The next day, I woke up at the very time that Uetoresu often came to shake me awake.
Odd, really. She didn't come today, I thought as I pulled on my socks and the rest of my clothes. And to think I thought she enjoyed beating me up. Could it be perhaps that the relative annoyed her last night and she's still fuming in her room?
I stood up from the bed and walked to the door. As soon as I touched the doorknob, a feeling of cold ice squiggled its way across my back. Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong. I couldn't see why. I didn't know why that eerie feeling came over me. I ignored it, and just hoped that I was being paranoid.
I turned the doorknob, and the entire door began to fall on me. With a scream of surprise, I jumped to the side.
The door, what was wrong with the door? I stared at the other side, my hands shaking. The hinges…they had been chewed away, twisted to almost brutal proportions. The other side of the doorknob was completely crumpled up and compressed into a measly blob of metal. And the other face was covered in long, jagged scratch marks.
With great care, I hopped over the door and into the hallway. Surveying my surroundings, I realized that the hallway was in an even worse state than my door. The same scratch marks were all over the rich red walls, and parts of it were peeling down or wrecked. It also seemed that someone had thrown a suspicious purplish substance on the paintings, and that someone had treated them with same care they had treated the walls.
I remembered Louisa telling me about her "visitor" enjoying getting drunk, but he couldn't possibly have done all of this, right? Suddenly, all my thoughts were driven out of my mind.
"Ah, so you're awake," the musical voice of Griffin rang.
He simply stood, staring at the wreckage with a cart next to him, with the strangest expression on his normally calm, cool face. It lasted for perhaps a second, yes, before it cleared. It might not have even been there, that was how quickly it faded away back to his mask of indifference. But for the smallest time, the unfazed teenage boy displayed a fiery anger that rivaled anything that I had ever witnessed before.
"Finished staring?" he spoke, bringing me back to my senses.
"I-" I tried to say, unsure of what I had just seen.
"No, no…it's okay." Griffin reassured, running his hands through his unruly hair. He began to slip the ruined paintings off the wall one by one. "Go carry on as you normally do, Kaki. Ignore the ruined stuff. It's fine."
"I…I can't help?" I uttered.
He blinked. "You just do your job, Kaki. That's how you help. She'll be requesting more food than usual, on account of her anger." And he smiled a half-smile, transforming him from someone so distant to a person who seemed almost desperately sad.
With that said, the boy hefted the paintings on his carts, and he pushed them away. I watched as he disappeared into the other halls, and walked to the kitchen.
Fortunately, my workplace was not damaged in any way. I went on preparing the food using the ingredients I was given: some spinach, flour, eggs, milk, butter, and some other items. I planned to make spinach soufflé for Louisa this morning.
While I whisked the ingredients together in a bowl, I thought about the past few weeks, and the people I had met so far.
Samantha? While she seemed to be a rather nice girl, she was also quite frivolous and rude. She was not only scatter-brained, but also annoyingly inquisitive. She meant well, like trying to help me cook a couple times, but every time she "helped," I prepared another copy of the recipe we were using, just in case some insane disaster occurred and the food blew up. Of course, hers always did, so I still didn't trust her completely. Although she seemed to be around ten year old (and acted like a ten-year old), Samantha was 25, the same age as Louisa. The two had grown together, but they had not matured together.
Sam? Unlike his sister, he seemed to be more stuck up and stubborn, and more prone to making snide remarks. I had a feeling that he considered most of the world to be below him, and he was unable to admit he was wrong whenever he helped me out of "curiosity." Still, he was polite and clever, and he did still care for his sister, albeit the many mistakes she made. He was 25 as well. Samantha had been his fraternal twin.
Uetoresu? What an interesting fish, completely different from the others in this boiling kettle. Of course, she was also a rather violent fish with a queer sense of humor, and enjoyed insulting people. Mixing Sam and Uetoresu together was like attempting to mix oil and water together. Uetoresu was not her real name, only the Japanese name for the job she had for Louisa: The waitress. Although I had already asked her for her real name, she refused to tell me, and changed the subject to ways of mutilating people.
