Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

It’s A Match

Dearest Diary,

Christmas is over, and there was one gift on my list that I didn’t get. It’s been on my mind for weeks, consuming my every second, reminders screaming at me from the street of the one thing I lack.

Valentine’s Day is coming, but I can’t even think of a candle lit date with a lover. Lovers are ten a Penny. I can find a new plaything in an instant, but there was another craving, something so essential that I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function, until I had what I needed.

I needed to be a mother.

I’d see them everywhere I went. Happy women with bouncing, blossoming babies. They’d share smiles with their little ones, a kind of love I’d never quite captured, and as I watched them pass me by, I felt empty and alone.

My dolls were no help, staring back at me in silence as I sobbed, until their stares became glares, and that was the moment I realised that they shared my need. The flat was so quiet. We needed a child of our own to be a real family. My dolls dreamt of someone to play with them, and I dreamt of a child of my own to give all the love that soared within me.

It wasn’t easy. Babies are so heavily guarded. Mother’s instinct, I suppose, a protective, possessive power that keeps their infants shielded, so a baby was out of the question. I tried, of course, but I could barely get close. Those witches, selfish and furious, wouldn’t share their blessings with me, so I had no choice but to look elsewhere.

As children get older, it seems their parents care less. They let them play a little further away in the park. They let them walk to school in little groups. They let them go to the corner shop all alone, and that was how I met my daughter.

She left the shop with an armful of sweets, and our eyes met as I sat on the bench across from the door. I waved, her eyes lighting up as she spotted the huge pile of sweets beside me on the bench. It didn’t matter that she already had sweets of her own, every child wants more, and I had plenty to spare.

She ran towards me with a bright smile, and that was when I knew I’d found my little girl. She may have been born to someone else, but she was always meant to find her way to me. She was always meant to be my daughter.

We talked for a while as I watched her, overwhelmed with choice, picking through the sweets. She told me that her name was Chelsea, but I made a note to change it later. It just wasn’t the kind of thing I envisioned for my little Princess, you know?

She was about to go, worried about getting home to do her homework when I asked her if she’d like to have a tea party with my dolls. She was only six years old, after all, and there was plenty of time for homework, so why shouldn’t she have a little fun?

She couldn’t say no, taking my hand and walking back towards the flat with me, her face glowing with the biggest smile I’d ever seen.

I thought she’d be surprised, maybe even a little frightened when she got home and saw my dolls. I’d dressed them up nicely and made them look their best, but they can still be a bit of a shock the first time somebody sees them, especially Marilyn, due to her difficulties since Pumpkin’s fixed her up for me, but Violet wasn’t scared at all.

I decided to call her Violet, because my mother always liked floral names.

When we arrived home, the dolls were sat around the table as Marilyn struggled to fix some sandwiches, her jaw dropped, but no scream audible as the knife went back and forth over her limp wrist. I ran and pulled the knife from her flesh, mopping the blood from the sideboard, and Violet just sat down at the dining table smiling over at me.

Once I’d cleaned Marilyn up and put her to bed, Violet and I shared tea and sandwiches, talking about her favourite books and cartoons. We braided the hair of my dolls with hair long enough and did make up for the rest, and as time went on, I forgot that someone else had stolen so much time with my little girl from me, and I got lost in how happy I was, smiling, just like all the women I’d seen.

As I tucked her in and read her a story, she began to ask about her “Mummy”, and after a little back and forth, we agreed that I was her Mummy and the woman before was just a nasty imposter. She still argued with me about it, even after we agreed, but that’s kids for you, so childish.

It was just a phase. She was up bright and early the next day, pulling at the front door and yelling, probably eager to get to school, but I pulled her back towards the living room, deciding then and there that she needed to be home schooled.

She began to cry sometime around lunch and she didn’t stop until long after sunset. I gave her sweets. I let her pick any doll she wanted to play with. I let her watch television, until she saw herself on a breaking news bulletin and freaked out. I tried everything, but she wouldn’t stop crying, and her crying had begun to become shrieking.

I didn’t want to resort to it, but I had no choice but to call an old friend. Within minutes, Pumpkins had arrived, Marilyn shrinking away in tears as she saw him stride past her in the kitchen. He rounded on Violet, eyeing up the restraints on the bed as she struggled against them, and simply shrugging, deciding that it wasn’t his business.

I didn’t want to do it. I’d have preferred my little girl to remain as she was, rather than becoming another living doll like Marilyn. I already had a living doll! And besides, Violet was my heir, my very own little girl, and I wanted to be able to teach her so many things, but… her screaming was going to attract unwanted attention, so if Pumpkins stealing her light would shut her up, then it was a sacrifice I had to make.

He winced at her weeping but knelt beside the bed, stroking her cheek gently as he kissed her forehead, preparing to snatch her soul, but as his lips lingered and her screams rang out, I realised that something was wrong.

“I don’t have anything for him to take, Mummy.” Violet whispered, her voice still and her sobbing silenced as our eyes met and her own flashed with anger.

Pumpkins backed away, giving me one last look of pity from the small holes in his mask before he ran from the flat without a word. Violet gazed up at me, motioning with her tied hands to the kitchen.

“Bring me some biscuits.” She snarled. “And a new dolly.”

Motherhood isn’t quite what I thought it would be. You see, dearest diary, I’ve finally met my match. I understand why her parents let her out all by herself when she was such a little girl.

She was no such thing. I still don’t know what she is. She has no soul and she certainly isn’t human, but, my dearest, darling diary, she is my little girl, and I will love her all my life, or as long as she lets me live.

Love forever,
The Puppet Mistress

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Deadman’s Island

Hi Mum, it’s me, Michelle. I’ve done something really stupid. If you’re hearing this, then I want you to know that I’m sorry. I’m so sorry Mum. I love you, and I’m sorry. I don’t know if this voice note will send, the signal isn’t great over here, but I hope it does.

I really fucked up. It was so stupid. I’m sorry.

We did something bad to Hannah.

It’s all out of control Mum. I don’t know what to do. It was just supposed to be a joke, I guess. A prank. We didn’t even think she would go through with it but now we’re in such a mess and I don’t know what to do. It was just a joke, you know? We just wanted to show her… well, I don’t know. She was just annoying and… Oh God. Mum, I’m so sorry.

