A pre-New Captain Scarlet Halloween story
By Lydia Sheridan
‘’Lainey? Can you get up now, please?’
Elaine rolled over, cocooning herself in the duvet. Miles always woke her up too early. It was very annoying. Her bed was warm, and soft, and she was in no hurry to leave it.
‘I’m staying here.’ She mumbled it. Miles strained to hear her.
‘I’m staying here, Miles!’
‘No, you’re not. Come on, ‘Lainey.’
Elaine scowled, but slowly stuck her head out from under the duvet. Her fluffy toy cat, Whiskas, was sprawled on the pillow, just by her head. Miles was standing by her chest of drawers, making her plastic horses trot over the top of it. Despite only being five years old, Elaine had collected a large number of horse items. Stuffed toys, posters, books. She could barely read them, but there were still plenty.
Elaine desperately wanted to learn to read, and Miles was trying to teach her, because he thought the teachers at the school she’d started just over a month ago weren’t very good at it. So far, she could understand some words, but not many, and she claimed the harder ones fell out of her head.
Miles had got her most of the horsy menagerie. Often, he’d come back from town, and would smile, slip a toy horse, still in it’s plastic packaging, out of his bag, followed by sweets and fizzy drinks. Sometimes, Elaine thought he may have taken them without asking, which she didn’t think was a very nice thing for him to do, but maybe he did buy them, she didn’t know for certain.
Miles turned, and grinned at her. ‘Hey, sleepyhead. Just feeding the horses.’
Elaine’s scowl vanished, and she smiled happily. She wriggled her way out of the covers, dragging Whiskas with her by the tail. When her feet touched the floor, she instantly pulled them back up again.
A bowl of melted ice cream was on the floor by her bed, and she’d put her feet into it by accident.
‘Miles, why is this here?’
Miles turned. ‘Oh, the ice cream. You brought your dessert up to bed last night, remember? Because Siobhan was being nasty? I don’t know why you didn’t finish it.’
‘Oh yeah, I remember now. And I don’t like vanilla flavour, it‘s too boring.’ Elaine wiped her feet dry on the carpet, then stumbled over to Miles, and hugged him around the waist.
‘Happy today, are we?’
‘I think so.’
Elaine shook her head. ‘What?’
‘Hang on. Whiskas knows. I bet he does.’ He took the cat off her, and made it nod its head. ‘Yes, I know,’ Miles spoke in a squeaky voice, then made a purring noise at the end. Elaine giggled.
Miles dropped the act, and exclaimed, ‘’Lainey, it’s Halloween! A great holiday! Witches and vampires and monsters!‘ He gave a jokey roar, his arms raised. Elaine shrieked, pretending to be frightened. Miles was always doing things like this, and she loved how he could act as so many different people.
‘And…your favourite big brother got you a special present!’
Miles nodded, and laughed as Elaine capered around the room, her long brown hair flying behind her.
‘Hey, don’t you want it?’
‘I do, I do!’ Elaine came to a halt, and climbed onto the bed, before sitting with her knees raised, and her pink and white checked pyjama top pulled down over them.
‘Naughty, you’ll wreck that top.’
‘Miles!’ Elaine didn’t care. She just wanted her present. She pouted, upset. Miles sighed. She got upset way too easily, and desperately needed to toughen up. Still, there were going to be plenty of years for her to do that.
‘Okay, okay. Here you go.’ Miles tucked Whiskas under his left arm, and produced a small, plastic bag from his right trouser pocket. He passed it to Elaine. She squealed happily. It contained a toy horse, coloured black with a purple mane and tail. There was an orange pumpkin on its hip.
‘What does that say?’ Elaine pointed to a yellow star shaped sticker on the bag. Miles was a good reader, and, even though he was only eight, he read several books which Elaine considered very difficult.
He sat down by her, and leaned over to see. ‘It says…’limited edition’. That means there’s not many of them around. You got lucky, ‘Lainey!’
Elaine hugged him again.
‘What are you gonna call her?’
‘Erm…what’s a good name?’
‘How about something Halloween-ish?’ Miles raised Whiskas to his ear, made a face like he was listening, then nodded.
Elaine pulled the horse out of the bag, and ran her fingers through its long mane. Miles placed Whiskas on the bed between them.
He loved it when she was happy. His sister was a delicate little thing, very gentle and loving, but also very shy. If he took her out, to town or the park, she would hold his hand all the time, and hide behind him if someone he knew talked to him.
There was only one of his friends whom she would talk to. Andy Marshall. She’d always seemed to like him, ever since Miles had met him at school two years ago, and brought him home to play football the same night. With them being six and eight at the time, it had hardly been a premiership match, but it had cemented a friendship between them.
Andy was ten years old now, and Elaine knew he did some bad things, like take money without asking, and go out when his parents said he shouldn’t. Nonetheless, he acted almost as another brother to her, getting her sweets and holding her hand when she crossed the road.
‘I thought you and me could do some Halloween pictures for Mammy.’ Miles never usually called her that, not any more, it was purely for Elaine’s benefit. ‘She’d like that a lot. And you’re a very good little artist.’
