TRIUMVIRATE


Prologue:
Concerning Fred

Her parents discovered rather early on that she was an odd child.

She was odd in a way that was rather difficult to explain. She was free of all the habits that made some children intolerable, being neither excessively fidgety nor prone to temper tantrums when she was refused her way. While she was as energetic as any six-year-old child, she was not hyperactive and did not require being the centre of attraction. In some respects, her parents were actually quite grateful to have a child they could leave in his room for a length of time and be certain that when they returned, they would find her exactly where they had left her. Usually sprawled across the floor, fastidiously colouring in her Thomas the tank engine colouring book with his crayons or if she were in one of his greyer moods, her Harry Potter.

She tended to favour the beloved train instead of the wizard.

If she were odd, it was because she preferred to be alone rather than associating with children her own age

When she was taken to class at the Caerau Infant School, it was noticed immediately that she had difficulty making friends. This had come as no surprise to her parents who had discovered this quirk after numerous failed attempts at forcing the child to socialise at playgrounds or the community playgroups in the park. At family gatherings, she would be the child alone in the corner of the room, amusing herself with her colouring books or whatever Pingo the Penguin was up to on the television.

There actually came a point in time when her parents wondered if she were suffering some latent mental deficiency or worse yet, possessed some anti-social disorder that would turn harm her later in life. Fortunately, the psychiatrist they consulted allayed their fears because he found the girl to be very intelligent, if not just a little quiet. There was nothing in her detached manner that seemed to indicate any serious mental problems and explained her behaviour as being nothing more than natural shyness.

Not every child was born an extrovert, he has said reassuringly.

It was easy to accept that as an explanation because while the child was rather detached around strangers, her parents garnered an altogether different response. Rather than going to school, she preferred to accompany her mother to the markets at Riverside, while her father went to his civil servant job at the local council. Although her mother would not be swayed in allowing her to miss school during the week, on weekends she was allowed to come. Every Saturday, the locals who volunteered their services at the Riverside markets were delighted to see a moppet with mesmerizing blue eyes and a thick mane of dark brown hair, enjoying herself immensely at her mum's side.

There was nothing to distinguish her from any other child when she was born in the summer of 1996. Christened a few weeks later as Frederica Lindsey Bailey at the local church in the community of Riverside in Cardiff, she was called Fred for short and had been a reasonably behaved baby that spared her parents the nightmares associated with caring for a newborn infant. If it were not for the distant look in her eyes that seemed for a moment, so much older than her years, there would have been no reason to worry at all.
As time passed, they became comfortable with the fact that their daughter was different but not in a bad way. There was a quiet strength residing beneath seemingly fragile porcelain beauty of her face. As a child it was difficult to see but it was there undoubtedly. She would always be a serious child and such children though a little unconventional, would never cause their parents too much grief.

Still, if either Mr or Mrs Bailey had ever bothered to ask, the one thing parents never thought to do with their children, they would have been surprised by the answer and possibly find that they were ill equipped to make any sense of it. Despite her intelligence, Fred was still a child lacking the experience needed to articulate the reason for her behaviour in a manner either of her parents would have been able to understand. She still remembered their surprise when she had asked them to turn off the lights in her bedroom at night. Her father had ruffled her hair and smiled proudly at his brave little girl since most children preferred the opposite. He never suspected for a moment that something else greater than the dark frightened his child. For Fred, it was very simple really.

The shadows hid her at night. The lights did not.

For as long as she could remember, Fred knew she had to be careful. This knowledge was ingrained from the first moment her infant mind began to assert itself into true consciousness. When she was a baby it instilled itself upon her as simple feeling of uneasiness. Thus as an infant, she did the only thing she could do. She remained silent so that she would not draw its attention. When she grew a little older, she distinguished who could be trusted and who could not. Her parents were safe. Strangers were not. The sensation told her that strangers were to be approached with deliberation and with each passing day, the threat in her mind grew just a little more.

By the time she was four years old, it had become a constant companion. She could feel it at the edge of her consciousness, tugging gently at her mind even during the moments when she experienced happiness. It marred every joyful emotion in her life with its presence; blight upon her existence she did not know how she had acquired but was certain would follow her forever. It loomed over her life like a storm cloud waiting to ruin an otherwise perfect sunny day. Despite her happy childhood with parents who loved her dearly, Fred was gripped with the fear that all this was fleeting.

