DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Sisters and Dolls
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. They have now joined forces with both the faeries, led by Gloriana, the dragon leader, Dabar, his dragon-mate, Leila, and their friend. Mr Cuttle. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. Now they have to find their enemy’s sister, and recover something special.
‘What the hell’s going on?’ muttered Morag to herself as she walked along the landing to the meeting-place of the Brotherhood, and approached the large door to the meeting-hall. She stopped. The door was ajar, but there was a terrible noise coming from inside. She pushed the door open gently. The sound increased. It was an absolute cacophony of squawks, shrill screams and laughter, together with the flutter and flapping of wings. She recognised what it was immediately. Adrian the seagull had brought all his mates along, and it was sheer pandemonium. As she peered through the doorway, she could se the Four Fingers, elderly grey man in grey suits, desperately trying to keep order, occasionally flailing their arms vainly at the birds swooping and flapping around them.
Morag’s face went crimson in fury. She had called this meeting especially to discuss a crisis in the Brotherhood, and she was in no mood to have Adrian and his raucous mates disrupt it. But a loud booming voice from the stairs behind her stopped her in her tracks, before she could burst in and confront the birds.
‘Morag, our lost child, that now is found!’ Come here, child.!’
Sister Teresa, huge in her grey nun’s habit, advanced on her, and enveloped her in an enormous embrace, clasping Morag against her. Morag yelled in pain. Her back was still painful and bruised from when Simon had thrown her against a wall on the previous night. Sister Teresa held her by the shoulders and looked down at her in concern. Her large brown face grew thunderous. ‘Who has done this to you, child? Was it the kidnappers?’ She had seen Morag’s bruised cheek and black eye. Morag had never seen Sister Teresa in a rage before, and she pitied what she would do to those who she confronted.
‘Morag, me darlin’ girl!’ A tall thin figure in a crumpled white suit and panama hat edged around Sister Teresa’s formidable bulk. ‘Back from your unfortunate travels!’ It was Pat, the Irish scholar, with a penchant for whisky. His smile faded as he too, saw the bruises on Morag’s face. But he stepped forward. ‘Allow me to plant a fond peck on the cheek for our favourite policewoman. The other cheek’. he added hastily. Morag smiled at him. She liked Pat, though she smelt the whisky on his breath as he kissed her. He was always good-natured, and knew a great deal about things of which she had no knowledge. She felt comfortable with him. But her face hardened as she looked back at the doorway, and heard the racket inside. She made her mind up. It was time for action.
‘Stay here for a moment’, she said, softly, to them both. ‘I’m going to sort this out once and for all’.
She pushed the door open hard, and strode in, ignoring the seagulls
‘It’s the female copper! The faery bint! Come to arrest us? Clear off! Cor’ look! She’s got a shiner! Trouble wiv’ your boyfriends? Don’t blame ‘em! Plod! Plod! Plod!’
Morag ignored them. She had had far worse than that in her profession. She marched up to Adrian who was strutting up and down the main table as if he was some kind of bird-like Napoleon. As he saw her approaching the table, menacingly, he clacked his beak in a repulsive and sneering manner.
‘Get this lot out of here, Adrian! Now!’ Morag snapped.
‘Listen to this female plod, lads! Trying to tell us what to do!’ The other birds jeered again.
‘I said, get this lot out of here!’
‘Listen to her, lads! Thinks she can push us around! Get back to yer’ little dollies, girlie! That’s all you’re fit for!’
That did it. Morag’s eyes turned hard grey. Adrian saw it at the last moment, but he was too late. Morag’s right arm shot out, and her hand seized him hard around the neck. Before he could protest, she dragged him off the table, wrapped her left arm around him before he could flap his wings, and held him tightly against her, her right hand still gripping his neck. Adrian’s webbed feet paddled helplessly in the air.
‘Now get them out, Adrian’, she hissed, ‘Or your head comes off!’
‘Adrian!’ cried out the biggest bird in alarm. ‘She’s got ‘im by the short and curlies!’
The other birds settled menacingly on the tables and chairs around her.
‘Do you want us to get her, Adrian? Teach her a lesson, like?’ One of the smaller and nastier birds squawked.
‘If they come anywhere near me, Adrian, I’ll twist your neck! Now get them out!’ Morag gave his neck a hard squeeze.
Adrian gulped, and gasped for breath. ‘Clear off, boys!’ he croaked. ‘We’re just gonna negociate!’
‘You sure, Adrian?’ said the same bird doubtfully.
‘Yeah! Just clear off, right!’
Grumbling and squawking still, the birds gradually flew out of one of the open tall windows that ran along the right wall. Morag waited until they had all finally disappeared, and then turned to look at the Four Fingers, who were staring open-mouthed in astonishment.
‘What are you looking at?’ she demanded. ‘You.’ She stared at Little finger, the smallest and plumpest of them. ‘Go and close that window! I don’t want that bunch of feathered morons in here again!’ Little Finger obediently got up and closed the window. Morag could hear Pat and Sister Teresa come in behind her, and close the door, quietly.
‘Gerroff me!’ he spluttered..
Pat slid a chair across behind her. ‘Have a seat, Ma’am’ he offered, politely.
‘Thank you, Pat’.
She sat down as Pat courteously slid it behind her. ‘Now, Adrian, you and I are going to have a little talk, together’.
‘Bloody plod! Police brutality! I want a solicitor! Arrrgh!’ Morag had given his neck another hard squeeze.
‘Shut up! I want to say some things to you , Adrian, and you will listen. Won’t you?’ Another hard squeeze.
Morag’s voice was now quite gentle and sweet, but it sounded even more ominous than her anger.
‘Adrian, you have done nothing but insult and abuse me ever since I joined this Brotherhood, and I’m not putting up with it any more. I’ve had it with you, Adrian! In future you will treat me with some courtesy and respect! Is that clear?’ She gave his neck another hard squeeze. Adrian yelped and gurgled.
My name is Morag, Adrian’. She said softly. ‘I am the daughter of Moran the faery, who was greatly loved and admired. By abusing me, you are abusing the memory of my mother also. That greatly offends me, Adrian, and I will not tolerate it. Do you understand?’ She squeezed his neck again for emphasis.
Adrian made a choking sound.
‘Yeah’. He squeaked at last.
‘Yeah……Morag’. Adrian muttered.
‘Thank you. Please remember that in future. And no more abuse’.
‘Fine. Then we have an understanding, Adrian’. She got up and carried him over to the table. ‘Remember, Adrian, this is just a caution. If you re-offend , I won’t be so lenient. There you go’. She set Adrian gently down on the table-top, who immediately flapped his wings to stretch them, and moved his head around to get rid of the cramp.
