"Look at the ladybug Mummy."
The singsong voice of her daughter filled Laura’s ears as she stretched back onto the soft picnic blanket in the middle of the meadow they were spending the day in. She didn’t care about anything except the picture-perfect moment she was experiencing. The feeling of the gentle glow of the sun on her skin was like a reassuring embrace, letting her know she was safe.
Without lifting her eyelids, Laura replied. "It looks beautiful honey.”
The park was abnormally quiet that day, the only sounds were her husband’s faint breathing and the soothing noises of her daughter playing in the grass a few feet away. There was no blare of phones battering her ears as she sat, trapped, in her office, no rumble of the trains that usually thundered behind them and no buzz of the insufferable insects that ordinarily assaulted anyone who stepped outside their homes during summertime.
Opening her eyes, Laura glanced at the vast oak tree that stood proudly in the centre of the meadow. Around her, the tiny daisies that shared a name with her daughter filled almost every possible space of green and she let her mind wander to the times her mother had taken her to this very spot. Although she missed her mum almost every day, enough time had passed for her to be able to look back in joy rather than sorrow.
It was when she turned to look at her daughter that her contentment turned to confusion. A frown that was out of place on her daughter’s angelic features was all that alerted Laura to the fact that something was wrong.
“Daisy,” she called, lifting herself off her elbows and onto her knees. “What’s wrong?”
For a moment her daughter merely stood rooted to the spot, before she shivered. “Who’s the scary lady?”
Laura scanned the entire meadow quickly, cautious and slightly concerned, but noticed nothing was out of the ordinary. She smiled comfortingly. “There is no scary lady, honey, you must have imagined it.”
As if a switch had been flipped, her daughter’s face lit up with a sunny smile instantly. “You’re right mummy, I was imagining things.” Then she skipped off as if the last minute’s events had never transpired, her blonde pigtails swinging with the pink dress embroidered with silk roses that she wore floating behind her.
Laura hesitated, a little shaken, before making her way back over to the blanket slowly. When she lowered herself to the ground, her husband glanced up from the paperback he was now reading to give her a reassuring smile. “Everything’s fine,” he told her. She believed him.
Soon her head was falling back against her makeshift cardigan-pillow. Her eyelids dropped slightly whilst her breathing gradually evened to a steady pace. Her hands slipped from where they were clasped together on her stomach to rest loosely by her sides and any tension in her head lessened. She sighed, allowing her body to unwind.
Without warning, a shrill sound cut through her peaceful collection of thoughts. “Mummy!”
She was upright before she could process what she was doing, her motherly instincts taking over. Like beforehand, there was nothing she could detect that was out of place, but her daughter's face showed a frightfulness that sent Laura a jolt of panic.
"Make her go away!" her daughter cried, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes as her lip trembled. "Why is the scary lady back? She'll take me away, Mummy!"
A wave of ice washed over Laura and if she hadn't been consumed with concern for her daughter, she would have realised the sun had faded to a washed out glow and a harsh wind had started to chase fallen leaves around her in circles that stung the exposed skin on her face. Gone was the image of a picture-perfect day.
Then her daughter launched herself forwards, wrapping her arms around Laura’s waist tightly, burying her head in her mother’s stomach. Automatically, she wrapped her arms around her daughter protectively, unable to stop the shiver that travelled the length of her spine. What was happening?
“Where? What can you see, Daisy?”
Sniffing, her daughter peered up at Laura. “The scary lady is back and she’s staring at me. Will she hurt me?”
There was nothing there. No lady. No sounds. The silence, this time, was unnerving instead of peaceful. It rung in her ears like an alarm, as if warning her of the danger she was in. All too late, she turned to her husband for reassurance and found he was gone, along with the picnic blanket and their food. Whipping her head around, she tried to catch a glimpse of him leaving the clearing but he was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t dare move and kept her feet planted firmly to the ground.
“Everything’s going to be fine, honey, I promise,” Laura whispered, pulling the flimsy floral cardigan around her as a fiercer wind picked up, roaring thunderously like a raging sea. The sun vanished and blackness enveloped them both. A scream echoed around them and Laura wasn’t sure if it flew from her own mouth or her daughter’s, who was violently trembling. Then she saw her.
Standing an arm’s length away was the woman her daughter had desperately been trying to warn her about. Her hair was knotted and grimy, untameable and sticking up at all angles, as if it hadn’t been brushed in a long time. Hollow, unseeing eyes bulged from her eye sockets, dark circles outlining them, telling of many sleepless nights. Her lips were chapped and bloody, unsmiling and thin. She was dressed in a plain grey dress that looked uncomfortable and two-sizes too big. Bony arms and stick-thin legs poked out of the dress, giving the impression of sickness and fragility.
With a wail, the ghostly woman lunged towards them, fists raised. Instead of the blow she was expecting, the sound of shattering glass assaulted her ears and pain shot up her arms, then she saw nothing.
When she opened her eyes, she saw red. Blood dripped down in tiny droplets from her still-clenched fists and into the tiny porcelain sink she stood in front of. Fragments of the broken mirror flashed up at her and she peered into them. Looking back at her were the hollow eyes of the woman who had tried to attack her. The same sickness. The same madness.
“Laura, I have your pills,” a gentle voice called from behind her.
She snatched a piece of the mirror from the sink and spun around, waving it at the woman who had approached her. Curls wound tightly around the woman’s head, greying in patches but there wasn’t as strand out of place. Around her neck a gold wedding band, dulled with age, dangled on a polished chain. The eyes that stared widely at her held a tiredness that could be seen through the cherry-red glasses that sat on her rounded nose. Her hands were work-hardened and wrinkled, each finger painted with a crimson nail-polish that was chipped and neglected. Everything about her contrasted with the immaculate state of the blue dress she wore that looked like some kind of uniform. She gasped. “Oh my Lord! Laura, put the glass down, you’re hurt. Let me help you.”
“Where’s Daisy?” she shouted in reply.
“You don’t remember the accident?” the woman asked sadly, taking the shard from Laura’s hands gently.
“What accident? Who are you?”
The woman shook her head, her ringlets bouncing from side to side, “I’m Linda. I’ve been your nurse since the fire.”
Laura frowned, “I don’t remember a fire.”
“I’m sorry, this happens every so often,” she told her, guiding Laura to the bed she hadn’t noticed was sitting in the corner of the room. “You have memory-loss problems quite often.”
She shook her head violently, “But the meadow–”“Your daughter and husband didn’t make it. I’m so sorry. It was just a hallucination.”