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The Amulet

By Sybille Sterk
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First Chapter: Bad News

“I don’t want to go!” Alison mumbled.
She stuffed a pair of socks in a corner of her suitcase and bent down to pick up another pair. Her hair got tangled up in the amulet.
“You terrrible thing!” she grumbled. “It’s all your fault. Yours and the rat’s.”
Alison pulled the amulet over her head and chucked it on the floor. She glared at it and lifted her foot to stamp on it, but then sighed and picked it up again.
“Without you I probably would sleep in my own bed tonight instead of going to London,” Alison told the amulet.
She sat down on the bed, next to the suitcase and leant back against the head board.
‘I wish...’, Alison thought, ‘I wish Nan wasn’t in hospital.’ Tears began rolling down her cheeks.
She had been to see her in hospital, and Nan had looked all small and fragile. There seemed not much left of her; nothing of that formidable, sometimes scary woman. Just a small, old woman who almost looked like her nan.
Alison hugged herself. “I don’t want to go to London. I want to stay here and help looking after Nan. I wish Auntie Elsie hadn’t come.”
“Alison,” her mum called, “Have you finished packing?”
“Almost,” Alison shouted back. She wiped the tears of her face and began to chuck more stuff in the suitcase.
She had first seen the piebald rat three weeks ago that. White, with brown spots, the rat had been sitting between the books in Nan’s room. Alison had been too surprised to scream. It was her first real rat. Alison thought they looked different than on TV.
Nan had been in the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea, when she had come back, Alison told her about the rat.
Nan had looked at her strangely, then she told Alison, “Don’t worry. I don’t think it will be back.”
But it had been back, the very next day. This time Nan had been in the room with her. Alison had shouted, “Look Nan, there it is again.”
Again, Nan had looked at her strangely, then told her not to worry.
“Nan, rats carry the plague and they’re dirty and steal food,” Alison tried to tell her.
“Bah, superstition. It was a completely different type of rat that brought the plague. Anyway, it wasn’t the rats, it was the flees that did it. Rats are very clean animals, just like cats.”

Alison was not convinced. “But what about them stealing food? They might spoil the food.”
“I don’t think so. There really is nothing to worry about,” Nan said. “Did you know that they live together in clans?”
Alison was interested despite herself.“You mean like in Scotland?”
Nan laughed, “Almost, yes. They look after each other. The old and weak ones will even sacrifice themselves to taste food they’re not sure of. At least, if it’s posioned, none of the young will die.”
Alison was impressed. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
Nan smiled. “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about.
The next day, the rat appeared again.
Alison told Nan, “Look there it is again.”
“So it is,” Nan replied.
Alison laughed, “We’ve got to give it a name, if it comes visiting again. It seems to like this room.”
“Maybe it already has a name?,” Nan wondered.
“It might have. If all you told me about their clans and things is true, then it’s not so unlikely that they might give each other names,” Alison giggled, “Perhaps it’s called Rumpelstiltskin?”
“I shouldn’t think so! What self-respecting rat would put up with a silly name like that?”
Alison laughed, “Look at us, we’re silly worrying about a rat’s name!”
Nan shook her head, “I told you names are very important.”
“Yes, yes... You’ve told me. Names give you power. If you know the right name of something, you understand its nature,” Alison yawned.
“Tsk, it’s true. You better believe it Alison,” Nan told her sternly.