‘Blimey’, he muttered. ‘That was a bit much., wasn’t it.? We were just having a bit of fun’.
She looked at him.
‘Morag’ he muttered, again.
‘Oi’. It said.
‘Excuse me’, she said politely and bent down from her chair. She saw a shapeless bundle of hair, in which two black eyes gleamed. ‘Nice one, lass’, Sniffer said. ‘About time. He had it coming. It’s really good to have you back’.
‘Thanks, Sniffer’, Morag said simply. ‘You would have been proud of me, yesterday. I was even more filthy than you’.
‘Ah, well, you’re learning the art of camouflage’, Sniffer replied. She could swear she could see a smile under the mop of hair that constituted his face.
‘We have to wait for Simon and Annie to arrive’ announced Index Finger, the main spokesman and chair.
Morag sat up. ‘They’re not coming’.
They all stared at her in consternation, even Indira and Pei-Ying, who had walked in quietly, and unnoticed.
‘They’re not coming, not for a while at least. You’d better read this’. She pushed an envelope across to Index Finger who opened it, and spread out the single page it contained.
‘Please read it aloud’. Morag said, quietly. Index Finger began to read.
“We, the undersigned, hereby appoint our fellow sister, Detective Constable Morag Wren, to be our representative at this and all subsequent meetings until such time as certain matters are resolved. Due to present circumstances, we regret that we are unable to participate in any further Brotherhood and Sisterhood activity for the immediate future. Any communication should be channelled through our representative until further notice. DC Morag Wren has full authority to act on our behalf.
Simon and Annie Wheeler.”
There was dead silence in the room. Even Adrian, who had been muttering sulkily under his breath, was shocked.
Indira and Pei-Ying suddenly noticed for the first time Morag’s swollen and bruised face.
‘Bloody hell! Who did that to you, Morag? demanded Indira.
Morag looked at her. ‘Annie did’. she said quietly.
Indira stared at her for a moment. Then she shouted furiously. ‘Annie would never do that! What’s happening here?’
‘Please let me explain…’ Morag said, patiently. She knew how volatile Indira could be.
But Indira was in full spate. ‘Do you realise that Annie nearly died trying to find you! Do you! She nearly died! And you come here with this stupid little note saying they’re not coming! I bet you coerced them into it, you malicious little sod! Annie didn’t like it and gave you a black eye! Serve you right!
‘Indira, it wasn’t like that!’ Morag said desperately.
‘Like hell it wasn’t! You stupid bloody plod! On top of everything else, they had to go out and find you, because you’re so stupid as to get yourself kidnapped! Or so you say! We nearly lost our closest friends because of you! You’ve been nothing but trouble since you’ve been here! You bloody cow!’
‘Yo’ shut your mouth, gal!’ Sister Teresa rose up, thunderously. ‘You don’ speak to her like that! Yo’ got a gob like a fly-trap! You shut it, or yo’ getting the back of my hand across yo’ pretty little face! Yo’ done here!’
‘You don’t talk to me like that!’ Indira snapped back furiously.
Sister Teresa took a large ominous step forward, towards Indira. ‘Listen hard, gal! You don’t let that big mouth of yours write cheques that yo’ brain can’t cash! Yo’ sit down and wait to hear what this child has to say!’ Her large fist came down with a thunderous crash on the table that shook under the impact.
Even Indira’s proud spirit quailed before the sight of Sister Teresa bearing down on her. It was as if you looked up and saw a great grey avalanche about to come down on you. Indira sat down abruptly, and burst into tears, her head in her hands. Pei-Ying still stood upright, glaring at Sister Teresa ablaze with her almighty wrath.
‘You got something to say, missy?’ Sister Teresa roared.
Pei-Ying looked at her, then down at her friend. ‘No.’ she said.
‘Then yo’ comfort yo’ friend! I’m done here!’
Sister Teresa sat back down on her chair, and folded her large arms across her chest. ‘Go on, child. You need to tell us’.
She had lost the rather inauthentic Jamaican accent and idiom, and was now back to her normal self. Morag was shocked and alarmed by what had happened. But she recovered herself with an effort.. She decided to be as professional as she could. She thought of Simon and Annie. She could hear Indira was still snuffling. The others looked grim and worried. But she decided that she would be very blunt about what she said. It was the only way.
‘The reason they’re not coming’, she began, ‘is because they are ill, very ill’. She was aware of everyone’s attention on her now. She chose her words carefully. ‘They have been infected, if you can call it that, with faery rage. It is the dark side of the faerys, though faerys, like myself, are able to control it. But they are human. They can’t control it, and as you can see for yourselves’, she pointed at her bruised face, ‘this is the result’.
‘I still can’t believe Annie did that to you!’ Indira cried tearfully.
‘Nor can I. But she did. This morning. I really thought that she might kill me. Look’. She pulled the silk scarf that she was wearing away. They gasped as they saw the bruising around Morag’s slim neck.
‘That’s what I mean about losing control’. Morag continued, in the same even voice. Inside, she was trying to control her own anger. ‘At this moment, they cannot be trusted. I’m not sure they can even trust themselves. Last night, I saw them turn on each other! I swear that is true, as a faery, and on my mother’s memory!’
They all looked stunned, even Adrian.
‘That is why I have taken responsibility for them, as ….well, their elder sister. You see, They’re….’ Her voice trailed away for a moment, and then resumed. ‘They’re the only family I’ve got, now my mother’s gone. I want to make sure that I can, at least, try to find a way of curing this. They need to be looked after themselves now, for a change, and I intend to do just that!’ she ended defiantly.
There was silence for a few moments.
It was Pat who broke the silence. ‘If I understand this rightly, Morag, darling, you’re putting them into quarantine, until you find out the cause. Is that right?’
‘I know what the cause is, Pat’.
‘Then, what is it?’
‘This’. Morag pointed to her own talisman.
They stared at the talisman in astonishment, even Indira, who had stopped sniffing.
‘But this can’t be true! The talismans have helped us in the past!’ Little Finger cried. He looked at the ring on Morag’s finger. ‘This can’t be true!’
‘It is true!’ snapped Morag furiously. Her own anger was seething inside her. ‘Every single time they’ve used the talisman, it’s built up the rage inside them! They can barely control it any longer! They’re a danger to others, and a danger to themselves! Can’t you understand that? And it’s not even their own fault! It’s yours!’ She pointed her finger at the Four Fingers.
‘What? Wait a minute!’ Pat cried out in shock. ‘Morag, darling, what are you telling us? Do you mean to say that this rage or whatever it is, is life-threatening?’
