Author's note: This is an updated retelling of the Ellie Lambert which I decided to dust off and retell.Also based on a series of nightmares I had.
Sorry for the long post, but I'm not very good at expressing myself in just a few simple lines, plus I really need to get this burden off my chest. It was my friend Vanessa Desrosiers’s idea that I should set up an account to post all these true-life chapters. Before this I had trouble sleeping. I had some really bad nightmares lately, waking up my host family with my yelling and thrashing about. Also, I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night, making sure the door and the windows of my room were securely and tightly shut. Then I go back to bed and close my eyes, but I don’t sleep for long. I have to get up to use the bathroom. And since I was up I would have to go check all the locks again. I was afraid this obsessive compulsive disorder was driving my host family nuts, and I was afraid it was the booby hatch or forced exile for me…so I agreed to finally make this account and explain the origin of this strange neurosis of mine.
About me. I’m a 15 ½ political refugee from this island hermit kingdom located in the South China Sea. The people there call it Orrim, although it’s actually three archipelagoes, and heavily disputed between the indigenous people (I’m one of them by the way) and the various countries surrounding it. Well, to make a long flashback short, I soon got fed up with my homeland, which was a totalitarian police state somewhat similar to the one in George Orwell’s 1984 with round-the-clock surveillance and wiretapping--only much more frightening with drone spies consisting mostly of innocuous animals such as pigeons, mice and insects implanted with remote-control cameras.
My parents, twin sister and brother-on-the-way had already escaped, and I ended up with strict unsympathetic relatives because there wasn’t enough money to pay the people smugglers.
Well, eventually, I made my getaway and ended up in Australia, then on a science outpost just off New Zealand. Then after a prolonged land battle with British immigration (the 5th Circle of Hell), I finally made it to Western France where my family had settled, although I didn't know this at the time.
It wasn’t until three weeks after I came to live at Swanwick that I first saw her.
Ellie Lambert was everything I wasn’t--short and squat, mushroom-pale with a pudgy baby face which gave her a rabbit-like appearance due to her large pale blue eyes, rather over-sized ears and pink button nose. Her ridiculously short pageboy-style hair was the color of sun-bleached straw. She also wore a pretty yet impractical-looking dress with a lot of lace trim and a silk sash, not the sort of costumes I would prefer to be wearing, especially when I was cutting firewood, hauling water or butchering and preparing meat.
Like the White Rabbit, I thought when I first saw this eccentrically-dressed girl, wondering who exactly invited her to the mayor’s welcoming party. The twitching of the pink nose and the constant fidgeting and grooming of her shorn locks seemed to remind me more of a nervous rabbit.
“Ellie,” the mayor’s eldest daughter huffily told me. “Her name’s Ellie Lambert and she’s from California, the State of Jefferson, to be exact. She may look totally sweet and adorable, but she’s not. She’s a compulsive liar as well as a kleptomaniac, so keep your wallet or purses close by and don't let her shake your hand or get close behind you.”
Unlike me, who was rather baffled and somewhat flattered by the party thrown in her honor, Vanessa thought the occasion was a total waste of her teenage time and she had way better things to do... in Vanessa’s case, attending a Mötley Crüe concert with all her friends.
I nodded. “Well, I don’t think she looks sweet and adorable,” I muttered. “She looks kind of freaky, like one of those creepy china dolls that comes to life and murders you in the middle of the night.”
“Yeah,” Vanessa shifted uncomfortably on her high platform shoes and sighed. “She gives me the willies, especially those eyes of hers. They’re like doll's eyes--just blank and vacant, you know? It’s not just me who notices this, other people at school, my sisters and dad. Even my mom who’s not the brightest fork in the drawer’s been giving her funny looks lately.”
I thoughtfully sipped my glass of lemonade as I discreetly studied the strange guest in the clamorous town hall. Ellie didn’t mingle, but just stood in the far corner near the table display of floral arrangements and local crafts--behavior that earned her a few curious looks.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sorry for the girl. Perhaps she was one of those naive Luddite country kids who had been homeschooled by strict religious parents. That might explain her lack of good social skills and compulsive lying and kleptomania.
“I don’t get it,” I looked confused. “If she creeps your mom out, then why was she invited then?”
