Wendy hugged herself tightly as the car made its way along the dark country roads through the dark. She was trying to prepare herself as best she could. She knew that it made no sense to be nervous; she had been well prepared for this. This was what the last few months had all been building towards. And how many other girls had taken this journey before her, over all the years? In an attempt to calm her nerves she tried to anticipate the questions that might be asked of her. She had no concerns about any questions relating to the work. She knew what she had to do, although she was still a little nervous about actually dealing with people face to face. But most of all she was afraid of being asked anything personal. Personal meant tricky. It might make it difficult to get off on the right foot. She would be living with this woman for the foreseeable future after all. It was very important that they get on well. Very important indeed.
It had just gone ten o’clock when Wendy arrived at her destination. The man who had been driving the car hadn’t said a single word to her for the whole trip. They pulled to a stop alongside a small cottage that had one light on downstairs. Wendy saw the thick beige curtain twitch before the front door opened a moment later. She stepped out of the car, straightened her coat, and went to the woman at the front door with her hand outstretched.
“Miss Hill? I'm Wendy. I’m sorry that we got here so late, I’m...not really sure what happened.” She forced herself to sound more confident than she was. She wanted to project strength of character, trustworthiness, and wisdom beyond her years. As it was, she was happy that she just manage to get the words out in the right order. The woman looked her up and down. Wendy would have guessed that she was in her late forties. She wore a white woollen cardigan and blue jeans. Wendy noticed that her black hair had streaks of grey and white as her face creased into a smile. She stretched out her arms and wrapped Wendy in a warm hug. For a moment Wendy was stunned. This wasn’t typical behaviour from a superior. She could say with all certainty that this had never, ever happened to her before, at least not since she'd started school. But she composed herself quickly. It would be rude not to reciprocate. She put her arms around the woman’s back. She remained awkwardly pressed up against her for a few seconds before she was released. Her host took a step back. The smile hadn’t dropped. Wendy reassured herself that she seemed to have passed the test.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wendy. Please, call me Madeline. Let’s get you inside, shall we?” She looked past Wendy to nod at the driver, who was pulling a large suitcase out of the car boot. “Is that all of your luggage?” she asked her. Wendy told her that she didn’t have a lot of things. Madeline ushered Wendy inside. She took the suitcase from the man, who muttered a word that was very probably goodbye before leaving, closing the front door behind him. Madeline led Wendy up the narrow staircase to an open door on the left hand side on the landing.
“This is your room,” she said. Wendy looked around. It was small, to be sure, but it could definitely be classed as cosy. Wendy had stayed in a lot of bedrooms in her time, but she would never have classed any of them as cosy. The bedspread was covered in illustrations of pink and purple flowers that Wendy recognised but didn’t know the names of. A sturdy bookcase stood by the wall opposite the bed, nearly fully stocked. “There’s a charity shop in the village,” said Madeline by way of an explanation. A healthy-looking spider plant sat on the windowsill, while the radiator gurgled into life as the boiler kicked in. Wendy turned to her new housemate and smiled.
“It’s lovely,” she told her.
After Wendy had unpacked, she sat with Madeline in the kitchen downstairs as they waited for the kettle to boil. There was silence. Wendy had many questions, but didn’t want to appear forward by asking any of them. Wendy wrapped her hands around the warm white mug of orange tea that Madeline had set in front of her, but before she could worry too much about breaking the pause Madeine smiled and leant forward.
“So I expect you’ve been told what it is you will be doing here,” said Madeline.
“Yes. Well, that is, I know the general idea. Of what my job will be,” answered Wendy. She had, in fact, been told in some detail, but she was reluctant to seem too confident. She didn’t want to sell herself too short, but she certainly didn’t want to appear cocky. So she had decided to say as little as possible.
“Well, we’ll go over the basics now, and the rest we can talk about tomorrow. I get up at seven. I suggest that we take turns making breakfast. I’ll do it tomorrow as I imagine you’re very tired.” Wendy opened her mouth to agree with this, she was sure that it would be fine, but Madeline had not stopped talking. “We should aim to be in at the clinic by half past eight. This will give us plenty of time to set up and get you acquainted with the place before anyone arrives. Now, I’m sure that I don’t need to remind you that we are a functioning doctor’s office. I am a fully trained physician so don't you worry about a thing. There will be days when our sole responsibility is to treat patients. Well, I say our, it will be my responsibility. I'm guessing that you've been trained in the admin? Filling out the paperwork?”
Wendy thought back over the last few months. It had been painfully dull, but the importance of what she had been doing had been drilled into her by her teachers. It was vital that nothing appeared strange or unusual. And boring was nothing if not normal.
