I had gotten used to the idea that I’d never see my daughter again. She stayed fifteen forever in my mind. Her face, covered with an excited smile as she left my arms at the airport and ran to join the other students for the trip of a lifetime.
I still remember her puppy dog eyes when she came home from school with the letter. The history class was taking an “educational” trip. A week in Egypt. What parent could say no? I scrimped and saved to make sure she could go. It wasn’t easy as a single parent, but when I paid the last instalment of the fees, the look on her face made it all worthwhile.
It was always just the two of us. Natalie and me.
Then, it was just me.
Her teacher called me in the middle of the night, the day they were due to fly back and I could barely hear what he was saying. The line was perfectly clear and he wasn’t quiet, but from the moment he said that my daughter was missing, everything else faded away and I stood with the phone to my ear, hearing nothing.
The next day was a blur. Meetings with police officers and foreign office officials, journalists poking round the flat, looking for something to report, make up artists piling powder on my face before I was pushed in front of a camera to record an appeal for television.
None of them could tell me what had happened to my little girl. I asked, over and over, but every time, I got nothing but looks of sympathy and no real answers.
I waited at the airport for hours, even though I knew she wasn’t on the plane. I just sat in the arrivals lounge, watching all the other parents reunite with their kids. They all stared, just for a second, each at a time, holding their children to their chests and staring at me with pity they could barely hide.
I started to drink, when I was eventually persuaded to go home. There was nothing else to do. I stayed drunk for weeks, all alone in the flat, laying on her bedroom floor, just to feel close to her. I’d fall in and out of consciousness, dreaming of her and clinging to them, desperate to fall asleep and find her again, but she never stayed very long.
I’d sober up, only to get drunk again when the loneliness locked eyes on me.
It lasted such a long time.
Grief always does.
I just wanted it to end, but something in me held onto the idea that my little girl was still out there somewhere. At first, that kept me going and I was able to get back to a sober space for a week or two, but as the days went by, fading into weeks and then months, alcohol and dreams were my only escape, and I stopped believing that she’d come home.
The alcohol stopped working, after a while. I’d drink but it didn’t take away the pain, and all that was left were my dreams, but even they began to slip away from me. My little girl was gone, and all that was left when I fell into unconsciousness was a dark, dismal passage, stoned walls with strange writing, and a long, languishing cry of sadness from somewhere far away. I’d walk the passage in my dreams, but it always came to nothing, and I would awake, empty and alone.
Months became a year, and then another, and another until I stopped counting and lost control of my life. I lost my job, only holding onto the flat because my parents bailed me out. I drank and I dreamed, because there was nothing else to do.
Last month, everything changed. There had been so much false hope in the four years since Natalie had disappeared. I’d get calls from the foreign office about suspected sightings of her, only for their investigations to come to nothing, so when they called and asked to meet with me, I didn’t have much motivation to agree to the meeting, that was, until the minister on the phone told me that they’d found my daughter.
I rushed to get up to London, and as I sat in the minister’s office, my mind was racing. I was moments away from the reunion I never thought would come, finally having my daughter back and I was struggling to believe it was real.
They explained that she’d arrived at the British consulate the day before, with no explanation for where she’d been, but seemed healthy. It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t care, I just wanted her home.
They sent a doctor in to speak to me, and he explained that in cases like this, there’s often trauma, and the missing person might not be able to talk about it for a long time. I understood what he was saying, but he didn’t know my daughter. We were as close as it gets, and no matter what she’d been through, I knew that eventually, we’d figure it out.
As she walked through the door, I ran to her, wrapping her up in my arms, my eyes flowing with tears of relief and happiness. She just stood there, stiff as a board, and as I pulled away from the hug, she just stared up at me, her face empty of expression. It seemed strange, but I was just happy to see her alive.
I tried to talk to her in the office but she wouldn’t respond, and after a gentle reminder from the doctor about trauma responses, I let it go, watching her stare out the window, as we talked, fiddling with a beautiful necklace without a word.
I asked her about it on the way to the car, but she didn’t respond. It was stunning, golden chains with a big blue stone, almost mistakable for a sapphire, were it not being worn by a teenager with no money. I tried to take a look but she swatted my hand away, and so, again, on the doctor’s orders, I tried to let her open up in her own time.
I thought she’d liven up a little after a day or so but nothing changed. She was quiet, distant, and refused to talk about what had happened in Egypt. I’d try and get her to open up, but she’d just stare blankly at me.
