by Donna L Greenwood
Ever since she died, my daughter has been difficult to love. She doesn’t feel right; she doesn’t feel like Alice anymore. She even smells different. She three months ago and I wish she would die again – only this time, stay dead.
I try not to show her how I feel. I make her meals, I brush her hair, I let her sit with me when I tell her little brother bed time stories. When she catches me looking at her, she smiles, but I find it hard to smile back. Thank Heavens for Mikey, my little dove, four years old and bright as a pin, not tarnished like his sister.
‘Mummy, you love Mikey more than me, don’t you?’ she asked me one day. What could I say? Yes, I do love him more because he doesn’t smell of death? Because he didn’t crawl from the grave after being three months dead and come knocking on the door?
I’ve tried to love her, but it’s so very difficult. She creeps around the house, staring at Mikey with those large, empty eyes. Mikey doesn’t say much but I think he’s scared of her. I tell him, it okay, little dove, she’s only a girl; what harm can she do?
It’s her eyes. They were a bright green when she was born but death has darkened them. And in the night she chatters. I hear her in her room. The noises don’t sound like words; they don’t sound human. And sometimes, I hear other voices chattering with her but I know that she’s alone. I cover my ears. I don’t go and check on her.
Last night I caught her in Mikey’s room, just staring at him lying in bed. She had this look on her face. I think he’s better off sleeping with me, just for a little while.
People talk about priests in situations like this but I don’t know any. I don’t go to church. I don’t believe in God, but perhaps it is only God that can help us now. This morning she made me fall down the stairs with Mikey in my arms. I think she was trying to grab him and I lost my footing. Mikey’s fine – a little bruised, as am I – but he’s okay.
I stroke Mikey’s face as he sleeps on my lap. I’ve barricaded us into my room. The dresser is in front of the door. I’ve rang the police, fire brigade and the ambulance; but I’m frightened they will arrive too late. I can hear her walking up and down the corridor outside my room. She’s whispering to herself. She knocks on the door. I close eyes and remember what I saw in her room earlier…
…Alice? I open the door. The room is cloaked in darkness. As I walk forwards, I see my breath hanging in the air like a phantom. Her room is freezing. Alice? I whisper, somehow the quietness of the room makes it feel inappropriate to make a sound. I squeeze my eyes tighter in an attempt to see more clearly. I can just make out the shape of her. She’s sat on the floor, facing her wall. Are you okay, honey? I move a little closer and then stop. For a moment I am paralysed, my breath, blood and bones melt into a hot nothing and I cannot move. Alice is sat on the floor, staring at the wall as she turns her head, her black eyes stare into mine, the shadows seem to move around her, stroking her arms and kissing her face. She stands and points her finger at me. I am accused. She smiles in the icy dark and whispers one word. Mikey. I run…
There’s a bang at the door and then the dresser thunders across the room. It ruches the carpet and then falls over. The door opens and a hand crawls through the gap. It’s her. She’s coming for me. She pulls the rest of her body through the doorway I watch her walk towards me and I hold my little dove to my chest. Please, I say, please take me, but leave your brother alone. She seems taller, more spindly; she holds out her long arms, more bone than skin.
‘I won’t let you hurt him, I yell at her, you’ll have to kill me first before you hurt him.
She stares at me, her eyes black and empty.
‘Mummy,’ she says, ‘Look,’ And then she looks down at Mikey.
But I don’t want to look at Mikey. I don’t want to see.
‘Look’ she says again and this time I look at my little dove, resting on my lap. Four years old and bright as a button, my little Mikey. His face looks the same. I can tell it’s my little boy but the skin has begun to putrefy. His eyes are gone, they must have been the first to go. Dead. My little dove is dead. He died with his sister three months ago – carbon monoxide poisoning.
I buried them both. I remember now. I buried them both, but I couldn’t leave my little dove to sleep under the ground. The earth had been remarkably easy to break open and the coffin was small and cheap. My son was soon back home with me.
Alice is holding her arms out now. This time when she smiles, there is kindness there.
‘Mummy, let him go’ she says. And I do. I let him go.
I watch him rise from the shell that used to be him and I watch his sister take his hand. The two of them turn around and smile at me, Alice nods and whispers thank you and suddenly there is light and warmth in the room and I feel a good breeze on my face.
Donna L Greenwood lives in Lancashire, England. She writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry and you can find examples of her work in The Fiction Pool, EllipsisZine, Cadaverous Magazine and others. She has recently won or been placed in several competitions including Horror Scribes ‘Trapped Flash’ and Reflex Fiction.