‘I went over this on the phone.’
‘I just want to confirm the details.’
Mark pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘Olive skin. Dark brown hair. She’s… I don’t know, average build, I suppose. Just over four foot tall. She’s tall for her age.’
‘What was she wearing the last time you saw her?’
‘She was in pyjamas. Shorts and a t-shirt. They were white and blue. They had this print on them. Some sort of animal. Rabbits, maybe. Or elephants.’
‘The more specific you can be, the better.’
‘I’m trying. They were new. Her mum had bought them for her and packed them. It was the same animal over and over, like a repeating print. From a distance it would just look like polka dots, anyway.’
The police officer’s pen scratches at her notebook. Mark pushes his knuckles against his lips and stares at the floor.
‘What about her feet? Slippers?’
‘Her red trainers are gone from the back door. She must be in them.’
‘Can you describe them?’
He shakes his head and shrugs. ‘They’re red trainers.’
‘The more details the better, Mr Taylor.’
‘Okay. They’re like those Converse things, y’know? But not branded.’
‘Canvas? With a white toe?’
It was the mellow singsong of a blackbird that sidled into Emmy’s mind and pushed her from her sleep. Her eyelids flickered open and she saw the early sun sneak around the edges of her curtains and wash the room in a yellow haze.
She was nervous for just a couple of seconds as she took in her surroundings. They weren’t wholly familiar to her yet, and her back was unaccustomed to the hard springs of the mattress. She stretched out her torso and lifted her arms up to the ceiling, reminding herself of the rustic wooden beams which had perplexed her when she first arrived. Her father had told her that they were designed to hold up the ceiling, which left her wondering if the ceiling of her own bedroom at home could be capable of falling on her at any moment.
She peeled the duvet off and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. As she placed a foot down on the floor the wooden boards creaked. She froze.
She peered at the clock on the wall – the hands told her it was just after six, which she’d come to learn was far too early for her father’s tastes. She thought about rolling back into bed, but the pressure in her bladder would never allow sleep to return. With breath held she stood up, winced at the groaning wood beneath her, and crept to her bedroom door.
‘Can you confirm when you last saw Emmy?’
‘Last night. It was about half eleven, quarter to twelve, maybe. I checked on her before I went to bed.’
‘And she was sleeping?’
‘Yeah. I got up again a few hours later but didn’t check on her then.’
‘What time was that?’
‘3ish, I think.’
‘And you didn’t notice anything unusual at that time?’
‘No. I assumed she was still sleeping.’ He thinks on it for a while, picturing her dozing face and unruly hair splayed out across the pillow. ‘Shit, I should’ve checked on her, shouldn’t I? I do sometimes if I get up in the night. I only nipped to the loo – too much beer.’
The police officer looks up from her notebook. ‘How much did you have to drink, Mr. Taylor?’
‘Not much. Couple of bottles.’ He sighs. ‘Four bottles, over the course of… well. I don’t know. Six hours?’
Emmy didn’t bother to flush the toilet, having noted the loud, gurgling water pipes which had woken her the previous night. She simply closed the lid and crept out of the bathroom, noting her growling stomach along the way.
She headed into the kitchen in search of food, but there was nothing on the countertop within her reach other than the fruit bowl. She sneered at it and turned to the fridge instead. There, she found beer, cans of pop, a block of cheese, butter, and a few salad vegetables which caused her to wrinkle her nose. She swung the door shut with a sigh and cringed as the beer bottles rattled on their shelf.
Resigning herself to an empty belly, Emmy approached the kitchen window and stood on her tiptoes to peer outside. The garden was illuminated by the early sun. She itched to breathe the fresh, morning air and tiptoe around the garden to see what it had to offer in the day’s quietest hours.
She headed for the back door and there slipped her trainers onto bare feet, disregarding her mother’s rule of always wearing socks with closed shoes. She knew she wouldn’t be out long; a quick run around on the lawn and then straight back inside to watch the morning’s cartoons and wait for Daddy to wake up.
A tug on the handle proved it to be locked, but as luck would have it, the key had been left in the door. She tried to turn it, but the lock was stiff and unwilling beneath her stubby fingers.
Emmy wasn’t one to let an adventure be quelled at the first hurdle. She grasped the key with both hands, put all her strength into her fingers and wrists, and turned. The lock gave a dull click and with a proud smile Emmy let herself out into the morning.
‘Have you noticed any signs of forced entry?’
Mark shakes his head. ‘The back door was unlocked when I first got up this morning though.’
‘Had you left it unlocked?’
‘No, of course not. Both doors were locked when I went to bed. Windows all closed. But I did leave the key in the back door.’
‘Did you do that so that she could get out if she wanted to?’
‘No! The lock was stiff – I didn’t think she’d be able to turn it herself. I’d have thought she’d have more sense than to let herself out of the house in a place she doesn’t know, anyway.’
‘Does she let herself out at home?’
‘No.’ Mark clenches his jaw. ‘I don’t mean it like it’s something she usually does. I just mean… I don’t know. I’ve talked about stuff like this with her. She knows she’s not to go off on her own without telling us. Stranger danger, all that. Both me and her mum have had those conversations with her, y’know?’
‘Would you ever usually let her go out alone?’
He shakes his head. ‘She’s too young.’
‘Not even to play in the garden, say?’
‘I suppose. Yeah, she plays in the garden on her own. But she checks with me first, and I keep an eye on her, obviously.’