Alison knew there was nothing else she could say.
The next day, Nan called her to her room. It was not the usual time for her herbal lessons, so Alison wondered what Nan wanted from her.
“Hi Nan, do you want me to get you anything?” Alison asked when she stepped into the room.
“No, I have something for you,” Nan replied.
“Oh, but it’s not my birthday. That’s ages away yet!”
“Come here child and stop fidgeting.”
Alison sat on the floor by Nan’s chair and looked up expectantly.
Nan bent forward slightly and pulled the amulet over her head. She held it out to Alison. “Here, I want you to have this.”
“But it’s yours. You can’t give it to me!” Alison called out. “You told me thousands of times how important and precious it is. You can’t just give it to me now. It’s not even my birthday!”
“It is mine and I can do what I like with it. I’ve carried it long enough,” Nan said with a sigh, “now it’s time you had it.”
“But, but...”
“But what?” Nan asked.
“It doesn’t seem right. It belongs to you, just like...just like your glasses!,” Alison told Nan.
Nan shook her head, “Not anymore. It’s yours now. Take it.”
Alison had run out of excuses. She took the necklace of her Nan and when her Nan nodded encouragingly, put it over her head.
“Put it under your clothes for now, or your mum will ask silly questions.”
Alison did as she was told. She shuddered when the cold amulet slid down her warm skin.

“Why don’t you want it any more?” Alison wanted to know.
“It’s just time to hand it down to another generation, just like my nan did with me.”
“I didn’t know it was that old,” Alison said.
Nan laughed, “It’s much older than that, it was made for my great-great-great-great-great grandmother.
Nan became serious again, “Look after it. Don’t take it off and don’t show it to anybody else. It’s your secret now.”
Alison promised to take good care of the amulet.
Nan nodded satisfied. “Off you go now. I’ll see you later.”
Alison had gone. When she came back for her herbal lesson, Nan had been asleep on her chair. Alison wondered about that, Nan never slept in the chair and certainly not at this time! She decided not to disturb her, maybe Nan had had a bad night.
Two days later, Nan was ill. A week later, the illness became more serious and the doctor was called. Two weeks later, Nan was still not better. They had taken her to hospital a couple of days ago.
Auntie Elsie had come yesterday to see Nan. Everybody was really worried about her.
Last night at dinner, Aunt Elsie had dropped the bomb. She had not just come to see her mum in hospital, but also to take Alison back to London with her.
“I can’t leave Mum all on her own with Nan ill,” Alison had protested.
“Nan is coming home tomorrow. Your mother can’t look after her and you. It’s better if you...”
“I can help Mum. She will need me,” Alison interrupted her aunt.

Mum shook her head. “No Alison, I want you to go with Elsie. It won’t be for long.”
“I won’t go,” Alison shouted. “I am staying here. You need me. Nan needs me. I just won’t go!”
Alison burst into tears.
“This won’t be the right place for a little girl, not with your nan so ill,” Mum insisted. “I really want you to go with Elsie. I promise, to call you every day.”
“What about school? I can’t miss school for that long,” Alison said with new hope.
“It’s all arranged. You can go to the same school as your cousin Lisa,” Elsie told her.
Suddenly, it dawned on Alison that this was a set-up. This was not just a short holiday for a couple of weeks, but for much longer. She looked at her mum, “How could you do this to me? Without even talking it over!” Alison got up and left the table.
A while later, Mum had come to her room. She had sat next to Alison on the bed and put her arm around her. “I am sorry darling. It all came about rather in a rush and I didn’t know how to tell you. I knew you wouldn’t want to go. But it’s necessary.”
Alison sniffed. “It isn’t necessary. I can help you care for Nan.”
“It was Nan’s idea actually. She didn’t want you to see her that ill. She wanted you to remember her as she used to be,” Mum explained.
Suddenly it dawned on Alison, “You mean she’s going to die?”
“We are all going to die one day.”
“Don’t give me that. You know what I meant. Is she going to die soon?,” Alison asked.
Mum nodded, “She’s coming home to die. She didn’t want you to see it.”

Alison hugged her mum close and cried for a long time. Finally, there were less tears and fewer sobs, until they stopped altogether. Alison yawned.
“Time for bed,” Mum told her and tucked her in.

“Alison! Are you ready? Your train is leaving in half an hour.”

Alison put her favourite book on top of the clothes and snapped the suitcase shut.
“I am ready, Mum, just coming.” She picked up the heavy suitcase and carried it out in the hallway.

Copyright, Sybille Sterk 2002 - 2004
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