28 March 2002
The first time it happened was just an accident, or more correctly youthful high spirits. Some of the local kids had decided, in the interests of novelty, to go for a female guy one Guy Fawkes' night. You can imagine - summer dress straining over a child's burlesque idea of what constituted an acceptable level of inflation for two party balloons.
Well, it's a pretty small village, and a long way from anywhere sizeable. Generally, we make our own entertainment. At least the kids can play outdoors.
So, two bunches of kids set up their Guys on opposite sides of the street, by the stone bridge. There was bad blood there already - little John and Peter had been feuding since their first year of school - and pretty soon a turf war broke out. And, although nobody seems quite sure how it happened, Mrs. Guy went over the bridge and downriver.
Crying children, red-faced adults, some shouting, a little argy-bargy, and it looked like a few of the year's scores were going to be settled there and then, until somebody pointed out that they were only going to throw the bloody thing on the bonfire anyway. Henry's dad distributed loose change in lieu of lost earnings, and everyone went back to the preparations for the bonfire.
There was a second, maybe two when the bonfire burned green. Everyone saw it. At the time we thought it was copper, or some chemical in a battery. Who knows?
What we do know is that the dawn brought her in. Skin white as a dead man, freshwater blue eyes and hair the colour of silver sand, dripping wet. Wearing the same dress last seen disappearing down towards the weir. Not very practical for November. Not at all. Just walking down the high street, looking around like she was lost. It seemed like it was only the weight of the soaked dress was keeping her on the ground. But she wasn't shivering, and her bare feet weren't bleeding.
Tell you the truth, we were bloody terrified. Tales of the ghosts of the drowned, Davey Jones' locker, all that, at least until some bright spark pointed out that it was a fucking weir, not the salt dark depths. That calmed everyone down a bit. And, after a while of just watching her standing on the main drag, a guard of honour hovering under our lintels, John Taverner took her in, threw a towel over her shoulders and guided her into his house.
Tongues wagged? They practically broke. But Taverner was a decent man, an honest man, and, when it came down to it, a single man. It made good sense for him to sleep on his sofa. Took us a week to work out that the canny bugger didn't have a sofa. And by then, round about the evening of the third day, she'd started to talk and it didn't seem quite so much like taking advantage.
No. Well, why should I have? It was hardly my business. Let somebody else call the police if they wanted to. She seemed perfectly happy. Didn't talk about her past. In fact, didn't talk about very much at all. Answered questions, except about where she came from, made conversation, lisped a little. Her name was Lyssa, she said. I'm sure you've written that down already.
Well, it's a small village. Normally, everyone hears about one another's business down at the pub. But Lyssa and Taverner - well, you could hear them down the street. Every night, and every night it was longer, louder, more obscene. And in the daytime, even if he did look permanently knackered, his clothes were mended and his shoes were clean and that was a new look, to go with the red eyes and stupid grin. And the hair wet down.
You've heard the rest. A run on women's dresses at the local clothes shop - sizes 8 and 10, mostly, so I heard, big busts. What you might expect. Took a while before anyone actually tried it, but fuck me if it didn't work. And more of them than there were single men. All with the same eyes, same hair, same manner.
That's where the trouble started, if that's what you're calling it. The surplus - and they were very particular about one to a household, don't think some likely lads didn't try that on - set up camp in the woods to the west. And pretty soon all the girls in the town joined them. Dribs and drabs at first then all the others - maybe 70 or 80 - in a night. Camping out, like some girl scout pow-wow of the damned. You could come see them, talk to them, but never touch, and never stay the night.
Something you have to understand. They were accidents.
You don't believe me. But they were. That was how it went. An unfortunate fall. A lapse of concentration. And how many people die on the roads every day?
William said that the way they talked was learned behaviour - they imitated the way we interacted. Claimed they aren't really sentient.
Strange man. Never made much sense. No wonder he moved.
No, I don't know where.
Of course I regret it. It was horrible. There isn't a day goes by I don't think of her.
But Lyssa is very understanding. My own dear Lyssa, soft and as cold as the river in November.
The sheets dry. Everything does, if you leave it out for long enough.