After the mysterious disappearance of Lilly Taylor's parents, she has no choice but to move to Canada where she unravels some frightening yet intriguing family secrets...
Raven by Suzy Turner
Her whole life had been based on a lie. Lilly had grown up in a loveless home with a father who she had barely ever seen and a mother who was... well, not very motherly.
After they mysteriously disappear without a trace, Lilly is sent to Canada where she finds a whole new way of life. A life filled with love and people who care for her. But that's not all she discovers, Lilly also finds out that she isn't who, or what, she thinks she is.
Lilly has a very special ability and it's just a matter of time before her true self starts to shine. And when it does, her life will never be the same again.
Raven is a fantasy novel for children and young adults set in the beautiful province of British Columbia.
The summer months were coming to an end when my parents disappeared. Although the day had begun like any other, it became one that I would never forget.
That morning, as usual, I sat at the kitchen table listening to the noises drifting up from outside - traffic, police sirens, people laughing and shouting - while I struggled to swallow the piece of dry bread that was shoved in front of me. “Eat,” commanded my mother.
A small glass of milk just about helped it go down before she snatched the plastic tumbler from my hands, pulled me to my feet and shoved me out of the front door of our London flat without another word. Turning around to search her eyes, I attempted a smile in the hope that she might return it. But the door was shut in my face. A deep ache filled my stomach. I needed something that I had never experienced. I needed to know that she loved me.
Leaning against the door, I heard the familiar sound of her footsteps walking into the other room. She closed the door and locked it behind her. My mother and father had locked themselves in the spare room once again, just like they had done every day for as long as I could remember. I had always assumed they worked from home. I've no idea what they did, they never told me. I never asked. I wasn't allowed to ask questions.
Running down the four flights of stairs, I pushed open the large heavy door that led outside. The noises multiplied and hit me, as did the dull smog and the intense London humidity that seemed to accompany every hot summer. As my feet touched the edge of the pavement, I stopped for a moment to allow a few cars to pass by before rushing across the road to school. I had to be quick. She was watching, she was always watching. My mother would peer down, staring blankly at me from the fourth floor window of the room she and my father spent their days. It was as if she was making sure I was actually going to school. Like I would dare do anything else. She never smiled. She never waved. She just stared. Sometimes it was almost as if she was looking right through me.
Returning home at lunchtime, as I was forced to do every day, she was there at that window staring at me again, as if her stare would physically guarantee that I came home. She had done it every day since I'd started school so it was normal to me.
I unlocked the front door with my key and gingerly tiptoed into the kitchen where I found her waiting for me.
“Eat and get back to school,” she said with a glare as I perched myself onto the old metal stool and began spooning the cold soup into my mouth. It was the same cold soup I'd eaten every day. It would have been nice to have something else, a different flavour, perhaps, but I would never have asked. Oh no. I'd experienced my mother's anger one too many times before. It's not that she had ever hit me, but I knew. I just knew that she wanted to, so I avoided making her mad at all costs.
It was my belief that my mother's actions were the same as all other mothers. I imagined that she did what most mothers did. I didn't know any different. At least not until I met the newest girl at school, December Moon. When she had first arrived at the school, the other kids had sniggered and laughed when she had been introduced. Even I had thought it was a silly name to start with, but as soon as she spoke to me, I knew it was perfect.
After her introduction to the class, the only spare seat available was next to mine. As my fellow students were in the habit of ignoring me, I was a little startled to have this pale but pretty flame-haired girl smile at me as she approached and sat down. I shyly returned the smile as she quietly took out her books and a pencil case from the orange rucksack she had carried on her back. Her clothes were multi-coloured and flowing – a long heavy purple flowery skirt was paired with an orange and pink striped top, and brown boots. A brown headband held back her straight shoulder length hair and when she turned I noticed it had a pink flower sewn onto it. Ordinarily, the colours wouldn't work together but on December, they just seemed to fit... perfectly.
