Title: A Perilous Guard
Author: Sylvia Bond
Word Count: 8,483
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Gina Lee (# 11)
Summary: In this parallel story to Polly, Willie must deal with the repercussions of having an uninvited visitor to the Old House. And it doesn’t matter that she’s only seven years old and didn’t mean any harm, Willie will go to the ends of the earth to protect her.
A/N: I couldn’t resist telling Polly’s story from Willie’s POV.
The layer of sweat along his neck had been building for some time, and now, now that he was almost done for the day, it had become a maddening itch. He wanted to scratch it, but if he did, hands wet with paint, he’d leave a swath of paint in his hair. Besides, it was just coming sunset and he couldn’t stop. He wanted to leave the result of progress. Barnabas was sure to check, directly after he’d gotten up, and the ceiling of the master bedroom had better show signs of industry or the vampire would want to know the reason why. Willie layered down the last strokes, trying not to hurry in the growing shadows, knowing that if he just kept going, the paint would be layered in long, even lines, and look quite good once it dried. Even if he couldn’t properly see it going on.
He’d long since learned that candles burning in a room being painted would leave a smoky haze that would bind into the paint with a grey film, so he’d learned to paint even in half-darkness. The first time it had happened had been with the primer in Josette’s room. Barnabas, still in the daze of his modern existence, had not noticed. But Willie had figured pretty quick that a grey film was not the effect that the vampire was after. And so he’d learned to paint in daylight or twilight, anything but candlelight. When sundown came, he was finished, end of story. Barnabas had yet to ask him why, but perhaps he was familiar with the effects of candlelight on fresh paint. Yes, that had to be it.
And it was a damn sight better than working on the cistern, any day of the week.
Willie wiped his hands on a rag, and closed up the cans of paint with a few taps of the hammer. Taking the brushes and roller with him, he headed downstairs. He would wash up, and then he would eat, and then, maybe nothing. Or maybe a small task that Barnabas would assign, not realizing that Willie had been at it all day. Never paid to point it out to him either, not unless you wanted a glare sent your way, or a clout upside the head.
The kitchen was riddled with shadows, but still bright enough, he laid the brushes in a shallow basin in the sink and pumped the water over them to let them soak.
Then he rinsed his hands, and took a clean towel to wipe the sweat from the back of his neck. Of course, he could hold the brushes under the stream, but the icy water would lock up his hands quicker than he could spit, and even with the coming of spring, that would leave his hands feeling like two blocks of ice for the better part of the night. Setting that back down, he turned to the cupboard when he saw a movement at the window. The thick glass let in shape and sound and light, but nothing precise. Then there was a knock. He paused. Deliveries usually came to the front door, no one had ever come to the back door. Except Gina Lee, of course.
“Willie,” he heard, seeing the shadow of something being moved across the glass. A hand, he guessed. The figure was awfully short for Gina.
“Willie, it’s me,” the figure said. Something tapped on the window.
Standing there, a small chill had entered the room with the growing darkness, and he couldn’t imagine who it might be. And then in the next second he could. Almost sprinting to the door, wary of the oncoming sunset, he opened it up to find Polly Logan standing there, satchel in hand, coat shifting off one shoulder, and that grin. Looking up at him, gleeful, eyes sparking dark purple lights, smile broadening as he bent down to draw her to him.
“Are you okay, Polly? What are you doing here, where’s your ma?”
She tipped her head close as if to share a secret with him, and then the smile broadened. “You have paint in your hair, Willie,” she said, giggling. ‘
What the hell is she doing here?
Willie combed a hand through his hair, knowing there was paint there and irritated suddenly that he couldn’t get a straight answer out of her. She was in a wild mood, all right, probably due to the spring weather, and was as likely to start dancing about the kitchen as she was to respond to him. But he tried again, pulling her inside and closing the door behind them both.
“Where’s your ma?”
But the kitchen itself distracted her and he watched her look around, taking in the darkness and the grime that he could now see through her eyes, as he had through Gina’s. Not a pleasant place to be, and naturally, Polly being Polly, she made no bones about what she disliked most.
“This place doesn’t smell very nice. Mama says if you open windows, sometimes that can help—”
“Polly,” he said, interrupting her. It was reaching towards dark outside, and there was an anxious knot building in his stomach. “Where is your ma?”
“At home,” she said, calm, still looking around. Taking the satchel from around her shoulders, she placed it on a kitchen chair, seeming at home within seconds. After all, this was where her pal Willie lived, so surely it would be a place where she too was welcome. He could almost hear her thinking it. “Do you have any lemonade?”