Griffin? As I said before, he seemed to have his head in a cloud of severe insensitivity. He was blunt and to the point, always minimizing conversation. But he had a surprising sense of bone-dry wit; he was perhaps the most enjoyable to talk to. He was also reasonably good-looking for his age. Maybe, if I was not thirty-two years old and around his age (most likely 16 to 18), I would have found him and his "bad boy" personality attractive… if it weren't for that expression, today, that I haven't ever seen before…was he hiding something? It certainly felt so, but I was content to let him keep whatever secret he was trying to keep. As I've learned before, most secrets are better kept than revealed, like the one I still carefully hid from the world.
Louisa? Louisa had defied almost all of my expectations. She was pretty, nice, polite, and not at all like the madwoman I had heard about. Who in the world would want to try all the tastes? There are some wonderful, yes, but most are either palatable or detestable. Plus, what happened to her parents? She was only 25, like Samantha and Sam. Why should her parents be dead by now? But since I had only actually seen her for the first time yesterday, I had no clue.
There were so many mysteries and secrets that they kept, those who lived at the Zebeln Estate. There were so many things that I wondered, like who had destroyed the hallway and my door. This time, however, I was determined to make them like me. I was determined to have some people that wouldn't betray me, I swore. And poking into the depths of a person's soul was not a good way to do that.
I popped the spinach soufflé out of the oven, and begun cleaning up my mess. Uetoresu came in, a highly irritated look on her face. I shrank back, hoping she wouldn't notice me. Whenever she had that look, it was best to run in a corner and hide.
She poured a glass of milk, and lifted the plate containing the spinach soufflé away. As she reached the door, she suddenly turned her gaze on me. What had I done? I didn't do anything to anger her! I-"It's alright." She sounded surprisingly defeated and tired. "You can go to the dining hall now."
I nodded, and followed her through the door. Why were we all eating now? Louisa usually ate first, and I ate with the other servants later.
The dining hall was normally clean and sparkling. Now, there were splotches and scratches everywhere. Louisa sat at the head of the table, her face stiff and clearly tired. Samantha and Sam sat on both sides of her, and refused to look at anyone else, Sam's face facing towards the ground and Samantha's face looking upward. Griffin, looking as bored as ever and sitting next to Sam, was the only one sitting down that didn't seem unusual. Uetoresu slid the plates across the table, and each of the people caught it.
She set one plate aside for me next to Samantha and one plate aside for her next to Griffin, and began doling out the soufflé. None of us spoke, none of us looked at each other, and the only sound was the sound of jaws mechanically chewing.
Finally, Samantha piped up. "So, guys," she smiled, "What happened last night? Kaki and I missed out on the party!"
Uetoresu, Sam, and Louisa all glanced at each other. Griffin did not respond to the question. Louisa gestured to Sam.
"Our visitor brought along a pet of his: a tiger. As usual, the pathetic idiot became drunk. He was seriously injured by his own pet, and Griffin and Uetoresu took him to the hospital. And, of course, he trashed the estate," Sam explained. "He won't be coming back any time soon."
"Griffin and I also attended to the rest of the estate besides the dinner hall. The doors, pictures, and furniture pieces have already been repaired. Maybe next time, you and your sister can actually do some work," Uetoresu commented.
Sam stood up and slammed his hand on the table, rattling the silverware. "Maybe next time, you can actually deal with caging a tiger, too! Just look at all the injuries I got from that thing!" He gestured wildly at the scars that laced up his arm.
"Aww, is poor wittle Sammy scared?" Uetoresu retorted, and snorted, leaning back on her chair. "You just don't know how to deal with pain."
"Coward!" Sam roared.
"Am not! Sissy!" Uetoresu roared back, standing up.
"Am not! Idiot!"
"Am not! Brat!"
Samantha, Louisa, and I watched the two sling insults at each other. It was both rather amusing and also rather pathetic.
"Enough. You two are both being childish." Griffin stood up between them and lightly held them apart. For a second, I thought the two of them were going to froth at the mouth and lunge at the boy, but they both sat down, grumbling about how the other was a nincompoop.
Griffin sat down as well, and began to eat again as if nothing had happened.
