Draygon Lord of the Barren Lands waited for the day a Bloodmix would draw their first breath.
Told by their grandad that their parents have gone missing, twelve year old April and ten year old Ken, return home with the one person they believe they can trust.
Both are in danger, one is being hunted.
The following account took place over forty five years ago.
The sound of his wife’s blood curdling screams pierced through every fibre in Giles’ body. He swung around violently to run in their direction. Branches whipped at his face as he charged through the densely planted apple trees, heading for the end of their orchard.
As he neared the shed, Giles came to an abrupt halt, unbalancing himself momentarily. He fought to regain his composure, before raising his head to witness his wife Esther fighting for her life against what he could only describe as a ‘beast’.
The beast, unbeknown to them, was ‘Draygon’, Lord of the Barren Lands, a being from the lower world.
Giles fought valiantly to release his wife from the beast’s hold, yet, tragically, during the struggle, he accidentally cut Esther’s beautiful face with the pruning sheers he was holding.
The moment Draygon saw her blood, he used his razor-sharp beak to tear the skin from his own arm and, before Esther and Giles had a chance to react, the beast pressed his open flesh against her facial wound. His blood, dark as tar, entered the deep cut and, from that moment onwards, a Bloodmix between mankind and the Barren Lands had been created.
Any child born of Esther’s line would now carry both his blood and human blood in their veins.
Draygon knew that the Bloodmix would be stronger in a child.
A child who, once captured, would enable him and his own kind to cross between the two worlds at will.
Then, without warning and as quickly as he had appeared, Draygon withdrew back into the shed, disappearing without trace.
It is written in the book of truth that the key to being human is free will.
The present day
Brother and sister, April and Ken, sat next to each other on the back seat of their grandad’s car. Still reeling with shock from their grandad’s revelations, the two siblings remained motionless, simply watching the darkened figure behind the wheel. April moved only to adjust the seatbelt that was cutting into her neck. The three of them travelled the long journey from the children’s boarding school to their grandad’s farm in silence.
The school had allowed Giles to collect the brother and sister on behalf of their parents for an impromptu long weekend, even at such short notice.
Once in the car, Giles had been quick to explain to them both that their parents had ‘gone missing’, and that it would be in their best interests if they were to stay with him until any news came through.
April’s vivid imagination sent her mind into a tail spin.
The journey dragged, until eventually the newly broken family pulled up outside their grandad’s farmhouse. Giles turned off the engine, pulled the keys from the ignition and opened his car door, triggering the in-car light.
April and Ken remained in their seat. They were emotionally and physically exhausted and felt unsure of what to do next. Giles shifted his body to rest his foot on the trim next to him, ready to step out of the car. Glancing over his shoulder, he became aware that his grandchildren were not moving. He sighed, before twisting back around to face the confused brother and sister.
“It’s gonna be okay you know, kids,” he said, half smiling, “it’ll all come out in the wash.”
Ken lunged forwards, grabbing the chair in front of him as he said, “But what if they’re…?” The frightened ten-year-old stopped mid-sentence, as though thinking better of what he was about to say.
April stared at the grandad she adored with all her heart and hearing the strain in her own voice, she said, “You would tell us if there was anything we should know… wouldn’t you, Grandad?”
“Of course I would,” he replied looking first at April and then at Ken. “Look, I suggest we get inside the house, have a warm drink and then get to bed. It’s been a long day for all of us.” Giles twisted back round to face the front, ready to exit the car. Before he had a chance to heave himself out, April leant forwards, hugging him from behind. For one fleeting moment, she felt secure and comforted as she wrapped her arms tightly around his strong, broad shoulders. After a few moments, she tilted her head sideways until it rested on his shoulder in the crick of his neck. Quietly, she whispered, “Thanks for being here for us, Grandad.”
Giles patted her small, delicate hand as he said, “I am here for you, April… you’ve no idea how much I’m here for you.”
The few tender moments they shared together brought April a much needed respite from the weight and seriousness of the crashing news their grandad had broken to them only hours earlier.
Cold and overtired, April knew she had to end their warm embrace. She raised her head and released her hold, tenderly squeezing her grandad’s shoulders as she did so. Giles leaned over to pick up something from the passenger seat, and as his head turned, April noticed a nasty bruise behind his ear. Had he not made such a hasty exit from the car, she might have asked him how he came by it.
