I woke up on the second day of this ‘vacation’ to the ceiling of my temporary room. Without a moment of delay or rest, I immediately went into my morning routine. I showered, brushed my teeth, and changed clothes. Although I was in an all new room, the motions that I repeat every day were still the same.
The clock hanging on the wall told me that it was already noon and that I should have woken up long ago. As I pondered on what to do for the rest of the day, my stomach began to growl.
‘First things first, eat. I really hope that I didn’t miss lunch, at least.’
With haste, I took the elevator down to the first floor and made my way to the dining hall. I pushed open the double doors leading in, which were much heavier than I would have imagined. Behind the door was a set table. Everyone was just about to start eating.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ I said with a wave.
‘Daniel!’ Lilah waved from her chair, no longer wearing her beret. ‘We were getting worried about you! You missed breakfast and I was worried you wouldn’t make it to the pool party today!’
On the way to my seat, I replied, ‘Oh, when is that going to be?’
‘We decided to have it during dinner, if that’s alright with you.’
‘During dinner?’ I asked.
‘Yeah! Wouldn’t that be fun?’
Having made it all the way down the long diner, I pulled out my chair and took a seat.
‘Glad you could make it,’ Marcus smiled. ‘Now then… bon appetit!’
The food, once again prepared excellently by William, tasted nearly perfect. He could’ve easily qualified for a number of jobs. He was able to cook at an expert chef level, clean and upkeep the whole mansion all on his own, manage and sculpt the garden, and he could even pilot a boat. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marcus revealed that he built this entire mansion by hand too. In a way, he was more of a prodigy than any of us kids. He wasn’t limited to one talent, but instead seemed to be amazing at anything he did.
‘I wonder what led him to work here, an empty island isolated from society.’
Alex was obviously much quieter and more nervous today. He hardly talked and when he was asked a question, he answered in the fastest and simplest way possible. For the most part, we all opted to ignore him so that our lunch wouldn’t be spoiled.
It didn’t take long before everyone had finished eating. As we prepared to leave, Marcus spoke, ‘If it’s alright with all of you, I’d like to talk one on one with each of you at some point this week. I invited you all here so that I could learn more about you, so it would be nice if we could do this, at least.’
Still intimidated by his status, everyone kept quiet except for Lilah. She was oblivious to the social hierarchy that should’ve been clear as day.
‘Sounds good to me!’
The rest of us simply nodded along.
I left only Marcus and William behind as I exited the diner. William still needed to clean up the table.
For a moment, I aimlessly walked around, having not yet decided what to do with my day. All I knew was that I must keep myself occupied. As I began to wander, I noticed Alex’s back walking up the stairs.
‘Alex’s behavior has been pretty weird lately though… It definitely doesn’t feel like something I should just brush off.’
My mind thought back to Rose and I immediately began to walk up the stairs. Before making myself known, I decided to follow him to see where he was going.
After walking to the second floor, he seemed to be headed straight to his room. If he made it in there, I wouldn’t feel comfortable knocking on his door to talk to him. That would seem much too deliberate.
‘Hey!’ I shouted to him. ‘What do you know? We’re the only two headed back to our rooms right after lunch.’
I jogged lightly to catch up to him, ensuring a conversation instead of a passing greeting. He slowly spun around to look at me. His eyes were noticeably different from before. They had been full of admiration and excitement and were now already ready to leave.
‘Hey…’ He mumbled.
‘Are you feeling alright? You’ve seemed pretty down lately.’
He looked up and forced a smile, ‘I’m doing fine. Don’t worry about me. I just have a whole lot to think about. Hopefully I’ll be back to normal in a few days.’
Then, he turned around once again and opened his door.
‘W-wai-’ I reached out my hand to his back, but he already shut his door behind him.
‘What’s his deal?’
I sighed aloud, no longer having anything to do, ‘Maybe I’ll go talk to Amelia?’
