“Daddy, no!” squealed Grace. Paul sighed and bent down so his face was next to hers.
“Don’t be afraid, honey. I know you don’t want to go, but Sandy really is nice. I think she can help you and Jared. You won’t have to go forever. She’ll make you see that this whole silly business is just your imagination going out of hand, and then you won’t need to go anymore,” he said calmly.
Grace turned her face away from his, and he stood back up. Jared entered the living room, scowling and muttering something inaudible. Paul frowned, then walked quickly up the stairs, and entered his bedroom, where Jane was still sleeping. He quietly pulled his suit jacket from the hanger on the door and shrugged it on. Rosalie stirred, then stretched and opened her eyes. Paul turned to her.
“Do you think we are doing the right thing? Sending the kids to see a shrink?” he said. “They’re only six; it’s probably just a phase they’re going through. Lots of children have imaginary friends.”
Jane gave a sympathetic half-smile. “I know, Paul. The other stuff, the salt in the coffee, the talking to themselves, the weird pictures- even falling out with their friends, I could see all that as ‘just a phase’. The puppy, though...” Jane’s voice trailed off.
Paul flinched at the memory. A small, limp body. Glassy, unseeing eyes. Smiling children, looking pleased with themselves. He shook his head slightly, as if to rid himself of the thoughts. “The dog was supposed to solve our problems, but he just made them worse. Poor creature. I guess you’re right, Jane. I should go now-I’ll drop them off after the appointment. I should be back from work at about eight. Goodbye, my love.”
“Love you,” she whispered, but he was already halfway down the stairs.
Paul shepherded the unhappy children into his Porsche and reversed onto the road which was lined by rows of identical Edwardian houses. The roads into town were not busy, and it took only half an hour to get to the inconspicuous red-brick building where they were headed. A small plaque next to the door said: “Sandy Watson, Child Psychiatrist. 12 Montrose Way.”
Paul took a deep breath, then opened the door and stepped into the waiting room. It was painted light blue, and there were pictures of beaches and forests on the walls. The blandly pretty blonde receptionist took his name, and that of the twins, and they sat down on the cushy blue armchairs provided.
After a few minutes, a tall, dark haired teenager walked out of a door to the left of the receptionist’s desk. “Bye, Edward!” the receptionist called cheerfully. Edward did not reply, or even look back at her. The receptionist motioned to Paul to go on. He stood up and steered Jared and Grace through the door that Edward had just came from.
Sandy’s office was not what Paul had been expecting. The walls were cream, but the paint was mainly obscured by blu-tacked posters of pop stars and children’s drawings. There were two red bean bags on the floor, and a few of the same blue chairs that were in the reception. In one corner there was a box of toys, and in another was a table with paper and crayons in plastic baskets on top. Sandy was sitting on a chair next to the table, holding a notebook. She smiled as they came in.
“Hey!” she said pleasantly. “Are you two Jared and Grace Brent?” The twins exchanged nervous glances and nodded. Sandy smiled again. “Great! Sit down, sit down.” She gestured to the beanbags on the floor. The children sat, and Paul stood in the same spot, looking confused. Sandy glared at him meaningfully.
“Oh,” he said. “Shall I...” He pointed over his shoulder at the door. Sandy nodded and smiled, and he backed out of the room. She grinned as he closed the door.
“Well now, that’s him got rid of, isn’t it? I’m Sandy, and I’m here to help you guys. If there’s anything that you want to talk about, just shoot. First of all, though, I’d like to ask some questions. Is that OK?” The twins nodded. “OK then. A question for Jared first, I think. I heard you had a friend called Charlie, right? Well, I’d like you to tell me what Charlie is like.”
Jared looked uncertain. He scrunched up the squashy fabric of the beanbag between his fingers, thinking about what to say. Finally, he spoke. “He is... Different. He’s angry a lot, and he tells me to do stuff. Bad stuff. I have to, though, because he says he’ll kill me if I don’t. And then he makes me think that it isn’t bad. He doesn’t want me to come here. I’m afraid...” A single tear rolled down his pale cheek.
Sandy smiled encouragingly. “It’s good that you are coming here, honey. You have nothing to be afraid of. We can make Charlie go away forever, if that’s what you want. A question for Grace, now. What kind of things does Charlie make you do?”
Grace didn’t hesitate. “Lots of things. At first it was just Jared, but now it’s me, too. Jane said that the worst thing we did was kill the puppy. I didn’t mean to! I miss the puppy! But Charlie said that was what we had to do, so we did it. So really it was Charlie, not us. It’s just so hard not to do what he says when he’s right there. At school it’s mostly OK, but now all the other kids are calling us weird, and it isn’t nice.”
Sandy cleared her throat, trying not to show any shock. “Thank you for telling me this, darling. Now, is there anything that you want to ask me?” Grace shook her head, but Jared nodded.
“Yes please, Miss Sandy. I want to go home, now,” he whispered. Sandy was surprised at how terrified he seemed all of a sudden. She could almost smell the fear emanating from him. She scratched her forehead.
“Yes. Yes, you can go now. I’ll see you next week, kids,” she said kindly. Jared practically sprinted to the door, and Grace walked after him. She closed the door behind her. Paul looked round as the door opened, and smiled at his children.
“How did it go? You weren’t in there very long,” he remarked. Grace smiled and nodded, but Jared did not respond. Paul waved at the receptionist as they left, and she waved back. Nobody said anything as they climbed into the car, or on the whole drive home. When they arrived, Jared and Grace scrambled out onto the pavement in front of the house. Paul raised a hand as he drove away again, and Grace smiled at him.
Jared still looked terrified. “What’s wrong?” asked Grace. Jared began to weep silently. After he recovered a little, he spoke.
“Didn’t you feel him? He was there. He knows that that lady wants to get rid of him. He thinks that she doesn’t believe that he’s really there. This is bad, Gracie, real bad. He’s gonna make us do something awful; I can feel it.” He whispered.
Grace chewed her lip. “Don’t tell Jane,” she said simply. Then she took his hand and led him up the drive to the house, where Jane was waiting.
Hours passed. Day turned into night, and Paul arrived home.
He opened the front door, and he thought that he could hear the kids singing. They sounded happy. He smiled contentedly; they hadn’t been happy enough recently.
“Ring a ring a roses”
Paul walked into the living room, and collapsed on the couch. He didn’t even bother to take off his shoes. The kids were singing, just like he thought. Jane was sleeping in the armchair. She looked happy too. He walked over to her and gently shook her shoulder.
“A pocket full of posies”
That was odd. She wasn’t getting up. She normally woke up if Paul shook her. He shook a little bit harder, but she still didn’t wake. He began to panic- what if something had happened?
He looked at the kids- they were still singing. He tried again unsuccessfully to wake Jane. Then he noticed the thinnest line of red at the base of her neck, and the odd way she leaned her head on the back of the armchair. His breathing became faster.
“We all fall down”
The twins fell into a giggling heap on the floor. Paul stared at them. “Kids,” he breathed. “What happened? What’s wrong with Jane?” Jared looked at him.
“Daddy,” he said. “Say hello to Charlie.”