Violet Prendergast was an unusual child, or so Mrs Plumpkinson thought. Not that it was any of her business of course. She had been housekeeper to the Prendergast family for the last twenty years and had watched them create a family – first Tibbles the cat, then Violet. She can still remember how happy she was the day she came into work to hear Mrs Prendergast was expecting.
“A child of your very own!” she had exclaimed. “How lovely!”
Despite both parents being very pleasant, she felt the house had begun to feel somewhat dreary. She was sure that a child would bring some colour to the place. Unfortunately, Violet didn’t take to Mrs Plumpkinson quite how she had hoped.
First there was the day she held her for the first time. Little Violet accelerated from sound asleep to a blood-curdling scream within moments, causing a flustered Mrs Plumpkinson to hand her back to her mother. Then there was the unforgettable incident when Violet was poorly involving some of Mrs Plumpkinson’s misplaced heirloom handkerchiefs…
No, Mrs Plumpkinson was unsettled by Violet, and would often shoot her concerned looks from behind the silverware cabinet as she polished. And who could blame her? Sporting dark hair and sunken eyes, it was easy to wonder whether the poor child was even getting enough sleep. Still, the family had been very good to Mrs Plumpkinson all of these years, allowing her time off to visit her sister in Eastport, plus they never missed a Christmas card! (If there was one thing that Mrs Plumpkinson appreciated, it was timeliness.) Plus, she had grown sort of attached to the place; she had spent so much time in the Prendergast Manor that it often felt like her home as well.
Not that Mr and Mrs Prendergast had always lived there. In fact, it was funny that they even came to live there in the first place. Everyone knew that the Prendergast Manor belonged to Aunt Bertha, Mr Prendergast’s half cousin, once removed. Bertha, having no children of her own seemed quite content rattling around in a big, old manor to herself. And while the family made resolutions to visit more often, the Prendergasts had only managed to visit Aunt Bertha in her home a handful of times.
Everyone was surprised the day the man with the briefcase turned up to inform the family that they had, in fact inherited both the once-grand manor and its grounds. Mr Prendergast was flabbergasted.
“But we don’t need somewhere this big,” he protested. “Surely it would be better to put it back on the market?”
But the man with the briefcase had insisted. And Mrs Prendergast was certain it would appear rude if they were to decline an entire house! In just a few short weeks, the family found themselves packing up their car and moving a few streets over into the once-grand manor. Luckily Violet didn’t have to change schools, and she was still close enough to venture to her favourite spot, Westport Lake, so all of this was fine by her. More often than not, Violet could be found poking around the house, rifling through the last of Aunt Bertha’s strange possessions and family photo albums. It would seem that Aunt Bertha liked to hold onto things. Violet thought this was fascinating.
On the day in question Mrs Plumpkinson left her house at 7:30am sharp. Mr Plumpkinson had brewed a pot of coffee for his wife which she drank, before picking up the keys to the manor from the hook by the front door. She was going to head to Mrs Gregory’s Flower Emporium to see if she could select a few of her favourite stems before the crowds set in.
Outside, the sky was a dullish grey and while the sun poked out hopefully from behind an odd shaped cloud, there was a definite chill in the air. The ground was littered with a new sprinkling of leaves and the housekeeper become vaguely aware of a smell of burning. When she brought this up with Mrs Gregory, the shopkeeper tutted dismissively.
“Probably be the farmer burning the last of the jilly-corn.”
For the rest of her walk, Mrs Plumpkinson couldn’t seem to get Violet out of her mind. Maybe she needed to be more patient with the child. After all, she was a little skeptical of Mr and Mrs Prendergast’s parenting techniques. She was sure they weren’t strict enough with her; always letting her play unattended by the lake and even allowing Tibbles to sleep in her room at night! She mustn’t be upset with Violet for acting strangely, when actually it was probably more the family that was to blame. Mrs Plumpkinson was just resolving to offer to take Violet out for lunch that afternoon when something stopped her in her tracks.
Swirling twenty feet in the sky was a cloud of angry, black smoke and underneath it lay the Prendergast’s family home, burned almost to a crisp.
Inside her bedroom, Violet Prendergast stood quietly amid the rubble. The sound of old-fashioned camera bulbs flashing was the only noise that she could hear. Two officers stood in the corner talking in hushed tones and shooting looks over at Violet when they thought she wasn’t looking. A young officer stood operating the camera. Violet noticed that he kept a wide berth between himself and where she was standing.
Violet shifted uncomfortably on the spot and wondered whether anyone would notice if she left to go to the toilet. She had never been in this situation before and wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to offer these people a cup of tea…not that their kitchen would be in any working order if her bedroom was anything to go by. Her eyes flickered around the room and landed on what would have been her bookshelf. All her favourite stories now lay tattered and charcoal-black. Her curtains with the flowery pattern were no longer a deep purple and the glass behind the window was cracked, leaving an unpleasantly cool breeze to creep in and nip around her ankles. She shivered and pulled her dressing gown tighter, being sure to quickly stuff her hands back into her pockets when she was through. Her gaze moved around the room, taking in the piles of charred notebooks and maps and eyed an old, stuffed teddy. She gingerly rolled it over with her right foot, wondering if it was past repair when a voice interrupted her train of thought.
