It is early when Claire wakes; her curtains are drawn but she can see no light through the windows. She rolls onto her back and stares at the white eggshell of her ceiling. She doesn’t feel sleepy, but nor does she feel any urge to will herself upright or to leave the safe confines of her bed. She closes her eyes, trying to reclaim the fleeting wisps of a dream and listening to the pre-dawn noises.
Today’s symphony begins with percussion; the vintage alarm clock, robin’s egg blue with a round ivory face, sets a steady rhythm that echoes against the many walls. Rain drums against her windows, its natural chaos a comforting contrast to the metronomic beat of the clock. Eventually the fridge joins in, adding its baritone hum to the arrangement.
Claire manages to drift back into a light slumber for the briefest of moments before her semi-conscious brain notes an inconsistency in the chorus. She opens her eyes and listens more attentively.
Misplaced beats. Not quite in time with the exacting rhythm of the clock, and a couple of octaves lower than water against glass.
Again. Beat beat. Beat. Beat beat beat.
Like an erratic heartbeat, but a clear sound from above rather than a muffled one from within.
Footsteps? Claire wonders, finally forcing herself halfway out of the bed, her bare feet touching the chilly wooden floor boards; the mornings are growing colder every day. She raises her head to the ceiling again.
Beat beat beat. Beat.
Claire thinks back to the first time she looked at the house. To when she stood there admiring every angle, every window pane and gable. The tower had three floors, but ended in a conical point above that. There is no evidence of such a point here in Claire’s room which means an attic above. She pushes away the comfortable heft of the blanket on her lap and stands. Using a wooden chair as a stool, she reaches up to touch the ceiling. After moving the chair all around the room, examining the smooth surface with her eyes and fingertips, she finds nothing.
Perhaps the attic has been sealed off?
Beat beat. Step step step.
Claire looks up again. If there is no way to reach the attic from inside then an animal must have snuck in from the roof. She would have to let Sara know that some squirrels or raccoons have infiltrated the house. She sighs, rubbing an eye with the back of her arm. First – tea.
A few moments later Claire sits at her small table, lights off again to allow her a clear view of the violent sky just beyond the windows. The sun must have fully risen past the horizon by now but its warm glow remains choked off by pregnant storm clouds. Claire blows the steam from her tea and nibbles at a piece of honey toast. Usually she loves rainy days, but today she feels restless. Maybe even bored.
For the first time in her life, she has an abundance of free time. And solitude.
Movement below draws her attention away from her ruminations and to the garden. She stands, her warm mug still nestled in her hands, and looks down. A figure in a yellow raincoat crouches at the edge of one of the beds. That means someone else is awake. Claire abandons her tea and hurries to get dressed.
The first floor is dark and silent when she reaches it. Shadows manipulate the rooms, stretching and skewing them into something familiar-but-not. Drained of light and warmth, the kitchen feels hollow. A childish sense of trespassing steals over Claire then, as though maybe she shouldn’t be here. Like those stealthy nights spent exploring her parent’s house after everyone had gone to sleep — the exhilarating dread of breaking rules mingled with the excitement of being in a world transformed by darkness.
Claire jumps, chiding herself when she sees the orange feline sitting at her feet.
“Shh Ginger,” she whispers, scratching behind the cat’s ear. Ginger purrs.
“She always does that when you’re trying to be quiet.”
Claire jumps again, shocked by the sudden and unfamiliar voice behind her. She simultaneously takes a step back from the stranger and turns to identify them.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” The voice belongs to a teenage girl. She stands almost a foot taller than Claire, thin and straight where Claire is round and curved. Her brows are drawn in apology but her mouth is twisted, struggling to suppress a smile.
Claire laughs and the girl’s mouth relaxes a little.
“It’s okay. I wasn’t sure if anyone else was awake,” Claire says.
The young girl yawns and stretches her arms into the air. Claire notes a hint of familiarity in the scrunch of her nose and the thickness of her blonde brows. “This is practically sleeping in for me. I usually have to be to work by five.”
“Five?” Claire imagines trying to convince her teenage self to wake up before seven. She can’t picture it.
“Yeah, I know. Family bakery. I’ve been apprenticing with my friend’s mom when I’m not in school. Gotta do that prep early if you want enough fresh stuff to sell first thing.”
“You’re Frank’s granddaughter!” Claire realizes.
“Haha, yep. I’m Lucy. And you’re Claire?” Claire nods and Lucy grins, “He told me about you. Says you’re going to come for dinner some…”
Lucy is interrupted by the sound of a door clattering open behind them. Ginger scampers up onto the island and arches her back, fur rising like the goosebumps on the girls’ arms. They turn to see a figure tromping through the hallways towards them. A trail of rain water pours off of their yellow hat, coat and rain boots, leaving evidence of their passing all over the tile floor.
