Gothic Psychological Thriller
Mark and Hanna Conte run The Sanctuary, a private respite care home based in a former gothic monastery. They are anticipating the birth of their first baby and during Hanna’s pregnancy she receives portents or warnings. Immediately after the birth Hanna is unable to establish a mother/child bond and becomes convinced her baby has been exchanged for another.
Although Hanna tries to hide it, her paranoia escalates. She’s haunted by a child phantom warning her of danger. Is she suffering from post-partum depression or is she being haunted? She must decide whether to stay for the sake of her family or run away to avoid being locked up.
Extract from Novel
‘Hey,’ he says. I look at him. I remember him and yet I don’t know him.
‘It’s all right,’ says a voice I don’t recognize. ‘She’s bound to be a bit fuzzy. She’s been out for eight hours.’
Out where? Who are they talking about? I blink a couple of times. The man I remember but don’t know, has hold of my hand. That nagging voice is speaking again and this time I know it’s inside my head. ‘This man is your husband.’ Then I know I’m in hospital and my husband is holding my hand.
And then I remember. ‘My baby.’
‘It’s okay,’ says the man who is my husband. ‘Our baby is fine.’
I must have slept for a little while, because when I next wake, I smell the perfume of flowers. I open my eyes to a huge vase of yellow roses – a few stray petals are scattered on the bed. I look across the room and the man who is my husband says, ‘Hey,’ and I try to smile. He taps on the door, then holds it open.
‘Would you like to meet our baby?’ he says. A large nurse walks in, carrying a swaddled bundle. I look down at the pretty coffee coloured face of my daughter, long lashes fringing closed lids. Her little mouth is pursed, seeking something to latch on to. I smile.
‘Hello beautiful,’ I say. My voice is husky – not my own. I reach down to take her tiny hand in mine. Her fists open and close like little stars. I feel something rough on the back of her hand and, looking down, I see a heart-shaped birthmark.
I sleep again and next time I wake I hear the clatter of cutlery as a trolley rolls down the corridor towards my room. I have been moved from the single room, into a small ward. There are two women in the beds opposite, one cradling a baby in her arms, the other has a sleeping child in a crib by her bed. I raise my head from the pillow and try to call out.
A nurse comes in. ‘You’re back with us. It has been a long time. How are you feeling now?’
I shrug as she takes my temperature and blood pressure. ‘That all looks good,’ she says. She checks my fluids, which are being pumped in via an IV, and nods before moving away from my bed.
‘Please,’ I say, ‘can I have my baby?’
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘baby is due a feed anyway.’
When she goes I pull myself up to a semi-seated position. I am so anxious to see my baby’s beautiful face again. Minutes later the nurse returns, placing a swaddled child in my arms.
I look down at the dark screwed up face, wide indignant eyes.
‘No.’ I say, holding out the baby to the nurse. ‘You’ve given me someone else’s baby.’
The nurse’s face changes from calm composure to quizzical concern. She lifts the baby gently from my arms then, leaning towards me, she pulls the blanket from the little, angry face. ‘This is your baby ma’am. See his little nose? Just like his mammy’s.’
I shake my head – my heart’s racing. ‘No,’ I say. ‘This is not my baby.’
The nurse backs away, the women opposite are staring.
I start to shout, ‘Mark, Mark.’ Everyone is looking at me.
‘Where is my baby?’ I’m screaming now, ‘WHERE IS MY BABY?’
Mark comes running into the ward, coffee sloshing from a plastic cup.
‘What’s the matter, what happened?’
The nurse looks at him and shakes her head. Two other members of the nursing staff appear. Mark comes to me, cradling me in his arms.
‘My baby,’ I sob. ‘My baby…’ Then I feel a scratch on my arm.