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Cuckoo in the Nest

Angela surveyed her pristine kitchen and grinned. When she first started taking the tablets, over five months ago now, she had immediately begun to want only four hours sleep a night. Like Maggie Thatcher, she had thought to herself delightedly as she finally found time to catch up on all those little tasks that had been bugging her since Claire had been born. Since then, her need for sleep had decreased steadily and now she could easily get by on two twenty minute naps each day.

She had never felt better or more confident. She could spend her evenings with Ben and her days with Claire; playing, talking and loving. She could even go out with her friends once or twice a week, precious times when she could be relax and be herself again rather than simply a wife or mother. She knew that she would be able to catch up on her chores at night, after everyone else had gone to bed, so there was no guilt anymore. She had even managed to complete a childcare course and had been busy child-proofing her home ready to start work as a childminder.

For some reason Ben seemed to dislike the tablets. It was not like him to be nervous of new things and Angela was a little hurt and confused at his reaction. He was getting increasingly irritable with her these days about a lot of things, especially her absent-mindedness. That was a common complaint with new mothers though, as she had reminded him often. It had nothing to do with the tablets, whatever he said, besides, whenever she did forget something the tablets meant that she had plenty of time to sort it out later on.

Her suggestion that he try the tablets for himself had been a mistake. She had been shocked at how angry he had become. It seemed logical to her that anyone who complained of needing more time should take them. Ben never seemed to tire of reading aloud reports detailing the controversy around the tablets. She always retorted that new drugs had to go through some very rigorous tests before they could be prescribed, and her doctor was hardly likely to let her take something that was going to hurt her, now was he? Admittedly she had gone to him and asked to be given the tablets after hearing about them in an article, and he had taken quite a bit of convincing that she really needed them. He had agreed though, and he had given her a prescription so they must be safe.

Small grumbling noises from upstairs announced that Claire was now awake and would be calling for her soon. Grinning happily she cast around for a hair-band to keep her long, wispy hair out of reach from tiny fingers, before climbing the stairs to her daughter’s room. Claire was wide awake, grinning toothlessly and waving chubby arms and legs to herald her Mother’s approach.

“Good morning sweetheart, did you sleep well?” This was Angela’s favourite part of the day, when it was just the two of them and Claire was still happy and well rested from a good night’s sleep. It was odd that she was still fully clothed. Her night time routine always included a bath with Ben, their special father and daughter bonding time, and he always put her into her sleepsuit afterwards. Sighing, Angela checked the chunky watch on her slim wrist. She longed for the time when she would be able to return to her tasteful, delicate jewellery but it just wasn’t practical. Concentrate, Angela told herself, looking at the face of the watch rather than just the way it sat upon her arm.

She frowned. That couldn’t be right, surely? Her watch showed midday, but she had been certain it was only seven o’clock. Where had the morning gone? It was a common refrain and one that she heard often at the mother and toddler groups. Smiling to herself, she gloated a little that at least she would be able to catch up her lost time later, when the other mothers would be sound asleep.

“Would you like to go into town, little one?” It was a rhetorical question; she would have been truly shocked if Claire actually answered her. She giggled to herself, causing Claire to clap her little fat hands in an attempt to join the joke. Perhaps she would concede that Ben had a point about the tablets if she started to think that her daughter could hold a conversation already. She was a delightful baby, and very bright and alert, but she was still just eight months old.

Angela nuzzled at Claire’s soft cheek as they entered the living and then stopped short. Where had the little, blonde girl with the striking violet eyes come from? She knew that she had been absent minded recently, but this was ridiculous. Confused, she held Claire away from the other child for a brief moment before putting her on the floor so that they could play together. It was good for Claire to have babies her own age to play with. Leaving the living-room door open so that she could hear Claire babbling to her new friend who, Angela suddenly realised, was unusually silent, she went to make a cup of tea and think this through. She was fairly sure that she hadn’t taken on any young babies. She wasn’t allowed to when Claire was still so young. Surely she would remember in any case?

She was only out of the room for a moment, before she decided to check on the girls. The pretty one with the violet-eyes was still in the middle of the room, but she could not see Claire. She frowned, certain that she had left Claire playing on her mat. She couldn’t have started to crawl so suddenly could she? With a rising sense of excitement and pride Angela glanced around the room to see where her little girl could have crawled to. Claire was not in the room, but before Angela could begin to panic, she noticed that the other girl was watching her from the mat where Claire should have been. It doesn’t really matter, she thought vaguely. I still have a little girl to look after and Claire won’t come to any harm while the doors are closed. Distractedly she collected the strange baby into her embrace and inhaled deeply the odd pop-corn smell of her hair.

