The first time it happened to Lucy Madison was on her fifth birthday.
The word LEAVE had been written in her toys. She remembered that the L was a headless Barbie doll which she had decapitated after a particularly vicious argument with Ken, whose bent body formed the V. She wasn’t scared the first time, because she couldn’t really read all that well and didn’t properly understand the concept of threats using toys. So she went back to eating too much cake and ice cream, and then proceeded to run around and around little Jamie Threadley from down the road for about the hundredth time.
Not surprisingly, little Jamie ceased all his attempts at romancing a young Lucy after being vomited on.
The second time was six months after that. Lucy was soundly asleep when she felt an icy hand close around her ankle. She jolted awake and screamed at the top of her tiny lungs until both of her parents rushed into her room, her father wielding a tennis racket. She didn’t sleep for the rest of the night. The whole of the next day she felt threads of cold on her skin where the invisible fingers had grasped her.
These two events formed a pattern of activity that would remain unbroken for the next three years. On her eighth birthday, the pattern was broken when it spoke to her. They were not words that she could understand, but the terrifying noise was definitely human. Lucy remained under her bed sheet until morning, emerging from her blanket cocoon like a scared, sweaty butterfly.
Her parents began to despair. To them, their little girl just had night terrors; something which the doctors said would go away with age. She was labelled an attention seeker, with all of the classic behaviour patterns. Invisible friends were commonplace for children, even though Lucy didn’t see her constant visitor as a friend. “Any attention is good attention,” a stern man with a thick grey moustache and a round face told them from behind his desk, flanked on all sides by framed certificates. Her mother cried a lot after each time it happened, and her father remained resolutely more steadfast in his belief that it was all just a childhood phase, and that it would eventually stop.
To Lucy, it felt as if this monster had silently snuck into their home, wedged itself between her parents and begun to grow, slowly and insidiously.
Lucy eventually noticed the distance between them; her father’s heavy drinking, and her mother’s tearful silence. They whispered angrily at each other, or had vicious shouting matches when they thought she was asleep. It was right about then that she told her parents in her best and most honest voice that it had all stopped and that she had been making it all up. They both breathed a collective sigh of relief. Shortly after that, her father stopped his drinking and started shaving, and her mother lost weight and started jogging. Lucy was aware of the ramifications of the lie, but the cost of the truth was far too great for her to bear. She refused to be the reason for her family’s breakdown.
Her invisible friend didn’t like that.
Her parents hungrily swallowed any kind of lie Lucy would tell them to explain the mysterious bruises on her arms and legs, or the bags under her eyes from lack of sleep, or the occasional night terror that would wake them. They were brushed off as accidents, clumsiness, and bad dreams.
And so it went. Lucy’s parents rapidly grew older and frailer after she had erected the happy façade between her and them. Lucy believed it was the weight of their own denial that aged them so. With each forced smile, a grey hair or wrinkle or liver spot added itself to their slowly failing bodies.
She sat and watched her mother as she brushed her long grey hair in front of the mirror that sat on the dresser in their room. She was enveloped in a brilliant honey-coloured sunbeam that danced through the tall bay windows. Her mother was still so beautiful to her, and she hoped that one day she could become something like the same woman. Her mother caught Lucy’s reflection in the mirror and smiled at her, but there was sadness in her tired green eyes.
Their house, named Elderwick Manor by its architect and first owner, had been built over a century ago. To Lucy, it was overwhelmingly large, and needlessly ostentatious. In fact, she had scarcely seen half of its lavishly decorated rooms in all of the time she had lived there. The house, vast and labyrinthine, sat upon the crest of a tall, green hill that overlooked the tiny village of Bledlow, nestled below in the lap of bucolic rolling hills.
Elderwick Manor had been bequeathed to them in her grandfather’s will, and they had moved into the house a few months before Lucy’s fourth birthday. She couldn’t recall crying when they had taken her to her new bedroom. She’d been upset, not because of the intimidating scale of the place, but because her bedroom seemed too far away from her parent’s room.
When Lucy was twelve, she saw it for the first time.
She remembered hearing the noise again; the same catlike mewling that would force her under the blankets for hours, until the sun came up. She did as she had done many times before, which was draw herself into a ball as tightly as possible and squeeze her eyes shut, until bright swirling patterns danced in the blackness.
She lay there under the warmth of her blanket and she concentrated on her breathing, listening to the noise. After a few moments everything was quiet and back to normal. Once again, she could hear the comforting sound of the wind sucking at the old planes of glass in their aging wooden frames.
