The night he met with the moat spirit, Oscar had spent first pacing his room and talking hysterically to both himself and the air spirits, then later, tossing and turning in bed, all the while desperately thinking of ways to save his cousin until he finally concocted a simple, but dangerous, plan.
He didn't like it. He didn't want it. He wanted to scream and break things and run and run and never stop running, but it was the only thing he could think of, and by the time morning came, he had gotten no sleep and no better plan. There was only one way to save his cousin.
Unfortunately, it was impossible for him to get anywhere near the spirit for the next two weeks. Mr. and Mrs. Eoforhild had taken what they considered to be Oscar's mental backslide to heart, and for the days leading up to the party, they made sure Oscar and Remy were never alone together for long.
Any time Oscar entered a room Remy was in, or vice versa, One of the adult Eoforhilds would suddenly appear and ask one of the two to go and run errands on the other side of the house. It got to the point where even the older cousins got involved; any time Oscar sought Remy out, or Remy sought him out, one of the girls would suddenly need them to help with something or deliver a message.
Every night, Oscar was forced to sit across the table from the spirit wearing his cousin's body and act as though nothing was wrong. He was a poor actor, and his aunt and uncle noticed how tense he was, and they noticed the looks of utter hatred Oscar gave to Remy. Their resolve to keep the two apart steeled.
In the background of things, preparations for the party were being made. The gardens were immaculate, the stone was scrubbed until it gleamed, the carpets were cleaned or replaced, and everything was nigh-unrecognizable from the first day they'd seen the estate. Oscar moved through it all like a sleepwalker, barely noticing the changes.
It wasn't until the afternoon of the party, when everyone else was busy changing into their best clothes, that he finally found the spirit alone. It was in Remy's room playing with knives. It had the sleeve of Remy's good suit pulled all the way up and was slowly dragging a blade across Remy's arm and using the blood to draw little patterns on the wall.
"What are you doing?" Oscar said, running over to snatch the knife away. The spirit pulled it back before he could.
"This body is made out of odd water. I'm just having fun with it."
But he's the one who has to live with the scars!
Oscar bit down the words and tried to be calm. "I would really appreciate it if you didn't tear up my cousin's body," he said slowly, barely holding back the torrent of rage. "Human bodies take time to heal, and if you tear them too badly, they get scars. So please put the knife down."
"Oh, all right," the spirit said, rolling its eyes. It tossed the knife across the room. "You're no fun."
"That's actually what I came up here to talk to you about," Oscar said.
He tried to smile, but wasn't sure if he was doing a good job of it. "I was wondering if you'd go to the beach with me."
The spirit blinked. "What, really?"
Oscar was fairly certain the attempted smile was now a rigor mortis grimace, but the spirit didn't seem to notice. "Yes. I hate these kinds of fancy parties and wanted to go out for a while. I thought maybe, if you still wanted, you could maybe teach me some magic."
The spirit beamed, and Remy's smile lit up the room. He leapt off the bed, and before Oscar could do anything, the spirit had him wrapped in a hug. "I knew you'd change your mind! Water and wind- nothing could keep us apart forever."
Oscar could've gagged. "Right," he said. "We can go right now."
"Right now?" the spirit said, drawing away. "No, not right now! I've been looking forward to this dinner for ages. It's the only thing anyone in this place has been talking about." The spirit grinned, filling Remy's smile with a malice that normally wasn't present. "I'm gonna make sure it's interesting."
Oscar's throat was suddenly dry. He swallowed and said, "what were you planning?"
The spirit shrugged. "I don't know. Depends on the guests. If they're anything like your aunt and uncle, they'll be self-obsessed, money-grubbing, sycophantic social climbers."
Again, Oscar bit his tongue. His relatives weren't that bad! "When, then?"
"How about after?" said the spirit. "When everyone's distracted and being social. I'll meet you by the shore. It'll be great; there's a full moon out tonight and you can do all kinds of things with that kind of power."
Oscar forced himself to smile. "Sounds good," he said.
"Oscar?" called his aunt from down the hall. "Oscar? Are you up here?"
"Don't let her catch you in here," the spirit said. "The old bat thinks you're a bad influence. She catches you, I'll never hear the end of it." It went to the window and held it open expectantly.
Oscar heard his aunts footsteps coming fast. The last thing he needs was for her to be paying extra attention to them tonight. He leapt out the window.
The air spirits didn't go near Remy's window; they disliked the sea spirit and stayed away. So Oscar rolled onto the roofing directly under Remy's window, scrambled to his feet, then moved to the side, out of the line of sight from the bedroom. He heard his aunt ask the spirit if it had seen him.
"I think he was in the gardens," it said.
