Bristol, 19 July 1843
Emily ran along the pavement, laughing, her skirts streaming out around her. Pigeons!
The silly grey birds scattered at her approach, their wings making an awful clatter. One flew right at her, and Emily ducked, shrieking in delight.
She turned round to watch the pigeons fly up, scattering across the sky like spilt peppercorns on a white tablecloth. Some settled in the eaves of the houses towering like cliffs above her. Others descended to the flagstones.
She grinned and hoisted up her skirts, preparing for another attack.
'Emily! Come here this instant!'
Emily froze. Nana had caught up with her!
She drew her lips into her sweetest smile and raised her eyebrows to make her eyes as wide as possible. This usually worked on grown-ups. Not Nana. But it was all Emily had.
She stayed put and let Nana walk up to her. Nana's cheeks were red and she was panting. Dressed all in black with her thin face and nose, Nana looked like a big crow.
'You wicked girl!' wheezed Nana. 'Trying to get away from me like that.'
'I'm sorry, Nana.' The sound of her own voice made Emily want to laugh.
'And you can wipe that look off your face at once!'
The things grown-ups said! How can you wipe a look from your face? Your lips and nose and eyes, they wouldn't be wiped away for anything.
'So you say. But I can see in your eyes that you are not. I shall have words with your father.'
Emily looked down at her shoes, hiding her smile. She knew Daddy didn't like Nana.
'Come along.' Nana held out a black-gloved hand, and, grimacing, Emily took it.
They walked in silence, Emily looking at the horses and carriages clattering by in the road. She could feel Nana's disapproval in the tightness of her grip.
Then Emily began to feel funny.
It started in her legs - a big ache, like she sometimes got in bed.
And then it went through her whole body.
She heard Nana scream - and let go.
But she was scared and even Nana's hand -
Suddenly she was falling, falling down. Everything was whirling around her and a wind was tearing at her, battering her from all directions.
And she hurt so!
Her bones felt like they were breaking out of her body.
And then -
Emily woke up. Above her, a pale, white sky. Pigeons! But there were none.
Where was she? Was she dreaming?
No dream. She was lying on the pavement. It was cold against her back. This was real.
She sat up. 'Nana?'
Nana was lying down too, on her back with her hands… Emily gasped. Nana was old - but now she was -
Her face was like a dried fruit, the toothless mouth open wide, the eyes sunk deep into her head. Nana's hair, once black, was now white and long.
Emily crawled away from Nana, shivering. She realised her own hair was now also long, coiled around her.
She looked down at her fingernails. They were like twisting claws. Horrible. Horrible.
Tears blurred her vision. Emily began to shudder and shake. The hurting was still there, in her arms and legs.
Her mouth hurt too. She leaned forwards, and spat out a sticky mouthful of blood. She gasped in horror to see, in the crimson puddle, a dozen or so gleaming white objects. Teeth? She put her hands to her mouth, and found that she still had her teeth. Only they felt big and rough, like pegs.
Shivering, Emily looked down at herself. Her clothes had burst and torn, and hung in shreds from her shoulders and hips. And she was - big. Her legs were great long things, with pale, flabby skin. Her feet had busted out of her shoes, and were - horrible. Her chest had grown into two pale, sagging balloons. And there was hair, where there wasn't before.
She tried to stand up but couldn't.
Everywhere was quiet. Almost - she could hear cries in the distance that sounded like seagulls. In the road ahead of her, a horse and cart had stopped - but the horse was dead, its flesh withered away to nothing, white bones sticking through the skin. The driver was a skeleton. Like Nana.
Emily crawled past Nana towards the railings which ran along the front of the town houses. Her only thought was to find somewhere to hide, to curl up and cry, to wait for Daddy to find her and make everything all right again.
She found a gap in the railings and crawled down the steps, her long toenails scratching at the stone.
There she stayed, shivering and naked, aching and alone.
After what seemed like hours, she heard footsteps approaching along the pavement above.
The footsteps came closer, stopped. She could see two pairs of reassuringly normal shoes.
A man's head peered over the railings.
Emily gasped. A stranger! With the bluest eyes she had ever seen.