Staying with her Grandparents would be an adventure according to Mum. Lottie wasn’t so sure. Shivering in the dark, she pulled her toys closer as the old house creaked. Not for the first time, she wished her Mum could be with her now.
“It’ll only be for a few days.” Mum had said, as she gently teased the tangles out of Lottie’s copper curls. Lottie loved being in her Mum’s bedroom. Sitting on her plush dressing table stool in front of her gilded three-sided looking glass made her feel like a queen. She loved to play with her jewelery that twinkled and caught the light.
Mum hadn’t been herself lately. She’d been eating all sorts of strange things including pickled eggs, and raw fish. Just last week she’d come home with a jar of what looked like grapes. Mum had handed Lottie one on a fork, and she’d taken a bite out of it. Immediately she spat it out. It had the texture of a grape, but instead of being sweet, it tasted as salty as tears. Lottie thought she’d be in trouble for spitting it out, but thankfully both her parents burst out laughing.
“I wish I didn’t have to go!” Lottie sighed, as her Mum furled satin ribbons into her bunches.
“I know, my sweet,” Her Mum rested a hand on Lottie’s hair and planted a kiss on her cheek. Her Mum’s firm belly brushed against Lottie as she did so, and she felt a movement from within. She put her arms around her Mum, and placed an ear to her bump, thinking how strange it was that a new life could be growing in there. She held on until a series of particularly enthusiastic movements convinced her to withdraw.
“Did I come out of there, too, Mummy?” Lottie asked, looking up at her mum, her eyes widening with the wonder of it all. Her Mum’s cheeks glowed and her sapphire eyes sparkled with mirth as she met Lottie’s gaze.
“Of course you did, that’s how all babies come into the world!” she replied.
“But how did I get in there, and how come I’m not still in there now?”
Her Mum started to laugh, and drew her closer to her.
“I’ll tell you, when you’re older,” was all that she had said in reply.
Lottie couldn’t stop thinking about the baby trapped in her Mum’s stomach, as she lay awake in the dark. She wasn’t entirely sure she liked the idea of having a new brother or sister.
The old house began to creak even louder, reminding Lottie of a ship on a choppy ocean, as the autumn storms buffeted its foundations. There were other disturbances too. Her Gran had left the door ajar, which meant that she could hear her Granddad’s snores.
She rubbed her eyes, willing them to become heavy with sleep. Still, sleep wouldn’t come to her.
The moonlight flooded through the tops of the curtains, causing the shadows in the room and on the landing to grow longer. She crept across the room to open the curtains to disperse the shadows. Catching sight of the nursery bars, like prison bars, she shuddered and hastily closed them again. She got back into bed, and pulled the covers around her.
The shadows on the landing grew ever more pronounced. A black shape formed on the landing wall opposite her door, seeming to move ever so slightly. Then it morphed into a crouching human form, watching her from the shadows. Clinging tight to the coverlets she daren’t move in case it pounced on her.
New lights flickered through the curtains, creating streaks of light on the landing. Lottie watched in astonishment as the figure on the landing glided at lightning speed to the window, and vanished. She flinched and caught her breath.
Her heart began to race as she imagined all the dangers she might have to face in the dark. A crack in the wall near the window would surely open to swallow her, should there be an earth tremor. The bookcase almost certainly hid the entrance to another world, a world of hidden danger and strange monsters. The rocking horse in the corner rocked slightly, as if ridden by an invisible child.
Lottie blinked rapidly. She forced back tears, wishing her Mum could be there to reassure her. It was no good; she would have to turn on her bedside light, even though she feared that it would wake her Grandparents, and that they would be angry with her.
Just one flick of the switch illuminated the room with a cozy glow. She let out a huge sigh, until she noticed another light switching on at the other end of the hallway.
At the other end of the house, Lottie’s Granddad emitted a snore so loud that he woke both himself and her Gran. He noticed the light streaming along the hallway from Lottie’s open door.
“Why on earth has she turned her light on?” He said, in a hushed but exasperated tone.
“Something must have scared her,” her Gran replied. “The poor dear, she’s not used to sleeping away from home.”
Her Granddad harrumphed. “It’s time she grew out of all that nonsense. After all, she’ll no longer be the centre of attention when your daughter brings the new baby home.”
“I’ll have to go to her, comfort her.”
“You mollycoddle that little girl. If both you and her Mum keep running to her every time she has an upset, she’ll never learn to fight her own battles.”
“She’s only little. She has plenty of time to grow up. Besides, Alice would never forgive me.” With that, Lottie’s Gran eased herself out of bed and down the corridor to the room, which used to be Alice’s but which was now a haven for her most precious Granddaughter.
“Gran!” Lottie called out upon seeing her appear in the doorway with her hair still set in curlers, and wearing her pink fleecy dressing gown. Lottie bit her lip fearing that her Gran had come to give her a sound ticking off.