“Yes, they taught me about it. I finished the training just before I came here.”
“Good, so it’s all fresh in your mind then.” Wendy had a brief moment of panic where she wondered if this was in fact the case. Madeline must have seen the panic on her face as she reached across the table and put her hand over Wendy’s.
“Don’t worry, dear. It’ll all make sense in a day or two. And, if you like, I’ll let you observe after a little while. Now, I’ve told everyone that you’re my niece, doing work experience. The people here are very friendly, and some of the friendlier ones are very excited to meet you. Generally speaking, I think it’s for the best if we maintain a distance from the locals, but conversation in the clinic is absolutely fine. Also, I think going to the bigger social events on the calendar is fine, so long as we’re careful.”
Wendy nodded. This made sense. Madeline cocked her head to one side.
“I’ve sort of come to the end of my little speech, do you have anything that you’d like to ask me, Wendy?”
Wendy thought about it. She couldn’t think of anything. She was very conscious of Madeline watching her. She realised that she couldn’t really say anything. Madeline pushed her chair back and stood up.
“There’s something that neither of us have mentioned. Follow me,” she said, “It might just be easier if I show you.” Wendy got up without a word and followed Madeline to the staircase. Madeline opened the door under the staircase and pulled a lightswitch. Wendy saw a set of linoleum covered steps that went down into a basement . She followed her down the stairs and pulled her jumper tighter around her. It was distinctly cooler down here.
A single long fluorescent bulb lit the basement. The grey linoleum stretched out along the room that was the size of the ground floor of the house itself. Madeline put one hand on Wendy’s shoulder and used the other to point to the end of the room.
“Now, Wendy, tell me what you think is in there."
Wendy moved closer to the end of the room. Standing against the wall was a large fridge. Wendy didn't know if that was what making the humming noise. Maybe it was the flourescent light. Or maybe the fridge was working overtime. She took a moment and answered Madeline’s question.
“Blood,” she said.
“Quite right,” answered Madeline. “It’s a little ominous, I agree, but frankly it’s the best way of storing it. The basement's so cold that there's nothing else I'd want to keep down here. You know, a friend of mine told me that they tried keeping it in tupperware back in the late '40s.”
She paused for a moment and turned to look at Wendy. “Are you alright?”
Wendy nodded. She’d been told what this apprenticeship would involve. She’d been told that, in order to do her work properly, she would have to set aside some moral issues and some reservations that would perhaps be expected from a normal person. It wasn't as if she considered herself normal but this was something else. She wondered if Madeline kept anything else in the fridge.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m fine.”
Madeline smiled. “Good, good,” she said. “Let’s get back upstairs. The tea will be getting cold.”
They sat together in the kitchen for a little while, making polite conversation about her training. Madeline seemed to know a couple of the tutors and told a couple of stories. Finally she stretched and yawned.
“Well, it’s late; I think that we should probably get to bed. If you need to know where anything is, just let me know.”
As Madeline got up out of her seat, she paused for a moment. “Unless, you want to stay up...” They way that she had phrased the question made it very clear to Wendy that it was time to go to bed.
“No, that’s fine. It’s been a long day, and it is late. Busy day tomorrow!” said Wendy, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Madeline smiled. Wendy knew that she had answered correctly. Wendy followed Madeline up the stairs, then paused as she turned to look at her.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
Wendy smiled and nodded. She didn't know what else to do.
After Madeline had finished in the small, brightly lit bathroom, Wendy dug through her suitcase until she found her toothbrush and the almost empty tube of toothpaste she had brought with her. As she stared into the almost blindingly clean mirror of the bathroom cabinet above the sink, she admitted to herself that she was incredibly nervous. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t what normal people did. But there was nothing normal about her. There didn’t seem to be anything normal about Madeline either, but at least she hadn’t asked any awkward questions. Not yet, anyway.
It’s a question that witches ask each other. Not always right after they meet, although some are less restrained than others.
“When did you first know that you were a witch?”
Wendy had found that the typical answer would be “As long as I can remember,” accompanied by a slightly wistful smile and a coy cocking of the head that implies that they've always known.
But Wendy was different. That is, if the others weren’t lying. Wendy knew the exact moment she knew that there was something wrong with her. She was eight years old. She was standing in the kitchen watching her parents make dinner. Wendy had had a bad day at school. She didn’t want to go back the next day. She was listening to her parents making sympathetic noises but making it very clear that staying at home all day tomorrow was not an option. Wendy tried to make her parents understand but they weren’t listening. She remembered hearing the sizzle of fish starting to burn in the pan and her father swearing, moving quickly past her mother. They started discussing the fish. How it could be fixed. They weren’t listening to her at all. She felt something well up inside her, anger didn’t describe it, it was something more primal. It was so loud. As she felt it build she had clenched her eyes shut and put her hands over her ears. She opened her mouth, hoping that whatever it was would just escape. And she remembered shouting for it to stop.
