Authors: Sally Nicholls
CLOSE YOUR PRETTY EYES
But back at Jim's house, there was Amelia Dyer. Worst of all, there was Amelia at night.
I've never liked the night. Night is when you're in the most danger, because you're on your own and everyone else is asleep. I
sleep. If I was God, people would never sleep.
could happen to you. Bad people could come into your room and steal your stuff, like the big girls in Fairfields used to, or good people could walk out on you (my mum used to do this to us), and you wouldn't even
until the morning.
Except I would. I'd wake up. I
wake up. I don't think I've ever gone to sleep and then not woken up until morning. Even in Liz's house, I never did.
Amelia didn't start coming for me in the night until I'd been living with Jim for a while. I'm not sure why. Maybe she was scoping me out, trying to work out what sort of person I was. She didn't come after anyone else. At first, I thought it was just because I noticed things that other people didn't, because they didn't have super noticing senses like I did. But when she
started coming after me, I knew it couldn't be that, because you'd have to be deaf, blind and
not to notice her. So then I thought maybe it was something about
Like maybe she had some demonic purpose and I was the person she needed to make whatever it was happen. Although if she
have a demonic purpose, you'd think she'd just tell me what it was, instead of making me hear footsteps and smell mysterious smells, and looming over me all evil. A message in blood on my wall saying KILL EVERYONE would have made a lot more sense.
The night Amelia really started coming after me, I woke up, as usual, and the first thing I did was listen. Were there noises? Was anyone there? Was I safe?
So I lay there listening, and I heard this noise. It was another baby noise, but this time the baby wasn't crying. It was just making wet, gurgly noises, the sort babies
make, when they're left on their own. It didn't exactly sound unhappy. It was just sort of talking away to itself.
It was in my room.
I sat up, listening, all tense and waiting, and I heard it again. A sort of
baby noise. I was terrified. I couldn't see much, but I could see enough to know that the door was shut and there was no baby there on the floor.
I crawled back up the bed, as far away from the baby noises as I could get. I wanted to run and find Jim, or Daniel, or anyone warm and alive. But leaving would have meant going past whatever it was that was making the baby noises, and I didn't want to get any nearer. I would have shouted, but my mouth had stopped working. I tried to say, “Help” and all that came out was, “Hehâ” Not even someone with supersonic hearing would have heard that.
I sat there for what felt like ages, just listening. I was really frightened. I felt like I was going to die. I started doing what I used to do when I lived with Violet, which was chant things to myself in my head, over and over and over, until I could forget that Violet was spraying me with cold water, or making me stand on one leg in the corner, or whatever.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?.Â .Â .
It was a pretty stupid song, but it meant I could concentrate on chanting and didn't have to think about the baby in my room. And
what might happen next
Then the door opened.
open dead slowly. I stared at it in horror. I knew it wasn't Jim on the other side, I
it. I'd have heard him coming, and I hadn't. I hadn't heard
This is a song that never ends. It goes on and on, my friends. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was. And now they're always singing it for ever just because.Â .Â . This is a song that never ends.Â .Â .
The door opened.
was there, something holding a big old-fashioned smuggler's lantern, but the hand which held the lantern wasn't there, the body which held the hand was gone, there was just the lantern hanging in the darkness with no one to carry it. The someone crossed the room on big heavy feet which made the floorboards creak. She was coming towards me. She was going to.Â .Â .
The footsteps stopped, about an arm's length away from the bed. There was another creak as the invisible person picked up the baby. The baby made a gurgly gasp. Then, horribly, the invisible person began to sing.
“Go to sleep, my baby, close your pretty eyes.
” It was a lady's voice, an old, raspy, tobacco-ruined voice. It was old Amelia, I knew it was. “
Angels up above you are peeking through the skies.
It terrified me, that voice. I could feel
the hatred practically burning off the lady, just like I used to feel it from my mother when I was little. She hated that baby. I always know when people are dangerous, and Amelia was dangerous all right. She was big and old and mean and full of anger. She was looking for something to hurt, and that little baby was it. “
Great big moon is shining, stars begin to peep. It's time for little babies to go to sleep.
