taken from us by a bad man on a dark night”
That’s all my father had to say about the incident that took my mother from me. I always knew the bare minimum of facts, the things that my dad could say that would be enough to hold off my inquisitorial questioning. I had been three; I was being looked after by my paternal grandmother while my parents went shopping. My mom had gone out the door and not come back through it.
It was winter so it was already dark when they went. My mom had been walking ahead, carrying some heavy shopping bags to the car when all of a sudden a man grabbed her. It had happened so fast that my Dad had only just dropped his own bags and started into a run and the man had gone. He had looked around trying to see him before trying to attend to my mother who died anyway.
I can vaguely remember the funeral that seemed to happen very soon after. Everyone loomed over me in their black clothes like giant storm clouds. Everyone was crying and looking at me like I should have been crying as well but I simply didn’t understand. How are you supposed to process that someone hurt your mom so badly she now isn’t here and can never come back? I remember staring uncomprehending at the coffin as it disappeared down behind the dark velvet curtains and hearing everyone trying to stifle tears and not drown out my mom’s favourite song.
She used to call me her Cygnet. She had wanted that to be my first name but I ended up lumbered with Claire instead at my father’s insistence. He might as well have given her what she wanted as he became the only person to call me Claire. Once my mom died, was murdered, everyone seemed to want me to know that people still thought of her by calling me by her pet name.
My father seemed to be walking through a perpetually puzzling daydream from that day onward. He wasn’t unkind or over sensitive but he didn’t seem to be much of anything. His brow was always furrowed as though he was trying to solve a difficult crossword. At four, it’s difficult to try and get your grieving father to talk about his problems so I tried not to mention her to him. That wasn’t helped by the fact I kept seeing glimpses of her in the dark.
It was never in the house, always when I was being transported between places and had the luxury of being carried from the car in my pre-donned pyjamas. I would open my eyes a little and be sure I’d see her under the streetlight or just visible from behind a nearby tree. The first time I mentioned what I thought I saw to my father I got a five minute lecture and his face had nearly gone as pale as hers.
Instead I spent my time, when I remembered, sifting through the memory box someone had told my father was a good idea to give me. There were perfumes, pictures, scarves, CDs and a few videos. I would stare at the pictures and try to remember her or try to match the face to the one I thought I saw. Then I would remember my father’s stern voice telling me that it had been a dream.
I think I believed him up until the night of my fifth birthday.
Somehow my father had managed to get me to sleep when all I could think about was cake, presents and being the focus of an entire day. A day when the world would revolve even more around me than it already did. I was woken by the sound of a light tapping against the window. The more rational part of me thought it was a bird or even a branch. In a sudden leap of my imagination it was definitely a ghost and so I buried myself under my duvet and prepared to start wailing for my dad. That was until I heard her voice.
“Cygnet? Cygnet don’t be afraid of me… I’m sorry, please come out…”
I froze in place. The voice was from the videos I’d heard but it was outside my window in present time. I was nearly at the point of knowing the videos word for word and knew that what had been said had never appeared in one. Slowly, I moved my head up from behind the duvet and looked out the window with large eyes.
It was my mother. She was sat as casually on the windowsill of the first floor room as if she’d been perched on the edge of a bench. Her hair was redder than it looked in the pictures, her eyes darker. She was wearing a maroon cardigan and tight jeans. Somehow, she looked younger and less tired than the pictures I had studied so intimately. Her face was an expression of pure, genuine delight.
“That’s it… oh my little swanling, come on and open the window for me please… I want to see you. I had to see you on your birthday”
Her smile warmed something in my heart and the mention of my birthday reminded me of my excitement. I wondered if she had a present for me, perhaps more than one as she had missed at least one before. My feet had already made it halfway across the carpet before I paused; assessing her as I remembered the reason she had missed my birthdays.
“They… they said… you were hurt by a bad man. They burnt you…” as I spoke the words I half expected her to crumble away, as though she’d simply forgotten she was supposed to be dead.
started and then paused, chewing on her bottom lip with perfect teeth for a
moment in a habit I had forgotten she had.
I watched her avidly. “I was hurt
very badly and all the doctors thought I was dead, but I didn’t die. They didn’t burn me. There wasn’t anything in that box”
”So you’re not a ghost…?” I looked at her sceptically. She laughed quietly and then smiled broadly.
look like a ghost?”
”No…” I shook my head slowly. The first image my mind would call up of a ghost was the usual sheet with holes cut out or the glowing see through type from the Saturday morning cartoons.
“Please let me in Cyg…”
“Okay… you can come in if you’re not a ghost…”
My tone was unsure and I could see how much it upset her. I pursed my lips and managed to open the window enough for her to do the rest. In what seemed like one fluid motion she was inside the room, looking around it for familiar things. On my bookshelf was a picture of me as a newborn with my mother and father beside me. Her pale, elegant hand floated over it for a moment but didn’t settle.
Her attention suddenly turned on me, as though I had unexpectedly appeared in front of her in my Piggly Wiggly nightshirt. She grabbed me to her so quickly and so tightly that I gasped out my exhalation of shock. Her hand ran into my hair and she nuzzled her face against mine. I pressed my nose deep into her neck and frowned slightly. She must have sensed it and released me enough that we could look into each other’s eyes.
”You… don’t smell like your memory box”
“The what?” she looked confused and so I dutifully pulled it out from under my bed to show her, as though she’d never seen any of the items before. Her face was blank as she surveyed it before slowly reaching out for one of the perfume bottles. She turned it in her hands as though it were an alien artefact before whipping the lid off and dowsing herself in it. Mom replaced the bottle reverently back in the box and then looked to me with a wicked grin that reminded me of my own. “How about now?”
She scooped me up and buried my face in her hair and all of a sudden it seemed fine again because she smelt like she was supposed to and had a grin like my grin. The kind of grin I couldn’t ever remember seeing on my father’s face.
wanted to see you so much but I had to stay away. Your father wouldn’t understand Cygnet so
this has to be our secret” she drew me back from her so we could stare into
each other’s eyes again. “Do you understand?”
”Where were you? Why couldn’t you come?”
