SKYE

SKYE

Skye doesn’t live an ordinary life, and she has always known it. Her mother lost her mind shortly after giving birth to her, and her father, absent most of the time, refuses to talk about that day. She is raised by an aunt she judges unstable and full of unloveable quirks. She finds refuge only in her writing, but writing has slowly turned to drawing monsters and symbols she doesn’t understand.

Slowly she realises she is being followed, and though she senses the danger, she doesn’t understand. What she has created unknowingly is not a gift. It’s a threat to her soul.

Prologue

We’ve always known. No matter how little we remembered from our past, we knew we didn’t belong here. Memories start to form, out of dreams, out of life, out of a feeling you have.
We still recall the day she came to meet us at the orphanage. Her smile was bright, genuine, she loved us already and we knew she didn’t ask for anything in return.

The man was different, reluctant. He grinned slightly but his behaviour betrayed an anxiety, doubts about having children, or perhaps of having us – two quiet dark-haired boys, perfectly identical.
He scoffed as he heard my name, “Ariel?” he said, jokingly, “like the mermaid?”
”Like the Angel,” I replied. He stared, unsure of what to say, plunging us all in an uncomfortable silence. Michael and I exchanged an understanding gaze. This one wouldn’t do.

We made sure he didn’t stay long in our lives. We healed the pain in her mind though some scars remained in her heart. Hearts are too hard to work on. They’re unpredictable, wild and easily weary. So we left a little ache, the only pieces we couldn’t remove, and we made her move out, convinced her without words that our lives would be better elsewhere. She moved us to Hollowell, a small city south of her hometown. It wasn’t far enough for her to feel insecure, yet away enough from her family.
Some come to visit us still, her mother mainly, but she is more interested in us than she is in her daughter. She senses there’s something wrong, but she doesn’t know what. She’s like a bear, instinctively trying to protect her cub. Maybe one day she’ll let go. We have nothing against her, so for now we let her stay.

She comes at least twice a month, a few days here and there. A foolish idea crept into her head once, she wanted to move in here, that way she would keep an eye on us permanently. We killed this burgeon of thoughts instantly, both of us alert at the same time, both of us scurrying her mind within seconds. We might have been overzealous. She felt lightheaded, then suffered migraines for six months, as much time she couldn’t come see us. It wasn’t our plan to wound her so, sometimes fright gets the better of us.
Our mother doesn’t like Hollowell. She is forlorn quite often. She doesn’t remember the streets most of the time. We have to work on her constantly. If she raises doubts about how fit she is to raise us, we might be taken away. We’re still too young in the eye of this planet’s law, sixteen and three quarters, though I’m told that’s not how it’s counted.
She will get used to living here. We’ll make sure of that. We have much work to do and what we need is in Hollowell. We need Skye.

1

 Water Monster

I don’t believe this…nineteen messages in the span of an hour. How desperate…and how stupid does he think I am?
I put my phone down and try to concentrate on the empty page on my computer. It’s been harder to write lately, and this thing didn’t help. Whenever I try to, as much as my heart is willing my mind doesn’t follow. I stay there, creepily still, with my fingers poised on the keyboard. I don’t even remember the story I wanted to write. Maybe I should write down details of this hellish day instead.
My phone buzzes again. It’s him, of course. I see the start on his message on the front screen: Pleaz 4giv me, i was n ass

I’m not sure what surprises me more, his writing skills or the fact that he was able to write ‘ass’ properly. I wonder what possessed me to ever date that one. I told Hannah not to mingle, but it was too tempting for her. I don’t care if she wants to start her own dating agency, I just wish she would leave me out of her experiments.
Ha. Speak of the devil. It’s her, calling me. I’m guessing she’s heard.
” Oh my God, Skye I’m so sorry!” She blurts out before I can even say ‘Hi’.

“What did I tell you! I knew it. I should always listen to my gut!” I reply, still a little angered. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“You did…” She admits, though there’s something she wants to say.

“What?”

“Well…maybe he went elsewhere for a reason…” She ventures and my blood curls instantly.

“I’m not talking about sleeping arrangements,” she says quickly before I speak, “I mean…I’m talking about you. You didn’t even give him a chance…you know.”

“I was with him for four months, if that’s not giving him a chance then what is?”

“I don’t mean that, Skye. You were with him but not with him at the same time, you know what I mean?”

“Absolutely not…”

“You didn’t care for him…”

“That’s not true! And even if it was, it’s not an excuse!”

“Okay okay… He shouldn’t have cheated…”

“No, he should have broken up with me first!”

“Guys don’t know how to do that…cheating is their way of ending things. They don’t know how to break up any other way.”

“Well…if that’s true, it sucks.”

“It does,” she paused for a moment and I hear her grandmother’s sheepish cry as she watches reruns of Wheel of Fortune. Hannah sighs. She doesn’t like living with her grandmother very much, but since none of her parents managed to make up their minds during the custody battle, they both took time away and were now travelling the world, each on their own, none of them with her.

“How did you find out?” I ask her. I can hear her smile through the phone. Not in a mocking way, at least I hope so, but rather because this all thing is so silly.

“Like most of the school I guess, Leah posted a picture of them on her Facebook page, isn’t it how you found out?”
It was. Only she’s not my friend in life or on Facebook, but several of my “friends” connected to her liked the photo, and so it was right there, waiting for me as I looked at my phone.
”She’s nasty” Hannah says to me as I keep silent. “Or dumb.”

“Or she just got tired of waiting for him to break up with me…”

“That too…” She conceded. “So what are you writing about tonight?”

“Nothing”, I sigh, “I can’t concentrate…”

“Hey, you know what they say? Heartbreak is the best source of inspiration!”
I smile a little.

“As if…”

“It’s true, I swear!”

“Well, I let you know tomorrow…”

“Sure…night Skye” I’ve almost pressed the red button when I hear her voice faintly. “And Skye,” she says hurriedly. “Sorry I pushed you two together.”

“I liked him… It’s not your fault.”

“Bye,” her voice is sad.
”Bye Hannah,” I try to sound a little cheery but I fail. It doesn’t matter. I’m too tired and sore to pretend everything is okay.

The keyboard is no use tonight. I close down my laptop and take a notepad instead. I brush a pencil through bits of blank space on a page already filled with drawings. I linger near the water monster, I like it. I’ve never drawn anything like this before. Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes it seems a secret door opens to a world of magic, with flesh and bones and voices so loud… And I’m the only one to hear, they call out to me to be alive, leak through my fingers. I smile, watching the monster’s gleaming eyes. I coloured them grey, to bring out the silvery blue of its scales.

Sometimes my mind wanders so, I forget the motions of my hands. It happened again. A symbol. It looks like broken wings, a long V with its rising lines hatched and dropping to the sides. It’s enclosed in a circle, with flames burning on the ring. I have a strange feeling. An uneasiness. I love how stories come to me, as if falling from the sky, choosing my mind. I’m not comfortable with those symbols though. They get stranger every time. And every time, it’s the same odd feeling. Guilt. It’s as though I’m doing something forbidden, but I don’t know what.

Two drops of water land on my drawing. This damn leak again. I close shut my notepad and storm to the hallway. “Hilda!” I can hear her ‘oming’ to her meditation songs and it rattles on my nerves. “Hilda! Did you call the guy for that bloody leak?”

The music stops and there’s silence, then tiptoeing in the living room before she appears at the bottom of the stairs. “Why all this yelling?” she says, her brown eyes so round and big it makes her look like a creepy doll.

“It’s leaking again! It’s all over my work!”