"You haven't been playing with him, have you?"
"No, momma," it said. Oscar could swear he could hear the smile in it's voice.
"Good," she said. "There's something wrong about that boy..."
Oscar felt something not-quite brush against him. Several air spirits were watching him with foggy, crystalline eyes full of concern. "I'm fine," he whispered. "Get me down from here, please."
They did, blowing him from the roof to the gardens, whee his aunt found him.
"There you are!" she said. "You're still in those clothes? Go change! The guests will be arriving soon."
He obliged her without argument.
* * * * *
The guests arrived not long after he was dressed, and Oscar-- along with the Eoforhild children-- all stood side by side in the main hall in their best clothes to greet them. The guests introduced themselves or were introduced by the Eoforhild parents, and the names and faces went by so fast, Oscar didn't catch any of them.
There was an old couple with silver hair and kind smiles who told him he was a "trooper" and what a tragedy it was for him to have lost both parents so soon. There was another, younger couple who told him how lucky he was to have family like the Eoforhilds taking him in. Dozens and dozens of people came by, until the place was full to the brim with men in nice suits and women in fancy dresses. After the greetings were done and everyone had arrived, the cousins and he were allowed to go about as they pleased.
The older cousins had no trouble mingling; Oscar had gathered sometime in the past week that they were looking for young affluent sons to get in good graces with. There weren't many of those around, so the older sisters had to vie a bit for attention. All except Dana, who thought her sisters were crazy and went to the kitchens. She claimed she was getting a snack, and Oscar didn't question her.
The hall was full of people talking-- which was bad enough as the many voices and loud noises banged painfully inside his head-- but they were also all talking about people he didn't know and places he'd never been. He wandered around largely ignored, but occasionally someone would pull him into a circle of people talking and call him "the Raimn boy" and ask how he was holding up and how he liked the estate.
"It's nice," he would say.
And then they'd promptly go back to ignoring him. It was a relief, then, when the bell rang and the doors to the singing hall were opened. Dinner lasted far longer than it had any right to.
Don't these people ever stop talking? he thought.
He was sat with the older couple from earlier on one side and a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache and a bowler hat on the other. The man glanced at him over his thick spectacles, then went back to talking to the woman on his opposite side.
The older couple talked mostly with the people across the table, but the old woman who sat beside him occasionally asked him how he was doing.
"Fine," he lied. He could see the spirit across the table and several seats down, sitting beside his aunt and chatting easily with people. They thought he was adorable.
He fumed and sat out the rest of the dinner in silence, glowering at his untouched plate.
After dinner was a tour. His aunt and uncle got everyone up and showed them through the halls and the old rooms. Oscar barely listened to a word they said, though he did catch them making up facts about the age of the house and retelling the story of the crazy Raimn family who all went mad and died. Mostly, he kept his eyes on the spirit, who wouldn't stop smiling. Remy's smile had never been so annoying.
When they passed the paintings, his aunt and uncle mentioned that they'd be selling them, and that if anyone wanted, they could bid on them privately after.
"We hate to get rid on them," his aunt said. "But they don't match the decor we're going for, and it would be such a shame to put them in storage where no one could see them." She said this while, behind her, a portrait of a mustachioed man in a green suit glared wide-eyed at the guests, a black cat with the same amber-colored eyes as him resting on his lap.
The guests chattered eagerly among themselves at that. He heard the phrases "historical value" and "conversation piece" muttered more than once.
"Do you know who any of these are?" someone asked him, pointing to the portraits. Oscar shook his head.
"Pity," the man said. "It would be nice knowing which Raimn was which."
The walls began to wail halfway through the tour. At first, Oscar wasn't sure he'd heard anything. Everyone was speaking in hushed tones to one another while Mrs. Eoforhild spouted off possibly-fictional "facts" about the Raimn family's madness and house. But then the noise came again, a little more loudly. The windows rattled, and an ear splitting cry filled the air. Everyone looked around, and some of the people screamed.
"There's nothing to be worried about-" started Mr. Eoforhild, but before he could finish, the paintings on the walls behind him began to glow with an eerie green light. The portraits were all smiling unnaturally wide smiles, regardless of what their original faces had been, with pointed teeth like triangles. The lights flickered and man's deep laugh could be heard over the wailing.
About half the guests panicked and began shoving one another, stampeding for the stairs. The other half looked absolutely thrilled.
"A haunting!" He heard one young woman say to her husband. "Isn't this marvelous?"
Oscar looked for Remy in the rush, and couldn't find him anywhere. When they're social and distracted, he remembered the spirit saying. This must have been the big surprise, then.