Elaine nodded, then got off the bed, and stood on her tiptoes to place Spooky with her other horses. She stayed there, clinging onto the edge of the cabinet, admiring the collection.
‘I’ve got a lot now, haven’t I, Miles?’
‘Yes, you have. Hey, how about a special horsy Halloween pic for Mammy? You could do one just like Spooky.’
‘Yes, later. I’m hungry now.’ Elaine turned round. She rubbed her stomach to emphasize it. Miles laughed.
‘Okay, come on. I think we’ve got some cornflakes left for breakfast. If Shev hasn’t pigged them all.’ They almost always referred to their sister, Siobhan, as Shev, simply because it annoyed her. Almost everything did.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Miles yelled, ‘Race you!’ and took off.
‘Not fair, stop it!’ Elaine made her way down gradually. She was afraid of falling, so she clung onto the banister. Miles was laughing at the bottom.
‘I’m not slow.’ Elaine gave him a push in the stomach and ran through to the kitchen to prove it.
The kitchen was a small, rather cosy room with pictures drawn by the children held onto the fridge with colourful magnets, a vases of flowers on the table, and pale pink curtains with a pattern of golden stars. Miles had told Elaine that they were actually bedroom curtains, but their mother, Bridget, had liked them a lot, so that’s why they were in the kitchen. She seemed to spend most of her time there.
Bridget was standing at the sink, staring out of the window. Miles gave her a very gentle tap on the arm, and she jumped.
‘Mam, I got Elaine up.’
‘Thank you, darling.’ She stooped to kiss his forehead. He pulled a disgusted face and wiped at the wet mark her lips had left. She was always kissing him, and he didn’t like it. Kisses were for girls.
Elaine had pulled herself onto a chair at the table. Eleven-year-old Siobhan sat opposite, frowning into her cereal bowl. She’d tied her hair in twin plaits, and the end of one dangled in the milk. When she caught Elaine looking at her, she instantly shouted, ‘Stop it, freak!’
‘Siobhan! Don’t take that tone with your sister!’ Bridget scolded. She hated telling them off, but Siobhan had turned so nasty towards her younger two recently she had no other option.
Miles fetched Elaine a bowl and spoon, then retrieved the orange juice carton from the fridge. It was suspiciously light. Miles shook it, then looked towards Siobhan. She had a glass so full of juice it was right at the top and looked ready to spill.
‘Shev, you stole it all!’
‘I did not!’ Siobhan’s bad temper flared up straight away, and she grabbed the cereal packet to throw at her brother. Bridget seized it as she aimed.
‘Siobhan, don’t…don’t do that!’ Truth was, Bridget didn’t even know how to give a proper scolding. Words always failed her.
If anyone else had said that to her, Siobhan would have hit them, screamed at them, and done whatever bad deed it was anyway. But she stopped and acted sweet for her mother, the only person whom she seemed to care for.
‘Sorry, Mam. I didn’t mean it anyway.’
‘Okay. Now, could you please give Elaine some of that?’
Siobhan grumbled a bit, but poured some juice into another glass, spilling some onto the table top in the process. If Bridget hadn’t been there, she probably would have spat in it, but now she just gave it to her sister, glaring.
Elaine took the cereal packet from her mother and clumsily tipped some cornflakes into her bowl, followed by milk. It smelt a little strange, a little off, but she decided she didn’t mind.
In the time it took her to eat them, Miles and Siobhan had two more arguments; one about a missing action figure, the other about whose turn it was to wash up.
Bridget collapsed into a chair, rubbing her temples. ‘You kids are making me crazy.’
Siobhan stopped yelling at Miles, and stood behind her mother, hugging her gently around the neck.
Bridget patted her arm. ‘Do me a favour, will you? Go bring the washing in. And - ow!’ She had made to get up, but her hip had collided with the table. It lurched sideways, the vase of flowers almost toppling over. She shrieked in obvious pain, then clutched her hip.
‘Mammy?’ Elaine stared at her. Miles dropped the plate he’d been drying and it smashed on the floor.
‘I’m okay, I’m okay!’ Bridget smiled, but still looked pained. She sighed when she saw the mess Miles had made, though. ‘I’ll clean this up, I don’t want you to cut yourself, but be more careful next time, honey, right?’
Miles nodded. Elaine noticed him and Siobhan giving each other worried looks. She slipped off the chair and hurried out of the door, and back to her room. No one saw. That was the good thing about being a quiet person. People tended not to notice you.
Later, when Elaine was in her favourite hiding spot, in a small gap between the side of the garden shed and the fence, Miles came looking for her.
‘’Lainey! Lainey! Where are you?’ She heard him wandering about in the over-long grass, searching. It had been a long time since anyone had mown the lawn. Bugs hid in it, snails, worms and spiders, which Elaine was scared of because Siobhan made a point of throwing them at her whenever she found one. Elaine remembered Miles had once found a hedgehog, and it had hurt him with its spikes when he’d tried to stroke it.
Miles looked inside the shed. Nothing there but rusted garden tools. He peered around the side.
‘There you are! Why are you here? It’s dark and dirty and smelly here.’
