Leilanie Stewart is a writer and poet. Her debut novel, Gods of Avalon Road was published in October 2019 by Blossom Spring Publishing. Leilanie's short stories have appeared in Weirdyear, Pure Slush, Linguistic Erosion, Pound of Flash, Mad Swirl, The Neglected Ratio, Ariadne's Thread, Absinthe Literary Review, Sarasvati, The Crazy Oik, Stanley the Whale, The Pygmy Giant, Wufniks, Carillon, Monomyth, Scarlet Leaf Review, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and Amethyst Review. She currently lives in Belfast and runs Bindweed Magazine with her husband, Joseph Robert. Her author website is at: https://leilaniestewart.com
The Blue Man
Meeting Megan What would she look like? How long had it been; my brain paused to work out the number of years. We had last met when we were sixteen. Now we were both thirty-six. Twenty years. Our lives had diverged, taking us down different paths and we had lost touch. Back then she had been slim, blonde and bubbly. I had both envied her for all the attention she had got so easily from boys and loved her, for we were as close as sisters. We had worn each other’s clothes and shoes, written each other letters that we would secretly slip into the other’s school bag, to be found and read in private after the school day was over. We had been the best of friends for three years, from thirteen, until sixteen. Until that day. The day it had all unravelled. But there she was; time for me to safely compartmentalise those old dusty thoughts and let the spiders have them again. Here she was. Still slim, though now looking a tad on the too-thin side; her legs drowning in her regular-cut jeans. She wore a duffel-coat that was now middle-aged comfort-seeker than young, club-ready teen. Her blonde hair was still the same length – just below her shoulders and her face, though recognisable, was more careworn with fine lines around her eyes and mouth. What would she think of me? Heavily pregnant and two stone heavier than she had last seen me. “Megan,” I said, throwing my arms around her shoulders in a warm embrace. “Lovely to see you.” “Awk, look at you.” Megan pulled away and stepped back to admire my girth. “You look amazing.” “Aye, not long to go now,” I said, rubbing my stomach tenderly. We walked into the coffee shop and ordered our drinks at the counter; a decaf for me and a mint tea for her. “When was the last time we saw each other – during the GCSEs, I think?” she said. “Mm, a little after that. We had one last get-together at the Rusty Nail I think, to celebrate leaving school.” “I hated school.” Megan took a sip of her peppermint tea. “Do you remember what Louisa-Mae did to me?” My shoulders tensed; I hadn’t expected her to bring it up so soon. “Yeah, it was pretty horrible.” “I swear I would have gotten an A in my GCSE art if it wasn’t for that nasty piece of work.” Louisa-Mae had taken a floppy disc full of Megan’s coursework and deleted all of her GCSE Art work. Megan had needed to rely on a computer backup that hadn’t been updated – but was better than nothing. She had scraped by with a C. “They turned on me too – Louisa-Mae and Lauren. They thought I was the one who touted to you,” I said. Megan’s eyes glimmered with happiness in comradery at my revelation. “Really? I didn’t know they were total bitches to you too.” I sniffed. “Yeah, but I shot them down in one go – I’d been at the dentist on the morning it happened.” Megan peered at me over her cup, held just below her bottom lip. “The thing is, I don’t even remember who actually told me what they’d done. My memory of that time is hazy. Maybe because it was all so horrible.” I didn’t say what was on my mind; her memory was damaged because of the drugs. Megan had struggled when Louisa-Mae and Lauren had turned on her. Those girls scared all the rest of the class – hell, the whole year group. Every last girl in our year group, the top form, had turned on Megan – except me – and Megan had taken it badly. She had started knocking about with the wrong sort of girls from the lower form, going to the wrong parties. I’d been to one or two myself, to keep her company, but had backed off once I’d seen the road she was heading down. Taking E’s and acid held no appeal for me – but for Megan, occasional dabbling at the weekend became taking five or six pills on school nights. My voice of reason in her ear had been gradually eroded as she sank deeper into a painless oblivion and we had drifted apart. “Do you remember the Blue Man?” Megan’s closed question came out of nowhere, jolting me from my melancholy reminiscences. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as another painful memory was forced to scuttle out of its dark corner. “Vaguely.” I paused to drink my own tea, hoping she would bring the topic back into light, not darkness. “I saw him a few times around that time. The first time was when he appeared at the end of my bed. A chill ran through my body, as though my blood had turned to ice. “I remember. I was there.” I hadn’t seen any Blue Man that night, though Megan’s reaction was so vividly implanted in my mind, he would forever be as clear as day and as real as anyone in the cafe that day. We had been asleep that night, twenty years ago, head to toe in her bed. I had been woken by her ear-splitting scream as she had scampered under the blankets. A man in the room, a man with a blue face, leaning over her in bed. I had tried to point out her midnight blue bathrobe hanging on the door-peg to no avail. Always find a rational solution first; but not to Megan in hysterics. She had been so convincing in her description of him that I had half cocked my head, just to check behind me, before turning on her bedroom light. She had been convinced a blue man had been in the room. Ice blue face, ice blue hoody, hood up. Bright white teeth, perfectly aligned in a grimace. I wanted to change the topic, but my tongue lay benignly in my mouth. Megan needed to speak, had waited twenty years to say her piece. “The last time I saw him was after I’d already left school. He chased me down an alley behind Mark’s house. I couldn’t take it anymore. Do you know I left Belfast after that? I moved to Dublin and went to college to study interior design.” Warmth flooded me at the change in topic. “That’s great, I never knew you’d left.” “That’s how I met Andrew.” Megan’s face lit up at the mention of her husband. “We’re living in Holywood now near my mum, we just bought a house. The only downside about that is seeing Louisa-Mae around. She still lives there, never left. She got really fat, you should see the size of her waddling around. I hate seeing her smug face though. It reminds me of everything I’d rather forget.” I wanted to forget it too; or at least move on in the conversation. I sipped my tea and said nothing. Megan’s happy face changed to a smirk. “But you know who I saw at the Housing Association the other day? Lauren. She was applying for a council house – she has five kids now, with three different fathers and none of them are sticking around. Can you imagine that? What a nightmare.” Hmph. I’d never taken Megan to be so snobbish before; looking down on others because they were poor, or fat, and she was settled with a mortgage and a husband. Not that Louisa-Mae and Lauren didn’t deserve Megan’s wrath. But her judgemental comments dug up my own insecurities. What would she think if I told her that Jake and I lived in a rented two bedroom flat? “Well, never mind all that. I have some other news to share.” Megan tossed her hand dismissively, as though she had read my mind. “Did you know that I’m expecting too?” “Ack, you’re joking! That’s lovely news. When’s the due date?” “December. A Christmas baby, can you imagine? That’s why Andrew and I moved back from Dublin. We wanted to be near my mum so she can help, since it’s her first grandchild and everything.” I grinned. “Our babies can be play dates. We should meet up after they’re both born.” Megan grinned too. “That would be grand.” # Seeing Sabrina I’m not really sure how I felt about seeing Sabrina today. I suppose it was good. I guess it helped that she had put on a lot of weight – pregnancy aside – as her changed appearance helped me to separate back then and now, like meeting a different person. I’m glad I didn’t get fat though. Sabrina was always so beautiful, in a dark, exotic way, what with her Spanish ancestry and all. Hard to compete with that, back in those days. But now? Well. Shallow of me, maybe, but it was good to be the yummy-mummy while she was more of a big mama. I turned the corner into the side street where I had parked my car. A man and his dog were coming towards me. He wore a sky-blue hoody, pulled up. I froze, cold sweat breaking out on my back. No, just an innocent passerby. The Blue Man was a part of my past, not present. I slapped both cheeks lightly with the flat of my palms, bringing myself into the present. Maybe seeing Sabrina had been bad, after all. Maybe it was too soon. Too raw. I got into my car, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling on the count of ten calmed me. Louisa-Mae was in the past. Lauren was in the past. I shivered. The Blue Man was also in the past. I started the car and pulled out onto the main road. Sabrina was part of the past too, but now had ventured into the present too. Did that mean other things from the past would follow? Sabrina had been through it all with me; she had been there from the start. That night. That fateful night. The night the Blue Man came. The main road whizzed past, a blur of buildings and