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Charlotte sat fidgeting in the doctor’s waiting area. It was the middle of a workday and her husband was due to arrive soon, having taken the afternoon off in order to accompany her to the doctor’s. There was a dull silence to the shuffling grey occupants who all sat around the room and wandered from and through various doors while escorted by nurses and administrators. One by one during her time alone each grey head would inevitably glance over at Charlotte, and her pregnant stomach which stretched her t-shirt, and smile or nod some minor pleasantry. A few of the older women even came over and cooed some pleasantries but Charlotte’s icy demeanour quickly scared them off. She felt out of place; all these people were waiting to die, and she was doing the complete opposite.

Finally, Matthew walked in through the sliding doors and smiled as he saw her. He quickly came over, sat down and placed his hand on her thigh reassuringly, and asked, “How long were you here alone?”

“Not long,” she said.

“Good.” He nodded, before looking around at the speckled taupe tiles and numerous empty seats. “It’s not that bad in here, actually.”

“No,” she answered with a linger. “It’s not that bad.”

“We can always just go private again,” he told her. “I mean… whatever you want.”

“I know,” she said. “But no other doctor would do this sooner and I didn’t want to wait.” Matthew nodded and sat back while fidgeting with his beard. During that time Charlotte glanced down at her stomach and pushed aside thoughts of grotesque elderlies and sad, publicly owned, grimy clinics to instead focus on the terrible concerns she’d been experiencing. During the last few weeks as her stomach had expanded and the reality of birth came closer she had been unable to shake the feeling that something was desperately wrong with her child.

“Mrs. Larret,” the doctor said. His bald head had appeared from around his door and he motioned quaintly with his wrinkled hand. “Come in”. He smiled. Charlotte stood up and glanced nervously at Matthew who did his best to be supportive with a look and nothing more. Together they walked to the doctor’s office.

“Right,” the old man said as the pair sat down on the cheap plastic chairs positioned in front of the desk. The entire room was cramped with the doctor and his desk awkwardly slid into one corner while a large clinical bed and a plastic curtain sat only inches away in another corner. “Mrs. Larret we’ve received your test results.” The old man placed the pieces of paper that he was holding down upon his desk before looking Charlotte in the eye while sliding his fingers between each other. He continued, “There’s nothing wrong Mrs. Larret. Obviously this is good. I have… been a part of this process for a while now, and I must say I’m not keen to see somebody in distress. I agreed to these tests where other doctors wouldn’t because I believed you deserved greater autonomy in the matter. But I don’t know…” he paused. “I don’t know where you would like to go from here.”

“What do you mean?” Charlotte asked.

“What I mean,” he said in his lilting Welsh accent that was calm and deliberate. “Is that you have been crippled by these concerns for a while now, and the fact of the matter is that there is nothing wrong with your child. Every test that I could possibly subject you or child to has come back and revealed nothing abnormal.” Charlotte looked down and placed her hands over her stomach. She didn’t look pleased. “Does this ameliorate any of your concerns?” he asked.

“Y-yes,” Charlotte hesitated. “It’s an important gesture.” The doctor smiled knowingly and told her,

“Your body is doing a lot of work Mrs. Larret. I know you’re an intelligent woman so I won’t bother telling you the obvious, but you must realise that if there is a problem then it’s not a problem with the child, or your pregnancy. Physiologically you are healthy, so is your child, and you are no less likely to have a pleasant complication free birth than any other woman. I’m not surprised these tests haven’t allayed any of your fears because I believe they’re a reflection of a problem that is not physical. So…” He lingered once more. “Where would you like to go from here?”

“Nowhere,” Charlotte answered definitively. “I’d like the scans. I’d like to look at them.”

“We didn’t miss an—”

“No,” Charlotte interrupted. “I’d just like to have them. I think looking at my baby will help.”

“Anything I can do,” the doctor said smiling as he reached over to a folder which he then handed to Charlotte. Matthew had been quiet during this time but when it came to be polite he quickly stepped up to shake the old man’s hand and offer some goodbye pleasantries. Charlotte had been unable to think of anything other than the folder since she’d taken it from the doctor so she remained quiet while waiting to leave.