When the attention was no longer on her, December turned to me and whispered “hello”. She smiled again and her whole face changed. It lit up.
It didn't take long for December and I to become best friends. We were both shy and quiet and were mostly ignored by everybody else. It made sense that we should spend school time together. More than anything though, I wanted to be friends out of school hours. My mother, however, had always made it quite clear that friends of any kind were strictly forbidden. Fortunately, she couldn't see past the school gates, so December always waited for me inside, out of mother's view. She was my secret.
December and I had spent many a break time chatting about each other's lives. She was an avid reader of all kinds of books, even magazines. In fact reading was pretty much all she did when she was at home. I was in awe of her and I knew then that she must know a lot more about other people's lives than I did. That was how I learned than my parent's actions were not entirely normal. Her own parents, however, could not be described as 'normal' either.
“My father died when I was three,” she had told me soon after we'd met. “He was a very old man and I was very young so I don't remember him.”
The edges of my mouth turned downwards as the heavy feeling of sadness took effect. “And what about your mother, December? Where is she?”
“She dumped me with my father's family shortly after he died and moved back to America on her own. She was from Seattle, Washington, apparently.” Her response was so matter-of-fact that I didn't quite know what to say, other than “Oh.”
“Basically, my Aunt Penelope – that's my father's younger sister who I live with – tells me that my mother married my father for his money but when he died, leaving her with nothing, she dumped me with her and took off.” The lack of emotion on December's face clearly demonstrated a lack of feeling about the whole situation.
“Aunt Penelope basically makes sure I am fed, schooled and clothed. Other than that, we don't have much time for each other.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But that's fine with me. She doesn't like to be seen with me, especially when her super rich friends are around. Being my mother's daughter lowers the tone of her family... I even heard her say that to Monty once. Oh, Monty's our butler, chauffeur and sometimes gardener,” she shrugged again and that's when I saw a glimmer of something in her eyes. She wasn't quite so emotionless about it all after all.
Having never known anyone rich before... and with a butler too, I thought it was quite odd for her to be a student in the same school as me. “December?”
“Why doesn't your Aunt Penelope send you to a posh school?”
“Like I said, she'd rather I didn't exist so she'd rather keep me farther from her friends as possible.”
“That makes sense, I guess. In which case, I'm glad! I would never have met you otherwise! So do you not know anything about your mother?” I asked, intrigued.
December shook her head, “Nope. Nothing.”
The sound of the school bell put an end to our conversation and December didn't mention her mother or her father to me again for a very long time.
Discreetly waving goodbye to her on that fateful day, I knew there was something wrong the moment I stepped foot out of the school grounds. Looking up to the window expecting to see mother, a vision in white as usual, there was no sign of her. Having never happened before, my heart began to thud faster in my chest as I ran as fast as I could up the stairs two at a time. I grappled with the key and pushed open the front door. She was nowhere to be seen. Neither was my father.
The spare room was locked as it always was, and no matter how hard I banged my fists on that door, there was no reply. I stopped and put my ear carefully against the solid wood to check for any sounds but there was nothing. Just silence. Trying to kick the door down, I didn't even leave a single mark. I was just a slight girl with little strength, after all.
It was then that our neighbours, Dorothy and June, came rushing in after hearing me banging against the door.
“Oh my dear, my dear! Whatever is the matter? What is all this banging about?” yelled one of the sisters as they tried to calm me down.
“It's mother,” I said, “she's... she's disappeared. She's always here. I don't know what's happening. There's no answer at the door. Something's wrong,” I sobbed.
Just at that moment, the sisters' black cat wandered in behind them. It immediately began purring at my feet and rubbed itself against my legs. It had never set foot in our apartment before and it was strange that it did so then, when my mother and father appeared to be missing.
