Tag Archives: horror


I’m sitting on a single bed

with pounding heart and aching head.

My memory’s stuck – it won’t rewind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The décor’s apple-green and chrome.

Wherever I am, it isn’t home.

They say I’m free but I feel confined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The pills they make me take are brown.

The nurses have to hold me down,

but first they close the roller blind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The girl next door to me is nuts –

her arms a mess of razor cuts.

I don’t belong here, with her kind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


And all the other women here

are tainted with the smell of fear

and search for things they cannot find.

I haven’t lost my mind.


Respect’s a quality they lack.

They whisper things behind my back.

The words they say are so unkind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor says when he is through

I’ll see the world like others do –

I’m not sure I’m that way inclined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The things he says are just not right –

that black’s not black and white’s not white,

and every cloud is silver-lined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor smiles but I do not.

He wants to know what I forgot.

He makes my tangled thoughts unwind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


The doctor says I’m almost there;

I’ll start to heal if I can bear

to drop the mask I hide behind.

I haven’t lost my mind.


Oh God, did I do something wrong?

I can’t forget for nine months long

my blood and hers were intertwined.

I haven’t lost my mind.


For eighteen hours on the trot

she cried and cried and wouldn’t stop.

A swirling redness made me blind.

Perhaps I’ve lost my mind.


For hers was such a little life

it only took a pocket knife

to cut away the ties that bind.

I think I’ve lost my mind.


(c) Helen Lewis 2006


Family heirloom

[Click here to listen to an audio recording of this story. (Read by me, and not a professional voice artist, unfortunately!)]


My grandmother’s house was just as I remembered it. The crunch of gravel on the front path, the lion’s head knocker, the smell of beeswax, and the umbrella stand in the corner of the hall.

When I was a child the umbrella stand fascinated me. It had an off-white circular base; ivory, Oma explained – like the piano keys. The umbrella bin was shaped like an umbrella itself; inverted and partially opened. Its spines were ivory too, and stretched between, forming the fabric of the umbrella, was a beige-coloured translucent material that reminded me of the hide on my bongo drums.

Whenever Heike and I stayed with Oma the umbrella stand was our touchstone. One of us would stand next to it, close our eyes and count to a hundred while the other hid. It was our hiding place for the sweets we smuggled in for midnight feasts. As teenagers it was where we stashed our make-up.

It didn’t take long to clear the house. I got the umbrella stand and the contents of Oma’s bureau. Sorting through her papers the next day, one handwritten letter caught my eye.

June 14th 1943

Sehr geehrte Fräulein Schwartz,

Please accept my deepest sympathies. Your late father’s patronage of our work has helped to make this country great. Your own generous donation from your father’s estate will allow us to continue our research for many years to come. Please accept this small token of my appreciation: an umbrella stand, fashioned entirely from waste materials.


Joseph Mengele


(C) Helen Lewis 2010

The trouble with Adam

From the series 'It's a Girl' By Edite Haberman

From the series ‘It’s a Girl’
By Edite Haberman

I’m waiting in the reception area at Happy Bunnies day care. In one corner of the room child-sized sun hats hang on low pegs, and dusty sandals poke out from underneath a wooden bench strewn with empty lunch boxes. On the wall opposite there’s a notice board plastered with photos of young children riding tricycles, petting farm animals and building towers out of wooden blocks. The air smells of baby soap, sunscreen and play dough. Through the open window I can hear the shouts of children playing outside, and an enthusiastic rendition of ‘Heads and shoulders’ is coming from the toddlers’ room next door. I listen for Adam’s voice, but I can’t make it out.

A bitter taste fills my mouth. I’m biting my nails. I really ought to have kicked the habit by now, especially with the wedding coming up in a couple of months. But I guess the events of the past few weeks have made me more anxious than usual.

The door to the toddlers’ room opens and Mrs Johnson, the manager of the day care centre, bursts through. She’s a middle-aged woman with greying hair and a face brimming with good humour. When she sees me she smiles.

‘Hello Ms Harris,’ she says, ‘Thanks for coming in.’

‘Please, call me Natalie,’ I say, standing up and offering my hand to shake, but she holds her palms out towards me. They’re covered in glitter.

‘Occupational hazard, I’m afraid,’ she says, with a laugh. She pushes open the door of her office with an elbow, and ushers me in.

There’s a trio of matching chairs in different sizes in front of Mrs Johnson’s desk. I feel like Goldilocks. I sit down on the medium-sized chair.

‘Is there a problem?’ I ask.

Mrs Johnson opens a large container of baby wipes on her desk, pulls out a couple of sheets, and begins wiping her hands.

‘Well, Natalie,’ she says, ‘we’re worried about Adam.’

‘Me too,’ I say. ‘He’s so clingy in the mornings when I drop him off. It’s been nearly two weeks; I thought he’d be getting used to it by now.’

‘Don’t worry about that,’ says Mrs Johnson. ‘Adam’s been at home up until now, hasn’t he? It’s bound to take him a while to settle in at day care.’

