"Jack, what happens if we get caught by Mister Arlington?"
"We won't get caught."
"But what if we do?"
"Then he'll eat us, bones and all."
"But won't he choke on the bones?"
".... Jill, must everything you say be a question?"
"I'm just curious, is all."
"Fine then. No. He won't choke on the bones- now hurry up so we can get back to the house before nightfall!" Behind them, a sunset of ruby patiently overcame the clear blue sky as a few downy clouds lethargically hovered nearby to watch. Jack, the elder to Jill by six years, was too jaded by a youth of work to even consider looking somewhere other than the crooked and overgrown path ahead. He carried his water, head down, while Jill trailed behind with half an eye trained on the vistas behind her. The duo was off Arlington land now, but home and their foster mother, Tasha, was still far off. The real mother of the siblings had abandoned Jack with a baby Jill in his arms right on the border of Arlington land, and they sat by the well in the garden until a trouble seeking gaggle of older boys had found them while on a nighttime expedition. Villagers still spoke of how none of those boys had lived into adulthood, and whispered in the alleyways about the Arlington Manor stories starting when Jack and Jill had been recovered. The only person willing to take them in had been Tasha, and she had done it to get two slaves.
"Hey, dimwits! Look up, will you? It's dark and you just got back! I want my bath NOW!"
That was what thinking got you in with her: trouble.
The two rushed past their taskmistress, poured all but two cupfuls of water into the old elm tub, which was still shiny from Tasha's last nightly indulgence, threw several specially kept "heat rocks" in, pulled them out, arranged the rag they had for a towel on the side, and then rushed back to report to an angry Tasha.
She had not undressed already, as was usual.
Instead, a reed switch twitched impatiently in her pudgy hand.
The first blow landed on Jill, and then all hell broke loose.
"Wait- stop- I command you-"
"- or what, boy?"
And then Jack and Jill were running. Behind them, a curse emanated from the empty structure that had once been their home. Roots, rocks, vines, and dirt clumps slowed them down in the night, but they ran nonetheless. Going to the town would only deliver them back into the hands of Tasha, and the woods would be searched by the village thoroughly. Besides, neither of the children could fathom at doing more than fetching water and lighting a fire to sustain themselves.
The only option was The Arlington Manor, from whence they had come earlier. The sliver of a moon that hung, unsure of itself, in the sky gave only a tantalizing hint at light, and soon the siblings had managed to lose the trail completely. A shadowy figure, bent over a patch of deep shade some feet away, however, was not lost.