The night is disturbed. Dark forces are at play. The moon is gone. The stars are gone. The lake is deep and bottomless, it is sludge and is there to drown all who stand too close. The trees curl and creak as the bony claws of Coniston’s ancient ancestors. They tap at the windows and howl through the doors. Abysmal grey clouds cluster under the sky and supress the land in an electric cocoon. The dream is over, but this is not a nightmare, it is reality. Reality is knocking on the door. Blue and red lights disrupt the tempest. A leather gloved hand raps on the front door of the lake house. A half dressed and half-asleep Emily answers to the late-night caller. Her emperor of Egypt stands by her side as though he can protect her, when the Grim Reaper comes calling. An officer of the law greets them. He is looking for Olivia Monroe and has been told he can find her at this residence.
The Grim Reaper is invited in, with his heavy boots and thick body armour. A walkie-talkie buzzes and beeps on his chest. His face is lined with experience and his lips in a heavy-set line. A female officer accompanies him. She is the backup. As if he needs it. Her hair is tied back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. Loui, the gentlemen that he is, offers refreshment in broken English and the officers decline. Loui makes them anyway. He boils the kettle and walks around shirtless, his abs intimidating the Reaper. That’s how it feels when you stand a Demon next to an Angel. Emily searches the rooms upstairs and finds them empty. She returns and drapes a jacket over Loui, who gratefully puts it on. The true friend she is, Emily heads out to the guest house with a fresh set of clothes and a hair tie. She knocks on the door and pays a respectfully little amount of attention to the rushing around inside. Nick answers the door, trousers slack at his hips. He sees the look on Emily’s face is one of sadness and worry. She silently hands the set of clothes to him and beckons them to come inside.
Moments later, Nick and Olivia appear through the back doors, dressed in their clean clothes. Olivia’s hair sits in a high ponytail on her head. The long raven locks drape oddly over her shoulder as though she wears a wind-swept cape. The officers advise her to sit down, she does as she is told, as one would when they are ordered by such a force. She sits. Emily sits beside her and holds her hand. The officers explain all they can. The words spoken in drawled out tones and pauses offered to leave room for questions but there are none Olivia can coherently ask. As she sits on the edge of the couch, with her best friends’ hand as her only strength, she knows for certain that in the future, this is how she will remember this moment.
The lead officer, the Grim Reaper, explains that the Greater Manchester Police have been trying to contact Olivia, but due to the poor signal, they were unable, so they had contacted the Cumbrian Constabulary and they had in turn, come to find Olivia at her advised whereabouts.
They tried to tell Olivia that there had been a brutal break-in at her home. The only information they had was that her Mother had been badly injured and was in Fairfield Hospital and that she was required to come home. The officer tries to offer comfort, but she does not hear him because he cannot offer her information that is of any worth. How badly is her mother injured? Will she be okay? What are they doing to help her? Who broke in? Where are they now? What did they do to her mother? And what are the police going to do about it? Each question answered with a politician’s way of saying “I don’t know.” The communication between the Greater Manchester police and Cumbria was poor. They hadn’t passed on enough information to stop Olivia from going out of her mind. She imagines her mother in a pool of blood, lying in the hospital bed with knives sticking out of her chest and her eyes so swollen she can barely see. She imagines that she will die before they get to her. How could she die? How could she leave her all alone, without a soul to call her own? How could she do this? How could Olivia have left her? This never would have happened if she hadn’t left. She sits on the couch and loses all sense of self. It is a wonder to her how the world can have been so blissfully perfect just to see it crumble to her feet. She could almost see herself kneeling to the floor to pick up the pieces. Looking for the strongest glue she can find to piece everything back together. How can this happen? She is filled with an urgency to go home.
The officers of the law leave, and conversations are had. Some people speak to Olivia, but she can’t determine who the voices belong to. Her feet move but as far as she is aware, it’s not her brain that tells them to move. There is an arm around her waist and it leads her up the stairs.
