During the day, if the twins were taken outside, they wore burlap bags made from the finest hessian over their heads. Whilst this did protect their moth-like skin from the sun it also had the effect of causing them to stink as badly as the little pots of skin they collected for Cleaver, their cook.
‘Bath time is for babies,’ said Jacob.
‘Is it?’ said Nurse Mariam, and gave him and his brother such a shake that they fell out of the towel and into the bath.
‘Too cold, too cold,’ said Jacob.
‘Too hot, too hot,’ said the other Jacob.
The waves sucked at their necks like a goat at a teat, and they thrashed and bawled. First Jacob leapt out of the bath, and then his brother followed - two sharks in a frenzy.
‘Bath time is for babies,’ sang Jacob.
‘Bath time is for babies,’ chimed Jacob.
‘Get back here at once,’ clicked Nurse Mariam.
But the twins were free and they ran around the tub singing and dancing like children might if they lived in an entirely different place.
‘Bath time is for babies. Bath time is for babies.’
After two or three revolutions of the bath tub, Jacob and Jacob escaped the orbit of their routine and escaped through the door. This was not the door leading to their bedroom but the door leading to the upper west hallway with its spectacular sconces which were kept in flame by a dark liquid delivered by the Sorrowful Children of the Bone.
Luckily those Children would all be asleep at this hour, but Jacob and Jacob lowered their voices nonetheless. It would not do to cause the flames to flicker with their breath.
‘Bath time is for babies. Bath time is for babies.’
They paused at Great Staircase and Jacob sniffed the air. Going up a floor would be quieter, and definitely safer, but going downstairs would lead them close to the chapel which was kept open at all times for the Also Sisters to chant when their throats became too full.
It was quiet and so Jacob and Jacob sprang onto the first step and then to the second, the third, the fifth and the eighth where they stopped. There was no sound of singing and no sound of Nurse Mariam's footsteps on the scarred floor.
They stopped to hold hands and match their gaze, eye for eye.
‘Soon,’ said Jacob.
‘Tonight,’ said Jacob.
‘Arrr arrr,’ said Cloister, looking up them from the ground floor. In his arms was a large urn. With one meaty fist, the gardener lifted the lid and released an agony of ashes into the air.
The children span and ran back up the stairs, their little feet pounding the floor and their breath heaving out of them like sacks of flour thrown from a window. Jacob chuckled a little but hushed when the flames on the sconces began to flicker. They picked up their pace and fell full tilt into a large black towel, held by their waiting Nurse.
When they entered the bath his time, their filth spread across the water like shrouds from the recently risen. Nurse Mariam held them under until every bit of dirt had gone and when she pulled them out they were both fast asleep. Gently, she pressed them to her breast and carried them to bed where they slept.
'And both children were swallowed up whole and the ruby path was never seen again. The End.'
Nurse Mariam slammed the book shut, snapped to her feet and clicked her heels.
'Now sleep well, both of you. And don't cry out in the night.'
The elderly lady turned away, and then stopped as though a memory from her younger days had come loose in that dark mind of hers. She turned back to where the twins, Jacob and Jacob, lay wide-eyed and silent in their bed. Bending like a broken deck chair, Mariam managed to come within a few inches of the children in order to send an awkward air kiss in their direction. The twins did not blink.
She tightened the already taut white sheet over the boys and scraped out of the room. 'Not a cry,' she said, pressing the door shut behind her.
Minutes passed. Outside, the moon gave up trying to enter through the slender crack of curtain and hid itself behind a cloud.
Nothing could be seen, barely a breath could be heard. Minutes more crept past.
'Do you,' began Jacob.
'NOT A CRY,' shouted Mariam from somewhere on the third floor.
They both waited. Then Jacob nudged Jacob and Jacob wriggled. At first his shoulders could hardly move but after a while he managed to free himself enough to manoeuvre a hand out from beneath the sheet. He was holding a short, squat cylinder.
With a soft click, the cylinder spat out a bright beam of light at the exact moment a fierce crack of thunder shook the house. Shadows leapt from behind every toy in the room and the tall cupboard doors sprang open, spilling out clothes and wooden blocks and at least eight clowns which had been stuffed there years before.
Jacob and Jacob broke free of their bedding and, each choosing a different side, dived under the metal bed. A cat, eighteen spiders and three mice darted out from the darkness, closely followed by the twins who tripped over the nightshirts and fell flat onto the wooden floor.
Then they lay still. Jacob opened his mouth but Jacob quickly covered it.
And there they lay until morning, never once crying.
Because that would have been far, far worse.