Wendy heard a series of thumps. Then a clatter. Then nothing. She opened her eyes. Her parents lay on the floor, crumpled at odd angles, her mother partly on top of her father. Both were face down. The frying pan was still in her father’s hand, the fish about a foot away from it. Wendy didn’t move. She was afraid to. She was afraid that her parents would wake up and realise what she’d done. They would be so angry. But they didn’t move. They just lay on the floor. Finally Wendy opened her mouth.
There was no movement. One of her mother’s eyes had gone red. Her mouth was open, her lips pulled back, exposing her teeth.
Her father’s face was pressed onto the linoleum floor, his glasses pushed to a crooked angle. His knuckles had gone white around the pan.
Wendy didn’t move. She stayed rooted to the spot. After about fifteen minutes the doorbell rang. She stayed where she was. There was a brief rattling and she heard the familiar creak of the front door. In the back of her mind, the part that was still working in a way approaching normality, a little voice told her that it must be the police. The police were here, to punish her for what she’d done. She’d murdered her parents, they would lock her away forever.
So she was a little surprised when a figure in a dark blue dress came into view. Another followed, wearing a long black coat.
“I told you.”
“You said there’d been a surge; you didn’t say it had killed two adults.”
“I told you it felt strong. How old do you think she is?”
The one in the long black coat squatted down in front of Wendy, trying to make eye contact with her. She had freckles, long blonde hair that was in need of a brush, and her blue eyes were ringed by dark eye liner. She smiled at Wendy.
“You alright, sweetheart?”
“Jesus, did you just ask her if she’s alright?”
The blonde turned her head, and the smile dropped.
“What the hell was I supposed to ask her? Look at her!”
“Ask her how old she is.”
She turned back to Wendy and stretched out her hand before thinking better of it.
“How old are you, love?”
Wendy wanted to answer. But nothing was working. No part of her was doing what she told it to.
“Can you hear me?”
The blonde stood up and walked over to Wendy’s parents.
“She’s not there at the moment. I think we’re just going to have to get her in the car and see what they want to do with her.”
“We’re going to have to shift these, too. At least they’re skinny.”
There was a slight pause where Wendy assumed that the blonde was supposed to laugh. She was glad that she didn’t.
“Get her in the car. I’ll make a start on Mum and Dad.”
This time the blonde did put a hand on Wendy’s shoulder, and she tried the smile again.
“Listen, sweetheart. My name’s Lisa. That’s Alice, over there. Now, you need to come with us. It doesn’t look like you’re up to moving, so I’m going to pick you up, OK? Don’t worry about all this, we’ll take care of it. We'll take care of them. Come on, love."
Wendy knew the exact moment when she had realised what she was, and realised that nothing would ever be the same again.
So, there's Wendy (Part One). Hope you liked it. Part Two will reveal a bit more about what the plot of this actually is, and the week after we'll move on to another character. What Wendy does is something that happens to the lead character of The Novel That Nobody Wanted, and I really liked the idea of approaching it from the other side. But more of that next week. Putting these character prologues up has really got me excited about this again. I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with these characters.
Otherwise, the project I'm working on with Ben Sheppard (of Treppenwitz fame) continues to continue. Excitingly, a horrible first draft was finished last night, which now means I get to go back and fix things. I used to hate going back over first drafts, it's such a horrible feeling to see just how bad a writer you can be, but now it's something I actually look forward to. I like the fixing. Anyway, I hope it's going to be good. It could be. Apart from myself and Ben, we've got Paris' second favourite adopted Sheffield-ian Martin Parsons and Dr. Iain McGibbon (Phernalia_I) committed to helping us. There will be more people in the future, there will have to be, but I'm getting excited about it now, even though it's a very long way off still. So much drafting to do. I can just see all this terrible writing that needs fixing....
But I can reveal the title!
ANNA LAND COMES HOME
How about some music? I kind of feel like I should offer you something for getting through my ramblings, so let's do that. I've been listening to a lot of Tegan and Sara and Amanda Palmer recently. Both have really grown on me since I first heard them. First, here's Amanda Palmer with Astronaut:
She gets a lot more big, baroque, cheeky, provocative, and fun than this, but this is the one that's been in my head lately.
And here's Tegan and Sara:
I don't have anything clever to say about them. They're just good. Honest, catchy, and good