She never spoke, she barely ate, and at night, she hardly ever slept. I’d hear her wandering around the flat, not saying a word, not making a sound, just wandering.
I tried to be patient, but I couldn’t stop myself worrying. Even with the doctor’s warning, I hadn’t expected things to be this difficult. All I wanted was to make her feel better but she seemed to glide through the world with no feeling or emotion, just a blank, emotionless stare and barely a word.
It was hard to know what to do. I needed to find work to keep a roof over our heads, but I didn’t want to leave her alone. She was too old for school, so my parents had paid for a tutor who was due to start about a week after she’d come home, but the tutor would only be there for a few hours a day.
I asked her what she’d like me to do, and she didn’t answer, just staring out the window, fiddling with her necklace without a word.
I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I decided to leave her for a few hours to go to some job interviews. It would only be two hours until the tutor arrived, and I’d left her some food and all the emergency numbers. Despite her being nineteen now, she still seemed like my little girl, so leaving her alone was hard, but I knew that I needed to do it, for her future.
I couldn’t get her off of my mind, but I tried to focus on finding work as the day passed. As I headed home, I made plans for us to spend some quality time together, to see if it would help, but as I arrived back at the flat, there was no sign of Natalie, or her tutor.
I was frantic, searching the flat and running between our neighbours, begging them for help. They all came out to search, and for hours, we combed through the neighbourhood, hunting for my daughter.
My dread deepened with every second, suddenly shot back to the past, all the waiting and worrying. The agony of being without my daughter was killing me.
I hated myself for leaving her alone, but I tried to push my guilt aside and focus on finding her.
We searched for so long, but eventually, I found her on the roof of our building. I ran to her, at first, but as I got closer, I knew that something was wrong. There were cats surrounding her, all over the roof. Cats I recognised from the neighbourhood, and some I’d never seen before. It was bizarre. They were just cats. Nobody in their right mind is afraid of cats, but there was something about the scene that made my blood run cold, something untoward, something deeply, deeply dark.
I approached her cautiously, the mewing of the cats overpowering as I got closer, along with a strange, arresting, unsettling smell. Blood, but from who, or from what?
She knelt before the cats, circled by some while others gathered before her, hundreds of cats, swarming something on the ground, their eager paws padding against it as their little mouths dipped down, always returning with blood covered whiskers before descending down for another bite.
I wrapped my arms around her, recoiling instantly in shock at her cold, stiff body. Her bones seemed to click and snap as she turned towards me and I fell back, horrified. Her eyes shone bright in the dark night, and her jaw dropped, strangely still as she spoke, her voice ringing out across the roof.
“They just wanted to keep me safe.” She reached out for my hand but I snatched it back. I was her mother, but as I looked down at her, watching the cats scatter to reveal a horrific sight, I could not believe that she was my daughter. “They came to me in my moment of need.” She reached for me again, and as she gripped my hand, I was horrified by the strength of her grip. Powerless, I was pulled towards the cats, neatly circled in a row, surrounding the thing I’d done my best not to see.
“Your tutor…” My voice was barely a whisper, and his face was barely there. Chunks of Mr Chapman, the tutor lay all around our feet. But she just smiled at me, pulling me down to the ground with her. I was surrounded by what she had done, and as wrong as it was, I knew that I had to protect her.
I didn’t know why she had done it, and in the moment, I didn’t care, I just needed to make sure that she would stay with me. Natalie began tugging at the necklace, groaning in pain and thrashing as I tried to calm her down. I grabbed her wrists and pulled her over to the door, the two of us clattering down the stairs without a word. My heart pounded as we snuck through the corridors of the building to get home, but she was unmoved, her soft smile accompanied by stony silence as I shoved her into the bathroom and into the shower.
She said nothing as I scrubbed the blood from her body, and it wasn’t until I threw some clean clothes in her direction that she finally spoke.
“A Princess never dresses herself.” She pouted, kicking the clothes away and staring at me expectantly. I couldn’t understand it, but I didn’t have time to think, as a knock came at the door. I hurriedly began putting her clothes on, as the knock repeated. “I want my friends back.” She hissed, pushing me away once dressed and striding towards the window. I ran to the door, throwing it open to see my parents on the door step with a police officer, and just behind me, I heard the window open, and the frantic mewing of several cats.
I was frantic, with so many things on my mind, but the most important issue was the mutilated body on the roof. I quickly explained that I’d found her wandering in the street, and asked my parents to watch her for a little while, giving them an excuse about a work call and rushed out of the door. I got in the car and just drove, completely unsure of what to do about the body.