She stretched her cramped legs a little and then a little more; it felt good to wiggle her toes again and rediscover the cool parts of her bed. She smiled, relieved, and pulled the cover back to get some air.
Close to her own face was a dark spherical shadow, and contained within it were two burning white orbs. She was paralysed with absolute terror, and could only watch as the head tilted, almost as if curious. Then it stood; it was about her height, maybe a little taller, and when it moved, it did so like a badly-animated cartoon of a person drawn in black ink. It seemed to be barely contained within its own outline, and thin black lines lanced off it like electricity.
The shadow-figure stood and watched her with those blank orbs for a few moments. Then, with one broken sweep of its arm, it threw all of her teddy bears and videos and toys from their shelves onto the floor. Lucy watched on, transfixed by fear, her eyes as wide as saucers.
The shadowy figure turned and started to scratch letters slowly into the wall.
Her heart was pounding in her chest and she gasped for breath. A curl of baby-pink wallpaper shaped like a lemon rind spiralled down to the floor.
Red pulses began to flicker across her vision. She tried to blink them away, hoping that the figure would be gone too, but when her eyes opened again they were both still present.
Her entire body felt as if it had been dropped into a bucket of ice. She knew the other letters, had seen them before written in the various bric-a-brac in her room. The air felt heavy as the shadow-figure went about its work.
As the letters formed, she could heard a chorus of vile whispered words like “murder” and “mean to”.
Her teeth began chattering, she thought she could hear the crackle of ice forming over her skin. Tears stung her eyes and blurred the words that were nearly fully formed there. The voices rose to a cacophony in her head; murder, murder, murder.
The shadow figure disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving only those cruel words for her to see.
Lucy stayed very still for the next few hours in urine-soaked sheets. It wasn’t until thin threads of silvery morning light crept across her pillow that she felt safe enough to move. She was exhausted and the thought of school was dreadful, but she wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by other people. To be safe and lost in the crowd.
She hid the words behind her teddy bears and books, but she couldn’t erase them from her mind. She traced the jagged tears that formed the letters. Her finger followed the curve of the G and it felt ice slipping along her spine.
After the writing incident, the shadow-figure didn’t return, but its words continued to linger in Lucy’s mind. She hid the scratched words behind a poster of a band, but every time she looked at the poster she thought about the message underneath the glossy paper. It even put her off listening to the band. She decided to change the poster to one of a band she hated, which worked. The idea backfired when her parents bought her that band’s complete back catalogue and a t-shirt the following Christmas.
Years passed. Lucy became a strange teenager, but despite being quieter and more introverted than the other girls at school, she managed to recruit a couple of good friends; the sort of friends that you know that you’ll still be friends with as adults.
Her best friend was Georgie, or Georgina to her mother. Georgie was a lithe and dark creature, sixteen (one year older than Lucy) and about to finish her GCSE’s. She had high hopes to study art and become the next HR Giger. Lucy liked Georgie because she had a dirty mouth, and drew strange pseudo-erotic pictures of people eating other people. Georgie was unknowingly drawn to Lucy because of the darkness that seemed to follow the poor girl around.
Georgie was the first openly gay person that Lucy knew.
She spent a lot of time hanging out at Georgie’s house. They did homework together, which consisted of Lucy actually trying to do homework whilst Georgie sat on her window ledge casually smoking cigarettes, swearing, and talking about artists and her new favourite underground bands. They walked around the small town together until dark and then, like all good goths, they hung around near the church. Lucy felt a sense of safety beneath the tall spire. Georgie talked a lot about the hypocrisy of the church and how much she hated organised religion. Lucy always just said how nice it would be if everyone just stopped killing everyone actually lived by the basic tenets of all religions.
Georgie pulled Lucy by her pale, bony hands under the old wooden arch that bore the faded name of the church – St Joseph’s – and into the graveyard. They walked amongst the old, grey stones, some bearing the names of the people who lay beneath them, and others blank. Gone, just like the remains. Old words, erased by time and memorialising only rotten wood and dusty, forgotten bones. Lucy felt an invisible compression around her heart.
“You know churches, right?” Georgie asked, kicking a stone down the rutted path lined with twisting yew trees. It started to rain lightly and she pulled up her hood. It was too late to save her mascara though.
“Yeah, I think I may have heard of them,” Lucy smirked, pulling her woolly, fingerless gloves on.
Georgie smiled sarcastically at her.
