3PM, VON WINDENBURG ESTATE
“Look, can we just get this done? We can worry about everything else tomorrow.”
Ulrike glared at Maiike. If she were any more spineless she’d be a jellyfish. Didn’t she see that this was their chance to move up in the world? “I’m trying to tell you, we won’t need to worry. I’ve got everything sorted.”
Maiike shook her head, her arms falling back down to her sides. “Ok. Fine.”
Ulrike pushed the gate, the cold iron stealing the warmth from her bare hands as it swung open with a long, drawn out creak. She suppressed a shudder and strode up the path to the mansion, not bothering to look back. By tomorrow, all of their problems would be solved, with or without Maiike’s help.
The knife slipped, slicing into her finger. Luna hissed and sucked it into her mouth, glaring at the drops of blood marring the half-finished pumpkin on the table in front of her and trying to stem the trickle of blood. Calm and composed, Luna. Calm and composed. The bell rang again, filling the cavernous hall as she rushed to answer it. She glanced in the mirror as her left hand worked the locks securing the front door, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as the door opened.
“Ulrike!” she said, smiling up at the older woman. She’s so beautiful. “Father is in the living room, he’s expecting you. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, thank you. We won’t be staying long.”
We? Luna tore her gaze away from Ulrike and looked around. Maiike smiled back at her, though it looked more like a grimace than an actual expression of happiness.
“Oh, hello Maiike. Are you here for Hugo?”
“Not this time,” Maiike said.
Luna waited, the silence stretching uncomfortably but neither willing to break it.
Ulrike rolled her eyes. “So, may we come in?”
“Ah! Yes, please do.” Luna stepped aside, allowing the two women into the hall. So, a vampire and a vampire hunter… they weren’t couples costumes, were they?
Ulrike’s eyes widened as she took in her surroundings. The warm wooden finish on the walls did little to take away from the sheer size of the room. She tilted her head back, gazing at the chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
“Come in,” a male voice called from the sitting room, clear and commanding.
She gave herself a quick mental shake. Straight spine, shoulders back, head up. She knew the drill. Maiike nodded at her, smiling.
The smell of pumpkin hit her nose before she even entered the room. The chairs were covered in sheets, torn and painted to look like a ghost from a child’s cartoon, whilst cobwebs were draped over the curtains. As the breeze ruffled the fabric the mechanical spiders attached to them seemed to come alive, and Ulrike jerked her arm back as one brushed against her skin. Ugh, spiders. At the back of the room, lanterns and heaped tubs of pumpkin innards at his feet, stood Jacques Villareal.
She tiptoed over, avoiding the decorations with as much grace as she could muster. At least the spiders weren’t on this side of the room, yet.
“Good afternoon, sir. I’ve brought the paintings you asked for.”
Jacques nodded, keeping his eyes trained on the piece in front of him. The design he was carving was intricate, easily ruined. His knife was steady as he made the next cut. “Good, good. You know where to hang them.”
“Off you go, then.”
Ulrike walked out of the room. She let out the breath she had been holding and leaned heavily against the nearest wall, ignoring the glare that her friend was giving her.
“So, where does he want them?”
Ulrike stood once more and walked over to the biggest of the paintings, grabbing one side of it and glancing at Maiike. “Upstairs. I’m gonna need some help with this one.”
Maiike stalked round to the other side, positioning her hands with care. “One, two, three!” They lifted it off the floor, grunting with effort. Ulrike half expected Maiike to tell her off for ‘unladylike behaviour’, but the other woman was silent. Her cheeks were red and her arms were trembling as she motioned with a tilt of her head for Ulrike to lead the way.
The stairs were steep. What I wouldn’t give to be wearing trousers right now, she thought, her foot getting caught in her dress yet again. Nearly there. They set the painting down on the landing, resting it against the wall as they caught their breath.
“Want me to get the others while you take a look around?”
Ulrike looked at Maiike and nodded. “Thank you. Are you sure you can carry them on your own?”
Maiike scoffed. “Please, they’re tiny. Of course, I can. You start setting up, ok?”