Whoever had been in charge of Polly at home had obviously been spoiling her with sugary after-school treats. Anne Pederson, probably, although Gina had given both Anne and Willie lectures about giving Polly too many sweets and whatnot, and Willie recalled standing there with Mrs. Pedersen trying to take Gina seriously and failing because right behind Gina’s back, Polly had been reaching into the drawer where Anne kept her candy stash. Polly knew very well where it was and Anne kept it stocked with Polly’s favorites. It had been Willie who’d snickered first, and Gina’s glare had frozen him there, and then melted as she flashed a glance behind her and realized what was so funny. Polly had gotten off with a scolding, but the issue still remained, a struggle between the two mothers, although Willie knew he’d better side with Gina on this one.
“I’ll give you a glass of water,” he said, “’cause that’s all I have, okay? And then you gotta tell me why your ma would let you come up here by yourself.”
As he got her a glass of water from the pump, he realized that was the oddest part of all this. Polly didn’t drive, of course, and the distance from the front gates on the estate to the Old House was at least a mile, if not more, not to mention the five-mile distance between the estate and town. Not a trek a little girl would normally make and he couldn’t fathom how she’d done it, moreover, he found he couldn’t imagine why.
She drank the water with thirsty gulps and he realized that there was dust in her hair and smudges on her coat. It hadn’t been an easy walk, that much was obvious. Then she handed the glass back to him and he placed it down on the counter.
“Mama didn’t let me come up, I just came. I wanted to give you something.”
To give him something? All by herself? Something fluttered in his heart, but he tucked it away to look at later.
He came closer to the girl and bent down so he could look at her, right in the eye. Seeing the gleam still there, but seeing the tiredness, too. “She doesn’t know you’re here?” he asked. “Polly, how did you get here?”
“I came by bus, silly,” she said, giving him a glance that told him she thought he could have figured that one out for himself if he’d just thought about it a minute. But, since he was her friend, she was willing to humor him. “Took the bus from school, and then I walked up the road. And then I tripped.”
She pointed at her leg, bringing into focus what the gloom of the Old House had been hiding. Her right leg looked liked it had been ripped to shreds and there was the brightness of fresh blood still oozing right below her kneecap and he was amazed that she’d not said anything before that moment. Or maybe he shouldn’t be amazed. This was the kid that had trudged behind her mother in a
“It had to be at least two miles, Willie,” she’d told him, “and she just kept walking, even when the wind would gust off that road like it wanted to eat us alive. Sometimes she would be pulling Danny, or walking behind him, but she never slowed down. Never complained. Never stopped. I should have—”
Gina’s obligation to her children, rooted deep, had been tearing at her at that moment, and Willie had stopped her by placing his hand on her arm and looking at her, saying low, “They’re good kids, Gina, and they’re gonna be okay.”
And they were okay. Polly was looking at him at that moment as if she’d brought down a hare and was covered in its blood, not her own. As if Willie should be terribly proud of her for having survived such a tumble.
“Christ, kiddo, what’d you do, walk through razor blades?” Willie found himself picking her up as he had at the party, gentle, holding her close for a moment, as he carried her to the kitchen counter, muttering, “Your ma is gonna kill me,” as he set her down and lifted her leg to examine the cuts and scrapes.
“No, she won’t,” said Polly somewhat suddenly, startling him. “I tripped by myself, all by myself. And I didn’t even cry.”
He looked at her
Of that I have no doubt, kiddo.
Wanting to smile, knowing that such impromptu afternoon marches should not be encouraged, so he made little scolding noises as he wiped at the drying blood, realizing that it was one main cut that was still bleeding, and several little ones that were already clotting up. She would live, Gina would have a conniption, and he had to get her home before it got full dark.
“Well, alright then, but we gotta get you cleaned up, and then I’m gonna take you straight home, before—”
“Before what, Willie?”
He felt Polly’s body stiffen as he turned around, standing between them an action as instinctive as breathing, and there was Barnabas. As if he’d been in the kitchen all along, calmly listening to their conversation and deciding, in his own time, when he might alert them to his presence. And he smelled blood too, in more than ways than one, Willie could see it in the vampire’s eyes as he walked closer.
“Well,” he said, “I believe I asked you a question, and I expect an answer.”
“Ah—” started Willie, feeling a vacant gap where his thoughts usually were.
“I’m Polly,” said a sudden little voice behind him, and Willie realized that any chance he’d had of pretending the little girl wasn’t even there had vacated the already slim arena of possibility. It vanished as the cold reality of the situation shot through him. Barnabas’ eyebrows had shot way up, even as the little voice, eager to explain, continued, as if by rote, “My mama is Gina Logan, and I live at—”
And then cut off, by a vampire’s glance as Barnabas asked, “Mrs. Logan is your mother?”
Anyone’s child would have been unwelcome and escorted out of the house, summarily and with dire warnings ringing in tiny ears, but this, this was Gina’s child and as such warranted, it seemed, extra scrutiny.