“It’s because her aunt happened to be a very prominent business person,” was Vanessa’s immediate answer, “and she doesn’t trust Ellie to be left alone in the same room with a purse, or alone in a coach and certainly never in the house.”
I frowned as I studied this pathetic fluff of humanity. “Aren’t there people that could watch her... a nanny maybe?”
“Ellie just lost her ninth nanny,” Vanessa explained. “She goes through nannies the way some people go through Kleenex. The same goes for babysitters as well as tutors. Even her own cousin can’t stand to be around her. The eldest one--Sandra had already moved out and is now staying with friends up in Branshel. The twins--Marc and Philippe, however, well... they get along okay with Ellie... probably because they’re young and don’t know any better and she’s not interested in stealing Lil’ kids’ toys. Just money and valuables.”
I thought for a minute and then asked, “You sure she’s not some kind of an alien in disguise... like a Gray or even a robot?”
Vanessa shook her spiky thatch of jet-black hair. “No. She’s completely human as far as I know. I’ve even seen her parents when they brought her up here five years ago. They seemed like loving, caring people--not like druggies or fundamentalist nutjobs.”
“Her folks just abandoned her?” I stared at her, incredulous.
The Goth girl shrugged. “They finally couldn’t cope with this rotten kid who just uses the Asperger excuse to be offensive to people. Her older brother and sister turned out fine yet Ellie was just born to be a hell brat.”
“But why send her here?” I exclaimed in disbelief. “Can’t she get therapy back in the States?”
“The Republic of the Americas pretty much sucks at the whole mental health thing,” Vanessa replied pointedly. “Besides, Ellie’s folks still care enough not to foist their offspring onto a private and potentially dangerous reform company. Instead they decided to have a Hawaiian-style of adoption and hanai’d Ellie out to her aunt. I guess they’re hoping that Ellie might get a lesson in manners as well as the social skills needed to get a real world career.”
“I wonder if her aunt now regrets her decision,” I murmured, taking another sip of my lemonade.
Vanessa thought for a minute before replying, “Probably, although Mrs. Lambert’s a pretty stoic person who tends to keep her personal feelings to herself.” She looked down at the tiled floor, her violet eyes following an iridescent green beetle as it crawled its way across it. “I think Ellie’s problems might be improved if she acquired a new hobby, maybe collecting beetles or dinosaur poop.”
I started to say, “Well, hopefully she won’t end up like Norman Bates and...”
“How are you girls doing?” Mayor Desrosiers came up from behind, startling us both.
“Oh, we’re doing great, mum,” said Vanessa, her purple lips quickly curving into a most convincing smile.
“Uh, yeah,” I flushed as I stared up at the tall, platinum blonde woman in the tailored pantsuit. “Just fine, Madam Mayor.” I quickly added, “Wow, you people are really nice! A welcoming party in my honor? I thought that was only for veterans and people who did great things like winning Tour de France or climbing to the top of Mt. Blanc.”
“Well, scarcely do we get anyone new moving to Swanwick,” Mayor Desrossiers replied brightly. “So when it does happen it’s actually cause for celebration.”
“Am I required to make a speech?” I sheepishly asked.
Mayor Desrosiers shook her head. Wispy strands of hair fell against her glass smooth forehead. “Not if you don't want to.”
I felt an immense relief. “Oh, good, for a moment I thought I was going to have to tell my whole life story.”
“There’s no need to get stressed out,” Mayor Desrosiers assured. “We’re here to welcome you and make you feel part of the community, not to conduct a job interview.”
“Well, I’m really honored to be here...”
But Mayor Desrosiers didn’t notice. Her attention was now fixed over my right shoulder. She stared with wide opened eyes, her bright Colgate smile fading fast.
“Mum, what is it?” Vanessa asked with concern. “What’s wrong?”
I quickly glanced behind me, but there was no sign of Ellie Lambert among the milling guests.
“Mum, are you sick?” Vanessa continued to ask. “Do you need me to call an ambulance? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Ghost?” Mayor Desrosiers quickly shook her head. “No. It’s just that... I thought I saw someone. Oh, never mind. Just a case of celebration jitters.” Her eyes brightened as her smile returned. “Well, let’s get this party started, shall we?” She tapped her champagne glass with a polished silver spoon to get everyone’s attention. “Before we begin the Ancient and Honorable Midsummer's Eve Celebration, I would like to welcome a brand new Swanwick citizen today. Her voyage to this country was long and arduous, often fraught with trouble and strife, and, more often than not a great deal of frightful peril from the elements...”