Moments later the couple were sitting together in the car. It was raining, as it does in England, and Matthew watched carefully as Charlotte placed the folder on her lap but didn’t immediately open it. After a moment or two Matthew went to open it for her but she slapped his hand away and glared at him. Finally, after a long silence occupied only by the sound of the heavy rain, she opened the folder and revealed a series of grainy black and white pictures. Matthew breathed a sigh of relief as they clearly showed the outline of a typical child.

He looked at Charlotte who’s grimace did not dissipate or change at all. Matthew sighed, turned the key, and began to drive away in a petulant silence. Meanwhile Charlotte could not stop staring at the image; the head was a bulbous thing that sat upon the outline of a squat little monkey. She was in disbelief that it was somehow meant to be her child. It was disgusting.

And it was growing inside her with every minute that passed.

-

There was a desperate and panicked silence. Charlotte was dazed and looked around the room at the nurse and doctor who furiously shifted in and out of sight. Matthew was gripping her hand tightly although he seemed only a distant blur even when he was just a foot away. Charlotte tried to bring herself into the moment. She kept reminding herself that this was the birth of her child. But something was wrong, she knew it; not only did Matthew appear distraught but the doctors were calling and shouting to various fuzzy shapes through the glass. Charlotte felt herself becoming the sickening punch line to some cosmic joke.

She had spent the last month or so removing herself from her disgust and overcoming her fears. She had leaned heavily into the future and separated herself from the worries of the moment. But she was becoming increasingly suspicious that there would be no future. That after overcoming all that disgust and alienation to focus on her heir she was soon going to find out it was all for nothing. As she dipped in and out of consciousness all she could think of was how glorious her past had been, and how now she splayed open with her numb and throbbing cunt exposed to a room of strangers while God robbed her of the payoff to a long and degrading struggle.

Charlotte had never intended to have children. She was an Oxford graduate in Economics. University was a haze of sex and easy hand-ins. She was intelligent, charming, and beautiful and made light work of her fellow students who either worshipped her or reviled her. After graduating she began her work as a hedge fund manager where she thrived in the greedy culture. She lived alone, accruing shameful amounts of money, until one day when in her thirties she met a young, and poor, artist whose work she found endearing. She married him quickly thereafter, and at the height of a rather enjoyable life she decided to take on a new kind of challenge.

She was prompted to change her mind because of an old memory she had. She had once seen a Chinese woman leaving a shop not long after graduation. The petite but furious woman was dragging an enormous cello while screaming at two young girls and one awkward gangly male teenager with loose jeans and a pitiful soul patch. The image lingered in Charlotte’s mind for seven years—sometimes she admired the woman’s patience but mostly she pitied her—until she caught a glimpse of the adult son years later on the television, playing his cello as part of an orchestra. Suddenly, the investment of childbirth appealed to her. She started to fixate on the idea of the tiger mother and after studying the phenomenon and its culture she soon made the decision to have a child.

Charlotte had been forced returned to this image of the Chinese woman periodically throughout her pregnancy in order to deal with the crippling anxieties and frustration. She thought about the woman’s legacy and the pride she must have felt, and she thought about how it was only proper that she ensured her greatness would be passed on; Charlotte often likened herself to a brilliant star. She wouldn’t be a loving mother, she knew that, but she would still be a great one.

The process had worked. She had forgotten her anxieties by the time labour came to pass. She was madly in love with what she knew would be her greatest friend and accomplishment. She wanted an heir, she wanted to craft a Valkyrie and give her the whole world to pillage and enjoy as she had in her youth. But as she sauntered in and out of a painful, two days long, birth she finally heard the words spoken in a lilting Welsh accent,

“…not breathing.”

Charlotte stopped fighting the pain, accepted what she had suspected would happen during the tortuous labour, and passed out until a few days later. She awoke to a room devoid of doctors and nurses; things were silent and calm. Immediately her long haired and beautiful husband was at her side. His eyes glowing with happiness. Charlotte looked at him and felt a terrible pain rise up in her chest as the feeling of loss came hurtling back with some delayed inertia. She thought for a moment about comforting Matthew who she knew deserved some attention. But then again, she also wanted to know more, and she still felt extremely unwell. Everything hurt below the waist and her body felt feeble and damp. Just as she tried to speak Matthew reached across and wheeled out a strange, large, white container with a little pink child inside.

“Look,” Matthew said. “It’s our daughter.”

