Lynden Wade spends as much time as possible in other worlds to avoid the dirty dishes piling up in her home in eastern England. Her writing is inspired by folklore, legends, and history. She has had stories published in a range of anthologies, including Ink Stains 9 and The Forgotten and the Fantastical 3. You can find her on lyndenwadeauthor.weebly.com and onFacebook.
Rose knew, of course, that’s Vic's house was big, but she was, as always, amazed at its opulence each time she saw it again. A set of wide steps led up to a gleaming white portico, and on either side huge windows glowed with the comforting light of lamps and a huge Smart TV. The gates stood between conifers so that no glimpse of the road was to be seen once they had closed, and the noise of traffic fell away. On either side of the drive lay luscious lawns dominated by the weeping willow planted in memory of Vic's wife. It was a beautiful tree, but Rose thought it a little too vivid a reminder of her friend’s long-term depression. ‘I really need to update the photo in my wallet,’ said Rose. ‘It’s – what – ten years old now? With the girls all wearing the tutus I got them.’ ‘Those tutus got a lot of use,’ said Vic. He jumped out of the car to open her door. It was an old-fashioned gesture he still insisted on, and she secretly liked it, despite her independent streak. ‘They did,’ she agreed. ‘But wasn’t that because you hid so many of their other toys? The ones from the grandparents?’ She slid her eyes sideways to see if he had taken it as lightly as she meant it. She was worried about him. There was something in his voice when he’d phoned to ask her down this time. ‘Only one or two,’ he corrected her gravely. ‘I know you think I was over-reacting, but you did agree those dolls looked like hookers.’ ‘I did. But you have to agree that the girls didn’t slide into a life of drugs and crime.’ ‘Yes - because I hid the dolls!’ ‘Pff. It’s lucky for them they had me to give them pink fluffy things!’ ‘You were just getting in touch with your girly side, Rosie-Posie,’ retorted Vic, then smiled that huge smile of his that wrinkled up his eyes. She remembered feeling embarrassed buying the tutus, but not because they were pink. The cashier had thought she was organising a dance show. Rose didn’t wanted to explain they were for IVF sextuplets and their surprise younger sister. Not when the black swamp of depression had bubbled back to claim her friend after the last birth. The loving husband, the gorgeous house, had not been enough. It was curiously quiet when Vic opened the door. Rose always half expected a butler to appear, but instead Abbie flitted by, saying, ‘Hi, Dad, hi Rose.’ Vic showed Rose and her rucksack the spare room and left her to make use of it before dinner. Rose changed out of her tee-shirt and found a fresh top in her bag. It had been hot on the train but it was also a chance to enjoy the cream fluffy towels and brass taps in the en-suite. There were cream fluffy towels at every visit. What changed was where Vic and Annalise lived. They started out renting a flat above a shop, but they had bought a run-down Victorian end-terrace that they were doing up at weekends, hoping to fill it with a large family. They had hunted out the perfect iron-cast fireplace and scoured catalogues for tiles to match the broken few up the garden path. It would be beautiful when they were done. And worth a pretty penny, said Rose’s mum when her daughter told her about the visit. ‘You could have had all that yourself. If that friend of yours hadn’t caught his eye when she picked you up. I still say she meant to do that when she came to the airport.’ ‘No, I couldn’t, Mum,’ said Rose. ‘It was all over with Vic long before that.’ She’d already tried to explain what the holiday had shown them. ‘I still don’t understand,’ her mum said. ‘I thought you both loved excitement.’ Rose sighed. That’s what she had thought, too. It turned out, on that wonderful, terrible, cripplingly expensive holiday to New Zealand, that Vic hadn’t really wanted to go at all, hated all the white water rafting, climbing and diving that she loved. He was only happy in the evenings, in the smart cafes and restaurants they hunted out. Thank goodness for Gregg, another lover of the great outdoors, the boyfriend she thought might be the one. Later, Rose came to see them in the huge house in the leafy suburbs where they nursed their six babies, exhausted but happy. And began to visit again a few years after Annalise’s death, as an unofficial godmother to the girls, seven of them now. ‘You could still have all that,’ her mum said when Rose told her about that visit. ‘You could hire a nanny for all those children. He’s got the money.’ ‘God, no, Mum,’ said Rose. ‘He was a fusspot before, but now he’s quite neurotic. Matt’s so much calmer.’ Matt was a colleague, and their relationship developed after they had worked on a case together. Matt lasted longer than Gregg, but Rose ended it after two years. However, Annalise was the one for Vic and always would be, even in her absence. Rose hung up the fluffy towel carefully and went downstairs. An hour later dinner was served - a huge bowl of pasta brought in by Vic. ‘I’m doing all the cooking until GCSEs are over,’ he said. Rose knew it would be pointless to say that it was only November, months before their exams. She didn’t want to be like that with Milly. But would she change when her niece moved in with her? The idea of being a parent secretly terrified her, with the prospect of steering through the dark years of teenage angst and temptation on her own. But what else could she do? She didn’t want Millie to go into foster care. The seven girls drifted in and took their places. The sextuplets, Abbie, Sophie, Lucy, Georgia, Lauren and Izzy, had Vic’s light hair and height, while Imogen, the bonus child born five years later, looked more like Annalise with the same swinging dark mane. Not really surprising, as the older girls weren’t the biological children of their mother. Abbie asked Rose how work was going. Rose told them all about the benefit fraudster she had caught through Facebook, where the claimant had posted pictures of himself and his champagne lifestyle. ‘That’s so stupid,’ said Imogen with a sniff. ‘Why didn’t he use Snapchat? Then the pictures disappear straight after they’re opened.’ Vic’s head went up in alarm. Abbie quickly said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad. She doesn’t use Snapchat. If she did she’d know you can trace who sent the snap.’ Sophie stacked the dishwasher and Imogen went down the garden to feed the rabbit while the rest disappeared to do homework. ‘I have to be honest, Rose,’ said Vic as they had a glass of wine on the terrace, ‘I have an ulterior motive for inviting you this time.’ I knew there was something going on, she said to herself. But she simply replied, ‘Ah. I thought I was the one with the ulterior motive.’ Vic knew that one. She had a vague idea she might absorb some parenting skills by staying with this huge family. ‘It's the girls,’ Vic said. ‘I've always encouraged them to talk to me about everything. But they're hiding something from me.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I’ve no idea,’ he said. ‘Boys?’ They were at an all-girls’ grammar school, but boys were always to be found somewhere. ‘No sign. They never call anyone. They hardly even text. They don’t even hide their phones away when they’re texting. That’s not normal, the other parents say.’ His sources were mostly online, but that was not to say they were unreliable. ‘Drugs? Are they having mood swings? Falling behind in school work? Being evasive about some subjects?’ To everything Vic said no. Rose hesitated. To her mind, there was nothing wrong with the girls at all. They looked healthy, calm and clear-eyed. She said so. ‘They don’t say much to me these days, nothing personal. It’s not like when they were chatty little girls that told everyone everything. But that’s what teenagers are like, isn’t it?’ ‘They don’t message you on Facebook or anything?’ ‘Nothing. Just Happy Birthdays and thanks for presents. If everyone was that discreet it would make my job so much harder. I think they’re fine, Vic. Quiet, but fine.’ ‘You’re avoiding the depression thing.’ His directness startled her. ‘OK, then. Any sign of that? Have they lost interest in anything they used to like? Do they sleep alright? Their appetites were good tonight.’ ‘No. They’re nothing like their mother. Very level. Too level, really. They’re so sensible.’ ‘And you’re worried about that? Really, Vic.’ She fidgeted, wishing the conversation over. ‘But they go through too many shoes,’ he said. ‘What?’ ‘Shoes,’ repeated Vic. ‘They need new shoes all the time. They don't have their own credit cards, I buy them what they need or give them pocket money. They bring me their going-out shoes and the heels are worn through and the straps broken. I can't believe the number of pairs they've gone through.’ ‘What are they doing in them?’ ‘That's the thing. They wear them to a charity dinner or to a friend's or to a film. Nothing that should wear them out like that.’ ‘Maybe you should change your shoe shop. I don't know. Why are you asking me? I’ve never been a girly girl, you know that.’ Rose wiggled one of her Doc Martins at him. ‘They're the best,’ Vic insisted, ignoring her boots. ‘They’re getting worn down just like Annalise’s did when we were courting. She kept dancing after everyone else dropped, didn’t she? But the girls never go dancing; not to my knowledge, anyway. Somehow they're getting out of the house at night and going clubbing. I swear I’ve changed the burglar alarm code over and over.’ ‘So you're worried they’re secretly going out at night. You used to sneak out at night when you were that age. You told me. And you took your Dad’s whisky and drank it in the alley way.’ ‘It’s more dangerous for girls,’ Vic said. ‘No, don’t give me that ‘What a chauvinist’ look. You know it is.’ ‘Would you let them go out clubbing if they wanted?’ ‘Probably not,’ Vic admitted. ‘Those nightclubs are just a hotbed of drugs and alcohol. And the way those heels are worn down, I think they must be using E or something.’ ‘Because of their heels? That seems a bit over-the-top, Vicks.’ He sagged a bit. ‘I do worry so about them. I suppose I'm a bit over-protective, what with being mother and father to them. And they're lovely girls, but …’ He had his head in his hands by now. Rose was alarmed; Vic's voice was cracking, as if he were about to cry. She knew what he was thinking – of their mother, and how she had turned to weed to counter the depression, then moved on to harder things and taken too much one night. None of Rose's background had trained her for this. She wanted to suggest he talk to the doctor, the teachers, his PA, anyone but her. Instead, she said what she knew she was supposed to say. ‘I'm sorry, Vicks. Is there something I can do?’ He rubbed his face and nodded. ‘Just keep an eye on them. See if you can spot anything.’ ‘What, you want me to follow them when they sneak out the window at midnight or something? I don't have an invisibility cloak, you know.’ ‘You don't need one, Rosie-Posie,’ said Vic. ‘You're their old Dad’s friend.’
Vic went to bed very early, as he needed to be up for the 6 am train the next day. ‘Help yourself to tea or coffee in the kitchen,’ he said as he went. Rose went in search of a hot drink, and found Abbie in the kitchen talking animatedly with Imogen. They stopped abruptly when she came in and then Abbie, as if aware that it would be rude to be so suddenly silent, offered to make her a tea. She accepted it with pleasure, but as Abbie filled the kettle Rose told herself not to be disappointed they did not want to talk properly. She might still be slim (she ran regularly,) with hardly a grey hair, but to a girl of fifteen she was a has-been, part of the background. Maybe her niece Millie, ten years younger, would see her that way too. It was not an encouraging thought. As if Abbie knew what Rose was thinking, she said, ‘We were just remembering how Imogen once asked you if you were to be our stepmother.’ Rose smiled obligingly. She had caught enough as she came in to be fairly sure that was not what they were talking about. The girls had only considered her in this light for about half an hour, ten years ago. She took the drink upstairs with her, musing on this, and took a sip sitting on the bed. It had a slight edge to it, probably only discernible to people as particular about their brew as she was. She put it down, shaken. Had Abbie been trying to drug her? Maybe Vic was right to be worried. She went to bed and lay awake, turning this over in her mind, too tense now to sleep. It was just after ten when she heard a door creak somewhere further up the corridor. She lay very still and kept listening. A light rap sounded on the door next to hers, more of a scratch. Rose’s hearing was sharp as broken glass. She got up and stood by her door to listen. The other door opened, more footsteps in the hall, a quiet but persistent swish of noises. As they stopped she pressed her ear against the adjoining wall. Yes, voices, very low, full of an exited buzz. She straightened up and frowned. Maybe she should go back to bed. A group of sisters in one bedroom talking hardly constituted danger, even in Vic’s eyes. She placed her ear back against the wall. The sudden silence alarmed her. She burst into the room next door before stopping to think. It was completely empty. She had lost them from under her nose! What would Vic say? Calm down, Rose, she told herself. They can’t have disappeared into thin air. This isn’t a fairy tale. A winking light on the floor made her look down. It was a phone. She picked it up and looked at it appraisingly. An app was open on the screen. It was called, ‘Away with the Fairies.’ Maybe it was drugs after all. She touched it to make sure it didn’t lock in her hands. It was as if she had been sucked at high speed down a straw. Before she had a chance to think she would suffocate she was dumped in an open field. Catching her balance, she saw a group of girls walking away from her. There was no sign of Vic’s house. Where was she? What was she doing here? What had happened? And what had Vic got her into? There was a pain beginning behind her eyes. Never mind him, she told herself. I need to look after the girls. It must be them over there. But had they somehow transported themselves and her out of the house and to this strange field? She wasn’t going to run after them until she knew more. She scrambled behind a thicket, its thorns clogged with old tyres and flattened beer cans. Looking carefully through the hedge, she thought she recognised the area as part of the scenery from the train window. She had made the trip often enough. The square church tower up the hill was the identifying feature, but otherwise it was an unremarkable bit of 21st century English countryside: a dull field, perhaps for grazing, marked out by hedges from road and railway line, and in the middle a huge pylon, linked with swooping wires to an army of other pylons marching across the countryside. She still didn’t understand how she, or the girls, had got there, though, and the headache was getting worse. She tried to wriggle to one side to get a better view and still be hidden, and got a long scratch down her arm for her efforts. But flashes from across the field made her look up again. Leaping from bar to bar down the lattice work of the pylon, with a flash for each leap, were a dozen lithe figures. They jumped and swung their way down and sprang onto the ground. All Rose could make out from here was that they were male and half naked. Had the girls seen them? Did the boys mean harm? Maybe she should she run to the girls’ rescue. But the girls were swarming towards them and seizing hold of their hands. One of the boys stretched up his arm and snapped his fingers and from the pylons oozed pulsing light balls of red and yellow and blue that hovered above them in the air. One of the girls, Izzy it looked like, stretched out her arm and snapped her fingers, and music began to throb from the mud beneath their feet, a pounding of drums. Then they all began to dance, whirling and stamping and spinning. It was nothing like the dancing Rose saw on TV when a nightclub scene was shown. Nor was it like anything traditional that needed the men and the women to pair up. It was much wilder and much more beautiful. They did not keep to one partner. Each girl swung from one boy to the next. Each boy sprang to one girl then another. Only Imogen clung onto her partner until one of the older girls came and pulled them apart as they danced. The balls of light flicked round their heads, looped round their hips, darted under leaping legs to make the dancers bound higher. Boys and girls flung back their heads and closed their eyes in ecstasy. They whirled around the field feet away from Rose’s worried eye. There were no twins among the boys; each face was quite different, one with the flared nostrils of an African, another with the almond eyes of an Asian, a third with the high straight nose of a European, but their skin was silver and their hair was black and they had a fascinating beauty that could seduce a girl into losing all self-preservation. As one danced right up to the edge of the thicket, Rose heard a high-pitched noise like the one when you suddenly tune in to the fridge’s electric buzz in the dead of the night. Rose, with her degree in Physics, knew silver boys did not live in pylons, but she could see the evidence of her own eyes. She knew she was not dreaming. She wished she could believe she was asleep, and that she would wake up and everyone would be safe in their beds. She continued to squat until she had lost all feeling in her legs. The young people barely touched, their fingers only grasping wrists for seconds, all in the open field, and changing partners over and over; but eyes met and flashed and sparked. Her legs were aching from crouching. She looked down to shift into a more comfortable position, and when she looked up there