All during the lengthy speech, me and Vanessa exchanged confused glances. Then Vanessa shrugged and discreetly moved her index finger in a corkscrew gesture near her right ear. “Mum gets a bit weird at times,” she silently mouthed.
I nodded, although I wasn't quite convinced, and I was beginning to wonder if Vanessa was having doubts too.
As I lifted my glass for another sip, my eyes happened to glance over at the potted palms and succulents; I saw a flicker of white.
There was Ellie again moving underneath the central dome skylight. Rays of moonlight shone brightly through the Art Nouveau stained-glass.
I froze rigid, staring tensely as a wave of cold swept over my flesh. For a moment, just as the girl stepped into the moonlight, her face seemed to change momentarily. Her tight Buster Brown curls grew loose and dark while her cherub features grew pimply-cheeked and dough-faced. Her eyes that continued to stare back were now a murky-brown and bulging like a frog’s. Even the wide pale mouth was frog-like as it slowly lifted in a slow lazy smile.
Gray with shock, I whirled round, expecting to see Vanessa staring also in muted horror. Instead, my new friend had her back turned and was waving cheerily to a group of Goth peers across the vast hall. Glancing nervously back, I saw that the moonbeam was now occupied by a noisy Japanese tour group snapping selfies and group photos.
I rubbed my eyes. Maybe it was the light from the window just playing tricks with my vision, I thought numbly. That must be it. Also stress and anxiety can play tricks on us and make us believe that there's something there that’s really not.
Yet I no longer wanted to be in the city hall even though I was surrounded by bright lights and raucous swarms of people. And when Vanessa asked me if I wanted to come to a Gothic theater production of a famous horror movie, I immediately accepted. Watching a bunch of Goths pay homage to the golden age of B-rated horror movies, accompanied with a heavy dose of hardcore techno and fake gore, seemed preferable to waiting around for another weird hallucination to happen.
It turned out the show was taking place in Vanessa’s backyard, and it was a reinterpretation of John Carpenter's The Thing.
Later that night, I stood at the window of her new guest house--or Heron Manor, as it was known, peering into the shadowy Swanwick Forest.
That was certainly a long welcoming party, I thought, in perplexity and amazement.
Letting the curtain drop, I turned to consider the stacks of presents scattered hither and thither, including an accumulation of new pets from an anonymous sender named Smiley Face.
You would think more people would be moving here on account of the gift-giving and hospitality, I wondered. Maybe I got this VIP treatment because my arrival happened to coincide with the annual Midsummer Eve tradition. I really should ask Vanessa more about this local French custom of gift-giving.
As I crawled into bed, I couldn’t help thinking about Ellie Lambert. Had that kid received a similar welcoming party or had she been deemed unworthy... even for a gift of Krampus coal? The girl certainly did act a bit funny, not funny in any obviously wild crazy fashion. No, quite the opposite--clinging to the corners of the room, or skittering through the crowds, never talking or laughing with anyone, not displaying the least bit interest or excitement in the fun games and revelry going on around her. Always sneaking glances in my direction like she wanted to strike up a conversation, yet she kept her distance. Maybe it was because I was hanging around Vanessa at the time, and the Goth was giving Ellie the death stare as if in the hopes that her face might melt, explode, or shrink with Raiders of the Lost Ark dramatics.
Vanessa wouldn’t go into specific details about the incident that caused her to totally reject Ellie’s friendship, except to say that it nearly ruined her middle school reputation and further cemented her hatred for the anime genre and its numerous fandoms.
A hardcore otaku then, I thought with a grimace. Or as Yoda would say, ‘The weeaboo vibe is strong in this one.’
Still, I kept my personal comments to myself and made a silent vow never to get too close to ‘Lil’ Miss Bo Beep for I didn’t want a repeat of that nonsense back in Australia where I had to deal with a raging otaku mental case. Also I didn’t tell Vanessa about Ellie’s face changing because I was still trying to make sense of what I saw, and I didn’t want Vanessa thinking I was either crazy or on drugs.
