Imagine Me Page 1



In the dead of night, I hear birds.

I hear them, I see them, I close my eyes and feel them, feathers shuddering in the air, bending the wind, wings grazing my shoulders when they ascend, when they alight. Discordant shrieks ring and echo, ring and echo—

How many?


White birds, white with streaks of gold, like crowns atop their heads. They fly. They soar through the sky with strong, steady wings, masters of their destinies. They used to make me hope.

Never again.

I turn my face into the pillow, digging fingers into cotton flesh as the memories crash into me.

“Do you like them?ˮ she says.

We’re in a big, wide room that smells like dirt. There are trees everywhere, so tall they nearly touch the pipes and beams of the open ceiling. Birds, dozens of them, screech as they stretch their wings. Their calls are loud. A little scary. I try not to flinch as one of the large white birds swoops past me. It wears a bright, neon-green bracelet around one leg. They all do.

This doesn’t make sense.

I remind myself that we’re indoors—the white walls, the concrete floor under my feet—and I look up at my mother, confused.

I’ve never seen Mum smile so much. Mostly she smiles when Dad is around, or when she and Dad are off in the corner, whispering together, but right now it’s just me and Mum and a bunch of birds and she’s so happy I decide to ignore the funny feeling in my stomach. Things are better when Mum is in a good mood.

“Yes,” I lie. “I like them a lot.”

Her eyes brighten. “I knew you would. Emmaline didn’t care for them, but you—you’ve always been a bit too fond of things, haven’t you, darling? Not at all like your sister.” Somehow, her words come out mean. They don’t seem mean, but they sound mean.

I frown.

I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening when she says—

“I had one as a pet when I was about your age. Back then, they were so common we could never be rid of them.” She laughs, and I watch her as she watches a bird, midflight. “One of them lived in a tree near my house, and it called my name whenever I walked past. Can you imagine?” Her smile fades as she asks the question.

Finally, she turns to look at me.

“They’re very nearly extinct now. You understand why I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Of course,” I say, but I’m lying again. There is little I understand about Mum.

She nods. “These are a special sort of creature. Intelligent. They can speak, dance. And each of them wears a crown.” She turns away again, staring at the birds the way she stares at all the things she makes for work: with joy. “The sulphur-crested cockatoo mates for life,” she says. “Just like me and your father.”

The sulphur-crested cockatoo.

I shiver, suddenly, at the unexpected sensation of a warm hand on my back, fingers trailing lightly along my spine.

“Love,” he says, “are you all right?”

When I say nothing he shifts, the sheets rustling, and he tucks me into his hollows, his body curving around mine. He’s warm and strong and as his hand slides down my torso I cant my head toward him, finding peace in his presence, in the safety of his arms. His lips touch my skin, a graze against my neck so subtle it sparks, hot and cold, right down to my toes.

“Is it happening again?” he whispers.

My mother was born in Australia.

I know this because she once told me so, and because now, despite my desperation to resist many of the memories now returned to me, I can’t forget. She once told me that the sulphur-crested cockatoo was native to Australia. It was introduced to New Zealand in the nineteenth century, but Evie, my mother, didn’t discover them there. She fell in love with the birds back home, as a child, when one of them, she claims, saved her life.

These were the birds that once haunted my dreams.

These birds, kept and bred by a crazy woman. I feel embarrassed to realize I’d held fast to nonsense, to the faded, disfigured impressions of old memories poorly discarded. I’d hoped for more. Dreamed of more. Disappointment lodges in my throat, a cold stone I’m unable to swallow.

And then


I feel it

I stiffen against the nausea that precedes a vision, the sudden punch to the gut that means there’s more, there’s more, there’s always more.

Aaron pulls me closer, holds me tighter against his chest.

“Breathe,” he whispers. “I’m right here, love. I’ll be right here.”

I cling to him, squeezing my eyes shut as my head swims. These memories were a gift from my sister, Emmaline. The sister I only just discovered, only just recovered.

And only because she fought to find me.

Despite my parents’ relentless efforts to rid our minds of the lingering proof of their atrocities, Emmaline prevailed. She used her psychokinetic powers to return to me what was stolen from my memories. She gave me this gift—this gift of remembering—to help me save myself. To save her. To stop our parents.

To fix the world.

But now, in the wake of a narrow escape, this gift has become a curse. Every hour my mind is reborn. Altered. The memories keep coming.

And my dead mother refuses to be silenced.

“Little bird,” she whispers, tucking a stray hair behind my ear. “It’s time for you to fly away now.”

“But I don’t want to go,” I say, fear making my voice shake. “I want to stay here, with you and Dad and Emmaline. I still don’t understand why I have to leave.”

“You don’t have to understand,” she says gently.

I go uncomfortably still.

Mum doesn’t yell. She’s never yelled. My whole life, she’s never raised a hand to me, never shouted or called me names. Not like Aaron’s dad. But Mum doesn’t need to yell. Sometimes she just says things, things like you don’t have to understand and there’s a warning there, a finality in her words that’s always scared me.

I feel tears forming, burning the whites of my eyes, and—

“No crying,” she says. “You’re far too old for that now.”

I sniff, hard, fighting back the tears. But my hands won’t stop shaking.

Mum looks up, nods at someone behind me. I turn around just in time to spot Paris, Mr. Anderson, waiting with my suitcase. There’s no kindness in his eyes. No warmth at all. He turns away from me, looks at Mum. He doesn’t say hello.

He says: “Has Max settled in yet?”

“Oh, he’s been ready for days.” Mum glances at her watch, distracted. “You know Max,” she says, smiling faintly. “Always a perfectionist.”

“Only when it comes to your wishes,” says Mr. Anderson. “I’ve never seen a grown man so besotted with his wife.”

Mum smiles wider. She seems about to say something, but I cut her off.

“Are you talking about Dad?” I ask, my heart racing. “Will Dad be there?”

My mother turns to me, surprised, like she’d forgotten I was there. She turns back to Mr. Anderson. “How’s Leila doing, by the way?”

“Fine,” he says. But he sounds irritated.

“Mum?” Tears threaten again. “Am I going to stay with Dad?”

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