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‘Holly, we discussed this. You agreed there’s nothing else left to try,’ Dr Falstaff announced. Holly recognised the tone of voice. He’d made up his mind.


‘Fine,’ she said. ‘But I’m only giving it one day. Immersion therapy might work for people who’re scared of crowds but this is different. It’s evil, in fact.’


‘Ducks, Holly. They’re ducks, not evil. You have to identify them as simple animals. That’s the key.’

‘Don’t lecture me, Dad,’ Holly moaned. ‘I hate feeling like one of your patients.’

‘I’m a psychiatrist and you have a phobia. I think it’s helpful for you to understand that I’m

equipped to get you through your anatidaephobia.’

‘That’s it. I’m going.’ Holly grabbed her fluorescent tabard and opened the car door. ‘I’d

rather be staring at the beady-eyed little monsters than listen to any more of your psycho babble. I can’t believe you’re putting me through this.’

‘You also needed a job, remember? I called in favours to get this for you. The first hour will

be the worst. After that, your brain will start to normalise. We can’t maintain high levels of fear for long periods.’

‘Maybe not, but I can hold a grudge for at least a decade,’ Holly muttered, slamming the car

door.


The hotel was enormous. Its marble tiled lobby boasted a world famous central feature. The

man made miniature lake, waterfall and all, was lit with twinkling lights and surrounded by fake greenery. Holly reported to the front desk where a man thrust a whistle and keys at her, pointing in the direction of the rear of the building.


‘Ducks are in the wooden house out the back. I was expecting you earlier. Just unlock their

door and blow the whistle three times. They’ll fall into line behind you. Make sure no one touches them or they’ll be marching straight back into their house. Stay out of shot while guests are taking photos. You’re to remain in the background at all times but make sure you can safeguard the ducks if there’s trouble. Off you go.’


What sort of trouble could there possibly be, Holly wondered, as she found her way to the

rear of the hotel. The briefing couldn’t have been more dramatic if she’d joined MI5 and been

posted to protect a foreign dignitary.


The duck house loomed in the distance, all boarded up, horror movie style. She froze in

front of it. Remembered to breathe. Took another step. It was their eyes she hated. The blackness of them, the fact that you couldn’t tell exactly where they were looking. Only she knew they were staring at here. And here she was, about to unleash her personal version of hell for supposedly therapeutic purposes. There was no specific history to her phobia. No incident when she was a toddler. Just a steady dawning with each passing year that the flappy-winged, sharp-beaked creatures every other child thought cute and hilarious made her want to run screaming, and hide.


‘They’re just ducks,’ she said aloud as she slid the key into the lock. ‘Not evil. Just feathery

sweetness.’ Her heart was pounding as she opened the door and stepped back. There was a moment when nothing happened, then the orange brown arc of a beak appeared, followed by a head and a feathery body. The lead duck stepped forward. Behind it, quacking at the sudden daylight and freedom, came three other fully grown ducks and seven smaller ones - not babies - but not yet fully matured into a Holly’s nightmare creature.


Her panic threatened to overwhelm her. There was a momentary stand off. Holly stared at

the lead duck who made a sound that resembled Halloween cackling. Closing her eyes and

gathering her inner strength, Holly blew the whistle three times then turned around, moving slowly but steadily towards the door to the hotel. The ducks waddled in her footsteps. Holly felt faint, sick and ready to sprint all at once. She heard the mad squawk and spun round before she’d considered what might be happening.


‘Duck!’ a man yelled behind her.


The feathered demon flapped straight towards her face. Holly stumbled away, tripping over

her own feet, and landing flat on her back. The duck came in to land. Holly’s chest offered a

delightfully soft option for its leathery, webbed feet.


‘No,’ she murmured, unable to raise the volume of her voice at all. ‘Please, get it off. Help

me,’ she sobbed. ‘Help.’ The duck took a step forward, eyes glittering in the sunlight, head dipping as it moved.

‘Off you scoot,’ the man who’d issued the warning said, pushing the duck gently sideways

and picking Holly up. She covered her face with her hands, reddening with embarrassment, still shaking with fear.

‘You going to be okay?’ the man asked.

