Her house was no longer a home.
Sitting at the breakfast table, she looked around at the people who had once been her family but now seemed like strangers. Her father stared down into his bowl of oatmeal with this look of blank focus, baby Edward sat with empty eyes opening his mouth when coaxed by the cream of wheat filled spoon her mother held. Her mother looked at the baby, eyebrow raised.
She must know something isn’t right, Viola thought.
“Mom,” She wondered if she should say something, if she should tell her mother about Neville and their game of pretend. Other times when she had told her mom about her friend, she had been chastised, told she had to make more friends, go outside more. Her mother didn’t believe Neville was real.
Even now, with all the odd happenings going on, there was no guarantee her mother would believe her.
Her father dropped his spoon. The stainless steel spoon clanging off the top of the table made Viola and her mother jump, their eyes whipping over to look at him.
“Honey,” Her mother reached out a hand and covered his with it. “Maybe you should go on back to bed. You don’t look well.” She told him.
He said nothing, just sat there staring blankly into his bowl.
Forcing a smile at Viola, who watched on with anxious eyes, her mother pushed back her chair and began gathering up her father. “Viola dear, you watch baby Edward while I get your father back to bed.”
Nodding, she watched them. Her father’s steps were unnaturally halted, like his joints were all frozen and each step broke off splintered pieces of ice. Her mother whispered to him as she led him out of the room.
Shifting her chair closer to her brother, she reached out and touched a hand to his head. He felt normal, but looking at him she knew he wasn’t. There was no giggling, no string of drool hanging out of the corner of his mouth, no banging of his plate on his tray, no throwing of his cup.
This was a ghost of who her brother once was.
And her father…
Viola pulled her hand away when her mother came back into the kitchen and sat down. Despite everything, her face was void of concern.
“Yes dear.” She answered absently as she shovelled more food into Edward’s mouth.
“What do you suppose is wrong with father?” She asked her, more paving the way for the conversation she hoped to have about Neville than really searching for an answer.
Her mother let out a breath. “You know your father, Viola dear. He just works too hard.”
“I don’t think that’s it.”
Eyes wide, her mother waited for her to elaborate.
“You see,” She began. “I have a friend who is always telling me stories. The stories are always about the same thing. A little girl who likes stories. That is what makes them so intriguing… because I am a little girl who likes stories and she…” She stopped, realizing she was getting off track. “In the story, something happens to her family because she does a bad thing.” Viola was ashamed to look at her mother.
Letting out a sigh, her mother put down the spoon she was using to feed baby Edward and looked at her. “And what bad thing does this little girl do?”
Brows creased, she went through the story again in her mind. “She gives him something… something she shouldn’t have given him.”
“Gave who what?” She asked.
“Neville, I think. I think the thing in the story is Neville. The sinister thing. And she gives them her family’s souls.”
Her mother shook her head. “Again with this Neville character. You know Viola, if you spent a little less time in your room you wouldn’t get so caught up in your imagination the way you do. Honestly,” Pulling baby Edward out of his high chair, she carried him out of the kitchen. Pausing in the doorway, she looked back at Viola, sitting alone at the table. “I have enough to deal with around him without adding your imagination to it all.”
“It’s not my imagination.”
“Stop it Viola.”
“Viola,” She warned.
“Neville is real!”
A bang upstairs had them both jumping. Their eyes were locked onto the ceiling as head thuds made their way across the floors upstairs.
Viola’s bedroom door slammed shut and all the butterflies were set loose in her belly.
“What was that?” Her mother shifted Edward’s weight on her hip.
Eyes wide, she wondered if she had broken a rule. “It’s Neville.”