The sweaty lowland summer set in as The Day approached; Menuil could hardly waddle. Her tongue had become even more acerbic, too, something I wouldn’t have believed possible. I had worked out something to keep me occupied out of range of her venom: flying in snow.
The midwives informed me, almost maliciously, about how miserable a delivery could be in the heat, so I’d been transporting ice. I’d developed a delivery system with the innkeeper; a small boy –originally one of his sons, but more recently any child from the poorer families in the region – would dress in warm clothes and I would fly him and a shovel up to the mountain peaks, where he would prepare loads of snow, piling it onto tarpaulins and roping the corners together. Without landing, I would swoop down and snatch one of these up, fly level and high until I almost reached the inn, then dive and, still without stopping, dump my load into the yard.
There, the innkeeper and his family packed it in straw and stored it in a cellar.
When the child started shivering I’d fly him down and the innkeeper would give him a meal, while I collected the next aspirant from the ever-waiting crowd wanting to escape the summer swelter.
The innkeeper did his part in exchange for half of the ice – and I could collect a lot more than double this way, maybe five times – which at first I found a bit strange, as his wife’s figure had not changed since we arrived, so she was probably not expecting. Strange that is, until I overheard: “Five coppers for a beer? Whatja brew it from, goldnuts?”
Mia listened as patiently as she could as Dora twittered on about Chris. She didn’t know what the girl saw in the guy – he had nothing on Carlos, the chef – his backside was too skinny and he had greasy white-boy hair. She nodded anyway and lifted another spoonful of soup to her lips, looking towards the kitchen and smirking at the idea of sneaking Carlos back to her room later.
When Dora’s topic of conversation changed to Paula’s whereabouts, Mia gave a loud sigh. “Girl, I told you,” she said. “She’s left. Finally. You should be happy for her!”
“I just think it’s a bit weird,” Dora said. “Like… It’s Paula.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “I know. And I know you miss her, I miss her too. But she’s in a better place now.”
Paula was, of course, in the basement. Mia suppressed a shudder at the thought and pushed her soup away unfinished. She wasn’t supposed to know about the basement, but she did. And she kept quiet about it because she did not want to end up there herself. She was perfectly happy in the House of Witches. Everybody should’ve just been happy and then there wouldn’t be any trouble.
Change the subject.
One morning I woke up and 1988 had disappeared. I didn’t notice at first, except for the fact that Katie didn’t ring me that day, and she had been born in 1988. I tried to call her later but she wasn’t there. Nobody was there.
The Seoul Olympics were meant to happen that year. At least that was what the newspapers and old TV footage from 1987 said, but nobody could remember the games ever happening. In fact, there was no record of it at all. The newspapers I found in my local library stopped at December 29th, 1987, and started again on March 12th, 1989.
The papers from 1989 told me more. That day, the twelfth of March, everybody panicked. Women who had been pregnant suddenly weren’t, but there was no child to show for it. Other people had disappeared overnight. Maybe they died in 1988, but there were no graves to mark their passing. Where had that time gone? “A tear in the fabric of space-time,” the experts said. “Time is dripping away.”
Con had snatched a kiss from Francis before he’d abandoned her in the Imagination Correction Facility and she replayed the memory as she waited in the check-in room, half watching a middle-aged woman setting out new clothes and books and toiletries for her.
That bloody arse. He should be getting his own damn daughter out of there, not leaving it for her to do. She shouldn’t have kissed him. It had only cemented something between them, some sort of bond. He’d probably manipulated her somehow – taken advantage of her stupid sentimentality. Except that she had initiated it. She had kissed him and that silly, confused half-smile on his face afterwards could only have come from an innocent man.
Bollocks to it. It was still his fault she was in there.
She collected her new belongings, listened to her ‘welcome’ in silence, and followed the woman down one of the clinical corridors to her room with a set jaw and a frown on her face. Then the woman handed her an itinerary and left, with the brief instruction that lunch was at one and to ask a member of staff – the ones in blue – if she needed anything.
Con dumped her stuff on the bed, vaguely aware that a thin mattress was better than no mattress, and went to look out of the window. Her room was on the second floor, overlooking a tennis court. Beyond the dome, the forest seemed impossible to reach.
So what now?
Trees groaned and creaked on either side of the road and dark clouds loomed overhead. Con hoped for a storm. If a tree blew over and blocked their path, she could escape.
She spotted Francis looking at her in the rear-view mirror and she stuck out her tongue at him.
“Mature, as usual,” he said.
The forest the road ran through was dark and dense – easy to get lost in if she could just get out of the car. “You’re being an arse. I don’t know why you’re doing this to me. To me. With our history?”
Francis sighed. “I have to. It’s my job. Besides, it’s your own fault – if you hadn’t killed that man—”
“That man was a scumbag.” She sat forwards in her seat and rested her cuffed wrists on Francis’s shoulder. “Pull over, Fran, yeah? Let’s have a little fun before you turn me in.”