Morag could feel her voice breaking. ‘Yes, it is, Pat. It’s going to kill them, unless I do something about it’. She paused., her eyes prickling with tears. ‘And not just that. There’s something else too. That’s why I’m so angry’.
She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. ‘I want to make an accusation. Against you’. She pointed again to the Four Fingers, who sat frozen in their seats. ‘Over the last two years, you’ve sent them out, or at least allowed them, to risk themselves in terrible situations. They’ve nearly died several times over! They’re tired, weary! They’re battle- fatigued, shell-shocked, traumatised, whatever you want to call it! It has made their rage worse! They’re literally too tired to be able to control it! And you’, she pointed her finger again, ‘are to blame!’
Pat looked around at the others. “Pardon me asking, Morag, but how do you know this?’
Morag rubbed her eyes again, which were still moist. ‘Because I sent a sprite to find out’.
‘A sprite? Pat asked in amazement. ‘I’ve heard of those before, but I’ve never known anyone to use them’.
Indira lifted her head to look at her. ‘You mean an avatar? Is that what you did? You used magic?’
‘No, not magic!’ Morag replied sharply. ‘The sprite was an extension of myself, my own mind if you like. There was nothing magic about it! It was something my mother taught me’. She was silent for a few seconds. ‘I saw everything that they’ve been through, over the last two years. Everything! Dear God, I just don’t know how they survived!’ She breathed deeply. ‘They should never have gone through what they’ve gone through. I’m not letting them do anything else, now, not until I’m satisfied that they can be cured and that they’re over it. Do you hear me? Her voice, tearful, rose. ‘I’m not going to let them die! Do you understand? I’m not going to let them die!’
Everyone was silenced yet again by her outburst. Morag angrily pulled out a tissue and began to dab her eyes, wincing as she rubbed it across where Annie had damaged her.
‘What are you planning to do, then, Morag?’ asked Pat, after another few moments.
‘I’m going to find Nicholas Flamel and see if he can do something about this. He’s the only one who knows how to put the talismans right. That’s my plan’. She looked down at the table for a second, and then up again at them. ‘They’re my brother and sister’. she said simply. ‘I love them dearly, and I will do anything I can to make them better. I hope you all understand’.
‘We all understand, child’. Sister Teresa said gently. ‘Yo’ knows what you doing’.
‘Really! I do not think this is proper…..’began Index Finger. ‘You have no experience……’
‘Shut up!’ Morag rounded on him fiercely. ‘Get out of my sight! Now!’ She glared at the other Fingers. ‘Go on , the four of you! Just get out of my sight! Clear off, and don’t come back until you’ve got something useful to say! Go on, move it!’
The Four Fingers hesitated, and looked at each other. ‘I said, clear off!!’ Morag shouted furiously. They got up and shuffled out meekly.
‘Do you want us to go as well, Morag?’ Pat asked, gently.
‘I suppose so. Sorry, Pat, but there’s not much you can do at the moment. Or Sniffer. Sorry’. Morag held her head in her hands, miserably.
‘Well, Sniffer, me boy, I reckon it’s off to the pub with us’. Pat peered down under the table. ‘Coming?’
‘Yeah’. Sniffer got up and ambled off after Pat. He paused and looked back. ‘Me and Pat’ll be in reserve if you need us, lass. You know that’.
‘I know. Thank you, both of you’. she called after them.
‘Aye…Morag. You want me and the boys to keep an eye on them? From the top, so to speak’. It was Adrian. Morag realised that this was a peace offering.
“I’d be grateful if you would, Adrian. Just in case’.
‘No problem. See you….Morag’.
Adrian swooped off through the door after Pat and Sniffer.
‘Please, Sister Teresa. I would be grateful if you could stay for a few moments’. Morag said. She was beginning to feel really weary. ‘If you could too’, She looked at Pei-Ying and Indira, who was running her hands miserably through her hair. ‘Please, if you could too’.
‘What you want of me, child?’ Sister Teresa asked softly. ‘Yo’ know I do it’.
“I want to ask a very big favour of you, Sister Teresa. Would you….well, would you give Simon and Annie some counselling? I don’t know who better than you. They won’t go to ordinary counselling, and anyway, they wouldn’t believe them. But they would listen to you. I know they would. But…’ she hesitated. ‘But without religion? I think you know what I mean’.
Sister Teresa chuckled loudly. ‘What you take me for, child? A missionary? No, child! My faith is between me and He who lives upstairs. I done counselling for years, They talk, I listen. Don’t you worry about that. That’s the way it works. I look after them, I promise you’.
Sister Teresa rose majestically. ‘’If that’s all, child, I go now. Hey, you!’
Indira looked up, rather fearfully.
‘Yo’ got the rough side of my tongue, child, because of your mouth. But you a good child, and you both kind and generous-hearted. Don’t mind me. I get mad when I hear bad words. But yo’ both good children. Yo’ mind what you say in future though’.
She looked at Morag. “yo’ look after yourself, our poor lost child. Yo had a bad time of it, We all know that. Yo’ look after yourself. You ain’t no good to your brother and sister if you get laid up as well. You remember that’. She hesitated for a moment. ‘I knew yo’ Momma, child. She was a great person. Yo’ a credit to her’.
She paused in the doorway, her bulk blocking any light there was, and looked back. ‘You tell them, they don’t call me, I call them’. Then she disappeared.
There was quiet for a moment. Then Indira looked up. ‘Morag, I’m really sorry about what I said earlier. I really am. It was out of order. I didn’t realise properly what you’ve been through. Bloody hell, every time I open my big mouth, I put my foot in a bucketful of shit! As usual’. she added bitterly.
Morag saw Pei-Ying put her hand gently on her friend’s shoulder. ‘It’s forgiven, and forgotten, Indira. It doesn’t matter. Look, you look after them as and when you can, and make sure that they don’t lose their tempers, because otherwise…..I don’t know what the consequences might be’.
‘We understand’. Pei-Ying said quietly. ‘We made a promise to them. Where they go, we go’.
‘I know’. Morag said tiredly. ‘I saw it. Look, I need a dose of caffeine to keep me awake. Why don’t I treat you both to coffee and cupcakes at the Bomb Blast Café? Then you can tell me about what Simon and Annie told you about how they rescued me from a fate worse than death. You see, that’s the only part I don’t know about’.
‘Deal’. Indira replied. ‘Because we’re both broke’. She suddenly smiled at Morag. ‘We’re glad you’re back’.
‘I can tell you something good about getting abducted. It saves you money. Come on’.