She is in her room. Emily is with her. She pulls her suitcase from under the bed and starts filling it with Olivia’s things from the bathroom. Olivia turns, blankly and sees into Emily’s room where Loui is throwing Emily’s things into her own case. Olivia picks up a shirt, her hands shaking. She looks down at them and tries to will her hand to still with her mind. Her mind doesn’t work, and her brain is a separate entity. She’s not even sure it exists. Her stomach lurches and she hunches over, sure she’s going to be sick. A hand holds hers. She looks up and Emily stands there. She takes the shirt from Olivia and takes her hand in hers. She rests her forehead on Olivia’s and closes her eyes. “Just breathe.” She mutters. The first words Olivia has heard clearly. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in, then slowly releases it. Emily pulls away and looks her dead in the eyes. “It’s going to be okay.”
“How do you…”
“Because it has to be.” Emily says. She puts the top in the suitcase. “Go and take Poppy out to the car we’ll meet you out there.”
“I have to pack.”
“I’m doing it…I’ve got this, you just take Poppy out, okay.” It’s not a question. Olivia walks down the stairs like they’re not there and she picks up the dog, who licks her face. Apparently, there are tears there. When did she start crying? Olivia doesn’t recall. She hugs the dog close to her chest and walks out the front door. The night really is as evil as she first imagined. Time isn’t a thing. It could be two in the morning or it could be twelve. She doesn’t know. There really are clouds in the sky. Those weren’t imagined. She can’t recall the last day she had seen clouds in the sky. Not like that. Despite the darkness she could tell the clouds were a murky grey. They covered everything. The moon had disappeared, the stars with it. She opens the back seat of the car and buckles Poppy in, then she sits in the front and waits alone with her thoughts, for her friends to come out with the luggage. She wonders how things could be so bad. Happiness isn’t permanent. Sadness isn’t permanent. Her mother isn’t permanent. For perhaps the first time in her living memory, Olivia sits in fear that she may, one day, become an orphan. There are no siblings. No aunts. No uncles. No Cousins. No grandparents. She would be totally alone. Her tears dry up as fear overcomes sorrow. She crosses her arms over her chest like they can hug away the loneliness. She leans back against the front seat and closes her eyes. Exhaustion takes over and the world falls away.
She is falling through the seat, through the air, down through the clouds. They feel like water. Strange. She had always imagined them to be a solid thing, even though she knows they’re not. The land, the sky, the sea, they’re all one thing. Not important to some but the most important thing to others. She lands on a field and a rabbit, nuzzles into her feet. It’s Charlie. He looks up to her and wiggles his nose. Jessica, Becky and Megan run through the field from afar. She picks up the rabbit and holds him to her chest. She waits for the children to catch up, but the faster they run, the further away they go. Something is pulling her away. A hook is around her middle and it pulls her from the children. The rabbit jumps from her arms and hops away over the field until he is out of sight. The children cry but there’s nothing she can do for them. The hook is gone, and she halts. She closes her eyes as she falls again. Her mother catches her. She is four years old and her mother holds her in her arms, she swings her around in circles like an aeroplane. She lets go and Olivia flies through the air. She screams for her mum as she sees her growing smaller in the distance. Then she falls again, and jolts awake in the seat of the car. She sits up panting and holds her head in her hands. “What the fuck.” She exclaims. She turns around and Poppy sits in her car seat, staring. She is upright and her ears are to attention. It’s like she knows what is going on in Olivia’s head and she is just as confused. A light shines across her face and Olivia turns to see everyone else leaving the house with bags in hand. They open up the boot and chuck the cases in. Loui and Emily climb into the back and Nick jumps into the driver’s seat. They pull away from the lake house without another word.
Olivia doesn’t see the road the same way as when they drove in. She doesn’t care for it. It is no longer something to be experienced and an exciting journey, it is something that stands between her and her mother. The faster they get there the better. By the way Nick is flooring the accelerator, Olivia can’t help but feel like they all feel the same way. She shudders visibly. Her thoughts are in disarray and she can’t string a coherent one together. Her chest heaves and she tries to hide that she is hyperventilating by looking out the passenger side window. Darkness. Nothing but darkness. There is nothing pleasing to the eye. Nothing to see. That doesn’t help, she feels she is about to descend into chaos and her brain tugs and pulls at every bad thought she has ever had. A hand reaches out to her and takes her own. She jumps and turns. It is Nick’s hand she feels. It offers comfort. Her breathing slows, her heartbeat slows. It’s instant. Then she feels Emily tickling her hair through the gap between the headrest and the chair. She is not alone. She is surrounded by those she loves and by those who love her in return. It can’t feel safer than that. And that is exactly how she feels in this moment, even if the world ahead is crumbling down and the road leads to a burning hell, she is, at least for the time being, comforted.