Charlotte looked on with horror. “She’s alive and well!” He exclaimed. But Charlotte could not stop the rising tide of revulsion. The child was indeed alive and yet nothing felt right at all.

“No,” she stuttered. “The… I heard she… I had a stillbirth.” Matthew looked at her, a little perturbed.

“No honey,” he said while breaking into a nervous and muted laugh. “They had to go to a c-section and there were loads of problems—doctors had you both in and out of all sorts of rooms—but in the end everything was okay. This is…” he lingered being a little off-put by Charlottes expression of negativity. “This is your daughter.” Charlotte began to cry which caused some alarm in Matthew who leant forward and stuttered, “No, darling… no it’s okay. Look, look… hold her. Go on. Hold her. It’ll feel right.”

Matthew bent down and picked the baby up while handing it to Charlotte. She took and held the child close to her chest and everything fell into silence as Matthew watched her face anxiously hoping for some sign of progress. Minutes rolled on in the painful lull of inactivity as Charlotte focused carefully on the child. It was wrinkled, quiet and unreceptive, and hairy with frayed and peeling skin. To Charlotte, the child closely resembled a gargoyle.

After nearly an hour had passed Charlotte finally looked over at Matthew with a pursed smile and said,

“She’s beautiful.”

-

It had been six weeks since the birth and Matthew was finally returning to work. Charlotte, having undergone three weeks of intensive physiotherapy was able to walk once more and was ready to engage with the world. This meant there was no need for Matthew. The date had been set in stone; he had informed his employer, who Charlotte practically owned, that he would be coming back. The commitment was made. He buttoned his shirt, found his trousers, slid a blazer on, and flittered through the kitchen to grab some toast that Charlotte had prepared.

She woke up every day at 5am. She functioned on less than four hours of sleep each night and each morning he would wake up to find her already hard at work. Matthew had known cocaine addicts with less energy than her. As he sat in his car and slid the key into the ignition he looked up to see Charlotte smiling at him from the first floor window; her line of sight came down the bridge of her nose in a perfect line. Matthew smiled, and waved at her, then turned the key and thought of how she seemed to do everything so damned effortlessly.

Charlotte meanwhile was stood in her bedroom watching both Matthew and her child wondering whether her husband might be willing to take the day off to come home and stay with her. She thought working was important to the male ego and had stipulated that he keep going. But as she stood over her child who lay in a crib she felt the urge to go and call him. The child was sleeping under a white blanket and the weight of the responsibility seemed daunting, so she turned to grab her phone from a cabinet nearby but when she turned back the child was gone.

There was nothing but sheets and blankets and a dent in the folds where a small wrinkled little head should be laying. Charlotte ran forward and began to pull apart the fabric in a desperate bid to find her daughter but it was futile. Suddenly she stopped everything, she even held breath, and lifted her head in a desperate bid to hear some sign of life within her home. She could only distinguish the faint sound of buzzing lawnmowers and ambient suburbia from beyond the windows. It was frustrating. She started to panic. She knew that she shouldn’t have let Matthew leave. She knew that she was never going to be a good mother.

Frantically she searched for her phone in the bedroom until she ran through one corridor of her enormous home to the nearest landline where she dialled Matthew’s mobile. As the line rang she moved from room to room hoping to stumble across the new-born child but nothing was revealed. Eventually Matthew answered.

“Hello,” he said.

“Honey,” Charlotte yelped as she ran back to the crib.

“What is it?” Matthew asked in concern.

But Charlotte said nothing as she ran around the corner back to the crib only to find herself looking down at her daughter. The child’s grey eyes were fixed on her. There was nothing but silence to greet Matthew as he called her name again and again. Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to reply as she furiously questioned her own thoughts. The child’s gaze did not relent. Finally, Charlotte spoke softly and replied,

“Nothing, Matthew. Nothing is wrong. Sorry – tell… tell Andrew to ring me if you see him.”

“Oh…” Matthew said. “Will do. Let me know if anything comes up, okay?”

“Okay,” Charlotte repeated before hanging up. The new-born’s face was expressionless and her gaze never seemed to move. Charlotte walked carefully towards the crib and lowered her hand into the bundle of blankets that wrapped around the child. As she touched the child she felt that the body was cold, and there were no signs of breathing. But the child’s eyes flicked all over Charlotte with an intent and purpose that betrayed not only life, but intelligence as well. The new-born was clearly alive. Feeling unnerved Charlotte lifted her hand from the cot and felt something sharp catch her finger.