Ulrike listened to the retreating footsteps as her friend traipsed back down the stairs, and turned to face the door. Fog drifted out from underneath, where the door didn’t quite reach the floor. She turned the handle, took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Ulrike? How does it… wow!”
“Isn’t it wonderful? Quick, help me with the landscape – I know exactly where to put it.”
Maiike grinned at her as she hurried back out into the hallway. “So, where exactly do you want it?”
“Don’t worry, you look beautiful.”
Siobhan melted into his touch. Sergio had lovely warm hands. “Thanks. You haven’t answered my question, though. Are we too early? We’re definitely not fashionably late. Luna will be shocked.”
Sergio grinned and pressed a kiss to her nose. “If we’re any later, all that food will start to spoil. So let’s ring the doorbell and get it into a fridge, ok?”
Well, at least we have a reason. She touched her necklace, nerves fading away at the familiar shape beneath her fingers. “Ok,” she said, stepping forward and pressing the bell.
A faint clattering and cursing came from within the house, followed by footsteps that grew louder as a figure approached the door. Luna opened it, her cheeks rosy and eyes focused on her feet. She bit her lip as she looked up at them. “Sorry about that, Max has been moving things around again. I swear he does this on purpose.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Siobhan said, shaking her head. “Oh! We brought food.”
“That’s great! Do you want to put it in the…” Luna trailed off as a muffled sound came from inside. Two voices could be heard from upstairs, growing louder and louder. A door slammed, followed by the heavy thump of feet on the hardwood stairs. Maiike barged through the door, a scowl on her face that could have turned even the freshest milk sour.
“What’s she doing here?” Siobhan asked, watching her disappear into the back garden.
“She was helping Ulrike. Dad ordered some of her paintings for the party.”
Sergio’s eyes drifted over to the stairs. He cleared his throat and turned back to the two women. “Hey, Luna? Can I use your bathroom?”
“Sure. The one downstairs isn’t safe at the moment, but the other is fine. Just go upstairs and through the door on the left.”
“It’s not safe?” Siobhan asked, watching him disappear.
“Max blocked the pipes with pumpkin guts.”
“That’s festive of him.”
“He likes Halloween.”
Hugo turned the handle and nudged his door open, peering through the crack. The coast was clear. He crept into the kitchen and opened the fridge, eyes roaming over the dishes. Zombie cakes, cheese eyeballs, sushi, cookies…
Mmmm… cookies. He reached out and grabbed a couple, paused a moment, and took one more. He made them, it was only fair that he got the first choice. He shut the fridge once more and made his way to the back garden.
“Hey, Hugo…” Maiike said. She was slumped forward, her head resting on her arms and her voice muffled.
Hugo sniffed. “Again?”
“Yeah, but this time I don’t know if it can be fixed. I don’t even know if I want it to be.”
Hugo leaned forward, trying to catch her eye. “Want to talk about it?”
Maiike looked up, her eyes red and puffy. She nodded.
“Ok, so are you ready?”
“Go for it,” Siobhan said, sitting down on the bed while Luna rummaged around in her closet. Why is he taking so long? She ducked, a sweater narrowly missing her head and landing next to her with a soft thump. “Hey, watch it!”
“Sorry, ” Luna said, head lost in the mountain of clothes she was ploughing through. Siobhan shook her head. Why on earth hadn’t Luna found her costume earlier? This was like the prom debacle all over again.
Siobhan looked over at the younger girl, a smile curving her lips. “You look great, Lulu.”
Luna grinned and twirled. “Thank you. I’m sorry about the sweater.” Siobhan watched as the girl kept spinning, dissolving into breathless giggles as she spun faster and faster before staggering sideways and collapsing on the bed. “Why is the sky moving?” She reached her hand up and touched Siobhan’s cheek, smiling up at her before closing her eyes. “You’re pretty. Why are you sad?”
“I’m not sad,” Siobhan said, standing up and pulling away from her friend. “Why do you think Sergio is taking so long?”
