We Are Not Supposed To Be Awake – An Eerie Winter Tale
Cold weather never gave you such chills. Read ‘We Are Not Supposed To Be Awake’, a fabulous runner up in our Waterstones short story competition.
Congratulations to Lucy Middlemass, runner-up in our Waterstones competition to write an eerie winter’s tale. Snuggle up under a duvet and read her story ‘We Are Not Supposed To Be Awake’ in full here.
WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE AWAKE
by Lucy Middlemass
We are not supposed to be awake but snow has stolen the dark. My sister came into my room an hour ago looking tearful and small, and called me Maffew. It worked.
“Dad’s down there,” she says, getting up from my bed for a better view. “He’s waiting for someone.” One of my pillows falls onto the carpet and she treads on it.
I get up too and rub a patch of the window with my dressing gown sleeve. The fog from our breath wets my skin and we watch the full grey sky tumble sideways over our father. His dark coat stands out and tiny flash of orange shows us his cigarette. He’s hunched against a wind we can’t feel.
“He looks angry,” I say. Our father likes it best when it’s just us. Before Halloween, I came home early because table tennis was cancelled, and I found him with an extra wine glass on the table. It was sad, but I had to remind him.
“He probably wants to shout at the gardener again,” Isabel says and giggles.
“Doubt it. Mr Stenton’s barely been here since November. There’s nothing for him to do at this time of year.”
A woman crosses the lawn towards our father. The grass glows white. I can’t tell where she came from. Not our house. She isn’t bent or hunched. She strides as if there is no snow and no wind, as if there is nothing to fear. Her skirt is dark almost to her knees and I think of how cold it must be against her legs. She reaches our father. He says something and jerks his hand towards the road.
“What are you doing here?” Isabel suddenly has a smoker’s voice. She turns to smile at me. “Go on,” she says, and her voice is her own. “You be her.”
She always wants me to be the girl.
I look out across the lawn again. This is silly but I should keep my little sister happy. “I’ve come to look at your garden,” the woman says in my screechy voice. I sound like a cartoon mouse. This isn’t the sort of thing I’ll tell my friends about tomorrow. They spend their nights playing video games with crumpled packets around their feet, but their mums will tidy up. Mine left me one Christmas, and left me a sister. We’ve laid our Mother’s Day flowers on the ground for eight years.
“She won’t be saying that, Matthew,” Isabel corrects me. “Grown-ups don’t visit each other in the middle of the night to look at gardens.”
She has a point, although my bedside clock says it’s only half-past ten. Dad wanted some peace. “What do you think she’s saying?” I ask.
My sister pulls her arm into her nightie and wipes the whole window clear. We watch the woman almost poke our father in the chest. His shoulders are beginning to disappear.
“I want to see my children,” Isabel says. Her voice is low, but she’s pitched it just right. “You can’t keep them from me forever.”
“Don’t say that,” I tell her in my ordinary voice.
“Are you being him or you? You sound the same.”
I don’t like this game. “Me. You shouldn’t say things like that. Dad wouldn’t like it.” We watch for a moment longer. There’s a bright dot on the ground for a second. Our father grabs the woman by her lapels with his freed hands. “I want my children,” she says, and my sister sounds like a woman from the television. She sounds like someone we don’t know. “I never even got to hold my daughter.”
I don’t know if this is true. I know our family should have been four, but we are three again. Telling my sister off didn’t work. I cough and try to sound gruff. “You don’t belong here. We’re all sad you died but you need to go away and stay dead. The children are upstairs in bed.”
My sister pulls a face at my reflection. “He wouldn’t say you need to stay dead. That’s stupid.”
There is air coming through the gaps in the window frame and my dressing gown is too thin. This is a modern house and the gaps shouldn’t be there. My room smells empty, like our attic. Our father didn’t shake the woman.
He’s let go now and he’s holding his hands in his armpits and edging towards the back door underneath my window. I try again. “It’s cold, isn’t it? I’m going back inside.”
My sister puffs out her cheeks and draws a smiling face on the pane with her fingertip. “She didn’t come to talk about the weather, either.” She changes her mind and wipes the picture away. “Who do you think she is really?”
I shrug because I don’t know. We hear the back door open and the kitchen light makes a sharp angle towards the woman still standing on the lawn. I can’t see her face properly, but her hair is like Isabel’s.
“She’s not tall enough,” I say. “She’s too fat. And her hair is all wrong. It’s not her.” “Of course it’s not her.”
I wake with my sister’s arm over my chest and she has all the duvet. I could carry her back to her own room but there doesn’t seem like much point. I need to find my uniform but I pause before opening the curtains. It would be better if the snow hasn’t stopped. It would be better if the footprints have filled.
What if there are two sets?
Waterstones Short Story Competition Winners
- The Erlking’s Window by Rachel Halsall (winner)
- We Are Not Supposed To Be Awake by Lucy Middlemass (runner-up)
- The White Lady by Danica Green (runner-up)
The short story entries for this competition were inspired by the cover of ‘The Mistletoe Bride’ by Kate Mosse: Available in Waterstones and other good bookshops now.