‘I like it. It’s quiet. And I’ve got toys.’ She gestured to two muddy plastic horses and a doll.
‘Well, I still don’t like you being there. Come on out, please, ’Lainey. I don’t want you to get more mucky.’
Elaine gazed at him, worried, then crawled out. She’d been wearing shorts and kneeling in the dirt, so her shins were covered in it.
‘Oh…you’re already messy. Why were you there anyway?’
‘Why? What from?’
‘Not from anything. Just… hiding.’
Miles laughed. ‘Okay. Want to play?’
Elaine didn’t really want to. Actually, she’d been down there so she could think. Why had Bridget been hurt earlier? Maybe she just hit her hip very hard on the table, it seemed like it. But Elaine remembered last night, when He’d come back from work. He was often away, though Elaine wasn’t sure what He did. He was staying for a week this time.
Last night, there’d been some weird crashes. Elaine had thought Bridget had screamed. Miles had come into her room and hugged her, like he was scared.
Siobhan had put on pounding trance music, which Elaine could hear clearly through the wall. It drowned out the crashes.
Had something happened to Bridget yesterday? Elaine wanted to stay and think about it more, but Miles was helping her up. He grabbed a football and started to kick it across the garden towards her. It caught in the grass, and stopped. Miles laughed. ‘Well, maybe not football! Wanna play catch? I think we’ve got a tennis ball...er... somewhere…’ He gazed around the garden, then shrugged at her, smiling. Elaine shook her head.
‘No, no. I want to…I want to go inside now.’ A sudden thought had struck her. Maybe she could see if Bridget was hurt.
‘Do you want me to -’
‘No! I mean…no, you stay here, Miles.’ She forced a smile, and added, ‘Be a good little boy.’
Miles laughed out loud. ‘I love when you talk like an older sister! You’d make a better one than Shev, I’m sure.’
Elaine kept smiling until she’d got into the house. In the kitchen, she grabbed a paper towel, and rubbed vainly at her legs. She couldn’t get the majority of the dirt off, so she gave up.
Siobhan was sprawled on the sofa in the living room, watching some dull daytime TV show. She turned round and screamed at Elaine when she poked her head round the door.
Elaine withdrew her head, sat down with her back against the hall wall and started to speak softly, under her breath.
‘…Imagine you’re above the clouds, flying higher and higher… imagine you’re above the clouds, flying higher and higher…’
She kept repeating it, over and over. She’d first heard it on TV, and had memorised what the overweight presenter had said. To a certain extent, she thought she understood it. It was about making yourself feel better. The only thing she knew for certain was that it always soothed her, helped her relax. She could imagine flying alongside the birds, her arms out at her sides like wings, then settling down in a large birds nest to go to sleep.
In the lounge, Siobhan was screaming at the TV, insulting the woman who hosted the show. Elaine let her voice rise from a whisper to a murmur.
All throughout the day, Elaine kept thinking of the expression on Bridget’s face when she’s hit her hip. When she was watching TV, the pained expression was on every actor. When Miles fell over in the garden, she expected him to look like Bridget, in great pain, even when he bobbed up again, laughing, unhurt.
Initially, Elaine had wanted to just outright ask Bridget what was going on, but she found she hadn’t the guts. Plus, she didn’t understand entirely. Maybe her mother really had just hit her hip hard.
Maybe she should ask Miles? He’d know, he knew everything. But she might make him worry, and he was always so happy, she didn’t want to make him sad.
Later, when she was in her room, crayoning a picture for Bridget - Miles was downstairs, watching cartoons, and he’d said he’d do his later - she plucked up the courage to do something, though she still wasn’t quite sure what. Leaving the picture, Elaine tip-toed along the landing from her room to her mother‘s, and occasionally, His, when He was around. Could she just go in and ask questions? Did she dare now?
She’d spy. She’d heard Miles and Andy talking about it, and they’d said that you had to act like you were playing a really good game of Hide and Seek, and not let anyone see you, or hear you.
Elaine felt nervous; it was awful, spying on her own mother, but she needed to find out what was wrong. Slowly, careful not to make a single small sound, she crept to the door of her mother’s room, and looked through the open gap. She couldn’t see her at first. She could just see the curtains, drawn even though the sun was shining outside. Then Bridget moved into her line of sight, and Elaine just about managed to stifle a gasp. She knew something was very, very wrong.
Bridget was in her underwear; she had been in the process of changing clothes, and was walking over to the wardrobe on the other side of the room. She’d tied her hair up, exposing her scarily thin neck. The strands that she hadn’t managed to catch hung down to her shoulders, the sandy blonde very delicate and pale, against…
Against the sick colour of her skin. Purple and red competed for dominance over her back, her stomach, her chest. Bruises, like gruesome flowers, bloomed on her body, all over. It was hard to find patches that didn’t have them. Her feet, hands, neck and head seemed the only parts free. They’d be the only parts anyone could see. The rest would be hidden when she got dressed.
