My aunt Lucy was eight years old. Or, at least, that’s how I always pictured her— she was my Mum’s older sister, so she’d probably be in her fifties if she was alive today.
“She was stolen away by the fairies,” my grandma told me, “they came to her in the woods and played with her— they’re ugly, fairies are, so hideously ugly that you’d run away screaming if you set eyes on one, but they can change their form. They dressed themselves in buttercups and put dewdrops in her eyes that distorted her vision. To her they would have looked like beautiful children.”
“Beautiful children?” I gasped, I must have been about four, “but in real life they’d still be ugly fairies?”
“Yes, with teeth like jagged rocks and skin like tree trunks covered in moss and lichen— only their eyes would have stayed the same. They’d have been bright red, like coals, so they never looked her straight in the face. They told her they were going to a party and asked if she wanted to come. They said it was just across the lake and that it wasn’t as deep as she thought, they made the deep murky water look shallow and crystal clear.”
“Then what happened?”
“They took her by the hand and begged her to let them lead her in— they can lead you anywhere, fairies can, but they can’t make you go if you don’t agree to go with them— so they begged and begged and, eventually, she said yes.”
“She took off her shoes and her socks and, the moment her feet touched the water, she was sucked in. Once she was under the fairies revealed their true shape and true nature— they told her that she couldn’t leave and pricked and pinched her to make her swim down to the bottom of the lake.”
“Why didn’t she just stick her head up and shout for help?”
“There was nobody there to hear her. Anyway, when she swam up through the water she found that the surface was hard as glass. She couldn’t go up, she could only go down. She could never go up again.”
Though I wasn’t much of a skeptic at four years old, this last but did give me pause for thought. “Grandma,” I said, “if she never came up again then how do you know the story?”
My grandma’s expression blackened. “They told me,” she said, “they like to tell me things. Like what they did to Lucy and what they do to other children like her. Do you know what they did to Lucy?” she was shouting now. I leant away from her, as far as you can lean away from somebody while sitting in an armchair. I pobably would have got up and run if my feet had been touching the ground. As it was I burrowed myself into the cushioned back rest and shook my head. “They gave her food,” she said, glaring at me as if it was all my fault, “she cried and wouldn’t take it, so they had to force it down her throat. Then, the moment she swallowed it, she froze.”
She paused, obviously waiting for a response, but I was too busy edging away from her as fast as possible. After a few seconds, she just carried on regardless.
“Yes, froze. Her heart stopped beating, her eyes stopped seeing, her lungs stopped breathing, her ears stopped hearing.”
“You mean she died?” I whispered.
“No,” she said, seeming to regain her composure, at any rate her voice went back to its normal volume, “not died. Her body stopped but her brain didn’t. She’s still down there, they tell me, still fresh as a daisy. Her hair has been growing all this time, they tell me, and her nails and she’s still awake inside. She wants to leave,” her voice started rising again, louder and more excited with every syllable, “she wants to leave! She wants to leave! But they won’t LET HER GO!!!” The three words were said as a screech. The noise made me burst into tears and sent my mother running into the room. She picked me up, hugged me and carried me out of the room, away from my grandma, who was shrieking and writhing in her chair like an animal.
From then on, I was only taken to see my grandma very rarely (though my mother went every week) and I was never left alone with her again.
For a while after that, until I was around nine years old, I was plagued by recurring nightmares about strikingly beautiful children that morphed into horrible bark skinned monsters and tried to drag me into the lake. In my dreams my grandma’s stories about fairies not being able to lead you where you didn’t want to were wrong— they pulled me down feet first until I was up to my neck in it. Then I would wake up, often soaking wet from what I always thought, for a few desperate seconds, was lake water.
But, as I grew up, the story started to lose its power over me. I stopped waking up screaming in the night— I was nine years old, I was too big to be afraid of a stupid fairy story. In fact, I started retelling it. In the playground, at sleepovers, round the campfire when we went on our residential school trip— I became famous for it. People would beg me to tell them “that freaky story with the fairies” and, if they didn’t believe it, then they could always come round to my house and see the faded photograph on the mantelpiece of a pretty little girl with blue eyes and brown pigtails.