With that idea in mind, I walked my way to the garden. Sadly, that required me to once again walk down the stairs to where I had just come from. If only I had decided sooner…
I swung open the door to the garden and took a large breath of fresh air. The garden was just as pretty as I remembered, but Amelia was nowhere to be seen, not like that was too surprising. But, there was someone else in her place. Squatting next to the flowering bushes was Mary. She somehow still looked rather annoyed despite the fact that she was smelling flowers.
‘How unlucky could I possibly be? Mary, of all people?’
Swiftly while trying not to make a sound, I turned around and headed straight back to the mansion door.
‘Really?’ Her soft voice was filled with annoyance. ‘You’re going to sneak behind me and not even say hello?’
Feeling forced, I turned around and put my hand on the back of my head in embarrassment, ‘Oh, sorry about that… But, I should be on my way.’
‘Wait just a moment. Why do you avoid me so much? Even now you won’t so much as look me in the eye. Did I do something to you?’
I sighed, being forced into a very unfortunate conversation, ‘It’s not that. You just scare me a bit, that’s all.’
I decided against telling her about her similarities to Rose. I’m not seeking sympathy and I certainly do not want to be her friend.
Mary laughed very lightly in an almost irritating way, ‘Is that how it is? It felt like you were avoiding me before I would’ve even had a chance to make an impression… Could it be that we’ve met before this?’
‘No, of course not.’
Her annoyed facial expression and voice suddenly changed as she smirked, ‘Actually, I’m pretty bored right now and you seem to be too. Why not stay for a while?’
‘W-well I-’ I desperately searched for ways to decline her invitation, still unable to make eye contact.
‘C’mon. I bet I’m not as bad as you think I am. Let’s get to know each other, as fellow prodigies. That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?’
Sighing once more, I responded-
Before I got a chance to talk, she interrupted me immediately, ‘You sigh a lot. Did you know that? You really shouldn’t.’
‘Why’s that?’ My heart stung at the words.
‘Don’t you know? Even if you have to force one, the world will be a much happier place if you smile. Faking a smile and simply trying to be happy can trick your brain into actually being happy. In the same way, sighing all the time is a one way ticket to sadness.’
Hearing those words from her was painful in more ways than one, ‘No… but I’m not really interested in fake happiness like that.’
Mary stared at me for a few moments. She seemed to be judging me. It was this character of hers that made her so unapproachable, ‘You know, I think I can agree with you on that. But still, expressing your sadness and boredom so openly… it’s as if you’re seeking sympathy. For what other reason does one express their emotions? So, what is it? What’s wrong?’
I have never been asked such a kind question and yet felt so insulted. Her voice, despite saying such kind things, still felt cold. Her voice that imitated Rose’s felt all wrong. It was missing the actual kindness and empathy that Rose had. She didn’t seem to be attacking me or making fun of me either. There was no spite or aggression. This voice just felt empty. It was as if no emotion was behind her words at all.
But, maybe she didn’t intend to come off this way? Could it be that she’s just bad at socializing?
‘I’m just bored, that’s all.’
‘That’s it? It sounded like much more than that…’
‘Really? Well, sorry to worry you. I guess I’m so excited for the pool party that I can’t find anything to do.’
Her eyes locked with mine for a moment and I briefly looked away. When I turned back, she was still staring. It went on for many moments. It was like her eyes attempted to peer into my mind.
Finally, she closed her eyes and turned back to the bushes. She must’ve determined that there was no point in nagging me further when all I wanted to do was leave, ‘If that’s how it is, go talk to Marcus. He has seemed disappointed in his lack of interaction with his guests. I’m sure he’s bored too.’
I immediately took the out she gave me, ‘Oh! Well, that works out perfectly! Thanks a lot!’
Without turning back, I briskly walked back towards the mansion.
While I was only trying to get away, her idea wasn’t half bad. So, I decided to take my sights off of Amelia and find Marcus instead.
I walked back to the diner only to find that it had already been completely cleaned and evacuated.
‘Where does Marcus even spend his day?’