When she turned towards the wardrobe, Elaine saw new, bright red marks, very fresh. The ones from this morning, the ones the table had done. They were laid over older purple bruises. As she opened the wardrobe, one of the doors scraped Bridget’s hip. She winced violently, as a few beads of blood blossomed over the graze. She ran her finger along them, collecting them, trying not to cry.
Elaine was still watching her, feeling sick, when someone pinched the back of her neck, hard. Before she squealed - it had hurt a lot - a hand clamped around her mouth.
‘Shut up, you little cow!’ Siobhan whispered angrily. She didn’t want to alert Bridget, so she dragged Elaine to her room, then threw her facedown on the floor.
‘What were you doing? You’re gross, you are! Spying on Mam!’
Elaine sat up. Her forehead hurt where it had hit the floor, and she rubbed it. ‘Mammy was sad and I went to look for her.’
‘You should have left it to me! You’re so stupid! And it’s Mam, not Mammy!’ Siobhan sneered, and brought her head close to Elaine’s. ‘Baby.’
‘I’m not a baby…’ Elaine mumbled, slowly standing up. Siobhan gave her a shove, and she fell over onto her backside.
‘Yes you are. Baby, baby, baby! Stupid baby!’ Siobhan had closed her eyes, singing the words.
‘I am not! I am not a baby! You don’t know nothing!’ Suddenly, Elaine kicked out with her right foot. Her leg caught Siobhan’s, and Siobhan fell over, swearing. Elaine knew she only had a few seconds, so she got up quickly, leapt over her sister and out of the door.
Bridget leant out of her room, careful to hide the swelling and bruises behind the door. ‘Girls, are you all right?’ But Elaine didn’t answer. She tripped down the stairs, to the living room. The TV was buzzing loudly.
‘Miles! Miles!’ Elaine flung herself at him, then wormed her way behind him, pushing him almost off the sofa.
‘Where is she? Where is the little bitch!?’ Siobhan burst into the room, her face red. Elaine started crying. Siobhan started shouting.
Miles hated when things got chaotic. He preferred slow and relaxed. He stood up.
‘Shev, calm down. Elaine -’
‘She kicked me! And she was spying on Mam!’ Siobhan was furious. Miles stepped toward her, hands up as if in surrender.
‘She wouldn’t kick without provocation. You know that.’
Elaine kept crying. She normally wouldn’t have hurt Siobhan, she didn’t like hurting people, but she’d really got to her for some reason this time.
Miles managed to placate Siobhan, by telling her she could have any CD in his collection she wanted. She went back upstairs, making sure that she made as much noise as possible; stomping up the stairs and banging Miles’ bedroom door as she went in to choose.
Miles turned down the volume on the TV, then got a tissue, and dried Elaine’s tears.
‘I’m sure it wasn’t all your fault, like she said.’ Miles hugged her. Elaine couldn’t keep it inside anymore. She had to ask. She had to know.
Elaine pushed away from him.
‘What’s going on? Why is Mammy hurt? I was looking at her because of her being hurt today, but she was all over covered in these red marks! Does she walk a lot into things?’
Miles stiffened, then sighed. He hated having to tell her this. It had been Siobhan that had told him, when he was five, and he knew now it was his little sister’s turn. He hoped she understood better than he had. He hadn’t truly, fully understood until he was about seven.
He looked at her. He could see in her eyes that she was frightened.
‘’Lainey, don’t move away from me. Come here.’ He held out his arms and she slid into them again, resting her head against his front.
How could he tell it? How had it been told to him? He thought and thought. When he’d been told, Siobhan, even though he knew she disliked him, had told it gently, in a soft, level voice. The thing that made it even more difficult was that he was sure Elaine wasn’t that bright. She might get extremely puzzled.
‘Sometimes…’ Miles swallowed. ‘Sometimes, when a very, very, very bad person gets angry, or they have some weird drinks or something, they’ll hurt people to get rid of the anger. Like… like letting fizz out of a bottle. And this person may think that’s the only way. It’s not, but they think like that because they’re not willing to think of other ways.’
Elaine was still confused. Miles was older than her, he may be making sense to himself, but she didn’t get it.
Miles saw that she was trying to understand what he’d said. Her brow was furrowed, one small hand gripping his T-shirt. He’d noticed before that she did that when she was puzzled; gripped something very hard, as though it would help her think.
He couldn’t stand it. She needed to know now.
Suddenly, like someone had turned a tap on, full power, inside his head, Miles‘ eyes started leaking. The crying turned to actual sobbing. Elaine pulled away, startled.
‘Miles? Miles!’ She hated when people cried. It always made her sad as well. Sure enough, tears started dripping down her face. ‘Miles, what’s wrong?’
‘He’s… He’s hitting Mam, Elaine. He’s hitting her, and He’s hurting her, really, really badly.’
‘He… hits her? But you said hitting’s bad!’
‘I know! But He won’t stop!’
A snake of different emotions slithered through Elaine. Why? Why was He doing this? Had Mam done something wrong? What did this mean? Would she get hurt as well?
‘Don’t ask me why He does it, Elaine.’ It was as if Miles had read her thoughts. ‘I don’t really know. I think it’s because He wants to feel powerful. And getting drunk doesn’t help at all.’
