Suddenly the child was simply just there. Ana’s awareness of the girl’s presence woke her suddenly, her eyes flicking open, startling her momentarily and she blinked several times to clear her fuzzy vision. She reached for the girl’s hand with the arm that lay above the covers, but Eyla’s small hand was already on Ana’s belly, just resting there, and the girl had her eyeless face cocked at an odd angle just staring, or seeming to, at the woman’s middle.
“What is it, Eyla?” She asked the girl, and the voice that she heard she almost did not recognize as her own. It was hoarse and weak, almost a whisper.
“Can’t you hear it?”
Ana frowned and shook her head slowly. She’d been vaguely aware of the sound of footsteps earlier while she’d been dozing before the girl woke her up. Rainé left at the same time every morning to go downstairs and arrange to have something made for her sister to eat, even though it had been days, if not weeks since she’d managed to more than peck at anything solid. But the room was silent now.
The girl raised a finger to her lips.
“Ssssh, just listen.”
She began to stroke Ana’s belly then, running her small hand up and over the bump and back again, slowly. She repeated the movement just a few times before she felt the baby inside her stir, and she winced when it kicked up against her ribs. Eyla giggled, and at that sound, Ana shuddered involuntarily. There had never been anything pleasant about the child’s laughter. It was a sound that she had heard many times before, and one which she had never been able to get used to. It took her back to the first night that she’d been made aware of Eyla’s very existence, and as much as she had tried to forget that, she could not, and would not. There were things, after all, that once seen could not be unseen, seared into one’s memory until the end of their days. A simple giggle was enough to bring that all back, and swiftly.
She squeezed her eyes closed and made a small whimpering sound as the baby kicked again. Eyla’s hand stopped moving and she bent her head down to press her ear against her mother’s belly.
Ana opened her mouth to ask what she was doing, but the words simply would not come out this time and she sighed wearily instead. She reached down and rested her hand on the top of the girl’s head, stroking at her hair, and the two of them stayed that way for a while before Eyla sat up again and slid off the bed in one quick movement to stand nearer the woman’s shoulder, peering down at her from her scarred eyeless sockets.
Ana’s eyes flickered open again.
“Hmm? What is it, Eyla?”
The girl’s voice sent a violent shiver through her. The anger and resentment in her tone was unmasked, truly, and there was something else in it that Ana had heard before, but which had never been directed at her, and perhaps this frightened her the most. It was malice.
“I would never lie to you.”
“But you did.”
Ana frowned and looked at the girl, shaking her head slowly, confused.
“You said I would always be your favourite girl.”
A weak smile curled Ana’s lips.
“And you are, and always will …” Her sentence was cut off before it could finish by the girl suddenly shouting.
And all at once the light that had begun to fill the room, the first light of dawn that came through the bedroom windows each morning was gone, replaced by pure darkness. A darkness that she’d seen once before, long ago, and the very air that she tried to breathe now was thick, oppressive, constricting her lungs as the girl’s screams got louder.
“Liar, liar, LIAR!”
And with the last scream from the child’s mouth, she jabbed her finger at Ana’s belly.
“She’s your favourite, she is! You LIED!”
As her head started to swim, and her ears felt as if they might actually explode from the inhuman roaring coming from the girl’s mouth and the other voices that echoed hers that filled the room now, the child flung herself down at the side of the bed, sobbing, Ana started to scream as the first pain struck.
And then once more there was silence.