They all burst out laughing.
‘What have you got, Simon? Annie asked, as she picked her way gingerly across his crowded bedroom floor, and handed him a mug of tea. Simon wearily rubbed his hand across the face. A list of names stared back from the computer screen in front of him. ‘I’ve narrowed it down to twenty-two names. All called Elderton, and all living in Norwich. But that’s as far as I’ve got. Anything else that you can remember, Annie? Anything! Something she said on the phone, that might narrow it down a bit more?’
Annie tried to remember. ‘Yes’. she said slowly. ‘They played together, and they each had a doll. That must mean they were both about the same age. And she said something about a large garden. I know! Simon, try cross-referencing to find out if any of these Eldertons had twin daughters, or at least two daughters!’
‘Back into the family trees and ancestry sites’. He groaned. ‘Oh well, go on then’. He began flicking back through the websites he had already accessed. Annie sat cross-legged on the bed, her chin in her hands, thinking furiously. She realised that Venoma, or Isabelle had given them clues. But she wasn’t sure what they were as yet.
‘Wow! Simon cried. ‘You were right, Annie! It’s down to three now! Have a look!’ Annie stared at the screen. For some reason, perhaps instinct, she concentrated hard at the middle names. ‘Paul and Francoise Elderton, both deceased. Two daughters, Louise and… and Isabelle. Born Norwich’. I’m sure that’s them, Simon!’
‘How do you know?’
‘I don’t. But I’m sure it’s them! Is there any way of knowing where they are now?’
‘I’ll try. But what makes you so sure?’
‘Trust me, Simon. I just know’.
Se sat screwing her hands together, listening her brother’s fingers on the keyboard.
‘Annie!’ he cried. ‘You won’t believe this!’
‘What?’ she stared, amazed. at the screen. ‘It can’t be! They’re here in Brighton! All this time, and they’ve been under our noses!’
She read it aloud. ‘Louise Hope, nee Elderton, Born 1992, married, William Hope, antique restorer, 20010. That’s only last year! Sister, Isabelle Alderton, unmarried, Also born 1992. Present whereabouts unknown (registered MP CC 1997). What does that mean? My God, they live in Kemptown!’
‘Only since 2009. Some of this I got from census records, and from a few other sources’.
‘You’ve been hacking, Simon, you naughty boy!’ Annie laughed, and then looked at the screen again. ‘What on earth does MP.CC mean, though?’
‘I don’t know. My brain’s fried. I’ve been on this computer for the last three hours. But I’ll print this off first.’.
There was a gentle tap on the bedroom door. They looked at each other, puzzled and then Annie got up, skirting everything on the floor, and opened it. ‘Morag!’ She cried in delight.. ‘Come in! If you can find a way through the labyrinth, that is!’ Morag carefully found a way through the debris on Simon’s floor. ‘Is it always like this?’ she asked, incredulously. looking around.
‘Course not’. Simon replied cheerfully. ‘This is it on a good day. Are you all right, Morag?’
Morag looked desperately tired. The day had taken its toll on her. She sat down on Simon’s bed. ‘I want to say some very important things to you, and I need to do it tonight. What’s that? she said suddenly, looking at the computer screen.
‘Can you tell us, Morag? We don’t know what these initials mean. MPCC?’
‘Move over, sweetheart, and let me have a look’ Morag settled down on the bed next to Simon and smiled at him. He smiled back. Annie suddenly felt that pang of jealousy that she always felt when she saw her brother and Morag close together.
‘She’s a Missing Person, Case closed. She’s a cold case, Simon. Is she the one that abducted me?’
‘Right. I can help you out here. Let’s look in our Missing Persons files. I’ve got the password’. She leant over and began tapping in some numbers. ‘What was her name? Isabelle Elderton? From Norwich? Five years old at time of disappearance? 1997? She tapped in a few more numbers. ‘There she is! she said triumphantly.
There was a photograph on the screen. It was of two young girls, both about five years old, smiling at the camera. There were handwritten notes under the photograph, that identified the one on the left as Louise, who was holding a doll with the same blonde hair as she. She wore what looked like a party dress, white with lace. She smiled at the camera with that innocence that only young children possess.
‘Is there a phone number?’ Annie asked. Simon shook his head. ‘No, she must be ex-directory. Hang on, though, I’ve got an idea’. He jumped up and ran down the stairs.
Annie looked at Morag. ‘Give me your car keys. Give them to me. Now’
Morag handed them over. ‘Why?’ she asked, plaintively.
‘Because you are not driving anywhere, tonight. Nor are you taking a taxi, You’re staying here. I’ve got a spare bed in my room. It’s made up and that’s where you are going to sleep. Don’t argue with me, Morag. I mean it. You’re too tired to go anywhere’.
‘All right, Annie’, Morag said with relief. ‘I don’t think I can go anywhere. I’ve still got some things to tell you, though’.
Simon rushed back into the room. ‘I’ve found them! Look!’ he pointed to the yellow pages directory he had brought. ‘There they are! Hope and Elderton, antique restorers! In Kemptown! I know where they are.!’
‘Look, can I just say what I want to say!’ Morag snapped. ‘It’s really important!’
They looked at each other, ’Go on, Morag’. Annie said.
‘I was talking to your parents before I came up here.’ Morag said quietly. ‘They’re going to help me find Nicholas Flamel, so that I can see if he can sort out your anger and rage. They promised me they would’.
They were both still silent. ‘There’s another thing’. Morag continued, desperately fighting her own weariness. ‘They asked me to become part of the family. I said I would like to ask you first’.
Simon smiled across at his sister. ‘I suppose we can put up with you, can’t we, Annie?’
‘She’s not too bad, I suppose’. said Annie.
‘In fact she’s quite nice, really.
‘Actually, she’s rather nice’
‘Well, we might as well have her then’.
‘Shut up! Stop teasing me! There’s something else. I just want to say, thank you for bringing me back. Indira and Pei-Ying told me about what you’d gone through to find me. I’m really grateful, and I want you to know that. But just stop teasing me! I’ve had enough!’
Morag suddenly burst into tears, her head in her hands. They both instantly leapt at her. Simon cradled Morag’s head against his shoulder. ‘I’ve got the undamaged side!’ he cried. ‘You can have her hands!’ Annie pulled her hands down and held them firmly.
Morag burst out laughing through her tears. ‘Stop fighting over me, you two! I feel like I’m going to be dismembered! Let me get up!’ She put her hands on both their shoulders and began to sway. Simon caught her in his arms, and picked her up. She put her arms around his neck. ‘Bring her through into my bedroom, Simon, now!’ Annie ordered. He carried Morag through to Annie’s bedroom and laid her on the spare bed. ‘That was nice’. Morag mumbled sleepily. ‘A pleasure, dear princess’. Simon said softly. He bent down and kissed Morag lightly on the lips.
