Good. That’s good.
“Hurting is good?”
Don’t you think so?
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
Well, why don’t you take the opportunity to think about it now?
“I don’t want to.”
And why do you think that is?
“I told you. It hurts.”
Maybe that feeling is trying to tell you something.
“Yes, it is.”
Good, this is progress, and you should allow yourself a little time to celebrate that moment.
There is a pause in the conversation.
Have you celebrated?
“Not really, no.”
Why is that?
“Because it hurts.”
Right. OK. So what do you think this pain is telling you?
“That it hurts.”
Pain is a message. It hurts for a reason.
“And what is the reason?”
It is for you to think and explore and discover that reason. That is why we have these sessions.
“I don’t understand.”
It is for you to seek to understand. Only you can do this.
“Then why am I here?”
“Then why does it hurt?”
This is not the first conversation of this nature and it is unlikely to be the last. This is a loop. The hope is that one day there will be a breakthrough and the loop will be broken.
“You lied to me,” sad brown eyes telegraph the pain of the betrayal across the dining table.
The accusation is met with a dismissive shrug.
Janet studies her grandchild. She doesn’t know what she is looking for, but she hopes that she will know it when she sees it. She is oblivious to the sorry fact that she is looking for hope itself and that she is fighting the reality of the situation. That it is all but hopeless.
“Why did you lie?” Janet asks the serious little girl.
Poppy looks up from the trinket that she is playing with, her fingers busy with the small object. Janet allows her this, even though she is occasionally gouging the wood of the table with the metal object. It is better than her gouging the skin on her fingers and hands. The lesser of two evils.
Poppy slips so easily into the stare. Janet has tried time and again to rationalise what she feels as she withers under her grandchild’s gaze, that it is she, Janet, projecting her own negative thoughts and emotions upon her own grandchild. Poppy is only ten, and OK, she’s been through much, but there is no way that she is filled with hate.
Janet reminds herself that this a child, her own grandchild and that she is not a lost cause. No one should write a ten year old off. No one. That is just wrong and it goes against the grain. It goes against everything that Janet is about.
She sighs and turns to the cupboard to retrieve two tumblers. She pads to the fridge and pours iced tea for them both. She makes it herself and she knows it is good, more importantly, that Poppy loves it. The glass is placed before her grandchild. A bargain is being made here, only Janet forgets, Poppy doesn’t bargain and she doesn’t play by the rules. She may appear to, but there are so many ways to lie to someone. Janet sits down and it is all she can do not to slump, but she knows that if she lets go, then she won’t pull it back together. She is all that Poppy has left and Poppy is all Janet has in the world now. The world turns, and it turns regardless of anyone’s experience, or their pain.
Keep going, Janet tells herself. She has to keep going for the both of them.
“Listen child,” she says after she’s taken a sip of the cool drink, “I understand. Believe it or not, I was your age once.” She smiles warmly. She has memories of her childhood. Her own childhood was hard and her mother had not loved her, but the funny thing with memory, the good thing about memory, was that it was selective and right now she was experiencing a gentle montage of playgrounds, beaches, woodland adventures and ice creams and sweets. “It wasn’t easy for me either, and I understand more than you know. You can always talk to me, and you have this place. We have this place. Home.”
Janet tries not to flinch from that single word. Poppy has weaponised it, and it hits hard. The two letters sharp and hurtful. She sighs, “why do you have to lie?” she asks her granddaughter.
“Everyone lies,” Poppy tells her.
This is good. Not the content, that’s far from good. But at least Poppy is talking to her, and that is something.
“Who told you that?” Janet asks, she thinks she already knows the answer, but she can’t help asking it all the same.
It takes everything that Janet has to keep it together.
This is the father who left a five year old in the family home, alone with the dead body of her mother. Janet stifles a sob, even after five years, the suicide of her only child cuts deep. Of her husband, there has never been any sign.
He is here, and of late, Janet has begun to realise that he has always been here. He is ever present in the solemn little child in front of her. The child who was always going to have problems after that fateful night five years ago, but who seemed to be doing remarkably well.
Children are resilient, that was something Janet had told herself again and again, and as she repeated this mantra she wished for at least some of that resilience. Instead life did its thing and after two challenging and difficult years she had woken up one morning in a state of confusion.
She had overslept.
She could not remember the last time she had overslept. She had turned from her right side to her left and seen why it was that she had overslept. Tom, her husband of over forty years had not left their bed. Tom, a man of routine, especially when it came to the mornings, was right there by her side.
And yet he wasn’t.
Even the dog knew.
