Waking up early in the morning with the intention of “doing something” was an alien concept to me, and in that she actually took me by surprise. The now ubiquitous cup of tea which materialised next to my sleeping head had today been transmogrified in to a cup of strong sweet coffee, and had been joined by a sandwich of either fish fingers or chicken burgers. I knew not which and cared even less.
My teenage mouth was entirely unused to coffee, but the grown up one I had now, with all of its aches and pains, relished the stuff. Once it was down to the right temperature, it seemed remiss not to simply pour it right down my throat. My mind galvanised in an instant and the perpetual fog of the day lifted in a trice, replaced by a clarity and a determined focus. I was capable, it would seem.
Once we had digested our sandwiches, and we were at one with the day, she set out her vision. Of course the child would prefer to sit and watch TV again, absorbing ever more complex facts and the occasional figure of how the earth was formed and the fictionalised stories of the dinosaurs which it was inhabited by. That would not cut it today, and she quietly wandered off, in a terrible sulk.
We started by walking out of our front gate – something which she had realised that we had never done, and never felt any compulsion to do since we had woken up here – with the dogs safely in the front garden, pottering around the plants and trees, following each other in a cycle of competitive scent marking. She had found it odd that we had never felt the pull of the outside world; I had not.
We started by holding hands, the three of us, and walking slowly away from the house. Any sign of a weird sensation and we would turn back and regroup at the garden gate. The day’s mission was to explore this thing, and to see what we were up against. She suspected that there was some limit to the space we could occupy out there; I felt that it was more of a cloud one entered – a field perhaps.
The child would not stop talking; initially this was a pain, a distraction; in time it would become seen as a perfect camouflage. As long as we were kept off the topic of what we were doing that day she could natter, witter and chatter at great length about all sorts of inconsequential tosh, and we would just look like parents walking along a street with our child. Our normality would be assumed for us.
The question never crossed our minds of who might be watching us. The question never crossed our minds of who might also be on the street that day. We were convinced that in all of the time we had been in this place we had seen no one. We had heard things – living in silence would be considerably more noticeable than living in a world of random car noises and occasional disembodied voices.
We made our way to where we had found the most evidence of unreality, and we approached it holding hands, together. The volume was near the rear of our car, so we felt safe being there again and again. A gentle little song broke the almost silence of the afternoon air, a little sing song voice carrying through the street like a bird, sitting idly on a branch. And then it struck. The screams came.
I was unprepared for the fact that the screams were not ours. I had imagined some sort of objection to our attempting to explore this place, and that a reaction would follow. I had expected one of the girls to scream, basically: the little one screamed often enough and her mother was prone to bouts of emotional distress, which I chose to put down to pregnancy. The screams came from beyond.
We didn’t know what we were walking towards, but we knew that it was fake. We could feel the diffuse surface, the wall of static and the sensation of fog hanging in the air. It felt like a curtain of sorts, and we knew that what lay beyond would be the key to unravelling this mystery. But the noise shook us all. We felt the cold of a distant land, and heard the scream of a person we could not see.
The sound of rushing water filled our ears, and we all turned back as one. There was no going on now; not on this day. We would retreat and we would drink hot chocolate. Then she snapped. She was not going to tolerate retreat, and her adrenaline pushed her forward. The child and I pleaded with her to stay, but this looked like her plan all along. She broke free of our hands and she ran.
She blew us both kisses as she ran towards the back of the car, and ran directly in to the heart of the volume we had been probing. For a while she remained visible, trapped in the air like a smudge on the front of our eyes. This time there was no screaming, just an “Oomph” noise and that familiar crashing of hard fast water. I stood with the child for a moment, before picking her up in my arms.
We spent the rest of the day watching TV and drinking hot chocolate – an effort to take our minds off what we did not know or hope to understand. She would occasionally ask me where her mummy was, but I didn’t have an answer to that. I gripped on to the idea that I would wake up next to her in the night, and counted the minutes before I could climb in to bed and hurry forward her return.
The child was unsettled, confused by her disappearing reappearing parents. She was confused by the jolly fun of the day, and its rapid change to a wall of darkness and fear. She asked again if mummy would be returning, as I tucked her in to bed. I slapped on my favourite smile and assured her that she would. I was lying to myself every bit as much as I was to her. I couldn’t know either way.
I woke up every half an hour or so during the night, checking for her presence next to me. I must have drifted fully off at one point, because I was woken by the sound and light of a static charge outside of the window. The child ran in to my room, hoping to find her mother, and confused that it was only me. The key in the lock downstairs turned, and the front door opened. The dogs were still.