April threaded her arm through her cardigan sleeve as she watched her grandad scurry round to the back of the car to retrieve their suitcases.
Once inside the familiar farmhouse, he showed his grandchildren to their bedrooms, assuring them that a nice hot drink would be waiting for them downstairs in the kitchen.
Dressed in her well used dressing gown, April met Ken at the top of the stairs. She asked him if he had noticed the bruise behind their grandad’s ear.
“No!” he replied before asking which ear she was talking about.
“His right one,” she said, pointing to the area behind her own ear. “I noticed it after I hugged him.”
Ken shrugged his shoulders and said, “He probably knocked himself on something. Old people do that a lot.”
April sighed. “Says who?”
Ken sniffed before saying, “It’s a well-known fact that old people are less stable on their feet. Besides,” he added nonchalantly, “I’m surprised you could see anything in that light. I bet when we go into the kitchen you won’t see anything. It’s more likely to have been a shadow.”
April raised her eyebrows in response to her brother’s dismissive answer. Upon entering the kitchen, the children spotted two steaming mugs of hot chocolate sitting on top of the well-worn kitchen table.
April led the way. “What’s this?” she said holding up a tatty, hand written note that lay next to one of the mugs.
Ken looked over her shoulder as she read aloud. “I’m closing up the farm for the night. Enjoy your drinks, then get straight to bed. I’ll see you for breakfast in the morning.”
Both Ken and April thought their grandad’s note was slightly odd and out of character, but neither said anything to the other.
April had slept surprisingly well. Yawning, she stretched before leaving the warmth of her bed.
Her first port of call was the large, ornate mirror that hung on the wall by the door. As she looked upon the reflection of herself dressed in her favourite purple pyjamas she made a vain attempt to flatten down her bed hair as best she could without bothering to use a hairbrush. Giving up, she turned to notice a few hand painted pictures of trees planted in front of an old shed hanging to the right of the mirror. They were numbered one to four. April hadn’t paid them much attention until now. Odd, she thought to herself, not sure I would have chosen pictures of fruit trees to hang on my wall. Taking a closer look at the picture numbered one, April noticed a very faint drawing of a woman. The lone figure appeared to be standing at the closed entrance of a run down, old shed. In the second picture, April could barely make out the back of the woman; however she did notice that the shed door was now painted as open. Picture three showed the woman being cradled in the arms of a man, as though being comforted, although it was hard to be sure as the pictures were old and faded. In the final picture, the small wooden shed was sealed shut with a “Keep Out” sign and what looked like a substantial padlock on its door.
The paintings were plain and amateurish, which led April to consider whether her grandad had purchased them from a car boot sale. As she mulled them over, she pictured the far wall of her parents’ kitchen, where Ken’s and her early attempts at artwork were displayed for all and sundry to see. This made her question whether the four paintings might have even been done by her own dad when he lived there as a boy. She gently reached out her hand to touch one, as though wanting to feel some sort of connection between herself and her missing father. After a few moments she retracted her hand then turned to face the huge window that looked out over the south meadow. For April, this was the best part of the room, tempting any onlooker to get lost in the picturesque view. Drawing back the curtains, April stood before the view, gazing upon the crops in the far fields as they waved hypnotically in the gentle breeze. The tracks made by a tractor led April’s eye through the field and away into the distance. The landscape appeared to go on and on; not a house or a flat was in sight.
April returned to her bed and, as she sat down, she noticed she still had to put her blue hoody away.
“I love you, mum,” she said, picking up one of the few garments to have escaped her school’s laundry rota. She nestled her head into the familiar warm piece of clothing and, breathing in the aroma of the fabric conditioner, she started to cry and said, “I miss her so much.”
April stroked the hoody as she tried to contemplate what could have happened to her mum and dad. Why would they just up and leave? Were they running from something… or someone? Who would want to hurt them? Why didn’t they come and get us? Nothing made sense. Different theories darted around her already overloaded mind.