‘Molesting a policewoman. I can charge you for that’ she whispered drowsily.
‘Clear off, Simon! I’ll put her to bed’. Go on!’ Annie glared balefully at him. He shrugged and walked out . Then she turned and began to take off Morag’s shoes. ‘Come on, dear sister’. she said softly. ‘Let’s get you to sleep’. She could hear her brother dialling the phone downstairs. But her first duty now was to Morag. who was clearly exhausted. She was going to have words with her brother later.
She had to virtually undress Morag herself, since she was so tired. Annie drew the duvet up over her, and stroked Morag’s long dark hair, softly, moving it back from her bruised face. ‘Thanks’. Morag whispered drowsily. ‘My mum used to do that’. She almost immediately fell asleep, her head cradled in the pillow. Annie stood up and looked down at her. Then she moved quietly out of the bedroom, leaving just a small bedside light on. Morag looked peaceful, like a small child
Annie walked into her brother’s bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her, in case she woke Morag. She stormed up to her brother who was back sitting at his computer. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, Simon?’ she demanded. He looked at her, bewildered.
‘What are you talking about, Annie?’
‘What’s going on between you and Morag? All this affection! All these soft looks and kisses! I thought you loved Ragimund! I even made sure that you and she were together, for the sake of your own happiness and hers! And what do you do? Start having an affair with poor Morag! You bloody liar! You bloody sod, Simon!’ She struck him across the face with the back of her hand. Simon caught her wrist as she started another sweep, and twisted it so that she sat down abruptly on the bed. She yelped in pain, and pulled away furiously. Simon sat down next to her. His eyes were grey, like hers, but after a few seconds, they became brown again.
‘You don’t understand, do you, Annie? He said softly. ‘You really don’t understand’.
‘Understand what?’ She snapped angrily.
He sat down next to her on the bed. ‘Just stay there for a minute and I’ll explain’.
He was quiet for a few seconds, then he began. ‘It’s about that poor little girl, Annabelle, who died so long ago, and about Moran, Morag’s mum. Do you remember, Annie, when we went into that terrible old house, and we saw her room with that sad little bed, and the rusty old manacles? I swear to you, Annie, that for the first time in my life, I felt an unbearable grief and sorrow for her, that trusting young girl who went, in all innocence, into that evil place. I cried for her, Annie! She was treated so cruelly! It was a hundred years ago, but I still feel it as if it was yesterday! I know it sounds stupid, but sometimes I don’t think time matters. I still feel for her. I always will!’
Annie remained quiet. She wanted her brother to continue. ‘I don’t know exactly when, or where. But Morag and I looked at each other, and, because of Annabelle, I suddenly felt her grief and misery as well! She felt mine, too, Annie! She’s still devastated by losing her mother! She was the only thing in the world that mattered to her! And I felt her loss! She felt mine!’
Simon hesitated for a moment or two. Annie remained quiet. ‘It, sort of, created a bond between us. We shared the same sort of grief and the sorrow that it had caused in both of us. We reached out to each other! I don’t know any other way of describing it, but it was as if we were reaching our hands out in the darkness, and clasping them together. We were giving each other comfort and sympathy, Annie. Because of that, we feel deep affection for each other, too’. He smiled. ‘I know you think we flirt with each other, and we do. Morag doesn’t mind, but you know I do have a thing about pretty policewomen’.
Annie cuffed him lightly on the side of the head. ‘Don’t be rude about your elder sister. But I do understand now’. She looked down at her own hands, noticing the absence of the talisman. ‘I’m very sorry, Simon’. She gulped slightly. ‘I wish I could still cry. I feel so ashamed of everything I’ve managed to do today. Everything’.
‘You could have killed her this morning. Annie’. Simon said, quietly.
‘I know. Don’t you think I realise that? But we’d better check on her. Come on’. They walked very softly into Annie’s bedroom, and looked down at Morag, still sleeping peacefully, her hands clasped together just below her chin. Annie looked at her brother. His face looked infinitely tender, and at the same time desperately sad.
‘She reminds me of Annabelle’. he whispered. ‘What she should have looked like, all that time ago.’. Annie looked at him for a moment, then pulled his arm gently. ‘Let’s leave her in peace’. she whispered equally softly.
Outside on the landing, Simon stopped. ‘I’ve forgotten to tell you. About that phone call. I just spoke to William Hope’.
‘What! What did he say?’
‘Come back into my room and I’ll tell you’.
She sat down again on the bed and looked at him, expectantly. ‘What happened?’ she asked.
‘Well, he was quite polite and formal. Quite young, by the sound of his voice. But, Annie, he knows us!’
‘He can’t! We’ve never even met him! I don’t like this, Simon! We might be walking into a trap! We don’t even know this sister, Louise. She might be even worse than Venoma!’
‘That would be pretty difficult. But, you see, Annie, he didn’t sound hostile. He was more, like, wary and apprehensive of us. At least that’s what my instincts tell me’.
Annie thought for a moment. ‘You may be right’, she admitted. ‘What time and where?’
‘At their shop, in Kemptown. Eleven o’clock’.
‘In daylight, at least. So there’s only one way to find out. I want Morag to stay here tomorrow as well, She’s had a really bad time. Besides, I want to find out what ructions she made at the Brotherhood this evening’.
‘Me too. By the way, Annie, Ragimund knows about the relationship between Morag and myself. I told her. I wouldn’t lie to her any more than I would to you’.
Annie looked at him. ‘What did she say?’
‘She understood. She says that’s what faerys do as well. Reach out to each other when they are grieving. She doesn’t care about the flirting, as you call it, either. She told me she didn’t mind, so long as I was faithful to her. And I am’.
“I see’. Annie said. She reached across and gently kissed him on the lips, as he had done to Morag.
‘What’s that for?’ he said, startled.
‘Just affection. Until tomorrow then. We can talk to Morag when we come back’.
‘If we come back’.
Annie stared at him from the doorway. ‘We will. “Sweet dreams dear prince” mimicking Morag’s voice She grinned at him and quietly closed the door before he could say anything.
She looked down at Morag as she was getting ready for bed. Then she very quietly pulled her desk chair over and sat down again, next to the sleeping figure of Morag who lay still, breathing gently, curled up like a small child. She took a deep breath and stroked Morag’s hair again. She didn’t dare speak aloud in case she awoke her, but formed her words in her mind, soundlessly.
