific sight, I dreamed of sitting across from her inside her ornate carriage as it bounced its way towards the sea. The seats were made of a sumptuous, red velvet, and the Frenchwoman was dressed in her light-green dress from yesterday. It was dusk, but quickly darkening as it does in the winter. I looked down at my own dress and found myself complete naked.
Blushing as I write this, my state of undress nonetheless brought no shame inside the dream. No, I only felt fear when Madam Soiss asked, “Where is my necklace?”
I looked down and saw there was no necklace.
“You need it,” she implored, and encouraged me to find it.
“It helps to keep the beasts at bay.”
In my dream, I carried the attitude I once held as the daughter of a wealthy plantation in the American South. “It did not help you yesterday, when the wolfman devoured your throat.”
“Only because I left the necklace with you.” Madam Soiss smiled seductively and she performed an act on her self that I will not repeat in print.
“Why would you do that?” I asked, watching her, needing to understand what could drive a person into the arms of death.
“Because I wanted it,” she replied as she started to remove the clips that held her hair in place. “I was tired of denying my wants, my desires, my need to feel the teeth of the beast close together inside of me. Find the necklace or the beasts will make your theirs.”
Obstinately, I replied, “Again, Madam Soiss, I must point out that you had the necklace and the beasts still got the better of you.”
“Silly girl,” the French widow smirked. Tired of removing her dress, Madam Soiss held out her hand to me. Palms and fingers were raised towards the roof of the carriage. Her voice became darker, more sadistic. “You think the wolfman the only beast in Kraken Moor?” She snarled at me as if she were a wolf herself, and her fingernails shot heavenward until they were each nearly half a foot in length. “You will join me,” she promised. “You will take your rightful place inside the Court of Kadul!”
With her proclamation still ringing in the air, Madam Soiss turned her newly formed claws on herself, slicing her torso from left should to right hip. Blood fired from her body, hitting my pale, bare skin.
It was warm.