Lorraine and I were just messing with her and now something awful has happened. Oh God. What have we done? There’s something here, and it did something bad to Hannah…

Hannah, you know the new girl? She just moved here with her parents, and she was… weird. I know that isn’t a reason for what we did, but…

I’ve learned my lesson, okay? I get it now. Yes, she was weird and kind of annoying but we shouldn’t have done this. There was never a reason to do this. I get it. I get it! I could say that I’m sorry, but nothing will change. I just want to come home, but what did this to her is still here, somewhere, and now, the boat is gone.

Hannah didn’t deserve this.

She was weird. She’d cling to us all the time, always wanting to hang out with us, and following us everywhere. We just wanted to freak her out a little, scare her maybe, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We could have just said that we didn’t want to be friends, I guess, but we thought we’d teach her a lesson, and now…

Will you tell Hannah’s parents that we’re sorry? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Neither of us could have predicted it. Nobody could, but now… Look, the reasons don’t matter. If you hear this, you have to come to Deadman’s Island.

Mum, We took Hannah to Deadman’s Island.

I know. I know. You told me never to go there, and Dad will be furious when he finds out I took the boat, especially as I’ve also lost it, but I just got caught up in the moment. I know it’s stupid. I’m so fucking stupid.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t go there, but we all go to the beach to look at it from across the water, some of us even swim out, daring each other to go closer and closer, but nobody ever goes onto the island. I know that you know we do that, because you and Dad probably did, and everyone who grew up in this boring old town did before us too. That’s the problem with growing up here, there’s nothing to do.

We tried to explain that to Hannah. Lorraine and I weren’t doing anything exciting. Just getting milkshakes at the cafe or hanging out at the beach. There was nothing exciting going on, so there was no need to be so insistent on being our friend… I suppose she was lonely. She hasn’t exactly made friends since she got here, but then again, she IS weird, so who is really at fault for that?

It doesn’t matter at all anyway. I suppose I’m just thinking, remembering everything from before, because it’s all I will have now. You’re not going to get here on time. I know that, and you might not ever hear this, and even if you do, it really was my fault. Hannah was weird and annoying, but she didn’t deserve this.

We took her to Deadman’s Island. Lorraine and I picked her up, telling her that she could come and hang out with us for the day, and she looked overjoyed. As we left her garden, her mum mouthed a quick “Thank you” with a smile as Hannah linked arms with us and we ran down towards the beach.

She was stunned when I showed her Dad’s boat, so excited, and when I told her that we would be going to explore Deadman’s Island, she started to look a little anxious.

We told her all about it. An abandoned island out in the sea, with no people, barely any animals, and a ton of dead bodies. Our own little spooky urban legend, ready to be explored, the resting place of the damned. She bit her lip, swallowing nervously, but she agreed to go. I think she wanted to seem cool.

The plan was to convince her to stay the night there by herself, to prove herself cool enough to be friends with us. We knew she couldn’t stay the whole night, but we kept encouraging her as if she could, and she seemed to believe in herself too.

We swapped numbers, so she could call us if she wanted to quit, but she promised that she wouldn’t. Lorraine and I both smiled sweetly as we left the island, waving at Hannah as she began setting the tent we’d left her, and as soon as we got out of sight, we collapsed into laughter, wondering how long it would be before she called to quit.

I know it was cruel, dangerous even, but we couldn’t have known what would have happened. Deadman’s Island is creepy, sure, but nobody is there. No dangerous animals live there, the air is safe, there are no people to run afoul of, and she had a pretty sturdy tent. We thought that she’d be fine…

Hannah didn’t call all night. Lorraine and I stayed over at her house, watching movies and waiting, but we heard nothing from Hannah. We were impressed, I suppose. She was tougher than we thought. We set off early in the morning, sneaking back into the boat down at the shore and across to the island.

As we stepped off the boat, I noticed how quiet it was, which isn’t unusual for an uninhabited island, but even with that in mind, there was an eerie silence, and Hannah’s tent wasn’t where it had been the night before.

The island isn’t big, but it’s hard to navigate, with all the bones and uneven ground, so Hannah couldn’t have gone far… except, she was nowhere to be found.

Mum, she’s missing. We’ve looked everywhere, and she isn’t here. We found her tent, floating by the shore of the island. It was torn up, ripped at the door, and inside… Oh God… Inside, there was blood sloshing around in the lining with the seawater. There was no other sign of Hannah. She’s gone, and whatever took her, or did this to her… It could still be out there. We dropped the tent when we saw the blood and ran back across the island, tripping and falling on the bones that jutted from the ground, until we reached the side where we’d left the boat, except… it wasn’t there.

We’re trapped on this island Mum. Hannah has vanished. Something really bad has happened to her, I just know it, and it’s all my fault. Please, if you hear this, please help us. We have to find her, and you have to find us. Please!

I keep hearing these weird noises, but whenever we turn around, there’s nobody there. It’s so dark, and we can hardly see a thing.

We’re on Deadman’s Island. I know that you’ll be angry, and you can ground me for life when I get back, but please just get here!

-x-

Hi Michelle’s Mum, it’s me, Hannah. Michelle’s done something really stupid.

I just wanted to be her friend. I’ve been so lonely, you know? Moving from town to town, never settling long enough to really connect with anyone. That’s all I ever wanted, but no, Michelle and Lorraine couldn’t let me have that.

I knew that they wouldn’t have been my friends, even if I stayed on this island all night. I’m not stupid. I’d seen the way they rolled their eyes when I sat next to them at school, how they’d cross the street to avoid me, like I was diseased, some kind of pariah.

They’re all diseased here, Mrs Harrison. All the boys that died on this island were terribly ill, battling the blue death until the end, their skin, a sickly shade of sapphire as they sank into the waiting arms of death. They used to take them off of the ships and dump them here, right where I stand. They told me, last night, all the boys, they gathered around the fire and told me all about what they’d been through, and my heart went out to them.

I suppose you think I must have been frightened, but I wasn’t. I knew how they’d felt, because I’d been dumped on the island too, and they weren’t my first friends from beyond the grave.

