The sound of the rain on the sill seemed deafening. It was instant, the outpouring from the sky coming down in buckets. It was that sound that sent Rictus backwards hard enough that he nearly fell over his chair. His absence left Rachel with a fleeting sense of coldness. His hand was to his mouth, guarded. Still, he blushed ferociously.
"I'm sorry!" She said quickly. They regarded each other in silence, shocked. Outside, the rain receded somewhat.
"It won't…," he said suddenly, stepping forward. "It won't…help," he concluded softly. "I can't save you." He seemed genuinely sorry for the fact.
She blushed. "I didn't mean it like that."
He took another step toward her, hesitant. Cautious.
"How did you mean it?"
There was a hair's breath of distance between them where a moment ago they seemed in different sides of the room. Rictus' lips were pulled in a tight, twitching half-smile. He wanted to smile, Rachel thought, but something was stopping him.
He reached out, his fingers brushing the collar of her dress.
"Rachel dear, have you-."
They pulled back simultaneously, both meeting Mrs. Griffin's shocked stare. She was standing in the entrance to the kitchen, a hand gingerly hovering at her throat, her eyes wide. Rachel was rendered speechless.
"Yes, Mrs. Griffin?" Rictus demanded, his voice a cold hiss. He was obviously not pleased for the interruption, intentional as it was. He was staring bloody murder at the old woman. Mrs. Griffin, in turn, was glancing back and forth between them. In an attempt to dissolve the moment, Rachel moved past Rictus, intending to head back upstairs.
The seducer was having none of it and so put a hand on Rachel's arm to stop her. He moved forward until Rachel could feel his chest at her back. All the while he maintained eye contact with Mrs. Griffin. For her part, the grey-haired woman looked on in horror. His hands at Rachel's waist, he held her and watched.
A slight inclination of his head rested his temple against the girl's cheek.
"S-Stop it!" Mrs. Griffin, now plainly horrified.
Rictus lips pulled into their trademark smirk. His eyes narrowed. "Or what?"
"My my…," his hold tightened. "We do like the moral high ground, don't we?" Pressing his lips gently to Rachel's cheek, he whispered in her ear, "Do you know, for someone who knew so much she sure plays at it…doesn't she?"
"You take everything," Mrs. Griffin shook her head. "Must you cause harm in every way?"
"I'm in love with this one."
Rachel stiffened, turning her face to look up at him. The words had come so naturally, so matter-of-fact. They sounded rehearsed, but for the benefit of whom she was unsure. For the truth of them, equally so. He avoided her gaze, concentrating ahead.
"You don't know what love it," Mrs. Griffin gasped, a notable expression of offence on her face. "You don't have the faintest capacity-."
Rachel could no longer bear to keep listening. Wrenching out of Rictus' arms, she fled the kitchen without a backward glance, taking the stairs up two at a time. Downstairs, she could hear a spark of commotion. There was shouting now and the presence of more voices. Jive had joined the thrall and she wonder if the gangly brother had been listening in the whole wretched scene. Likely.
There was no desire in her to know what they were yelling about and in the back of her mind, there was the knowledge she had abandoned Mrs. Griffin to some harm, but she couldn't find it in her to do anything about it. Instead she could only shut the door and sit down weakly on the bed, pulling her knees up to her chin. After some time the commotion downstairs abated and the house became deathly quiet. When finally there came a knock at the door, Rachel pressed her back against the wall, shrinking on the bed.
"Y-yes?" She damned the quiver in her voice.
She was ironically relieved to see Jive push open the door. Not so much when he closed it behind him, leaning back and regarding her with a cocked eyebrow.
"You're more trouble then your worth," he murmured.
"What do you want?"
There was no sweetness to his voice. No melody. The pretence had gone. "Only to take you to meet someone," he stepped toward her but paused when she shrank further back in response. He held up his hands. "Don't worry…brother says you've promised to be a good girl….you have, haven't you?"
"Nothing I can do, is there?"
She nodded, looking down.
"Don't feel bad," Jive offered. "It's smarter than trying to fight it. Even if you did manage to leave, the world would not be…," he trailed off, a note of doubt on his face.
"Well…let's just say you would not be returning to the place that you left."
"You take something from us, don't you? From the kids that come here…"
"All this magic takes an awful lot of power."
"Yes," she whispered, a note of horror in her voice. She understood, suddenly. Not completely, but to some degree she knew why the transformations took place. It was their lives, after all. A visit to Holiday House cost you your life. Perhaps not in the literal sense of the word, but you certainly couldn't return to the life you'd led. Not after…not after what they do. She shuddered.
"And…if I try to leave-," she began.
"I'll hurt you." There was no remorse in his voice. No doubt. It was a simple fact.
"Where did you say we're going?" She asked.
"To ready for the party tonight, of course!" He smiled, apparently elated by her resignation.
"What are you talking about?"
"You haven't met her, Marr, I mean," he asked. "Have you?"
With a quick twirl and jump, Jive was standing over her. Rachel looked up at him, wide eyed.
"Get away from me," she shrank back.
"Oh, really now!" Before she could react, he darted closer and wrapped his long fingers around her wrist, pulling her forcefully to her feet. Rachel began to protest, but gave up and allowed him to drag her out the door and down the hall.
"Jive…Jive, I can walk," she snapped, finally pulling away when they stopped. Above them was the entrance to the attic. Reaching up, Jive pulled on the cord to the trap door and a small set of stairs extended down toward them.