‘Do you think that could be what has happened here?’
Mark considers it, not for the first time. He shakes his head, but follows it with, ‘Yes. I’d just like to think she’s too smart to play in the garden on her own in a new place.’
‘She is only seven, Mr. Taylor. That’s the problem with young girls; they’re often away with the fairies, aren’t they? Don’t understand the danger they could put themselves in.’
Mark bites his tongue.
Emmy took in a deep lungful of the morning air and raised her face up to the sun. She stretched her limbs and smiled as the early chill eked out goosebumps up and down her arms.
Spiders had built webs across the expanse of the bushes on the perimeter of the garden, and the delicate threads shimmered with morning dew. Emmy stepped off the patio to investigate and flinched as the damp from the lawn leeched into her canvas shoes and nipped at her feet.
She followed the webs along the length of the garden, hoping to catch sight of the eight-legged creature responsible for them. She despised spiders but took great glee in examining them from a distance, imagining the thrilling fear she’d feel if one ever found itself scurrying over her hand.
As she reached the bottom of the garden, she noticed that the green lawn gave way to blue beyond the enclosing fence. A ripple of excitement went through her. She thought of the stories she’d learned of on the first day of their holiday. Bluebells were near, and with them could be fairies.
‘What was the last conversation you had with Emmy?’
‘Well, I tucked her up in bed. Said goodnight and all that.’
‘If you could run through it with me, please.’
Mark sighs. ‘We talked about the day, like usual. She said she liked the museum – the one in town about the local area. She loved the folklore bit about the fairies. It said they lure people into traps using bluebells, right? Something like that.’
‘Could she have tried to go back to the museum alone?’
Mark shakes his head. ‘She’s not that daft.’ He catches the police officer’s eye. ‘But maybe worth a look, I suppose.’
The police officer scribbles on her notepad. ‘Anything else you spoke about at bedtime?’
‘No. I gave her a kiss on the forehead, told her I loved her, and that was it.’ A raw, strangled sound escapes from Mark’s throat. He clenches his fists and holds his breath until he is sure it won’t happen again.
Emmy turned briefly back to the house to check for her father’s silhouette in the window. She was sure he’d still be softly snoring in his bed. She scuttled to the fence and peered over it at the bluebells, noting that their purplish-blue hue would look perfect on her bedroom walls at home.
She’d seen bluebells before, but she’d never really paid them much heed. Daffodils always used to be her favourite; her mum once told her they were sunshine pulled from the sky and formed into blooms. But bluebells had taken first place as soon as she’d learned that fairies could live among them.
She bobbed down on her haunches to get as close as possible to the patch of flowers, and that’s when she was sure she heard them ring.
She’d expected it to be an ear-splitting, gong-like sound, if it happened at all, but she supposed the flowers were only small. A weak, tinny tinkle was surely all they were capable of. She sucked in a lungful of air and held it, not wanting the sound of her breath to distort the ringing of the bells.
Whispers came next. Soft and barely there, like the sound of fingertips passing gently over skin.
Emmy clambered over the fence.
‘You’ve been staying in this cottage for how long did you say? Just one night?’
‘And have you stayed here before? Or in this area?’
‘No. First time.’
‘So, it’s unlikely that she knows her way around.’
Mark wipes his nose on his sleeve and nods.
‘Does her mother know that she’s missing?’
Mark hesitates. ‘I haven’t told her yet. Hoped I’d have her back soon. She’s going to kill me.’
‘What is your relationship like with her mother?’
‘You’re on good terms?’
He shrugs and tries to find the right thing to say. ‘Yes, I suppose. She’s my ex. We’ll never be best friends, will we?’
‘But you share custody of your daughter without conflict?’
‘The more detail the better, Mr Taylor.’
‘What more do you need?’ Mark snaps.
There’s not a flinch from the police officer. ‘Is there a possibility that Emmy’s mother could have taken her?’
‘No. Christ, no. She wouldn’t snatch her – she has no reason to.’ He gets up from his seat and dallies on the spot. ‘Have you got enough, now? We should be out looking.’
He concentrates hard to keep the wobble from his voice. ‘You should be helping me find her. Please.’
The air felt cooler on the other side of the fence.
Emmy crouched and positioned her ear as close to the bluebells as possible. A couple tickled her cheek, and she was sure the whispers were growing louder. Or was it something moving in the woodland beyond? She surmised that the soft rustle of boots on leaf-laden ground is awfully similar to the murmurings of fairies.
Buzzing came next, and something stroked the length of Emmy’s face and caused her to jolt her head back. Bees were her first thought, but she was wrong.
The bluebells around her were growing.
The buzzing turned quickly to creaking and groaning as slender green stems grew tall and fat and flowers became swollen and heavy. Emmy whipped her head around to watch them and lost her balance. She dropped to her knees which soon became sodden with dew.
Emmy fell into shadow and looked up. One of the bells hung directly over her head, its stamen and anther pointing at her accusatorily like limp fingers. The petals were thick and waxy; robust enough to proof against wails or shouts.
The bell dropped to the floor and trapped Emmy like a spider in a glass.
‘What do you think? Do you have a hunch about what happened?’
The police officer sighs down the phone. ‘Honestly? I think it’s just a silly kid gone wandering off on her own. No foul play on Dad’s part, though you have to ask if negligence is at play. But we don’t have enough to go on for me to tell you if I think she’ll turn up. It’s like I said to the father – little girls are always away with the fairies.’Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com