The sky was dark, and there was a red hue tinting the clouds that were suffocating the copse that morning. In a cottage on the edge of the growing woodland a single mother and her two children, a boy and a girl, were starting to stir. The mother was soon in the dim kitchen preparing packed lunches. When she finished she would try to scrub away the stains on the kitchen tops that had been wriggling their way in to the old wood for years. The quiet hum of the frosty morning was soon disturbed by a shrill cry. She didn’t even bat an eyelid. There was another, more broken cry. This time she took a deep breath and walked out into the hallway, just in time to see the boy tumbling down the stairs with his older sister thundering behind him. It was Halloween and the girl already had a wolf mask on. The mask was horrible, with blood stained teeth and glowing yellow eyes. The boy was close to tears as he clutched on to his mother’s leg and buried his face in her crimson skirt.
“It’s the wolf Mumma, the Big Bad Wolf,” the boy cried.
“Don’t be silly,” the mother said, pulling the mask off her daughter’s smug face, “If you carry on like this you won’t be allowed a costume this year,” she warned her.
The two children sat up at the breakfast table and were in silence for a few short moments. The mother returned with boxes of cereal and a bottle of milk. The daughter snatched a bowl from the centre of the table and helped herself whilst the little boy watched and waited patiently, growling under his breath.
“Don’t growl like that Ralph, what do you think you are, an animal?” said the mother.
“I wish I was. Then I would eat up Daisy, gobble gobble gobble,” he said, gnashing his teeth together like a great white shark. His sister gave a hearty laugh as a reply then went back to shovelling down her Coco Pops with the enthusiasm a starved African child might have, were they offered the luxury of Coco Pops.
The day drifted by slowly whilst the children were at school. Meanwhile, the mother watched the robins chase one another in and out of the trees. One would peck the other sharply before darting back in to the bush to escape the heavily anticipated attack of its brother. Down by the local shops the robins would play freely with the other village robins and not cause any destruction, but back up in the copse things were different. She took a trip to the local Grocer’s where she bought a small tin of tomato soup and loaf of bread for the children’s tea. The clouds were churning above in the sky threatening her with a violent storm so she hurried home.
The rain was coming down hard by the time the children returned. The soup was already on the hob. Upstairs there was an occasional thud. Or a cry. The pungent coppery liquid continued to bubble furiously as it was distributed into three bowls. A big bowl for the daughter, a medium sized bowl for mother and a small bowl for the young son.
He was sickly green when he came in and darted to his chair before his sister had made an entrance. The mother prepared the table, called for her daughter and went out to salvage the washing she had left hanging on the line. The rain continued as she tugged furiously at each peg. The damp sheets fell down on to her and lay heavy in her arms soaking every fibre of her body.
Half way down the path back to the house the mother heard a scream. She stumbled over the rotting apples in the orchard and crushed their pulp into the spongy undergrowth. When she finally got to the kitchen door her tiny son flung it open in her face and sped past her, up into the orchard and out of sight. The mother’s angry eyes turned to her daughter, wondering what horrible trick she had played now, but her daughter was sat crying and shivering with a bowl of tomato soup spilt in her lap.
The mother ran to her, dumped the clothes down on the rotting floorboards and pulled her daughter up to her feet. Red soup spilt everywhere.
“How on earth did you two get in such a mess?” The mother said as she wiped at the floor. She looked back at her daughter who for the first time in many years was being silent. The girl’s eyes were locked down at her own feet and the puddle of soup that had poured out of her lap. She continued to stare and the mother looked too. There was a finger. A beautiful little finger. One of the ten tiny little fingers she had counted in that hospital bed.
She grabbed her daughter’s hands sharply, they were covered in soup, or was it blood? It was gone, her forth finger on her right hand, clean off – like it had never been there in the first place. The mother called for the doctor from the village and whilst they waited she wrapped the stub of her missing finger in cloth.
“How did you do it?” she asked.
“It wasn’t me, it was him.”
“Don’t be silly Daisy, he’s nine years old!”
“He did Mum, he bit my hand and it came off. It hurts, it really hurts.”