It jumped up so that it balanced on its hind legs and leaned against me. I momentarily forgot all about the commotion that I had caused and leaned forward to pick it up, cuddling it while it continued to purr. “That's strange,” said June, “she's usually terrified of people.” The cat was clearly not terrified of me. It was the first time I had ever stroked an animal and I felt a strange affinity with it. It was a wonderful feeling as it rubbed its head against my neck. Looking into her deep, warm eyes, for a moment I felt a strange sensation within me. It felt as though I was being loved. I didn't want to lose the feeling so I sat down on the floor and stroked her soft fur, smiling.
“I'm going to call the police,” one of the sisters said as the other tried to coax me off the floor. I didn't feel myself, for some reason. An odd trance-like state came over me.
“Come now, dear. Come and sit on the sofa. You'll catch your death on those cold floor tiles.”
I did as I was told and followed her to our uncomfortable hard red leather sofa, where we waited until the police arrived. The cat sat on my lap and the two sisters sat on either side of me.
Dorothy and June told me that they had kept an eye on me and my parents throughout the years that we had lived next door to them.
“We know that your mother leads a strict routine, my dear, so to hear you banging on the door like that had us worried,” said June.
“We've never known anything ever happen to you like this so we thought we'd better come over straight away and find out what's going on,” added Dorothy as she gently patted my hand with her own wrinkled, yet perfectly manicured, fingers.
My calm moments with the cat were cut short by the arrival of two young uniformed male police officers, followed by a third woman. The cat jumped out of my arms like a shot. She was clearly spooked by the presence of strangers and had vanished from our flat, presumably to return to the safety of her home. My calm feeling faded the moment she was gone.
The female police officer was very kind and polite and asked me a few questions about myself and my parents. When had I last seen them? Where did they work? Was it common for them to leave without telling me? Did they have mobile phones? I didn't even know the answer to the last question, although if they did, I never saw or heard them. Technology wasn't a word I heard used in our home. Not that there were ever many words used at all. More questions were asked of me and so I answered them as best as I could before the other two police officers managed to literally knock the door down. I wasn't prepared for what I saw and I don't think they were either. There was almost nothing. Just a simple room, painted black – the floors, ceiling and walls all painted black. There were no chairs, no desks, nothing. The only things to be seen in the room were a small black shelf which contained two glass vials. One was filled with a thick deep red liquid and the other contained what appeared to be something from the insides of an animal – I couldn't identify it, but it looked disgusting. A pang of fear shot through me. Fear for my parents' safety.
“Do you have any idea what substance this is, Miss?” asked one of the police officers.
I shook my head. “I've never been in here before.”
The two men gave each other a sideways glance that was way too obvious for me not to have seen.
“Right then, Miss, would you like to wait outside while we gather some of this evidence together?” said the first officer as the other led me out of the black room.
Snippets of conversation could be heard as I waited for them to finish.
“This is definitely blood. What on earth do you think has been going on in here then, Pete?”
“Beats me, Dave. I tell you one thing though, it's weird, whatever it is. It's almost like something out of a horror film. Here... look at this.”
The female officer appeared by my side and cleared her throat. The conversation in the black room suddenly became quieter.
“Don't worry, Lilly. We'll get to the bottom of this,” she said, smiling. “We'll find your mum and dad.”
After about half an hour, the officers appeared from the room, carrying the vials in two clear plastic bags.
“Okay, Constable Madley, we've all the evidence now. We'll take them to the lab for tests,” said the taller of the two.
He tipped his hat to me and smiled before carrying everything out of the flat.
Following behind, the other one stopped in front of me and crouched down, looking me in my eyes. His dark brown eyes and the soft laughter lines around his mouth gave him a look of kindness. I hadn't noticed when they'd first arrived. “Lilly, we'll be in touch as soon as we have any information as to the whereabouts of your parents. Don't worry. We'll find them.” He stood up then and patted Constable Madley on the back. They were clearly friends, as well as colleagues. He smiled at her, “Thank you, Constable Madley. We'll see you back at the station.”
