Art and Story by Shaun Peter Qureshi 



Harvey the driver stayed seated and staring, without lending a hand as Lucy dismounted and removed her suitcase. It was raining and the brown water quickly covered Lucy’s skirt and shoes, as she stumbled awkwardly under the weight of the case. She looked sadly at the stains. Her father had saved for several weeks for those shoes, and Lucy had scrubbed them so carefully for her first day in service.

“Thank you, Mr Harv-”, she began, but he had already cracked the reins, and the horses were pulling the carriage away.

How odd. Harvey had always been so cheerful. Yet, today, he seemed so reluctant to deliver Lucy on her way. But Lucy’s father had no one else to ask.

Lucy had been so taken up with the haste of her new engagement, she had dutifully agreed to make her own transport arrangements, without considering why this new employer had no driver of his own, or any of the other strangeness surrounding the job. Her father had asked three other men, all of whom, on hearing the name of the manor, said the journey was too far, although it was only a village four miles away. In the end, Harvey finally quietly agreed to take her on his day off from his usual duties.

The journey had been dismal, and upon reaching this village, pale faces stared from the windows of the few houses they passed, before curtains were sharply drawn. 

Lucy crossed the manor grounds and climbed the stone steps of the house until standing directly before the vast doors. Her clothes were saturated with rain, and they tightened around her. She could not bear the downpour much longer, and so did not dwell much on the enormity of the manor – although it did surprise her, as the harried and tired looking woman, Mrs. Crosse, had understated the sheer size of the estate last week when they met. 

Mrs Crosse had wandered from tavern to inn to church hall in search of a serving girl, and finally called on Lucy after a suggestion from the vicar’s wife. Lucy had been returning from an errand for an elderly neighbour and found Mrs Crosse waiting by the fence of her family home. They had a short exchange, which centred mainly on directions to the manor.

The rainfall was loud, and Lucy could hardly hear herself rap the door. The windows of the manor, although plentiful, were dim, many cracked and boarded. No light broke through the glass. Lucy found a slippery black handle. She was able to retract the doorbell, but it seized as she tried to plunge it back. Whether it rang or not, she heard nothing but the rain.

She turned to look back over the gravel driveway, past a tumble of leaves and moss-covered statues, and stone Romanesque plant pots filled only with wet mud. Mr. Harvey’s car could no longer be seen. The walk back to the nearest houses would be substantial – and worse in this weather – and even then, there would be no telling that anyone would help her get back to town or take her into shelter until the sky cleared.

Lucy pushed her face against the door for a moment. She heard nothing. She’d heard that houses such as this had separate entrances for the servants. Perhaps they were not expecting her at this part of the house at all, but how was she to know where else to go?

She rested there, her head at least getting some reprieve as her body was battered with water. What a foolish girl she was, to pick herself up, leave her father and younger brothers and sisters, on the promise from a strange woman she had spoken to only for a few moments.

When her father had returned on the night of Mrs. Crosse’s visit, Lucy had been eager to give him the news that she would have an income, but he responded only with a wan smile, and sat quietly before the fire for the rest of the evening while Lucy brought him cups of tea. Although it went unsaid, she knew she had been his strength since her mother died. Still Lucy was sure that it would be the best for them, as he was getting old, and providing for all the children was a strain. She might even be able to send some money home, she thought.

Now Lucy recognised her childish idiocy. Who was she to develop this grandiose idea of being self-sufficient, when all her life, everyone seemed to agree that she was an embarrassment? During the last years that her mother hung on to life and offered kind encouragements about her reading and handwriting and told her she was good, Lucy attended the schoolhouse and had a faint hope of having an education. This diminished with each passing comment – “the farmer’s cow” – from the other children. And these barbs were felt most sharply as time went on, leading up to her mother’s death.

“Lucy the farmer’s daughter – you know her mother married beneath herself, so the clumsy fool fancies herself a little lady.”

Lucy closed her books after her mother died and didn’t return to school. It was true that she was ungainly, and in the hunger that possessed their home after her mother’s passing, the prospect of being learned was ridiculous; of writing, or even acquiring books, were all outlandish. But now, leaning against the entrance of this dilapidated – perhaps abandoned – manor house, far from home, her latest drift into self-belief seemed more pathetic than ever.

Without warning, the door opened inward, and Lucy stumbled forward. She found her footing in a dark foyer, the air filled with stale dust. There was little light, but she could plainly see the stream of water that trailed behind her. The same gaunt woman who had visited Lucy’s village last week, Mrs. Crosse, was holding the door handle in one hand, and a lit candlestick in the other. She closed the door and stood still for a few moments, simply looking at Lucy.

Lucy kept glancing down impotently as the water leaked from her dress onto the tiles, and she did not know what to say about it other than a feeble, muttered, “Sorry”.

“You have come then,” Mrs. Crosse said, not seeming to notice Lucy’s apology, or the mess. “Lord Berrick will be pleased. Come.”

Mrs. Crosse’s brisk edge – which Lucy had taken last week to signify desperation in her search for a new serving girl – was still present. Lucy hurried to keep up, as she was led into a room adjacent to the foyer, issuing rainwater behind her all the way. Lucy’s eyes were adjusting to the darkness of her surroundings, but she could perceive the great height of the ceiling, the length of the chamber, and the many paintings which hung from the walls. Beyond the foyer, there seemed to be an even larger hall, and a grand staircase beyond that.

“Lord Berrick”, Mrs. Crosse was saying as she crossed through the doorway. “The new girl is here at last.”

Lucy followed sheepishly. She had not anticipated meeting the Lord of the manor, and certainly not while soaked to the skin. She stood a few steps behind Mrs. Crosse and saw that they were now in a small drawing room. Other than Mrs. Crosse’s candle, only an oil lamp on the desk burned, illuminating piles of papers, books, teacups and coffeepots, ink pots and feathered quills. In fact, every inch of the surface of the mahogany desk and the mantle of an unlit stone fireplace were completely covered with this thing or that. Lord Berrick, wrinkled and frail, was seated behind the desk.

“Pleased to be of service, Lord Berrick,” Lucy said shyly, and – not knowing what to do – gave a curtsey but dipped too low and slipped slightly.

“Ah,” Lord Berrick exhaled. “I am pleased to meet you…?” Lord Berrick looked from Lucy to Mrs. Crosse for guidance on how to finish his sentence.

“Lucy,” offered Lucy.

“Pleased to finally meet you, Lucy,” he said with a friendly smile. Lucy could see chunks of grey food jammed amongst his teeth. “I hope your journey was a pleasant one.”

Lucy, who had wet hair flattened against her face and from whom water was still dripping onto the floor, did not know if Lord Berrick was making a joke about her appearance, or simply could not see well enough to notice she was drenched. She thought it safest to give a small nod.

“Now then… Why don’t you have some tea?” Berrick indicated the collection of crockery on his desk. Lucy looked at them uncertainly. A few cups had rotting tea leaves at the bottom which were collecting mould.

Mrs. Crosse impatiently pushed forward and picked one of the china teapots. Lucy had the impression she was already failing. Mrs. Crosse brusquely handed Lucy a cup of tea – cold and dirty, but Lucy sipped it politely. The cup was a pale shade of green and had no handle. An image of a blossom tree was finely painted on the side with watercolours. Lucy had seen nothing like it before.

“And so, you know why we’ve engaged you at the manor,” Berrick said. He looked at her expectantly, although there was no question in what he had said.

“Oh yes,” Lucy mumbled, seizing with confusion. “Would you like me to start straight away? I could clear these all up?”

