The boy had spent the entire day in desperation. He exhausted himself crying. He wanted to go home. He had missed a day of school now. They would know he was gone, and so would his mother. There was a good chance she had even called his father. The two of them might be out looking for him.
The house had no phone, and it was fully secured. While the internals of the house had been let go, someone had gone to extreme measures to shore up all entry and exit ways, and the first floor windows were blacked out, as well.
The night before, scarecrow and Jack had gone out to do business once again. When the boy asked the scarecrow what Jack had been talking about, scarecrow simply tried to smile and said it wasn't for him to worry about.
He had spent the day with nothing to do and only Mr. Uzor moving about the house. He wasn't much for company and either didn't know what was going on or wasn't permitted to tell him. After a long, stressful day, the boy had finally gone to sleep.
He was awake now, though. It was late night, and he knew something was watching him. The candle was out, the lantern was off, and he was in perfect night. Slowly, fearfully, he rolled over in bed and tried to make sense of the wall of blackness before him, but nothing was there. Then, a knock came at the door.
By the time William had sat up in bed, the door opened. Candle light spilled in from the chandelier, and a woman entered. She had a pale face, thick but narrow eyebrows, long, thin blond hair and wore a black dress.
She curtseyed politely, then said, “Young Villem, I am sorry we could not speak earlier.”
“Oh,” was all the boy could say. After the day he had and the news he'd been told, the last thing he wanted to deal with at the moment was a stranger. Also, despite her politeness, he could not help be afraid of her. Her facial expression was hidden by the room's darkness, and shadows painted a deep frown dripping down her chin. She had a distinct aura about her. William couldn't help but feel that she was a devourer.
She moved across the room and was suddenly at William's bedside. The camping lamp on the table switched on, and for a moment he honestly thought it had been magic, until he saw her hand on the switch.
In the light, he saw that she had a softer face than he had originally imagined, with freckles. “I am the countess Ambrus Borsala,” She introduced herself. “May I sit?”
She took a seat on the far corner of the bed, and asked, “So, Villem, how do you feel?”
The countess smiled in response, and her fangs were bright white. Despite the predatory teeth held within, it seemed like an honest smile to William. “I don't want to die,” he told her.
Ambrus's smile faded. “I know, little one. And, contrary to what you are told, we do not like to prey on little children. A child's spirit is a strange thing, unbound by years of society's training, and it does unpredictable things. So, we will do what we can to protect you.”
“What is it?” William asked. “What's out to get me?”
“I am to understand you were in the cemetery, and you met a man there.”
“A bad man. Who is he?”
“He is. . . the coffin man. An undertaker. You do not have this legend in your time?”
William shook his head.
“He will appear to you twice. Once, he will beckon, and then be gone. Another time, he will appear, and that moment will be your moment to die.”
“Does he kill you?”
“They say he does not kill, but only shows the way.”
“So how can I be safe here?”
“Villem, this is my house, and that makes it a house of the undead. Especially this time of the year. Do you understand?”
“Why this time of the year?”
“As Halloween draws close, when the Harvest comes, we children of the night grow in power. We grow stronger, and places special to us also become powerful.”
“Like your house?”
“Like my house, and like the graveyard that you were in. You were lucky that our friend, Henry Talbot, came upon you. Deep in the night, this time of year when spirits linger just out of sight, a place like the graveyard becomes a wilderness of darkness, longer, deeper and with a more winding path than you could ever see in the daylight. You entered there one night, and emerged on the other side the next night.”
“Yeah. . .” William said, “So that's what happened.”
“You traveled in the world of the night.”
“It was scary.”
Ambrus winked and said, “You get used to it, believe me. I will let you get some rest, now. In the morning, I will have Vilmos bring you some games to play, okay?”
Before she could get up, William asked, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
The countess smiled again. “You are a friend to the scarecrow, and he is a friend to us all. You were kind and gave him comfort. I think a lot of the people he must travel with cannot do that. Also, a child who seeks us out so bravely as you have is an unusual thing. I. . . am sorry that it brought you to danger. Do you have any other questions?”
William had millions, but he couldn't think of any way to put any of them into words. Everything was so strange now. He felt like if this woman could explain everything for him, he wouldn't be so afraid. He could think of one thing, however. “Ms. Borsala, who's Scratch?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I saw it written under a bridge. A bunch of times, over and over. It said he's coming. He must be important.”
“Oh yes, Mr. Talbot told me about that.” She steepled her hands and tapped her fingertips togther below her chin. “Very interesting. He has not been seen in many decades. He is important to some, but not to you. He isn't a danger to the living but he isn't a friend, either. You shouldn't worry.”
William didn't feel like any of that really answered his question, but everything was so confusing right now. Maybe what she said would make sense in the morning. “Thanks for being nice,” he said, “But now, I just want to go home. I need to see my mom before she gets too upset.”
“Villem,” she began.
Another knock came at the door, surprising both of them. “A moment with the wee lad?” It was Jack, returned for the night. “It's important.”
“I must be attending to business, anyway,” the countess said. “I will leave you. Do not keep him up too late.”
“Whatever you say, Amy.”
As she passed by him, she stopped to say, “Jack, you have a very strong disrespect for authority.”
“It's what got me where I am today.” He smiled.
Once she was gone, Jack knelt down beside the boy's bed. “So, lad, I have a business proposal for you. What would ye say if I could get ye out of here as soon as tomorrow?”