“Yes, she is,” answered Polly in what Willie recognized as her polite company voice. Gina was always particular about how the kids behaved with strangers and their elders and Willie hoped that they both would get through this unscathed enough so that he could give a good report to Gina Lee.
“And,” Polly continued, “Willie is our very good friend, and I’ve come to give him something.”
Willie had forgotten all about the mysterious present, and did not know what to make of the carefully void canvas of Barnabas’ face. He felt a movement behind him and realized what Polly was doing a second before she did it: sticking out her leg, coated with blood, fresh and dried, for one and all to observe and be amazed by.
“And I’ve hurt my knee.”
Please, Lord, no.
There was a slight pause from Barnabas, as he actually took stock of Polly’s wounded leg, but any concern Willie imagined he saw there was flickered away by the wrath of anger that settled on the vampire like a ring of smoke coming down.
“You know how I feel about unexpected visitors, Willie,” Barnabas said, the tone in his voice leaving no doubt as to his controlled fury. “I’ve left you strict instructions, and yet time and again you are determined to flaunt your disobedience and expect me to simply ignore it.”
Knowing that it was partially true that he’d hoped Barnabas would be oblivious to his activities with the
“You’re the mean, mean boss,” she said, her voice calm. “Mama doesn’t like you, an’ I don’t like you.”
A long, airless moan rippled through him. Bad enough that Barnabas knew he did not have Mama Logan’s approval, worse still to have it announced in a voice that was clear and firm and had no doubts whereof it spoke. And out of the mouth of a child. Gina’s child. And as Barnabas turned to look at her, at Polly, balanced on the rough counter of the fast-darkening kitchen in the Old House, the firm surety began to crumple. First in her eyes, filling with doubt and shining as if with tears, although Willie had never before seen Polly cry. Then that mouth, turning downward, with the vampire on the verge of breaking her, and Willie’s muscles tensed as if to spring.
Suddenly, with a spare movement, Barnabas let him go and waved in the general direction of the little girl, as if dismissing her entirely from his mind. “Get her out of here, Willie,” Barnabas snapped, “and take her home. Then I want you to come directly back here as you have some explaining to do about why you continue to let visitors in when I have forbade you to do so.”
The vampire turned on his heel with the quickness of a knife blade through air, and left the kitchen, slamming the door behind him, and whatever energy Willie had felt at the end of a very long day vanished with a heartbeat. He faced Polly and felt his own weariness reflected in her dark, candlelit eyes, still seeing the lower lip trembling, feeling her wanting him to do something, or say something to her, that would make it good again. Like a parent would, like a dad, who, when his kid asks him if everything is okay, can smile and say yes, and say it with feeling. Enough so that the kid will believe it, even if it wasn’t so. He wasn’t sure he could do this with Polly, not when she looked at him like that. And after she’d been so brave, too. Braver than he’d been at his first meeting with Barnabas, that’s for sure. He took a deep breath and made himself smile.
“Okay, kiddo, we’ll make this quick, huh?”
He finished cleaning her cuts, head bent, wiping the blood from her leg, smoothing down the bandage, trying to still the quiver in his hands. Looking at them instead of the fear in her eyes.
“He’s scary,” said Polly suddenly, very softly, her lips near his ear. Certainly her voice was so low that no one else could have heard her. Not even Barnabas. Not even if he’d been in the same room.
His hands froze. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He’d never heard anyone else ever say something like that about Barnabas, nor had he ever admitted it to anyone, even to himself. But it was true. And it would be their secret, like a password to a guarded heart.
“Yeah, he is,” he said, equally soft.
Polly. My brave, brave Polly Marie.
He picked her up in his arms and held her close as he carried her out to the truck, settling her in the passenger side.
“You gonna be okay?” he asked, catching her eyes with his, making sure she knew he meant it seriously. It wasn’t a gimme. If she wasn’t going to be okay, he would have to do something, tell her ma, make her stay away—
But Polly nodded, her face cheerful even as she looked tired after her long walk. He started the engine, and headed into town, thinking how not too long ago this would have been an impossible picture, him driving a little girl home to her mother after she’d stopped by the Old House to visit him. No one in town would believe it, and he knew Gina would be mad as hell, him bringing Polly home so late, and then there was Barnabas to contend with when he got back. He was in for it for sure, though he knew that Gina was equally as likely to skin him alive. Either way he was in big, bad trouble.
“Are you mad at me?” asked Polly, cutting through the growing warmth of the cab. “Cause when Mama’s mad, she doesn’t talk for a bit while she figures out what to say, and you’re not talking to me, so—”
“No, I ain’t mad at ya,” he said, without thinking. Sighing. Knowing that Polly had no idea of the hot water she’d gotten him into. Couldn’t know. Would never know.
She shifted on the bench seat till she was right next to him, and her head rested against his arm. A soft sigh, and a clonk and her head fell to her chest, and she was fast asleep.