She lifted her hand and saw a short but deep cut along the inside of her ring finger. It began to throb and ache and Charlotte reached forward desperate to know what had cut her. She pulled away the blankets that coddled the babe only to reveal a large kitchen knife hidden between the fabric. The new-born’s large and grey eyes flicked down to the knife and then back up to Charlotte. Feeling threatened for reasons she couldn’t understand Charlotte snatched the knife away and fled the room.

When she slammed the door shut she was already shaking violently. In a nervous fit she dropped the knife on the floor in a loud clatter before running to the nearest bathroom. There she locked the door and sat down on the toilet while she furiously questioned her sanity. She didn’t have anything to dull her fervent mind with her but she kept some codeine in the cabinet in case she ever needed a good painkiller, and the way that her finger throbbed and ached meant that she sorely needed something to quell the discomfort. But when she gripped the bottle a wrinkle in the label caught her attention.

Any other day and she would have ignored it but Charlotte was ransacked with doubt and confusion so she stopped to examine the bottle carefully. She saw that the corner was peeled and with very little effort the label came off. It appeared to have been removed and reapplied with whatever glue remained on the paper. She stared at the bottle for a moment in utter confusion, before looking up at the cabinet to spot that another bottle had undergone similar tampering.

Charlotte unlocked the door and slid out carefully into the hallway. She walked quietly back towards the door that was still shut, behind which lay the new born. The knife was gone; this frightened her. She didn’t know what waited for her on the other side, but she was not content to ignore the problem. She opened the door and saw the baby still in the crib. Its emotionless eyes locked onto her once more and followed as she shuffled across the floor until she was at the foot of the crib. She held up the two pill bottles and looked at them, and then the child.

“Codeine… Codeine and laxative; switched,” she stuttered. “Did you… did you… do you do this?”

The new-born flashed a gummy smile.

-

“Funny that,” Matthew said with a smile.

“What?” Charlotte asked.

“Funny that she has grey eyes,” he said as he held up the new-born who giggled and cooed in his arms. Charlotte sat across from him was wrapped in a night gown with crossed arms. Her appearance was gaunt and exhausted and her tone distant.

“Yeah,” she said.

“It’s just,” Matthew continued. “It’s just that I have blue eyes and yours are brown. I mean it’s not impossible – I guess the genes must be recessive, right?”

“Right,” Charlotte echoed.

“It’s quirky though,” he said in a baby voice as he turned the new-born around on his knee and began to blow kisses on her neck. The child burst out in high pitch laughter and waved her little hands around.

“Cool,” Charlotte said. She had found the last few months particularly taxing. For the first time in her life she was finally discovering what it was like to feel tired in a way that pure willpower couldn’t overcome. But no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t sleep at night. Every time, without fail, she would wake up to find something tampered with. It was a crippling feeling of fear that overcame her.

To explain this paranoia insight is needed.

One morning, after Matthew had left for work, Charlotte went to brush her teeth but as she lifted the brush up to her mouth she caught the whiff of a strange scent. She paused, holding the bristles mere inches from her mouth, and sniffed. She smelt dog shit. She took the brush away from her face and looked at it in disgust, only to bring it once more near to her face. One deep inhale made it clear that her tooth brush had clearly been tampered with. Furious she threw the damned thing in the bin.

That was not the end of it. She had discovered baby oil placed carefully at the top of the stairs. She found bleach and hair dye in her shampoo bottles. She found fuses ripped from appliances ready for a shock, and razor wire pulled tautly between the doorways of certain rooms ready for her to fall. She had even once awoken, after falling asleep on the sofa, to find that her feet were numb and covered in a yellow briny solution. She could hear a clatter off in the distance and tried to stand but instead fell to her knees. The tingling in her legs was familiar; she had been anaesthetized.

Every single night she had been haunted with the desperate question of what it would have done if she hadn’t woken up, and she was forced to wonder how it managed to numb her legs.

