Written by Annabelle Nshuti
Graphic by Alisha Nagle
This piece was originally published in ‘Memento Mori’, Bossy’s 2021 print edition.
The world is shrouded in mystery. It has been so ever since the universe’s first heartbeat, a colossal bang! that expanded across time and space. With the help of faeries’ musings and birds’ chatter, we’ve kept a stern belief and curiosity in the unknown. However, is it only unknown because science obstructs our view, and superstitions are crammed further back into the bookshelf, amongst the dust, cobwebs, and folklore?
For aeons, it has always been a tale of two worlds, on the border of magic and reality. But if humans can live anywhere, can’t monsters?
* * *
“Miss Olly! You must keep your hat on your head, otherwise, you’ll get sick.” Amelie tsked as she picked up the tiny hat from where it lay upon the trimmed grass.
Pastel flowers and bold green leaves complemented Amelie’s morning tea with Miss Olly—a doll who was a gift from mukecuru, her grandmother. She hardly spent time with mukecuru: they either lived too far away, or never found the time to visit. Amelie sensed that her mother had never intended for them to meet.
As mukecuru tended to her flowerbeds, Amelie nibbled on a chocolate cupcake. Only a minute later, a surprised shriek left Amelie’s lips. “There’s a small Barbie lady hiding in the flowers!”
Mukecuru pulled her aside. “Darling Amelie,” she asked cautiously, “did you truly see something?” Amelie eagerly nodded. Mukecuru hesitated, glancing towards the house. “Don’t believe everything that you see. This house sometimes plays tricks on the naïve.”
The chrysanthemum acknowledged its current occupant, but mukecuru shied away from the delicate faerie sitting on its petite, yellow petal.
Does hideous and vulgar a monster make?
* * *
In the city, tepid coffee was gulped down hastily, while underground, basement creatures staggered forward—each movement of theirs echoing a stretch.
A curse was stifled in the barista’s throat as he burnt the coffee grains, sheepishly handing the takeaway cup to Cat. Giving him a comforting look, Cat grabbed the coffee, and jogged to the train.
Her preoccupied mind flew through the labyrinth of skyscrapers, construction sites, and cars.
“Good morning. Is there someone available to see me today? …Oh—yes, it’s Catarina Uwimana… I just want to see someone regarding my settlement? …I know it’s really busy, it’s just that no one’s called me back in the last four days. Hello?” A sharp curse left her lips as she raced across the street to the stale office buildings in the distance.
in the distance
The shadow of the forever man kept on running, sprinting, never slowing down and leaping an eccentric dance, one that should never be seen by another living soul.
* * *
A mismatched parade of toys lay scattered across Amelie’s bedroom floor, as her hand flashed through her favourite book. “Yes! I did see a faerie!” she whispered to herself as she stumbled upon a drawing of some, now. Amelie’s garden faerie was silky, fragile and had a smirk on her face—it was as if it knew Amelie wouldn’t be believed.
As she turned to the next page, her smile fell into a grimace, and her eyes lingered on the gruesome image of a dwarf. Encapsulated in its face was terror and hunger.
Daddy’s words floated into her memory as she recalled him reading this specific tale: the faeries of the mountaintop had to stop the dwarves from kidnapping the neighbourhood children.
“The faeries won!” Daddy had told her, “Amelie, you’re safe and sound.” A shy tear now rolled down her face.
Then, her tears had come from fear of the dwarves—and now, they were from the absence of Daddy. Where was he? His hugs had run cold—she needed warmth and love to function.
A child isn’t ignorant to life’s issues: she knew the muddled emotions that her parents felt towards each other, and how, even throughout the separation, they continued to dote on her. But she couldn’t understand how two people could ever stop loving each other.
Was she bitter? Perhaps. Hurt? Definitely. Amelie felt she couldn’t rely on either one of her parents. They didn’t deserve her trust: not for what they did to her—to their family.
* * *
A mundane day at work trickled by for Cat, with lengthy phone calls, hurried stacks of paper, and awkward conversations filling up her time. When she left for the evening, the balancing act of day and night resembled a seesaw, with dusk and dawn teetering on the outskirts. The train became a snake, seeking its prey; the café, an empty playground.
But, for who?
As Cat started the long walk from the train station to home, something caught her eye.