”Mommy was sick, very sick. I had to get better and I had to make sure I didn’t make you sick too…”
”Like with chickenpox?” my mind tried to think of something so I could understand it. She nodded enthusiastically.
right. But I kept my eye on you; I
wanted to check you were okay…”
”It was you!” I beamed at her, excited that I had been right and my disapproving father had been wrong. She smiled warmly and nodded, seemingly unable to speak for a moment. “But if you’re better now you can come back and live with us”
”I… I can’t Cyg…” her grasp on my body became limp. “I’m better but I’m not… I’m not all better. The people that are looking after me don’t want me to see you at all” her eyes narrowed “But they can go to hell… you’re my daughter, my little Cygnet and you needed to know I hadn’t left you”
people? The doctors?”
”They’re just looking after me…” she stroked my hair and then half gasped and half sobbed, squeezing me until I started squirming. I didn’t remember my mother’s arms being so unwittingly strong. “I don’t know if I can go…” she rubbed her eyes for a moment and then smiled at me “Do you think I can live under your bed?”
smiled lightly. “Daddy cleans under
there too much. I have to be tidy” I
”If you lived with me you could be as messy as you wanted” the words seemed to escape from her mouth.
to” I spoke excitedly. “Please, I want
to live with you”
”They wouldn’t allow it…” she spoke quietly, putting a firm hand on my shoulder. “But if you promise to be good then you can when you’re older… and until then I’ll come and visit you” she smiled beautifully and reached into the pocket of her cardigan. She took out a silver chain set with shiny red stones and fastened it to my wrist. “This is yours. If your father asks where you got it, just say your Auntie Mabel sent it you” she smiled conspiratorially “She’s in a home for old people, she’ll back us up”
“Okay mommy” I nodded, still buzzing at the idea of living with my mom.
“I have to go now Cygnet” she stroked my cheek slowly “But I’ll always be watching you… I promise…”
I closed my eyes to enjoy the feeling of her soft hand stroking my face and then the sensation was gone and so was she. I looked around my room with disbelief and then went to the window but there was no sign of her. Frowning with confusion, I touched the bracelet on my wrist to confirm what had just happened. I knew my father would wonder where I had got it from if it appeared before my birthday so I stashed it in the memory box.
The next morning my father was convinced I was ill. I was sat in a complete daze, still trying to process the reappearance of my mother when I had been reliably informed that I would never see her again. Even the chance at cake for breakfast didn’t stir me from my reverie and it was at this point my father frowned and sat in front of me.
“What is it Claire?” he took my chin in-between his thumb and his fingers, as if he would suddenly be able to see what was troubling me.
said… that dead people go to a special place in heaven if they’re good?” I
looked at him with the kind of expression of pious sincerity that only children
”Yes darling I’m sure I did…”
”Can they come back from heaven?”
”What do you mean?” he frowned.
they come visit you if they wanted? Like…g
hosts?” I knew my mother hadn’t been a ghost but thought it was worth seeing if
my father took the bait.
”There’s no such thing as ghosts. Don’t start getting scared of things like that”
”So there aren’t ghosts because people just go to heaven or hell?”
”Yes… sort of…” he shook his head. “Why are you bringing this up Claire? It’s your birthday, don’t you want to open your presents?”
”So if you saw someone that was meant to be dead and they were definitely there, that means they’re not dead? Because otherwise they would be in heaven or hell?” I stared at him as the colour drained out of his face for a moment.
you think you saw Claire?”
”No one” I thinned my lips as if it would stop the secret from coming out. “I saw something on T.V. about it....”
”Oh… oh right” he nodded, rubbing his head and obviously adding T.V. to the things I wasn’t allowed to do. “Come on, you need to open your presents!”
evening, full of cake and absorbed in playing with my new toys, I had almost
forgotten about the events of the night before.
Then I heard my father pick up the cordless phone and take it into his
bedroom. This almost always meant the
call was going to be exciting or about me.
I took my shoes off and walked slowly along the landing, as close to the
wall as I could get. I could just see a
glimpse of him through the door, sat on the bed and holding a small white
”You… you said I should call if anything weird happened…” he spoke softly and I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation. “It’s probably nothing…” another pause. “Right, okay… a year or so ago she kept saying she could see Etty watching her. It was always when she was sleepy though so I just thought…”he sighed and shook his head. “You know what it’s like when you’re grieving, you see the person you lost everywhere” he paused and listened for a while. “No, you’re right. It’s her birthday today… she woke up and started asking me questions about whether people could come back from heaven to visit” he paused and rubbed his face. “No she didn’t mention her… but she wouldn’t say why she was mentioning it. It’s a little morbid for a five year old to be talking about on her birthday don’t you think?” he nodded, spent some time making agreeing noises. “No I’m sure it’s nothing… I just panicked… thanks for answering and taking the time to talk to me. Goodbye…”
He ended the call and sat on the bed for a moment, his head hung low. I nearly forgot that I was a spy and went to run to throw my arms around him. I remembered just in time and watched as he put the card in his bedside table drawer. He stood and I darted back into my room, throwing myself onto the bed which gave a large creak as I struggled to find something to pretend to be occupied in. My father walked past the room, glanced in and smiled at me in a tired way before heading down the stairs.
I waited to hear the T.V. turn on and then my father start to busy himself with his customary cup of tea. I walked stealthily to the bedroom, having learnt where all the creaking floorboards where from when I used to try and sneak into his room when I was scared or lonely at night. I made my way over to the drawer and inched it open slowly, enough to be able to spot the wafer thin card inside.
My small hand pulled the card out but all I could make out was the number and then what I guessed to be a name. I tried spelling it out several times but couldn’t manage it and dejectedly tossed the card back into the drawer, stomping back to my bedroom and hearing my father telling me not to walk about like an elephant.
I spent the next year desperately trying to spot my mother behind every bush and in every cupboard. I kept expecting her to spring out and sweep me up in her arms again as she had done that night. I was shouted at for dousing one of my pillows in the entire bottle of perfume she had chosen.
A year passed and nothing happened. My child mind would wander off for months and then suddenly be snapped back to the idea that my mother was hiding somewhere in the world. She wanted me to live with her and all I had to do was be good and wait. I drew endless pictures of her at school until my teacher spoke to my father after school about the ‘disturbing paintings of the pale lady’. I was banned from cartoons for a month.
My sixth birthday arrived and I pretended to be asleep, eagerly waiting for night to fall. I was wearing the bracelet even though I had had tremendous trouble with the clasp. I had tided my room to my father’s bemusement. I lay in bed stiffly and impatiently, my eyes darting to the window every five seconds until they became so heavy that I drifted into sleep.