But of course Charlotte did not always catch the traps before their effect was felt. One morning as she bit into her cereal she heard a crunch. To anyone with dental feelings it’s a familiar feeling to experience the discomfort of crunching down onto a metallic substance. But for Charlotte it was suddenly dialled up to a thousand times worse than any time she had felt it before. She yanked her jaw open and held her mouth open precariously as it filled up with the iron taste of blood. She carefully pressed her jaws together—gently as she could—to probe the nature of what she felt but some awkward intrusion came between the teeth. Realizing that it was a severe problem she leant forward and let the food slop down onto the floor below. The milk and soggy cereal was marbled pink and red with blood.

Once her mouth was empty Charlotte reached in and felt an instantly identifiable piece of plastic. It was the handle of a thumbtack, the pin to which was jammed into her tooth between the enamel and the filling.

“Look at those beautiful eyes,” Matthew cooed, pulling Charlotte back into the kitchen where he was sat opposite her on the breakfast table feeding the baby pleasantly. “They must be my mother’s,” he said with a pang of pathos. “I wish…” he lingered. “I wish you could meet her.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte said.

“I was…” Matthew stopped and looked at Charlotte who was staring at her cereal. She had refused to eat at the table ever since he had started going to work. “I was talking to Alice,” he said.

“Yeah,” Charlotte repeated herself.

“Charlotte,” Matthew snapped. “Come on babes.”

Charlotte looked up from the bowl and stared at the room around her. She stood up and walked over the kettle which she put onto boil.

“I need coffee,” she said. Matthew watched her carefully. He knew he needed to go for work but he also knew something was wrong with Charlotte. Anxiously he took his child and placed her in a nearby hamper.

“Babes,” he said. “Babes I need to go get my wallet from upstairs. Are you… are you okay?”

Charlotte didn’t respond, or at least she couldn’t remember offering a response. She just stood near the kettle waiting to hear the click while her heavy eyelids started to close by themselves. She was startled when the kettle’s switch moved with a loud pop. The bubbling from the appliance faded and the kinetic anger of its heat calmed down. Lazily Charlotte looked around and saw the familiar cupboard with the mugs and opened the door.

She was met with the new-born whose arms and legs stretched from wall to wall suspending it in the air. Its expression was fixed. The almost unnaturally large grey eyes that sat inside its head locked onto Charlotte and watched her carefully as she started to stumble backwards in horror. In terror she slammed the door shut and looked back at the hamper where neither Matthew or the child could be seen. She struggled to remember if Matthew said he’d taken the baby, or even where he’d said he was going. The cupboard drew her attention when the sound of smashing and clattering thumps could be heard from within. Slowly these noises moved from one cupboard to another, shifting from place to place.

Finally, the noises settled in the cupboard under the sink. Charlotte turned back to the cupboard with the mug and threw it open only to reveal that a single mug had fallen down and cracked. Confused she turned around to the other cupboard, the one beneath the sink. In terror she bent down and reached towards the handle and carefully pulled the double doors open. But she revealed only spray bottles of bleach and old smelly rags, and of course the u-bend of the kitchen sink.

She stood up and looked back to the hamper. Once again there was still no child. She thought that Matthew must have taken the baby upstairs with him, and she began to run the tap so that she might get a glass of water. The pipes hissed and throbbed from below. And the water itself seemed to strain up through the tap under tremendous pressure only to never appear. Charlotte reached forward and pulled the tap, which had a flexible attachment, down and began to shake it. It felt strangely heavy in her hand.

She turned the tap up towards her face and saw one lone, grotesque, glassy grey eye staring back at her. She threw the flexible pipe back into the sink where it reeled up into the tap itself. She was shaking furiously when Matthew reappeared.

“Are you okay?” he asked the frail woman who had yet to turn around from where she stood by the sink.

“I’m fine,” she answered as she stumbled over to the kettle and began to pour herself a cup of coffee. When Charlotte heard Matthew laugh and begin to talk in a soft cooing baby voice once more she turned around and anxiously stared at the child who was now sitting on her husband’s knee.

It looked up at her and smiled.

-

The gargoyle was everywhere. Charlotte had found the grey eye glaring back at her from the petrol cap of her car. She had found the child squashed behind furniture with no more than two inches between it and the wall. She had found it hidden in an airing cupboard pressed against searing the hot pipes while its flesh cooked and its skin bubbled. She had found it folded up in the microwave. When Matthew wasn’t around the traps and pranks escalated with each passing day. Its flesh grew mottled and grey, and it scrambled along walls and up ceilings in the corner of Charlotte’s eyes. She could never quite glimpse it fully while it moved, but it was happy to appear in all its wretched and warped glory in carefully selected ambushes.