‘There’s another problem?’ My hands are itching to find my mouth. I shove them under my thighs instead.

Mrs Johnson leans forward in her seat. ‘Adam’s behaviour is giving us cause for concern,’ she says quietly.

‘In what way?’

‘Every day, after lunch, he collects all the plastic dolls and pulls their heads off. Then he puts the heads in a pushchair and walks around with it. If anyone touches the pushchair he has a screaming fit.’

‘Oh,’ I say, swallowing hard. My eyes start welling up with tears, but I manage to fight them back. I feel like I ought to say something else, but I have no idea what. Thankfully, Mrs Johnson breaks the silence.

‘Have there been any changes at home lately?’

‘Yes. Our live-in nanny, Sophie, left us a few weeks ago. That’s why I enrolled Adam at Happy Bunnies.’

‘Was Adam fond of Sophie?’

‘Very,’ I say. ‘Sophie came to live with us when Adam was six weeks old. She was like a second mother to him.’

‘Does Adam have any other important adults in his life?’

‘Well, there’s my fiancé, Bob. He moved in about six months ago, just after Adam’s second birthday.’

‘And how do Bob and Adam get on?’

‘Oh, well enough,’ I say. ‘They don’t see each other that often. Bob’s a surgeon and he works long hours. When Bob’s at home, Adam’s usually asleep. And I hate to wake him up once he’s got off to sleep, because he’s such a poor sleeper.’

‘Did he start having problems sleeping after Sophie left, or before?’ asks Mrs Johnson.

‘Definitely before. But there are other things that started after she left. He’s afraid of the dark now, when he never used to be. And he always used to be such a confident and outgoing little boy. Now he clings to me all the time and he never wants to let me out of his sight. I’m really worried about him.’

The tears come again, and this time I can’t stop them. Mrs Johnson offers me a tissue. It smells of glue sticks.


As I’m opening the front door the phone starts ringing. I chivvy Adam inside. The old Adam would have run off to play in the garden. The new Adam sits at the bottom of the stairs. Keeping an eye on me. I take the business card Mrs Johnson gave me out of my pocket and put it on the hall table, next to the phone. It reads, ‘Raj Prasad, child psychologist’.

I pick up the phone. It’s Sophie’s dad.

‘I’m sorry to bother you, Natalie,’ he says, ‘only we can’t reach Sophie on her mobile.’

‘Sophie’s not with us any more,’ I say. ‘Didn’t she tell you?’

‘No. What happened?’

‘I don’t really know. She just went. She left us a letter, saying she had some personal problems and was going back home. I assumed she was with you.’

‘We’ve not seen or heard from her in weeks.’

For the second time today I have no idea what to say.

‘Hello, Natalie? Are you still there?’

I need to feel like I’m doing something useful, so I give Sophie’s dad the name of the boy Sophie was seeing while she was with us. I ask him to call me again in the morning, but I know I’ll end up calling him first. I hang up.

I put on my best breezy smile for Adam.

‘Would you like an ice lolly?’ I ask.

Adam nods.

‘Come on then,’ I say, holding out my hand. ‘Let’s go and choose one.’

Adam puts his hand in mine, and follows me down the hall, but as soon as I open the door to the basement, he pulls his hand out of mine, and wraps his arms around my legs.

‘No, Mummy, no!’

I extricate myself from his grasp, and get down to his eye level. ‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘You don’t have to go. I’ll get the lolly.’

I make my way down the stairs to the basement, humming a cheery tune.

Half way down the stairs I turn round and check on Adam. He’s watching me intently, his bottom lip quivering.

The chest freezer is right at the bottom of the stairs.

‘You like raspberry ones, don’t you?’ I call up to him.

The ice lolly box is not where I expect it to be. I’m rummaging around, trying to find it, when my hand touches something unfamiliar. It’s heavy and irregularly shaped, and it feels like it’s wrapped in cling film. I pull it out to take a look.

It’s Sophie’s head. Beneath the hazy glaze of the cling film her pale skin is tinged blue and frosted with ice crystals. Her green eyes are open and staring, and her mouth is horribly contorted. Her blonde hair is streaked with blood. Her neck is cut off neatly and precisely, in a perfectly horizontal line, like the line where a doll’s head joins her body.

There’s a thump. I look down to see Sophie’s head rolling along the basement floor, towards the bottom of the stairs.

It’s only when Adam lets out an ear-splitting scream that I remember he’s there. I jump over the still-rolling head and run up the stairs. By the time I reach Adam his scream has become a wail. I kneel down and hold him tightly, rocking gently back and forth, whispering into his ear, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right.’ Eventually his wailing gives way to sobbing, and I pull away from him, holding his shoulder with one hand and gently smoothing his hair with the other. ‘What did you see, Adam?’ I ask. ‘What did you see?’

Between sobs, Adam repeats a single syllable: ‘Bob.’


© Helen Lewis, 2010

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