The Aunt Edas

He could hardly believe what he was seeing.

It was the exact same white wooden house. The same door, the same steep, sloping grey roof. A window was open, upstairs. The window that Martha had looked out of.

He rubbed his eyelids to check he wasn’t imagining things, but when he opened his eyes the house was still there.

‘Weird,’ said Samuel. Then he saw the blue feathered bird fly, or fall over his head and through the open window.

He lifted himself up and knocked on the door.

No answer.

He knocked again.

Still no answer.

He turned the doorknob. It wasn’t locked.

‘Hello?’ Samuel called, as he walked inside. ‘Is anybody there?’

He looked around the hallway, and peeped in the kitchen and the living room.

Everything was the same but different. The rooms were exactly the same size, but there were no rugs on the floor, and instead of Aunt Eda’s pictures of mountains there were more bookcases - one against every wall.

‘Hello? Hell-o?’

A woman appeared at the top of the stairs. A tall woman with a long neck and wine-bottle shoulders and hair in a very tight bun.

‘Aunt Eda,’ said Samuel, in total shock.

‘Yes,’ she answered, but her voice came from the kitchen not the landing.

Samuel turned to see another Aunt Eda, wearing the same clothes and smile, carrying a basket of washing and walking towards him.

‘There’s two of you,’ Samuel said.

‘Take your shoes off at the front door,’ said Aunt Eda, but not the Aunt Eda
who was in the kitchen or standing at the top of the staircase. This was a third Aunt Eda, who was standing right behind him.

Too stunned to speak, he did as he was told, leaving his pixie sandals by the door mat. Then he saw the row of identical pairs of round-toed ankle-boots that Aunt Eda used to wear. There must have been twenty pairs.

‘There’s a good boy,’ said Aunt Eda.

‘There’s a good boy,’ said Aunt Eda.

‘There’s a good boy,’ said Aunt Eda.

‘There’s a good boy,’ said Aunt Eda.

‘There’s a good boy,’ said Aunt Eda.

He was surrounded by Aunt Edas, coming to greet him from every room in the house.

‘Do you want some cheese?’ asked one.

‘Some cheese and flat-bread?’ asked another.

‘No,’ said Samuel, finding his voice at last.

‘What about some reindeer soup?’

Samuel looked in their eyes and realised none of these Aunt Edas recognised him.

‘I’ve got to find my sister,’ he told them. ‘Is she here?’

Blank faces stared back at him.

‘My sister, Martha. She’s a girl. She’s ten years old. She wears a blue dress
and she doesn’t speak. Have you seen her?’

The Aunt Edas spoke at once, and made no sense, so Samuel ran up the stairs past the first Aunt Eda he had seen.

‘No running on the stairs,’ she said, but he ignored her.

He searched the room where he and his sister slept, except it was a different
room now, just as this was a different house. The room the bird had flown into. But he couldn’t see either his sister or the bird.

The room was filled with five wide beds, and an Aunt Eda was lying in each.

‘Knock before entering young man,’ said one.

‘It’s our number five rule,’ said another.

‘Martha?’ he called, but Martha wasn’t there.

He went back out on the landing, where the first of the Aunt Edas said: ‘He’ll be here soon.’

‘Who? Who’ll be here?’

‘He won’t be happy.’

‘The Changemaker? Is this where he lives?’

‘He won’t be happy,’ she repeated, rather unhelpfully.

‘Where is he?’

‘With the Shadow Witch. In the Grim Tree.’ She said this as if it was the most
obvious thing in the world.

Samuel moved past the Aunt Eda and into another bedroom, where more were waiting for him.

‘Knock before entering.’

‘It’s our number five rule.’

‘I’m looking for my sister, Martha. Have you seen her.’

All blank faces. Then he looked across the room at a bird-cage with its door open.

Inside was the blue-feathered bird.

The one who had saved him from Troll-Mother’s knife.

The bird looked up with its small blinkless eyes, and didn’t make a sound.