Like so many applicants, Amy discovered the job through someone else. A friend of her mother’s co-worker sent a link: Summer Position at Rosewood Historic Park. Candidates required a background in history, strong verbal skills, and a sense of loyalty, all of which Amy felt she possessed. During her interview, she told the story breathlessly: the flurry of emails (though I don’t pretend to understand such things), the way she’d circled the interview date twice on her calendar.
Like so many applicants, she was young, with a few final pimples and a newly-completed undergraduate degree. Her eyes were bright, she drew appropriate connections between historical events and trends in social history, and she pushed her coppery hair back with nervous, flutelike laughter.
We hired her, of course. Naturally, I had nothing to do with the contract, but the committee solicited my opinion. They could hardly do otherwise.
Amy started at the end of April, with her eyes still shining and her arms full of petticoats and dresses and bonnets, none of which fit, but all of which pleased her. After Amy had seen her new locker, Chelsea toured her around the park. Like so many applicants, Amy had childhood memories of the grounds and buildings, but she trotted to keep pace, drinking in Rosewood’s secrets: there is an emergency phone in the Shoemaker’s Shop. There is a modern light switch behind the door of the Minister’s House. The gardeners brew coffee in their office under the Tinsmith’s, and they’re happy to share.
I followed, listening. In the dappled spring sunlight, the lines around Chelsea’s mouth looked deeper than last season. She is only twenty-five. She is only twenty-five, and yet her voice is dulled, her face drawn.
Amy didn’t notice, of course. She was too busy gaping in every direction. Everything entranced her; from the male employees’ caps and vests, to the apple blossoms that perfumed the air. On meeting the other employees, she shook hands eagerly, never reacting to the slight pause after introductions, the way their eyes slid guiltily from hers. Once, Chelsea glanced in my direction. Her mouth twitched, and I readied myself, but she simply swallowed and invited Amy for drinks after work.
I suppose I needn’t have worried. Chelsea knows better than to mention me.
The summer passed, hot and cloudless. Rosewood pulsed with the shrieking of day campers on field trips, and the half-tired, half-frantic shouts of parents herding their broods. The staff answered questions, demonstrated trades, and sweated. In the mornings, Amy sat on the Town Hall porch with a basket of pioneer toys, showing off the cup-and-ball and wooden Noah’s Ark. She was good, very good—she had read all her assigned material on nineteenth-century childhood, and she spoke to the children, not at them. In the afternoons, she helped Chelsea in the Doctor’s House, describing Victorian medicine and showing off the instruments with an easy confidence.
Sometimes, while walking from Town Hall to the Doctor’s House, she would throw back her bonnet, stare into the hard blue sky, and whoop. At these moments, I shivered with happiness. Like so many applicants, she was intelligent, personable, well-versed in history. But more: she loved Rosewood, loved every blade of grass and every nail with the same, fiery affection I felt. Pleased, I rested, and watched.
Inevitably, the summer drew to a close. The last week of August was glorious: spun from light and warmth, its beauty enhanced by the imminent spectre of autumn. At the end of that week, when the maple leaves were turning scarlet, Amy went to the administrative office, and asked to stay.
I had hoped she would.
Her summer dress was exchanged for a fall one, and Thomas trained her in the Minister’s House. By this point, she had begun to leave work with the other twenty-to-twenty-five-year-olds, giggling and flirting as they ran for the bus stop. Each morning, I scrutinized her, trying to judge what, if anything, she had been told.
And then, one morning when frost coated the Town Green and Danny was delivering extra firewood to the buildings, Chelsea threw her neckerchief to the change-room floor. “I’m sick of this,” she muttered. “I want to look my age!”
I turned very cold, and circled nearer. Amy paused in buttoning her dress. “I know,” she said. “It sucks. But trust me—it’s the costume. Everyone looks older with their hair tied back, and no makeup…”
I relaxed, and let Chelsea retrieve her neckerchief without incident. But, as it happens, Amy was wrong. Without makeup, she looked younger. Her wide blue eyes had not lost their innocent glitter. Freckles dusted her nose, free from any foundation or powders.
Again, I make no claims to understand such things.
As the daylight grew shorter, and the employees’ breaths trailed behind them like ghosts, Chelsea grew pale and withdrawn. Where once she had spent lunch hours with Amy and the other young people, she now ate alone. Often, she left half her lunch untouched. She spoke more and more to the older employees, opted to catch the later bus. When Amy, bewildered and hurt, tried to start conversations, Chelsea could not meet her eyes.