The sprint of the forever man was electric; his dance was frantic. It was raw and never-ending—it was by grace that no one saw the figure.
Her breath became staggered, and she began to dial her sister’s number with dewy hands. “This isn’t real, right?” Cat said aloud, knowing in her heart she was just imagining things—after all, she had been exhausted since separating from Ian.
Her heart was confused. They loved each other, but love wasn’t enough. Something was missing. If you can’t rely on your supposed forever person, then who can you rely on? Yourself? A deity? No one.
As the dial tone continued like static, Cat hung up the phone. “I’m seeing Amelie tonight. We’re making dinner together. We’ll be fine.”
Hope is an intriguing concept. It’s something that both the inhumane and human possess. Why else would monsters be around if they, too, didn’t have dreams or desires?
* * *
During the ongoing divorce, Cat and Amelie found themselves living with mukecuru in Cat’s childhood home. It was pulled straight out of a faerie tale—grandiose, the old mansion was a sleeping giant: it slept in a bed of chrysanthemums, and wise, ancient trees.
“Know this: a house will always choose you,” mukecuru told Amelie when they first arrived. “It knows what’s best for you: when to love, when to listen, when to discipline. You’re a guest inside whatever house you live in, and that’s both a privilege, and dangerous.”
A single mother, mukecuru made her own way through life, raising three strong-minded daughters. But life ran away with them, and as soon as they were of age, they left mukecuru—now she had strained relationships with them all.
Sinking into sadness, she kept this all to herself, but mukecuru swore that she felt something had changed after her daughters left home. Not to the physical embodiment of the house, but rather, the atmosphere within.
That evening, as mukecuru flicked through the newspaper, her hands began to shake, fear settling into her bones. She felt a shift in the house’s energy, and her lips slowly started to twitch—something was in the air.
Just then, Cat entered the front door, and before a moment had passed, Amelie ran downstairs, straight into her chest. Cat was caught off guard: since the separation, Amelie had become a bit distant towards her, but now Cat felt Amelie’s heartbeat stagger.
Cat was guilty of still treating Amelie as a toddler. She bent down and patted her head. “Amelie, do you want to make ugali with ibishyimbo and inyama?”
* * *
Cooking brought with it a sense of normalcy and togetherness—routines stay with you, even after another family member leaves.
Witches brew their mystical spells and reckonings in a coven. Laughter is shared, secrets told, songs sung.
As the ugali was pounded in the pot, the cheerful atmosphere leant itself to giggles—a welcome surprise since the separation.
“Mum,” Amelie whispered excitedly, “I saw a faerie today!”
Eyes wide, Cat replied, “My gosh! Did you say anything to it?”
Amelie shook her head. “It was being a bit cheeky, you know? It was sitting right on top of mukecuru’s yellow flowers! Do you think it has other faerie friends?”
They both chuckled, enjoying each other’s company.
Once dinner was served, they called mukecuru, and gathered in the dining room. Cat pinched the ugali, and cradling it with meat and beans, she attempted to make small talk with mukecuru. “So, Amelie told me you were both in the garden today?”
Mukecuru nodded in reply, staring down at her plate. After a few minutes of silence—interrupted by occasional spontaneous chatter from Amelie—mukecuru asked, “Have you found a place to move into, Catarina? I’m worried for my dear Amelie: this house will try to trick you, and oftentimes, it isn’t kind.”
Cat pinched her forehead. “Mama, I’m going to ignore what you said about the house. But, let’s talk about it tomorrow, okay? I’m exhausted, I just want to rest.”
Mukecuru’s head slowly shook back and forth. “The sooner you move out, the better. This separation is affecting both of you, and—”
“And what, mama?” Cat said sarcastically. “Is this too much of a burden? I didn’t realise that you wouldn’t want to see us, after all of these years!”
Mukecuru stared back, blankly.
Cat chuckled. “To think that I thought you actually cared about us. It’s like my childhood all over again. Have you ever cared about anyone except for yourself?!”
Suddenly, an isolated wail erupted in the distance.
“What’s that?” Cat asked, as Amelie’s eyes grew. Mukecuru looked just as stunned. “I’m not sure,” she lied.
The quiet erupts into Chaos, like Hades’s chasm descending deep into Tartarus.