were eyes looking directly at her. They were silver and belonged to one of the boys. Before she could think he strode round the edge and seized hold of her wrist. His fingers were as hot as a skillet – she felt her skin blister and tried to pull away – but his breath as he leaned over her was cold as ice. He led her out to the dance floor. The dancing had stopped and she was suddenly surrounded by a ring of young people looking at her. ‘Let me, Yarzik,’ said Abbie, coming forward. The young man dropped Rose’s arm and stepped back. Rose clenched the wrist with her other hand, but the pain had gone as fast as it came. ‘You followed us,’ said Abbie, looking at her curiously. ‘We thought you wouldn’t wake up. Are you going to tell Dad?’ ‘I should do,’ said Rose. ‘He’s already sick with worry, knowing something’s the matter.’ ‘He doesn’t need to,’ said Abbie. ‘Nothing’s going to happen. We still work hard at school and eat well and all that. Look – we just dance.’ ‘With strange boys who...’ Rose wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. Abbie finished it for her. ‘With strange boys from another world who are made of electricity? Their parents wouldn’t be very happy to know they’re dancing with strange girls.’ ‘Who are they?’ ‘You don’t need to know. And,’ Abbie added, dropping her air of authority, ‘we don’t really know either. They don’t say much, only that they’re escaping, like us.’ ‘Escaping what?’ asked Rose. But she knew. ‘You wouldn't understand.’ She was going to have this conversation over and over with Millie in the future, Rose was sure. Abbie seemed to think youth had just been invented, and that no-one had ever been a teenager before. Millie would think the same. ‘Try me,’ Rose said. The girl shrugged. ‘Dad's great; he really is. We know he does his best for us. He loves us and gives us lots of time. But we feel stifled. We need to get out sometimes. We want to do something a bit dangerous, but not too silly. We don't want to ruin our future. I knew you wouldn't understand.’ Oh, but she did. These girls were escaping in a different way, always coming back so Vic didn’t even know they had done so; the trouble was, he had sensed that something was wrong. She thought about what she would do with this discovery. She thought about how she would bring up Millie, and what sort of a guardian she wanted to be. Abbie, waiting, became impatient. ‘So. Are you going to tell our dad?’ ‘What would you do if I did?’ ‘I don't know. We’d go mad probably. End up like Mum.’ ‘It wasn’t your dad’s fault…’ Rose began. ‘I know. That’s not what I mean. I mean that he thinks he’s protecting us so we don’t end up like her, but it’s actually doing our heads in being so – so safe.’ Rose thought again, rapidly. She wanted to help Vic. At the same time she wanted to help Annalise’s daughters. And then there was the fact that he would never believe the truth if she told him. ‘I need to tell your dad something. That you’re getting out at night. I’ll have a word with him about loosening up, but he won’t change much. He’s always been a bit like that. Wait,’ as Abbie began to protest. ‘If you want to carry on, you'll have to do something about the shoes, or he’ll know you’re still doing it.’ ‘Shoes?’ ‘Shoes. He knows even girls don't get through shoes that fast normally.’ ‘We never thought he'd notice,’ said Abbie, wonderingly. ‘Men don't think shoes are important.’ ‘He should know by now with seven daughters,’ said Rose. ‘And he loves you. You notice things when you love someone. Go barefoot. Your – your mother did. She said it helped her connect with Nature.’ Oh shit. They’d connect with the earth in bare feet. She’d just suggested they electrocuted themselves. Abbie read the expression right and smiled. ‘They’re not electric sockets, our friends. Look, you’re barefoot yourself and Yarzik didn’t kill you.’ ‘And my feet are freezing,’ said Rose. ‘I’m going back to bed. Don’t stay out late, and come in quietly.’ She turned and started to walk away, then realised she had no idea how to get back to Vic’s house. Looking over her shoulder, embarrassed, she saw Abbie was holding out another phone with a smile. Rose touched the app. Back in the house she watched the phone there blink off, and then she slipped quietly into her own bedroom. She knew Vic would be appalled by her decision if he ever found out. Had she done the right thing? She thought she had. And she hoped she could give Millie enough freedom by day that she would not feel the need to slip out at night and dance with electric boys.