It was when my Mum caught me on one of these little ‘tours’, that I finally heard the true story of what happened to my aunt Lucy.
She walked in on me and a group of friends passing round the photograph while I told them the story. I stopped in mid word when I saw her walk in— though I’d long ago stopped believing in my grandma’s story, I was well aware that something had happened to my Mum’s older sister and that it probably wasn’t anything good.
My Mum ordered all my friends out of the house. I remember that I half wondered about sneaking out with them, but I was smart enough to know that I wouldn’t have gotten away with it. When they were all gone she sat me down next to her on the sofa and I prepared myself for the oncoming lecture and/or grounding. Instead, she started telling me the real story of what happened to my aunt Lucy.
My grandmother and my grandfather, (who died before I could meet him) lived in a cottage at the end of a village by a wood. It was the 1960s, back when it was normal to to let your kid wander around for miles as long as they didn’t walk on people’s flowerbeds and came home when it got dark. Mostly the kids of the village just played football on the greene and ran up and down the lanes, through hedges and in and out of people’s back gardens. Occasionally, though, they’d go down to the woods.
Then, one day, my aunt Lucy didn’t come home. At first my grandparents were just angry, my Mum was sent down to the village to find her and tell her what dire punishments awaited her when she got home. But she wasn’t in the village and, after a few hours, anger turned to worry and my grandfather went out with a torch to check the woods.
He came back, crying and clutching the bright red mary jane shoes that had been bought for Lucy in town the weekend before— my Mum remembered being jealous of those shoes, so jealous that for weeks after she walked around feeling guilty, convinced that she was somehow responsible for her sister’s death. The shoes had been found by the lake, along with a pair of white cotton socks. It was pretty clear what had happened, Lucy had gone in for a paddle, or maybe just to dip her feet, and had slipped and drowned. People said (when they’d forgotten that my Mum was still in the room) that it was only a matter of time before she bobbed back up again.
She didn’t, though. She stayed under— “probably she got tangled up in some weeds or something”, my Mum said— and shortly after my Grandma started saying that the fairies took her. My grandfather had her commited after she started saying she could hear them talking to her.
I stopped telling the story after that but, years later, I became interested in it again. After some intense googling, I found the newspaper that had reported her death. “Local Girl Drowned” was the headline and the picture below it was, eerily enough, a copy of the very same one that still sat on my Mum’s mantelpiece.
The name of the village was there too and I wondered about going there, just to have a look around. But a second later I decided against it— I’ve always been a bit morbid, but even I had my limits and driving several miles to a village in the middle of nowhere just because a girl died there was one of them.
Or so I thought, anyway. The idea kept gnawing at me, you see, niggling away at the back of my brain. I found myself, casually, just out of curiousity, going on google maps to see how long exactly it would take me to drive to the village and typing the postcode into my sat nav, ‘just to see if the destination time matches up with google maps’.
It took a week for me to finally give in, but give in I did and that weekend I drove down to that village ‘just so I could learn more about my family history.’ I wasn’t fooling myself one bit, not really.
The woods were smaller than I had expected. My mother had made them sound huge and so thick that you couldn’t see through them for the trees— like the sort of woods you’d find in Grimm’s fairytales. Instead they were actually quite nice, full of golden sunlight that flowed freely through the gaps between the trees. As I walked I wondered whether my Mum’s imagination and the childhoood trauma she connected to them had made them loom large in her memory, or whether the woods really had been that big and the trees had just been cut down to make way for more houses.As it was, it only took my about ten minutes to reach the lake, which lay in the centre.
This was more like it. The lake was wide, about five metres across, probably not quite big enough to qualify as a proper lake, but big enough that you could see why it had earned the nickname. There didn’t seem to be anything in it— no ducks dabbling by the shore, no fish swimming close to the surface— and the water was still and black. You could easily picture a child falling in here and never coming up again. I almost thought I saw the pair of red shoes and white cotton socks waiting by the shore, or heard the faint sound of childish giggling…
My ears pricked up. I could hear giggling. I looked around and a small laughing face popped up from behind a tree. A little boy, couldn’t have been older than ten, with stunning golden blonde curls and cute chubby cheeks. A girl appeared next to him, peeping out shyly through some branches. “Hello.” She said.