Terry the bull terrier, the dog that barked a greeting from downstairs as he heard his master plod to the bathroom, on this day remained silent. He knew there was no point in barking that greeting because his master would not hear it. He would not hear it ever again.
It shamed Janet to think it, but life in their home had gotten easier after Tom’s eternal lie in. Tom had not been a fan of Poppy. That was not to say that he did not dote on his granddaughter. It was Tom who was the source of the energy in the household, it was he who took Poppy on walks with Terry and varied those long walks so she could explore and lose herself in the countryside. He found local events, goodness knew how, he just seemed to have a nose for them, and off they would go to see vintage tractors, or sheep shearing, or pie making contests. All manner of quirky and different mini-escapes that were what an enriched childhood was all about.
They argued though. Tom saw something in the little girl and it was something that left him uncomfortable at first, and in the end he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it so much that it made him ill. He started telling Janet that Poppy would be the death of him.
What a thing to say!
But now Janet was feeling that same pressure. Only it wasn’t pressure. It was the opposite of pressure. Her days were filled with emotion and she was constantly tired. Her energy levels were at an all-time low and there was no prospect of a return to something like normality. She’d had her low points before, and in the midst of them she had worried that she might not make it out the other side, but she had known that there was another side and that she would be on another peak soon enough. Life was a series of peaks and troughs, or it had been. Now it was just one big trough, and Janet didn’t know how to get out of it.
Something was dragging her down and holding her there. Something was sucking the energy out of her and that energy was the best part of her. Having no energy was bad enough, but to be left with a darkness inside her and nothing to counteract it? Her worry was turning into fear.
Janet looked across the table and tried to remember the little girl that Poppy had been, tried to remind herself that this was still a little girl. She was greeted with a cold, hard stare and she replayed some of what Tom had said…
She’s angry, Janet. Constantly angry. You can’t get through to an angry person, not ever. She’s lying to us and she’s manipulating us and I just can’t get through to her. I think she’s…
Janet stops that inner dialogue. One thing Tom had always said was that they would not allow Poppy to be labelled. Her school had tried several times, but they had looked at the suggested label and it just didn’t fit. Besides, with a little time and effort, they had managed to help Poppy so that she did not exhibit the behaviours that had led to a teacher thinking Poppy was a this, that or the other.
When it came down to it, Poppy was good at doing what was needed to be done in order to present to the world in an acceptable way.
Tom’s voice again, but Janet silenced it.
“Your father is not here Poppy love,” Janet tells her grandchild.
“No, but he taught me all about people,” she says to her granny, “that they are all liars and out for what they can get. That I am not to trust anyone but him.”
Janet frowns, this is progress of sorts. Poppy is opening up, but Janet does not know what to do with this. “But your father is not here Poppy, it’s just you and me now.”
Poppy intensifies that stare.
“What? What is it?” Janet asks her, wilting in the intensity of that stare.
“Mother said that,” Poppy tells her.
“What?!” Janet gasped.
Poppy just stares at her and says nothing more.
“You don’t know what you are saying,” Janet stammers.
Poppy stares at her and wonders at that reaction. People are strange. They lie and deceive and then they get hurt and angry. Her father has taught her well though. He’s taught her very well.
People are wrong.
They are not to be trusted.
Only father is to be trusted.
He had told her it was all a game. That she had to lie in order to survive, but if she went further with the lies and played The Game it was better that way. Granny has been fun. Poppy has gone to town with Granny. Granddad had been more difficult and she was glad when he was out of the picture.
Poppy is beginning to understand more and more about The Game. Right now, what she understands is that when Granny said it was just the two of them, what she meant was that Poppy was stuck with Granny, but that suited her fine because that also meant that Granny was stuck with Poppy and what Poppy knew about Granny was that she was one of the biggest liars she had ever met, only she lied to herself. Poppy saw the way Granny looked at her, like she was something else, like she was one of the other girls from school, but Poppy wasn’t.
Poppy is special.
Father taught her that.
And he taught her much more than that.
“Can I be excused from the table?”
Granny says something, but it is not audible. She just sort of waves her away. She looks old all of a sudden. Poppy shrugs and then gets up and walks away, heading for her bedroom.
Granny hadn’t even asked about the therapy session. Poppy enjoyed the therapy, it was a chance to practice and get better at saying what needed to be said. Not that she needed to worry about that in Granny’s house. Not now. She’s won a victory of sorts and now it is about pushing her advantage. She can see that now, and she’ll enjoy herself. Confusing the old woman will be fun. Seeing her frowning and worried. Telling her up is down and that she has imagined Poppy saying whatever she thought she’d said.
Somehow it was too easy.