‘But has Mammy been bad?’
‘No.’ Miles shot the answer back as soon as she’d asked the question. ‘No, Elaine, she hasn’t done anything bad, at all. I want you to understand something.’ Gently, he pushed her back, and put his hands on her shoulders so that she was looking directly at him. ‘Only really, really nasty people, who want to hurt others, should ever be hurt back. Nice people, like Mammy, who have always been nice, shouldn’t be hurt. Ever, ever. Remember that. It’s important.’
It sank in, and stayed there.
The TV buzzed in the background. Miles’ cartoons had finished. It was the news. A reporter shuffled his papers, then spoke in an appealing baritone.
‘A woman has been found beaten to death in her home in County Cork today. Police believe that the suspect may be her own husband, who has -’
Miles turned off the TV.
Chores in the house had to be shared, and that night, Elaine was due for a bath. It was Bridget’s turn to bath her, so, at 6pm, one hour before her bedtime, Elaine and her mother set off upstairs.
Elaine didn’t really like being bathed by Bridget. It was boring, she wouldn’t play any games. She much preferred when Miles bathed her, even though he wasn’t very good at it, and never rinsed all the shampoo out of her hair.
He’d do all sorts of entertaining things to make it fun, though. He’d collect all her toy ponies and amuse her by making them dive off the windowsill into the bath, giving little shouts of delight and excitement. He’d tell her jokes, and sometimes swear words he’d learnt off Andy. She didn’t understand what they meant and she wasn’t sure Miles entirely did either, but they still made her giggle because they sounded so funny.
If Siobhan bathed her… Elaine shivered. Siobhan would pull her hair, hard, so her head jerked back, and run her long fingernails down the back of her neck. Sometimes Siobhan would pinch her as well, always in places where no one else was likely to see; the insides of her thighs, the soles of her feet, under her arms. All of this left sore, pink marks, but the scratches were always hidden by a sheet of hair, and the pinches just weren’t easily visible, so no one else ever knew about them. Elaine never told, because she knew Siobhan would do worse things if she did.
Thirty minutes after they‘d headed upstairs, Elaine was in the bath. The boiler was old, and it took a long time to fill the bath because the water had to came out at little more than a trickle. If the tap was turned on full blast, the water ran cold.
Bridget smiled slightly, and passed Elaine the small grey plastic horse that lived by the sink. Miles had found him, in the gutter outside their house, and brought him inside. Elaine could never think of names for her horses, so Miles had suggested that he should be called Splash.
Elaine dipped him under the water. She could feel Bridget’s eyes on her.
‘Mammy, why are you watching me?’
‘I just like seeing you happy, sweetheart.’ Bridget smiled, rather sadly. Elaine looked down, at the horse in her hands. Should she ask…?
‘Mammy… Miles said something today… and he said you were hurt.’ She glanced up. Bridget looked shocked.
‘What… what makes you think I‘m hurt? What makes Miles think that?’ She said shakily, smiling in a worried way.
‘He just did, he said you’d been hit.’
Bridget didn’t want to lie. She’d always been a truthful person. But it was so difficult…
She managed to look Elaine directly in her eyes, and said firmly, ‘I’m fine. I promise you, sweetie. I wouldn’t lie.’
She added, ‘Close your eyes,’ and started to tip water over Elaine’s head from a jug. When she’d finished, Elaine shook her head, sending droplets flying in all directions. Bridget laughed slightly.
Elaine looked at her from under her hair. Bridget seemed sort of happy now. She couldn’t upset her by asking any more questions. Besides, she’d said she was fine. Maybe Miles was mistaken.
She dropped Splash, letting him float on the water, and reached her arms up, towards Bridget. ‘Mammy, I want a hug now.’
Bridget wound her arms around her daughter, wincing. It hurt just to love her.
After her bath, Elaine disappeared into her room, almost instantly reached for a palomino family of horses on her dresser, and started a game with them. This was a common occurrence; these three horses were her favourites, and she often played with them when she had free time.
She began to breathe slowly and heavily; her nose was running. She wiped it on her sleeve, and hoped she wasn’t getting a cold.
The horses were happy at first, but then she experimented with a darker game. She made the father kick the mother, and the foal run away, scared.
There was a snatch of laughter from outside. Elaine jumped, knocking the horses over. She scrambled to her feet, and looked out of the window, pulling the curtain back slowly. Her damp hair swung forward as she leant up against the glass, her breath steaming it.
In next doors garden, there was a Halloween party. Several tables were set out, and covered with assorted bowls and plates, which contained all sorts of party food. Elaine spied sausage rolls, crisps and pretzels. Several bottles of wine, vodka and other drinks were on another smaller table, along with some cans of lager.
Hanging on the fence were colourful lanterns, and pumpkins with carved, grinning faces leered from under bushes.
In the light coming from them, Elaine could see many people. Mostly adults, dancing and drinking, but there were a few young children. One, a little girl with a curly, toffee coloured ponytail, crawled out from under a table. She was followed by several more kids, and they all chased each other around the garden. The first girl seemed to tire before them; she was a little bit chubby, maybe that had something to do with it. She flopped down into the grass, and lay on her back, looking up at the stars. The other kids instantly left her alone, knowing she wanted peace.
