Home > Kill Switch (Devil's Night #3)

Kill Switch (Devil's Night #3)
Author: Penelope Douglas

Winter

My ballet slipper brushes the hardwood floor as I slowly step down the long hallway. The glow of the candles on their pedestals line the dark walls, and I fidget with my fingers as I glance left to right at every closed door I pass.

I don’t like this house. I’ve never liked it here.

But at least the parties are only twice a year—after summer recitals in June and following the premiere of the annual Nutcracker performance in December. Madame Delova loves ballet, and as my school’s benefactress she considers it a ‘gift to the masses to descend from her tower once in a while to entertain the villagers and allow us into her home.’

Or so I overheard my mom say once.

The house is so big that I don’t think I’ll ever see all of it, and it’s filled with things that everyone is always gushing over and whispering about, but it makes me nervous. I feel like I’ll break something every time I turn around.

And it’s too dark. Even worse today with the house only lit by candlelight. I suppose it’s Madame’s way of making everything look like a dream the way she kind of looks herself: surreal, too perfect, and porcelain. Not exactly real.

I press my lips together, pausing before I call out, “Mom?”

Where is she?

I step softly, not sure where I am or how I get back to the party, but I know I saw my mom come upstairs. I think there’s a third floor, too, but I’m not sure where the next stairwell is to get to it. Why would she come up here? Everyone is downstairs.

I clench my jaw harder with every step away from the party I take. The lights, voices, and music fade, and the silent darkness of the hallway slowly swallows me up.

I should go back. She’ll get mad that I followed her anyway.

“Mom?” I call again, itching at the tights on my legs as the costume I’d been wearing since this morning chafes my skin. “Mom?”

“What the fuck is the matter with you?” someone yells.

I jump.

“Everyone is uncomfortable around you,” the man continues. “All you do is stand there! We talked about this.”

I spot a sliver of light peeking through a cracked doorway and creep closer. I doubt my mom is in there. People don’t yell at her.

But maybe she is in there?

“What is going on in that head of yours?” the man bellows. “Can’t you speak? At all? Ever?”

There’s no response, though. Who is he mad at?

Leaning into the door frame, I peer into the crack, trying to see who’s in the room.

At first, all I can make out is gold. The golden glow of the golden lamp shining onto the golden desk set. But then I shift to the left, my pulse hammering in my chest, as I see Madame’s husband, Mr. Torrance, cross into my view from behind his desk. He stands, breathing hard with his jaw set, as he looks down at whoever is on the other side.

“Jesus Christ,” he spits out with disdain. “My son. My heir… Can anything come out of that fucking mouth of yours? All you’ve gotta say is ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you for coming’. You can’t even answer a simple question when someone asks you. What the hell is wrong with you?”

My son. My heir.

I inch down and then up, trying to see around the edge of the door, but I can’t see the other person. Madame and Mr. Torrance have a son. I rarely see him, though. He’s my sister’s age but goes to Catholic school.

“Speak!” his father bursts out again.

I suck in a breath, and on reflex, take a step. But I accidentally go forward instead of backward and hit the door. The hinges creak, the door creeps open another inch, and I rear back.

Oh, no.

I scurry back, away from the door, and whirl around, ready to bolt. But before I can escape, the door opens, light spills across the dark hardwood floors, and a tall shadow looms over me.

I clench my thighs, the silvery ache burning like I’m about to pee my pants. Slowly, I turn my head and see Mr. Torrance standing there in a dark suit. The scowl on his face softens, and he lets out a sigh.

“Hi,” he says, his lips curl in a slight smile as he gazes down at me.

On instinct, I retreat a step. “I…I got lost.” I swallow, looking up at his dark eyes. “Do you know where my mom is? I can’t find her.”

But just then, the room’s other occupant swings the door open even more, letting the knob hit the wall, and charges around his father and out of the room. Black hair hanging in his eyes, head down, and necktie draped untied around his neck, he rushes past me without a look and barrels down the stairs.

His footsteps disappear, and I turn back to Mr. Torrance.

He smiles, coming down and squatting at my level. I rear back a little.

“You’re Margot’s daughter,” he says. “Winter, right?”

I nod, putting a foot behind me and ready to take another step back.

But he reaches over and places a hand under my chin. “You have your mother’s eyes.”

