My father complained at supper that talk in the capital was growing more indiscreet with each passing day. In the harbors south of Rotterdam a navy was coming together, and the word was that sailors were flocking from all over England to join William and Mary’s fleet. In the marketplace the street children sang about cutting off the King’s head. I heard a priest wonder if being overthrown was to become a Stuart family tradition. At night I could hear cheers for William and Mary coming from the crowd in the Three Tuns.
My father was quite busy at this time and rarely home. He shuttled between his offices on Paternoster Row and various courts and salons in Westminster. My mother also was unusually busy; she feared that the revolution would interrupt her studies, so she determined to absorb as much from the libraries of London as she could before it was too late.
Each night there were men in the house, an odd assortment of nobles, businessmen, and scholars. Isabelle and I were summoned to entertain them. We played and sang nearly every night. There were a few men who came often enough that I recognized them and learned their names, but for the most part I only came to play and then leave again. Once the music was over the conversation would return and my mother would motion for us to leave.
My chief complaint was that Isabelle quite enjoyed dressing up for our performances, and so each day our playtime was cut short by Miss Annie ordering her to come in and get ready. She’d wash up daily, which Mrs. Smith disapproved of at first—frequent baths cause cholera, she said—but Miss Annie insisted that Isabelle couldn’t put on her fine dresses and gowns if she smelled of sweat and earth after a long day of playing in the fields with me. Mrs. Smith eventually relented, and it wasn’t long before they began insisting that I wash daily, too. I asked her about the dangers of cholera and Mrs. Smith admitted she had made it up.
Continue reading “Chapter 5: Julian”
My father was born in Portsmouth, and that is where he took me after my mother died, to the home where he grew up, an ancient manor named Ryne Hall that sat on a hill overlooking the harbor.
My mother died of plague, and it nearly killed me, too, but “such are the vagaries of life and disease,” I heard said once, “that the strong young woman succumbed and her infant daughter did not.” I know of her, of her Spanish ancestry, French education, talent for music and taste for mischief. These things my father told me. A portrait of her hangs over her bed in Ryne Hall, and I often sit on her bed and look up at her, studying her face and her hair and her gown for clues as to who she was. Those who spoke to me of her always described her as an angel, but Father cautioned me that nobody speaks ill of the dead, and I know there was more to her than a voice and a face and a ladylike demeanor.
When my father was young he was sent to London to study at Westminster. As his belief in the Church waned his interest in the occult grew. Witches, ghosts, shades, demons. England was filled with spirits of all kinds, and Father would devote his life to studying them. Secretly, or perhaps not-so-secretly, I have always wanted to see one myself. When I finally did, I regretted it.
Continue reading “Chapter 4: Isabelle”
The dress I’d worn that morning—the white and red one that Father brought from Venice—weighed as much as I did and more than doubled the size of my body; when I stepped out of it it looked like a second me, a headless me with curiously flat arms. It could stand on its own if I balanced it carefully. Rolled up and placed under the bed sheet, it fooled Miss Annie into thinking I was asleep in bed.
Now I hung it up in the wardrobe as I had done earlier, checking to be sure it hadn’t wrinkled. I quickly changed into bedclothes and hid my smock and shoes under the bed, then got under the sheet, mussed my hair a bit, and rang the bell. Jane and Miss Annie came in. Jane hauled in my trunks, and Miss Annie helped me dress and retouch my hair.
Father had arrived and was standing at the foot of the stairs, waiting for me. We had parted ways in the morning, when he packed me off for Lord Falmouth’s while he went into Westminster. I could tell he was tired but buzzing with energy anyway. He didn’t like going into the Royal Quarter if he could help it, but times were exciting, and, as he said, “we stood at the very fulcrum of history.” By “we” I assume he meant himself.
Continue reading “Chapter 2: Isabelle”
Five crows is an omen of illness to come; six is death.
From my window I watched them flitting about the building across the street, black dragons in miniature. Were they crows or ravens? I don’t know very much about birds. Crows are smaller, duskier. And if the ravens leave the Tower then the kingdom will fall.
Lord Shively and his family had abandoned the house across the street during the winter, retreating through the cold away from the City. They had by then accepted that their Emily was gone. She abandoned them, and they abandoned hope, and then they abandoned their home. That’s what my father said as we watched them go. The crows seemed keen on moving in. I tried to count them but it was hard to keep track, given the way they slipped in and out through the broken window that led into what had once been Emily Shively’s bedroom.
Four? No, five. Illness. For me, who was counting them, or for the Shivelys, whose house the crows were haunting? I’d ask my father later. It was he who told me about counting crows, which I was doing now instead of my geography lessons. France is down and Scotland is up, and across the sea there is a new land filled with fierce and primitive warriors. That was enough learning for now, I felt.
Continue reading “Chapter 1: Julian”
My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.
The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.
Continue reading “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair”
On their second day in the new house a couple of things happened that, while noteworthy at the time, took on a special significance in hindsight. The first was the trio of apple cores placed in the mailbox to ooze apple juice onto the circulars.
“Maybe a squirrel put them there,” Kaitlin said. Yvonne raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it was an accident,” she tried again. One apple core might–might–get swooped up in the mail and deposited accidentally, but three? “Maybe some kids put it there. Maybe they’ve been using that mailbox as a convenient trash can for a long time. They might not know anyone lives here now.”
Yvonne didn’t say anything but kept her skeptical eyebrow arched as she carried the apples and mail to the kitchen. The mail was all junk anyway. The apples had more juice in them than any apples she’d ever seen before, though to be fair she was never really fond of apples. She was about to toss the cores into the trash when Kaitlin chirped, “Compost!” Yvonne carried out them back to the compost tumbler. Along the way she wondered if she could compost the mail, too. It was just paper, after all, though probably mixed in with some deadly-toxic chemical that saved the printers a few pennies per pound.
Continue reading “Kaitlin’s Chinese Courtyard”
Daniel Carson woke in the night to a fireworks display dancing before his eyes followed by pitch blackness, and he knew that at that moment he had gone blind.
He shot up in bed and held his hand out in front of himself, and although he could feel his arm hovering in the still stale air he couldn’t see it.
His throat closed up in panic. The darkness wrapped around him, gripped him hard and squeezed as if to crush him. His heart beat a furious rhythm and his blood pushed against his veins. His skin crawled as if thousands of needles were forcing their way through him and tearing him apart.
He couldn’t breathe. His sightless eyes throbbed under an unplaceable pressure. Daniel leaped out of his bed. He tried to scream but couldn’t. His throat burned when he tried to breathe. Wherever he looked there was nothing but a void, hideous in its totality.
Continue reading “Daniel Carson”