Elaine could see how happy the girl was; a wide smile was on her face.
Suddenly, the girl sat up, and started to brush stray grass blades from her ponytail. As she swung it back over her shoulder, she glimpsed Elaine, up in the house next door, staring out at her.
She waved, grinning.
Elaine ducked behind the curtain. Oh no, the girl had seen her! What would she think of her? Staring at her like that!
‘Yes, princess?’ Evie Blair smiled at her friends, then bent down so she could hug her daughter. Caitlin was five years old, and looked a lot like her. Same large, brown eyes, same wavy toffee coloured hair, same short, slightly plump frame. Evie’s friends often joked about her clone, her ’Mini Me’.
‘Can the girl next door come and play? She didn’t looked very happy and I want to cheer her up.’
Evie smiled. Her girl was so warm-hearted.
‘Well, we can go and ask her, if you want?’
‘Oh, yes, yes, yes! Can we take her some sweets?’
‘Okay. Go pick her a bag you think she’ll like.’
Evie knew very little about her neighbours. They’d already been in the neighbouring house before she’d moved to this part of County Wexford, when she had split up from Caitlin’s deadbeat father. She knew that a woman and three children lived there, and a man occasionally came and stopped for a few weeks. Just a boyfriend, maybe? Somehow, she didn’t think so.
She’d seen the mother in the back yard hanging out washing once. She’d been pale, with a strange purple mark on her arm, which could only be seen when her sleeve slid up. When Evie had said hello to her, she’d turned nervously, as if expecting attack, then smiled, in obvious discomfort, her eyes darting towards the house. Soon after, she’d scurried inside, clutching her washing basket.
Loud bangs sometimes came from the house. Noises Evie thought may have been screams, but were quickly muffled. On more than one occasion, Evie had sat wondering what went on, and sometimes even picked up the phone, her finger paused above the nine, her mind leaping to terrible conclusions. But that was far-fetched, surely…she’d always put the phone back, convinced she was over-reacting. The boy who lived there possibly had video games. A lot of noise could come from them, that must be what it was.
She’d met him once, the boy. Miles. She’d been sunbathing in the backyard, Caitlin playing dolls by her side, and he’d suddenly popped his head over the face and shouted ‘Hiya!’
They’d had a brief conversation, during which he’d told her his name and said he liked football and maths an awful lot. She’d told him a few jokes and he’d laughed, delighted. All the time, he’d kept smiling.
Suddenly, Evie called to Caitlin. ‘Honey, get two!’
Caitlin selected the treat bags, which were being given out to the children at the party as a present, and they both walked around to the front of the neighbouring house. Evie knocked on the door, curious to see what she’d find.
A girl of around ten answered. She looked them both up and down, then said, ‘What’s up?’ The girl was pretty, but gave off a feeling of extreme superiority.
Evie glanced at Caitlin, who shook her head. She was a little scared.
‘Is your sister home?’
‘Yeah. I’ll get the stupid brat.’
‘That’s a little unkind, dea-’
‘Elaine! Get your butt down here now!’ The older girl stood at the bottom of the stairs and yelled at the top of her voice. Caitlin winced.
There were footsteps, very light and slow, as though the younger girl didn’t want to be noticed. When she came to the door, Evie smiled at her. The little girl must have been about Caitlin’s age, with straight brown hair and worried eyes. She hid half behind the door, peering timidly out. The older girl had vanished.
‘Hi, darling. We live next door.’ Evie said it, then got annoyed with herself. Was that ’darling’ patronising?
Caitlin decided to be brave, and stepped forward, holding the bags out. She grinned. ‘We got you sweets and…er…Mama, why’ve we got two?’
Evie smiled encouragingly at her daughter, then the girl. ‘Because we thought your brother might like one as well.’
Caitlin nodded, picking up where she‘d left off. ‘There’s some really nice ones, like the pink ones, they‘re my favourite colour. We’re having a party, and I chose what sweets go in the bags.’ Caitlin paused. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Elaine.’ It was a whisper. She added, ‘I don’t take sweets from strangers.’
‘Oh, of course! How silly of us! Elaine, could you get your mother please?’
Elaine nodded, and disappeared. Evie noted mentally that she had acted like a complete idiot. A stranger offering Elaine sweets, no wonder she’d been so scared! She also wondered whether to get Caitlin to run back home, and grab another bag for Elaine’s sister, but decided against it. There was something about that girl she just didn’t like.
A moment later, Bridget appeared. Elaine was standing close by her side, her hands gripping her mothers long skirt.
‘Erm…hello…’ She sounded nervous. Evie thought she was extremely attractive. She had no make-up masking the delicate features on her face, and her hair looked just like a sandy blonde waterfall, very silky with a wave to it.
She seemed un-necessarily nervous, hiding behind the door like her daughter had done.
‘Hiya! We’re your neighbours!’ Evie realised that might be a bit too cheery. She
chose a more normal voice. ‘I’m Evie and this is Caitlin.’