On the first floor, I decided to walk to the right of the stairs instead of the left, the location of the diner.
Through a large doorway layed a large living room. It was almost two stories tall on its own and octagonal in shape. Three of its sides were covered in windows. Several sofas surrounded a fireplace with a very thin and expensive looking curved television mounted on top.
‘Oh, Daniel. Would you like some tea?’
William was diligently cleaning when he noticed me enter. I had hardly made a sound but he must’ve heard it clearly to respond so fast.
‘Sure. Black would be nice.’
‘Well then,’ he smiled. ‘Wait right here and prepare yourself for the best tea you’ve ever tasted.’
With perfect posture and a gesture that seemed to have been practiced millions of times, he bowed and pointed his arms towards the couch invitingly. Naturally, I sat where he told me to and waited.
He wasn’t gone for long. He appeared much faster than I would have thought for him to make tea.
Confidently, he walked back carrying a plate with a teacup on it, ‘Enjoy.’
The tea was exactly as expected of William.
Even though I was sitting down, he still insisted on standing beside the couch, ‘Yes? Is it not to your liking?’
‘No, it’s delicious. But, I’ve been wondering for a while now. Why do you even work here?’
Perhaps it was rude to ask, but William gave off an air of comfort. He felt as though I could ask him just about anything and he wouldn’t think any differently of me. Although, I suppose that’s part of his job. A butler’s purpose is to serve his master and his guests, and being a place to confide in could be a service as well.
‘Hmm,’ He hummed unperturbed by the bland question. ‘For Marcus. Not for the money and not because of the residence, but simply for him.’
‘He must be pretty amazing to earn your respect like that. You’re fantastic at pretty much everything. To have someone like you offer to work here…’
‘Forgive me for being so informal, but this question has to be answered like this,’ William didn’t move for a moment, simply thinking. Then, gently, he set down the plate in his hand onto the table and took a seat. ‘I didn’t offer to work for him. At least, not in the way that you made it out.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, before I worked for Marcus, I was in poverty. I grew up in a very poor area and I was never able to realize my own potential, but he could. He was simply starting up his business at the time, so he wasn’t rich yet. One day while he was on a business trip, he found me. I was… this is hard to say- stealing from him. Even though he wasn’t rich, he was by far the most wealthy person in the area at the moment. Everyone’s eyes were on him. Now, this story would have been much shorter if I got away with it,’ He chuckled heartily. ‘But, of course, I was caught. Instead of pressing charges, not that I had anything to give him if he did, he said that he could see talent within me. He let me keep his wallet and offered me a deal. I work for him as his assistant and he would teach me how to use money, he’d pay me too of course.’
‘Wow. So, nobody would’ve ever known about all of this talent you have because of where you were born?’
‘That’s right. But, that’s just how the world works. I have no qualms with it. In fact, Marcus made a really dumb decision, hiring me on the spot like that! Then again, he’s fantastic in his own right for recognizing a diamond in the rough like that. I still don’t fully know how he knew I’d be a good match for him just from a little pick pocketing.’
‘No kidding. Speaking of Marcus, why does he live on this island?’ There was a long pause where William didn’t answer, so I continued. ‘Do you even know?’
For the first time, he seemed uncomfortable, ‘N-no. I’m only here because I believe that he has his reasons. I trust him wholeheartedly and would never leave him, no matter how inconvenient it may be.’
‘Aren’t you curious? What could cause him to do something like that? If I were you, I’d definitely be curious. B-but of course I’m not trying to call your determination into question, I just think that it might be fun to try and find out… Maybe there’s something in his office? It’s one of the few doors that are locked-’
Suddenly, he stood up without warning and picked his plate back up, ‘Well, I’ve got to go start dinner. I can’t sit around chatting forever. Can you go tell the rest of the guests that we’re having dinner early and that we’ll be meeting in the pool?’ He began to walk out of the room. Never turning back and still facing away from me he added, ‘It was nice talking to you. You’re right, though. I’m very curious.’