Cold hands drifted across my face and made me stir out of my dreams. I looked up and I felt my face light up with glee. My mother was sat on my bed, her red hair looked wild and windswept but she looked just as beautiful as before. Everything about her looked exactly the same except her clothes. She was wearing a long, multicoloured dress that came in tight at the right places. I had never seen her look so slender in her pictures.
“Mommy” I grinned and threw my arms around her. She smelt like she was supposed to but she was so cold. I felt her face against my shoulder and felt cold, damp tears wet my pyjamas for a moment.
“Oh my little Cygnet… I’m sorry it’s been so long… I really wanted to see you… I shouldn’t be here but I had to come. I couldn’t miss another birthday now you know I’m here” she pulled her face away and wiped at her makeup. I looked down at my pyjama top and saw a dark smudge there from it. Ghosts and dreams don’t rub off on your clothes.
looked for you mommy but I couldn’t see you…”
”I had to be careful Cyg…” she paused “People think I want to hurt you…”
”What people?” I frowned incredulously.
“Some people that spoke to your Daddy after I had to go away… they told him lies about me. They said if I saw you again I’d want to hurt you…” she stroked my cheek with her thumb, suddenly she seemed distant. “But I… I wouldn’t…” her hands were on my shoulders and started to draw me close to her. She put one of her hands at the back of my head. I closed my eyes and started to absorb the comforting feeling until she dropped me sharply.
”Shhhh!” she shushed me and I couldn’t tell if her expression was scared at the idea of me waking my father or at something else. I heard my father stir and my eyes snapped to hers. She mouthed the words ‘I love you’ and then slipped out the window. I ran to it, expecting her to be hurt but she was stood below in the garden as if she’d simply walked in a moment ago. She waved at me but my eyes snapped to my bedroom door as it was opened sharply by my father. He scowled, partly angry that I was awake and part concerned that he was sure he’d heard me cry out.
“Cygnet?” the name must have slipped out because he had been woken up suddenly but him using it and the timing of it all made me burst into tears.
He tried to pick me up and comfort me but I fought against him, trying to get back to the window. I couldn’t understand why she had suddenly dropped me. Had I done something wrong? My father kept trying to comfort me, not understanding that I saw him as the enemy. If he hadn’t have woken up then I would have had more precious time with my mother.
The next day I told him that I had tried to open the window because I was hot and had caught my finger in it. As he listened to my explanation I saw his eyes drift over me and then spot the dark mark on my top. I explained it away as grease from the window mechanism. I was becoming a skilled liar.
I can’t even begin to express my devastation when she didn’t arrive on my seventh birthday, or the eight. My father took me to the doctors, to a child psychologist, to a play therapy session. Every time my birthday appeared on the calendar I would spend my time almost camped in front of my bedroom window. They all attributed it to my mother’s death and said that it hadn’t been properly explained to me at the time. I had a lot of patronising lectures from a lot of adults about how I was confused and upset and this was making me feel things I didn’t need to feel.
By the time my tenth birthday came I felt centuries older. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t deluded, that I hadn’t made it up. In my mind I imagined scenes of my mother locked in some dungeon, kept there by men in suits that had been lurking at the funeral, whispering lies in my father’s ears. What was worse was that on some level I felt in my bones that my father knew she was alive.
I knew by now to keep my little ritual to myself and wait till my father was definitely in bed before starting. I would take out the memory box and look at each item for as long as possible, examine it as though I was going to find a hidden watermark or a sign of the resting place of the Holy Grail. I would put on the bracelet that my father had somehow accepted long ago. I would open the window as quietly as I could and then sit in front of it until I felt my head starting to nod down onto my chest.
The sound of the window opening made me stir. I thought for a moment my father had come into my room and was about to put me to bed. Rubbing my eyes I thought I saw a pale hand at the window. I was awake in an instant and looked down to see my mother standing in the garden. I can only imagine the unreserved expression of glee on my face at seeing her. I waived frantically for her to come in and then suddenly wondered how she had been managing to get into my room those previous times.
The question was snapped out of my head as she was suddenly through the window and in the room. Again, she looked no different to before. Now I was older I could see her face wasn’t as lined as it was in the pictures, her skin was incredibly smooth and flawless. There were no stray grey hairs at her temples.
“Oh look at you… you look so grown up” she smiled sadly and dropped down to her knees to become more at my level. I went to go to her and then stopped.
“Where have you been? You haven’t come… I thought I’d done something wrong, that I hadn’t been good enough”
“No, you haven’t done something wrong! Of course you haven’t!” she looked shocked at the thought.
“Then what happened?” I felt torn between excitement and wrath.
“I told you last time that I… was being looked after by other people?” her eyes flicked around the room as if she was suddenly scared to look at my face.
would they not let you come?”
”No. They say… that it’s too risky and that there might be a trap for me...”
”A trap?” I felt utterly confused. “Why would someone want to trap you? I wouldn’t let them!” I paused “You’re worried about Dad?”
”Him and the people he knows…”
”The ones that told him some lies?” I had done my best to remember the conversations we’d had as perfectly as possible. “I wouldn’t worry… he thinks I’m crazy”
”You told him?” her eyes snapped onto my face, the intensity of her gaze made me take a step back.
”No… you told me not to… but the last time you were here I was upset with him for waking up and I couldn’t tell him why I was so angry with him…” I looked down at my duvet. “So he sent me to see a bunch of people…”
”What people?” she frowned disapprovingly and sat on my bed.
“Doctors, therapists?” I said the words, not sure if they were the right ones.
“That’s terrible…” she stroked my face with her smooth hand, this time it was very warm. “You know I’m here though don’t you? That I’m real…” She smiled encouragingly and I just rolled my eyes.
“Of course” I glanced at her and saw she was looking troubled. I don’t think she had expected me to have changed so much both physically and mentally since the last time she had visited. “But… I don’t understand… You’re not in heaven… you’re not a ghost. What happened to you? Why can’t you visit me properly?” I heard my voice getting higher pitched as my upset constricted my throat. My mother looked miserable for a moment.
know how sometimes on T.V shows people can die just for a minute, but then
someone brings them back again? They use
electricity or an injection…” she spoke slowly but I nodded to try and speed
her explanation up. “Well… that’s what
happened to me. The man who saved me
asked if I wanted to live, I said yes… but he didn’t tell me the truth”
”What truth?” I was staring at her.
