It all started with the wedding. Or maybe much earlier. Maybe it started when mum met Patrick Monsoon. Or maybe it started when my mum and the dad I have no memory of decided they didn’t want to see each other anymore. Heck, maybe it started when my so-called brother was born – even though I didn’t even know him when that happened and I had no way of knowing he would somehow slink into my life.
Really, it was hard to pinpoint the moment when my life started going downhill without giving any notice until years later. But when I stood there in the princess gown I somehow wanted to wear back then and watched mum and Patrick walk the aisle, the first warning bells started going off in my head, yelling my name. Marilynn! Marilynn! I chose to ignore them at that time, or then I just ignored them on instinct. So yes, I think it did start then.
The wedding wasn’t right out of a fairy tale, but it was a beautiful, small ceremony. And the lack of fairy tale was probably a good thing. Fairy tales usually weren’t kind to stepparents. Or to parents at all, since they usually ended up dying to set up conflict. In our case, my real dad was alive as far as I knew, but mum and he had had a serious falling out when I was around two. So the conflict was because they were both alive, I guess.
My mum was not going to be an evil stepmother, and Patrick was alright, even though he did like to rant about environmental matters a lot, and was really strict but caring at the same time. He was a school teacher, and I guess that had given him a real knack to working with kids. I often found myself obeying him out of respect simply because he could present his case so well.
Mum was amazing, of course. Her name was Margaret Farley, but she’d briefly been Margaret Laketon. She’d been quick to take back her maiden name after my real dad was out of the picture, and she told me she’d be Farley forever from then on. She had taken care of me for as long as I could remember, and we’d been best friends as much as a parent and a kid could be. She mostly made money by writing articles to a magazine called Life & Sprouts for You. Mostly interviews, as far as I knew. I think she sparked my interest in writing and reading, even though I was way more into fiction than trying to write down what real people were saying.
Mum met Patrick in a some kind of charity event for single parents, where mum and Patrick had both ended up because of the sad fact that they happened to be single parents and someone had to stand on the soapbox for that group as well so it might as well be them. In a way I think it was the worst possible place to meet. It was a place full of money troubles, broken hearts and in some cases people looking for a shoulder to pour their sadness on. But somehow the stars aligned, and mum and Patrick realized after a few months of tentative friendship that they could really maybe try that dating thing again. And now, about three years later, mum was wearing white again and my real dad – whoever he was – had been happily even more forgotten.
Mum wasn’t one of those women who plan their dream weddings at age four. She only had a couple of things that apparently hadn’t gone right in her first time. This time she wanted flowers. A lot of them, just like we always have at home. She also wanted to get married in a gazebo, because apparently those were very romantic. I really don’t see it, but mum did, and Patrick did as well. Or then he just saw mum.
In any case, their hunt for a romantic gazebo eventually led them to an old, rundown house with probably the least romantic gazebo ever. It was located in Twinbrook, a town not far away from the small patch of land where I’d spent my first years in. Mum loved the gazebo, and Patrick loved the house it came with. I just thought it looked like an industrial building a giant robot had kicked over. Mum and Patrick called it potential. They put their money together and bought it dirt cheap and renovated it with way more money than they could have afforded back then. We did most of the work together, the four of us. Well, two of us were in the sidelines, because most of the work was too tough for little kids. And because my so-called brother tried to eat nails at one point.
In the end, it did look like a proper home, a very nice one even. And the gazebo was nice too. Still not romantic, but mum loved both it and the overgrown flower bushes that Patrick had somehow transformed into something pretty. After the wedding we moved into the house properly and started our new life, and mum and Patrick’s combined salaries helped us to get back to our middle class living that according to Patrick slowly started teetering on upper middle class, not that I cared that much.
It should have been perfect, because mum was happy again and we didn’t have to live in a small apartment and I had a dad I could actually remember. But the warning bells were there, and through the years I started to hear them, louder and louder. Most of them centred on my new brother. So-called brother. So called because in the beginning I was really unsure of what he really was.
His name was Rem Monsoon, and he stayed Monsoon even when Patrick became Monsoon-Farley. He was two and a half years younger than me. Patrick introduced him as his son, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Because if it was, then Patrick’s last girlfriend was probably a fairy. And I don’t mean gay; I mean the real deal, except there is no real deal so that’s where things got weird. Rem looked like a regular kid, for the most part. He was a regular kid for the most part. All mood swings and crying and tasting everything that he got his tubby hands on. When he was happy, he chirped like a little bird. When he was sad, he was about as charming as a chainsaw. Just like kids are at that age. But sometimes… I don’t even know, and I felt crazy for a long time because no one else could tell anything was odd about Rem at all…
Sure, he really was a nice kid, and I got along with him fine. Mum adored him almost as much as Patrick did. I played with him when I was still young enough to be interested in little kids’ toys and then watched with mild amusement afterwards.
