The second thing Deborah always remembered about that fateful day, apart from the snatching away of her child, was the heat.
It had been the hottest day in living memory. The garden was sweltering, and little Lily had only been allowed out in it after being liberally smothered in sun cream and having a hat firmly tied to her head. She hadn't liked that, Deborah remembered; she'd kept trying to pull it off. She'd been annoyed about it at the time; it seemed so very petty now.
Doug had been working on the rockery; he'd been so proud of his garden back then, always digging and trimming and planting. He never gave it a second look these days. Deborah had been reading a novel in the shade; a cheap paperback called 'The Runner', if she remembered correctly. It had long since been lost, or thrown away, or given to a charity shop. It hadn't been very good, anyway. Lily had been playing with a ball, rolling it about on the grass.
It had been so normal. So normal and average and every-day. Every time she remembered it, that was what grated. How could something so terrible happen on such a normal day?
She could swear, and had sworn in the interminable interviews with the overly suspicious policemen, that she had only taken her eyes off her daughter for a second. Just a second, because Doug had called her over to inspect some new shrub he'd planted. Nothing could have happened; nothing should have happened. Their garden was enclosed, their privacy ensured by high brick walls around two sides and a thick stand of yew trees on the third. No-one could have got in without them noticing, not even a friend or a relative, let alone some lunatic hunting for little girls to abduct.
The policemen had nodded, and smiled thin little suspicious smiles, and had gone away and dug over every inch of their property, in a 'routine inspection'. They'd found nothing, of course, but by then Deborah wouldn't have cared if they'd persisted with their suspicions, as many of their neighbours had. And she'd gone on not caring, for eleven long, slow, miserable years.
And now Lily was back.
She fought to recapture the wild joy she'd felt when she'd first recieved the phone call, but all she felt was confused. This was Lily; it had to be Lily. But...she should be fiften by now, she should be a young woman, she should be...she should be grown-up. How could she explain this to Doug, when she could hardly explain it to herself? As she led her daughter back into the house, feeling for the first time in eleven years the soft bounciness of Lily's pretty brown curls, Deborah replayed every second of that long-ago afternoon, searching desperately for any clue, any tiny thing that could explain this.
There was nothing.
This, although Deborah didn't know it, was because Lily's abductors had been extremely, supernaturally, silent and unnoticeable. They were masters at what they did; no human could possibly have seen them, or heard them, or even caught the slightest glimpse out of the corner of their eye. Quick and quiet as the summer shadows, they were, and they prided themselves on it. The Faery Queen's crack team of child abductors.
The Faeries had always stolen children. There were countless legends and folk tales that described the practice, and countless folk spells that prevented it. Those were the days when it was a tricky job, when any midwife or nursemaid worth her salt had made sure that their charge was carefully protected, with red threads and bells and burning lights, until they were baptised and safe forever. It had been a real challenge.
It had got a lot easier, these days.
No-one, in these modern enlightened times, hung bells around the cradle, or placed into it sharp steel, or hung mirrors in the nursery to repel the Evil Eye. And now that many babies were not baptised, they were vulnerable for far longer. Faeries weren't a threat, they were a children's story; they didn't exist. Your child was abducted by the elves, madam? Nonsense.
All this worked much to the Faeries' advantage. No-one would hunt for something that didn't exist. And so the unexplained disappearances continued, in different countries and different places, sometimes years apart, sometimes months, sometimes only days apart.
The Faeries had always stolen children.
It was...what they did.