Mansion

“Bernard!” Philip’s voice carried easily across the grungy one bedroom apartment. Bernard knew that tone, knew what it meant, and knew the fear that would be reflected in his eyes would only enrage Philip more.

“You didn’t wind the bloody alarm! Do you want me to lose my job?!” Philip emerged from the bedroom, suspenders hanging loosely from his pants.

“I’m sorry, papa. What can I do?”

“What can you do?” Philip stumbled over an empty bottle. Bernard had a second to duck before the bottle was kicked at his head. “You useless piece of shite!”

Bernard felt a whimper crawl up his throat, and wished he had let the bottle hit him.

“Now I’m going to be even later! What do you have to say for yourself?!” Bernard hugged his knees to his chest as Philip’s kicks seemed to find every sensitive organ.

“Papa?” he whimpered as blood blotted out his vision.

“Stop you’re whining. You have no idea what the real world is like. Your existence should have been ended with a hanger.”

Bernard remained still as his blood dripped slowly onto the floor until he heard the sound of the door slamming. He relaxed and was rewarded with searing pain. Bernard listened to the sounds of human misery as he waited for the strength to get up and clean his blood off the floor. There would be hell to pay if Philip got home and found a bloody mess.

He closed his eyes and listened to babies screaming their hunger to empty rooms, and young children playing with laughs just a little too desperate. The sound of the lock jiggling sent a bolt through him and he attempted to push himself from the floor.

He can’t be back yet!

Barnard whimpered as a rib poked into something soft. He struggled not to vomit and not to collapse, knowing that it would just bring more pain.

“Shh, Bernard, try not to move.” The sound of a gentle female voice made him recoil.

“Who are you? You can’t be here.” He tried to wipe the blood from his eyes.

“My name is Florence. You can trust me.”

I can’t trust anyone, Bernard thought as he tried to shuffle away from the strange woman in his house.

“We’re leaving, Bernard.” Her gentle touch on his arm shot red hot pain threw him. “Oh, Bernard.”

He finally managed to blink away enough blood from his eyes to follow her gaze to his arm which hung limply at an odd angle. “It’ll be fine.”

“Yes, it will be. Can you walk?” She had beautiful untainted blonde hair and chocolate brown eyes.

“I can’t leave. He’ll just find me.”

“What if I said I could take you somewhere that he’d never find you?”

“I’d say you were a charlatan.”

Her skirt dragged through his blood as she sat back on her heels.

“What’s in it for you?” He eyed her skirts and wondered when she would realise and raise a hand to him.

“You are the spitting image of a son I once had.”

Bernard nodded. “I am his replacement.”

“Does that make it easier for you to accept my aid?”

Bernard looked around at the dirty walls and floors, covered in filthy clothing, and old blood he hadn’t quite managed to clean up.

“If I pretend to be this son you lost, you’ll make sure I never end up back here?”

“You don’t have to pretend to be him. You just have to come with me.”

“I don’t believe you. There’s more you aren’t telling me. I can see it.” Bernard stared at the well-dressed woman who looked so very out of place. “I’ve never met you, and you somehow know my name.”

“I heard it. I heard your father abuse you and shout curses, and I had finally had enough.”

“You don’t live here, so how did you hear it?”

“My people have excellent hearing.”

“I’ve seen you before. You’ve been following me.”

“Yes, for quite some time, Bernard. You’re quite observant.”

“Why?”

“As I’ve said, you remind me of my son.”

He regarded her suspiciously for a moment. “You don’t look old enough to have a sixteen year old boy.”

“Another perk of my people.”

“These sound like quite the unusual people.”

“Well, you can meet them if you come with me.”

“And how do I know you won’t sell me into servitude?”

“How could anything I offer be worse than this?” She motioned around at the squalor.

“Clearly you lack imagination, ma’am.” Bernard struggled to his feet.

“Here, let me help.”

He swatted away her hand. “I can manage on my own. I don’t need you.”

“Of course. But you will come with me?”

“For now.”

“Good enough.” She smiled at him. “You really do look so much like him.” She smelled the air and Bernard felt his lip curl in disgust.

“What are you doing such a thing for?”

“There’s a world of information in scent, Bernard. No reason to blind myself. Even filth tells a story.” She straightened her skirts and held out her hand delicately.

“What you expect me to do with that?”

“Oh, Bernard.” She gently took his unbroken arm and tucked her clean gloved into his filthy arm. “Shall we?”

 

***

 

The train slowed and Bernard immediately woke from his light sleep. He didn’t move or otherwise indicate that he was awake as he watched the city speed past. The train gave a final lurch and Florence woke with a start.

“Oh, we’re here! Wake up Bernard.”