‘W-wait!’ I shouted from the couch, but the tea in my hands prevented me from moving sharply.
Once again, I was simply walked away from in the middle of a conversation.
The next nearly half hour consisted of me finding the rest of the kids and telling them about dinner. My legs started killing me after walking up and down several flights of stairs. I figured that the stairs would be faster and therefore better at the time, but that was clearly a mistake.
Mary had found her way to the workshop with Lilah, who was still not wearing her beret. Alex was still in his room and Amelia was painting in hers as well. All of them were ready to go except for Mary and Lilah. They said that they’d be there momentarily.
By the time I had notified everyone, it was already time for dinner and the pool party.
The pool was seemingly Olympic in size. There were three diving boards of varying heights paired with ladders on the deep end. The shallow end had enormous spools of lane separating ropes and various swimming equipment. There were also beach chairs lining the walls. It was the first time I had ever laid my eyes on a pool that was as large as a public one, but as clean as a well taken care of hot tub. On my way into the pool there were two entrances. They each led to a different gendered changing room.
I told Alex and Amelia about dinner before Lilah and Mary, so I entered the changing room after Alex was already inside. Amelia was separated from him when she went into the women's room.
The changing room was as clean as you’d expect from William. It contained various swim trunks with a large selection of designs and sizes. I chose a simple blue pair, and Alex an orange.
Marcus laid in a beach chair pulled up to the shallow side of the pool. William stood beside him, as always. Neither of them wore swimwear. They were probably too old to keep up with us kids. A medium sized table next to them was full, containing platters of food and empty plates and silverware.
Everyone gathered around the table. Amelia wore a simple and modest navy blue one-piece. A few minutes after we had changed and entered the room, Lilah showed up too. She wore a pink one-piece swimsuit covered in childish frills. She looked surprisingly different without her glasses. She seemed somehow more childish than ever. William invited us to eat whenever we were ready and Marcus told us that he hoped we had fun.
Immediately, Lilah grabbed goggles from the boxes of supplies and dove into the pool.
‘C’mon in, the water’s warm!’ She seemed so excited to be able to play around with us like this.
‘One second, I think I’ll dish myself some food first,’ I said as I walked to the table.
‘Me too,’ Amelia followed just behind me.
Alex skipped getting food and jumped straight into the pool with Lilah.
Looking at the table I could see that the menu was just as great as ever. Amelia and I swiftly made ourselves a plate so we didn’t keep them waiting.
We both sat down next to each other on the edge of the pool, dipping our legs into the water. Lilah hadn’t been lying when she said that the water was warm. It was the perfect temperature. Just from that you could tell that William was responsible for it.
It was the first time in a surprisingly long time that I had entered a pool. I learned how to swim a long time ago but was never very good at it. It felt quite refreshing to be able to unwind like this.
Followed by the sound of the changing room door, Mary spoke as she walked into the natatorium, ‘Sorry I’m late.’
‘Oh! I was starting to think that you were going to skip out on me!’ Lilah cheered. ‘Come on in!’
Mary wore a simple black bikini. It wasn’t flashy but it wasn’t shy either. She grabbed a plate of food and then dipped her legs into the pool, taking a seat on the side. She sat on a different wall from me and Amelia, however.
While we ate our food and chatted, Lilah and Alex splashed around in the pool. He wasn’t as talkative as he was on the first day, but he seemed to be cheering up since I last saw him.
When we were about halfway done with our food, they got out of the pool and finally made themselves a plate. Speedily eating, Lilah finished hers before I was even done with mine. As swiftly as she got out she had already jumped back in. Alex took a little longer, but he didn’t grab much food so he still finished before me.
‘Excuse me, but I’ll be right back,’ William set down a pile of towels on a chair for us and then bowed as he exited the room.
Even though it struck me as just a little odd, Marcus seemed almost shocked, not offended, by this. William must have never done something like that before.
While everyone was finishing up our last bites of food, Lilah proposed a race, ‘Want to see who can make the fastest lap in the pool? Freestyle of course!’