I accepted his help then I couldn’t see you or your father, that everyone would
think I was dead”
”But you come to see me…” I frowned.
but I’m not supposed to. That’s why I
can only come once a year… if at all”
”So this man is making you stay away from us?” I scowled darkly. If this man was all that was standing between me and my mother then I was prepared to destroy him. For a moment a smile flickered across her face at the expression of grim determination I must have had. “Just stay here, he can’t come and get you if I’m with you”
not that simple Cygnet… he brought me back to life” for one moment her
expression was the epitome of sorrow “I owe him a debt…”
”Then let’s run away from him together!” I moved closer to her, desperate to grip her tightly to stop her from disappearing again. “We can go to another country…”
”He’d know where I was Cygnet and even then people would be looking for you, they’d think you’d been kidnapped or something worse”
”Let them” I stared up at her grimly. “I want to be with you. It’s not fair”
”You’re doing her more harm than good you know…” the alien and unexpected voice spoke from the window.
I gasped and stepped back, finding my mother was somehow suddenly behind me with her arms around my shoulders. Sat in the window was a black man with golden eyes. He looked in his late twenties and was wearing an expensive looking formal outfit. His shirt was almost the same colour as his eyes; his formal trousers were ripped at the knee. His eyes were fixed on me with an intensity I had never felt before. It was as though he were dissecting me.
“Stop it” I spoke quietly, terrified despite myself. If this was the man in question I wanted to be brave and fierce so I could fight for the rights to my mother.
“Hm” he smirked coldly.
“Get out of here…” my mother hissed at him and her voice sounded so unnatural that I tore my eyes away from the stranger to look up at her.
“Mom…?” I tried to understand what was going on but she was ignoring me. The way their eyes had locked reminded me of when I would watch the neighbourhood cats fighting in the garden. It was as though the fight went on in their minds long before they moved.
“Make me” he watched her levelly.
“You let her go…” my voice wavered and so I clenched my tiny fists and pursed my lips to strengthen my resolve. “She’s my mom. I want her with me. You let her go!” he blinked for a moment and then laughed. It was a rich sounding laugh that seemed to reverberate inside my chest.
“Trust me little… thing” he looked at me like I was a small yapping dog. “She is not your mother anymore. Your mother died. I was not the one who took her, I am not the one keeping her away…” his eyes flicked back to her again. “But she should have kept her word…”
“Get out” she hissed at him,
inhumanly. I gasped and tried to break free
which made her suddenly pay attention to me.
“I’m sorry Cyg! Oh don’t say
you’re scared of me…”
”Of course she’s scared of you. You’re a monster. Deal with it” the man shrugged unapologetically.
get out of here or I will…”
”Will what?” he grinned, displaying a set of yellow teeth that contained fangs. I stumbled back onto my bed; my back was suddenly pressed against the wall and I had nowhere to retreat to. “Why don’t you show her your true face Odette?”
“Mom?” I looked to her; my eyes must have been as large as dinner plates. In the pale light coming from the moon outside she looked like a statue. Her skin was too pale and perfect; the look in her eyes was cold and furious.
“Shut up Idris…” she thinned her red lips, her fists clenched.
“Little girl, duckling” he beckoned to me “You want to come with me? You can live with your mom forever…” he smirked darkly. I was now completely terrified. My mother finally looked to me with a mix of sorrow and desperation.
go to your father’s room. Stay there”
”No!” I even stamped my foot with determination. “You’re not going anywhere again! You’re not disappearing anymore!” I glowered up at her with as much determination as I could. She looked utterly flabbergasted. Looking back now, I realise that she had no parenting in her. She had only ever truly known me when I was a baby and babies didn’t start arguing back and saying no. The man called Idris started laughing in a deep, rich tone that shook my resolve briefly.
doubt she’s yours. She’s got that same
stuck up look that you get when you’re pissed off…”
”Listen to me!” she ignored him and grabbed me by the shoulders, her grip was so tight I winced from it. “Do what I tell you!”
“I…” I felt tears well up in my eyes. Not only was I confused, I was deeply angry. “Don’t go…”
“Do it” something about her eyes changed and it scared me. I seemed to slide out of her grasp, moving slowly away from her. To my shame, I felt hot tears sliding down my cheeks. The man in the window’s eyes were still fixed on me though he spoke to my mom.
“Some mother you are…”
“Don’t presume to tell me” my mother started, her voice icy with rage.
tell you what I like” he spoke sharply.
“He will kill you for this. Fact”
”No!” I cried out and went to start forward but I found myself held in place against the door to my room, my toes brushing the carpet. Terrified and bewildered, I tried to struggle against what felt like an invisible brace holding me to the door. I looked to the man and saw his hand was extended out in my direction.
My mother took one look at me, one at Idris and then launched herself upon him like a rabid animal. Whatever was holding me to the door faded and I landed on the bedroom floor in an ungainly heap, my coxis feeling bruised. I could hear no sound of fighting but staggered over to my bedroom window. I could see no sign of them.
I heard the door to my bedroom open and my father stood in the light from the hall, looking at me blearily and without his glasses. I burst into tears and told him everything.
When the man came to our house, rain was shattering on the pavement and thunder was rolling overhead. It couldn’t have been more appropriate. Wasn’t this the kind of weather that was appropriate for a Van Helsing style character to come to the house that was plagued by monsters?
I didn’t see him straight away, which gave me time to try and imagine what he looked like. My father had been sparing about what this man actually did, except he had told my father ‘The Truth’ when it became apparent what had actually happened to my mother. He guided him through everything, including what not to tell me. Such experts apparently existed in the world. I imagined other girls like me, sat in their living rooms with their hair expertly parted, sat in their respective armchairs and waiting to be cross examined by other versions of this man.
His name was Castor and he was not what I had expected. Evidently, I had watched too many cartoons and that was why I expected a man in a Victorian greatcoat with long, white hair and a bag full of archaic looking equipment. Instead I was presented with a wiry looking man in his late thirties with sandy coloured hair and green eyes. He was wearing a bulky, brown leather jacket and jeans. He looked like a normal person.
