The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 7

Read Part 6 here, or start from the beginning.

The time for the harvest party was quickly approaching, and it kept the Cromwell House staff busy with the preparations. Downstairs rooms were cleaned and aired out, wood stacked for the bonfire, and cakes created. Every evening, I fell exhausted into my bed. 

During the cleaning, I conveyed most of the plan to Beth. I was careful to do it away from the lilies. It took several hours as we didn’t have any chances to have a long conversation. 

“Lori’s going to get a list from her friend,” I whispered as I passed Beth in the hall outside the kitchen. “And her friend is going to tell all the applicants to put names of family members on their emergency contact list. If they don’t have one, he’s going to encourage them to make one up.” 

“Is that legal?” Beth whispered back. 

“Probably not, but at least this way no one will look as if they are orphans.” 

The preparation days sped by, and all too soon it was the morning of the harvest party. Garlands in fall colors of orange, brown, deep red, and yellow adorned the front porch. Vases were filled with autumn flowers such as chrysanthemums, asters, and celosias. The dining room table sported a golden runner and white and gold china dishes, ready for the Cromwell’s guests of honor. On the back lawn, portable tables and chairs were placed, along with long tables for the buffet. At the edge of the garden, the groundskeepers had prepared a place for a bonfire, and wood was stacked neatly to the side. 

Everywhere I looked, there was beauty and an air of excitement. I found it hard to believe that I had an hand in decorating the manor. My usual party decorations consisted of streamers and balloons, not this elegant arrangement of harmonious colors. The staff was industrious until lunchtime, putting the finishing touches on table settings and gathering supplies for the various games and activities. 

This time, lunch was held in the kitchen for all of the staff on a rotating schedule. Cook prepared platters of sandwiches, sliced fruit, and cut vegetables. The house staff ate first, followed by the gardeners, and then the guards. Beth took trays upstairs for the family. It took a few minutes for me to figure out who was missing. 

“Cook, where’s Esther?” 

“Eh? Oh, old Esther goes to her daughter’s the morning of the harvest party. Then the girl comes back with her for the celebration in the afternoon. I think it’s truly her only day off.” Cook began putting the leftover food away. “Let’s get this cleaned up so we can enjoy the rest of the day.” 

I helped with the dishes and once Cook was satisfied, I went to her room to change. Beth told me the employees all wore their city clothes to the party. “You know, the ones you wear to town on your days off,” she clarified when I looked at her in confusion. 

I pulled on a soft cashmere sweater in a dark blue, and black jeans. I brushed my hair out, letting it be free of the confines of a braid or bun. Then I called Lori. 

“Are you ready?” I asked as soon as Lori picked up.

“Everything’s set. I’ll see you at four.” 

I decided to wander around the garden while I reviewed our plan. I put on a dark wool jacket and headed outside. The garden beds were mostly empty this late in the season. A few pumpkins still clung to their vines — the ones that weren’t chosen for pies or carving. Corn stalks scratched against each other in the light breeze, and here and there a squished vegetable laid discarded. She could smell the sweet note of apples that were still on the trees, although most were already picked and in storage. 

“What are you doing out here, Emma?” Joe’s gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. 

I looked up to see him standing a few rows over. “Oh, hi. I’m just walking. Is that okay?”

“The party will be starting soon. You should get back.” 

His abruptness didn’t surprise me after the way their last conversation ended. “Yes, okay. See you at the party.” I turned and made my way back to the house. 

The Cromwell’s harvest party was the biggest one in town, as most of the town came. They had jack o’lantern carving contests, apple bobbing, corn hole, and more. There was enough food for everyone. I wondered where they got it all, since the house garden provided for the family and staff, but soon she realized the caterer brought most of it up. Only Cook’s treats were made at the house. 

Lori arrived promptly at four o’clock, an hour after the party started, and I was waiting for her at the top of the driveway. We hugged, and I felt Lori slip something into the pocket of her jacket. 

“Is that it?” I asked quietly. 

“Yep, and everyone has someone to miss them.” 

“Perfect. Once the bonfire starts, I’ll go see if those lilies will finally tell me the truth.”

“Have you seen the children yet?” Lori asked. 

My mouth dropped open. I had forgotten all about wanting to see the Cromwell children in my desire to save the temporary workers. “No, but they should be out here tonight, don’t you think?” 

