Chapter One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighty-Two
9th May 1970
Without Kiki’s presence, her cottage just seemed cold and empty, completely unwelcoming. All the doors and windows had been locked. Even so, pains had been taken to make sure that Nella and Nan knew that anything interesting and/or dangerous had been removed so they had no reason to enter it. As if their mother having been lecturing them about respecting boundaries, particularly those of their older sister were not already enough.
Even so, Nella had wanted to see for herself and had peeked into window of the ground floor of the cottage on a Saturday morning. Only to see that all the furniture had been covered and that most everything else had been packed away because Kiki wasn’t expected back for weeks.
“Did you see anything?” Mirai asked excitedly as they walked away from the cottage with Rauchbier and Weisse running ahead of them.
“There was nothing to see” Nella replied, “Kiki is gone and everything interesting went with her.”
Mirai just smiled as she walked with Nella and Nan down the footpath. For her this was all an adventure, exploring the wooded grounds around the Winter Residence with them. Nella and Nan knew better by now though. The property’s borders were defined on three sides by tall fences and with the River Spree being the fourth. The gates were carefully watched by the First Foot. Their parents let them wander freely within the grounds because there was simply nowhere to go and that eventually they would wander back to the main house. Nella also suspected that they were being shadowed the entire time they were outside but had never been sure about it.
When they entered a clearing, they saw that an old swing hanging from ropes that were tethered to a stout tree branch high overhead. Nan figured that it was a relic having been put up by children who had played in these woods before the fences had gone up. She had speculated about if they wanted to ever come back and if they would want to be friends. Then Nan, being herself, had forgotten the whole matter beyond it being a random thought every once in a while.
“One of you push me” Mirai called out as she climbed onto the swing.
“You need to learn to do it Mirai” Nan said sharply. That was another thing that Nella had noticed about Nan. In that place that Nan had been before, which she refused to talk about even though Nella had been there when she had woken from her nightmares, she had supposedly been forced to do everything for herself. Frequently, she told Nella, now Mirai, to do things for themselves and that they should never depend on others.
Nella gave Mirai a push, just enough to get her going before going and joining Nan who was sitting on a log moving damp soil around with the toe of her shoe.
“You shouldn’t have done that” Nan said, “She has to learn.”
“Learn what” Nella replied, “What makes you like this? I helped her because she’s basically my little sister, it’s the right thing to do.”
Nan looked like she was about to say something, then she paused of the long moment before she said, “Mirai is actually your niece.”
“And?” Nella asked in reply. When Mirai had been born, Nella had been the same age that Mirai was now and at the time she had been a bit confused about how her family had fit together. She had always treated Mirai like a sister as opposed to her half-brother’s daughter because her half-siblings were all so much older than she was, and they had always been close. Watching Mirai’s blissful expression as she was on the swing made helping her worth it in Nella’s eyes. “And you didn’t answer the question.”
Nan had always managed to change the subject whenever her past came up, but over the last few months she had been acting weird. And Nella had finally had enough of it. Nan hesitated for a few seconds before blurting out, “People are either evil or else they die, so you shouldn’t count on them.”
That wasn’t Nella’s experience at all. “I don’t encounter too many evil people” She said, “I know your mother died, Momma said that it was a terrible accident…”
“She was murdered while trying to save me!” Nan said her voice rising, “And encountering evil people… YOU SEE ME EVERY SINGLE DAY!”
Mirai had stopped trying to pump on the swing, she stared agape at them as momentum died and she slowly came to a halt.
“Who told you that you were evil?” Nella asked, while she was still trying to wrap her head around what Nan had just said. Had Nan’s mother been murdered? No one had ever said anything to her about that.
“How could I not be?” Nan asked in reply, “Half of me is of him, they told us in Science Class.”
If Nella wasn’t bewildered before, she was now. Was Nan saying that because her father was evil, she was too?
“Exactly who are we talking about here?” Nella asked, “I don’t think that is how works. If your father was…”
Nan bristled when Nella said that causing her to trail off.
“Don’t you dare call that man my father” Nan snapped, “He was a monster who held my mother as a prisoner and what he must have done… he…”
Nella didn’t get what Nan was getting at and why she couldn’t say it.