With a huff, the taller girl adjusts the heavy duffle to a more comfortable spot and asks, “Well, now what? We’ve checked out every apartment near campus and nothing’s open.”
“You mean nothing is open that we can afford,” chides the other girl, scanning the newspaper in front of them.
“Don’t get smart. At this rate, we’ll end up having to move back home.”
“I didn’t ask you to come you know,” the brunette tells her companion while turning to the next page.
" Sis, if you think I was going to let you leave me all alone with mother, you’re crazy,” the taller girl snaps, trying to flip her colorful hair out of her face.
“Then quit complaining and help me look for a place,” her sister snaps right back.
Pouting, she looks over the paper and points to one of the listings, ” How about that one?”
“One bedroom. Do you want to share?”
“Hey Tara, look at this,” her sister points at a listing in the jobs section. Hidden among all of the obnoxiously colored ads and seedy job listings is a small white square:
Free room and board.
No experience needed.
Tara cocks a well-sculpted eyebrow at her sister, “You’re kidding right?”
“Got a better plan? Let’s hear it,” the shorter sibling retorts, folding up the newspaper and cramming it into her back pocket.
“Lara, do you see us as housekeepers?”
Her sister stares her down, Lara’s pale green eyes locked with her stormy blue ones, “We need the work. And we could use a place to stay. We can’t keep sleeping at the Y.”
Tara’s shoulders slump. She knew there was no use fighting when her older sister used that tone. “Fine. We’ll take a look. But if it’s a house full of crazed weirdos, I’m out!”
About a half-hour later the two sisters step out of a taxi and walk up to the front gate of an old estate. Through the rusted iron bars they could make out a large, unkempt yard filled with old overgrown oaks. The trees are so dense in fact, that the two can’t see the manor at the end of the long gravel driveway. Taking a cautious look around her, Lara pushes on the old iron gate, causing it to slowly creek open with an ear-piercing screech.
Wincing at the sudden noise, Tara lets out a nervous giggle then says in her best horror movie voice, “Ooooo, scary.”
The older sister rolls her eyes, trying not to let on how skittish the place was making her feel. She opens the gate enough for them to slip in and steps onto the gravel path, “Come on, I would like to get there before it gets dark.”
Lara starts to walk quickly towards their destination, dragging her trunk behind her. Tara hurries to catch up with her, kicking up gravel in her haste.
Out of breath, Tara huffs and asks, “What kind of people do you think live here?”
“Probably a nice elderly couple who just can’t keep up with things like they use to. Why, what were you thinking?”
Frustrated, Lara shakes her head and trudges on forward.
Tara picks up the pace, “What? Look around you, this place is freaking creepy and we haven’t even seen the house yet.”
The older sister looks around at the woods surrounding them. Old, tall oaks with twisting, gnarled branches block out most of the sunlight, causing the place to appear unnaturally dark for an otherwise sunny afternoon.
Telling herself she was shivering from the cool March air, Lara urges her sister towards the house. The two girls hurried down the gravel drive, their feeling of unease increasing with each step.
When they come up to the house, both sisters are shocked at the sheer size of the place. The girls have lived in town most of their lives and grew up hearing stories about the old estate on Roanwood Drive, but neither had ever dared to see it for themselves. Most of the stories whispered to them in the dark at slumber parties centered around this house. The place was rumored to be filled with ghosts and ghouls and every other creature that’s said to go bump in the night. Looking at it now the two sisters could almost believe the whispered stories told under childhood blanket forts. The old Victorian had at one point been painted a rich dark blue, now faded to a dark, somber gray. The house’s exterior was covered with large patches of ivy, their tendrils snaking around window frames and hanging in heavy curtains here and there from the roof three floors above them. Despite the innumerable amount of windows, the girls could see no light or movement inside. The place appeared to be deserted. Staring up into the dark third-floor windows, Lara couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.
Tara looks at her sister skeptically and asks, “So how old was that ad again?”
Pulling the paper out of her pocket, Lara looks over the ad and says, “It’s only been listed for a couple of weeks. But, this place... it looks like no one has lived here for years.”
“Come on Lara, let’s get out of here. This place is seriously giving me the creeps,” Tara says shivering. Her flimsy t-shirt was doing nothing against the chilling breeze.
Swallowing down her childish fears Lara ignores her sister’s pleas and walks up the front steps towards a massive double door, its aged surface deeply carved with an intricate geometric design. A set of narrow stained-glass windows frame the imposing doors, the colorful glass soldered together to look like curling vines shaped in a Celtic knot with different forest creatures peeking out from under the vines’ leaves. She catches the briefest glimpse of a shadow passing by the window, momentarily darkening the different colored glass. Letting out a shaky breath Lara looks up into the snarling face of the wolf knocker mounted in front of her just before she grips onto the heavy iron ring clenched in its jaws and bangs it against the door.
The loud knock causes Tara to jump back, slamming her shoulder against the porch column behind her, “What the hell are you doing!”
“We’ve made it this far. Let’s see if anyone is home,” Lara tells her sister as she tries the knocker again. She could just make out shuffling noises coming from inside.
