When I found that Kit had tried to put a chocolate éclair into the toaster I knew I needed more help.

Kit was an older sister and for the last five or so years, since her accident, I had been her carer. For the last two I had lived upstairs whilst she existed on the ground floor where she had a bedroom, toilet and wet room. We shared the kitchen, though I did most of the meal preparation.

The effects of the accident had seemed, at first, to be mostly physical: she had difficulty in walking, some minor speech problems and a fair amount of pain. To be frank, she had also lost much of her mental sparkle. It was after last year's fall that her condition worsened considerably. She could barely walk, even with the sticks, and I took her on trips, sometimes local sometimes further afield, using a portable wheel chair that could be easily collapsed into the car's boot.

Worse, she was developing issues due to what the Doctor said were the early stages of vascular dementia.

Nurses started visiting her during the night ensuring I could get a good night’s sleep and one of my other sisters came three or four times a week to give breaks during the day.

Kit normally took a midday nap and one day, as she dozed off, I decided to use the time to go for a walk.

After some thought, I decided on a favourite location of mine, a nearby lodge or, to be more exact, a series of small lodges with a much larger one which was about a mile in circumference.

It was mid-April, part of an unusually early spring. The pair of resident swans had mated long ago and the pen was sitting on a clutch of six eggs.

The pair had appeared out of the blue last year. There hadn't been any swans on the lodges for several years and many of us had an almost parental interest in them.

In May of the previous year five eggs had been laid in the same nest but only four hatched with the fifth left there like a sad museum piece whilst the rest of the family elegantly swam about the place.

That year saw only two of the cygnets survive the winter.

As the breeding season arrived this year, the cob tried to force his children to fly not only the nest but also the surrounding area.

He succeeded in scaring one of the cygnets away but the other remained and was battered for at least three days by the irate male.

Eventually the badly beaten up child disappeared.

At home things began getting increasingly surreal. Kit began hallucinating and talking to inanimate objects and people that weren't there.

She'd sometimes confront me with things the teapot had told her. I assumed it was the teapot as he always had it in for me.

All of this seemed perfectly ordinary to my sister no matter how bizarre the things she said seemed to be. It was this ordinariness that drew me into her world and was sending me slightly bonkers as well.

Sometimes I had to take a break and go back to the swans, to an alternate reality.

This year, all six eggs hatched at the beginning of May, very early. The chicks looked healthy and grew quickly to be the size of their parents (almost) within a couple of months.

At the beginning of summer, I first came across him, 'The Swan Whistler'. I'd half hiked round the lodge and hadn't seen the family of swans at all.

As I walked across the dyke that divided the large lodge from a smaller one, I saw this small chap with a bag of what looked like seeds and grasses. This seemed so unusual, as people generally brought bread to feed the ducks and geese, that I struck up a conversation with him.

It wasn't a normal conversation though. I did most of the talking and he occasionally uttered a word or two that I would attempt to interpret until I had got what he was trying to say.

'For swans,' he said, indicating the food.

I talked about the swans, how two cygnets had died last year and he said 'Lead weight' . 'Dog!' he said about the other one, and though he had done his best 'try save it' by taking it to the RSPB, it had died of its injuries.

I didn't ask him about the other two chicks and he didn't volunteer any information about them.

'I haven't seen the swans today,' I said. 'Are they about?'

He didn't answer but crouched low and began to whistle. It wasn't an every day, run-of-the-mill whistle, but more a slow, deep warbling mixed with a kind of bass mumbling, gradually climbing up the scales and ending in a high, thrilling trill accompanied by discreet gestures and bobbing motions.

At first I thought he was having a fit of some sort, then I wondered why I'd never heard this sound in all my visits to the lodges.

My reverie was interrupted when he gasped, froze and stared smiling as the whole swan family paddled out of some reeds and headed straight towards us; well not us, him.

'Whistle them, me,' he said proudly, proceeding to feed them with the stuff from the bag speaking to them in a low voice with a peculiar accent that I couldn't place, interspersed with grunts and whistles.

'I have to be going,' I lied and continued on my walk without a backward glance, though when I got to the other side of the lodge and looked, I could see neither man nor swans.

At home my sister was agitated and irritable.

'Can't you keep your hotel under control?' she asked me. 'Your daughters come in here and dance on the beds ignoring all my shouts to stop it!'

'Do you know who I am?' I asked gently.

'Of course I do!' she said, 'you're my brother!'

'Do I have any daughters?'

But she had already moved on and told me she wanted to go to bed. So I helped her into her night gown, settled her in bed and within moments she had dozed off.

A couple of times a week I walked round the lodge and was pleased to see all of the swan family thriving in a pretty good summer, at least for the North of England.

However, I didn't see the Swan Whistler at all, even though I looked. I wondered about him and tried to guess how he had found this vocation to commune with swans. To me they had always been a beautiful but stupid animal.