“Anyway, you know they used to kill a person when they built them? You know, as a keeper of the ghosts of all the dead people who live here. That’s why you can’t see any here.”
“That’s rubbish. Why would the church just kill some innocent person to protect the ghosts?”
“It was ages ago. They used to do it all of the time.”
“I don’t believe that at all,” Lucy said, scanning the dimly lit stones.
“Well, it’s true. I read it in a book. Anyway, do you see any ghosts around? No, because it worked innit.” she said, smugly satisfied.
“No, I don’t. But that hardly makes it true,” Lucy countered, although she felt like she’d somehow lost that one.
They walked further, lit only by the occasional passing car that turned to travel along the main street; headlights swept across their faces like search lights. A small red LED above the church door winked menacingly on the uneven stonework.
“Have you ever seen a ghost?” Lucy asked.
“Yeah. Once,” said Georgie, and looked away sheepishly. “I was with this group of girls from school a couple of years ago, and we were all drunk and that. One of them said they had an Ouija board, right? So we decided we all wanted to go and do that. So we get to her house and her mum and dad are in bed.
She gets this old dusty Ouija board out, with an old planchete or planket or whatever it’s fucking called. The slider thing. Anyway, it was really old. So, we turn all of the lights off and light some smelly candles, and all that. We start by asking if anyone is there, and the things just goes mental, starts writing out all of these words. I literally shit myself.”
“What did it say?” Lucy asked, pretending and failing to hide her own curiosity.
“Well, we asked it its name and it said ZoZo, and none of us knew what that meant, right? So we ask if they were in the room with us, and the slider thing just started spelling out all these horrible things out. I fucking swear I wasn’t faking it or anything.” Georgie fumbled in her coat and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. She lit one up and took a long drag, “I fucking swear, that scared the shit out of me.”
Lucy found herself not believing Georgie despite her apparent sincerity and her own first hand experience of the supernatural.
The vicious words hidden beneath the poster came back to her then. GET OUT. But why? The words rang in her head and once again, in her mind’s eye, she saw those white orbs as clearly as she had that night years ago. A shiver wriggled up her spine.
“You believe me, right?”
“Yeah, of course,” Lucy lied.
“So. What about you then?” Georgie asked.
Lucy took a deep breath.
That night outside St Josephs, Lucy’s world collapsed in on itself for the first time.
She broke. She didn’t even see it coming, as is always the way with these things. No chance to mitigate. It took her by complete surprise. All of the years that the thing had haunted her, the breakdown and ongoing farce of her parents’ marriage, everything; it all came out and when it did, Lucy found herself feeling empty and weightless. She hadn’t realised the burden she’d been carrying around.
They sat on a low wall. Lucy spoke, and for once Georgie listened, never interrupting. When Lucy stopped talking, nearly an hour later, her shoulders bobbing in silent deep anguish, Georgie held her.
It turned out that Georgie believed her story utterly. The sensation was completely alien to Lucy. No one had ever wanted to believe her before. Lucy began to feel the invisible roots that bind people together, slowly twining themselves around them both.
They spent large portions of their free time in the library, bent over books on the occult and ghost sightings, looking for a way to fix Lucy’s supernatural problem. Lucy had become her mission.
And then, one evening when they should’ve been doing homework, conversation escalated into something more, and Georgie officially became Lucy’s first girlfriend.
For a time they were happy. There was an element of sneaking around Lucy’s parents that excited Lucy. It was secret, taboo. Georgie’s parents knew that her daughter liked girls, but they had bigger things to worry about, like where their next drink would come from.
For a while it was fun. It felt like they were superheroes, a pair of romantics fighting the forces of hitherto unfought evils, by waving sage in the corners of Lucy’s bedroom. But the fun finally exhausted itself when two things happened.
The first thing occurred three weeks after Lucy’s sixteenth birthday when her mother walked in on the two of them in a compromising position that only had one explanation. Lucy hoped that it would just be forgotten and plastered over, like all of the other cracks in their family life, but her father just flatly refused to talk to her and her mother just cried.
The other thing was the death of her mother.
It was a sunny August morning, and hazy light diffused through the white bed sheets hanging on the line. The smell of honeysuckle and the random buzzing of bees was thick in the air. Lucy and her mother had spoken a few times since the night she’d been caught with Georgie, but it had only been a few snatched words here and there; nothing related to what her mother had seen that day.