“Morag, I hope you can hear me in your sleep. I want you to know that ever since you came into our lives, we’ve grown to love you dearly. Both of us. You are our sister, Morag. I can imagine your mother sitting here, as I am now, watching over you. We’re truly sorry that we hurt you, but at least we brought you back. We would never leave you alone in that darkness out there. But I want to say this to you. We may have helped stop one war, but we are still fighting another, and I don’t know how it will end. So far, we’ve got through on luck and circumstances, but I don’t know whether we’ll survive for much longer. In fact, I don’t know whether we have any future at all. At least you will have a family again, even if we’re not there. We’ll do our best, Morag, but if we don’t succeed, then I hope that you will always think well of us. Please be happy, Morag, for our sakes as well as yours. That’s all for now. Signing off. Annie.”
She pulled the chair back, and got into bed and switched off the bedside light. The room was in darkness. She listened to Morag’s soft breathing for a few minutes more, and then fell into a soft sleep herself.
‘So that’s it’. Annie said. She and her brother were standing next morning on the pavement in Upper St James’ Street, in Kemptown looking across the road to the small shop opposite. It stood in the middle of a small terrace of late nineteenth- century shops, with flats above. It was tall and narrow, with a flat bay window on the ground floor, and a glazed door on the left. There were two large windows above, and the stuccoed walls were painted white. “Hope and Elderton, Restorers” was embossed on the glass of the large bay in gold. It was small, but pleasantly attractive.
‘Was Morag still asleep when we left?’
‘Yes, but Mum’s looking after her for the rest of the day. She was really furious with us, Simon, for hurting poor Morag!’
‘Another bridge we’ll have to rebuild. It’s nearly time, Annie. We’d better go’.
They walked across the road, and Simon pressed the doorbell. A few moments later they could hear footsteps coming down stairs, The door opened and a very tall, dark-haired man stood there. ‘Simon and Annie Wheeler?’ he asked in a clear but pleasant voice. ‘Mr Hope, I assume?’ Simon replied’.
‘That’s right. Do come in’. He shut the door behind them. They looked around. There was a narrow flight of stairs on the left leading up to the rooms above. A wide opening on the right, revealed the shop, painted white with shelves and a display cabinet in the centre. Near the wall on the left was a wooden desk, with an old-fashioned cash register. Through a doorway at the back they could see workbenches and more shelves. But it was the objects that filled the display case and shelves that made Annie gasp. Small but exquisitely made objects filled them, glass, silver and ceramic, their bright colours highlighted by the white walls.
Annie turned to the tall man, who, she now noticed, had a long sharp nose, and deep brown eyes. His dark hair was tied back in a ponytail. He was smiling gently. ‘How did you know of us?’ she demanded, somewhat sharply.
‘I think that most faerys have heard of you’. The man said, simply.
It took a moment to register. ‘You’re a faery!’ Simon exclaimed in amazement.
‘Yes. My faery name is Belisarius. But everyone, including my wife, calls me Bill. Please come upstairs and meet her’. They followed him up the stairs, still feeling surprised. The stairs led to a small landing, with more stairs leading off to the rooms above. Bill opened the panelled door on the right of the landing, and led them in. They looked around again.
‘Louise, this is Simon and Annie. I told you about them’. He smiled at her mischievously. ‘They are great warriors. They have fought alongside faerys in battle, and they have defeated many monsters and other things besides. I know what they have done. They are faery-friends and allies. They mean us no harm’.
Louise, who had looked nervous at first, now looked reassured. She smiled back at her husband who had now brought up three small chairs from the back of the room and arranged them around his wife. They sat down around her. Bill stroked his wife’s cheek affectionately.
‘When is your child due, Louise?’ asked Annie gently.
‘In about a month, I hope. Look, can I ask you? Why are you here?’
Annie looked at her. Louise was pretty, and quite tall, despite her swollen abdomen. She wore no make-up, and her blonde hair was tied back, like her husband’s. But she was genuinely curious. Annie looked at her brother, who nodded. Honesty was the best policy.
‘It’s about your sister Isabelle, Louise’.
‘My sister? But she’s dead! She’s been missing since we were five years old!’
‘I’m afraid not, Louise. In fact she rang me a few days ago. I spoke to her. Louise, I don’t want to tell you this, but she has turned into a very unpleasant person’.
My sister is telling you the truth, Louise’. Simon said quietly. Annie knew he was trying to be very diplomatic.’ We are trying to be totally honest with you. You see, your sister Isabelle, who we know as Venoma, has tried to kill us at least twice. It’s not easy to say this, but she has turned evil, because of that family that took her away, all those years ago. My sister has fought her in mortal combat. We are at war with that family, Louise. We don’t know how it will turn out. But we are not lying to you’.
Louise had turned pale. Bill put a protective arm around her shoulders. He was staring hard at them both. He had seen their eyes turn a hard grey as they were speaking
‘They are telling the truth, Lou. They are faery also. I can see it in them. And faerys do not lie’.
‘There’s more, Louise’. Annie said. Here eyes were still grey. ‘’You see, your sister abducted our elder sister a few days ago. We had to find her first, to bring her back. It wasn’t easy’ She paused for a few seconds. ‘I had to make a bargain to get the information to find her, I made a promise that I would find out if she still had a sister. Which is why we are here’.
‘I understand now’, Bill said thoughtfully. ‘And now that you have found us, what will you do?’
‘Nothing’. Annie said promptly. ‘If she contacts me again, all I will say is that she has a sister and that you are alive and well. That’s all I’m going to tell her. You have my word on that’.
Louise looked at her husband. ‘If she is as evil as that, then I never want to see her again. Ever’. She looked back to Annie and Simon. ‘We have a new life and a new family here. I will not have her anywhere near us. Do you understand?’
‘Totally’. Annie replied. ‘We give our word that she will never, ever come near you. Isn’t that right, Simon?’
‘Absolutely. She’ll have to get past us if she even dares to try’.
‘I trust you’, Louise smiled ‘Though you don’t look much like warriors’.
Simon smiled at her. ‘Oh, we have our moments. You’d be surprised’.
Annie suddenly had a revelation.
‘Louise, do you remember the dolls that you had?’
‘Of course! I had Carla, and Isabelle had Lucia. They’re upstairs. Why?
They both stared at each other, absolutely stunned.
‘But’, Annie stammered. ‘We thought Lucia was destroyed! Smashed!’
‘Oh, she was. By that awful family that took my sister away. I remember her crying and screaming. I’ll never forget that!’
‘Is it possible to ….to see them?’
