She was born strange, we always knew that. There she was, our little Michelle, from the moment she could talk telling us about the people that talked to her. We thought she'd gone crazy. We were right, but the doctor didn't care.
"It's perfectly normal for young children to have imaginary friends," he said soothingly, trying to calm us.
"They're not imaginary," said Michelle, in her four-year-old's voice. "They told me that the whole world was imaginary and that they were the only thing that was real. The only thing that mattered. They said I should listen to them."
He looked at me, then, as if I was to blame. "Does she watch a lot of television?" he asked. Like that could solve everything. I swear, doctors have got it in for TV.
"Not at all. She won't go near it."
I saw him frown. Michelle looked up at me. "Mammy, can we go now? They don't want me to be here. They say it stinks of blood."
"They can't smell it, Shelley," I told her. That was when I could still be bothered to be patient with her. I thought it might help her to change, to become more normal. As she grew up I realised that I was wrong about that one, and I ceased to tire myself out being calm. "They're not real."
"They are," she insisted. And she kicked up such a fuss we took her home, but I saw the doctor watching us. As they always do. It was like he knew something we didn't, and I hated the sensation.
Michelle grew up quickly after that incident. She didn't mention the voices for over a year and we thought she had forgotten, but one day I walked into her bedroom and she was talking to herself. Or to them. "Mam!" she exclaimed.
"You haven't forgotten about them, have you?" I asked sternly. She was now seven years old. She could cope with a few hard words and a few steely glares. "You've just not been talking."
"It made you uncomfortable," she noted. "So I stopped telling you. But they've been there all along, whispering to me..."
That conversation dashed all my hopes that my daughter would grow up to be normal.