Lucy felt like those small words could have been the beginning of some kind of mend between them. Lucy remembered wondering if it was too late. If too much had taken place. Too much rotten water under the bridge. She was still with Georgie. She hadn’t been forbidden from seeing her, but it was clear Georgie was no longer welcome at Elderwick Manor.
She was standing by the bedroom window watching her mother pin the washing out in the garden. It had been two months since she had last been woken from her sleep by the actions of her sporadic visitor. Lucy had woken and, feeling bolder than she ever had, told it to piss off as nonchalantly as possible. Somehow, it had worked. If she wasn’t so bone-tired, she would have felt pleased with herself. She wondered if that really was all she’d ever needed to do. How much trouble and misery could’ve been avoided if that was the case?
She heard a guttural noise; a cross between an upset cat and a threatening dog. She snapped her head round to see the shadow-figure again. She hadn’t seen it for years.
For the first time, she was seeing it in full daylight, where there could be no denying of what she saw. It was shorter than her by a few inches now. The white eyes burned as they had before, except this time they seemed more fully formed, more there.
Lucy’s breath caught in her throat and she found herself involuntarily rising up on her tip toes. The figure shuddered forward towards her, and all of the hair on her body stood up. She experienced a feeling like electricity passing through her. It was there and gone, and then back again; once again, a badly animated figure. She could see through it, and the poster of the band she hated behind it.
She thought of the words hidden by that poster.
The shadow-figure moved slowly, those white eyes fixed on her, and still she was paralysed. As it drew close she could hear a voice that sounded like many smashed together to form something awful and dissonant. The words grew until they formed one word.
Lucy froze. She squeezed her eyes shut, balled her fists tightly, and just waited for the inevitable. She hoped it would be painless. It wouldn’t be so bad; an end to things. At least she’d had a few happy months with Georgie first.
Nothing happened. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the shadow-figure was gone.
She heard her father’s voice inside the house. He was shouting his wife’s name over and over again.
When Lucy turned to see what was going on, she saw her mother’s lifeless body sprawled out on the green grass. It was partially covered by a white bed sheet; almost a ghost herself.
What followed was one of the darkest periods of Lucy’s life, filled only with sadness and longing. Small shades of light permeated those endless days which felt more like an endless night.
Her father tried to reconcile with a mumbled apology for the lack of communication between them, though he didn’t quite go so far as to admit that he had been wrong or precisely why he was apologising. Lucy wanted to laugh; this was the first apology she had ever heard him give, and she was inclined to believe that her father had finally lost his marbles. Instead she acquiesced and accepted.
Somewhere along the way Georgie was lost. Lucy could faintly recall an argument, but the details slipped her mind and even though it was another loss, it paled in comparison to her mother. She was too numb to muster up the strength to fight.
When she came out of the other side of her grief a year later, Lucy had lost a lot of weight and had gained some scars, though not from the actions of the ghost.
She could recall the actual moment when she felt better again. it was like a switch had been flipped. She was balled up on the sofa with a long jumper pulled over her knees and her toes poking out underneath. Her father was quietly asleep on the big lazy chair next to her, and she was watching TV. Someone on the show that she was watching did something funny, and it wasn’t even that funny, but Lucy found herself laughing uncontrollably.
After that, thoughts of her mother had started to drift away slowly like dark and lazy clouds, spent of rain.
Lucy enrolled at college, and then university to study photography. Along the way, she met a string of women. Some of them stayed and became friends, others were occasional lovers and drifted away, leaving only the loosest of knots around her heart. Then, at twenty, she met Lorna.
They met on a date that had been arranged by a mutual friend. Lucy had seen Lorna once or twice around the campus, but could never summon up the level of courage needed to go talk to her. The mutual friend had casually suggested that Lorna may have seen Lucy around and may have been interested.
So it was that Lucy sat with her mouth hanging open in a swanky London restaurant, both of them bathed in swaying candlelight and eating tiny, expensive portions of food. Lucy nearly managed to ruin the dates with her nerves, and generally acted like she was in the presence of some kind of almighty deity. Lorna laughed – not politely, but genuinely and supportively – at Lucy’s stammered jokes and anecdotes.
It was only after their first, proper kiss did Lucy seem to finally relax around her.
They moved in together when Lucy was twenty-two, into a small ground floor flat in Crouch End which they both loved. Lorna was working full-time in a book shop, and Lucy was at doing her Masters in Fine Art, with hopes to eventually go into professional photography.
