It had been at the hospital, Fairfields. Fairfields was where it had all begun.
Laura could remember, she could remember it as if it had happened moments ago. There had been the panicked search for Michael who had disappeared from the car and could not be found. She remembered the deathly chill that had rushed upon her and the fear that it brought. For an instant, she believed that he would be lost… forever and that increased her efforts.
The wind had been picking up around her, chasing her and mocking her. There had been something about Michael, always something that was not quite right. She had been catching the reflection of his face in the rear-view mirror and his eyes had stared back, empty of care, void of recognition. At that time, for those long seconds, she harboured an inexplicable trepidation, then it had passed. Michael was there again smiling at her. When he then went missing, physically this time, there had been the worrying moment when something close to relief had flooded her senses. The echoes of that time, she heard even now.
Yes, I see you do,the thing that spoke with her son’s voice uttered.
Laura brought her eyes up to his, fought to control her gaze, and saw the dark intensity that she had seen in the rear-view mirror. Its outline, the unruly black hair, the line of his cheeks and chin, the nose, slightly upturned, all were those of her child. Beyond that, however, the similarity did not exist.
Michael’s face was a pastiche of his features, slung together with the indifference of a child. If there had been a Picasso for this world, then he would have produced this. This thing in front of her wore leather for skin and it stood many feet higher than Michael. The voice was his, the memories were his, but the rest belonged to some other creature. She was being tricked.
Mother, don’t abandon me like you abandoned my father.
Stung, Laura discovered her anger.
“I didn’t abandon your father. He abandoned me.”
Father loved you as I love you. Please don’t let history repeat itself. I need your arms around me.
And it moved towards her in a pathetic parody of an infant approaching its mother, arms outstretched, pleading, demanding affection. And for a long, long while, its mother contemplated embracing it. That was until the stench of decay summoned her attention. This thing, this thing of another world, had covered the few yards between them and was within touching distance. Laura was shocked to discover that her own arms were outstretched, an invitation she now rescinded.
To her left, across the water, a warning was being sounded. It was the male swan, who had returned, and now it was crying its shrill alarm in an attempt to reach her. Its call surmounted the barriers between species and urged her to run towards the lake. Only the waters would save her from the beast that was crafted from leather and the confused memories of a mother beginning to fall into their own dark places.
Headlong she ran and headlong she dived into the waters. The breath of the beast returned to that rattle which had announced its arrival. Its claws, for she knew that was what it would have, raked the air behind her. They would tear through her skin like blades through paper, but she reached the lake and dived, dived deep. Before she surfaced, she knew that it would be standing there upon the shore, watching her through the eyes of her son.
Only traces of her dream remained as she woke the next morning. As usual, Pete had climbed into her bed throughout the night and was sleeping soundly. Nothing moved in the house but, beyond it, she could hear the sounds of the morning emerging. There was the distant rumble of a train, a car’s engine being ignited and a smattering of birdsong. She stilled herself and listened for any other sounds that might be detected; there were none.
Laura slid her body out of bed feeling aches that had not been there the night before. Perhaps she was coming down with something, perhaps a cold or the dreaded flu. Her neck was stiff suggesting recent exercise and her legs housed a dull throb that reminded her of the running she had once done. The obligatory moan was stifled as she raised herself to her feet. Pete turned slightly but remained asleep.
Putting on her dressing gown, his mother left the room ignoring her usual detour to the bathroom. Instead, she headed for the area beneath the attic steps. She stood beneath the opening, gazed beyond and was caught in a moment’s indecision. Listening again to confirm that nobody else was awake, she climbed the steps.
The attic waited in a miasma of light and dark. Laura was drawn towards the box she had found the flute thing in. She bent over and peered into its contents finding that which she was looking for without knowing what it would be. It was a diary, Michael’s diary, and it was hiding beneath everything else.
Something told her that she had always known about Michael and his documenting of things, the difficult times, the times of pain. When she had been lost in grief and anger, the eldest son had been watching and writing; everything. She now understood that there was something about her son that was not what it would appear and the thought carried with it a cold hand of repulsion.
Laura Andrews, mother of three loving boys, groped deeply into the box that would reveal the extent of Michael’s disloyalty. Michael, her most sensible of sons, who had hidden his true thoughts and feelings. Michael, the rotten apple, rotten to the core. And she sat there, in the dissipating gloom, reading the words that appeared before her.
Below her, Michael was waking and wondering what his mother was doing in the attic.
Pete lay still, his eyes wide open.
He was listening to the thoughts of his mother whilst Christopher continued what appeared to be a peaceful sleep.