Images of drowned sailors and fisherman come unbidden to Claire’s imagination. The figure is almost upon them when a sudden click draws both Claire and Lucy’s attention in the opposite direction again. The dark room is flooded with light and they both squint toward the silhouette beside the light switch.
The other figure passes between the girls, dropping a container onto the island and pushing the cat off onto the floor.
“Damnit Ginger, it’s just me.”
The joint exhale is loud enough that Claire and Lucy exchange a knowing glance and try to suppress their smiles.
“Good morning ladies. Sorry for the mess.” Sara sweeps her arm toward Art, indicating the snail trail of water and mud that has followed her in.
“It happened again, Sara! Look at this! Strawberries, beans, tomatoes, zucchini… just mangled.” Art indicates the container in front of her. Sara, Claire, and Lucy crowd around to inspect the half-eaten fruits and vegetables in the container.
“Raccoons?” Claire asks, which reminds her, “Oh! I heard some noises upstairs that sounded like an animal had gotten in.”
Sara’s eyebrow lifts, and for a second Claire thinks she sees something like surprise flit across her delicate features. She hadn’t thought it possible for Sara to be surprised, and the look vanishes so quickly that she wonders if it was ever there in the first place.
“Not raccoons,” Art shakes her head, lifting an almost-intact zucchini from the pile. She turns it so Claire can clearly make out the marks, “Too big. And no scratches. Somethin’ else.”
“Hmm…” Sara says, though her tone belies her disinterest, “Well, no matter. What are fruits and vegetables for if not to be eaten?”
Art’s mouth twists in frustration, but Lucy jumps in before she can riposte. “Umm… Art, Papa was wondering if you could make him some of that tea. For his leg?”
Art glares at Sara for a moment before shaking her head. She turns before she can catch the mischievous upturn of Sara’s mouth. “Of course. Should have known with all this rain.”
Lucy nods. “The pain woke him up this morning. He says it’s going to be a bad storm.”
“Looks that way…” Sara says, staring out of the rain-streaked kitchen windows.
“Better make some up for Mrs. Park then too. She’ll want it for her head.” Art walks away, out of the kitchen. She returns a moment later without the rain gear and begins digging through some canisters on the crowded countertop. It isn’t long before the room is whirling with fragrant steam. Claire detects a hint of ginger, cranberry, and something earthy she doesn’t recognize.
Before Lucy leaves to bring her grandfather his tea, Claire asks her for the name and address of the bakery where she works.
“Stop in some time. I’ll let you try some of our specialties.”
“I will. Tell Frank I hope he feels better.” She watches as Lucy carries the heavy ceramic mug through the hall, stepping carefully around the shiny puddles strewn across the floor. Art follows close behind, carrying a smaller porcelain mug.
Claire lingers, hoping to talk to Sara about her mysterious attic intruder. She watches as the older woman digs out a mop from a tall closet at the end of the kitchen and begins mopping up the worst remains of Art’s tirade.
“I can help you with that,” Claire offers.
“That’s alright. Art and I are used to cleaning up each other’s messes.” She smiles absently as she glides the mop across the floor in a graceful dance. Her attention seems to drift away as Claire watches.
“Sara…?” Claire calls.
“Hm?” Sara answers while remaining blissfully distant.
“I was just wondering about… well about the noises? I mean, the raccoons in the attic…”
“Ah.” She stops, leaning her head on the edge of the mop. There is a weight to her expression Claire hadn’t thought her features were capable of expressing.
Well, I suppose even whimsical semi-omniscient landlords are frustrated by pests in the attic, Claire thinks.
“You see there’s just one problem.”
“Oh?” Claire asks.
“I misplaced the attic stairs.”
“You… misplaced them?”
“Mm. Quite some time ago really.” Sara lifts her head from the mop and looks up toward the ceiling as if struggling to recall something. “Well, I highly doubt it’s raccoons anyway. Shouldn’t be anything to worry about.”
She smiles at Claire. Claire waits for her to offer something else. Perhaps an explanation. Instead she continues to mop in sweeping circles toward the hall.
“Do let me know if you happen to find them though, won’t you?” Sara asks as Claire turns back toward the hallway.
That evening, Claire lies in bed listening to the rain’s persistent downpour. Just as Frank predicted, the storm is a strong one, with pounding thunder and punishing blasts of wind. Claire has left a curtain open, watching the clouds skid past the nearly full moon through the distortion of the water dripping over the glass. It is late, but sleep refuses to come. The footsteps have returned above her and with each beat on the ceiling, a shiver sneaks down her spine.
She stands, forsaking her attempts at slumber for the time being. She stares out of the uncovered window towards the backyard and the lake. The rain is slowing for the first time since morning, only the occasional drop falling from the thinning clouds. Most everything is dark, except for some lights along the pier and their dancing reflections. She can still make out some details of the back yard – the silhouette of a bench just before the iron fence. Thick foliage growing in the gardens bordering the sides of the yard. Table and chairs, their slick surfaces glinting in the moonlight.