They went back to Elderwick Manor to collect the last of Lucy’s things. Her father was polite, but distant. He hadn’t quite accepted that his daughter was moving in with another girl. Lucy didn’t care; denial was in his nature.
She felt a pang of resentment as she got the last box from her bedroom. She had finally given in to the spirit’s demands. She’d gone away to university, but that had been a temporary thing. She’d intended to come back to Elderwick Manor. Now, she was leaving for good.
She pulled the poster down to reveal those old words that had scared her so long ago. She hoped that the shadow-figure would show up one last time so that she could leave with a witty remark and stick two fingers up at it. But it didn’t.
“See. I’m going. You win,” she said as she pulled the door closed behind her. “Now leave me the fuck alone,” she hissed.
Lucy was the happiest she had ever been. She’d already been approached by a few fashion and art blogs to photograph for them. She was also running her own website, using her friends and Lorna as volunteer models to showcase her skills. Lorna was working her way to managing the branch of the bookshop that she worked in. It felt like life was finally delivering on the promises made by grown ups and teachers and romantic comedies. There were birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, a few too-short holidays abroad. There were some arguments too, but they were minor things and afterwards Lucy and Lorna would get on with the business of loving each other again.
Eventually, Lucy almost managed to completely forget about her years of haunting. That was the pas and she wanted nothing more than to put it behind her.
Lucy was twenty-five when she received a call from her father. He told her that he had terminal cancer, and that he had a year at most to live. He told her that he loved her, and that he was sorry for being a failure as a father. They both sobbed down the phone to each other, releasing years of pent-up emotion.
Once again, life unexpectedly collapsed for Lucy Madison.
On a muggy Wednesday in June, a year and six months after her fathers predicted expiry date had passed, he died at home.
The couple were on their way to visit him, when her mobile rang and Lorna answered. She made Lucy pull over before she told her what had happened and then held her until she was able to move again.
A week later they buried him besides his wife. Once again, Lucy could feel those dark fingers of depression pulling at her, and once again she felt powerless to wrestle them away. She retreated into herself, only this time being careful not to leave Lorna behind.
It was a hard time for both of them, and they found their time together filled with weighted silences that had never been there before. Lorna would talk, and Lucy would not hear. Lorna would kiss her goodbye in the morning, and return home to find her sat in the same position as she had been in eight hours before, perched on the end of the bed like some kind of mournful pyjama-clad grotesque.
Lucy stopped producing art and working for her friends and their income began to dwindle. Lorna didn’t care about any of that. She just wanted her Lucy back.
When Lucy finally did resurface, she found she still had Lorna. But the rent and bills had fallen into arrears, and they had until the end of the month to move out of the flat.
They considered going to stay with Lorna’s parents, but Lorna were still trying to piece together the fragile remains of their relationship and having Lucy there would only make things harder for everyone. So, they had to go with their final option and move into Lucy’s old family home, Elderwick Manor. Lorna reasoned that it would only be for a few months at most, just until they could sell the place. She knew what Lucy had gone through in her childhood, but it was their only realistic option.
Lucy agreed with her – what else could she do? – but deep down she was dreading it. Because for the first time in a long time, she thought about the ghost.
It was a blustery day when the moving truck delivered their belongings to the house. Lucy stared up at the second story, her eyes scanning the windows for signs of her shadow figure. The wind blew Lorna’s hair all over her face, and she nearly tripped over whilst carrying a cardboard box marked Fragile.
She noticed that in the time she’d been away, the town had grown and extended its reach. New roads dripped down the hills like mercury in all directions, stretching out beyond its old borders, where Lucy could see the old dividing lines of where the town had ended and the farmland had begun.
She hoped that the ghost would continue to leave her alone, that somehow it would understand that her moving back was only temporary.
They unpacked. Lucy wandered off, and poked her head around the door to her parent’s bedroom and saw her father’s high-backed chair. It looked wrong without her father’s frail, papery body filling it. Next to the chair was the glinting medical steel of an IV stand.
A few of her father’s belongings lay on the nightstand, oblivious to the fact that he would never be returning to claim them. On the other side of the bed was a picture of the family, taken before life threw its obstacles and trials at them and wore them down to dust.
In the photo, her father was wearing a pale grey suit and rested an arm across her mother’s shoulders. She was wearing a daffodil-yellow summer dress, cut slightly above her dimpled knees. Little baby Lucy was there, all dribble-faced and happy, held in her mother’s arms. Behind them was Elderwick Manor, framed against a swatch of bright sky.