“No child has teeth that sharp Daisy, now tell me what happened.”
The doctor burst in with his briefcase, “Let me see,” he said getting down on his knees. The mother unwrapped the cloth that was round the hand of her daughter. The blood was still flowing and the girl’s face went white. “How did this happen?” the doctor said, looking accusingly at the mother.
“I was outside when it happened, I have no idea. She won’t tell me.”
“He bit it,” Daisy cried again. The doctor frowned and looked down through his thick spectacles at the wound.
“Have you got the finger?”
“I feel dizzy.”
“Yes it’s in this bowl,” the mother said.
“I really don’t feel too good.”
“I can’t be sure Ms. Black, but this looks incredibly like an animal bite, do you have a dog?”
“No, I don’t have a dog,” the mother said.
“Where is the little boy, he might know more than his sister? After all, she is suffering from shock and blood loss, she might not be thinking straight.”
The little girl screamed and wriggled away from the adults, “Don’t bring him back here, please, don’t.”
“He ran away,” the mother said.
“You let a nine year old child run away, in this weather?”
“I didn’t let him, he ran.”
“I need to take your daughter to the hospital, or she will lose too much blood. Please, tell the police about Ralph. You need to send a search party out to look for your son, he’ll catch all sorts in this weather.”
The mother watched as her daughter was loaded into an ambulance. As it drove away a police car arrived with two men and two dogs. It was getting dark and cold but at least the rain was stopping. The policemen introduced themselves and asked if they could be taken to the last place she had seen her son. They walked out to the orchard together, and then they asked for a piece of the boy’s clothing to give to the police dogs. When the mother returned with his pyjamas and held them out to the dogs they whimpered and cried. One hid behind the policeman’s leg, snarling aggressively. The other just put its tail between its legs and wouldn’t budge, even when the policeman pulled harshly at its chain.
“I don’t know what’s got into them,” the older policeman said, “they been acting strange all day, they have.”
“Maybe its cos it’s Halloween Sarge?” said the younger policeman. The older one just scratched his head. There was a howl in the distance, a dog on a neighbouring farm. But both the police dogs growled more aggressively and pulled at their chains.
“We should just put them away, these two aren’t gonna get us anywhere tonight.”
So they put the two dogs back in the car and with their torches, they headed out into the darkness of the woods.
They searched for hours with the mother, but it was hopeless. They had no footprints to track because the rain had washed them away. They called and called but all they heard were the owls hooting and the occasional dog crying. It was when they were walking back through the orchard they heard a smash, the three ran back towards the police car but it was too late.
“Someone’s broken into the car Sarge,” the young one said.
“Well don’t state the bleedin’ obvious,” said the other.
“Where are the dogs?”
They looked through the smashed window. There was blood on the broken glass and down the side of the white car door. On the seats were the bodies of the two dogs, both drenched in their own blood and twisted as if they had been wrung out.
When the police left and the mother returned to the house she was surprised to meet with Daisy, already home from the hospital.
“How did you get home?” the mother said.
“The doctor dropped me off half an hour ago, I was really scared here on my own.”
The mother held her daughter close for a few minutes, not even daring to look at the place where that delicate little finger had once been. Daisy went to bed in the room she used to share with her brother and for a moment she nearly enjoyed being an only child. When she opened her eyes again she could smell something disgusting. It smelt worse than the animal enclosures at the zoo, worse than dead people, worse than Grandma’s house. Then suddenly Daisy realised her hand was hurting. She looked down and screamed.
The mother came in, switching on the light in panic. The window was open, the curtains were flailing violently in the wind and Daisy had recoiled right up against her headboard. There was a huge red stain on the white sheet about half way down the bed.
“He did it again Mum, he took another one,” Daisy said through her sobbing. Her hands were clenched together tightly and it took the mother some strength to prise them apart. When she saw that her daughter’s thumb was gone and that she had been left with a deranged claw for a hand, the mother wept. When the doctor arrived he spoke to Daisy in a different way. As he tended to her second wound he asked her some questions.