Mrs. Crosse tutted and Berrick croaked with laughter. Lucy blushed. “No, my dear, we don’t require your cleaning abilities,” Berrick said. He paused, and then lifted a small brass bell from his desk and shook it vigorously, as if this offered an explanation. A few seconds later, they were joined in the drawing room by a large man – at least two feet taller than Lucy’s father. The sight of him – his bedraggled hair and unkempt beard, his ill-fitting and torn brown overalls – added to Lucy’s apprehension. He had none of the friendliness of Lord Berrick, and even less, it seemed, than Mrs. Crosse.

“Mr. Treyvs,” said Lord Berrick, “This is Lucy, who we have been expecting. Will you please fetch the Lady Emerald?” Mr. Treyvs nodded and left. “You see, my dear girl, we asked you to join us here to spend time with the young lady of the manor. A sort of lady’s companion. That doesn’t sound onerous, does it?”

Lucy lips parted dully as she computed these words. Mrs. Crosse had not mentioned these duties, or that there was any lady at the manor at all. Then, Lucy could not be sure Mrs. Crosse had actually said that this was a position as a serving girl, only this was what Lucy had taken her to mean, for she was not fit to be anything else, and certainly was not an interesting or cultured lady for companionship. Lucy was considering how she might express the mistake without causing offence, when Berrick exclaimed, “Oh – and here she is – thank you, Treyvs, for bringing her from her chamber.”

Lucy turned sheepishly in anticipation of greeting the Lady – and gasped. Mr. Treyvs was pushing a wicker wheelchair through the door frame, and on the wheelchair was the most horrifying creature Lucy had ever seen.

Instead of eyes, the creature had two bulging sacks of dark fluid, with no discernible pupils, which were spaced more distantly than the eyes of any human face. And this was no human face, Lucy was sure of it. It seemed to have no subcutaneous flesh whatsoever, and, in place of round cheeks there were only great hollows, as if its skin had been stretched tightly over coarse bone. The creature’s entire midline was strangely folded, so that the skull appeared to be slightly pleated, and the chest rose asymmetrically in erratic rasping sighs. Around its lips, there were thin green veins spreading outward like the legs of a spider. Its breath filled the room with a stench like decaying fruit.

This creature could not have been more than a few feet in length, and it wore the dress of a young girl, made from silk finished with lace, totally black. Although Lucy could see its arms hanging limply by its sides, she saw no feet dangle from the chair. The layers of material making up the skirt of its dress shifted and rippled, as the lower half of the beast changed positions, bending in ways not possible for human legs, as if perhaps it had multiple joints which flexed in every orientation.

Seeing this, Lucy felt faint and must have released hold of her teacup, because in the next moment it was shattered on the ground, and tea was spilled on the maroon rug. She felt a grip around her upper arm and was being removed from the room by Mrs. Crosse. She was grateful to be back in the cooler foyer, where the dust filled air was at least better than the smell from the creature in the drawing room. She opened her mouth, ready to apologise for the cup and offer to clean up the broken pieces, when Mrs. Crosse struck her painfully across the face.

“Pull yourself together girl,” Mrs. Crosse seethed. “This is your job now.” Lucy’s hand flew to her own face and rubbed her cheek. Her mind was blank. Mrs. Crosse composed herself and said simply, “This is the way of things.” She returned to the drawing room and left Lucy standing alone, wondering at this dark place she had come to where the people were ugly and so easily moved to violence.



Dinner was taken a few doors along from the drawing room. As far as Lucy could tell, Lord Berrick and the housekeeper, Mrs. Crosse, and the groundskeeper, Mr. Treyvs, made use of only a very small number of rooms in the large manor house. In this dining room, like the drawing room, moss covered wooden planks covered the large, cracked windows, but did not stop a breeze breaking through, carrying with it spurts of rainwater, and causing the lit candles on the dining table to tremble. Cobwebs hung in frayed strings from a crooked chandelier above the table and gathered in grey bundles in every corner of the ceiling.

Lucy kept her eyes fixed on those cobwebs and dared not move her gaze away for a long time. She was sitting, painfully rigid, on a chair across the table from Lord Berrick, and next to the creature in the wheelchair. She did not dare allow her head to turn to the left, for every time she saw the little horror – the thing they all called Lady Emerald – she was gripped by panic and was afraid she may lose her composure again. She did not even let herself look around the rest of the room, as not long ago she had seen a mouse rapidly dart across the floor, and almost shrieked. 

The rasping from Lady Emerald continued as they waited for dinner to arrive. Lord Berrick seemed unperturbed by this, or by Lucy’s discomfort, and smiled proudly across at both of them. He looked as if they had hit it off and were now the best of friends, despite the reality that they had not yet exchanged communication of any form. Lucy was not yet sure if Emerald was able to speak but was certain she did not want to hear her voice if she had one.

Lucy understood now that her trail of rainwater had not been noticed – it paled in comparison to the chaos that surrounded these people in their home, and which evidently did not bother them. She sat near the edge of the chair, willing for the dinner to be over, and for Lord Berrick to offer her the chance to reject the position in the manor, for any opportunity to say this had all been a dreadful mistake and she had to return home somehow. Instead, he said only, “You must find us very strange, but you will get used to us in time.”

Mrs. Crosse arrived carrying a serving bowl and spooned its steaming contents onto the three dinner plates, Lord Berrick’s, Lady Emerald’s, and lastly Lucy’s. Lucy finally moved her gaze from the ceiling, downwards onto what was on her plate – a stew of powdery gravy and clumps of grey, ambiguous meat. She was nauseated. Mrs. Crosse planted her spoon ungraciously in the remainder of the stew, and the handle landed against the bowl with a clunk. “Thank you,” Lucy managed to whisper.

“You have now met everyone who lives here in the manor,” Lord Berrick said, in between mouthfuls of the stew which he apparently enjoyed. “Of course, this is a great house, and there used to be a great many staff, coming and going. We held so many parties, and I’m sure you would be impressed by some of the famous names who have visited me here.” Lucy said nothing, afraid that in her ignorance she would not have heard of them even if he told her. “Ah yes, we have had some wonderful times here in the manor, but you see, I don’t need to keep so many staff these days, and much of the manor is closed off. We live only out of a few of the rooms now. And we make do with my most loyal staff – Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse… everyone else left long ago.”

Lucy made some attempt at slicing the meat, and moving it around the plate, for fear of seeming impolite, but as far as she could tell neither Lord Berrick, nor Mrs. Crosse, who stood with her arms folded imperiously in the corner, seemed to notice that she was not eating. Neither did they notice – as Lucy did, even though trying not to look – that Emerald had not touched her food either and was sitting completely still other than the strange rising and falling of her folded chest.

From the corner of her eye, Lucy saw rapid movement again. Whatever was moving this time was bigger this time – too large to be a mouse, and for a brief moment she feared a giant rat, but then saw, when it came close enough to the candlelight, that it was a sleek ginger cat. It confidently approached the table, and to Lucy’s surprise, leapt and landed on Emerald’s lap. Lucy made herself look properly now, and saw that Emerald was lopsided in the chair, as if half-conscious. The cat had yellow eyes and a squashed, angry face, but rubbed its fur against Emerald and nudged her gently.

Emerald stirred slightly. Without warning, the cat opened its mouth and spat out onto Emerald’s skirt a lumpy cud of half chewed fish. Lucy saw one black eye in the slimy mix and shuddered. The cat descended to the floor and watched Emerald closely. It prodded her a few more times, until finally Emerald collected the gift in her hands and lifted them to her open mouth. Lucy saw rows of jagged teeth – all one size – within Emerald’s mouth, which clamped down on the fish and chewed it noisily.