Something was waiting for her in the dark, something that watched and waited for her in secret. Sometimes, she could feel its closeness so strongly that it was difficult to breathe and all she wanted to do was run and hide so that it would never find her. Unfortunately, she also knew that while she breathed, she would never truly escape it. The danger existed because she existed. Fred could articulate this to no one and so she kept it to herself, aware that sometimes her parents looked at her oddly and she did not at all like how that felt.

As much as Fred loved her parents, she was struck with this terrible foreboding that their presence in her life was temporary and so she clung to them, desperate to alert them of the danger when it came, even though she had no idea what form it would take. There were moments when her mother could almost see the terror in her eyes but the concept that her child could be so afraid was unimaginable so she was never able to make the leap to inquire its cause. As Fred grew older, she began to feel the walls of her life closing in on her, as if her happy childhood was sands in an upturned hourglass, dwindling in greater quantity with each passing day.

Shortly after her sixth birthday, the dreams began.

Dark and terrible, they were dreams no child should ever have to endure. The first time she had them, Fred had awakened screaming hysterically, body covered in perspiration and her eyes wide with terror. It took almost five minutes before her frightened parents were able to discern that she was not suffering a fit of some kind and she had been awakened rudely by a nightmare. Even when they had convinced her she was awake and that everything was alright, she was shaking so badly that her mother considered taking her to the hospital, fearing she was suffering a seizure of some sort.

When finally she was calm enough to speak coherently or to recognise her surroundings, the mere suggestion that she should return to sleep was met with more blind panic and tears. In the between her near hysterical tears and her incomprehensible stutters, they discern that she was frightened out of her mind at what she had seen in the dreamscape and if she should sleep, the monster would come for again. In the end, the only way that Fred could even consent to closing her eyes was if she was allowed to sleep in her parent's room for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately, the incident was not an isolated event. Seven days later, she experienced another harrowing night and after that, the dreams continued until Fred was waking in terror almost three times a week, leaving her parents at a loss over what to do. It was becoming so bad that Fred was dreading going to sleep at night and often had to be convinced that it was time to sleep. However, the nightmares would be awaiting for her as soon as she closed her eyes and each time, she would be unable to recount what she had seen, knowing only that it was real and it was coming for her.

Frantically, her parents believing that this time they had reason for concern, returned her to the ministrations of the psychiatrist who agreed that Fred should begin therapy, if for the child's sake then for her parents. However, for most part, the man dismissed the incidents as just another childhood ill that would eventually fade away with time. The suggestion of a nightlight convinced Mr and Mrs Bailey that the doctor had no idea what was wrong with their daughter. Unfortunately, it appeared no one else did either. A battery of tests concluded that Fred suffered no illness or condition that could explain why she awoke in cold sweat in the middle of the night, screaming.

Her behaviour also took a marked changed from seriousness to utter paranoia. Suddenly their daughter did not want to go to school at all and the insistence to remain close to either one of them at all times was becoming more than either parent could bear. They knew something was wrong with their child but no agency they enlisted from doctors, teachers and psychiatrists could prove it. One day, Mrs Bailey had walked into the house after spending the afternoon gardening and discovered someone had rummaged through her jewellery box and stolen all her rings.

She was on her way to telephone the police to report the burglary when a chance glance in the direction of the parlour solved the disappearance but not the mystery. Her wedding ring which she took off when she worked in the garden and other rings of similar significance had been cast into the fireplace. She had found Fred sitting in front of the fireplace, watching the flames turn her wedding ring into a molten pool of gold. When questioned why she would do such a thing, Fred would look at her mother as if there was something she wanted desperately to say but when finally spoken, was nothing more than an enigmatic riddle.

"They might speak."

She had began her counselling the very next day and returned from her first session with a diagnosis from the psychiatrist that she was suffering unspecified feelings of persecution, a rather peculiar diagnosis for one as young as she. Were they being too hard on her with discipline? The Bailey's endured the probing questions into their capacity as parents and while they were being subjected to this invasion, Fred's nightmares continued.

Fred did not lie when she told her parents that she could not remember her dreams.

The truth was she really did not. However, when she awoke, it was with the sensation that the dreams were somehow allowing her mysterious nemesis a window into her life and in turn, Fred was able to look back and see the terrible, terrible things it had planned for her. Despite knowing very little about this enemy, there was one thing of which Fred was absolutely certain. Its hatred.

In the aftermath of the nightmares she could never quite remember or knew how to express, Fred could sense the potency of its terrible black rage as if it were a living thing in itself. She could sense its heart beating, driven with single-minded purposes in unity with its master to find her and destroy her. The walls were beginning to close, Fred could feel it. It would not be long now.

It was coming for her.
PART ONE
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