traffic. My eyes stayed on the road ahead, but my mind drifted into the past. Not the night the Blue Man came, but the day before he did. # The day of the Blue Man My fingers worked quickly, pushing the tacks through Stuart’s carpet. I hastily flattened the carpet back into place before my annoying brother came back upstairs. A row of sharp spikes would be waiting for the wee brat when he got back with his snack. I dashed into my bedroom and dived onto the bed as I heard the thud of Stuart’s feet on the stairs. Then I listened to hear the sounds of my ingenious revenge. Thud, thud, thud. Such a heavy little git for a twelve year old. I stifled a giggle, waiting for the moment of impact. A piercing shriek. I jumped off my bed in time to see Stuart, red-faced and howling, step backwards like a dressage horse, his bleeding feet staining mum’s new cream carpet. His plate of cheese on toast toppled sideways and landed face down, adding to the array of colourful stains on the landing floor. Stuart hobbled around, massaging one foot then the other, tears pouring from his eyes. “What did you do, Megan? You did this!” he wailed. I folded my arms and laughed down my nose at him. “That’s what you get for defacing my Art folder.” Though his tears, Stuart grimaced. “It wasn’t me, it was Louisa-Mae.” “Yeah, as if writing ‘Louisa-Mae woz ere’ in your own handwriting would trick me into thinking she’d done it.” “Wait until mum gets back, I’m telling!” I grabbed Stuart’s arm and twisted. “You tell and you’re dead meat, got it? I’m not having mum ground me when Sabrina is staying over tonight, okay thicko?” “Ooh, Sabrina. You and Sabrina are lezzers.” I swiped at him to cuff his ear, but he rolled away laughing. Still, maybe I’d gone too far this time. Injuring my brother, who was four years younger, with sharp tacks wasn’t an equal revenge for scribbling graffiti on my Art folder. As I lay down on my bed and stared at the ceiling, reflecting on the punishment I’d just issued to Stuart, the weight of guilt began to drag me down, so that I sank into the mattress. # Baby date with Megan Leo loved the train. His blue eyes were wide at the incessant clickety-clack. Of course, didn’t all babies love motion; that was why veteran parents always recommended taking colicky babies on long car rides to settle asleep. Still, at least one of us was enjoying the journey. All I could think of was what Megan would think of me having to get the train because I didn’t own a car. I might as well have had a big tattoo on my forehead reading ‘poor’. The train pulled into Holywood station and I offloaded the buggy backwards. We took the underpass to cross beneath the tracks and I saw Megan waiting in the carpark. Her baby son, Harry, was in a fancy, rainbow-coloured three-in-one. My stomach lurched; my red and black buggy was only one hundred and twenty pounds, the most I could afford. Her travel system had to be five hundred, at least. I could feel her eyes boring into Leo's buggy already, judging it. “Sabrina.” Megan threw her arms around me. “You’re looking well.” “And you,” I said, patting her back, my chin on her shoulder. “Wow, Leo is looking blonder than I thought he would be from your profile photos.” Megan stretched the kiss-curl on his forehead and let it go; it sprung back into place. “He’s got such incredible eyes too, so blue.” She looked at me; her eyes flitting between mine, studying the colour. I knew what she was thinking, she didn’t have to say it. How did I manage to have such an Aryan looking child when my colouring was so Mediterranean? “Harry is getting so big,” I said, changing the topic. “I know, I can’t believe he’s four months already. Sixteen weeks have just flown by. How old is Leo?” “He’ll be eight months next week.” Megan gave a bland smile. “Well, how about we get caught up over brunch? My favourite restaurant is right ahead on the High Street. You do like seafood?” “Anything is fine by me, I’m not picky.” We walked side by side up the gentle slope to the High Street. Megan’s eyes drifted once more to Leo’s buggy. “I’ll really have to get one of those soon, Harry is getting so big he’s outgrowing this car seat.” She tapped his fancy carrycot with a bemused smirk. “Yes, it’s a handy wee buggy, very light weight.” I turned my face ahead to avoid her expression, which I assumed would be politely dismissive of my child’s transport. “In fact, Harry is getting so big that I had to sell my old car and get a family sized Mondeo.” Megan pointed behind us to the train station carpark. I didn’t bother to follow her finger; I wasn’t sure why she had to overindulge her materialistic side by showing off her fancy pram and car. Maybe she felt insecure. Maybe she wanted to prove that she had made an exceptional comeback after wasting her