I left my body. I don't know where I went. Somewhere far away, somewhere safe. When I found myself back again, the room was empty and Amelia Dyer was gone.
It's called dissociating, leaving your body. When bad things are happening to me, I put myself somewhere far away, and then the bad things can't hurt me. I keep myself there, and when I come back, the bad things are gone.
It's something I learned to do when I lived with Violet, and bad things happened to me a lot. It's not something I can control, it just happens. Sometimes it's useful. Sometimes it's horrible and scary, because you wake up and you don't know where you are, or what just happened, or why everyone is looking at you like you're crazy. I hate it, because not being in control is one of my worst, worst things, and it's bad enough not being in control of other people, but when you're not in control of your own head, it's terrifying. But sometimes being in my body is even worse, so I understand why my head does it. It's sort of a superpower, but a horrible one.
One of the few things my stupid therapist Helen could do was deal with dissociation. She used to hold my hand and rub my skin, and talk to me in this calm voice, just reminding me over and over of where I was, and that I was safe. Liz was good at it too. But the problem with moving so much was that new people had to learn everything over again, and sometimes people forgot to tell them things, and then they didn't know what to do.
I wasn't sure if Jim knew about dissociating or not. It scared me, that something so big and scary might happen at any time, and he wouldn't know how to deal with it.
The next day at school, I stole the biggest knife I could find from the cookery corner and put it in my school rucksack.
When I got home, I hid the knife in my big pencil case and hid the pencil case at the very back of my bedside cabinet. Then I felt better.
I knew that lady was old Amelia. I knew she was dangerous.
If she came back, I'd be ready.
HOME NUMBER 10
I moved in with Violet after my first set of adoptive parents dumped me. I was nearly seven. It was the first house I'd ever lived in without Hayley. I was furious about that. I screamed at my social worker, “You can't split me and Hayley up! She's my sister!”
My worker didn't look that much older than some of the big kids in foster care. She had a pale blue cardigan, and brown hair that she kept tucking behind her ears. She looked terrified when I started screaming at her.
“Look,” she said, “Hayley's got a mummy and daddy nowâ”
mummy and daddy,” I howled. Hayley and me had been living with them for ages. I called them Mummy and Daddy. They told us they were going to be our parents for ever and ever.
“I knowâ” she said, and she stopped. “But they can'tÂ â I mean, they want very much to stay in touch, but.Â .Â . Look, this is a nice family for Hayley. Surely you can be happy for her?”
“They're not nice,” I said. “They're horrible!” And I spat in her face, brown pity-chocolate spit that dripped down her nose and on to her little-kid cardigan.
It didn't do any good, all my shouting. They still took me away. And then they put me with Violet.
Violet was the worst foster mother I ever lived with. I hated her.
She had loads of kids: three teenage kids of her own and three foster kids. People were always saying how looking after all those kids must be a lot of work, but it wasn't because we all had to do chores for her, plus whenever we were bad, we did housework as punishment. I was really little when I lived there, but I still had to do drying up and hoovering and tidying. I was the littlest kid thereÂ â the others were teenagers. They were scary. They would come into my bedroom when I was asleep, and hide bottles in my wardrobe or just mess with my head, sticking matches between my toes and then lighting them, seeing how long it took me to wake up. I used to stay awake for as long as I could, but I always had to fall asleep in the end. I shared my room with this other girl, but if she woke up when the other kids came in, she wouldn't wake me. She'd just let them get on with it, and be pleased that they were picking on me instead of her.
Violet was no help. If you told on the other kids she'd say, “Nobody loves a tattle-tale!” And then she made you go and hoover the living room.