The lights in the Pedersen house were blazing, bright enough to land an airplane by, and Willie hustled up the stairs, Polly in his arms, his heart a trip hammer in his stomach. And there, Gina Logan waited. Apron on, every hair in place, and with the light streaming out from the doorway behind her, it looked like she was on fire. He couldn’t see her eyes, or her expression, but the set of her shoulders was enough. A bolt of iron she was, with not even a twitch of welcome in her stance. The bottom of his gut turned to ice.
“Where have you been?” she asked, her voice a rip in the cool air.
Without even time to answer, she pulled Polly from his arms, a chill instantly replacing the gentle heat of the child’s body against his chest, and set the girl on her feet. Polly reached for him, with a half-awake gesture that broke his heart, and Gina pulled her back, giving her a once-over stroke, as if checking for damage, stopping briefly at the bandage on the girl’s knee. Then Gina straightened up.
“Mister Loomis, where have you been with Polly?”
“Gina, I—” he began, knowing there was no real answer to this. Of course, it had been Polly who had taken it upon herself to pay her old friend Willie Loomis a visit, but he couldn’t very well turn her in, not when she’d been so brave, so giving. Not even if it meant that he would have to take the heat.
“Mama, it’s me,” said Polly, her voice breaking up the angry air between Gina and Willie. “I went up to Willie’s house and he brought me home. I went there after school.”
Gina paused. “Is that what happened?” she asked, her eyes now catching a bit of streetlight, and Willie could swear they were black.
“Th-that’s right, Gina,” he said. “She showed up a little while ago, and then—”
And then I brought her home. I would never hurt her, never let anyone hurt her, not even so much as a hair on her head out of place, ya gotta believe me, you just gotta.
Panic rattled inside him. If Gina decided she would never trust him again with Polly, with any of her children, he didn’t know which would be worse, never seeing Gina or her kids again, or the look in Gina’s eyes when she told him to go away and never come back.
“How on earth—” said Gina, looking down at Polly.
“I took the bus, Mama,” said Polly. “I took the bus and I walked. And then I fell.”
Gina looked at him, a flicker of her initial mistrust still lingering, sent in his direction almost as an afterthought. Because even now that the truth of the matter was known, he had been responsible for daughter and she had come to harm.
“She’s alright, Gina, she’s alright, and I’ll go now.”
He waited, focused. Body taut.
Her response was a slow nod, silent and considering. “Thank you, Willie, for bringing her home,” she said.
So he was Willie again, and Polly was in her mother’s arms, and Barnabas waited at the Old House. Well, he’d rather face Barnabas’ wrath than Gina’s any day. He didn’t want to see that look again, not ever.
“I’ll go.” He turned and trotted down the steps. Threw himself into the still warm truck and drove off as fast as he could.
The Old House was icy cold when he returned, and, coming through the kitchen door, he went to the fire to poke up the coals. He was about to add a small log to feed the flames when he heard the click of the door opening behind him.
“I see you have returned.”
“Yeah—” he began, turning around, stopping short as his eyes alighted on the single candle that Barnabas was placing on the table. And the freshly peeled switch that gleamed white in the darkness.
Startled, his mouth froze, open to speak, but he managed only to breathe, a long, slow exhale, taking with it none of his dismay. And caught the glimmer in the vampire’s eyes.
“I have stated very clearly that your relationship with that family should not interfere with your duties. And yet today it has, and not for the first time, I’m sure.”
With a flick of his hand, Barnabas cut him off, and Willie could not quite tell how angry he was, whether the stillness of the kitchen was masking an irritation that could explode into an uncontrollable fury, or whether it would remain steady, and maybe he could talk his way out of this.
“I will not have you shirking your work,” Barnabas continued. “I believe I have made myself quite clear on that in the not too distant past.”
Shirking my work?
Images of himself carrying buckets and down ladders. Days upon days of prep work on the latest room he was fixing up, scrubbing paint smears from his hands and face well after sunset. Telling Gina no, he couldn’t come to lunch that day because he was wanting to get the trim done. Hungry for more than food, but only able to bolt down potted meat and crackers, or canned soup, the flavor of which he’d tasted so many times he wanted to hurl the stuff over the cliff on Widow’s Hill. And all in addition to his regular chores, building fires and taking away the ashes. And those blasted candles, never once had Barnabas arose to find the house dark.
You call that shirking, asshole?
Feeling the fire squirreling its way up from inside him, the heat of anger building in his face, he struggled not to explode with an outburst of his own. “That’s not fair,” he managed, “I have been working, you—”
Barnabas stepped forward in the dark, the shadow of the candle casting his face in black, and Willie stepped back in tandem. A reaction from his gut, his legs telling him to move back further, but there was only the fireplace and the corner by the sink. There was nowhere to go. Besides, Barnabas would be on him in a flash if he actually dared try to bolt for the door.