The morning sun streamed through the window and, feeling the effects of its heat, April lay on her back staring up at the ceiling. Her eyelids closed as she tried to picture her mum’s face. The silence in the room was in stark contrast to the deafening unanswered questions and doubts clamouring for her attention. Unable to switch off from the fear of never seeing her parents again, she wondered whether she had done something wrong. Was it her fault they’d left? She covered her face with her hands as she whispered, “What terrible thing could have happened to make them leave us?”
Her thoughts were interrupted by a rather loud tick, tick, tick, coming from the window.
What an earth is that? she thought to herself, sitting upright on the bed.
Curious, she headed over towards the window and after a slight struggle she eventually wrenched it upwards and leant out. There, standing below her on a mound of earth, was a strange looking boy. Or was it a girl? She couldn’t quite tell.
“Took yeh long enough,” he or she said, picking their nose, then wiping their finger across their top.
“Took me long enough to what?” April asked, wondering what she had missed.
“Took yeh long enough to come to the window. I’ve been lobbing stones for at least half an hour.”
The scruffy looking figure opened up one of their hands to twiddle with one of the few remaining stones they held in it.
April knew that the claim of ‘half an hour’ had to be an exaggeration, but decided to let it go as this was her first contact with a potential friend.
“Oh, sorry”, she said. “I’m April, who are you exactly?”
“My name is Dorma, D.o.r.m.a.” The stranger spelt it out very slowly and clearly for April. Unfortunately, the name did nothing to help April work out whether she was speaking to a girl or a boy, as she’d never heard it before.
“Dorma, what an unusual name; what does it mean?”
“Window,” replied the stranger rather matter-of-factly before scratching their nose and glancing quickly to their left and right.
“If it means window, shouldn’t it be spelt D.o.r.m.e.r?” April asked, completely unaware of how rude her correction must have sounded.
As soon as the words had left her mouth, April was reminded of all the times she had sat with her mum, cuddled up on the window seat in front of her dormer window. It was the only one in the house and it was in her mum and dad’s bedroom Whenever April was troubled or sad, her mum would go over to her, put her arm around her and say, ‘Come with me, lovely.’ Once comfortable in the private, safe haven of her mum’s dormer window seat, designated for chats, April felt as though she could tell her anything.
Looking down at the stranger, April realised that every time she heard their name, she would be reminded of her mum. Whether this would upset her, or comfort her, she’d have to wait and see.
“Maybe… I don’t know. I never thought to ask,” the child called up.
“Don’t know what?” said April, who had completely gone off track, thinking about her mum.
“If it should be spelt, Dormer or Dorma. Maybe, because I’m a girl, it’s spelt with an ‘A’ at the end, rather than the other way.”
“Oh well, it’s not really that important,” April said smiling, glad to discover that the person below her was indeed a girl. “Although it does make me wonder why your parents would name you after a window?”
“Don’t know,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “Anyway, I don’t really have a mum and dad. I live with my aunt Sukie, who has,” she said making speech mark signs with her fingers whilst speaking in a very high pitched and sarcastic tone, “very kindly taken me in and, as long as I do my chores, she allows me to stay at her house.”
Dorma used her hand to shade her eyes from the bright sunshine as she added, “She’s very good friends with your grandad. She’s in there now having a cup of tea with him.” The thinly-framed girl pointed in the direction of the kitchen, stretching her neck out as far as she could, as though checking to see if anyone was coming.
“Oh yes,” said April recalling a previous conversation she’d had with her grandad. “He mentioned that he had a friend coming around this morning. Why don’t you come in? I’m struggling to hear you and I’m sure I would have a neck ache by now if I was looking up all the time like you are.”
The carefree expression on Dorma’s face changed as she said, “Oh no, I’m not allowed inside. I’m not really allowed to be here at all. That’s why I’m sort of whispering. I hid in the back of the van when I knew she was coming over. She’d kill me if she knew I’d even left the house without her permission.” Dorma hoped she hadn’t frightened April off from wanting to be friends with her by saying too much.
April had heard the well overused saying ‘she’ll kill me’ enough times to realise Dorma’s aunt probably wouldn’t kill her. After all, she obviously had a slight tendency to exaggerate, due to the ‘half an hour’ statement she had made earlier about the stone throwing.
“I just wanted to get a peek at you and your brother,” said Dorma, changing the subject quickly.