When I was bad at my mum's house, she used to lock me in the cupboard. Violet used to lock us in the cellar. Once, when I'd just moved there and was screaming because I missed Hayley so much, she locked me in the cellar for hours and hours and hours. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, much worse than anything my mum ever did. It was black, black, black, and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I thought she'd forgotten about me and I was never going to get out and I was going to die in there. I screamed and screamed, and hammered on the door until my hands bled, but she didn't let me out.
Sometimes, she used to make me stand in the shower while one of the others kept the water on freezing cold. Other times she used to make me stand on one leg in the corner. If I touched the walls, or put my foot down, I had to stay there for longer. She'd sit at the table, laughing away with one of her kids, and I'd just have to stand there.
Violet's was the first foster home I ever lived in with lots of kids. I hated almost everything about it. I hated how the fridge and all the cupboards in the kitchen were kept locked, so you couldn't steal food. I hated how if you needed something, there were always four or five other kids who wanted something first, and half the time what you needed got forgotten. I hated being the smallest, the one all the other kids picked on when they were bored. I was afraid all the time, living with Violet. I wanted to run away, but I was only little, and I knew that if I did they'd just find me and take me straight back. I tried everything I could to be good. I kept my mouth shut and never said anything except when someone asked me a question. I stopped throwing tantrums. Usually when I'm afraid it turns into angry, but in Violet's house the scared was too big, and it just stayed scared. I never even cried, 'cause it used to annoy the girl I shared a room with, and she'd come and punch me in the stomach, hard, to shut me up.
Violet's house was when I first started leaving my body. I'd be standing in the shower, cold water pouring off me, and I'd just go. Sometimes it would be like I was outside my body, watching myself. Sometimes everything would go black. Sometimes I'd still be there, but distant, as though the bad things were happening to someone else, and I'd feel nothing. At first I liked it, but then it got scary because it would happen at school, or when I was supposed to be hoovering or something, and I wouldn't be able to stop it.
I lived with Violet from the summer I was seven till the middle of the next spring. Eventually, one of the big kids got a phone with a video recorder on it, and recorded Violet locking this other kid in the cellar.
And only then did they take us away.
THE GREAT WAR OF OLIVIA'S BEDTIME
After that first time, Amelia started coming into my room pretty regularly. At the start, it was just every couple of nights. That was bad enough, though.
I fought back, of course. I always fight. Jim called it the Great War of Olivia's Bedtime. Daniel called it Olivia Being a Drama Queen, but only once. After I nearly bashed his nose in, he stopped.
I called it Survival At All Costs.
I refused to go to bed. I invented headaches and spiders in my room
RIGHT THERE! THERE! CAN'T YOU SEE IT?
and last-minute homework. I lost urgent, important things that had to be found
right now this minute
. All my pyjamas mysteriously vanished, and when Jim lent me T-shirts to sleep in, they vanished too. He must have bought about fifty toothbrushes, because I kept dropping them in muddy puddles or shoving them into the bottom of the compost bin; everybody's toothbrush, not just mine, so he couldn't just say that having rotten teeth was my own stupid fault. In the end, he kept them locked up and delivered them to us one by one like lollipops. I never brushed my teeth, though. Or got undressed. I wet the bed, deliberately, so the sheets had to be changed. I
as soon as the light was turned out, on and on and on, until Maisy woke up and started wailing, and Grace shouted at me to, “Shut up right
, you little snot.”
I never minded being shouted at. I would have ripped my room to shreds if it meant I didn't have to go to bed, except the first time I tried that, Jim just shut the door and left me to it, and being alone is my
thing, after Amelia. The whole point was to get Jim to
, not leave. OrÂ â even betterÂ â for me not to have to go to bed at all. I don't need sleep. Grown-ups stay up half the night drinking and watching telly and smooching, and if they can do it, so can I.
Jim tried to talk to me about it. He tried a lot. I even told him the truth, after I realized the spiders and the headaches weren't going to work. I told everyone the truth, but no one believed me. Well, Harriet did, but she was the only one. Helen thought I was making the whole thing up. Daniel didn't say very much, but he frowned and made ghosts-aren't-real-Olivia faces. Liz actually laughed at me. She really did.