Lord Berrick finished his meal and set his cutlery down happily, and Mrs. Crosse collected their plates. It was incredible to Lucy that Lord Berrick and Mrs. Crosse could be so unaffected by the behaviour of Emerald and the cat and accept their environment so placidly. Lord Berrick’s gaze settled on Lucy again, and he smiled knowingly. She blushed. Finally, he said, “You may be wondering what sort of a house you have come to, and you may be considering leaving – but when you get to know Lady Emerald’s beauty better – as you will presently – you will not wish to leave.”

At once, Lucy thought of escaping. If she ran now, perhaps she could make it to the front door and onto the grounds before Lord Berrick had a chance to alert Treyvs, but before she could consider where she might go next, she saw Mrs. Crosse return through the dining room door, followed by Treyvs. He closed the door behind them, and they both took seats at the table. This was most strange, especially to see Treyvs seated next to Lord Berrick at a dining table, and what’s more, doing so while wearing filthy overalls, but Lucy was quickly learning that nothing should be unexpected anymore.

“Now,” said Lord Berrick, the smile not disappearing from his face, “Lady Emerald will sing for us.” He looked at Emerald expectantly. Lucy saw the expressions of Mrs. Crosse and Mr. Treyvs. They too looked at Emerald, but both seemed impatient – even desperate. Mrs. Crosse wrung her hands and the intensity in Mr. Treyvs’ stare made Lucy look away. “Come on now, Emerald,” Lord Berrick said. “We are all waiting for your performance. Lucy has come all this way to hear you sing.”

Lord Berrick, Treyvs, and Mrs. Crosse all leaned forward in suspense. A few seconds passed where nothing seemed to happen. Then Lucy became aware of a low rattling sound, like nothing she had ever heard. It grew louder and – yes, Lucy turned her ear to confirm – it was coming from Emerald. The Lady’s bony fingers gripped the sides of her wheelchair, as her mouth opened wider, and her chest oscillated – the noise increasing all the time. Lucy winced at the sound – which had now escalated to a terrible, heaving, unnatural scream – and could tell the sheer effort it was exerting from Emerald. Her entire frame was now seized up in concentration. It was horrifying.

To her surprise, Lucy saw that the others were mesmerised by the sound. Lucy’s mother had told her that in the big cities there were opera houses where rich people came to listen to beautiful women sing in foreign languages. Now, seeing Lord Berrick, Mr. Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse sitting with their eyes closed, a look of serenity upon their faces, Lucy could almost imagine they were sitting in the audience of one of those opera houses. She had never heard what those cultured people might call beautiful music, but she hoped it was better than this.

Suddenly, Emerald sighed, and her head flopped back in her chair, exhausted. The noise stopped. Lucy looked, panic stricken, between Emerald and the three people across the table. No one moved. Lord Berrick was completely still, smiling, while beside him, the sense of anxiety had left both Mrs. Crosse and Mr. Treyvs – they all sat in silence in their shared ecstasy. None of them were concerned for Lady Emerald, who seemed to be passed out, her breathing shallow.

The cat, who had stayed by Emerald’s side, now stood, wide eyed, its tail perfectly straight, and looked at Emerald with concern, but this time prodded Lucy instead. It took a few steps towards the door, then turned back and meowed loudly at Lucy. It kept repeating this until she got the message – it wanted Lucy to follow, and to bring Emerald with her.

Lucy did not know what she should do, but she felt she must do something, and currently had no better suggestions than following the direction of the cat. Nervously, she pushed the wheelchair out of the dining room – which was fairly effortless, Emerald was even lighter than she looked – and followed the ginger tom, as he padded off in the opposite direction from the front door and the foyer through which Lucy had entered. Lucy passed the magnificent staircase she had noticed earlier, and went deeper into the house, past more paintings, a piano, and past countless rooms – some with open doors, allowing her to glimpse furniture covered by beige sheets.

Finally, the cat, checking quickly behind himself that Lucy was still in pursuit with Emerald, entered a room which, as far as Lucy could tell – now slightly disorientated – was at the back of the building. It was a parlour, with forgotten dirty plates which piled high in the sink, and a forgotten loaf of bread grey and fungating. The windows of the parlour had several panes of glass completely missing. The cat proceeded directly to a door at the other side of the room, and stretched up to scratch at the handle, until Lucy turned it and the door swung open.

Looking out now, the grounds were larger even than it had seemed from the front of the house. The cat gave Lucy another signalling mew, and continued on its way, quite single minded. Lucy saw that it was following a diagonal path towards a glass summer house several yards away. It was still raining, but lighter than before, and although Lucy did consider that perhaps she should not wheel Lady Emerald out into the rain, she resolved to continue after the cat. After all, it was difficult to see how matters could be made much worse.

The path which led from the manor was slippery, but Lucy managed, within a few minutes, to direct the wheelchair into the summer house. It was made of glass which, unlike the main house, had maintained much of its integrity and was very warm. All around her were the strangest looking flora. One resilient green plant, its trunk corrugated like Emerald’s body, stood squat and proud in the earth. From every edge were jagged needles, and it wore a purple flower as a crown.

Steam was rising from Lucy’s sleeves, her clothes drying with her inside them. This was the first time she had felt warmth since arriving at the manor. The cat did not give Lucy reprieve to dry off and admire the flowers – it called to her, more excitedly, from the shallow algae covered pond in the centre of the summer house. Lucy obeyed, lifting Emerald, and bringing her to rest on the stone wall which circled the pond. She did her best to support Emerald upright, but her head flopped uselessly. The cat was not satisfied and leaned its weight onto Lucy’s arms, partially submerging Emerald. Aghast, Lucy resisted until, losing its temper, the cat bit Lucy’s hand. Lucy recoiled, meaning that Emerald slid into the pond, but she was so light and buoyant she only bobbed gently on the surface of the green water.

Confused, Lucy looked back and forth between Emerald and the tom cat. The lady was still unconscious – the only change was that her dress was now wet. The cat gave Lucy a last look of irritation and leapt – quite impressively – onto Emerald’s chest. In a second, Emerald’s trunk, her neck, her face, were underwater. The cat jumped back onto the wall and hissed – it did not much like wet fur. Lucy clambered forward, ready to dive in and pull Emerald out when something stopped her. It may have been a trick of the light, as the already darkening sky was turning completely black through the glass ceiling above them, and the screen of green obscured a clear view of what was beneath the water’s surface, but Emerald seemed to be breathing underwater. Not the desperate, uneven breathing of before, but now calmly, and painlessly. She seemed comfortable, and, for a moment, somehow, she was beautiful.

Slowly, Emerald sat up. Those unhuman bags of fluid – her eyes – seemed brighter – and her skin, slightly less translucent. She propelled herself towards the pond’s edge. Lucy unwittingly let out a sharp cry of surprise and relief. Emerald had been refreshed – to some degree – but was still no picture of a normal Lady. However weak she was while in the dry, sitting in her wicker wheelchair, she was strong in water. She looked up at Lucy and said, “I owe you my thanks”. 

Lucy shivered to hear Emerald’s voice. She remembered running into the field to follow her father one day when she was little, on a day he carried guns for Mr. Altham and some other gentlemen. At first, he did not see her walking behind them, and when he finally spotted her, they were far from home, and he had no choice but to let her continue to follow them but warned her to keep back and watch from a distance. When finally, a duck had been shot, it fell to the ground, winged but not killed, twitching on the grass. While the gentlemen cheered and the hounds jumped in excitement, her father had taken the duck in hand and wrung its neck. His teeth were clenched, and his hands were covered in blood. Lucy remembered the anguished screech the creature made, and the snapping of its neck in quick succession. Each word uttered by Emerald reminded Lucy of that day – screeching and snapping all at once.

“And thank you,” Emerald said to the cat. It squeezed its eyes closed and purred proudly. Lucy saw that it had a collar with a brass tag which said “Philothea”.

“Th-thank you,” Lucy said uncertainly to Philothea the cat.



