Another piece written for university.
“Ma, look! I’m flying! Wheeee!”
All children like to play pretend. Watching my daughter run around the meadow, her jacket spread in her arms like wings, I knew that she was no different. Anyone could see that Ash was a normal five-year-old with a slightly overactive imagination. There was no way I could complain, knowing that I was the same as a child. As I grew older I transferred my creativity and imagination to various different pursuits, my favourite of which was theatre. When my mother visited us, she always mentioned that Ash was just like me as a child and that she was looking forward to seeing us both on the stage. It was always nice to have such a supportive family.
“Ma, ma, look!” Ash was standing on one of the benches, staring expectantly at me. As soon as she saw she’d grabbed my attention, she grinned widely and leapt into the air with another wheee!
“Be careful, silly. You best not hurt yourself!”
“I won’t! I was flying, like a fairy!” Ahh, yes, her most recent interest. Or should I say obsession of sorts. There was a new fad going around her school at the time, and all of her classmates were in on it. All of them had fairy dolls, fairy princess dresses, fairy-themed stationary. Of course, Ash wanted all of these things too but the reality was that there was no way I could afford it. I had to resort to DIY projects, which wasn’t all so bad. Ash liked the fact that no one else had the same things that she did, because she made them with me and they were special. I could never have asked for a better kid.
I looked up at the sky to see the clouds turning colour—peachy hues were tinting the blue and white, signalling that it was time to head off.
“Ash, we have to go now.” I called from my spot on the bench. As Ash ran up to me, I was greeted with a pout.
“But mommy, the fairies are asking me to stay longer.”
“I’m sure the fairies can wait till tomorrow, can’t they lovely?”
She shuffled slightly, considering my words. “Hmm… Maybe… I’ll go say goodbye then!” And with that, she scuttled off, gleefully shouting her goodbyes. It was an adorable sight to see, honestly. When she got back to me, she took my hand and grinned. “They’ll wait for me tomorrow, they said! Will I be able to play?”
“If the weather is nice enough, then yes. I don’t want you getting ill if it rains, okay?”
“Hmm, okay…” She seemed unsure.
“What’s the matter?”
“I promised them that I’d play tomorrow. They don’t like it when I break promises.”
Her tone had me slightly concerned, but I brushed it off as her imagination running wild again. She’d done this sort of thing before. “Don’t worry, I’m sure it will be fine.”
And as we walked back home, I felt a chill breeze run through the woods, leaving me with an inkling that maybe tomorrow’s weather wouldn’t be as nice as today.
It turned out that I was right. On the Saturday morning, I was woken by a loud clap of thunder, which was quickly followed by a loud squeal. Quicker than I could get up to see what was wrong, Ash leapt into my bed and hid under the covers. She clung to me, whimpering slightly.
“Oh, honey, are you okay? Don’t worry, it’s just a little thunder. It can’t hurt you.”
“It’s the big giants stomping, they’re scary.”
I chuckled quietly, holding onto her little frame to comfort her. “Don’t you know, magical creatures can’t come and get you when you’re in your home?”
She looked up at me from under the covers, her face puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Magic creatures can’t come into the home unless you invite them in,” I said, remembering some bits and bobs I’d read in books through the years. “So you’re safe as long as you stay here and you don’t let them trick you.” I pinched her cheek lightly. “But you’re too clever for that, aren’t you pumpkin?”
She giggled and rolled around. “Okay, mommy! I’ll be clever and won’t let them trick me!” She stopped for a moment, seeming to have had a thought. “But what if they’re my friend fairies? Can I let them in?”
“Um…” Again with the fairies. She talked about them as if they were real people, and it was getting to be unnerving. “Maybe… If you’re sure they’re friends.”
“Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure,” she sat up, staring at me with pleased eyes. “I play with them all the time in the meadow. I met them by the fairy ring!”
“I didn’t know there was a fairy ring in the meadow.” I thought back to the little clearing in the woods we always walked through to get back home from Ash’s school. We often stopped there, as it was a popular spot for kids to play. There weren’t any playgrounds in our small village so they had to make do, but in all the times we’d been there I can never remember seeing a fairy ring. I used to love the little circles of brightly coloured toadstools when I was a child. I would have thought spotting one wouldn’t be too difficult.
“It’s a secret, shhh,” she put her finger to my lips and giggled. “Maybe I’ll show you.”
“I’d like that very much.”
“Yay!” Ash tumbled out of my bed and bounced on the rug next to it. “What’s for breakfast, mommy?”
Kids, always from one topic to the next in a flash with them.
That evening, the rain still hadn’t let up and Ash had become increasingly restless. She paced in front of the window, stopping every so often to glance outside only to come away disappointed. I couldn’t stand seeing her like that so I jumped to the rescue.
“Hey, Ash, would you like to make a fairy doll with me?”
Her face lit up like a Christmas tree and she bounded towards me. “Really? Really we can make one?”