My parents' disappearance continued to be a complete mystery. The police had told me that even though they had followed several lines of enquiry and spoken to countless people; they had come up without a single clue to go on. Not one person had seen them. I was the only one that had seen them that day. Well, I had seen her. I hadn't actually seen my father. I had just assumed he was there. I rarely saw him anyway, I rarely even heard him. Every now and then I would hear her speak to him but I never heard him reply.
It had been a hot and humid summer and, unusual for England at that time of year, it had lasted for quite a few weeks. Naturally, there had been a hose pipe ban as happened every time the sun shone for more than a week there. I had only been aware of it because my teachers were keen to teach us all about current environmental issues.
Not that I noticed the ban. We didn't have a garden, we didn't even have any plants. Our home was a bare flat in London where I had lived all my life – all thirteen years of it. I can't say I was happy, nor can I say I was particularly unhappy because I wouldn't have known the true meaning of either word.
I was very much a loner with no friends until December came along. Luckily, the majority of kids at school were pleasant enough to us but we didn't feel like we belonged with any of them so we simply avoided contact. Of course there were a few that taunted us every now and again, but we took little notice. They seemed to taunt a lot of people at school, having silly nicknames for everyone - apart from December. The kids were amused enough by her name not to bother making up another. Mine was Mellow Yellow – probably because I was so quiet and wore a lot of yellow. Not by choice though. The few clothes that I owned were bought by my mother and for some reason they were all yellow, not even a nice shade of yellow. All were second-hand clothes and none fitted me properly, but I certainly couldn't complain even if I hated them all. Like I said, my parents and I didn't really talk.
December and I preferred being in our own little world, alone with our thoughts or curled up with a sneaky book under the large chestnut tree in the playground.
At school, we blended into the background. We were courteous to most people and most of them were courteous to us. Yet if you asked anyone about me, even my name, I doubted very much that any of the kids would know. At least that was the case until my parents mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth. Then everyone seemed to know my name. Everyone knew I was Lilly Taylor.
Word had spread rapidly as I walked through the school gates a few days later.
Out of habit, December had waited hidden behind the walls for my arrival. She needn't have, of course. There was no one watching me from our window. She hugged me tightly but didn't say a word. Somehow she just knew how I felt.
Shame the other kids didn't have a clue. Fingers pointed, people whispered and stared at me. Not a single other person approached me. Had it not been for December, I would have felt even more alone than I had ever felt before. I could easily have cried on her shoulder but the tears did not come. As much as I wished they would, they wouldn't come. It was a strange feeling because I had never really had much of a relationship with either parent. I never felt loved. I never even felt liked. But they were my family.
The closest people to me at that time of my life, other than December, were the kind neighbours who had offered to take care of me until my parents were found. Or, in the event that they did not return, until plans were made for me to travel across the world to stay with my grandfather in Canada. A grandfather I knew nothing about. December would be crushed. I was her only friend and she needed me as much as I needed her. I would hate to have to leave her, but deep down I knew that it was likely.
Rather than put me into temporary foster care, Social Services had agreed that my staying with the sisters was the best thing for me. Familiarity, they said, would be better than handing me over to complete strangers. Dorothy and June were spinsters. They had never married but had been happy enough living together their entire lives. They were good and honest and they were trustworthy. I couldn't have stayed with December and her family even if I had wanted to. She didn't have the best relationship with them. After her elderly father had died, her young mother had dumped her with his family and returned to America without her. What the wealthy family gave to December in financial security, they lacked in love. She was as lonely as I was and they would never have allowed her to take me home with her.
Later that afternoon, I had rushed out of the school gates and looked up at the window to see if my mother had come back. She wasn't there, of course. No vision in white.
As I stood there, it occurred to me that for the very first time in my life I could do anything I wanted. Anything in the world. But I had no idea what to do. I looked around and watched many of the other kids laughing and joking. Some kicked around a football, others sat on the wall sneakily smoking cigarettes, while some of the younger ones were collected by their loving parents. December sadly waved goodbye from her chauffeur-driven car.