“I don’t want to be alone.” She whispers. Nick’s grip tightens around her hand in a way to reassure her that she isn’t. Emily takes off her belt and leans round to kiss her on the cheek before leaning back and securing herself once again. Loui, though in an unusual place and in a foreign land, seems at home by Emily’s side. Olivia focuses her mind on that. The fact that Loui is here for Emily. Something Olivia knew was sure to happen, though she couldn’t have imagined it happening like this. Nick is a truly amazing human being and Olivia tries to hold on to the thought for later so that she can ask what the rest of his master plan might be. What happens from here. Did he bring Loui to England so that he and Emily could be together here, or so that they had a better chance at running away together to Italy? So many questions. Too many questions. Surely everything will look better in the light of day. Perhaps not. Time is a thing again. It’s an irritating thing. It’s another object in the way and Olivia wants nothing less than to shove it away, to push it beyond them. Why isn’t teleportation a thing. A thought has come to her. She pulls out her phone, now they are further out of the countryside and on the motorway her signal has returned. She unlocks it and searches her call history for Mum. She dials. The phone rings. Her heart beats faster. It’s ringing. Is that a good thing? It rings again and again and again and again and again and again. “Oh, for fuck sake!” She cries. Her mother’s phone goes through to voice mail. Nick, once again, puts his foot harder on the accelerator. Olivia thinks she sees a flash behind them and if it is a speed camera, Nick doesn’t care, he continues his aggressive assault down the motorway. They don’t stop this time; they just keep driving. Olivia can hear hushed conversation in the back. Emily is trying to explain the situation to Loui, who, not being great at English, seems to have only caught a bit of the conversation.
“No, she’s not dead, Loui.” Emily whispers.
“Oh. She iz not?” He confirms. “She iz, err, err living?”
“Alive. Just hurt.”
“Oh. Ow badlee?” He asks. Olivia sighs to let them know she can hear them.
“We don’t know.” Emily says. “Shh.” She brushes his fringe off his forehead and leans against him.
They sit in silence for the rest of the ride home. The longest hour and three quarters of Olivia’s life. Finally, a sign reads “Manchester.” Olivia’s chest releases some of its pressure. They’re not far now. She turns to Nick who has a permanent crease across his brow. He is just as concerned as she is. It’s written all over his face. She almost wishes that he looked more relaxed, if he was more relaxed then she might think everything is going to be alright. The thing is, none of them know what’s happening, nor what happened. That’s the most frustrating thing right now. The lack of information. Olivia comes close to ringing ahead to the hospital but if the worst happens, she doesn’t want to hear it over the phone, when she is miles away from anyone she can talk to properly. No. She doesn’t want to hear that over the phone. She doesn’t want to hear it at all.
They arrive. An ambulance speeds past them with blue flashing lights. The brightness of the hospital sets the car park alight. The letters A&E show, this is where they’ll have to go as they don’t know what ward, if any, her mother will have been sent to. A million hands try to claw through Olivia’s body and if she is going to throw up, now is the time to do it. She supresses it. Nick parks and grabs a ticket. He opens Olivia’s door and helps her out. Her knees do not work quite as they should, and she wobbles to the end of the car park. Loui offers to stay with Poppy. “I’m going to go in with her.” Emily tells him. He nods in understanding and Emily kisses him before she leaves. Olivia feels an invisible force pulling her away from the hospital, but she persists. Each foot feeling like it takes an hour, but in reality, they walk at a fast pace.
The automatic doors slide open for them, a young girl in a wheelchair is pushed out by a nurse and they head off to the carpark. In Olivia goes, with Nick and Emily at her side, to find out the fate of her Mother. To find out the fate of the only family she has left.