Lucy hugged the photo to her and tried not to cry too loudly. She didn’t want to worry Lorna.
Lucy felt uneasy in the house. Too many bad memories. She had looked into her old bedroom room just once. Everything had been covered in the same plastic sheeting as the guest room. The band poster covering the words scratched there years ago had still been on the wall.
They decided to sleep in one of the many guest bedrooms, not wanting to take Lucy’s old room or her parent’s bedroom.
Most of the room was buried under rime-coloured plastic sheets, and the two of them enjoyed ripping it all off. Lost in all of the noisy destruction, they found themselves meeting in the middle with their arms around each other. Caught in the icy room, Lucy found Lorna looking deeply into her eyes in a way that had always gone straight through her armour, and her ego, and her carefully-constructed cynicism. Lorna saw as she always had: right into the very depths of Lucy’s heart.
That first night, they were both jolted awake to what sounded like a cat being murdered. When Lucy reached out an arm and switched a lamp on, the noise stopped.
“I hate this place,” Lucy said, trying for a tone of weary bravado. She switched the light off and snuggled back down as if nothing had happened. Lorna was staring straight at her, eyes wide in the dark.
“Are you okay?” Lucy asked.
“No Luce, not really!” hissed Lorna. “What the fuck was that?”
“Baby, this is the country. You get all sorts of noises like that out here. It was probably just a fox, they make the weirdest noises.”
“A fox?” repeated Lorna, deadpan.
“Yep. A fox.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? That was in the fucking room! You don’t think it might have been…” Lorna stopped, her mouth hanging open, as the room was suddenly filled with a rising scream that sounded unequivocally human.
The discarded plastic sheeting that lay on the floor rose up and hung there as if from invisible robes. There was a suggestion of a human shape in the sheeting, like a badly-wrapped present.
Lorna sat up and started to scream, adding to the noise in the room. She bicycled backwards in the bed until she banged against the headboard.
Lucy stepped out of bed and moved towards the figure.
“Lucy!” shouted Lorna.
“Go away!” Lucy shouted at the figure. “Leave me alone, please!”
But it remained. The plastic sucked and tightened around its form, giving it more of a defined outline. Lucy could see reed thin arms, a neck, and a definite head. Underneath the semi-transparent sheeting, Lucy could make out the glow of two burning white eyes.
The shrouded figure raised an arm and jabbed one of its fingers at her, and then it slowly turned to point towards the door. The message was clear. GET OUT.
“You think I don’t want to go? I don’t have a fucking choice!” Lucy sobbed. “Just leave me alone!”
With that outburst, the thing was gone, and the plastic sheeting fell to the floor.
They didn’t sleep much over the next couple of days. The ghost didn’t reappear, but even in its absence they jumped at every tiny sound. They would occasionally fall asleep in each other’s arms surrounded by the noise of inane TV chat shows, only to jerk awake again with a start a few hours later. It felt like they were in a prison, slowly counting out the days until they were free once again.
It was their third week at the house when they received a letter from the solicitors. After her father had died, Lucy had gone along to their sparsely decorated office in Kings Cross. Numb and weary from grief, she’d blanked out the majority of the legal talk, and instead instructed them to do whatever they needed. She’d signed everything they’d asked her, and she’d asked only that they contact her when it was all done and dusted.
She wasn’t expecting much. Certainly not from her father anyway. She had assumed that the house would be the entirety of her inheritance, though she reasoned she could sell it. She wasn’t expecting much. Certainly not from her father anyway. She, rather incorrectly assumed that all of the money was tied up in the house.
Lucy was sitting in the study, surrounded by the musty, comforting smells of her father’s books. Afternoon light streamed in through the large window, casting a square of molten gold over the leather book bindings.
Her father’s glasses were neatly positioned in the centre of the desk, and small rectangles of lemon light spilt out of them and over the dark wood. It was as if he were looking out of them from beyond the grave.
She picked them and tried them on; the prescription made her feel drunk. She took them off and pulled open a drawer to put them away. She saw a blank, white envelope sticking out from beneath some other papers. She pulled it out and looked it over. It wasn’t addressed to anyone and it was sealed. She held it up to the light and saw the faint, but unmistakable handwriting of her father scrawled on the paper inside.
For a moment Lucy considered opening it. She took a silver letter opener and began to slide its edge down the envelope.
Lorna opened the door, holding cup of tea and an envelope and Lucy jumped. She half expected her father, and frantically threw the envelope down onto the desk.