Mummy and Daddy don’t like it. They always move me away when they find out about a new friend I’ve made. At first, they thought it was a game, a phase I was going through, something I’d made up, but then, they saw her, little Mary-Ann, seven hundred and four years old, but not a day over twelve, if you ignored the cobwebs and earthworms.

After that, they just kept moving me round and round. They’d look for towns without graveyards, but it didn’t make a difference, because I always have a way of finding new friends. It’s not hard, I just give them a little incentive to come back, and… they do, but like I said, Mummy and Daddy don’t like it.

I promised I’d try and quit when we moved here, and I would have, if Michelle and Lorraine had been my friends. It’s their fault, Mrs Harrison, because of them, I had to go looking elsewhere, and now, after being dumped, by strange coincidence on a whole island full of potential friends, I’m back to my old habits. Mummy and Daddy will be furious.

I had to hide from Michelle and Lorraine, because my friends needed a little something to keep them going. I give them a little of my blood when they arise, but they needed a proper meal. You don’t mind, do you? I wouldn’t worry, because I can bring your girls back home to you. They’ll be hungry, though. I’ve sent my boys to fetch the boat, and we’ll be over right away.

Just don’t tell my parents anything about this, alright? Or tell them, I suppose, it doesn’t matter. They could drag me away when I only had one friend to protect me, but now, I’ve got a whole island full, so we’ll see who’s really in charge now…

See you soon!

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Deadman’s Island – Part Two

Hi Michelle’s Mum, it’s me, Hannah. Michelle’s done something really stupid.

I just wanted to be her friend. I’ve been so lonely, you know? Moving from town to town, never settling long enough to really connect with anyone. That’s all I ever wanted, but no, Michelle and Lorraine couldn’t let me have that.

I knew that they wouldn’t have been my friends, even if I stayed on this island all night. I’m not stupid. I’d seen the way they rolled their eyes when I sat next to them at school, how they’d cross the street to avoid me, like I was diseased, some kind of pariah.

They’re all diseased here, Mrs Harrison. All the boys that died on this island were terribly ill, battling the blue death until the end, their skin, a sickly shade of sapphire as they sank into the waiting arms of death. They used to take them off of the ships and dump them here, right where I stand. They told me, last night, all the boys, they gathered around the fire and told me all about what they’d been through, and my heart went out to them.

I suppose you think I must have been frightened, but I wasn’t. I knew how they’d felt, because I’d been dumped on the island too, and they weren’t my first friends from beyond the grave.

Mummy and Daddy don’t like it. They always move me away when they find out about a new friend I’ve made. At first, they thought it was a game, a phase I was going through, something I’d made up, but then, they saw her, little Mary-Ann, seven hundred and four years old, but not a day over twelve, if you ignored the cobwebs and earthworms.

After that, they just kept moving me round and round. They’d look for towns without graveyards, but it didn’t make a difference, because I always have a way of finding new friends. It’s not hard, I just give them a little incentive to come back, and… they do, but like I said, Mummy and Daddy don’t like it.

I promised I’d try and quit when we moved here, and I would have, if Michelle and Lorraine had been my friends. It’s their fault, Mrs Harrison, because of them, I had to go looking elsewhere, and now, after being dumped, by strange coincidence on a whole island full of potential friends, I’m back to my old habits. Mummy and Daddy will be furious.

I had to hide from Michelle and Lorraine, because my friends needed a little something to keep them going. I give them a little of my blood when they arise, but they needed a proper meal. You don’t mind, do you? I wouldn’t worry, because I can bring your girls back home to you. They’ll be hungry, though. I’ve sent my boys to fetch the boat, and we’ll be over right away.

Just don’t tell my parents anything about this, alright? Or tell them, I suppose, it doesn’t matter. They could drag me away when I only had one friend to protect me, but now, I’ve got a whole island full, so we’ll see who’s really in charge now…

See you soon!

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Dennis

I moved into his house, and he found me right away. I’d see him out of the corner of my eye at first, just a shadow, with nothing but his own eyes. He had soaring, silver eyes, large as saucers, and always watching.

He’d watch me, and I’d watch him, neither of us moving, neither of us speaking, just watching. At first, he was a shadow, but then, he began to grow. When I took my eyes off of him, the room would spin, wild colours clashing against the walls and the circling ceiling, bottles would fly from the cupboards, pans, clattering on the sideboards and so, I’d look at him again, just as he wanted.

I stopped sleeping because he wanted me to. He didn’t ask. He never spoke. He didn’t have to. He’d stare as I stepped closer to the bed, and my body froze, my veins chilled as his eyes bore into mine, and then, I would stay up.

I would make coffee, only ever dropping his gaze for a moment or two, dropped into the topsy turvy turmoil as his anger began to boil over, and then, as the kettle clicked and steam rose from the spout, I would look up, back into his eyes, and slowly, with every cup of coffee, his face became a little clearer.

He was once a shadow, but he grew, taller than the sky, endless and everywhere and all I could do was look. His eyes seemed larger than before. I don’t recall the day. Maybe a Tuesday or a Sunday. Something with “Day” in it. It didn’t really matter.

Nobody called. The doorbell seemed to always be ringing but nobody was ever there. I’d turn on the news, but it was always the same thing. My new friend, staring out of the screen, his mouth moving but nothing but static would pour out, and I’d watch it for hours, transfixed. My friend sat beside the television, watching me, watching him, watching me. There was no news, just him. There were no calls, just him. There were no visitors, just him.

The dance went on forever. He’d stare. I’d stare. I’d stare while drinking coffee. I’d stare while eating whatever I could find in the cupboards. I’d stare while going to the toilet. I’d stare while drinking cup after cup of coffee by the back door as the rain fell heavy outside.

When he came to stay, it began to rain, and it never stopped. The sky grew dark, because that was how he liked it. He didn’t tell me, but I knew.

When I noticed the sky, I noticed his long claws, and he’d drag them along the floor as we walked through the house. They stained the carpets, charcoal black, but it was okay, because… well, it just was.