Once in her bedroom, Poppy props the wooden reading chair under the door knob. She’d seen this in a film once and taken to doing this prior to going to her secret place and taking the letters out.
The letters were more instructions than anything else.
These instructions were a gift from her father. She doesn’t need them, not anymore. So adept is she at weaving words to create a fabrication that she has long ago lost sight of what is real and what is imagined. That doesn’t matter because the outside world, the thing people call reality, that is her playground and that is where she plays The Game. It is inside her that counts.
And she has a fortress that is heavily protected.
Lies, deceit, denial, distortion, evasion, fiction, misrepresentation, guile and animal cunning are her weapons. Her pain is what really counts though. That pain is the source of her power and from that she can summon her hate-filled anger at will.
Pain was her father’s greatest gift to her and that pain had required a sacrifice.
Her father had explained this to Poppy and told her what she needed to do. This was a dark magic and it was the only way. Dark magic required a blood sacrifice and then and only then would Poppy be good enough.
That was why mummy had to die.
Poppy had been there and watched as father had crushed up the pills. He had explained the plan, but Poppy already knew how it would work. She had seen it all in her head and it was really her plan. Her father was doing exactly what she wanted him to do and that was when she saw that she could not be around him any longer. Two of their kind could not co-exist successfully. They were meant to be hidden in plain sight in the midst of people.
It was she who had alerted her father to the existence of the letter mummy had drafted. The letter was a goodbye to father, but it was worded in such a way that, in the right, carefully crafted circumstances, it read like a farewell to the world.
Poppy had feigned innocence and handed the letter to father. As expected, father saw the opportunity it presented and he acted swiftly. Poppy played her part and when required she had cried and displayed her pain at what her father was doing.
“It’s for your own good,” father told her, “you need the pain. Pain is power and you need that power to protect you from all the people.”
Mummy had become drowsy and father had plied her with more and more wine containing the dissolved pills, but only after he had guided her to her bed. The empty pill bottles and the letter were placed by her side and they both watched her lose consciousness and then she died. A gentle sigh and then she didn’t inhale another breath.
Going for a walk was Poppy’s idea.
Poppy liked walks.
It was all that she could do to contain herself and her excitement. The excitement she used when the moment came. She had run on ahead, and now she was crouching over a newly discovered wonder.
“Father! Father!” she called excitedly.
He came running and Poppy wondered at why he didn’t question this excitement of hers, so soon after her rather convincing display of pain and anguish at the sight of her father murdering her dear mummy. If she needed any convincing, or encouragement, then this was it. Poppy was playing The Game and her father was a part of her game now.
“What is it?” her father asked from behind her.
“Come see!” she said, standing up from her discovery.
She had to play all of this well because father had a disdain for enthusiasm or passion, so she stood solemnly and did not prance about like other children had a wont to do.
Her father joined her at the side of the hole she had found. Only, this was not the first time that she had seen this hole, and when first she saw it, it had been covered. Poppy had taken her time uncovering it and thinking through her plan. Mummy first and then this…
“I think there’s something down there,” Poppy said.
That was a lie.
And then there was something down there.
Sometimes people needed to hear the right words.
Then they needed a little push.
A little push was all it took.
Then Poppy had her pain, and she had her power.
It hurt and because it hurt, Poppy could play The Game and when she played The Game she punished the world and the only way to punish the world was to deceive people and draw them into The Game and hurt them.
No pain. No gain.
Playing The Game and hurting people increased her power.
Poppy was only getting started, and soon enough her own denial would remove any semblance of the notion that she was in The Game and once she lost herself in it, she would be undetectable and truly unstoppable…
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I'm going to need therapy too after this story. :) This is the darkest thing I've read on here so far. That's a compliment, in case that wasn't clear.
That is praise indeed! I have horror novels on Amazon if you want more dark, and the novel I'm currently writing continues that theme...!
If you like dark, the newly available story, Cuckoo, should float your boat and the next in line, Bash, certainly will!
Wow, Jed, this was incredibly dark and suspenseful! Your character, Poppy, was chilling. Half the time, I wanted to feel sorry for her, but the other half, I was terrified of her! The slow reveal of "the game", and how Poppy becomes the nightmare her father taught her to be is well done. My only comment is that I'm still wondering a bit who is talking in the first section. Poppy to herself? Perhaps to her father, or her memory of him? Very well done!
Thanks Hannah, this is great feedback and I am really pleased that it hit the spot. The opening section has a disjointed feel to it as I wanted it to jar and the reader to feel like there was something amiss, maybe revisit it when they knew more having read the story... I'm really liking that you got those aspects of Poppy, that she drew you in and scared you too. That gives her the makings of a dark and engaging character!