I suspected it would happen. Like so many employees, Chelsea’s passion for Rosewood had dimmed, yet she could not leave. She probably felt me watching her. Her lip trembled as she gazed at Amy from across the staff room.
One day, huddled on her corner chair, Chelsea leaned close to Joe. “Is this right?” she asked. “Shouldn’t we…”
“No,” Joe answered, in a tone that precluded argument. He placed his top hat on his head, and stood abruptly. “It has to happen.”
I’ve always liked Joe.
It was almost November by then, and I was growing weak and restless. Geese winged their way across the sky, shattering the autumn stillness with their honking. There was a surge of school groups that kept everyone busy. In the afternoons, Amy was usually too tired for conversation, her voice raspy from hours of talking. Still, she smiled and laughed, and caught the bus with the others.
Chelsea glanced towards me more and more, her eyes ringed with shadows. Blood beaded on her fingertips where she’d chewed the nails to stubs.
The last week of October, the list for Halloween positions went up. Amy was thrilled. Each year, the park has extended hours on Halloween, closing at ten. In some buildings, the employees tell ghost stories. In others, they discuss nineteenth-century mourning, burial practices, and particularly grim bits of local history. The list filled quickly, but one space remained for Amy: the Doctor’s House.
She was surprised, I think. After all, with the macabre collection of tools, it would be easy to frighten visitors. She offered the spot to Chelsea, who normally works there. Chelsea refused. So did everyone else.
Amy looked perplexed, until she was given a thick sheaf of papers detailing various “ghost sightings” in the house. Some were pure inventions by bored staff. Others came from self-righteous, trembling visitors. She threw herself into them, memorizing dates and details with the fervour I loved. On Halloween, as the sun went down, she found Chelsea, and asked for the Doctor’s key.
The skin beneath Chelsea’s eyes was red and puffy, and her voice was thick. “Be careful, all right?”
“Why?” Amy asked, tucking the key in her reticule.
Chelsea shivered as I brushed by her. “It’s Halloween. The veil is thin tonight.”
She did very well, telling her memorized tales in exactly the right low, insistent tone. Visitors flocked to the hear her. She bantered and laughed in between, encouraging visitors to take pictures in hopes of catching a spirit on film. Oil lamps on the walls and mantel illuminated her grin. Her cheeks flushed with exhilaration.
By a quarter to ten, Rosewood had quieted, the last visitors trooping across the parking lot. Like every employee, Amy knows not to leave her building until closing. And so, now, with fifteen minutes remaining, she sits in the parlour, practicing her needlework and replaying her favourite moments of the night.
I wait in the corner.
Like every employee, Amy is articulate. She learns quickly, and she knows a lot.
But this is what Amy doesn’t know.
At ten o’clock precisely, Chelsea will come speak to her. She will apologize for her recent distance, and she will give Amy a sad, desperate hug. Then, she will ask Amy for help; just a few minutes to carry something up from the basement. Amazed, unaware that the Doctor’s House even has a basement, Amy will agree.
And so Chelsea will open a door that Amy thinks is sealed, and lead her down a narrow staircase. She will grip Amy’s hand tightly, and though no one will hear it, and only I will see it, she will murmur, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
They always do.
There isn’t much in the basement. A tattered veil divides the room in two, and a large table dominates most of the remaining space. Chelsea will talk too quickly, fighting to keep Amy’s attention until the other employees arrive. Quivering, they will surround her, gritting their teeth against her cries. Then they will shove her through the curtain.
That is where I will be.
Tired and hungry, I will offer her a choice. I will ask for one year of her life, enough to sustain me until next All Hallows’. And then next year, I will make the same request again, either to her, or Chelsea, or Thomas, or most likely, to the newest employee. With every year she gives, the closer she will be bound: to me, and to Rosewood.
She will rage. She will weep. And I will wait.
For there is another option. She can give me all her life, now, to sate me for decades.
Like every employee, she will choose.
The clock strikes ten. I smile, and uncurl myself, slipping through the parlour and towards the basement stairs. There is a knock at the door.
Copyright © 2013 Kaitlin Bryski
K.T. Bryski is a Toronto-born author and podcaster. She made her publishing debut with “Hapax,” an apocalyptic fantasy available in print, e-book, and podcast forms (Dragon Moon Press, 2012). Select playwriting credits include “Dracula” (Northern Secondary School, 2009), various bits of children’s theatre for Black Creek Pioneer Village (2011), and “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon” (Canadian Children’s Opera Company, 2014). When not writing, she enjoys frolicking in petticoats at Black Creek Pioneer Village, which is completely safe and not at all haunted. She can be found online at www.ktbryski.com, and on Twitter as @ktbryski.