A few days went by, I think, and I began to hear him speak through the static. It might have been a few days, or maybe a few weeks. It was so hard to tell with him. He didn’t want me to know, so he didn’t tell me. My phone wouldn’t tell me either. He made sure of that. The phone didn’t get it, you see.

I sat down to watch the news, and he sat down by the television, a little spot of drool dripping from his fangs as he watched me, and on the screen, for the first time, I saw him smile.

He opened his mouth and began to speak, the scales of his face seeming to shine under the studio light, and at first, it was the same garbled static, but as I leaned closer to the television, I could finally hear him. It was so faint, almost inaudible, but at last, I could hear him.

“You like it here in my house?” I nodded, falling to my knees before the screen and staring so intently that he began to blur, becoming pixels to my tired eyes. “You stay and be a good little girl for Dennis?” I nodded again, feeling his claws on my shoulders. I looked down from the screen and could see them reaching out of the television, gripping onto me as he grinned from inside the screen. “My good little girl?” I nodded, feeling his claws again, down on my waist, and I turned away from the screen, seeing him where he always sat, reaching out to me.

There was a wide, wicked smile across his face, his jaw dropped and his fangs hanging low over his lips. He nodded, his silver, secretive eyes spinning in his skull as he began to laugh, and I laughed too, nodding along as he pulled me to my feet and our faces fell against each other.

“Good little girl!” He hissed, holding my face tightly in his claws. Blood began to drip down onto my shoulder as he pierced my flesh, but I just nodded and I stared, because I was a good little girl.

It hurt, I think, lasting for days, or maybe for minutes. Maybe it hurt, maybe it didn’t. It’s very hard to tell. I watched the rain over his shoulder and the room began to pulse, the tumble dryer shaking and scooting across the floor as eyes appeared in every rain drop, rocketing down from the sky until I returned his stare and felt the world soften as he smiled.

We stayed that way for a few hours, maybe a few days. I just don’t remember. They say that I was only in there for a week, but I don’t think that they get it. Nobody gets it. I fell asleep, or fell unconscious, according to them. Dennis didn’t like it. I could feel it happening. I was in his arms, looking up at him and he was looking down at me, and I was slipping away. I knew I should make a coffee, but the kitchen was so far, and the kindness of rest was so near. My eyes would close and the kitchen cupboards would clatter, opening and closing in a ferocious fury, so my eyes would open and the house would fall silent again. We played this game for a few weeks, or maybe a few minutes, before I finally lost, and then, I awoke in hospital.

The house was full of carbon monoxide. That’s what they said. It was an old place, I suppose, the only place I could afford. The boiler was shit and the landlord even shittier, so I fell into… well, I don’t know. There was no Dennis. There was no clattering kitchen cupboards, no movement from the dryer or the bottles. They’d found me collapsed on the living room floor, one hand reaching up to the television, with empty coffee cups everywhere, but beyond that, everything was in its proper place, and it hadn’t rained for days.

I told them everything I’d seen and heard, but it had all been a hallucination. Not even really in my head, just a game played by the gas. My sister had rung the doorbell almost every day, but I’d never made it there. She told me that she’d seen me, through the living room window, struggling to the door but always turning away, loudly announcing to someone inside that nobody was there. It was a bizarre sight, according to her, and at first, she thought I was in a mood with her, but after a while, when I stopped trying to answer, she’d worried, and after another while, the front door was broken down, and I was rescued.

I felt stupid, in the hospital, telling them all of my stories about Dennis, sheepish about not noticing the gas that had almost killed me, but everyone was so kind, understanding of the mistakes a young woman makes when renting her first place.

I moved in with my sister while the place was fixed up, and again, she was so kind. She presented me with the guest room, and the sheets were soft, and the windows poured bright, beautiful light into the space. That night, I slept, at last, but it took me a while. Something kept me awake. Probably all the caffeine I’d ingested after the previous week, or maybe just the struggle of getting used to a new place. I got there in the end, and it was worth it, because as I awoke, I felt peace wash over me as I sat up, stretching my arms and watching the sunlight creep into the window as dawn broke.

That’s when I saw him. It all fell away. The sunlight faded, my eyes, his once more, and there he was, watching me again. As our eyes met, the sky fell dark and the rain began to fall outside. I kept his gaze but the room began to dance around me, the bed rocketing beneath me as the door slammed open and shut and the wallpaper tore itself from the walls, leaving nothing but empty, dismal darkness all around us.

“You stay and be a good little girl for Dennis.” He snarled, and I had no choice but to nod. I had no choice but to accept his presence. This was not a game of the gas, or the madness of my mind. This was not his house, but he held dominion over it, just as he did over me, and with a click of his claws, we were back at home, stood before the television set, my face, grasped in his grip as my blood dripped slowly down onto my shoulders, and that is where I stayed.

That is where I will stay, because it is what he wants.

It was not the gas that found me, but him.

You don’t get it. They don’t get it. I don’t get it, but it’s what he wants.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Goddess Bless Us, Everyone!

Celia Jefferson was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. As her daughter April sat by her resettled grave, surrounded by flowers that seemed to shine in the sheen of winter’s frost, the girl could only sigh. Old Celia was dead as a door-nail, and now, The Garden of The Free Children was her responsibility. It had been for several months, but April had never felt truly ready to step into her mother’s shoes, and longed, with great fondness for her carefree days as the Garden’s treasured daughter.

She hadn’t a head for figures, and her responsibilities as leader weighed heavy on her as the days went by. She found herself relying on and delegating much of the day to day work of leader to Father Andre, who was doing his best to manage his own duties as a recruiter with all the things April didn’t feel like doing, such as leading prayers, preparing the other children of the Garden for their journey to the Higher Garden or managing the finances for the organisation.

While she didn’t like to look at the numbers, April certainly liked to spend the spoils of the Garden, and lived in luxury, with her own wing of the house and fine furs to keep her warm as winter came. Her mother was gone, but April was still taken care of, by the worshippers who called her their leader, but unbeknownst to April, they had grown tired of pampering the Princess of the Garden.

An icy wind swept through the compound as the worshippers of Invierno shivered around a fire. It was Christmas Eve, their cheeks, artificially rosy with the whistling, whipping winds of the late winter.

