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Chapter 1

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"Ring a ring of roses,

a pocket full of posies.

Atishoo, atishoo,

we all die screaming..."

He sat up suddenly, his back rigid, his hands shaking, his eyes clawed wide open by terror. He could still feel the heat from the funeral pyre. He could still see it reflected in the innocent eyes of the child, open as wide as his own now were, but filled, instead, with wonder and hope.

The way a child's were meant to be.

He looked at the clock.

4:42am.

Again.

With a sigh, equal parts resignation and frustration, he laid back down, pulling the duvet up tight around his neck. It was protection against the night. Against the fires. Against the child.

---

Melody and Mollie, she called them. Not quite imaginary friends in the sense of someone who isn't there but still needs a chair to themselves and a serving at dinner. More the sort who would drop by for a tea party in the back garden on a sunny afternoon. Playing at having friends from school over was fun. It was cute. It showed what a child's imagination was like. Filled with wonder, fun and fearless expression which belied the horror and suffering the child had seen and would probably encounter as she walked through the shadows of the valley of Life.

That Rebecca had already made friends she wanted to have imaginary tea parties with was something which couldn't fail to impress her father. After only a few short weeks of living in their new home, his youngest daughter, at six, had a confidence - sometimes verging on arrogance - which was in stark contrast to her older sister.

Fey, fourteen only three weeks previously, had always found it difficult to spark up new relationships. She had an inherent awkwardness many found endearing but she, herself, found embarrassing. Simon, failed writer but successful father and family man, hated to admit he could empathise with her. At school, he was often an outcast, something which was as much his own doing, being painfully self-conscious about every aspect of his life - the second hand trousers which did not reach all the way down his legs, the cheap, ugly glasses he'd had to wear to correct the fact he was long sighted, the acne which transformed his face into a crater filled landscape a moon rover would have been at home on.

He had always felt out of place, a stranger in a familiar land. Over time, he'd built a new persona, one of sarcastic, self-effacing wit and charm. It was a facade to begin with but, the more it was accepted by others, the more he slipped into it like a second skin.

He hoped Fey would find a way out of the dark forest of self-doubt she seemed to always be stumbling through. He also hoped a mask such as the one he'd been made to wear wouldn't be necessary for her. As much as he was happy with himself, he often wondered if this was the real 'Simon Fuller', or if the shy, socially naive child he used to be was still lurking below the surface, waiting for the chance to step out into the sun once more.

Rebecca had none of these issues. Her attitude was more like her mother's and Simon would often watch his daughter for signs of his late wife, as if her spirit might be visiting him through their baby girl in her demeanour and her eyes, which sparkled just the way her mother's had - like captured starlight.

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