Sometimes it would just posture and show. She would walk around a door and spot it off in a dark corner glaring at her with grotesque eyes sunk into a tiny skull that sat atop a distorted infantile frame. As it had grown she could see the beginnings of feathers spouting painfully from its wretched malformed shoulders.

It would give an alien shiver and then lurch at her threateningly but without ever leaving the shadowy corner. Brazen as it was it would never attack her directly. It merely teased her and did its best to frighten her. As tough as Charlotte was the endless sleep deprivation and terror was beginning to affect her. Worse still was the isolation. It always shifted back into a normal shape when Matthew came home, although even he grew curious as to how the odd downy feather kept appearing around the house.

Meanwhile Matthew had noticed his wife would no longer brush her teeth, or her hair, and she became agonizingly selective over what clothes she wore. She stank of sweat and urine and the feeble bony woman who wandered through the house muttering to herself felt a million miles removed from the Valkyrie he had married. He had even considered having Charlotte sectioned. But there was a wretched fact he had always been unwilling to face; Charlotte kept him functional.

And without her he had found himself feeling emotionally derelict. He felt alone and in desperate need of help. As it was they were burning through their money far too quickly. Charlotte had left him to make decisions about their finances as she had descended into disarray, and the results were quite near to a disaster. He had convinced himself that it would be okay once she returned; the Earth rained money and other wealth upon her like water in a storm. But slowly, with each passing sunset, Matthew had come to face the terrible idea that she might never really be the same.

Charlotte, of course, had her reasons for her behaviour for as the child had grown so too had its methods.

They were in a café when it happened. Charlotte felt the familiar and awkward pain in her stomach she’d felt since she was a young girl. She excused herself quietly and walked to the nearest bathroom as she clutched her stomach in discomfort. Once inside she reached into her bag and took out a bag of condoms. It had been a while since her last period but the doctors had made it clear that there would be some disruption to her cycle after such a difficult birth. As she took one out and examined the box—wondering whether they can be subject to expiration dates—she grabbed the applicator and spread her legs.

She awkwardly reached down below and pushed it into her body. It was cold and uncomfortable but it was also, in a strange way, a nice return to normality. This was, after all, what her body did under normal circumstances. Suddenly, however, she felt a strange amount of discomfort. She stopped and felt her inner thighs throb. It was as though some part of her internal wiring had been pinched.

“How strange,” she thought as she pulled out the tampon. It was soaked in an abnormal amount of blood, and the pain didn’t stop despite its removal. It was strangely persistent, and Charlotte was still struggling to process why the tampon was so wet. She glanced down and noticed also that the blood was running down the length of her leg where it stained her white shoes red. And directly between her feet dark spatters of crimson fell upon the floor. Horrified, Charlotte slid her finger into her vagina and felt a sharp prick against the tip. She clumsily felt around the protrusion with her bloody and slippery fingers and realized with horror that it was sharp, cold and metallic. Desperate to remove it she tried to pinch the piece of metal with her fingers but struggled to get a good grip.

She had to bite her wrist as she screamed in agony while fumbling around to yank the sharp object from out of her. It was a long and slow draw and each time she misjudged her own fingers she would feel it move inside the fleshy wall in which it was embedded. After ten minutes she finally pulled it out and held it up to the light. She saw a thin sewing needle soaked in her own blood. She laid it down on the side of the sink, and still quivering in pain and disgust, she ripped apart the box of tampons and found that each and every one of them had needles and pins of various sizes slid into the fabric.

And that’s when she heard it.

It was like a donkey’s braying crossed with a smoker’s cough. Somewhere, from between the floor boards and in the cracks of the wall, it was laughing hysterically. She turned on the spot and began to scream, furiously, at the walls.

