The Glass Box
The Glass Box
The mourners made it back shortly after seven o’clock.
Emile waited in the drawing room, settled in a chair beside the swelling fire. He looked out the window, absorbing the darkness in the sky and rains that blustered against the glass.
He hadn’t gone to the funeral, nor to the crematorium afterwards. His mother had passed on his regrets, or, at least, he’d asked her to, much to her despair. He’d said he’d be overseeing preparations for the wake, but they both knew it had been an excuse.
They would be insufferable when they returned. Well, his father would. And his mother, whispering her tales of bad omens.
Storms before the vespers, she would say, mean the spirits of the dead won’t settle into rest.
Emile didn’t know if it was a warning he should heed.
Is there reason to be worried?
The door opened and people started coming through.
His mother glided in, a glass box cradled between her black gloves. Shadows fell across her wretched face, cast down by the hat she wore.
She didn’t look to Emile, not even when he stood, calling out to her.
Holding the box close, as if it were a newborn, she placed it upon the mantlepiece between the flowers standing sentry. Stepping back, she looked at the display. The light from the candles reflected in the glass, like the ashes still swam amongst the flames.
Emile’s father stepped up to his mother’s side and touched a hand to her arm.
Emile met his eyes.
With a hard look Emile’s father, in his curt voice said, “See to the guests,” before sweeping his mother away to another room.
If anyone spoke to Emile that night, he hoped it bore no importance, his mind pulling every thought back to the box singing in the light.
Does it bother you?
He stayed long after everyone had left, dismissing the butler to stand alone before the fire. He held a glass of wine in one hand, his elbow resting beside the box as the heat of the fire lapped at his legs.
Can you feel the warmth, Emile?
As he drank he studied the box, an ugly little thing, he thought. The glass already sported finger marks and the ashes lay clumped at the bottom, no better than sand in a dirty rock pool.
“Here’s to you.” Emile said, clinking his wine glass to the metal clasp on the front, “At least Mother can’t cry about you moving away anymore.”
The fire spat in the grate.
Emile stepped back.
“Though, I don’t suppose this is much better.”
Emile drained the wine and placed the empty glass on top of the box. He left, taking himself to bed.
Emile woke in the early hours of the morning, roused from restless dreams of sunken faces in the water by the wind brawling with the walls.
There’s a storm brewing, Emile. Can you tell?
He tried to rise, but Emile could not move.
The undersheets tangled around his arms, gripping them like hands. A weight pressed down on him, sinking his body into the mattress.
Darkness swept in, lapping at his face, caressing his skin in waves. The water sang. A voice he should have known wailed low in his ear, and Emile fell further. The midnight black turned dark blue and reached for him. It painted his skin with its colour, enveloping him while his body seized up. His muscles twisted, screaming out, his blood fighting against the thumping of his heart. Emile fell to the rapids, his throat rubbed raw with silt.
There’s nothing down here.
He tried to call for help, and the water rushed in.
Then the waves let go. The water retreated, and Emile had been released to the shore.
He rolled over, drawing deep gulping breaths as he tumbled to the floor.
The chill of his room settled around his shoulders, shaking through his bones. He stood, grabbing a blanket to wrap around himself.
Looking at his bed, the sheets crisp white and frozen, he shivered.
Emile would not sleep there again tonight.
He lit the bedside candle and made his way down the hall, his shadow flickering mutely on the walls. The fall of his footsteps thundered against the silence, matched only by the howling of the wind. He stepped into his father’s study, his dreams playing on his mind.
Imagine if it were real.
The photos on the desk stared at him, his mother, his cousin, him, the faces warping in the candle light, their eyes dark, round and dead.
All of them. Gone.
Emile tore his gaze away.
He went to the window, pulling the curtain aside to look out across the grounds. Even with the storm thrashing, the moon shone, the light glancing off the surface of the lake that lay beyond the sloping garden.
His memories of a childhood spent in the shallows had been tainted the day a servant found his cousin.
Face down and tangled in the reeds, no one knew how he’d managed it, to drown himself in the waters he’d grown up in. Emile’s mother still refused to believe it. After all, Jacques had been a very fine swimmer.
Can you imagine how cold it is in winter?
Emile stood there for a moment, watching, but only the swaying trees danced in the darkness. The lake didn’t stir, didn’t reach out to him like it had in his dreams. He could still see the faces, screeching and angry.
“Master Beaufort, are you alright?”
Emile spun, dropping the curtain, to face the maid that stood in the doorway.
“I am, thank you.” Emile said, striding towards her, “Was there something you needed?”
She shuffled back as Emile stepped into the hall and closed the door.
“No. Her ladyship called for a glass of water and I saw the light from the doorway.” she said, “If you don’t need anything, I’ll head back to bed.”
She bowed her head to him and turned to walk away.
Will you be sleeping on the floor?
“Wait,” he said.
She looked back to him.
“Are there any guest rooms made up?”
She frowned, but didn’t ask. “I believe the Madame Marie room is,” she said.
“Good,” Emile walked forward, moving passed her, “Let Lewis know that’s where I’ll be.”
“Yes, sir, of course.”