“Sorry,” she said, kissing Lucy on the cheek. She passed her the cup, and waggled the envelope in front of her face. “Good news, I think,” she said in a sing-song voice. She sniffed the envelope and grinned. “Oh yeah, smells like good news.”
“Give it here,” Lucy laughed, snatching it away.
“So, how rich are we going to be? Oprah rich, or Jeremy Kyle rich?”
When she’d been younger, Lucy had never really known what her parents had done. After her relationship with them had broken apart when they’d found out she was gay, she simply hadn’t cared enough to ask, but she’d always known that whatever they’d done, it had paid very well.
“Well if my father was as important as he appeared to be we should be able to buy a couple of houses in a few hot countries at the very least,” Lucy said, a smile growing on her features.
“Well as long as we can get the fuck out of here, I don’t care. I would also like to take this moment to tell you that I would still love you if we were still poor. I mean it’s going to be easier to say, I love you, sat on the beach drinking fruity drinks with umbrellas in… but you know what I mean.”
Lucy grinned, and smacked Lorna on the arm.
““I love you too,” Lucy said
“In my defence, I was after your body long before I was after your money.”
Lucy rolled her eyes and opened the envelope. The letter inside bore the marks of the family solicitors.
“Dear Ms Madison, we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of your father and offer our sincere blah blah blah…” Lucy murmured as she read the letter. Then she stopped reading aloud, and was quiet for a long time.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
“What?” Lorna said excitedly, “How much? Oh I can’t take it. Let me see.”
Lucy passed the letter over and waited as Lorna scanned the letter.
“Holy… fucking… shit,” she shouted, “I don’t even know how to say that number!”
“I know!” Lucy said, and re-examined the numbers again, as if she was afraid they’d changed, or weren’t even real. “We can do anything we want now. We can live anywhere we want! We don’t have to work ever again!”
They laughed together and held each other. Their recent burdens suddenly melted away. Lucy felt like she could finally take a full deep breath for the first time in years. She would never have to worry about money again, and she would never have to see Elderwick Manor again. She always knew that would be the case eventually. But her father hadn’t been so forthcoming after he had found out that Lucy was gay. After their first fight and falling out, she hadn’t ever been able to swallow her pride enough to ask for financial help. Things were better at the end, but a part of her knew that that was for him. The wounds were still there for both of them and she still managed to love him despite of them.
Lucy forgot about the other envelope.
They spent the rest of the day planning a world trip. They also talked about designing a dream home; a Neo-Gothic palace with a writing room with views of a redwood forest through a round window. Lucy wanted a dark room and photography studio. Lorna wanted a games room with a pool table and a bar. They both wanted a heated swimming pool and most importantly, a cleaner. They got carried away and ended up with plans for something that was between Dracula and Blade Runner in terms of aesthetics.
It was dark when they finally put the topic to rest and just sat there, content and smiling at each other, excitement frothing between them.
Lorna got up to make them both some tea and stick some food on.
“We’ll pay someone to do that for us eventually, right?” Lorna asked.
“I’ll pay you,” said Lucy. “I think I can break the bank for a maid’s outfit too.”
“Even you don’t have the money for that,” Lorna laughed. Lucy smacked her arse with as she passed by.
Lorna was only gone for a few moments when there came a crash from the kitchen and Lucy heard her scream.
“Lorna?” Lucy called, but there was no answer.
An icy claw clutched her heart. Lucy jumped up, her mind racing with all of the infinite possibilities of what could have happened. It was fine, she’d just dropped a plate or burned herself a little on a hot pan…
Not now, she thought, please not now, as she raced down the hall to the kitchen.
Halfway there, standing in the doorway to her father’s study was the black shadow figure. She slid to a halt and looked at it in silence. The light behind it fell through its shape and diffused only slightly. She noticed for the first time that it cast no shadow. She wanted to run to Lorna, but was fixed to the spot. Something turned in her gut as the shadow raised a black limb and pointed towards the door.
It suddenly dawned on Lucy that maybe it wasn’t trying to hurt her. That maybe, it never was. But it was too late.
The shadow-figure looked back over its shoulder and pointed towards the door again. But Lucy ignored it for the final time, choosing instead to rush into the kitchen; to Lorna.
Two men dressed in black clothes were stood over Lorna’s crumpled body. One of them was telling the other man that it was his fault. The other was claiming it had been an accident and there wasn’t supposed to be anyone here.