“Of course,” I took her hand and we walked into the kitchen where I had laid a bunch of craft items. Felt, yarn, glitter, multi-coloured pipe cleaners, you name it. “Would you like to make one together, or should we make one each?”
In the end, Ash ended up not being pleased with her fairy doll and opted to take mine instead. I popped the one she made, all sticky yarn and glitter, on top of the fridge where it sat with all of her other discarded creations while she played with her new fairy friend. She seemed to love it more than anything.
As the days went on, Ash only seemed to get more attached to the doll. She would bring it to school with her and talk to it more than she would talk to her classmates. Honestly, she never got along too well with her class so I didn’t really give that much thought. She was a little different from the others as it was. An introverted child. What started to worry me were her late night conversations with it.
One night, I got up to get a drink and I walked past her room only to hear a quiet muttering. Confused, I stopped for a moment and put my ear to the door but still wasn’t able to make out the words. As soon as I clicked the handle open, the talking stopped and all I was greeted with was Ash staring at me, wide eyed, with the doll on her lap.
“What are you doing up, Ash, you have school tomorrow.”
She stared at me for a moment longer before grinning. “It’s okay, mommy. I will sleep now.” And she shuffled herself under the covers. I closed the door, went to get my drink, and when I walked back I couldn’t hear anything. She was asleep, most likely. Sighing with relief, I went back to bed.
Although this happened a few more times, I didn’t really think much of it. She was just being overactive again, letting her imagination run wild a bit. That was what I was telling myself the entire time. There was no other explanation. She would grow out of it.
That was when I noticed her hair.
As I was tying up her hair for school, I noticed that one bit of it was significantly shorter than the rest. It was obvious it had been cut. I scowled and turned Ash around to face me.
“Why did you cut your hair, Ash?”
“Then why is it cut here?” I tugged gently at the piece. She just stared at me in confusion.
“It wasn’t me, mommy, I promise!”
“You better not be lying, Ash. Who else would have done it?”
“The fairies, the fairies wanted my hair!”
“Ash, there are no fairies in this house.”
“There are, look!” She held up her doll, eyes glittering with tears.
I sighed, exasperated. “Ash, that’s a doll. If you do something like this again, I’ll take it off you.”
“No!” she scuttled away, clutching it to her chest. “She’s my friend, you’re not allowed!”
“I said if. You can keep her for now, but if I catch you again…”
“I won’t mommy, I won’t.”
And I thought that was the end of that.
It was the day after that that my child disappeared. I went into her room, concerned that she had not yet come down for breakfast like she normally would have done, and saw her sitting an her bed, looking into the mirror on her wall. Just staring. I walked over and waved a hand over her face to rouse her. She didn’t stir.
“Ash…?” I knelt in front of her, breaking her eye contact with the mirror, and looked into her eyes. “Ash, are you okay?” I shook her slightly. Her mouth twitched into a smile, slowly. She didn’t say anything. “Ash, talk to me, what’s wrong?”
Her eyes were bloodshot, as if they had been open for a long time. She didn’t blink, she didn’t move other than that twitching smile. It was as if she was empty, and some invisible force was tugging at her mouth to force that grin. I picked her up, took her downstairs and laid her on the couch as I called 999. A tired-sounding man picked up.
“Emergency services, how can I help you?”
“It’s my daughter, I think she’s having some sort of fit. Can you help me? Please, can you send someone?”
“Yes, ma’am, please tell me your address and I will send an ambulance over to you as quickly as I can.” I told him. “Okay, if you could please stay on the phone while the paramedics get to you. Please stay calm, can you tell me what’s happening?”
“Ash, sh-she…” I struggled to get my words out as I looked at the empty shell that was once my daughter. “She’s just gone, like there’s nothing there. She’s not reacting to anything I do, she’s not even blinking.”
“Can you check she has a pulse?”
“Y-yes, yes she does. She’s breathing. She just isn’t moving, or anything, just smiling and doing nothing, please, please help.”
“The ambulance is on the—“
There was a sharp crackle in my ear, followed by silence. The phone had just cut off.
“Hello? Hello, can you hear me?” Nothing. Obviously. I was clutching at straws. As quickly as I picked it up, I slammed the phone down and looked back at Ash. Just as her head slowly turned to look at me. “Ash…?”
The thing giggled in my daughter’s voice, but somehow more hollow. The warmth of her laugh had completely gone. My daughter was gone. I knew it then. I shuffled back and pressed myself against the wall.
“Who are you? Where’s Ash?”
The thing simply continued to giggle, staring blankly in my direction. No words could describe my feelings in that moment. I just wanted everything to stop. Surely this was just a bad dream, surely I would wake up and…
Ash’s little hand started to rise. It was as if she was a puppet on strings—the movement was unnatural, jerky. And in her hand was something I didn’t expect to see. A bunch of hair, the same colour as mine. I lifted a shaky hand towards my scalp and found that a chunk of my hair was missing. As if it had been cut.
That’s when the voices started.