Lucy awoke with pain throughout her body. She had fallen asleep awkwardly, balanced in a too small armchair next to Emerald’s bed. Out of decency she had kept on her two-piece underwear – although it was soaked – but had removed her dress and hung it over the tin bathtub. Now her limbs were aching as if the water had irrigated her tissues, instead of evaporating into the air. Everything was cold here.

Emerald was asleep with Philothea beside her. They were on a four-poster bed, built for a child, but still large for Emerald. It had stopped raining at last, and light spilled through between the curtains, lighting up silent columns of dust. The house was quiet, and Lucy thought she might run away if she could find her way to the front door. However, Emerald had directed the way back from the summer house last night in the dark, and Lucy now could not remember the way. Strangely, the idea of escaping made her feel somewhat guilty – Emerald did scare her but was at the mercy of Lord Berrick and his servants, who were at best a tad touched, and at worst, completely crazed.

Lucy stretched into her dress and went quietly out the door, down the hall leading from Emerald’s bed chamber. She was sure she was not far from the main entrance or the room where they had taken dinner the night before but did not recognise the rooms she was now passing, all containing different orientations of furniture with their beige sheet coverings. It was brighter this morning, and Lucy could see that not all the blackened windows were cracked and boarded, some were simply so caked in filth that they had given the impression of being boarded up when she saw them last night. She wandered for a few minutes when her eye was drawn to one room in which there was a great array of ornaments, glinting in the day light.

Without contemplating it, she found herself standing open mouthed in the midst of the room, surrounded by the strangest objects. There was so much to look at it, she could scarcely take it all in, and her attention was pulled rapidly from one thing to the next: from one wall hung a curved sword – something like one of the scythes from the farm, but the blade was golden and the hilt peppered with coloured stones; on another, there were several wooden masks, each depicting a different, carved frightening face – not like Emerald, but inhuman in a different way. The largest, in the centre, had a huge mane of dried greenish grass which emerged from all sides. It seemed to be screaming and made Lucy shudder. In one of several glass cabinets sat the most curious jars – aquamarine, perhaps made of clay, with lids shaped like the heads of sharp-nosed cats. In another cabinet, there were dolls made of sticks, with thread tied around their centre, caked in crumbling, dried paint – or blood? Besides these, Lucy thought, seemed to be larger dolls – or, in fact, only the heads of dolls – although Lucy did not see what girl would play with them – as their skin was dark as mud, their eyes and mouth sewn shut.

The figure of a fat man, gold in colour with black washed through it, was positioned near the centre of the room – his ear lobes hung almost to his shoulders, one hand resting in his folded legs, the other held up with an open palm. Lucy studied his face – his eyes were the shape of a rising moon, and his hair was formed as a multitude of metal berries. Above his head, Lucy could see around the room, an elaborate stone frieze with many interlaced, contorted figures, mid-dance. There were many cavorting partners – men with women, women with women, men with men, and groups of three or more. She narrowed her eyes, taking in the finer details of the carving – and then looked away when she realised what they were doing.

Turning to leave, Lucy stumbled over a stool – which she saw was actually the foot of a great grey animal. Above it, she noticed the image of a beautiful woman, hanging next to the door. This, the most natural portrayal of life she had so far found in this room, was still not like any real person: the woman was totally green – her hair, her eyes, her skin, her clothes – and rested on a bed of unfolding lilies, looking over her shoulder to smile at the viewer. Her hair and robes fell down and rose again in swirling rings around her. In the distance, a circus top was depicted, and more curiously, below the flower, extended a fish’s silver tail. Long lettering spelled out across the top of the poster: La véritable fée verte, and in smaller writing at the bottom was written: Venez voir notre ravissante fille verte et écoutez ses magnifiques chansons.

“Ecoutez ses magnifiques chansons!” announced a croaking voice over her left shoulder, making Lucy jump. It was Lord Berrick, who must have crept in while she was absorbed in the picture of the green lady. Lucy was embarrassed to see him dressed in his silk gown, a maroon paisley pattern, wrapped over his clothes. Smiling, he lifted a fez from a hook behind the door and placed it jauntily on his head.

“I see you’ve found my collection,” he said. “Well –” he laughed or burped “– a portion of it.”

“Begging your pardon, Mister Berrick,” Lucy whimpered. “I was only looking for the way out from the lady’s room, and came to –”

“Oh no need for apologies,” the Lord chuckled, and he did not seem annoyed. “Heaven knows, there has been no one else to appreciate these trinkets for an age.” He began to circle the room as he spoke, “What did you think of them?” 

He giggled instead of waiting for a reply. Lucy blushed. He knew she could not be expected to appreciate art. She was the joke. “Yes, I picked these up on my travels – or my searches, as I put them – or otherwise, one of the visitors have brought them to the manor at one time or another.” Lord Berrick paused and lifted some rickety beads, and said “from a witchdoctor in Guyana,” then pointed to the golden fat man, “the forests of Borneo – they eat bats there, I’m told”, and then rested his hand on a translucent orb, connected to a fabric rope which coiled and terminated in a thin pipe. “This is from the Maghreb, of course – so is this”, he tapped his fez.

“I was always searching. My father was of course Clive Phineus Berrick – yes, the same, the peer of the realm – and yes, I never quite met with expectations, as I’m sure you can imagine. He would have been happy for me to have rowed at Cambridge, to sit beside Aston or Sanderson or whoever else at Lords – and certainly to sing All Creatures Great and Small with wife and children on a Sunday – pah! But no, I was always after something more than that…”

Lucy had nothing to say and wanted to leave. Lord Berrick seemed to be encouraged by Lucy’s discomfort and edged further towards her. “You see I knew I’d much rather be in the deepest amazon drinking the darkest cacao – so dark that it can make one hallucinate. I wanted to see the dance of the tribespeople of Rhodesia, and I wanted to break bread with the poets on the Greek islands – where there’s women who marry women you know.” Lucy stepped backward and Lord Berrick smiled more broadly.

“Over the years I’ve learned all about mysticism, about Santeria, about the Sufis, the Voodoos, the Catholics, the Pagans… But still I was searching… When I grew up and inherited this house, my many friends – father never approved of them – my friends came to see me from all over the world and brought their friends. Do you know your Hindoos from your Mohammedians? After you learn the difference, you’ll know they can never be seated together at the table!”

None of this had any meaning for Lucy, and she felt that it never could. Lord Berrick continued, speaking faster as he progressed, and he splattered saliva as he spoke. “I really thought I had seen it all. Whatever I did not see in its natural habitat, it was brought to one of my parties – or else I saw it at the fairs, circuses, and freak-shows – in this country or on the continent… I saw the hermaphrodites of Siam, I’ve seen an African from the Belgian Congo dressed up as if he was a gentleman, in a suit – ha! – and even an Indian in a top hat! I’d seen it all – but I was still searching…then,” he tapped the poster, with the foreign words, “Lady Emerald… When Emerald joined us, I knew I could stop searching.”

Finally, Lord Berrick stopped for breath and leaned back. Lucy moved further towards the door. “Of course our parties grew larger and more popular then – more and more high fliers from the echelons of society were flocking to the manor to see the green lady, and hear her voice… Oh yes, many of them well known too, but stepping out discreetly, away from prying eyes – Here I’ve dined with opera singers and gem merchants, with politicians and communists, with muftis and maharajas, and many Chinamen in silk robes, with fingernails as long as your arm… all of them doing their searching, in their own way.” Lord Berrick held out jewellery in his open palm – she did not see where he had hidden it before now – a geometric golden bracelet, linked together with opulent jewels – and it made Lucy gasp. “Yes, even royalty could not resist the call of Emerald – all in secrecy of course – and some are extremely generous. You’ve heard how enticing the Lady’s song is, so you won’t judge us too harshly when I tell you that the demand for her performances grew steadily, and soon we were holding our little soirees nightly… soon we forgot all about the delicious meals and fine wine that was once served, it hardly mattered any more, and we started to let the staff go… all that mattered was the Lady’s voice…

“But sadly, the enfante has become tired, her voice is straining, and she has spoken about all manner of silly things. We needed to preserve her voice, and health – and we started to shut the house down. This was not a decision we took lightly, believe me, and there were many protestations at the start. But soon people moved on, and I hear that there are more exciting parties elsewhere now – a man who can levitate and survive being submerged in water for ten minutes, or a woman who scribbles automatically in a sort of a trance and sometimes coughs up ectoplasm!”

