It sounded like a distant bell, the first crack did; no crackle or groan signaling damage, just a small ping followed by silence. I listen for the wind’s whistle to come through but hear none; something is blocking the hole on the other side. I try to make out its form in the dark; it must be pressed up against the tiny flaw, waiting for when the window weakens enough to fragment. I sweep past the fracture, depositing a wad of shoe polish on the hole, I could hear the thing hiss; it may not make it in in time.
A screech runs around above the ceiling, but it is merely a game for a phantom that knows it is not able to come below. The mahogany armoire in the Great Hall rattles mildly, superficially – what’s inside has found another way out and this is no more than to throw me off its scent. I pass the mirror that stands in the foyer without a glance but think twice on that; it seems rude not to let them have their fun so I return to the mirror, peer at my visage and tend to my coiffure. Slowly my reflection uncurls my locks, whitening them as they extend in long, kinked strands sticking out from my scalp. My face transforms in a grotesque manner; quickly senescent with skin melting against my skull, lines cutting a wicked path. I open my mouth in an exaggerated, mute cry; my teeth grey and jag. I grasp my throat as my likeness distorts further and I stagger back in presumed horror. The shadow in the mirror laughs; he is happy and returns my image to the one I wear. I feign relief and he slithers to the gallery.
Sparks start to spit from the back wall; I look for the Protector, wondering where she’s gone. A few douses of absinthe causes the sparks to flare, then cease. I check on the cracked window in the West Salon, some spirits are never welcome inside. The fissures from the hole begin their webbing. I rip a page from a nearby book and place it over the shoe polish; the fiend hisses again, reading confuses them.
“That should keep you a tick longer.” I say to its deaf ears.
I make my way to the dining room for a light repast. The candles flare upon my entrance and extinguish immediately following; so many theatrics, presented with the flourish of having never been performed before. I ask the poltergeists politely if I may eat, curtsying for good measure. They are pleased and leave to find another to harass. Chef enters with a rolling pin in her crossed arms – she hates tonight and does not hold the patience to placate mischievous specters:
“They’ve dumped the pantry on the floor again.” She says indignantly.
“I know, Chef – and I am sorry. It’s just the one night, we should humor them if we want peace the rest of the year.”
“HA! Peace? At Place de Plume?” She exclaims as she quits the room. I can’t let her leave the Chateau, she doesn’t know the imps from the ghouls – she is safer here.
My mind is on the crack in the window.
Leaving my supper I hurry to check on my patch. A shrill and distant cry rings out from the back woods. I count to ten, there is no repeat – it’s only a scare, not a sacrifice. As I enter the West Salon, the lights are out. The fire burns brightly with a phosphorescent glow. I hear a low, rhythmic growl coming from behind the wall with a chant-like cadence. I listen closer; it’s uttering a language that has long been sent to the underworld; chosen, I presume, for its sibilant quality. The Protector runs across the wallpaper allowing me to return my focus to the fracture in the window. I see tiny, chartreuse eyes on the other side of the glass rapidly scanning from left to right; it is almost at the end of the page so I turn the page upside down. The hellion’s eyes turn crimson and it hits its head against the glass; I have angered it but bought some time.
Back in the hall, Clarice is laying boughs of juniper across the eighth step of the third landing on the grand stair case; it seems early for a barrier so I check the clock. The manes have reversed the clock face. I take a deep breath, they are allowed their fun but it makes it no less maddening when I’ve so much to do. A desperate pounding shakes the front door. Somebody is begging at the top of his register to be allowed in, allowed sanctuary from whatever pursues him; except he is speaking Coptic and every fourth word is sung. Although he may be a harmless rogue, he would let the hellion at the window in and therefore must be denied entrance.
Turning from the door, a tea cozy is placed on my head followed by an eerie giggle flying around the chandelier. I adjust the cozy and sashay into the music room to listen to the recital. Two souls fight, one a gifted pianist trying to get the most from his annual night while a second merry prankster is making a mess of Mozart. I take my seat to listen; the music may help later with the hellion. The maestro has had enough. I see a thread of thyme float from the bench and in a snap it is around the prankster’s foot. Tied to the to the door, she flails about but the thyme keeps her secure; the maestro finishes his sonata – it is quite lovely.
The wind has picked up outside and spirits whirl about like detritus with a few goblins getting stuck in leafless branches. Inside the Chateau, it is a gay party as spooks gyrate on the windowsills and haunts clatter the paintings on the walls. Ghosts dance atop the sideboards and jump in great leaps from bannister to bench. Mr. Brown sweeps through the hall with an open umbrella – I can’t see the ogre he is shushing away. Clarice walks past briskly with an armload of garlic, hanging it in each doorway leading outside – I see those rumors have spread again. I look up the great stairway, an Archfiend presses against the opalescent barrier the juniper boughs create. Behind it the sirens keen, my head swims and my gut starts moving me up the stairs. Some drunken revenant tumbles down the stairwell in time to bump into me, not sentient enough to knock me over but passes through me, which tears me free from the siren’s cry. The revelry is in full swing and is something to behold. I clap along to the erratic beat, even Mrs. Walters comes out to watch, her charges in the basement safely kept at bay.
Just then a crash resounds from the West Salon. The whole window shatters to the floor- the hellion is in; I failed my watch. The apparitions fly to the rafters for safety; Mrs. Walters disappears in search of copper. I quicken to the West Salon to face the beast; whatever business it has, it is angry with me first. I take a deep breath and step into the room.
I smile, “Rémy, mon cher. Tu es ici.”
“Tell those blast wraiths to set the clock back, we missed the chimes.” He said, the hellion writhing in his outstretched hand. “And get me a God-damned copper pot for this thing.”
Mrs. Walters races in not a moment later with the requested pot filled with flour. Rémy wrestles the hellion into it, smashing the lid closed over it, cursing at it in French for the wrinkles it has caused on his bespoke suit.
“Toss that vile kelpie into the lake on the East side, in front of the Black Ash so it can’t get back out.” He orders Mrs. Walters. Remembering his manners, he adds calmly, “That is a lovely shade of blue on you, my dear.”
He grabs a fistful of the fire and spots it in each of the destroyed window’s corners – it should be strong enough for a first defense. Mr. Brown closes the door of the defiled room. The Protector flutters her wings in front of the door, silencing the howling of the wind and the screams of the banshees.
“Ma mie – come, please.” Rémy says with outstretched arms. I press my head into his chest as he envelopes me in his arms. “Perhaps we should repose in the drawing room tonight, eh?”
We walk slowly through the hall, Rémy looking about the walls and ceiling. Several expectant forms quiver with anticipation. Rémy looks to the Protector, “How do we look, Madame?”
The Protector shudders, we are mostly safe now.
Chef stands in the doorway as the lines from her downturned mouth threaten to carve their way permanently in her skin. She shakes her head slowly.
“Oh, come now, La Chef – it is only one night a year, and they have so few hours of night left.” Rémy pleads.
Chef looks to me. I pat my tea cozy hat, “Let’s Chef, just this one time. “ It’s the same promise I make every year. Chef stomps off.
Rémy raises his hand and pronounces, “Alors, les espartos – amusez-vous bien! But not in the drawing room – there I intend to kiss my wife.”
The ghosts and rascals fly down from the ceiling with shrieks and wails. All will remain in order on this All Hallows Eve until the first prick of sunlight pierces the party and sends them to wherever they slumber and Rémy from my arms once again.