“Hello,” I said back, I looked around again, “are your parents anywhere about?”
They both burst into fresh giggles like I’d just made the funniest joke in the world and the girl stepped forward, revealing long silky raven black hair that framed a perfectly sculpted little face, with cheekbones to die for. “What are you doing?” She asked.
“Just taking a walk.” I replied, deciding that ‘it all started when my aunt was stolen by fairies’ was not a great way to begin a conversation. She nodded and she and the boy walked away from the trees and stood beside me on the muddy shore.
“It looks very deep,” the boy said, then, as if he was telling me an important secret, “there’s a skeleton down there.”
I looked down at him in surprise, “what?”
“There’s a skeleton,” the girl said, “it floated up one day. We haven’t told the grown ups about it.” she put one of her hands in mine and pointed with the other, “it’s just over there.”
‘Over there’ was a bit of the lake that was covered by the low hanging branches of a nearby tree. “It’s in the water,” she said, “you can see it if you paddle over.”
The boy took my other hand and stepped in to demonstrate— the water only came up to his ankles and, I noticed for the first time, that his feet were bare. The girl stepped in after him, shedding the dainty slippers that she wore on her own feet. “Come on, miss,” the boy said eagerly, “we haven’t told anybody else. You’re the first one! Please!”
“Please!” The girl echoed, “please come and see it! It’ll only take a minute— please!” I nodded without thinking about it. Of course I would go and see the children’s skeleton, it would only take a minute.
I bent down to take off my shoes and that, that was what saved me. As I bent down my head came level with the little girl’s and it was then that I saw what kind of eyes sat in that pretty little face. They were bright red, like burning coals, and as I looked into them the skin around them seemed to turn to bark, all covered with moss and lichen.
The grips on my hands tightened and they started trying to pull me in. Luckily, I think they’d underestimated my strength— the last person they tried this on was eight years old and willing, after all. I was a grown woman and absolutely terrified, it didn’t take long for me to shake them off.
I woke up on the side of the lake, soaked with what, I am very glad to say, was lakewater. There was a man standing over me, apparently he’d been out walking his dog and heard me scream. People said I was in shock and I found it easier to just go along with them.
No, I didn’t really believe I saw fairies— I’d just slipped and fallen in the lake. I’d thrashed around for a bit and screamed before managing to swim to the side. Then I’d fainted and had weird dreams until that nice man had found me. The shock had caused me to wipe it from my memory.
I told them what they wanted to hear and they stopped bothering me. Who knows, maybe they were right. Maybe the whole thing was just a very vivid dream. That’s what I’d like to think.
Only one thing prevents me from agreeing with them and forgetting the whole thing. When the fairies were dragging me down into the lake, or rather, when I dreamed that the fairies were dragging me down into the lake, for a second, just for a second, I swear that the water went clear.
Suddenly I could see right down to the bottom of the lake. I’d been right when I’d thought that there was nothing in it— I still couldn’t see any fish or crabs or anything. No weeds either, just smooth pebbles all along the bottom. The whole place would have been totally empty if it weren’t for the girl.
She stood on the bottom, her feet poised to push against the pebbles, her hands helplessly reaching for daylight. She was wearing a blue gingham dress, which swayed around her legs with the rythmth of the water lapping at the shore. Her long fingernails grew in spirals around her outstretched hands and her long hair floated around her face like a lion’s mane. Her face, even when it was twisted in a look of terror, was still easily recognisable as the face from the photograph that me and my friends had passed around with our grubby little hands.
In the split second before I finally got free of the strange children and the water was once again clouded over with murk, I swear her eyes moved.
原文標題：My aunt Lucy
註一：原文 “Come on miss”，譯為來吧女士，但感覺阿姨比較像小朋友會用來稱呼大
原文标题：My aunt Lucy
注一：原文 “Come on miss”，译为来吧女士，但感觉阿姨比较像小朋友会用来称呼大