Juliet found the first night in her new home, terrifying. The old manor house was best suited to ghosts rather than the living, with its dark passages and endless, narrow corridors. The small cloakroom on the ground floor was the only place that did not stink of musk. Its small bathroom meant that Juliet did not have to climb up into the darkness.
Lunch that first afternoon was an uncomfortable affair with everyone trying to pretend that everything was normal, but conversation was stilted. Her aunt tried her best to cheer things up with her no-nonsense approach to things.
“I know it’s difficult for you,” she said, looking from Juliet to Kim. “But your parents are not the first to lose their jobs.”
“We know that aunt,” Juliet answered for both. “And we don’t mind moving, well, you no,” she shrugged when her aunt raised an eyebrow.
“You’ll soon settle in,” the old woman smiled. “And I must admit, I’m looking forward to having the company for a change. Go and explore the house,” she said. “I had four of the bedrooms aired, so you can choose which one you like best.”
Juliet and Kim were glad to be free of the kitchen and hurried out to join their father in carrying the suitcases upstairs.
Like the rest of the house, the furniture in the bedrooms was big, dark, and ancient-looking. It was early Victorian, her father explained, but all Juliet saw was the way it filled every room with its bulk and gave shadows somewhere to hide. Her room seemed like a vast cavern. Her aunt said she had the rooms aired, but dust lay inches deep on all the surfaces. The air smelt stale, and it was obvious from the grime-coated windows that they had not been opened in decades. Her bed was a huge, lumbering four-poster, the type she had seen in books and movies. Its once-bright tapestry faded and covered with old cobwebs and inches of dust. Juliet shivered, imagining the countless generations of spiders who made their home within the folds. Two large wardrobes faced it from the other end of the room and a matching dressing table nestled in the alcove of the bay window.
“It needs a lot of care,” her mother came in and put an arm around Juliet’s shoulder.
“It needs condemning,” Juliet said. “I can’t sleep in that,” she nodded at the bed.
“You go and explore,” her mother kissed the top of her head. “By the time you come back you won’t recognise the place.”
“Cobwebs,” Juliet reminded her, pointing at the bed curtains.
She found Kim jumping up and down on the bed in her room. Dust rose into the air every time she landed on the stale covers.
“Isn’t this the greatest bed?” Kim asked.
“What’s so good about it?” Juliet thought, it is ugly.
“It has curtains and everything,” Kim slid on to the floor. “It’s like a bed for a princess.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Juliet shrugged, too miserable to argue. “I’m going to look around the house. You can come if you want?”
“Yeah,” Kim paused, to tuck her teddy bear under the covers. “See you later, Mr Snuggles.”
“You are so simple,” Juliet threw her eyes to heaven. “I sometime wonder if we’re related.”
“I’d rather be simple than old and grumpy like you,” Kim flounced past her.
It is true, Juliet thought, I feel old, and I am still just a teenager.
The rest of the house was worse than their bedrooms, as some of the rooms reeked of damp and decay.
“Is aunt Maisie poor now?” Kim asked.
“I don’t know, maybe,” Juliet said.
Later when they met their father in the garden, she asked him same question. Maisie was a little eccentric, he said, but she had a healthy bank balance. She had given him free rein when he suggested doing some repairs and tidying the garden.
Juliet tried to banish dark thoughts, but when it came time for bed, they returned. Her room was much cleaner and the dreaded bed curtains gone, but it still held its air of gloom. She left the curtains open so the light from the full moon lit the room, but it made crouching beasts of the giant wardrobes. As the air cooled the woodwork contracted, making little cracking noises that sounded loud as gun shots to her frayed nerves. The wild cry of some night creature echoed from outside and at that same instant her bedroom door creaked open.
“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Kim stood framed in the doorway hugging Mr Snuggles.
Juliet had never been more pleased to see her little sister.