“Okay,” she says calmly, raising her hands as if surrendering to me. “I’ll call them back.”

The tension diffuses and I’m about to close my bedroom door when I turn around. “What do you mean ‘back’?”

“They came this morning…” she steps lightly to the window by the entrance door. “Are you sure it’s leaking?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” I sigh. My aunt still thinks of me as some sort of poor defenceless child and it sickens me.

“Um…” she moves away from the curtains, and takes some papers on a chest of drawers. “I’ll call them now and let them know something’s wrong. Maybe a pipe or something.”

“Ugh,” I slam the door and shake my head. A pipe in the roof? It’s just leaking because of the rain, as it has done for the past six months. I sit by my window and try to concentrate on the rainfall to soothe myself. My mind blanks a little. I hurriedly open the window and glide my fingers on the sill. It’s dry. There’s not a single drop out there.

Going back to my desk I stare in wonder. There’s water on my notepad, a real puddle soaking all my things, but as I look up, there’s nothing.

No sign of a leak, no drops, nothing.

The timber groans, as though caving under some heavy weight. I step back a little. It continues to do so for about two seconds and then it stops. Hilda knocks at my door. “They’re coming back tomorrow, okay?”

“O…Okay,”

“Is everything all right?”

I’m not sure. But how can you explain that, when you don’t know what’s wrong?

2

The Brothers

I close the door to my locker and start. Ian is standing right there, his cheeks flushed and his big curly blond hair rising like sun rays. He looks odd today, unshaven and hair undone, not like him at all.

“Please let’s talk!” He says almost yelling. A few people around us raise an eyebrow.

“I have nothing to say to you,” I reply, my voice low and annoyed. I start walking towards English class and pray he doesn’t follow me but I hear him at my heels.

“I don’t understand what happened! It’s not like me to do something like that you know that!”

I sigh. “Ian, let it go. Who cares anymore…”

“I do!” He says and grabs my arm to spin me around. “I never would have hurt you, it’s not me!”

“Then who did?” I ask forcefully, annoyance has turned to sheer anger. He’s right…he is an “ass”.

He rubs his hair and his face, then inhales deeply. “My head is all blurry…I don’t… understand. I don’t recall what happened.”

I think this ought to be the biggest, saddest cheating lie on the planet. “People say you’ve been dating for three weeks!”
Strangely, he seems surprised. He frowns and gazes at the void, as if trying to remember or understand what he has just heard.
”What is wrong with you?” If I had been patient up to that point, I feel particularly angry now. “If you don’t have the guts to break up with me, at least own up the truth when it’s spat to your face!”

“Skye,” he murmurs as I’m about to enter our classroom. “I never would have done that…you know me. I’ve been crazy about you since pre-school.”

As he speaks, I remember why and how things happened. He used to be the sweetest boy, walking me home and holding my backpack. I never understood. I was too obsessed with books and stories on my mind. I talked to him a lot. I remember he listened. Until a time we grew older and apart. I didn’t know he felt that way before. We went out as an experiment. At least I did. Suddenly it seems it was different for him.
”If it wasn’t you,” I say, “then who was it?”

He swallows hard and stays silent. My eyes sting and I rush inside. I don’t want to cry. Not for a boy, not for anyone. I sit near the window and Hannah comes sit next to me.

” I saw you in the hallway,” she whispers. “Are you okay?”
I wasn’t, but I couldn’t say so. I’ve watched my aunt having her heart broken by guys times and times again, she would sob in front of the window as if hoping they would come back. She was pathetic. Boys are never going to get the better of me. I promised myself that many years ago, and today, it’s even more so.
I nod and smile, something fake, she knows it, I know it, it doesn’t matter. She is about to speak when something catches our attention and sends us a chill.

The Brothers are here.

We don’t see them very often. They’re like the Sasquatch; some say they exist but we see them so randomly it’s hard to believe they’re not just a figment of our imagination. I don’t know how it’s possible they are still here. Dixie, the little shy brunette nobody talks to, missed school one week because she went on a world trip with her family, and they returned late, the headmaster not only told her parents off, but also alerted local news to make an example of her, and she was expelled for three weeks. I’m not sure I understand the logic behind this, but he certainly seemed proud of himself afterwards.

So how is it possible those two creeps can come and go as they wish?
We don’t want to stare at them and yet it’s impossible for us to look away. We often call them the Halloweenies, they scare us as much as they make us laugh. Although we would never laugh right to their faces.

I think the one I like the least is Ariel. He has a piercing gaze, when his dark eyes plunge into mine I feel ill. It’s like I’m some meat he’s preying on. And when he speaks his voice has something peculiar…it’s grating on my ears. Hannah says I’m crazy, that his voice is normal just full of condescension. That too. But I know what I hear. He speaks like a dead radio channel.

People aren’t able to tell them apart. In truth they do look the same. But Michael almost never talks. He lets Ariel speak for them both. For long I thought he was mute, until once I lost my notepad and he picked it up, calling me out with a voice as low as distant thunder. He barely looked at me and left, under the watchful gaze of his brother not three feet away. I put that notepad in the bin as soon as I left school. I don’t know why but I didn’t want anything with his essence on it. Some of my aunt’s quirks have seeped through, I’m afraid. She believes people leave essences to things and places, and when they’re bad people these entities stay with you and can deter you from your path. I don’t know where she gets all this from, but a part of me believed it that day.

They sit at the back of the room, and as usual they stare in silence. They both wear black trousers with the school’s black jackets, and a white shirt. Their dark locks hang neatly beneath their ears, and are spread around their faces with light curls. Ariel looks straight into my eyes. I wince and gaze out the window. I see the yard and recall when we were children and they would stand still like craws underneath the big chestnut tree. Every recess they remained there, idle, observing us. Sometimes it felt as though they were watching me. But Hannah said I was egocentric. A word I didn’t know then and can’t take out of my mind now, because I know he is. Ariel is staring at me.

Mr Bristow arrives late, as usual, and engages in a rant about how our last essays were ‘pitiful’, ‘scary’ and ‘reaching new standards of mediocrity.’ Once he is done with the pep talk, he sighs and give us back our papers, shouting our grades to humiliate us further. The only grade he doesn’t say out loud is mine. And I should hope so as I got a 73%.

Ariel and Michael having missed most of the term have no papers to look forward to, so they wait and watch as Bristow goes back to his desk.

“This can’t go on any longer,” he says gravely. “I think to understand a book you need to comprehend the process of it. Pride and Prejudice might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly isn’t – and I quote – ‘the premise to the Real Housewives of Atlanta.'” He pushes his glasses away, as we all giggle quietly, “whatever that means,” he mumbles.

“So,” he continues, straightening back up. “Since you make a mockery of classical writing, I gather you need to have a taste of your own medicine.” He stands and goes around his desk with a list as we hold our breath. “In the next two weeks, you are all going to be writers. Classical writing bores you …then we’ll see if you fare better. The stories will be given out to the school, and will hang in the hallways where everyone will be able to grade them and put a comment.” He waits as the news sinks in. “Strangely you’re not laughing anymore…”

He sneers and clears his throat. “But don’t worry, I’m not that much of a monster. You will be partnering with someone else to write the story. And since there are twenty-one of you, Jason will be able to tell me more about these housewives he seems to like, as he will be partnering with me.”

We all chuckle and look at Jason’s face, both livid and annoyed, probably regretting his joke more than he thought he would.

Mr Bristow starts reading out names, and Hannah crosses her fingers while holding my hand. When it’s her turn, I can hear her stop breathing. “…with,” he pauses and looks at the room. “Dixie.”