Lord Berrick was quiet for a few moments, then seemed to become spirited again. “Well, all’s well that ends well. We couldn’t be happier now, could we?” Lucy said nothing. “Especially now that you have joined our fold. Emerald wished to have the company of another girl, and we thought, certainly, that would be good for her. And we know that we can trust you not to share the delicate matter of Emerald living here at the manor.” He wrinkled his nose.

Lucy nodded. This is why they had chosen a girl like her to move here and keep Emerald company. She had no place in the world, no one to tell and no one to believe her – although it was unclear why Emerald had wanted this, and how Lucy might be of any help to this bizarre organisation.

“Lord Berrick,” Mrs. Crosse spoke from the doorway, making Lucy jump. “The Lady is awake.”

“I’ll attend to her Ladyship at once,” Lucy rushed forward, pleased for being given a reason to leave that awful conversation.

“Ah of course, my dear,” Lord Berrick called after her, and chuckled. Lucy could hear his laughter continue through the walls as she made her way back along the corridor to Emerald’s room.


Lucy’s days at the manor followed a sad pattern. She would wake early in the morning and spend time quietly while Emerald slept, which she did for most of the day. When Emerald finally stirred, Lucy helped her onto her wicker chair, and they waited in her chamber to be called to dinner. Lucy never saw Emerald without her black lace dress. Dinner would be the same as the night of Lucy’s arrival – the serving of a stew – barely edible – before Lord Berrick, Treyvs, and Mrs. Crosse sat down to listen as Emerald was compelled to perform. Sometimes food was omitted, forgotten altogether, as if Emerald’s voice was all that was needed to sustain them.

Emerald did not eat what was served in any case, and Philothea would appear periodically with fish morsels for her. As for Lucy, she had no appetite, and was disgusted by the house kitchen and everything that was cooked in it. She found a parlour with jars of preserved peaches and would eat these when she felt weak. Soon, her dress was loose around her waist, and her normally round cheeks looked slim in the mirror, for the first time in her life. Once or twice, Philothea dropped a dead sparrow at Lucy’s feet, and Lucy appreciated the gesture, although it made her feel sick.

To maintain her sanity, Lucy would sometimes wander the corridors near Emerald’s room during the day, always close enough that she could run back if she heard approaching footsteps. She limited her contact with the others as much as possible. Sometimes she imagined that the house was hers, and she could run through it, whipping the sheets from the forgotten furniture, clearing all the dust and muck from every cranny. She lacked the imagination of how she might change the style of the place but reckoned that it would be fine enough with a thorough clean and lick of paint. She would love to see how her little brothers and sisters would be, playing here, with so much space to run around, and each with their own bed – even their own bathroom! Her father too, could have his own four poster bed, eat whatever he wanted for breakfast, and even have his own butler. Then Lucy would stop and dwell on her family. She was glad they were not really here, to see the conditions she lived in, and who she lived with.

What frightened Lucy the most in the house were Emerald’s episodes of exhaustion after her nightly performances. It was plain to Lucy that the Lady was growing weaker, and she seemed able to sing for briefer intervals as time went on and would take longer to recover each time. In a strange way, Lucy liked the rare evenings where Emerald still had some strength left, and – even though the three others sat fixated, in a stupor, after the song – Lucy and Emerald would speak to one another.

Lucy would push the wheelchair into another room where they could look out at the grounds from a large bay window, and Emerald would ask Lucy about herself, her family, her father and mother. The conversations were strange, but Emerald was kind. It seemed that Emerald had a family too, far away, who she missed, and she wanted to return to them. It was difficult for Lucy to understand, because whenever she asked where they were, she did not understand what Emerald said. One evening she said, “The people here gave me the name Emerald, but my name is something else.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, your Ladyship,” Lucy said contritely.

Emerald smiled. “They gave me the name Lady too. My name is something else.” Lucy waited curiously, while the creature seemed to be thinking. “It is something like green… Something like green, and like seaweed at the same time. None of them asked me what to call me.”

Lucy hesitated, wondering if she sounded stupid at usual, but then said, “If you like, I’d be happy to call you Lady Seaweed.”

“Seaweed,” Seaweed smiled, “No Lady.” When she smiled, she exposed those rows of inhuman teeth, but Lucy was accustomed to them now, and was even happy to see them if it meant Seaweed was in good spirits and free of pain.

Often, though, and with increasing regularity, Seaweed would collapse after her nightly duties. Lucy never saw Lord Berrick, Treyvs or Mrs. Crosse moved by this, but Philothea, in contrast, became exercised and would remain at her side until she recovered. Lucy got faster at making her way, with the wheelchair, from the dining room, through the house, along the path and into the summer house, moving as quickly as she could, all the while listening to ensure Seaweed’s laboured breathing was continuing. The wheelchair was abandoned at the door to the summer house, and Lucy rushed Seaweed – dress and all – into the pond and pushed her through the film of algae and frogspawn, until submerged. The wait until Seaweed sat up was long, and grew longer each time, but she always did so, looking, at least to some extent, better than before.

One night, when Lucy was placing Seaweed onto her bed, she saw that she was clutching something. “Someone gave this to me when there were visitors here, a holy man I think”. She passed it to Lucy to look at, a religious drawing, battered and faded, and with frayed corners, but the image of a young soldier tied to a wooden pole, looking up piously to the sky. All around, orange flames rose from the ground, and wicked looking men stood in the background holding torches. At the bottom, was written Jeanne D’Arc. Lucy looked again at the soldier’s face and – yes – how odd, it was the face of a girl, probably around Lucy’s age. She must have been in terrible pain.

“She knows what it is to drown,” Seaweed said. Lucy looked at her, confused. “I am drowning here, in your land. I long to go back to where I come from. This is how it feels to drown.”

Lucy’s routine remained unchanged over the coming days, until one morning when she was looking out of the window in Seaweed’s room, thinking that she really should send a letter or telegram to her father, and wondering if she would be able to – to what extent she was a prisoner here – and Lord Berrick unexpectedly knocked on the door.

Seaweed, also sensing the strangeness of this, sat up straight away. Lucy stood dumbly for a moment but then opened the door when he knocked again. “Good morning my dear – fine morning, fine morning,” he said, his smile even broader than usual. “Ah my dear Lady – you’ll be delighted to know that I’ve been consulting my books – reading fervently – yes – I knew the answer would be in there somewhere – and it is – I found it at last – it seems that the ticket back to your home – where you’ve told me several times, yes, harped on, yes, I know you want to go back – it all lies in you – and it doesn’t have to be where you first landed so to speak – oh no – in fact, we can do it, you can do it right away – I see no reason not to do it right away.”

Lucy blinked. Seaweed said nothing.

“Don’t you see my child – it’s today?” Lord Berrick exclaimed, “Today we can send you home! We will be going down to the beach this afternoon!”

Lucy smiled at first, and looked excitedly to Seaweed, but saw that her expression was unchanged. Philothea hissed loudly at Lord Berrick.