“Sorry. It’s just that I, um, they’ve asked for no-one to tamper with the…evidence.”
Violet’s gaze shifted to the officer in front of her. She wondered how old he was. She took in the sweat dripping from his brow and the way that his eyes were darting around the room and back to her again. She wasn’t sure how well a nervous police officer would hold up in this town. She felt almost sorry for him. Before she could reply, the door flung open and in burst a man wearing a weary facial expression. He was clutching a large file, and Violet noticed some coffee coloured stains on his tie. Without so much as glancing at Violet, Officer Landly strode across the room and dropped the file down on her dressing table with a thud. The young officer flinched at the sound.
Officer Landly stopped for a moment, taking off his glasses and rubbing the brink of his nose as he took in the damage, pausing for a moment when he got to Violet’s bed. He let out a long exhale before finally making his way to the young officer.
“We’re almost through,” he said. “Do you have everything you need?”
“Yes,” the young officer replied, not quite meeting his gaze. “We have everything.”
Officer Landly gave a tired nod.
“All we need is this signed off and we can bring her in.”
“Great,” the young officer perked up. “So you don’t need us to stay?”
“Mmm not quite, we’re going to need to finalise the paperwork here. Sheriff’s orders, I’m afraid. He doesn’t want any room for error on this one.”
The young officer gulped, his face a new level of pale. He looked like staying here was the last thing he wanted to do, and went back to fumbling with his camera. Officer Landly paused for a moment, taking in the rest of the room. His eyes wandered over to the singe marks above the bed as he shook his head, almost in disbelief.
“In all my years, I don’t think we’ve ever had one this bad,” he said.
Violet was wondering whether she should clear her throat, to remind the officers that she was still in the room but before she could do anything she heard loud whispers from outside.
“I’m not leaving until I…I beg your pardon! I’ve been working here for thirty three years, I’m not going to let you just…VIOLET!”
The door flung open and Mrs Plumpkinson waddled in, surrounded by two protesting police officers.
“Oh now hush, both of you. Officer Landly, what is the meaning of all this?”
“That’s classified information, ma’am,” he retorted. “I can’t give you any more information due to the fact that you’re linked to the defendant.”
“The defendant!” she exclaimed. “Mr Landly, you can’t possibly think she’s responsible for this!”
“We have evidence to support our claims, Mrs Plumpkinson. Anything you do now is interfering with a police investigation.”
“Well you can’t take her without notifying the parents.”
Officer Landly replaced his glasses and fixed Mrs Plumpkinson with a stare.
“Mr and Mrs Prendergast are dead. As soon as we find their bodies and identify the cause, we’ll have a murder charge.”
A horrified gasp left the housekeepers mouth. Violet’s legs buckled and her stomach churned. Dead? Why had nobody told her that? That would explain why everyone has failed to meet her eye for the past few hours. How could this have happened? And what was Mrs Plumpkinson talking about? Taking her where? Surely they didn’t think that she had something to do with this did they? Violet didn’t even know how to start a fire. She had been ill the day they learned survival skills at summer camp and she sure didn’t have any pieces of wood laying around the place. She just wished she could recall something from the night before. The only thing she could remember was some strange
dreams and a wisp of something black in the corner of her eye before she went to sleep. Mrs Plumpkinson composed herself.
“Well, you can’t take her without an adult present, so I’m coming with her!”
“Very well.” Officer Landly tossed a set of handcuffs to the young police officer. “You might want to take them the back way, we seem to be gathering attention out there.”
For the first time that morning, everyone turned to face Violet. The young officer made his way over to her gingerly, Mrs Plumpkinson fiercely at his side.
“Now Violet, dear,” she said. “We’re going to have to go along to the station to answer a few questions. I promise it won’t take long. Then, once you’re out we are going to look for your parents okay? Now then, they just need you to hold out your hands so they can….”
Mrs Plumpkinson’s words were cut off by the sound of metal handcuffs rolling to the floor and a gasp, this time escaping from the mouth of the young officer, who looked on the verge of tears.
Mr Landly strode forwards to see what the fuss was all about until he himself uttered the words, “my good God.”
Violet had forgotten to keep her sleeves over her hands and now it was too late. The officer was holding them up to the light to get a better look. Covering each and every one of Violet’s fingers was a series of bright red, angry blisters. Violet stared back in panic at the line-up of horrified adults. She knew one thing: these people very much thought she was guilty of something.
Written by: Lyndsay Price
Ed. by: Lydia Osborne