“Now Daisy, what is it doing this to you?”
“It’s my brother, he’s angry.”
“No. Your brother is missing. Do you miss him Daisy, are you worried about him?”
“No, I hate him.”
“Ok Daisy, don’t worry. I’m just going to have a few words with your mother outside, can you be good and stay right here for a few minutes?” He stepped out the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Daisy followed and listened closely to the conversation on the other side.
“I don’t know for sure, but I think Daisy is jealous of the attention Ralph is getting. I wonder if she’s managed to take another finger off in an attempt to turn the focus back to her for a little while.”
“My child may like attention Doctor, but she wouldn’t hurt herself for it, can’t you see she’s terrified?”
“Ms. Black, I think your daughter is doing it subconsciously. That means she could be doing it in her sleep. With your permission, I’d like to strap Daisy’s arms and legs down when she sleeps – it is just to prevent her from causing further damage. Once we find Ralph, which I’m sure we will, everything will return to normal.”
The next night the mother did as she was told, she gave Daisy an incredibly strong sleeping tablet and once she was asleep, she tied her down to her own bed. But when the mother returned the next morning the straps had been torn off and another finger was gone. The doctor came and did as he had done before and this time asked the mother to watch her daughter sleep, to make sure that nothing happens.
More days drifted by and Ralph’s search party grew less and less enthusiastic. Fewer locals came to help and even the police didn’t seem to try as hard. Eventually they gave up and told Ms. Black they had other things they had to do and that they couldn’t look forever. So with that Ms. Black arranged a funeral for Ralph. She called for a tiny empty coffin and she arranged a tiny hole in the ground to be dug for it. On the day of the funeral it was only the priest, Daisy and her mother that turned up. It rained again. Daisy could hear a noise inside the church and without her mother realising she went inside.
Daisy stood at the front. The faces in the stain glass windows glared at her, as if they wanted her to leave. There was a noise, a shuffle, underneath the pews. She bent down and peered under them. At first it was dark. But then her eyes focused and she could see a figure at the back, hunched over and contorted. It looked almost human. She stood up and to her horror, standing at the back of the church, staring straight at her was her brother. He was covered in dirt from head to toe. His hair was messy and his eyes were dark.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“From you,” he said.
“Why would you hide from me?”
“You’ve got huge teeth,” he said. She frowned and ran her tongue gently over them. She felt the points they came to.
“I’d never noticed,” she said.
“You’ve got big ears too.”
She clambered up the font and peered into the water to see her own reflection. Her ears did stick out from her dark knotty hair more than she realised.
“I guess that’s why I could hear you in here and mother didn’t,” she said.
“And you’re really, really ugly,” the little girl started growling at her brother for saying such a thing.
“You’re just mean,” she replied, “And you hurt me,” she held up her hand with three missing fingers.
“I didn’t do that,” he cried.
“Daisy?” the mother called, she was coming in. By the time she managed to open the heavy oak door of the church there was no-one inside. The mother ran round it looking and crying, calling for her daughter, “Daisy, where are you? Please God, don’t let this happen.”
One week later the mother was in the same churchyard, burying a second small empty coffin, in an equally small hole. She wept again and placed a bunch of dark red roses on the finished grave. Next to each other were the graves of Daisy Black, treasured daughter, age 13 and Ralph Black, precious son, age 9.
Two months later a small schoolboy’s uniform was found in the woods next to a small pile of human bones. Ms. Black identified it as her son’s clothing. The doctor said the cause of death was animal attack, some sort of wolf or bear. Ms. Black then offered a reward for whoever could kill the beast. Dozens of hopefuls went out to find the animal. Most of them never returned.
Three days later the body of a wolf was hung up in the village. The crowd parted as Ms. Black arrived and she walked to the front. The smell was rank, and the animal was smaller than she had expected. She looked at the pink tongue hanging out its mouth. She saw the terrible pointed teeth. Then she noticed its right front paw, it only had two toes and two claws. With that the mother screamed and cried until the grief brought her to the floor, heaving,.
“My babies,” she said. “My poor, poor babies.”
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