Lori nodded, and together we headed to the buffet tables. 

As the party wore on, I kept looking at all the children present, trying to see which ones looked like Mr. or Mrs. Cromwell. They were all moving so fast, though, darting between tables and dashing from one activity to another, that I finally gave up and figured they would be introduced when the bonfire was lit. 

Finally, the sun’s last rays were beginning to disappear from the horizon, and Joe stood next to the teepee of kindling and sticks. A loud gong was heard from the house, and everyone turned towards it. Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell stood on the patio that led into the dining room, holding hands and smiling. Once the murmurs quieted, Mr. Cromwell raised his other hand and spoke in a loud voice that carried across the lawn. 

“Welcome, friends, to our annual harvest party! I won’t tell you how many years our family has been hosting as you wouldn’t believe me anyway.” Polite chuckles scattered around the crowd. “Tonight is a special night, as our dear head housekeeper, Esther, is bringing her daughter to the house for training as her successor. Please help me welcome young Abigail to our staff!” 

He released his wife’s hand and began clapping, while a young girl stepped out from the crowd to stand on the lowest stone step of the patio. The guests followed his action, and soon Abigail was blushing from the applause.  

Mr. Cromwell waived his hand and silence descended. “Thank you. I’m sure she will make a wonderful head housekeeper when she’s old enough. Now, to the part you all have been waiting for. It’s not a harvest party without a bonfire, and as part of our ritual here at Cromwell house, we invite you to write down a wish for this coming season and burn it in the fire. Joe, if you please.” 

Everyone turned back to the fire pit and watched as Joe took a punk from a bucket and lit the fuel-soaked kindling. With a rush, the fire caught and raced to the top of the teepee. Joe stepped back, and several other men came forward to add more logs to the inferno. I kept the Cromwells in my peripheral vision, and was startled to see them step down onto the grass and begin to mingle with the townsfolk. Beth told me they usually went back inside the house to their private drawing room. 

“Now’s my chance,” I told Lori. 

Before my friend could respond, I dashed to the kitchen door and raced to the entryway. The foyer was dim, lit only by the porch lights shining in the glass doors from outside. I could see well enough, however, and she stood between the two giant pots of lilies. 

“Hello, beauties,” I said as calmly as I could. 

“Hi, Emma. Enjoying the party?” Their collective voice still made chills go down my spine. 

“Yes, thank you. But I was wondering if you could tell me something.” 

“What? You probably hear more gossip than we do, since we cannot walk around.” 

“True, but this is about you, so I’m sure you know the answer.” 

“What?” They asked again. 

“What really happens at the harvest parties?” 

There was no answer. I figured the lilies wouldn’t tell her the truth. Truth…maybe I can trick them, I thought. 

“Oh, well, I guess you don’t really know. Beth said you didn’t.” I began to walk away. 

“Beth is a liar. We know!” 

“Really? Can you tell me? I promise to keep your secret.” 

There was a small gasp, almost as if the lilies all drew in a breath at the same time, and then they began speaking. “We are magic, you realize. Do you know magic?” 

“I know you’re magic,” I responded. “Regular flowers don’t talk.”

“Yes,” the lilies giggled. “We are rare. We use our magic to help the Cromwells but it needs replenished or we lose it.” 

“How do you help the Cromwells?” 

“We keep them alive. Mrs. Cromwell is three-hundred and sixty years old next month.” 

I drew in a breath. I wanted to ask if they were sure, if they were telling the truth, but I knew we could be interrupted at any moment. “And how do you need your magic replenished?” 

“The lost ones’ souls.” 

“Lost ones…do you mean the temporary workers?” 

“Yes. At the end of the harvest party, Beth and Joe bring them to us, one by one. They can’t resist smelling us. We are beautiful and alluring. When they come near, we absorb their souls.” 

“You kill them,” I stated flatly. 

“Yes, but they do not go to waste. They feed us for a long time.”

“How? What do you mean?” I felt my stomach roll and fought to keep the nausea from overwhelming me. 

“Blood and bone,” they replied. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay.