Instead of heading 'home', I gingerly walked in the opposite direction, looking back over my shoulder afraid that someone might swoop down and pull me back. Yet for the first time ever I felt no pull to return to that place. If it wasn't for Dorothy and June, I would probably have just carried on walking, but deep down I knew I was too honest a person and couldn't hurt them like that. Especially when they had shown nothing but kindness to me.
So I turned around and headed back up those stairs. The ones I had walked up a million times before. Yet this time, I entered the apartment across the hall from my parents' place. As I unlocked the door, the most delicious smell of home cooking invaded my every pore and the sounds of laughter came from the living room. I followed the sounds and instead of finding the sisters, I found the television switched on. I sat down and watched for a few minutes, laughing at the silly man who pranced around like a complete idiot getting himself stuck in silly situations. Watching until it finished, I discovered that he was called Mr Bean. It was then that I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for doing something I was never permitted to do. I peered over my shoulder guiltily before getting up and walking into the kitchen.
“Oh hello, dear. You're just in time for dinner. Come in. Don't just hover by the door. I hope you had a good day at school. I've made us a Shepherd's Pie. I hope you like that,” said Dorothy as she gently pushed her white blonde curls behind her ears before spooning the food onto a plate for me.
I had no idea what a Shepherd's Pie was, but I nodded enthusiastically nonetheless. It was delicious. Easily the most delicious meal I had ever had, considering my mother never cooked anything for me. Everything came straight from a tin. Tinned spaghetti, tinned beans, tinned peas, tinned mince, tinned potatoes, tinned soup, and so on. And most of it was given to me cold. Stone cold. I only knew it was all tinned food because of the time I had sneaked in when she wasn't looking and had opened the cupboards to find a lifetime's supply of the stuff.
I had never been allowed to spend any length of time in our kitchen, other than to quickly eat, so I had no idea how to prepare food. I guess back then I had assumed that everybody ate tinned food.
“Did this come out of a tin, Dorothy?” I asked.
“Oh my dear!” she said, “Of course not. We cook everything fresh in this house. Did your mother never prepare you a home cooked meal?”
I shook my head and told her about the kinds of things I had eaten and she looked shocked, as did June.
“I take it that means she never taught you to how to cook?”
I shook my head again and told them I wasn't allowed in the kitchen.
“Well, while you're staying with us, we'll just have to change that, won't we? We'll show you everything you need to know. But first, eat up and enjoy dear. We'll start to teach the basics tomorrow after school,” Dorothy smiled kindly as she patted my hand.
As I enjoyed those wonderful mashed potatoes with the tasty meat beneath, I felt another pang of guilt. Guilt that my parents had vanished and there I was, stuffing myself like some sort of famished orphan. But then, perhaps that's what I had become. An orphan. And I was hungry. Very hungry.
That evening, the guilt continued to consume me. So much so that I felt the need to do something about it. Something drastic. And there was only one thing that I could do. I secretly borrowed a pair of scissors from the kitchen and sneaked into the bathroom. After locking the door, I stood looking at my reflection in the mirror and before I could talk myself out of it, I took those scissors to my hair and hacked it all off. As I stared at myself, I wished for that guilt to disappear. It didn't. I needed to do more. Searching through the sisters' belongings in the cupboard, I came across a box with a picture of a woman with the same coloured hair as Dorothy. Without giving it a second thought, I opened the box, emptied the contents on the floor and sat on the bath mat as I read everything on the leaflet inside the box. As instructed, I mixed the contents of the bottles together and began covering my hair with the cream. The strong odour made my eyes water as I slowly began to bleach out the black from my hair.
Over an hour later, I stood staring at my reflection, a mountain of long black hair covered the floor by my feet. I inched closer to the mirror and stared into my eyes. Their usual shade of vivid green seemed flat and lifeless. Murky. I wished the guilt would disappear. I wished for tears to come. I wished for the return of my parents. But it was no good. There was no one to make my wishes come true.