‘I’m Bridget.’ She muttered it, eyeing them as though they were axe murderers.
Evie continued, a little confused. ‘We just wondered whether your son and daughter might want some Halloween sweets. We’re giving them out to all the kids at our party.’ She thought, then added, ‘If you want, you and your children can come over and join us.’ She laughed. ‘It’s quite fun, and my friends are really nice…’ She trailed off.
Bridget was shaking her head, rather sadly it seemed. ‘I’m sorry, I really am, but we don’t go to parties.’
Caitlin saw Elaine’s face turn thoroughly miserable. ‘Maybe Elaine wants to,’ she said bravely. ‘Do you, Elaine? There’s a lot of kids like us there, and we’re playing really good games. I made a new one up just a while ago.’
Elaine looked tempted. Caitlin smiled at her warmly. She stepped forward , and reached out a hand towards Elaine. ‘Come on. Come and play! Or…or if you don’t want to run round, I’ve got toys. Lots and lots of dolls, I like dolls. We can play inside.’
Evie watched them, holding her breath. Bridget looked like she was about to cry.
‘I’m so sorry…Caitlin.’ She struggled to remember the name. ‘But she really can’t.’
Caitlin looked at Elaine, who bit her lip. She could sense Bridget really did mean no, but she was very sorry. Slowly, she reached out and pressed the handles of the bags into Elaine’s hand. A tiny smile appeared on her face.
‘Thank you. That’s nice…’
Evie and Caitlin grinned at her.
‘I hope you enjoy them, Elaine.’ Evie looked back at Bridget. ‘If you change your mind, come straight round. Anytime actually. We’ll have coffee or something, have a chat about all sorts of stuff.’
‘Yes, that’d be…’ Bridget looked like she was trying to think of a word. It took her a long time and Evie giggled slightly. Bridget joined in. Evie was stunned by how young she looked when she laughed. Before she’d seemed old, tired, now she looked like a teenager.
‘It’d be… good, anyway. I’ll see if I can, some time.’ Smiling shyly, Bridget closed the door.
Evie and Caitlin stood for a few seconds, staring at it, Evie savouring the laugh. She’d made her happy!
‘Mama…?’ Caitlin tugged on Evie’s trouser leg. ‘Why wouldn’t they come to the party?’
‘I don’t know, pet. Bridget did say that they aren’t into parties though, didn’t she?’
Evie knew she should maybe think about all this more - Bridget was obviously being repressed somehow - but she kept imagining that laugh, loud and bright. Even when she took Caitlin’s hand and led her back to their own garden, it lingered in her mind.
Elaine carried the bags upstairs. Miles was out, so she decided that she’d keep his sweets in her room instead of placing them on his bed. If Siobhan found out that they were unguarded in Miles‘ room, she’d eat them.
When she reached her room, Elaine crawled on her stomach under her bed, and hid them there. When she edged back out, she found she was covered in dust.
Bridget wouldn’t be happy, she might need another bath tomorrow. She sneezed a few times.
Suddenly…a bang from downstairs. She recognised that noise. The front door was being thrown open, and hitting the wall. It heralded His arrival.
Elaine paused, her head to one side, listening for Him. She winced as His voice rose from a mumble to a yell.
‘Well, where the Hell is it, you stupid cow?!’ There was a smashing sound, and a shriek.
Elaine climbed onto her bed, and huddled beneath the duvet. Where was Miles? She needed him! All the happiness that had arrived when she’d met Caitlin vanished.
‘Get back here! I said…GET HERE NOW!!’
A scream. A bang. A shout.
Siobhan turned her music on next door, as loud as she could, making Elaine jump. The sounds from downstairs were covered. Was He coming upstairs now? She wouldn’t be able to tell.
The door creaked open. Elaine started shaking, watching it as it moved inch by inch. She started crying, sobbing, closing her eyes tight. She needed Miles right now.
She opened her eyes slowly, hoping He wouldn’t be standing there. The only thing He ever did was taunt her, cruel sharp words that stung her like wasps, or shout at her, His head right next to her so her eardrums ached. But still, she didn’t want that.
She wanted Him to go away, leave her alone.
Her vision was blurry, and all she could see was a dark figure. She tried to stop crying, so she could find out who it was.
It wasn’t Him.
It was Miles, his face creased in concern for her. He’d dropped a carrier bag on the floor, and it had spilled its contents; assorted chocolate bars, wrapped sweets, two cans of lemonade.
‘Ssh, it’s okay. It’s okay…’ Miles was almost crying as well. He leant forward, hugging her tightly, and whispering words of comfort to her.
It wasn’t until she moved towards him that Elaine realised she’d wet herself in fright. Her face burned with embarrassment.
Miles noticed. ‘Oh…that’s all right. You were scared, weren’t you? I’m sorry. Your door hinges need oiling, I couldn’t open it quickly. I guess it goes with Halloween!’ He joked lamely.
The music in the room next door was still blaring, so he had to say it right next to her ear. Elaine nodded, still mortified. She didn’t seem to do that often.
