Jo Ann Choong
“Shh!” She shushed him, patting her hand over his blanket-clad torso. “Don’t talk like that. Everything will be just fine. Just fine.” Even the reassurances she tried to force onto herself did little for her sniffles and puffy eyes. She squeezed the handkerchief in her hand, ripping it apart without a care as she pushed herself up and looked away from her oldest boy.
“Mama,” her younger son cried from the doorway. “Mama, come quick!”
The middle-aged woman shook her head. “Not now!” Her tears started to fall at a quicker pace, and she did her best to hide it from her oldest son, but she knew. Oh God, did she know.
His hopeless expression.
The pale skin.
His sweaty appearance.
Her younger son moved closer and tugged at her sleeve with urgency, his feet shuffling across the floor with his forceful attempts. His eyes shifted from his mother to his older brother, then back again with a quiver of his lips. His eyes were just as red as hers, but, unlike her, he had not retreated from reality.
Finally she pressed a lingering kiss on her oldest boy’s glistening forehead and turned to her younger son. “Jonathan, this had better be-”
Before they had the chance to move a loud shriek broke across. Almost immediately silence returned, leaving the family to wonder what had happened.
Mama and Jonathan moved quickly down the hall. Whatever had made that noise...Mama knew what it meant, but she refused to believe it. Her skirts swooshed with every motion she made and the wooden flooring creaked with her rushing footsteps, Jonathan right on her heels.
“Mama! There you are!” The sweet voice of Mama’s only daughter called out with a hint of breathlessness.
“Francesca, my love,” Mama greeted. She opened her arms as her daughter rushed towards her. “Tell me, dear child, have you found the doctor?”
Francesca shook her head, her eyes watering. “Mama, the doctor…”
“What is it? Where is he?!”
Francesca pressed her face into her mother’s bosom as her body shook.
Jonathan pressed his lips together. “Mama, the doctor’s not coming.” Jonathan’s eyes narrowed as he clenched his fists together. Even here Jonathan was still able to hear his older brother’s heavy, gasping breaths.
“Not coming...?” Mama asked, her face a mask of confusion turning into fury. Her nose flared and her fists clenched as she released Francesca from her hug. She moved towards the door, with only a single goal in mind. Her two children took a step in her direction -
Another deafening shriek filled the space.
It sounded even closer.
Death was coming, it said.
The family stood frozen, Francesca sobbing as her heart raced in her chest. As though they were released from a spell Mama and Jonathan took a deep breath. Francesca hurried up the stairs, stumbling on her way as tears continued to trail down her cheeks like heavy rainfall.
“The doctor said-” Jonathan walked out into the cool evening. Not even the heavy gust of wind was able to drown out his next words. “-the Bean Sídhe had already called for Henry’s death. He said there was nothing he could have done.” His voice choked as he mentioned his brother’s name. His nails dug into his skin as he clenched his fists. It was all he could have done to stop himself from...
Jonathan had no idea what he wanted to do.
Cry? Scream? Kill the doctor? Did it matter?
Mama leaned down, her knees almost touching the dirt ground. “My love,” Mama whispered, pressing her cold palm onto Jonathan’s cheek. “Go and watch over Henry with your sister. I will make haste and speak with the doctor.”
Jonathan hesitated before he nodded, then made his way back into their tiny home. The look on his face made Mama’s heart cringe in her chest.
She placed her hand over her heart and gazed up into the night sky. Please, Mama pleaded, please let my children be safe. A light fog filled the night as she trudged down the muddy road. It had rained the whole day, making it doubly hard for any carriage to run through. Mama cursed under her breath. If it was the lack of transport that has caused the doctor to abandon his patients then Mama would have no qualms about forcing the doctor on his way.
Mama shivered, the cold air biting on her skin. She watched as puffs of air escaped her lips with every exhale. How was it this cold? Mama wondered to herself. Still, she continued marching on to the doctor’s home. Candlelight flickered from the nearby homes that she walked past before she finally made it to his house.
She stood in front of the building and stared at it. An uneasy feeling rose up in her chest. Something felt...unsettling.
Unlike the other candlelit homes it was shrouded in darkness. No, that wasn’t quite right. Something about the doctor’s residence felt like staring into an abyss of pitch black that not even a candle could penetrate.
Mama reminded herself. She dug her nails into her palms, drawing blood as she forced her feet to move. For Henry. For Francesca. For Jonathan.
The wind started picking up.
Another shriek sounded in the distance, before dissolving into a keening sound.
That seemed to be what Mama felt as she continued making her way into the doctor’s house.
She pushed the door and entered the building. The only sounds now were the keening and her heavy breathing.
A strong smell assaulted her as she ventured into what had to be the doctor’s office.
She turned away and crouched low on the wooden floor, whispering prayers under her breath.
Mama’s breathing grew quicker.
Turning to look into the doctor’s office again she saw the pale, disheveled body laying on the ground.
No, no, no!
Mama rose to her feet and ran out.
She needed to get home.
The muddy ground didn’t slow her down as she rushed. In the back of her mind she questioned and questioned. What did this all mean? The wailing sounds picked up again, as though they sensed her urgency to get home. Louder, the sounds were getting louder. Mama’s heart pounded in her chest just as the pounding in her head increased. Her erratic, almost shallow breathing in the cold, freezing air did her mind no favours. No, she felt the warning bells in her mind. Her children—they were in danger.
A sense of relief almost filled her when she saw her house come into sight. Almost. It was then that she noticed how dark it looked—like the doctor’s home. She threw the door open and stepped into her home.
“Jonathan! Francesca!” Mama shouted.
A loud boom came from outside, signalling the start of heavy rain. Mama ignored the mud she brought inside and ran up the stairs to Henry’s room. She kept calling her children, hoping that they would answer and hoping that neither the thunder nor the rain would drown out her hoarse voice.
In Henry’s room there was no sound—not even the sound of Henry’s heavy, gasping breathing.
Mama placed a tentative hand on the door. Her mind replayed the scene at the doctor’s home. She remembered the decaying stench, and the pale body. She remembered that it was her daughter that went to fetch the doctor. Or was it Jonathan?
She peered into the dark room, and gasped.
Jonathan looked up at Mama. His eyes glistened with unshed tears. He had one of his hands wrapped around Henry’s wrist, the other on a bloodied knife.
Francesca lay on the floor, a deep gash across her stomach. Blood pooled around her still form. Her eyes, lifeless and empty, were staring at nothing.
Mama’s body shook. “What-” Mama licked dry lips, her voice sounding choked. “What have you done, my love?”
Jonathan dropped the knife and it clattered loudly on the floor. “I don’t- I don’t know. Mama, I don’t know. Franny- She killed h-him.” Jonathan dropped to his knees, the tears he had been holding back falling. “She killed Henry and I- I don’t know!”
Mama stood still, her mind both racing and empty all at the same time.
Another loud, wailing sob filled the air, followed by another and another.
Mama and Jonathan covered their ears.
The keening finally stopped. Mama, with shaky hands, picked up the knife from the floor and sank to her knees. Jonathan crossed the room and wrapped his arms around his sobbing mother.
“The Bean Sídhe came and left,” Mama whispered. “Death came and left.”
Jonathan froze. “Mama, please. Please don’t-”
But Jonathan knew.
In the back of his mind, he knew.
The warning had come.
The splatter of blood hit his face, and Jonathan found himself lost and alone in a world of corpses and warnings.
Jo Ann is a recent graduate from the University of Kent with an MSc in Social and Applied Psychology. Her interests in human psychology and in creative writing have led her to explore these connections through the legal and ethical means of story writing.
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