Moon Daughter Rising

My very good friend is releasing her second book! E.G. Moore is an award-winning author and poet who specializes in middle-grade fiction. All of her stories have a moral lesson in them, and Moon Daughter Rising is no exception. Available for pre-order now, and releasing on January 29th, MDR is a fun read for adults and children alike! I might be a little biased since I helped her with some editing, so tell me what you think about it! I am so excited for her!

Bonus: E.G. Moore also has Language Arts curriculum activities to accompany her novels on her TeacherPayTeacher Store: Legends and Lessons.

Book Blurb:

Annalee’s dad went missing and no one is doing anything about it.

The police say he abandoned her, but Annalee knows better. Her aunt and uncle make her promise not to look for him, especially in the woods behind their family cabin for fear she’ll go missing, too.

When she finds her father’s trail, she breaks a promise and tells a lie, hoping she can save him. Doing so attracts Wimpa the abominable ice witch, who chases Annalee into their tribe’s spirit world. Though she doesn’t know it yet, Annalee holds the third Wonderstone, the only possession her father left behind. The crescent-shaped talisman could give Wimpa control over World Above the Sky and the ability to open the ancient ways to the Earth.

Annalee must seek help from an ancient grandmother and her spirit guides to grapple with her newfound moon magic and rescue her father and a grandfather she’s never known from their icy prison. Is she fails, World Above the Sky will fall to Wimpa and the gateways will be open for evil spirits to roam Earth. But if she destroys Wimpa, her father and grandfather stay locked in ice forever. Outsmarting Wimpa will take, courage, honesty, and somehow mastering the power of the Moon Daughter rising within.

A beautiful weaving of fiction, MicMac tribe legends, and some moral truths we all must face.

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 4

Read The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 3.

“Cook, where are the children?” I asked as I placed sliced fruit on a tray. 

The morning sun streamed through the kitchen windows, warming the room even further despite the fall chill in the air. 

“Eh?” Came Cook’s muffled response. She backed out of the pantry, her arms laden with various ingredients. 

“The children,” I repeated. “Where are they? Don’t they go outside to play?”

She grunted as she deposited her loot on the counter then wiped her face with a corner of her apron. “They’re around. You will only see them if they want you to. The meeting with Madam must have gone well?” 

“Yes, I think so. She told Esther to schedule a meeting with Sir Cromwell.” 

“Good, I knew you’d be a fit!” 

I hesitated a moment before asking, “What does that mean, exactly?” 

Cook turned to me, an incredulous look on her round face. “Mean? Why, girl, it means you can be a permanent employee like me or Joe there.” She gestured toward the gardens. “What did you think it meant?” 

I shrugged and attempted a laugh. “I don’t know. I thought it meant I would start working upstairs.” 

“Ah, no, girl. Only Beth and Esther work upstairs. But when the Cromwells host their parties, Esther hires temporary help to set up, serve, and clean. Those people are only here for a week or so. You and me, though, and the rest of the staff here now, get to live here and have security in our jobs. Here, add this to that platter.” Cook handed me a jar of olives. 

“If you want to see the children, the best way is to be around the flowers and gardens,” Cook continued. “They like to hide in them.” 

“I need to water the downstairs plants again today. Maybe they will come visit?” I was hopeful. There was no evidence of the mysterious children, and I wanted to see them for myself. 

“Is that tray ready yet?” Beth asked as she walked into the kitchen. “Madam is becoming a bit peevish.” Wisps of curly blond hair escaped her bun, and she brushed them out of her eyes irritably. 

“Yes, just finished.” I handed her the tray of fruit, cheese, and olives.

“Esther said for you to do the plants then see if Joe needs any help in the garden. Fall means harvest season, which means we all take a turn,” Beth said. 

Oh, that’s perfect! More time in the garden means more chance of seeing the children, I thought. 

“Go on, girl. I can handle things here.” Cook waved me off. 

I gathered the watering can, a soft cloth, and the bottle of homemade plant food, then headed down the servants’ hall to the entryway. I didn’t mind the kitchen work or dusting the furniture and mopping the floors, but my favorite task was to care for the plants. I always loved growing things and found the garden and houseplants in the Cromwell House to be well-cared for and healthy. They were easy to maintain. 

“Hello, my beauties,” I greeted the lilies by the front door. “Let’s shine your leaves up today, shall we?” I spoke to them the way I always did and hoped they would talk back again. I had questions. 

