I pulled up at the Wells’ house and ripped on the handbrake, eager to stretch my legs after the long drive. I opened the car door and was met with a blast of dry, hot air. Squawks from bickering galas carried across the countryside.
The Wells’ house must have been a small, hardwood cottage once, but it had since sprouted fibro tumors and been encircled with a veranda in a vain attempt to add symmetry. The white monstrosity rose from a sea of neatly mown lawn, which was surrounded by parched paddocks, sparsely inhabited with sheep. The place smelled of shit and dirt.
I followed a cement path towards the veranda and found the Wells’ sitting at a table on the deck. They both stood as I approached. Mr. Wells was a squat man with grey hair. His glasses magnified his eyes so they appeared unnaturally large. Mrs. Wells was a tall, blonde woman. She had probably been pretty once, but age had marred her.
“Dana, thanks for coming,” said Mr. Wells, as I stepped onto the deck. “I’m Martin and this is Heather.”
“Pleased to meet you both.”
Martin extended his right hand. I placed mine in his and tried not to wince as he squeezed it painfully.
“Please, take a seat.”
A rustic table supported a teapot and a plate of homemade cakes.
“Tea, Dana?” Heather asked.
Martin sat at the head of the table and motioned for me to sit to his left while Heather poured tea. Once she was finished, she sat across from me.
The scene seemed well-rehearsed, like they did this every afternoon. Yet there was tension — something unspoken in the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Something about the way Heather focused on her tea, never Martin.
Heather broke the silence.
“So how do we begin? I spoke to a Morris on the phone –“
“My boss, yes. Morris gave me a rundown of your situation, but I would find it useful if you could explain it to me in your own words.”
Martin sipped his tea loudly. Heather smiled a sad smile and nodded. A magpie warbled from nearby.
“Ok. It’s our little girl, Molly. We’ve been worried about her for some time. At first we were convinced she was seeing things, but — “
Heather paused. I watched her search for the right words.
“Molly tends to fixate on things. She’s been obsessed with puzzles, and then Peppa Pig. So when she became fascinated by her wardrobe, we initially dismissed it as a new, if slightly odd, obsession. That was until she told us what she was seeing. It frightened us, so we took her to a doctor.
“We’ve seen two psychiatrists and both have told us she is a normal girl with an active imagination.”
“And what makes you think this isn’t her imagination?”
Heather paused. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Finally she spoke.
“Since then I’ve found … well … I now see the tunnel too.”
Heather averted her gaze, so I turned to Martin who was staring at his tea. He shook his head. I sensed he was not completely at ease with my presence.
Martin cleared his throat and then looked at me with those large eyes.
“Something’s wrong, Dana. Something we can’t explain. If we let her, Molly would stare at her wardrobe all day. Heather’s seeing things. None of this is normal. I’ll be honest. I don’t know what to believe and I don’t know what to make of your company, but we’re desperate. And, well, I guess I’ll try anything if it helps things return to normal.”
He seemed genuinely concerned about his daughter and yet, I didn’t get the sense he completely believed her or his wife. So why was I here? To prove it was all in their heads? I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time I’d done that.
“And Molly, is she here today?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s playing out back.”
“Would it be possible to have her show me the wardrobe?”
Heather looked to Martin, who nodded.