“I don’t remember telling you I had a brother,” she said, screwing her mouth up in a look of suspicion.
Seeing the unpleasant look on April’s face, Dorma quickly put her right. “No, no, you didn’t, I overheard my aunt talking about you both when she was on the phone with your grandad.”
“Oh right, yeah, of course. That would make sense, sorry.”
“Listen, I’ve got to get back into the van before she and your grandad finish. Can I come back tomorrow and see you?”
“Great, that’s if your aunt will let you.”
Dorma grinned, then said, “When she was talking to your grandad on the phone, she mentioned that she’s got to go and get something important tomorrow. By the sounds of it, she’ll be gone all day.” Her grin turned into a laugh that lit up her whole face.
“Shall we meet by the large oak tree in grandad’s meadow? You know, the one with the old barn in it?”
“Great, what time?” said Dorma quickly, trying to hurry the conversation along, not wanting to face the wrath of her aunt if she were caught.
“Ten thirty alright with you? I’d normally say earlier,” April went on to say apologetically, “but I’m not up for rushing tomorrow.”
April didn’t want to tell Dorma, who was still a stranger to her, what had actually happened with her parents. She’d see how the friendship progressed before starting to trust her with matters of the heart.
“No probs,” said Dorma, turning to make her way over to the van. Once there, she opened the rear door and climbed in. As she crouched down, hidden in the back and waiting for her aunt to return, she admired the attractive farmhouse with its homely look. The smell of the climbing rose that weaved its way up the side of the house underneath April’s bedroom window lingered in her nostrils. How she would have loved to live in a place like that, with its long driveway flanked either side by woodland. She would have spent hours climbing the trees and running through the undergrowth. She wondered if April knew just how lucky she was.
Her pleasant thoughts were shattered by the voice and approaching footsteps of her aunt making her way back towards the battered, old vehicle. Dorma folded her head onto her chest in an attempt to make herself even smaller. She couldn’t risk being seen.
Driving off into the distance, Sukie was blissfully unaware she had a stowaway in the back of her van. Dorma pressed her hand against the back window as she whispered April’s name to herself. For one brief moment, she allowed a tear to run down her cheek. A single, indulgent tear.
Dorma held her position out of sight in the back of her aunt’s van. Crouching had given her a nasty cramp in her left calf, which was becoming incredibly uncomfortable. Without moving a muscle, she monitored the loudness of her shallow breaths. The two small windows in the back of the van were pretty filthy and clearly hadn’t been washed in ages, stifling any view she had.
The inside of the van was just as dirty, smelling of two-stroke oil and old grass. There was a large sheet of mesh behind the driver’s seat, held in place by industrial staples. It appeared to be an obvious added extra, although Dorma couldn’t work out why it was there. Behind the mesh that separated the back of the van from the two front seats were a couple of fairly large boxes, which easily blocked any view the driver would have had out of the back windows. A grass collector from a lawn mower lay squashed in between the boxes, leaving a rather battered old toolbox free to slide from left to right whenever the van cornered. Dorma had brought an old towel to sit on for the journey, as she couldn’t risk any unexplainable oil stains on her clothing.
The van eventually came to an abrupt halt. Dorma waited a moment then straining her neck, she watched as her aunt Sukie climbed the three stairs up to the front porch.
Her aunt was very tall in stature, some might say gangly. She would ‘march’ rather than walk. Once across the threshold, she shut the green painted front door behind her. The minute the door was shut Dorma unfolded herself from her uncomfortable position and crept out of the van. Quietly she closed the van doors and headed towards the side of the house. Her plan was to get back in the same way she had left through her basement window.
Prior to leaving that morning, Dorma had lodged a clothes peg in between the window and its frame, keeping it slightly ajar. She couldn’t run the risk of not being able to get back inside. Once safely across the driveway, she crept over to the basement window and squeezed her way through the narrow gap. Falling down the inside wall, Dorma landed with a thump on the basement floor, just moments before her aunt made her way down the stairs. The petrified girl instinctively grabbed the broom she had leant against the wall earlier that morning, hoping to look as though she had been busy sweeping.
“What are you doing, girl?” Sukie asked, with utter contempt.