Staring up at the ceiling, my mind teemed with images from hours --the corrugated iron and scrap wood arrangement that was supposed to resemble an Antarctica research station, people dressed to resemble sled dogs, tech geeks animating the mechanical monster parts, the actors rushing about heroically in corpse paint and cold weather gear, the whole set going up into flames that would have met with John Carpenter’s approval.
Frowning, I wondered if I would be able to hang out with Vanessa again, now that Vanessa was majorly grounded for burning down the Licorne Pavilion, part of the roof of her dad’s tea house as well as the neighbor’s topiary fence.
Having watched The Thing before, I already knew the entire story.
I always thought that the assimilated humans, unlike the Borg and the Pod People, had no idea they were imitations... like Norris with his bad heart or Palmer when he was tied up on the couch, waiting to have his blood tested. It was like when the Thing took over a body, it left just enough of the ‘host’ consciousness so that the imitation still felt like the original.
Who or what was it that I saw when Ellie changed? Something that looked like a homely plump girl. Something that stared and smiled, but it wasn’t a girl at all. It was… what exactly?
Stop it! I told myself sternly. Just stop it! It’s just your imagination playing tricks on you! It’s time to stop thinking about monsters, and start thinking about counting sheep or cats.
Minutes seemed to drag by, but eventually, I dropped off to sleep, but it wasn’t sheep or cats I saw behind my closed lids. Ellie Lambert’s smiling face hovered in front of me like a ghost lantern in the pitch blackness. Then the features began softening, running and flowing together like melting wax. But before I could see what was emerging from the heap of mangled flesh and distorted bone, darkness swallowed me up once more.
When I awoke, I thought it was morning at first. The room was full of silvery light. For a minute or two, I lay there, blinking like a bewildered frog. Then I sat up, rubbed my eyes and stared blearily at the window. A full moon emerged and was illuminating the small bedroom—in fact, I had never seen moonlight so bright; it was as though someone switched on some halogen bulbs.
A sharp tapping had sounded against the pane. I sat very still, listening carefully, but did not hear the sound again. What could that have been? I thought as I laid back down. The wind? A branch scraping against the glass? No, the weather forecast had said it would be a calm night with a bit of fog and there weren’t any trees close enough to touch the cottage. It had to have been an animal then--maybe even a bat or an owl brushing up against the glass. That sounds reasonable, more reasonable than someone running around late at night, knocking on windows to freak people out.
I felt my eyelids growing heavy as my mind started drifting off into a dreamless sleep.
Tap, tap--tap, tap, tap, tap
I sat up quickly, eyes widening as I stared at the window.
No. That definitely wasn’t an animal. Must be a bunch of bratty kids then.
Tap, tap, tap, tap--tap, tap, tap
Clutching the covers, I pulled them up to my neck. I didn’t want to get out of bed. The night was disagreeably cold--unaccountable so for the middle of summer. The air also felt clammy like that of a damp cellar, and there was also a peculiar smell--kind of like cheap perfume mixed with stagnant seawater.
Tap, tap--tap, tap, tap, tap
Nope, I thought as I burrowed deeper underneath my blankets. No way. Uh-huh. I’m not getting up for some damn stupid kids. I’m just going to sit tight and let them think I’m a heavy sleeper then maybe they’ll get bored and go away... hopefully.
Rolling myself up tighter in my blankets, I lay quite still, occasionally glancing at the window which was lit up in silvered moonlight. Just as I was finally dozing off, I was roused by an entirely different noise.
Knock, knock, knock-- knock, knock, knock, knock
“Oh freak this!”
Furious and wide awake, I threw back the covers as my feet hit the cold floor.
“What the hell’s this, waking people up in the middle of the blooming night?” I muttered. “Freak! It’s like Fimbulwinter in here!”
Bleary-eyed, I stomped toward the door. “Hey doofuses! I’m trying to get some shut-eye here!”
Then I stopped suddenly when I felt the intense cold on my bare feet, the cold that was seeping through the cracks around the door.
My spine tingled as my hair rose on end. Instinctively, I took several steps back, and as I did, I heard a voice call out from the other side of the door.
“It’s me. Vanessa. Let me in! It’s cold!”
“Vanessa?” Despite the cold, I started walking toward the door. “What are you doing? It’s late!”
“I got something to tell, something to tell you!” Vanessa called out. “Something very important. Just open the...”