He was real sweet, for the most part. But sometimes he got this weird look and just… it was like he wasn’t there anymore.
It was like he was seeing something the rest of us didn’t. It was creepy. More than creepy. I usually just got away from him at those times.
I insisted that he was a pixie, and at first it was exciting. I had a pixie brother from the magic fairyland. Mum and Patrick laughed and said that Rem was just a normal boy. Just because his ears were pointy and his eyes were shining a bit different didn’t mean he really was something not human. And sure, I don’t want to discriminate or anything, but I couldn’t ignore that uncomfortable feeling I got when Rem stared into space without seeing anything from this world.
But, things settled, and I accepted it and ignored the signs. I had a life of my own to live, and my new brother definitely wasn’t everything in it. I mean, I had just started school and everything was going fine. And my mum was still the loving, sweet mum I’d always had. She was there to help me with my homework and stand in the pouring rain with me when I went trick or treating. Patrick was nice too, and I could think of him as my dad in most days. And like I said, I didn’t have any problems with little mister Shiny Eyes either. Not until the alarms really had a reason to go off.
That day started out as a normal Wednesday…
I was six, and Rem was already talking like a pro. If stilted sentences and slurry words could be called pro. According to mum and Patrick, it could. He was still walking like a stubby-legged elephant with its front legs amputated, but he was exploring the world like mad, shiny eyes and grabby hands that tried to pull everything from the shelves and use anything that was coloured or sticky as paint. He didn’t seem to need brushes. Dad called him his little Pollock. I had always been more into writing than messing up the place with colours. Anyway, he had used finger paints on the walls and mum was livid, because mum was a neat freak, and Patrick had shoved Rem to me and told me to entertain him while they cleaned the downstairs before some guests arrived. Apparently Rem had already got a gentle but serious talk about why painting on the walls is Bad, and he was kind of skittishly embarrassed and probably only partly getting that he actually had painted on walls. So I decided to humour him with the age old game he had loved ever since he was a baby: peek-a-boo.
I know, we were both way too old for it, but for some reason, Rem still loved it. It was one of the weird things about him. He was mostly ahead of his peers when it came to getting things like how to hold scissors right or how to write his name – not that there were many letters in it – but peek-a-boo was still a thing for him. So I played it. I covered my eyes like always and didn’t feel like an idiot only because I could tell myself I was just entertaining my little stepbrother. I heard him giggle with excitement. I pulled my hands from my face, a “peek-a-boo” on my tongue that promptly died when I realised what I was seeing.
I wasn’t in my room. Wherever we were, wasn’t real. It didn’t look real. It didn’t feel real. And we were all alone in there.
I had prided myself for being a big, independent girl after learning how to ride a bike without training wheels so early, but now I wanted nothing more than to run to mum and forget all about independency, because I was alone. Except for Rem.
And Rem… He was smiling like nothing was wrong.
I just wanted to scream. And I think I did. I shouted at Rem to get us back, because I knew it was his doing. Somehow, he had taken us away from home and into a strange forest that seemed and felt to be made of light and songs.
And then, just as if nothing had happened, we were back. Rem started to cry because I had yelled at him. I was crying because I was scared. Mum and dad both basically crashed into my room and asked what was wrong.
“He did it!” I said, “He took us away into a weird place!”
Rem kept crying, as if he was the one who’d been freaked out. But I remembered his stupid little smile in the forest. It had to have been his doing. Mum and dad didn’t believe me, of course. They hugged us both and calmed us down and told us to play nice. And that was it. They didn’t believe me.
Not that there was much sense in believing. But the thought… the doubt stuck with me for a good while. What had he done to me? What could he do? It had scared me, but after a while, I convinced myself that it hadn’t been real. When it wasn’t real, it wasn’t scary and it was actually kind of exciting. But after that there were times when I thought I could see things I shouldn’t. Once I heard a man thinking terrible thoughts that couldn’t be my imagination because I barely knew the words his mind was using. Sometimes I saw shadows roaming the streets. Shadows with lights in their eyes. Those moments were rare and so strange that I kept ignoring them the best I could. I focused on being myself. Me. Lynn Farley, who liked summer, stories, and chocolate ice cream. I was a normal girl with a mostly normal family. And as boring as that sounded, it was like it should be.
I think there were times back then when I really hoped Rem or someone else in my life really was a pixie or a pirate or whatever. But then I remembered the dread I’d felt in the forest and when a shadow passed my field of vision. After that I was again more than happy to be just me.
So with those thoughts, my first school years passed like they do for most people, I guess. Well, of course there’s no one way of going through life. But for me, it was normal enough. At least there was no weirdness for a good while and I could really start believing it was all just my imagination.
Of course, just as I’d really grown into thinking that, things had to start going for the strange again.
Author’s Note: The painting seen in the background in the peek-a-boo scene was painted by me.