It wasn’t the first time that my sister behaved strangely at breakfast.
I had noticed a change in her a few months ago. There was nothing specific to start with. Nothing, as my mother always said, that you could put your finger on. Usually, she would come down and start talking straight away. She was very inquisitive. She would want to know what everyone’s plans were for the day and what news we had if she had not seen us on the previous evening. Lately, she had not been saying much. She was vague and distracted. She did not seem interested in what we were doing. If mum or dad said something, she did not pay attention. She had always wanted to know how I was getting on at school. Now, I don’t think she would have noticed if I had left school and started work, and I was only twelve years old! She often had a funny smile on her face, as if she had some little secret. That annoyed me.
She was not like it every day. Sometimes, she was back to her normal self or, at least, almost her normal self. On other days, she would be quiet again, dwelling on her thoughts. I don’t know if anyone else noticed. No one said anything if they did.
I remember one particular day. She was already in trouble. She had come back at three o’clock that morning and had not ‘phoned or anything. My mum and dad had gone to bed, but they would not have been sleeping, not until she got back. When she did arrive (I was still awake myself and had checked the time on my watch), she did not say a word to them. She just went to bed. I suppose that she thought that they were already asleep.
She was late for breakfast. She sat down and poured herself a cup of tea. She did not say a thing. I thought that she must be feeling nervous and guilty.
My dad started. “Who do you think you are? . . . Where the hell were you? . . . Do you think your sister wants to be woken up at that time of night? . . . Don’t you dare do it again!”
Then my mum joined in and said some of the same things in a ‘so that’s how you’ve turned out’ tone of voice. I thought that I might add something. In the end, I just kept quiet.
After all that, my sister laughed. It was as if she couldn’t care less, as if the whole thing had nothing to do with her. I couldn’t believe it. My dad was fuming. He started to say something when she picked up the Wheatabix and threw it at him: the whole box. No one who knew my dad would dare to do that. He jumped up and went to hit her. My mum
shouted and he stopped at the last minute. My sister had a stupid grin on her face. My dad stormed out of the kitchen. We finished our breakfast in silence.
That was the day my dad came out in the rash. It was all over his chest and arms. He was itching like mad. In some places, he scratched so hard that his skin started to bleed. I thought that we would all catch it. I did feel a bit itchy, but nothing developed. My sister seemed to think that my dad deserved it.
* * *
Then, today . . . she looked wretched and worn out. She looked as if she hadn’t been to bed all night. Her face was pale, her cheeks sunken. Yet, there was a hungry look in her eyes and her hair was wild. I could sense a terrible energy burning inside her. There was a scratch on her neck, just above the top of her collar. It was new.
My brother was up early for once, and was talking about ‘one of his girlfriends’. Apparently, he had several although this one was his favourite at the moment. He was being very big-headed about his love life, and my sister was getting more and more irritated. I could see some of my dad’s temper in her.
“God,” she said, “if you weren’t my brother . . . ”
“What’s that scratch on your neck?” He asked suddenly.
At first, she did not know what to say. She hesitated for a second, then pulled herself together.
“I fell over yesterday afternoon.” She explained.
“Fell over!” My brother sounded incredulous.
My sister looked very uncomfortable. Her face was flushed. Even the scratch looked redder and more obvious. I am sure she could feel it throbbing. She was fiddling aimlessly with her breakfast.
“You don’t look as if you went to bed at all last night,” said my brother. My sister stared angrily at him.
“Yes, she did,” I said. My sister had been sleeping in the same bed as me since she came back home to live. I remembered her getting into bed last night. I am sure she would have woken me if she had got up again. Mind you, my brother was right; she looked exhausted.
“You shouldn’t be staying out late, anyway,” said my mum. “Haven’t you heard that another young doctor has gone missing?”
“Of course, but I’m not a doctor, am I?”
“Well, who’s to say it won’t be a student nurse next?” My mum raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t it Carl who has gone missing, Melanie’s boyfriend?”
“I didn’t know that they had split up. He seemed such a nice, young man.” My mum seemed to think all doctors were ‘nice, young men’.
“He cheated on her. I am glad he he’s missing. I hope he doesn’t come back.”
My dad stood up and started moving towards my sister. “I can’t understand how you got that scratch,” he said. “Here, let me have a look.”
My sister got up quickly. “I have to go. I’ll be late for work.” She turned to me. “Come on. Are you ready?” I knew we were early, but I did not say anything. I had made up my mind that, when we were on our own, I would find out what she was up to.
We got into the car. My sister used to give me a lift to school on some mornings. She was a student nurse in Halloween Hospital. She had to drive past my school to get there.
She started the engine and put the car into gear.
There was another scratch on her wrist. It was protruding just below her cuff. It was new, like the scratch on her neck. I knew that neither of those scratches had been there yesterday. The car began moving forwards.
“What were you doing last night?” I asked.
My sister glanced quickly over at me. The car shuddered, then, stalled. I think she must have pressed the accelerator and the brake at the same time.
“What do you mean?” she continued. “I was in bed with you.”
“No you weren’t,” I said. I wasn’t absolutely certain, but I sounded definite.
“Of course I was.” It was easy to tell when she wasn’t telling the truth.
“You have been acting funny for a while now,” I continued. “What’s going on?”
There was a long pause. She started to say something, but thought better of it. She smiled at me. It was her old smile. For a second, she looked as if she would be relieved to share her secret with me.
My brother broke his leg playing rugby that afternoon.
