After putting the envelope back into the box file, and returning that to the drawer, Becky walked across to her room. She had a lot to think about.
So her Mum was an Oliphant? That had shocked her even more than when Charity had appeared to her. More lies. It had never even occurred to her to ask what her Mum’s maiden name had been. Not something a child concerns themselves with, as a rule. And she couldn’t recall it ever being mentioned at home before either. She resisted the temptation to run downstairs and confront Mum with the truth. Something deep was going on, and she wanted to get to the bottom of it, without revealing that she knew anything. If Mum found out that she knew, no doubt more lies and deceit would follow. Time to just act normal, and carry on as usual.
On Saturday afternoon, Becky went outside to wait for Sara. She wanted to get to her before Mum, just in case anything was said.
She saw the woman cycling along the lane in the direction of the mill. It was obviously her, someone trying too hard to look like a mystical clairvoyant. A huge mane of crinkly grey hair flowed behind her as she rode up to the house. It was too long for a woman of her age, Becky thought. She looked to be in her fifties, a hard face without make-up, and a prominent nose. She propped the bike on its stand and walked over, a sudden broad smile softening her features. Her clothes were a mash-up of many styles. A long embroidered coat, like something from a fantasy film, over a flowing long blouse with a pattern of the moon and stars all over it, finished off with a pair of bright yellow leggings that had seen better days. On her feet were something like army boots, with no laces. Not really suitable wear for cycling, Becky thought.
Before either of them spoke, the door opened, and Mum walked out. She strode up to Sara, extending a hand. “I’m Cathy Webster, Becky’s Mum. Pleased to meet you”. Sara took the hand, and held it for too long. “I’m Sara. I’m here to help your daughter with a project. I thought we could take a walk along the riverside, if that’s alright with you, Mrs Webster?” Mum had to finally pull her hand away. “Of course. But please come in for a drink before you leave”. Sara turned to Becky, hefting a large canvas shoulder bag from a rack on her bike. “Shall we?”
They walked in the direction of the willow tree. Sara was short and rather chubby, and when they were out of sight of the house, she suddenly put her arm around Becky, pulling her closer. The woman smelled strongly of Lavender, mixed with some other aroma that Becky couldn’t identify. “You have been under the tree, haven’t you, Becky? I can tell. And what else do you know? Have you found out anything about your mother yet?” Becky was impressed. Sara knew a lot. “Yes, I found out her name was Oliphant, before she married my Dad. That’s the same name as yours, and the family that used to own the mill. I have been visited by Charity, and a man too. I think it was her father, Thomas”.
Sara grinned. “Let’s sit down here, on the grass”.
Close-up, the woman’s face wasn’t so unattractive, and you could see the traces of a once pretty girl. “What did Charity and Thomas tell you?” Becky related the recent events, the warnings, and the visions under the willow tree. Sara listened without interrupting, her pale blue eyes hardly blinking as she kept her gaze fixed on the ground. “You are only a girl, not much older than Charity was. This mill holds some dark secrets, and I can tell that your mother knows what they are. She didn’t recognise me, I think, but I cannot be sure. If she did, she won’t tell, I do know that. You should stop asking things of the tree. It will use your youth and strength to grow, and as it grows, its power increases. But be careful of your mother. She has a reason for coming back here, and I fear I know what that reason is”.
Becky was wide-eyed. Sara seemed to know a great deal, and she was keen to ask her more. Perhaps she was genuinely clairvoyant after all.
“Why is it only me that sees Charity? I smell her too, it’s awful. And Thomas had that same smell, but he was scary as well”. Sara stroked her shoulder. “Beware of Charity. She will pretend to be helping you, but she only wants to help herself. She probably summoned her father to scare you, so that you would turn to her for help. She needs you to trust her, Becky. But you must not. Never trust her at all. She appears to you from choice. She can probably choose to appear to your mother too, should she wish to. But it is your trust she seeks at the moment”.
Becky had so much to ask. “So you and Mum are related? And you are both related to Thomas and Charity too? All the Oliphants? That cannot be a coincidence”. Sara nodded. Yes, we are all related, but it would take me all afternoon to explain how and why. I never married, so have the name. Your mother changed hers with marriage, and kept it a secret from you. There is a reason why she did that. A reason why she waited until you were of a certain age, to come back to the mill. That was why she ruined her marriage, a deliberate act to fabricate an excuse to move here at a given time. Everything is connected, Becky, and I fear that destiny and fate have caught up with you, young lady”.
Becky thought about that for a while, then asked another question. “Why can’t I find any graves for Charity and Thomas in the churchyard?” Sara patted her on the leg. “You have worked very hard, in such a short time. Already you have discovered that the graves of Thomas and Charity are not to be seen in the village. That is because their bodies were never found at the time.” Becky enjoyed hearing this confirmation of something she had started to suspect. “And why would the tree not show me your secrets?” The woman tipped her head back, and laughed out loud, the mop of hair swirling around her face. “So you asked the tree about me? That’s amusing. The tree cannot enter my thoughts, Becky. I have spent my life learning how to stop such spirits from trying to control me. And I will pass on that knowledge to you, so listen carefully”.
The sound of splashing from the river made them both turn and look. Before either of them had a chance to move, a short figure emerged from the water and ran up the bank. It was a man who looked to be around forty, wearing a waistcoat over a filthy white shirt, and loose trousers flapping around his legs. His hair was long and lank, and his eyes dark and terrifying. He grabbed Sara as if she weighed nothing, and dragged her back into the water. They both disappeared under the surface, as the fast flowing river continued to rush past.
Becky didn’t waste time going to look in the river. She turned and ran as fast as she could back to the house. Bursting through the door, she screamed at her Mum. “Sara is in the river, I think she’s drowning. Quick, get help!”
Cathy didn’t get up from her chair in front of the computer. She slowly picked up her phone, and dialled 999. “Yes, police please, and an ambulance too. My name is Cathy Webster, and I’m at Wrights Mill. A woman has fallen into the river”. Becky was breathing heavily after the running. Mum turned to face her. “They are on their way.”
She went back to her computer, as if nothing had happened.