The person she loved most in the world lay on her back on the cold stone floor, the black handle of a kitchen knife rising from her chest. Blood was slowly spreading out from under her. It touched the men’s black boots. The ring that Lucy had bought her for her birthday winked in the bright kitchen light. Her eyes were open, her mouth half-open, her last words interrupted.
Lucy took in all of this detail in the time it took for the men to turn and see her.
They both looked at her with panic painted across their features. Lucy was lead. Lucy was stone. She stood still as they moved towards her. Another kitchen knife flashed in the light, winking like a star on a moonless night. She felt a thump, and then she was on her back, cold rising up from her feet and filling every nook of her body.
The taller of the two men looked down at her with fear and something like sadness in his grey eyes.
Lucy cast her slow gaze towards Lorna, taking in those perfect features. She had missed Lorna for a lifetime already before she finally closed her eyes, and the gold thread of her life reached its end.
There was only darkness for a time; utter and complete. Lucy thought she had her eyes closed, so she tried to open them, but still there was nothing. She heard the two men bickering and then even that faded.
She felt set adrift from time and it seemed to pass without measure for her. The darkness began to change like a photograph slowly emerging in the developing fluid shapes that started to appear.
She tried her best to focus her thoughts and concentrate. She wanted to see and move, but nothing seemed to speed the process up. The kitchen looked the same. Something was wrong though. She noticed that night had become day, but there was something else. Something important that she was missing.
Snow had begun to fall outside the window and in a blink the room changed. The silver sink was gone. She saw the flicker of someone moving through the room and then again and again, as if she was watching a film with missing frames.
“You know how there are definitely ghosts and stuff?” a voice said slowly. It sounded familiar. Was it a memory? A shade of a half forgotten thought?
“Yeah?” she replied.
“And you know when I die and stuff?”
“I hope that it’s you I see waiting on the other side for me.”
“What about Natalie Portman?”
“Okay, I hope I see you and Natalie Portman when I die.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet. Star Wars Portman, or Black Swan Portman?”
“She was like twelve when she was in Phantom Menance, you sicko?”
She heard a sweet laugh.
Lorna! Lucy remembered the conversation now; the two of them wrapped up in bed, in a tangle of arms and legs. Lucy’s hand grippig the pale curve of Lorna’s hip, and long brown hair spread out on the pillow. Their eyes close, the freckles of light dancing in hers. Warm breath on goose-bumpy skin. The smell of her hair, the barely noticeable scar on her chin from where she’d fallen off her bike when she was ten.
Lucy began to move through the house. It felt a little like swimming against a tide, and she had to stop every now and then to collect herself. Her thoughts wandered, and she found that concentrating hard was the only way to keep the image from fading into darkness again. What was she missing? She wanted Lorna and she tried to call her name but nothing came out.
The house changed in a heartbeat and children appeared and began to move around her feet in a blur, completely oblivious to her presence. Lucy turned a corner and saw a young man at the end of the hall looking straight at her.
His face was familiar to her, but it was one she had never known. He looked like her and he looked like her father and he looked like her mother.
“I tried to tell you,” he said sadly. “I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t go.”
Lucy Madison finally understood everything. But it didn’t matter anymore.
Lucy recognised the voice, and she turned, hoping to see her once more.
A white van pulled into the rubbish dump on Bledlow ridge, four miles from Elderwick Manor. Two men climbed out and started unloading furniture, whilst the council working running the site watched on. The men hefted a wooden desk made of dark wood over the side of the metal bins.
After they left the council worker climbed inside the bin and started pulling open the drawers looking for money, because sometimes, removal men forget to check the insides of wardrobes and dresser and reproduction furniture.
The man pulled out a drawer and a pair of glasses fell into the rubbish along with a sealed envelope. The envelope wasn’t addressed to anyone, so the man peeled his thick gloves off and ripped it open. It wasn’t money like he was expecting, but he read the letter.
My dearest Lucy,
I wish I had more time. I wish we could have fixed things.
I’m sorry I could only bring myself to write this and not call. But I am a coward, and I have always been a coward when it comes to these things. I was afraid of what you are and I know now that it wasn’t right to feel the way I did.
Your mother always wanted to have grandchildren, but after what happened to your older brother before you were born, and then when she found you with that girl. Well, you know the rest.
I need to tell you that I love you, even though I am too old and to cowardly to change. I hope that deep down, you know that I love you even though I can never bring myself to say it.
I hope you can forgive me.
The man discarded the letter amongst the rest of the rubbish and went on searching.