Hannah sighs and rolls her eyes. “Oh F…ferret,” she says to my surprise.

“Ferret?” I ask, half-sniggering.

She nods and comes closer. “My grandmother chases me around the house with a broom if I curse…force of habit.”

“She chases you?” I’m both doubtful and amused. “She’s like ninety years old!”

“She was an Olympic sprinter! She won gold three times…trust me, she can run.”

I giggle some more until I hear my name. “Skye, with…Ella,” Mr Bristow says to my relief. I’ve known Ella a while now, though we don’t talk much. She’s all right. It should be fun. “Oh, no that’s not right…not the right line. Skye with Ariel.”

The Brothers stare at me and the atmosphere grows thick, thick with dread on my behalf, and uncomfortable silence.

 

 3

A Girl Named Skye

I’m sucked in. I can feel my arms, I faintly recall my legs but all I know is I’m moving frantically, trying to breathe underwater. I need to wake up but I can’t. I see myself on the other side of the ripples, sleeping and unaware. I want to yell but my body is disconnected, only my mind is truly alive.

“We’re losing her!” A voice shouts from behind me. I feel myself turning around as though water filled my limbs and moved me. It’s no longer me I see, it’s a woman with hair all brown and fuzzy, she is unconscious and has a tube coming out of her mouth. Seven people are around her, all in blue uniforms. I suddenly understand they are doctors…and the room is cold, it filters through my unresponsive bones.

“Mum?” I think, and this urge rises in me to run to her and keep her safe. But she doesn’t look like the woman I know. Her hair is not grey, her skin is smooth though paler than normal, and she has a round face. I hear the surgeon struggling, “there’s too much liquid,” he says grunting and still fighting against something I can’t see.

It all came too quickly and something squeezed my chest and heart. But I saw them though I sense I wasn’t supposed to. Five shadows surround my mother and they remain there, quiet and still. I think of death…but my mother is alive. Unless…suddenly there’s a big crack in the distance, like thunder. I move around again, and it feels like running against current. Beyond the ripples, the image of me sleeping is now bending behind strokes of lightning. I return to my mother and one of the shadows stares at me. I can’t explain how but I know it sees me. And the voice comes quickly to me. “She can’t live,” it says. I know this tone, this irritating sound…it’s like a voice that isn’t one. Like a toy with dying batteries…I recoil within myself and feel more desperate than ever to wake up. At that moment I hear a cry, a baby. The surgeon brings it out and hands it to a nurse. “It’s a girl,” she says out loud.

“A girl named Skye,” the shadow adds and my heart races.

At that moment a winged beast sprawls out of the shadows and swallows me. I wake up at 8.15, too late for class I think, but I can’t move.

I’m shivering and my eyes are unblinking. It takes a while before I remember who I am and where I am, and steadily I feel my fingers and feet. My body returns to me.

I lift my head up but slump back down in my pillow , I’m so sore I could swear I just ended three hours of working out. I still can’t move, so I stare at the ceiling. For a while not a thought comes through my mind, until hunger makes me want to try again. I straighten up and unfold, leaning on one elbow. This effort alone makes me want to go back to sleep.

“What the heck was that?” I mutter, thinking about the nightmare. I sigh and see my phone lightening up.

Several messages from Hannah, some from Ian, one from my aunt…and one from a number I don’t know. I can’t pretend it’s a mistake, the message starts with my name. I don’t like unknown numbers, I feel on the edge whenever I see one I hadn’t expected.

Skye, we need to talk about that story. I can come by and we can start working today. 

Ariel

I let go of my phone when I see his name. How did he get my number? I call Hannah right away.

“Hey sweetie, what’s going on?”

“Are you in class?” I whisper, God knows why.

“Uh… No, it’s Saturday,” she replies with a giggle.

“Is It? I feel like…never mind,” my chest tightens as I try to gather my mind and think straight. “Ariel texted me,” I say, holding my head as though I’m about to throw up.

“Why?” I can hear the disgust in her tone. “And how? How did he get your number?”

“I don’t know…” I moan and hear the doorbell. In a desperate effort I stand up and wobble to the window. I can’t see who is at the door but air is sucked out of me when I see who is leaning on my aunt’s car. It’s Michael… Which can only mean one thing – and surely enough I hear Ariel’s voice downstairs talking to my stupid aunt. How could she let him in?

“They’re here,” I whisper to Hannah, frightened as though my life was at stake here.

“Who?” I hear her voice but faintly. All my attention goes to Michael. He stares at me now, through the blind. Aren’t these supposed to conceal what’s inside? Perhaps he sees my shadow…either way, his stare is long and unyielding; his face is emotionless, yet it has me in a fit.

” What do I do?” I ask her desperately.

“Who is there Skye?”

Before I can answer, Ariel enters my bedroom. Slowly, naturally, and he closes the door behind him.

An impulse I can’t control makes me hang up the phone, but the moment it’s done I know I’ve made a mistake.

I swallow hard and don’t know what to say. No boy has ever been in my bedroom, and I certainly didn’t want him to be the first. I make a step back and become suddenly aware that I’m wearing an idiotic pyjama. It’s sandy-coloured and has kangaroos jumping up and down all over it. It was a joke from Hannah for my birthday, I told her I threw it out, but truth is it’s actually comfy. Now my secret is blown. At least I’m only wearing the bottom half, with a tank top…a transparent tank top. I grab a pillow and hold it in front of my chest.

“What are you doing here?” I’m so angry, my mind clear at last.

“I’ve come for our homework…” He says, his voice low and grating on my skin. The hair on my arms rises all at once and I feel queasy.

“You know what?” I suddenly have a brilliant idea. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll work on it and put both our names, all right?” I feel like I’m pleading with a crazy man robbing a bank and I’m the clueless employee.

“No,” he simply says.

Clueless indeed. I’m lost for words and can’t see a way out of this.

“Why?”

“I want to do this.”

I stare, still scared and uncomfortable. I eye quickly above my shoulders and see Michael isn’t outside anymore.

“Where’s your brother gone?” I ask, praying hard he has not also found a way into this house.

“I don’t know.”

I glare at him. “It’s Saturday. You can’t just barge into my bedroom and expect me to work on this at your demand. I don’t want to.”

He doesn’t say a word but a small frown appears on his ice-cold face.

“You’re telling me no?”

I’m both surprised and appalled by his lack of manners.

“Get the heck out of my house, now!”

I don’t know if my eyes are deceiving me, but I could have sworn I saw a smirk, growing gently at the corner of his lips.

He opens the door and leaves. “See you Monday.” This doesn’t sound like a friendly remark, more like a threat. And with that he is gone. I sigh and sink to the floor, my hands shaking.

My phone rings and it’s Hannah. I see she has tried to call me back three times already but it seems like time stood still for as long as he was here. I didn’t hear anything else but his metallic voice and the sound of my heart thumping.

I don’t take the call. I put my phone away and grab the notepad on my nightstand. Whenever I’m stressed or angry or sad, the urge to draw or write is bigger. I don’t feel like writing anything in particular, strangely my mind is blank, and yet my fingers move up and down. I am a witness to my own hand, and watch, puzzled, the drawing unveiling itself before my eyes. It’s a man in a cave, shackles on his wrists and ankles. He stares at the void, at the black emptiness around him. His gaze is sad, the saddest I’ve ever seen. I have a strong feeling of something or someone familiar…but none of this makes sense to me. I see something I wasn’t expecting. Behind him, just above his shoulder, there’s a lump. It’s curved at the top and feathers are falling from the wound. It’s all about him now, white feathers everywhere, strewn on the ground like dead leaves in autumn.