His eyes flicked around the room, assessing everything else before they rested on me. I, apparently, needed longer consideration. He sat down in the armchair opposite me and seemed to study me, leaving my father to sit awkwardly in the middle of the sofa on his own. A horrible, tense silence seemed to fill the living room but I stubbornly fought any urge to speak to him. As upset as I was, I still remembered that my mother had warned me about who my father had been speaking to. This was surely one of the men that she said had told him lies about her.
The man tried to smile warmly at me but something seemed off about it. It was as though he was still trying to read my mind but knew he needed to start speaking.
Claire. My name is Castor Greyson. Your father has asked me to come and speak to
you about what you told him last night…”
”I know” I frowned and looked away from him.
“So do you want to tell me? To make sure he got it all right?”
ten, not five” I glowered at him and almost felt my father’s shock.
“Sorry…” I muttered. Castor Greyson shook his head and waved a hand dismissively.
so how about I tell you what he told me… and then if you agree with it then
that’s all well and good and if you don’t then you can correct me?”
”Your mother came to visit you on your fifth and sixth birthdays and then last night. She told you she wasn’t dead and that she was staying with people that wanted her to stay away. Last night when she visited, a stranger came to the window wanting to be let in and your mother and he fought and then disappeared. Does that cover it?”
“Yes” I looked up at him stubbornly. He looked down into his rough, calloused looking hands and then looked back up at me.
“Your mother is dead Claire. Your mother died all those years ago” he held a hand up as I inhaled to protest to what he was saying. “Listen to me. You said she told you that she had been brought back? That was true but she isn’t alive. She’s a vampire Claire” he looked at me seriously but I laughed in his face. Yes, something strange was going on but it couldn’t be that. My father sighed wearily.
it seems insane Claire… I struggled with all this when… when she first passed
away but it’s true. The man that
attacked her, he turned her into something else. It killed your mother and now… now she isn’t
your mother anymore…”
”She knows who I am! She came to see me because she wanted to show me she still loved me!” I felt tears well up in my eyes and gripped the armrest of the chair to try and stop them. I didn’t want them to think I was some weak, silly girl.
“It’s a cruel fate… when they are turned; they keep the memories they had as humans and sometimes the affection that goes with them. Often it is warped by what they are… they’re all evil Claire. There isn’t any escaping that. I’ve seen what they can do…” he looked at me with an almost pleading expression.
“You’re trying to tell me she’s evil? My mom?” I looked at him with disgust. He sighed and looked down, shifting a hand through his hair briefly.
“This isn’t your mom Claire. It looks like her but it isn’t her. Your mom could go out in the sun, she could touch a crucifix without feeling pain, she could eat cake and drink tea… this thing can’t do any of that” he spoke calmly and there wasn’t a great deal I could say in response to such a statement. There were plenty of times my mom could have come to visit other than night but she never did.
“Why are you telling me this?” I spoke quietly, I sounded defeated despite myself. Inside, I wanted to cling to the hope that what they were telling me was wrong but my senses had always agreed with them. She had never smelt right, the hissing she made at the man called Idris… the way she had held me close to her.
telling you so that you can see the truth before she hurts you…”
”We didn’t think that she would come and see you but she did” he sat back in the chair. “If they ever leave anyone behind still living, they normally stay clear of them. If people see their dead relatives walking around they tend to start telling other people… then word gets back to us…”
”And who are you?” I looked at him critically. “You haven’t said”
”The organisation I belong to… we keep tabs on them. We make sure they don’t hurt anyone and we take care of the bad ones…” he spoke the words but even I could tell they were only half truths. He hadn’t even bothered putting in full effort into lying to me.
”You’re what? Vampire hunters?”
”Some call us that… mainly the vampires…”
”This is insane” I scowled. “So what? You’re scared she’s going to take me off and turn me into some vampire kid?” I glowered at my father and the hunter. “Well I begged her to take me away once and she said no. So how about that?”
”You did what?” my father sounded heartbroken. I sighed with an exasperated sound that was a portent of the teenager to come. This wasn’t about him.
“I didn’t mean it like that. It was when she came for the first time, she said if I lived with her I could be as messy as I liked…” I rolled my eyes but it made my father smile at least.
doesn’t mean anything” the hunter interjected “If she took you back to the rest
they’d have killed you and most likely killed her for going to see you. If they know what she’s done then it won’t go
unpunished. They will know that it will
have caught our attention”
”Don’t go after her” I locked my eyes onto the Castor’s and he seemed very taken aback before giving me a firm look in return. “She hasn’t hurt me, she hasn’t hurt anyone…”
”She has Claire. We have been after her, her maker and Idris for some time” he glanced to my father and then back at me “When I spoke to your father on the phone, he said I should be honest with you and so I shall” he reached into the pocket of his leather coat and pulled out a thick, brown paper envelope. He set it on the coffee table in front of me. I didn’t touch it.
“She has killed seven people that we know about. Five men, one woman… one child”
“No…” I looked at him and then looked down at the envelope. “No… she’s sad about what she is… I know it. She wouldn’t…”
“Sad or not, they have to kill to survive Claire. Any one of those could have easily been you”
“No. She wouldn’t hurt me” I shook my head. No matter what they said to me I knew it was true. I thinned my lips. “So what’s the point of this talk then? You want me to know the truth about her so I’ll stay away? Then you say that she probably won’t be coming back because she’s been ‘punished’? Why are you here!” I shouted at him and he didn’t even blink. As I thought back to Idris and his fangs I realised Castor had seen much scarier sights than an emotional ten year old and I felt myself go red.
discuss how we are going to protect you both going forward. Until I confirm that her and her kin are
dead, my priority remains keeping you both alive”
”And how are you going to do that?”
”There are things we can do in terms of the house… but the weakness in cases such as these is never from property or boundaries… it’s from emotion”
”So you’re going to turn me into a robot?”
”No. I’m saying you have to be strong when it comes to this Claire” he locked eyes with me, his tone serious “Because if her people don’t rein her in then… well you will have guessed the consequences for that by now because you’re smart” I stared back at him until I had to look away obstinately. Castor looked to my father “I’m going to send a priest round, his name is Father Rastel” he held a hand up before my father could object “It doesn’t matter if you’re not religious, he knows his work and he’ll make this house a Fort Knox against the supernatural… Don’t invite anyone in until he gets here and does what he needs to do. Meter reader, police, I don’t care, you’re not letting them in”
Castor stood up, pointedly leaving the envelope on the table. He skirted the coffee table and bent down so he was eye level. He was close enough that I could smell whatever he used to treat his leather jacket. He reached out and took my upper arms lightly in his hands.
