TITLE: WHERE THERE'S SMOKE
Fire-fighter Jo Woods’ life stopped the day her husband and daughter died. Discovering they were murdered just kick-started it again.
Death approached, not with a scream, but a whimper, as six-year-old Lucy Hamilton’s thumb slipped from her mouth. She sat up in bed and peered into the darkness, wondering what had awakened her.
Outside, the wind whistled and screamed, and she shivered as the branches of the old oak tree tapped against her window, like brittle knuckles rapping for entry. She reached for her Barbie, but found the bed empty.
Taking a deep breath, Lucy slipped out of bed, legs trembling beneath her bright pink nightdress. Determined not to cry, she held tight to the mattress with one hand while the other groped shadows until her fingers found the smooth curve of a plastic leg. With a relieved sigh, she clasped the doll to her chest and clambered back into bed.
A loud thump came from the direction of her parent’s room and Lucy froze. She heard a cry, quickly muffled, then a thud, as if something heavy had fallen. She waited, but the sound wasn’t repeated. ‘It’s okay, Barbie,’ she said, arm tightening around the doll, ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of.’ She dipped her head, nuzzling its fine blonde hair. The wind eased, silence descending once more over the house. Safe and warm in her bed, with Barbie to keep her company, Lucy was lulled by its gentle whisper. Her eyelids drooped.
Lucy bolted upright. ‘Who’s there?’ she asked.
Her answer was a laugh. A laugh so cracked her skin shrank in protest, shrivelling until it felt much too tight for her bones.