latter teen years as a drugged-up dropout who had scraped a bunch of Bs and Cs in her GCSEs by the time she had left school. Who knew? I certainly wasn’t close enough to her to ask. Megan led the way into her favourite cosy bistro. The babies’ carrycot and buggy dominated the space near the door, drawing the attention of disgruntled looking middle-aged, middle-class diners. No doubt they were wondering whether the two babies would make a racket loud enough to put them off their brunch. Not that I cared. All I could think about was how much of a suburbanite Megan, the once hard-partying club-hopping teen had become. We ordered our food as the babies slept, allowing me a smug smirk directed towards the cynical, baby-hating diners. “I had a difficult birth with Harry,” said Megan, over a bite of salted chilli squid. “My hips were too narrow, so he got stuck coming down. His oxygen started to drop, so they had to rush me to get a C-section. The doctor said it left my womb so paper thin, it might be hard for me to carry another child. Guess that doesn’t bother me anyway. We’re happy with one.” I looked down at my fish pie. Such an unsavoury topic swept away my appetite quicker than she could have said difficult labour. “Did you have a natural birth?” she went on. I nodded. “Water birth, no drugs. I’ll never forget the pain though, that was the downside of having no epidural. I remember everything. But at least Leo wasn’t drugged up when he came out. He had an Apgar score of 9. The midwives said that usually natural birth babies have lower scores because of the strain they go through being pushed out.” Megan glanced down at Harry, asleep in his carrycot. “Harry had a low Apgar, I think because of the drop in oxygen. He was a rather frail baby at first, but he’s been putting on weight and getting bigger just this last month. My mum is chuffed. She doesn’t think Stuart will ever give her a grandchild. You remember Stuart, don’t you?” “Yeah, how is your brother?” “We’re not very close, to be honest.” Megan shrugged and gave an indifferent sniff. “He lives in the house I grew up in, so that my mum can take care of him – she moved to a new house when she remarried. Stuart was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early twenties.” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” I trailed off, about to say that I was sorry to hear it; though glad I held my tongue. Maybe she didn’t see it as a debilitating disability. In any event, it didn’t seem she cared too much. “Stuart drives me mad. He’s too much of a burden on my mum, and she’s in her sixties now, she could do without it.” “Doesn’t he have a social worker, or a psychiatric nurse? You know, someone professional who helps him?” Megan nodded. “Both. But he’s so off the wall, it seriously would take an entire mental hospital to look after him. He’s obsessed with radioactivity – he thinks everything is contaminated. He makes all these metal dishes that he thinks intercepts it. His house is full of them.” I stared at Megan. What did she want me to say? Once again, the conversation had steered onto uncomfortable topics, personal topics, especially for two old friends who were only getting to know each other all over again. Luckily Megan switched to talking about her hopes and plans for Harry and the fact that the house they had bought was so close to Redburn country park. He would grow up surrounded by nature, climbing trees instead of cooped up indoors playing video games. Then it was on to reminiscing about some of the nicer girls we went to school with; Tilly, one of our wider circle of friends now had two little girls. Apparently Tilly was looking great, really thin. My eyes drifted out the window as she spoke. Yawn. What was the big deal about being skinny? My own stomach, full of fish pie, was sitting happily on my lap. I was more than ready to leave. Still, the saving grace had been that Megan hadn’t mentioned The Blue Man once. # The return of The Blue Man My phone buzzed beside me on the sofa. Stuart’s number flashed up on the screen. I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t in the mood. I had just about managed to get Harry off my breast and into his Moses basket and now talking to Stuart would result in another two hours of wailing. On the other hand, if I didn’t answer now, he would keep ringing until I did. With a sigh, I hauled myself off the sofa and held the phone to my ear as I walked into the hallway. “Stuart? What is it. Harry’s just gone down.” “Listen, sis. You’ve gotta help me.” A pause, following by laboured breaths. “The plants in my kitchen, they’re all wilted. And the goldfish is dead.” I ran my hand through my hair. “Well, it’s not a big deal. Look, I can get you another fish the next time I’m at the pet