As Barnabas reached for him, beyond the roaring of his own blood in his ears, he heard the rumble of a car run in high gear and then the shriek of breaks. He could barely attend to it as he felt the clamp of iron fingers on his arm. Then the slamming of a door, and then another, and faster than he could take his next breath, came the rapping on the glass. The vampire froze, and Willie knew with almost perfect certainty the thought that was running through his master’s mind. It was the same as his own:
Who the hell is that?
Barnabas lifted the candle up in the same motion as he let Willie go. Then he strode to the door, as if he’d been expected a caller at this hour of the evening, the darkness of his hair gleaming in the candlelight as he opened the door. Willie couldn’t see around the edges of the vampire’s silhouette to see who it was, and Barnabas paused a long moment before speaking.
“Mrs. Logan, to what do I—”
Gina? It’s Gina?
Mr. Collins,” said Gina, not waiting for him to finish, “Polly and I would like to speak with you.” She’d brought Polly, and that thought alone stopped Willie up short. He found that his hands were clenched together in fists that he could not release.
“Oh?” asked Barnabas now, as if this visit were altogether too ordinary. “And what about?”
“It’s about Polly’s visit this afternoon.”
“Oh,” said Barnabas, after a slight pause, his voice dry in a way that told Willie he disapproved of Gina entirely, bringing her daughter at the late hour that it was. For wearing whatever she was wearing, and especially for speaking to him as if she were his equal. He had hated that trait from the first. “Well, you’d best come in then, hadn’t you.”
Oh, shit, no.
There they were, the two of them, mother and daughter, hand in hand. Stepping into the darkness of the kitchen as Barnabas raised the candle and moved back. Two pairs of eyes flicking around the kitchen, searching in the darkness until they found him. He did not want them there, did not want them in the kitchen of the Old House while Barnabas traced their faces with his eyes, in the growing dark, vulnerable and open to his temper. Barnabas had left strict rules about visitors, especially the Logans, and now here they were, and for the second time today, all activity had stopped. The master of the house would no more permit this than he would Willie’s gallivanting off to
“Willie,” said Polly, her sweet voice coming to him through the thick stillness, “it’s me, Polly.”
As if he would not have known her, as if he couldn’t have felt the energy radiating off her from miles away. And Gina, stalwart beside her daughter, but giving Polly’s hand a shake as if to say, Behave.
“Polly,” she said, and that seemed to be enough. Then Gina gave a little cough almost as if to give herself time to think of what she wanted to say. In that slow, careful way she had, she raised her head and looked directly at Barnabas.
“Mr. Collins, my daughter paid an unexpected visit on Willie this afternoon, and would now like to say something.”
Totally unexpected, the last thing he expected her to say. The way she’d come into the kitchen, he’d half thought she would come out guns blazing, like she had in the past. But no, she was silent, watchful, almost perfectly still as she waited for the reply.
“You may be somewhat lacking in the common courtesies of polite society, Mrs. Logan,” said Barnabas, “but do allow me my admiration of your straightforward presentation of the facts.”
True to form, Barnabas was saying one thing that meant another, and by her expression, Willie could tell that Gina had not missed the insult. When the two of them met, either at the Old House, or at the hospital after Willie had had his fall, it almost always came to the edge of violence, came to the point where Barnabas’ anger had boiled over. Gina seemed fully aware of what Barnabas was capable of, or at least her veiled references of him and he without ever saying Barnabas’ name had indicated that she would roam far afield before coming anywhere near him. And yet here she was, daughter in tow, and Willie did not know what she would do. Last time, well, last time had been inches away from a bloodbath before both Gina and Barnabas had turned away from it, or someone like Vicki stepped, unknowing, between them.
From the near darkness came Polly’s voice again. Like a small bell, timid in the frosty air. “It—it was me,” she said. “I came up without asking Mama first, and I shouldn’t have.”
Willie felt his jaw drop, and saw Polly’s back straighten under the scrutiny of three pairs of eyes. Even Barnabas seemed surprised, but recovered enough to answer her in dry tones.
“I see,” he said. “But Willie is well aware that he is not to have visitors without my permission.”
That should do it. Gina and Polly could go home now, they’d tried their best, and Barnabas understood what had happened. He’d still tear Willie apart for it, but at least he’d wait until the guests had left. Willie clamped down hard against the thudding of his heart, hammering against his breastbone. At least there was that.
Go home, Polly, and take Gina with you.
There was a soft click in the air and Willie realized that it was Polly taking a hitching breath as she tugged on her mother’s hand.
“I didn’t know that,” came her soft reply. “If anyone should be in the dog house, it’s me, not Willie.” “The dog house?” asked Barnabas, the modern term seeming to confuse him. “It’s . . . it’s where you go . . . you know . . . when you’re bad.”