“Claire. I know this is insanely difficult and I don’t
expect you to believe me but what I say is true… and I know that inside you
know something is wrong with her. This
would be easier if you had known her… the comparison would be clearer…”
”I’m not stupid… I won’t invite her in again…”
He nodded once and then got up and left without a further word. The envelope stayed on the table, the mystery of it making its presence feel radioactive. My father stood up and followed him into the hall to show him out and resolutely lock the door. He looked into the room and saw me still sat in the chair. He went to say something but sighed wearily instead and went into the kitchen.
I heard the familiar click of the kettle turning on and knew he would be in his usual position, leaning against one of the cabinets and watching it solemnly. Some things don’t change, even with the life changing news that your daughter was risking her life by conversing with your vampiric dead wife.
I looked at the envelope and then reached out slowly towards it. I picked it up and weighed it in my hands. There were perhaps a couple of pictures in it and nothing else. I turned the envelope over in my hands and saw it was free of any marks at all. Opening it as quietly as possible, I reached inside and started sliding one of the pictures out. The picture was black and white, as it cleared the inside of the envelope an image of a small hand rose out with it. I stopped. The hand was a child’s, maybe the same age as me, maybe a little older. It was a lifeless hand. I knew that because it was standing out like a pale, craggy mountain against a lake of blood.
I shoved the picture back inside the envelope so violently I ripped some of the paper. I snatched it up in my hand, crumpling the entire thing. Ignoring my father, I crossed the kitchen, took the matches out of the drawer they resided in and then went outside into the garden and set the whole thing alight.
My father wasted his freshly boiled hot water putting it out but spent the time it took for the next lot to boil by scolding me.
For a week, I seethed with the kind of intense broiling emotion that a ten year old was not supposed to know. When the priest came, I buried myself under the duvet in my room and ignored him. I complained to my father that the incense he had burnt in the house had made the place stink. I lurched between hatred of my father, my mother, Castor the hunter and the man that had attacked my mother in the first place.
I did research whenever I could get access to the family computer. A lot of what I found was complete nonsense and then occasionally something would ring true to what the hunter had said. With that and the scraps of information I could find from the library I constructed my own mythology.
A box was delivered to the house and it was promptly locked away in the cellar. When my father went out to fetch the paper one Sunday morning, I broke the lock and then went down to inspect the contents. Inside were bottles of what could have been taken for drinking water if not for the picture of a cross on the labels, finely made wooden stakes and then something even more interesting.
At the bottom, underneath the stakes and water, was another box. I took it out and opened it, knowing instinctively that something better would be in it. I was disappointed to see that it was jewellery. I wasn’t a very girly girl and even the bracelet my mother had given me was rarely worn. The necklace was silver and consisted of a thick chain, each link was inscribed with something in a language I didn’t recognise and couldn’t read. The pendant was about the size of my thumb and designed to look like a large, open eye.
I searched the rest of the contents but found no instructions or explanations of what the thing did other than look occult. I removed it from the main box and closed it up, heading back up the stairs and hiding the necklace.
How long it took me to come up with my stupid plan is something I don’t remember. All I know is that I had an overwhelming desire to confront my mother or at least whatever it was that looked like her. If her intent had been to kill me all along then I was confused, if it had been to just show me that I was loved then I was even more confused. Even as a child I knew that she was doing nothing for my mental wellbeing by coming back from the dead.
I let my father think we were safe and that I was being obedient. For a whole month I didn’t mention my mother or issue any angry or tetchy outbursts. I was a very good girl. Why that didn’t make him even more suspicious I don’t know, I think he wanted things to go back to normal that he was happy to accept my behaviour on face value.
I waited until the weather was warmer, the night was clear and the moon was out so that there would be enough light. I took out the odd necklace and slipped it over my head and around my neck. I got changed out of my pyjamas and into some jeans, a long sleeved top and a coat.
I can remember walking out into the garden silently and with an almost dignified air. I knew that she was going to come and I didn’t know how. I knew in my bones that the fact I had been placed so thoroughly off limits would only make her more determined to see me because that was how I would feel.
There was a small stone bench in our garden, placed next to the pond that my father was obsessed with during the summer. The night was silent around me. I took a deep breath and composed myself, praying that my father would stay asleep and not come looking for me or I’d never get the chance again.
She didn’t disappoint me and I didn’t have to wait long. I don’t think she even kept me waiting an hour. I was disturbed that I knew this meant she’d been keeping watch over the house. Her hair was long and looked like it hadn’t seen a brush for a while. She was just wearing a thin blouse and tight jeans. How long she had been stood in the garden looking at me, I don’t know.
We watched each other in silence. If she had been human, no doubt tears would have been welling up in her eyes.
”Don’t call me that…” I spoke quietly, looking down into my hands. “You’re not my mom are you?”
“Of course I am!” she went to rush forward to me but I looked up, causing her to stop in place.
don’t you come during the day?”
”Because this is the only time I can get away…” she spoke desperately
“Don’t lie to me” I spoke firmly.
“I…” she looked close to tears again and looked down. “I’m sorry Cygnet… I didn’t know what would become of me…”
the man that tried to get in?”
”Idris?” she looked up at me with confusion “He’s… they call him my brother. The same man that… made me this way did the same to him”
”Why?” I looked at her sorrowfully.
“None of this matters” she moved towards me. “My love, I promise you that I don’t mean you any harm. I’m not evil. We’re not evil…”
I watched her steadily for a moment, with more sincerity than I should have been able to show. Reaching underneath the bench, I took out a scorched brown paper envelope and tossed it across the grass to her. My father had managed to throw water one it to stop it from being consumed completely.
In one inhumanly graceful movement, she bent down to pick up the envelope and pulled out its contents. Her expression didn’t change an inch. I had absolutely no idea what was going through her head. She looked at all of the pictures, something I hadn’t done but obviously included the one that had given me nightmares for weeks. After what seemed like an eternity she spoke again.
“Who gave these to you?” her eyes snapped up from the photos to look at me. There again was that odd, not right look in her eyes. I had been about to say Castor’s name but I didn’t.