“You’re not convinced, but you’ll see. I have been studying all those ancient tomes – and every manner of lore – and a dear friend finally sent me the one that I was looking for – turns out it had been under lock in key in a library in Ceylon until now – and I couldn’t simply let it be auctioned off – I had a feeling that it had what we needed, and it does – you’ll see!” He turned on his heels and jauntily walked down the corridor, and after a few paces called out again, “You’ll see!”

Lucy closed the door and sat on the edge of Seaweed’s bed. “What’s the matter, Seaweed?” she asked, “Don’t you want to go home? And see your family again?”

“This isn’t right. No people has ever said I was allowed to go home, only argued over who is allowed to have me,” Seaweed said quietly. “I long to leave this place, and I grow weaker every day that I’m here… I asked many times, and he said that they would send me one day, when he discovered how, but that if I was so lonely here, they would bring me a companion… that was before you got here…” Lucy was frightened. “I don’t know. Can it be true?”

Lucy could hear there was movement and excited voices in the rest of the house. She did not know how to prepare Seaweed for this journey, although Lord Berrick mentioned the beach, so she presumed it was a trip by boat. Lucy avoided Mrs. Crosse as much as possible, but reluctantly went to clarify the plans.

As she neared the front drawing room, Lucy heard there was a group of people talking together quickly, and one of the voices was new – a man, but high pitched, and it seemed, nervous.

“- well, you see, this has all been very short notice, L-Lord Berrick,” he was stuttering. “I did not have time to draw up the documents, as-as well as I’d have liked.”

“Yes!” Lord Berrick said gleefully, “But it will suffice, if challenged, I’m sure it will suffice – because there are a few meddlers I’ve met over the years, distant cousins and the like, who would like to get their hands on this house.”

“Yes, it should all be,” the other man replied, “All-all be legally binding. We just need the signatures.”

“That’s what I like about you, Callendar, always discreet and quick to act, not like my father’s old lawyers Devine and Jones, I couldn’t stand them – everything to the letter, and questioning where my money was going… had to get rid of them!”

Papers were being shuffled. Lucy crept forward and peered round the door frame. Lord Berrick was seated on one side of the desk, and on the other was a very thin man in a suit. He was quite bald, with a few strands of long hair combed over his moist head from the sides, and every few seconds he would dab sweat away from his face and neck with a yellowing handkerchief. Standing over both were Mr. Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse. Lucy could not read their expressions. Everyone was joyless, apart from Lord Berrick, who was manic.

“Now I must check that you understand what this means,” the man called Callendar said more quietly, as if hoping to escape the ears of Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse who were standing right next to him. “In the event of your death, your fortune and all your possessions – the house, and its contents, including the priceless artefacts – will become the property of Mr. Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse.” Callendar leaned forward, “It would be better if we had time to discuss this in private. Perhaps with members of your family present…”

“Oh no need, no need, my good man!” Lord Berrick laughed. “That will do nicely. No need to worry – I am under no duress. And though I said that the will and testimony must be done immediately, have no fear that my good servants are planning to finish me off! Let’s just call it the eccentricities of an old man.”

Callendar turned and looked at Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse briefly. They met his eyes but did not smile. “And you’ve put in the clause about my will standing even if my body is never found – that absolutely must be in there,” Lord Berrick said.

“Yes, it’s here,” Callendar pointed to one of the pages before him, but Lord Berrick did not bother to check.

“Splendid!” Lord Berrick exclaimed, “You see, nothing to worry about, you two will be quite well taken care of after I’m gone,” he said to Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse, “Nothing to stop you helping me today.”

Callendar looked like he was about to ask something, but Lord Berrick reached forward and removed the quill from his hand, dabbed it in his inkwell, and signed the bottom of each page with a flourish.

Lucy went to move back, and return swiftly to Seaweed’s room, but must have moved too sharply, catching Lord Berrick’s eye. “Lucy my dear!” he called out happily. “You and the Lady go and wrap up warm. It’s fresh outside and we are setting off for the beach!”



The path to the beach was tortuous and steep, tracking down a rock face which bordered the grounds, approximately a hundred yards East of the summer house. Lucy made her way slowly, choosing her footing cautiously, while Mr. Treyvs, carrying Seaweed in her chair, was swift and nimble – but it was Lord Berrick who led the way, bouncing cheerfully from one stone purchase to the next. He must have known these grounds since he was a child, Lucy thought. The strip of beach was short, and the waves brought with them a piercing breeze. Lucy had found a brown knitted sweater in a drawer, and pulled it on over her dress, but still shivered. She wondered if this was still part of Lord Berrick’s land, but no one explained anything.

Lord Berrick, Mr. Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse were standing in a semi-circle around Seaweed. “It’s time,” Lord Berrick said, breathlessly.

“I told you, I don’t know how,” Seaweed replied. “As well, this is the wrong place.”

Mr. Treyvs’ eyes widened, but Lord Berrick smiled and nodded to Mrs. Crosse. Lucy saw she was carrying a hefty block and, seeing her open it up, was startled to realise it was a vast book. The books Lucy’s mother had had been short, and much smaller than this, and could be comfortably held in one hand – she had never imagined books like this might exist, bigger even than the Bible in church. A strip of fabric had kept the place of a particular page, which Mrs. Crosse now showed to Emerald, standing with the open book before her.

Lucy couldn’t see the page from where she stood. Perhaps it showed a map, Lucy thought, and watched Seaweed’s face which was studying the page intently, until her lips tightened together and she and looked away from the page. Seaweed had understood whatever she read. Lord Berrick breathed heavily and signalled to Treyvs, who guided Seaweed’s chair forward to the water’s edge. Lord Berrick stepped forward too – could he be preparing to bid a final farewell to Seaweed before she returned home, even embrace her? – but no, he stood next to her, looking at the water. Behind them, Treyvs clenched his fists, and Mrs. Crosse held the book against her chest, her arms folded, both unusually quiet and pensive.

Lucy felt uneasy. If this process was leading to some passage back home for Seaweed, then she was pleased – but she would be happier if she could confer with Seaweed privately about what was going on – and tell her about the bizarre interaction she had witnessed with the lawyer Callendar and speak together about what it could all mean. Still, she waited hopefully, teeth chattering, for some sign of transport for Seaweed.

Nothing happened for some time. Lucy stood a few paces behind and could not see Seaweed’s face, but saw she was gripping onto her chair, her knuckles white. Finally, her head drew back at an angle, and Lucy was worried she had lost consciousness again, when the screeching started. This time, even Lucy, who had never discerned anything from Seaweed’s singing other than noise, could tell this was different from the ‘performances’ after dinner. The sound emerged powerfully, sending vibrations so strong that they almost knocked Lucy over – and no, it was not her imagination – Treyvs lost his balance for a moment, and shifted into a broad-based stance, and Mrs. Crosse’s hair and skirt were flying wildly, a change from her normally symmetrical, starched appearance.

Lucy saw the surface of the water was trembling with the noise, as if the tide had suddenly reversed, and waves were originating from the shore and travelling out to sea. Lord Berrick, seemingly undeterred by the sensation, was edging forward and, with all his clothes on, stood in the water, his trousers, his shoes, everything all wet. His gaze never wavered. Lucy followed his line of sight, trying to understand what transfixed him. She only saw the large ripples spreading throughout the water, becoming more violent as Seaweed’s voice grew louder – and then something else.

The waves terminated abruptly at a point in the distance, before the horizon, as if falling off a great ledge that had not been there a moment ago. Lucy knew the others had spotted it too – excitement overtook Lord Berrick and Seaweed stopped singing. Lucy’s mind raced to understand what she was seeing – somehow there was a new opening in the water’s surface several metres off the shore – and it was moving, coming closer – and as it neared, she could see it was a curved indentation, a great cave in the surface of the water, leading downwards, and with it came a terrifying noise, becoming louder.