Barnabas appeared to consider this as he moved the candle to one side and tipped his head down to study her. Polly squirmed away, and Willie knew what she must be feeling at that moment. To be the object of that one’s attention, full force, like headlights in a dark alley, it was more than he could do not to shrink into a boneless puddle sometimes. Then he felt Gina’s eyes on him, and looked up to see her shaking her head slowly, as if to negate the truth of something. Then, he saw what she saw, what Barnabas’ candle illuminated. The switch on the table was outlined as if in golden chalk, and its purpose and intent were as clear as if the room were lit by electric lights.
Now there would be questions the next time he ran into Gina, and she would already have the truth of his answers before he even opened his mouth. It was the last thing he ever wanted to discuss with her, and now there would be no avoiding it.
“I see,” said Barnabas, pulling the candle back and straightening up. “However, I’m not in the habit of punishing small children, let alone girls.”
The start that ran through Willie was like a hammer blow. Barnabas hadn’t moved, but he had the stance that said he was about to spring. On little Polly Marie?
Not today. Not in this lifetime.
“Be quiet,” snapped Barnabas, chilling the air with his glance. “It is obvious that you are the responsible party here.”
You touch her and I will hurt you.
“Please, Mr. Collins,” said Gina, “Polly feels—”
You’ll have to go through me, you really will.
“And you as well, madam. There is no point in discussing it.”
No point at all, except that brave Polly actually let go of her deathgrip on her mother’s hand and walked over in the light of a single candle to where her satchel still lay, placed there so casually earlier that Willie had forgotten about it. Barnabas had never even noticed it. He was noticing it now, as he watched, as they all watched, in perfect silence, as the little girl opened the satchel and shifted through the contents, seeming as calm as if she were at home, and no vampire standing by, waiting to see what she would do. She seemed straight and defined, cutting through the darkness with purpose as she walked straight up to Barnabas and held out to him what Willie recognized in an instant was the pencil box he had given her. The box rattled a bit as she held them up.
“You can keep my pencils an’ I won’t be able to draw for a week,” she offered. She held the box up higher, as it was obvious that Barnabas didn’t know that he should take them.
“Pencils?” asked the vampire.
“My drawing pencils that I got for my birthday,” she said, sparing Willie a glance. Somehow the kid knew that Barnabas wasn’t to know any of the finer points of that particular gift, though how, Willie did not know.
He tried to swallow, and not to look at Polly’s shining eyes as she stared directly up into Barnabas’ face. Like a small sentinel at the gates, as if she would stand there till he took the box or until hell froze over, or until he was charmed by her sweetness, and maybe it was a combination of all three, but Barnabas finally took the box. Held it in his large hands and popped open the lid, completely focused on the contents, and Willie ducked his head and felt the quick rise and fall of his lungs and pressed the heel of one palm against his eyes, trying to ease away the heat there. For her birthday, only weeks old and she willing to give them up.
“Ah, I see,” said Barnabas. “Drawing pencils.”
“But you gotta let Willie out of the dog house, cause it’s my fault. I just came up to give him a drawing I’d made.”
A kid, for fuck’s sake. Saving him from disaster, she, only waist high, marching up to Barnabas telling him I’ll trade you this for that. No more than a mite and already her mother’s daughter, making playground deals with a vampire.
The drawing wavered, a white sheet in Polly’s other hand and as Barnabas but the pencil box down to reach
for it, she snapped it out of his reach.
“Oh, no,” she said. “This belongs to Willie.”
Gina tried to grab for Polly, but Polly moved out of reach and Gina hurried to apologize.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Collins, I don’t know where she gets it, we only came up to make sure you understood about this afternoon, and not—not make Willie, well, so that you wouldn’t—”
She stopped and Willie knew why. She could hardly say the facts aloud, not with Polly in the room. And because saying them might make them more true than they already were.
And though he was watching with wide eyes as Polly moved into the dark corner of the kitchen to come closer to him, he could hear the dry laughter in Barnabas’ voice as he responded to her disjointed remark.
“I know precisely where she gets it, Mrs. Logan.”
The drawing. He’d forgotten all about it, but there it was, held up in Polly’s hands, presented to him in a velvet glow of love and pleasure that he could almost see and feel, shining in her dark eyes. He took it from her and held it up to the dim light of the coals in the fireplace. A kid’s drawing, only that, with wobbly lines, and scattered shadows, the colors layered on so that in the dark light of the kitchen they were muddy. But. She must have worked forever to get the pattern of his flannel shirt, or the exact right shade of blue that she thought he saw in his eyes. It was him, of course, a drawing of him standing next to his truck. No one had ever drawn a picture of him before. Not ever.