Luna sighed and stretched, carefully hoisting herself upright. She put a hand to her forehead, grimacing. “Let’s find out.” She walked over to her desk and opened a drawer, returning with a tool kit tucked under one arm. “In case he’s stuck.”
Siobhan tilted her head, looking from the kit to the young woman and back. “You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”
“I like fixing things. They’re like jigsaw puzzles but 3D.”
“You do know they make 3D puzzles, right?”
Siobhan opened the door and stepped forward, straight into Sergio’s chest. His hand was raised as if he had been about to knock, and his eyes were wide as he reached down to steady her.
“It’s about time! I thought you’d fallen down the toilet.”
Sergio blushed, rubbing the back of his neck. “No such luck. The lock was a bit stiff, but I got out in the end.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Luna said, heading upstairs. “Oh! Have you seen dad? He’s not in the living room anymore.”
Jacques walked into the kitchen, looking at the dishes that were spread out along the counter-tops. Siobhan, Luna and Sergio were watching a horror film in the living room. Max was behind the sofa, watching over their shoulders and hiding whenever they turned around. Jacques thought about telling him off or making them watch something more family friendly. No, let them have their fun. He rapped on his eldest son’s door.
“Hugo? Are you in there?”
He opened the door. Clothes and games were spread over the floor and furniture, but Hugo was nowhere in sight. How odd.
Maiike bit her nails, looking back at the house for what felt like the millionth time. There was no way that setting up a few paintings could take this long. She looked down at her watch. I know she’s a perfectionist, but this is getting ridiculous. She tapped her foot against the floor, counting to the rhythm in an effort to distract herself. The garden was growing dark around her, and she looked up at the sky. Dark clouds were rolling towards the estate, blocking out the sun. The wind began to pick up, and she shivered.
Right. That’s it. She stood, slamming her palms onto the table, eyes blazing. She stalked up to the door, took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face.
“Hello, sir. I’m sorry about earlier – I hope we didn’t disturb you.”
“I didn’t hear a thing. Did your friend forget something here?”
“What do you mean?” she asked. Jacques looked at her, and she shivered. Those eyes…
“Did she forget something? Is that why you’re back?”
“She’s still here.”
Jacques frowned. “Fetch her.”
“Have you seen Ulrike?”
“No, sorry,” Sergio said, “she hasn’t come down as far as I know.”
“Ulrike? Are you ok?” She reached out, clasping the cold metal in her hand as the fog swirled around her feet. The room behind the door stayed silent, her heartbeat growing louder in her ears as if trying to compensate. She opened the door.
There, lying in the coffin with her eyes closed, was Ulrike. Maiike clenched her fists at her sides and strode forward, feet heavy on the floorboards. “I can’t believe you! You spent all this time up here just to play a stupid prank?!” I hate you.
Her voice thundered through the quiet room before being absorbed by the fog. Ulrike didn’t even twitch. Maiike turned away from the coffin, one hand clenched in her jacket and the other pressed firmly to her temples in an attempt to ward off the headache that was growing. I hate you.
“Rike? This isn’t funny. We’re going to be late.”
The continuing silence wrapped itself around her, setting her mind and body on edge. With a growl, Maiike lunged forward, grabbing the stake from her friend’s hands and wrenching it up. Ulrike’s body followed it, falling back down with a dull thud as Maiike let go.
She pressed her fingers to Ulrike’s neck, searching in vain for a pulse. Her skin was warm, but the pallor beneath her make-up couldn’t be mistaken. A sharp, metallic scent filled her nostrils. She touched Ulrike’s hand, and when she pulled her fingers back they were smeared with a thick, dark red liquid.
Maiike stood by the body, her mouth open and her feet rooted to the floor. Her throat convulsed, no sound emerging. She had to tell someone, anyone. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe she could still be saved. Maybe-
She stumbled back as her friend’s hand, dislodged from its resting position by all her struggling, fell to her side. The movement spurred her body into action, finally releasing the scream that had been clawing at her throat. As her loud, piercing cry echoed through the halls of the estate, the lights flickered, plunging the room into darkness.
Build and Buy