“Sweeping, Aunt,” she replied, desperate not to sound out of breath.
“I know you’re ‘sweeping’, girl the problem is you’re doing it in your area, when you should be cleaning mine. Get upstairs right now and complete your chores.”
“Yes, Aunt,” she said, barely above a whisper.
In order to make her way up the stairs, Dorma had to walk past Sukie. As she approached her aunt, she felt her beady eyes looking her up and down, as though she was judging a dog at Crufts. Unfortunately for Dorma, Sukie’s gaze rested upon her shoes.
“Why have you got mud on your shoes?” she snapped, pointing at the offending items.
“Mud, Aunt?” repeated Dorma, realising she hadn’t been as clever as she’d thought.
“Mud, you stupid girl!” she spat viciously.
“I… erm…I… erm.”
“Well?” hissed Sukie, her eyes narrowing to match her pursed lips.
Dorma lived in fear of getting on the wrong side of her aunt, so she decided it would be better to lie than to risk a beating.
“I erm… I mean I thought I heard someone round the back of the house when you were out, so I went to investigate.”
“What have I told you about leaving the house without my permission?” she said, leaning in until Dorma could taste the old woman’s foul breath.
“You’ve told me not to,” she whispered, trying not to flinch as her aunt held out her hand.
“Exactly!” she spat. “Give me your hand, child.”
“No, please,” Dorma begged, hoping for some glimpse of kindness.
“Hold out your hand this instant, Dorma,” she snarled.
Most children probably would have held out their hand, but Dorma knew what was coming. She knew that Sukie was going to use her ‘Glass Necklace’ on her… the necklace that hung around her aunt’s scraggly neck as a constant reminder that disobedience would be punished in the most severe way.
Anyone meeting her aunt would have admired the stunning piece of jewellery, even wanted it for themselves. The depth of colour held in each piece of ‘glass’ was mesmerising. So mesmerising that each time Sukie drew breath, the necklace would rise up and down on her chest, giving the illusion that it too was a living, breathing thing.
One night, when her aunt was in the bath, Dorma snuck into her bedroom to try it on. Whether it was fear, she didn’t know, but the nearer she got to the necklace, the colder the whole room felt. It sent shivers up and down her spine. Undeterred, Dorma approached the table where the necklace lay and, reaching out her hands, she picked it up. “Ouch,” she cried, dropping it back down onto the table. How could something that seemed so beautiful be so dangerous? More importantly, how on earth does Aunt Sukie wear it around her neck without being cut to ribbons?
At the place where the necklace rested on aunt Sukie’s neck were the most exquisite pearls. They were soft, delicate and round; a stark contrast to the unusual jewels that turned out to be as sharp as shards of glass. From that moment onwards, Dorma referred to her aunt’s necklace as the ‘Glass Necklace’.
Sukie snapped Dorma back into the present, demanding, “Give me your hand, Dorma… I won’t ask you again, child.”
Even up to the moment Dorma held out her hand, she hoped her aunt would show her some kind of mercy, some kind of love. Instead, keeping eye contact with Dorma at all times, she ceremoniously removed the necklace from around her neck. Then, carefully folding the necklace in half, Sukie made sure she held the end with the pearls. Without any show of emotion, she began to whip the vulnerable girl’s outstretched hand. Dorma’s begging look served no purpose.
Upon contact, an excruciating and intense pain exploded in Dorma’s hand; it was like nothing she had ever felt before. She bit down on her bottom lip, desperate not to scream, knowing this would infuriate her aunt further… but the pain was too much, and overwhelmed by her pent-up distress, Dorma cried out in agony.
“Silence, child,” spat her aunt. “Take your punishment.”
Four lashings were all that was required. Any more would have caused Dorma serious damage. Sukie stopped, not because she cared for Dorma, but because she would be of no use to her with one hand out of action. At least this way the punishment was at Dorma’s expense and not her own.
When finished, she silently replaced the necklace around her long, thin neck and looking down at Dorma’s tear stained face, she felt no pity for the girl, only annoyance at the inconvenience of the whole situation.
“Now, Dorma,” said her aunt, choosing to adopt a much softer, gentler tone. “Will you be going out again without my permission?”
