You don’t remember the way, but you put your foot on the gas pedal, burning the straight-eight until it purrs on the route to your late uncle’s estate.
Look left: your friend Amber is navigating you by the stars. She’s gazing for guideposts up there. It all looks like alphabet soup to you.
“I need more time. Something is off,” she tells you instead of returning the look. She doesn’t know it’s a race against time. You’re not the heiress. You’re just posing like one.
You’re already late for your appointment with the estate attorney. You weren’t more than a little girl the last time you were visiting. They’ll never know the difference.
“I think we’ve lost our way, muffin” Amber exhales. She’s an odd bird, like one of those migrating ones, holding astronomical knowledge beyond proportion and common sense in that little head of hers.
You stop the car.
The medallion you carry around your swan-like neck slaps your chest with the force of a sledgehammer in full swing. It must be the weight of guilt.
“Is the overlay bothering you?” Amber’s sight has never failed before. Amber looks again, recoiling in disbelief. “No clouds out tonight, Liz.”
You don’t remember the way.
“I don’t see the North Star,” she sniffs.
It’s pitch black. If you check the glove compartment, there won’t be a map. It’s dark enough for you to lose sight of the road. The asphalt blends with the dirt underneath the bushes and the meadow by the lake, and the… wait a minute! You know that lake!
“It doesn’t matter, I know where the manor is!”
It’s the same as you remember it from the time when your uncle would return from his strange travels to Morocco, to India, continuing through the Himalayas, to the Moon and back, you imagined the exotic landscapes you weren’t permitted to witness alongside him.
“And the lights are still on. You’re too important not to be waited for,” Amber is set. “Do you think you got the house?” She’s prying.
“Please, I couldn’t care less.” But you do care a great deal.
“As long as Carlotta didn’t, right?” There’s a ball of spit stopping in the middle of your throat. You swallow with disgust.
As soon as you step on the front porch, a sound arises from inside the manor as the grandfather clock strikes midnight. Amber puts a hand in her pocket as if she’s resting.
The growl vibrates in a way neither man nor beast could imitate.
“It’s okay, Liz. I got your back.”
Will you open the door?
“Don’t call me that. From this point on, it’s Marla Midnight.”
What if the creature is preying from behind?
“Ah, my Lady of the manor.”
You do it, you open the door only to have the thing leap into your face!
It’s a brown stretch with a humid scent, a silver glint in the edge of one’s eye, it’s teeth, claw, and an unholy growl. You both scream. There’s a sound of glasses clanging, a chair scratching the hardwood floors.
Amber’s gun is already out when a boringly dressed litigator enters the lobby. “Ah, there you are,” he feigns to recognize you. You love it when lawyers don’t do their homework.
You look down.
The thing that attacked you is balled up. She’s all teary-eyed and wet snouted. The other animals in the room were stuffed, but this bear cub got lucky. Maybe your uncle started to prep it before he passed away. There’s a curious piece of glass embedded into the skin of its forehead.
The creature blinks, it growls, it turns into a gleeful squee the longer you look. Amber lowers her engraved pistol. The litigator turns a blind eye.
“Ladies, I welcome you to the Midnight Manor.”
You feel Amber’s piercing eyes glued onto your back as she follows in your footsteps to the study.
“I thought we’d have to give your part of the inheritance to Lady Carlotta.” Is the middle-aged waistcoat trying to be funny? You can’t help squirming at the mere sound of your third cousin’s name.
You take the slender chain from underneath your blouse and present the attorney with your medallion. It’s your proof of identity. And nobody can prove you stole it.
“Where do I sign?” your voice speaks volumes moving through the empty rooms of the estate you practically own.
He hesitates. There’s a “but”.
“Before we entrust you fully,” he speaks in the plural, but there’s nobody there except for him. “… with ownership of the estate, there’s a condition you must fulfill.”
Your uncle had a weird sense of making things harder for people.
Do you need to marry? Produce a child? Make amends with cousin Carlotta, who tried to off you on your trip to Italy?
“My dear Lady, I am not entirely comfortable with this, but I must do the legal contract justice.”
“Are you gonna spill it or what?” Amber is too keen for her own good.
“We are… on the very edge of legality here,” he is taking a handkerchief to pat his forehead. Pat, pat, pat… as you both wait and the bear cub is trying to lick its own groin.
“Until you fulfill this condition,” he continues, “the Midnight Manor is up for grabs. Any relative with a justifiable cause may have at it.”
“Hey, that’s not right!” Amber lets herself go. “We traveled all this way.”
“What’s the condition?” you remain seltzer cold.
“You are to take it into custody…”
“The beast?” The last pet you had was a hamster you forgot to feed.
“What are we, zoo keepers?”
“Nurse it to full strength.”
“Liz, I think it’s flea-ridden!” Did she just say your real name aloud? Luckily, the representative doesn’t even flinch.
“And take it back where it belongs.” The litigator points a finger up to the heavens. Or the first floor, you don’t know. You have to try the easy way.
“Upstairs?” you ask.
He takes a breath, knowing he’s about to say an impossible thing and these impossibilities should have no place in legal matters where everything is either this or that, nothing left lingering inside the in-between.
“You’re to install the bear on the night sky.”
He smacks his books closed and starts packing his brown leather suitcase. “This is your late uncle’s dying wish and testament,” he says as if he’s a radio show about to tune out.
“That must be why I couldn’t see the North Star!” Amber lets out a sigh. “What are we gonna do now?” she asks. You look down at your feet, the cub looks back. It’s chewing on your trousers.
“I think I’ll name you Dot.”
The litigator is on his way out. You block his path. “Let me ask you one last thing…” you take a splice second of his time.
“Which way is up?”
A Short Fiction Tale by Marija Solarevic