“Look,” I interrupted. “Can’t this wait until tomorrow? It’s 12 AM. You ought to be in--” I nearly stumbled over Miss Tabitha suddenly brushing up against my ankles. The cat had her ears back, and was growling away furiously.
Glancing back at the door again, a new shudder rippled down my frozen spine. Embedded under the edge of the door and into the door frame were several dozen cutlasses, daggers and dirks--the types used back in the Golden Age of piracy. Nowadays, you only see these sorts of weapons in museums or in the possession of historical hobbyists. But while the blades put on the display were just inert metal, the ones dug deep around the door were of a completely different nature. These weren’t toys to be trifled with by enthusiasts or fools in garish pretentious costumes. These polished blades most likely had ferocious wills of their own; they mean business, and I was right now wondering if this was the “Something” that Vanessa wanted to talk to me about. Were these vicious things Midsummer presents that now the Goth was now having second thoughts about? Would Vanessa really do something really crazy like this?
I didn’t know. All I wanted now was not to remain here any longer. Not in this living room, not even in this house. I backed away from the front door, edging toward the back. Then my jaw fell open as my trembling hands brushed against coarse rope. Jerking around, I stood as rigid as a dressmaker’s dummy, staring at the taut heavy rope crisscrossing the door, securely attached to various grappling hooks, belaying pins and marlin spikes.
“Unblock the peephole, Kes,” the voice pleaded. “Unblock it if you wanna hear a secret. Please, you got to come in close. Come a bit closer then and unseal the barrier.”
The “peephole” was actually a natural knothole. Shortly after I moved in, I had sealed it up with plaster of Paris to keep out the drafts and any befuddled wildlife mistaking the door for a hollow tree.
THUMP! THUMP--THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP
I stood rigid in my loose-fitting pajamas, sweat beading on my ashen face. Shivering, I watched as the door creaked inward, scraping against the tightly-wedged blades. Another heavy thumping, but the blades bit deep into the surrounding timber and threshold, yet the door held. There were strange garbled words that instantly filled me with dread and sick revulsion. Then the very weighty tread of very heavy feet crunching on the gravel walk, waiting.
That definitely didn’t sound like Vanessa. She wouldn’t have shown up unannounced in the middle of the night; she wouldn’t be pleading in a sniveling-sort of manner like a prattling child, and certainly wouldn’t be strong enough to shake the entire door with her fists. Something else stood outside instead, something large, hefty and very formidable, but still needed help to gain entry. Something that would require an immediate and “permanent” response.
Walking stilly like of a somnambulant, I went back to my bedroom and carefully fetched down the “surprise.”
The “surprise” in question sat in the wooden rack near my bed. It was a blunderbuss, and it may have belonged to one of Mayor Desrosiers’s ancestors. Why an antique weapon would be kept in a guest house rather than in a secure gun room was anyone’s guess. How I got the thing quickly loaded with powder and lead shot without an accidental discharge was beyond me.
Tightly clutching the ancient relic, I trudged slowly like Elmer Fudd back into the living room. I waited until the intruder was at the front door again before carefully prying away the plaster of Paris. Then I jammed the flared muzzle into the opening and pulled the trigger.
A loud boom echoed through the house, and the animals began shrieking in earnest.
The gun’s recoil sent me backwards, where I tumbled like a rolling stone along the floor finally coming to rest against the far wall.
As soon as my ears stopped ringing and my heartbeat slowed down to normal, I counted to ten before pulling myself up. Vaguely, I became aware of the panicking animals and that the various arcane barricades had now vanished. My attention soon focused on the splintered peephole, and I stumbled across the living room, finally dropping to my knees beside the door now hanging limply off one hinge and peered through the ragged hole.
A putrid odor instantly filled my nostrils, choking me with its stench. Coughing and sputtering, I quickly covered my nose and pushed past the shattered door and then fixed my eyes on the bloated gray body sprawled across the front path, tattered and torn, its face exploded to bloody steaming pulp and black slime. Slowly, it began transforming before my widening eyes, Vanessa Desrosiers, Ellie Lambert, the nameless frog-like girl, and then a twisted myriad of other forms—human and nonhuman, some I hardly recognized. Then there was nothing left of it, but a sticky blackish patch on the dewy, moonlit flagstone.
Frowning, I went to repair the door, and then left with my cat before first light.