Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Not quite Lucy

The microwave pinged and I jerked awake. I hadn't really been asleep, just dozing off. The television was still on, showing some political question time, and it was dark outside. I got up off the couch, which was old and leaking stuffing where the fabric on the arms had worn through, and crossed the living in two quick strides to close the curtains. I had just pulled them shut when I realised that I'd not put anything in the microwave.

So it couldn't have pinged.

I wasn't alone in the house, of course. My daughter, Lucy, still lived with me, but she had been caught by the hollow men six months ago and had lost her soul to them. She still existed -- I'd been taught not to say lived at the support group -- but she was like a robot. She breathed, she obeyed instructions, but her eyes were vacant and watched anything that moved only because it was moving. She had no volition, no will of her own, and she could only answer questions about things she had known before she was taken. She had no conversation. She had been 12, and could never mentally age from that.

She couldn't have used the microwave unless someone had told her to.

I went cold all over. It started at the top of my head and seemed to wash down over me like a cold shower. My chest felt tight, and I turned around slowly, holding my breath, scared as to what I would see in the kitchen doorway. It was empty, though the light was on, and I could hear footsteps on the tiled kitchen floor. I exhaled slowly, and made myself walk to the kitchen at my normal pace, tense and ready to strike out at whoever was invading my home. I had to walk past the couch, and I picked up the tv remote control so that I'd have something in my hand. It wasn't much of a weapon, but it was something I could hit out with.

I stepped warily into the kitchen, my head flicking from side to side quickly, looking for someone hiding behind a door, looking for a hollow man with his arms stretched wide waiting for me to step into his embrace. They couldn't attack, they never made any attempt to touch someone, but if you touched them they could steal you in an eyeblink. The kitchen was empty, save for Lucy sitting at the breakfast bar, with a cup of steaming milk in front of her.

"Lucy?" I said, dreading the answer. Had my daughter really come back to me? Had her soul returned to her body, and if so, what condition was it in? She looked up at me at the sound of her name, and her eyes focused! She tilted her head back, her brown eyes narrowed very slightly as she appraised me, and she pursed her lips. My heart raced in my chest; she was back!

"Lucy?" she said. "No, I'm afraid not. I'm Adele. Lucy doesn't live here any more."

I heard the words but they didn't really register.

"Lucy, you're back!" I said, dropping the remote control. It clattered on the floor, the back came off and the batteries rolled under the fridge. "You've come back to me!"

"No, I am sorry," said the girl. She picked a teaspoon off the counter and stirred her milky drink. "I don't know what's happened to Lucy, though I can guess. But I'm Adele. And I don't really know what I'm doing here. I thought I was dying. I know I was in hospital less than an hour ago. And a lot older than this."

"Adele?" I said. "You've stolen my daughter's body?"

"I think that would require intent," said the girl. "I've no idea how I ended up here. It's a good body though, I like it. The last one lasted 85 years, and I think this one could do a good century if I look after it."

I leant against the doorframe and started crying.

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