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The First Lie
Selkie Moon is a woman on the run. In a mad dash for freedom she’s escaped her life in Sydney to start over in Hawaii. But her refuge begins to unravel and soon she’s running from something else entirely. A voice in a dream says: Someone is trying to kill you. Not that Selkie’s psychic, no way. But the threats escalate until she’s locked in a game of cat and mouse with a ghostly stalker. Entangled in Celtic and Hawaiian mythologies, the clues become so bizarre and terrifying that her instinct is to keep running.
But is she running from her past? Or her future?
Mythical Clue Giveaway!
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Winner drawn at the end of November. Good Luck!
It happens on a beach.
A little girl is splashing in the shallows. Falling over, getting up again. Squealing. A woman in a sundress watches from under a hat, while a woman in a swimsuit plays with the toddler.
Suddenly a big wave comes from nowhere and pulls the child away from the shore. It tumbles her over and over and she waves her little arms and legs at the sky.
The woman in the swimsuit laughs. “You’re a mermaid.”
But the other woman is screaming. “What are you doing? She’s drowning.”
“It’s just a wave. It’s saying hello.”
The woman in the sundress rushes into the water and pulls the child back from the grasp of the sea. “Look at her, she’s crying. She’s coughing up sand.”
“That’s what happens at the beach.”
“She could have drowned.”
“The gods called her Selkie because she’s a mermaid.”
“You and your stupid fairytales. She isn’t safe with you. She isn’t safe.”
I’m falling off a cliff towards the rocks and the sea, when these words ring in my ears.
Someone is trying to kill you.
They reverberate like a call to prayer. Clear. Insistent. Almost musical.
The meaning rattles me to consciousness and I sit up with a start. But as I wait in the semi-dark for the words to repeat themselves, there’s only an aching silence. As if they never happened. Except their shape has left a shadow on the wall of my mind and my body has started to tremble.
I reach for my bathrobe and wrap myself against the sudden chill, wishing I wasn’t alone. It’s a familiar feeling. All by myself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Without a life raft.
Unless Wanda crept back after midnight, but across the room her bed lies untouched. No telltale lump under the covers. And no whirring of her blender from the kitchen. She’s stayed out all night again. It usually makes her the perfect flatmate.
Of course I’ve had bad dreams before. Often the same one. I’m trapped underwater, tangled in something so my arms don’t work, and wake up to find it’s only the sheets. But never anything like this.
Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was a message. Seeping into my brain. Someone. Is. Trying. To. Kill. You. As graphic as stumbling across a gravestone in a churchyard inscribed with my name and today’s date.
For the first time I notice the quality of the silence. Complete. The bedside clock isn’t ticking. The water pipes aren’t clunking. Even the whispering sea is absent. I pull the robe a little closer and focus on the steady movement of my chest. I’m not dead yet.
And the message makes no sense. Who would want to kill me? After only three months I’m still a stranger here, and there aren’t many murders in this part of the world. It’s why people come to Hawaii. To play it sunny and safe. And anyway, I’m not the kind of woman to inspire that kind of violence. Although my ex would disagree. Andrew still can’t believe I’ve swapped opposite corners of the ring for opposite sides of the globe.
Where did the message come from? The remnants of the dream? But it sounded like . . . a disembodied voice. With that thought an invisible presence seems to fill the space.
Something . . . spoke to me.
My eyes scan the walls and dozens of eyes stare back. Wanda’s artworks, fashioned from dead fish. In garish colours with painted lips. They might ooze an excess of character but they don’t speak. Although with Wanda’s gift for hocus-pocus it wouldn’t surprise me.
Any other possible culprits? A naked shop dummy sits on a chair at the end of Wanda’s bed, her plastic legs akimbo. Doris. For the first few weeks I kept jumping out of my skin every time I caught sight of her. Wanda has dressed her in a Hula skirt and peppered her torso with nails, like a woman in a Dali painting. She drapes her with anything from net bags to headbands to leis. Today Doris is wearing a straw hat even though she doesn’t have a head. No head, no voice, right?
The room is a tribute to Wanda’s eye for other people’s trash, and my few belongings barely make an impression on the menagerie. A large Buddha head with four faces forever contemplating his split personality. Two fairies shadow-dancing on an art-deco tray. A parrot made from nuts and bolts poised on his own perch. In childhood these creatures might have spoken to me, but my stepmother, Stella, banished imaginary friends long ago.
On the ledge above my bed my Shona sculpture is just a head and shoulders. I brought her with me when I took off from Sydney with two business suits and not much else. A chunk of black and silver rock from Zimbabwe, her profile is as enigmatic as ever. And as silent. But she’s no whisperer. If Shona had a warning for me she’d come right out with it.
The presence is still here. A kind of touchless stroking against my bare skin. Seductive but unnerving. It’s making me as rigid as Doris but my eyes keep darting back to the slash of early-morning light spilling through the bathroom doorway. Is it coming from there?
When I was a child I used to feel things like this, invisible things. Stella made me stand in the bathroom until they were gone. I’m still a bit afraid of bathrooms, their cold unwelcoming surfaces gleaming my wild-eyed stare back at me. So it’s all I can do to get off the bed and tiptoe towards the doorway.
There are no doors to hide an intruder. And no shower curtain over the bath. When I start hyperventilating about Janet Leigh in Psycho, I tell myself to get a grip. No-one would bother breaking in here. The address might be Waikiki, but that’s where the glamour ends.