“One of those terrible liars… that have told me more of the truth than you have…” I watched her closely, waiting for her to explain to me that it was all a lie and that it was a conspiracy against her. Her voice wasn’t much louder than a whisper.
have no idea… no idea how hard it is… how painful it is”
her eyes were golden, just like Idris’.
I don’t think she even knew it had happened. It took ever inch of my courage and resolve
not to fall backwards off the bench and run screaming to the house. “I can hear your little heart from here, from
behind the fence even… No matter what
they say in all of those books, in all the films… there’s nothing more heavenly
and nothing more destructive than feeding…” her golden eyes weren’t focussed on
me anymore, but seemingly on some distant memory. “Do you know that if you don’t… feed when you
wake then you go mad? You wake up in a
frenzy. There is nothing but hunger
raking at your insides and stabbing into your brain. If you don’t have a master to guide you…” she
shook her head, closing her eyes. “The results
are horrendous… so I hear”
”You’ve killed people… you killed a kid…”
a bad person Claire…” she opened her eyes and they were their normal colour
again. “and I’m still your mother…”
”You’re not a bad person because you’re not a person at all” the words killed a part of me as I said them but I knew them to be true. The thing that looked like my mother remained completely still, which was far more terrifying than if she had launched herself at me and ripped me open then and there.
“But… I love you…”
“Mom…” my throat constricted. I could hear my heart beat pounding in my ears; tiny black spots appeared before my eyes that slowly grew in size as the world seemed to spin around me. I passed out.
I heard the voices before I even realised what had happened and where I was. I remembered watching a film once where the heroine pretended to still be unconscious so she could take stock of her surroundings and gain an advantage on her enemies. I slowed my breathing and felt that I was on a mattress that wasn’t my own. I didn’t feel like I was restrained in anyway and was lying on my back like I’d been left there.
Wherever I was, it was warm enough to suggest it was inside a building somewhere and other than the discussion that was going on a short distance away from me; I could hear the sound of a leaking pipe. The smell of some kind of smoke that wasn’t anything to do with cigarettes or a priest’s incense filled my nostrils.
I tuned into the voices and immediately recognised the deep tones of my mother’s ‘brother’ Idris. Did that make him my uncle now?
“He is going to rip you and her into tiny little pieces… I am going to have to make sure I get a front row seat for this… pity I can’t eat popcorn”
“I had to…” my mother spoke quietly. Idris snorted with indignation.
panicked and you’ve made the last mistake you’re ever going to make around
”Looking forward to being an only child again?” the tone of my mother’s voice was one I hadn’t heard while she had been around me. This man she had done nothing but hiss at in my presence, she now spoke to with amusement.
“I’ll make sure the next woman he gets fixated on has no hangers on… someone who won’t cling onto human sentiment with her fingernails…”
”It’s against the rules” he spoke bluntly. “And the worst kind of our kind are the ones that were brought over the youngest… I know you want to catch up on quality time but even If he was mad enough to do this for you and even if you didn’t die in-between… no one wants to be whatever age she is for eternity…”
My heart pounded in my chest at the sound of their plans. As exciting an idea it sounded, there was no way in hell I wanted to be frozen at ten years old forever. I wanted to grow up, I wanted to look like the women in the films and the TV shows did. What were you to do at ten except go to school and be bossed around by your parents?
“I’m not asking for that…” my mother spoke quietly. I could practically sense the exasperation radiating from Idris.
what crazy thing is it that you’re going to ask for? I’m sure it will be worse…”
”That she lives with us… until she is old enough to accept” she sounded doubtful and no doubt this wasn’t helped by Idris’ booming laughter.
know why he turned you! He must have known
you’d be the only bitch that can make me laugh like that…”
”You shut up!”
”Bickering… always bickering…” a different voice spoke out, one that I was sure I hadn’t heard before and yet something stirred in the back of my mind. The voice sounded refined and yet there was a hint of a foreign accent mingled in as well. Whoever he was, he had caused my mother and the man to fall completely silent. “You might as well really be brother and sister…”
“Have you seen what she’s done!” Idris sounded outraged.
“I have eyes…”
“I told her, I told her that she deserved to be ripped apart for disobeying you again… To this extent! This will bring them down on us! Nothing does for our kind like a missing child!”
“Amadi…” my mother spoke softly “Please… I can’t live not seeing her… I know what you’ve told me but you owe me this debt! You never told me the truth! You never told me that I would never see her again!”
“This again” he spoke irritably and I heard him approach closer. “You might as well stop pretending now girl… I’ve known better actresses…”
Part of me wanted to stay resolutely on the bed but a mix of fear and curiosity made me sit up and open my eyes. I was face to face with the man that had taken my mother from me and turned her into the kind of thing that feeds on children.
His skin was almost literally black, with a shaved head and the same golden eyes that they seemed to possess when they weren’t pretending to be human. He was dressed in what looked like an expensive suit, dark colours and very good tailoring. Idris was looking more presentable than he had done the night that he had tried to get into the house. The lead monster, now called Amadi, looked at me.
her in you…” he didn’t look away, but spoke to my mother. “What is it that you want Odette? What is your purpose in this?”
”Please…” she dropped down to her knees, making me feel sicker than I already did. “Please let her stay with us… She is all I want from that world; I have always obeyed you in everything else… done everything else you have ever asked me to do… haven’t I proven myself to you?”
”Hm…” he walked away from me, glancing at Idris who seemed to be fuming. I guessed that he had never been allowed to get away with as much.
I will never leave the building if that is what you wish. I will be responsible for her; I won’t ask
anything from you…”
”I’m not a dog…” the words left my lips before I even realised I had spoken them. “And I don’t want to stay here”
”You heard her” Adami looked to my mother with his head tilted to one side. “At least now I know that your delusions aren’t genetic. Your child sees you for what you are”
“The hunters will use her against us, against me…” she looked to him with large eyes, placing a hand on his arm as she rose. “Adami, please…”
this” Idris spoke coldly “Kill the damn child, I’ll do it. I’ve heard nothing but this whining for
”That is not for you to decide” Adami looked to him coldly. He ignored the other vampire and had his gaze fixed on me with such a murderous look that I actually got off the bed, walking backwards until my back had pressed against the cold damp wall.
pandered to her and this is what happened!
