She was excited to secure her first position. The academy must have given her excellent references although during her interview in London the panel of three had seemed solely concerned about her complexion. Do you tan well, they asked? Do you burn?
The position was abroad, they explained, away from the thick fogs and thin sunlight of her native England. They wished to know she was not overly sensitive.
About her charge they had been less than forthcoming. A troublesome child, they admitted; she would have her work cut out of her. But she, newly qualified and brimming with the enthusiasm and overweening confidence of youth, had given every assurance that she would do her best to educate and instruct the child. They would not be sorry.
Two weeks later, she was at the foot of a spiral staircase that curled upwards, leading to the door to her apartment. The schoolroom is there also, she was told and handed a bunch of heavy keys. The nursery too. You must, the housekeeper impressed on her with an imploring look, keep every door locked at all times.
Overly protective, the new governess diagnosed. This must be why the child is so ‘troublesome’. Mollycoddled and spoiled rotten. Well, we would see about that.
She climbed the narrow, winding stairs and unlocked the heavy oaken door at the top. The schoolroom was clean but appeared unused. There was one desk and chair in the centre of the room. A larger desk for her and a wide blackboard on the wall behind it. A door, she explored, led off to her private room and water closet. Another, she assumed, opened onto the nursery but when she unlocked it, discovered only a cupboard space, bare. Of the child there was no sign.
Remembering the housekeeper’s admonishment, she locked all the doors and sat at her desk. In the drawers she found a dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, a box of chalk and a child’s writing slate. She read Antony & Cleopatra while she waited. Outside the high window, the sky darkened. The room became chilly. She wondered if she ought to go to bed. Her stomach warbled for its supper and she unearthed an apple from her suitcase.
At midnight she was woken by scratching at her bedroom door. She sat up in bed and held her breath. The scratching resumed.
“I’m hungry…” said a plaintive voice, a child’s voice.
“I’m coming!” The governess slipped out of bed to unlock the door. “I am here, child. Don’t cry.”
But the child wasn’t crying. From the other side of the door came nothing but silence.
The governess found the key but before she could insert it in the keyhole, grey smoke poured through it. The child has set the schoolroom on fire, was her immediate thought! She backed away. There was no other exit; she was trapped!
The smoke hung in the air, gathering and thickening. It took on the shape of a child, a small boy in garb from the previous century. He solidified and his dark eyes lit upon her and widened with pleasure. And hunger!
“I believe I may have another apple,” the governess reached into her suitcase. The pale figure took a step towards her, baring neat and deadly fangs. “In here somewhere…” she affected a casual tone.
The boy hissed and extended a white hand, the fingers curled like talons.
“Here we are!” the governess announced. She withdrew her hand and thrust a crucifix towards the creature. The boy recoiled, growling and spitting. The governess backed him into a corner. He raised his claws to shield himself from the object he found so toxic and abhorrent.
“Now,” the governess warned. “This is the last time you enter my private quarters. You will go to your desk and practice your alphabet. Do I make myself clear?”
She flung the door wide and awarded him an imperious stare.
“Y – yes, Miss,” the boy sobbed. He scuttled from the room and tucked himself behind his desk.
As the chalk squeaked across his slate, the boy’s new governess wrote her name on the blackboard in confident, curling copperplate, Miss Lily Van Helsing. Moonlight streaming in glinted off the crucifix around her neck.
Oh, no, we’ll have no more trouble from you, she regarded the boy, whose face was a mask of concentration as he formed his letters.
Spare the rood and spoil the child.