I took the cloth and gently wiped the leaves, even though there wasn’t a spec of dust on them. “There, how does that feel?” 

“How do you feel?” The soft voices of the lilies responded. 

A little thrill went through me. They were talking to me again! “I’m okay, I think. Is there something I should know?” 

“It is harvest season. Everyone should be watchful. Do not go outside or upstairs alone.” 

“I’m not allowed upstairs without an invitation,” I replied. “But I am supposed to help in the garden today.” 

“Joe is nice. He might help you.” 

“Thanks for the warning.” 

“Shh! Beth is coming!” The lilies seemed to sway gently. 

“Oh, there you are. Are you almost finished? The plants in the dining room need attention, and Joe asked who was helping today. The green beans are extremely happy this year! There’s so many.” Beth wasn’t chatty around other staff, but as we shared a room, we’ve slowly gotten to know each other. She was a kind girl, prone to dramatic sighs over romantic novels, and loved to gossip. So far, though, the gossip was mostly from town instead of what I was most interested in. 

“Beth, you just saw me in the kitchen and knew I was coming here. Did you forget?” I poured some water in each planter as I spoke. 

“No, but I wanted to talk to you without Cook.” Beth looked at the lilies. “And away from other prying ears. Come on, I need to dust the mantle in the dining room.” 

I followed Beth through the servant corridor and into the dining room. Here, the door from the hidden hallway opened behind a large portrait of Madam and Sir Cromwell. Hoyas, Spider Plants, and Pothos were in hanging planters by the glass double doors that led to the patio and on wooden stands next to the entryway from the drawing room. I noticed there weren’t any flowers. 

As I moved to dust the leaves and give the plants a little of the food, Beth wiped the mantle, but she seemed distracted. 

“Well?” I asked after a few minutes.

Beth started, then gave a nervous laugh. “I don’t know where to begin.” 

“Tell me, Beth. What is it?” 

She sighed then turned to face me. “It’s the harvest. The Cromwells always throw a party, and every time someone from the temporary staff ends up missing afterward.” 

“What? Do you think the Cromwells are doing something to them?” I was shocked and a bit relieved. Maybe I wouldn’t be part of the harvest after all. A twinge of guilt made me frown. I knew I shouldn’t be glad someone else would be hurt instead of me, but I couldn’t help it. 

“I know they are. We all know they are. The temps are almost always loners or on the outs with their families. Some of them are even runaways or people passing through, looking to make a few bucks before moving on. It’s not hard to make their disappearance look like a coincidence.” 

“How long has this been going on? Can we stop them?” 

“I’ve been here for three years, and Joe told me it happened before that. I was hoping you could help us stop it.” 

“Beth… What do the Cromwells do with the people they take?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I had to ask. The lilies weren’t very informative on the replenishment process. 

“That plant food?” Beth gestured to the jar in my hand. “The tofu-like cubes Cook uses instead of meat? That’s what they do with them.” 

I stared at the dark liquid in the jar. Bile rose in my throat, and I rushed to the glass doors and outside. Beth rubbed my back as I lost my breakfast in the grass.

“I had the same reaction when I found out. I don’t think Joe will help us, but Cook might. And Esther certainly won’t.”

“Wait, are you sure Joe won’t help us?” I crouched in the lawn, waiting for the nausea to pass.

“Yes, why?” Beth asked. 

“The lilies said…” I began. 

Beth grabbed my arm. “The lilies lie! Emma, you can’t listen to them! Anyway, we have to be sure that all the temps have family or friends who know where they are.” 

I heaved a deep breath as I straightened. “So that’s why Madam asked me about my family.” 

“Yes, it’s good you see your friend fairly often.” Beth gave me a sympathetic pat on the arm before turning back to the house. “Come on, we still have work to do. But if you can talk to Cook, feel her out a bit and see where she stands, that would be great. I don’t have many chances to talk to her.”

I thought of my friend Lori and all of her connections. She was great at networking and seemed to do it without thinking. As such, she knew a lot of people. “I think I know someone else who can help,” I said.

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 3

Read The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 2.

Esther gave me the once over with her dark little eyes before proclaiming, “You’ll do. Follow me.” 