It wasn’t far now until they’d reach The House of Witches. Everybody knew it lay just beyond the forest – out of sight and out of mind. If she could stall him, maybe make him change his mind…
The clouds burst and the rain came down hard and fast, hitting the car noisily. Francis turned the wipers on. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. “It won’t work.”
Dora didn’t like meditation. It was boring and stupid, and she wasn’t any good at it anyway. She had to sit in class with five other girls and listen to whale song and pretend she was floating in the sea, or walking through a meadow, or something equally as silly.
She opened an eye and took a peek. The other girls were still, legs crossed, palms resting on their knees. The teacher, Miss Thompson, murmured instructions to lead them through the meditation. Her eyes were also closed, and she moved her hands slowly by her sides as if conducting an imaginary orchestra. Dora had the biggest urge to take the woman’s spectacles – or the handkerchief sticking from her sleeve.
Miss Thompson opened her eyes and Dora closed hers a little too slowly.
“Concentrate, Dora,” the teacher said. “You want to be able to control your ability, do you not?”
The sooner Dora could get her power to glow under control, the sooner she could get out of the facility. She already shone less than when she’d arrived, so she was confident it wouldn’t take much longer. She didn’t want to end up like Paula – stuck there for years because she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, control her imagination. Continue reading
Paula lay on her back on the grass, arms spread wide as she soaked up the sun’s rays which filtered down through the shimmering roof of the dome. Buffalo snorted and chomped at the ground nearby, pulling up daisies. His hooves left prints in the earth as he moved and Paula turned her head to watch him briefly. He would never, and had never, hurt anybody. Why she had to be shut up in that place because of him…
She folded her arms across her chest and frowned up at the sky. No point thinking about it. She had to do something about it.
Somebody was moving over by the tennis court – not any of the girls – it was one of the carers. He’d taken the net down and now, picking up a hammer from his bag, started to bash at the metal post at the edge of the court. Paula winced as the sound cut through her and set her teeth on edge. She sat up and glowered at him.
Chris. She remembered his name suddenly. The new guy. He wasn’t much to look at – probably a little older than she was, with mousey hair, a slightly too-big nose and no arse. She got to her feet and walked over to him.
The staffroom in the Imagination Correction Facility was the colour of vomit. It reminded Chris of a recent night out where he’d drank far too much cider and brought most of it up onto the pavement outside the kebab shop. The girl he’d been with had laughed, called a taxi for herself and left him there, spewing up his guts.
He wiped his mouth, flicked sandwich crumbs from the table, and then got up to throw his rubbish in the bin. As he washed his hands in the sink, he gazed at the rota on the wall. He didn’t have a day off until Sunday. Great.
Sighing, he picked up his set of keys and headed out of the room. The janitor’s cupboard was just down the corridor and he stepped back to let two giggling girls pass – checking out the arse of the blonde – before unlocking the door and pulling out a mop and bucket.
Two weeks. That’s how long he’d been working there. Two whole weeks, yet in that time nobody had paid him much attention. The girls ignored him, mostly, and the rest of the staff only pretended to be interested in him when they had to work together. He could probably do anything he liked and get away with it.
With a curse and a struggle, Con pulled up the corrugated shutter and peeked out of the storage container she’d spent the day in. She stared into the darkness down the alley, spotted a black cat pounce on something by the bins, and then disappeared back inside to fetch her rucksack. She hauled it onto her back and then crouched by the entrance, holding her hand out towards where the cat had gone.
Here kitty, kitty, kitty.
“Come on, you little sod,” she muttered. The animal appeared from behind the bin, its amber eyes flashed and something – a rat – hung from its jaws. It took a step towards her, tail swishing, and she urged it silently closer.
When it reached her, she ran her hand along its back, making the connection she needed. She sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. Her eyelids flickered.
The cat dropped the rat and trotted down the alley towards the street. It looked one way and then the other, checking the coast was clear. Cars drove down the road, headlights dazzling, but they were unimportant. There was a group of young women across the street, dressed in short skirts and high heels, dressed up for a night out. Heading towards the cat, a man carrying a shopping bag.
Paula picked up her plate of lumpy mashed potato and congealed beans and carried it to the table where her friends sat. Fish fingers today. She hated fish.
She sat down and stared at the food as all around her the other women in the canteen chattered nosily, or hurled insults, or laughed. Chairs scraped across the floor, plastic cutlery scraped against plastic plates. Her head throbbed.
“…roast chicken,” Mia was saying, “with gravy and roast potatoes and peas. Watch this.”
Paula lifted her gaze and watched. Mia lifted a fish finger and it changed into a chicken drumstick in her hand. “It’ll still taste like fish though,” Paula said.
Mia dropped the drumstick onto her plate, where it abruptly turned back into a fish finger. “What the hell’s wrong with you lately?” she asked, flapping a hand. “You’re so damn miserable all the time.” She clicked her tongue in disapproval and picked up her knife and fork. A black curl of hair fell in front of her face.
“I’ve been here ten years,” Paula said. “That’s what’s wrong with me.”
“Yeah, well it’s not our fault you were an early starter.” Mia hacked a fish finger in half and shoved it in her mouth, glaring at Paula with eyes that were almost as dark as her hair.