store.” “You’re missing the point.” His voice was urgent, a tad angry. “The geiger counter was clicking like mad. My garden was deliberately contaminated, I’m sure of it.” I peered into the living room to check on Harry, then turned my attention back to the phone call with Stuart. “I really think you’re getting this whole thing out of context. Did you use the geiger counter near your microwave?” “I’m not an idiot, Megan. I flatter myself I know more about ionizing radiation than you do. I’m trying to tell you that someone sabotaged my garden. In fact, I think he’s in my house right now.” I covered the receiver with my hand and exhaled. How many times had Stuart given bogus calls to the police about phantom burglars, or spies who were trying to contaminate his home with radioactive poison? Countless times. “Megan, you need to get over here right now and get him out of my house.” I held the phone tight against my cheek. “Okay, you need to listen to me right now. I want you to go into your kitchen and eat the rest of the tomato and kelp salad that mum made you. The iodine and lycopene in that will decontaminate you. I can’t come over because Harry is asleep, but I’ll send Andrew to check on you. He’s on his way home from work right now. I’ll call him to stop by your house. Can you hang on about another half hour and he’ll be there?” The sound of Stuart taking several deep breaths filled the pause. “Alright then, I’ll do that. I’ll stay in the kitchen. Tell Andrew to go straight upstairs and check. I really would have preferred for you to do it, since you know who he is. The intruder in my house I mean.” I had been about to reply, when the words drained from my thoughts. I knew him? Who? I had never taken Stuart’s nonsensical ramblings seriously before, but this time, his words made me stop. He couldn’t be talking about The Blue Man, could he? Without another word, I hung up. Every part of my body ran cold as though the hallway was several degrees colder. Thoughts of Harry overwhelmed me; a strong maternal instinct to check on him. I dashed into the living room. What happened next felt as though I was having an out of body experience; not through the sensation of floating above myself, but by feeling detached and an eerie sense of physical numbness. Harry lay in his Moses basket, his face ashen. I dropped to my knees and pulled back his blanket with shaking fingers. His chest didn’t rise and fall. “Harry? Harry!” I pressed my forefinger and index finger against the folds of his chubby baby throat. No pulse. I lowered my ear to his nose and mouth. No sound of him drawing breath, no warm air on my cheek. “Harry!” I screamed. With both hands under his arm pits, I lifted my baby and held him to me. I rubbed his back as I rocked back and forth on the floor. I needed to think; what to do, what to do? Baby first aid. I lay Harry down on his back on the floor and opened the poppers of his babygrow, exposing his chest. I made my right hand into a fist and pressed the knuckles of forefinger and index onto the middle of his chest. I then placed my flat left palm on top and pumped. Thirty times, then two rescue breaths, pinching his tiny nose and blowing into his perfect little round mouth. Thirty pumps, two breaths. His tiny chest filled with my breath. Another thirty and two. My breath, but not his own. “Andrew! Andrew help me!” Even as my screams filled the living room, I knew that my husband was far away, probably on the bypass. My head swung in both directions; where was my phone? I had to call for an ambulance. That was when I saw him. He was standing half-concealed behind the velvet drapes. His blue hood threw his upper face into shadow, but it didn’t disguise the devilry in his crinkled, laughing eyes or hide his wide, menacing grimace. I screamed until my lungs were raw. I screamed until all the air left my chest and my head spun in a dizzying tornado. The tornado swept me up, into the eye of my living room storm, and I was gone. # The texts from Megan Sabrina don’t know if u knew or not my baby died. He’s gone to the angels now absolutely devastated. That’s not all. Stuart took his life too. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I stared at Megan’s text until my eyes hurt from the phone screen. Was this a joke? But Megan wasn’t the type to joke; if anything she was too morose. My thumbs hovered over the screen, then began to punch in a response: Oh Megan this is such a shock. I’m devastated for you. I hope you are ok? I wish I could offer more support, I don’t know how to comfort you. Are you able to say what happened? I clicked send, then stared at her text again. What did she mean, ‘don’t know if you knew or not’? How could I possibly have known? Before I had time to misinterpret further, Megan’s response popped up: Harry was gone in his moses basket. Stuart hung himself at the same time. I can’t even walk or stand up! What an awful, horrible situation for anyone to go through. My mind raced through scenarios. Were the baby and her brother both together? Megan had said Stuart was schizophrenic; had he killed baby Harry and then himself? Surely she hadn’t left her brother in charge of babysitting her son? My thoughts speeded in all directions, but I dared not ask her. Instead, I composed another cauterised response: Oh Megan, my heart is breaking for you, baby Harry and Stuart. I’m so upset for you. I wish I could send you comfort. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Please let me know if I can do anything at all to help you or support you xxx My head spun on reflex towards Leo’s rocker, where he was dozing. Maybe baby Harry had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Leo was a strong baby, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I unclipped him and lifted his soft, sleeping body against my chest. Thanks I can’t talk right now, I’m too upset. Megan’s short text popped up on my phone as I paced the room with Leo’s head resting on my shoulder. With my other hand I typed an answer: Take as long as you need. I’m always here for you. Death of a family member was always horrible, but to have two deaths simultaneously was unimaginable; a situation I never wanted to experience, that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. What an unfortunate coincidence that it happened a week after we had renewed our friendship. My mind veered, stretching that thought. We had renewed our friendship after a traumatic break; Megan down the dark path of drugs and metaphorical death through her art career, and now literal death through her brother and son. A bad coincidence that I was a part of her life at both times. Would I forever remind her of the deaths of baby Harry and Stuart? She had poured her heart out to me about both: difficult birth of a frail child and difficult life of a paranoid schizophrenic, obsessed with radioactivity. Megan had wanted to take Harry to Redburn Country Park as he got older, to let him climb trees and be closer to nature. It had been a nice thought. I had indulged myself a few such, fleeting thoughts of both boys, her Harry and my Leo, cycling through the trails together. Of all six of us: Harry and Leo, Andrew and Jake, Megan and I, all having happy barbecues together. The boys would have played on the sand. Jake and Andrew would have talked about TV shows. Megan and I would have been close as sisters again. But now? The bubble dream had popped. Guilt snapped me out of my selfish musings. Megan was in unfathomable pain and all I could think of was how my son wouldn’t have a playmate and I wouldn’t have my best friend back. I felt hideously self-absorbed. Maybe Megan had been right to distance herself from me when we were sixteen. I wasn’t a good friend. I didn’t know how to be. # Baby blue and The Blue Man The little boy in the blue rain mack ran ahead of me, among the undergrowth and hid behind a tree. “Ready or not, here I come!” I hollered. Baby Harry was no longer a baby. Now he was a lively toddler. His blonde hair was coloured like mine, but his blue eyes were large and round, like his dad’s. Before I could get to the tree, a blue hand at the end of a blue sleeve appeared. The hand was raised, palm towards me in a ‘stop’ gesture. But I didn’t pause. “No. Get the hell away from my baby. You stay away from him!” I screamed. My ears filled with Harry’s shrieks. I woke up in a sweat, Harry’s dream cries still echoing in my mind. Damn temazepam; the doctor said it would put me asleep and keep me asleep. Baby Harry was asleep. He wasn’t a lively toddler; he would be a baby forever. How I would have given anything to be asleep forever with him. This was the Blue Man’s fault. If he hadn’t come back into my life, then Harry would still be in it, and not in heaven. My eyelids felt so heavy. As they drooped, my bedroom went in and out of focus. The room turned sideways as I keeled left and my head hit the pillow. The world turned black. # The end of maternity leave “Sharon, I know this is only my first day back at work after nine months off, but I had a favour to ask. I wondered if I could possibly book Friday off on special leave? You see, I’m supposed to attend the funeral of a baby.” My boss’ eyes grew wide and her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh no, Sabrina. Nothing has happened to little Leo, has it?” I clapped a hand over my heart. “Oh, thank goodness no. My best friend lost her baby ten days ago and I was hoping to go to the funeral to support her.” Sharon’s face relaxed. “I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s