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Sep 27, 2022 9:18 PM
rule one is that you're only allowed to refer to it as an "armoire"
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Her first child, her son, was so full of darkness - 

She could see it, she knew him, she loved him, and she could've taught him better if only he'd stayed -

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And she can't bear another child, and her husband left too anyway, but she can take in orphans.  She takes in a pair of little redheaded sisters who so adore each other.  She can succeed with them where she once failed.  She can teach them to love and be loved, she can teach them virtue and discipline.  She can raise them on bedtime stories of wicked sons and weeping mothers, and fill them up with wholesomeness and purity and decency and love and goodness and light.

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There are nights she still cries, thinking of Thomas marching out the door, thinking of screaming after him until her voice gives out.  She tries not to let the girls hear.

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Kaylee's scared of her.  She can tell.  Kaylee's sweet but sometimes she says dark things, "why can't you just" when the answer is that's horrible, and Sybil hates it.  So Vanessa hugs her and pets her hair and tells her it's okay, when Sybil does the thing she does, when she almost-cries and makes it your fault.  But Kaylee is sweet, and a good person, and if there's anyone Vanessa trusts to carry darkness in her heart it's her.

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Vanessa hates her.  She can tell.  Sybil tries to teach her right from wrong, tries to teach both of them, and Kaylee knows she's supposed to learn but it's all askew, and she doesn't know why, and it's like Vanessa has her own right and wrong that shines through her like the sun through a crack in a cold stone wall but she's just a girl, like Kaylee -

And she knows Vanessa has perfect unshakeable faith in her and she feels so ungrateful, not to feel the same way about Vanessa -

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They're twelve, and more and more often Sybil's tears turn to anger, and she takes Kaylee's hand and says "we can leave" and -

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- and they do.

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They go under cover of night.  Kaylee will of course be trying not to think of how anguished Mom will be, and she squeezes her hand as she realizes it.

(She calls Sybil Mom sometimes, in her thoughts, names like that don't matter too much to her.)

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They take food, and clothes, and cash, and head for the empty house on the edge of town, where they're pretty sure Thomas hid out when he was running away.  They'll catch the next bus into the city.  They have an aunt, there - she couldn't take them in back when their parents died.  Maybe she can now.  Maybe.

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The house is dark, and creaky, and cobwebby - and Kaylee hates spiders - but in good repair; Vanessa judges it safe to explore.  Flashlights illuminate it feebly, Vanessa's in yellow and Kaylee's in pale white, leaving swooping green-violet afterburn in their eyes as they sweep over ornate old-fashioned wooden furniture.

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"Nessie, come see."

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It's a room full of dressers.  Not normal dressers with drawers, but old-fashioned dressers with double doors and mirrors on the inside.  Armoires, she thinks.  (There is another name for them but the word is eluding her.  She's tired.)

The room is packed full of them - not just against the walls, but lined up in haphazard irregular rows, to make the room a dusty, musty armoire-maze.

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"That's weird."  Sometimes it is Vanessa's job to state the obvious.

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"Why would someone have so many?"

She runs her fingers lightly across the door of one.

"It's - stuck shut," she says.  "Nailed or something."

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"This one's padlocked," she says.  "This one's stuck shut too.... this one's locked.  This one's boarded shut."

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"Boarded, like..."

She looks where Vanessa's shining her flashlight.  Boarded like there's two planks of wood, crossed across the doors, hammered into place.  Like it's the entrance to an abandoned house.  - a much more-abandoned house.

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"This is creepy," Vanessa opines.

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She rounds a corner, around a row of armoires, slowly, her left hand trailing over ornately worked wood.

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"Kaylee?"

She darts around the corner after her.

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She glances back.  "Sorry," she says.  "It's just - there's something about them."

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"...you're not wrong," she says.

" - this one opens."

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"Which one?"

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Dark, almost reddish wood, still shiny as though freshly varnished, with twining leafy viney designs around the edges of the doors and delicate little brass handles.

"There's no lock, and it's not nailed or padlocked or anything..."

She hooks a finger through one brass handle, pulls.  It swings right open.  Doesn't even creak.

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She shines her pale white flashlight on the back of the empty armoire, the narrow little left-hand wall, the narrow little right-hand wall--

 

There's no right hand wall.

There's a little passage, a narrow corridor.  Too narrow to walk through, but a child or a small adult could sidle sideways through it.

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The armoire isn't quite flush with the one to its right.  She slides her hand between them.

It sure has a right-hand wall on the outside.

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