Even in a different room, Emile didn’t sleep again, and by morning his mind had started jumping at every shadow that crossed his vision, and breeze that brushed his skin.
What is it that has you so afraid?
Still, he pulled himself together, and joined his parents at breakfast, to see them off before they left for Paris.
His mother had come but had barely touched her food before escaping to Jacques’ room, saying she had to look around one last time before his parents arrived from America to take his things back over seas.
Emile wondered if his mother would give him such consideration, if the worst happened. He watched her leave the dining room with a curious gaze. Without even glancing his way, she left.
No, he supposed she wouldn’t.
How unfortunate for you.
He went back to his breakfast.
His father threw his napkin down and stood, “No need to look so concerned,” he said, “Though, I don’t know what I expected.” He stepped away from the table, “We’ll be back tomorrow evening.” He strode to the door.
“Goodbye,” Emile said.
He waited until the door had closed behind his father, then called the footman forward and asked him to bring more bread from the kitchen.
The house lay empty. Emile flew through the hallways, swept along by the currents of his mind. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have, because there wasn’t anything else it could be but a dream.
The lake, him, his cousin. His mother watched them from the shore. Emile paddled in the shallows, too scared of the darkness in the water to venture any further, but Jacques had no problems floating where he could not stand.
July, and news of a scholarship to a private school, but not for Emile. They couldn’t understand why he hadn’t got one too.
Jacques understood business. Emile wanted to farm.
Jacques had prospects, and connections, and a woman he wanted to marry. Emile read books, and talked to commoners, and said he’d marry because it was expected, but he really wasn’t interested that way.
What are you really in the end?
Emile was his parents son, Jacques the nephew they’d taken in, but it might as well have been the other way around.
More memories swirled around him, one leaking into the next.
Jacques, Jacques, Jacques, Jacques. There had never been anything else and Emile had never minded.
Until Christmas, two weeks prior. Jacques told them he wanted to move to America, to be with the parents he hardly knew. Emile’s mother cried of a broken heart, but Jacques had broken more than that.
And now, he was gone.
Emile stood in the hallway, his fingers curled around the handle to Jacques’ room. He blinked and let go, his hand stiff from the grip he’d had.
Whispers murmured around him, each undistinguished from the next. Except for one that sang with a clear voice above the others.
“It’s obvious, when you think about it, you’re pathetic,” it said, “What are you going to do, steal my things as well?”
“As well as what?” Emile asked.
“You know what,” it said, lips against Emile’s ear as the other voices wailed, “And, despite it all, I’m still here.”
It spun away. A gale rushed down the hallway, sending Emile stumbling into the wall, his hair whipping into his face. The voice laughed, looping back around his head. It reached for him, plunging sharp claws through his back to wrap its long fingers around his heart and clench it tight.
Emile woke, the glass he held tumbling from his hand to shatter against the floorboards of the drawing room. He sat in the armchair by the fire, his heart pounding against his ribs. The flames rumbled in the fireplace, the box on the mantelpiece staring at him with its glowing eyes of candlelight.
And he realised it had been right. Despite it all, it had said.
His mother had brought it back.
The laughter echoed in his head, taunting him with memories, more and more, as he stared into its centre.
He’d just have to take it back to where it belonged.
Lunging from his seat, Emile leapt across the room to the fire, catching his toes on the stones of the hearth. Pain burst alight in his foot, but he ignored it, and seized the box from where it sat.
What do you expect to achieve?
A hand lay on top his. He shook it off.
“This,” he said, turning and running out of the room.
He moved across the entrance hall to the front door. He pulled it open, the storm outside ripping it from his hand and slamming it the rest of the way.
“Master Emile, where are you going?”
He ignored the shout, and dashed out into the rain, his feet sinking into the mud as he made his way down the slope of the garden towards the swollen lake.
Here again we stand together.
He stopped at the edge, close enough that the water touched his skin. The moon, wide and gaping, reflected in the surface.
So much the same, Emile.
“Leave me alone.”
I would have been gone, Emile. It’s you that made me stay.
“Well, let me sort that out then.”
Emile drew his arm back, and threw the box out onto the lake, creating ripples in the image of the moon.
It disappeared beneath the water, only to stay there for a moment before floating back up to the surface to glint at him in the moonlight.
The voice laughed at him.
Oh, Emile, did you really think it’d be that easy?
Emile eyed the water, the darkness of it, how far out the box had gone.
He took a deep, shaking breath.
“No,” he said.
And walked into the lake.
The stones tore at his soles, ripping away at his skin as he slipped over them until his feet could reach them no more. He swam out to where the box had settled, the water seeping into his clothes weighing him down. The iciness bore into his bones, cramping his muscles and making each stroke he took more painful than the last.
He reached the box and grabbed hold, pushing it down beneath the water. The voice yelled at him, sweeping along with the wind. Emile didn’t listen.
He tried to hold on, keep his head up, but his legs wouldn’t work and the water lapped at his lips, slipping inside to settle in his lungs as he coughed. More water flowed in.
Something brushed across his legs and wrapped around his ankles, pulling him downwards. He let go of the box, reaching up to claw his way out. He felt the air against his fingertips.
The box bobbed to the surface.
Emile did not.
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