‘You’re on,’ Mary immediately accepted. It was the first time she seemed engaged to me so far. She seemed to finally be letting loose.
Eating just before swimming isn’t usually recommended, but very few kids our age would’ve even considered that. Marcus didn’t want to leave a bad impression on us either so he didn't say anything. Still, Amelia didn’t like the idea much.
With some reluctance from Amelia and a little pushing from Lilah consequently, we all ended up in our own lane, participating in the race.
I’m not exactly weak or unfit, but it was a given that there was no way I could win. Amelia and I were winded by the steps when we first arrived here. So, the goal I set for myself was to beat just her.
Lilah asked Marcus to be the referee, although really all he had to do was keep track of everyone’s positions and say, ‘go.’
With all of us finally in position, I glanced around at my competition. Lilah looked as excited as always, Mary looked confident, Alex seemed a little indifferent, and Amelia looked extremely nervous. She probably thinks that she’ll come in last.
‘I can see how that might be embarrassing…’
Finally, Marcus shouted for us to begin.
Lilah and Mary were immediately off to the races. They took off notably sooner than the rest of us. Swiftly, Alex and I began shortly before Amelia.
We all had gotten a pair of goggles before the race so that we could see clearly and know when to turn. Although I was able to clearly note everyone’s positions as my head turned through the water, I’m sure that wasn’t an option for anyone else.
Although we started at almost the same time, Alex quickly overtook me. It wasn’t by much, but he was obviously a better swimmer than me. Turning at the end of the pool, I noticed that Amelia wasn’t too far behind me, but despite how tired I already was, it was clear she wouldn’t be able to beat me.
Without giving it much thought, I slowed down a little bit.
Out of breath, I slammed my hands against the wall at the end of the race, right back where I started. Marcus relayed to me the standings of the competition. Mary had won by several seconds. Lilah came in second but Alex followed close behind. Amelia made it to the other side after several more seconds and I followed shortly behind her.
Mary had a grin on her face as Lilah complimented her, ‘I can’t believe you’re such a good swimmer! Who would’ve known? Are you on a competitive team or something?’
‘No, I’m not that good,’ the tone in her voice could be easily read as ‘compliment me more.’
Alex didn’t seem to care too much about his standing in the race, but also gave compliments to Lilah and Mary.
For the most part, Amelia and I stayed out of it. I came in last and we weren’t really close enough to tease each other yet, so they didn’t talk about my placement at all. Not to mention, we were both completely out of breath. It was a real workout.
Amelia finally caught her breath and I could see a brief smile of relief and satisfaction on her face.
The rest of dinner passed smoothly and we all dried off as we prepared to change back into casual clothes for bed.
Oddly enough, William never returned. Marcus was clearly very worried about this. Even though we hardly knew him, it was incredibly strange given his character so far.
We all thanked Marcus for dinner and began to walk back to our rooms.
Mary was talking more than she ever had at once. She wore a smile on her face and seemed to be hitting it off well with Lilah and Amelia. Alex wasn’t as talkative as he used to be still, but he definitely seemed much better than this morning.
Suddenly, on our walk back to our rooms, a shrill blood-curdling scream echoed throughout the mansion. My skin suddenly ran cold and goosebumps covered my arms.
‘What was that?!’ Amelia jumped.
‘It sounded like Marcus,’ I was able to make it out from the scream. It was brief, so everyone may have missed their chance to think about the sound much.
Swiftly, we all ran to the staircase and back up. My whole body ached from swimming and running around all day. I was out of breath and covered in beads of sweat. My stomach churned as I imagined what could have happened.
Everyone else must have felt the same. Their faces were all bent in anticipation for what could have been to come.
I was the third one to make it there, after Mary and Lilah. The scream had come from the top floor, at the door to Marcus’ office.
A horrendous scene laid out before me. Marcus had fallen backwards onto the floor. His jaw was gaping open as he attempted to yell, but nothing more came out.
The body of William laid lifeless in the doorway.