The day Gemma lost her parents

Hi, so nice of you to visit again.

Please bear in mind that the following is a part of Shroud that ended up on the cutting room floor. It takes place three years before the events in Nusantara, and so Gemma would have been 12-years-old at the time.

My editor has not seen it, and I had really written it for myself as part of Gemma's back story. It helped me develop this lovely, loving girl who would do anything to save her Uncle Norm whilst having to battle her own crushing anxiety.

p.s. Like any other writer, I have a clear vision of what my characters look like. Gemma, in my mind, resembles a younger Lily Collins, pretty offspring of one of my favorite singers, Phil Collins.

Image of Lily Collins for ASOS magazine from

If you've read Shroud and have your own ideas of what Gemma looks like, send me a picture or sketch on Would love to hear from you. In the meantime, happy reading.

October 1981

Gemma doodled in the margin of her math textbook. She barely heard the teacher’s monotonous explanation of the art of dividing fractions. The tip of her pencil broke, and she turned her attention to the classmates closest to her. They had the same glazed-look on their faces.

Her best friend, Trudy Boyd, darted a look in her direction, crossing her eyes. Gemma suppressed a giggle, pointing discretely at Gary Hollister, who was sitting perpendicular to them. As usual, Gary was on one of his “mining projects” as Trudy called them—picking his nose religiously and then depositing his finds on the underside of his desk. The two girls went red trying to hold in their laughter and disgust. Much to Gemma’s horror, a loud snort escaped despite her efforts. She stiffened and turned her eyes toward Mrs. Bray. The bosomy teacher had stopped writing on the blackboard and was now scanning the class for the source of the snort. The whole class, sensing impending trouble, sat at full attention. Suddenly, fractions were the most fascinating things in the world. As Mrs. Bray’s sharp eyes made its way toward her, Gemma caught a movement at the frosted glass panel of the classroom door. Someone knocked.

“Yes, come in,” Mrs. Bray said, annoyed at the interruption. The whole class breathed a sigh of relief. The middle school counselor, Miss Clayton poked her head in.

“Eleanor, may I have a word, please?” Her usual cheery demeanor was absent. Mrs. Bray lumbered out, and the class broke out in whispers.

Who’s in trouble now?

Did you hide in the girls’ bathroom to skip P.E. again, David?

It must be about Carrie. She’s been smearing peanut butter all over the teachers’ cars.

Mrs. Bray and Miss Clayton entered the room together. The sixth graders had never seen Mrs. Bray look worried before. They fidgetted in their seats.

“Gemma, follow me, please,” she said. “The rest of you can turn your books to page sixty-two. I expect you to finish answering at least three questions before the period is over.”

Gemma stood, darting a nervous look at Trudy. Trudy shrugged, worried for her friend.

“Come, Gemma,” Miss Clayton said kindly. Gemma followed the teachers out the room.

“What’s going on?” Her voice was small, quivering. They didn’t answer, but Miss Clayton gave Gemma’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Am I in trouble?”

“No, honey.”

Muffled voices could be heard from inside Principal Wheeler’s room. The two teachers didn’t even bother to knock before opening the door and ushering Gemma inside. As soon as she entered, Principal Wheeler left his seat and came toward her. Behind him stood two police officers, their hats in their hands.

Something heavy snaked into her body and wrapped itself tightly around her heart.

“Gemma,” Principal Wheeler’s voice was gentle as he guided her onto a chair. “There’s been an accident.” She watched his mouth moving, but his words sounded like an alien language.

Your parents. Car. Your uncle is on his way.

A cold, sinking feeling spiralled through her. The bloodcurdling sound of her own screams assaulted her ears. She shoved Miss Clayton away, ran blindly from the room. They called her name, chased after her. Her anguished cries echoed through the hallway, shocking people out of the nearest classrooms. One of the police officers tackled her to the ground before she could run out into the street. They landed on the springy grass where she kicked and bucked to escape his grasp. The policeman had to pin her arms to her side, while his partner held her legs together. Huge sobs and gulps racked her little body, punctuating her screams.

“Get off! Mom! Help me! Daddy!”

Someone had called for an ambulance. Gemma felt the kind hands of strangers tending to her. She slapped them away. She bit someone’s shoulder, scratched someone’s face. She felt the prick of a needle in her arm. She whimpered, saw Miss Clayton and Mrs. Bray wiping away their own tears. Principal Wheeler climbed into the ambulance with her, his large blue eyes twin pools of sympathy.

“Gemma,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, my dear.”

“There’s no need,” she whispered back. “They’re not dead. Really, they’re not.”

Grief stole her voice and locked it in a hidden drawer.

And for the next eight months, she couldn’t utter a word.

Copyright Marisa Mohdi 2016.

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