What did you say to a little kid whose only thought had been to bring you a gift and not the disaster that would surely follow the second she left?
He reached out to touch her hair, raven dark in the dimness, soft like silk beneath his fingertips.
“Thank you,” he managed.
“Willie, come here.”
It broke through the softness of the moment, and he saw Polly cringe away from the sound of that voice as they both turned to look at Barnabas. Gina stood there, satchel in hand, her face white, and he walked close, feeling Polly tag at his side. He dropped his arm, and let the picture fall on the counter behind him. Maybe Barnabas would forget it was there, maybe Barnabas would let this whole afternoon go as a bad mistake.
It was never good to count on maybes.
Barnabas picked up the pencil box from the table and shook it once, hard. The pencils rattled inside, almost hard enough to break, and Willie felt the hammer start up in his heart.
“Drawing pencils,” said Barnabas. “Apparently, young Miss Polly is willing to trade a week’s use of them to keep you out of, as she says, the dog house.”
“B-Barnabas, you don’t have t-to—”
“Indeed, I do not,” said Mr. Collins. “However, I can hardly fault you for the impetuous nature she has apparently inherited from her mother.”
“So we are agreed?” asked Gina. “Polly is without her drawing pencils for a week, and Mister Loomis is not in the dog house for this?”
Gina glared at Barnabas, her expression demanding that he should agree. Barnabas glared back, throwing the weight of his dark power into it so hard that Willie could feel it, even if it wasn’t directed at him. The scales tipped toward violence.
“Maybe two weeks, huh?” asked Polly, into the sudden silence, breaking it into more manageable pieces. “Or maybe even three, or maybe there’s another little girl who could use them while I waited? I wouldn’t mind if someone else used them, if they didn’t bite the ends like Danny sometimes does, he likes to chew on things sometimes.”
“No,” said Barnabas, with a flick of his eyes toward her. “That won’t be necessary. One week will be sufficient.”
He paused, as if giving the matter full, serious consideration. “I will keep them safe, and a week from now, Willie will return them. And you, Miss Polly, will remember that young ladies should not traipse around the countryside unattended, and, what’s more, that Willie has work to do, and should not tarry with visitors, or he will be behind schedule, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“Okay, I mean, yes, Mr. Collins,” said the Polly with a small sigh.
Willie felt himself sighing as well, echoed by Gina, and his shoulders sagged. So close. He’d been so close to getting it, but good. Only he wasn’t, and all because of the sacrifice of a little girl.
“And now I must bid you good evening, and Willie as well, for he has a great deal of work that he has missed.”
“I see,” said Gina. “Okay then. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Logan,” replied Barnabas, ever the polite host.
“Say goodnight, Polly,” said Gina now, taking Polly’s hand in her own.
“Goodnight, Mr. Collins, goodnight, Willie, see you in a week,” said Polly.
Gina paused on the threshold, a flick of her eyes in Willie’s direction, but her attention fully on Barnabas. “And we’re agreed, Mr. Collins, we have a deal, yes?”
He tipped his head, his eyes never leaving hers. “You have my word as a Collins, Mrs. Logan.”
They left and Willie watched them go, returning Polly’s wave with his own, knowing he shouldn’t smile, no, that would be the very worst thing he could do. But it was hard not to, considering that Barnabas had just been out-bargained by a seven year old girl.
Then Barnabas turned on him.
“Well, Willie, I see you have not one champion but two.”
With a twitch of his wrist, Barnabas closed the door, sending a gust of wind to dash across the floor to suck the warmth out of the room. With the departure of Gina and Polly, the darkness had fallen upon them with unwavering hardness, and the single candle, faltered and danced along with the small fire in the fireplace, casting jagged shadows across Barnabas’ face.
“What?” asked Barnabas. “Nothing to say, Willie? You, who have always been so generous with your unsolicited opinions in the past, you surprise me.”
The vampire was nothing of the kind, of course, only poking and prodding as he always did, wanting to make a point and using the sharpest words he could find. Far better than sharp blows, though there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t find some other excuse to use the switch that still lay, angled, across the table. In the darkness Willie could not see it, but he knew it was there.
“I-I—,” Willie began, managing to meet that hard, dark gaze with his own.
But he could not sort through the ravels and trails of soft emotion and hard anger. For who had been protecting whom? He had been standing guard over his friendship with the
Part of it was answered as Barnabas bent his head to look at the pencil box. Snapping it open with a twitch of his thumbs, it lay flat in his palm, and he rolled the colored pencils beneath one finger. A promise was a promise, yet to what extent Barnabas would honor that promise was another matter.
“These are very fine pencils, indeed, Willie,” said the vampire, interrupting him. As if his servant had not begun to speak, or that what he would have wanted to say was of no consequence. “As fine as any artist might want to use.”