As discreetly as he could, Oscar followed the rest of the guests down the stairs. Instead of going to the dining room or the front exit with them, he went out through the kitchen and was outside without anyone noticing. The air spirits gathered around him, curious. He told them what had happened on the way to the shore. The spirit was waiting for him at the beach, sitting on a huge rock buried in the cliff side. It grinned when it saw Oscar and jumped down onto the sand.
"Wasn't that fun?" It said.
"Yeah," Oscar said, deadpan. "Really fun."
"Oh don't give me that look. You didn't enjoy it, even a little? I thought you'd like to see them all frenzied like that. Those vultures coming into your house, hoping to take bits and prices of it."
"Let's just get started," Oscar said. He kicked off his shoes and stepped into the water. It was biting cold and he couldn't go in past his ankles. "Sure thing," the spirit said. It came and stood a little ahead of him, up to Remy's knees in the water.
"I'll show you some stuff, first, then you can try after, alright?"
The spirit raised Remy's arms and water rose up in front of it, like a wall. Images flashed on the flat surface. A young girl running on the shore, followed by a man and woman.
"Look familiar?" the spirit said, glancing over its shoulder back at him.
"No? I guess not. You never saw her like that. It's weird, isn't it? Thinking how you knew her all your life but she only knew you for a small part of hers."
"That's my mother?"
The man and woman had caught up with the girl. All three were now on the sand, digging and piling it, building castles.
"That's my grandfather? My grandmother?"
"Grandfather and grand aunt. Great aunt. Whatever the term is. Your grandmother died before this. I can show you her, too, if you like. Or would you like to see your father?"
The image changed, and a young woman easily recognizable as his mother walked hand-in-hand with a younger version of his father. Oscar wanted to watch. He wanted to let the spirit show him his family, all of his family, all night long and into the morning. For a brief second, he forgot about Remy and when he remembered, for an even briefer second, he didn't care. But the thought was gone almost immediately and he knew that this was his only chance.
"Show me my great great grandparents. Back when there were a lot of us."
"Of course," said the spirit. The image changed and there was a horde of people, of family, on the shore. Children played in the water, adults talked on the sand, and there was a man juggling fire. By the rocks, a woman was whispering things to the plants along the cliff and making them grow. Another man was covered in birds, all of them perched on his sleeves and shoulders and head.
Slowly, Oscar crept towards the spirit. He raised his hands, and before the spirit knew what he was doing, he'd wrapped his fingers around its throat and forced it into the water. He held it under for a minute. It struggled in a blind human panic, but Remy's body was small and weak and didn't stand a chance against him.
The air spirits hovered over the two, waiting.
"When I bring him up, fill his lungs with air. Do not let him stop breathing."
The spirits made assenting noises and Oscar pulled Remy out of the water. The boy choked and coughed and tried to shout, but his eyes were still blue, so Oscar thrust him under the waves again. This time he waited fifteen seconds before pulling him up. Again, his eyes were still blue, and again Oscar dunked him under.
This went on for some minutes, with the underwater intervals growing longer and longer until Oscar finally held Remy down long enough for him to stop struggling. He pulled him up. Remy didn't cough and didn't try to yell. His eyes were half-lidded, and the color Oscar could see was brown.
The spirits swarmed them, pumping fresh air into Remy's waterlogged lungs. Remy's eyes flew open and he gasped. Oscar could have melted with relief, but instead he started dragging Remy towards shore, terrified that the sea spirit might come back. He was just turning when strong hands grabbed him from behind and tore him away from his cousin.
"What are you doing?" his uncle cried. "What the devil are you doing?"
"He's drowning Remy!" Mrs. Eoforehild screeched.
Suddenly Oscar's vision was bustling full of his relatives and a few guests. His aunt and uncle, it seemed, had noticed the boys' absence and enlisted help looking for the two.
"I wasn't--" he began.
Nobody listened. They threw him aside and crowded around Remy, who was coughing up water. "Get him inside," Mr. Eoforehild said, picking Remy up and handing him to Mrs. Eoforehild. "All of you, back to the house."
Oscar would have gone with them, but his uncle grabbed him.
"Not you," he said. "What happened?" His face was lobster-red, but his voice was quiet, choked back on anger.
"He was possessed," Oscar said. "There was a spirit--"
His uncle hit him, and he went flying into the sand.
"No," his uncle said, pulling him upright. "Don't you dare start up with that."
Before Oscar could move, his uncle briskly boxed his ears twice on each side, then dragged him up the rocky path to the house. Inside, his cousins and just about all the lady guests were all fawning over Remy, who couldn't speak for crying. Some of them looked at him angrily. Others looked, then looked away. None of them said anything. Most of the men watched him somberly.