She is as obsessed with this child as you were with her. If you don’t kill her then you might as well
turn the wretched thing and let her fuss over it for the rest of eternity!”
”Odette” Adami spoke my mother’s name slowly. She looked to him like a dog waiting for an order. I couldn’t understand why she was so eager to please him. Was she in love with him? “Kill her. Now”
”…what?” she spoke breathlessly.
”You heard me” I watched her emotionlessly while her face displayed so many in turn.
how can you ask me to…?”
”You didn’t hesitate with that screaming brat. Do it”
”No” she seemed to straighten with the resolve that sounded in her voice. Adami looked at her with unbridled disgust and then smacked her across the face with the back of his hand. Had she been human, there was no doubt the blow would have killed her. I heard myself scream.
“Do it or I will have Idris hold you while I strip off her skin inch by inch” even though he didn’t seem angry, he was obviously emotional and the foreign accent became stronger. He gripped my mother’s face in his hand. “I will pluck out her eyes, I will rip out her teeth and her fingernails and then my sweet little Odette, then will I turn her for you… how would you like that?” he snarled the words into her ear.
By this point I was so terrified that I was shaking violently, my legs unable to support me. In some corner of my mind I was screaming at myself to try and find a weapon or to at least stand upright so I could escape. All rational thought had fled and terror reigned.
My mother’s eyes were wide and fixed on me. It was as though she was trying to scream some message at me. Adami looked from me to her and then released her in one violent motion; he said something to Idris in a language that I had never heard before or since. My mother was frozen, I realised that whatever power he had he was using the same thing that had pinned me to the door to keep her frozen in place, his hand clenched.
She was staring at me and then her eyes slowly lowered to my neck. For a moment I felt intense revulsion, thinking that she was only looking at my neck because she wanted to drain me dry. Suddenly, the realisation of what she was trying to tell me hit like a lighting bolt. She had seen the necklace. She flexed her fingers, enough for the movement to catch my eye but not that of the men. I could make out the traces of burns across her fingers. She had tried to touch it while I was unconscious. It had power over them, enough to hurt.
Adami saw none of this as he had headed over to a large, ancient looking suitcase that was covered in old fashioned looking stamps and stickers. He took out a short, curved dagger and ran a finger along it, watching almost disinterestedly as blood welled up along it. Idris was focussing on containing my mother. I had enough time to slip off the necklace and get it into my hand.
I screamed, as loudly and shrilly as I could. Idris’ concentration faltered which was enough for my mother to break free of his control. She rocketed her elbow backwards into his face and broke his nose with a sickening crunch. At the same time, I ran towards Adami, filling the necklace clasped in my hand full of the hatred for him at taking my mother from us and for turning her into a creature like him.
With every ounce of my strength I flung it into his face, it connected and then stuck to his flesh. I have never been able to eat bacon since. My ears filled with the sound of a horrendous sizzling as the necklace started eating through the skin and flesh like it was coated in acid. His scream was deafening and inhuman but died as I saw the length of the end of the chain had caught around his neck.
I ran past him and to the doorway behind the three of them, only glancing behind to see my mother and Idris fighting like a pair of wild animals and making not too dissimilar noises. I had kept running whilst looking behind me, determined to get away but also wanting to know the outcome of it all. Would my mother return back to normal if I had managed to kill Adami?
I issued a terrified scream as I ran into a solid body, my face smashing into an immoveable form. I went to run again but a strong arm enclosed my waist and all I could smell was the leather oil smell of Castor Greyson’s jacket. I went to speak but he jerked his head to someone I hadn’t seen, another hunter, and I was picked up and whisked away.
I fought against them as I watched them move stealthily towards the sound of the fighting, some with loaded crossbows, others with swords that were inscribed with strange symbols. I felt myself crying as the hunter bore me away. I was set down in the back of a sleek looking black car with a blanket around my shoulders and a guard on each door.
My eyes were fixed on the building and the doorway that I had been taken through. They had been staying in what had once been a respectable looking pub that had obviously been boarded up for over a year. I waited to see my mother emerge from somewhere, to see her slip away in the shadows or to come storming out the main door to come for me again.
This did not happen.
I sat in the car for what felt like an eternity, shivering under my blanket and trying not to make a noise as I cried. Castor emerged from the building as well as two of the three hunters that had followed him in. A man with the bearing of someone who had been in the military walked over to him, whatever it was he asked Castor shook his head to.
I was told later, when I had woken from being sedated, that Adami was dead. The necklace had been enough of a distraction for Castor to take his head off with the sword. The pain of the death of their sire had caused my mother and Idris to break off from their fighting and realise the new danger. They had fought together against the hunters. Idris had killed one of their number, only to be staked by their partner.
My mother had disappeared. I had laughed drunkenly, still coming round from the sedatives when they told me that. I imagined her disappearing in a puff of smoke or a shower of fairy dust. This was not the case. One moment she was there, the next moment she was gone. They told me that all of the creatures were gifted with a talent, one that usually ran in ‘families’. No one had realised what a gift it was my mother had until the end.
What do you do with your life after such an event? I tried living with my father but he couldn’t seem to forgive me for going out and summoning her to me. He couldn’t understand that I had needed to do it and I couldn’t understand how he had written my mother off as a cold hearted killer so easily. There were too many silences and when the silences broke there were too many terrible battles.
I was offered a place with the hunters by Castor but I wanted nothing to do with them. I still agonised over whether they were right in thinking my mother should die for what she was or whether she was right and she still had the capability to love me. Was a mother’s love so strong it could break through all of that madness? Was Castor right, when he said that it was nothing more than a monster trying to react to something that was hardwired in its system?
He said that he would warn me if she was spotted again but I heard nothing from him. It was as if my mother had disappeared from in front of him and out of existence. As years passed, I stopped jumping at every face in the shadows and stopped obsessively checking the locks on my doors. I went to university, I got a teaching degree and I carried on with my life.
I have a daughter now. When she was born, for a second I thought of naming her after my mother and then quickly decided against it. Who would want to burden a newborn thing with all of that history and pain? As I looked down at her, pink and wriggling in my arms, the sense of undying love stole over me. I knew that I would protect her with my last breath, that I would never wish to be parted from her, that she was the ultimate perfection that I would never achieve.
As I set her down in the crib, something made me look up and out of her nursery window. There, outside the house was the figure of my mother; unchanged, inhuman and watching me with longing.