I stand back a little. I never feel pride in what I write or draw. I don’t see the point. But here, there’s something special. I’m elated and particularly happy with the result. Until I see it. In the bottom right corner, in the midst of the cave’s shadows and the white of my page, is something I didn’t write. It’s where I usually sign my drawings, but this isn’t my handwriting.

There’s only one word.

Don’t.

4

Isle of Angels

I need to see her. I don’t even know if she’ll recognise me but I have to try. I take a shower in a hurry, my mind filled with blurry and confusing images. One moment I see my mother agonising on an operative table, the next I see Ariel’s eerie face in my bedroom. The simple thought of it makes me want to puke and recoil under a rock until I forget everything about this world.

I get dressed in a dash and storm out. I don’t care about my aunt’s desperate cry to talk to me and stop me in my tracks for whatever ‘boyfriend-du-jour’ she wants to rant about.

I take a bus to a part of town I don’t really know. Old and leafy trees line the streets and roads, and on a sunny day like this, light sways under the shadows of a branch, covering the pavements with dark, fidgety embroideries.

I stop at St Joseph’s Church and continue on foot, walking fast as I tread near the graveyard. After about half a mile I reach a big sandy coloured fence, above which the top of high bushes emerges, well-kept for most of them. I remember the yard now, quiet and cool, the wind seems to get trapped here beneath and within the trees. Whatever the weather outside, this place is always in the shades.

I buzz in and wait for the gates to open. They don’t screech as badly as the last time I was here. Mind you, it’s been so long, they ought to have done something about it.

I reach reception and feel queasy. The smell. I forgot about the smell. It’s both chemicals and dirt, as if the windows were forever shut and people here smoke their lungs off, trying to cover the smell with some cheap detergent. I swallow and once I have the woman’s attention I move closer.

“I’m here to see a patient,” I say, my voice echoing in the hallway by my side.

The woman sneers. “I assumed you weren’t here to check yourself in…” Her tone is nonchalant, and she doesn’t even look at me. Her eyes are staring some ledger in front of her.

I purse my lips and breathe in. Hannah says I have a bad temper. So I will let that one go. I stand and I wait.

After a moment she looks at me above her big goggles and sighs: “Name?”

I wait a bit more. “Oh, I assumed you could read my mind.”

We lock eyes in a bitter staring contest, which I’m unfortunately doomed to lose if I want to see my mother.

I exhale and look away. “Alicia Thorne.”

“I don’t have that here,” she says to me after glancing rapidly at her computer.

Of course. My parents’ divorce became final after the last time I came here. “Alicia Maccailin”

She raises an eyebrow. Exasperated, I start spelling it out: ” M-A-C-C-A-I-L-I-N.”

“And your name?”

“Skye Thorne.”

She types in my name and I hear her printer setting off, a nametag slowly gets out. “Wear this at all times, please. Visits end in one hour. She’s on the third floor, room 36.” She says, waving at the big stairway to my left. I look at the nametag and see my mother’s name, as well as mine, and her room number. It feels surreal to see both our names so close, when we are worlds apart and have always been.

I stare a little while longer and climb up the stairs. It’s a curved staircase with a wooden banister, and big oval windows. They are slightly tainted so the sunrays, yet forceful and bright outside, arrive here half-alive. Still, it’s nicely lit enough to soften the sadness of this place.

I reach the third floor and walk slowly to number 36. The door is closed. I remain idle in front of it. I look to my right and see a door opened with bright lights coming out of a window, there’s a chair blocking the door from closing, and I hear someone laughing inside. At first my lips part, it’s a rather infectious laugh, but then, as the laughter continues sharper, stronger than before, and no one else seems to join in, I remember where I am.

The clicking of a walking aid stomps closer, and around the corner an old woman appears, muttering to herself. I move a step forward, as though this door in front of me could protect me. The old woman is dishevelled and grey, not just her hair but her clothes as well as her skin, so thin that her veins transpire vividly.

When she is only a few feet away from me she gazes darkly, her eyes filled with some kind of hatred I don’t understand. “Stupid girl,” she spits. “Idiots do idiotic things for love…idiots.”

She says as she walks by.

 “I’m not in love so…” I find myself saying back to her.

“Idiot,” she retorts, over her shoulder.

I shake my head and shiver, knocking hard on the door now. But no one answers. I lean in, ear on the wood, but still nothing. I knock again and stand still. Nobody opens but I start hearing something. It’s like a humming of some sort. I think it’s her. It’s our song. ‘T’Aint What You Do,’ sang by Cleo Laine. She used to sing it to me every time I had had a bad day, a long time ago now. Before it all fell to pieces. Before she was sent away.

I step inside and see her by a barred window, humming joyfully, her green eyes gleaming under the sun. She is sitting in a purple chair and wears a big, brown bathrobe. Her hair is tied at the back. Brown locks embedded with grey ones. Her hair has gotten so long. I barely recognise her.

She turns her face to me and it lights up. “Skye!” She exclaims to my relief. I come to her and hold her hands before sitting down in a chair opposite her. I can’t kiss her. The whole room smells of something odd. I’m ashamed to think that way about my own mother. But I can’t help myself.

“How are you?” I ask her gently.

She raises an ear and shakes her head. “Sorry, I didn’t hear.” Suddenly her voice is so loud. “My neighbours,” she says, “they’re having a party.”

I manage a smile, though my heart aches. There are no parties, no sound other than in her head. As for her neighbours, I gather they are trapped inside their own minds too.

“Mum,” I start, deciding to ignore what she had just said. ” I wanted to talk to you about my birth.”

“Your name?” She asks, grinning with pride. “Your name comes from this beautiful isle off the coast of Scotland…  I hated going there when I was a child, but my mother still had her own mother living there. I spent many summers, grunting and pestering against the rocks until…until I found love. I fell in love on Skye. I love to say that,” she smiles, and I don’t have the heart to interrupt her. Though I have heard this story many times. “It was just a nice boy,” she sighs and stays silent. “My grandma said it was the isle of fae….I didn’t believe her of course.” She pauses and looks at me gravely, “it’s the isle of Angels,” she adds whispering.

“Angels?” I’ve never heard her say that before.

Something strange moves across her face, like a shadow, and she falls silent, staring at the window again. “It’s a nice day…” She mutters: “Look at those waves…”

I close my eyes. At times it seems she is there and all of a sudden I lose her again.

“Mum,” I insist, taking her hand in my palm. “Tell me about the day I was born…”

She frowns and then shakes her head. “I misunderstood…”

“What do you mean?”

“What they said…I misunderstood…the…the shadows…”

I freeze, and my heart races: “The shadows…Mum?”

“You know…you were there.”

“I was a baby…I don’t remember…”

“They said –” she starts and takes back her hand, her fingers playing with her lips now. “They said something. I misunderstood.”

“What did you – ” I sigh and try my best not to show how desperate and heartbroken I am.

“What did you misunderstand?”

“They,” she shakes her head and starts giggling. “Sorry for the noise…it’s my neighbours, they’re having a party.” She laughs to herself and gazes out the window again. I think I lost her for good now. She won’t say anything else; nothing that can make sense anyway.

I want to leave, badly, but I stay and I watch her. She rambles a little, talks about nieces she doesn’t have but is certain she does, she talks about some things I don’t understand about balls of light crashing against the windows one day. And then she falls silent and still. I stay a while longer. I stay until the sun starts to set and I remember visits were supposed to be over a long time ago. A nurse comes in to bring her diner and is surprised to see me.

