(FICTION) (Thanks to Di at http://pensitivity101.wordpress.com/ for the idea for the story.)
Petra gasped. “You can’t fire me!” she said to the old broomstick of a butler. “Who will serve the guests?
“What guests?” Geeves asked with a smirk.
She listened. The house was silent. It felt empty, for that matter. Just to be sure, she stepped over to the door and opened it. They’d all left.
“Well, then, who’s going to help you clean up?” But that was a stupid question. She’d been one of a dozen servants working tonight. As though to punctuate the point, three of them pushed past her with loaded trays for the dishwasher.
Geeves continued to smirk.
“Where am I going to live?” Petra asked, for she had a room in the upstairs back of the house with everything she owned in it.
“We’ll have your room cleared out in the morning.” He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Here’s your severance pay. I suggest you find a hotel to stay in tonight. Goodnight, Petra.”
With that he turned up his nose and left the kitchen.
Defeated, Petra hung up her apron, changed her shoes for boots, and stepped out into the snowy back yard with no idea what she was going to do or where she’d go.
“Fired you, eh?” The deep voice of the guy from the cellar came from the corner of the house.
“You! This is all your fault!” she said, stalking toward the shadowy stranger.
“It didn’t matter. Watch.”
Sure enough, a few minutes later the servants began leaving the same way Petra had. They all had envelopes in their hands.
“What … What happened?”
“They do this every five years on January first. When did they hire you?”
Petra thought about it for only a second. “January second, five years ago.” She turned to the stranger. “But how did you work here for twenty years then?”
“I was the head butler. Before Geeves. Little does he know, his time is up tomorrow, after he cleans out all the rooms.”
Petra giggled. “Serves him right.”
“Would you like a ride into town to get a room?” the man asked. Petra looked at him sharply. “A room for you. I have my own place. And I’ve got a snow mobile. All these poor suckers have to walk.”
It was true—no one had cars.
“Thank you,” Petra said. “I’ll take you up on that offer.”
When they got to town, the stranger let Petra off and reached into the bag strapped on the back of the snow mobile. He pulled out a bottle of “Mother’s” wine and handed it to her.
“What’s this for?”
“It’s a key,” the stranger said. “There’s a secret door in the back of the cellar, and the indent on the bottom of the bottle”—he turned it over to show her—“fits into a device on the wall outside. Every year at New Year’s Eve I go in and stock up on wine. You’re the first to notice.”
Petra blinked at the stranger, who was starting to grow on her more by the minute. “Why are you giving this to me?”
“Because I hope you’ll be back next year for a drink with me, to celebrate the New Year.”
“Thank you,” Petra said. “I just might.” She got off the snow mobile and he drove away into the night.
“But … what’s your name?” she called out to him, but he didn’t hear her. Petra turned around and trudged through the deepening snow, happy to have shelter in her sights.
The next day, Petra called a taxi and made her way back to the mansion to collect her things.
Geeves was there, his nose turned toward the heavens as he handed her a suitcase which, she assumed, had all her clothes in it, as well as a box with her pictures and all her other worldly belongings.
She was about to leave when a thought came to her. She turned back and asked Geeves, “Who was the butler that worked here before you did?”
“Henry,” he said simply. “He died the night before I was hired. Twenty years ago almost to the day.”
A shiver ran through Petra’s body. She thought about the bottle of wine that she’d left back at the hotel. But no, that couldn’t be. He couldn’t have been a ghost.
“Weird,” she mumbled as she walked away. She turned the corner to go back to the taxi that she’d asked to wait for her, but instead she found a fire truck with half a dozen firemen standing around it.
As she approached, she heard one of them say, “Butler got out, but they don’t know if he’ll make it.”
The fireman beside him shrugged. “They’ll rebuild, then we’ll be back again in five years.”
She started to ask what the man was on about, but instead she followed their gaze back to the house.
It was smouldering, collapsed, burnt to a crisp. In the flowerbed sat a bottle of “Mother’s” wine.
(Di’s prompt was “Petra as a name, wine cellar as a setting, and ‘getting caught’ as your what if. “)
(This story came off the top of my head. I had no idea how it was going to end. Don’t judge my storytelling skills by it. Haha!)
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