“Lottie dear, why have you turned on your light?” she asked, concern etched into her time-worn features, and showing in her eyes which were sapphire like Lottie’s Mums, only slightly more milky.
“I was scared, Gran,” said Lottie. “I saw the shadow of a crouching figure at the top of the stairs, then there were flashing lights outside, and the figure came gliding into the room.”
“Oh, Lottie!” Her Gran came into the room. Sitting on the bed, she put her arms around the girl, and drew her closer, until Lottie could hear her heart beat.
“You’re just like your Mum was, when she was little. I remember she always used to jump at the slightest thing. So scared she was, of the dark. Then one day, that all changed.”
“What changed, Gran?” Lottie’s voice lit up with curiosity.
“I gave her something to chase away her fears. Do you want to see it?”
“Oh, yes please!” Lottie nodded her head back and forth, until she felt quite dizzy from the effort.
“Here it is!” Her Gran opened a draw in the little bedside cabinet, and produced a black stick with two white tips.
“A magic wand!” said Lottie, in little high-pitched squeak.
“Shhh!” said Gran, “Your Granddad’s trying to sleep!”
“Sorry, Gran” Lottie said, in a more hushed tone. Gran started to wave the wand, and smiling mischievously. Lottie met her gaze and couldn’t help giggling. It all felt like one big adventure.
“This wand belonged to your Mum when she was little. It once belonged to a very powerful magician. I told her that every time she saw something in the dark that scared her, to wave her wand and it would disappear.”
Lottie’s eyes grew wide with wonder. “Can I try it?”
“Of course you can, my dear. It’s yours to keep. Now, I’m going to switch your light out. Will you promise to be a good girl, and get some sleep?”
Lottie nodded, and lay back on the bed, pulling the coverlets around her once more. Gran gently kissed Lottie’s cheek, before turning of the sidelight, and leaving Lottie alone in the dark once more.
One-by-one, the shadows started to re-emerge. One shadow that looked like a giant cobweb fluttered about high up on the ceiling. She feared it would fall down and trap her as prey. Surely it wouldn’t be enough just to wave the magic wand, to make it disappear. Still, she decided it was worth a try. She waved the wand, closed her eyes and whispered, “Abracadabra”. Her Gran hadn’t told her to say it, but she knew instinctively that all spells began with that word.
Opening her eyes, she could no longer make out the web. The rocking horse had stopped moving under the force of an invisible child, and the crack became just that, simply a crack. She still believed that a magic world lay in waiting for her behind the bookcase, but she knew she would be safe as long as she had her magic wand. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.
Lottie’s Grandfather looked up at Gran expectantly as she clambered back into bed.
“I gave her the magic wand.”
“That old chestnut.” Lottie’s Grandfather rolled his eyes despairingly.
“It’ll work, trust me.”
“Do you think we can turn the lights off now?” He asked, feeling tired and somewhat irritable.
Gran nodded. Granddad switched the light off, and the house was plunged into darkness once more.
The days passed quicker than Lottie could ever have imagined. As the autumn leaves fell, Lottie’s Mum carried a little cot to the front door so that Lottie could see her brand new brother for the first time.
Lottie and her Grandparents came bounding to front door to greet them. They all embraced as if they hadn’t seen each other for decades, instead of it being just a few days.
Lottie noticed her Mum looked radiant. She wore a beautiful muslin dress and crocheted shawl that Lottie had never seen before. She raced to her Mum’s side as she placed the cot on a table.
“How have you been, my sweet?” Her Mum asked, giving Lottie a hug. It felt so good to have her Mum back that Lottie just wanted to relish the moment, and didn’t say anything in response.
“She’s been a good girl!” said Gran.
Lottie placed her wand, that she had hidden up her sleeve, behind the cot. Her Mum caught sight of one white tip, as did her Gran. The two older women smiled at each other conspiratorially.
Lottie didn’t notice the look that passed between her Mum and her Gran, as she stood there, gazing into the cot. She felt entranced.
“Lottie, meet your new brother, Isaac!” Her Mum said.
“He’s so little!” said Lottie, counting ten little perfect fingers and thumbs on hands poking out of a powder blue baby grow. Isaac stretched and yawned, before opening his big blue eyes.
“Look, his eyes are as blue as yours and Gran’s!” said Lottie.
“All baby’s eyes are blue!” said Gran with a little laugh. “They may turn to be green like your own, or your Dad’s.
“Can I hold him?” She looked up at her Mum, half expecting her to say “no”. Her Mum smiled and nodded. Lottie clapped her hands together with delight.
Mum lifted Isaac up from his cot and placed him in Lottie’s arms. Gently, she showed her how to hold him. Initially, Isaac began to cry. But as Lottie held him, he stopped his sobbing and began to gurgle softly.
In that instant, she felt so much love for the little one. She knew she would do anything to prevent him from facing danger. And, if he ever became scared of the dark, she knew exactly what to do to help him.