Blood and bone. Blood and bone.
The lilies’ commingled voices echoed in my head as I stood there, immobile. Several moments passed before I shook free from my daze. “Well, you will be disappointed at this harvest party. My friend and I ensured the workers have family or friends who will miss them. There are no ‘unwanted souls’ here tonight.”
“What? What have you done? We will make you pay!”
I ran through the house and out the kitchen door. I frantically scanned the crowd for Lori and finally saw her walking near a table, admiring the finished jack-o’-lanterns. I tried to slow my breathing and appear calm as I made my way to Lori.
“Lori, you will never believe what the lilies told me,” I murmured.
“What? Let’s go over here, where there aren’t so many people.” Lori pulled me towards the tables where discarded coloring pages and crayons remained from the children who were now eager to light their jack-o’-lanterns.
Once there, I quickly told her what the flowers said.
“What should we do?” Lori asked with a worried frown.
“It’s obvious. We have to destroy them. I will find Beth and ask if she will help us. Get some gloves from the gardening shed. I don’t think we want to touch those plants.” I gestured to the small building before slipping back among the partiers.
Beth stood near the bonfire, talking quietly with Joe. As I approached, they broke off their conversation and looked at me expectantly. Remembering Joe’s reaction when I approached him about the lilies before, I asked to speak to Beth privately. Beth nodded, and we moved a few yards away from Joe.
Once again, I relayed what I discovered, then asked, “Will you help me destroy them?”
I saw Beth hesitate as she looked at Joe. After a moment, she said, “Yes. We need a distraction. I will meet you in the foyer in ten minutes.”
“Perfect,” I replied. “Lori is getting gloves from the shed. We want to protect our hands.”
“You don’t have to worry about your hands,” Joe said from behind me.
I whirled to face him. “What do you mean?”
“The lilies don’t need you to touch them to absorb your energy. Frankly, I’m surprised they told you what they do and let you leave.”
“They said they absorb people’s life-force. And then somehow, their bodies are used to feed the lilies.” My voice rose slightly in panic as my brain echoed the words again. Blood and bone. Blood and bone.
“We take the bodies to the basement and drain the blood. Then we put the bodies in the lower compost pile to decompose. We retrieve the bones and grind them into a fine powder. I combine the blood and bones, and that is the food you give to the lilies.” Joe’s blunt tone gave me chills.
“What about the stuff Cook uses in place of meat? What is that?” I didn’t want to know but also felt compelled to ask.
Beth laughed. “That’s just tofu. Seriously!”
I glared at her. “But you said…”
“No, I allowed you to think what you wanted. How else was I going to win the bet and get you to investigate?”
“Emma, we make a bet every time we get a new housekeeper. This time, Beth thought you would help, and I figured you were too young and scared. Apparently, I was wrong,” Joe said ruefully.
“You’re sick. Both of you.” I turned to go, but Beth caught my arm.
“Wait, please. You don’t understand.”
“Then tell me the truth. All of it.”
Beth took a deep breath. “We’re the Cromwell children. Our parents allowed us to age into adulthood, and then our parents forced us to take the pollen. Joe avoids his dose sometimes since he is outside the house so much. But they watch me take mine. We take it every full moon. It prolongs life and slows aging. I look like I’m only twenty, but I’m really one hundred and fifty years old. Joe is one hundred and fifty-seven. Every time a new housekeeper comes, we hope she’s will discover how to end this curse. We don’t want to live forever, like our parents. But we also do not have the courage to stand up to our parents.”
“Does Cook know what you are?”
“No,” Beth answered. “She thinks we’re just eccentric rich people. But she’s trustworthy. Cook keeps us a secret and tells new staff there are small children hidden away somewhere.”
“Why do you work? I mean, you’re the Cromwell’s children. They’re the richest, most prominent family in the entire valley.”
“Because we’re bored. We want to explore the world, but of course, they won’t let us. Joe tried to escape once. The guards caught him, and he spent a month locked in the basement. I can’t imagine not seeing the sun for a month!” Beth shivered. “At least working in the house gives us something to do. And Joe is fantastic with plants.”
“Now you know the truth. What are you planning to do?” Joe asked.
“Destroy the lilies. Will you help me? Tell me what I need to do to avoid being soul-sucked.”
Joe pulled a small box from his coat pocket. “Spray this on the petals. Be quick and get them all. It will numb them, in a way, and prevent them from using their powers for a short time.”
I took the box, and this time, the Cromwell children didn’t stop me when I walked away.
I went to the gardening shed, and Lori stepped out. I noticed the gloves in Lori’s hands. “Put those back. They won’t work. Joe and Beth told me more. Let’s go.”
As Lori and I made our way across the lawn and into the house, I relayed my conversation with the Cromwell children.
“That’s disgusting!” Lori said when I finished.
“I know. We are going to end it.”
I led Lori through the kitchen and into the servants’ hall. Just outside the foyer door, I stopped and opened the box, removing the small spray bottle. “I’ll go first and spray them. As soon as I do, pull them up from their roots. We’re going to add these creepy flowers to the bonfire.”
“Won’t the Cromwells try to stop us?”
“Beth said she would distract them. I don’t know what she has planned, but let’s get this done. Ready?”
Lori nodded, and I opened the door. I flicked on the light and began spritzing the liquid on the flower petals.
“What are you doing? We were friends!” came the lilies’ strange unified voice.
“We were friends. Until I discovered that you and the Cromwells are murderers,” I said, continuing to spray the lilies. “Now, Lori.”
Lori stepped out of the hallway and began grabbing handfuls of stems, yanking and throwing them into a pile on the floor. “Be sure to get them all.”
“I am,” Lori said grimly.
I finished spraying all the flower petals, then helped Lori pull up the stems. Once the large urns were empty, we gathered up the flower remains. Beth was waiting for us in the kitchen, and she opened the garden door.
“Hurry, Joe is using the slingshot to hurl fireworks over the garden, so everyone is watching him, but he will run out soon.”
We ran across the lawn towards the bonfire. Beth scooped up any blooms that fell from Lori’s or my grasps. Red, blue, and green light burst at the corners of my eyes as Joe continued his fireworks display. The fire was still immense, and the heat roared at their faces. Without hesitating, they threw the lilies into the blaze. I winced as I heard the lilies’ agonized cries as they burned.