Rubbing her bruised shoulder, Tara runs up the steps to stand at her sister’s side and whispers, “You know, people are never going to find our bodies. The owner of this place could be some kind of Craig’s List Killer type.”
Lara shushes her apprehensive sister. Not that she didn’t think Tara could be right, she was well aware of the risk they were taking. They had told no one they had left home. No one knew where they were or what they were doing. No one cared. Being the oldest, Lara felt that it was up to her to take care of their needs, and right now they needed a place to stay. Sure there were risks, but considering their other options Lara was willing to accept that. She just hoped she wasn’t making a huge mistake, and if she was-
Lara is jarred from her thoughts by one of the massive doors creaking open. On the other side is a young man in a once-white lab coat, covered in soot and slime. He wipes the dust off of his wire-framed glasses and blinks at the two young women before him, “C-Can I help you?”
Lara gives the confused man a well-mannered smile and says, “Hello, we wanted to inquire about the housekeeping position.”
The young man’s eyebrows shoot up to his hair, giving him the appearance of a startled owl, “You’re here for the housekeeping job?”
Trying to appear as amicable as possible, Lara tilts her smiling face up at the man and as sweet as can be said, “Yes. That is if the position is still available.”
Trying his best to wipe the grime from his coat, the young man hurries to open the door and ushers the two inside, “Why yes, yes it is. Please, come in.” Once they have stepped into the darkened entryway he closes the door quietly behind them and says, “Pardon my appearance. I-I was just finishing up some work.”
Tara looks the man over, taking note of his crumpled and stained lab coat and smudged glasses, ” Work? On what?”
The man is about to stammer out an answer when the three of them are interrupted by someone running down the hall calling out, “Dimitri! Did it work?”
A man with dark wavy hair and olive complexion comes to an abrupt stop in the entryway when he nearly tramples over the sisters. Startled, he looks the two girls over with his sharp blue eyes and quickly anthologizes for their near collision. Lara is just as quick to accept, Tara, on the other hand, seems content to glower at the man as she fiddles with the strap of her duffle bag.
Dimitri attempts to clean his glasses once more, trying desperately to avoid any eye contact with the dark-haired girl that keeps glaring at him and his friend, “Derek, I was just about to call you. It seems we have guests.”
Derek fiddles with the collar of his turtleneck as he studies the two young women standing in front of him, “Well I can see that. Friends of yours?”
Lara gives the man another polite smile, trying not to appear as peeved as she felt, “Actually, we’re here about the housekeeping position.”
Derek blinks at the two girls for a moment, then giving them a big, welcoming smile he says, “Really? Great! When can you start?”
Taken back by the sudden enthusiasm, Lara takes a step back and asks, “You don’t require an interview?”
Derek, seeing that the two appeared to be a little wary, says, “Well, to be frank, we’ve had the ad up for weeks and we’re getting desperate.”
Not taking her eyes off of the strange men before her, Tara leans over and whispers into her sister’s ear, “Bad feeling, bad feeling...”
Dimitri looks at the two women, then back at his colleague, “Shouldn’t we talk to you-know-who, first?”
“Hmm, you’re right. One moment, ladies.” With that, Derek dashes down the hall and up a massive winding staircase.
Dimitri watches as his friend practically skips away, then addresses the sisters, “You’ll have to excuse my friend. He’s-”
“A spaz?” Tara blurts out, flicking an unruly strand of purple hair out of her face.
Lara frowns at her sister’s brattish remark and gives her a light slap on the shoulder.
The young man in the lab coat ruffles his dust-covered hair, “Yes, well...would you both like to have a seat for a moment?”
He leads them into a formal living room and the two take a seat on the sofa.
“Can I get you two anything? A drink perhaps or...”
“No thanks,” Tara tells him with a shrug. She starts to pick at her chipped black nail polish, a bored expression plastered on her face.
Lara notices what her sister is doing and discreetly pokes her in the side, “Thank you, but we’re fine.”
Dimitri takes a seat on the sofa across from them, “Probably for the best. We’re out of clean cups, and the tap here is a bit-”
Tara once again interrupts their host and asks, “What exactly would we be doing here?”
“Beg your pardon?” he asks, blinking up at the rude young woman.
She gives him another uninterested shrug, “Just trying to figure out what the job is. Housekeeping sure, but just how much of this place needs keeping? This house looks huge from outside, more like a hotel or a museum or something. Do you guys have any other maids working here?”
Dimitri shakes his head, “Nope. We only just recently got permission to hire anyone. And just one actually, although this place could defiantly use more. Back in its hay day, Roanwood Manor had anywhere from twelve to twenty people working and living here, not including the family that owned the place.”
Lara looks over at him, and trying not to show her concern ask, “Does that mean you would only be able to hire one of us?”
“I’m afraid that is not my call to make. Is that an issue?”
Lara nervously plays with a strand of her brown hair, “Well, kind of...”
“We’re sort of a package deal,” Tara chimed in, squeezing her sister’s hand.
“I see. Well, we’ll find out soon enough, once my colleague returns.”