It had been a tough year for the people of the Garden. They were still recovering from the heavy losses they had suffered during the long foretold Grey Death that had spread across the Earth, and had used a lot of resources setting up a new Garden after being run out of Inverness when the townspeople realised that a cult (their words, not the children’s) was hiding in plain sight in their neighbourhood.

It had cost almost everything that they had to start over, but the Children were happy to do it, in pursuit of their dream to build the perfect Garden on Earth, in preparation for the battle with the darkness and the rebirth of their treasured Goddess Invierno, just as April had prophesied, and Celia had before her too.

Every member of the Garden had tightened their belts and gone without to aid in the relocation to Glasgow, after April saw their new home in a dream, and as soon as they arrived, the Children took to the streets, recruiting and fundraising to help the Garden recover, but as hard as they tried to avoid it, they were beginning to resent how little April was contributing, and how much she was taking.

As they sat by the fire, looking up at the hill where their former leader lay, they couldn’t help but miss the firm and often selfless guiding hand of Celia, and loathe what her daughter had allowed the Garden of the Free Children to become.

“Cheer up my brothers and sisters, and follow me.” April called, descending from the hill and snapping her fingers with a bright smile. The crowd rose from around the fire and followed April to the meeting room, without a word, watching as she motioned to the chairs before her and stood upon the stage at the front of the room with a grin. “It’s time to talk about the Christmas fundraiser.”

The others looked around at each other, shuffling nervously in their seats. They had spent every day in the build up to Christmas wandering the high street with buckets, and going door to door to spread the good word of Invierno while shaking their buckets to raise money for the Garden. They came back with a good haul every day, but it never seemed to be enough to satisfy April.

“There is a cost of living crisis, April.” Andre interrupted, smiling reassuringly at the congregation. “The children are gathering all that they can, but people don’t have much to give.” A few of the members nodded in agreement, but April’s face was thunder.

“Those pigs are spending small fortunes on presents, trees and turkeys, so they can afford to donate.” She snarled, stepping down from the stage and into the crowd. The gathered worshippers cowered, their eyes falling to the floor as April wandered through her flock, setting her eyes on the back of the room. “We have responsibilities to each other, my friends.” She pushed past the crowd until she reached the back of the room, where Andre’s wife Gillian sat, cradling her infant son, Tim.

Andre had been blessed by Invierno with a wife, and a beautiful child, but the child was sick. April had forbidden use of the local hospital, in accordance with their beliefs, but the Garden’s medical centre lacked the supplies to care for the boy, and his health had been the primary motivator for the fundraiser. As grateful as he was for the kindness of his friends in the Garden, he was well aware of how much of the money they’d worked hard to raise was going to April’s pocket, and was once again having a crisis of faith.

“Tiny Tim.” April cooed, reaching out her arms and wrapping them around the small boy. Andre winced, watching her lift him into her embrace with a wicked smile. “We are so lucky to have you, my little flower.” She gently rocked the child, staring at Andre intently from across the room in a way that made him uneasy. He watched her circle the crowd with his son in her arms and with each passing moment, he felt more and more unsettled by the scene. “We must make enough to care for our beautiful blessing.” Tim began to fuss, a little cough escaping his small chest, growing bigger as the coughs continued, and Andre felt his chest tighten, rushing to his son’s side and snatching him from April’s arms, with an apologetic look that he didn’t really mean.

Tim was sick, but he was a very lucky child. It was the way of the Garden to send baby boys along with their brothers in the garden to satisfy the hunger of Invierno, but a combination of being born to April’s right hand man, and being the only baby born to the Garden that year had saved his life.

“We’ll work harder for Tim.” Came a cry from the crowd. April smiled, gesturing for Joanna to come forward. Joanna had been part of the Garden since its inception, standing side by side with Celia as they built their road to paradise together, and were it not for the friends she had made, and her belief that Invierno would one day return and rescue their membership, she would have left a long time ago. Deep down, April knew this to be true, and she knew that Joanna was not alone, but as long as they still believed her to be their prophet, she had decided that they could not do much harm to her.

“Yes, we’ll do it for Tim!” Another voice joined her, this time from Leigh, another daughter that was faithful, but hanging on by a thread due to April’s antics. Soon, the room was filled with promises of devotion to the cause, in the name of the small boy who wriggled in his father’s arms.

“I’m so happy to hear that!” April cried, taking to the stage again with a flourish. “So, you’ll get started at 6AM tomorrow.” The crowd fell silent, staring up at her in disbelief. There were a few uncomfortable gasps, but nobody dared to speak until Andre stepped forward, clearing his throat and raising his eyes to meet April.

“While I appreciate the enthusiasm, I do think it’s important for morale that our brothers and sisters are able to celebrate Christmas with each other tomorrow.”

April rounded on him, her face flashing with rage. Andre stumbled back, struggling to keep the child securely in his arms.

“Christmas?” She bellowed. “What about my money?” The anger fell from her face for a moment as she remembered the ruse, and then returned in an instant, as she glared at the cult members, pointing over at the small boy in Andre’s arms who was peacefully snoozing, his little hands clasped tightly around a small teddy bear. “I mean… Tim’s money!”

There was silence from the others, but each of them nodded, defeated once again by April’s demanding nature. The crowd began to file out from the room, none brave enough to argue back, but all muttering under their breath as they walked to their quarters.

Everybody shared accommodation, with the exception of April, and as the members of her flock settled in for a cold Christmas Eve, away from April’s prying eyes, they shared a small, but satisfying dinner without her.

-x-

April spent her Christmas Eve in solitude. She enjoyed a long bubble bath before retiring to bed with her scriptures, and her tapes. The Garden had a long tradition of utilising strange recordings with subliminal messages to unlock their minds and their connection to their treasured Goddess Invierno, and as she had ascended to leadership, April had found herself less and less able to reach their treasured Goddess.

Too embarrassed to ask for help, she locked herself away instead, spending every evening in her room, lost in the sound of the tapes, and the hopes that she could find her way back to Invierno. As the clock struck twelve, April was already fast asleep. Had she been awake, she would have noticed the stereo suddenly fall silent, or perhaps she would have heard her window creak open slowly, maybe even have felt the air around her chill as wind whipped around the bedroom.