She brushed past me and moved to the stairwell at the end of the hall. Like the passageways that allow servants to move from one main room of the house to the other, the stairs led from the ground floor of public rooms to the second floor where the family lived. We emerged into another servants’ hallway and Esther led me to a door on the left. She knocked sharply and opened the door when she heard a voice on the other side call out, “Enter!” 

The room was filled with light. Large windows seemed to make up the entirety of one wall, and several skylights dotted the ceiling. Plants and flowers of all kinds sat on tables, hung in planters from the ceiling, and occupied large urns scattered around the room. The air was gently perfumed with their scent as well as something musky that reminded me of when I visited the zoo last summer. 

Esther grabbed my wrist as she bent into a deep curtsy, and I followed her example. 

“Ah, Esther. You brought her. Let me see.” The voice was refined and spoke in a tone just loud enough for us to hear. 

As we stood, I saw a woman standing in front of the wall of windows. I hadn’t noticed her before, which was odd considering she was tall, probably about six feet, with long dark hair that floated around her like a cape. She was dressed in a dark red gown made up of layers of gauzy material. As she stepped toward us, my eyes were drawn to her bare feet. They were delicate, for such a tall woman, and the toenails were painted black. 

“Madam Cromwell, this is our new housemaid, Emma Hamilton.” 

“Welcome to Cromwell House, Emma.” I couldn’t tell what color her eyes were due to the glare from the windows, but I felt them slide over me, judging me. 

“Thank you, Madame,” I managed to squeak out. 

“How do you like it here so far? Are you enjoying your duties?” 

“Yes, very much.” After Cook’s advice, I wanted to keep my answers short and to the point, but not rude. 

Madam Cromwell smiled, and I could see the glint of very white teeth. “Are you getting along with the rest of the staff?” 

“Yes, everyone is very kind.” Well, not Esther, but I wasn’t going to say that out loud. 

The mistress of the house chuckled, and for an instant I wondered if she could read my mind. “And your family? Are they happy you have found a position here?” 

I hesitated. If I told her the truth about my parents, it could make me an easy target for whatever they had planned for me. But if I lied, and if she could read minds… “I haven’t spoken to them in several months, but I see my friend Lori on my days off.” 

“I see. You look healthy enough. Are you eating well? Any underlying medical conditions we should be aware of? I know Esther already asked you this during the interview, but I like to hear for myself and help if I can.” 

“No, no problems. The food is wonderful, thank you. I’ve only been sick a few times since I was a kid.” 

Her tinkling laughter rang through the room. “Darling girl, you are still a kid. At least to me, anyway.”  She moved closer to me and reached out to take my hand. Her skin was cold despite the warmth from the evening sun streaming in the windows. “Do not hesitate to ask for anything you need, anything at all. While we do not encourage romantic relationships between our staff, we know it does happen since we are fairly isolated on our hill. If you need birth control or pain medicine, or even a new book to read, please just tell Esther. We want our employees to be happy as long as they are here.” 

Madam Cromwell gave my hand a gentle squeeze before moving away. “Do you have any questions for me, Emma?” 

“Why do you not eat meat?” I blurted it out before I could stop myself. Beside me, Esther gasped. 

“We do not question the ways of the Cromwells!” Esther’s face was furious. 

“No, no, that’s quite all right, Esther. She’s new to us.” Madam waved a hand to silence the head housekeeper. “We do not eat meat because all necessary sustenance can be obtained from plants. And plants are easier to keep than animals. We like to be mostly self-sufficient here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. When humans die, they go back into the earth to feed the plants. It’s the simplest circle of life.” 

Humans. She said humans as if she wasn’t one. 

“Any other questions?” 

“No,” I almost whispered. 

“Good. Esther, set up a time for our Emma to meet my husband whenever his schedule allows. I’m sure he will be as enchanted as I am.” 

That was clearly a dismissal, and Esther and I both curtsied again before leaving through the servants’ door. 

In my room that night while Beth slept, I mulled over the meeting with Madam Cromwell. I tried to remember if I ever heard her first name and couldn’t. I was a little concerned with her use of the word “enchanted.” What did it mean that she was enchanted by me, and what would her husband think? Are these meetings with the heads of household designed to let them decide if they want to eat me or not? I thought of Madam’s explanation of the circle of life and shivered. 