“What beautiful eyes you have,” she mumbled into the top of the girl’s head “I shall call you Violet.” They sat together like that for a while, Angela enjoying the sense of peace that seemed to ooze from the girl like a heavy perfume. Claire rarely allowed Susan to hold her like this while she was awake. She was already too independent and would wriggle and squirm to reach her toys rather than rest peacefully. Being able to just sit and relax for a moment was intoxicating. She smiled into the little girl’s hair. Perhaps once Violet’s mother came to collect her she would indulge herself with a whole hour’s sleep. The way Ben went on about the tablets she was sure that he wouldn’t object to being asked to look after Claire while she slept.

“Well love, I think we’ve sat for long enough now.” She eventually decided, standing up but for some reason unwilling to put the captivating child down just then. “We should really find out where your friend has got to before she realises we aren’t there and gets upset.” Arms and legs still heavy with the unaccustomed lethargy of relaxation, Angela stood and walked back into the kitchen, carrying Violet with her. It was a small house and there were only so many places that even an expert crawler could have gone.

Claire was in none of them.

“Where is she?” The panic was choking at her, tightening her chest and making it even harder to think straight. She grabbed Violet by the shoulders, her smile no longer calm, but sinister and unnatural on such a pretty girl.

“What have you done with my daughter?” She shook the tiny baby before recoiling, horrified at what she had done to such a beautiful, innocent infant. Disgust at herself rose like bile in her belly and she reached out to touch the still smiling face. Violet took her hand, pressing it against her cheek for a moment before turning to bite down hard. The pain seemed to sear directly into Angela’s brain and she understood that she deserved the punishment for caring more about Claire than this adorable child.

“I’m sorry.” She lifted her arm, shaking with the effort of moving her damaged hand, and pulled Violet into her embrace. Lovingly, Violet reached up and scratched at Angela’s face. Unexpected agony sliced into her, but as Violet relaxed her hand to stroke where she had only recently drawn blood, the hazy feeling of contentment returned. Angela cradled the baby closer to her chest. It was a hard world outside, she knew. This sweet, defenceless creature obviously needed her protection.

Suddenly her head jerked back and Angela was overtaken by the odd sensation that she was being shaken. Invisible hands pushed her backwards, pinning her down as straps tightened around her chest and legs.

“What have you done with my Claire?” Her voice sounded harsh and hysterical even to her own ears.

“Ssssh love, Claire is fine.” When did Ben get home? Confused, she looked around. The walls of her beautiful home had never been painted this stark white, nor had they ever owned anything like the bed she seemed to be strapped to. Nausea rose in her as she tried to make sense of her surroundings.

“We had to let them bring you here, Sweetheart.” Ben’s loving eyes filled with tears as he spoke. “I couldn’t cope with trying to bring you through the withdrawal alone. Not with Claire in the house.” He dipped his head, so that she could no longer see his eyes. “I’m sorry, love. The hallucinations were making you too unpredictable, but you’re through the worst of it now. You’ll be home soon, I promise.” His hand, covering hers was warm and soft. He rubbed at the back of her hand with his thumb.

Angela had no idea what he was talking about. What withdrawal? Where on earth was she? She opened her mouth to speak, but her throat was too dry for her to do anything more than croak. Her palms were sweaty and she could still smell pop-corn. For some reason the smell was making it hard to think. She tried to rub at her nose, to make it go away, but the restraints meant that she could not lift her arm. Moaning softly she banged her head against the bed. She could feel herself growing tired and she knew that if she did not get another tablet soon thinking was only going to get harder. A single tear slid desolately down her face. As it reached her temples she realised that her hair was damp. Apparently she had been crying for some time.

“You do know that we can’t give you any more tablets, don’t you sweetheart?” Ben’s voice cracked as though his throat was as dry as her own. She looked away from him. She would get more tablets once they released her from this ridiculous bed. The smell of pop-corn was getting stronger, and she looked over to where Violet was sitting, relieved that at least one little girl was able to visit her.

Violet looked at her, smiling and calm as she systematically tore up the paper she was holding. With a shock Angela realised that it was a photograph of little Claire. She gasped, horrified as Violet looked at her, smiling and calm, before baring her teeth in a vicious grimace. At that moment Angela knew she would never touch another one of those awful pills.

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