“It's an old house, Olivia! It makes funny noises at night. That's what old houses do.”
“It's not just
,” I said. “It's a
. She comes into my room at night and
“Sounds like a nightmare to me,” said Liz. I wanted to punch her. Just because I used to tell stupid lies when I lived with her, she didn't believe me when a real genuine Victorian murderess from beyond the grave was coming to get me!
a nightmare,” I said. “It
. It was
Liz sighed. “Look, Olivia,” she said. “Sometimes you get confused between what's real and what isn't. Like the time you thought your mum had broken into the house and was going to kidnap you, remember? Or the time I was late picking you up from swimming, and you thought I didn't want to be your foster mum any more, and I was just going to leave you there. Just because something feels like it's happening, doesn't mean it is. Remember?”
But Amelia wasn't like those things. Amelia was real.
Jim listened best out of all of the grown-ups.
“Old Amelia comes and visits me,” I told him, the first time he asked me why I didn't want to go to bed. “And she's evil. I don't know why she keeps haunting me, but I bet she wants to possess me and make me do something awful, like she did to those other girls. She
Jim didn't even blink.
“OK,” he said. “So what would you like me to do about it?”
“I want to sleep in your room,” I said. “Or Daniel's room. I don't want to sleep on my own.”
“No way!” said Daniel.
Jim rubbed his eyes. “Olivia, you can't sleep in my room. You know they have rules about that. I'm sorry, but Social Services aren't going to change their mind on that one. And it's great that you and Daniel get on so well, but he needs his own space. How would you fit into his room, anyway?”
“We could have bunk beds!” I said. “And I don't need a desk! I could just pile my clothes on top of the chest of drawers. I don't have that much stuff.”
“No!” said Daniel. “Seriously, Dad. No.”
“No,” said Jim. “Not going to happen. Come on, Olivia, help me out here. Give me something I can work on.”
“We could move house,” I said hopefully, but he wouldn't do that either.
” I screamed, night after night after night. I jumped up and down on the sofa, bouncing as high as I could, screaming, “
I WON'T! I WON'T!
“Dadâ” said Harriet, clinging to Jim's hand like the little kid she was.
before she wakes the baby,” said Grace.
Jim sighed and pulled his hand down his face, stretching the skin so he looked old and tired. “Better in a family with kids, eh?” he said. “I hope you know what you're talking about, Liz Bishop.”
He said it under his breath, like he thought I couldn't hear him. He didn't know about my supersonic hearing. My stomach clenched so tight I thought I was going to be sick. Liz never looked tired, or like she couldn't cope; it was one of the best things about her.
He doesn't want me. I knew he didn't.
I spat right in his face.
If I scream loud enough, he can't leave me.
In the end, we came to a sort of compromise. Jim would put Harriet to bed, then me. He even managed to get me to brush my teeth, which he did through a very sneaky, Liz-ish trick. He told me I didn't have to brush them, but if I wasn't going to look after my teeth, I couldn't have sweet things. Then he served ice cream and chocolate cake for pudding every night for a week.
When I lived with Liz, I had this Batman night light for when I was afraid of the dark. It got left behind when I moved because I refused to pack any of the presents she'd given me, and I didn't need it at Fairfields, because my door had a window on top of it into the corridor where the light was always left on. Liz brought the night light over one Saturday, which helped a bit, but mostly because having it in my room at night reminded me of Liz, and Liz always made me feel safe.
When I was in bed, Jim would come and sit beside me until I fell asleep. At first he just sat there, but after a while he got fed up of me trying to make him talk, so he started reading to me instead. I liked that. I liked pretending that I was little, and Jim was my dad reading to me before bed. I used to close my eyes really tight and pretend that nothing could get me, because my dad was there. I pretended that he loved me. I pretended I was safe. I pretended that when I woke up in the night, he wouldn't be gone.