‘Listen to me, hon. They’re still shouting, but they won’t hear you. Go into the bathroom and get changed. I’ll do the bed. You can get dressed easy, right?’
Elaine nodded, and got up. Even though Miles had changed her sheets before, it humiliated her beyond belief.
Miles handed her some clean pyjamas, and she slowly opened the door. He was right, it was stiff. She couldn’t hear anything over the music.
In the bathroom, Elaine quickly changed out of her wet pyjamas and into the dry ones.
Her ears kept straining to hear the argument, even though she didn’t actually want to hear it.
Leaving her old clothes on the floor, she tiptoed back to her room. Suddenly, a shadow moved on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. She nipped back into her room, pushing the door shut behind her.
‘He’s coming, Miles!’
Miles dropped the clean sheets, and ran to Elaine, pressing his hands over her ears. He always did this. She knew he was trying to block out sound when Siobhan was made to turn her music off, but it didn’t work, she could still hear, and she’d never told him.
Heavy footsteps passed by Elaine’s room. There was a bang of a door being thrown open, then…
‘TURN THAT OFF NOW, YOU BITCH!!’
He never spoke, just shouted it seemed. There was a squeal, then the music snapped off, the silence that followed echoing.
‘If you ever do that again, I swear I will kill you!’
He used the same threat every time. It was empty, but it always sounded like He actually meant it.
Another bang; He’d left Siobhan’s room. A second later, Elaine heard Siobhan leave it too, and run downstairs.
Miles took his hands from Elaine’s ears.
‘You all right?’
‘Yes. Sure.’ Elaine was used to it. Although He scared her, she’d learnt to cope, to an extent anyway.
Miles continued to make the bed, while Elaine picked up the toy horses she’d left scattered on the floor from earlier. She started to gather up the objects that had fallen out of the bag Miles had brought as well.
‘Oh! Yes, that stuff!’ Miles took the bag from her, and tipped it out again on the newly made bed.
‘I was trying to get things clean.’ Elaine frowned at him.
Miles laughed. ‘Well, I have to halve it, don’t I?’
‘Split it in two, coz some is yours and some is mine.’ He made two neat piles. ‘Me and Andy did some trick or treating, but we didn’t get much, so we went to the shops and got some more. Happy Halloween!’
‘I’ve got some already!’ Elaine dropped onto her stomach, retrieving the two bags she’d got from Evie and Caitlin from under the bed. ‘Those people next door gave them to us.’
‘Oh, ace! Lots and lots more!’
Elaine sat on her bed, legs crossed, watching Miles sort everything out. She didn’t feel like eating any of it, even when he offered her chocolate.
‘Come on, ‘Lainey, you love chocolate!’
‘I’m not hungry.’
‘Really? Wow, weird.’ He kept grinning. ‘None for Shev, ha!’ He suddenly straightened up, and crossed to the door. Two sets of feet were wearily coming up the stairs.
‘Hang on a min, ‘Lainey.’ Miles left, and Elaine instantly ran to the door, pressing her ear against it.
‘Mam, you all right?’
‘Yes, yes, fine.’ Bridget sounded slurred, as if she was drunk. She kept sniffing. Elaine heard Siobhan whisper, ‘You’re gonna stay in my room, right? Miles, can you stay with Elaine? Just try and get her off to sleep. Look after her.’
‘Yeah, sure. Do you want -’
‘No, we’re all right. Come on, Mam.’ They moved, incredibly slowly, past Elaine’s door. She backed away from it, and Miles burst in, grinning from ear to ear. His eyes looked a little pink, and he had a few reddish drops on his white t-shirt.
‘Oh, I’m so shattered. I’m gonna fall asleep… hmm… right here…’ He flopped facedown onto Elaine’s bed, feigning tiredness. She didn’t try and move him, just lay down next to him, looking at him.
After what he’d told her earlier, why was he so happy? He wouldn’t lie, would he? She was so confused. He hadn’t mentioned it again. He’d even cried, and now it seemed as if it didn’t matter.
Was any of it true? Bridget had said - insisted - she was fine, but there were so many bruises, they couldn’t all be accidents.
How much had He done?
Through the curtains, she saw a flash of coloured light. Fireworks. She could hear shouts of happiness, and laughter, from next door, from the party.
She wished she could have gone, and maybe made a friend.
She rolled over again, her back to the window, and tried in vain to sleep.
Her dreams were filled with moving shadows, red flashes and screams.
Well, glad this is over! I seem to specialize in depressive stories, and this is no exception. Hopefully this will help explain some elements of Ochre’s younger life that I won’t manage to work into ‘Unfinished Business’.
The character of Miles is one I like immensely, though I don‘t really know why. Obviously, he is the main role model and figure of support in Elaines life, and she depends mainly on him, because the relationship with her sister is so strained, and her mother is unable to look after her well.
I tried to show the contrast between them and ‘ordinary’ people i.e. Caitlin and Evie. They will feature more in later stories.
And thanks a lot to Chris! Your beta’ing is always incredibly helpful and helps me improve later stories too!
I hope you enjoyed
it, and don’t feel like hunting me down and throwing things at me for depressing
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.