I don’t. No one ever says that. I raise my chin, so it isn’t touching his hand.

“How old are you?” he asks.

He takes my chin again, tilting my head left and right as his eyes appraise me. Then they fall away from my face and down my white leotard and tutu, past my tights and down to my feet. They float back up, meeting my eyes, but now the smile is gone. Something different plays behind his gaze as he stares at me, and I don’t know if it’s his silence, his size, or how I can’t hear the party anymore, but I finish my step and pull away a few more inches.

“I’m eight,” I mumble, dropping my eyes.

I don’t need his help finding my mom. I just want to leave now. He was so mean to his son. My parents aren’t perfect, but I’ve never been screamed at like that.

“You’re going to be very beautiful someday,” he adds in almost a whisper. “Like your mother.”

I try for a few seconds, finally able to swallow the lump in my throat.

“The first time I saw my wife,” he goes on, “she was in a costume very much like yours.”

I don’t have to imagine what Madame looks like in costumes. There are pictures and paintings of her all over the house and the studio.

Mr. Torrance stays there for a moment, his height and eyes hovering over me and making me uncomfortable.

Finally, he drops his hand and inhales a breath as if snapping out of something. “Run along and play,” he tells me.

I spin around, darting back the way I came, but I have to glance over my shoulder one more time to make sure he’s far away and not following me.

But as I look, I see him continue down the hallway, open the door straight ahead, and pause for a moment as if seeing someone.

I almost turn back around to keep going, but he moves out of the doorway, swinging around to close the door, and I see her.

My mom.

I narrow my eyes, blinking to make sure it’s her. White afternoon dress, long hair the same color as mine, playful smile on her lips...

The door closes, cutting off the image of her heading toward him, and I stand in the black hallway, the sound of a lock clicking echoing around me.

I should go. I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t think I should bother her. Twisting around, I run back down the stairs, through the foyer again, and toward the back of the house and the party.

The back door opens, a waiter coming through with a tray, and I slip out, flitting across the stone patio and through a sea of adults. Chatter surrounds me, people laugh, drink, and eat, while a flute player in a light blue gown shares a corner with a string quartet far off to my right. They fill the terrace with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a track I know really well from dancing.

The waitstaff clears silverware while glasses clink, and I glance up at the darkening sky, seeing the clouds cover the sun and cast a shadow over the party. Perfect for the candlelight.

Spotting a group of white, I see my friends, all similarly dressed, since we’d just performed in our recital earlier today, run behind some hedges. They’re huddled together, giggling, and my sister, three years older than me, is in the middle of them. I only hesitate a moment before I take a step, following them.

Running around the hedge and onto the grass, I suddenly stop and inhale the rush of wind that hits me as it blows through the trees. Chills spread up my arms, and I glance back at the house and the windows on the second floor where I’d been. My mom might come looking for me.

But the party is boring, and my friends are this way.

Beyond the house and party, the land opens up into a vast lawn, lined and dotted with flower beds to my right and left as well as trees and rolling hills in the distance. It spans far and wide and looks like something out of a fairy tale.

I look over, seeing my sister in a tight group with our classmates. What are they doing? She glances over at me, smirks, and then says something quickly to them before they all rush into the garden maze, disappearing behind the tall hedges.

“Wait!” I shout. “Ari, wait for me!”

I take off down the small slope and toward the maze, stopping only briefly at the entrance and flashing my gaze to both of the hedges on either side. The path is only visible for several more feet before I’m forced to make a turn, and I didn’t see where they went. What if I get lost?

I shake my head. No. This wouldn’t be dangerous. If it were, they would’ve blocked it off. Right? A bunch of kids just went in. It’s fine.

I push off my foot, breaking into a run as the wind sweeps through the cypresses, the promise in the gray sky and looming clouds making the hair on my arms rise. I turn right and wind around the trees, following the path and losing my way as the entrance to the maze gets farther away from me the deeper I go.

The smell of earth fills my lungs as I breathe in, and even though the ground is covered with grass, dirt scuffs my slippers, and I shift uncomfortably. They’re going to be ruined now. I know it.

But Madame insisted we keep our full costumes on, even after the performance.

Laughter and howling echoes in the distance, and I shoot my head up, starting to walk faster to follow the sound. They’re still in here.

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