-

There would be no happy ending for Charlotte. She had spent the weekend thinking about her life after fleeing the house. She left a note clear as day for Matthew to read. It was curt and hostile and she knew he would heed it closely. After all she had only asked for a weekend to gather her thoughts. During her time, locked in the room of a low-rate hotel near the motorway services off of Reading, she had considered three things. The past, the present, and the future. For the past she came to a strong conclusion; her daughter was a stillbirth. Her Valkyrie, her best friend, her closest ally, her heir and inheritor and greatest accomplishment had died during the process of labour. She thought back to the words she had heard during childbirth,

“…stopped breathing,” and remembered them clearly. She knew that somehow there had been a conspiracy. She didn’t know if that included Matthew or just the doctors but she accepted this wholeheartedly and accepted the loss of her daughter. This brought her some comfort.

After this she accepted that in the present she was being harassed by a dangerous and wretched imposter. She did not know where it came from, who had sent it, or even what it was. But she knew that it hid itself from others and that it wished to cause her harm. This, she knew, was her current reality no matter how strange and bizarre it seemed.

As for the future she accepted that she would probably need to kill the child. Mulling this over Charlotte took a sip from her glass of red wine. She accepted that there would be no happy endings if this was her course of action. She considered fleeing, she considered trying for another child with another man, she considered framing someone else for the murder; every time she thought of how to move forward and reclaim some sliver of her old life a picture of her dead daughter rotting in a medical waste basket flashed into her mind. It was enough to strengthen her nerves at each moment of doubt.

Charlotte didn’t want to run away.

The following day after sleeping in the hotel bath with the door locked—the creature might have followed her despite the distance—she checked out and drove away in her car. As she drove home she wondered how the creature might handle high speeds, and how it might deal with the sudden and traumatic entry of a lamp post into its skull. She knew it was quick and able to move at such rapid speeds that it appeared to almost teleport but she had also, on one occasion, spotted it slithering across the oak floor with a bleeding nose.

She traced the drips of brown and odorous blood back to a door that occasionally slammed shut due to some unseen gust of wind that carried throughout the large and empty house. About one foot up from the floor there was a large dent in the wooden panelling of the door. It must have closed at just the moment that the creature moved between the two rooms and caught it by surprise.

This told her that the thing really did move from place to place and did not, as she had once suspected, travel through invisible dimensions. She imagined that travelling at over 100mph on the motorway would offer her the best chance of actually keeping the damned thing in one place. But, on the other hand, Charlotte knew of one other thing that always stopped the creature from breaking the illusion no matter what and this was Matthew. It never showed any signs of change around him. She wondered if it would stay put in the car seat as she drove them all off a cliff.

It was a long drive for Charlotte—long enough that by the time she arrived home the winter sun had already begun to set—and it gave her a lot of time to try and persuade herself that the sacrifice of Matthew was worth the victory. Nonetheless when she turned into her drive and pulled up towards her house she looked up and saw a single light on in their bedroom and felt a pang of guilt.

When she entered the house she was greeted with an eerie silence. No other lights were on and a grim and salty smell wafted throughout the house. Carefully Charlotte took a few steps further and tried to turn the lights but nothing happened. And although the faint glow of moonlight through distant windows gave her enough illumination to navigate she was still extremely slow as she carefully checked each wooden plank, panel on the wall and hanged painting for some signs of a hidden trap.

She had reached the top of the first flight of stairs when she cried out, “Matthew,” but heard nothing in response. She kept going forward while growing ever more concerned. As she ran up the next flight she became painfully aware of the fact that she had just been planning her husband’s murder, and yet now faced with the prospect of his possible death she felt a tremendous rage and grief.

“If it’s killed him,” she thought, “it’ll wish it was dead.”

Finally, after the long jog to the highest floor of their stately home she reached the master bedroom and threw open the door. There she saw Matthew and felt a moment of relief, followed by bemusement. “Matthew!” she hissed. “What the hell is going on!?”

Matthew turned around. His eyes were heavy and set amongst a ringed set of blue and sagging baggy sockets. His face was gaunt and hollow, and his arms shook violently. In them he held the child. He began to stutter,

“She… she… she…” Matthew simply could not speak and was clearly hysterical. Looking around for some sense of what was happening Charlotte noticed that the child was wrapped in some towels and that the bathroom door was open.

“Did you give her a bath?” Charlotte asked.

“The… the… the…” Matthew continued to stutter. “The wiring,” he finally said. “The wiring.”

Charlotte looked at him a little perplexed before walking over to the tub itself. The smell within was overwhelming, and the water sloshed below with viscous entrails that were blackened and charred. “It was Friday evening,” Matthew said from behind her. “It was… it was… it was…” Charlotte walked back over to him and said,

“It was Friday evening and you read my note.”

