I slump against the wall. Down into the cold, wet mud. My cries echoing up into the dark.
Tears well up as I sit there; the damp seeping into my skirt.
Eventually I sleep.
Slowly I open my eyes, hoping for, hoping for, hoping for…….hope. Hoping for sunshine, for flowers, for children playing, laughing, singing.
I shut my eyes. There are no children.
When I open my eyes it is as before. Darkness. Dankness. Despair.
I am here; alone. I’ve been here days (?), definitely, weeks (?) possibly. And always just me, here alone. Except sometimes for him.
Tulips. I remember the smell of tulips. Deep. Heady. Wonderful.
I wake. It is the same. No children. No laughter. No singing.
The bricks are there. They are always there. Encircling me. Watching me. Mocking me.
“Stop it”, I shout.
Yet still they stare. Silent, craggy, stone-clad faces in the bricks. Mocking me. Always.
Maybe if I am quiet they will go away. Quiet like a lizard, like a temple lizard, like a good, quiet temple lizard.
“Shush”, I say, finger to my lips, then clamp my hand firmly over my mouth.
“Got to be quiet”, I think.
I sit, in silence, waiting, thinking, wishing.
It is bright in my dream. Sunny. Warm. Cheering.
I am in the paddock; our paddock. Sitting, listening. Listening to the water.
By the paddock runs a creek. A wonderful, flowing, gabbling creek. Johcan says that sometimes I gabble. Gabble, gabble, gabble.
Fish play in the creek. Jumping for gimble bugs in the afternoon sun. The children love to watch the jumping fish. They say they are like silver, darting water faeries reaching for the stars.
I look over and see the children. Their backs are to me but I know it is them. Elvar and Lisbet. My children. My babies.
They are watching the fish. The splashing, jumping fish.
I get up to go to them. My children. My babies.
Elvar is seven and handsome like his father. Lisbet is five with beautiful, golden hair.
My feet swish in the long, green grass as I go to them.
“Get away”, I hear behind me.
I turn and look. It is Johcan, in the distance, on his horse.
He is waving frantically.
“Get away”, he shouts again.
But why should I be afeared. Afeared of my children. My babies.
I go to them.
The fish jump higher, splashing, as I come to Elvar and Lisbet.
I go to hug them, cuddle them, smother them.
And they turn to me. But it is not them.
They have no faces, no eyes, no mouths, no noses. Where Zot had set their wondrous features there is nothing. Nothing but pale, white skin fixed over mouths that will never laugh nor sing, over eyes that will never see the silver, darting water faeries, over nostrils that will never smell the deep, heady tulips.
Their hands reach for me. They claw at me with rough, ragged fingernails. I turn. I fall. Into the creek. Into the cold, cold water.
The children are gone.
I am wet. I hear water dripping.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I feel water all around me. Around my feet.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I stand up. Quickly.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The water is at my ankles. I look up. Water drips down the shaft. Down the mocking, slimy stones of the shaft.
High above the shaft opens. Light comes down from the heavens. And then I see a shape, that shape, his shape. Silhouetted. It is him. The man. The bringer. The accuser.
I hold my hands out. For food.
He spits at me. He always does.
“Why? Why did you do it?”, he shouts.
I am quiet. If I am quiet he will know that I am good. Like a lizard. Like a good, quiet temple lizard.
“Do not mock me. Why did you do it?”
I stay quiet.
“Why won’t you tell me; why?”, his voice cracks slightly.
I wish I knew. I really do. I wish I had the answers to all his questions. But I do not. I never do. So I must stay quiet; like a lizard.
“For Zot’s sake. They were only babies. They were our babies.” I hear the tears in his voice. There always are.
“I need to know why. I just need to know why.”
I wait for the food that always comes. He always brings food.
But this time he doesn’t. This time he is pulled aside. By another. I do not know this other.
The other speaks.
“Heizel Ruskin, wife of Johcan Ruskin, mother to Elvar and Lisbet Ruskin. Four and twenty days you have lain here and in that time you have shown no remorse. You have proven yourself evil beyond all reasonable doubt. As such the town elders have decided your fate shall be as that of your children.”
My children. What fate? My children are safe. They sleep.
“You shall die starved of air where you lie. May Zot have mercy on your soul.”
The other steps back.
The shaft shuts and the light is gone.
I listen. I hear him in the distance. Muffled.
“No don’t. Don’t. I need to know why. She must tell me why. She must. I have to understand.”
Then he is drowned out. By the water. The gushing, running water. Cascading down the shaft.
I feel the water rising to my knees. But this is not my worry.
My children. What have they done to my children?
The water is to my breast. The bricks still stare. Knowingly. Mocking me.
I scratch at the bricks. Raking my fingers against them. Stabbing at them.
Screaming. They won’t stop screaming.
The water is at my neck. I crane upwards; keeping my face clear of the water.
And still they scream. My babies.
The water is above my head. I kick upwards to breathe.
A pillow. Why do I have a pillow?
Elvar sleeps now. He is two and one day will be handsome like his father.
I swallow water. My chest is burning. I didn’t know water could burn.
Lisbet sleeps too. She is barely six months. She has beautiful, golden curls.
My sight is dimming. I try to breathe. I cannot.
They are both quiet now. My babies. In their cots. Like lizards. Like temple lizards. Like good, quiet temple lizards.
There are tulips on their windowsill.