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 2

Read The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 1.

I winced as I plunged the pan into the hot water. My hands felt raw from the heat and scrubbing, but there was still a stack of dishes next to the sink. The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted towards me, but I ignored my grumbling stomach. I wouldn’t be given dinner until the dishes were done. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat anyway. 

“Haven’t you noticed? No one on the property is allowed to eat meat.” The voice of the Lillies came back to me. 

I had noticed but thought it was due to the family being conscientious about natural resources or vegan. I snorted as I placed another stack of plates into the soapy water. Vegan? Ha! 

The view from the window over the farmhouse-style sink was of the garden. I glanced up every now and then, hoping to catch a glimpse of Joe. As the head gardener, he was usually wandering the paths, making notes of what needed to be done, and supervising the other gardeners. I now knew that the garden provided almost all of the food for The Cromwell House’s inhabitants; only a few things were purchased from local farmers on occasion. 

I looked out the window again, and Joe was coming down the path towards the house. He was a reedy-looking man, with salt-and-pepper hair that made him look distinguished despite the blue overalls and work boots that were the gardeners’ uniform. As he got closer, I studied his face. From a distance, his hair made him seem to be in his late forties or early fifties. But the skin around his eyes and mouth was unlined, free from wrinkles or laugh lines. His body possessed the lean strength that came from a physical job, yet there was no sign of stooped shoulders or aching knees. If I had to guess, I would say he was closer to thirty.

Joe looked directly at me and winked as he walked by the window. He was always friendly to me and never hesitated to help me pick the herbs and vegetables Cook wanted if he was available. But I cringed inwardly as I realized he caught me staring at him, studying him. I hoped he didn’t think I was being rude or, worse, flirting. 

“Are you about finished, Emma?” Esther’s clipped tones broke into my thoughts. 

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied without turning. 

“Good. When you are through, take your meal, then come find me. You are wanted upstairs.” 

“Yes, ma’am,” I said again. 

I waited until I heard the head housekeeper’s heels clicking down the servant’s hall before heaving a deep breath. 

“Well, girl, you must be doing well.” Cook’s voice was raspy from all the heat in the kitchen. “Esther doesn’t usually take new employees upstairs until they’ve been here at least six months.” 

“So, that’s good?” I asked hesitantly. 

“Of course, it’s good! Didn’t I just say so?” Cook huffed. “Are you through? Here’s your plate.” She plopped a dinner plate down on the side table where the staff took their meals. “Best hurry; you don’t want to keep Madam waiting.” 

“What will happen? Do you know what she’ll ask me, I mean? I want to be prepared.” I sat and began eating the gorgeous salad. 

“Well, let’s see.” Cook leaned an ample hip against the counter as she studied me. “Madam will ask how you are getting along, if you like it here, that sort of thing. She might ask about your family and friends. She’s very concerned about her employees’ happiness. Oh, and she’ll ask about your health. We don’t have insurance, but the Cromwells will pay for any illness or injuries, and they like to know we’re healthy to begin with.” 

I hid my frown behind the napkin as I wiped my mouth. The trumpet lilies told me the Cromwells needed new housekeeping staff every few years as they were used up. They had used the word “drain,” as if the Cromwell family was sucking the life out of their staff. The questions about family and health seemed to fit in with that. 

“You’ll meet Madam today, and then if she likes you, you will meet Sir sometime in the next week or so. The children will find you when they’re ready. They are very sheltered and shy,” Cook continued with her musing, oblivious to my concern. “Stand up straight, don’t mumble, and be polite. You’ll be okay.” 

“Thank you, Cook,” I said. “I should go find Ms. Esther now.” 

I stood and took my dish to the sink. Beth usually finished up the dishes in the evening since her shift started later than mine. 

As I left the kitchen and followed the servant’s hall to the set of rooms reserved for full-time staff, I wondered how badly I actually needed this job. I still hadn’t tried to contact my parents, but Lori said they missed me. Should I resign and go home? But I was curious to see the Cromwell family in person. They rarely made public appearances and were usually surrounded by security when they did. No one in town knew what they looked like. Plus, according to the lilies, I had a few years before I would be used up. 

I squared my shoulders and knocked lightly on Esther’s bedroom door. I could do this. One day, after I had met all the family, I would leave without warning and take their horrific deeds to the authorities. 