loss, and I know how much it would mean to her for you to be there, but unfortunately our company is a bit strict about taking special leave. It would have to be for family circumstances only, and since she’s only a friend – even a best friend – I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to do that for you.” I hung my head. “It’s alright. I figured that might be the case, but I thought I’d try asking.” Sharon touched my arm. “I wouldn’t stop you from putting in a leave request, of course. It’s just, I’m certain it won’t be approved, so I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.” I raised my eyes to meet hers. “I know you’re just helping me out. Thanks, Sharon.” What would I say to Megan? Would it matter to her that I couldn’t be there for her? I couldn’t honestly say. Megan hadn’t invited me herself; she had cut off all communication and had deactivated her social media accounts. I had seen the invitation on her cousin’s Facebook page. I would text her, in the nicest possible way, that I wouldn’t be able to get the time off. # Blue Sabrina “You knew he was in my house and yet you left me with him and now look what has happened.” Stuart put the frayed end of the rope in my hand. It had been sliced in half, where the police, no doubt, had cut down his body. I let go of the rope and recoiled, rubbing my hand against my pyjama trousers to clean it. “I didn’t know it was him. I would’ve stayed on the line if I’d known the Blue Man was in your house that night.” The noose was still around Stuart’s neck. The skin on his throat had been rubbed red raw around the fibres. “You even forgot to send Andrew round. You just left me hanging. The Blue Man made me do this. You do realise that, don’t you?” Tears splashed onto my cheeks. “I swear I didn’t know you knew about the Blue Man too. I thought he only tormented me. I thought he was my problem.” “He wasn’t your problem for twenty years though was he? You’d successfully got him out of your life. Ask yourself why – and how – he came back into your life. Think about that for a minute.” I sniffed and wiped the tears away wit the back of my hand. “Are you saying Sabrina had something to do with this?” Stuart nodded. “She came to stay on that night, the first night he appeared in our house. She brought him in, don’t you see?” I thought back to that night. The day that I had injured Stuart by putting tacks under his carpet. “I’m not sure though. I was feeling bad about hurting you. Maybe that was the significance. I was feeling down – blue – and that night the Blue Man appeared in my bedroom to me when Sabrina was there.” “Yes, you were feeling bad about what you did to me and I was going to tell mum. If I had told mum, she wouldn’t have allowed you to have a friend stay over. Instead Sabrina came and brought that devil into our house.” I stared at my brother, sitting in my living room as real as if he were still alive. His words began to sink in. “You’re right though that I’d managed to get the Blue Man out of my life for twenty years, and then I got back in touch with Sabrina and—” “Exactly.” Stuart sat forward in his chair. “Look what happened? The Blue Man took your son and took my life too. It’s Sabrina’s fault. She’s evil. She’s just like him.” Fear seized me. “What can I do? I don’t want to see her or ever hear from her again.” “Don’t worry.” Stuart’s voice was low, menacing. “He will take care of it. The Blue Man will see to it that she comes out of this blue as well. Blue Sabrina.” # Missing Megan I scrolled down through my phone, reading the last few messages I’d sent to Megan. I know you’ll be offline for a while, but just to say you’re in my thoughts everyday and to send love to you and Andrew. A reply: thank u I will be in touch soon. But no follow up. Next message from me, to Megan. Hi Megan, just sending some love and hugs to you and your family. Heart emoji, kiss, kiss kiss. No response. Hope you’re keeping well Megan. Just to let you know I’m thinking of you, not expecting a reply. Lots of love and hugs, Sabrina. No reply. It was unimaginable what she was suffering. She had been breastfeeding Harry. The sudden drop in lactation would probably have caused all kinds of problems: mastitis for a start. She probably had postpartum depression on top of it. Hopefully Megan and Andrew’s relationship would be strong enough to overcome the trauma. I looked at Leo, his chest rising and falling as he slept in his cot-bed co-sleeper next to me. Every night had become the same nightmarish insomnia for me as I lay, afraid to sleep myself for fear that Leo would stop breathing. Only in the comforting arms of the morning light could I catch a few zeds once Jake was awake to keep an eye on Leo. Baby Harry’s death had reduced me to a paranoid wreck, and had