Craven Manor

Craven Manor by Darcy Coates

Chapter One

Daniel’s shoe scuffed over the hallway runner and dragged up loose threads. He gave it a pitying glance as he turned the corner that led to his cousin’s room.

The six-story apartment block was desperate for a bit of care. The thick white paint slathered over the walls had turned yellow where it wasn’t already stained from water damage, and two out of his hall’s four lights were dead. Daniel doubted it had been an inviting place in its prime, but by the time he’d moved in, it had become a space for the unemployed, the dying, and those with nowhere left to turn.

A house for desperate people. He flexed his shoulders. They ached from a day of scrubbing a casino’s bathroom floor. It wasn’t a permanent job. Most of Daniel’s mornings were spent handing out applications to any business with a Help Wanted sign posted outside, no matter how unappealing the job seemed. When he was really tight for money, he would scout around the town’s red district to see if anyone wanted to hire him for the day. He could usually get a few hours of janitorial work in a nightclub, a pub, or one of the down-market hotels. The pay was well below minimum wage, but he wasn’t in a position to bargain.

“Daniel! Daniel!” A tiny, wrinkled woman tottered out of her room and waved to him. She’d dressed for the day but seemed to have forgotten that she was still wearing her nightcap. Squinted eyes blinked from behind massive, thick glasses as she held out a china plate. “Daniel, I baked biscuits. Try!”

Some of Daniel’s weariness fell away as he met his neighbour at her door. “Thanks, Mrs. Kirshner. That’s really sweet.”

She only came up to his waist but seemed to swell at his words. “I bake them especially for you, Daniel. Young boy like you needs to eat more.”

Daniel took one of the plain brown biscuits she held up to him. It was hard and a little dry, but he was ravenous and chewed it quickly. “It’s good. One of your recipes?”

“Yes, yes.” The tiny woman nudged her glasses a little higher, and her smile flickered. “Normally has cranberries, but… but not today.”

“Oh.” Daniel’s heart sank. He glanced over her to see inside her apartment. Her grey cat, Alonzo, slept on the windowsill. Without curtains, the light through the window cast its glare across the sparse room. He could have sworn she’d owned more furniture when she moved in. A cup of tea sat on the floor next to her chair. The drink was black, even though he knew she preferred it with milk. “Um, Mrs. Kirshner, are you doing all right? I mean, are you getting by?”

“Do not worry, Daniel.” She gave his chest a pat. Her hands were tiny and bent with arthritis, but her smile didn’t falter. “We are fine. I will call my daughter, yes? She is sending money next week.”

Today’s Tuesday. A week’s a long time to wait. And she never calls her daughter unless things are dire… Daniel dug into his pocket for the twenty dollars he’d earned cleaning the bathrooms. He’d planned for it to go towards dinner that night and lunch the next day, but he really wasn’t that hungry, he decided. “Here. It’s not much, but it should help until next week.”

“Oooh.” She made a shushing noise and tried to fold his hand back around the note. “No, no, Daniel’s money.”

“Really.” He laughed and tucked it into the front pocket of her cardigan before she could object any further. “It’s payment for all of the biscuits you bake me. Take care, Mrs. Kirshner.”

“Good boy, good boy,” she crooned, shaking the plate at him. “Have more.”

“Thanks.” He took a second biscuit then waved as she retreated into her home. As she shut the door, he heard her sing a lullaby to her cat. She sounded happy.

Daniel chewed on the biscuit as he tilted his head back to stare at the stained ceiling a foot above his head. Down the hallway, a baby began crying. Two men were arguing on the floor below. The light at the end of the hallway—one of the two remaining working bulbs—hissed and flickered.

A house for the desperate…

He exhaled through his nose as he turned towards his cousin’s apartment. The biscuits would have to do for dinner. If he was lucky, he could pick up a new cash-in-hand cleaning job the following day. Or—he didn’t dare hope too much—he might get a reply to one of his applications.

The city was starving for jobs, and any time he walked into an interview, he had to sit alongside at least twenty other candidates waiting for their names to be called. And he had minimal work experience, no qualifications, and no car. His bike got him around the city well enough, but employers expected him to have more reliable transportation.

It was a catch-22. If he could get out of the city, he might have a better chance of finding work, but he would have nowhere to stay. He was lucky to have a roof over his head as it was. His cousin, Kyle, had invited him to stay in his apartment “while he got back onto his feet.” That had been six months ago.

Two bronze numbers, 1 and 6, hung on the front of their door. It was technically apartment 616, but no one had bothered to replace the missing digit. Daniel scuffed his shoes on the mat outside while he jimmied his key in the lock. The door scraped open eventually, and Daniel nearly stepped on the white envelope lying on the linoleum floor.

“Dan, that you?”

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