We got used to her behaviour, but she was never her old self and that made me miserable. She hardly had time for me. There was a lot of tension between her, my dad and my brother. They argued continuously. My mum accepted it all. I think she realised that it was just a phase my sister was going through.
* * *
I woke with a start. Someone was breaking in. I could hear them trying to open the window. I held my breath. I did not dare move. I tried to sink down into the bed. There was a bang and a muffled grunt. The blanket was partly covering my face. I could not bring myself to lift my head and look. My stomach was churning. I thought about running, but I knew I wouldn’t get to the door in time.
There was more noise. Someone was breathing quickly and heavily. There was a creak. I froze. The window was being opened. I tried to shout but nothing came out. I heard a gasp. I knew the voice. I pulled the blanket down and looked over. My sister was up on the window ledge. The window was open. She was half-way out.
“Lizzy!” I cried. She looked around. She was surprised. She looked worried and then she laughed.
“So now you know!” she said.
Her face was a deathly white. She had painted dark, striking lines around her eyes and her lips were thick and shiny with crimson lipstick. She was wearing a black jacket that I had not seen for ages. It had velvet trimming on the collar. It was torn in several places and the sleeves were frayed. Underneath, she wore a white silk dress with sequins on the bodice. They glimmered and glinted in the moonlight. She had bought the dress for a summer ball. Her feet were in those well worn, leather boots that she claimed she had lost last year.
She looked so pleased with herself. There was a delighted, mischievous twinkle in her eyes. My mother always said she brought out the best in old clothes. I could see why. She laughed and winked at me.
That was when I realised that my sister was a witch.
“Come on,” she said. “Come with me.” I did not know what to do. I was dying to go, but I was scared. I thought for a minute. Then, I decided and got out of bed.
I climbed up beside her and took her hand. We stepped out of the window. We plunged downwards. I thought that we were going to hit the ground. At the last moment, we soared upwards. Fences, trees, houses rushed past. I could feel the cold air blowing against my face. It was exhilarating. It was the best thing I have ever done.
“I thought we needed broomsticks!” I shouted. My sister laughed again. I suppose broomsticks were the sort of things our grandmothers would have used.
Suddenly, we dived down at a group of sheep: like a mad, black crow. They looked up in disbelief, then scattered. She saw a dog. She chased after it, screeching, out of the field and down the road. It yelped and whined as it ran. It leapt into someone’s front garden. We shot passed.
The bins were out. She tipped them over. Rubbish went everywhere. She knocked over a garden gnome. She pulled down clothes lines. She smashed a dozen milk bottles. Lights came on down the street behind us. I heard doors bang, but we were gone, up into the sky. Her shrill laugh echoed behind us.
We flew upwards until the fields were small squares below us and the houses tiny boxes in between.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Halloween Hospital,” she replied. I followed her line of sight into the distance and could see the hospital on the top of the hill. The dual carriageway snaked past it, and then disappeared towards the coast.
We landed behind the hospital in a small car park that was empty apart from a broken down, grey mini-bus. My sister adjusted her jacket, straightened her dress and looked around with a perplexed expression.
“Oh no,” she said. “I’ve done it again. The children’s department and the maternity unit look exactly the same from up there.”
She led me over to the mini-bus. She tugged twice on the back door and it swung open. She helped me up the step and inside.
“You will have to wait here,” she said.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to meet someone.” She started to turn away.
“Who?” She could tell from the tone of my voice that I wasn’t going to
co-operate unless she told me.
“Just a friend,” she explained. “His name is Llewelyn Lewis. He’s a doctor.”
I smiled secretly to myself. My sister had always wanted to marry a doctor. I think that’s why she became a nurse, although she would never admit it.
“No, I would never go out with him. He got Sally pregnant and now he doesn’t want anything to do with her.”
“I didn’t know Sally was pregnant!” I was shocked. She was my sister’s best friend.
“No one does. Don’t you dare tell anyone!” She looked angrily at me.
“Why are you meeting Dr Lewis?” I asked.
“We’ve got one or two things to iron out.”
“Well, don’t be too long,” I said, unconvincingly. I snuggled into the seat. It was quite warm in the mini-bus.
I was waiting beside the bus when my sister arrived back.
I was shocked when I saw her. Her eyes burned. Her face glistened with sweat and her hair was soaked. There was a strange, intense expression on her face. She looked like a naughty, insolent child. Her dress was torn open at the front. There was a long, raw scratch across her chest. I looked down at her hands. She looked back at me and laughed. They were covered with blood.
“Dr Lewis and I could not agree,” she said. She was grinning.
I tried to wipe the blood from my sister’s hands off onto the grass. I felt sick. I could feel the acid coming up into the back of my throat.
“Let’s go home,” she said. “I’m tired.”
“We’ll have to walk,” I said. “You can’t fly back.”
* * *
The next thing I remember was being in our bathroom, in front of the mirror. I looked at my own hands. They were sticky and red. I held my right hand up and examined it closely. The tips of my fingers were covered with congealed blood. It had got under the nails. It must have come from my sister. Cautiously I brought my hand nearer to my face.
Before I knew it, my fingers were touching my lips. I licked them. My scalp tingled. I felt a rush of warmth pass through me. I felt full of energy; full of power. I felt as if I could fly. I brought my other hand up to my mouth.
* * *
I was in a daze the next morning when I got up. I struggled downstairs. My parents seemed distant, unrelated to me. My mum said something but it did not seem to make sense. I sat down. I stared hard at my father. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
That was the first time that I behaved strangely at breakfast.