She was undisturbed by what was happening around her but her sleep was just shallow enough to be disturbed by soft fingertips that ran gently through her hair, with a tenderness that seemed so familiar.

“Merry Christmas April.” She jumped, shooting up from bed and looking around the room feverishly. There was almost silence throughout the room, but just behind April, back where she was afraid to look was a laboured, ragged breath. Slow and struggling. In and out.

“Who are you?” She already knew the answer, but she could not accept it. Despite the mysticism and far fetched ideas that she preached to the children of the Garden, the one thing April had never allowed herself to believe in was ghosts.

“You know who I am, April.” April had never allowed herself to believe in ghosts, and yet, just inches away, where she dreaded looking, was the one thing she could not believe in. “If you search within your heart, you know why I’m here.” April shuddered as a cold, clammy hand clamped down onto hers, but still, she would not look, closing her eyes tightly as the hand’s grip tightened. “She won’t come to you because of what she can see.” April didn’t want to believe, but she was surrounded by reminders of her mother, the strongest of which was the shallow, struggling breath just beyond view.

“Mother…” April watched her mother rise from the bed beside her, pacing the room, so impossible, but so clear to her eyes.

“She stopped appearing to me too towards the end.” Celia walked into the path of the moonlight and April gasped, clasping her hands across her mouth as she saw the true horror of her mother’s face. The flesh hung loosely, a canvas of blood, scratches and bite marks.

April had never been able to face her mother’s corpse after her death, and now, on a moonlit Christmas Eve, she was seeing it for the first time, horrified and disgusted. Her eyes traced along the stems of the roses that were wrapped around the spectre’s wrists and up her neck, the sharp thorns piercing what was left of her flesh. “She came to me one last time as I lay dying at the Highland compound.” Celia leant against the window sill, drumming her fingers slowly on the ledge, the moonlight dancing across her gaunt face. “She told me that our children would be safe with you…”

April turned away, her throat tight as her mother continued, knowing that nothing good could come from the unwelcome visitor..

“You’ll meet a sticky end if you don’t keep the children safe.” She shrank, her mother towering over her as an icy wind whipped around the room.

“I’m trying, but…” Her mother glared in her direction and April fell silent, fear fluttering in the pit of her stomach.

“She’ll show you the way…” Celia whispered, wistfully watching the snow fall outside across the moonlit sky. “You’ll see.” April followed her mother’s gaze out to the snow swept garden, unsure how to respond to her mother’s warning, but as she turned back to where her mother had stood, she was astounded to see that she was alone.

Chilled to the bone, April glanced around the room in a panic, trying to make sense of what had occurred. Her mother was long dead, and her Goddess had abandoned her, but April had a feeling that both of them had more to say to her, on that fateful, forlorn Christmas Eve.

The girl was uneasy, but she was also incredibly tired, so as she lay back against her pillows, it wasn’t long before sleep overpowered her and she was lost in lonely dreams.

-x-

Her slumber was short, interrupted as the clock struck one and the snow continued to softly fall from the dark sky. She bolted awake, the air around her was frosty, her alarmed, hurried breath clouding in front of her as arms wrapped tightly around her. Her cries filled the room, but April’s isolation from the rest of her flock meant that none of them would ever hear her.

She struggled against the arms, but there was no escape, and after a moment, her panic faded, and there was a warmth that felt familiar, welcome, even.

“Daddy?” The arms around her squeezed gently, and she slowly opened her eyes, turning behind her to see yet another impossible sight on that Christmas Eve, her long dead father. Their eyes had not met since she was seven years old, and now, an equal to the man who once towered over her, her eyes filled with tears as she fell into his embrace once again.

“We don’t have much time, Princess.” The man was just as she remembered him. She had been spared the sight of his face at the funeral, the gaunt skin, cuts, bruises and violence of her mother, so he came to her in a calming vision, just as she remembered him, and just as she needed him to be. “There is so much for you to see.” He stood from the bed, pulling her to her feet with him, and strode towards the window, April pulling back as he pushed it opened and the freezing air of the night flew at her face.

“Daddy, I’ll fall!” Her father chuckled, placing a kiss on her forehead as he captured her in his strong arms once again, and leapt, carrying both of them from the window. April scrunched her eyes tightly shut and let out another scream that was destined to be heard by nobody but the two of them, as the wind whipped quickly around them.

April fell against the soft snow, her father rushing her to her feet as sunlight poured from the sky. April surveyed the scene, the old front garden that she’d spent so much of her childhood in spread out before her. The street was lit up with bright and beautiful lights, and on the lawn before the place she had called home for much of her life was a small girl.

The child was alone, sitting in the snow, surrounded by dolls. Her dark hair was plaited on each side of her head, and her young face was filled with a sadness far beyond her years.

“You should go inside, kid…” April knelt before the girl, her heart heavy as she watched the girl play in solitude. The girl didn’t seem to notice, and April snapped her fingers in front of the child’s face, trying feverishly to get her attention.

“Nobody can see or hear you, Princess.” Her father whispered, pulling her back from the isolated child. “This was the first Christmas where you were truly alone.” April recognised herself, and she recognised the loneliness that surrounded her. After her father had died, her mother was wrapped up in doing Invierno’s bidding, so April was all alone, for the first time.

“Everyone had a tough childhood Daddy, it’s no big deal.” Her father frowned, taking her hand once again as they walked together into a bright curtain of light, emerging on the other side in another familiar setting.

“Back then, you lost the Christmas spirit, but here’s where you found it again.” Her father gestured to the small living room that surrounded them, and April couldn’t help but smile at the memories it conjured. In the corner was a small Christmas tree, with a few neatly wrapped presents beneath it, and across the room was April, cradling a small child in her arms with a glimmering smile on her face. “I never got the chance to meet my Grandson.” There was a hint of sadness in her father’s voice as he spoke, but April didn’t respond, enchanted by the sight of her son, reaching up with his tiny little arms towards her smiling face.

“It’s just you and me, Adam.” April watched her younger self doting on her only child, and her stomach dropped. She knew the boy’s fate, and that she would never forgive herself for her part in it, but there was nothing to be done, for she found herself in a memory, with no way to change what had already come to pass.