She took a deep breath. ’I suspect I now hold the world record for the shortest time a job has

been kept, and my duck phobia has been reaffirmed in the worst possible way. Apart from that…’

‘Maybe not,’ he said, calling over another staff member to relieve Holly of her whistle. ‘I

reckon there’s a better way to deal with your phobia than this. You don’t even need to stop working at the hotel if you want a job. Come with me.’


He lead her back inside through a different door, as the ducks waddled happily away to their

indoor pool.


Holly’s parents met her for dinner. She sat them at a table overlooking the hotel grounds and

cheerfully announced that she’d dealt with her crippling fear.


‘So your duck keeper job is a success!’ her father beamed. ‘Darling, I’m so pleased.’

‘Not exactly,’ Holly said. ‘But I have got a new job. Wait here.’ She disappeared behind

swinging steel doors and returned carrying two steaming plates.

‘Duck à l’orange,’ she smiled. ‘And don’t worry. Chef promises they’re not the ones from

the lobby.’

‘Will daddy be okay?’ 5 year old Charlie asked.


‘He’ll have to stay in hospital for a couple of days, but he’ll be fine. How did this happen,

sweetheart?’ the nurse asked.


‘It started when the rabbit fell from the sky,’ Charlie explained.


‘From the sky?’ The nurse swabbed the bite mark on the man’s leg. ‘But it wasn’t a rabbit

that bit your daddy.’


‘Nope. It was just nature. Daddy explained the whole thing to me…’


-----


First day in Southern California. First day in the United States, in fact. It hadn’t been easy

relocating from the UK at his company’s request, but they’d managed. They hadn’t been able to visit the house before leasing it, but the website photos had been enough to get the children excited. Palm trees, a fire-pit, BBQ, even an outdoor TV, but the crowning glory had been the pool. They’d arrived at the property, deposited their suitcases inside and formed an appreciative semi-circle around one edge of the glinting blue beauty. Jet-lag forgotten, 11 hour flight slipping away, the need to find a supermarket and make beds not yet urgent. Then the rabbit had fallen.


No one was looking skywards at the time. What they saw was a shadow growing in size,

followed by the realisation that something was coming. When they tilted their heads up, they saw ahuge bird looming above the rabbit who was uselessly kicking its little legs, eyes wide as it hit the water.


‘Daddy?’ Charlie said. ‘Can you save it?’


‘It’ll contaminate the pool water,’ Mum responded, pulling Charlie away from the edge.


‘There’s no net,’ Dad said. ‘Maybe it’s in the garage. Ellie, go and look.’


‘Gross, I’m not going in the garage,’ 15 year old Ellie moaned.


‘The rabbit’s dying!’ Charlie screeched.


Justin, 12 and afraid of almost nothing, cannon-balled gleefully into the water.


‘Get out!’ his mother shouted. ‘Don’t you touch that animal.’


Justin grabbed the rabbit by the scruff of its neck and began backstroking to the edge.


‘He’s got it!’ Charlie jumped up and down as Justin deposited the sodden, shivering creature

at the pool’s edge. Dad stepped forward and prodded it with his boot.


‘It’s half drowned,’ he said. ‘The kindest thing is to put it out of its misery.’


‘What does that mean?’ Charlie asked.


‘It means we should go inside while daddy takes care of it,’ Mum said. ‘Come on. We’ll find

Justin a towel.’


‘Will you make it better? Can we keep it as a pet?’ Charlie ignored his mother and grabbed

his father’s hand.


‘He’s going to kill it,’ Ellie said.


Charlie stared at her.


‘No,’ he whispered. ‘Daddy, say you won’t. It’s still breathing. We haven’t even tried…’


‘It’s just a rabbit, Charlie. He won’t know anything about it, and it’s kinder to get this over

with quickly,’ dad said.


‘We could get a box and wrap him up and give him food and he can stay in my room…’

Charlie’s eyes filled with tears.


His dad squatted down.


‘Charlie, listen. We’re tired and we have a lot more to do. We can’t look after a rabbit now.


This is how life works. It’s not always easy to understand, but that’s nature for you. Animals

sometimes behave in ways we can’t control. There’s nothing to get upset about.’


Charlie pressed a small hand against his mouth. Dad walked to the edge of the garden and picked up a large rock.


‘Please don’t,’ Charlie tried one more time.


‘Like I said son, it’s nature. Ellie, give your brother a hug so he doesn’t see anything.’