To Cat’s terror, something dragged her to the ground. She shrieked, “Amelie! Where are you?” before she saw mukecuru shakily put her index finger to her lips.
Amelie was huddled in mukecuru’s arms, her mouth curled into an empty scream. Cat felt a hand on her back, but before she could scream again, she saw mukecuru’s concerned eyes.
Mukecuru whispered, “Come along. Make haste, Catarina.”
Amelie held tightly onto mukecuru’s hand. Mukecuru looked at Cat. “We’ve got to move now.”
They tiptoed through the house. Nothing had physically changed, but the atmosphere now felt cold, unnatural, and distorted.
Mukecuru herded them both into the study. Gripping both Cat and Amelie’s hands, she realised that she had been silent her whole life: silent to the anguish that her daughter’s adventures had caused her. She remained silent to the pain the house caused her.
She finally decided to speak up. “Catarina, I don’t know what to say. This started happening after you and the girls left home. They feed on sorrow, ego, and anger. They’re probably feeding on you and Amelie’s emotions, because of Ian.”
Cat cried out in dismay. “What?! What are they?”
“Wh—what’s that?” Amelie trembled. Translucent gloop began to drip from the walls.
Mukecuru’s voice now sounded stretched. “Catarina, it’s too late. They’re here.”
A distortion filled the air—shattering the atmosphere. Just like that, all were separated. Alone.
* * *
Crouching in a ball, little Amelie shuddered uncontrollably. She heard the footsteps approaching her. Amelie scampered backwards. Mustering up the courage, she whispered, “Wh—who is it?”
A few seconds later, she heard the faintest click, and a single flame shattered the darkness. A group of dwarves advanced upon her. Miniscule in stature, they had unkempt beards, long nails, and eyes of despair and hunger.
Before Amelie could scream, one dwarf opened its mouth, and grumbled, “Let’s get her. Let’s get her.” She immediately began to run.
* * *
Full-sized mirrors surrounded Cat, forcing her to gaze at the empty stares of a woman’s silhouette. Her arms were crossed, and she was cradling a baby. A smaller, hand-held mirror materialised neatly into Cat’s hand, becoming inundated with memories—forcing her to fixate on forgotten dreams gone by. Her gaze lingered on Ian, the deepest and most regrettable desire of her heart.
The remnants of Ian’s caress lay in her arms. “Cee, can’t we just live in the moment? We have an adorable girl—tick! Ten healthy pot plant babies—double tick! A never-ending stack of books that we’ll never read—ding! Ding! Ding! Need I go on?”
She reminisced on his cocoa-coloured eyes, staring at her intently as he muttered, “What’s wrong, Cee? This can’t keep on happening—we need to talk. Talk to me—” but before he could continue, Cat shrugged his arms off her back. Her pain balled up, stretching into corners of her heart.
As she stared at her most hated memory, she knew that it was her fault they were no longer together. That she ran off with Amelie to her mother’s, leaving Ian alone, scrambling to understand what had happened to their ‘perfect life’. But she knew that it was the right thing to do. It was never her life.
Through the corner of her eye, Cat saw the woman with the baby had started to dance—Cat was mesmerised. She danced freely; but just then, a new silhouette appeared in the mirror.
It was the forever man, and the woman’s dancing became erratic.
Cat had knelt down, shivering, finally realising who they were. The woman—herself. The forever man—her fears and hesitation about the future.
Both were a connected dance—forwards and backwards in space-time.
Her emotions engulfed her—a tornado of hate, sick love, disgust, despair. A torrent of tears streaked down her face, as the forever man and woman began to encircle her.
Cat, breathing fast and hard, felt the figures touch her, filling her up. She needed to let go—of Ian, of their ‘perfect life’, of the past.
Before they smothered her, she yelled, “My life was meaningless with you, and it’s finally starting to become something!” She felt a phantom tether pull her out of the circle, where she was left alone on the ground, in a puddle of tears.
* * *
Amelie sprinted blindly through the dark corridor. In the distance, she felt the dwarves begin to match her every step, wailing, “Get her! Get her!”
As she looked down at her feet, she saw two mice scurrying next to her, with faeries on each of their backs. They held swords, but Amelie wasn’t afraid. “They’re here to help me,” she whispered to herself. She felt encouraged, running faster. She could hear them whispering, “Have hope, dear Amelie. Hope.”