forced Jake and I to inadvertently take shifts in seeing Leo through the night. Rationally I knew that Leo, now eleven months old, was past the danger zone of six months for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but baby Harry’s demise had rocked me to my core. And what of Megan? It was understandable that she was no longer in touch. She needed to grieve, heal then try to get back to a daily routine. I would give her space and let her be back in touch, once she was ready. # Moving on I popped the last small, white pill in my mouth and swallowed, then threw the empty blister pack in the bin. Goodbye citalopram. My doctor said I didn’t need another repeat prescription of antidepressants. It was time to move on. I looked down at my beautiful sleeping daughter in her cot. Ashley was such a large, robust baby. Such a happy girl too, always smiling. The Health Visitor had said her smiles had started young; two weeks, rather than the more usual age of six weeks. She was already ahead of her milestones. It made me feel so proud. But I also knew the reason why she smiled so much. It was because her big brother in heaven watched down over her and made her giggle. Ashley gave me confidence. I felt human again, for the first time in over a year. With her by my side, I was ready to face the world once more. My social media accounts had been de-activated for two years; now it was time to show my lovely daughter to the world. But first, I needed to buffer myself. I had to get rid of Sabrina, once and for all. The Blue Man had haunted my waking nightmares for the first wretched year after Harry’s death, but pregnancy had sent him fading into the recesses where he belonged. I didn’t want Sabrina stirring him up again. What if she enticed him back to harm my sweet Ashley? The possibility was unbearable. I scrolled through my friend list and found the thumbnail picture of Sabrina. With a painful lurch in the pit of my stomach, I saw that she had on her shoulders, a little boy in a blue rain mack. The blonde-haired boy reminded me of toddler Harry I’d seen in my dreams. Only this was her son, Leo, and he was very much alive, not a dream child. Harry might have looked something similar if he had lived. It was a painful, heart-ripping thought that filled me with an intangible loneliness; a psychic void. All the more reason to get rid of the vile woman and her spawn forever. Delete. The thumbnail picture disappeared. I exhaled, then breathed in fresh air. The stale parts of my past were removed. # Last message Hi Megan, hope you’re keeping well. Congratulations on your new baby. I noticed that you were back online and that we’re no longer connected as friends. I know that when we had last met up it was right before a very difficult time and you had been offline for a few years. I sent you a new friend request today, but feel free to ignore it if you don’t want to be in touch anymore. That’s totally fine and I understand your decision either way. If you don’t want to stay in touch though, would you mind please deleting the picture with my son in it which still appears on your page and in which you’ve tagged me? I’m very private about who I share photos of him with – thanks in advance for that. Much love and hugs to you and your family and wishing all the best for you – Sabrina. And a response: Hi, I’ve taken the pic down, hope u and your family are well. Kiss. Hi Megan, thanks, I really appreciate that. We are all well and hanging in there. Glad you’re well and lovely to hear from you. Take care, kiss, kiss, kiss. That was that, I supposed. I rested my chin on my fist and stared out at the grey sky. What had I done to Megan that she no longer wanted to be in touch with me? If it was because my son reminded her of the boy she had lost, then why did she keep a picture of our last baby lunch date on her page, reminding her – and everyone else – of that tragic misfortune? Did she blame me in some way for her loss? Or was it that she didn’t want to see photos of Leo growing up to remind her of what she no longer had? Guess I would never know. Sadness filled me. I felt blue. # Goodbye to the Blue Man I read Sabrina’s message and scoffed. She couldn’t hurt me anymore. She was no longer a part of my life. I was happy and fulfilled now; I had Ashley and Andrew. I had closed a chapter on a past of pain that Sabrina was part of. I lifted my head and surveyed the room, looking left, then right, then turning a full circle. The air felt lighter, different. There was no more familiar, unwanted static in the air. That meant one thing. The Blue Man had gone for good. He had moved on. It was obvious where to. The Blue Man had gone to Sabrina. She could be filled with his sadness now. Or not. It wasn’t my problem anymore. What did I care?