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 1

It is my second month as an assistant housekeeper for the Cromwell family. They are what was called “old blood.” Their ancestors were rich, they were rich, and their great-great-grandchildren would probably be rich. As I entered the kitchen from the backdoor that we commonly called “the help’s door,” I questioned my choices that got me here. 

At seventeen, I ran away with my boyfriend. I thought we were madly, inescapably in love. Apparently, that was just me. After a few months, I started to talk about finding an apartment to live in instead of couch-surfing, and he decided it was better for us to go our separate ways. Okay, so that was a nice way of saying I woke up one morning in his sister’s spare room to find him gone. He left a note, though. “It was fun. See you around.” 

I wanted to go home but was too stubborn and prideful to admit to my parents that they were right about Nate. I convinced my friend Lori to talk to her family, and they agreed that I could stay with them for two months while I got a job and found a place to live. At the time, I envisioned nothing but fast-food or retail in my future. 

Every day, I scoured the want ads over breakfast and dropped off applications until almost dinner time. One morning, there was an intriguing ad that caught my eye. It was in a larger font than the rest, with a black box border around it, indicating the employer had paid extra to get more notice. 

Wanted: Assistant Housekeeper. Duties include general household cleaning, light gardening, and some errands. Anyone with a good attitude and willingness to work will be considered.
Apply at Cromwell House; ask for the head housekeeper, Esther Stone. 

My spoon clattered into my bowl as I grabbed the newspaper and carefully ripped the ad out of the section. 

“What’s going on?” Lori asked, coming into the crowded kitchen with her dark hair in a towel. 

“I think I just found a job I can do! It’s just cleaning and gardening, and they didn’t specify a huge list of skills. I’m going to go apply right now!” 

“Good luck!” Lori called after me as I ran to her room to get changed. 

I dressed carefully in a dark blue skirt and cream-colored blouse. I added low-heeled black shoes and small silver earrings. I didn’t want to appear like the homeless waif I was, so I added a silver necklace with a small heart pendant. After pulling my blond hair up into a neat ponytail, I dabbed a tiny bit of lipgloss on my lips but forwent any other makeup. I felt that simple and understated would be best. 

The Cromwell House was the most prominent building in the area. It sat on a small hill overlooking the bay. Once a month, tours were given of its grounds and public rooms. Some locals called it The Castle, and they weren’t wrong. A brick wall surrounded the property, and the house sat at the top of the hill. Flower gardens and soft green grass lined both sides of the driveway. A black iron gate stood sentinel at the driveway’s entrance, with a little guardhouse next to it. 

The bus stop was only one block away from The Castle. I used the short walk to compose myself; excitement was churning in my stomach, threatening to bring up the cereal I had scarfed down. 

When I reached the closed gate, I wasn’t sure what to do. “Hello?” I called. 

The door to the guardhouse opened, and a thin man with greying hair stepped out. “Tours aren’t until next Thursday,” he said and then turned to go back into the guardhouse. 

“Wait, please! I’m here about the job. Can I please see Esther Stone?” My words rushed over each other, trying to get out before he could close the door. 

He paused a moment before coming closer to the gate. “The job, huh? You think you want to be a housekeeper here?” He looked me up and down. “Well, come in, then. Let’s see if she’ll take you on.” Drawing a set of keys from his pocket, the guard unlocked a smaller door cleverly inset into the gate. 

I stepped through and shivered a bit when I heard the door clang shut behind me. 

“Head on up to the house, but be sure to use the back door by the kitchens. Take the stone path to the right of the driveway when you’re near the garage, and it will take you around. I’ll call up to Esther to let her know you’re coming.” 

I thanked him and then started up the driveway. It was about half of a mile long and curved around the hill, so you could only see the house’s top through the landscaped trees. I worried that I would be a little sweaty by the time I got there, so I flapped my arms a bit as I walked to cool off. 

The pathway was exactly where the guard said it would be, and as I followed it behind the garage, I noticed the flower gardens turned to herbs and then to vegetables. There was a door at the back of the house, one of those old-fashioned ones that split so you can open the top half while keeping the bottom closed. The top half had a thick glass window set into it and was open to the summer breeze. Once again, I found myself unsure of what to do. Should I knock? Call out? The decision was taken away from me as a stern-looking woman dressed in a knee-length black dress suddenly appeared, pushing open the bottom doorway. 

