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The Lost Sister: A gripping emotional page turner with a breathtaking twist
Tracy Buchanan


The bird takes flight at the sound of her voice, its wings spread wide against the dark skies.

Then her mum closes her eyes again, mumbling something incoherent under her breath. Becky knows the end is nearing. Her mum is delirious now, breath rasping, chest rising so slowly, too slowly.

Becky holds her mum closer and silently sobs. She sobs for all the lost years, but anger starts filtering in again now too. She can’t help it. Anger at her mum, the dying woman in her arms, the most important woman in her life who walked away. The woman whose lies even now might be being whispered in the dark, surrounding her, pressing into her.

As though hearing her thoughts, Becky’s mum grows silent. She blinks up at Becky and Becky recognises the dimming of light she has seen so many times in the eyes of the animals she cares for.

‘Are you comfortable?’ she whispers, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. She doesn’t want to scare her mum.

Her mum nods, clutching onto her daughter’s hands which are crossed over her thin heaving chest. ‘I am, darling, thank you. Will it be soon?’

Becky purses her lips, trying not to sob. She could lie. Tell her mum there will be many more hours, days, weeks. But she isn’t like her mum. She can’t lie.

‘Yes. I think so,’ she replies.

Her mum closes her eyes, tears squeezing out from the corners. When she opens them, there is a new vitality. This often happens just before death, a final fight for life. It fills Becky with terror.

Not long now …

‘I don’t think you know how much I love you, darling,’ her mum says. ‘Always have. Every moment of every day, you’ve both been in my thoughts.’

Becky frowns. ‘Both? You mean Dad too?’

‘No, you and your sister.’

Becky goes rigid. ‘Sister?’ She looks at the empty packet of pills. ‘You’re delirious.’

‘No,’ her mum says, peering towards one of the paintings of the child, the one with the eyes scratched out. ‘I had another child, with Idris.’

Becky shakes her head, heart thumping so painfully against her chest she can barely breathe. Her mum’s head suddenly feels like lead in her lap.

‘Idris took her,’ her mum whispers. She is growing weak again. She looks ahead of her, towards the wall of the cave, eyes glossy with tears. ‘He took her from this very cave.’

‘Are you telling the truth?’ Becky asks.

A faint crinkle in her brow as her mum’s eyes begin to close. ‘Why would I lie about such a thing?’ she whispers. And then she is gone.

Chapter Eight (#ulink_00486b9b-06df-5ee3-b5ab-15af31ddec17)

Selma

Kent, UK

27 July 1991

Idris led me to the cave, his hand still wrapped around mine. A campfire flickered outside it, and the sound of guitar music, laughter, even a child giggling was carried along with the breeze. As we drew closer, I could see seven people sitting around the fire on colourful chalk boulders, listening to a young tanned man dressed in just shorts playing a soft tune on his guitar. The girl I’d met a few days before was sitting beside him with her arms wrapped around him, her fingers hungry in his hair. A tall black man sat beside her, dressed smartly in chinos and a white shirt, his fingers tapping gently on his knee, his eyes closed. A brown and white Jack Russell lay with its furry chin on the man’s foot.

Behind the group sat a woman in her fifties wearing an oversized kaftan dress, paper flowers in different colours scattered around her. She was doing something I couldn’t see, her arms moving erratically, her back bent over. Swaying to the music nearby was a slim, attractive woman with short, blonde hair, the flames of the fire dancing on her tanned skin. I recognised her as being a local yoga teacher, and thought it no surprise that someone like her had been drawn there. But what was a surprise was seeing timid Donna among the group, with her son Tom. She must have come directly from the pub just after I left. What on earth was she doing there?

Then there, beyond them all, was the cave and the old hotel looming dark and abandoned above it. The cave was too dark to properly see inside but I caught glimpses of colour on the walls. Idris’s paintings?

When we approached the group, everyone seemed to sense him, growing quiet as they peered up. The young man even stopped strumming his guitar and Tom stopped giggling.

Weird.

‘Please, continue Caden,’ Idris instructed him. The young man smiled and continued playing his guitar as he glanced over me.

The girl I’d spoken to before jumped up, rushing over. ‘You came!’ she said, enveloping me in a hug. She smelt musty, as if she hadn’t showered for a few days. It wasn’t unpleasant though. ‘I’m Oceane by the way.’ She pronounced it Osh-ee-anne.

‘Is that the author?’ Caden asked over his music.

‘Yes, the author!’ Oceane exclaimed.

‘That’s so cool,’ Caden said. He started singing. ‘Sifting over the sands of my mind, trying to find treasures that never existed.’

I looked at him in surprise. ‘That’s a line from my book!’

‘Of course,’ Idris said. ‘We’ve all been reading it. Can’t ignore our local author, can we?’

‘I hope you’re working on something new,’ the yoga teacher said, eyes sparkling as she continued to sway. ‘Reading it really touched my soul.’

I opened my mouth then closed it. I didn’t know what to say. Part of me was delighted. The book had barely sold so I hadn’t had any feedback from readers beyond my editors and friends. But the other part thought it was bloody bizarre, all these people fawning over me.

‘Come, sit with us,’ Idris said, gently putting his hand on the small of my back and leading me towards the fire. I looked over my shoulder towards the town. Maybe this was a bad idea, but something propelled me forward anyway and I sat down on a straw mat, looking at the flickering orange and yellow of the flames, feeling their warmth on my skin.

I suddenly felt exhausted. I closed my eyes, breathing in the battle between the fire’s ash and salt of the sea, my actions at the pub and the subsequent conversation with Idris still playing on my mind.

Something cold nudged against my bare knees and I looked down to see the Jack Russell peering up at me, its tail wagging.

Was the dog going to tell me it loved my book too?

It went to lick my hand and I leaned away from it.

Idris laughed. ‘Not a dog person?’

‘No, not really. Sorry,’ I said. ‘One of my stepdads had one. Let’s just say, we didn’t get on.’

‘Stepdads?’ the yoga teacher asked with a raised eyebrow.

‘My mum got remarried a couple of times,’ I replied.

‘Come, Mojo,’ the man in the white shirt said, patting his thigh. The dog bounded over to him, and I assumed he must be the owner.

I turned to Donna. ‘Did you come from the pub?’

Donna nodded. ‘I was getting fed up with the conversation. Apart from your bit anyway,’ she added with a raised eyebrow.

‘I think I might have gone too far.’
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