I crept back into the spare bedroom and pulled out all of my awful yellow clothes. Spreading them on the soft pink carpet, I used the same pair of scissors to cut them and rip them so that they didn't hang loosely from my body any more. Just for a moment, I forgot my circumstances and enjoyed the creativity. What I was left with, however, wasn't what I had intended. They were still a mess, and they were all still yellow. I didn't want to wear yellow any more. I didn't want to be the Mellow Yellow girl.
I walked into the living room where Dorothy and June sat glued to the television, and I stopped in the doorway to watch the screen for a few moments. I listened as a middle-aged man talked about a recent spate of mysterious attacks on horses that had taken place within the London area.
A minute later, the cat jumped off the sofa and started making a fuss of me. The two women noticed and turned to see what she was so interested in. Dorothy cried when she saw me. June gave me a hug. She just seemed to understand why I had done it. I sat down in between them both on the sofa and told them what I had done to all my clothes. Their look of sadness didn't go unnoticed by me and I felt bad for making them feel that way.
As the cat rubbed itself against my bare legs, Dorothy suddenly stood up and smiled with a twinkle in her.
“I have an idea,” she said, “come on.”
June stood up too and laughed, “Of course.”
“We always wondered why your mother dressed you in yellow, dear. It's really not a flattering colour for you at all. I know we're just a couple of old spinsters, but we've still got our clothes from when we were younger. We just might have some things that will fit you. Let's go and have a look,” added June.
I followed the sisters into a fourth bedroom, a room without a bed, instead filled with hangers and hangers of clothes. I had never seen so many bright and beautiful things. It wasn't just the colours that were so beautiful to me, it was the feel of the clothes, soft and silky. So unlike the hard and scratchy fabrics I had always worn.
However, as much as they tried to give me colourful skirts and blouses, I found myself drawn to black. With my newly-dyed white hair, I told them I just wanted to wear black. Deep down, I felt unworthy somehow of wearing anything else. Eventually they conceded and pulled out everything they had in black. There wasn't much but it was a far cry from Mellow Yellow. That night, the sisters' sewing machine went into overdrive – making all my new clothes to fit my small frame.
Walking through the school gates the following day I held my head up high and let them point and stare. There were whispers but there were also wolf whistles from the heartless boys that didn't care for my emotions. But I couldn't care less. Nobody called me Mellow Yellow after that. I was finally just Lilly.
“Your hair!” were the first words from December's mouth. “As much as I loved the black hair, I do love the white, although I'm not so keen on the hacked look,” she giggled. December was always good at making me feel better with a well-timed, and much-needed joke. She didn't mention my missing parents or the lack of yellow. She didn't need to. She was just there and that was all that mattered.
As the weeks went by without any sign of my parents, true to their word, Dorothy and June began to demonstrate how to cook all kinds of simple recipes. They tried to keep me busy to take my mind off the fact that weeks had passed and still we had heard nothing. The police concluded that the blood they had found was my father's, but they neglected to tell me what was in the other vial. However, as they had made no further discoveries, it looked as though the case may well be shelved, unsolved. An X file. I didn't know what to think. A vial of my father's blood? Did that mean he was injured? Or worse? I tried not to let my imagination run wild.
From conversations with the Social Services, the authorities and Dorothy and June, I knew I would have to move to Canada. My grandfather telephoned me and told me that all the arrangements had been made. We didn't have much to say to each other. Not just because I didn't know the man, but also because I simply wasn't used to talking on the telephone.
In just a few short weeks, I would no longer live in England. A sense of sadness overcame me but still the tears did not come. I was upset that I was leaving my parents behind... wherever they were. But it was the fact that my life had actually improved since they'd disappeared that made me feel guilty. The guilt turned to sadness and the sadness turned to guilt, like an unstoppable swinging pendulum.