"Not his fault," he heard them muttering.
"Madness in the family."
Mr. Eoforhild marched him through the house by the neck. They went down the halls, up the stairs, down more halls and up more stairs until finally they reached the tower room, where he shoved Oscar inside. Without a word, Mr. Eoforhild slammed the door shut. Oscar heard the grating of metal against metal and saw the doorknob move slightly, and knew that he was locked in.
He went to the windows and threw them open. "Is Remy okay?" he asked the horde of spirits that were waiting there.
Yes, they told him. He was breathing when they left him. He was alive.
Oscar breathed a sigh of relief and went to the bed. He flopped down on the covers and dragged a pillow over his face.
Now what? he thought. There was no talking out of this one. They thought he was insane at best, a murderer at worst.
There was no answer. So instead he slept for the first time in what felt like ages.
* * * * *
The next day, his aunt and uncle called the physician.
The physician was just as Oscar remembered him; a withered old man who would've been tall if he'd ever stood up straight, with a neatly kept gray beard and eyes that seemed too young for his face.
"Oscar?" he said. "Do you remember me?"
"Do you know why I'm here?"
He nodded again.
"Would you like to tell me what happened?"
Oscar looked at the ground.
"It's alright," the physician said. "You can trust me. Tell me what happened."
So Oscar did. He told him everything about the ocean spirit and Remy and at the end of the story, the physician nodded understandingly and told him he would speak to his relatives. He left. Oscar waited until he heard the man's steps go all the way down the stairs, then went to the window. He closed his rates and breathed deeply, trying to listen. It came on slowly-- his nerves made things difficult. But eventually he heard the noises of the house and the people in it. Downstairs and down again, his aunt
and uncle had invited the physician into one of the sitting rooms.
"... his fault, really. Nor is it yours. No call to blame yourselves. Like I told you before, it's in the blood."
"What do we do?" said Mrs. Eoforhild. "Will he ever get better?"
"Doubt it," the physician said. "I recommend keeping him locked away from the public. I know of several fine asylums-"
"No," said Mr. Eoforhild. "If he's not in our custody, we can't keep the property or money. The will was clear on that."
"Then keep him in the tower," said Mrs. Eoforhild. "We'll drop off food, give him books."
"It's not uncommon for people of your stature to have a relative or two in the attic," said the physician. "But I really do recommend the asylum-"
"I'm sure something can be arranged..."
Oscar stopped listening, and the voices trailed away. He had heard enough. He got up off the bed and looked for things to pack. He still had his bag from the trip to the estate, and he filled it with clothes-- his clothes, the one his parents had got for him, not the stiff ones the Eoforhilds made him wear.
He was just about done when there came a knock from the door.
"Yes?" he said, quickly hiding his bag under the blankets in case the physician had come back.
The door creaked open and Remy stood in the doorway, clutching the door's old keys to his chest.
"Oscar?" he said, his voice shaking.
"Hi," he said awkwardly.
"I- I took the keys," Remy said, holding up the ring of keys. "I heard them talking about you. They said you're crazy."
"People have been saying that a lot about me, lately."
"But you're not crazy!" He stepped forward. "You're not--" he saw the bag sticking out of the covers. "What's that?"
Oscar took the bag out and slung it over his shoulder.
"I have to."
"Where are you going?" Remy said.
"Anywhere but here. Maybe back to the valley. We had friends there. Maybe someone there will take us in. Maybe not."
"You can't go!" Remy looked as though he would start crying. "It's my fault!"
"It is! I tried to tell them what happened, I swear I did, but nobody believed me." Fat tears streaked down his face. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Remy." Oscar, not quite certain of what he was doing, stepped down from the window and offered his cousin a hug. The younger boy grabbed him with strength Oscar hadn't expected from someone so small.
"I have to," he said again. "They're going to lock me up. Either here or in an asylum. I don't want to be the crazy cousin in the attic. Do you understand?"
Remy was silent save for the sniffing, but he nodded.
"I'll come back to visit you, if you want."
Oscar unhooked the smaller boy and went to the window. He waved once and stepped backwards out the window. The air spirits caught him and gently set him down on the grass. Up in the window, Remy's small face watched him with awe.
"You'll visit right?" Remy shouted. "You promised!"
"I will!" Oscar said. He wasn't sure if he actually would. If he did, it would have to be when the rest of his family wasn't around. He doubted his aunt and uncle would be happy to see him. But nothing good would come from breaking the kid's heart.
He turned and ran across the yard, the air spirits helping him. With their help, he leapt across the moat and shouted a thank you to the spirit there, then he went blazing down the main road, away from the Eoforhild house.