Matthew nodded.

“And you gave her a bath.” Charlotte added.

Matthew nodded.

“The wiring…?” Charlotte lingered.

“The… the… the… the…” Matthew stuttered. Charlotte sniffed the air and asked,

“There was an accident?”

Matthew nodded.

“A fire?” she asked.

Matthew shook his head.

“Okay,” she lingered. “The wiring… there was a shock.”

Matthew nodded.

“Oh fuck,” she sighed. “How did you not notic—”

“Look!” Matthew cried suddenly, turning and pushing the corpse of the grey gangly monster towards Charlotte who fell back in terror and cried out,

“Fuck’s sake Matthew get it the fuck away from me.”

“What is it!?” Matthew stammered. “You don’t see it, do you? It’s me. It’s me. It’s me.” He began to repeat. “It’s me. You don’t see it but I can see it because it’s me. Charlotte…” Matthew whined. “I think I’m going insane. If you could…” he sniffed. “If you could see her as I see her right now in my arms you’d know what I mean.”

“Do you see it?” He cried out suddenly. “Do you see the monster!?”

Charlotte paused and glanced down at the fried and wretched horror clutched by Matthew. If the thing was ugly before it’s death it had grown only worse afterwards. And the smell was utterly distressing. Charlotte thought of the bath, and she thought also of the monster shitting its insides out into the tub. Matthew could not hear her giggle while he sobbed uncontrollably but Charlotte let out an unmistakeable laugh. After a moment had passed she reached out and touched Matthew on the shoulder.

“Matthew,” she said sternly. “There is a man who lives sixteen miles from here. In 1987 he raped a thirteen-year-old girl and was jailed for eight years. In 1999 he was arrested after loitering outside a school; inside his vehicle was rope and a knife. He was placed on the sex offenders’ registry although they struggled to jail him for longer than a few years at a time. I found all this out before we ever moved here – I wanted to know.”

“W…w…what—” Matthew cried.

“Get a shovel, drain the tub, collect the contents, clean yourself, dry yourself, wrap it—her—in sheets, and we’ll…”

“How can you ever forgive me! How can you even look at me!?” Matthew suddenly cried, dropping the body with a loud wet thump before grabbing onto Charlotte’s legs. For a moment she almost felt guilty.

“Matthew,” she said sternly once more. “Get a shovel, drain the tub, collect the contents, clean yourself, dry yourself, wrap it in sheets. There is a man who lives sixteen miles away who deserves a long prison sentence but kept getting away without one, and we do not deserve to suffer. I…” Charlotte lingered as she looked down into the distraught expression of Matthew who glared upwards at her with pleading eyes. “I love you,” she said. “I love you and I forgive you. You made a simple mistake. We need to fix it.

“Now go get a shovel!”

-

“Did you hear Doctor?”

“Sorry dear?” replied the old Welshmen as he was stopped on his way out of the clinic. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Ohhh,” the old woman cooed in the waiting area of the doctor’s surgery. “There was a terrible incident with that lovely young couple you treated here a few years ago. The child!” cried the wrinkled old face. “The child went missing and a few months later sniffer dogs found it in the yard of some bloody paedo! You should see the father on telly—ooh he’s crying his eyes out he is. What a terrible grief he must feel. Eats at the very heart it does, good doctor.”

“Oh,” replied the doctor tersely.

“Isn’t that awful?” asked the old woman.

“Uh…” he stuttered. “Yes it is. Excuse me Beryl, I need… I left something in my office.”

The lithe and old figure of the doctor walked briskly towards his door. He entered the office quickly and threw the door shut behind him before pressing his back against it. Quietly his face contorted into a twisted wrinkled mess as he let out a cry muffled with the sleeve of his coat. Slowly he slid down onto the floor in a despairing mess of grief all the while weeping uncontrollably into his arm. In the midst of his distress he reached behind his shoulder and slid his hand beneath his collar. A loud plucking could be heard as he wrenched a fistful of feathers from his back and held them in his hands before throwing them in rage into empty air.

“Oh my baby,” he cried. “My baby, my baby, my fucking baby!



Written by ChristianWallis
Content is available under CC BY-SA