Just as long as there are no experiments done on souls, please, Jesper.
*~Edited to fix typos- thanks Jezz!
‘Whatever you do,’ Lesley said, announcing her presence in Evelyn’s office doorway, ‘don’t touch Jesper’s sample jars. He damn near tore my ears off.’
‘So that’s what the racket was about.’ Evelyn looked up from her desk for the first time in what felt like hours, and was possibly even longer. She had to blink a few times before Lesley came into focus.
‘What a mess.’
Was she talking about Jesper? The mutating moth corpses? The undercurrent of tension? The political fallout from their open day disaster?
Maybe it was just the state of her desk.
Lesley cleared a space amongst the scattered papers and receipts, and gently plonked a steaming mug of coffee down in it.
‘You need a fuel break,’ she said. ‘Did you even go home last night?’
‘Vale is putting us through the ringer over this,’ Evelyn said, neatly sidestepping the fact that yeah okay, she slept in her office. ‘He wants to get us shut down. He might even succeed.’
‘Pfff,’ Lesley snorted. ‘He’s tried before.’
‘Yeah well, the mysterious disappearance of our guy full of moths might just cinch it for him. They don’t believe he even existed. Without a body…’
She ducked too late as Lesley cuffed her cheek with a gentle hand.
‘Chin up Evie. Henry Vale might be holding your soul hostage, but we’ve got his balls in a vice. If he gets us shut down, he’s got to foot the bill for his own occult special unit. And that means less money to slip into his own pocket.’
From upstairs came the sound of raised voices. Lesley rolled her eyes.
‘Damage control to the first floor,’ she said into an imaginary walkie-talkie. ‘Seriously, love. We’ll be okay.’
Evelyn hoped she was right.
As she did every year, Evelyn spent most of open day waiting for something to go wrong.
The flow of people coming through the doors was steady, but not overwhelming. Evelyn had done her welcome talk, and lead two of the hourly tours. She’d made a hundred teas and coffees, nipped out to the bakery next door to replenish the biscuits, and so far had only had to apologise to one visitor for Jesper’s… abrupt demeanour.
Ruffled feathers had been soothed, and Evelyn was feeling rather good about it all.
It was then she noticed the smell.
‘Oh my- Lesley, do you smell that?’ It snagged on the back of her tongue, she fought back a cough. On second thoughts, it was less of a smell and more of a hand shoving something rotting down her throat and squirting lemon juice in her eyes for good measure.
Around her, other people started coughing.
Lesley grabbed her shoulder.
‘Get’emout,’ she told evelyn between hacking coughs. Out of the corner of her eye, Evelyn saw that Thursday was already herding visitors to the front door.
‘The others,’ Evelyn said. ‘Jesper. Barty—‘ as she spoke, she heard footsteps on the stairs, then Jesper appeared in the doorway, shirt pulled up over his mouth and looking more pissed off than usual.
Keeley should be out in the greenhouse, and she’d hopefully have the good sense to stay there. Which just left Bartholomew, who… was currently running the feeding demo in the archives.
‘The cellar!’ she said to Lesley, who nodded and as one they pushed through the panicking bottleneck of people to the stairwell.
As they went down, the smell got worse. Like old blood, curdled milk and piss and… superglue.
Trust her little brother to end up in the middle of the chaos. Typical Barty.
Lesley came to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the stairs. In the poor light, Evelyn thought at first that the archive door was shut. But no, it looked wrong- like it was rippling, heaving, wriggling.
She switched on the light, and it caught silver on a thousand twitching wings.
The doorway was full of moths.
It is a hot mid-May day in Revery. Stormflies buzz in anticipation. The sun, having given up on penetrating the heavy cloud over the city, has settled for baking its inhabitants alive.
A balled-up piece of paper hits Keeley on her sweaty forehead.
From across the room, Thursday meets her eyes and grins.
The note passes in a quick volley between them, until a hand plucks it out of mid-air.
It’s Lesley. Or, as Keeley likes to call her, Staff Mum.
She sinks down further into her chair. She is so grounded.