With Jive prodding her on, Rachel made her way through the dusty, dimly lit attic until together they climbed a second set of stairs and found themselves on the roof of the house. It was light out, but something about the roof was off. Rachel soon realized that there were shadows cast all around them, stretching out in different directions. There may have been objects towering high above them, blocking out the sun, but there was nothing to be seen. Much like everything else about the house, the shadows were a mystery.
"You finally brought her!"
The voice drifted on the wind from the opposite end of the roof. Squinting, Rachel could just make out someone obscured in the shade. A short, but wide shape.
"Marr, dearest of my dear sisters!" Jive sang and gave Rachel a little push.
"Your only sister, you fool," the voice replied, not without a hint of animosity.
Coming closer, Rachel was able to see the figure clearly. A woman stood there, though the term may have been applied rather loosely. She was a creature of immeasurable, swimming girth. The folds of her skin were nigh indistinguishable from the folds of her clothes. When she breathed, something rippled. She regarded the girl with sparkling black eyes; empty eyes.
"My name is Marr, girl!"
"I'm…Rachel," she hesitated to shake the creature's hand.
The sister saw her reluctance and grabbed for her fingers, pulling her. "You'll have to come closer if we are to begin." She was not without pleasure at the disgusted expression on Rachel's face. She grinned, her maw spreading. "Must be difficult, eh?"
Marr leaned closer, spewing a foul smell with each word. "Trying so hard to swallow your bile! Not polite, is it?" Rachel opened her mouth to apologize but Marr waved her words away. "Don't waste your time, or mine."
"What are you going to do?"
The fleshy thing chortled at the sight of Rachel's fear. "Rend your flesh…shape it, change it. Make you different and unlike and…appropriate." When Rachel's eyes widened with shock, Marr's grip on her tightened. "Easy now. Not what you think. Not yet, anyway."
"Told you that you need to be ready for tonight's little party," Jive piped up. "You can't go as yourself! What's the point of a costume ball if you don't wear a costume!"
"I will make you what you want to be. A Halloween ball calls for a change of shape and character. Something ethereal or something horrific," Marr spoke. Even as the words left her mouth, Marr's hands began to dance over Rachel's face. Her fingers twitched and touched, prodded and primped at the flesh. There was the strangest of feelings. Rachel's flesh seemed to be rippling and going numb, like a severe case of pins and needles. It was intense, but not painfully so. Her point of view was shifting and changing as well as her eyes repositioned. Her ears formed differently and her skin began to take on a distinctly paler pallor. Her cheekbones cracked as they lengthened, the sound making her cry out in surprise.
When the transformation had finished, Marr handed her a mirror. Rachel took several minutes to examine herself. It was in that moment of self-discovery that she had to admit one thing: despite her fated predicament, this place still held wonders.
Coming back from the roof, the first people she ran into were John and Elliot. Tagging alone behind them was a girl of perhaps twelve or thirteen. The trio were laughing but stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of her. They exchanged shocked stares, the girl hiding behind the boys and peering over their shoulders in wonder.
"Rachel?" Elliot cocked his head. "Is that you?"
"Oh wow!" John chirped up, "It is too! Did Marr do that to you?"
Rachel nodded. "Yeah, you guys knew about this?"
"Oh yeah!" They said in unison.
"Marr will turn you into a monster for Halloween too, if you want," John said. "I was a werewolf once, it was so cool!"
"It's okay, Lulu, this is our friend, Rachel!" John stepped aside so the new girl could approach. She did, albeit cautiously.
"Hi…I'm Lulu," she said with a shy smile.
"It's okay, really," Rachel smiled, shaking the other girl's hand. "I don't look like this all the time. My name is Rachel!" Inside, a tiny voice was screaming in her head. She wanted to grab the girl by the shirt collar and shake her. She wanted to tell her to run away, but she knew that would accomplish nothing. Jive was a few short steps behind her, even at that very moment climbing down the attic stairs to join them.
She would have to find the right moment. Her fate may well have been sealed, but perhaps something could be done for Lulu. Perhaps even for John and Elliot. They seemed unchanged, though Elliot was beginning to look a bit run down. Rachel studied him with growing dread.
The young boy had dark circles under his eyes. At a closer look, his skin had a slight sheen to it, as though he were developing a fever. She was reminded of the slimy coating of Abigail's skin and feared the worst. Whatever was happening, it had already begun in one of the two boys.
After a few more minutes of chatter about the chosen costumes for the evening, Rachel headed back toward her room. There was a full length mirror in the bathroom and she was tempted to take a real look at herself. As she walked, she examined her hands. Her skin was pale, almost white. Her fingers each tapered into soft points. She wasn't really sure what she was. No creature she had ever seen before, but then she was never one for the everyday storybook monsters. Whatever she wanted to be deep in her heart, it was something previously unseen.
When she entered her room, her eyes immediately snapped to her bed. There was a dress laid out for her with a note from Mrs. Griffin suggesting she try it on for the evening. Reading the note, Rachel was relieved to think that Mrs. Griffin had not been harmed for the events of prior.
She clutched the note to her chest and sat. The need to see herself was overwhelmed by her memories of what had transpired in the kitchen. Did she still, Rachel wondered, have to attend this evening with Rictus? She flushed. She wasn't all together sure she could maintain her composure and act like nothing was happening.
Outside, it was rapidly beginning to go dark; another trick of the house. Tonight was important somehow, though Rachel was not sure how. In any case, it would come sooner than expected.
To Be Continued...