‘Of course’, Bill said. ‘I’ll bring them down’. He got up and left. They heard his footsteps going upstairs. Annie sat there in amazement. She had never thought of this. ‘How?’ she finally asked.
‘Well, when Isabelle was taken away. I gathered up all the pieces of Lucia, and kept them in a box. I didn’t know whether or not she might come back. I kept them along with my doll, Carla. When Bill and I met, I got them back from my last foster parents and he rebuilt her. He’s a brilliant restorer, you know’.
Annie was lost for words. Simon leant forward. ‘What happened to you, Louise?’ he asked gently.
‘It’s a bit sad really. I got taken away and spent the next few years in different foster homes. Our parents died suddenly, you see. They were there. then they weren’t. I suppose we were too young to understand. But I was a bit of a problem child, and in the end I ran away, from the last foster home. I think I was sixteen at the time. Then I was homeless for a while, got into drugs, and then got picked up for shoplifting. So they sent me to a rehabilitation centre. That’s where I met Bill. He looked after me, because he was working there. After a while, we gradually fell in love. We got married last year. We wanted a family. This is the result’. She patted her stomach.
Annie smiled at her. ‘I’m really happy for you both. But how did you know about faerys?’
‘Because Bill told me, and also’, she smiled back at Annie. ‘He took me to Hyperborea for our honeymoon. To Elsace. That’s when I knew that everything he told me was true. Now do you believe me?’
‘Yes, I do’. Annie said sincerely. She felt happy for this couple who had, at least found happiness with each other.
Bill came back into the room with two large cardboard boxes, one tucked under each arm. He held out one of the boxes to Louise, who opened it, and drew out a small figure. It was a doll, about two feet in height and dressed in a long green dress, its arms held out in the way dolls had. Louise turned it around to face them. It was a lovely doll, its long wavy blonde hair framing a soft oval face, sweet and rounded, like Louise’s.
This is Carla’, she said proudly.
Annie gazed at her. She had never had a doll as a child. ‘She’s lovely’. she said.
Louise smiled at her, and put the doll back in the box. Bill handed her the second box, opening it as he did so. Louise picked up the second doll, and held her up for them to see. Annie caught her breath. The doll was perfect, with no sign of damage at all.
‘Can I hold her?’ she asked. She took the doll and held it up. It was a beautiful doll, with long red hair, cascading down its back. ‘With a little blue dress, and a little apron, a little blue hat, and little blue shoes.’ She said softly. Louise looked puzzled.
‘That’s how Isabelle described her to me’. Annie explained. ‘She sounded as if she really loved her when she phoned me’. She looked at the doll again. This one too had the same sweet rounded face as the other. Annie remembered the photograph of the two little girls she had seen. The Venoma she knew bore little resemblance to this , But Isabelle, as a child must have looked like the small doll. ‘She’s beautiful’. she said.
‘Did you really rebuild her, Bill?’ Simon asked.
He smiled. ‘Oh, yes. You see, Simon. that is what I do. I bring things back to life. I make them as they were, before they were damaged or broken’.
‘That’s amazing, Bill. There’s not a mark on her’. Simon was genuinely impressed.
But Louise was looking at Annie, thoughtfully. ‘Take her’. she said, suddenly. ‘Take her and give her back to Isabelle. I mean it. She belongs to her. She must want her very badly. I never want to see my sister again, but I feel that Isabelle should have her back’.
Annie stared at her, amazed. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked, incredulously.
‘Yes’. said Bill, firmly. ‘She belongs to Louise’s sister. We both believe that that is right’.
Simon and Annie looked at each other. This was something unexpected. But Annie made up her mind. ‘I’ll make sure she gets her back. I don’t know how, but I will. Thank you, both. I know that Lucia means a great deal to your sister’.
‘Annie, perhaps we ought to be getting back, to see how Morag, our sister, is. She’s been, well, slightly injured. And I think that Louise is probably getting a bit tired by now’.
‘Of course’. Bill said, rising to his feet. ‘I will see you out’.
As they moved towards the door and the stairs, Louise called out after them. ‘Annie! Simon!’ They turned back. ‘Please come again, perhaps in a month or two, when our child is born. I should like you to see her’.
Annie smiled back at her. ‘That would be wonderful, Louise. We really would like to. Thank you so much’.
They went down the stairs back into the shop. Bill unlocked the front door, and turned to face them. ‘It has been a great pleasure to meet you, and to have faery friends here. Louise was very happy that you came, and you must return to see our child’.
‘Definitely, Bill’, Simon said warmly. They shook hands with him, a faery handshake, each clasping the other’s wrist. ‘Bill, would you do us another favour, a small one for our sister’,
‘It’s just that, a small faery vase that her mother gave her, was broken when she was kidnapped. Could you repair it for her? We’ll pay you, of course’.
‘No!’ Bill replied sharply. ‘I will restore it for you, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Just bring it here and I will restore it for you. Farewell. My wife and I will look forward to sharing our joy with you’. He smiled, and closed the door gently behind them.
They walked back down towards the bus-stops in a happy and companionable silence, Annie carrying Lucia, in her box, in both arms.
They knew there was a storm brewing, as they walked in through the front door. Their mother, Christine, stormed out of the kitchen and glared at them. ‘In here, both of you!’ she pointed at the kitchen. ‘Now! Leave your shopping where it is! On the hall table!’ They followed her meekly into the kitchen, where she rounded on them in absolute anger.
‘I didn’t bring you into this world for you to turn into thugs! How dare you beat that poor young woman up as you did! That’s despicable! How could you do that? I’m ashamed of you both! I really am! How can you justify what you did? How can you!’
‘Mum , you know why! We weren’t able to control ourselves! We….’ Simon cried.
‘Shut up! It’s still no excuse! And as for you, You’re the worst!’ Christine glared at Annie. ‘When I saw what you did to poor Morag, I almost felt like renouncing you as a daughter, just like you did to us!’
It was a cruel remark. Annie remained silent. Their mother was more furious than they had ever seen in their lives. Annie could not justify herself. Instead she turned and walked out of the kitchen. She certainly didn’t want to lose control again, certainly not against her own mother.
‘Morag’s going to stay here for a few more days, to recover! You both behave properly towards her! Is that clear? Now get out of my kitchen!’
She turned away and began savagely chopping up vegetables. Simon walked out after Annie.
They found Morag in the living-room, reading a book. She was wearing Annie’s long dressing-gown, and was curled up on the sofa, her bare toes showing under the hem. She looked at them, sympathetically. ‘I heard all that’. She said. ‘Your mum’s rather pissed off at you’.
