The boy was gently nudged awake. He was disoriented, confused and had no idea where he was. The room around him was almost entirely wooden: Grey wooden walls, long wooden rafters on the ceiling and wooden planks making up the floor, broken up only by the occasional throw rug. The room was dim. There seemed to be no electricity, but a single candle burning in the window, and there was a battery-powered camping lantern on a table. A clock's pendulum tick-tocked away on the wall. William could see the hand dipping just past the II. He wished it displayed the day.
“What's going on?” He asked.
The small man next to his bed bowed. “I am Vilmos Uzor,” he introduced himself. “The countess will be ready to see you soon. Please, prepare your things.” He gestured toward a vanity screen in the far corner of the room.
William realized that below the blankets, he was wearing only a large shirt that went to his ankles. “Where am I?” he asked.
“You are in town. The countess has acquired this property for the season. You were asleep,” he added helpfully, “When Mr. Talbot carried you in. It was a long night, yes?”
“Something like that. I'm still confused,” William admitted.
“Change quickly,” Mr. Vilmos suggested. “The countess has little time, and there is much to do.” With that, he left the room.
William had no choice but to go and change behind the vanity mirror. It was dark and dusty behind it, and the flickering candle in the window cast strange silhouettes onto it. His clothes had been washed. His backpack hung from a hook on the wall.
William put on the fresh shirt and pants, but left the backpack where it was, then followed Mr. Uzor's path into the hallway. He emerged on a rickety balcony overlooking the dark first floor. The wood motif continued here. Most of the paint had stripped from the walls to reveal the original material beneath. A chandelier hung, at least, and was lit. From somewhere below, he could hear voices.
He was about to go down to them, but Mr. Uzor put a hand on his shoulder. “Please wait,” he said, “Until her current audience is done.”
With nothing else to do, the boy listened intently. He couldn't make out the words being said, but there were at least 3 voices. He heard Mr. Talbot-- he seemed to be the closest. There was also a woman's voice and maybe 2 others.
Henry Talbot suddenly appeared below, heading toward the front door. Another man appeared just as abruptly and put a hand on Mr. Talbot's arm before he could go. William recognized him before he even had a chance to speak.
“Yer making the right choice,” Stingy Jack said.
“I've never heard anyone make that phrase sound so doubtful,” Mr. Talbot replied, then was gone. William couldn't help but feel a little sad for him. It seemed kind of like he was in trouble, and after he had been so helpful to William. He still wondered why, although maybe he was just honestly a nice man.
Jack turned and talked to somebody else obscured by the balcony floor. “That one doesn't trust us,” he said.
“I believe you're at the root of that, Jack, as you are with most distrust.”
It seemed too good to be true, but the voice was astonishingly familiar. He bolted from under Mr. Uzor's hand and dashed down the stairs. Reaching the bottom, he wound round a pillar and raced straight toward his friend. “Scarecrow!” He yelled.
“Ah, dear William,” the scarecrow replied. “I see you are awake. You've had a long rest, and well earned. How do you feel?”
“I feel kinda weird,” William admitted. “Where am I? When can I go home?”
“This is the countess's temporary residence,” the scarecrow told him. “I am her guest, and you are here under my orders. For the time being, I need you to remain until further notice.”
“Hello there, wee lad,” Stingy Jack said. “Haven't seen ye in a week.”
William waved to the old man sheepishly.
“You shouldn't have come out so late at night, dear boy,” The scarecrow said.
William couldn't help but feel that he looked sad, despite the limited amount of emotion his stitched face was capable of showing. “You shouldn't have left without me,” William protested. “Or you should have said goodbye.”
“I feared that following me would lead to a bad end,” the scarecrow said. “I thought my absence would protect you. Had I only known. I had thought that a healthy fear of what lay outside in the darkness would keep you at home. Now, I fear these walls may be the only place you are safe until the season passes.”
“And that's a maybe,” Jack offered, unhelpfully. Then, offhand, he noted, “Hey, old Amy's gone.”
Mr. Uzor appeared from behind them. William had no idea he had even come down the stairs. “The countess could not tarry,” the small man said. “She is very busy, and I'm afraid her time for an audience is at an end.”
“Bah!” Jack said. “You'd think she could have spared some time for the boy.”
“Oh, really, it's okay,” William said. “I don't even know her, so I don't know why I would expect a countess. . .”
“Still,” Jack cut him off. “It's not every day ye find out you're going to die.”