“I’m not asleep.”

“Well, shall we then?” Florence gathered her bag and led the way. They pushed past the people waiting on the platform, and entered the stocky building.

“Did you enjoy the ride?”

“It was noisy,” he answered as he coughed on the smut hanging low in the sea air.

Florence scoffed. “Well it’s not about to get any less noisy, I’m afraid. Welcome to Seattle.”

Bernard was taken aback at the beauty of the station which could not have possibly been predicted looking at it from the outside. The ceiling stretched upward to the sky and was carved heavily with decorations. The glossy white interior was nearly blinding.

“Just wait till you see Pike’s Market!” Florence waved her hands as if it was in front of her now. “So many things all in one place! We are truly living in a magnificent time, Bernard.”

“If you say so,” he mumbled as they exited the train station.

“Herman!” Florence called as she flounced toward a large white man with a very scraggly beard.

“Is this him then?” Herman questioned, eyeing Bernard.

“Isn’t he the spitting image of Wallis?” Florence beamed at him.

“Indeed,” Herman agreed gravely.

“Well come on, let’s get him home then!” Florence hopped into the nearby motor car and patted the seat next to her. “Come on, Bernard!”

He looked back at the railway station and wondered if he was truly safe, or if somehow his father would still find him.

“Bernard!”

“I’m coming.” He climbed into the car and tried to breathe shallowly as the car belched black smoke everywhere.

“You’ll get used to it!” Florence yelled over the noise of the engine.

Bernard nodded numbly and watched the buildings as they passed.

 

***

 

“No humans in the Clan except as a servant,” Tyee Samuel asserted for the third time.

“I’m nobody’s servant,” Bernard protested.

“Please, Samuel.”

“No. He either becomes an Architect or you shall be his master and claim him as your servant.”

“He’s blood, Samuel!” Florence pleaded.

“I understand that he’s your great-grandson, Florence, but we can’t take in every stray. There must be rules.”

“Great-grandson?” Bernard grabbed Florence’s arm to get her attention.

“Samuel!” She uttered in exasperation. “Yes. You are my great-grandson. My people are Architects of Lore, specifically Wolf Clan. We live a long time, have incredible sense of smell and hearing.”

“Were-wolves?” Bernard had heard of such creatures whispered about from other boys he had grown up with, but to think they were actually real.

Samuel sighed. “Really Florence, you are truly forcing my hand. He knows too much, you must decide.”

“Don’t I get a say?” Bernard turned to Samuel.

“And what is it that you would want?” Samuel watched him curiously.

“I am no one’s servant anymore, if that is my only choice then kill me now. I would choose, rather, to be one of these cursed were-wolf.”

“Well, it’s not exactly a curse-”

“No, Florence, I don’t think the boy needs correcting. There is no certainty that you will survive the change. Do you still wish to take that chance?”

“Bernard felt his heart stumble slightly, but stood his ground. “I said I’d rather be dead didn’t I?”

“As you wish. Florence, perform the change. He is your responsibility now.”

“It is a responsibility I humbly accept.”

 

***

 

“Are you sure you won’t change your mind? I feel as if it was a waste to save your live, only to risk it now.” Florence sat next to him on the chaise.

“Either way I won’t have to deal with Philip anymore, will I?”

“Yes. I suppose you’re right.” Florence picked up a knife from a nearby end table and examined it in the setting sun. “I will have to bleed you and you will have to drink my blood.”

“Is that all?” Bernard was happy his voice remained steady.

“You have your grandfather’s courage, dear boy. I swear it’s as if he’s come back from the dead.” Florence smiled at him and held out her hand.

Tentatively he extended his newly casted left arm.

“Beast of a man.” Florence swore as she gently touched the cast. She placed the knife against his wrist and pressed the wickedly sharp blade into the tender flesh.

The blade was so sharp it barely stung, but the sight of the blood brought pain. He looked away as she whispered foreign words over the flow of his blood into an earthen bowl below. He leaned his head back as the blood flow left him weaker and weaker. It wasn’t the first time he had passed out from blood loss.

 

***

 

When at last the fever that had burned through his body for a week released him, he opened his eyes to find himself in the same simple room the ceremony had started in. Across from him, in a matching chair, Florence was curled up. Her flesh so white it reflected like a ghostly presence.

Her ear twitched as he shifted and attempted to swallow past the parched dryness in his throat.

“Try not to move too much right away,” Florence told him as she got up to pour a glass of water. “You’ll have plenty of time to adjust, and plenty of help from your new family.”

He took the water suspiciously. “I still don’t trust you.”

Florence laughed. “Well we’ve got centuries to earn that trust now, don’t we?”

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