I found myself in the ASDA car park at about ten, just crying against the steering wheel. There was something wrong, so wrong, but I couldn’t understand what it was. Could it be the trauma that the doctor had spoken about? Had something hurt my daughter so badly that she was now capable of this? Had she always been like this and I’d never known?
I had no answers, but only one priority. Whatever had happened to Natalie, and whatever she had done, I had to keep her safe, and keep her with me. I pulled myself together and gathered supplies. I was just going off of what I’d seen in crime shows and movies, so I got bleach, bin bags and gloves.
As I headed back to the flat and up to the roof, my mind was racing and my heart was pounding, but when I walked out onto the roof, I was astonished to see that the body was gone. There was no blood, no body, just a cat, sitting where the body had been, looking over at me.
Its fur was soft, a dark brown with little lines of white all across its body, and it had large eyes, that seemed to always be upon me.
“Go to her.” I fell back in shock as the cat seemed to speak. Its dark yellow eyes seemed to glow in the dark night, and I ran from the rooftop, not stopping until I reached my front door.
I paused, afraid of what lay on the other side. Things weren’t right, I knew that, and I felt powerless, like I was living in a nightmare. I gathered all the courage I could and pushed the door open, bracing myself and taking a deep breath, but… everything was normal.
Natalie was sat with my parents, watching TV, and she was chatting, as if nothing was wrong. My little girl was… back. She smiled, bubbly and conversational, as if nothing had happened. I slowly walked into the flat, and sat on the arm chair, looking over at them. I could barely believe my eyes, but it was like everything had changed.
I tried to relax, but something about the normality was unsettling. Upon Natalie’s lap sat a cat, and I couldn’t be certain, but it looked so much like the one from the roof. It made no sense, but little about my situation did. I didn’t want to question it and look crazy. I’d been erratic for the past few years, and I knew that my parents would accuse me of drinking again, or worse, so I kept quiet, just trying to relax, but never quite being able to shake off the feeling that the worst was yet to come.
My parents went home, and Natalie fell silent again, heading straight to bed without a word, as they left, and I just stayed up for a while, trying to get everything straight in my head. I must have fallen asleep at some point, but when I woke up, stiff in the arm chair, Natalie stood before me, once again, different.
She leant over the chair, shaking me awake, tears in her eyes.
“Mum!” Her voice was shrill and panicked and as I looked up at her, I noticed that her neck was bare. “Mum, wake up!” I nodded, placing my arm on her shoulder as she knelt beside the chair.
“Did you have a nightmare?” I asked, trying to remember all the possible issues the doctor had described, and how I should respond.
“I got it off, but I couldn’t break it.” She sighed at my blank expression. “The necklace!” She cried, pointing at her bare neck. “Princess Sehener is in the necklace!” I wanted to be more responsive but I was baffled. “They told us not to touch anything in the tomb, but… it was just so beautiful and I couldn’t help it.” Her face fell and tears began to fall from her eyes. “That night, I woke up, and the necklace was around my neck… and, I was… well, I don’t know.” I squeezed her hand gently as she continued. “It was like I was in my body, but someone else had control… it was…”
We both jumped in fright as the cat pounced onto my lap. Natalie scrambled back in shock, shrieking as the cat locked it’s eyes upon her.
“The Princess wants her body back, Natalie.” The room began to fill with a low hiss as the cat spoke, and I recoiled, feeling something slither around my ankle.
“Mum! Don’t let her take me!” I reached out to Natalie, screaming as I saw snakes, everywhere, slinking up my arms and legs, weighing me down against the chair. Their skin slid smoothly along mine, but they wrapped tightly around me and I couldn’t move. Natalie cried out as the necklace seemed to glide through the air, clamping tightly around her throat, the light leaving her eyes, and my heart breaking, once again.
“Please don’t take her away from me again.” I sobbed, struggling against the snakes to no avail, as my daughter walked towards the front door. She turned back, one last time, with a wicked smile, and then, she was gone, the little cat trailing after her without a sound.
I stayed there for hours, struggling and sobbing, and I must have blacked out eventually. When I came to, I was alone. There were no snakes, no cats, and no Natalie.
I haven’t seen or heard from her since, and nobody believes a word I say about that night. They all thought I was drinking again. They think she ran away. Trauma or something. My fault. I must have been smothering her. I let her go on the trip. My fault.
I know the truth. Nobody else knows and they never will, but I know the truth. The truth will always stay with me, and perhaps, the truth is the worst thing of all.