Ellie huffed but moved closer to her little brother as Justin climbed out of the pool to get a

better look at the action. Dad raised the rock high above his head and steadied himself. The eagle flew in to grab the rabbit as dad brought his hand down. Its talons, outstretched to

grab the prey, met the rock instead. Furious, it lashed out, needle-sharp beak jabbing into fingers. Dropping the rock and pushing the eagle away with his free hand, dad wheeled around to protect his face. Mum reappeared from the house, clutching a towel.


‘What the…kids, get inside now!’ she yelled.


‘Stay back!’ dad shouted.


The crow that had been watching from the fence saw his chance and swept in, moving

skilfully between them to land on the rabbit. It flapped its wings hard but the rabbit was too heavy. The eagle screeched and dived in to protect its prize. Dad stepped away to let them fight it out and stumbled over the rock, tripping sideways into the palm tree at the edge of the pool. The leaf that fell from the palm tree was 5 metres long and heavier than it looked. It hit Justin in the face as Mum attempted an intercept. The nest of spiders that came with it broke on her head.


‘Oh my God, are those black widows?’ Ellie screamed.


Justin dived back into the pool. Dad rushed forward, hitting wildly at his wife’s hair, just as

the eagle won the fight with the crow and took to the air with the rabbit. Ellie flailed away from the flapping wings, arms circling, tipping dad into the long grass at the edge of the garden. The rattle snake who’d been sleeping peacefully, woke with barely a second to give his customary noisy warning, and struck hard, once, before slithering away.


Mum ran to fetch a neighbour as Ellie called an ambulance and Justin searched the house for a first aid kit. Charlie remained in the garden with his father, looking around in wonder at the extraordinary new world they’d entered.


‘It’s all right dad.’ He patted his father on the arm with a sweet smile. ‘It’s like you told me.

It’s just nature. Animals sometimes behave in ways we can’t control. There’s nothing to get upset about.’

Updated: Feb 10

We do reference rape, of course. Now more than ever before. The rise of the #MeToo movement has started a conversation that was long overdue, but it’s only scratching the surface. We still hold back the details. Who wants such harsh realities in their heads as they commute to work, unwind after a long shift, or lie on a beach? We’re talking around the subject of rape, but I don’t think we’re really talking about it yet.

Helen Fields Author Blog

When Christine Blasey Ford gave evidence to the US Senate Judiciary Committee regarding allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, the world held its breath. The details as she recollected them were hazy, and there were some apparent inconsistencies, but the emotion she expressed, the sense of time travel as she retreated into the moment, was raw and compelling. The general public rarely witnesses moment like these. Juries do occasionally. Criminal barristers do with greater regularity, and that’s where I saw a multitude of victims come and go over the years as I prosecuted and defended in sexual assault cases. But it’s my own personal experience of rape that keeps me awake at night.


I was sixteen years old (plus one day and one hour) when I was raped by a man who was then a special constable. He helped run a club of which I was a member, and was in a position of authority over me. He knew my family. He knew my parents were going away. He knew I was a day past my birthday, and thus finally of an age when he could claim that I’d consented to sexual activity. Some weeks after the event, he even apologised to me, and if that sounds bizarre then you have to remember that every victim and every rape is unique, and that every rapist behaves differently and justifies their own behaviour in their own way.

Ignorance about rape is still widespread. People wonder why victims choose to stay silent. The cynical claim that the real victims come forward straight away, and that those who reveal their traumas only years are obviously making it up. There’s the constant suspicion that victims have rewritten history, turning a consensual meeting into a more sinister event with the passage of time. Particularly in cases where there’s no physical injury, there’s the ever present sense that if you didn’t fight, it couldn’t have been rape.


As a crime writer, I walk a fine line with sexual assault scenes. I want them to be realistic but not glamourised. I need them to feel terrifying, but not to use these horrific moments only to beef up the suspense in my books. I need to do justice to both the story and the real victims my work represents. I’ve been accused, as have all crime writers, of being part of the problem. It’s been said that our stories encourages crime and reduce conviction rates. I think the issue is that we don’t talk about rape in sufficiently emotional terms. Victims are perceived in stereotypical terms, and the conversation is shushed and hurried. We don’t really want to talk about rape. Which is why I decided to tell my story instead of hiding behind the fictions I create to exorcise my particular demons.