And movement. There, beside the table. And then a rustle of leaves in the garden to the right. Claire squints, trying to get a closer look, but it’s too far to see in this light. Could it be Ginger, accidentally locked out after sneaking outside? Or perhaps Art’s garden intruder? Sleepless curiosity tugs her forward, pulling her toward her shoes and downstairs through the sleepy darkness once more.
She picks her way silently through the back hall in her long night shirt and sneakers, opening the back door and stepping out onto the covered porch.
She spots the movement again, through the window. A flash of muddy brown near some hostas, disappearing behind a row of broad bean bushes.
“What is that?” Claire whispers, leaning closer to the window.
Claire jumps, then rolls her eyes as Ginger leaps gracefully onto the table beside her. Claire pets her head and she purrs loudly. Outside the bean bush shakes, tiny water droplets scattering to join the remaining trickle of rain. Claire makes a decision then and looks at Ginger with a finger to her lips.
“Meow,” Ginger repeats and Claire tilts her head, giving her a warning look.
She opens the outside door, ensuring to leave it unlocked behind her; she doesn’t plan on being out long. She stands for a moment, silently, not wanting to startle the hungry creature.
A shuffle and a whine. A flash of mud and white fur. More shuffling.
Claire takes a step forward. Then another. She crouches, trying to see through the thick leaves and vines in the dim moonlight.
She makes out a muddy snout. Pointed ears. A long, furry tail. A dog. No, a puppy.
She makes a gentle beckoning noise and then speaks gently, “Come here little guy. It’s okay. Come here…”
She looks around, spotting some beans at the top of the bush beside her. She hopes Art will forgive her. After all, some beans now might save her a lot of trouble later.
She holds her offering out, continuing to call gently into the night.
Slowly the pup emerges from the bush. It is young, about half the size of Ginger, though its paws suggest it might one day grow twice her size.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she tells it, as it sniffs her hand. It eats the beans and she gently pats its head. When the beans are gone the puppy remains, pushing into her hand as she pets its bedraggled fur. She gently lifts it, and though it whines it doesn’t resist. The rain is coming down harder now. She hopes Sara won’t be mad if she lets the poor creature stay the night.
When she tries to open the door, the handle refuses to turn. She tries three more times, remembering her care in leaving the door unlocked. A muffled sound by a nearby window causes her to turn. Ginger sits on the table. Her mouth opens, as if she is meowing. Her tail flicks in annoyance and she stares at the dog in Claire’s arms.
“Ginger…” Claire mutters. She looks to the pup, “Well, we might be stuck out here for a while.”
She sighs, debating whether she should knock and wake Sara.
There is a click as the door unlocks.
“Oh thank goodness,” she says, turning to see a stranger in the doorway. He is tall with light hair that could be sandy brown or perhaps grey, though his face appears young and unlined. He seems as startled as Claire when her eyes catch his. He looks to the muddy puppy in her arms and back up to her rain-drenched hair and face.
“Sorry, I saw this guy from my window and… umm… I got locked out,” Claire’s eyes flicker to the mischievous feline in the window.
“Ah.” The man moves out and beside the door, holding it open for her. Claire steps inside but before she can turn to thank him the man shuts the door between them.
“Meow,” Ginger complains, staring at the wriggling creature in Claire’s arms. Claire rolls her eyes and heads upstairs with her new charge.
After a quick bath in her kitchen sink she is surprised to find the dog is pure white. Its pointy ears make it almost fox-like in appearance. It yawns a sharp-toothed yawn and Claire sighs. She lets the creature onto the end of her bed, where it curls up into a tight, tired ball.
Once the lights are out Claire pauses by one of her garden-facing windows. She sees a figure sitting on the bench at the end of the garden, staring out over the lake. The rain is growing steady again and falls onto his unprotected head, over a long jacket that is now soaked and clinging to his slender form. She recalls the roster of residents living at Ganymede, trying to find a possible match for this peculiar stranger. Mr. Alvez? Possibly. She wonders what he is watching for as she closes her curtains against the rainy midnight.
When she crawls under her blankets the puppy snuffles and wiggles over the bed toward her. It snuggles up, a ball of warmth against her stomach.
Some time later the quiet footsteps resume their chaotic beat in the attic above her, but Claire hardly notices. The tiny shiver of breaths from the creature beside her draws her attention, soothing in their vulnerability and need. Claire smiles. She wonders what Art will say. And Sara.
Well, Claire thinks, at least we have dog food.
I am so sorry for how long it took me to get this up. Ganymede is somewhat of a side project for me so I don’t like to give dates for new episodes, but I had hinted this would be up much sooner than it was and for that I’m very sorry. You can expect a blog post soon about what’s been going on with me and what my plans are moving forward (hint: colds, flus, and hopefully lots of writing).
Let me know what you think of 53 Ganymede so far in the comments!