“Listen, do you hear them?” Berrick rasped, “I can hear their voices!” Of course, now Lucy could hear too, as it grew nearer, this din was not one monotonous noise, but several voices, crying out. Lucy thought for a terrible moment that there may be hundreds of people trapped in this vast hole. “There they are, a whole choir… just like Emerald,” Berrick said.

He turned to Seaweed and tugged her further forward, so that the water lapped the bottom of her chair and splashed onto her dress. He looked at her as if expecting her to join in the noise, but she hardly moved, surely too exhausted from her last song, but, as if in response to her, the noise from the opening changed perceptibly, the voices suddenly were organised, singing in unison. They were calling out, imploringly – even warmly.

Berrick briefly turned to face Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, some spittle leaked from the angles of his mouth. “They’re here – I told you – a whole nation of them – I must – remember what I said – if there’s time, only if you can, the girl too – but I must go first – I…” He sounded deranged. Without warning he was running through the water, splashing water clumsily around him as he waded deeper, fully clothed, and then when in deeper water, started swimming out to the opening.

“No”, Seaweed croaked. Lucy saw her reach her hand out feebly. The voices seem to grow louder with anticipation. Lucy looked round herself, at Mrs. Crosse whose teeth were clenched together, Treyvs whose face had turned crimson and at Seaweed who, weak as she was, squirmed in her chair and cried out, “This isn’t right!” 

Lucy did not know what to do but look on in horror as Berrick reached the opening. It wobbled, and the voices vibrated too, growing more excited, reaching a crescendo. Berrick paused at the cusp of the great wet crater, as if he was somehow holding onto a ledge. Perhaps he had seen what lay before him and hesitated. For a second, Lucy thought she saw him start to turn his body, like he wanted to call for help or begin to swim back to shore, but, in the next moment, he was gone.

Over the next few seconds, the voices ceased one by one. Finally, there was a silence in which no one moved, and it seemed even the waves sat motionless. Lucy found it hard to catch her breath, struggling to understand what had just happened. Then, the opening began to close, filled in by the surrounding water, like a circle made of waterfalls flowing from every direction. Beside her, Seaweed panicked, “No, it’s not right,” she reached out, and – Lucy gasped – she fell forward from her chair into the water.

“Stop her!” Mrs. Crosse was snarling to Treyvs. “Don’t you see we need her!”

The waves resumed now, more violent than before, as if acting out of anger at Berrick’s cruel trick against the sea. Lucy rushed forward to help Seaweed, but recoiled when her hands entered the water. Each chop of freezing water felt like a hundred small cuts against her skin. Treyvs, pushed past her with a grunt, and ungraciously deposited Seaweed back into her chair, the entirety of which he heaved upwards and started the climb back to the manor.

Mrs. Crosse remained standing, looking out to where Lord Berrick had been pulled down into the sea. The book was gripped tightly against her chest, and, as Lucy watched her, she realised she was quivering, trembling with fear or rage. Lucy waited for a few moments, but then started on the path back without waiting to be excused.



That evening there was no call to dinner. Lucy felt too drained even to cry. She sat in the chair at Seaweed’s bedside and tried to remember her mother’s telling her she was a good girl, but presently she could not recall the sound of her voice. She must have fallen asleep, for suddenly she opened her eyes, and it was light outside, and she was startled to find Seaweed was sitting up, awake, before her, for the first time.

“We must go downstairs,” Seaweed said gravely.

Mrs. Crosse was sitting at the dining room table, and Treyvs was standing by the window. It did not seem either of them had slept last night, and Lucy had the impression they had been arguing a moment before she arrived with Seaweed. They said nothing as Lucy pushed Seaweed up to the table.

“I know what you want,” Seaweed said. Her voice was quieter now. Mrs. Crosse and Treyvs remained silent for a moment. “The man who came here yesterday. The one who handled your money. He made it so this house was yours. Bring him here today, now.”

Mrs. Crosse’s eyes widened. “Are you proposing…?”

“He made it so that now the old man went away, the house is yours and all the things,” Seaweed said plainly. “You want me to send you to the same place as the old man. I want you to make it so that the house and all the things belong to Lucy.”

Only the briefest of looks went between Treyvs and Mrs. Crosse, before he left hurriedly, and a second later they heard him go out the front door. Mrs. Crosse stood up, breathing quickly, ringing her hands. Lucy marvelled at whatever enchanting quality there was in the song of Seaweed that could make these people hand over a fortune from person to person as if they were trading aniseed sweets; that could have so much value to these servants that inheriting this vast manor meant nothing to them in comparison to being surrounded by Seaweed’s people, all singing like her. Lucy wondered why she was immune or oblivious to the attraction of the noise but was thankful. She felt disgust for all of them: Berrick, Treyvs, and Crosse. But now, more than anything, she pitied them.

In less than an hour, they were sitting in the drawing room with Callendar. Discretion was seemingly no longer a priority for Treyvs or Crosse, as Seaweed sat slumped in corner, in plain sight, and Callendar could not keep his eyes away from her. He struggled to stop his mouth from gaping open. “I-I…,” he stammered. “I must say this is all rather irregular. It’s most unusual… not normal…”

“What’s it got to do with you, eh?” Treyvs growled.

“I believe our request is simple enough,” Crosse said sharply. “Lord Berrick is dead. His body has vanished. I reported it to the police last night. The house and its contents belong to Mr. Treyvs and I – or at least they very shortly will, when the police are satisfied that Lord Berrick’s remains cannot be found and –”

“A-and one might ask why you are so certain the remains will not be found,” Callendar said. He dabbed sweat away from his temples. “Or indeed that he is dead, if he is known only to have vanished at this point… and it is all most unusual that this should happen so soon after his will and testimony has been changed.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Treyvs said and then pointed at Lucy. “We want it all to go to her, not us, and for it to be drawn up proper here, all above board!”

“I’m sorry, I-I s-simply can’t do this, I’m afraid,” Callendar stuttered. “My duty, my professional standards… I do find this all slightly suspicious, I must say.”

Silently Crosse reached into her pocket and withdrew something, laying it carefully on the table in front of Callendar. Lucy recognised it as the ornate bracelet Berrick had shown her in his room of artefacts. It contained so many different coloured jewels – she could not imagine how much even one of the jewels might cost – and beyond those, the bracelet was made of solid gold. Callendar looked at it and gulped.

“I trust this will serve as adequate payment, Mr. Callendar,” Crosse said coolly. “And compensate for any… inconveniences you have experienced on account of our request.”

Callendar wiped his brow with his stained handkerchief and gave one last look of concern towards Seaweed. He settled down in his chair, shuffled the documents before him and then dipped his pen in an inkwell, and whilst doing so, placed the bracelet in one of his pockets with his other hand. Lucy did not understand the legalities of it all but understood enough to know that Callendar had agreed to ensure this exchange happened.

Inheriting this manor – this vast house, the biggest she had ever seen, with more rooms than she could imagine using – and its priceless contents, did not seem to mean much. How could it, to a girl like Lucy, and when all these decisions were made without involving her, and for such awful reasons? The thought of it left Lucy feeling numb. She longed to be able to run back to her father’s house, to see the children, and for this whole episode to be over.

Callendar did not stay any longer than necessary. Treyvs and Crosse offered him no refreshments, and he was no doubt in a hurry to get to his own bank. No words were exchanged – still nothing said directly to Lucy about the wills, or the manor – but still what was clear was the aggression and determination in the eyes of both Crosse and Treyvs. Lucy knew what they wanted, where they were now going, and that it would be useless to fight them.