This week, I had to prepare formaggio marcio, which I soon learned was Pecorino cheese with live cheese fly larvae inside it. Although that was disgusting the first time I heard it, it was nothing compared to the unidentifiable dishes that were supposed to be decaying vegetables. However, formaggio marcio was the worst of these dishes for me. I had a deathly fear of slimy creatures like worms, eels, and, of course, maggots. There was something about them that made me want to cower and hide, and I used to have nightmares of worms burrowing into my body.
But Louisa would get angry at me, and although I had not seen a reason to be scared of her, even Uetoresu seemed frightened of the woman…so I had to prepare it. I was given the block of cheese and the maggots early on in the week, and my hands trembled as I cut away the rind and placed the maggots inside. They began devouring the cheese as soon as I placed them in there, and I jerked my hand back as fast as I could.
I would have the nightmares again tonight.
For some reason, we had all our meals with Louisa. I watched Louisa cut away in the cheese and placed it on moistened Sardinian flatbread. She licked her lips and bit into the odd sandwich. Some of the maggots launched into six inches into the air, and Samantha covered her mouth in horror. However, her other companions (who chose not to partake in some foods like these, and chose to eat a regular sandwich) did not respond to the maggots, and merely flicked them away.
"Kaki?" Samantha asked, prodding my shoulder with her pointer finger, her eyes wide. "Are you okay?"
"Yes…I think so…yes…" I muttered, more to reassure myself than to answer Samantha's question.
"Are you sure? Because you're white as a sheet! Which reminds me of snowmen!" Samantha laughed, even though I found nothing amusing about her comment. I forced a small smile, and nodded.
Louisa bit into the sandwich again, and the maggots flew into the air again, just like a repeat. I stood up and pushed the door behind me. "Sorry! I got to go!" I yelled as I dashed out of the room and to the nearest restroom.
I smashed open the door desperately, uncaring of whether or not they heard me. I began to vomit again into the white toilet, sweat drenching my face.
"Kakiii! Don't you hate him? I mean, seriously. What an idiot. And his face! Ugh! He's so ugly! Guess who he reminds us of?" the elementary school girls in their fancy uniforms laughed.
"Why should I care?" I told them, yawning.
They were nothing but trouble.
"You know, you're ugly just like him, maybe even worse. Well, actually, you are worse. Just a pathetic loser like your mom, and your dad, just weirdos." the lead girl of the clique snipped.
"Don't you call my parents pathetic!" I confronted them. "Don't you dare do that one more-"
"Pathetic!" they laughed. I snapped.
The last thing I remember from that moment was blood everywhere, and screams that went on and on…
"So, this is the girl who beat up the others?" the man with the shiny glasses said.
"I am not the girl. I am Kaki Prif," I gritted my teeth.
"You know, it's not right to go around punching people."
"They insulted me and my family. I can't leave them alone!" I screamed. "I don't go picking fights. They instigated it!"
"Who wants to instigate broken teeth and pain on themselves?" The principal asked me.
"I don't know! But I can't just let them go!"
"Maybe you can."
The scene changed.
I cried as the some people held me back while they dropped worms down my back. "No!" I screamed. "No!"
"Pathetic," the girls said, knocking me with the bat again. I fell into the blackness again.
The scene changed.
"Kaki? Are you okay?" My mother said, holding me close.
Tears dripped from my face.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
I shook my head.
The scene changed.
"Wouldn't it be better if you just left?"
"I suppose…it would…"
"Good, very good."
"What a pathetic person."
They were right, weren't they?
"Are you okay?" I heard, something no other person but my family and Granny Felicity had ever asked me.
"Are you okay?"
"Are you okay?"
"Are you okay?" Louisa repeated. The entire cast of the occupants stared at me.
"I'll be fine, now." I told them.
"You should have spoken up about your fear! I would have gotten Uetoresu to prepare it instead!" Louisa said.
These people…they would be my next chance. I wouldn't ruin it again, I swore. I wouldn't be taken control of again, I swore. I would have friends! I would make the most of my time here!
Little did I know how soon I was going to be going back on my word…