In late August, one of the cygnets disappeared. I checked for a couple of days until I was sure and decided I must find the Swan Whistler.

I went early the next day and finally found him.

“What happened to the cygnet?” I asked him.

“Disease,” he answered, crestfallen.

“Whenever a swan vanishes from the lodge,” I said, “I never see a body. Do you know why that is?”

He froze and looked through me, as if I wasn't there. Then, as though making a momentous decision, he focussed on me and indicated he wanted me to follow him.

After checking that no one was around, we went into a wooded area and after a short walk he motioned me to stop. He advanced slowly for a few yards, lifted up some grass and weeds to reveal an underground storage place, it was too far for me to see into properly but was quite a size.

He took a box out of the ground and carefully rearranged the foliage around the lid of the hole then walked back to me using a different route.

'Here' he said, handing the box to me.

I carefully undid the latch, opened the ornate lid and looked inside. There was the most beautiful and delicate skeleton of a bird.

“Is it a blackbird?' I asked, but he shook his head.

'No beak!' he said emphatically and as I looked more closely I agreed there wasn't a beak.

'Skull,' he said more gently. I looked again but this time with some scepticism. I suppose it could have been said to resemble a human skull but the creature was too small to be human and the wings seemed to be an integral part of the skeleton.

I examined the body more closely and could quite clearly see that it wasn't a bird’s body and though it looked vaguely human in form it wasn't, I was sure. Thoughts of the old folk tales concerning swans and people flooded my mind but I couldn't believe any of it.

“Is it a swan?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders, took the box from me and, taking another route, re-interred it.

When he returned to my side I looked across the ground but couldn't tell where the hole in the ground was. He was very good.

We walked on a little and after about twenty yards or so he pointed at a bird box placed on a tree.

“Post box,” he said simply.

I climbed the tree, looked inside, saw a laminated piece of paper inside which I took out and read. It simply said ‘Disease'. I replaced the message and climbed down, by which time, the Swan Whistler was nowhere to be seen.

One of the nurses was waiting for me when I returned home.

'Kit is getting worse,' the nurse said, 'We need to monitor the situation but in a little while she will have to go into hospital. Even with you here and all the help you get we can't keep an eye on her all the time and she's soon going to need round the clock care.'

I accepted her recommendation but knew that once in hospital Kit was never coming home. I called a family meeting and appraised everyone of the latest development.

The atmosphere at home was becoming increasingly claustrophobic and dark and it was with a sense of relief that I once again visited the lodges.

It was a beautiful, sunny, autumnal day and I felt the weight of the world released from me and I sang, yes sang in happiness.

Imagine my shock as I reached the lodge and saw the swan family depleted to one adult and one cygnet. I walked round the large lodge trying to find the rest of them, but they weren't there. Neither was the Swan Whistler.

I walked to his 'postbox' and shinned up the tree to see if there was a message. 'Disease' was written five times on a laminated piece of paper.

I returned home in a depressed state to find that Kit had fallen out of bed and was struggling and failing to get back in. I helped her and, once in, she dozed off. I knew this was the time and phoned the nursing team.

The next day Kit was admitted into hospital. I thought they'd let me drive her there but no, an ambulance arrived, she was stretchered in and was driven off. I picked up a bag of her stuff and followed behind with a heavy heart.

By the time I arrived at the Hospital she was already comfortably asleep in crisp white sheets and I checked her in.

I told the rest of the family what had happened and we arranged a rota of times when we would visit. I decided that I would go at least twice a day so that she wouldn't feel my loss as much.

The weeks dragged on and Kit gradually deteriorated until by December she was sleeping most of the time. I still visited the lodge and the pen and remaining cygnet seemed healthy and well.

For a while I had a sense of the loss the mother and her daughter must be feeling. But this sentimentality went out of the window when a 'foreign' cygnet appeared on the main lodge looking bedraggled and sorry for itself and was immediately set upon by both the pen and her cygnet, driving the newcomer away without a scintilla of compassion.

By mid-December Kit had become mostly comatose. In the brief moments she was awake, she was incoherent.

The family Christmas meal was very subdued that year and afterwards I went for a walk on my own to the lodges.

The sky was overcast and grey, the water was murky and threatening with only one bird, the pen, in view. I knew the cygnet was dead and didn't bother to look in the postbox or search for the Swan Whistler.

On Boxing Day the hospital called me to say that Kit was likely to die soon and my sisters and I assembled by her bedside. The doctor drew me aside and said that she's given Kit something that might, just might bring her round for a moment or two.

A few minutes later, Kit opened he eyes and looked at us standing by the bed. The old intelligence beamed from her eyes.

'It must be bad if you are all here,' she said and laughed. She then slumped back into the coma and died minutes later.

In the New Year, after the funeral, I once again visited the lodge. This time there were no swans at all.

I walked to the Swan Whistler's postbox, shinned up the tree and opened the door. There was the usual note but this time it simply read: ‘Gone.'