The weather was worse than the previous day, and Lucy battled against the wind, not to be pushed back onto the stone floor of the beach. Foam washed onto the shore and rocked Seaweed, who was crumpled in her chair like a napkin, hardly conscious. “Wake up now, girl,” Crosse said breathlessly, patting Seaweed roughly.

Seaweed’s head fell forward a few inches – she was more fragile than ever.

“What are you waiting for?” snarled Treyvs. “Get her to do it, like last time!”

“Go on then, girl,” Crosse insisted. “Sing like you did for the old man.”

“Hurry up,” was roared over the wind by one of them – Lucy could not tell which. Both Crosse and Treyvs faces were so crazed, Lucy could scarcely look at either.

Seaweed did not seem to take in what was said. Her chest was rising erratically again, and for a few seconds her breath stopped completely. Crosse took out a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and shoved it in front of Seaweed’s face. Lucy realised Crosse must have torn it from Berrick’s old book which she carried yesterday. Lucy’s mother had told her to protect books, never to let any writing get on a page, and certainly never to tear the pages – and those were only the dusty books at the schoolhouse. She shuddered to think of Crosse ripping pages from such an ancient, valuable text.

Seaweed opened her eyes and pushed Crosse’s hand aside. Once again, the low rumble, the bubbling on the water’s surface, and the reversal of the tide. The water began to separate, giving way to a disc shaped space, which expanded into a tunnel passing downwards from the surface.

Yet this time something was different. From the depths there was the sound again, Seaweed’s people joined in song. But this was not a welcoming anthem; this time they were angry – this was a song of war. Lucy looked down to find splintered debris at her feet. Pieces of bone. Could they be the bones of the old man?

“Yes, yes, the singing!” Crosse hissed, rushing forward into the foam. “I’m coming, it’s my turn!”

Lucy knew the voices were not inviting and that no good would come of this. She leapt forward, begging Crosse: “Stop, don’t you see that it’s wrong? Listen – they’re angry, they’ll kill you.”

Crosse lashed out, with an incomprehensible cry, and continued to clamber into the sea. Lucy fell back but collected herself in time to see Crosse’s skirts gathering around her like a black discus, advancing into the opening. Treyvs was watching also, wild eyed.

Suddenly, Crosse was yanked forward and disappeared underwater with a cry. For a moment there was silence, and Treyvs began to strip to the waist, preparing to follow her, but stopped cold when the singing voices increased in viciousness, and beyond them, they could hear cries of pain. Crosse was screaming. The black water bubbled furiously and became suffused with clouds of red. Blood.

“You filth!” Treyvs spat as he turned on Seaweed. His face was like a wild beast, “What did you do?” He loomed over her. Seaweed could hardly lift her head to return his gaze. “Answer me you worthless mongrel!” Treyvs pulled back his heavy fist, preparing to bring it down on Seaweed’s delicate frame. Lucy gasped and held out her arms in a pathetic plea.

Without warning, an orange flame appeared from amongst Seaweed’s skirts and lunged – Philothea’s claws extended – towards Treyvs’ face. Caught by surprise, Treyvs stumbled backwards, screaming obscenities, toppling over and landing on his back into the shallow water nearest the shore. Philothea jumped back onto the rocks and Treyvs sat up, glaring out at them – Seaweed, Philothea and Lucy – uglier than ever – but he was moving, and gathering momentum as the tide was taking him further out.

“No!” he called out, as he became further submerged. He pushed himself onto his front and thrashed out, trying to swim against the tide. Lucy looked around desperately to find a long stick or a rope she might throw to him and to pull him back onto land, but of course there was none, and then it was too late. She looked with horror as Treyvs bobbed up and down, and, when he reached the opening, was pulled down and did not re-appear. The water turned a deeper shade of red. Lucy turned away, but still could not avoid the noise of Treyvs’ screams amid the din.

Then, silence. Lucy looked instinctively at Seaweed, who was slumped, motionless in the chair. Philothea was pawing her arm frantically, but Seaweed did not stir.

“Oh no,” Lucy cried, wrapping her arms around Seaweed. “Is it too late?” Seaweed fell forward limply, which allowed Lucy to lift her onto the bank without resistance. Lucy looked down hopelessly at her. Seaweed looked lifeless.

The crashing waves calmed, and the voices were quieter. The dark red dissipated and the water was blue-black again. The waves were now soothed and, it seemed, friendly. However, Lucy could see the opening was quickly shrinking. Beneath the waves, the sound no longer seemed threatening, but now almost beseeching.

Lucy stepped nervously forward, half expecting the water to carry her mercilessly into its depths like Treyvs, but found that it only lapped her ankles gently, and was clement and warm against toes. Gingerly, she moved forward and lowered her burden onto the surface of the water. Seaweed slipped beneath the waves without flourish, passively, and the water welcomed her.

The ripples were reducing in frequency and height. Whatever connection Seaweed had made with her home, it was weakening. Lucy watched doubtfully until the ripples stopped completely, the voices were silenced, the tide returned to its usual flow. Seaweed could no longer be seen, and the opening was no more.

Philothea was by Lucy’s ankles, watching pensively. “What have I done?” Lucy asked. “It’s all too late. I wanted to send her home – but what if I’ve drowned her?” The cat did not flinch or look away but sat staring proudly at the water’s edge for several minutes, unblinking. Lucy looked around herself painfully.

Just as Lucy turned away with despair, Philothea jumped to his feet. His ears were pricked and tail extended. He could tell before Lucy that something had changed in the water’s movements, and for the better. The colour was somehow a softer blackness, the waves more cordial, the breeze less biting. And then, she heard it, Seaweed’s song emanating from beneath the water, and it was perfectly lovely. Philothea closed his eyes and purred.

At last Seaweed’s voice was strong and healthy. This was how she was meant to sound – how she must have sounded in the beginning – why so many travelled from every corner of the globe to hear her. Listening to it made Lucy feel important and capable. Now she understood why this sound had been craved by so many. The sound filled Lucy up and gave her a feeling of such serenity.

It started to fade – Seaweed surely delving deeper below the waves – but Lucy did not want it to end. It faded into silence, like a boat disappearing behind the fog, and Lucy, for a moment, felt that urge to dive into the water, to retrieve Seaweed and make her sing, to always sing, like so many others had tried to keep Seaweed for themselves and make her sing for them. But Lucy stopped herself – she closed her eyes, willing herself to be satisfied with what she heard, and the time she had with Seaweed. And then it was quiet.

Philothea led the way back up the climb towards the manor, and Lucy, panting, struggled to keep up with his pace.

Still, as the house came into sight above the rocks, Lucy could not help but feel that the darkened corners, the boarded and shattered windows, and its forgotten dilapidated rooms did not seem so shadowy and forbidding anymore. She started to think about the days to come. Lucy could dare to enter the many unexplored rooms of the manor and examine their treasures. In the following weeks her father and brothers and sisters could move into the manor, and Lucy could put on an evening gown from one of the wardrobes and stand in front of the mirror. Maybe her little brothers and sisters will stand around shouting “you’re just like mother!” And maybe – she hoped – her father would sit in an armchair by the fire, watching them, and smile.

Lucy stopped when she reached the top of the path and looked out from the cliff’s edge to the water below. For an instant, she thought she could see something move suddenly on the surface, a flash of green moving with the tide – perhaps a tumble of seaweed, perhaps something else. In the next moment it was gone, folded under a wave, back down below. Where it belongs. 





Shaun Peter Qureshi is a physician and research academic from Scotland, directing his work to facilitating improved health care, including palliative and end-of-life care, for people living at society’s margins. Shaun also creates visual art and writes fiction across a range of genres and modalities including short stories, interactive fiction, and video game development. Follow him on Twitter/X @shaun_qureshi or Instagram @shaunpqmd