Sir Edward Hales sat down in the kitchen and was immediately offered coffee. It was packed in old cup cracked next to its handle. The drink looked soggy and aromas rising from the surface didn’t tempt him to try the brew.
Still, he thanked the young woman taking her seat on the white chair next to him and asked her to begin on reasons she had searched him out for.
Little thing she was, nearly invisible in the soft yellow glow the lamp bathed her in. Her long eyelashes kept her look steady on the lonely anemone fainting in the small blue perfume bottle. She began by introducing herself as Edith Kinlan and told how she found an article about him in London News a month ago.
He nodded, remembering it well. The journalist had printed an image of one of his rarities and he hadn’t liked it. There had been an argument, which he lost. Another thing he hadn’t liked. While he listened, his eyes went traveling around the kitchen until they stopped at the counter on the most unusual grey, almost faded ambrotype of a baby. Quick math in his head dated it somewhere in 1850s.
The image was small, but each daisy and rose set around her small basket gleamed from the dark background and made them stand out. The child slept, tiny hands locked around small bunny while the rest of the body was hidden under white blanket. Everything around the child was created with care and love, echoing to this day the worst tragedy any parent would endure.
“Sir, I need you to hide something for me.”
Didn’t sound so preposterous request. He made his business hiding things.
The young woman took the image with the child and sat it face up in front of them.
“I have an artifact in my possession that no one can know about, except very few.” Edith said quietly and waited his response.
It had been long since those eyes had dreamt of green fields and grey stallions carrying her away from this world’s nightmares and thus such mistakes were easy to come.
“I need you to hide her.”
He woke from his dreamish delight. He was sure he heard her wrong.
“A dead child, miss?”
“She is not a usual child, milord. Can you see the image on your right?”
He turned slowly and glanced over his shoulder until he saw another child sleeping. She couldn’t be much older than six. This girl had shoulder length dark hair and white taffeta dress and she was laid amongst flowers, but those were dahlias and blueminks. The only thing same on both photos was the bunny.
“That’s also her.”
He felt confused running his eyes on until they sat on another photograph edged between glass and metallic frame.
“And the image on the far right is also her.”
On this one was a young lady, in black gown and asleep like the rest of them. Looking at the hues the photo was made in 70s using the latest technology. Her skin reminded him of a wasp nest from nature magazine, dry and papery.
“I’m not sure what I’m looking at,” he said, sensing how wrong this all sounded. He felt the draught coming from the closed door, but refused to show how uneasy her debut had made him.
“She died in 1864, sir. Her parents didn’t bare the idea of burying her, so they kept her in the same small coffin in the pantry.” She brushed over the photo between them. “Two months later they realized the child hadn’t decomposed. Their church hadn’t seen the child for quite some time, so they asked to see her. When they refused, the priest came searching for it. They took the child away from the parents and had her buried by the church law . They were sentenced in jail for six months for desecrating the body.”
“When they got out, they dug the coffin out again and hid it. When they opened the coffin, they realized that tough it smelled like earth, the child hadn’t decomposed at all, but instead grown. They returned the body to their pantry and continued their lives as usual. Every holiday they would bring her out, set near the table and have dinner with her. And each time she had grown older. Soon after that they had other children and the body has been kept secret in our family since.
“It grows, sir, this body grows and no-one knows, why? Not as fast as usual child, but slowly it does. She is our great great great aunt and we care for her as if she was still alive.”
“You don’t consider it alive?”
“No. She has no soul that would open her eyes, no malevolent thoughts – nothing. She just… grows.” She put the photo back on the cupboard. “I want you to hide her! Take her away from our pantry!”
“Exactly what do you expect me to do, miss? And your family? How will they feel about it?”
“Our family is nearly dead. Me and my brother, we’re last ones around and as long as she is sleeping there, in the pantry, we can’t really let anyone in.”
“Why not simply bury her?”
“It’s like killing a child. I can’t do it, she still grows. Lifeless as she is, she still grows…” She flipped suddenly, as if she’d heard something from the front yard. She turned back to him quickly and grabbed his hand, sinking her fingernails deep in his skin. When she whispered her voice trembled. “I need you to take her away from here, please! My brother – he got engaged! This is our last chance! Please! We need to move on with our lives!”
“Alright, I’ll help you.” He said without thinking twice. His hand was immediately free and he used the moment to raise the coffee cup and took a sip from it. Moment later he winced, letting the cup fall down to its saucer. For a moment he had forgotten what the coffee had smelled like. Sewage mixed with carbonized beans.