“Visits are over, Miss.” She doesn’t sound bitter or annoyed, her tone is soft and gentle, all I needed after a day like this.

I go home and sit on the stairs. I don’t want to face my aunt. I’m still mad at her for letting this creep in.

I have tears in my eyes at the thought of my mother. I try to remember her with her mind clear and bright, but I can’t. Though she didn’t need a care home right away, she was never fully there with us. My dad let slipped once that she hadn’t been the same since my birth. That he had lost the woman he loved for a daughter he never wished for. It doesn’t hurt as bad as it did before. I look at the stars and hope that if I close my eyes all will be all right the moment I open them again. But when I do, it’s not a vision of bliss that awaits me, but a true nightmare.

“Aren’t you going in?” He says from the shadows of my neighbour’s tree.

“Michael?” I stand up and feel the hair on my body rise. I could hiss like a cat if I knew how.

He smiles. “He told me you could tell us apart…I didn’t believe him.”

I cross my arms in front of me and stare with cold dark eyes, hoping it will be enough to make him go away. “I know we make you feel uncomfortable…but you have nothing to fear.”

I rub my left arm and nod, puzzled by what must be the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had.

“Ariel was out of line this morning…it won’t happen again.”

I nod once more, and feel like a muted idiot.

“Have a nice evening.”

And with that he is gone. And I watch him walking away. I stare and I stare, rewinding this short conversation in my mind. Until it hits me. His voice didn’t sound like a screech of steel against steel. It wasn’t painful to hear. Actually, it was rather nice.

5

Havoc

I try my best to avoid Ariel after math, physics and during gym class, but I can’t stop glancing at Michael. He doesn’t look once at me, though his brother stares from time to time.

Time for English and I brace myself. I duck, and slip into the cracks, engulfed by the tide of classmates rendering me invisible. I go to my usual table and gawk at the entrance door. Where the heck is Hannah? I pray she arrives before he does, as I’m sure he will seize any opportunity to annoy me. Unfortunately for me, The Brothers step in first, and I see Hannah’s dark hair with a blond streak, in between their shoulders. I sigh and when I can I gesture at her frantically so she can get a move on and sit next to me.

But she is either a simpleton today or blind I don’t know, for she just smiles at me and waves. How can she not see them? They’re right in front of her! By the time she realises that, Ariel’s big shadow looms above me and I see his momentum. He is going to sit right next to me. My stomach churns and I start thinking of ways to get out if English class.

To my surprise, in a blink of an eye, Michael sits down first, sending a glare to his brother. They eye each other in silence, both frowning and annoyed but I’m guessing for different reasons. Defeated, Ariel sits at the back. Hannah, seeing this, becomes livid and sits at the front. Never in my life did I think I would ever see the day. She always said people choosing the front chairs ought to be examined. I can’t help but laugh at the irony. Her eyes go round, as she sees who’s by my side and I shake my head, “it’s okay,” I mouth.

My heart is still beating fast, and at first I think it’s because of the fright of having Ariel sitting down with me. But as I stare at Michael’s hand on the desk, from the corner of my eye, and my heartbeat quickens, there’s only one word forming in my foggy mind. Ferret…

I can’t fall for one of The Brothers, it would be the end of me. I might as well show up in class in my pyjamas and sing a West End song…What in the world? I can’t believe it…My mind is blank. I see Mr Bristow’s lips move but I can’t hear him. It’s like the part of my body facing Michael has caught fire, it’s burning to get closer. I open my mouth and breathe in discreetly. At that moment he looks at me.

“Are you all right?” He whispers. I still can’t speak to him, so I nod and look away before I flush. He smiles a little. “You don’t talk much, do you?”

I smile right back and shake my head. What a moron I am… That’s not going to help things.

“Would you like to work with me instead of Ariel?”

I stare, puzzled and ashamed as I feel my cheeks burning red. “Bristow won’t know the difference,” he adds, cheekily. Who knew he could be cheeky?

I look past him and Ariel has those big eyes of his planted in me as always, making me feel ill. “Won’t your brother mind?” I ask Michael, suddenly sobering up from whatever it is that made my heart weak.

Michael looks over his shoulder and turns back to me. “I’ll deal with him.”

“Ariel!” Mr Bristow shouts from his desk. “Are you listening at all?” He asks Michael. I repress a smile as Michael gives me an ‘I told you so look’.

Yes. I’m the only one able to tell them apart.

After class, the day is over and everyone flees. I stall. And I think he is too. Hannah is waiting for me but I try, desperately, to make her understand she needs to go. She frowns and stands her ground, crossing her arms. I sigh.

Michael and Ariel exchange a look and he goes, leaving his brother behind.

“Coffee?” Michael asks me, his voice low.

“Yes…” I see Hannah has overheard and she sends me her ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ glare. “For the…for the story of course.”

Michael pauses at that. “Of course.” He makes it sound like I misunderstood his intentions and it was all about work for him, now it sounds like it wasn’t the case for me. I need to stop being such an idiot but it seems there is no off switch on this thing.

When Michael turns his back to me I wave Hannah away and gesture to let her know I will call her later. She hesitates but eventually leaves, and Michael and I go away together. By the time we leave school, most people are gone but the few who see us side by side frown. I don’t really care, I can explain. I’m writing a story with him. It’s not for pleasure than I hang out with him, it’s purely business. As if.

I walk behind him to cross the fence, and when his large back comes into my line of vision, I shiver and start smiling to myself. That is, until I come face to face with Ian. His eyes are dark and he wears some invisible cape of defiance and anger I have never seen him with before.

He looks two fingers away from thumping Michael.

“Can I talk to you?” Ian grabs my arm before I can ever reply.

In a sudden move, Michael pulls his arm against Ian’s chest and stops him abruptly. “I don’t think she has anything to say to you.” Michael’s voice is soft, yet firm. Ian wants to rebuke but looks at me, defeated.

“Mind your own business.” Ian shouts at him.

“I need to go Ian. We’ll talk some other time.”

I walk away in a hurry. I don’t want to see his face nor be present if the two of them break into a fight. After a little while, I hear someone behind me, the gait is poised and assured. I gaze rapidly and see Michael. I smile without understanding why. I break eye contact and point at a café nearby. “Would that one do?”

“Of course.”

We sit inside beneath an abstract painting of green and red strokes of colours battling for space. I watch it and eye the title repeatedly. It’s called Infinity in Your Eyes. I fail to understand why.

Michael drinks a sip of his tea and catches me frowning once again. “What’s bothering you with this?”

“I don’t get it…”

“You’re not supposed to ‘get’ a painting. There’s nothing to understand. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t.”

“Well…that’s the contemporary vision of it. I don’t think art was meant this way in the beginning.”

“Are you sure? Then why paint at all, if not for a feeling? Why draw? Why write?”

“So for it to speak to me, I need to feel it?” I ask, not convinced at all.

“For it to speak to you, you need to feel something. The inspiration that goes through the painter then travels to you…or not.”

“See, that’s my point. If it doesn’t travel to you then the artist has failed.”

He’s not impressed with my answer. “Then what do you make of love?”

“What?” suddenly this conversation seems to have taken a wrong turn.

“By your logic, we should all love each other the same.”

I’m not entirely sure I’m following this, yet at the same time I don’t know what to say.

“What comes out of us…as beings,” he starts to explain, “speaks to someone but not everyone. Yet aren’t we all creations of some sort?”