Finally reaching the front door, she tried the lock, and found herself trapped. As the dwarves approached, she rasped, “Get away!” and yet the dwarves still advanced.
Out of breath, Amelie collapsed, fear overcoming her. An onslaught of emotions barrelled down—she’d been holding on to so much. She wasn’t being naïve—she knew that Mum wasn’t happy at the end, but that didn’t stop her fantastical imaginings of their life together with Daddy. She missed him so much that it crushed her.
Amelie, now crouched next to the front door, saw a faerie on her right-hand side. Its electric blue eyes looked at her warmly. “It’s alright to hurt. Use that pain to love, to heal. The ugliness of life can be overcome by its hidden magical moments. You’ve just got to find them.”
She missed her life together with Mum and Daddy. But she knew that she had to move on. Amelie’s eyes turned to the approaching dwarves, and again she heard them chant, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”
However, this time, she yelled, “You don’t scare me! Stop! NOW!”
At that moment, the home phone rang, and, with smudges of snot and tears streaming down her face, Amelie stumbled towards it.
She choked on the gasp that came out, and cried into the phone, “Daddy? Is that you?”
The house had suddenly illuminated, and in front of her, Amelie saw Cat on the ground, trembling. Cat looked up from the ground, and her eyes found Amelie’s. She bolted towards her — cradling Amelie in her arms. Mukecuru emerged from the dining room, hugging them both.
Amelie, overjoyed, screeched at Ian, “I love you!” She began to talk, and Ian listened, his own tears silently imitating hers.
Is love human, or is it universal? Ghosts come back, warn us of misfortunes and ill-natured attacks.
Isn’t this an act of love?
* * *
Magic can be gentle, wondrous, lively, and awe-inspiring.
We should be wary of the unknown and the unkind, but the beauty and wonder of magic is that, at times, it can love.
In Amelie’s bedroom, mukecuru massaged beurre de karité through Amelie’s tightly coiled curls.
Cat held Amelie’s hands, and asked, “Are you sure that you’re alright?”
She nodded, and tentatively asked, “You’re coming to see Daddy tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah,” Cat breathed. “I need to have a chat with him.”
Amelie tugged Cat’s arms, whispering, “I was right! The faeries were real! And mukecuru didn’t believe me—hm!”
Mukecuru playfully pinched Amelie’s cheek, before pressing Amelie’s bedsheets into the bed frame’s crevices. “Sleep well,” she whispered.
Cat shut Amelie’s bedroom door. A swell of emotions finally burst out in the form of two words: “Mama, why?”
Mukecuru looked deeply into Cat’s eyes. “I don’t know, Catarina. I don’t have all the answers. However, I suggest that you leave soon; this house is unpredictable.”
“We’ll head off tomorrow—I’ll make some calls. We’ll find a place.” Before she could stop herself, Cat unexpectedly asked, “Would you like to come with us?”
A weak smile appeared across mukecuru’s face. “I’ve got to stay here, child. The house needs me. It doesn’t make much sense, I know, but it chooses not to harm me.”
As mukecuru walked away, she patted Cat’s shoulder. Cat laughed softly—even after all of this, she didn’t want to give her a hug. Was it worth it anymore?
In the kitchen, as she heated the kettle, Cat resolved that she didn’t know what she would tell Ian, but he deserved to know the truth. She never told him why she left. She never had the chance to live her life — but it was never his fault. Holding a cup of pearl white Earl Grey tea in her hands, Cat sighed. She knew this was long overdue: she needed to start her own journey.
* * *
As Cat went back upstairs, mukecuru made her way to the front of the house. Expressionless, she sat on the floor. “Thank you for sparing them,” she murmured. Seemingly to no one—but the house heard.
As mukecuru sat there, she felt strengthened—energised. The house would never have harmed Cat and Amelie: it just wanted to suck out their joy. It always wanted more—pain, sorrow, anger.
But the house let Cat and Amelie go because it had mukecuru—the faithful servant. It was mukecuru’s guilt that let the house manipulate her—the abandonment of her children wormed its way into her mind, until she had nowhere else to go.
Her sacrificial love for the house led to its own rewards, she told herself. And that was what the house told her. “I will reward you kindly.” Mukecuru didn’t know this, but houses lie, just like humans. It had to lie. She was too useful.