The Shadow Keepers



Chapter 1

I stare at the imposing front door of what is to be my prison for the foreseeable future. Solid wood. Oversized ornate door knocker of a lion with the ring through its mouth. How appropriate. The surrounding building is made from yellow bricks and the roof is grey slate. It matches my mood. Ivy crawls over the hospital, maybe a suggestion of cheerfulness. To me it looks like it’s strangling my new home.

“Shall we go inside?” Bart shakes raindrops out of his hair as the smell of last night’s vodka oozes out of him.

Something in my chest skitters. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to go inside. But I don’t have a choice.

I nudge the heavy front door with a wet trainer, testing its strength, hoping it’s locked so I can remain in the world of the sane for just a little longer. It remains firmly closed—a small miracle—but I know this is only prolonging the inevitable. The court ordered me here, and here I must stay. I stand there, waiting for my parents, my anger pooling in my stomach, my skin prickling with indignation.

Bart throws an arm around me. I remain stiff, inconsolable. I can no longer let my guard down. I can no longer give in to emotion. My mother and stepfather arrive, my stepfather dragging my suitcase through the puddles. Gee, thanks Dad.

They join me in the portico. My stepfather turns the stupid handle of the door. We go through the wide front doors and drip rainwater onto the wood floor of the yawning entrance foyer. I immediately lock my gaze on a large bird statue standing at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

It’s a crow.

Not a crow.

My mouth goes dry.

The statue is taller than me. It wears its chip marks and dents with pride, as if to say nothing could ever destroy it, not even time. At some point in its life, it was kept outside; old bird stains mottle its surface. Its stone eyes keep vigil over the foyer. Its wings are half-erect, as if preparing to take flight. My heart picks up tempo, and my tongue becomes this weird, heavy object that doesn’t fit in my mouth. The panic attack is coming, building. It will be here soon.

I scan the room for reflective surfaces. I find only the windows, but as it’s morning, they are translucent. For now.

Grabbing my mother’s sleeve, I plead with her silently. Tears form in her eyes.

“It’s going to be okay, Georgia.” She pats my hand.

I shake my head and grit my teeth. “I don’t belong here.”

“We don’t have a choice. It’s what the court decided,” my mother replies. “It’s only ninety days.”

Three months. A quarter of a year. I’ll miss Halloween. Out in time for Christmas, if I prove I have recovered.

“Why don’t you believe me?” I shake her arm. If Mum, or the damn court, or anyone of my non-existent friends actually tried to believe me . . . they’d know the court order was bullshit. “I’m not crazy!”

My mother and stepfather exchange a look. It’s one I’ve seen a hundred times in the last few months. They’ve been here before. We’ve had this conversation before, but they’ve made up their minds.

“No one is saying that,” Mum says softly. “But after the incident . . .”

Bart steps between us. “Give her a break, Mum. I’m sure she remembers.”

I reach for his hand, and he squeezes it back. I can’t bear to look at him. The pity in his eyes would break me. Who am I kidding? I’m broken already.

My mother takes a long yoga breath, then sets her face into an emotionless mask; guarded eyes, flat smile. “You’re here to get better, and put this…bird stuff behind you once and for all.”

“I won’t make it,” I mumble too quietly for anyone to hear. They’ll make me look in the mirrors here. Mirrors I’ve avoided all my life. And then they’ll come for me. The shadows.

“Georgia,” Mum says with that flat smile again. “This place isn’t what it used to be. They don’t do electric shock therapy or hose patients with water. It’s not like that anymore. There’s no shame in it. The doctors and nurses here are the best suited to understanding and helping you.”

I look around the foyer again. Brookwood Hospital. Or Lunacy Asylum for the Insane and Unreachable. It’s the place people with money put their loved ones when they don’t know what else to do with them.

“Why can’t you help me?” I stare at Mum.

“We’ve tried, sweetheart. And we haven’t been able to. Now it’s time to let others in. You heard what the judge said; it’s here, or it’s the NHS hospital. We no longer have a choice. And to be quite honest, Georgia, there’s nothing else I can do for you.”

Bart nudges my arm, and his wobbling smile crushes my resolve not to cry.

“Your father never got the help he needed,” Mum says. “I don’t want that for you. I watched him struggle every day until he died. He joined the army because he felt he had something to prove, that he was tough and could look after us all. He went off to Afghanistan and he died trying to prove it. You’re so like him, Georgia, in many ways. You need to be here. You need to get better.”

Two nurses and a doctor emerge from an office door I hadn’t noticed. They stand in a line like teeth in a monster’s mouth. Their Stepford smiles have me taking a step backward and looking over my shoulder.

“Georgia Boone?” One of the nurses asks, distracting me from my quickening pulse.

I turn towards the voice. According to her label, she is the head psychiatric nurse, and her name is Marion.

“Yes,” Mum answers for me. “Yes, this is Georgia.”

“We’ve been waiting for you,” Marion says, looking down a puffy nose at me.

My heart thuds painfully in my chest again. It picks up speed, as if trying to gallop out of my body completely. I clutch my mother’s sleeve again.

“I’m Nurse Marion,” she says. “And this is Nurse Willow.” She points to the other woman.

Deputy Psychiatric Nurse Willow, according to her name badge, is tall and skinny. Her eyes are blue, and I detect a flash of some intrinsic warning in them when she looks at me.

“Hello, sweetheart,” Willow says, a warm smile propped on her lips.

“I’m Paul. I’m a psychologist here,” the man says, stepping forward to offer his hand. My stepfather shakes it, and my mother smiles sadly at him. “Don’t be alarmed. We’ll take good care of Georgia. That’s what we’re here for after all.”

“Yes, of course,” Mum replies.

“We need you to sign some paperwork,” Marion says to my parents. “Paul will show Georgia and her brother to a pot of tea.”

She gestures to the office door. My parents follow the two nurses into the room and leave Bart and me standing in the large foyer with Paul under the penetrating gaze of an antique grandfather clock. It leans Pisa-like on the thick carpet, its gentle ticking the only audible noise in the hushed expectancy of the room. It strikes the hour, and I jump, grabbing onto Bart’s arm.

“This way.” Paul leads us around a corner to a small niche with a couple of floral sofas and polished coffee tables. A pot of steaming tea sits on a tray with a couple of cracked mugs and a plate of biscuits.

Paul pours two cups of tea and excuses himself to take my luggage to my room. I sip at the tea, but it scalds my throat.

“Easy,” Bart says.

I point to the other cup. “You could do with some sobering up.”

He gives me his sideways grin.

“Was it a big night?” I ask.

He winks. “It’s always a big night.”

I sigh as a tremble shoots through my legs. Bart notices and rests a heavy hand on my knee. “I wish I could go with you. I wish you could stay. I wish . . .” I close my eyes against the threatening tears.

Bart brings me in close and hugs me, smoothing the back of my head. “I wish all that too. But we can’t get out of it. I’ve tried.”

Bart is a junior lawyer for a swanky outfit in London. During my case, he was allowed to liaise with my defence attorney. But there’s nothing to be done. I hurt another individual. The last straw in a string of offences.

I stare into the swirling tea. “I was with you when I first saw them, you know.”

Bart pulls away. “Saw what?”

“The shadows.”

Bart nods. Everyone knows about the creatures I see in mirrors. We just don’t talk about it anymore.

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