“I don’t think it applies…”

“And I think…you see art through your mind when you should look at it through your soul. Inspiration is too complex to be fully understood by the human mind.”

“So you’re telling me…you like this?” I ask, pointing at it dismissively.

“Actually I do,” he turns around a little. “Look at the shadows in the green shades, they’re filled with sadness. Where you see something you don’t understand, I see someone facing a dilemma. The painter, or whatever his subject is, is lost and looking for direction. The green is the part telling him he should go for it; the red is his mind calling him back to reality.” He pauses and looks at me. “Telling him he should think twice, before he does anything he could regret.”

A flash of migraine gets to me quickly. Then he smiles and it goes away. “I bet Ariel would see something different,” he adds, musing at the painting.

“What would he see?”

“A bloodbath, probably.” He winks at me and I chuckle.

We talk like this for a while, until I look outside and see it’s pitch black, and most people have left the café. He offers to walk me home and we talk some more. About his mother, his favourite books and his passion for art. The more he speaks the more I wonder why I was so scared of him before. It makes me wonder if I may be wrong about Ariel too. But just the thought of him gives me shiver so I decide to put his brother at the back of my mind, and to concentrate on Michael. When we reach my house I slow down, hoping he won’t notice. It’s uncanny how I drink his words. I could listen to him all night.

“I have a question,” I say, almost whispering. He looks at me with a seriousness that takes me off guard. “I…” I stammer a few ineligible words until the question finally forms at my lips. “Why don’t you ever talk? As long as I can remember, Ariel’s always done the talking for the two of you.”

He stops and remains silent. I’ve probably overstepped some boundaries so I hurry and speak before he gets the chance. “I should go, my aunt must be worried now.” I think not, I would bet she hasn’t even noticed I’m not home yet, but it’s a plausible excuse. I rush inside after a timid goodbye and close the door heavily, as if the strength I use could be strong enough to put this conversation behind me.

I hear meditation music coming from the sitting room and see my aunt’s hand drooping from the sofa’s back, her beloved mantras are playing against the walls, but covered by her snoring. I roll my eyes and climb up the stairs. It groans beneath my weight but I doubt she can hear me as she is so loud. I don’t know if she has a nose or a trumpet.

My feet make the wooden floor groan, and something chilly pass through my spine. My bedroom door is half open, and on the floor lay a glass horse my father had once brought me back from south of France. The tail is broken. I pause. My aunt is clueless and eccentric, but she has boundaries. She would never step into my room or break something and leave it on the floor.

My chest tightens and for a moment I wonder if I should call the police. I look about. My aunt’s bedroom is in sight, I can see the TV on the wall and her jewellery box wide open on her chest drawer. The hypothesis of a robbery dies with a sigh of relief, until a round shadow comes and goes above my broken glass horse.

“Hilda!” I yell to wake her up. I grab a vase on a table in the hallway and turn it upside down, flowers dive to the ground and with them some dark green water. I break the vase on the table, expecting the noise to be enough to frighten whoever is in there. I’m also hoping to make a sizeable weapon out of the debris. But the vase doesn’t break… I look at it, lost for words, and snap back into vigilance when I hear my window open and close.

I rush inside and run after the silhouette. It’s too dark out, I can’t see. Yet I hear heavy and hurried footsteps going away.

“Hilda!”

As I turn around to call her out again, I see the damages. Everything is upside down. My clothes are out of the drawers, my books are on the floor, my notepads are open and some pages I see, have been torn apart, others strewn the carpet like dead leaves. Everything I own has been tainted by someone else’s touch. I feel sick to my stomach.

When my aunt arrives she switches on the light and gasps, hand to her mouth. “But I was downstairs!” She exclaims, dumbfounded.

“Yeah…well, they were here.” I throw away one of my notepads in the bin. The burglar spilled water on it and it’s as good as dead to me. The ink has run, my drawings have blurred…I’m detached as though whatever I created inside these, doesn’t belong to me anymore.

“I’m calling the police!” Hilda says, running down, but I don’t care. I sigh and look out the window. It’s a full moon. I know Hilda hates those. She says people do bad things on full moons because the moon doesn’t just control tides, she controls our energy flows through the fluids of our bodies. What a load of rubbish. People do bad things because they’re bad people. I don’t think they circle the time of the month in their calendar to decide when they’re going to be idiots.

I want to take a shower, and let all this flow away from me. But I don’t know if I can do that here. I don’t want to be here. I call Hannah, tell her everything, and ask if I can sleep over. Hilda makes me wait for the police to arrive, and ask for their permission. I didn’t know they were acting parents too.

As I wait, I sit on the floor, defeated. I switched off the light when I came back in, I didn’t want this atrocity to be shining right to my face. The light in the hallway spills in, and I watch, helplessly, as my heart lay on the carpet, butchered and gutted.

There’s a piece of paper beneath my feet. I take it out, ready to put it away, when I see half of a drawing. It’s one of the weird symbols I had drawn. I remember this one vividly. It was following a nightmare a couple of weeks ago. I had dreamed I was being chased by a fiery falcon, by the time it had caught up with me it had burned my eyes. I drew an eye with a triangle ablaze within it. Here I can only see parts of it. I’m guessing the rest is somewhere there.

I look about and realise my most recent notepad, the one with most of my new stories and drawings, is gone. I look everywhere, push away and turn over everything. It’s not here. I make another round of the house and my bedroom is the only one ransacked. Why?

6

Confusion

 

We sit on the carpet, backs to the sofa, while her grandmother is behind us, wheezing as she sleeps, mouth wide open.

The TV is on, we’re both watching it, yet I’m incapable of focusing enough to understand what we’re seeing. All I know is there are two cute guys saying silly things. We eat ice cream from the pot, and get our eyes maxed out by the TV’s flashing images, sole source of light in the room.

“Where’s Hilda?” Hannah asks me after a while.

I shrug. “Probably cleansing the house with salt and sage,” I say and we chuckle silently.

“She could have come too, you know? My nana’s odd but she’s got a big heart.”

“I don’t think she would have wanted to.” I wonder about this now. It never occurred to me to ask her if she wanted to leave the house too. And now my chest tightens. “You think I should ask her now? What if they come back to the house and she’s all alone?”

She shakes her head and takes a bit spoonful of ice cream. “Why would they come back?”

“I don’t know maybe they weren’t done when I caught them…which would explain why my room was the only one they got to!” I’m quite happy with my theory, it takes away a bit of the creepiness of it all. She doesn’t seem to believe me but nods. “Call your aunt…”

I hurry to the kitchen to do so, and when I’m back I see Hannah hiding her phone away as my footsteps get closer.

I sit back down. “She’s with her ‘Moon Sisters'” I explain. ” So she’s fine. They’re cleansing the house and working on a spell to safeguard our home,” I add with derision. She giggles and almost spills some ice cream. “So who was it?” I ask and she stops immediately. Her face turns pale and her eyes guilty.

She swallows and doesn’t look at me at first. “Ian’s been calling me a lot lately.”

I don’t know why I care, but I do. Hearing this stings and makes me tense. “I think he’s just tr –”

“You know what?” I wave my hand at her. “I don’t care.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“I don’t think anything at all.”

We pause and watch the screen without a word. Me, draped with anger, her, hiding in guilt.

“He still loves you.” She says after a while.

“How can he still love me…he never said he loved me even once.”

“Because he knew you wouldn’t feel the same…”

“What are you, his mediator now?”

“I’ve never seen him like this, Skye. It’s a bit weird. I think you should talk to him.”