“Don’t you see, April?” Her father chimed, pulling her away from the happy scene. “Christmas is best when you have someone to share the season with.” April was silent, storming away from her father, only to be pulled back into his arms a moment later. The man looked down at her with a smile. “I just wish I’d got to share more with you.” April returned his smile, silently wishing the same.

Far from where they stood, April could hear the distant din of bells. Her father glanced down with a glimmer of sadness in his eyes, and April watched as the man broke from her embrace and began to walk away. The room faded and they were surrounded by snow and the weakened sun, desperately trying to reach them.

The bells began to fill the air and the snow grew heavier all around her, her legs seeming to be even heavier as she trudged through the snow after her father.

“Daddy, don’t leave me.” The wind whistled in her ear as she chased after the man, blinded by the flurry of snow, but he was going somewhere that she could not follow, and there was someone else who would greet her, just moments later.

-x-

“Please don’t go.” She sobbed, falling to her knees in the snow as her father disappeared, and once again, she was alone. Her arms outstretched, she clung to the air where he had once stood, falling against the cold ground and collapsing under her renewed grief and guilt.

She did not have long to grieve, as a shadow began to fill the snow, and her tear filled eyes followed it, meeting another familiar gaze that pulled a gasp from her lips.

His eyes were kind but lonely, and he smiled softly, reaching a hand down towards her.

“Damien?” April gasped, taking his hand and standing from her hiding place. He didn’t speak, simply leading her, with a smile, away into the snowy night. “Where are we going?” Damien motioned to his throat, with a glum attempt at a smile and her eyes followed his finger. She gasped at the deep gash that stretched across his whole neck, falling back in shock. “You cut too deep…” The ghostly figure nodded, and April felt a stab of guilt, remembering her part in persuading the man down the path he’d taken. Damien shrugged with a solemn smile and continued to lead April into a bright light up ahead.

April blinked and hid her eyes from the blistering luminance, but soon, it faded, and she found herself once again in familiar surroundings. It was the meeting room at the Garden, and it was filled with warmth and laughter. Crude paper decorations filled the walls and a small but scrumptious seasonal feast was spread across a table at the side of the room. There was no music, but the merriment of her flock was apparent in the way they embraced and smiled at one another.

“These bitches are having a party without me?” April spat, her jaw hanging open as she took in the joyful celebration around her and noticed her own absence from the proceedings. Damien shrugged, rolling his eyes a little as she turned back to the party, seemingly realising that helping April see the error of her ways might be a little harder than he’d thought.

“How about a toast to absent friends?” Joanna, one of the more faithful daughters of the Garden called out. The party goers huddled together, pouring out drinks for each other as she raised her own glass.

“Aww, they do miss me!” April said with a smile, leaning back against the wall and watching the last of the flock pour their drinks.

“To our former leader, Celia.” The gathered members raised their glasses and nodded with sad smiles as Joanna continued. “And our dearest brothers Ricky and Damien.” Damien blushed at the mention of his name, glared at by April who was waiting for her followers to remember her.

“Any moment now…” She hissed, her fingernails digging into the palm of her ghostly companion.

“And most importantly…” April gritted her teeth, scowling at the crowd as Joanna hushed the crowd and prepared to finish her toast. “Most importantly, here’s to our treasured Goddess Invierno.” The crowd nodded, their glasses clinking as they drank to the ones they loved most, and ignored the one they couldn’t stand.

“May she return to us soon and save us from April!” Came a call from the crowd and the room erupted in laughter. Deep inside of her, April was bubbling with rage at their lack of adoration, but somewhere even deeper, she was beginning to wonder if perhaps, she deserved their scorn.

Pulled from her pity, Damien beckoned her back towards the light that lay behind them, and after a brief step forward into the brightness, the light began to fade, and she saw a small but tidy room that again, seemed familiar.

“Andre, are you sure you don’t want to go to the party?” Gillian called out to her husband as he gently placed their son into his cot and turned to face her. He nodded, taking her into his arms and sweeping her into a passionate kiss. “Well, I suppose all we need to celebrate Christmas is right here…”

It was April’s turn to roll her eyes, but Damien stared over at the couple with affection and slight envy.

“Can we go? I’m tired.” April whined as the couple surrounded their child, looking down at the infant with affection. Damien nodded with a defeated sigh, taking April’s hand and leading her from the room.

They walked down the hallway, through the quiet, cold house and while April was primarily feeling sorry for herself, she had begun to wonder if perhaps, those who followed her were right to resent her. Shaking off the feeling, she turned to Damien, but was shocked to find herself alone, once again.

It had been a strange night, and April had a lot to consider, but there was still one more visitor that she’d yet to meet, and perhaps, the third spirit would be the key to her salvation.

-x-

The lights began to flicker above her as the chilly air nipped at her skin once again, and as she wandered the empty hallway, further into the growing darkness, April felt fear forming inside of her once again. She had been afraid many times that night, but as she descended into the darkness and a hand gripped her own, she was beside herself.

“Who are you, spirit?” Her voice shook as much as her hands, but the spirit remained silent, leading her forwards as a dim light up ahead cut through the darkness and overwhelmed her anxious eyes.

“We’ll eat well at Christmas for once!” April rubbed her eyes, the meeting room of the Garden once again coming into view. “That spoiled cow is finally good for something…” Joanna crowed, and the crowd collapsed into gleeful laughter.

The room was full of her followers, all gathered in a circle at the centre of the room. April stepped forward, trying to see what had their attention, but the spirit pulled her back. She fell back in shock, seeing the spirit in full for the first time as it loomed over her. Its black cloak billowed behind it, a single, skeletal hand peeking from the fabric that gripped tightly around her own. Beneath his hood was an almost endless darkness, with nothing but icy, blue eyes that seemed familiar, yet unsettling.

“Spirit, what are they looking at?” April could not hide the apprehension in her voice, but the phantom was not moved, yanking her hand and pulling her away from the crowd towards the living quarters, ignoring her protests. “Spirit, tell me what’s going on.” April’s pleas fell on deaf ears, as they reached the small room that Father Andre, Gillian and Tim called home.

