A Twist of Fate
JOHN HAWKINS hears his daughter leave the house at dawn. He pulls himself out of bed, goes to the window and watches her walk in her usual brisk style across the frost-bitten lawn to the barn. A knot in his stomach tightens at how quickly the years have passed, how quickly she has grown from the exquisite infant to the beautiful young woman she is today. She’ll be seventeen next birthday, and then… he can hardly bring himself to say it.
‘Eighteen,’ he murmurs, his warm breath condensing into fog on the chilled glass. The year when most parents should be worried about their child moving away to university, John struggles with the knowledge he will never see his baby girl again. And when the time nears, what is he supposed to tell her? How will he tell her?
John glances at his wife, restful in sleep finally after sobbing into her pillow for hours. Ever since they told Ebony part of the truth about her birth, it’s as if they made the awful other part real, as if they physically dragged it out of its secret hiding place of denial they’d kept it all these years and sat it in the centre of the living room in a big white box.
And now that Ebony knows some of the truth, she will want to know it all. How long can they keep pretending? She was only theirs to raise until he returned to collect her – on her eighteenth birthday.
Sighing, John slips back into bed. There’s nothing he can do right now except to seek comfort from the one who knows everything, the one who understands his aching heart.
He wraps his arm around his wife of twenty-four years and pulls her close, kissing the top of her head while inhaling the familiar scent of peonies and vanilla. Childhood sweethearts they were, at least after all the passing years their love for each other hasn’t changed.
But what will happen to them after she’s gone? Will they blame each other? Was it better to have said, “No, we’ll pass on the adoption, thank you for offering?” They had just lost their newborn baby boy. And once he’d seen the infant John could not have said, “No”, and nor could Heather. When the baby stared up at them with those magnetising violet eyes and radiant skin, they knew she was special and they’d turned to each other with no need for words.
John drifts into an uneasy sleep and later will not remember what woke him. It could have been an odd, pungent odour seeping in under the bedroom door, or the sense of a presence watching him.
He opens his eyes, sees a tall man with memorable cinnamon-coloured eyes in a familiar black coat and Fedora looking at him and gasps, ‘No. No. What are you doing here? It’s not time yet.’
‘I’ve not come for the child.’
‘John…?’ Heather murmurs, stirring from her deep slumber.
‘Rouse yourselves and dress quickly,’ the man says. ‘Choose sensible travelling clothes.’
‘Why?’ John asks. ‘Where are we going? What do you want from us?’
‘Don’t concern yourselves with details. It will be best for you both to just do as I say.’
Heather sits up and gasps, tugging the doona to her neck. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on here,’ she says, waking more thoroughly, ‘but I’m not going anywhere without our daughter. Y-you can just leave, mister.’
The tall man closes his eyes for longer than a normal blink, inhaling more deeply than a normal breath. When he opens his eyes again, sadness lingers, pity even, but fleetingly, and is gone before either John or Heather notice. What they do notice are six tall men and women who suddenly walk into their room, all in similar black clothing.
‘W-what’s happening?’ John asks, trembling. ‘W-why have you brought these people into our house?’
‘They’re of no concern to you unless you disobey me.’
Heather grips her husband’s arm, her fingers digging into his flesh as she takes in the scene before her. ‘What do you want from us?’
‘We’re going on a journey together. Now, get up and dress yourselves, or do you require assistance?’ The man’s eyes drift purposefully to the man standing on his left side, then to the woman on his right.
John goes to the wardrobe, yanking clothes down from both ends. He hurries back to help his wife dress first. ‘Why are you doing this to us?’ he asks.
The man tilts his head. ‘You were warned.’
Heather cries out, ‘But we didn’t tell her everything.’
‘You were told to tell her nothing.’
‘We can undo it,’ Heather pleads. ‘We can tell her we… we made it up, that we lied to… to… Please, don’t take us away.’
‘Are you going to kill us?’ John asks.
The man walks to the wardrobe without answering. He runs a long finger across the racks until he finds what he’s looking for, tugging down a coat for each of them. ‘Put these on.’
‘When will you bring us back?’ Heather asks, donning her coat. ‘I need to leave Ebony a note.’ She makes for her dresser, but one of the six moves quickly and blocks her.
Throwing a hand over her mouth, Heather backs down but doesn’t give up, ‘Please… let me tell my daughter something, if not where we’re going, or for how long, at least that we’re okay and that we will be coming back. Please!’
Turning to his six companions, the man speaks to them in a language John and Heather don’t understand. Confused and scared, the pair holds each other. With eyes wide and staring, their bodies trembling, they watch the six close in around them. Dread and desperation clutches their hearts, and they wonder if they will ever return home, ever hold their daughter in their arms again.
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