I say nothing, and we stay in an uncomfortable silence once again. She goes to the bathroom and I sigh, it’s awful to be at someone else’s home, with nowhere to go, and suddenly feel like you don’t know this person anymore. I feel trapped.

The two guys in the film are fallen angels. It makes me think of what my mother said. An isle of angels…I kind of like the idea. I could use an angel right now. Hannah’s screen switches on and I see an incoming message from Ian.

Dont tel her I said that pleaz.

I grunt. His writing hurts my eyes.

I now its crazy but thats what I saw…their bad news-

It seems the message continues but I don’t see the rest.

Will u help me?

I hear her coming back and I turn my head to the TV. From the corner of my eye, I observe her reactions. She’s surprised at first and looks at me sideways. I pretend I don’t see but notice her typing back something to him.

I feel betrayed, and want to take my things and go. But she’s my best friend and there’s nobody else who would take me in. Nobody else I would want to go to anyway… So we watch the movie until the end, until her grandmother grunts something ineligible in her sleep, sounding both like an insult and a menace. Our eyes meet and we chuckle as if tension was slowly moving away.

We go to bed and I sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. The moment I’m gone is when I know I’m about to have a terrible nightmare. It’s as though some invisible hands grabbed my spirit and tore it away from my body to eat my soul, and torture me through things I can feel but can’t do anything about. I’m powerless, yet aware of being in danger, when the first half of the nightmare begins.

I’m in a place without background. The ground is translucent, and so is the sky. There’s nothing except for two darks silhouettes I see a long way ahead. I sense my body moving towards them, and I hear my footsteps crunching on some dirt ground I can’t see. I keep moving towards the shadows. The more I come closer, the more I realise they are giant crows, but they don’t move. Their wings are tied and their eyes are blood red.

When I arrive face to face, they’re staring at the void. I have to look up for they are at least two feet taller than I am. They look dead. Something in them seems strangely human. Some kind of sadness. I know it doesn’t make sense, but my heart aches, imagining their pain.

I look closely at the chains around their feathers, they are golden and there’s a lock for both of them. I take it in my hand and see it’s not a keyhole but rather a lining of some sort. I brush my fingers against it and the lines catch fire, but it doesn’t burn me. I see another symbol, it’s a crescent. Then I stare at the crows’ eyes and something in there too, four other symbols. One has three odd looking trees, the other is a ball of fire, another one is like a star with broken tips, it makes it look like a claw. And the last symbol is a hand, index and thumb are pinched together, while the other three fingers stand straight but at different angles.

The sky turns red. Thunder roars in the distance and I see lightning making purple streaks here and there. My heart races. I hear the rain before it falls. I look up and see darks spots. My first instinct tells me it’s blood and I brace myself, but their fall is slow and gentle. It’s only leaves. They are as black as the night. All of them. Soon I am knee-deep, then it’s up to my waist and within the blink of an eye I’m recovered entirely. I can’t breathe or cry for help. I struggle as if drowning, my legs and arms moving restlessly.

I feel a cold hand reaching for my heart and it all stops. I think I’m dead. My face is protruding from whatever has buried me. My eyes are closed. I am at peace. There is no music yet my soul and mind are light, the feeling is flowing through me and it’s like falling asleep listening to Mozart. I don’t need to open my eyes to see what is around me. I know there’s a tree, the tallest tree ever grown. Leaves are covering its trunk and branches. Most of them are a vivid green, some are silvery, others are golden. Two of them are falling. They fall on my forehead and an image of the Brothers comes to me. I see them as children, in the yard, staring at me.

“Skye,” I hear a whisper.

“Skye,” it says again.

I wake up in a dim room, it feels foreign. It’s my mother’s bedroom at the care home. It’s late at night but there’s a small source of light coming from the window, only blurred so the room has amber hues.

I see my mum is packing a suitcase. “I misunderstood,” she says to me, folding her clothes in a hurry. She doesn’t seem unwell. Her eyes are clear. Her mind seems light. She speaks with some detachment I’ve never heard before. “They didn’t say you couldn’t live…they said you couldn’t go,” she chuckles. “Why did I misunderstand, I don’t know. They played with my head too much if you want to know what I think.”

“Who played with your head, mum?”

“Doesn’t matter now, sweetie.” She closes her suitcase and strides quickly past me, kissing my cheek. “Don’t worry, we’ll meet again.”

She disappears behind a door that is supposed to lead to the hallway but I see it’s another room. Before the door locks behind her I reopen it. But a flash of light jerks me awake.

7

Goodbyes

Funerals are weird. I watch through the kitchen window, and stare at the garden to pretend I’m not where I am and none of this is happening. I don’t want any more people coming to me to say how sorry they are, or that I look so much like her. It doesn’t help.

I sense dark shapes moving around, and I recoil a little further within myself. They chat in slow voices, and there’s the clatter of cutlery on plates. I don’t want to eat. I feel sick whenever food comes nears me.

After my bad dream I woke up sobbing, and not one minute later my aunt was at the door to tell me what I had guessed. My mother had passed away. Only then did the real nightmare begin. It’s like seeing your body moving and watching a film of your life. You’re there, but not really. You see things happening, but don’t understand them. Either way, you’re too tired and numb to process anything or for an idea to form inside your head. It’s like swimming in a raging sea, desperately trying to reach the shore. There’s no point fighting it. You turn your back to the wave and you let it move you around. That way you don’t drown. So I wait for the next wave.

A hand touches my shoulder gently, and I start. “You should eat something,” Hannah says. What they don’t understand is, my heart is so broken the pain has spread to every inch of my being. I can’t eat because my whole body is mourning, agonising. Food would have no taste and my stomach would reject it. I know. So I push the plate away. She purses her lips and put it down on a table nearby.

“Ian is asking if he can come see you,” she says when she is back. My eyes dart in her direction, my gaze grim. “I’ll tell him you can’t see people right now…” She speaks quickly, understanding my thoughts right away. She takes her phone and frowns, reading a message. She looks at me, terrified. She doesn’t know what to say so she shows it to me. It’s from Ian.

So u kno, the weirdos r @ the door.

“Who’s he talking about?” At that moment the bell rings and I see my aunt hurrying to open. Why? Why hurry? Is she afraid people are going to go elsewhere if she doesn’t open quickly enough? Or would that be impolite to have them wait, for some strange reason I don’t get?

I see their silhouettes looming in. It’s The Brothers. Although I see Ariel clearly but Michael seems a little hidden behind him. I bolt to the door, though I’m not sure about my intention. Hannah is striding fast by my side, trying to keep up while avoiding people and plates. “You don’t have to do this,” she yells, a bit panicky. “Let me talk to them!”

I arrive at the door and Hilda strokes my cheek before returning to the reception room. “What do you want?” I ask Ariel, since Michael doesn’t look up at me. He is one stair down, below his brother and he avoids me. His gaze, usually so blue, seem darker somehow. And there are steaks of red in the white of his eyes, as though he were hurting.

“We’re sorry for your loss,” Ariel says, sounding strangely sincere.

I eye Michael, and he sees me expecting something from him. His cheeks flushed. “Ariel,” he says as an order and they climb down the stairs to leave in a hurry.

“What was that all about?” I ask Hannah.

“You should avoid them, Skye.”

“What? Why?” I move around her and she grabs my arm savagely, urging me into the kitchen and then forcing me to the garden.

“I promised Ian I wouldn’t tell you but I can’t,” she pulls her mobile out from her pocket, and shows me images of The Brothers.

“So ?”