‘I think we gathered that’. replied Simon, sadly.’ But how are you, Morag? You look so much better!’
‘Yes, I am’. Morag said cheerfully. She did indeed look much fresher and happier. The bruising on her face seemed to have diminished quickly as well. ‘What’s that, Annie?’ indicating the box that Annie had on her lap.
‘A doll’. Annie said mechanically. She was deeply subdued and miserable. Her mother’s outburst had seriously wounded her. Simon saw it and hastily decided to change the subject. ‘Morag, tell us about what havoc you created last night in the Brotherhood. Are there any survivors?’
‘It was a bit of an evening’. Morag admitted and then smiled mischievously. ‘First of all, I had to chuck out a load of birds. Then I sorted Adrian out, good and proper. I gave him some grief to make my point’.
‘You didn’t hurt him, did you?’ Annie suddenly looked alarmed.
‘Well, let’s say I gave him some temporary discomfort, while I was restraining him from causing a public nuisance’. Morag chuckled quietly.
‘Great!’ Simon said gleefully. ‘Serves him right’.
‘Then Indira had a go at me. She was really lippy. Sister Teresa came down on her like a ton of bricks. She was terrified. She made her cry, in fact’.
‘Oh, no! Poor Indira!’
‘Then I sent the Four Fingers packing, as well’. Morag said with relish. ‘Served them right, too, after all they’ve put you through’.
Simon laughed. But he noticed Annie sitting in the armchair, her legs drawn up, her hands around her knees. She looked miserable and forlorn. Morag noticed it too.
‘Annie, what’s the matter? She asked gently. Annie didn’t answer. Simon suddenly got up. ‘I’m going to try to mend some bridges with our mum, if I can. I’ll leave you to it’. He walked back to the kitchen. He knew that Morag and Annie needed to be alone.
‘Your mum didn’t mean it, Annie. She loves you too much’.
‘Perhaps. But it still bloody hurt!’
I know. But you renounced her once, didn’t you? When you didn’t know what you were doing. Annie. You spoke to me last night, when I was asleep, didn’t you?’
‘You heard me? You actually heard me? Annie said in amazement.
‘I’m faery, remember? Morag propped her self up on one arm on the sofa. She looked across at Annie, now sitting in the armchair opposite.
‘I heard fragments of what you said. They worried me very much, Annie’.
She sat up and wrapped her arms across her knees. ‘Now we look like bookends’, She laughed softly.
Annie smiled too. ‘What did you want to say?’
‘I heard – Whether we’ll survive. I don’t know whether we have any future at all – Think well of us’. Was that true, Annie?’
‘It was true, Morag’, Annie said quietly. ‘It was true’.
Morag was silent for a few moments. ‘I don’t think I could bear to lose you, Annie. I don’t think I could bear losing either of you. You’re my brother and sister. I’ve come to love you both very much, It means all the world to me. Please don’t leave me alone again! Please don’t!’
Annie looked at her. Tears were beginning to roll down Morag’s cheeks. She got up and sat down beside her on the sofa, but looked straight ahead of her at the window opposite.
‘Morag, I need to tell you something. We’re fighting a war. We may have helped stop one, but our’s goes on. It’s not of our choice. But we have to do it. You see, Morag, we’re fighting against an enemy, an evil family who have done terrible harm in this world and others. We have no choice, Morag. We’ve gone beyond that. There’s no going back. This isn’t a game any more. I thought it was at first, but now I’m not even sure what reality is. We’ve been attacked in our own kitchen, even my own bedroom! You’ve been attacked in your own flat and abducted! We’re going to put an end to that, Morag. We have to, even if it costs us our lives! Do you understand, Morag! Even if it costs us our lives!’
Morag stared at Annie, sitting beside her. Annie’s eyes were wide and hard grey, not their usual deep brown.
‘Don’t be angry, Annie. I understand. I’ll be there for you, always’.
Annie’s eyes became a deep brown again. ‘I know, Morag’.
‘So do I’. Simon was sitting opposite them in the other armchair. They were both startled. They hadn’t even heard him come in.
‘How did you do that, Simon?’ Annie demanded.
‘With stealth and cunning, silently he glides, and STRIKES!’ He laughed as they jumped ‘Just one of the skills. that the talisman gave me’.
‘That might be really useful’, Annie said thoughtfully. ‘Don’t you want to see what’s in the box, Morag?’
‘Yes of course I do. I’ve been curious about that ever since you brought it in. What is it, Annie?’
Annie bent down, opened the box, and lifted Lucia up. ‘Here’. she said. This is Lucia, Venoma’s doll’.
Morag took her and sat Lucia on her lap. ‘She’s lovely’, she said. ‘What a beautiful doll. Did you have dolls when you were little, Annie?’ she added shyly.
Annie realised that Morag was trying to find her own place in her newfound family. She was awkwardly trying to know more about them. She felt a sudden surge of love for her, her new sister.
‘No, Morag, I didn’t. I just had stuffed animals. Like my brother and his panda’.
‘The one you kept trying to force-feed when you were little!’
‘No, I didn’t! He wouldn’t eat properly!’
‘He was only fur and stuffing, Simon! What did you expect?’
‘Please don’t argue! Morag said, smiling. She felt happy and comfortable with her new family. ‘I’m one of your lot now, if you’ll have me’.
‘Of course we will. You’re family, Morag. We love you dearly’. Annie said, utterly sincerely. ‘We really do’.
There was a warm silence between them. Finally Morag said, What are you going to do with this doll?’
‘I’m going to give it back to her. To Isabelle, I mean. You see, Lucia’s an important bargaining tool that we can use. If that’s true, then we might have one less enemy to worry about. Venoma, or rather Isabelle, desperately wants her back. She doesn’t really want her sister at all. Just the knowledge that she exists. But she desperately wants something else, something that’s infinitely more precious to her’.
‘What exactly are you planning, Annie?’ Her brother asked. ‘I know you, Annie. I know you too well. What is it that you want us to do?’
‘I want to arrange a meeting with her, face to face. I want to talk to her, not just over the phone. Just me and her’.
‘What’s the point of that? She’s tried to kill you, Annie!’ Morag cried frantically.
‘Just out of common humanity, Morag. Just because of that. I have something of hers that she badly wants. I would like to give it back to her. I know that she would appreciate it’.
Morag was bewildered. ‘What is it that you want to give back, Annie?’ she asked, trying to make sense of all this.
Annie looked at Lucia, the simple innocent doll, sitting on Morag’s lap.
‘Something that my brother and I have lost forever’. She said quietly. ‘Her childhood’.
Frank Jackson (15/11/2011) Word count – 10518.