His dark head shot up, and he snapped the box closed between his fingers and thumb, holding it that way as he looked at Willie. A question in his eyes, and forming on his lips, and then he paused and asked, “Who . . . who will watch over these, I wonder.”
That was not the question he’d been going to ask, Willie knew that much. He’d seen the shift in the vampire’s eyes, and the way the flesh beneath them twitched as he turned a corner in his mind. But Barnabas was looking at Willie for the answer to the question that had been asked, and it would not be long before his temper would flare and the honor of a promise to a little girl would be cast into ashes.
“Uh, well, sh-she gave them to you, so. . . .”
Barnabas nodded, holding the pencil box now between his palms, as if he were holding a book that he quite favored. “Very good,” he said. “I shall keep them in the top drawer of my desk, where they will be, should anything happen.”
There was a very strange note in his voice, and Willie had to sift through the words to get to the meaning: Should anything happen to me.
Willie nodded, “I understand,” he said. A promise, was it would seem, after all, a promise. Even to a child of the
Then Barnabas clasped the pencil box in one hand, and lifted the switch with the other, sending a hard jolt through Willie’s frame. But the vampire only laid it on the mantelpiece, behind the small box where Willie kept kitchen matches. Tucked it back toward the brick, where it would not fall or get in the way.
“I shall leave this here, for it is of a surety that I shall need it.”
He looked at Willie, and Willie forced himself not to swallow. He wanted to shake his head no, that Barnabas would not need it, but this would only draw the vampire’s scorn, or, what would be worse, force the vampire to take it as a challenge or a threat.
As if sensing that he’d painted his servant into a corner that he did not dare work his way out of, Barnabas dismissed the conversation with a flick of his eyes.
“Did you finish in the master bedroom?” he asked.
Now Willie nodded, allowing himself to swallow his nervousness away. “Y-yeah, the ceiling, though I want to put another coat up, on account of—”
“Do what is necessary, Willie but spare me the details,” snapped Barnabas. “How many more days is all the information that I care to know.”
Willie wiped the sweat from his hands, and felt the itch of paint along the back of his neck again. “One for the ceiling,” he said, keeping his voice even with effort, “and two for the trim.” He made himself meet the vampire’s expression, the lofty, superior cant of those dark eyes, feeling the spur of his own anger meeting it.
You’ll keep me busy for the next three days, won’t you, you fuck. While Gina frets and worries about that switch she saw, and whether you used it. By the time I get to talk to her about it—
Barnabas waved away the information with the back of his hand. “Very well, carry on then. But open some windows, the stench of paint is becoming overwhelming.” With that he left the kitchen, pencil box in hand, switch stored on the mantelpiece, and Willie, alone in the kitchen. With the brightness of dark pressing through the windows, and the last trace of fading warmth left by the
But there was the drawing. Polly’s drawing of him. Willie turned, and found it there, safe on the counter by the sink. A little crumpled on the edges, a small smear left by the dampness, but intact. Polly’s bold signature and the date in the corner in dark crayon, and the rest of the drawing shining with pencil strokes. But where to put it? If he had a fridge and some magnets, there would be no question. The sight of it might startle the vampire into unexpected anger, though. He knew that. So fridge or no fridge, he needed to keep it out of sight. Where he could look at it from time to time and be reminded of the brave, proud light in Polly’s eyes. And the look of astonishment in Barnabas’.
When was the last time anybody made anything for you, then?
He smiled, looking at the drawing in his hand.
Never, I’ll bet.
Then he took in a deep breath. He’d take the picture upstairs to his room and tuck it in the bottom of his sock drawer. Then he’d finish cleaning up from the day’s painting, and then make himself some supper. And worry about the conversation with Gina later.
Can’t make any promises, Gina, but I’ll stay out of trouble as best I can, okay?
He imagined himself saying it to her, looking right at her. Wanting her to believe it. Wanting to make it so by believing it himself. And her face, serious with her concern.
That’s fine, Willie, she’d say, but I’ll be watching.
Of course she would. Had been since the moment she’d met Barnabas at the door to her own house. Not that it had done any good, or stopped Barnabas, but somewhere, tucked inside a part of him, like a hallowed space untouched by anything hard or nasty, Willie felt the constant and unwavering . . . what? He didn’t know but it felt a damn sight like what he’d felt with Jason, before they’d come north to Collinsport. A long time ago.
Okay, Loomis, knock it off. Finish your chores, eat, go to bed.
That he would do, for worrying about it wouldn’t help. The conversation with Gina would happen soon enough, and the memories of Jason would come and go as they wished. In the meantime, the Old House needed work and the master of it had given his orders. The most important thing to do was to follow those orders and to keep his own thoughts tucked away, like a little girl’s drawing in a sock drawer. Far from prying eyes, or the overly-prying attention Barnabas Collins.
That was the only way Willie could keep any of it safe.
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