The sun through the window bathes me in light and I scan the empty bathroom with relief. Only my imagination playing tricks. But that’s when I see it. In the mirror at the end of the bath.
It’s a woman, just her face, but I’m sure she’s naked and reclining in the tub. She’s looking straight at me as if she’s been waiting, her eyes so piercing they latch onto mine and won’t release me, even when I try to pull away. For a long breathless moment our gazes are locked together and I’m lost in the depths of an emotion I can’t name. Then she lets go and the recoil spins me towards a window full of light. Now I’m blinking at the bath. Empty. Still empty. And when I spin back to the mirror she’s gone.
It takes me a few seconds to come to my senses because it feels like I’ve been doused by some unbearable sorrow. Then I’m back in my body, splashing my face at the basin, stumbling back to the bedroom and flopping on the bed.
The bedside clock begins to tick, its rhythmic beat counting the seconds like a metronome. The hands are showing six. They haven’t moved since the message woke me – surely at least five minutes ago. And the sun doesn’t rise this early, not in February. Does that mean the last five minutes didn’t happen?
It doesn’t matter how early it is, I’m phoning Wanda. She’s the one who put that stupid mirror there. After a dream, she insisted that the bath needed to see the sky.
“How can it see?” I asked as she propped the mirror with great ceremony against the wall at the end of the bath. “Bathtubs . . . don’t have eyes.”
“We’re talking spiritual eyes. Put yourself in her place, staring at a blank wall all day. Soul-destroying. Like being paralysed. But if we put this mirror opposite the window, see? The sky’s reflected and she’s reconnecting.”
“Reconnecting with what?”
“Her wild nature.”
There’s a lot of that kind of talk around here. Wanda thinks everything’s got a spirit, every rock and insect, even our old ball-and-claw bath.
“Let’s ask her for hotter showers,” I said. Just one of the reasons this flat is cheap.
“Out of her control. She’s the vessel, that’s why she’s female. She receives. Contains. Transforms. The mirror’s special too. It reflects female energy.”
Its silver frame is curved like a woman. Narrow at the waist, wide at the bust and hips.
“But we’ll notice a difference in other ways,” Wanda said. “After a bath, we’ll be radiant.”
It all seemed like a bit of fun. I’ve been waiting for Wanda to give the bath a name and paint its toenails red. But now because of that mirror I’ve looked into the eyes of . . . a woman who wasn’t there.
Confusion drives me outside onto the walkway where dawn is breaking and the air is fresh. As my fingers fumble with the phone, it feels good to inhale. If Wanda’s in bed with her new man it can’t be helped.
No answer. I leave an agitated message and start pacing.
I’ve got to get dressed and go to the office but that means going back inside. I close my eyes and try to calm my breathing but the woman’s face appears. This time it’s just the memory, her gaze caught in freeze-frame, and one of Stella’s phrases gallops up the long tunnel from childhood: “It’ll cause you trouble, your imagination. Just like your mother. If you can’t touch it, it’s a figment, and figments can carry you away.” My stepmother has a way of creeping up on me, just like she did when I was a child. I might have left her on the other side of the world but she’s still living inside my head.
My phone rings. “Sorry I couldn’t pick up, Selkie. Up to my armpits in mullet.” Wanda’s at the docks judging by the hubbub. “Hang on.”
Now she’s talking to someone and a man is laughing. One of her fishermen, no doubt.
They give them to her – dead fish – because she’s an art student. (Her long legs and short shorts have nothing to do with it.) She presses the corpses into squares of soft resin, adding shells to make borders. When the moulds harden she paints them and sells them at the markets as Art.
“OK. They’re in the cooler getting acquainted. Something must be up if you’re calling this early.”
“It’s that mirror.” My voice is croaky. “The one at the end of the bath.”
“You didn’t break it, did you?” Pause. “Oh my God, you saw something.”
“A face. I saw a face. A woman . . . who wasn’t there.”
Spoken out loud it sounds delusional but Wanda is taking it seriously. “OK, keep breathing. Let’s eliminate the temporal. It wasn’t . . . your own face.”
“I do know what I look like, Wanda. Even in the mornings. And I wasn’t peering into the mirror. I was standing in the doorway, looking at it from the side.”
“So it could have been at the window. That’s the angle. Sometimes kids climb up trying to get a look at one of us under the shower.”
It’s the first I’ve heard of it, but it wasn’t a kid. “It was definitely a woman. And she wasn’t at the window, she was in the bath. Until she wasn’t.”
“OK.” She thinks for a moment. “What do you want me to do, call in an exorcist?”
“Hell, no. Just move the bloody thing.” Into a dumpster on the other side of the island.
“You can move it. Turn the mirror to the wall and it loses its power.”
“No way. And I’m stuck outside in my bathrobe. How am I going to get to work?”
“If she disappeared she’s gone for now. It’s safe to take a shower.”
“I’m not going near that bath.”
“OK. Go into the bedroom and throw on some clothes. You can do that. And meet me in an hour. At your office.”
Holding my breath, I open the front door and rush inside, but the air feels clear as if the presence is long gone. I toss off my bathrobe and pull on my red suit and heels. Hair and makeup would mean looking in another mirror so I throw a few things into my tote bag and slam the front door. Not quite my usual transformation to corporate warrior.
Why does Selkie leave her flat without doing her hair and makeup?
For a chance to win an autographed paperback or one of five Kindle ebooks of The First Lie, answer the above question and enter the raffle here.
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