I never sleep well the first night in a new environment, and this place seemed designed to enhance that unfortunate situation.
The sounds outside were all wrong. Since it was summer, the sun was out until late, and so the children all felt the need to be running around screaming until the last vestiges of daylight were well and truly gone. When they did, however, it got way too quiet.
Apparently the children’s noise had been scaring away various forest creatures who then came out and began making ungodly noises, particularly just as I was about to fall asleep. Not loudly, you understand, and not quietly enough to go unnoticed. Just the right sound level that forced me to listen for them in case they ended up being as threatening as they sounded.
The floral wallpaper and other poufy accents did not look any less overpowering and sinister in the dark, but I had my sleeping mask on so this didn’t bother me too much. The bed, however, was another matter.
It was incredibly soft, which I liked at first, and burrowed into the pillowy mattress. After a while, though, I started to feel as though I would sink into it and be lost forever if I didn’t lie stiffly still.
Despite all this, I could possibly have drifted off into an uneasy sleep, if I hadn’t gotten hungry. It wasn’t the hunger itself, so much as the internal debate it inspired. Before I retired to bed for the night, Maria told me that there were plenty of cookies left, and cherry cobbler in the fridge, and I was encouraged to avail myself of these provisions should I get peckish in the night.
Despite this invitation, obviously it was impossible for me to do so. Creeping around in the dark in a near stranger’s house for the purpose of poking around in their kitchen was rude and out of the question, notwithstanding the fact that I’d been told to do exactly that if it suited me.
But I really wanted some cherry cobbler, and I’d been told I could get some. Wasn’t this the Truth? Wasn’t my reluctance to go downstairs a product of my overly timid nature? And wasn’t it this very timidity that led me to accept Echart’s invitation and got me stuck out here in the first place?
True, I’d been curious as well, but now that I was here, curiosity didn’t seem like a valid reason to have come. And it was certainly politeness, if not timidity, that kept me from hauling my butt back home at the earliest opportunity.
I decided I had to go get some cherry cobbler. It might be a very small step toward regaining control of my life, but it was a step nonetheless.
When the first step I took out of my room and into the hall produced an enormous squeak, I realized obtaining cherry cobbler was going to be even more fraught than I imagined, and almost turned back. But I pressed on, determined not to be put off by talkative floorboards.
As I picked my way down the hall, and then the stairs, I noticed something odd about the wallpaper. The main pattern was a black floral print on a silvery background, and in the moonlight streaming in from the windows, I noticed the negative space between the floral motifs resembled a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Or one rabbit with wings.
Why all the rabbits? I shook my head and continued down the stairs.
The kitchen, I believed, was to my left. I knew it was next to the dining room, through which one traveled to get to the sliding patio door. But I knew this less because I remembered where I’d gone earlier, and more because the sounds of snoring clearly indicated that the first-floor spare bedrooms were located to my right.
The first floor was mercifully carpeted, and allowing me to pad stealthily towards the kitchen. Rationally, of course, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world if someone heard me getting a night-time snack, but I have never claimed to be rational. Besides, if it really would have been the end of the world I wouldn’t have attempted getting a snack in the first place.
Just as I was about to enter the kitchen, I caught a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye, from within the dining room. My instincts suggested it might be a lashing tail, or a particularly athletic snake, but my rational mind countered with the possibility of a tree branch being blown around on the other side of the patio doors. I turned to glance into the dining room and resolve the issue.
Two glowing eyes stared back at me.
I scooted into the kitchen and ducked behind the slightly protruding refrigerator. In a moment or two, I calmed down enough to decide that I had probably just seen a reflection off the glass vase on the dining table or something else equally innocuous. I was far too jumpy.
But hadn’t those eyes been attached to a dark figure? No, that was just my mind reinterpreting ordinary shadows to lend context to what I thought I’d seen. And no, I was not going to check. The probability of an actual menacing form with glowing eyes standing in the dining room was far to low to justify delaying the consumption of cherry cobbler, and besides, in the unlikely event there was something in the dining room, going to look at it would only hasten my inevitable demise.
I quietly pried the refrigerator door open, and spotted a mostly-empty pan of cobbler. What was left could have been cut into two smallish pieces, or it could be a single quite large piece. I decided on the latter, to avoid having to search out a plate. This way, I only had to find a fork.
Plus, as I picked at the cobbler with the fork in one hand, while hefting the pan with another, the heavy ceramic pan would do quite well to stun an intruder if necessary.
Light blinded my eyes as someone flicked the kitchen light switch.
I started and immediatly choked on the bite of cobbler in my mouth.
Maria hurried over to me and swiftly produced a glass of water with which to wash down the offending dessert.
“So sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to startled you,” she said.
“That’s alright,” I croaked.
“Would you like some ice cream on that?” she asked.
I nodded, feeling rather childish.
Sorry this episode was late coming out. I’ve been watching the news too much and the muse got freaked out, hid under my bed and wouldn’t come out.
Which is really impressive, since my bed doesn’t have an “under.” It’s just a mattress on the floor. Anyway, I’ll endeavour to return to my mostly weekly schedule, but cannot offer guarantees. Thank you for reading.