There was a nagging sense of dread burrowing into her stomach as the spirit threw the door open, and though she tried to look away, knowing somehow what she’d see, the spirit was insistent, pulling her head towards the room and forcing her to look.

“Don’t cry my angel, perhaps our Goddess will bless us again some day.” Andre wrapped his arms tightly around his wife as she wept, Tiny Tim’s tiny teddy bear clutched close to her chest.

“Where is Tim?” Truly, April knew the answer, but she asked all the same, hoping for some relief from the horrific realisations that were slowly beginning to surround her. The spirit would not speak, but he did not need to. Tim, like so many that had entered April’s life, was dead.

Tears burned at the corners of her eyes, as the spirit pulled her away and they fell back into darkness again. She had no time to cry, but did all the same as the spirit dragged her down the hallway and out the back door towards her mother’s grave.

The spirit sped her past her mother’s headstone, dragging her further up the garden, where another stone lay before her. It was covered in weeds, the stone cracked and dishevelled.

“I can change, Spirit, just give me a chance.” The spirit shook its head, pointing at the gravestone without a word, but April wouldn’t look. “Please Spirit, tell me that these things are not set in stone.” She sobbed as the spirit shoved her onto her knees beside the grave, pushing her face towards the lettering. Through her tears, she could just about make it out.

“April Jane Jefferson – Good Fucking Riddance.”

April wailed, falling against the stone as the snow fell around her. All the things she had collected, all the wealth, the furs, fine food and jewellery truly meant nothing, because April had nothing that mattered. Once again, she was alone, and this time, she had nobody to blame but herself. The weight of her guilt and regret cascaded around her, sinking deep like the heavy snow that littered the soft grass.

“Merry Christmas Mummy.” The spirit finally spoke, its voice, barely a whisper behind her as the icy wind stabbed at them. April turned to the spirit, peering into its hood, her heart pounding as its eyes, softening, a sweet, sapphire, met with her own.

“Adam…” The spirit lifted its hood, and while the skeletal frame that stood before her did not resemble him, the eyes that lay within the skull, all that was left of him when Invierno had finished with him, told her all that she needed to know. “Adam, my baby boy…” He did not speak, only looking down at her with disgust as she wept hysterically, clinging to what remained of the boy who never got to become a man, her only son, and the only person she had ever truly loved.

She broke down all at once. She couldn’t help it. If this was to be the future, then she would give up anything in the present, and forever regret the past to avoid it. Thrown from her spectral son’s side, she fell down towards the ground, crying out in pain and devastation, as the sky grew dark and dismal once more, with not a star to be seen.

Her eyes were tightly closed, and the air around her, tepid and cruel, but around her body, she could no longer feel the snow, only the softness of her bed sheets.

“Merry Christmas, April.” Her eyes snapped open as she recognised a voice that had eluded her for months as she had descended into selfishness. Over by the window, atop the window sill was a potted rose, blooming and beautiful. April rushed towards it, clutching the pot close to her heart with a grin, knowing that her treasured Goddess Invierno once again deemed her worthy of attention.

She pulled her dressing gown around her body and grabbed the rose, bolting down the hallway to the other half of the house where her followers resided. Bursting into the girl’s bedroom, she leapt onto the bed shared by Joanna and Leigh, jumping for joy as the two women woke with a grumble, glaring up at her.

“Invierno sent us a sign!” She screamed, collapsing between them with a bright smile, pushing the rose towards them. “Oh, my sisters, we must celebrate!” She turned to the others, standing from the bed and dancing between the beds, displaying the rose proudly.

“We don’t have time, if we’re going to hit the streets, April…” Joanna interjected meekly, a little confused by April’s sudden shift in mood. “We need the money for Tim’s medicine.” April shook her head, offering a hand to a reluctant Joanna and pulling her out of bed, back towards her own room, followed by the rest of the women of the Garden.

“Take this and go to the pharmacy on the high street.” April cried, shoving a large pile of money into Joanna’s hands. The woman looked back at her in shock. “Look, I know it was wrong for me to keep it for myself, so… get yourself something nice too while you’re there.” Joanna frowned, but Leigh shook her head at her lover, taking her hand and leading her from the room as the other women crowded around April. “In fact, tomorrow, we’re all going shopping, because you guys deserve some gifts.” The surrounding crowd let out a cheer as April motioned for them to follow her down to the kitchen.

Christmas cheer filled the house as the daughters of the Garden of The Free Children watched April unlock her personal refrigerator and begin passing out Christmas treats to prepare a feast. She left her sisters to begin preparing the food, running up the stairs towards Andre and Gillian’s room with a gleeful grin.

“Andre!” She bellowed, banging her fists wildly against the door as the men of the Garden descended from their room to see what the commotion was. “Get out here right now!” She shrieked, pounding against the door and almost falling through as a tired Andre opened the door with a frown.

“It isn’t even 6AM yet.” Gillian screamed into her pillow as Tim began to wail and Andre looked up apologetically at April.

“Downstairs! Now!” April barked, grabbing his hand and marching the helpless man down the stairs. Andre tried to offer up a response, stammering nervously under April’s glare, but there were no more words spoken between them before she pushed him into the kitchen and watched his face light up at what was unfolding before him. “Tim’s medicine will be here soon, and you won’t be working until he’s better.” Andre was speechless, which April didn’t mind. While she was changing and growing to embrace the spirit of Christmas, she was still a little too obsessed with the sound of her own voice.

“Goddess bless us.” Andre whispered, taking April’s hand in his own and squeezing it gently. “Goddess bless us, everyone.”

April truly was changing, and it lasted long beyond Christmas. She was true to her word on all of her promises, sharing her Christmas feast with her followers, and spoiling them with gifts the next day in the sales. She opened up her wing of the house so that the children of the Garden could have their own bedrooms and dedicated her life to caring for Tim, as well as all the children left in her care by the treasured Goddess Invierno, both young and old alike.

She had no further visits with spirits and phantoms, and it was always said of her that April knew how to keep Christmas well, if anyone possessed the knowledge. The Garden remained isolated from the outside world, but inside of it, the children were surrounded by warmth and always grateful for their leader.

And so, as Tiny Tim’s father observed, Goddess bless us, everyone!