Barely able to get the words out, Dorma said, “No Aunt.”
Certain that the pain and fear had done their job, Sukie felt sure she would have no more trouble from the young girl.
Dorma hadn’t forgotten the plans her and April had made for the next day, but most things can be agreed to when you are in agony.
Not satisfied with simple obedience, Sukie also wanted gratitude.
“Who took you in when no one else cared?” she said, taking Dorma’s chin in her hand, forcing her to look directly into her own eyes.
“You did, Aunt.”
“And am I not kind and generous for providing you with a roof over your head?”
“Yes Aunt, very,” she whispered.
“So let’s have no more of this behaviour. Go and clean up your hand; I don’t want blood stains on any of my things. Then, get on with the rest of your chores. Oh, and Dorma, make sure you take off those muddy shoes.”
Dorma used her good hand to remove her shoes, before turning to make her way upstairs, cradling her lacerated hand as she did.
Entering her aunt’s part of the house, she went upstairs to the bathroom to see if there were any bandages. Once inside, she went over to the medicine cabinet and opening it with her good hand, she started to move some of the contents around. Looking beyond the hair removal cream, Dorma moved some toothpaste to one side, before spotting something unusual.
Any thoughts of bandages left her as she picked up the black, half-full bottle of something. What’s this then, she thought as she gently shook the unlabelled thick medicine.
Not one to learn quickly, Dorma clumsily undid the lid, releasing a potent stench. “Whatever is this stuff for? It stinks of rotten fish,” she said aloud, gagging as she moved it as far away as possible from her nose. The bottle slipped in her bloodied hands as she battled to replace the lid, splashing some of the contents onto her cut hand. Hurriedly she placed the bottle on the side of the sink, turning the cold tap on to wash the stuff off. As she turned her hand towards herself, she gasped in shock, unable to believe what she was seeing. Her hand was healing itself. The liquid appeared to be flowing in and out of the lacerations. Dorma had no idea what was happening to her. She was frightened, yet astonished by it all. Within moments, her hand had returned to the state it was in before she had received the lashings from the ‘Glass Necklace’.
Her initial response was to run downstairs and show her aunt what had happened, but she soon stopped at the thought of how furious her aunt would be to learn that Dorma had rummaged through her cabinet without permission. She would probably get another four lashings, so instead she bandaged her ‘healed’ hand securely, hoping her aunt wouldn’t find out what had happened.
To make sure her aunt wouldn’t suspect anything, Dorma took slightly longer to do her chores. This meant she went without tea. Once finished, she asked for permission to go back down to her area.
Dorma didn’t call the space she slept in her bedroom. A bedroom conjured up a warm and safe place. In reality, her space was anything but. It was just an area where she was kept by her aunt, almost like a holding pen.
“I won’t need you now until the morning, Dorma,” she said picking a piece of chicken from her teeth. “Set your alarm for five I have an early start in the morning.”
“Yes, Aunt,” she said before retreating to her area.
Dorma knew she should be grateful for a roof over her head, but life with her aunt was extraordinarily hard. It was lonely and could often be cruel.
She looked over to where her trainers lay, imagining the friendship she could have with April. Holding her hands together and praying she whispered, “If you’re there God and you’re looking down on me, can you please, please let me keep April? Everything I have is not mine and can be taken away at a moment’s notice, just because she is in a bad mood. The one thing I ask is that you don’t let her take April, from me… Amen.”
Dorma changed into her one and only nightdress, cleaned her teeth, brushed her hair and slowly climbed into bed. The bandage would remain on her hand over night, just in case her aunt came in to spy on her.
She was glad that her hand wouldn’t be scarred the way her forearm was. Dorma found it odd that she had no memory of the incident that had left her with a scar the size of a fifty-pence piece.
As she lay in her bed considering this, Dorma drifted off into a restless sleep, haunted by the same dream she had most nights. In it, she was a happy and loved, vivacious person, walking down a tree-lined road, heading for a large building.
As she neared the building, she could hear the laughter of children, and as she crossed the threshold of a large, magnificent iron gate, two children (the same two each time) would run into her arms and give her the biggest hug. Dorma’s sadness was that she always woke up at the point of seeing the children’s faces, so she never got to find out who they were.