“Look closely…”

I take the phone and swipe the pictures. It’s me going to the care home, followed by two shadows – them. Then it’s me and Hannah walking home, still followed. There are about ten photos of me or us being tailed by Ariel and Michael, and I don’t understand.

“What’s this?”

“They’ve been following you!” She exclaims, “who knows for how long!”

“How do you know? What does Ian have to do with this?”

“One night he came by your house to talk to you and he saw them there, waiting outside. So he decided to keep an eye on them and that’s how he found out.”

I sigh. “So what, I have like three stalkers?”

“It’s not a joke, Skye. I think you should call the police and stay away from them.”

“I don’t know…”I start but fall silent as I watch the photos again. The evidence is pretty damning, but I refuse to believe Michael could do that. And what for?

Hannah wraps her hand around my wrist. “Skye …it’s serious. Ian thinks they broke into your bedroom.”

“Does he have pictures of this too?”

She says nothing.

“Until he does, I’ll wait before I call the police,” I reply mockingly.

“You’re always talking about your guts,” she shouts with anger, “what’s it telling you now?”

That was a good question.

“Nothing.” My voice barely comes out and I feel so tired.

I climb up to my bedroom and close the door. I sleep like a baby. When I wake up, it’s dark out and the house is quiet. I grab my phone and see dozens of messages. Most of them from people from school, lots from some I don’t even know. Drama attracts some poor souls like moths to a flame. There’s nothing glamorous in death. It’s not TV, it’s not fun. It’s real and I know nothing will ever erase this pain. I scroll down and see a message from Michael. My heart starts. I straighten in my bed and read.

I knew you didn’t want strangers there. I didn’t want to come, not that I didn’t want to see you, but I thought you needed time away from the rest of the world.

I ponder on that for a moment. You’re not a stranger. But you’re right. I didn’t want to see anyone today. I wait. I want to say something more but I can’t think of anything else to say.

I know what it’s like to lose someone you love.

I stare at my screen. I wasn’t expecting that. I know they were adopted. But I don’t know what happened to their birth parents. Though I would like to find out, I doubt this is a good moment for this. Will I feel better? My question is genuine.

Some do, some don’t.

 

What about you? He waits a while before he answers.

Mine will never heal. But I’ve made my peace with that.

We don’t say much after that. We’re not close. I told him we’re not strangers but in truth we are. I stare at my phone, my fingers itching to say something to him. I want to keep talking. I want to see him. The thought of him close to me makes me feel better. I imagine his fingers touching mine, his breath against my neck. If Hannah knew this, she would kill me. I don’t want to believe her. Especially if her sole source is Ian. I think of something else to say.

Ian says you’re following me. Is this true?

There’s no reply for a moment. I don’t see the point in sugar-coating this. If it is true there’s little chance he will say so, but at least they will know someone is onto them. Whatever their propose is.

It’s because I wanted to know you better. Ariel just tagged along.

 

This sounds both lame and unbelievable. Why didn’t you ask me out instead? Following me is creepy. Hannah says I should call the police. 

Again, silence for a while.

I’ll speak to Hannah.

I straighten and suddenly wonder if I have made a mistake being so upfront. No need. I’ll talk to her.

Can I come see you?

My heart makes loops in my chest, a flurry of emotions juggling in me. It has worked. I needed a mind filler. I wanted this day over, and all the feelings attached to it as well.

Yes.

Into the Shadows

 

I walk back and forth in a frenzy, like a dying insect caught in lamp shade. I’m crazy. I try to listen to my guts but it’s shut off. I don’t know who to believe. Ariel doesn’t seem like the trusting type. But my head is upside down anytime I think of Michael.

I open my bedroom door and listen closely. My aunt is still up and whispering with someone, so that’s good. At least I won’t be alone with him.

The first thought in my head when he texted me was to imagine him in my bedroom. But reason quickly came back, and I settled for the front porch. Much better. In clear view and outside the house.

I wait for him there, sitting on the stairs and looking up at the stars. From here they seem so small and insignificant, yet they used to be so vibrant and powerful. I wonder if this is us. We think the world of ourselves but in the universe infinity, we are nothing.

I sense him sitting down next to me before I see him. I must have been so engrossed in my observation of the sky that I didn’t watch out for my surroundings. He puts something on my lap. I open it. It’s in a white bag and inside there’s aluminium foil. It’s baked lasagne.  I smile, it’s a kind gesture, and he seems pleased. But I hate lasagne.

“Bodies need energy to go on,” he says, “even if you don’t feel like it.”

“Thanks,” I avoid his eyes and look at the dark bushes and the empty street. A few houses are lit here and there, yet the whole area looks dead somehow. My heart aches.

“I lied to you,” he admits, crossing his arms on top of his knees. “And I’m sorry, but I had my reasons.”

“What did you lie about?”

“The stalking…We weren’t stalking you, but we were following you. Not because I wanted to know you better, but because I noticed something…”

I swallow hard and brace myself for what’s to come. His stare is full of some worry I don’t get. Is it for me, or for himself? “I think Ian is unstable,” he says and I try hard not to roll my eyes. It’s another lie. Not even a good one. Any other boy, I would have told him to get out and leave me alone for good. People who lie never have your best interest at heart. But something about him makes me different. I can’t help it. I drink his words, and I’m spellbound.

Idiot, I recall the old lady at the care home, muttering to herself, or perhaps she was really talking to me. It didn’t make any sense then, but it’s starting to now. I’m not sure what love is. All I know is that my heart grows and stretches out of my chest whenever he is near. I feel my body calling out to his, and I find myself longing for the touch of his skin. Is this really love, or just pure attraction? Are the two bound, or is one more dangerous than the other? I can’t think straight. He is talking to me right now but I only look at his lips moving, with just one thought in mind, I want to kiss them.

“I’m sorry,” he says and I wake up from this strange state I was in. I nod and don’t say a word. My mouth is dry. “If you think he can be trusted, we won’t follow you anymore.”

“I don’t need bodyguards,” I find myself saying, though I don’t know why.

“Very well then.” He stands up, ready to leave, and my brain can’t function well enough to find a good reason for him to stay. So I watch, helplessly, as he smiles a little, waves briefly and walks away into the shadows.

When he can no longer see me, I stand still on the stairs, watching his silhouette playing against the freckles of light on the pavement. My heart beats fast, I don’t want him to go. I clutch the lasagne bake closer, a million excuses playing in my head for him to stay. It’s only then, I hear it growl. I twist and turn, almost falling over as I miss the last step of the stairs. There it is, watching me.

My aunt used to travel the world, back when she didn’t have any child to take care of. She doesn’t have a religion; she says she only has beliefs. So she takes a bit of everything, everywhere. One thing she has taken is looking at me now. It’s a stone statue of Rengda, a Balinese female demon, said to have been a dark sorceress, exiled wrongly and outlasting life with a lust for vengeance. Her eyes lit red, I’ve never seen this before. It’s not shaped like a woman, it has features of a beast, rectangle face with enormous eyes and giant teeth. It’s rather small, sits on four legs, and it’s hidden behind overgrown rose bushes. Some people have fairies, or a thoughtful Buddha in their gardens, my aunt has Balinese demons.

I’m quite sure I heard it. Like a low groan. It could have been a dog, or a fox. Maybe my ears are deceiving me. I’m too tired anyway. I need some sleep. And I need it fast. I climb back up the stairs and start. The eyes have changed. The red glow is gone. They’re a dull grey, black under this lack of light. As it was supposed to be, it is stone work after all. Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me too. Perhaps I should eat after all.

Copyright©2016-2017 by Jane W King