“Here for the job? Charles called up. I’ll interview you in the kitchen. Come in.” 

That was Esther, and she gave me the job. Obviously, since I’m here now. The job came with a small room, shared with the other assistant housekeeper, meals, and a decent wage. So far, the work hasn’t been hard. I pick vegetables in the morning if Cook needs them for lunch and dinner, sweep and mop the floors, do the dishes, and water the flowers. I have every Sunday afternoon free to do what I want. I’m not allowed upstairs yet. That’s where the family lives. The main floor is laid out for entertaining, with a large entryway, a formal sitting room and dining room, and a music room.

I placed the basket of tomatoes and peppers on the counter in the kitchen and moved to the side sink to wash my hands. Once done, I hung up my coarse red apron – to only be used in the gardens – and donned my pristine white house apron. I had a black dress, like Esther’s now. 

“Thanks, girl,” Cook said. “Esther told me to have you start with the plants in the foyer today. She said the lilies are looking a little drab.” 

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do for them.” I kept my reply short. Cook was kind, but Esther disliked unnecessary chatter. I scooped up a watering can, filled it with cool water from the side sink, and added a little of the plant food that Joe, the head gardener, said was good for all the indoor plants. 

I walked through the door that led to the hallway behind the dining room. The Cromwell House was laid out in such a way that servants could access most of the main floor without being seen by guests. This hallway went from the kitchen to the entryway, and doors led into the other main rooms. From the main rooms, the doors weren’t noticeable unless you were looking for them. At the end of the hall was the door to the foyer. No one was scheduled to visit today, but I still checked the peephole to be sure there weren’t any guests. Esther told me to make it a habit. If I ever came out of a door while guests were present, either I had better be serving dinner, or the house was on fire. 

As expected, there wasn’t anyone there, so I pressed the latch that allowed the door to swing quietly open, closing it behind me. 

The trumpet lilies sat in large containers to either side of the front door. They were a stunning variety called African Queen. Dark gold on the inside with magenta hues streaking the petals outside and magenta pistils, I was in love with them the first time I saw them last week. 

“How are my gorgeous beauties doing today? Are you a little dry?” I murmured to the plants. My mother always talked to her houseplants, and I guess I was more like her than I wanted to admit. She always said the plants had feelings and grew better if you talked nicely to them. And, at times, I swear I heard Joe talking to the vegetable plants in the garden. 

I prodded the soil in each container, noticing that they were dryer than they should be. “Oh, you poor things. I  am so sorry. I should have watered you yesterday. Let’s get you fixed up.” 

“Maybe you should worry about yourself.” The voice was soft, and I turned around, expecting to see Beth, the upstairs maid, standing behind me. No one was there. 

“I know I didn’t sleep well, but I’ve never heard things because of being tired before,” I muttered. I began watering one of the planters, being sure to move the stream of water over the soil so not one spot became too saturated. I leaned closer to the lilies to get to the side against the wall. 

“We like you, so we’re warning you.” This time the soft voice sounded as if it was right next to my ear. 

I pulled back and looked around again.

“We know you aren’t stupid, Emma. So listen.” 

This time I was sure of it. The lilies were talking to me! 

“Am I crazy?” I asked. 

“No, Emma. We are talking to you, just like you talk to us.” 

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then I pinched my arm as hard as I could and opened my eyes. I must be daydreaming.

“Emma, listen to us. The Cromwell’s who live here now are the same Cromwell’s who lived here a hundred years ago when this house was built.” 

I decided it was worth playing along until I could see a doctor or get some sleep. “What do you mean?” I moved to the other container and began watering. 

“The Cromwell’s are immortal. Have you ever seen them?” Now I could tell it wasn’t just one soft voice, but several, as if each flower was speaking simultaneously. 

“Not up close,” I admitted. 

“Good,” the lilies replied. “They want you to replenish them.” 

“Replenish them? How? Wait a moment.” I rubbed my head and then moved to the servant’s door. I opened it a crack, just enough to be sure no one was coming, before closing it again and turning back to the lilies. “Okay, tell me everything.”