Janice awoke when the tiny hands rocked her.
Somehow, she’d drifted off. She never fell asleep before her babies arrived, and yet she had. Her eyelids fluttered against the orange-red glow of the hallway behind the door. That she had never managed to deal with. But at least the bleat of the alarm she’d taken care of. Only one figure silhouetted against the ghost fire, though. Short, with boyish hair. Freddie. This meant that Lindsay—
Janice sat bolt upright, and her sheets fell away. She looked around, frantic, for her daughter. Where was Lindsay? Where was her baby girl? Her gaze settled on movement at the far side of the room, where her wardroom sat. She squinted into the gloom, heart at the base of her throat. Lindsay stood there, something in her hands. Bright. Shiny. Janice’s yellow raincoat. And now Freddie’s fingers closed over her own, and he tugged at her — gentle but firm.
“What—?” she managed.
But Freddie put his finger to what remained of his lips. Shh. Don’t argue. Come. Janice did as requested and rolled out of bed. Her feet touched something rubbery. Her wellies. Freddie looked at her, head tilted to one side. And Janice, a puzzled frown on her face, complied. She slipped her bare toes into the waterproof plastic.
Once upright, Lindsay appeared at her side with her raincoat. She offered it to her mother, and Freddie helped. They held it out for her, the way their father had done. Tears already in her eyes, Janice stepped into her coat. Where are you taking me? she wanted to say. But instead, she said nothing. Her ghosts knew every truth in her heart, anyway. Her babies.
Raincoat over her nightgown, wellies on her feet, her babies took her hands into theirs. Side by side, Freddie and Lindsay led her from the bedroom. Pale blue moonlight illuminated the hall, and the rain rattled against the windows. She thought they’d take her to the kids’ room at the end of the hall, but no — they led her down the stairs. Down the stairs and out the door.
Janice flinched as the ice-cold torrents pelted her, but her babies did not slow. Lindsay — with one fire-scorched hand — raised her hood over her head. She sniffed as the rain bounced off her coat, and followed her children through the downpour. Past homes they walked, feet in inch-deep puddles. Only hers made splashes. Some houses had lights on — the glow didn’t reach the road. Others sat in darkness.
Onwards, out of the dead heart of Litwich. Her hands in theirs. Their leads she followed. They walked and walked and walked until they reached a sign. ‘WELCOME TO LITWICH: The Most Haunted Town in the Country’. Freddie and Lindsay slowed to a stop and stood there in the rain. The echoes of the children they’d been.
Sometimes, Janice understood, you have to leave your ghosts behind. Sometimes, you have to walk on. Sometimes, you have to walk alone. “Mummy loves you,” she said. “Mummy loves you, my dears.” The tears joined the raindrops on her cheeks. She kept on walking.
At some point, the rain began to ease up.
© Joshua Insole 2021-06-03