“She’s a owl!” said Lewis, gesturing with his spoon.
At that moment the light above them flickered, the room strobed and the kids, as though impelled by the illusion of the world’s momentary stillness sat in perfect quiet for several long seconds afterwards. Lewis at last laughed mischievously as though he had done something, which caused Mavis and Diane to laugh too, before a loud slam like a window falling shut sounded from upstairs, causing both the children to scream and a cold, swift eruption of nervous energy to pass through Diane.
“It’s okay, children,” said Diane, trying to control her voice, her breathing, “stay here, I’ll go on up and see what it was.”
“Don’t go up there, Miss Crawford!” the children pleaded, Lewis gripping her dress.
“Why, what’s up there?” she said.
The children looked apprehensively up at her.
“It’s alright,” she reassured them again, “it’s got to be nothing, just the wind, stay here please, and no screaming.”
They followed her to the foot of the stairs and watched, one the verge of tears as she began the slow ascent up.
“I don’t want scary stories anymore,” Lewis whimpered, cooing and fretting and moving on the spot, holding his sister’s hand. At the landing Diane looked back and saw Mavis’ grave, now tear-streaked face staring back at her and it made her frown for the second time; concerned both to see a girl so young with such care, and to wonder what wicked thing she should imagine makes noises, flickers lights, taps tables.
The door at the top of the stairs led directly into the Winthrop’s bedroom. Diane stood for a moment at the threshold taking it in. By the window, on the floor was what looked like a wooden stake, a prop for the window. The floorboards creaked as she took her first step in. She turned back, then gently shut the door. Approaching the window she looked out over the Winthrop’s stately, well groomed back yard. Diane took up the prop and scrutinised the room again. At last she turned back to the window, opening it and replacing the wooden rod. The sudden, cool and unexpected flow of air, rising, then receding, silently moving the curtains, washing and shimmering the blue trees beyond the lawn filled her with a kind of drowse and calm. She moved slowly backward until she felt the plush blue bedding press against her thighs, then sighing, massaging the residue of a panoramic unease about something that had assailed her since that morning from her eyes, her cheeks, her forehead, she fell backward and curled up on the cool, flat, quilt.