Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Thirst

There is a place adults have forgotten. A place they leave behind in childhood, a place of terror from which the creatures come. Nameless horrors only hinted at in half forgotten fairy tales told by aged grandparents. Every child comes across these creatures. Most get just a glimpse; a shadow in a mirror; a shiver on dark stairs. But some of us face them several times. Some of us don’t just get a glimpse but have the horror wash over us like a tidal wave. Some of us go looking for them.

The first time for me was summer a few years back. The days had been hot and endless until the fog rolled in, thick and yellow, I watched it from the lounge window with my dad.

“I’ve never seen fog like it,” he said.

“Pollution,” Mum said from the sofa.

The fog enclosed our house so I could no longer see the end of the garden. It brought silence, no more birds singing or the shouts from kids down the road.

“Time for bed,” Dad said placing a hand around my shoulder. Summer days felt strange, going to bed while the sun still blazed. But the fog brought a yellowy twilight with it.

My room was stuffy, the air felt like swallowing socks as I breathed. I cracked the window open hoping for a cool breeze and climbed into bed. Despite the heat I pulled the duvet over my head, making it dark enough to need a torch to read. Sometimes tradition is important.

I’ve forgotten the book; I just remember that it gripped me. I was so lost in it that it was a while before I noticed a noise. I lifted my head but there was silence.

I turned the page. I heard it again and shivered, like I do now just thinking about it. A baby wailing out in the fog.

I pushed the duvet off and climbed out of bed.

The wailing continued.

I pulled the curtain aside and looked down onto the garden. The fog hung thick and yellow, darkening as the sun dipped. At the far end of the garden stood a figure, a girl I think, though it was hard to tell. In her arms she held the baby. I couldn’t see it clearly but I knew it was the wailing baby and I knew the girl was looking up at me.

She placed the baby on to the grass and stepped back, disappearing into the fog.

The baby wailed. I needed to go to it. I wondered why Mum and Dad hadn’t fetched it, I could hear the murmur of the TV below. Maybe they couldn’t hear the baby over it.

It’s screeching cut through me and I turned, pushed my feet into my shoes and headed for the door.

The wailing stopped. I turned back to the window. The fog swirled and lifted. I could see the garden.

No baby.
No girl.
No wail.

I stood, confused, wondering then climbed back into bed.

The following day I heard Josh from next door had gone missing. His younger sister said he’d gone to get the wailing baby.

His parents had heard nothing.