I’d been to a New Year’s Eve party run by another member of the club I was in. I’d organised a lift home jointly with another club member in the vehicle owned by my soon-to-be rapist. He took an odd route, dropped my friend off first then pulled onto a lay-by along a dark forest lane. It was 1am. There were no other vehicles around. He told me he was going to have sex with me. It was that simple. There was no discussion. I’d never flirted with him, never been attracted to him. He was 28 years old and not on my radar. He was a proper grown up. I saw him no differently than my own parents. I remember not knowing what to say. My words, my sense of who I was, of knowing the man driving the car, were all gone. Completely. I was just stunned. I remember looking out of the passenger window and starting to cry. I recall very clearly the muscles in my arms seizing up as I hugged myself. I want to speak but couldn’t.

He didn’t try to kiss me or touch me in any other way. It was clear that this wasn’t any sort of romantic approach, and he didn’t try to dress it up as anything other than what it was. To put it in context, there were no houses nearby, no streetlights, I was miles from home, it was pitch black and my body just stopped working. I didn’t know what he would do if I fought him, but I couldn’t have done so in any event. My whole body - and crucially this - my brain, froze. Literally everything about normal functioning stopped. He reached into his glove compartment, for a moment that was the only light, and grabbed a condom. It was waiting there. That was when I knew it was all planned - the offer of the lift home, the strange choice of route. He lifted up my skirt, pulled my underwear aside, and forced himself into me. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t fight him. I kept my head turned to one side and I cried. There would have been no doubt whatsoever in his mind that he was raping me. No one could humanly have thought that there was any element of consent.


It didn’t last long. It was painful. It was as if I were being strangled. It felt, as far as I can describe it, like being murdered. You can’t breath, can’t move, can’t run. The violation feels like an ending. A stabbing. It is a death. When finished, he said nothing. Sorted himself out, pulled my skirt down, let me cry, drove me home, opened my door and left me to stagger into the house. I ran a bath and sat in it crying until it was freezing cold. The light was creeping into the sky before I climbed out of that water so cold I couldn’t feel my body, and that was a blessing.


The years have passed since that dreadful night, but the emotion I feel is no less real and no less immediate. It floods back, unbidden, when a friend unexpectedly hugs me. When I’m in the supermarket and I see a man who in some vague, undefinable way reminds me of him. When I see scene in a movie. And when the memories come back, several things happen. I freeze. I feel as if I’m being strangled. Nausea hits me like a bucket of cold water. Then I fantasise about killing my rapist. It’s not a plan, there’s no danger I’ll ever do it, but the sad, horrible truth is that this makes me feel better. It’s my coping mechanism. It’s an out for my fury.


If you have questions, they are most likely procedural. Was he ever prosecuted? No. I didn’t report him. He chose a victim from a strict family whose dialogue didn’t allow for talking about consensual sex, let alone rape. What happened to me in the weeks afterwards? Publicly, I just got on with my life. I made myself get out of bed, go to school, go to singing classes, read books. But I saw his face everywhere. I smelled his sweat everywhere. Once you’ve been raped, it’s as if you put on dirty clothes every day of your life. The sense that you are clean again takes years to achieve and a huge amount of willpower. It doesn’t fade away, the victim has to force it to go. You don’t survive a rape, you fight to retrieve your sanity. It’s a constant battle. I tell myself I’m stronger for it, but my loss is that I never had the opportunity to know what my life might have been like without it. The feeling I was never able to shake, is that the rape itself was mechanical. That I didn’t matter. I was a body, a disposable thing, an irrelevance. That’s what I’m left with. It’s taken me a lifetime to persuade myself that I’m something more than just an object.


The details are unsettling given so plainly, but whispering in corners about the realities of rape just isn’t working. Sobbing into handkerchiefs on camera doesn’t seem to be working either. Being blunt about it might just make people sit up and listen. The stories of everyday non-‘celebrity’ sexual assaults need to be told. It’s taken 30 years and a move across continents for me to feel strong enough to be open with these details. I’m sharing them now in the hope that the generations that follow will have the vocabulary, the permission and the confidence to be open about such things.


Helen Fields 2020

For all inquiries,

please contact agent Hardman & Swainson

© 2020 Helen Fields  Books / HS Chandler

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